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Category Archives: People of Color
I think there’s humor in the hypocrisy of a movement that fights for marriage equality while lauding a film like “Brokeback Mountain” as romantic when the core basis of the film is an extra-marital affair. But it seems being on the down’low is acceptable as long as those engaging in it are white and only betraying women. Although the theme of pretending to be something you’re not fits in quite well with the homogenizing view of the large GLBTQ organizations.
I believe that the fierceness and power of the movement has been bled out by the constant focus on marriage equality as the only issue of importance perpetuated by large, wealthy, privileged groups such as GLAAD and the HRC who are looking out for themselves as opposed to the community as a whole.
I don’t understand how fighting tooth and claw for inclusion in such a problematic power structure such as marriage is a fight for everyone’s equality. A marginalized group fighting for a bigger piece of the pie rather than the eradication of the system has never led to liberation.
I understand that marriage is a prison, has a historical basis in silencing women and trading them like pieces of chattel and that a mere fifty years of “change” or transgressive reinterpretations can in no way wipe out a history of oppression and inequality stretching back centuries.
So both my readings last week went exceptionally well. I got a bunch of compliments on my prose piece and am going to submit it somewhere this week and despite my fear the Manifesto reading went swimmingly. The audience got what I was saying and was whooping and hollering in agreement. In fact after the reading I had a few people come up to me and ask if they could find it online or if it was posted anywhere. I had been on the fence about putting it up online simply because it is pretty radical and the blogosphere is a very different environment than the very radical space I was in for the reading. I’m not up for some of the comments I’ll inevitably get but having folks ask me if they could find it online made me realize that if no one sees or hears a manifesto what is the freaking point?!
So my Manifesto, Not The Marrying Kind will be going up in five parts this week. I’m breaking it up, not to make more posts out of it (or at least not just because of that) but because it’s the way I wrote it – in a series of chunks - and I like the idea of it being experienced in that way. In fact at the reading since we had interruptions from the audience they got it broken into sections as well and I think it worked very well, allowing folks to take in the previous points before moving on. Keep in mind that this is an early iteration of the work and it may grow, shrink, shift during any future re-writes however the core of it will not alter.
Not The Marrying Kind: Intro
Now something I’m sure most folks who are knowledgeable about anti-oppression politics and discuss them in their everyday life have seen is the attitude that you only hold those beliefs to be politically correct or to be argumentative about “the way things are”. I know when I’ve told people that “No, I talk about these things all the time because they effect my life everyday.” I’ve gotten disbelieving looks or right out accusation that I don’t discuss race when I’m with other People of Color, etc. Now anyone who knows me, has talked to me at a convention or has hung out with me for more than a few hours can tell you that’s bullshit but the attitude is always there, that thought that you only talk this way or feel this way because of the company you’re in or whatever other outside factors. First of all it’s straight out insulting to insinuate that I can’t form my own opinions or that my opinions are so ludicrous that there must be some outside force exerting pressure on me. Secondly it’s just untrue.
Now the documentary U People which I’ve been desperate to see for months and is now up for free in it’s totality on Logo Online explores the conversation people have within their community. Hanifah Walidah a poet, rapper, actress and black lesbian was filming the video for her song Make A Move where she recreated a house party. Now black GLBT folks have a long history of house parties that stretches back for decades. It arose out of a number of factors but a major one was the racism they tended to encounter when they tried to enter GLBT watering holes and forming a vibrant community outside of that hostile environment. Since they couldn’t go to the limited number of GLBT bars/clubs at the time they made their own parties and clubs in each others houses. Some of the parties were exclusively for men or women and some were mixed. And this is not a tradition that has died out, it’s still alive and strong – moreso on the west coast than anywhere else but the legacy is all over.
Anyway, while Hanifah was filming this music video she heard the conversations that were happening all around her and decided that those were just as important as what was going to end up in the music video. She calls it an accidental documentary for just this reason but go and read about it in her own words at the website linked above.
But there it is: a group of 30 People of Color, mostly lesbian women and a couple of transfolk (I also believe there are two or three straight women who talk about being straight in a majority lesbian environment) talking amongst themselves. Talking about gender and the “definition” of woman, talking about coming out, talking about the intersection of race and gender, and all of it to each other, with each other, about each other. It shows not only the complexity and differences among the supposed monolithic horde of “you people” but is also a chronicle of community and the way we form it around ourselves.
Go check out U People even if you don’t think you’ll learn anything from it because it is a touching, smart and funny documentary that shows a segment of society so exceedingly overlooked by the mainstream.
Even leaving aside the personal connection I feel to this documentary despite not being a lesbian - because in so many ways these are the women I grew up around and connect with very well - it’s an amazing film. Now if only I could see black./womyn.:conversations sometime soon.
So while I was rejuvenating last week and re-finding inspiration and all that hippy-dippy shit I saw something that made me angry. It was this:
Now let’s ignore for the moment that this latest in the way too long line of “Seth-Roganesque/40-Year-Old-Virgin/SuperBad/socially-awkward-boy-meets-beautiful-intelligent-articulate-girl-who somehow-falls-for-his-dumbass/storyline-that-was-already-done-and-done-better-in-the-eighties/just-playing-to-socially-awkward-guys-who-live-in-their-parents-basement-to-try-and-convince-them-that-no-really-totally-smart-funny-with-it-girls-are-just-waiting-for-you-to-drag-them-to-the-depths-of-mediocrity-really-would-we-lie?” films shows that we’ve reached a point where even the illusion of diversity is totally unnecessary. Watch that trailer. Try to spot a Person of Color anywhere in the cast or background. I saw it 20 times this past week and I couldn’t see one but I might have missed it, so please let me know if you spot one because it seems to me as if there are no People of Color in that weird pastiche of the 70s/80s/90s these movies are all set in. Okay *deep breath* leaving that behind. What really annoys and angers me about these films is that People of Color don’t get to have these narratives.
We don’t get to have the fun summer of growing up film, we don’t get to show our childhoods on screen unless they are somehow tragic. In discussing this with one of my housemates she said the closest film she can think of is Roll Bounce - I’ve never seen it (How many of you have? Or even heard of it? I remember hearing a little bit of something and then it was gone like a whisper in a wind storm) but from what she told me about it it does sound like what I mean. Now obviously that means that sometimes the story does get lit for production, one could maybe argue that Love Don’t Cost A Thing (a remake of 80′s Can’t Buy Me Love) fits the mold as well. But overall the stories of Youths of Color tends to center on Boyz In The Hood or Hustle & Flow where the story can be about how bad the ghetto is and how hard it is to try and rise above that and we almost inevitably end up dead or right back where we started thereby allowing the audience to feel sympathy for us and at the same time not have to deal with the idea of relating with a Person of Color on an equal level.
(In this one there’s at least a couple of Asian side characters)
And it’s not that the story of the ghetto and the particular intersection of -isms that result in ghettos don’t need to be explored or aren’t true for some people but that should not be the only stories we get. I want the wild night out story of our own. I want to see the spectrum of People of Color experience on the silver screen. I want to be able to see a film that has the growing up story of a young middle class Latina girl, one where she’s not sexually assaulted, abused, arrested, demonized. I want to see a movie with an all Asian cast but that’s not about overachieving drug dealers (Better Luck Tomorrow) hell we can’t even get an Asian cast when the actual people the story is based on are Asian (21).
Now one could argue there’s no market for these films but that’s a massive oversimplification that ignores the critical and box office success of such films as Waiting To Exhale, Eat Drink Man Woman, Harold & Kumar, Soul Food, Like Water For Chocolate and Independence Day. Now the last may seem like a stretch from what I’m talking about but it fits as well because when I say “We Don’t Get This.” I’m not only talking about the frat-boyish/awkward-teen/buddy-buddy movie genre. I’m talking about the fact that we don’t get a huge diversity of characters so to have a Sci-Fi film where the two heroes are and African-American man and a Jewish man was a huge deal. In all of the movies I list Actors of Color were allowed to play roles that are usually not written for them and they received praise for their portrayals.
So why don’t we see more films like those?
Because audiences are taught not to expect anything but tragedy from films featuring People of Color. We are conditioned by society in general and media depictions specifically to accept that People of Color can only fall into one of two roles, the ridiculous sidekick or the tragic hero who dies winning/lives on without any changed circumstances/without fulfilling their dream. Even when we prove that stories about us can be hits, that we can be a box office draw it doesn’t seem to open the door for other films that stretch the perceptions of People of Color. It doesn’t get us our own Sleepless in Seattle or When Harry Met Sally. We still get the occasional non-sterotypical role green-lit but it doesn’t happen that often and when it does happen it rarely gets the promotion or press coverage that it deserves. Yet, I could not turn around without seeing a commercial for the hot-crap-on-screen that is Adventureland.
The movies I listed are exceptions (excluding for Like Water For Chocolate which is definitely a tragedy in my mind) but simply look at the movies that People of Color as actors win Oscars for – Sidney served as labor for some German nuns for no pay. Halle had to play the tragic poor beat down by life black woman and Denzel had to die in war and play a crooked cop, Whoopi was the comic relief/fake-psychic. And I’m not at all saying that they did not deserve the awards they received what I’m trying to get across is that audiences are more comfortable praising us and awarding us accolades is we play a certain role. If anything the actors mentioned deserved to win more than one Oscar a piece for other fantastic roles that stretched their acting prowess.
The sad part is that I like these kinds of films. I would almost definitely enjoy Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist if I were to see it. But I can’t help but wonder when we get to run around Manhattan all night having a good time? When do our crappy summer jobs get chronicled?
This is another post with thoughts sparked off stuff that’s been said within the same discussion that inspired my post: Unnamed Privilege: College Education
Okay, so something I’ve been seeing in the recent Cultural Appropriation debate and really whenever race is discussed is the waiting for “The Big Betrayal”. What do I mean by “The Big Betrayal”? Well, what I mean is that moment where someone says something so racist, so problematic, that anyone with the slightest ounce of sense has to pause and say, “Wow, that was really racist.”. There are plenty of people, both white and POC, who will never ever call something their friends did or said bigoted until they get that clear a signal. As long as the comment has some wiggle room then friends will try to give you the benefit of the doubt and that’s all well and good, hell, it’s what friends are supposed to do but the problem is that “The Big Betrayal” is not all there is when it comes to racism and other oppressions and without that “Big Betrayal” hurt and anger often gets dismissed as being “too emotional” or “reading too much into it”.
Many POC are warned, sometimes explicitly, sometimes not, by relatives and friends that it’s all well and good to have white friends but to watch out because they could turn on you. Now does this mean that all white people would do this? No, of course not. I’ve seen plenty of white folks in the recent discussion that were great anti-racist allies. Does this mean that white folks and POC can’t be friends? Again: No, of course not but what it does mean is that white friends who don’t understand race and all it’s implications may hurt you deeply, consciously or unconsciously. It’s not about a friend you’ve hung out with for years one day turning on you and yelling a racial epithet or trying to beat you up or anything of that nature. No, it’s about the smaller things. As my friend and housemate Jackie put it “People can die by a thousand cuts.” and it’s much more painful that way.
It’s about silence when someone says something racist when we’re in a group, leaving me to stand alone and isolated as the sole “overly-emotional” POC if I choose to bring it up. *cut*
It’s about the “Well, he didn’t mean it that way” that shows me that someone else’s comfort means so much more to you than my hurt. *cut*
It’s about taking the easy road and implying that I’m overly emotional and dismissing any point I may have rather than insult you’re other (read:white) friends. *cut*
It’s about the disbelieving stares of instant denial when I talk about something racist that happened to me that day. *cut*
It’s about patronizing or staring at me like I’m lying or crazy when I name an interaction we just had as problematic. *cut*
It’s about not backing me up when I publicly discuss race but emailing me privately to voice your support. *cut*
It’s about knowing that I cannot discuss something with you that affects my life everyday for fear that you’ll ignore what I say or divert the conversation making the pain worse. *cut*
It’s about wading into a discussion on race, saying something stupid being hurt when people call you on it and then flouncing off in a huff thereby making a good segment of the conversation about you and your pain. *cut*
It’s about you, having spoken out against other oppressions now using your privilege to attempt to silence me or other POC. *cut*
It’s about you accepting the pats on the shoulder and comfort for your pain while I get anger and hate spewed at me for mine. *cut*
It’s about having this conversation over and over again and feeling like nothing changes and no one learns anything. *cut*
Despite what’s been said and insinuated by certain people in the latest cultural appropriation “discussions” – Talking about race “all the time” (maybe it feels that way because it’s only when we get loud and angry that you actually hear us?) is not fun. Experiences of being singled out by police or being treated poorly in shops are not fun to relive and retell. These stories and our feelings are not made up for shits and giggles or to get attention. We talk about this stuff because it happens and to speak openly and honestly about it can sometimes lessen the pain but when we reach out to talk about things we find problematic or offensive all we get is insults (“orcing”? no that’s not racist at all!), mocking and accusations that double and triple and quadruple the hurt…
Do you still wonder why we’ve been warned?
A couple of useful links:
Ven ve voke up, ve had zese wodies by Ciderpress. Ciderpress talks about the pain of the recent discussion where it turned, the false assumptions of catharsis, fallacies and responsibility.
‘Check my what?’ On privilege and what we can do about it by Andrea Rubenstein. Not about the current discussion but a useful primer for many people around privilege, what to do, making mistakes, listening and more.
Drowning in Apathy by Tempest talks about the apathy that can steal over you when you have these same conversations over and over and no one seems to be listening at all. I feel you Tempest.
So I decided to write a short little something for The ReMyth Project I mentioned in my last post.
A soft curl of wind brought sounds of the slow movement of water to Marie’s ears. The quiet splashes could mark simple movement or the death of a million creatures that birthed, lived, hunted, devoured, mated and died in this balance of earth and water. The wind turned, the quiet sounds were gone, and Marie was swept back into the celebration. She focused her aged eyes on the young girls in front of her, dressed all in white they danced and leapt their way around the circle. Even those who closed their eyes avoided the ring of torches that encircled them. Some swirled so close that the fire set off cascades of red/orange/yellow in their brown skin, lit their clothes with the shadow of flame so that for that moment they were fire itself but they never got too close, always aware.
Then the drumbeats that moved their feet stopped and like dolls whose strings had been cut they all fell to the floor, exhausted. All, except for one girl, she stood in the middle of the circle stock still. Her form was tense and every muscle strained against earthly existence, against the bonds that held her to her body.
Marie raised herself to her feet, slowly, coddling the joints that pained her so. Though in part she knew that she lied to herself about her aches, Marie could not recall a time her body did not ache. It was not the ache that slowed her movement, she was simply tired. It had been a long life and she longed for freedom from her responsibilities, from the constant ache in her heart. Marie knew of the rumors that flew through the white mouths in town - that she was the devil’s mistress, that she would live forever, that she could bring death upon those who angered her.
None were true but the rumors served their purpose.
The police and courts did not care about her people, only she did. The rumors helped to protect them and for that and that alone she allowed their continued existence. She knew the part the story of her played and so she had stayed, living way past the normal human allotment of years not because she willed it but because the lwa did. They wanted her to wait.
Standing in front of the girl Marie took in the youthful curves of her body, the whites of her eyes bright and shining, the rapturous look on her face. A part of Marie dreaded this, putting all the responsibility on one so young but she had always been a servant of the lwas and that would not change now. She leant forward and placed a chaste kiss on the girl’s full lips.
Marie felt her body relax and looked down at the wrinkled face in front of her. Raising an arm, she cradled the loose flesh of a cheek in her hand and spoke.
“Your time is done. I will stand.”
With that the old woman sighed and her body crumbled to dust, it swirled in the wind and finally flowed from the circle, moved out to rejoin the swamp the old woman had always loved. She watched the movement of the remains through the air for a long moment. Then, Marie Laveau, turned to her congregation.
Quickie – wrote in in about 40 minutes, let me know what you think.