But I’m Not Racist! Part I: Defining Terms

Discussions of racism and privilege are often hit by the Derail Train when people start arguing over semantics and can’t get past that first point, so I’m going to define my terms as we go. This post comes as a resource related to my talk at TOFCon 2013. (This is an expanded version of something I posted on Storify ~4 months ago.)

Stereotypes, Prejudice, Discrimination, Oppression

Since so many people get stuck on the definition of racism and there are many varying definitions out there, I’ll sidestep that issue and focus on oppression instead. While I’m at it, we’ll tackle some other related words.

  • Stereotypes: “are attitudes, beliefs, feelings and assumptions about a target group that are widespread AND socially sanctioned. Can be positive and negative, but all have negative effects. Stereotypes support the maintenance of institutionalized oppression by seemingly validating misinformation or beliefs” (defined by The Portland Community College’s Illumination Project)
  • Prejudice: “is favorable or unfavorable opinion or feeling about a person or group, usually formed without knowledge, thought or reason. It can be based on a single experience, which is then transferred to or assumed about all potential experiences” (defined by The PCC Illumination Project). Hepshiba clarifies: “You can be prejudiced, but still be a fair person if you’re careful not to act on your [prejudice].”
  • Discriminationdefined by hepshiba as: “what takes place the moment a person acts on prejudice.  This describes those moments when one individual decides not to give another individual a job because of, say, their race or their religious orientation.  Or even because of their looks (there’s a lot of hiring discrimination against “unattractive” women, for example).  You can discriminate, individually, against any person or group, if you’re in a position of power over the person you want to discriminate against.  White people can discriminate against black people, and black people can discriminate against white people if, for example, one is the interviewer and the other is the person being interviewed.”
  • Race-Based Oppression: Carlos Hoyt Jr. (in his article “The Pedagogy of the Meaning of Racism: Reconciling a Discordant Discourse”) explains it as “the exercise of authority or power in a burdensome, cruel, or unjust manner against people on the basis of a supposed membership in a particular race or races—which can manifest at an individual (micro) level if it is perpetrated by a person who, motivated by racist beliefs, uses superior power and force over another person, or at the institutional (macro) level, when policies or resources are shaped and channeled to advantage or disadvantage racialized groups.” For my purposes here, I want to establish/clarify this is NOT a “one-off” thing (because I can tell some people are going to come at me with “well X white person was a victim of race-based oppression when Y black person was mean to them”).
  • Institutions: “are fairly stable social arrangements and practices through which collective actions are taken. Examples of institutions in the U.S. include the legal, educational, health care, social service, government, media and criminal justice systems” (defined by The PCC Illumination Project).
  • Institutional race-based oppression: Also defined by Hoyt, is “the network of institutional structures, policies, and practices that create advantages and benefits for the dominant social identity group, and discrimination, oppression, and disadvantages for people from the non-dominant social identity groups.” This is, according to PCC’s resource, “a matter of result regardless of intent,” and the barriers are usually invisible to those being favored by them. Regardless of if individuals within a system or institution are being oppressive individually, the institution itself can be overall oppressive.

In more ways than you even realize.

White Supremacy, White Privilege, & Light-Skin Privilege

White supremacy: “is a historically based, institutionally perpetuated system of exploitation and oppression of continents, nations and peoples of color by White peoples and nations of the European continent for the purpose of maintaining and defending a system of wealth, power and privilege” (from the Chestnut Hill United Church Antiracism Resource Packet).

In other words: being part of a white supremacist system means directly or indirectly upholding the ideas that white folks are better, “normal,” and somehow more deserving of certain resources on the basis of race.

White supremacy’s not just cross-burning and the KKK, y’all. Though few people identify as white supremacists or members of the Klan, many people do things that intentionally or unintentionally uphold white supremacy & privilege. Furthermore, we often focus on extremes of race-based hatred, like lynchings and hate crimes (trigger-warning for that link, btw) and things that show up on the news (if we’re lucky), but that’s not what MOST people are going to be perpetrating. MOST people are going to be part of and/or witness to the subtler things and those are the ones the escape most people. (P.S. Hipster racism is still racism.)

White privilege“refers to the concrete benefits of access to resources and social rewards and the power to shape the norms and values of society that whites receive, unconsciously or consciously, by virtue of their skin color in a racist society” (definition from the Racial Equity Tools website).

In other words, white privilege = unearned advantages and good stuff, as well as the LACK of certain bad things, on the basis of being white and/or being perceived as such.

Light-skin privilege: is the phenomenon where people who are lighter (but not necessarily, or not JUST, white) have certain advantages as outlined above. This happens most obviously within, say, Latin@ communities, who are united by a particular ethnicity, though the “racial” makeup can vary widely. This is also related to colorism.

NOTE: The above definitions don’t mean White people face no oppression or struggles (we are all beautiful snowflakes with many intersecting identities), but it DOES mean that they don’t face systematic problems due to their race and/or skin-color here in the United States.

An example of white supremacy and privilege that I cited in my TOFCon presentation? The hot mess surrounding Paula Deen and her planning her son’s wedding to be that “true southern plantation style” celebration. From the Daily Beast article:

Deen objected to the accusation that she used the N-word to describe the waiters. Asked whether there was any possibility that she may have slipped and use the word, she said, “No, because that’s not what these men were. They were professional black men doing a fabulous job.” Still, when asked why nicely dressed black men would be a part of a “Southern plantation wedding,” she said it reminded her of southern America “before the Civil War.” After being reminded that black men serving people in the South before the Civil War were slaves, she agreed, but said she “did not mean anything derogatory” by her comments.

WHAT?! Exactly. Folks on Twitter had a field-day, coming up with the amazing and snarky #paulasbestdishes hashtag. (Though, uh, some non-black folks making additions to the list is super awkward because some are using slurs and it’s seemingly giving certain people “license” to say messed up stuff they wouldn’t otherwise be able to say publicly.)

Paula Deen's Best Dishes

Other examples?


It seems like there are way more allegations against her, and that this recent issue is not the only one. Surprising? Nope. Also filed under “Unsurprising” is her pretty crappy apology letter. Man, if you can look back on the pre-Civil War era South and just get the warm n’ fuzzies, it’s pretty likely you’re a white person. For a more reality-checked version of “the gallant South” and what black people faced, watch the videos below.


This is one of the most haunting songs ever. And if you want to hear Nina Simone’s rendition, I got you! Click below and take a listen. Then stay tuned for Part II of my “But I’m Not Racist!” series.

Death Salon LA: A Recap

death salon skullIf you know me well, you know I like me some creepy things. I used to park myself in front of the Discovery Health Channel, watch Disney’s So Weird as a kid, and browse websites for tales of the supernatural. During my gawth intellectual phase, I listened to Cradle of Filth, googled all the fancy words and characters in their lyrics (e.g. Gilles de Rais, Erzulie, Lillith, Faust, Walpurgis, and so on), and ended up writing a term paper about Elizabeth “The Blood Countess” Bathory. I even thought I wanted to become a forensic scientist of some sort once I graduated high-school.

Instead, I ended up going to Brown University and concentrating on gender and sexuality studies, but the passion for these issues lived on. Nowadays, this interest in the “creepy and dark” manifests more obviously in things like my love of the TV series Hannibal, unique earrings (e.g. baby doll arms, a bobcat’s jawbones), and the history of medicine. I’m still entranced by mortality, rituals, bodies, and how we deal with all of these, so it must have come as no surprise to my friends and colleagues when they heard I was attending Death Salon LA.

After avidly consuming tons of posts from The Order of the Good Death website (finding it via the founder’s Ask a Mortician series on YouTube), I heard about this event and promptly freaked out with joy. I immediately told one of my colleagues (the inimitable Megan Andelloux, or “Oh Megan”) who shares my fascination with these topics. After some deliberation because our schedules were pretty packed, we booked our trips from Rhode Island to Los Angeles and got ready for a weekend full of intellectual stimulation.

In just one day at Death Salon LA, I learned about demonic semen transfer systems, the mortification of female saints, cadaver saponification, decorated Bolivian and Peruvian skulls that are said to be miraculous, the mummified Capuchin hanging wall friars in Palermo, the democratization of images via post-mortem photography, anthropomorphic taxidermy, anatomical Venuses, St. Bartholomew’s flayed skin that he held as a sash, death cabarets in 20th century Europe, and more.

The experience was wonderful and illuminating, and it balanced subjects so there would be something for everyone. Still, there was definitely a big emphasis on gender and sexuality, which I obviously really appreciated, and the interdisciplinary, multimedia approach catered to a variety of knowledge levels. I’m terribly excited to see where it goes from here, and though I probably can’t go next year (it’s in Europe in 2014), I’m looking forward to it in 2015 when it comes to Cleveland.

As a demonstration of my obsession with documentation, and as a means to share information with those who couldn’t attend this year, I tweeted up a storm while I was there, and upon returning to RI, crafted a recap of the media bits I nabbed in LA. You can check out the 2 days’ worth of relevant images, tweets, and pieces I corralled:

You can also see the version posted on the official Death Salon website. I was sadly unable to attend all the events, so I wasn’t able to recap the Atlas Obscura trip to a local cemetery or the Death Salon LA Soirée with death-themed food and drinks. I’ll leave you all to dig up those resources, no pun intended.

For Gloria Anzaldúa (in the vein of “Your Body Figured”)

You were always a precocious little girl.

Bleeding before your time, red where only other colors should be.
Secret rags that you washed and hung on a low cactus, chest bound tight as if you were trying to shove everything back inside of yourself.

Did you ever feel special encased in those girdles?
Did you feel snug and protected, cradled like a little doll inside a chrysalis?
Or did you feel trapped, squeezed inside a too-small cocoon that was made by someone else—your mother-moth?

Stunted growth at twelve only affected your body; everything else kept expanding, including the pain. It made you dissociate—thoughts carried off somewhere else while your nerves screamed, energy coursing to your brain, telling you to do something. Years later, fibroids and fevers, body pulsating and rocking and drowning all at the same time. Everything floating out of you, concrete reality left behind, in a twist of fate, the tighter the pain and the girdles and the world coiled around you.

You were always a spiritual person.

Your name—a chant, a praise raised as a glory to whom?
In life, to your heritage: mestiza, a borderlands calling for a new consciousness.
Maybe now that you’re somewhere else you’d say the earth, warmed with dripping blood that haunted you for so long, blood that shamed parts of your body into hiding.

Your name made you a bearer of good news, a daughter of Eve and angels, unholy union that brought us all closer to peace through gospel-song. You would not be socialized into silence; you would rebel and write and claw at the privilege, the ground, and the barbed-wire fences meant to separate us. You focused on the gaps and the connections that you could create there, fashioned out of your own flesh, the bones in your back, a stairway to heaven constructed out of ribs. Your back, broken and rebuilt as a bridge for others to cross. Your innards scooped out to deal with the pain and the lumps, leaving a hole where you could finally live, where others could rest from the world. Dark and cavernous, you dove inside to write from the core. Yet there was still pain, its epicenters on your skin, drawn all over your body like tiny targets.

You were as groundbreaking as an earthquake.

They called you traitor, a cultural betrayer, for rocking the boat and exposing the rot, the soft underbelly—so pale from being hidden from the light. You knew what you were doing.

You knew you were born a queer.

Poetry: El secreto / The Secret

I love translating things, so I wanted to share this beautiful, super sexy poem I carried from Spanish to English for a class. 🙂 Aside from translation, what else do I love? Sex. And beauty and romance and language, of course. And this has all of that.

I wonder what my professors think of me when all I generally focus on are these things…

El secreto
Adriano del Valle

A orillas de la fábula, secretamente mía,
desde el árbol de sangre donde nace el latido
que se asoma a tu pulso, tu lengua, flor mojada,
era un sésamo oculto para el paisaje mórbido
de tu floral desnudo, desgajado en pudores
y amorosas laderas silvestres, en la sombra
de tus senos en vilo, colmenas del enjambre
cuyo vuelo guiaba el beso más antiguo.

Sempiternas colinas con pétalos y zumos,
el sí y el no acertaban, dudoso de tu aroma;
áureo botín de besos, acosadas axilas,
fugacísima imagen traída en tus relámpagos,
abriéndome entre lirios palomas y moluscos.

Y tú, ya casi un claro de luna en tus pestañas,
arcángel sin edad eras sencillamente.
Y acueducto sin lluvia, la luz del arco iris
nos volcaba el secreto flamígero del beso,
la soledad abriendo a nuestras almas juntas
donde las aves urden sus alcobas de trinos.

¡Oh amada mía! Siempre tu inaccesible cumbre;
y ya en ti, me despeño virgíneamente tuyo,
cuando el aire y el río te huelen desde cerca
el tatuaje invisible de la piel de tu aroma.

Y entonces, voy bajando por la rampa del grito,
del fulgor y la piedra, del viento y de la nieve;
ave soy rubricando con el vuelo las cumbres;
Ángel Caído soy recluido en tus ojos,
mordiendo en tu cabello sus pendulares frutos,
desplegando en mi torso su funeral bandera,
tu ardiente cordillera midiendo con mis brazos…
Con mi equinoccio envuelvo tus claros hemisferios
de antípodas caricias, cuando exploran mis besos
la tibia sangre nómada de tus venas azules.

La luna era el ex-libris del éxtasis nocturno,
tallo de flor nacido de tu propia semilla,
soledad sin los árboles que sostienen el cielo,
la delicia ignorando de beber en tu lengua,
como la piedra ignora el lenguaje del pájaro.

Si el beso no era un símbolo creado en tu homenaje,
su corola en tu hálito tuvo pétalos dulces
para impregnar la tierra con mieles suficientes
cuyo dulzor brotaba de la raíz del mundo.

Te conocí en el lecho mineral del planeta,
mientras tú apaciguabas la luz en la montaña…
Cósmicamente mía… Norte, Sur, Este, Oeste,
nupciales, cuatro vientos te velaban el sueño.

The Secret
Translation by Aida Manduley

On shores of the fable, secretly mine,
from the tree of blood where the beat is born
that peeks into your pulse, your tongue, wet flower,
was a hidden sesame for the morbid landscape
of your floral nude, ripped into modesties
and amorous wild slopes, in the shadow
of your suspended breasts, beehives of the swarm
whose flight guided the most ancient kiss.

Sempiternal hills with petals and juices
the yes and no guessed, doubtful of your aroma;
aureate contraband of kisses, harassed armpits,
most fleeting image brought in your lightning,
opening me among lilies doves and mollusks.

And you, a moonlit clearing almost on your lashes,
were simply an ageless archangel.
And rainless aqueduct, the rainbow’s light
emptied on us the kiss’ flamiferous secret,
the solitude opening our souls together
where the birds weave their alcoves of chirps.

Oh, my beloved! Always your inaccessible summit;
and already in you, I fall virginally yours,
when the air and the river smell you up close
the invisible tattoo of the skin of your aroma.

And then, I am going down the ramp of the scream,
of the fulgor and the stone, of the wind and the snow;
a bird I am signing the peaks with flight;
a Fallen Angel I am secluded in your eyes,
biting in your hair its pendular fruits,
displaying on my torso its funeral flag,
your burning mountain range measuring with my arms…
With my equinox I wrap your light hemispheres
in Antipodean caresses, when my kisses explore
the warm nomad blood of your blue veins.

The moon was the ex-libris of nocturnal ecstasy,
flower stem born from your own seed,
solitude without the trees that hold up the sky,
delight ignoring to drink on your tongue
like the stone ignores the bird’s language.

If the kiss was not a symbol created in your honor,
its corona on your breath had sweet petals
to impregnate the earth with sufficient honeys
whose sweetness flowed from the world’s root.

I met you on the planet’s mineral bed,
while you soothed the light on the mountain…
Cosmically mine… North, South, East, West,
nuptially, four winds watched over your sleep.