Monday, March 9, 2009

BFP Speaks, So You Know It’s Good

Brownfemipower can be found on her blog flip flopping joy.

1) It is my understanding that even though you identify with feminism you continue to have issues with it.  What are your greatest concerns and what would you suggest allies do to bring about a more balanced approach to theorizing and or activism?

I actually don't identify with feminism. I identify with a need to bring a gendered analysis to any and all organizing--but I don't identify with what the "Feminist Movement" is at all. And as such, I don't really feel the need to contemplate what would "fix" the Feminist Movement anymore. I used to spend all my time doing that--but I've realized that you can't fix something that isn't broken. The Feminist Movement is running exactly the way it wants to run, it's running exactly the way it was *meant* to run, and I'm through trying to insist otherwise.

I'm more interested in supporting sustainable projects that recognize race, gender, nationalism, disability, sexuality, etc as all being important and necessary to consider in building a new world. I support work being done by Incite! Women of Color Against Violence, the Allied Media Conference, Sista II Sista, Sister Song, Sister Fire, CARA, the New Orleans Women's Health Collective, Detroit Community Acupuncture and others. These grassroots networks are firmly grounded within communities and are working to create change. They are succeeding where so many others tell them that they are 'dreamers' or 'not practical.' For example, Sista II Sista created an amazing Freedom School for young women of color in the neighbourhood. Allied Media Conference is a part of creating a media based economy to replace the auto industry of Detroit. Starting with brick one, these groups work to solve the huge problems of gendered violence, poverty, colonialism, environmental racism, etc.

2) There are many issues in the black community that do not get serious engagement i.e hueism, class exclusion, sexuality, sexual abuse.  How do you believe that we can broaden the conversations that take place and thereby bring an in end to the idea that blackness can be represented as a monolith?

This is the eternal question isn't it? :-)

I think that there's no one final answer--that pretty much everybody has their own ways of dealing--I've read tons of women of color, for example, post or have written some place on their blogs "I do not speak for all women of color." I've known other women who refuse to identify as women of color or even women--just exclusively by their race--hoping, I think, to have conversations exclusively within their specific racial community. Other women go the other way and just come out swinging--saying you *will* take me into account, you *will* accept that I am not anybody else but myself, etc. An attitude that I really admire and am on several levels fairly jealous of.

I think that I myself am very intentional about who my audience is--much more so since I first started blogging. I remember one time I wrote a post (can't remember about what), and about twenty men showed up and commented on the thread--and I was really shocked because I had no idea I had so many men reading my site. I am very specific about talking to other women of color, to other Chicanas. I really appreciated that so many men were reading, but not commenting--it was one of the few times I felt really respected and honored by men. That rather than doing what they could to shut me up, they were actually listening and thinking (at least I hope that's what was going on! :->)

But anyway, I think that there's a lot of answers--and unfortunately, nobody has found the ideal one that works for everybody--or else this wouldn't be a problem any more!  Maybe this is one of those problems that you know we'll have reached the mountain top if we no longer have to think about it?

3) Much of feminist discussion when it comes to reproduction revolved around the right to choose.  Often this right to choose really means validating the right of women to have abortions without critically discussion of what it means to be a mother.  Do you believe that there has been a failure to discuss motherhood critically, and why have we avoided this conversation?

I think that because "the worker" is considered the most valuable resource in capitalistic countries (i.e. the U.S.), it is the person who most fits as a "worker" that is recruited by organizations interested in change and held as the "ideal" that we should all strive to be--in other words, the young, 20 something that is single, able to live off of minimal resources and has unlimited time to devote to "the cause." The models of organizing we have set up in the U.S. depends on those handful of people doing 40+ hours of work over the course of a week that 100 people could do in a day or two if each person did an hour or two of work. People who do not have the time or resources to give in such an unlimited way are either simply not recruited or are subtly 'encouraged' to readjust their lives to better fit the needs of a professionalized movement rather than the movement readjusted in any meaningful way to fit the needs of a community.

The great thing is that I have found considerable support as a mother who wants to organize with the groups I organize with (Incite! and the AMC). Incite! has always been very aware of the fact that mothers make up the vast population of the women they center in their work around and as such, has worked to incorporate sustainable models of organizing that centers the needs of mothers.
When I first came to the Allied Media Conference--they weren't nearly as accommodating as Incite!--for example, they required me to find a place to leave my kids while I attended the conference, and really limited how much I could participate in other activities throughout the year because they didn't realize how tough it was to come to a meeting when I have family responsibilities.

But the amazing thing about the AMC is that I told them that I was having a hard time as a mother--and then a whole group of single mothers also made a point of showing how incredibly difficult AMC organizing can be without organizational support for mothers--and the AMC adjusted and accommodated itself to our needs, no questions asked. Over the course of three years, the AMC went from requiring me to find my own childcare if I wanted to participate in events, to setting money aside in the budget so that baby sitters could be hired when I came to meetings, child care being provided at the actual conference, and financial support being given to mothers who created a CD that could be sold to fundraise more money for mothers of color to attend the conference.

So although neither Incite! nor the AMC are perfect when it comes to mothers, they are not *avoiding* mothers as being 'too difficult' to organize around or not worth the investment of organizing resources. They regard mothers as *essential* to organizing and creating a new world--which I think is amazing and libratory--but at the same time, sadly, not a usual thought--even around "feminist" organizing.

Mothers are not "the ultimate worker," being a mother will never bring a woman power in this current world, and as such--in uncritical spaces, mothers will always be cast aside as unimportant 'breeders' that are actually a *problem* to be ignored or ridiculed rather than a reality to be negotiated.

4) In what ways would you say your feminist principles have informed your experiences as a mother?

I would say that my insistence on bringing a gendered analysis to my life has allowed me the space to really recognize that I have needs as do my children. I think that especially being raised in a very conservative Mexican community, I was taught that women sacrifice themselves in their entirety to their children--to the point that the women stay in abusive relationships "for the kids" and the kids then are burdened with years of guilt because of what their mothers put up with "for them." In recognizing that women before me and women like me were taught those things for a reason, I have, with the help of other Latinas also struggling through the same issues, learned how to break a lot of the cycles that lead to destruction and violence against women and children. I've learned to recognize that many of my "solutions" are just as shitty as the solutions of women before me, and I've learned that some of my solutions are better. I've learned that we all do what we can with what experience and knowledge we have--and as Maya Angelou says--when you know better you do better. It's hard to recognize that some times you only know better because you fuck things up so badly--but it's also amazing and wonderful to recognize that many of the women I've had such issues with growing up (how could you let that happen to us/how could you do that to us/etc) had so many life skills and survival tools that they have shared...It's wonderful to be at a point that I can recognize how those women created a specifically gendered analysis about life that led me to where I am today. That I am in a *good* place because of the women that came before me, and my children will be in a better place because of the strength and tools that those women gave me.

5) What led you to choose blogging as a form of expression?

Because I love to write, first and foremost. But also because I found that so many women of my community simply had no access at all to a radical woman of color analysis--the place I finally found such a critique was at a very privileged elite university. Most women in my community couldn't afford to go to that school. So I wondered how to make that radical woc critique more accessible to women like I was--mothers, poor, working, closeted queer--and for me, the internet seemed to be a perfect way to do that.

6) The blogosphere is a reflection of the wider world and therefore how has race played a role in your interactions?

I don't think that "race" as brought to the world through a former migrant worker lens is something that is common in the blogosphere. I think that a lot of people struggle to understand how 'race' can be gendered and vise versa when looking through a lens that isn't specifically black. Specifically, black feminists in the U.S. in particular have a long, nuanced, incredibly diverse history of showing how 'race' is gendered and as such, while people may struggle to recognize race as important when it comes to black women, they simultaneously are at least somewhat aware of the work of black feminists (Audre Lorde, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, etc). When it comes to Chicanas (who have the same long history of gendering race through their organizing, but have done it taking different routes), people are not as familiar of the analysis that Chicanas have put forth, are not as familiar of the work we've done, and as such, are even more reluctant to hear our analysis. For example, when it comes to immigration, something that is a central part of Chicana thought/organizing, the mainstream and even radical/progressive world still struggles to understand how on earth immigration could possibly have gendered consequences for the women experiencing it. This puts the women working on immigration through a lens that recognizes gender as integral, even further on the margins--feminists want nothing to do with them, and immigrant rights folks give us shit about how we're not 'hard.'

To be totally fair, although the work I've done recently on immigration has gotten a few hard-line men anxious about how unnecessary a gendered or queer lens is to The Movement--99% of the crap I've gotten has been from self-proclaimed feminists. Something I think a lot of self-proclaimed feminists would find hard to believe, as they insist that men of color are no more welcoming to women of color than they are. There are definitely much more subtle issues with men--for example, I often feel like women who are taken up as a 'cause' in immigrant circles are made into sort of Virgen Maria figures--a very subtle thing that is often not recognized outside of the community. But 99% of the hard-line "this has no business being talked about" crap comes from 'feminists.'

On a side note--it's interesting to me how often I've been called "black" by other feminists, by haters, by media--even having my name switched from brownfemipower to blackfemipower. I've been called the N word more than I've been called spic or "illegal"--which I think really demonstrates my previous point--many people in the U.S. simply don't know what to do when race=/=black. They literally have no reference point when dealing with people like me.

7) Often black women are asked to choose between their race and their gender, how do you deal with this issue and is there a part of your identity that you find yourself privileging?

More and more, I find myself really working through the ideas of disability and sexuality. I don't know so much as if it is privileging these identities of mine over other identities--but more I've spent so long "in the closet" so to speak in regards to disability and sexuality--it's really wonderful and amazing that I am at a space in my life where I have the time and self love to critically and compassionately look at what disability means to me and what sexuality means to me.

In regards to being asked to choose between race and gender--I dealt with that by ending my attempts to be a part of the feminist movement.

8) What role do you feel that blogging will play in bringing more attention to the concerns of women of colour?

I'm not sure. I think I am blogging not so much to bring attention to women of color, but more instead to build a community and pool resources in a way that centers women of color. For example, I just recently got vegetable seeds in the mail. I think that gardening is such an important skill and so essential to the foundation of any new world--I've started blogging about it because I find gardening to be necessary and important, but also because I honestly have no idea how to do much of what I want to do--and I know that for something I haven't done, there's twenty people out there who have done it and vise versa. I'm interested in nurturing a space where hard questions like "I live on social security, how do I start a compost pile with no money" can be worked through in creative, loving, community driven ways. Gardening could provide nearly free food for that same woman--free food that is healthy and not covered in contaminates. Why would we deny that woman the right to that food simply because she doesn't have the same resources others do? I think that the internet can connect that woman to other people that simply got curious and did something to see if they could do it--and it can create a connection between those people that wasn't there before--all while eventually creating really great tasty free food!

Which is not to say that I think it's unimportant to bring attention to the concerns of women of color. I think that for other women of color that are using blogging bring attention--they are doing vitally important work--and I think through social networking and other web 2.0 tools, even if white mainstream media isn't paying attention, *community* members are, and are finding ways to organize around issues and connect organizing strategies from their community to others--which is so important and necessary.

But after all this time, I think I am coming to the realization that it is going to take multiple types of activism to confront such a huge problem--and I prefer at this point in my life, to give my time to something that is much less dependent on 'bringing attention' to an issue and finding practical ways to solve every day problems like lack of food, expensive health care, no safe place to walk etc.

9) In assembling the WOC and Alley blog carnival I could not help but notice how difficult it was to get WOC to participate. What steps do you believe we can begin to increase solidarity?  As a secondary section to this question why is that we don't work to promote each other and instead argue that white women are sole barriers?

The funny thing is that I and other women of color actually had a WOC blog carnival as well (about three years ago), and had the same problem of getting women of color to participate. I think that in large part, upon reflection, it had a lot to do with the fact that women of color exist on the margins of so many spaces--they are never highlighted for anything. And on the one hand I think that this brings a lot of obvious problems (like when somebody does want to highlight their work, they get sorta horrified at the attention and shy away from it)--but on the other hand, you can get a lot of work done while nobody is up in your face bothering you about "explain to me why you hate me!" etc. I think that it's part structural and part strategic that women of color don't participate in more things like blog carnivals. Since I've been blogging at a site that is not as noticeable and not as connected to blog wars as was, I find that I have much more freedom to talk about things that are truly important to me, like creating a sustainable world, recovering health, and exploring possibilities.

I have yet to figure out how that structural/strategic dichotomy can be resolved when it comes to promotion/carnivals/links etc--which is probably why the WOC blog carnival that I was working with just sort of fizzled away. :-)

10) Finally, if you had to set a list of priorities for women's organizing for the next five years, what would they be and why are they important to you.

Sustainability is the first, and probably the only thing that I am concerned about right now. I was in the thick of the organizing rat race for three years in the blogging world--screaming over and over and over again that THIS is racist or THAT is sexist--it doesn't change anything. I did it for three years, and violence against immigrant women is still has prevalent and horrible as it was the day I wrote my very first post. Not only did it not change a thing, it also robbed me of energy, balance, and health. I think that women of color especially have been taught for generations to give literally every part of their soul to others--from breast feeding children of Masters, to sleeping with men to get money to feed kids, to doing all of the logistical work of organizing while them men give interviews and then go home--women of color have given their *lives* to a world that then calls them lazy, stupid, worthless etc.

In the U.S. we have a long tradition of women of color dying before their time--Audre Lorde, Gloria Anzaldua, Toni Cade Bambera, Octavia Bulter and so many others...It's radical and revolutionary to say we need an intervention in that tradition. We need to learn how to care for ourselves, how to replenish ourselves, nurture ourselves--and I think sustainability is the way to do that. If we can't sustain what we are doing for an extended period of time without killing ourselves then is it really what we need to be doing to build a new world?

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