27 November 2008

reality check on thanksgiving

love this cartoon! It's funny, ironic, & flips the script.

So let us remember on this day, even as we enjoy time off, even as we spend time with our families, that if we live in the United States, we live on stolen land. "Thanksgiving" should be a day of national mourning.

It should be day that we remember the genocide of Native Americans, a day that we remember the Native American struggle and the larger indigenous movements (for land, rights, and resources) across the planet. This should be the time we remember... the history we may never know... and take the time to learn & read up on what we don't know.

in the struggle,

24 November 2008

on being invisible

The last few weeks, post-election, have been intriguing & disturbing to me for a number of reasons: the blame game for prop 8 in California with Black people as the scapegoats; the media trying to talk about this issue but failing miserably (for the most part) & pitting 'Blacks' against 'Gays'; and the invisibility of Black LGBTQ people in these debates.

After I read Kai Wright's thought-provoking article "Blaming Blacks for Prop 8" on The Root, I immediately sent it to my friends and posted it on my facebook profile because I thought it did an excellent job of calling out both racism in white LGBTQ communities and homophobia in Black communities, while at the same time pointing out the obvious - there are LGBTQ Black people. I want to take this point further and not only support Wright's call for white LGBTQ communities to do a better job of reaching out to people of color AND also for Black communities to really discuss sexuality, BUT ALSO suggest here that we need to talk about what "civil rights" mean at this particular moment and at the same time deal with the reality of homophobia.

In order to do this work, we must stop referring to civil rights as what Black people have "won" on the one hand and what LGBTQ are still fighting for on the other. This makes it seem as if the struggle for civil rights (for Black people) is over - when this is clearly not the case - AND this does not account for people who experience multiple forms of oppression (i.e. for example, being Black, female, queer, and working class). If we talk about what the struggle for civil rights continue to mean for communities of color and marginalized groups around the United States (and other parts of the world), then we can build/create much needed collaborations (building alliances across difference as the great Audre Lorde says) and make spaces for people who exist in two or more communities.

To do this work, we must also talk about different kinds of oppression and highlight that all oppression is not equal oppression, nor do systems of oppression operate the same. Racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia are NOT the same. Certainly, systems of oppression are inter-connected and feed on each other. But there are differences that must be acknowledged (and privilege must also be recognized, whether it be white, male, class, light-skin, or heterosexual).

If we think about what it means for ALL people to be full and effective citizens in the world (and in the nations where we live), then it may help us to push the boundaries and breakdown the divides that separate us. We need to challenge ourselves and our communities to talk seriously about race, gender, class, sexuality, religion, and nationality. We all have multiple identities even if/when we identify more closely with one over another. And so we may (and will) disagree about many things in terms of our beliefs and ideologies. But is there a way for us who have common & progressive goals and visions for the future to meet, talk, debate, and organize? Let's say we want to fight for jobs, health care, safer neighborhoods, and good schools, then don't we find a way to work across the divides of say religion, race, gender, and/or culture?

Many organizations and communities do this kind of work - meaning set aside differences in terms of beliefs/morals/religion and fight for a specific cause or the bigger picture (human rights, social justice, equality). But this doesn't happen enough and morality along with belief systems can be mobilized to take away rights and work against equality. As a number of articles have pointed out in the past couple weeks, religion and various churches have played major roles in the passing of anti-gay legislation around the country. And some Black communities in particular tend to use religion (Christianity & the Bible) as the reason for homophobia.

So this brings me to some big questions: How can Black communities effectively talk about sexuality, homophobia, and same-sex marriage? (particularly in the face of more pressing issues of education, prison, policing, economic crisis, and the daily realities of racism)? How do we stop the silence and denial? How do we begin the conversation among people who have different beliefs? Can someone be Black, Christian, and straight AND be a LGBTQ ally? Can we all support same-sex marriage as a civil & legal right regardless of our religious or moral beliefs? Can someone be Black and LGBTQ and not "believe" in gay marriage? BUT perhaps still support it in legal terms?

How do those of us who are both Black and LGBTQ become visible? Do we have to be like Wanda Sykes and come out in public ways, meaning in our own communities and families? (Wanda is a celebrity, so her "public" is arguably larger than ours.) Can we be safe and visible? How do we talk about hate crimes and violence happening to 'visible' Black (and of color) gay men, lesbians, and transgenders? Why are so many of these acts of violence coming from Black men? And finally how do we talk about these issues in a diasporic context (thinking about the Caribbean and Africa - with different yet similar issues)?

These are the many questions and debates going on in my head... I have no answers, only more questions... hoping for open & honest conversations that will create and sustain acceptance of difference. I know it will be a struggle. And I struggle with how to be in this struggle as a Black Queer woman who may not be 'visibly' Black & Queer to most. I struggle with how to describe my feminist ideologies and beliefs that sustain me and keep me in the struggle for social justice, which includes an end to sexist, gender, and racial oppression. I struggle with how to explain that I believe feminism will save us as long as it is anti-racist, class-conscious, and queer. I struggle with how to fight against all that marks me as invisible and the fear of being visible.

06 November 2008

Change... can it be?

Obama said "YES WE CAN" and we did... Admittedly, I was a skeptic up until the last moment of truth on November 4th... as much as I wanted to dive in to the Obama-mania of the past year, I resisted the urge because I was scared. I feared for his life and his family. I feared for the ways in which his success would be spun (and is spun) as the end of racism. I feared that he would be a symbol of post-racial Blackness. I feared that he would not be able to live up to all the hopes/dreams/expectations we placed on him. I feared that he would have to give up too much to win the election. I feared that Black people would be left out. And my greatest fear - that poor working class Black people would be forgotten. Twelve years in Florida and distrust of an extremely flawed voting system enhanced my cynicism.

I had many fears and some of these fears remain in spite of my feelings of excitement and joy over this victory, our victory. The victory of so many people who came before us. People whose names are forgotten - our ancestors who fought and resisted slavery and colonization. Black men and women who refused to be treated as second-class citizens, who struggled for civil rights (along with white allies and other coalitions of people of color and other marginalized groups). But (as many voices have been saying) this victory cannot be seen as the final victory.

The struggle is not over. Social justice has yet to be realized. In the United States, 2.3 million people are locked up in an unjust prison system. Their rights are taken away, yet their bodies and labor are owned by the state. The United States is engaged in two unjust wars. Poor working class people around the country do not have equal access to resources and opportunities. Many people are struggling to get by. Poor communities and communities of color are heavily policed and criminalized. LGBTQ people and communities are also criminalized and in the struggle for civil rights. (Thinking especially about the hate crimes forgotten, with little to no media coverage, endured by lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender/queer people especially of color, remember Sakia Gunn; thinking about the bans on same sex marriage across the country, remember California and Florida in this election - voting for change on the one hand and against rights on the other.)

Women of color, LGBTQ people, marginalized groups, communities of color, immigrant communities, and the working poor, working class, are too often pitted against each other. We are encouraged to forget/dismiss our common differences, to fight over the scraps and crumbs left over, to not see our similar struggles. And we forget that these divisions are not set in stone, often times we are ALL these, MANY of these, living in multiple identities, fitting in/to many of these so-called categories, boxes built for division, created to keep us separated, fighting (the divide and rule paradigm still at work).

BUT something happened on November 4th, not just in the United States, but around the world... I felt it as the election results poured in... I felt it when the Obama family walked out on that stage... I felt it during his speech... I felt it as I saw images of people around the world in celebration and in hope of all that is possible... I still feel it as I walk around the streets of New York in post-election bliss, the smiles, the tears of joy, the heads held high, the energy and spirit of this moment... (especially for people of color, especially for people who voted for the first time, especially for people who worked so hard on the Obama campaign and voter registration).

And so, I am full of HOPE and ready for CHANGE. "Yes, we can!"

As I resonate upon these hopes of Election '08, I feel like a believer now, I feel like anything is possible (at least for this moment, at least in the now). I feel such relief that so many people in the United States (born citizens and naturalized citizens who may locate home outside the U.S. but live in the U.S.) participated in the electoral process and made a collective voice heard - a voice that said, we are tired of the present regime.

As a migrant and newly naturalized citizen, this was my first time voting in the United States, and I am happy to say I voted for Obama... even as I critique U.S. empire and imperialism and see the hypocrisy in the so-called democracy of the United States' two party system and mystifying electoral college. I am over joyed that he won, and in spite of all my doubts and fears, I believe.

"We inhabit histories even if we do not understand or know them" -Angela Davis

I was fortunate to hear Professor Davis speak last week (Oct 30th) here in New York... and to be blessed/inspired/lifted by her words of wisdom (her voice of radical change). (Her talk focused on a range of issues - the election, race, gender, civil rights, citizenship, the prison industrial complex, democracy, abolition, and more.) She reminded us that no matter how much the election discourse evaded the question of race (and public discourse generally), histories are always a part of us; she said "they inhabit us." And we cannot disregard how much race has shaped histories in the present. So even as we celebrate Obama's win and the apparent defeat of racial barriers, we must remember there is much work to do.

Professor Davis said that we must shift our focus from the individual to the group, that we must sustain the energy from this election and hold our leaders accountable - push for the change we want/need. Let us not forget that the struggle for social justice and an equal society and world remains. She said, "Don't give up our collective agency to our leaders. Rid ourselves of the Messiah complex." In other words, we must remain active, participate, and BE IN this movement. And we cannot forget the problem of colorblindness & gender blindness - because we do not live in a world that is gender or color blind. She ended her talk with the refrain, "Radical Solutions are needed" and that we must say no to racism, say no to sexism, say no to wars, say no to injustice...

These are the ideas I focus on as we celebrate Obama's win (as our victory, but not the final victory) as the beginning of a movement for real change, a push for radical change, as the start we need to both imagine and create a radically different, socially just, equal, and better world.

with hope that this whisper of revolution transforms into a storm,