Archive | October, 2011

Boom!? 7 Billion People on Earth Fosters Population Alarmism

31 Oct

Google Image of West Delhi, India

Today is the day that the United Nations Population Fund estimates that the world’s population will reach 7 billion people.

So, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about this particular moment in our history. As ever, it’s important to dig just a little below the surface to figure out what’s going on with the media’s coverage of this day. I’ve seen many slide shows in the past few months. I’ve seen many photos of crowded buses and streets in India and China. And photos of what look like very old people. All of these photos are, by turns, mesmerizing and heartbreaking.

Some facts: 200 years ago, there were only 1 billion people on the planet, and over the next 150 years, that number grew to 3 billion. Notably, in 50 years, the global population has more than doubled, and the UN projects that it could possibly grow to 15 billion by the year 2100.

The narrative that emerges from these kinds of stats pits humans (only some, however) against the environment. There is an alarmism that’s been on a long slow creep. An alarmism that tells us to worry about enough food, enough clean water, non-polluted air, and space enough for all of us. Not to mention the undercurrents of fear of the “browning” of the planet. A planet in which the growing population of people of color threatens our safety. A planet in which there aren’t enough resources for the West because of all the people in the East.

I’d like to take this moment to bust some of those myths and alarmist tropes.

First, let’s not get it twisted. It’s over-consumption, largely by the West generally, and the United States specifically, that is the greatest culprit in environmental degredation. The US is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases. Here, we consume the most water and energy.

Second, population growth has actually slowed in the past few decades. Seriously.

Maternity ward at Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital in Manila (Reuters/Cheryl Ravelo)

Third, this kind of uncritical alarmism is very destructive. Negative media images are rampant; hungry African children, masses of poor people in the third world, photos of pregnant women of color. These kinds of messages reiterate the idea that the danger of overpopulation is “over there” and that ‘those people’ outnumber ‘us. This fear often translates into xenophobic immigration policies and fear of increasing immigration to the West.

Fourth, poor women often bear the the burden of this kind of reckless rhetoric. They face unwanted sterilization and population control tactics. They often face the kinds of population control that programs distort family planning and diminish their control.

As we see, this is no small issue. There are many more reasons to be critical of the overpopulation narrative, and I presume we’ll see a lot of articles about this in the next few days. But I thought I’d just welcome the 7 billionth little sweet pea into the world with a little more truth and a little less alarmism.

Feminism 101 or Why Women’s Studies Can’t Wait: A Workshop for Girls

26 Oct

Oftentimes undergraduate students complain that they are not introduced to women’s studies and feminism early enough.  In an effort to support the development of girls as social agents we must consider exposing to them feminist spaces at earlier ages.

The Crunk Feminists are on the case! In November, we will facilitate a workshop on “Feminism 101” with a group of 10 Atlanta area teens, at the National Women’s Studies Association Conference. We want to provide them with powerful readings, music, and speeches/spoken word as a means of introducing them to the language, issues and fierce care and resistance of our foremothers.  We intend to share our stories, hear their stories, and work with them to start making connections and naming their experiences. Family, we solicit your help and your donations to make this possible.

So often young girls of color are not given the tools to name their experiences and are therefore dealing with various forms of oppression in silence or unheathy ways. In the tradition of Audre Lorde, this workshop will present the basic tenets of feminist thought to help these young women craft the tools that will “transform their silences into language and action.”  To be clear, we see this workshop not as an end, but as a beginning of building relationships, acting as mentors and big sisters, and working with these young women to create a brighter feminist future. As our QBG sister Alexis Pauline Gumbs once said, “we do this work because we think it changes lives.”

We would really appreciate your support. And there are two ways you can help.

1.) The cost of the workshop materials per girl is $20. Click here to sponsor a participant. You can contribute any amount. And every little bit will help.

2.) We have also created an Amazon wishlist, where you can purchase individual items (a book* and a journal) that will be included in the goodie bags we are providing for each girl. 

Thank each of you in advance for helping with this endeavor!


*After many conversations we have identified a feminist body book that we think will be an important reference for these young women, a book that will remain relevant as their questions become more complicated. It offers great information about women’s bodies, does not center men’s bodies, and is progressive on LGBTQ sexualities. We wish the representations were more racially diverse and that conversations about disability were included, but frankly, more feminist of color, non-ableist, queer inclusive teen body literature is needed. 

Somewhere Between Black Power and White Rage

25 Oct

There have been several public “events” privileging race, gender, and class during the past weeks in New York City that featured prominent Black feminists.  After the film screening of The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975, the conference about Anita Hill 20 Years Later: Sex, Power and Speaking the Truth, and the Occupy Wall Street  movement based in Zucotti Park/Liberty Square, I  wanted to mark how Black womanhood and Black feminist thought are positioned.

The Black Power Mixtape, 1967-1975

The Swedish film is an incredible compilation or mixtape that chronicles the US Black freedom movement by arranging interviews, speeches, and snapshots of activists and urban Black life. The most compelling moments include Black women. There is one scene, for example, when Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture) sits on an apartment floor boyishly looking up at his mother Mable.  In a “play” interview, he presses her to describe the intersections between race and class. It is a humorous, affectionate exchange that complements the defiant image of Carmichael championing Black power. Carmichael’s fiery rhetoric at the beginning is matched by Angela Davis’ cool midway through the film when she responds to a question about armed resistance. Davis recalls the 1963 Birmingham church bombings when

Picture of  four Black girls, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Denise McNair who were killed by the Klan during the 1963 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama

1963 Birmingham Klan bombing that killed four Black girls

neighborhood girls Addie Mae, Cynthia, Carole and Denise were brutally murdered by white supremacists.  She places her personal recollection within a context of ongoing racial terrorism experienced by African descended people. In one story Davis reveals American hypocrisy. In one story she creates an emotional bridge to connect with the film so the audience could better understand the complexities of Black America then and now.  (The CFs in the audience echoed, “that’s Black feminism for you.”)

The Davis and Carmichael interviews are followed by a third moment, which is the most unsettling part of the film because I am left hanging, wondering what to do with a local teary-eyed young Black woman who describes how she has had to wrestle with her drug addiction after a family member sexually assaults her as a child. In the midst of the Black power movement, we are invited to read her story as part of “the ghetto” and hear the PSA-like radio voice-over about premature babies from drug-addicted mothers as hers. The film explains drug abuse by Black male Vietnam veterans who return home disillusioned, homeless and unemployed, and it illustrates gender-specific forms of (sexual) violence experienced by Black men who are tortured during the Attica uprising, but there is no commentary, no gender framework to really see her or other dazed Black women shooting up in an abandoned New York apartment. In fact, if we are to gather any meaning at all from the voice-over, street footage, and her interview, we might believe that she has failed her family and by extension the Black community—ideas echoed by the news media a decade later when audiences are re-introduced to the bad Black woman as the crack-welfare-mother.  That the director-editor, Goran Hugo Olsson, opted to let saturated images of the ghetto “speak for itself” while admittedly letting go of the archived footage of the landmark 1972 Presidential Candidate, Shirley Chisolm, suggests specific discussions about gender added an unwanted complexity to the Black power he envisioned.

Anita Hill 20 Years Later: Sex, Power and Speaking the Truth

The daylong conference began with sessions about Anita Hill’s 1991 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee during the confirmation hearings of then US Supreme Court nominee, Clarence Thomas. The Sex and Justice film excerpt and morning sessions were followed by lunch discussions about sexual harassment in the military, on the streets, and in schools, and a keynote about home with Hill herself.  Hill asked (and I paraphrase), “Is there a way to Race-ing Justice Engendering Powertalk about race that isn’t so male dominated?” Hours before Hill posed this question I asked myself, is it possible to talk about gender on a national scale that isn’t so white identified? I had come to the conference to learn more about Hill specifically and about Black feminist thought in general (as the tag was “an all day conference about race and gender identity”).  I got it even though it felt sandwiched between a kind of deracialized gender, which eclipsed the intersectionality so many women of color emphasized.  Long before Kimberlé Crenshaw reminded us about intraracial resistance to Hill and other Black women who dared to air dirty laundry, and before Melissa Harris Perry offered us her exacting critique about respectability and the reception of The Help, a New York college instructor leaned over to school the Black-girl-too-young-to-remember about the Thomas-Hill hearings. Pulling out her Black feminist good book, Race-ing Justice, En-gendering Power, my informal Black feminist instructor suggested Hill had been embraced by white feminists because Thomas seemed less threatening to their social standing than the white men who systematically harassed Black women in the workplace.  From my back-seat instructor to the panelists on stage, it would appear the symbolic body of Hill was still very much in the making. At the daylong conference, Hill stood (in) as a testament to interracial feminist solidarity, “front line” Black feminist mobilization, and white feminist cooptation (for at least one sistah in the audience).


Occupy Wall Street

Occupy Wall Street has been characterized as white middle class rage against the capitalist machine. Prior to the Harlem march where folks from Liberty Park joined activists of color to protest the stop-and-frisk policies that disproportionately targeted Black and Latino persons, communities of color insisted the “occupiers” reconsider language (e.g., replace occupy to decolonize) and reconsider tactics, such as voluntarily camping in spaces that displaced homeless persons.   The first time I went to Liberty Park, Black folks peppered the space. We were mainly on the margins, taking up space on the steps and the stone parameters of the blue tarp makeshift community.

The physical make up of the protestors at the Park and on the street during the Manhattan marches appeared to be the same, yet the meetings and talks I attended attempted to be inclusive and intentionally anti-racist even in the absence of a lot of colored folk. (See Greg Tate’s Top 10 Reasons Why So Few Black Folks Appear Down to Occupy Wall Street.) And just like I stayed at the Hill conference, I came back to Liberty Park because I wanted to hear an amazing Black intellectual, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, explain capitalism’s connection to group exclusion, criminalization, and racialized labor. When Gilmore evoked CLR James,  she reminded me of another Trinidadian thinker, Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael), that I had seen weeks earlier in the Black Power Mixtape. Immediately after Gilmore’s talk, I walked upstairs to see a remarkable scene for which I still have no meaning.  To my left, Rev. Jesse Jackson was surrounded by a small group of men with studio cameras and a spotlight.  To my right, the actor Rev. Billy began his popular street performance as the crowd circled. Onlookers held up camera phones to record the spectacle of the Black-led choir and the Reverend, who dramatically preached about the evils of consumerism. Each had a platform at Liberty Square to talk about economic justice, however, their messages were digested and distributed differently. Jesse was on my left, Billy was on the right, and Ruth (or Ruthie if you know her) was somewhere in between…

Lessons Learned

20 Oct

“Mas sabe el Diablo por viejo que por Diablo.”

“The devil knows more from being old than from being the devil.”

This is my birthday month and I have now lived on this planet for 3 whole decades. I’ve been thinking a lot about the lessons I have learned and thought I would share them with you, my crunk feminist familia.

#1 – An ex is an ex for a reason. I have a reasonable number of exes. Each and every one of them has pretty much proven that the best thing that could have possibly happened was for that relationship to end. The red flags were there from the very beginning. For whatever reason (great sex, loneliness, naïveté, etc.), I chose to look in the other direction. Now that I am older, I have learned to pay close attention to what folks tell me. Maya Angelou once said, “The first time a person shows you who they are, believe them.” I cannot tell you how much this has proven to be true for me. For example, I once had an ex tell me that they didn’t believe in monogamy early on in the courtship. A couple months later we both agreed to be in a monogamous relationship. She later cheated. I can’t be angry… she straight up showed me her true colors. I just chose to believe she could be different. My bad. Lesson learned.

#2 – It is important to know how to keep secrets. Out of respect for any relationship whether friend or lover, you should never share the things told to you in confidence. I recently learned that an ex of mine shared one of my most traumatic memories with another. Refer to #1. I cannot tell you how sad that made me. It is my decision to share or withhold my traumatic memories. They are after all, mine. I am, however, grateful for the confirmation that I made a great decision. Please refer again to #1.

#3 – You are what you eat. This may be TMI, but for years I suffered from severe constipation. After way too many years of suffering, I came to the conclusion that I needed to be gentler to my body (and the planet) and became a vegetarian. I have been a vegetarian for several years now and can honestly say that constipation is no longer a problem. It is actually a very faint memory. I am now quite regular. In fact, it was quite a challenge to find single stall bathrooms I could get to, in less than 2 minutes from my office. Why are we all so ashamed of pooping? Stay tuned for that post.

#4 – I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, my vagina. It’s already aromatic (You can suck it, Summer’s Eve). I try to limit my intake of processed foods and sugar. Let me be clear, this goes out the window the entire week before my period arrives. However, when I stick to it, I feel better and I have so much more energy. I have learned that being very selective about the things I feed my body has major benefits. Not only am I healthier, my body odor is different: my sweat smells cleaner and not surprisingly my vagina exudes the sweetest of smells. It’s true. I can’t really prove this to you (cause that would be weird), just try it and get back to me.

#5 – A broken heart will heal, it just needs distance and time. I experienced true heartbreak at the tender age of 25. I was truly/madly/deeply in love and she…she was just…well…young. I will, however, never ever regret that experience. Although, she tore my heart into 3,000 pieces, ripped it out and backed over it a couple times, I was deliriously happy when we were together. I was on cloud nine, ya’ll. So high, I wasn’t even high. It was also the first time I realized I liked the ladies, and that was awesome! 😀 After that break up, it took one month to realize that I needed serious therapy to get over the heartache, three months to stop crying about it, and six months to find myself in a sticky and unfortunate rebound situation. It took a total of three years for me to finally be in a place where I could say, “I still have very fond memories of the time we shared. Can we be friends?” Ya’ll know that couldn’t last too long. Please refer once again to #1.

#6 – People will always judge you on your appearance. This is sad, but true. That old saying, “Dress for the job you want, not for the job you have” is true. You must also dress for your body type. If fashion is just not your thing, watch marathon episodes of What Not to Wear for pointers. I promise you, it doesn’t take a lot of money. It does, however, take a lot of focus, patience, and time. The folks at Goodwill, DSW, TJMaxx and Marshalls know me by my first name. I’m not even exaggerating. The effort pays off. Trust me. The first thing people see when they meet me is a curly haired, curvalicious, Latina. They make many assumptions based on those markers, but what they walk away remembering is that I was that fierce woman wearing the leopard heels at the meeting. Don’t sleep on me. Don’t.

#7 – Getting older is awesome! Now, I’m not sure that this will still be the case ten or thirty years from now. But, I can honestly say that I am very proud of the life I have had and continue to lead. I’ve learned so much and know that there are still so many more lessons to come. Most importantly, I finally feel comfortable in my own skin. It only took 3 decades to figure out who I am, who I want to be, what true love feels like, what I am willing to sacrifice for love, who I can trust, who to keep in my heart, who to keep at a distance and what my body, soul, mind and heart need to feel satisfied.

#8 – There are friends and then there is family. I have been blessed with amazing friends and am very proud of the friendships I have maintained throughout the years. These people are my chosen family. For years they have loved me with “all my dirty” and for that I will forever be grateful. Some of them I talk to daily, others weekly, a few every couple of months. Each and every one of them has taught me so much about life and love. I carry them all in my heart and will cut anybody who tries to mess with them.

#9 – People have different definitions of friendship. If all you know about me is what you read on my Facebook page (or what others have told you), I’m sad to break it to you…but we’re just not that cool. Sorry.

#10 – Mami was right. Growing up my mom always said, “Dime con quien andas, y te diré quien eres.” This basically translates to, “Tell me who you roll with, and I’ll tell you, who you are.” I find this to be (for the most part) great advice. However, I noticed that I learn more about people by paying close attention to the quality of their friendships more so than their friends. Furthermore, if somebody tells you that they don’t trust women and/or don’t have any female friends, that right there is a warning. Keep it moving. They are not to be trusted. Put them in the Facebook friend bucket.

# 11 – Feminism is awesome! I have said it before and I’ll say it again, I just heart feminism. It has given me a voice and connected me to amazing forward thinking people. It taught me so much and challenges me daily. It also pays my rent. I would not be an educated and employed woman of color had it not been for the tireless work of crunk feminists before me. Thanks gurrrrlz! I mean WOMEN. I mean WOMYN. You get the point.

#12 – True love is caring, thoughtful, honest, patient, supportive, respectful, compassionate, tender, and kind. Period.

These are just a few of the things experience has taught me. I’m sure I could come up with more, but since this is about comunidad and learning from each other I would love to hear the lessons you have learned. Please, please, please feel free to add to the list.

20 Things I Want To Say To My Twentysomething Self

17 Oct

I recently re-discovered a journal I kept after I graduated from college in 2000.  I was unemployed, seemingly unemployable, broken-hearted, on the brink of adulthood but still so incredibly naïve (something I only recognize now, because I have distance, experience and context).  I was twenty-one years old, feeling grown and wise… and like a failure.  Reading my words in my handwriting was almost like becoming reacquainted with a stranger, a well-meaning, disillusioned stranger.

As I read through the pages of my life, I could hardly recognize myself and I could hardly remember the feelings that inspired the writing.  I know it is cliché, but I could not help but think if only I knew then what I know now, perhaps I would have been more hopeful and less critical.

In order to document reminders for myself in the next ten years, I decided to jot down the things I wish I knew then and things I may need to know again in the next decade of my life.

20 things I wish I could have told my twentysomething self…

  1. You are so ignorant, you don’t even know what you don’t know (yet).  Grown(ass)womanness is a process and is less about age and more about experience.  And learning from experiences.
  2. The things that seem so important right now will not matter in five years.  Hell, it may not matter in one.  Don’t be overwhelmed by the disappointment of rejection or the confusion of disappointment.  Everything truly happens for a reason.
  3. You are beautiful.  Without make up and in the middle of the night and outside of being sexy.  You are beautiful, not because a man says so (and even if/when he doesn’t).  Tell yourself you are beautiful frequently and abundantly. And mean it!
  4. Be kind to yourself.  You tend to be so hard on yourself. 
  5. You are strong (your capacity of strength is so much wider than you think)…
  6. but being a strongblackwoman is not a necessity or responsibility in your life.  Your frailties and vulnerabilities make you human, not weak.
  7. You are a storyteller and people will need your stories. Don’t stop writing them down.
  8. You have incredible discernment—use it.  Do an inventory as often as possible and purge relationships that don’t add to your life, because they will inevitably subtract from it.  Don’t hold on to dead or toxic relationships.
  9. Friendships only matter in quality, not quantity.  You will be grateful for the few amazing people who are there when it counts.  Don’t be friends with someone who is not your friend.  It is not worth it.
  10. Love yourself more—more than anything else and anyone else.  If you don’t, no one else will.
  11. Follow your dreams!  They will take you places you have not even imagined.
  12. Don’t settle.  Life is full of choices, don’t ever let anyone talk you out of having standards.  You are not picky, or greedy, or unrealistic.  You are worth it!
  13. Live passionately!  Tomorrow is not promised and you should always regret what you did do, not what you didn’t do.
  14. Always go home for the holidays.  Spend as much time with your family as possible.  They know who you are and love you anyway.
  15. Your destiny will never walk away.
  16. Your faith will not always look like this. 
  17. Never be tolerant of injustice.
  18. People lie.  Don’t listen to or believe everything people say (to or about you).
  19. Take risks and do things that scare/intimidate/inspire you.
  20. Love deeply, intentionally, reverently.  Even when it hurts!

We Are The 99%: O.U.R. Walmart

13 Oct

OUR Walmart Associates, the 99% Strive to Change Walmart and Change the Economy!

Guest Post By:Treston Davis-Faulkner

This week, as Walmart hosted Wall Street analysts and investors for a week of discussion regarding the company’s financial health and outlook, nearly 100 members of the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart), part of the 99% returned to Walmart’s “Home Office” in Bentonville, AR to demand an “open door” meeting, per the company’s policy, with CEO Mike Duke.  In June of this year, OUR Walmart made its first visit to the corporate headquarters seeking a meeting with the CEO in order to deliver the organization’s Declaration for Respect, which members developed in order to identify priority concerns including: a desire for more respect and dignity on the job, more flexibility in scheduling, addressing rampant understaffing and excessive workloads at Walmart among others.

Walmart Associates holding signs on sidewalk

OUR Walmart associates and allies in front of Home Office

As a groundswell of occupations and demonstrations challenging corporate and Wall Street greed continue to gain momentum across the US, the OUR Walmart members approached the front entrance of the Home Office at roughly 12pm on October 12, 2011 carrying signs that read: “Stop Cutting Hours”, I Want to Work Full-Time” and “Ask Us How to Solve Walmart’s Problems”, it was clear the company had called for an increased police and security presence anticipating this visit.  The so-called associates, accompanied by allies from social and economic justice organizations across the country, and locally in Arkansas including Jobs with Justice, NOW, National Domestic Workers, the Northwest Arkansas Worker Justice Center, and the United Church of Christ were stopped by police and company security in the parking lot and told that they would not be allowed to send a united delegation of associates to meet with anyone, and that only individual “associates” with the proper company name tags and identification would be allowed to enter the facility.  OW members were not going for this game and refused to play while pointing out to the security staff that this is in violation of the company’s own “open door” policy that supposedly allows for “associates” and a person of their choosing to meet with management upon request.

All the while, the organized associates and their allies were also being told by security that the parking lot is private property and they need to return to the sidewalk, or be arrested.  As this was going on, OUR Walmart member and associate at a Walmart in Crenshaw, CA, Greshriela Green yelled to security personnel, “why don’t you ask for our Welfare cards too?”, implying that the low wages and sparse benefits the company offers its employees, too often lands “associates” on public assistance.

NOW President – Terry O’Neill

The members then gathered on the sidewalk and were addressed by Venazi Luna who works at a store in Southern California.  Venanzi declared:  “Mike Duke and this company do not respect us enough to meet with us after we traveled all the way to Arkansas to talk about how we can work together to improve employee relations, customer service and Walmart’s success!  What he doesn’t understand is that we are not going to stop!”  Terry O’Neill – President of the National Organization of Women also addressed the group affirming the leadership the members of OUR Walmart are demonstrating by engaging each other and the company’s management nation-wide and vowing that NOW would be with them “every step of the way”!

The associates and their supporters chanted on the sidewalk for roughly 15 minutes holding signs so that those driving by could read them and chanted:  What do we Want?  Respect! When do we want it?  Now!” and “We are the 99%!”  As they returned to their buses, they let Home Office know:  “We’ll be back, We’ll be back!”

As OUR Walmart members and allies ate sandwiches after the visit to Home Office, and reflected on what just happened, they were fired up and angry that their employer treated them this way.  Angie Rodriguez, an associate from Southern CA, mocked the fact that the Company refers to its employees as “associates”:  “They call us associates!  If we are associates, we would be partners.  How they treated us today is not how you treat partners.  We are workers!  We are the 99%!”

Sarita Gupta, Executive Director of National Jobs with Justice celebrated the courage and leadership being demonstrated by OUR Walmart in taking on the huge task of changing the policies and practices of the countries largest private employer:  “In an era of insecurity, OUR Walmart is a part of a fast growing movement of workers who are standing up to rebuild the economy the right way—by creating and maintaining good, union jobs, a strong social safety net, and all at the expense of the banks on Wall Street who stole it from us in the first place.”  “While Congress debates a jobs program, we stand united, not merely demanding jobs, we are demanding jobs with justice!  We want jobs with decent pay, good benefits and jobs with dignity and respect!”

See coverage on Huffington Post

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A Columbus Day Challenge

10 Oct

Today is a nationally recognized holiday. It is Columbus Day.

In a bizarre twist of potent irony I’m heading to a conference about preventing violence and then down to Occupy Wall Street.

I’ll be spending this day steeped in thoughts about violence (systemic and intimate) and then in the act of (re)occupying occupied land.  There is something bitter and something sweet here. I am not taking the day off to honor a “conquistador.” I am taking the day to mark and recognize the legacy of violence that he fomented. America is not a land founded on freedom and exploration – it is founded on the genocide of Native and First Nations people.

I am taking the day to remember that.

Recently, while at a conference, Jessica Yee, of the Native Youth Sexual Health Network, asked a group of us in the audience whether we knew whose land we stood and sat upon.  She asked us if we knew the people whose land we were on.  After an uncomfortable silence, someone spoke up. There were about 300 activists in the room, and perhaps 2 knew the answer to her question.

Do you know? Wherever you sit right now, do you know who lived, worked, loved and died there before your history books begin the story?

Today would be a good day to find out.

As I go down to Wall Street today, Columbus Day, I cannot use the language of occupation flippantly. It is not an occupation, it is hardly a re-occupation. I am farmilar with the way occupation and colonization operate. My own family history is mired in stories of occupied lands and colonized people. The asks of Occupy Wall Street protestors are about institutional accountability.  Today is a good day to recognize the failures of our financial institutions as well as a failure of historical accuracy and collective memory.

The island of Manhattan is occupied territory.

(Flyer by Julian Padilla of Brooklyn, NY, with input from Coya White-Hat Artichoker and Jessica Yee.)

From a statement by the People of Color Working Group at Occupy Wall Street:

“Let’s be real.  The economic crisis did not begin with the collapse of the Lehman Brothers in 2008. Indeed, people of color and poor people have been in a state of crisis since the founding of this country, and for indigenous communities, since before the founding of the nation.  We have long known that capitalism serves only the interests of a tiny, mostly white, minority.

Black and brown folks have long known that whenever economic troubles ‘necessitate’ austerity measures and the people are asked to tighten their belts, we are the first to lose our jobs, our children’s schools are the first to lose funding, and our bodies are the first to be brutalized and caged.  Only we can speak this truth to power.  We must not miss the chance to put the needs of people of color—upon whose backs this country was built—at the forefront of this struggle.”

So today, I ask if you know the legacy of the land on you’re on. If not, perhaps today is the day you find out.

I Saw the Sign but Did We Really Need a Sign?: SlutWalk and Racism

6 Oct

I want to be in solidarity with Slutwalk. I really do.  But my knees are getting weak. It’s inspiring to see women coming together to protest the all-too-real threat and reality of rape and to reclaim our right to define and exercise our respective sexualities outside the context of patriarchy. I dig all that. But I do not dig seeing signs like that held up by Erin Clark and Kelly Hannah Peterlinz at Slutwalk NYC that said “Woman Is the Nigger of the World.”

I've added this 2nd pic since a commenter wants to dispute who was holding the sign. Clearly, too many damn people held the sign.

I do not dig debating with young white feminists late into the night about white privilege and having other Black women in the thread have to call out the supposed anti-racist feminists for not speaking up, for yet again forcing Black women to do the exhausting work of teaching. I do not dig being told on the interwebs, –tumblr, other blogs, the Slutwalk NYC FB page–that Black women are being hyper-sensitive and divisive. I do not dig being intellectually insulted with the assertion that I simply didn’t understand “Yoko and John’s intent.” As if. Y’all know that saying about intentions and well, perhaps you should also recognize that we are long past the point of talking about intent when we talk about racism. We should be talking about impact. (Rest in Power to the venerable Dr. Derrick Bell, father of Critical Race Theory, whom we have to thank for that little insight.) Intent is about individual relationships and hurt feelings; impact is about systems of power and their impact on material realities.

But let me tell you, for the record, what I do and don’t understand (all at the same time):

  • (Why) White folks love the n-word and they keep trying to find a way to use it. And ain’t nobody fooled by these claims of confusion, because for some reason that confusion about off-limits terminology doesn’t extend to those terms reclaimed by Jewish communities, LGBTQ communities, or people with disabilities. Only to the n-word.
  • (Why) Black women and the fact that we are always Black and female at exactly the same time is a fact that continues to elude white women. That I’m making this observation in 2011 makes me wonder if it is in fact 1969, the same year that Frances Beale created the Third World Women’s Alliance. Any person who defends this song based on historical context or otherwise clearly has not grappled with the ways that Black women’s gendered experiences of Blackness make the conflation of “woman as nigger” an untenable category.
  • (Why) The organizers of Slutwalk are genuninely baffled that this happened in the first place. To organize a movement around the reclamation of a term is in and of itself an act of white privilege.  To not make explicit and clear the privilege and power inherent in such an act is to invite less-informed folks with privilege (in other words, folks who know just enough to be dangerous) to assume that reclamation can be applied universally. If Black folks’ collective track record at reclamation is any indication, clearly based on Erin Clark’s sign, the n-word reclamation is a #majorfail. Even if we look at Black women and feminism, “womanism,” Alice Walker’s attempt to create cultural and discursive space for Black women within feminism, by all academic accounts remains the stepchild of viable feminist identifications.
  • (Why) The debates over the reclaiming of “slut,” and “nigger,” and the racial elements of those debates are absolutely parallel to debates over the claiming of the term “feminism” itself.

If we thought of the history of feminist movement building as a battle over terms,  what we would find is that every major battle over terms and the rights and identities attached to them have always had the same damn problem: the racial politics, like the Black women implicated in them, have been fucked. “Suffrage” didn’t include all women. (Just ask Ida B. Wells how she felt about marching at the back of the 1913 suffrage march.)  “Woman” is not a universal experience. (Sojourner Truth anyone?) “Nigger” is not a catchall term for oppression. (Ask Pearl Cleage) Feminism is not a universal organizing category. (Ask bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Barbara Smith, Fran Beale, and on and on) And “slut” is not the anchor point of a universal movement around female sexuality, no matter how much global resonance it has.  (Ask a Hip Hop Generation Feminist).

Alice Walker said recently:

“I’ve always understood the word “slut” to mean a woman who freely enjoys her own sexuality in any way she wants to; undisturbed by other people’s wishes for her behavior. Sexual desire originates in her and is directed by her. In that sense it is a word well worth retaining. ” (Source)

Clearly, from a strictly pro-sex  perspective, I could see why it would be attractive to reclaim this word. And within Black communities, certainly there is, like in most other communities, a tacit shaming of “loose women” and a strident investment in women being “good girls and ladies.” Still, slut-shaming has particular resonance for white women, whose sexuality has largely been constructed based upon middle-class, often Christian, heteronorms of proper chaste womanhood. The positive referent about chastity against which slut becomes the negative referent has never been universally available to Black women.  A Black woman who “freely enjoys hers own sexuality” has been called “jezebel, hoochie, hoodrat, ho, freak, and perhaps, slut.”  In other words, “slut” is merely part of a constellation of terms used to denigrate Black female sexuality; it is not at the center of how our particular sexuality has been constructed.

But “sluttiness” and “slut-shaming” around sexuality are in fact, central to white women’s experiences of sexuality. So to start a movement around that word is to inherently to place white women and their experiences at the center.   To actually be able to materially reclaim “slut,” however much one has been slut-shamed is to have the power to work within a universe of multiple meanings in which both committed chastity and casual coitus, and everything in between, are understood as sexual options. For Black women, our struggles with sexuality are to find the space of recognition that exists between the hypervisibility of our social construction as hoes, jezebels, hoochies, and skanks, and the invisibility proffered by a respectability politics that tells us it’s always safer to dissemble. To reclaim slut as an empowered experience of sexuality does not move Black women out of these binaries. We are always already sexually free, insatiable, ready to go, freaky, dirty, and by consequence, unrapeable.  When it comes to reclamations of sexuality, in some senses, Black women are always already fucked.

Thus, the politics of reclaiming slut expose the fault lines that exist between the discursive, the material, and the symbolic. And the degree to which slut reclaiming will be placed in any of these categories is necessarily determined by the power and privilege that each slutwalker has. If Black women’s discursive acts cannot change our material realities with regard to our sexuality, then our actions become merely symbolic. Our actions will come to exist only in the realm of representation. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. For Black women do have agency. Our voices do matter, and our interventions will contour this mo(ve)ment, though we are unsure yet, just what those contours will look like. But our commitment to discursive acts must be measured, by our histories, by our material realities, by the psychic and social costs and the attendant benefits of such acts for improving the quality of our (sex) lives. We are long past the point of putting our own bodies on the line for political acts that improve white women’s lives while leaving the rest of us in the dust.

So when I look at Black women, like the Black female organizer of Slutwalk NYC who was asked to ask Erin Clark to take down her sign, I see us doing what we’ve always done—taking a broad view of movements that have clear red flags when it comes to inclusion in order to serve the greater good of women. While white women often want to deploy “woman” as a universal category and have the nerve to get angry and defensive when Black women like myself point out differences in our experiences, it is Black women themselves who have demonstrated what it really means to care about women as a group. For we put our bodies and our psyches on the line to show up at events called “Slutwalks” knowing that we are both more vulnerable to the same violence that brought other women there and yet that we have little social privilege and power to reclaim the terms in the ways that many of the others marchers do. But we show up anyway, and in showing up, white women feel like they are being inclusive, when in fact, I would argue that most Black women, are showing up in spite of, not because of, Slutwalk’s inclusivity.

So, too, our histories with feminism. It is because white women inherently kept gatekeeping the right to determine the forms and agenda of feminist movement building that Alice Walker felt so compelled to create womanism, that Barbara Smith and the members of Combahee had to articulate what Black feminism looked like, that Fran Beale and the members of the TWWA had to articulate what a third world feminism looked like, that Gloria Anzaldua had to articulate what a Chicana feminism looked like.

In light of these observations, some argue that the movement is not primarily about the terms.  But that assertion is belied by the fact that the organizers continue to organize under the term even though it clearly has some problems with inclusion.  Despite the calls from Black Women’s Blueprint that the movement be “re-branded” these marches are going to continue to be called “slut walk” because frankly the term is catchy, it was and is used against all kinds of women in violent ways, and many of the women who participate still find the notion of a universal female experience of oppression narratively compelling. Hence, Erin Clark’s sign. The protestations of Black women and other women of color are at best an inconvenient nuisance to an otherwise sexy exercise and at worst seen as divisive and potentially derailing. The reality though is that every feminist I’ve talked with about this sees the potential for good in SlutWalk, hence our cautious optimism, hesitant solidarity (but solidarity nonetheless), and our willingness to spend our time offering our critiques.

A little Ace of Base (throwback joint) is appropriate here:

“I saw the sign and it opened up my eyes

I saw the sign

Life is demanding without understanding

I saw the sign and it opened up my eyes

I saw the sign

No one is gonna drag you up to get into the light where you belong.”

Word. The challenge now SlutWalk is how will you respond?

For some other great reads on SlutWalk from feminists we admire and respect here at the CFC, check out:

Aishah Shahidah Simmons, speaker at SlutWalk Philly: here.

Salamishah Tillet, speaker at SlutWalk DC: here.

Akiba Solomon, at Colorlines: here.

Andreana Clay, at QueerBlackFeminist: here.

Close Kin & Distant Relatives: Some Thoughts on Family

3 Oct

Folks who know me know that I have family on the brain.  I am writing a book on family as theme in contemporary black women’s literature. Right now I’m also teaching a survey course on African American literature, with family as the guiding theme and this is not the first time I have done so.  Studying how folks write about family has been a major interest of mine since I was in college.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. I am one of those people for whom their life’s work is, in some ways, a reflection of the anxieties at the center of their private lives. In other words, writing and teaching about family is like cheap therapy for me. It’s not so much that I talk about my own experiences in the classroom or in publications, but rather that some of the things I’ve experienced directly informs my intellectual work.

My family of origin has a lot going on. I have a brilliant, delightful, kooky mother who is a trip, and who I love fiercely. I have two older sisters that I am not particularly close to, a circumstance that I’ve struggled to accept.  I haven’t seen my father since I was five and am not sure if he’s dead or alive. I have scores of cousins scattered across the globe, most of whom I never see. Growing up as a latchkey kid with much older siblings, I often felt like an only child, for better or for worse.

I know that a lot of my thinking about transgressive iterations of family come from my own struggles with wanting a “normal” family as a kid.  Early on, I had to reject the notion that “blood is thicker than water.” By and large, that has not been true for me. Instead, I have had multiple caring, sustaining, and loving relationships with folks I met in school, at work, and just around the way and have come to recognize that these folks are my family.

Now while I would have appreciated having a responsible father or being closer to my biological sisters, I don’t have a narrative of lack in my life.  I am grateful for my mother, the first crunk feminist I’ve known. I’ve been blessed with brothers and sisters who have become the closet of kin to me, even if we aren’t technically related. These folk make me laugh, give me the space to cry, challenge my thinking, and call me on my shit. I just hope I am doing the same for them.

Sometimes we need a paradigm shift to really figure what’s best for us. For me, rethinking what it means to be in close kinship with folk who are not biologically related to me has been freeing, gratifying, and necessary. I literally do not know what I would do without my them.

I probably don’t say it enough, but I want to thank them, you, for being in my life and for loving me fiercely.

I love you, unapologetically.

We are, indeed, family.

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