Thursday, June 17, 2010

Postcards from the Post-Racial Wasteland

I'm homesick.

I never thought I'd actually be nostalgic for a time when "race" wasn't a foul four-letter word, for a time when we could tell the difference between a "racist" and an educator in Arizona teaching a U.S. history course on the Chicano movement--for a time when we weren't such near-sighted hypocrites.

But really, no matter how much romanticized race-bilia I have hidden in that now dank and cobwebbed corner in the back of my mind inherited from generations before: I, the liberal spoon-fed child of the multi-culti '90s and the colorblind '00s, have never actually known a world that wasn't in debilitating denial, running away at breakneck speed from confronting stark racial inequalities and injustices.

We so ostentatiously and naively announced our new era of "hope" and the collapse of racial barriers like some imaginary Berlin wall. And now we find ourselves in a kind of self-imposed exile in this farcical Post-racial Wasteland. Yet we actually have nowhere to go "back" to-- nothing in fact, to take back.

Until this so-called post-racial society becomes a post-racist society as well, this wasteland will remain the nightmarish Twilight Zone we now find ourselves in-- populated by teabaggers with rabid gun-toting tendencies and Glen Beck & Co. followers.

With love and nowhere to send this back to,

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Higher Learning

And we thought the days when college students raised hell were long gone: Today, student activists speaking out on racism on campus, affordable education and access to higher-ed as part of immigration reform are making us think twice.

Welcome to the Ivory Tower Inc. where the capitalist machine is alive and well and knowledge is sold to the highest bidder. Since higher education is mostly privatized and run like a corporate business universal access is non existent. The U.S. is one of the only self-proclaimed democratic systems with a privatized system of higher education that an overwhelming part of it's population cannot even afford and where most are inevitably sucked into a seemingly endless system of loan payments. Not only is access an enormous issue, but the millions of dollars funneled into both the military and prison industrial-complex under which our great nation operates (specializing in the incarceration of men of color-- there are more black men in prison than there are in college(1)) is also obliterating any chance for comprehensive education reform. A nationwide movement for lowering loan rates for higher education and just bringing down the price tag of higher ed both public and private is a growing agenda for students.

Issues around immigration status and documentation in higher education inspired both undocumented students and their allies in Chicago to start a lobbying and advocacy campaign for the DREAM Act. The DREAM Act, if adopted would become part of comprehensive immigration reform. The Act would allow undocumented students the ability to go to colleges and universities with access to financial aid.
Thousands of students from schools across the country marched in a rally in Washington D.C. on March 20th to pressure Congress to pass the DREAM Act.

Race and class are still monster issues and not just in more conservative institutions. No matter how many nouveau self-proclaimed progressive liberals we keep turning out, spaces are still limited and microagressions (definition: people usually think of racism with a big bold red 'R' paired with burning crosses in the mud. But today, racism is commonly more insidious, less bold, more underhanded and most people when hit with today's racism are left standing thinking "What the hell just happened?") occur every day. Our increasing inability to talk about race and class in this country and in our schools and jumping straight to equally problematic models of egalitarianism and colorblindness is causing major tensions on college campuses. "Ghetto" themed parties or nooses hanging from quad trees may not seem like crosses burning in the mud-- but really, they might as well be.

Our dominant model of multiculturalism with it's "happy, happy let's hold hands, dish out colorful food, fun and festivities and pretend that we're not struggling, pretend that we're not being tokenized, pretend that we're not being appropriated" vision of society and cultural space is not the way to transformative change. Multiculturalism and it's post-modern heir "color blindness" has divided communities of color on a national level, but particularly in the microcosm that are institutions of higher learning. Students from under represented communities (communities of color, queer and working class communities) struggle to effectively work together and form proactive coalitions against systems of institutionalized oppression from curriculum and pedagogy all the way down to student groups and organizing.

College campuses in the U.S. have historically been sites for social action and change. Students have marched, protested, organized and mobilized in the thousands against war, racism, sexism and labor among a litany of other social justice issues.

But this isn't 1968, this is 2010 and college students are (hopefully) gearing up and ready for a fight.

(1)About 10.4% of the entire African-American male population in the United States aged 25 to 29 is incarcerated, by far the largest racial or ethnic group—by comparison, 2.4% of Hispanic men and 1.2% of white men in that same age group were incarcerated. According to a report by the Justice Policy Institute in 2002, the number of black men in prison has grown to five times the rate it was twenty years ago. Today, more African-American men are in jail than in college. In 2000 there were 791,600 black men in prison and 603,032 enrolled in college. In 1980, there were 143,000 black men in prison and 463,700 enrolled in college.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The United States of Panic & Hysteria

It's no big secret: conservatives across the country have been in a constant state of panic since November 2008 when Barack Obama against all odds and in the wake of a history of assassinated black and liberal leaders took the stage in Grant Park, Chicago with the first family to accept his presidential victory. Some, having lived through the height of racial tension and violence in the Unites States weren't even sure Obama was going to live to see his inauguration two months later.

But somehow, here we are a year and a half later-- and what a year it's been with a good number of Americans losing their minds at the sight of a black man in the Oval Office. The criticism from every part of the political and public strata was almost instant. The verbal attacks on the Obama administration started even before all his Cabinet members were even sworn in. Tea-baggers and mobs of conservatives delirious with fits of hysterics swept through town and city halls-- grainy video footage we watched night after night on the evening news. But does a plea of collective "Negro-in-the-White-House" induced insanity excuse this???

"Oh, (a resounding) hell 'nah!!!"
The image-- a reflection of how twisted this country has become-- so intent on hastening a "post-racial" era on the backs of people of color and yet just as marked by race as ever. You can't look at this image and tell me race and racism in the U.S. in 2010 is "post" anything!

Yes, people, take a close look. Someone had the audamndacity to portray the President of the United States as the rapist of Lady Liberty and I for one am just sick and simply exhausted by the panic bordering on sheer hysteria that has taken grip over the United States and is turning the image of hope we so ostentatiously ( and albeit naively) held out to ourselves and the world during the 2008 Presidential campaign into an image of a country that finds itself, divided as ever before. The polarization that has happened within the ranks of the government between Republicans masquerading as the moral protectors of freedom and liberty and Democrats tripping over themselves to try to make things happen and stabilize their tenuous electoral victories, makes a mockery of our so-called "democracy."

Liberals excuse the actions of right wing conservatives and write them off as crazy, irrational bigots. Liberal pundits call racism a mental illness--which does nothing to root out the structural and systemic insidiousness of it. The fact remains that images like the one above and the one on the right are real, they become a poignant trigger particularly in the collective psyche of people of color. I know, I know we allegedly have "freedom of speech" and political cartoonists regardless of political affiliation can exercise that right. Political cartoonists thrive on caricature and often intend to provoke and offend. But despite all this, something still irks me at the sight of this image. Something still feels like someone speared me in the gut with a hot poker. Something still makes me sick. For, no matter how low President Bush sunk, there was never a depiction of him "raping liberty" -- and while there are very uncanny images of Bush as a chimpanzee, there are no images of him being shot or brutalized-- no matter how idiotic his actions, how oppressive his administration's policies (Patriot Act, anyone??). Two and a half years into his presidency and we have Obama the Terrorist, Obama the Anti-Christ, Obama the Psychopathic Socialist, and now, Obama the Rapist.

My purpose isn't to bash conservatives-- in some ways I wish the nation's liberals would be a bit more irrational, a little more militant and a little less politically correct so that maybe we could get the kind of change we so desperately need. But I do want us to interrogate how racism and the oppressive power of representation are still hard at work and President Obama is far from immune.

Oh where, oh where do we even begin? Should we start with the blatantly racialized content evoking the age old fear of black masculinity and the pathologizing and dehumanizing stereotype of black men as rapists- specters of Emitt Till and the countless other black men lynched and brutalized throughout this country's history? Or should we jump to the suggestive language of sexualized violence and the gendered (and equally racialized [as white]) image of Lady Liberty herself, with her torch broken at the foot of the bed-- ominously beckoning the "Dark Age of Obama"? The poster of the cartoon said the the image could not be racist because Lady Liberty was green. I won't even entertain that statement with a response. The cartoon alluding to the passage of the health care bill last week, also preposterously suggests that immigration and environmental reform are also examples of a "rape of liberty." Who's liberty? Who does Lady Liberty come to represent? And really, if healthcare, immigration and environmental reform constitute a breach to liberty in someone's twisted imagination-- we need to seriously consider what we mean by "liberty" in the first place.

Take a look at this Racialicious article on the cartoon (Note: The article does have a "Trigger Warning" for survivors)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

How Rebecca Walker Kinda Changed My Life...

Transformative, is a big fancy word for something that can happen in an instant. I may have a slight flair for the dramatic, but I don't use the word lightly. But the more I think about the 1 hour I spent listening to Rebecca Walker speak at the Empowering Women of Color Conference (EWOCC) this past weekend I can't think of a better word to describe the weight and the depth of the thoughts she's left still settling like so much fine dust in my mind...

This past weekend I attended the Empowering Women of Color Conference at UC Berkeley-- the oldest and largest conference for womyn of color. In addition to the breakout session and panels, there were two amazing keynote speakers: Aurora Levins Morales & Rebecca Walker. For those of you that may not know, Walker is a writer, Third Wave feminist, mixed daughter of acclaimed writer and activist Alice Walker (she wrote the Color Purple) and a Jewish civil rights lawyer. I am in the middle of reading her first memoir "Black White & Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self" in which she talks about growing up after her parents divorce.

Walker spoke to the 80 or so women of color gathered in Cal's Student Union each with her own dreams and demons and countless questions about the possibilities and challenges of being, living and loving as a woman of color in a society and in a world that wages daily wars on our bodies, minds, families and communities.

Rebecca Walker gave us a lesson on PROPAGANDA.

She didn't provide us with a clear definition of propaganda-- she left it broadly defined as public relations (Edward Bernays) and an ideological tool, masked as absolute truth. For example: Walker suggests that the traditional feminist movement commandment that women do not and should not need men ("A woman needs a man, like a fish needs a bicycle")is a form of propaganda which we have taken in and internalized and which has now become a corner stone around which we build our sense of modern womanhood. She posited that propaganda serves a clear purpose, but that as we grow up-- a new generation-- we must think about whether the purpose of these so-called "truths" is still relevant and recognize if and when they must be rejected, (re)imagined or (re)constructed.

Without placing direct judgment on a particular type of "propaganda" or social movement she implied that we as young women of color need to brave the deep murky waters of mixed messages and entrapping ideology that we inherit, are spoon/force-fed, or even seek out in our quest for the "right" politics and social justice consciousness/activism. She spoke vaguely and generally assuming perhaps rightly so, that we were all intelligent enough to read between her lines and somehow empower us to find our own truths and to rethink "propaganda" as not something that presents some mighty moral dilemma, but rather as a strategic ideological tool that we must learn to recognize, sense, use, accept, challenge, disrupt, resist and even reject. Walker asked us to identify our own propaganda and learn how to release it when it is no longer healthy or necessary.

We must be well read in the propaganda masquerading as truth that fuels many of the movements we have come to accept as radical and crucial to becoming strong activist women (ie: Feminisms/Womanism, racial/identity politics). In key ways she was asking us to be strategic and to think about who we were in these movements and "revolutions." She asked us to (re)imagine who our "masters" were. Are we masters of our politics and activism or are we mere lemmings in a war much larger and bigger than ourselves? She suggested that we were the first generation of women that could ironically find empowerment through challenging the old modes and methods of empowerment from first and second wave feminisms. She dared us to think about whether we ourselves were being appropriated (not necessarily by the (white)Man,) but rather by the ideological power of the very movements that we are indebted to, the very movements that created the very rights and power we enjoy in 2010. While many of the movements are not as strong as they once were, ideologically they have left their mark and this is not just a scholarly dilemma for those of us standing in the long shadow of the ivory tower (or living in it), but a reality of how ideology has seeped into the very fabric of modern American life and how we understand who we are. And again it's not about whether the ideology is "right" or "wrong" but rather about its powerful-- even seductive nature.

Basically, Walker was asking us to cut off our own umbilical chords, our current life source as nascent (or so we're told) women in the 21st century. And that is scary as hell. Initially, such a suggestion feels like some kind of twisted suicide. It feels like the ultimate betrayal, the ultimate disrespect to a generation of people, now elders and political icons of the Civil Rights Movement, the radical people of color movements and feminist movements. It seemed so crazy, that hours later I was still giddy with the thought of it as she kept suggesting that it may just be the time to reject the truth of our elders and blaze an altogether new path that might very well contradict and conflict outright with the tenets of the past.

Some may say that Walker is just the ungrateful, coddled product of famous lineage who came of age as a Movement baby in the 1970s right at the epicenter of feminist and black power movements. Some may say that her founding of Third Wave Feminism came out of her privilege as a mixed race daughter of a lawyer and Pulitzer Prize winning writer/activist. I'd like to think that she herself would concede that her words and Third Wave feminism itself has it's propaganda. The point is as Malcolm X once said addressing black propaganda is that "One of the best ways to safeguard yourself from being deceived is always to form the habit of looking at things for yourself, listening to things for yourself, thinking for yourself, before you try and come to any judgment."

This may sound all convoluted--like philosophical trash that seems to threaten any idea towards action and fighting for social justice. But I took in Rebecca Walker's words and applied them to what I knew was going on in my own mind and heart. We've been told certain things and been encouraged to take up certain burdens from our parents, our families and every real or imagined community we belong to. In most cases, we have very voluntarily taken up many crosses, so to speak. What does an activist look like? What does a freedom fighter look like? Can she be gender-normative,straight identified, with a partner/husband and children? Can she work in the White House, or be a talk show host? Can she be a corporate lawyer or banker? Can she be a twelve year old girl?Can she be a homemaker? Can she be queer? Can she be "uneducated"? Can she be trans? Can she be an elderly woman who took no part in the 1st and 2nd wave, but who raised her family, community and worked for a country that never recognized her efforts? This is much more than the cliche "What does a feminist look like?" Maybe we should be asking "What does oppression look like?"
Where are the battles being fought and who do we see as worthy of fighting them? Have we reached a sort of self-righteous social justice snobbery and dare I say dogmatic perspective that has made us incapable of finding creative, productive and perhaps altogether new means and modes to reach true empowerment and speak our clear truths to power? Have we paralyzed ourselves and our struggle by regurgitating our radical inheritance and redrawing the lines and boundaries in which we exist? How can we empower ourselves to reach our fullest human potential? How do we begin to heal and transform alongside other women and yes, even alongside other men?

Walker told us to take care of ourselves first and foremost and not to carry the full, impossible burden of the world and of movements that predate us and will outlive us on our shoulders. I for one believe in the power of individual and collective social transformation. I like the idea of earning my battle scars and knowing the history and struggles of the movements we have inherited. We owe a great deal to those movements and to those activists that paved the way. It's all a life-long process of making and (re)making the self and every step along the way you grow. I like the idea of continuing to fight in every creative, productive, positive way. We are superwomen, but we are not immunune and we can self-destruct, burn out and live bitterly because of the burdens we have taken on.
We should, as Audre Lorde always said, transform our silence (and anger) into power and to also allow time and room to heal from the toxic spaces we go to in the search for a better tomorrow (as cheesy as it sounds).

Walker's speech was compelling and deeply inspiring. She wasn't telling us to punk out or give up-- on the contrary she was encouraging us to build a bridge to our own power and to claim and share the truths and the strength we find on our way there.

And that's how Rebecca Walker kinda changed my life.

This post is dedicated to young (super)women trying to change the world

Friday, February 26, 2010

Ayiti, I'm Sorry...: Reflecting on Black Solidarity

Haiti's revolution was bad ass. It was daring in it's mission, breathtaking in it's scope and best of all it remains was one of the baddest, meanest, grassroots, mobilization of the masses movements of all time. The players Toussaint, Dessalines, Sans Souci and thousands more black men and women; the battlefield, a place known by the indigenous Arawak as "Ayiti"-- a place and a people taken over and (re)created by colonialism and Western imperialism. The Haitian Revolution shook the project of colonialism to it's core as black Haitians swept through plantations across the country and pushed white power out forcefully, violently and triumphantly. The first free Black Republic.

It took an earthquake and the death of thousands for me to finally turn and look Haiti in the face. To look back at that history that is OUR history-- a history of struggle and victory and the legacy of a free people. A free people who were then betrayed, exploited, maligned in a series of political and economic actions, international policies and blatant manipulation by French and later U.S. imperialism. It took a tragedy for me, born in the Dominican Republic- Haiti's reluctant and dare I say self-hating neighbor (an arbitary demarcation made nation again by colonial powers. DR and Haiti are the same island) to attempt to pick up and connect the shattered pieces of our diasporic legacy.

I'm youngish, and I still have so much to learn about the struggles of people of color historically and today--A product of spoon-fed white liberal education that did little to raise my level of political consciousness. But I do know Haiti's Revolution was testament that change could come about for the oppressed and marginalized. We can get into a whole discussion about violent vs. non-violent action. But for the moment, let's just appreciate this watershed moment in history for what it was. Slavery was never the same again and white masters no longer slept soundly-- so they crushed post-revolution Haiti in an attempt to make an example of it-- to show that there could be no success. Haitians were pathologized, demonized and ostracized. So that by January 12th 2010, Haiti might as well have been some remote planet. Instead it was right at the U.S. doorstep, right here in our own hemisphere. But let's not be naive, or sound so shocked such things could happen in our hemisphere, when such things happen in our own country (READ: Katrina) and micro-agressions and acts of systemic and structural violence against men and women of color, queer people and working class/poor communities . There is no such thing as a natural disaster.

This past week I heard Tiffany Ruby Patterson speak about Haiti and Black Internationalist Politics and Activism. She spoke about the struggles of "global Africa" since the Middle Passage, and she spoke about a universal emancipation that was not just about freedom for black folk but for all oppressed people. Dr. Patterson laid out the history and the importance of the Haitian Revolution. I peeked at two amazing books she had with her: From Toussaint to Tupac and Race Against Empire

She spoke of the creation of the "black international", silences in history and the U.S. occupation of Haiti, the militarization of aid, and a time when U.S. black communities and communities of color in general joined with struggles and movements (ie: negritude, African liberation movements, Third World Liberation movements and yep, even (perhaps especially, at one point: communism))-- because it was about tearing down oppression at it's root, about making that a possibility and a reality for everyone and no matter what race, gender, nation, sexuality, creed that was something we could all be down with. Now this is two parts retrospective thinking and a heavy dash of back in the day I did hunger strikes and sit-ins romanticism, but it's a part of our collective history that I am really interested in because no matter how real or imagined solidarity and coalition-building was there's no doubt in my mind that we've taken a step backwards and today in 2010 we have more than enough tools and there's definitely not a lack of issues. The issues, however, have become more insidious, more systemic, more manipulative and we have further internalized and normalized them. How can we move forward? How can we serve our communities and serve each other? How can we take action?..... Those are the questions we should be asking....

Haiti, I am sorry. There is a debt we owe you. I am sorry that we have forgotten, that we have been spread across the world and no longer see the need to connect our struggles. Haiti, I am sorry that we no longer see into your face and see a reflection of who we once were, who we once dreamt of being and who we could have become.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Danger of a Single Story Chimamanda Adichie

Watch Chimamanda Adichie on (Please click the link on the title above)

On (De)Cheesing the Revolution

So, I woke up this morning with something to Say (which I usually do, but let's just leave that alone for dramatic effect) because I've just spent the past two days with two of the most real, inspiring and empowering women of color I know. Our talks in the last couple of days have really demonstrated that we are in dire need for CHANGE. And I mean that real systemic-structural- beat-down-the-Man-and-his-twisted-armies-of-Oppressors-on- every-imaginable-level of-world-society-kinda-change.

But let me just say a word (or two) about "REVOLUTION". Revolution has become cheesy. Yea, I said it--Cheesy because it's been commodified from Che T-shirts, to images of Angela Davis' glorious fro and the raised fists of the Black Power and Third World Liberation movements co-opted into kitschy graphic designs. Cheesy because while the contributions of MLK, Malcolm X and Ghandi to the world and to the fight for freedom have been great and far-reaching, their words have been made into cliched soundbites for college dorm room posters, coffeemugs and t-shirts for a generation (of which I'm very proud to be a part of) that has come to see revolution as something past, something retro, something static belonging to our history books. There's nothing further from the truth.

Also, just as an aside: since this post is about "de-cheesing" the revolution, "cheese" as in corniness but also "cheese" as in money: READ: "The Revolution Will Not be Funded"-- a seriously on-point, hard-hitting book on the non-profit industrial complex (posts on this to come) by an amazing org of radical women of color INCITE!.

What we're talking about is a revolution of minds (yes, Bob Marley...), internal revolutions in consciousness and creating change on our terms-- being creative about that change that activism, using the tools at our disposal and TALKING BACK and TAKING BACK as young people of color. Activism is beyond rallies and marches, activism is a choice, a choice to challenge power and speak truth to power and understanding that knowledge is power.... Okay, imma slowly step off the soap box...
All I really wanted to say was: this blog strives to be a space for us to think about activism and how we can create social change from the ground up. And we'll try to keep the preaching to a low...