Tag Archives: poc

From Margin to Center: Health for Brown Bois

29 Sep
Image cover of the Brown Boi Health Guide. Black Person in shadows looking into the camera.

As a graduate student, I elect to receive health care through my school (because they pay for it). Student Health Services has its pros and cons and my experiences have been, to put it nicely, mixed. My experiences with health care providers are what motivated me to think about the hierarchical relationship between doctors and patients in my dissertation. My providers have routinely presumed straightness, a feminine gender identity, and a certain class background. I was telling a friend about another less than awesome experience with a doctor and they joked, I could put my own experience in my dissertation. If only autoethnography was one of my research methods.

Health care providers have got to do better. Disparities in access to care are a major concern but once you are in the doctor’s office it doesn’t necessarily mean that service provision is equitable, particularly if you are are already marginalized in greater society. That’s why I was so happy to hear that the Brown Boi Project had created a resource guide for Masculine of Center (MOC) people of color and its available now.

The Brown Boi Project “is a community of masculine of center womyn, men, two-spirit people, transmen, and our allies committed to transforming our privilege of masculinity, gender, and race into tools for achieving Racial and Gender Justice.” In that vain, they set out to create a health guide that would help brown bois advocate for better health outcomes for themselves when interacting with health care providers, friends and family.

The six chapters of the guide provide an introductory look at different components of health beginning with spiritual, mental, and emotional health, concepts that western medicine steers clear of all together or brackets as somehow separate from physical health. Additional chapters provide an overview of health concerns specific to MOC folks including “holistic care through gender transition” and issues of body taboo in relation to menstruation, pregnancy and sex.The narratives of real self identified brown bois provided regarding their own journeys and processes around health were the most compelling element of the book. It is in these personal accounts that you really see the intersectional nature of health, the ways in which structural forms of oppression like queer hatred, racism, and other forms of discrimination impact people’s health on all levels.

Images from open pages of  the health guide
The photography and illustrations in the book are amazing as well. Non-normative bodies of various races and shades help to provide a much needed shift in the way patient bodies are represented. The images do work that words can not.

The need for such a resource is undisputed and as a first edition, it far outshines its limitations. I was left however, wandering about the margins within the margins. What of disabled brown bois? How do we simultaneously hold a desire for wellness without pathologizing people as carriers of STI’s or victims of impairments? What of the guide’s high gloss veneer and PDF format for folks with little to no web/computer access? It’s definitely an overview and they remind readers that it’s not an exhaustive look at health but some general information to help stimulate better communication with health care providers and loved ones.

This is a guide and not a zine. It is not an updated more specific Our Bodies Ourselves so it has a different end goal. This guide offers a more generous read of trying to work with health care providers as opposed to abandon the system all together. Each have there uses. I think it would be a great teaching tool for doctors and medical students who get very little if any training regarding folks on the queer and genderqueer spectra. In addition to educating the medical community, we need to have more access to health care information ourselves and this guide is a move in that direction.

More Musings on Melanin (or lack there of)

26 Aug

Artistic rendering of three black women's faces light and dark

“Depending on the context, an individual may be an oppressor, a member of an oppressed group, or simultaneously oppressor and oppressed.” -Patricia Hill Collins

“The true focus of revolutionary change is never merely the oppressive situations which we seek to escape, but that piece of the oppressor which is planted deep within each of us.” -Audre Lorde

*Mic check*  Is this thing on?  *Dodges balled up brown paper bags*

Hello, all.  First, we’re really grateful for the lively discussion our little polemic has engendered.  We’ve been monitoring the discussion both in the comments section and in Twittropolis, but wanted to let things marinate before we posted again.  (Besides, Moya B. felt ill and Summer had a not so awesome Monday, so we’re just now getting our act together.  Dissertations, after all, cannot write themselves.)  Now that a good few days or so have passed, we’d like to take some time to address some of the more salient points we’ve noticed in the comments section, and also perhaps clarify some things we said in the original post.  We hope this conversation is understood to be just that: a conversation. We are not shutting down light skinned folks for speaking on or about race as it relates to their color; we are asking, however, that these discussions become more nuanced, which, in our estimation, includes pot calling kettle a lighter shade of black.

1.  @Carolyn asked: Light Skin Privilege Checklist? Are you serious?  Yep.  We’re serious.  Admitting privilege is hard but it’s absolutely necessary for liberation. Part of what constitutes race is skin color and phenotype; racism cannot function if you cannot recognize this difference, and subjugate accordingly.  It’s what racial hierarchy is based on.  So, let’s be honest about the color spectrum that exists in between the stark polarities of black and white: one’s proximity to one or the other can play an incredible role in how hard knock one’s life is.  As many have noted in the comments section, we didn’t invent colorism three days ago, and dark skinned black folks are not the only ones who acknowledge this reality.  To argue that light skinned privilege does not exist, that all black people are treated similarly regardless of hue, vehemently denies the validity (and the existence) of all that inspires this age-old skin tone conversation.  Denouncing the existence of light skinned privilege requires one to believe that skin color does not affect how one interprets the racialized world and vice versa.  And that’s just not true.  It’s not.  If you don’t believe us, google it.  Or pay attention to Soledad O’Brien’s entire career.

Plenty of (black) people don’t want to acknowledge the ways that we are privileged above others, and we understand that.  Part of the difficulty of living in a society that constantly espouses punditry that articulates clearly demarcated dichotomous stances is that it leaves no room for gray area, and to occupy such a space is dangerous.  In such circumstances, admitting that one has a certain set of privileges causes others to question whether or not one is at all oppressed.  Admitting that one has privilege, then, often results in having to constantly prove that one is oppressed in other ways.

Furthermore, one of the most humbling experiences is learning to accept the piece of the oppressor within ourselves.  For instance, by virtue of having a non-disabled body in an ableist world, intentionally or not, we are granted certain privileges in our movement through it. We may not have actively done anything to to be granted that privilege, but it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist–or that we don’t benefit from it through no real “merit” of our own.  Yet acknowledging and understanding our privilege is only part of the work.  Are we willing to leverage our privilege for the sake of each other? Huey answered yes.  So did Angela…and Audre. Will you?

2. In her initial comment to our post, wheelchairdancer wrote that her blog was an “attempt to speak to the whiteness of the disability rights world while maintaining [her] ground as a mixed race woman.” Word. The non-disabled black woman feeling like she could step to wheelchairdancer and that she owed her an answer to  a question is a clear example of ableism at work. But part of what wheelchairdancer seems to be claiming is that disability whitens all the time which, if we may go down the troubled road of personal experience to prove this point, is not always true. Moya’s great-grandmother was a chair user, but her disability did not whiten her because she was dark skinned.  In other words, the fact that wheelchairdancer’s racial identity was questioned seems to have less to do with the wheel chair and more to do with her skin tone.  Disability can only “whiten” if one’s skin allows one to be interpreted as such.  It should be noted, that in her comment, wheelchairdancer identifies as mixed-race.  This identity marker alone requires the benefit of light skin.  Mixed-race folks who don’t look mixed-race don’t necessarily benefit by calling themselves that.  What allows one to identify–or even be mistaken–as mixed-race (and therefore not black) is light skin tone.

3. Thanks to both excerpted authors for trying to engage a dialog rather than shut it down, but a brief word on context and why we chose these blogs.  Our quick and dirty understanding of taking something out of context is when the reader, in this case, infers something from the text that was not intended.  So, in a sense, we did take both redclayscholar’s and wheelchairdancer’s words out of context.  All sarcasm aside, neither one of us thought that either one of these personal ruminations on what it means to be light skinned was attempting to forward deliberately a kind of “Woe is light skinned me,” rhetoric.  But that was never our real point.  Our purpose in deconstructing what was conveyed in these narratives was not to hate on a kind of light skinned melancholia.  Rather, we were interested in the kind of blowback, the implications of constructing these narratives in such a way that privilege is obscured.  What does it mean and what are the stakes of telling a story about the trouble one receives from blacks about being light skinned, without disclaimers or acknowledgment that in general being light skinned is a privilege?

As we said in the original piece, we don’t deny the realities of oppression light skinned black people are experiencing. In other words, light skinned black people are oppressed.  But, as the two epigraphs suggest, oppression does not forgo privilege.  Axises of privilege are not independent of each other; they inflect each other–and, if we are all being honest, we know this. This is why we talk about race, class, and gender.  If class didn’t affect blackness, for example, James Evans would have been the 70s version of Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable.  We are asking that we examine race more deeply to see the ways that white supremacy works through each other, intraracially. We must be willing to articulate those differences, that privilege.  If we, as black people, are unwilling to talk about and own the little bit of privilege some of us have amongst each other, how do we expect white heterosexual men to do it?

Besides, light skinned black people aren’t the only black people who are tested about their allegiance to blackness.   Queer people, quirky black girls, black people who play rock music even though we invented it, etc. are perpetually having their blackness questioned.  Our work, if we are committed to blackness, is to proclaim that we, too, are black.  But we need not do that by being appalled by another black person with the audacity to question us.  We also needn’t minimize the aforementioned inflections of blackness–class, gender, sexuality, skin tone–to stake our claims in the muck of monolithic blackness.  We should do the opposite; we should talk about those inflections and nuances of blackness not only as privileges, but rather as that which comprises a richer notion of blackness that has always existed.

4. Yolo made some really fantastic points in his comment, and no one responded to him.  Y’all should read it–again.  (Shout out to Effie and Tasha Fierce for hearing us and to Jah and Crunktastic for holdin’ it down while we got ourselves together)

5.  As many others have said here and in the world (but it feels so good when you rinse and repeat), privilege and oppression are not mutually exclusive. Black people’s reconstructionist visions of 40 acres and a mule silenced the rights of indigenous peoples in their land, just as the Cherokee refusal to recognize their slave descendants silenced another sector of the black community.  If we accept that white supremacy works differently among different racial ethnic groups of color, why do we then imagine that it does not work intraracially? To repeat, part of the way “race” plays out in our community is based on skin color.  SB1070 is about targeting people who look like illegal immigrants, usually of Latino (we know, totally an American construction) origins. As The Daily Show points out, no one is getting riled up about Canadian anchor babies. Irish, Italian and Jewish people have had access to whiteness in large part because of skin tone. Similarly, the hierarchies within other people of color communities speak to these realities as well. As black people who are in relationship with other people of color, we have witnessed the ways in which light is right operates in racial groups other than our own.  It is imperative that we examine this reality amongst ourselves.

6.  Finally, although we’ve spent all of our time here discussing the role oppression has in the construction of black identity, to be clear, we are not arguing that black subjectivity is solely comprised of being denied certain privileges.  That would be a really foolish thing to do, and they would kick us out of grad school if we believed such hogwash about Negroes.

*Drops the mic*

Sincerely,
Two jigaboos (tryna find something to do)

P.S. We didn’t invent the privilege checklist. Check out the OG White Privilege Checklist and another one that has engendered a similar amount of venom as folks dispute the co-constitutive nature of privilege and oppression, the Black Male Privilege Checklist. We’d also like to remind everyone that pretty privilege is a long documented phenomenon. For more on it and more great TV time enjoy The Bubble episode of 30 Rock (h/t to @superfree)

add to del.icio.us : Add to Blinkslist : add to furl : Digg it : add to ma.gnolia : Stumble It! : add to simpy : seed the vine : : : TailRank : post to facebook

Huey Newton Complexes

23 Aug

A Different World character Freddie Brooks sits in the Lap of her boyfriend Shazza Zulu in Afrocentric attire. They are both biracial and light skinned.

Whatever does one mean by the phrase, “Huey Newton Complex(es)”?  So glad you asked.  A Huey Newton Complex is a rather snarky, yet awesomely witty way of describing a light skinned person crunk about (their) blackness in ways that, perhaps, obscure other realities that may indeed inflect (their) blackness–like gender identification, sexuality, economic class, or skin color. The one drop rule notwithstanding, Huey Newton Complexes goad light skinned Negroes into stringently proving and deploying their blackness just in case one raises an eyebrow around the melanin content of their skin; hence, The Black Panther Party and Shazza Zulu (aka Freddie Brooks’ boyfriend), for example. Just in case you haven’t perused the colored section of the blogosphere lately, know Huey lives–and not just through a cartoon character: light skinned girls are not having the best week ever. Apparently their blackness is perpetually being questioned, and they’re fed up.  A few blog entries posted last week by light skinned black women struck us as particularly emblematic of light skinned women being “sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

It has always been fun for me to experience the myriad ways disability “whitens” me as I go about life in the mainstream (i.e., white, non-disabled) world. Essentially, the way this works is that the cultural perception that disabled peeps are childlike, always in need of charity and/or help usually overcomes the threat posed by my race. I’ve always thought of it as a kind of “fuck you — your racism deserves to be subverted by my disability.” I’ve never had the experience where disability whitens me in/before an African-American eye.

I emerged from the whatever it is in Philadelphia — metro? subway? SEPTA? — and pushed past the bus stop. An older African-American woman reached out to me: “You white?” I was so shocked that I stopped and told her how rude that was. In so doing, I was, of course, rude myself. She got irate, because she thought she was giving me a compliment. [breathes.] This pissed me off. So, I stopped to tell her what I thought of that perspective. Bad idea, yes.

And another:

I tried my damndest not to join Alpha Kappa Alpha because of the stigmas attached to it. But, you can’t run from who you are. I feel like a neo defending my honor when I say this but I joined because of the women who lifted me up – and they were light and dark complected…and about their business.

For one of our townhall meeting conversations, I helped organize a panel to talk about the role of intra-racial relations and identity. We opened with the notorious “paper bag test.”  I took it.  I failed. And the room was wide-eyed with amazement.   Even some of my chapter sorors gasped.  I don’t know why. I got some melanin. Chuch.

As brown skinned ladies invested in our blackness, we’re happy that our lighter sistren are not only identifying as black, but finding blackness in themselves and loving it fiercely. Light skinned black women are saying it loud and proud, “I’m Black damn it!” Still, there’s something especially perturbing about the way in which these versions of a commitment to blackness are delineated.  In other words, what we’ve tracked in these posts and other sources is a kind of “Woe is (light skinned) me,” rhetoric that implicitly negates the privilege embedded in commencing and participating in such discourse.  Such personal narratives, though valuable, seem unwilling to divulge fully the way that being light skinned traditionally works both intra- and interracially.

Being black, or simply being non-white in a world built on white supremacy, is rough. But when we ignore the ways that difference inflects our own relationship to marginal status, we miss nuances that are important in shaping our individual realities. It’s a similar rhetorical move we implicitly employ when we use the term “people of color” without acknowledging the realities of involuntary immigration, language, model minority status, alienation from land and traditional practices, ability, sexuality, class, and yes of course, skin color. The vagueness of a term such as “people of color,” although ostensibly an effort to semantically unite those who must endure white supremacy in various forms, simultaneously jettisons the inherent differences upon which white supremacy is based, namely racial/ethnic/skin hierarchies, under the guise of “unity.”  The term “people of color,” then, is covertly dishonest, and inevitably forecloses the space wherein we might discuss the hierarchy within the hierarchy.  Woe is hypodescent!

To be sure, amplifying the differences in discussions of the ways that folks are oppressed does not play into the master’s hands, but rather compels us to be diligent and rigorous in our critique of (intra)racial strata and how they affect our lives.  Similarly, light skinned black women discussing their very real experiences of oppression without examining the way that (skin) privilege informs the type of marginal status they endure within and beyond the black community prevents a power analysis that is necessary for liberation. Furthermore, attempting to silence that privilege by not footnoting it at the very least is a rather indirect refusal of the agency one is granted by embodying the fact of light skinned blackness.  What further exacerbates this narrative decision is the anger projected upon the dark(er) skinned interlocutors in each of the aforementioned blog posts; the response by the storytellers suggests that questioning a light skinned person’s connection (to blackness) is somehow irrational, thereby treating the most blatant aspect of the colorism/interracial narrative–intraracial division predicated on skin tone–as a kind of imagined source of division, to say the least.

In order to further facilitate a nuanced discussion of blackness, namely as it pertains to skin privilege, we’ve started a light skin privilege list that we invite light skinned sisters to make on their own.  We all know that the real number one is admitting you have a problem–or are one. Word to DuBois, O.G. light skinned cat.

Light Skin Privilege Checklist

  1. In most situations where I am with other people of color, white people will try to communicate with me first.
  2. I am more likely to appear in the media, especially if my skin affords me the designation “omniracial.”  (Hello, Beyonce.)
  3. People will think I am pretty. full stop.
  4. I am more likely to get a promotion than my darker skinned counter parts.
  5. I can write blog pieces about my skin color and not reflect on the privileges that are associated with it.  (Wallace Thurman notwithstanding, literature, films, blogs are littered with primary and secondary textual analysis of the meanings of light skinnededness.)

… And the list goes on.

We invite all readers of (all shades) color to check out Moya and Lex’s effort last year to get skin privilege/POC diversity conversation started at the Love Harder Blog.

*”We” are Moya B. and Summer M.

add to del.icio.us : Add to Blinkslist : add to furl : Digg it : add to ma.gnolia : Stumble It! : add to simpy : seed the vine : : : TailRank : post to facebook

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 110 other followers

%d bloggers like this: