Posts Tagged ‘privilege’

This shit. Again.

May 3, 2011

Yes, I am breaking my hiatus for this shit.

And I’m going to do the white feminists who may read this an extra-special and exceedingly rare favor:

I’m going to bite back some of my anger, my disgust, and my dismay. Just for this post. I’m going to play your game. And not because I think it will do any good (I don’t).

But. I’ll do it this once. Here goes:

When people complain about “call-out culture,” that reminds me strongly of when people complain about others being “too politically correct.” The complaint almost always comes from those who have the most privilege, the most institutional power, the biggest voices (in terms of being taken seriously by society at large). And they are almost always complaining about those with the lesser amount of privilege, the lesser amount of power, the smallest voice.

The excuses that I hear for why those who call out others should be dismissed are rather similar in both situations: “They just want to feel like a better person, they LIKE making mountains out of molehills, they just want to spoil our fun!”

The excuses that I hear for why those who are called out made the mistakes that they did are likewise similar: “I didn’t know, I didn’t mean to, I didn’t have time.”

And when those who have been hurt insist on having their hurt recognized (which sometimes means they let their anger show), then the Big Voices say things like “We’re all in this together, your anger is silencing me, kumbayah!”

“Silence” is a loaded word. Marginalized people do not use their marginalization to “silence” others. In fact, reality bears the exact opposite is true.

When people in a position of power tell those who do not share their power that there is a limited “correct” way to express anger at being marginalized, the conversation becomes about How Marginalized People Say Things (And How That Harshes Our Squee) rather than What Marginalized People Say.

People. This is 101 level, Derailing for Dummies shit.

If someone approaches you about an axis of oppression that they are vulnerable to and that you can only daydream about, give them the benefit of the doubt. Assume that when someone says “I feel hurt and excluded” that they decided to speak up because they feel hurt and excluded. If a marginalized person lashes out and hurts your feelings, take a breath and then think about WHAT they said rather than HOW they said it. They might not necessarily be right. But honestly? They probably are.

This notion that marginalized people are causing a rift in feminism (or whatever anti-ism space) and that things would improve if only we’d swallow our anger (how is that NOT a tone argument, by the way?) has got to fucking go.

I’m Car-Lite and I’m All Right

October 14, 2010

I’m in my second week of taking the rail to work, and I feel pretty good about how it’s going. It’s cold early in the morning, and today the sky looked like it wanted to start pouring down at any moment and I don’t have an umbrella or rain coat, and it sucks having to sometimes wait up to twenty minutes for the next train if I missed the one I meant to take – but I still feel that it’s worth doing.

I save 30 miles every day that I take the rail instead of driving. I knit, read, or nap on the train, things I definitely can’t do in my car. I no longer have the ability to just jump in the car and drive to the closest McDonald’s if the cafeteria here at work is closed, so that means that I don’t work through my lunch time anymore; I take the time to stop and eat in the middle of my workday, which is something that I rarely did before.

Not everyone can give up their cars full-time or even part-time like me. I’m fortunate to have a public transport system that’s fairly convenient, a job that does not have rigid hours (so it doesn’t matter if I oversleep, I can still afford to take the train and be an hour and a half late…like I did today), and no disabilities that require private travel in a vehicle. The fact that going car-lite is an option available to me because of my various privileges is something that I’m sorry to say that I failed to acknowledge in my last post about killing my car.

The public discourse regarding driving and its effect on the environment for the most part does not seem to take into account all of the people who, for a myriad of reasons, really CAN’T ride a bike or take the train or walk to work or the grocery store. There are definitely people for whom cars are a luxury (I would count myself among them), but there are plenty for whom cars are a necessity. There are people who literally NEED their cars to either support themselves, their livelihoods, or their families. Public transportation can only go so far, and there are definitely limits in accessibility (wheelchair ramps are really not the end-all, be-all of accessibility, ya’ll) on trains and busses.

We need to expand the dialogue to include those who have been left out if we really intend to find solutions. Some people will always need private vehicles, but there are others who are currently locked out of non-vehicular travel options and they need not be.

Trans Women, Lactation, and Exclusion

August 19, 2010

While I have discussed the obstacles faced by cis women who wish to breastfeed many times, I have neglected to delve into the reality of trans women and their experiences with breastfeeding. This is unacceptable, and a reflection of the cis privilege that I enjoy. Contrary to popular belief, almost every person regardless of gender has the necessary equipment to nurse a child. If you have a healthy breast, you can probably breastfeed.

Now, when a cis woman wants to breastfeed, she is in for an uphill battle. She will get so much misinformation from health care professionals, well-meaning relatives, friends, and advertisements. Her decisions on when and how frequently to nurse are going to be policed by total strangers. If she nurses for “too long,” people will accuse her of being selfish (as if there were no health benefits to full-term nursing or child-led weaning); if she doesn’t nurse “long enough,” then people will accuse her of being vain or lazy (as if there were no legitimate reasons to choose not to nurse or to choose mother-led weaning), which not only is disrespectful to a woman’s bodily autonomy, but also feeds the “rabid baby-fetishing mommy-guilting breastfeeding zealout” meme and turns more women off to even considering breastfeeding in the first place. If she wants to take breaks at work to pump, she will have to deal with coworkers and superiors who may be less than understanding.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg for cis women. For a trans woman, take all of those issues and multiply them by a million.

Misinformation regarding, well, almost anything about trans women’s lives is regurgitated and unchallenged by the vast majority of the cis population (who, naturally, dominate the medical profession as well as every other discipline of our society). Trans women have to deal with discrimination from the medical community on a horrific level; things that cis women do without much thought, such as filling out medical forms, are not such a carefree task for trans folks. When I see a new doctor for the first time, I don’t have to wonder if she is going to be so bigoted against me that she will not even enter the room or touch me.

While I feel snug and protected by the laws in my state that guarantee my right to nurse publicly, trans women do not have the same luxury. They cannot take for granted that someone will not challenge them (or arrest them!) on the basis that they are “not really women.”

While many cis women can take for granted that their milk will come in without much effort on their part, there are many trans women who will not be able to afford the hormonal regimen that will allow them to simulate a pregnancy and induce lactation. Insurance companies already overwhelmingly fail to provide support and supplies for lactating cis women; trans women can expect to get exactly squat to even spur lactogenesis in the first place.

The books that I’ve been reading about breastfeeding are of course filled to the brim with cis-sexism. There is a complete black hole in regards to the needs and concerns of trans women who wish to nurse their children. This is something that needs to change. When the “pro woman” battle cry really means “pro cis woman” (and let’s be honest – it almost always certainly means just that), then we are failing. We are neglecting our duties as supporters of health care, as womanists, as decent damn people.

My silence about the needs of trans women in breastfeeding advocacy is a testament to my bigotry. I’ve been fucking up. And I need to do better.

Shake the Shit Out Of ‘Em!

July 29, 2010

Fuck Feminism.

Guest blogger Mai’a said a lot of things in her post entitled “ain’t i a mama?” on Feministe yesterday, but for some reason, “fuck feminism” seems to be the only thing that a lot of people heard. 

The notion that feminism might not be such a great and awesome force for ALL women (and not just middle class, cis, white, able-bodied ladies) seemed to blow many minds, to the point that they bounced from the site altogether, never to return (or so they claimed). The idea that feminism might actually be an OPPRESSIVE movement and a THREAT to many women (ESPECIALLY trans women! Exclusion of trans women from feminist and women-friendly safe spaces is actually super fuckin’ common! And do I have to start listing the radfems who have actively called for their genocide?) caused many a Well Intentioned White Liberal Feminist to literally shit themselves with rage!

The comments section of this post is absolutely golden. There is plenty of racefail, but there are many good and thought-provoking points (as well as some free education) that make it worth the ride. Here are some of my favorites:

From bfp:

I think it would be an *amazing* conversation to talk about why feminists will “reclaim” bitch and cunt, but find “mama” just too fucking goddamn offensive to even think about


have we USians internalized some thing(s) about being a mama or mothering that might need unpacking? What about having internalized that mothering and mama = cis het female? The OP, and other commenters strongly identify with mami and mothering in the context of their social justice work and their sense of nurturing – myself included. That should be OK in a feminist space, and I think there is a lot to learn from the WHY’s w/r/t OP’s identification with mami over feminist.


My reasons may be different from that of others – to me, centering children means centering life. And it means centering *all* children – loving by any means necessary, as you say (I love that!). Imagine a world where the children were the center, and the parents/adults were the satellites – people would pull out all stops to make sure that no child went hungry, that they were not bombed, that no child was ostracized because they were gay, or trans, or gender queer, or not abled in any certain way, or poor, or of any particular color or ethnicity, or born to a certain group of people in a certain place, or… well, I could go on, but I think that’ll do. What a world it would be when they grew up – not perfect, because there is no such thing, but maybe… different.

And, by way of centering children, centering life, it naturally follows that women are centered. Whether they are biological parents or not – that is not really important (to my way of thinking) to the centering of life (not wombs, specifically, by the way).

Mamita Mala:

I chose and choose mami on purpose. I am not a mommy. I am not a mama. I am a mami : mami because it has been cooed at me by ancestros who have passed as a term of love even when I was a child and clearly not a mother. mami because as soon as decided to identify as a young woman of color it was hissed and yelled at me in the streets by men across racial/ethnic lines, mami because it has a sexual context attributed to women like me: poor single women who have had children and are struggling. Mami because my mentor helped me learn how to work in the streets with other mamis whose children had been murdered by police and racists (which usually have been one and the same). Mami porque yes, I have two hijas but oh so much more. Mami for all the white men who wanted to call me that as their way to trying to own my ass. Mami for all the men I give my ass to…

And for me mami is not gendered. I want to be clear on that. In my community mami is not gendered. Yes, I identify as a cis-mujer pero I can think of sooo many people whom I call mami with love and soo many people whom are called mami with love who are not.

One of the things that I learned from the post and the comments it sparked is that what I as a middle class American think of when I hear the word “mama” is not the same thing as what someone in another country or culture is going to think. The childfree discussion that is going on misses the point, in that for many cultures outside of the white American middle class demographic, “mama” is really not limited to who can or has borne or raised children.

I try to be aware of my privilege as much as I can, but my American privilege is one that I pretty consistently forget to check – the rest of the world does not revolve around me and my US-ness. It’s something I need to keep working on, and I’m grateful to Mai’a for giving me an opportunity to look at myself and my assumptions from a different viewpoint.

I also loved where Nanette was going: that if we stop oppressing children, we stop oppressing everyone. Having a goal of raising children in an environment that is free from transphobia, homophobia, sexism, racism, ableism, and classism means eliminating those things entirely – in which case, everybody wins. Challenging the memes and myths that are the building blocks of rape culture and slut shaming means starting early; it means respecting the bodies and lives of all children with the hopes that they will grow to become adults who respect the bodies and lives of others. Bigotry is learned behavior and if we ever hope to fully eradicate it from our society (which I know will never happen, but it’s still a goal worth pursuing), then that requires not just unlearning that bigotry in ourselves, but actively refraining from teaching it to the generations that follow us.

The title of this post comes from the movie Ink, in which one character asks another how he plans to wake up a child that has fallen into a coma. His answer: “Shake the shit out of her!” Of course he doesn’t mean this literally (and I’m not going to spoil it for those who haven’t seen the film), but I love the idea of shaking the shit out of someone – of giving them a rude awakening, taking them out of their comfort zones, and just doing what you have to do to snap them out of the dream they were stuck in. Mai’a did exactly that in her post, and I do hope that despite all of the derailing and bickering, that at least a few people have woken up.


Edited to add: Another fabulous quote from bfp (emphasis mine):

to be clear, when I say “reclaim” mama, I am talking in the white centric US centric sense of the word, I am NOT talking about mama in the way mai’a is using, the way I am using, the way mamita, etc are using. mama, mami, mamita, m/other, etc–all these call for a decentering of the US white heteropatriarchy dominant imposition of “mommy” on the entire world.

When I say “reclaim mama”–I am asking white dominant US centric feminists who think I am calling them a stupid lazy bitch or a mythical child eating cunt because I *do* organize around mami–to consider why “mama” is so infantilizing, offensive, horrific, etc to them. And if you can reclaim a word like cunt, when it is used to hurt you, why can’t you reclaim a word like mama when it is used to control you and hurt you? I am not saying “embrace your inner granola girl”–i’m saying, if sexist pricks don’t get to control “cunt” then why do they get to control “mama”? 

Dictionary Deconstruction: Politically Correct

July 21, 2010

I’ve got two words that I hate stuck in my head this morning. The phrase is not one that I use in my vocabulary as I have yet to see any evidence of its value. Whenever I hear someone say it, my eye twitches a little and I die a little inside.

Those words are: politically correct.

I don’t know what the official definition is, but if I had to make one up for the dictionary, it would look a little something like this:

politically correct. Adj.
 1. Acting or speaking, using carefully selected buzzwords, in order to mask one’s bigotry.
 2. The state of being full of shit.

There is nothing – nothing! – that is gained from the practice of  thoughtlessly replacing one’s problematic speech and actions with “approved” speech and actions. If you do not take the time to think about why certain ways of speaking and acting are hateful, if you do not listen to the people who are hurt by your speech and actions, then you are just going to keep doing it. You can use all the right words and still silence and dehumanize others with your speech.

As far as I can tell, a lot of folks are perfectly content to keep on acting in dismissive, hurtful, and oppressive ways. They don’t care about the impact of those words or actions – they just care about how others perceive them and whether they’ll be getting a gold star this week.

This is what I hate about PC. It’s not about changing oppressive patterns of behavior. It’s not about examining the root causes and the effects of marginalization. It’s not about stepping back and allowing the people that we have silenced to finally have the space to speak.

It’s about looking good. It’s about fitting in. It’s about patting yourself on the back for being such a good ally, even as those you supposedly have allied with scream their frustration and hurt at your back (and yes, you have turned your back on them). It’s all about You The Privileged instead of the Oppressed, and any anti-oppression work that centers privileged people over marginalized people is nothing short of a fucking farce.

PC is not something that we as activists should be accepting or working towards. PC is a lie, a soothing glamour, an exercise in deception. 

Real anti-oppression work requires introspection, humility, and a complete rewiring of our ism-indoctrinated minds. PC, on the other hand, just requires that one cares enough about one’s image to use the “Replace word with” function in MS Word before clicking Publish.

I don’t think I have to tell you which kind of work is actually going to change the world. (Hint: It’s not the one that can be solved by merely using keyboard shortcuts in your word processing program.)

What Happened to the Honey?

June 24, 2010

Years ago, when I first started talking to white folks about race, I used to tread lightly. I knew that the vast majority of white people can quickly get very defensive and shut down easily in discussions of race, so I bent over backwards to accommodate them. I would spend hours typing out huge responses that were as pleasant and non-accusatory and educational as I could possibly be.

And what happened whenever I did this? I was accused of calling people racists, even though I had specifically gone out of my way not to do any such thing and never even used the word. I was accused of playing the race card. I was accused of being racist myself, because I dared talk about race and my experiences with race and didn’t pretend that race is meaningless.

I can’t pretend that race is meaningless. Pretending that race is meaningless would mean pretending that racism is meaningless. And since racism costs actual lives (as in, racism MURDERS people of color), that’s not something that I can brush off of my shoulder.

I learned, over several years, that my tone did not matter. How many educational links I posted did not matter. How many statistics I referred to did not matter. How carefully I coddled the feelings of white folks who just couldn’t stand the thought that they might not be the shining beacons of tolerance (which, by the way, is a word that I hate) that they hoped they were did not matter. And I learned that my hurt, my exclusion, the deaths and demonization of my people, did not matter. Any time I dared speak about race, I was labeled a racemonger. I was considered an angry black bitch, no matter what I said or how I said it. I was dismissed, ignored, or actively antagonized.

And so over time, I tossed the honey to the side. I stopped making up nicer ways to frame the truth. I stopped hiding my anger. I stopped beating around the bush and started telling white people the things that they were and are doing to us, to me, and to my daughter. I stopped being afraid to use the phrase “white privilege” and stopped playing the role of friendly, non-threatening, smiling happy black girl (whose heart was secretly breaking with every racist attack).

I’m an angry black bitch and I agitate. I call out racefail. I use exclamation points, sarcasm, cuss words. And I’m not sorry, not one bit, for any of it. I’ve found that the most efficient way to separate the wheat from the chaff, the true anti-racist white activists from the self-serving snivelers, is to be honest. And so that is what I do. I have no interest in white folks whose only concern about matters of race is how to make themselves look good; whites who do not want to destroy their racism but only want to hide it are of no use to me, and need not apply. We have work to do, and those people are only going to hold us back.

And I ain’t holdin back.

Raising a Woman of Color, Part IV: Intelligence

June 7, 2010

Last night my family (including my brother and parents) was invited to a cookout with family friends. While we were there, we were introduced to Blokus, which turned out to be quite the addictive game. During one of the many rounds that were played, I watched as Marcus competed against my brother, my parents’ friend Mark (who was a little silly and drunk on wine, drawing many eyerolls from his wife as the night progressed), and his daughter Morgan, a young woman whose pleasant demeanour became very quiet and serious during gameplay.

Morgan and Mark played competitively against each other, with Morgan defending her corner of the board and Mark trying his best to weasel his way in any way that he could. Finally she made a bad move, effectively blocking her dad but also locking down her own corner in such a way that she could make no more moves. Everyone watching (and playing) the game winced a little when they realized what had happened. She was out of the game, and Mark teased her a little, gloating cheerfully.

I said, “Wait until she turns nine, Mark. You won’t stand a chance.” Everyone burst into laughter. My brother added, “That puts things into perspective, doesn’t it?”

Morgan is seven years old, and she played the game just as competitively and confidently as any of the adults around the table. She didn’t win, but she certainly could have. “Smart” doesn’t even begin to describe this child, who started speaking in full sentences at 16 months.

Morgan receives frequent praise for her intelligence. She attended my parents’ daycare for the first 4 or 5 years of her life, and my mother brags about her almost every time she comes up in the conversation. Last night, everyone at the table (myself included) expressed their amazement at her ability to compete with the adults at least once.

So today I’m thinking about intelligence, especially in regards to children, and how we treat children that we perceive as intelligent. To do that, first I’m going to have to define intelligence. According to Wikipedia, intelligence is:

“an umbrella term describing a property of the mind including related abilities, such as the capacities for abstract thought, understanding, reasoning, planning, problem solving, communication, learning and learning from the experience”

Well, that’s a start. I consider some parts of it arguable, especially about communication, but let’s just go with it for now. The vast majority of people that I know can agree that having the abilities as outlined above is a good thing. But why is it a good thing? The answer that first comes to my mind is that intelligent children have a better chance to accomplish their goals, to have their needs met, and to find the tools that they want and need to find their own happiness. But again, I have to ask why. Why do intelligent children have these advantages?

The easy (and in my opinion, wrong) answer is, “Because they’re intelligent!” There is a common assumption that intelligence itself – and nothing else – is what allows people to succeed. I don’t think so. We, as a society, treat people that we perceive to be intelligent differently than “other” people. As kaninchenzero of Feminists with Disabilities so succinctly put it in her ableist word profile about intelligence:

“…we can’t talk about intelligence without talking about stupidity, and stupidity is all tangled up in ableism. If some people are intelligent, some people are stupid. It just falls out that way when you start sorting people on a hierarchy of value. Some are capable of more — so we allocate more resources (money, education, employment, health care) to them — and others are capable of less, so they get less. Less money, less education, worse housing, more abuse.”

There is no question that those who are deemed less intelligent or of below average intelligence are given less and abused more. For example, at least 70% of women with developmental disabilities (I’m giving FWD a lot of link love today!) are estimated to experience rape in their lifetime, a statistic that is breathtakingly horrific. Despite this reality, rape as an issue is frequently framed by mainstream feminists as being mostly the concern of temporarily abled women; the experiences of those who rank lower on the hierarchy of intelligence are rarely – if ever – mentioned at all.

So how much of an intelligent child’s ability to, as I mentioned above, accomplish their goals, to have their needs met, and to find their own happiness is a result of their own intelligence and how much is a result of the willingness of others to praise them, to give them second chances, to offer them opportunities, to push them towards success? How many children that have been deemed unintelligent are even asked about their goals, their needs, or their happiness? How many are actively discouraged from dreaming big?

Morgan was praised many times for playing a game with us, even though she made mistakes and even though she didn’t win. Would a child of “average” or “low” intelligence been praised? Would any other child even be allowed to play, let alone invited? If a child without Morgan’s level of intelligence lost the game to a table full of adults, would that be used to confirm our preconceived notions about that child’s abilities? Would I still have quipped, so quickly and without much thought, about such child’s supposed future abilities?

Children are taught early on that “smart” = “good.” When we say to a child, “You’re so smart!” we are not praising them on how hard they study, or on how willing they are to ask questions, or how graciously they accept losing or making mistakes, or anything else that is actually within that child’s control. We are praising them for being born the way that they were lucky enough to be born, and we are privileging a quality that they cannot help or change, while at the same time sending the message that those who were not lucky enough to be born that way don’t have anything to be proud of because…well, who wants to be stupid?

Intelligence (or the perception of intelligence; more on that shortly) is an unearned privilege. It opens doors to those who happened to be born that way while simultaneously shutting out many others. Children who have this privilege are nurtured, challenged, bragged about on their parents’ bumper stickers. Children who do not have this privilege are looked down upon and frequently treated as nuisances. (And while children who are privileged by their intelligence are frequently treated like adults, adults who do not have this privilege are frequently treated like children.)

Now. About the perception and measuring of intelligence. The fact is that there is no ironclad method of measuring anyone’s intelligence. IQ tests are inherently flawed; at best, they only accurately measure a person’s ability to take IQ tests. To borrow from this comment from reader Baskelia on a Racialicious article about the “theory” that black people have a lower IQ than whites:

“And even when discussing the black white IQ gap, proponents of the difference in IQ theory stay away from studies that buck their conclusions. None of them can explain the Flynn effect.

None of them can explain variances in IQ scores taken at different times (i.e. I have a 10-15 point variance)

None of them can explain how programs described in Arthur Whimbey’s Intelligence can be taught can take minority children from an IQ of 80 to an IQ of 115 in such a short period. Whimbey’s techniques are essentially techniques that middle and upper class individuals already use. The SAT correlates to IQ tests. If IQ was genetic, then why do people spend so much money prepping for the SATs (Kaplan etc).

None of them can explain Stereotype threat and that whites actually perform poorly on tests than blacks if they are primed with the suggestion that the test in question is one that whites normally do worse than blacks on (a message that we blacks get every day of our lives).

In addition to the fact that IQ tests are flawed even for those of us with typical communication styles, how accurately can a population with a certain method of communication design and administer a test for those who communicate or process information differently? What happens when a child with autism takes a test designed by and for neurotypical people? As this article notes:

“Mittler (1966) was one of the first authors to acknowledge the possible adverse affects of autistic symptomatology on intelligence testing. He noted that intelligence scores of individuals with autism may be inaccurate, especially when refused items are counted as failures, as they are on most performance scales. Mittler also stated that verbal measures of intelligence may be inappropriate because of the language deficits often present in children with autism.”

Kaninchenzero has this to say about it:

“Stupid is a perception, usually based on the perceived ability to communicate. A person with communication impairments is going to be perceived as stupid. The same word means ’stupid’ and ‘unable to speak’ for a reason…Someone with cerebral palsy who requires that the rest of us slow down and wait for xer to communicate at xer speed is going to be perceived as unintelligent. Someone who can’t speak under stress (I stammer and eventually become dysphasic on bad days) is going to be perceived as unintelligent at those times. Deaf people are perceived as unintelligent. None of these conditions have a damn thing to do with cognition and everything to do with communication.”

You don’t even have to be actually unintelligent to lose the privileges of intelligence; if people assume that you are unintelligent, based on your methods of communication or your disability or your gender or your race, then they will treat you accordingly and close off those opportunities, withhold praise, and roll their eyes when your perceived lack of intelligence inconveniences them in some way (even if that inconvenience is really only imagined on their part; the time it takes to sit down with a gifted child and teach them how to understand a concept that they are struggling with is frequently not given the same value as the time taken to sit down with a “slow” child and teach them how to understand a concept that they are struggling with).

I remember being a child in summer representation band, which was a program for the best musicians in the local Catholic schools. A few children from each school in the Archdiocese were handpicked to play a huge summer concert together. The music was significantly more challenging than anything we ever played back at school in our tiny band, where I was the only trombonist. There were about 8 trombonists in representation band; I was the only female trombonist and one of only a couple black kids in the entire band, so all of the other trombonists were white boys. During one band practice I remember the conductor going down the line to see who was playing off-key at a certain part in one song. When it was my turn, he asked me to play the note once, which I did; he then snapped at me and told me that I was to only pretend to play that measure during the actual concert, that I shouldn’t even bother trying to play it. When he got to another trombonist, he spent five minutes unsuccessfully trying to coach that boy into tune, and finally told him, “Don’t worry, we’ll work on that.”

Same measure, same note, same instrument, but we received wildly different treatment from the conductor. I was told to not even bother trying (and I was no slouch – this band was made up of the area’s best players), while another child was coached and further encouraged to work on it. Whether or not this difference in treatment was a result of sexism and/or racism is irrelevant right now; what I’m trying to illustrate is that the director’s perceived impression of my ability had a dramatic impact on the amount of help that I received (in my case, none), on the conductor’s tone and attitude, and on the promise of help in the future (which was, again, none).

Another issue I have with “intelligence” is that there doesn’t seem to be a consensus on which kind of aptitudes count as intelligence (and are therefore of value) and which aren’t. In the Racialicious post I linked above, Nancy Leong asks:

“Well, first, ‘intelligence’ itself is a notoriously slippery concept. Intelligence at what? At trigonometry? At sentence diagramming? At computer programming? At analogies? What kind of intelligence matters, and how can we measure that – and nothing more or less – on a test?

…Intelligence tests don’t measure qualities like charisma, judgment, creativity, work ethic, collegiality, foresight, and drive – qualities that have far more to do with success in most fields than the skills measured on a typical so-called intelligence test.”

I can’t do even simple math in my head, but I can figure most stuff out if I write it down or use a calculator. I can dogdge a ball but I sure as hell can’t throw one. I can read faster than anyone I know, but I can’t retain much of what I read even a day or so later. I know the meanings and spellings of lots of big words but I can never remember how to pronounce many of them. I got a 1250 on my SATs but just a 14 when tested in fifth grade on the US states and their capitols (and I studied my ass off for that test). I have a talent for relating to many kinds of people but I’m absolutely lousy with plants. I can ride a unicyle but I can’t change a flat. I can read music but have absolutely no imagination for writing it. Which of these things about me are indicative of my intelligence level, and which are not? Which of these things matter and have value and say something about my value as a person, and which do not? Why do some of these things, each of which undoubtedly make up a part of who I am, count towards marking my ability to learn and understand, and others do not?

You may be wondering, after reading 2300+ words, what all of this has to do with raising a woman of color? It’s simple. Intelligence as a concept has been and continues to be weaponized against women and against POCs. A lack of intelligence is the excuse that was given for European colonialism: the natives were too stupid to use the land “properly” so whites had the right to take it forcefully, and Africans were likewise stupid and therefore needed whites to “care” for them by enslaving them. Women were too stupid to understand politics so they were withheld the right to vote, among other things. Even today there are plenty of white people arguing that black folks are genetically wired to be less intelligent than whites.

For far too many, the color of Eve’s skin is going to be a sign that she is less intelligent and therefore less deserving of resources and protection from abuse. She is going to be marked as less capable, and she is going to have to prove herself over and over again that she is indeed an equal to her white and/or male peers, not only in the capacity to learn but in every way possible. She will have to put in three times the effort to get half the recognition, and at the end of the day, she is still going to have people calling her value as a human being into question.

So why not, as both Nancy from Racialicious and kaninchenzero of FWD ask, do away with intelligence (or at least, measuring and ranking intelligence) altogether? Does the concept really have any value, especially when it is so frequently used to dehumanize people with disabilities, minorities, and women (there goes that pesky intersectionality again)? Should children who are intelligent be praised for their intelligence, or should they be praised for their actions?

Many people, my husband included, have remarked many times before and since Eve’s birth that they hope that she is smart. Most of the time I let the comment go, but sometimes I have to ask, “So what if she’s not?” Would she be any less deserving of support, of education, of encouragement?

Before she was even born, I told Marcus that I don’t care if Eve is smart or not. What I care about is her ability to find her own happiness, reach her own goals, and achieve her own success. What I care about is if she is kind, compassionate, considerate. What I care about is if she loves herself enough to be herself and to be proud of herself, regardless of what any IQ or SAT or whatever tells her. Being smart doesn’t guarantee that one will be loving or hardworking or happy, and these are the things that hold value to me and what I will encourage her to find value in as well.

My Lorde!

May 6, 2010

[The image shows a book cover with the title Sister Outsider: Essays & Speeches by Audre Lorde and additional subtext New Foreword by Cheryl Clarke. The design is of a pair of stylized faces with recognizably African features such as full lips and cornrowed hair over an olive-colored background.]

Last night I picked up a copy of Sister Outsider, a collection of essays and speeches by Audre Lorde, a poet and black activist with whom I am only just starting to acquaint myself. It’s only recently that I realized that if I’m going to convince Eve of just how amazing women of color can be (and if she’s like I was as a child, bombarded  by the anti-woman and anti-black messages that permeate this society, she WILL need to be convinced), I need to familiarize myself with amazing women of color. I know more about white celebrities, white history, white politics, white entertainment, white cultural norms, and white pop culture more than I do about people of color (or also, for that matter, about people with disabilities, or gay people, or trans women and trans men). This has to change. Amazing things have been said and done by people who are not white, cis, temporarily able-bodied, wealthy or middle class, or straight, and their histories deserve to be acknowledged and celebrated. (And in fact, Audre Lorde was a lesbian of color and also legally blind – hooray for intersecting identities!)

Anyway, about Audre Lorde. So far I’ve only read two chapters out of the book: her essay “Poetry Is Not A Luxury” and her open letter to Mary Daly (aptly titled “An Open Letter To Mary Daly”), the radfem white lesbian whose recent death sparked a bit of controversy when many feminist bloggers mourned her death uncritically*, failing to acknowledge her racism and abhorrent and unfettered hatred for trans women (to the point that she actively called for their Nazi-style extermination… yeeeaah), and in fact those bloggers became defensive and let their racism and transmisogyny really fly when called out on it.

I liked “Poetry” well enough, but the letter spoke to me in a big way. In it, Lorde expressed her exasperation, her anger, and her exhaustion as a result of dealing with white feminists, who, for all their talk about equality, had no problems using the same oppressive and silencing tactics against women of color that men use against women. (My summary of it does it no justice and I really would recommend that you read it for yourself – you can find the full text archived here.) I identified strongly with Lorde’s experiences with and disappointment in white feminists, and she does it with such eloquence that I pretty much want to get every beautiful scathing word tattooed on my forehead just so that I can read it again as I brush my teeth every morning.

There is a reason that I identify as a womanist and not a feminist. I started calling myself a feminist about a decade ago, and over time, as I became more aware of the fact that white feminists, by and large, are only interested in securing respect and equality for a very specific kind of woman (a definition that, more frequently than not, excludes me and mine), I started to distance myself from the label.

A situation that sticks out in my mind is of a pages-long debate in a pro-choice group, in which a pro-life man who apparently did not like the direction that our debate was going suddenly said to me, “Let’s not fight, let me tell you a joke. Why is there cotton in pill bottles?”** Suddenly, all of the women who were so quick to call out posters for their use of sexist slurs, slut-shaming, or victim-blaming were silent. Not one member of the group called him out on his very explicitly racist attack, save for a moderator who intervened at my request (and even then, her admonishment was pretty lukewarm, along the lines of “I’m disappointed that you would think slave jokes are funny”). The man, who had been banned before for his sexism but never for his racism, was free to engage openly in as much as racism as he wanted, and no one ever said anything but me (that incident was only one of many with him). The very same women who had been right beside me when defending a woman’s right to abort would suddenly distance themselves and become silent when my race was used as a weapon against me (and some of them cheerfully joined in on the attacks). Eventually I quit participating, as it just became too much for me to deal with.

Too many white women who will freely discuss what it means to navigate this society without male privilege will shit themselves in violent denial whenever white privilege is mentioned. Attempts to discuss race are either discarded as irrelevant, unimportant, or worse, actively antagonistic. The mere mention of the fact that women of color frequently experience sexism in a racialized context is decried as either playing the “race card”*** or muddling up the discourse by taking time and energy away from the “real” (read: white) issues.

Suffice to say, I am excited to have discovered Audre Lorde’s writing and am looking forward to reading more of her works. It’s cathartic to discover that someone has managed to put words to my experience as a woman of color with such nuance and power. I’ll leave you with this quote, which I found to be a simple but powerful reminder of why I am making myself speak out against racism and oppression, and I probably really WILL have it tattooed on me someday (although not on my forehead, I promise).

“Your silence will not protect you.”

Likewise, my silence will not protect her.


*This particular blog post by Sady Doyle entitled “Acts of Contrition: Feminism, Privilege, and the Legacy of Mary Daly” is, unlike most of the posts regarding her death by cis white women, a terrific read and I highly recommend it.

**The punchline to this grotesque little joke is “To remind black people that before they were drug dealers, they were cotton pickers.”

***For an insightful look at just how ridiculous the notion of a race card is, read Tim Wise’s “What Kind of Card is Race? The Absurdity (and Consistency) of White Denial”

YES, Oklahoma Legislature Fucked Up, BUT That Is No Excuse For Ableism

April 30, 2010

By now, I’m sure many of you have heard about the two laws that were passed in Oklahoma by overturning the governor’s vetoes. The first requires that before having an abortion, a woman be required to view and listen to a description of the fetus’ organs and limbs, even for survivors of rape or incest. From what I understand, that means for very early pregnancies which cannot be viewed with an external ultrasound, those women will have to submit to the vaginal penetration required for internal ultrasound; while terrible for all women, that could be especially traumatizing for rape survivors.  The intended result is to guilt women by making them realize “Oh hey, I didn’t know a fetus has limbs and if it has limbs that makes it MURDER” as if women didn’t understand what pregnancy is or what ending a pregnancy means. The law is paternalistic, invasive, and yet another ridiculous barrier to women’s agency in pregnancy.

The second law is much, much worse. It protects doctors from being sued by their patients if they decide to lie or mislead (either outright or by omission) pregnant women about the health of their fetuses if they think that this information may cause the woman to choose to abort. In essence, doctors are now allowed to lie to women about their pregnancies, keeping them from being able to make an informed decision regarding those pregnancies. Not only will these women [those with dishonest doctors] no longer have the option to abort, they will also no longer have the option and ability to prepare financially, emotionally, and mentally for the outcome of their pregnancies, whether that be for caring for a child with disabilities or for the birth of a child whose life may be exceptionally painful or short. This benefits neither woman nor child.

Now, this IS enraging. This IS terrible. What this is NOT is an excuse to exercise all of your able-bodied privilege to devalue the lives and worth of people with disabilities, lives which are devalued every day (many times for “laughs”) in our society. Some of the comments that I’ve been reading in reaction to this law pretty much boil down to “This law is disgusting because more ‘defective’ people will be born and we don’t want that!”

That is unacceptable. That is wrong. When you devalue the lives of people with disabilities, you are also devaluing the lives of women with disabilities – and if you do this as a supposed pro-choicer and supporter of women, well…I don’t know what else to say except that you’re fucking up.

Keep in mind that many of the people fighting to protect the right to abortion are themselves disabled. We are all in this together, so check your privilege. Defending the right to choose means defending ALL women – not just the temporarily abled.