Wednesday, March 28, 2012

So…what’s the cane for?

Mike is an 18 year female to male transman. He is currently studying psychology at The Evergreen State College between making quilts. He someday aspires to be a social worker, and in the mean time, he wants to fix the fact that not everyone is born with an inherent right to be themselves.

I have a cane some days, and some days I don’t. And for whatever reason, this seems to be the most baffling concept to pretty much everyone. Maybe because they don’t live with chronic pain or have
never met someone with fibromyalgia. Whatever the reason, everyone who has never seen me with a cane before asks me what happened. EVERYONE.The lady who works at the cafeteria who I talk to for maybe ten seconds a day, some of my classmates whose names I still don’t know, the librarians, people in the elevator with me who I have never even met before. Maybe they are hoping for a great injury story, I don’t know. Because I have to make a speech that is shorter than about ten seconds (everyone picks the most inconvenient times to ask), I just say that I came broken and some days I am more broken than others. It works, and it’s shorter than “I have fibromyalgia!” then getting a
blank look and having to explain.

So, this is in essence, a message to all of those curious folks out there. Please don’t ask me about my cane unless the amount of conversation time we've had adds up to more than fifteen minutes or
so. I assure you, you are not the only curious person and even though you assume you are the MOST IMPORTANT of all curious people, I am going to have to answer this question all day. From everyone who assumes that they are the most important curious person. And it’s not that I don’t want to tell you. Because I don’t mind explaining fibromyalgia and other things that go along with needing a cane, but
sometimes, I want to feel like I’m normal. Even though I can’t always stand upright without my cane, even though sometimes it hurts to walk without it, even though sometimes I use it because my POTS is acting up and I need it to not fall over, I want to feel normal. I want to feel like there are more reasons to talk to me than just to find out why someone who looks younger than you has a cane, and having people come up to me just to ask why I have a cane is not going to help that.

Could Michelle Obama Wear Her Hair Naturally?

There is no doubt that Michelle Obama is an absolutely stunning woman, but you would not know this given how she has been treated in the media.  No matter how much she conforms to White expectations, she will always and forever be a Black woman and therefor she will be understood to be angry, and ugly.  This is exactly why the image of natural hair photo shopped to Michelle Obama has been making the rounds on twitter.

I must admit that when I saw the above image, I went squee.  She would look absolutely wonderful with this look, but it wouldn't be long before it was politicized and decried in the public sphere because natural hair is still very much seen as radical. When it comes to Black women, hair isn't simply hair. How long do you think it would be before the likes of Limbaugh and friends would be attacking her for this look?

No matter how beautiful this look is, there are plenty of professional women who can only dream of arriving to work looking like this.  Because hair is deemed to send a political message, companies have been known to call our natural tresses a distraction, unprofessional, and in some cases extreme. Having Michelle rock a natural would absolutely call these assertions into question, but at the same time, it would serve to cause yet another round of attacks aimed at the FLOTUS.  I would love to see her go completely natural for the sake of all the women who cannot, and for all of the little Black girls who are taught that the hair that grows out of their head is ugly, but one person no matter how powerful can completely change social discourse.  In the end, it's White supremacy that needs to change and to understand that difference does not necessarily mean threat.

We all have to make our own compromises when it comes to our hair.  I know that I personally battled with feeling like a sell out when I recently bought a wig I loved.  Over time I have come to understand that the choices we make with our hair have everything to do with the pressure we receive about it.  Sometimes the angst comes from our families, who have come to see relaxed hair as the only way to be fit to engage with others. Black women must constantly struggle to love ourselves in a world which tells us daily that we are not worthy.  Natural or with a blow out, Michelle is beautiful and though this is simply a photoshopped image, it's mere existence opens the doors to possibilities.

What do you think of this look and do you believe that Michelle would face negative consequences where she to wear her hair like this?

Divide & Conquer: Anti-Gay Marriage Group Gets Caught Trying to Separate Gays and People of Color

I have a new article up at Clutch Magazine

'Same Sex Marriage Rally, State Library of Victoria, Swanston and La Trobe Sts, Melbourne City, Victoria, Australia 091128-17' photo (c) 2009, David Jackmanson - license:
Internal National Organization for Marriage (NOM) documents, which are part of an investigation regarding campaign finance activities by the state of Maine, have revealed an insidious plot to encourage Black and Latino voters to actively reject same sex marriage as a civil right.  These documents were brought to light by HRC (the Human Rights Campaign).

“The strategic goal of this project is to drive a wedge between gays and blacks—two key Democratic constituencies. Find, equip, energize and connect African American spokespeople for marriage, develop a media campaign around their objections to gay marriage as a civil right; provoke the gay marriage base into responding by denouncing these spokesmen and women as bigots…”

Another passage:

“The Latino vote in America is a key swing vote, and will be so even more so in the future, both because of demographic growth and inherent uncertainty: Will the process of assimilation to the dominant Anglo culture lead Hispanics to abandon traditional family values? We must interrupt this process of assimilation by making support for marriage a key badge of Latino identity – a symbol of resistance to inappropriate assimilation.”

Oppressors have long played the game of divide and conquer to maintain their privilege.  For this plan to work, one must first ignore that there are Black and Latino GLBT people, and that by turning against them and refusing to acknowledge the legitimacy of marriage equality, heterosexual cisgender people of color, would in effect be denying our own people their civil rights.  Heterosexism and racism are very different marginalizations, but they both work to actively oppress social minorities through the process of “othering” and institutionalized social inequality.  To agree that anyone deserves separate and unequal treatment before the law undermines our own struggles for racial equality, because it supports the idea that difference legitimizes actively oppressing a minority population.

I find it interesting that they seek to portray GLBT spokespeople as racist, because it further shows bias on the part of NOM.  There is no doubt that some members of the GLBT community have employed racist tactics to fight for marriage equality – specifically through repeated acts of appropriation,  but that does not make their cause any less just; it simply signifies someone determined to use the master’s tools to destroy the master’s house.

NOM is only interested in race when it can be used as a weapon to attack another historically marginalized group. The everyday microaggressions that all people of color have to negotiate are of no interest, because to care about that would mean a true acknowledgement of the horror that is White supremacy.  For NOM, racism is but a tool to achieve an end, rather than the soul crushing phenomenon that continues to lead to death, higher rates of incarceration, poverty, poor nutrition and health, as well as purposeful limited educational opportunities.  What is patently obvious from the statements of people like Alan Keyes, is that there will always be a segment of communities of color, who will be quick to jump on this opportunity believing that their bigotry somehow grants them power and a separation from the great unwashed masses.

Read More

Editors Note: The choice of title was not mine.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Melissa Harris-Perry's Rules for Black Male Safety

transcript below

You're not going to believe what I have to share with you.  I guarantee that this is the hottest thing out there, everyone will want in on this. Without further ado, it's my pleasure to introduce the MHP dress code for Black safety, because clearly we need one. [a picture of Urkle from Family Matters appears on screen. He is wearing over sized glasses a red shirt stripped shirt and blue overalls. He has a huge smile on his face.]  What, you didn't think I would say that? Here me out, let's take it back to the 1980's for a minute. You couldn't wear red and blue because of this. [short video clip of Ice T rap song Colours] Red and Blue were a no no for Black men. The Bloods and Crips took those colours to new heights. Wearing the wrong colour could get you killed and that's not to say that those colour are safe today. So take heed young men, red and blue are not your colour. Try mauve, turquoise, or even salmon if you are daring.

Now, we know that certain colours aren't the only no-no's on our list. Do saggy pants ring a bell for anyone out there. [footage of Black youth walking with sagging pants] Well if you live in Delcambre Louisiana it sure does. In 2007, the town banned sagging pants, and if you violated the law you could receive a fine of up to 500$ and up to 6 months in jail. Delcambre wasn't alone Mansfield Louisiana, ordinance carries a fine as high as 150$, or up to 15 days in jail. In Albany Georgia, it can also cost you up to 200$ and as of September, the cities made almost 4000$ on saggy pants citations. So, if the cops don't get you, your parents are sure to get mad at you for costing them all that money.  Let's not leave out Florida, there's a statewide school ban on saggy pants there, because that's the most important issue in Florida right now. Just say no to saggy pants.

Last but not least are those pesky hoodies. They are a fashion no-no for MHP dress code for Black safety.  I mean Geraldo says so. He said it on FOX news. "But I am urging the parents of Black and Latino youngsters particularly, to not let their children go out wearing hoodies. I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin's death as George Zimmerman was." Oh, clearly Geraldo knows of what he speaks. Did you see that sharp suit? Although, I would caution him on those shades of blue that I saw.  Hoodies are an absolute no. They are not acceptable for the MHP dress code for Black safety.  So listen up young men: no red or blue, no sagging pants, and certainly no hoodies. If you want to play it safe, dress like you know Skip Gates, [image of the professor in handcuffs from the time he was arrested supposedly breaking into his own home]

So, if you follow these very simple rules you too can be safe and even considered safe to be around.

Can We Hold Actors Accountable for the Roles they Choose?

Last night Paul [aka Sparky], Tami and I got together to do our weekly podcast on the latest in urban fantasy.  This week we ended up with yet another tangent, [I blame Paul and Tami of course] where we ended up discussing the fact that much of the images we see of marginalized people in the media perpetuates isms.  I happen to agree with Paul and Tami that marginalized people have a tough time in Hollywood getting work and that speaking out could come at the cost of being labelled "difficult," thus making it harder to continue to work; however, at the same time I think we need to consider what their work really means. Not all representation is good representation.  That being said, I would like to discuss whether or not we can hold hold actors and actress accountable for taking on roles which perpetuate harmful isms. We absolutely need to hold producers, writers, directors and casting agents responsible, but I think that excluding the fact that without these actress and actors willingness to play useful fools, at least some of the perpetuation of isms would be forced to come to an end.

Okay there you have it folks. Yes, actors and actress have to eat and no they should never be forced to be a credit to their marginalization, but at the same time, I think that those of us who must live with cost of their individual choices pay a price.  How do you feel about this suggestion?  What do you think of the actors and actresses who continually take on stereotypical roles or who work on shows that continually oppress historically marginalized people?

When White Men Want to Say the N Word

'16KKKwCross-burning' photo (c) 2008, Image Editor - license:
Long time readers are well aware that from time to time I get so fed up with people, that I occasionally will post someone's bigoted comment or email.  What comes into my inbox on a daily basis is an absolute horror to the senses.  Today I would like to share with you a recent comment, on a post I wrote in 2009 entitled Go Ahead and Say Nigger:
Wisconsin Whitey:
The double standard of niggers (niggas) calling each other niggas (niggers) while denying permission to white people is a reflection of their deep-seated anger at white people in general. Heck, a white person in central Harlem doesn't even have to say anything racist to get his ass whooped. It is like a pre-emptive strike, that the white was "probably thinking about saying 'nigger'," and so should get punished. It is true that white people use "nigger" in anger. But white people have reasons to be angry at black people, just like black people have reasons to be angry at white people. Flaunting use of the term "nigger" while supposedly denying whites the freedom to express their thoughts and feelings just fuels more racial tension.
Yes, this poor poor White man is oppressed because Blacks will not tolerate his usage of the word nigger.  Is it any wonder that I decided not to publish his comment? To be honest, I see stuff like this everyday and I was more than happy to delete his commentary; however, my failure to publish his comment, inspired this man to send me a long involved racist screed.

[redacted for his own ignorant good]

Hello womanistmusings,
Earlier today I read your "musing" about white people saying that one "forbidden" word, a "musing" from 2009, if I recall correctly. I (a white male) disagreed with the premise of white people not being "permitted" use of this word when black people can. I made a comment to that effect, and actually used that word forbidden to me, to describe black people in my comment. I noticed that my comment didn't get posted onto the comment thread. I later read the rules about commenting and then discerned that it was my use of that forbidden word (for me) that caused my comment not to be posted. I signed my name "Wisconsin Whitey."
I don't mind that my comment wasn't posted; I guess I feel some sort of therapy for going through the process of expressing my opinion, though it may not have been heard by anyone. But if it was read by you, I just want to say that, while I cannot say that I didn't mean what I said, that I am in an ongoing (lifelong?) process of fighting the racism that is in me. I have a deep admiration for humanity, and particularly the part of humanity that is black (African and its diaspora). I do admit that I do (too often) tend toward negativity, and like to label people with pejorative labels when they emotionally upset me, if you catch my drift. For reasons of common sense, I would not put myself in situations (intentionally) where this tendency would cause me physical or psychological pain (like yelling "n_____" in a rough, predominantly black neighborhood without a viable escape plan). But the thing is, I have no desire to do such a thing. I know from what you wrote that you would have me do this if I ever find cause to use that forbidden word in any other context. 
As a male who is white, I feel that this order for me to not use the pejorative label for black people, while other black males can banter it about with no care or consequence, and with utter machista swagger,is a form of emasculation, which is very personally degrading. You may feel that white people really have no reason to be angry at black people, but as far as my prejudice, I see patterns (maybe I only see them in other groups) that I do attribute to their race; I admittedly see "rude" drivers who cut in front of people without turn signals (instead of waiting "their turn" as I waited behind other cars), and it seems that at least 4 out of 5 times, they are black drivers. I don't like it when anyone, of any race, drives "rudely," but for some reason it makes me feel validated when I see that it's a black person doing it, validated for stereotyping them in that way.
I live in Milwaukee, and I have been a personal victim of assault by a group of young black men while riding my bicycle. I had no occasion to say a word to them; my only crime was riding past them and not swerving to the other side of the road to avoid them (that would make me a racist, would it not?). They used no racial epithets toward me when one of them threw a punch at my head and caused me to land on my left elbow, fracturing it. It could just be machismo and territoriality (and not related to race), but I couldn't avoid seething with anger toward them, and viewing this as a racially motivated incident. When I see black men using "n_____" while saying that I cannot, I see that as a demonstration of black male supremacy. So, maybe it's my macho "instnct" that makes me feel the need to be "equal" to black men in terms of vocabulary, even if I use it in a different way.
If you've made it this far in my e-mail, I thank you very much for listening to me, even though I would expect that you would feel offended by my words/thoughts. I wrote you in part because I wanted to somehow make mybself appear more "human" to you (and not "just" a "racist," as I'm sure you would label me, and I understand that). But I also want to state that I acknowledge that, as a human, and as a woman, I respect you for being you. Believe it or not, I label myself as a "liberal." This may seem ironic, but to be sure, I do take take the "long view," putting current situations in historical context. I am aware of the trans-Atlantic slave trade (during the 16th through 19th centuries), and have an "academic" understanding of how this would affect today's race relations. I have an interest in music, and am a student of African drummers (from Senegal), and feel honored to be able to be taught about African culture. But I guess I tend to fall back on racist thoughts, even as I yearn to understand the human species and the universe in general. 
I wouldn't have written anything had it not been for my obsession with the use of that "n" word and hadn't found your blog on the Internet. I will just end by stating that I hope that you are happy. You felt a "calling" to blog about race and other social issues, and that is how I ended up finding you. I'm sorry for any hurt that I have caused. I have a "shadow" side and at times will dwell in that, but right now, I feel the need to express that you are a human being deserving of happiness as any other, and any racist expressions on my part does not negate that.

The Realities of Heterosexism

This is a guest post from Sparky, of Spark in Darkness.  Many of you are  familiar with him from Livejournal, as well as from his insightful and often hilarious commentary here. Each Tuesday, Womanist Musings will be featuring a post from Sparky.

Heterosexism is the overpowering assumption of straightness. It’s our complete erasure from the world – not just from books and media, but from advertising, from daily conversation, from all of the building blocks of daily life.

While homophobia is the big, overt hatred and prejudice against us – and certainly, I sometimes feel that heterosexism is the far more damaging force because of its unrelenting message – that the world is straight, all people are straight and all people should be straight. It’s more pervasive and, in some ways, more powerful than homophobia.

Heterosexism asks after my girlfriend or wife. Heterosexism assumed, when I was a child, that I would grow up to have a girlfriend or wife.

Heterosexism shows me a thousand heroes, none of which are like me, and a million happily ever after relationships, none of which are like mine.

Heterosexism bombards me with advertising, a desperate clamour encouraging other people to buy – but not me.

Heterosexism assumes that we’re not a part of the world so don’t need to be part of its depiction. And that any portrayal of us is of the other – something different and odd.

Heterosexism is another form that only has the words “married” and “single” boxes to tick.

Heterosexism is why my bank still gets all of our damned paperwork wrong.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Dear Sinead: Blacks Don't Need Or Want A Lecture

'Sinéad Marie Bernadette O'Connor' photo (c) 2007, William Murphy - license:
The murder of Trayvon Martin has many White allies speaking out.  This is an easy cause for them to get behind, while the everyday racist acts that lead to his death go ignored.  To make sure there is never ever another Trayvon Martin, we need to dismantle White supremacy, not just call out the blatant acts of violent racism when they occur.

Sinead O'Conner, whom I absolutely adore, wrote a piece on her blog about the murder of Trayvon.  When she spoke about the insidiousness of racism and the fact that we are all descended from one African mother, I found myself nodding, but like most White allies, she quickly derailed from support to paternalistic lecturing.
And black youth in America. I'm talking to you here too. I love you. So I don't mean to sound cross, I'm just being a mother.. Why are you killing each other? Why are you hating yourselves? You are the most important people God ever sent to this earth, every man, woman and child among you! Don't let uneducated people win and take your self-esteem or your esteem for each other, and make you kill each other. over guns, drugs, bling, or any other nonsense.
You are now entering YOUR version of a sort of civil rights movement and you're gonna see history being made in what has certainly the profoundest potential to become THE most wonderful country on earth. Because soon ALL 'isms' and 'sits'' will end. including racism, as the people of the earth begin to understand, we are all one.
We came from one mother. We are all brothers and sisters. And we CAN get beyond this ILLUSION of separateness. With prayer and love. It CAN change. It WILL change. And YOU guys (young people of all kinds) are the ones who are gonna GENTLY change it. And you know where it starts? With MUSIC.
Don't be guided by rap. Gangsta or otherwise. Sure.. enjoy it.. adore I do.. but realize this.. rap ain't about your civil or spiritual rights, baby boys and girls. It.. along with most music nowadays.. is about falsenesses and vanities. Bling, drugs, sex, guns and people- dissing. Its giving you the message you ain't 'good enough' if you don't have bling and ting.. and money. Or if you're not what it deems 'sexy'.
(This is true of all popular music not rap alone. I know. Its tragically true of all popular youth culture the world over).
Poor Curtis Mayfield must be crying all day and night ALL day and night in heaven, every day and night.. To see what has been so successfully achieved by those who sent guns, drugs, and bling to squash the civil rights movement. Now you all don't have to be murdered by racists any more.. you're murdering each other FOR them! And your parents and grandparents are left crying.
Go back to strong black musical guides who left you information in the 60s and 70s. when they were living through the civil rights struggle. Curtis Mayfield. The Impressions. Nina Simone, Mahalia Jackson. Sing back the Holy Spirit ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, as those artists did.
Forget bling. Forget "Get Rich Or Die Trying". That is an evil message. Evil my dears is only life backwards. Turn it the right way up. With music. The messages American black youth are being given through music are not about the spiritual and therefore strong and conquering but PEACEFUL making of YOUR country into the wonderful place it secretly is and can be.. BECAUSE OF YOU, and BY YOU!!
You know not how you are adored, appreciated, valued, loved, cried for,smiled for, prayed for, all over the world. You know not how much inspiration and uplift-ment of heart you give to millions just by your presence on earth. [source]

Cartesian dualism and the trans* body

Biyuti is a bakla Filipina living on stolen Algonquin land. He works to sustain and increase the biyuti of the world through decolonization and through her explorations of the intersections of race with queerness/gender. She also blogs at The Biyuti Collective and you can find her on Twitter: @JustBiyuti.   

For those who don’t know Cartesian dualism is the philosophical theory that the mind and body are two distinct ontological entities. That they exist independently from one another. See here for a more philosophical explanation.

Much of trans* theorizing about the body and identity seems to occur within a framework of mind/body dualism: “I am a woman in a man’s body,” “I am a man in a woman’s body,” “I’m genderqueer but assigned female at birth,” etc.* I think part of this is a result of the way that dysphoria is a major part of trans* narratives. If you feel like the body you have isn’t the right one, it becomes somewhat necessary that you begin to understand that the mind and body are, perhaps, not the same thing.

This can also be seen in the term ‘trans*’  itself, since it is meant to imply crossing over, the transition one’s body makes to a different state. But this the crossing over or implied movement is intended to refer to the body only, not to the person since the person is already whatever gender they are and is simply transitioning their body to reflect this ‘internal’ gender.