orlando shooting victims

A Queer Latinx Mourning After The Orlando Shooting

I was back in my homeland of Puerto Rico—the first time in two years—for a professional conference when I heard the news about the Orlando shooting.

I sat around a table, ordering pancakes as big as my face, surrounded by fellow members of the Women of Color Sexual Health Network. We ate, talked shop, and decompressed after some difficult events that weekend. There was a TV on next to us—flashing lights and “ORLANDO SHOOTING” in big letters displayed on the bottom of the screen.

It’s too early for this. We’re already so weary.

Not until later did I actually pay attention to the news. I was in work mode, though, and nothing sunk in. Later that night, I hopped a plane back to Boston and came home to an empty bed. I craved human contact, craved my queer partners, craved community as I read the names of the dead late into the night, crying and unable to sleep. I wanted to light candles, whisper Spanish into the sky and honor the dead, but I could only witness the little information available and sob in the dark, thankful I only had a few clients to see the next day.

On Monday, I watched a mother recount the last words she exchanged with her son as they texted during the shooting. On Monday, I watched the last Snapchat videos various victims filmed that night, including one with gunshots in the background. On Monday, I couldn’t feel rage because my nerves were too tangled in sadness and exhaustion. On Monday, I told one of my partners that I was randomly crying throughout the day.

“It’s not random if you’re grieving, boo. They killed your *family*”

Their words settled in my chest. They killed my family. 

I’ve never been one to grieve over strangers, but this felt personal. They were fellow queers, fellow people of color, fellow Latinx, fellow people of complicated genders, out to have a good time. 

23 out of 49 victims were Puerto Ricans like me.

So I could try to speak of the rage at how many White queers have put themselves at the center of this grief like they were the center of the universe. I could try to speak of the disgust at how many have spun this into Islamophobic propaganda, speak of the frustration at how this has been turned into a detached debate about gun control.

I could try to speak to how I see this as part of a web of violence, threads connecting the ALMOST WEEKLY murders of trans people and especially the violence against trans women and femmes; the slaughter and erasure of Natives; African enslavement; police brutality targeting Black and brown bodies; harsh immigration policies; lynchings and gay-bashings; harmful legislation about where we can go to the bathroom, how we can dress, and how we can reproduce (or not); and the present-day colonization of Puerto Rico. 

And I could try to speak about the hope for the future and the ways we are strong and resilient, of how I see love as the long-term fuel we need for our movements.

But all I can speak to right now is holding sorrow in the same hands I try to hold hope, and how sometimes my hands don’t feel big enough.

All I can speak to right now is my fear that one day it will be me and my familia… and realizing that it already is.

All I can speak to right now is how intensely I want to protect my communities and how I want to care for my QT/POC lovers with such ferocity that the world trembles.

All I can speak to right now is the grief at those misgendered after death, those outed to families who would reject them, those whose undocumented status prevents families from reaching their bodies, those who survived and are wracked with guilt…all the ripples of pain spreading throughout Orlando and mi isla and the entire continent. 

The atom of the Latinx universe is the family, not the individual, and so the number of broken hearts balloons much larger than the 49 dead and 53 wounded. This is why community matters. This is why we gather together at places and times like these.

So I hold space for all those who grieve in secret, whose workplaces and families and surroundings don’t acknowledge how this has carved open their chest. I hold space for those who are in helping professions trying to keep their ish together in front of clients as their insides splinter. I hold space for you, for me, for us. For those who are confused about their grief, for those who are numb, for those whose rage rises like bile, for those who have lost so much already and feel this as another drop in the bucket that’s already overflowing. 

By being queer and trans we have inherited legacies of mourning, loss, and persecution. By being Latinx, we have inherited legacies of discrimination, colonization, and diaspora. And we must remember that we have also been passed down resistance, power, healing, life. 

Como dice el refrán: “They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds”

To all those who were taken too soon: descansen en poder, and may you never thirst. 


Part of this was originally published on Autostraddle’s roundtable of queer Latinxs, and the rest was crafted for a vigil in Boston focusing on Q/T/POC in the wake of the Orlando shooting. Header image via a Buzzfeed article on the Orlando Shooting victims

Stop Saying “Poly” When You Mean “Polyamorous”

Quick clarification [Added 09/05/15]:  Please read the full article before commenting. This post is primarily meant to explore the confused, defensive, and sometimes outright racist/sexist/etc. reactions to a call-to-action around language use in the polyamorous community. The specific linguistic issue is concretely addressed in the final section.


Doesn’t it suck when someone tells you to stop using a word you’ve been using for years because they say it’s oppressive or harmful to their community?

Do you feel personally angry and/or persecuted when a term you use suddenly comes under attack? Do you think “this is political correctness run amok“?

That’s how a bunch of polyamorous folks felt when they were asked to stop using “poly” as an abbreviation. In case you haven’t stumbled upon this (I just heard about it two days ago myself),  here’s the scoop—a Polynesian person on Tumblr made the following call to action:

Hey, can any polyamory blogs with a follower count please inform the palagi portion of the community that “poly” is a Polynesian community identifier, and is important to our safe spaces.
Using “polyamory” is cool just like using “polygender” and “Polyromantic” and or Polysexual” is cool. But the abbreviation “poly” is already in use.

Then, when people pushed back saying “chill out, lots of words have multiple meanings” or “people have been using poly as an abbreviation for polyamorous for decades already,” they responded with this. Now, do I agree 100% with their statements? Nah. And regardless of my post’s title, I don’t actually want to obliterate “poly” from your vocabulary. But before you breathe that big ol’ sigh of relief, keep reading.

Poly: Polynesian, Polyamorous, PolyWrath?

People are now discussing this debate on various Facebook groups dedicated to sexuality education and polyamory (one of the biggest has over 18K members), on Reddit  (as well as the cesspools of Reddit) and on Tumblr. It’s apparently been brewing for a few months, if not longer, and some people are PISSED. Those under the delusion that polyamorous people are all kinder and more open-minded than the general population clearly hasn’t been in one of these circles and looked at it through a social equity lens.  But that’s a post for another day. Back to the anger.

See what I did there? You're welcome.

See what I did there? You’re welcome.

Being on the receiving end of “stop using a word” or “you’re being oppressive” isn’t an easy pill to swallow. Whenever I get called out for something—most likely ableism since it’s an axis of oppression I don’t personally experience and am still learning a lot about—there’s often a knee-jerk reaction in there. A “don’t tell me what to do” demon on my shoulder who loves getting self-righteous and hates being wrong, whose first line of defense is “it’s not even that big of a deal.” Heck, I’ve definitely felt it as a sexuality educator when I’ve merely read up on newer sexuality labels and no one is even talking to me. Though most of the time the reaction is “COOL, NEW WORDS,” I’d be lying if I said I never think “this is just going TOO FAR” or “WHY SO MANY LABELS” when hearing some new categories of identity, especially if people are getting defensive about them. That gut reaction is normal…

But then I take a breath and realize I’m being ridiculous even if it’s normal.

I’m not being my best self in those moments, and I need to hold compassion for my own feelings but also push past them if they’re not serving my values of kindness and justice.

Overall, individuals and communities are perpetually trying to find ways to describe themselves and their lives, and that can be really tough especially if the words are related to identities that are devalued and marginalized. While “labels are for soup-cans” and we’re so much more complex than words could ever describe, language is a powerful thing that helps both reflect and create our world. It helps build communities, express our emotions, and even pass down our histories. It helps us name our struggles, craft banners for solidarity, and connect for change. It makes sense people have a lot of feelings about it!

Language is ever-evolving and it’s a beautiful thing when more words can become available, when more ways of understanding our world are accessible. But that doesn’t happen without friction. Sometimes our knee-jerk reactions to new words or identities come from a place of holding onto what we’ve been taught and being uncomfortable with change. Sometimes the new labels contradict, criticize, or make obsolete other labels we’ve been using—or even identifying with—and that can feel like a punch in the gut.

WAYSA

Art by Amanda Watkins, my other boo. Click on the image to check out more of her art!

Often, and as I recognize is the case with me and my pride,  immediate rage comes from not wanting to think that we’ve been ignorant and/or messing something up THIS WHOLE TIME. If XYZ person is right that usage of a particular word is oppressive, then what does that say about me, who has been using it for years? Does that mean I’m an oppressive, irredeemable jerk? (The answer is often “no, it just means stop using it” but the visceral reality doesn’t allow us to understand that quickly.) For more on this phenomenon, check out this video by Ian Danskin [one of my partners] and his overall series “Why Are You So Angry?

Point is we need to evolve with language and work through our gut reactions to change.

Now, that’s not to say we should forget about the roots of certain words or suddenly say that terms like the n-word and the r-word are chill because “we’re past them being a slur” [hint: we’re not, and racism/ableism aren’t over either]. What I mean is that we need to hold space for growth and be willing to move in new directions with our terminology—that regardless of how defensive our initial “Don’t Tell Me What To Do” shoulder-demons might be, we MUST move in a direction of empathy and kindness, particularly to those in marginalized communities with long legacies of experiencing colonialism and other forms of structural oppression.

“But Poly Is a Latin Prefix; You CAn’t Claim It…”

Yes, poly is a prefix for dozens of words and it actually comes from Greek. Even the “poly” in the naming of Polynesia came out of super uninventive naming schemas (Polynesia means “many islands”). So? No one is saying the prefix needs to be eradicated. When talking about polycarbonate lenses, polygraphs, polygons, or polydactyl kittens, they’re not being referred to as “poly[s]” on their own. There’s the qualifier afterwards, but that is not always the case when talking about people. If someone states “I’m poly” you can’t immediately tell if they’re saying they’re Polynesian, polyamorous, polysexual, polyromantic, polygendered, or a host of other identity labels [without further context]. Heck, they could be a FEW of those labels.

So what we’re talking about here is clarity as well as empathy and willingness to listen.

Whether these Tumblr folks represent a few dozen, a few hundred, or a few thousand, the questions remain the same: what are we, non-Polynesian “poly” people and our allies, going to do to provide clarity to our language and stand in solidarity with however many Polynesians want this change? More importantly, what does this situation, and the pushback from members of “the polyamorous community,” tell us about language adoption and resistance to change in our communities?

When people say this is “being politically correct,” they are trying to make basic decency into a politically contested issue and make it sound bad. Some people even think they’re brave if they’re politically incorrect, conflating deep-rooted anti-authoritarian work that seeks to dismantle structural power with, like, flipping the bird to someone on Tumblr talking about racism. Being a jerk and using oppressive terminology isn’t brave. Whining about trigger-warnings and “preferred pronouns” and “social justice warriors ruining fun” isn’t bold or radical. Saying we’re “coddling our new generations” and actually harming survivors of trauma by being more thoughtful is missing the point (and it’s not even medically accurate). Being unwilling to even consider a minor shift in language to give space for another community to flourish is not living in a space of goodwill.

So What Should We Be Doing?

As someone in the sexuality field AND a polyamorous person with a big tech geek streak, I value useful search terms and disambiguation. Heck, as a super Type A person that drools over nice spreadsheets, regardless of other sexual or racial identities, I think it’s crucial that we make the Internet an easier, more organized place to browse. I already avoided using “poly” online in any meaningful capacity  because it felt too ambiguous for searches and helpful tagging, and this debate is just another great reason to avoid it: because it’s a term that a racially marginalized community uses to self-identify and build community. If “poly” on its own works for them, more power to ’em. Even in sexuality-specific circles, using “poly” can be possibly misunderstood because there are other labels that start with poly- as well, so again, not the most useful.

Some have suggested “polya” or “polyam” as possible abbreviations that don’t conflict with usage by other groups. Personally, I think “polya” looks ugly as a word and makes me think of Dubya [never a good thing]. I feel “meh” about “polyam” but could see it as a better alternative, I guess. To each their own, and I won’t be adopting either of these abbreviations soon, but what I do advocate for is mindfulness around when and where we use “poly” to mean “polyamorous.”

Here are some questions to ask ourselves:

  1. Is the word being used in a space where the meaning is clear to everyone witnessing the content?
  2. Is using “poly” for “polyamorous” making it harder for another community to disambiguate and find “their own kind”?
  3. What impact does the term’s usage have on search results, tagging systems, and online spaces?
  4. Is the decision to keep using “poly” for “polyamorous” coming from a place of spite and thoughtlessness or from a place of informed compassion?

Personally, I will continue to use “poly” in private situations or verbal conversation where people know what I mean, BUT in tagging things online—a place where categorizing information is important, where people use those systems to search for others like themselves, and so on—I will use polyamory specifically and avoid “poly.” Again, this is work I was already doing, but something that is generally not a huge effort for folks to start doing if they hadn’t been. I encourage this level of specificity in others, for the sake of more than just random Polynesian folks on Tumblr.

But in regards to those “random Polynesian folks” on Tumblr, it doesn’t matter if most of us “don’t think about Polynesian people when we say poly” or that “our Polynesian friends don’t care.” While that may inform how radical our changes are and where we enact change, it shouldn’t mean that we ignore the issue entirely or dig our heels in the dirt because we don’t want to change. To questions of “couldn’t they just as easily pick a new tag/abbreviation?” my answer is just “maybe.” But when it’s a horde of predominantly White, Western polyamorists asking that question and refusing to consider where they may change, that says something.

At the end of the day, these are people asking for us to collaborate in making the Internet and its communities easier and better to navigate for all.

If you live in a place where you are guaranteed free speech, calls for space and respect like this aren’t censorship—they’re calls for consideration. You still have the power and right to make whatever decision feels best for you, but my hope is that you will prioritize the expansion of kindness and reduction of harm in the process.

One of my favorite poly-related words. This image by Robert Ashworth used under Creative Commons license. Click through for original.


Header image of Moorea in Polynesia shot by Loïs Lagarde and used under Creative Commons license. The only change to the image is that it’s cropped a bit differently.

Update 09/04/15: Poly as a prefix actually comes from Greek, not Latin as I originally wrote. Made the correction. I always get those mixed up because they’re both present in the full word [polyamory]. Thanks for the person that caught that!

Update 09/05/15: Unsurprisingly, I’ve heard from Polynesian folks on both sides of the issue. Some use “poly” while others don’t. Some think it’s useful while others don’t. Some use the ‘net regularly while others don’t. Interestingly, the “poly-as-Polynesian” definition got added to Urban Dictionary back in ’06. Anyway. I clarified a bit of language in the post, most notably in a sentence that could be interpreted in two ways and most people were reading it differently than I intended it [the one about calling something “‘poly,’ period”].

Honoring MLK: Racial Justice and Social Work

Martin Luther King Jr. getting quoted out of context is one of my pet peeves. Thankfully, that did not happen on Tuesday, when I attended a panel on racial justice in honor of his legacy.

The Massachusetts Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers organized a forum to discuss the current state of racial justice and the social work profession in Boston. It was originally scheduled for January, but as luck would have it, Boston faced the snowiest, most bananas winter in history and the well-laid plans had to be changed.

An eternal live-tweeter and sharer of information, I documented the event and created a Storify where people can, essentially, virtually tag along for the ride after the event. You can find it here. The panelists were as follows:

MLK Racial Justice Panel Cohort

Left to right: Melendez, MacArthur, Belkin Martinez, Copeland. Photo credit to Shabnam Deriani.

I don’t generally go to panels on racial justice to learn new information, as someone steeped in this on the daily and who also presents on anti-racism. I go to these events to have more bodies in the room, to hear my colleagues speak, to nourish my spirit with the shared passion of those dedicated to social change. However, I often do learn new nuggets of wisdom—new quotations, new strategies, new frameworks—and this event did not disappoint. The biggest takeaway? The work of Whitney Young Jr.

Dr. Phillipe Copeland—one of the panelists and one of the professors at the Boston University School of Social Work where I’m pursuing my Master’s in Social Work—quoted Whitney Young Jr. and his thoughts on the social work profession as it connected to racial justice and social justice overall. I wanted to share that with all of the budding social workers and seasoned vets in my community, because they are POWERFUL.

Here’s an excerpt from from Young Jr., in “Social Welfare’s Responsibility in Urban Affairs” [emphasis mine].

Let these words ABOUT RACIAL JUSTICE/SOCIAL JUSICE sink in, marinate, and transform you and your practice.

It is not enough for the social worker to teach the poor how to survive on a substandard budget. We must plant the seeds of indignation and of desire for change in the mind of every citizen suffering in want. We must be the catalysts of change, not the maintainers of the status quo. Establishing rapport, cutting through defenses, is the only way we can achieve anything of value. We must let people know that we are not just interested in establishing eligibility or in granting minimal services. We must see them as individuals.

We must help them understand that we are not just a part of the faceless bureaucracy which regulates their lives, but that we are concerned with helping them, as individuals, get into the productive mainstream of society. We must fight against red-tape restrictions and requirements which deny people their humanity. We must tell the unemployed that they have the right to work, the right to education of high quality for their children, the right to be trained, and the right to support themselves and their families at a decent level.

We must tell families in poverty that they have a vote and can use it to secure a more sympathetic ear in our corridors of power; that they must broaden their children’s horizons; that change is a law of life, and reform must be a way of life. These are the basic means of humanizing the city.

In a society which has succumbed to an excess of professionalism and technology, materialism and theoretical concepts, we must, in order to redress the balance, succumb to an excess of feeling, of courage, of caring, and of decency. I believe the time is ripe. The problems of our cities are begging for solution. Our profession is now mature and secure enough to provide leadership in this effort. A society that would call itself civilized is at stake.


 

The photo at the top/banner of this post illustrates Martin Luther King Jr. addressing a crowd from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where he delivered his famous, “I Have a Dream,” speech during the Aug. 28, 1963, March on Washington, D.C. [and is in the public domain].

Resources Mentioned at PlaygroundConf 2013 Closing Plenary

PGConf 2013

Stay in Touch!

Find Aida here:

Find Heather here:

Resources & Organizations Directly Mentioned in Presentation:

Additional Resources

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?

#pauladeensbestdishes

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.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h4ZyuULy9zs

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.

Mayhem Around the World: A Roundup

Inspired by a Tumblr post, I decided to expand and succinctly contextualize some of the mayhem going around in the world right now. The following is a corrected and much expanded version of this postworld globe

Brazil: Massive Nation-Wide protests and riots caused by, among other factors, monetary focus on the World Cup and Olympics instead of the well-being of the populace. Government happily destroys important monuments and displaces indigenous folks from their homes to make way for things like parking lots.

Russia: Government creates laws against “the propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” (the vote is 436 to ZERO), people protest (and get abused by anti-gay individuals), and the Human Rights Watch reports that anti-gay violence spiked once the bill started getting considered in January.The law imposes significant fines of up to $31,000 for providing information about the LGBT community to minors, holding gay pride events, speaking in defense of gay rights, or equating gay and heterosexual relationships” (source). Also, the Duma approved a law that criminalizes blasphemy with a 3-year prison term for anyone who organizes an activity or stages a performance that aims to “offend religious sensibilities” (on the heels of the whole Pussy Riot debacle, in “which three members of the feminist performance art group Pussy Riot were tried and two of them sentenced to two years in a penal colony for staging a profane performance in an empty church that hurt no one and caused no material damage”).

Venezuela: Massive protests and riots caused by elections that put Maduro in the presidential seat by a narrow margin and people claim it was due to fraud (here’s another source, too). However, after the recount, the National Electoral Council still says the results of the audit corroborated Maduro’s win (CNE). Either way, it is a way closer race than some people expected and sounds like the government might be shifting for future elections.

Greece: Trans* people and sex workers are being rounded up in internment camps, and the health minister has condoned forced HIV tests conducted by the police. Some of the folks who have been detained and found to be HIV+ have had personal identifiable information (including names and photos) published in the media “to protect public health.” And this isn’t counting the many innocent individuals that have been jailed for being “presumed prostitutes.”

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The awesome TX Senator Leticia Van De Putte who also participated in the filibuster and uttered the now-famous line she’s printed on her shirt.

United States: Republicans in Texas aim to pass draconian abortion law (SB5), give media incorrect information about its passing after a 13-hr filibuster, and change online records to fake time of voting, despite the bill being voted on after a deadline and being protested by both the people and a state Senator. (TL;DR: SB5 didn’t pass, but a special session has been convened and further actions will happen after the holiday weekend). Protests at the senate growing, and law enforcement called in. Also, and  even MORE importantly, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 has been gutted and states that used discriminatory practices to bar poor people, immigrants, and people of color from voting no longer have the same restrictions placed on them re: changing voting rules. People will have to prove claims of discrimination AFTER the fact. Less than a few days after the gutting (and in some, after less than 24 hours), several states changed their voting regulations without needing to clear it with any higher authority. Finally, on the LGBT front, tons of reports of anti-gay violence are coming out, and my eye is on New York City (check out the NY Anti-Violence Project’s reports and blog section for more details.)

Australia: Julia Gillard is dumped as prime minister and leader of the Australian Labor Party, while previous Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is reinstated.

Turkey: Protests escalate as people fight back against state-violence (including violence against the press) and “Erdoğan’s increasingly assertive Islamist administration,” sparked by protests against the redevelopment of Istanbul’s Gezi Park. The government violently cracks down on the dissent, detaining even the medics who were trying to treat the protester’s injuries.

What else is going on, folks? This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it’s a place to start.

Emergency Press Conference to Denounce Police Brutality

UPDATES from PrYSM 1/11/13: (versión en español, en parte, abajo)

As you may have heard, this past Tuesday, two Cambodian families were raided and subject to police brutality. As a response to this constant systemic violence, we are asking our leaders to support and speak out at a Press Conference, Saturday, January 12th at 2:00pm, located at the first temple on Hanover Street, Providence. These raids and profiling of our community has to stop. The last two raids resulted in brutality against a 13 year old boy and a 77 year old Cambodian woman.

PrYSM has been in constant communication with the family. On Wednesday, January 9th, 2012, with the help of various organizations and individuals, we began to circulate COMMITMENT TO SUPPORT here.

In less than 24 hours, we received over 850 sign-on’s to support the family and it is still growing. We are asking for your support in a few ways:

1) Forward and distribute the media advisory to your e-mail list/media list. The advisory is below.

What do we do when the cops attack? | Stand up! Fight Back!

Emergency Press Conference to Denounce Police Brutality
Tomorrow, Saturday 1/12 @ 2pm
Wat Thormikaram (Khmer Buddhist Center of RI) 177 Hanover St.

On Tuesday night, Providence Police raided two Cambodian households in the West End. Police entered without showing a warrant, beat a 13-year-old while he was asleep in his bed, handcuffed a 77-year-old woman and held her at gunpoint, humiliated women, stole property, and arrested people. This is not the first time that the police have conducted these brutal, racially targeted raids in the Cambodian community.

Come out to support the affected families and join them in their demands that enough is enough! We demand less policing in our communities, full disclosure of all past home raids, a public apology from the City, and for all charges to be dropped.

March and rally to follow in the coming week.

Contact: Chanravy Proeung – chanravy@prysm.us

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¿Qué hacemos cuando nos ataca la policía? | ¡Nos Levantamos y Luchamos!

Conferencia de Prensa para Denunciar la Brutalidad Policial
Mañana, el sábado 1-12 @ 2pm
Wat Thormikaram (centro budista camboyano de RI) 177 Hanover St.

El martes en la noche, la policía de Providence hicieron redadas en dos casas camboyanas en el barrio West End. La policía entró sin mostrar su órden de cateo, golpeó a un joven de 13 años mientras que él dormía en su cama, esposó a una anciana de 77 años y la amenazó con armas, humilló a las mujeres, robó propiedad, y hizó arrestos. No es la primera vez que la policía han hecho redadas así violentos y racistas en la comunidad camboyana.

¡Sal para apoyar a la familia afectada y unirte con sus demandas que ya basta! Demandamos menos policía en nuestras comunidades, transparencia completa de todas las redadas que han pasado, una disculpa pública e inmediata de la ciudad, y que boten todos los cargos contra los afectados.

Habrá una marcha y manifestación en la semana que viene.

Contacta a Chanravy, chanravy@prysm.us (inglés) o Will, wlambek@onaprovidence.org (español)

2) Show support by appearing and bringing people, family, friends to the press conference. The more, the better. [Helping out with rides].

3) It is important for OUR community leaders to speak up. Someone NOT from PrYSM, we will have representatives there, but most importantly–WE MUST SHOW SOLIDARITY to the media, the city, and the public.

4) Continue to distribute the Commitment of Support (the link above). This is an important tool, hundreds of people are in support and we can show folks the support in numbers.

PLEASE FORWARD: Police Raids & Brutality in Providence, RI

*Please forward widely*

Dear friends and family, Last night, two police raids occurred on two separate Cambodian houses in the West End of Providence, Rhode Island. At one of the house raids, police officers entered without knocking or presenting a warrant, claiming to be looking for guns. They handcuffed family members (including a 77-year old woman) and held them at gunpoint. They dragged a 13-year-old out of his bed, threw him on the ground, and stomped on him while he was down. Three people were arrested altogether. No firearms were found. When the warrant was finally presented (after everyone had been handcuffed), it was for narcotics, not firearms.

This is not the first time this has happened. Since summer 2012, four Cambodian households have been targeted and raided. In previous raids, police officers damaged houses, verbally abused people, stole property, brutalized elders and youth, humiliated women, and violated basic human rights. These attacks on our community have been increasing rapidly, and many of the time, the victims are young people.

Police use raids like these to try to spark fear in our communities, but we will not let it continue. We are going to present the family tomorrow night with options to take action. We are asking for your support, to stand in solidarity with this family, through this difficult time. We plan to present the family with a list of supporters to show them that they’re not alone in this fight. This is not the first time this has happened but it will be the last.

Please fill out this form to support this family and empower them to take action.

Love,
Franny & the PrYSM Fam
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*Favor de re-enviar*

Queridos amigos y familiares, Anoche pasaron redadas policiacas en dos casas cambodianas en el barrio West End de Providence, Rhode Island. En una de estas redadas, la policía entró a fuerza sin presentar una orden de cateo, declarando que buscaban armas. Esposaron a toda la familia (incluso una anciana de 77 años) y los amenazaron con pistolas. Arrastraron un joven de 13 años de su cama, lo tiraron en el piso, y lo patearon. Detuvieron tres personas en total. No encontraron ninguna arma. Cuando al final presentaron la orden de cateo, (después de haber esposado a todos) se mostró que la orden se trató de narcóticos, no armas.

No es la primera vez que esto ha pasado. Desde el verano de 2012, cuatro casas cambodianas han sido los blancos de redadas policiacas. En las redadas previas, la policía ha dañando la casa, abusado personas verbalmente, maltratado los ancianos y los jóvenes, humillado las mujeres, y violado los derechos humanos básicos. Estos ataques contra nuestra comunidad están incrementando rápidamente, y muchas veces los víctimas son nuestros jóvenes.

La policía usan redadas como ésta para crear temor en nuestras comunidades, pero no lo permitimos seguir. Mañana por la noche, hablaremos con la familia afectada con sus opciones para tomar acción. Les pedimos su apoyo, para estar en solidaridad con esta familia en estos tiempos difíciles. Les presentaremos una lista de personas en apoyo a la familia afectada para mostrarlos que no están solos en esta lucha. No es la primera vez que algo así ha pasado, pero sí será la última.

When “Going East” Is Code for “CHERRY BLOSSOM RACISM”

A friend posted this article about the recent launch of the “Go East” Victoria’s Secret line on their Facebook page, and a comment exchange ensued between some folks, myself included. I thought some points that were raised deserved a response (and a public one at that, not caught up in the FB privacy settings). I’ve paraphrased and bolded them here + added some responses.

  • How is this racist? A geisha is a sexual figure in East Asia already. 
This line isn’t just sexualizing the geisha—the entire LINE is all about “sexy exotic Asian-ness,” and it’s all predicated on a commodified, simplified, and inauthentic view of “exotic asian culture.” For the purposes of Victoria’s Secret, “going east” means “let’s put some cherry blossoms and red on some lingerie and make our models wear chopsticks in their hair and OH OH don’t forget the kimono!” Of course it brings in the geisha as one of the lingerie styles because that’s one of the easiest things to sexualize here in the U.S., since so many people are familiar with the concept. Speaking of which, most of us have a pretty simplified and misinformed idea about what being a geisha entails anyway, and the level of education and training geishas got/get as well as the diversity of their actions/professions is not something a lot of people know about. Most folks just think “yeah, a geisha, a Japanese prostitute with the white face and stuff, like in Mulan or something.”
  • Sexual fantasy doesn’t indicate personally racist/bigoted beliefs. Wanting to dress like a geisha doesn’t make someone a racist.
Sexual attitudes and desires don’t happen inside of a magic bubble. We all have the responsibility to ask ourselves why we like what we do instead of just saying “AH WELL I JUST LIKE STUFF WHO KNOWS WHY.” Just as we adopt racist, sexist, etc.-ist beliefs in other areas of our lives, we adopt them in our sexual life and sexuality too. It’s our responsibility to interrogate what we want and how that intersects with the world around us. It’s like saying “yeah I only date white people, I dunno, I just find them more attractive.” Beauty is not this magically 100% objective thing–it’s very conditioned by our upbringing and cultural surroundings, and if those have racism embedded into them, you betcha your ideas of beauty will also have racism embedded unless you actively work to fight that and deconstruct it as much as possible.
And even if someone doesn’t want to dress like a geisha due to “explicitly racist” reasons, it involves a degree of subconscious entitlement to do so–that “yes, I can wear this, because I can do whatever I want, I have access to these pieces of this culture and I don’t have to think about the context or the impact of this choice.” It’s that dismissiveness, that disregard, that idea that all things are possible/accessible and OK because “I’m not actually a racist.” Racism isn’t just lynchings and cross-burning and denying people jobs; it’s way more complicated and pervasive than that.
  • Taking this line down and not carrying foreign-oriented lines of lingerie = just as offensive as carrying them.
There’s a difference between carrying a line catered to a particular community and appropriating that community’s culture. There’s also a difference between actually trying to provide positive and accurate representation of a culture for that culture (or even for society) and doing something simplified to purely make profit and create the newest fashion collection. Here, the intent as well as the outcome are important. Furthermore, no, these things are not “equally offensive.”
Of course, product advertising and these sexy lingerie things are never going to fully capture the entire history of whatever they’re symbolizing/hinting at, but when it’s done along already tense axes, where there have been lots of struggles between those who are creating the products and those who they are “depicting,” it’s a problem. Why? Because it’s once again a reiteration of the same power dynamics. In a climate where there are still a lot of anti-Asian feelings (check out this website for example!), it’s just one more way in which U.S. culture, especially non-asian/specifically-white U.S. culture, asserts that it can take whatever it wants from these cultures for its own purposes, demonize the fuck out of those same cultures, and not be held accountable.

When Sex-Positive Icons Fuck Up

On the heels of a discussion I was having during the training for our CSPH interns yesterday (all about radical feminism, sex-positivity, liberal feminism, and the hot mess among all those camps), I thought it’d be appropriate to finally post this. This is a good example of what some folks critique about sex-positive icons, or even just liberal feminist people–that many ignore the intersections, that they advocate for the rights of some but ignore others, that they are so caught up in all the radical possibilities of pleasure, that they ignore when sexuality can be painful and problematic and perpetuating oppression on other axes.

So, the following excerpt comes from the blog of Bianca Laureano (here). Apparently Annie Sprinkle, a big sex-positive icon who’s done a lot around sex-work especially, said the following:

Annie Sprinkle Thanks for reviving this ‘ancient’ image! When I made this image, for me it was about HONORING the art of India. I have always adored everything from India. Especially the music and art. When I began to study and practice Tantra, is when I made this image. I was so enthusiastic! I think i had past life in India, so really, maybe I’m not even appropriating as I might have been Indian. That said, I do agree that this is “appropriation.” In retrospect, I didn’t know a thing about “appropriation.” Now I am educated about it and am more sensitive. Thankfully I had some nice people explain it to me in ways I could hear it, after being attacked and judged on a college campus about 18 years ago! This image was made in 1989 or 90. It is not a new image. I think when we see people being “inappropriate” we need to be nice about it, and educate. Not attack. In most cases. Not all. Still, in the end, I do love the image, and think that when looked at with SEX POSITIVE EYES it is a beautiful image. An honoring image. xxx
I also feel that nothing is really new. That we are all appropriating all the time, and borrowing from many cultures. Especially in the multicultural mix of the new millennium. I like the idea of utilizing all kinds of culture and adding to it. Like collage. Taking things and making them over again in new ways. That appeals to me. When art is good, it provokes responses, and is controversial. At least my favorite art is. That’s why I love Phillip Huang. He gets a rise out of people! Love you Phillip. Love you Counterpulse! Love you everyone! Saturday at 11:42am

Gosh, this conversation is really turning me on! I haven’t been this controversial in a while. I’m really taking pleasure from it. Thanks everyone. Although I do apologize if something I did in 1989 offended anyone. But then… there was 1973, 1974, 1975… Oy vey. Saturday at 9:28pm
Thanks Cx Tiara Transience. Live and learn. You are right that that the anger against racism is totally justified. However, I was saying that I learn better when people explain things nicely to me rather than put me on the defensive. Then I just want to fight or flight and not listen. And Beth Stephens, i LOVE YOU. Yesterday at 1:54pm

(Also, why is appropriation in quotations…? Appropriation is appropriation, no need to air quote it. Anyway.) Of course–a lot of white people appropriate things of other cultures in hopes of “honoring them” or “showing how awesome they are and how much they like it,” but it’s still appropriation and it’s still a big problem (and some are just ignorant or flat-out racist fucks that aren’t trying to honor ANYONE but themselves). It ignores the legacies of inequality and the ways in which white people consumed, regulated, and spat out people of color’s cultures. It perpetuates the idea that white people get to be the arbiters of culture and arbiters of what’s important and valued, and that what POC have to offer is merely for consumption. There’s a difference between appreciation and appropriation.

(This is the picture in question)

Of course, not all people of color will react in the same ways. A lot of us don’t see eye to eye on racism issues, and a lot of folks are actually pretty convinced racism isn’t such a problem anymore (especially in the age of Obama), just like many women think sexism isn’t a thing anymore…y’know, ’cause now we can vote and go work and stuff. This is often due to other identities/privileges people hold (read: it’s easier to think racism’s gone if you’re a POC with a lot of money), and/or due to internalized issues around race and privilege. For an example of this, and how even POC can trivialize POC concerns, check out Philip Huang’s video doing an “interpretive/dramatic reading” of the issues some POC raised around this. Yeeeeeeeeeeah.

But onto the actual Annie Sprinkle comments (which have now been deleted).

I’m glad she sees that her work was appropriative, but the rest of her post kind of messes it up for me. The part about how she might not even be appropriating because she may have been Indian in a past life is a huge copout and pretty perturbing. When she says “Thankfully I had some nice people explain it to me in ways I could hear it, after being attacked and judged on a college campus about 18 years ago!” puts the blame on “those mean people who judged and attacked” 18 years ago. Of course people will generally listen more when folks approach things nicely, but not everyone can and/or should speak nicely about these issues, and the onus is on the folks who have transgressed to listen and see what they are being confronted with. That doesn’t mean being a doormat, for sure, but it means centralizing the issue and the concerns, NOT the feelings about being called out. Too many critical conversations get shut down because the people being called out prioritize their feelings over the issues and the fucked up things they did. 

Furthermore, the part about Still, in the end, I do love the image, and think that when looked at with SEX POSITIVE EYES it is a beautiful image. An honoring image. xxx” really negates a lot of what is said earlier. It’s like saying “yes, this is fucked up, BUT REALLY if you look at it in the end with ~*SEX POSITIVE EYES*~ you can appreciate it.” Well no, we can’t all appreciate it even if we’re sex-positive because we don’t have the luxury or privilege of “taking off” the lenses that look at racism and appropriation…and we shouldn’t, because what we need to be doing is calling people out for doing racist and appropriative things, not just staying silent about it.

The comments about how “nothing is really new” and we are all “appropriating all the time, and borrowing from many cultures,” especially in this climate of multiculturalism, really once again shows a disregard (and/or ignorance) to the histories of appropriation. And no, it’s not like cultures aren’t mixing and should never mix, but that we need to acknowledge the power dynamics that keep getting recycled over and over and how those show up in our society. On the art note, too, art can be avant-garde and controversial and provocative without needing to be racist. Art can depict and critique and discuss racism WITHOUT HAVING TO FALL INTO RACISM AND APPROPRIATION. (Cross-reference the Diana Joy blackface debacle in RI and my creation of the Keep It Checked Tumblr).

So why is this such a big deal?

Because it’s one of those big “sex-poz” icons who a lot of people look up to. Because this stuff happens at all levels, and pretty constantly. Because even the fact that Annie Sprinkle is taking this somewhat in stride and like “wow, this is getting controversial, that’s awesome” when POC are mostly just feeling shitty and upset speaks volumes. Because we need to remind people that just because someone is an amazing activist in one sphere, it doesn’t make them immune to doing other messed up stuff, or marginalizing other communities. Because for those of us who DO identify as sex-positive and feminists *AND* people of color, we need to speak up and elevate the field when we can. We need to hold the icons and each other accountable for our actions, even if they took place years ago, and we need to all keep learning and growing.
For those of us who are comfortable calling people out (even if not all the time), I encourage us to keep doing it. For those of us who get called out, we need to keep listening. And we ALL need to remember that activism and work in social spheres is complex and should be nuanced, not oversimplified. We need many lenses and many voices to make some radical change.

Doing something that gets a call-out doesn’t negate other good work people have done (as in Annie’s case), as if retroactively this entire person’s career were tainted by a problematic image/statement. What it DOES mean, though, is that a critical light must be shed on their past/present/future work, and that we need to understand how their views may have affected (and may continue to affect) their work.  Also, so I can leave y’all with some action items and actual tools, check out this awesome PDF that talks about common racist attitudes and behaviors that indicate a detour or wrong turn into white guilt, denial, or defensiveness. “Each is followed by a statement that is a reality check and consequence for harboring such attitudes.” Super useful. Please share widely! 🙂