Category Archives: People of Color

Manifesto! 5/5 – Not The Marrying Kind – Statements…The End

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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.

Manifesto! 4/5 – Not The Marrying Kind: Statements…(cont.2)

Previously – Not The Marrying Kind: Statements…(cont.)

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.

Manifesto! 3/5 – Not The Marrying Kind: Statements…(cont.)

Previously – Not The Marrying Kind: Statements…

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.

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Manifesto! 2/5 – Not The Marrying Kind: Statements…

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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.

Manifesto! 1/5 – Not The Marrying Kind: Introduction

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

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Talking Amongst Ourselves

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. 

We Don’t Get This.

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?

Cut #999

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.

Addendum Link:
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.

The ReMyth Project – Queen Marie

So I decided to write a short little something for The ReMyth Project I mentioned in my last post.

Queen Marie

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.

Unnamed Privilege: College Education

This post was inspired by some drama going on. See my vow to try and stay more connected with the internet over winter break has failed. I realize that while I’m out of class (which ends this week, emo!tear) the last thing I want to do is increase my stress level by dealing with idiocy online.  So all that is to say that I only know the gist of this drama as opposed to all the intimate details because I could not bring myself to wade through the hot mess but from what I’ve heard and the few posts I have read the basic gist is:  Elizabeth Bear made a post about Cultural Appropriation on her livejournal, a conversation happened in the comments of that post about Bear’s own problematic portrayals of POC and some of the wording in her post, Avalon’s Willow wrote a very interesting open letter to Elizabeth Bear regarding her work, it then became pile on Willow day and somewhere in discussing the difficulties of race and writing one of Bear’s friends and fellow author Sarah Monette jumped in with a defense that basically accused Willow and other criticizers of being “too emotional” and pointing out, without an evidence I might add, that they were coming from different directions one an academic, critical thought perspective and one an emotional perspective.

One guess which side she thought she was on and which side she thought Willow and other POC in the discussion were on. 

Okay aside from that sounding like the whole  “You are interrogating this text from the wrong perspective.” craziness from Anne Rice’s rant on Amazon.com when folks didn’t like one of her books it is such an incredibly problematic defense that it really shocked me to realized supposedly educated people felt completely comfortable throwing that into that discussion.

Note: When race is part of the discussion accusing someone of not being “educated enough” is a big hot button issue. Many People of Color grow up constantly reinforced with the idea that not only do we not belong in academia, we should not even try because we just aren’t smart enough. So to be having a discussion of race where a white person rolls in and basically tells a group of People of Color: “You’re complaints are invalid because you’re not smart enough” well it’s not exactly the best tool in the anti-racist’s arsenal is it?

And I assume I don’t really have to get into how “too emotional”, “too angry”, etc., etc. are silencing techniques used by the privileged to keep the oppressed from speaking about their situation honestly. Because it’s such an arbitrary judgment it can be used even against a completely rational argument and still be assumed valid by others because of the oppressed’s position in society.

But as I said because I’m not up on everything that went down and I don’t right now have the mental strength to wade through a bunch of fuckery I present you with some great links so you can read all about it should you want to. For more of a rundown of what’s going down I recommend:
http://rydra-wong.livejournal.com/ - she has multiple posts with links on her journal
http://seeking-avalon.blogspot.com/ - Avalon’s Willow’s open letter and other posts about it
http://aqueductpress.blogspot.com/2009/01/great-cultural-appropriation-debate-of.html - A round up of links
An awesome idea that’s come out of the hot mess: http://yeloson.livejournal.com/530108.html - The ReMyth Project

I’ve written a lot about cultural appropriation and will again but right now I rather post about a privilege that is never really acknowledged or when it is it’s only paid lip service too: the privilege of being college educated. Now it’s a fact of life that often those who have degrees are given preferential treatment in careers, social interactions, bureaucratic situations and just in general. People who enjoy this privilege often try to write it off by claiming it has to do with intelligence and being educated and not just the idea of ‘going to college’. This leaves me with one question. Who decided that colleges were the arbiters of intelligence  and the only way to acquire knowledge?

I wonder who it was that decided that other ways of learning - reading on your own, being in a more group learning environment, or just learning as you live your life - were somehow inferior. Doubtless those who could get into places of further education* went along with and perpetuated the belief that only those that exited the college system were worthy of respect. The thing is that most folks know that’s not true, most of us know people who’ve never gone to college but are among some of the smartest people we know.

I’m saying all this as someone who has seen my estimation in people’s eyes go up because I’m in grad school. And yes there is a part of me that revels in that because I worked hard to get into grad school but then there’s the other side of the equation - the automatic assumption that I deserve more respect for attending further education comes with the flip side ideal that anyone who did not go to college does not deserve that level of respect and in fact that they deserve less for never going to college.

The idea that some who doesn’t have a degree or didn’t attain a degree lacks the ability to read critically, to think through problems, to be a knowledgeable or intelligent person is prevalent and supremely problematic. And the idea that everyone who gets through college is smart is patently false. I’ve been to college so you can’t pull the wool over my eyes, a lot of my undergrad experience was dealing with total and complete idiots in my classrooms. So why do we cling to the notion that my decision to go heavily into debt for the benefit of a piece of paper somehow elevates me above people who needed or wanted to work right after high school? Why am I somehow more worthy of respect?

The privilege of being college educated intersects with a lot of other privileges.

The racism that is blatant in academia can not only stop people from attending college but can drive them away or funnel them into other majors professors deem “more appropriate”. 

The sexism that continues to convince women that they are worse than men at math and the sciences.

The classism of being able to afford college or it even being in your life plan after being constantly bombarded by societal messages that you as a “low class” person you could never walk through those ivory halls.

The unnamed privilege of being an American citizen and having more and easier access to places of further education.

Of course the above are all more complex and there are many more -isms both named and unnamed that intersect heavily with the idea of college.

All the bullshit that happens in the world at large happens at college but on a smaller scale which is not always a good thing. Professors can still be sexist, racist, heterosexist, classist, isolationist, stupid or any other number of things, like within all groups of people there is a range of belief and action. My point is that college is far from a bastion of all things good, lovely, smart where people go in uneducated lumps and come out cultured geniuses.  And most who go through college know this but still fall into the perceptions of society. 

The fact is that were all affected by this attitude. It, as with many privileges that lack “-ism” names, is hardly talked about or acknowledged but it’s there and like all oppressions/privileges it can be internalized and is always self-perpetuating. My decision to even apply to grad school was hampered by continual doubts that “someone like me” didn’t belong in grad school. Even now I can’t tell you what exactly “someone like me” meant in my head but growing up we all are bombarded by ideas of what makes a “true college student”. 

So what can we do? The same thing we should do for all privileges that we possess, deal with your prejudices, be aware of it and when you might be using it, do your best to bring it up in certain situations.

What should we not do? Claim that somehow being college-educated makes us better than anyone else. You may know more about a subject than someone else but they probably know more about a different subject. To put it in a different perspective, had I rolled into a discussion and said that by virtue of being male I was right and all the women in the discussion were in the wrong because my experiences as a man shaped me into a decision-maker. You would laugh and mock me heavily but there are people who really think that. 

Having a degree does not mean you can think critically, or that you’re smarter than anyone else. College is an experience like any other in life – you can take the time to actually learn some things or you can skate through and not bother. Just because you hold the degree doesn’t mean your opinions are more valid than anyone elses.

 

 

*further education  – I use this term instead of higher education because I feel the term higher education is really hierarchical and problematic. Of course further education has its own problems as a term, still involving the idea of out-distancing someone else but at least the verbiage doesn’t automatically bring to mind ideas of being above others so until I find a better term I use this one.