Saturday, March 7, 2009

Drop It Like It’s Hot

Hello everyone. Thanks so much for another great week of conversations.  I hope that you have enjoyed the interview series that I posted this week.  I originally intended to only do 8 interviews as International Womens Day is March 8, but it seems that I cannot count and actually did 9. So everyone will be treated to a bonus interview.

I would once again like to remind everyone to please submit your articles to the WOC and ally blog carnival.  I know that there is some great work being done in regard to racism in blogosphere and I believe that it is time we start to highlight it. If you are a WOC, or have written about race and its intersections please submit to the carnival.  It will be posted Tell It WOC Speak on March 15th.

In an effort to have a variety of conversations, I am reminding everyone of my open space policy.  If you have written a post that you would like to post or cross post here at Womanist Musings please feel free to drop me an e-mail.

As per usual I have a great list of links to posts that I found interesting this week.  Please show these great bloggers some love and check out their work.  When you are through don’t forget to drop it like it’s hot and leave your link behind in the comment section.

Spare the shame, spoil the child

Catholic Church Excommunicates Mother And Doctors Over 9-Year-Old Rape Victim’s Abortion

On Fundamentally Missing The Point Of  WOC – only Spaces

Prop 8 & New Jersey 4 & Other Misdeeds: Where Race, Class & Gender Collide

LaVena Johnson: Raped and Murdered on a Military Base In Iraq

Seriously, do we need to tack a gorram Venn diagram onto every feminist blog, or what?

Pro-choice. All the Time?

Thongs: A Rant

The cost of racism

Military Moms and Working Dads

Where Do I Fit In ?

The This Is My Flaw Project

Some women are afraid of being mommy-tracked; others are afraid of being fired

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For Rent : Whites Only

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Yes, it is the year 2009 and a black man is president of the United States.  There are those that find any kind of social progress threatening because they fear the loss of undeserved privilege. 

A Niagara Falls N.Y. Woman decided to place a sign on property advertising it for rent.

“I rent three bedrooms [at her address to] white people Niagara Falls.”

When the police instructed her that she had to remove the sign she responded, “I can do what I want. I live in America.”  After protest on her part, the sign was eventually removed.  Police report that she had 7 more signs ready to hang.

Is everyone feeling suitably post racial now?  Daily there are repeated incidents of racism and yet blacks are told, look how much better things are getting.  We are accused of persecuting whiteness and framing it as inherently evil.  While we must be careful to judge each person individually how can there still be any doubt that whiteness routinely acts systemically to disenfranchise and exploit bodies of colour?

“Responsibility” is the code word levied at us which negates the fact that whiteness still very much controls discourse.  He who has the power to name or label ultimately controls how bodies are understood.  Acts like the above reify a socially constructed difference and seek to assert a hierarchy of bodies. 

These assaults have a cumulative effect, which results in a society that is continually divided on the basis of race.  From the moment of birth a black child is repeatedly told that they are less than and each interaction affirms this; whether it is the racist media portraying blacks as pimps, thieves, and drug dealers. or the education system which routinely pushes blacks into non academic streams, whiteness aggressively seeks to assert power coercively.

Our rage and our anger at this continuing apartheid is dismissed and or minimized.  Hating on whitey we are told is inappropriate despite the fact that systemically whiteness has acted with extreme prejudice and violence; conversely no matter how illegitimate the basis of the emotion, white anger is always realized and accepted as justifiable.  Reverse racism has become rallying cry as whiteness continues to rail against Black History month, The State of the Black Union, BET and the NAACP.    The existence of these events and organizations is cited as proof of the exclusionary behaviour of blacks rather than understood as being a defensive mechanism to the racism that POC face in the United States.   The fact that all faces of power are over represented by whiteness is not accidental and yet the few organizations that exist to counter this hegemony are deemed reprehensible.  That blacks do not exist with the institutional power to realize any feelings of prejudice they may have is never factored in, in the effort to ensure that the ability to benefit from constructed difference is solely the preserve of whiteness.

When Holder made his speech regarding the state of racial divisions many rose to counter his assertions based in privilege.   We continually speak about race however it is whiteness that controls the terms of conversation and quite often humour is used as a tool to make racism more palatable. 

image Just a few days before this women brazenly displayed her racist attitude to the world, a man was sentenced to probation for placing a sign which read whites only on a drinking fountain in Niagara Falls N.Y.  He claimed that his action was meant as a joke.  While he did face legal consequences for his actions it must be notes that the ability to laugh at the pain of others is an expression of power.  By placing that sign not only did he minimize the experience of blacks under Jim Crow, the net effect was to assert that such segregation was and is socially unimportant. 

Though legalized segregation has been discontinued, the dissonance in our sense of worth and value has allowed economics to ensure that whites still have the ability to control what spaces are inter racial.  The existence of neighbourhoods largely populated by POC which are created by white flight, ensures that many children are not educated in spaces in which are inter racial.  The ghettoization of property means that even the lucky few that are able to purchase land must do so in the full knowledge that it will not accrue in value in the same manner as white owned property.

There are many conversations we resist having because to do so certain truths must be owned.  Whiteness has no right to the historical undeserved privilege that it maintains.  Whiteness is a systemic force that acts collectively and it must be understood that all behaviour is purposeful.   We repeatedly return to the basics and review anti racism 101 because whiteness has committed to an intentional racial ignorance which is often expressed through silencing, and rejection.   We can never be a post racial society until the terms of the conversation change, thus asserting an equal value for all citizens.

H/T The Sauda Voice


Sometimes It Takes An Act Of Faith

Faith Dow is a freelance writer and performer who currently resides in San Francisco. She’d like to find a way to combine advocacy with her artistic endeavours. Aside from wanting to visit  Cadaques, Spain she has a fascination with cooking shows, gourmet chocolate and mixed media art. She’s currently writes for her blog Acts of Faith In Love and Life.

    1. It is my understanding that you don’t identify as a womanist or a feminist.  What issues do you have with either label and how do you theorize a movement that critically examines the oppression of women?
    2. I choose to not self-identify as either a feminist or womanist because neither definition encompasses fully what it means to me to be a woman who is also Black. People tend to make assumptions and bring their own interpretations of what things mean in response to how some people identify.  People may look unfavourably or assume solidarity based on a title without doing any vetting to determine who may or may not be an ally. So this is more of a strategic decision on my part. For the record though I am very supportive of initiatives that benefit women and I think we could all benefit from demanding reciprocity in all our relationships.

    3. What steps do you feel need to occur to bring about a greater since of harmony between white women and women of colour thus bringing about a stronger sense of unity? 
    4. First I think we have to determine whether that’s even necessary. Every woman of the same ethnicity doesn’t share the same viewpoint so why would there be an assumption that women who don’t would? There are those who intend to be obstructionists while others are just operating out of ignorance but not necessarily with malice. Instead I think it would be best to find women who share similar goals and remember if they decide to work together that it is a business partnership not a personal relationship. We don’t need to understand every aspect of how another woman thinks or feels. I will say however that a thorough examination of the ways class and systematic racism impact those relationships needs to occur. For example a woman who has to work two jobs due to low pay may not have the same needs as a woman who’s a Vice President in a corporate field. One would often times be tired and perhaps not live in an ideal neighbourhood with access to fresh but affordable food. One may be hitting a glass ceiling. People can’t be so defensive, ready to fight or ready to fall apart without first examining what they’re seeking and a minimum standard of tangible goals.

    5. We live in a hierarchal society in which black women often find themselves at the bottom.  To what do you attribute this and why do you feel that black women continually fail to make themselves a priority? 
      It could take volumes to reply to this question! Not every Black woman is in this situation first of all. Again, this goes back to systematic racism where the infrastructure is set up to favour white men, then white women and children. One of the biggest problems I see I how the Blacks who are descended from the slaves that built the Americas is the lack of acknowledgement of that. There is a physic fissure that still resonates with a lot of people because it’s carried generation to generation – but people accept it as well. Those contracts to agree to carry this burden need to be broken. There needs to be a recognition of the different class structures that exist amongst Blacks as well. It’s funny how when things were much more difficult for Blacks overall many were in fact able to work around a horrible existence and be successful. Now there seems to be a defeatist attitude often where the focus is on all the negative things that can occur. There’s also this focus on protecting Black boys and men at all costs against the big bad (white) racism at the expense of Black women and girls. Women in general have a hard time putting themselves first because we live in a patriarchal society that teaches us to defer to men always. So for Black women it’s doubly so. In the end the only reason why Black women don’t put themselves first is because they choose not to. Society is set up to pass us over but that doesn’t mean we have to let it happen! It’s an indoctrination that begins as a child, much like the results of the test where children prefer the white doll. It’s a not always silent message being passed down generation to generation and it’s literally killing us. It has to change or most of us won’t make it.  We have to do an extensive evaluation of where we stand, what our place in the world will be and learn to make better choices. When we know better we will.
    6. As a black woman we are often told by black man that uplifting the race means submitting to patriarchal authority.  Do you believe that this is best path to social gains why or why not? What alternative solutions do you feel are possible for the black community to embark upon that would not require the subjugation of black womanhood?
    7. I’d say we are in fact told this more by other Black women with the approval of Black men. With the rate of out of wedlock births and the abandonment of Black women and children by Black men amongst the lower class structures there are often no Black men to be found. I can recall seeing this played out in my own family where my brothers were allowed to be themselves, roam the streets and be catered to but me and my sisters were constantly told we had to be responsible and carry ourselves a certain way and had to adhere to a completely separate code of behaviour. It used to drive me crazy and those were my mother’s rules. Things will not change without a fight and at the discretion of women who when they are of age to say “Enough.” Again, it comes down to knowing better and doing better, having set standards as well as consequences for violating them. No one’s life is going to be perfect though.

    8. The black church has continued to play an instrumental role of leadership in the community however some would say that it has strayed from its communal roots in terms of acting as a form of social relief in a time of economic and social strife.  To what do degree do you believe that a break down in a sense of community is resulting in what we know term the lost generation and how can we best affect change?
    9. Well we know the church hierarchy tends to be populated by Black men, but the bulk of the foot soldiers and financial contributors are Black women who give without demanding anything back in return. They often think they’re following some religious or Christian tenet instead of recognizing that imbalance. When there are no standards for behaviour expected and no consequences why would this change? There should also be a recognition that attending a church service doesn’t mean people know God. The church can play integral role in social justice. Back during Civil Rights it was as a point of facilitation and congregation where people could meet that was considered sacred and safe (usually). This happened due to the participation of like-minded individuals with a goal. Similar to greater society there was a shift into looking out for each other to focusing on the self. Except for Black women of course! It can return to more altruistic ventures just as soon as people decide to make it a priority. I do however caution by stating charity begins at home. Some residential areas may not be worth saving when no amount of money will change the hearts and minds of people who seek to be as destructive as possible. I’d even go so far as to say mental health services are probably the most underserved facilities in neighbourhoods with populations that need them the most.

    10. With the continual focus on black men by the community many of the issues that black women face are particularly ignored. Most acts of sexual violence are intra rather than inter racial.  Why do you believe we have routinely failed to deal with the violence in our community?  Also why do you feel that we seem to defend men like Chris Brown and R Kelly.  Is it that we have come to over value celebrity out of a desire to privilege masculinity. 
    11. Broken people cannot make decisions from an emotionally healthy perspective. Again I would caution the posing of this question as a blanket statement that encompasses the lives of every Black person. There are plenty of Blacks with intact families who are financially and emotionally sound where women are valued. Being around a group of people with different perspectives is absolutely necessary to avoid the sheep and herd mentality. I don’t think a study of the why things are violent should be the focus. I think the focus should be those in close proximity to it need to get away. If your house was on fire would you analyze how it got started or how long it would take before it burned to the ground? Of course not! Perhaps once you’re from a safe vantage point you may wish to evaluate all of the parameters but until then forget about that! Get out and save yourself! We ignore our intuition far too often and don’t evaluate who we allow in our lives. As for Brown, Kelly or any other male celebrity who should be in jail but isn’t – it’s not just them. There’s plenty of abusive men who don’t add anything of value being allowed to roam free and wreck havoc who are harboured by a lot of excusers and deniers. The same thing happens with racists and sexists. It can be painful to confront these issues and people are cowards quite frankly. Sometimes there’s an emotional investment where Blacks think it’s “us” vs. “them” meaning Blacks needing to guard themselves against whites. So they consider it some sort of group betrayal for holding the miscreants responsible. For a long time that was the case, but now some of our greatest enemies look like us. One of the blowback scenarios from Civil Rights is that some people of color got into positions of powers and stepped right into the oppressor role as their white counterparts. I could also offer it’s a spiritual decay and the presence of those that have given in to depravity. There’s an expression “not all skin folk are kin folk” that I think people REALLY need to apply more frequently and divest themselves from toxic people.

      7)  As a young ambitious and talented black woman to what do degree do you feel that your race and gender have combined to make your journey to success difficult? 

      I know my life has been impacted negatively somewhat but I wouldn’t necessarily say that it all originated from whites. Sometimes other Blacks can be your own worst enemy. I think where I would’ve most benefitted from was having examples of other Blacks navigating their way through the white populated corporate world and learning to wield power effectively. I’ve had quite a few white female co-workers and a boss or two who were more interested in sabotage than solidarity. Another great skill to have is learning to choose and maintain allies and thinking outside the box. Other examples would be not having the only career goal be to have a “good” job. That may have worked for previous generations but not in today’s global economy – and especially not now with the financial downturn. In the end I’ve chosen to not follow a traditional career trajectory and wanted to pursue creative endeavours which reduced my earning potential significantly. Still I’ve managed to try to have as full a life as possible. I’ve lived in London and a few other cities. I didn’t jump into a relationship with an inappropriate person that left me permanently scarred. I haven’t had an unintended pregnancies. I’ve had freedoms but I’ve also made sacrifices. So I’ve done the best I could with what I’ve had. Now I’d like to see certain changes and am hopefully making choices that will get me to where I need to be.

    12. How do you negotiate being asked to preference your race by black men and your gender by women in terms of organizing and advocating for change?
    13. Well it’s not all from Black men! I usually preference my race first. There usually isn’t any choice in that when it’s constantly under attack in a myriad of ways. Often Black women are still not considered the “women” in the conversation. I also despise the use of the word minority. This goes back to the labelling scenario. White people are the minorities of the planet yet because of their dominance they attach that word to everybody else. There are some Black men who are willing to examine and step back from patriarchy. There are white women who are willing to examine their status being put on a pedestal. So it comes down to finding like-minded individuals and calling attention to those that want to keep the status quo.

    14. You are new to the blog world.  What inspired you to start a blog and what do you hope to achieve with your online activism? 
    15. Well I’ve always been an avid reader which can open up your world and challenge you in important ways. I used to keep journals and write short stories. I’ve studied songwriting and screenwriting as well. Being the eldest child I had a lot of responsibility foisted upon me at a young age. I was always interested in stories of triumph and looked out for the downtrodden. I took a marketing class for actors where we had to select a character in mythology that best described ourselves. I am the goddess who fights injustice. So thanks to the internet opening up a bit I decided to start writing my thoughts on various topics. I’d been an avid reader of numerous blogs for almost one year before I dived in. I really enjoy expressing a form of creativity as well as getting a message out. I want to provide inspiration and challenge the way people think even as I continue to be challenged by other bloggers in their forums.

    16. What do you feel is the most pressing issue that currently is affecting POC and what steps need to be undertaken immediately to avoid disaster?
    17. HIV and STIs are going to rob a lot of women out of the best years of their lives. The violence in certain residential areas will negatively impact or take lives. This economic downturn is going to make things a bit more challenging. The first thing is to leave from any situation where one is in danger as quickly as possible. Then a plan of action is needed. We just need to keep moving forward and taking small steps. Remaining still and being stagnant will lead to your demise.

    18. Since this is in celebration of International Women’s day what are your hopes and aspirations for WOC?
    19. That we love ourselves first and pursue our inner most desires. They’re there for a reason. They have validity. We need to let go of fear and walk with faith – the belief that we are meant to do great things and that’s ok. We don’t owe anyone else anything but we owe it to ourselves to be our very best.


Friday, March 6, 2009

The Antidote for Discrimination is

This is a guest post by Kateryna Fury.

Kateryna Fury is a 24 year old writer of Science Fiction Fantasy and has recently begun to write informative nonfiction. She is an advocate for equality for all, with a personalized focus on Disability and Women, due to the necessity that her own disabilities and personal history cause.  If you like what you read be sure to check her out at Textual Fury.

I have felt the urge to blog repeatedly, but until now I have not given in. Blogging can be as personal as writing. I have spent the last week in preparation mode skimming the internet reading other blogs, seeing what I liked, what I didn’t like, and the power behind the words. Some of these bloggers brought me to tears, and that is no small feat. Others made me laugh, some caused me to feel sorrow, and a few gave me the chance to feel angry.

I wasn’t sure how to start my first post, but, since I am an advocate for all disabled, all women, all men, all people in need I will start there. The topic nearest and dearest to my heart is Service Animal Law. Some of you who read this might think you know about service animals, and you might be right. Others will presume that a service animal is only for a blind person. You are not correct. A service animal, by the federal definition, is any animal trained to assist a disabled person with a task. This does mean that if you have a seizure alert dog, it has to do more than that. The law even gives behavioral guidelines.

I have a service cat. She is trained to do things including retrieval, seeking assistance from specific humans in the case of an emergency, medication reminders, object retrieval, and she has also been trained to help me balance. A lot of these tactics came out of her instinctual responses, but those needed to be honed. She also had to be trained to handle a crowded mall. Now she handles it better than I do. People often ask me why a cat, and my response is simple. I am not allergic to cats, most of the time but I am allergic to dogs. I also trust cats, and I haven’t trusted many dogs in my life. I have to trust my service animal partner.

I have faced some serious discrimination because of being disabled. When I was still walking most of the time, it was harder because I was in extra agony since forcing myself to walk through a store took all of my energy. The more tired I am, the more pain I feel. There have been times when I have had shopping carts jerked out of my hands, causing me to either fall or nearly fall. I have been denied the right to buy groceries, and recently I have been illegally denied medical care.

I am perusing legal action but I am well aware that other people might not know how. Today, one of the blogs I read, reminded me that not every person is trained in how to handle discrimination. When you are disabled, you might feel more vulnerable to attack, and when people threaten to take away your service animal or refuse access, it can be terrifying. I feel often as if I am going to be hit if I push forward. I was an abuse victim for most of my life, but, adulthood came and I found a way to break free. Not everyone is that lucky.

So, here it is, my guide for other disabled people with any LEGAL service animal on how to advocate their rights. A side not before I begin, if you do not need a service animal, do not lie. We will catch you eventually, and the crime has a punishment. Depriving people of their rights through your shallow behavior is the worst thing you could possibly do, and, whether you believe in Karma, Hell, or just recriminations in this life from other people, you will pay for it. The law will get you, Advocates will get you, and if Karma gets you, it will be worse than anything I could dream up.

The Guide- Dedicated to Renne, Helen, Aimi and Snow, but especially Bree. (All Links will open in a new window/tab.)

Step 1. Stay Calm. This is for me the hardest part of advocating for your rights. Sometimes I want to run, other times I want to scream and cuss. Neither tactic is helpful. As hard as it is, you have to be the bigger person, and stay nice. You can have anger in your voice, do not deny the emotion but do not let the emotions over ride your goal.

Step 2. Calmly as you can, state that they are breaking the Federal Law. This is what I have practiced saying in the Mirror daily for the last two years. “You are violating the Federal Law. The Americans With Disabilities act provides protection for my use of my service animal.” When I say this I hand them a copy of the law. You can get a copy of the service animal laws from the ADA.  I  have the business brief printed with my state law on the reverse side. You can obtain access to your local service animal laws at http://www.animallaw.info/ I carry  my print out in aUSB case on my scooter keys. You can also buy laminated cards from various businesses with the law on it that explain your rights. For some people this is easier. Those cards are usually kept on your animal’s harness.

Step 3. Explain the law in simple terms and how they are violating it. This does mean you need to know the law. Not only does knowing the law protect you from discrimination, but, it lets you educate people. The biggest cause of discrimination in my experience is a lack of knowledge. If someone isn’t willing to learn, or admits they know, then you have a larger problem. One of the main causes of confusion with service animal awareness is that few businesses train their employees. It is illegal to require a service animal to wear a vest or show an ID tag. When someone asks me for this for my cat, I show them the law and educate them. Often, they will try and state she cannot enter because she is not a dog. My local laws state only dogs can be service animals. The laws are written so that the stronger law prevails. This means that if the Federal law says I can have any animal, that is trainable and meets the standards and the local law does not, we refer to the federal law. However if you live in a state like California that requires ID tags for all service animals, then, the law requires you have an ID tag. This is another source of confusion, but, it is an attempt at increasing the rights of many.

Usually by this point I am either in the building or they are just going to break the law anyway. If you have reached this point, it is time for Step 4.

Step 4. Take a very deep breath, and remember Step 1. Then ask to speak to their supervisor. If they refuse or are the supervisor you can try explaining the laws again, or calling another advocate to try and help. I keep the number handy to the local advocacy organization, and they have helped me countless times. Even knowing I can call day or night, is helpful because I do not feel alone. At this time I have no national links, but if you are in New Mexico, contact Service Animals and the Law. (Link forthcoming). If you have links nationally to websites that can help, post them in a comment. I want this page to be a resource for any person in need.

At this point you should be through the trying time, most managerial staff listen well and correct their employees. Recently I had to fight my way into an apartment complex using this tactic for three months. Even when I had food poisoning I had to try and follow my rules, but, eventually I prevailed. Advocating for yourself is the hardest part of having a service animal.

Not every person responds to this and if you still cannot get through to them, you need to contact the ADA. You can email them a detailed complaint, include names, addresses, contact information for both parties, and send it to ada.complaint@usdoj.gov . If you would rather call you can contact the ADA via their hotline using these numbers: 800-514-0301 (TTY-800-0363).

Remember, you are strong, you are beautiful inside and out, and you are not alone.

Other posts in this series: What is a Service Animal?

Additional Resources will be added as I find them:

Information:

http://www.assistancedogsinternational.org/

http://www.deltasociety.org

http://www.ada.gov/svcanimb.htm

http://www.ada.gov/qasrvc.htm

http://www.equipforequality.org/resourcecenter/ada_serviceanimals.pdf

http://www.animallaw.info/

Service Dog Vests and Supplies:

http://www.pettop.com/

http://www.raspberryfield.com/

http://www.activedogs.com/servicetherapyvestharness.html?gclid=CI-6iKm7rpgCFQEpGgod3QL9Ug

http://www.ldsleather.com/patches.html

http://www.petjoyonline.com/ADA_Federal_Law_Information_Card_for_Service_Dog_p/svd-0054.htm The Law Info Cards

Scholarships

http://www.assistancedogunitedcampaign.org/scholarship.html

http://www.keystonehumanservices.org/ssd/ssd.php

Blogs:

http://www.servicedogblog.com/


Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s Criminal Behaviour Must End

Joe Arpaio is the sheriff of Maricopa County.  He has used the rhetoric of tough on crime to terrorize inmates and communities of colour.   The perversion of the criminal justice system to employ power to maintain white privilege and thus demonize bodies that have been traditionally marginalized are reflected in his policies.

image Under his stewardship many have met their deaths.  In the tent cities that he created to deal with prison over crowding, the temperatures can reach as high as 150 degrees in the summer.   To emasculate inmates he forces them to wear pink clothing.  He also feeds them bologna sandwiches twice a day that turn green in the extreme temperatures.  Though he claims to represent the law, he has refused to allow women transport to hospitals to have abortions. 

Arpaio has become a law unto himself.   Using fear he justifies his inhuman treatment of inmates. 

His behaviour of public shaming, and outright criminality has far from saved the state financially.  His practice of feeding prisoners just twice a day with spoiled food, his reinstatement of the chain gang and his cruel treatment of inmates—including those awaiting trial who have not been convicted of any crime—have cost Maricopa County more than $46 million in lawsuit settlements.  In July 2008, the ACLU of Arizona filed a class action suit accusing the Maricopa County Sheriff of illegally profiling Latin@. On Feb. 11, the Federal District Court for Arizona ruled that the lawsuit could proceed.

Much of the work to fight his racist, classist and abusive behaviour has been fought by local activists.  On February  28, thousands participated in a rally to bring an end to the cruel reign of Arpaio and the end to Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which permits Arpaio to enforce federal immigration law.

Janet Napolitano, now DHS chief, was governor of Arizona when the criminalizing of an entire population began: the militarization of the border and the steady movement of Border Patrol presence northward, the implementation of Operation Streamline—a federal program that detains approximately 70 undocumented workers per hour, then turns them over to privately run prisons to serve their sentences—and the so-called Employer Sanctions law, which is really aimed at workers.

The time has come to stand against this kind of assault against humanity. ACORN is calling on House Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers to investigate Sheriff Arpaio both at state and federal levels.  Arpaio is nothing more than a terrorist who has been granted legal power to assault people and his rule must come to an end.  We cannot claim to live in a justice society as long as tyranny is representative of the law.  Please take the time to sign the ACORN petition.  No matter what crime a person has committed, they are still a human being and tough on crime should never be associated with crimes against humanity.


Behold Cara Lays Down Some Truth

Cara Kulwicki is a feminist blogger for both The Curvature and Feministe. She is a contributor to the new feminist anthology Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape.  When not discussing how to smash systems of oppression, she is almost certainly discussing her favourite band The Beatles.

1) It is my understanding that you identify as feminist.  It is no secret that a major tenet of the second wave is that the personal is political and with that in mind, what would you say lead you to have a “click moment”.

You know, I can’t say that I had just one click moment, I had a few.  I identified as a feminist from a young age, mostly because my father, who does indeed listen to Rush Limbaugh, would jokingly call me a “feminazi.” I figured that if thinking I deserved to be treated equally to my brothers and to not be subjected to sexist jokes made me a feminist – and if being a feminist was so worthy of vitriol from the people who didn’t think that I deserved those things – then a feminist was definitely something that I wanted to be!

I had another click moment on my first day of college.  The professor, who taught the very first lecture I ever attended and ended up being my favorite, was an openly gay man and queer theorist, and he automatically launched into a lecture about homophobia, and how homophobia is really just yet another deep-seeded form of the pervasive misogyny (and hatred of anything feminine) in our culture.  This was an English lecture, mind you!  How it was relevant exactly, I don’t remember; but it was love at first listen, and my first real exposure to any kind of feminist theory beyond “hey, that’s sexist.”

My last big click moment came in 2006, when South Dakota passed its now infamous abortion ban.  I just didn’t think that anything like that could happen.  That was when I decided to stop just being a feminist in my personal life, and to get involved.  I started reading feminist books, picking up feminist magazines, reading feminist blogs . . . and here we are.

Of course, I’ve had many click moments since then within my feminism, with regards to white privilege, cisgender privilege, straight privilege, etc.  But the things above are what brought me to feminism in the first place.

2) How do you define feminism?  Do you feel that your definition is standard i.e. does it apply across the board?

To me, feminism is a social justice movement that is founded on the idea that women are oppressed in unique ways in a huge number of areas throughout life, and that there are things we can do to combat and eventually end that oppression.  In my view, that means also combating oppression based on race, sexual orientation, gender identity, class, disability, and more, both because people facing these oppressions are also women and because I think that all oppression is interconnected (see “kyriarchy”).

Though I wish that my definition was the dominant one (or I’d pick a new one!), I don’t think that it currently is.  I think that paying attention to other oppressions besides gender oppression, and how these other oppressions interact with gender oppression, is something that a lot of feminists still don’t accept, or only pay lip service to.  Sometimes, I too fail in that respect.  The good news though is that I think the discourse around this is slowly but surely changing, and more and more feminists are coming to understand not only the benefits but the imperatives of intersectionality.

3) What would you say are the most important issues facing women today and what if any solutions do you believe are possible to these concerns?

I imagine that it’s flat out impossible to pick the most important issue facing women today, but if I had to do it, I’d probably pick violence.  Gender-based violence, from sexual violence to intimate partner violence, to hate crime violence, to war violence, has a tremendous impact on women all around the globe.  Many types of violence affect women very disproportionately, and all types of violence affect us uniquely.

There is no one solution to these problems, and never will be.  But some things which I believe need to happen include: creating a world in which women are seen as equals in all aspects of life, from work to relationships to sex to education, working with communities to create unique solutions for their specific needs, and addressing the other root causes of violence like poverty, lack of health care and limited economic opportunity.

4) What role does blogging play in your activism and do you believe that your daily online exchanges are a path to true growth both for you as a blogger and for the women that read your work?

Though I volunteer with Planned Parenthood, have lobbied legislators, attended rallies, etc., I’d certainly say that blogging makes up a majority of my activism.

Which, of course, isn’t to say that there isn’t much more to be done.  But I’m not someone who’s good at organizing.  I’m not someone who’s great at public speaking.  And I’m certainly not someone who’s diplomatic!  Writing is what I have always been good at, and has always been the one and only thing that I’ve wanted to do.  Activism doesn’t stop with consciousness raising; if it did nothing would ever get done.  It’s just the part where I focus most of my efforts, because it’s where my personal abilities best fit.  And when I am able to give a boost to a smaller blogger or to a local project, when I’m able to educate someone on an issue they didn’t know anything about, and when I get the occasional email or comment saying “you’ve opened my eyes” or “you’ve changed my mind about feminism,” I like to think of that as real and important growth.  It’s certainly the rewarding part.

5) How important is recognizing your individual privilege in the work that you do and does it have a significant impact upon your writing?

I try to recognize my privilege without actively pondering on it too much, primarily because I find that it makes me prone to dwell in the “white (straight/cisgender/etc.) guilt” area that is so incredibly counter-productive.  I try to make sure that I always keep my privilege in check, listen when other people are talking about privilege that I have, and engage when necessary.

Where I try to most actively recognize my individual privilege is in a somewhat more subtle way, mainly through determining what I blog about.  If I’m inclined to blog about two different things, and know that I won’t get time to do both, I try to choose the one that allows me to use an intersectional approach and bring attention to more marginalized issues.  You know, that anti-abortion legislation affects me more on a personal level, but every feminist blogger is going to end up covering it; so what about that transphobic legislation over there?  I quite simply can’t blog about everything I want to, but I can choose what I do and don’t blog about.  And when blogging about those issues that don’t affect me personally, I of course also make an effort to do a whole lot of linking.

6) Obviously as bloggers we have specific areas that we tend to focus on, making our work niche specific within feminism, do you find that this hampers your ability to do ally work?

The short answer is: I hope not.

The longer answer is that it’s not really up to me to say.  As I just discussed above, I make a concentrated effort to blog about issues specifically affecting women of color, poor women, LGBT individuals, sex workers, and so on.  Because I feel that these are feminist issues.  I can always do better, of course.  But in my experience, it seems that so long as you make a serious effort to consider ally work as a part of your feminism, it doesn’t really interfere.  Even if, again, it’s up to the people that I attempt to be an ally with to tell me how I’m doing in that area.  I hope I’m doing alright, but I’m always open to making changes.

7) Though feminism is an absolute necessity to improving the lives of women, many refuse to identify as such.  What do you feel has lead to this backlash and what concrete steps can be taken to rehabilitate the image of feminism in wider social circles?

Well it seems to me that there are two main groups of women who refuse to identify as feminists.  There are those who think that feminism is icky, that gender inequality either doesn’t exist or is just  how things are, don’t realize what feminism has done for their lives and can do for them, and all in all just haven’t had their “click moments.” Then there are those who believe fully in gender equality and are deeply committed to social justice, but don’t identify as feminist because they don’t believe that the movement excludes them, for a whole variety of reasons – such as race, class, sexual orientation, gender identity, and so on.

So with regards to the first group and rehabilitating the image of feminism in wider social circles, I think that representation is key.  Having more feminist women represented at large media outlets would of course enrage detractors, but also would help to normalize the movement in the broader public consciousness, and also give more little girls someone to look up to.  I mean, it’s worked for the religious right, which most Americans don’t even agree with.  I also think, as many people like BFP have argued before me, that getting out there beyond university and beyond newspapers is important.  Doing visible work at community levels that is relevant to and heavily involves those communities can only serve to build coalitions and to ultimately benefit the lives of more women – which is supposed to be the point.

As for the second group of women who are on the side of gender equality but don’t want to identify themselves with feminism (since I already brought her up, like BFP), the decision makes me incredibly sad, but I also understand it.  I think that the only possible chance of getting those people to reclaim the label (and it’s a slim chance) is for us as a whole to show that feminism has a real commitment to intersectionality, rather than just using the buzz word and trying it out for short periods before dropping it again.  I think that’s going to be a long time coming, unfortunately.  And I think that when one is already committed to gender equality, the label they choose to use or not use is hardly the most important thing about them and their work.

8) During the election you did quite a bit of political blogging, how did your commitment to feminism play a role in your political activism?

For me, a great big chunk of feminism is about political activism, anyway, whether it be at totally grassroots levels, state levels, or the gigantic level of our presidential election.  And though I do think that real change comes from the ground up, oppression obviously comes primarily from the top down.  So I personally think that these things matter.  Especially in a year like this one, where we had so much white male establishment commentary even while the two main contenders for the Democratic nomination were a white woman and a black man, it was important to make progressive, feminist voices heard. 

Not everything I said about the election could be filed into a strictly feminist context, at least in the sense of “feminist” meaning “issues that pertain primarily to women in very obvious ways.” Issues of racism came up, as did issues around health care, sex education, the economy, and more.  But as I’ve already stated, I think that all of these things are feminist issues.  So even when not employing a specifically feminist analysis to something that was said, or to a policy position, my feminism still informed the analysis all the same.

9) Much of your work involves sex education? How do you feel that good sex education empowers women and what would you say are the most important things that children should be actively taught?

I’ve said it over and over again: I think that people have a fundamental right to information about their own bodies.  Implied in that statement is the fact that people also have a fundamental right to their own bodies.  And I think that’s incredibly empowering to women, who are so often told that they don’t have a right to their own bodies (rape apologism, anti-abortion rhetoric, hatred towards someone like Nadya Sulemen, etc.).  I think that sex education is particularly empowering to women (especially straight and bisexual ones, for these purposes) because they are the ones who get pregnant – and I’m convinced that most abstinence-only education is actually about privately acknowledging that and then using it to publicly shame girls who do have sex without information about how to protect themselves.

I think that children should be taught first and foremost that sexuality is not dirty.  Sexuality is natural, it’s human, it’s varied, and all of that is okay.  They should secondly be taught that consent must be affirmative and enthusiastic – it’s wrong for anyone to sexually touch you when you don’t want it, and it’s wrong for you to sexually touch anyone else unless they say they want it without pressure.  And thirdly, they should be taught not only how to protect themselves in terms of how to use a condom, but also the important skills of negotiating condom and other contraceptive usage.  In order to use contraception and safer sex effectively, kids also need to be able to discuss contraception and safer sex effectively, not just go through the physical motions.

10) If you had to set goals for feminist advancement what would they be?

Since this is for International Women’s Day, I’ve decided that I’m just going to be incredibly outlandish and ostentatious by not saying “I want this bill passed,” but instead saying what it really is that we ought to all want.

I want an end to rape culture.  No more victim-blaming, no more excuses for rapists, just real prevention efforts, and fair, efficient trials.  I want economic justice for women all over the world, and that means not only equal pay but also creating a path to economic prosperity and sustainability in those places where men live on extremely little, too.  I want reproductive justice – not just a right to abortion and birth control, but a right to have a child, a right to parental leave, day care, and health care.  I want a world where no one is “illegal,” where, sex is not seen as bad, where physical and emotional abuse is not tolerated, and where no one is murdered because her genitals didn’t meet someone else’s expectations for what makes a woman.  I want a world where police don’t go around killing people of color, where job discrimination is not tolerated, and where children and adults alike don’t go hungry under the banner of “personal responsibility.”

These are really not outlandish wishes.  I look at this list, and I see things that we should already have, that in a just world would be givens.  But they are also far off goals.  They will require a whole lot of those small bills being passed, alongside lots of big ones, a lot of education, community building and minds changed.  And though I’m young, I doubt I’ll see most of them in my lifetime.  I hope that I’ll see more than I expect, but it’s going to take work, and it’s going to take a bigger and stronger movement.  But those things above, along with the many things I certainly forgot, should sure as hell be our goals.  If they’re not, I’m not sure what we’re in this for.


Chris And Rihanna The Violence We Don’t Talk About

image Well it is official, Chris Brown has been charged for beating Rhianna.  When the incident first became public knowledge many rushed to the defence of Brown.  There was much equivocation regarding what she could have done to cause him to be angry enough to become physically violent, as though there is ever any action that could legitimate a man beating a woman. 

I don't think Chris would just a hit a girl like that. She had to do something or say something out the way for him to really hurt her," said Nika2hot on MTV.com

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Blaming the victim is something that is common place within our society.  Black women in particular are routinely told that any criticism of black men is betraying our race.  Uplift has become associated with supporting the black male patriarchy thus normalizing hyper masculinity within our communities.   When Alice Walker dared to write about incest, sexual violence, and domestic abuse in The colour purple, black men claimed that they were being demonized.  Walker was forced to defend her work in the face of much anger and resentment.

"I think the most chilling thing to me about the response to The Color Purple was that people said 'this doesn't happen,"' she says. "They said this was totally an anomaly. This is all Alice's problem. But what was really upsetting was the total lack of empathy for the woman. Not one person said that even if this happened every blue moon--which we know it does not--and it only happens to a very few women or children, we ought to look at this because we don't want those women or children to be suffering. Nobody said that. And I think that's an indictment of us."

The fact of the matter is that violence against women occurs across race, culture, class, and ethnicity.  It continues on because we silence the victims and exalt the perpetrators. The images of Rihannas beaten and bloodied face were splashed across media outlets and yet it was Brown who was offered sympathy and understanding because he looks cute dancing across a stage.  The fact that we were immediately willing to offer him the benefit of the doubt to him instead of Rihanna, speaks loudly about what bodies are valued in our society.  Each and every day a black woman is beaten by a black man and this is not deemed worthy conversation for the main stream media. The only reason we are aware of this case is because it involved two celebrities. 

Violence within our community is not a discussion we wish to have.  Since we set foot on the western hemisphere whiteness has constructed us as sub human creatures with no impulse control and some believe that by owning the issues that we have in our community we are tacitly agreeing that we are indeed incapable of civilized behaviour.

What we need to do is refocus the conversation so that it is understood that violence against women is not racial; it is about patriarchy and sexism.  Brown beat Rihanna because he grew in a family in which violence occurred and he identified with the abuser.  We must break the familial links that teach children to express their hurt and pain in violence.  We must support the victims of violence and encourage them to find a place where they can heal and re group. Pretending that there are no incidents of abuse, or that victims bring it upon themselves is an abdication of our duty to protect the weakest amongst us.  We are not convicted by the actions of one individual but we are all cumulatively responsible if we fail to acknowledge incidents of abuse when they occur.

People magazine is reporting that Rihanna and Chris are reconciling.  In the face of the description of the abuse that she endured this has caused many to question why a woman would return to this situation.  What must be understood is that even though they are both celebrities the dynamics are the same as in any other relationship.  Abusers routinely isolate their victims from support networks Yand break down their self esteem by being emotionally abusive.  They have been known to threaten an escalation in violence if the victim attempts to leave.  On average it can take between 4-7 attempts for a woman to leave her abuser. 

There are those that have declared that now that Rihanna has  returned, that she is no longer worthy of our sympathy. What is this but victim blaming once again?  For whatever reason, she is clearly not ready to end this relationship but that does not suddenly give Brown the right to lay hands on her again.  If the few supporters that she has do not create a welcoming environment, she is even less likely to think that it is possible for her to leave.  What is needed now is support and not judgement.

We can either see this situation as yet another reason to continue on with the cycle of victim blaming, or we can take the opportunity to address the issues of violence that lead to such damage in our community.  When a child is raised with violence they will be violent thus destroying our possibility of future heroes and sheros. Uplift can only be obtained when we value all members of the black community.


Thursday, March 5, 2009

The racial & economic crisis

By Dolores Cox

Barack Obama is the first African-American president in the U.S. However, the more things change, the more they remain the same, for there is another dimension of Black history we need to be aware of.

Since the 17th century, African Americans have been at the bottom of the economic ladder. In the U.S., race has always been a strong determinant of one’s social and economic status. The longstanding legacy of racial segregation and discrimination has resulted in disparities in employment, income, medical care, housing and education for Blacks to this day.

The persistence and tenacity of white supremacist ideology permeating U.S. culture prevents economic justice and equality for Black people. It stifles any public discourse on the matter as well as implementation of solutions.

Additionally, throughout the African Diaspora, U.S. imperialist policies have contributed greatly to the problem of global poverty. Countries are made poor by the theft of their land and natural resources, most often by military might, by unfair, so-called free-market trade, debt repayment and unjust taxes on labor and consumption. These global injustices and human rights violations have both created and deepened poverty.

The State of the Dream 2009 report (the reference is to Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech at the historic 1963 march), released this past January by United for a Fair Economy titled “The Silent Depression,” highlights the disproportionate suffering of Blacks in the U.S. (www.faireconomy.org)

The report reveals that due to enduring institutionalized racist policies, Blacks have been in an economic recession for nearly five years and have entered into a depression in terms of unemployment which equals or exceeds that of the Great Depression of 1929.

The report states that the unemployment rate for Blacks is nearly 12 percent and is expected to increase to almost 20 percent by 2010. The median or middle household income of Blacks is reported to be $38,269, while that of whites is $61,280. Blacks have poverty rates of 24 percent compared to 10 percent poverty rate for whites.

With regard to wealth and assets, the report states that nearly 30 percent of Black people have zero or negative worth versus 15 percent of white people. Only 18 percent of people of color have retirement accounts compared to 43.3 percent of their white counterparts. On average, people of color have only eight cents for every dollar of white wealth. The report says that living in poverty creates barriers to both economic and educational mobility. Blacks are twice as likely to live in poverty-stricken areas as are whites.

Because these statistics pertain to African Americans, they are not getting the attention they should get because of the long-standing tradition of ignoring such matters. As such, there is no discussion of any bailout packages to rectify this unacceptable economic situation.

There are two quotes from Martin Luther King Jr. in this report. The first is: “The Constitution assured the right to vote, but there is no assurance of the right of adequate housing, or the right to an adequate income. And yet in a nation which has a gross national product of 750 million dollars a year, it is morally right to insist that every person has an adequate education and enough money to provide basic necessities for one’s family.” (“Non-Violence: the Road to Freedom,” 1966)

The other is: “It is a trite yet urgently true observation that if America is to remain a first-class nation, it cannot have second-class citizens.” (“The Rising Tide of Racial Consciousness,” 1960)

In terms of solutions, the report states that any economic stimulus program must be geared toward investing in the working class and the poor. It must provide for job creation, affordable housing, quality education, affordable health care and an end to the wars in the Middle East. Government policies, at all levels, need to be fairer; and tax shelters and deductions for the rich must end. Specifically, an economic burden should not be borne by the working class, people of color or the poor.

The consequences of systemic racism must be combated by a commitment to institute and sustain affirmative action programs and policies that repair these injustices. Such social reforms will lead to economic reform and the closing of economic racial gaps, says the report.

It’s time to end the crisis of silence about the true state of Dr. King’s dream. In his 1967 speech, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence,” he said, “A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth.” Capitalist greed is now revealing itself in a big way. It’s time for this revolution to take place.


Articles copyright 1995-2009 Workers World. Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.

Remember Olive Morris

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It began with a photograph. A picture without colour, of a lone Black girl, barefoot, holding a placard that read: “Black sufferer fight police pig brutality”. A Black girl who came before the words and aesthetics of Black resistance became commodified for white, middle-class audiences via mainstream pop and HBO, before anti-racist politics became institutionalised in ivory towers and non-governmental organisations.

The girl was Olive Morris. And the message was clear as day. Not only in its broken syntax, screaming of an organic sense of defiance, but also in its rough aesthetic. The picture of a young Black girl with shorn hair, standing in the middle of Brixton with a fag in one hand, a sign in the other and an unforgettable sneer across her face. This is how the Do you remember Olive Morris? project began, which now encompasses the work of a dynamic collective of women who span a range of nationalities, ages, colours and convictions.

It began with the impassioned vision of London-based Uruguayan artist Ana Laura Lopez de la Torre who, in conjunction with Gasworks, a South London gallery committed to promoting community-based and international artistic/activist projects, is now creating a public art exhibit which will touch on Morris’ life and the significance that remembering figures like her has for contemporary Black feminism in the United Kingdom.

There is something about this photo that both inspires and haunts. There is something about Morris’ face, alight with an arrogance and an unapologetic passion of youth that cannot be dismissed and should not be forgotten. What does it mean in a time of deep cynicism, in a time in which activism often acts as a bad cliché that people pass through like fashion trends, to remember Olive Morris? What should and can this act of remembering, this investment in the past, mean? Beyond nostalgic kitsch, is there value in investing in recollections of past struggle, of revolutionary figures who can be forgotten as quickly as they can be sentimentalised – gestures that fail to address contemporary questions of racism and sexism in the UK?

Finish Reading at the F WORD

All The Baby Mommas In The House

There are many images that are associated with black women but one of the most despicable to me is the baby momma.  This is a relatively new concept historically speaking but it is no less damaging on the women to whom this label is applied.  When Fox News referred to Michelle Obama as Baracks’s Baby Mommy, the black community rose in arms  to repatriate her image citing her obvious intelligence, beauty, and status as a married woman.  Michelle was part of the much desired patriarchal family and therefore her reproduction is deemed acceptable.

Black women are continually lectured about the high rate of single motherhood in the community.  When we assert our reproductive rights and choose to have abortions we are told that we are being complicit in the genocide of our peoples.  This discipline amounts to one thing – black women are to avoid teh sex unless we have put on our slave collar wedding band and dutifully submitted to our patriarchal over lord black husband.

If we choose or are forced through circumstance to parent singly we are demonized.  The point is to affirm that the black womans life should be spent under male headship, while sacrificing to advance him at every opportunity.  A woman that is independent of or seeks to carve a roll for herself outside of wedded bliss is constructed as the harridan.

The problems in the black community are placed solidly at our feet.  Somehow if we would all just dawn the moniker of MRS, allow some man to us chase around the bedroom twice a week, and cook and clean on command, black men would stop selling drugs, succeed in school, stop killing each other,  and achieve good full-time employment.   We are continually constructed as the downfall of all despite the fact that we exist with the least social power. 

The issue is that we have come to view power as the ability to oppress rather than the ability to construct.  Black men seek to mirror the white male patriarchy and therefore the oppression of black women is a necessary step.  A man that truly views women as his equal is not understood as properly masculinzed and therefore in an effort to affirm their identity men often act in oppressive ways.  Not only do they feel it is necessary to point out that they are not women, hyper masculinity becomes the norm as aggression, and violence, become intimately associated with what it is to exist as a black male.

Somehow we have naturalized this imbalance and it to is the detriment of black women.  If black men cannot stop being violent with one another, why are we to assume that our submission will mean that they will stop beating us, being emotionally abusive, and raping us?  When we stand for our rights we are once again shamed, but if a dog is being attacked and it acts in its own defence we can see that as natural

What is a baby momma but a woman that is struggling to raise her children in a world that has told her that she does not have the right to take up any space?  What is a baby momma but a woman that must constantly walk into the wind with only her self pride as a shield?  Our society has made a practice of demonizing women and despite the cultural myth of the strong black woman we have invested more energy into shaming, reducing, and abusing black womanhood, than we ever have to celebrating it.  We may embrace our big mommas after her body is bent with age, but we never acknowledge that the  wrinkles of stress and time that she bears on her face are the scars of the violence that we have inflicted upon her.

We socially repeat the lie continually that the black community is a matriarchy to shield the despotic role that patriarchy has come to play.  If we truly lived in a matriarchy why would black men feel that it is acceptable to refer to us as bitches and hoes? Why is it that we are continually sexualized and exploited in rap videos?  There are countless ways in which black womanhood is devalued and yet we still repeatedly hear the lie about the matriarchy. 

I will tell you point blank, the life of a black woman is hard.  There are days when I feel like Sophia from the color purple.  When she stood there in a rage after fighting off Harpo, announcing that she would “kill him dead before she allowed him to beat her body”, it spoke to the experience of so many black women.  Many whisper the words of love in our ear in full knowledge of the falseness of the promises  in the  sweet soliloquies that they employ to tame us.  To be black and female is to know on the most fundamental level what the word betrayal means.


Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Black In America And Gay

image Last year CNN aired what they declared to be a ground breaking documentary entitled Black in America.  It was supposed to be a revealing look at  at the struggles blacks face to survive .  It was divided into two sections; the black man and the black woman and the family

One of the major critiques levelled at this supposedly groundbreaking series was it erasure of members of the community that identify as GLBTQI.  It should be noted that though this documentary claimed to give America a look at a community that it regularly ignores, by the erasure of our GLBTQI members, all this documentary did was recreate ideas that we have normalized. Blackness is very much associated with heterosexuality. There are POC who identify as GLBTQI and even though the white run media did not see fit to acknowledge their existence, they have been a vital part of our community.  Not content to be invisible in discussions,  Georgia State University's LGBT group Blackout sponsored a forum last month that addressed the issues facing black Americans who also identify as gay, lesbian, or transgender.

What I loved about this video, was hearing directly from African Americans, who identify as GLBTQI.  Often GLBTQI issues are filtered through the white members the community and the issues of the black community are filtered through the lens of heteronormativty and cisgender privilege.  The word most associated with black GLBTQI movement is silence.  These brave pioneers not only shattered the silence they sent a message that resonates.

H/T Living Out Loud With Darian via e-mail from Queers United

Melissa Of Shakesville Shares Some Truth

Melissa can be found daily fighting the good fight at Shakesville

1) It is my understanding that you identify as a feminist.  Would you please share your feminist click moment?

Rather than one specific moment, coming to feminism was more like a series of clicks.  Some of the earliest clicks took place at church; I was raised Missouri Synod Lutheran, where women are *still* not allowed to be president of the congregation, no less ordained.  During my childhood, women were granted the right to lector and girls the right to acolyte for the first time, but the gender disparity was still evident. 

I remember asking why women were not allowed to be ministers, and my pastor fed me the usual bullshit line about how the Bible says women can't teach men about God, so naturally I followed up with a question about why women were allowed to teach Sunday School then.  When he gave me an unsatisfactory answer, I asked my mother, who usually tried to spin me with the religious rationalizations, and I could tell she considering doing it, but just decided to be honest this time.  She plainly told me, with a bitterness in her voice I still recall, that the reason women were allowed to be Sunday School teachers was because, if they weren't, there wouldn't be Sunday School. 

It was moments like that, moments of truth that spoke to inequality, that formed the basis of my feminist perspective.

2) Upon reading Shakesville one thing that comes readily apparent is your dedication to covering a myriad of topics.  Do you find that you have difficulty balancing interests in the name of intersectionality, and what topics do you feel still require more attention than they are currently receiving?

I don't find that I have difficulty balancing interests; there's not a finite amount of space at Shakesville, so I don't feel as though anything ever has to be sacrificed in favor of something else, except insomuch as it comes to what I personally have time to cover—although, as regards issues of intersectionality, I'm obviously not the best person to cover every issue, or even most, anyway.  I struggle more with trying to find people who are willing to bring their unique perspectives to Shakesville, who can speak to experiences and intersectionalities I simply don't have. 

I am immensely grateful to the women and men of color, LGBTQIs, parents, women and men who are differently- or disabled, chronically ill, atypically partnered, non-American, recovering addicts, formerly homeless, abuse survivors, etc. who tell pieces of their stories and share their perspectives at Shakesville. Because marginalized people's stories often aren't told in the mainstream (or told with some fucked-up agenda), it's incumbent upon us to tell our own stories on our own terms wherever we can, to fill that void, to be unrepentant and loquacious raconteurs every chance we get, to talk about our bodies, our struggles, our triumphs, our needs, our lives in every aspect. It's our obligation to create a cacophony with our personal narratives, until there is a constant din that translates into equality, into balance. Making the personal public and political is so important—and I want to use Shakesville toward that objective as best I can.

As regards what issues still need more attention, the list is endless.  There are so many issues of concern to marginalized people which are all but invisible within mainstream culture—so much "conventional wisdom" about sex, race, sexuality, gender expression, body size and stature, disability, mental illness, addiction, class, religion (and lack thereof), sexual assault, etc. that needs to be challenged.  Any lack of parity in any place among any people means that we've still got work to do.

3)  Clearly from your commitment to Shakesville, blogging is very central to your work as a feminist activist.  What caused you to choose this format and how do you see the work of feminists online in aiding in the advancement of women?

I started blogging primarily in protest of the Bush administration, which, while necessarily containing an important element of feminist critique, was not uniquely born of my feminist activism—so I chose the format almost incidentally because of my profound loathing of Bush.

The existence of feminist spaces online is a really important counter to the proliferation of explicitly misogynist spaces online.  I don't know how online feminism will aid in the advancement of women overall, but there is an obvious and immediate practical benefit to spaces that are welcoming to and supportive of women when so much of the internet is overtly hostile of women and feminist ideas.

4) Even though Womanist Musings is a much smaller blog it has frequently been invaded by those who seek to push a negative framework.  How do you deal emotionally with angst and the troll like behaviour that writing from a feminist perspective often causes in others?  What steps do you feel are essential to creating a safe space for all to engage?

The emotional component of blogging as a feminist woman is something I don't particularly like to talk about publicly, as it's just handing wank material to trolls who want to "own" every piece of me.  It's none of their business if their antics bother me or not.

In terms of creating a safe space, I can't recommend enough a commenting system that allows banning and a willingness to use the banhammer when necessary.  I feel no obligation whatsoever to sacrifice feelings of comfort and uninhibited expression for other commenters to honor the "right" of one or two wankers who get off on bullying people in a place they otherwise feel safe.  No one has a right to walk into my house and piss on the carpet and call it free speech.

I suspect that most feminist bloggers start out with a willingness to engage in good faith even the most objectionable commenters, believing that it's possible to change minds with an honest debate.  But after you've been doing it awhile, the telltale signs of a wind-up artist—someone who's just there to troll for shits and grins—become so obvious that your choice is: Spend three hours publicly debating this idiot to expose hir for what zie really is for the benefit of people reading along, or just ban hir and save yourself the hassle.  The former is a waste of our time.  We should save my energy for debates that matter, for people whose minds really can be changed—and most of the bloggrrls who've been around the block a few times seem to take precisely that position.  Which is why the banhammer is so handy!

5) Though clearly taking the position to advocate on the side of social justice is certainly admirable it cannot be said that it comes without a cost.  People fight very hard to maintain undeserved privilege.  What consequences have you faced for taking the strong positions that you do and has this influenced whether or not you choose to speak out about a particular issue?

I've rather famously lost a job for criticizing the Catholic Church from a feminist/pro-LGBTQI perspective.  As fallout from that, I had people come to my house, dump garbage on my lawn, leave bizarre messages outside my house, send threats, etc.  I pretty regularly get disturbing emails, which go into one big file of crazy, just in case.  Shakesville was slammed off its independent server by a massive DOS attack, and taken down permanently by hackers.  A "progressive" news site which was considering me for a section editor position made as a condition of my potential employment not only quitting Shakesville but deleting the entire blog.  (Naturally, I declined.)

I haven't felt obliged to self-censor on particular topics, because I can never predict what posts are going to start a firestorm, anyway; often, it's the posts I'd least expect.  A throwaway post last year on a video game called Fat Princess caused an enormous shitstorm, which continues to reverberate.  The post that elicited the aforementioned DOS attack was about fat acceptance.  The ugliest comment thread I've ever had in Shakesville's history was on a post about treating rape as a joke.  None of them felt to me like particularly controversial posts, even by mainstream standards.  None of them were posts I would have avoided writing if I were trying to avoid controversy.  So, even if I wanted to avoid negative consequences to my blogging, I don't think I could.

6) There is a clear division in the blogosphere between feminist blogs and so-called progressive blogs, how do you feel that we can best approach encouraging the idea that womens issues are central to the conversation?

I quite honestly have no idea, aside from promoting the progressive political blogs who I feel don't marginalize women's issues, e.g. Digby (Hullabaloo) and Steve Benen (Washington Monthly).

7) Would you please share with us the names of some of the women that you admire and how their work has influenced your life?

This list is far too long—I wouldn't even know where to begin!  Take a look at the women of Shakesville: The contributors, the guest bloggers, the commenters, all the amazing female bloggers on the blogroll.  It's just page after page of inspiring, funny, brilliant, amazing women from all over the planet with every attribute and circumstance one can imagine.  I can't even think about the number of spectacular women I've met because of blogging without blubbing all over the place!  [blubs]

8)  It is my belief that it is not enough to advocate feminism.  We must seek to live out our principles in our everyday experiences.  How does feminism inform your daily life outside of your blog?

In every way possible.  My blog is a full-time endeavor, and all of the behind-the-scenes work is executed within a feminist framework.  Every movie I watch or advert I see or book I read is viewed through a feminist lens.  I advocate feminism whenever given the opportunity, even if obliquely.

My personal relationships are informed and deeply shaped by my feminism.  Particularly my relationships with my husband and my father can sometimes feel like a series of negotiations in which I must assert myself as equal and autonomous human being, rather than Person Filling the Role of "Wife" or "Daughter" (which frequently has as much to do with my own socialization and resulting expectations as theirs).  My husband is open to these negotiations and generally engaged with them; my father is significantly less so.

What's more interesting is that being known as a "practicing feminist," for lack of a better term, lol, tends to color other people's reactions to me, even people I've known a long time.  They tend to be more circumspect when discussing certain topics; misogynist epithets have been jettisoned from our conversations.  Some men I know do it resentfully and make a big production out of how they have to "behave" around me, but more than that I've had people get excited about flexing their feminist muscles and tell me how they've started to notice inequalities they didn't notice before or bring me examples of injustice about which they'd like me to blog.

9) There continues to be a big push to make intersectionality more than lipservice in feminism.  Many women routinely complain that their voices are either silenced or particularly marginalized thus creating sub groups within the movement. Would you agree with the aforementioned statement? How would you suggest that we work towards a more inclusive feminism in which all experiences are equally represented?

Yes, I do agree with it, and I'm not sure there's a silver bullet answer to how we fix it.  Because each of us plays a different role in that marginalization, each of us has to devise our own individualized role to play in the solution.

Starting with, quite frankly, whether we even want to be a part of the solution.  There are, surely, some privileged people who don't *want* more inclusivity, for all the familiar reasons that people protect their privilege, and there are also some marginalized people who don't *want* to be included in the existing structure for various and understandable reasons, and would rather create something new altogether than reforming what already exists.  And when people who regard the existing structure as fine as is, and people who regard the existing structure as inherently corrupt and unfixable, participate in reform conversations alongside good-faith reformers under the guise of being their allies, they inevitably (and unsurprisingly) take control of the conversation in ways that are profoundly counter to any actual reform.

All of which is hardly unique to feminism.  This same dynamic plays out in the semi-annual "Where are all the female bloggers?" conversation in the progressive political blogosphere.  There are always allies and non-allies on both sides of the inclusivity conversation, privileged and marginalized.

Working toward a more inclusive feminism in which all experiences are equally represented starts, IMO, with choosing to be an authentic ally, no matter what side of the conversation one's on.  You can't be conflicted or half-assed about it, you know?  You either want it, or you don't.

For my part, I try to facilitate inclusivity by providing space on whatever little platform I've got to women and feminist-allied men of every stripe, as contributors and guest-bloggers, by opening up blogarounds three times a week so any blogger can promote hir work without hesitation at Shakesville, by linking to a diversity of female and feminist-allied male bloggers, by mentoring smaller bloggers who contact me with questions (whether technological or philosophical), by maintaining a safe commenting space, and by listening to requests, suggestions, and criticisms from marginalized bloggers.

Is that perfect?  No.  But it's the best I've got so far.

10)   Finally your feminist wish list.  What goals would you like to see feminism strive for over the next five years and how can we best achieve them?

Oh, Maude.  I don't even know how to begin answering this question.  Too many teaspoons to count!