BGD Editor in Training Program

Challenge to White Folks: Take The Black Girl Dangerous White Privilege Bucket Challenge

I was recently challenged by a dear friend to participate in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Coming from this friend, the challenge was particularly poignant considering that her father was recently diagnosed with ALS, and just watching the video where she challenged me brought me to tears.

However, I wasn’t sure I wanted to do the challenge.  It’s not that I have a problem with the ALS Foundation or with people’s participation in the challenge.  It more had to do with what I saw on my social media at the height of the challenge.

When most people were participating in the challenge corresponded to a pivotal moment in our nation’s history: the protests in Ferguson, MO after the extra-judicial killing of Michael Brown. Virtually every person of Color I knew (and some White folks acting in solidarity) were posting about Ferguson, offering analysis and updates of what was happening on the ground.

But from the mostly-White youth that make up the vast majority of my Facebook fam, silence on Ferguson and a whole bunch of Ice Bucket Challenge videos.

This is not to say that there should not be young White youth participating in the Ice Bucket Challenge. It was just wholly indicative of a problem of perception in the U.S. right now:

According to a Pew Research Center poll released Monday, 80 percent of African-American adults answered that the shooting and killing of the 18-year-old Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, raises important issues about race, while 18 percent answered that the topic of race is “getting more attention than it deserves.” White adults polled held very different opinions: Thirty-seven percent answered that the case is raising important issues while a plurality, 47 percent, said the topic is receiving too much attention.” – Source

There’s no question in my mind why 80% of African Americans knew Michael Brown’s killing raised important issue about race: Black and Brown people in the United States live the reality of state-sanctioned police violence against their lives, bodies, and communities every day in the U.S.

That’s simply not a problem very many White folks face. Yes, in the lowest wealth White communities, the problem of police brutality is understood, but by-in-large in the U.S., we as White folks have no idea unless we’re choosing to step back from our privilege and to listen to people of Color who must live with this violence.

So when I say this lack of attention among young White folks to Ferguson was a problem of perception, what I really mean was a that it is a problem of White privilege: the privilege to close our eyes to the truths of endemic racism in the United States (of which police violence is but one iteration).

Thus, my hesitation to participate in the ALS Ice Bucket challenge stemmed from my desire to see a different social media landscape among the White folks in my network.

The Black Girl Dangerous White Privilege Bucket Challenge

That’s why I was delighted to see my friend Sarah participate in and challenge me to join the Black Girl Dangerous White Privilege Bucket Challenge.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you likely have read at least one post from the brilliant Black Girl Dangerous, as I love the work done there and tend to link to them fairly often.

But Black Girl Dangerous does more than host a platform for Queer and Trans People of Color to offer their voices, analysis, truths, stories.  Black Girl Dangerous is a revolutionary organization that challenges the Cis-, Straight-, and White-dominated media landscape.

That’s why the Black Girl Dangerous Editor in Training program is so important, and it’s why I accepted Sara’s challenge in the White Privilege Bucket Challenge.

From the BGD website:

The mission of the Black Girl Dangerous Editor-In-Training Program is to educate more queer and trans people of color in writing and editing specifically for online independent media. Online indie media sites have specific needs with regard to writing and editing. This program will focus on gaining those specific skills.

Many of us who have the most to contribute to important conversations happening in indie media, including conversations on race, gender, queerness, economic injustice, disability justice, issues affecting youth, etc., have the least amount of access to the training, education and experience needed to be successful in contributing to and leading independent media movements. Continuing our commitment to amplifying the voices of queer and trans people of color from all walks of life, BGD will train queer and/or trans people of color in online media editing and writing over 6 months. Participants will learn the skills necessary to write well for the web while also learning to effectively edit the work of other writers, to contribute to and build quality platforms. Participants will have the opportunity to write and edit for BGD, and to carry those skills into their own future indie media projects.”

So having taken the challenge and made my donation, here’s my video:

Why Challenge White Folks (Particularly White Men)?

Since releasing the video a couple of days ago, I have had a few White people ask me why I’m challenging White people (but particularly White men) to take the challenge.  One person asked, “If this is an issue that affects people of Color, why don’t they fund it?”

My response to that is two-fold:

1. This does not just affect people of Color. Being shielded through our privilege and our media from the lives voices of people of Color hurts us, as it ensures we live in a painfully isolated echo chamber. When we change the structures that deny Queer and Trans People of Color access to mediums for having their voices heard, we all benefit.

2. Simply put, White people need to be willing to redistribute our wealth.

In the United States, White privilege doesn’t just mean benefitting from little advantages throughout our day. For most of us, being White has meant that we have access to economic opportunity that ensures, as Ta-Nehisi Coates made so clear in this brilliant piece, that White poverty and Black poverty in the United States are not differences of “degree” but are poverties of a wholly “different kind.”

In turn, part of being accountable to our privilege means being willing to give as much as we’re able to people of Color-led efforts at realizing justice.

If we say we stand for justice, we have to put our money where our mouths are.  And a great way to do that is to give to the Black Girl Dangerous Editor in Training Program.

Thus, White folks, you should give.  Now.

White men in my life, I am particularly challenging you to give.  If all you can afford is $5, give $5.  If you can afford to put them up over their goal with a huge donation, do so.  But give.

As of the time I publish this piece, the fundraiser is a little more than halfway to its goal, with $11,673 left to raise.

Black Girl Dangerous Editor in Training Program

If (I’m sure mostly White) people can fundraise more than $55,000 for some damn potato salad, we should be able to get BGD at least that much.  If not, let’s get them to $25k.

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Christmas_fight

The Holiday Family Freakout: Calling Family In to Dialogue About Justice

Few things give me more anxiety than thinking about spending the holidays with my entire extended family.  Don’t get me wrong; I love them! And much of our time together each year is joyful and loving.

But inevitably someone is going to say something idiotic (read: racist, sexist, heterosexist/homophobic, anti-immigrant, anti-choice, religiously bigoted, or otherwise infuriatingly offensive).  And for years, I’ve struggled with how to navigate these family spaces.

After all, confronting the bigotry directly has been known to lead to all-out Christmas or Thanksgiving verbal brawls with shouting and crying and people walking out.

And I know full well that calling my anti-immigrant uncle out and starting verbal wrestlemania isn’t going to change his mind.  He revels in pissing people off with his political beliefs.  He’s the ultimate internet troll (except that he’s sitting on my grandmother’s couch).

Yet as I walk the precarious path in trying to be an accountable ally, I feel a calling and responsibility to address this stuff.  It’s tough to know what to do.

When talking with a friend the other night about whether or not to engage, I couldn’t help but think of a quote from the controversial but surely-quotable Tim Wise:

“The power of resistance is to set an example: not necessarily to change the person with whom you disagree, but to empower the one who is watching and whose growth is not yet completed, whose path is not at all clear, whose direction is still very much up in the proverbial air.”

As I think about whether to engage, I should consider less whether I want to fight with my trolling uncle than about who is listening.

Christmas_fight

Because I’m not going to change his mind, but I very well may plant the seeds of resistance in the minds of my young nieces and nephews.  They are listening.  And at 3, 5, and 7, few times of their lives will be more formative in their development of self and in their construction of “other.”

Further, I might empower someone else in the family to speak up.  Maybe they’ve been just as fed up with the nastiness and bigotry but felt alone at family gatherings.

Inclusiveness CAN Be a Family Value

And while a resistance to bigotry and a commitment to seeking justice are currently not family traditions or ethics, but they certainly can be.

When I saw Cornel West speak at the 2013 CIRCLE Conference, one of the many parts of his talk that stuck with me came in the Q&A.  I can’t remember exactly what question was asked, but he spoke to the need for an ethic of allyship and solidarity as a value.  He talked of needing to highlight more White allies in history, and he talked of needing more vocal allies working with others who share their identity to shift tides of oppression.

But that doesn’t just happen by buying our kids gender-neutral toys or books with fantastic messages.  Instilling inclusiveness as a family value requires some tough conversations.  Yes, these conversations should be respectful and carried out with love, but they need to happen, and they need to be public so that everyone in the family can understand that it is okay and encouraged to challenge someone on a statement that furthers oppression and marginalization.

But it’s also about timing.  If my uncle corners me alone in the kitchen to goad me into a a debate about how Phil Robertson is a perfect example of how Christians are the oppressed minority in the United States today, I’m probably not going to take the trolling bait.

But if during the meal, someone makes a statement about how immigrants are ruining our country, I need to find a way to challenge it and call them in to a discussion.

And while doing so might cause a collective family meltdown, the risk is worth it if we manage to have a powerful conversation that sets the precedent that we can talk through the tough things in our family. After all, doing so makes it clear to those little ones that our family is one that engages, not disengages, with the harsh realities that are the context both inside and outside the walls of our family celebration.

Intent vs Impact: Why Your Intentions Don’t Really Matter

Imagine for a moment that you’re standing with your friends in a park, enjoying a nice summer day.

You don’t know me, but I walk right up to you holding a Frisbee.

I wind up – and throw the disc right into your face.

Understandably, you are indignant.

Through a bloody nose, you use a few choice words to ask me what the hell I thought I was doing.

And my response?

“Oh, I didn’t mean to hit you! That was never my intent! I was simply trying to throw the Frisbee to my friend over there!”

Visibly upset, you demand an apology.

But I refuse. Or worse, I offer an apology that sounds like “I’m sorry your face got in the way of my Frisbee! I never intended to hit you.”

Sound absurd? Sound infuriating enough to give me a well-deserved Frisbee upside the head?

Yeah.

So why is this same thing happening all of the time when it comes to the intersection of our identities and oppressions or privileges?

Intent v. Impact

From Paula Deen to Alec Baldwin to your annoying, bigoted uncle or friend, we hear it over and over again: “I never meant any harm…” “It was never my intent…” “I am not a racist…” “I am not a homophobe…” “I’m not a sexist…”

I cannot tell you how often I’ve seen people attempt to deflect criticism about their oppressive language or actions by making the conversation about their intent.

At what point does the “intent” conversation stop mattering so that we can step back and look at impact?

After all, in the end, what does the intent of our action really matter if our actions have the impact of furthering the marginalization or oppression of those around us?

In some ways, this is a simple lesson of relationships.

If I say something that hurts my partner, it doesn’t much matter whether I intended the statement to mean something else – because my partner is hurting.

I need to listen to how my language hurt my partner. I need to apologize.

And then I need to reflect and empathize to the best of my ability so I don’t do it again.

But when we’re dealing with the ways in which our identities intersect with those around us – and, in turn, the ways our privileges and our experiences of marginalization and oppression intersect  – this lesson becomes something much larger and more profound.

This becomes a lesson of justice.

What we need to realize is that when it comes to people’s lives and identities, the impact of our actions can be profound and wide-reaching.

And that’s far more important than the question of our intent.

We need to ask ourselves what might be or might have been the impact of our actions or words.

And we need to step back and listen when we are being told that the impact of our actions is out of step with our intents or our perceptions of self.

Read the rest at Everyday Feminism.

#FitchTheHomeless – On Dehumanization, Paternalism, and Charity

The internet is in agreement: Fuck Abercrombie & Fitch.

The collective outrage has produced some fantastic responses.  My favorite comes from Amy Taylor who proclaims,

“I am proud to say that I may be a not-so-cool kid and the extra pounds I carry may not be a thing of beauty, but I am nothing like you or your brand — and that, Mr. Jeffries, is a beautiful thing.”

But inevitably, as is par for the course on the interwebs, there are going to be some responses that are less than fantastic, that despite good intentions, actually end up furthering oppression rather than combating it.

Enter the #FitchTheHomeless campaign.

I’ve seen a number of people posting this on Facebook and Twitter with captions like, “Awesome!” and “Perfect.” and “Brilliant!!”

But when a friend posted it to my timeline asking for my thoughts, I immediately was left with a pretty terrible taste in my mouth.

This “campaign” is neither “Awesome!” nor “Perfect.” or “Brilliant!”  And here’s why:

While I am sure the creator had good intentions (“I can humiliate Abercrombie & Fitch while helping people in need!!!“), what it ends up doing is using people experiencing homelessness as pawns to make a political statement.

And that’s really not okay.

Setting aside the immature digs at the physical appearance of Abercrombie CEO Mike Jeffries, the essential premise of the video seems to be:

Abercrombie & Fitch wants only “attractive” people to wear their clothes, so let’s rebrand them by putting the ickiest people in their clothes that we possibly can, and who’s ickier than homeless people!?!?

So the White man who created the video puts on his White Savior cape, buys up a bunch of second-hand Abercrombie merch, and heads to a community this is, in every respect, not his space to invade: Skid Row.

Skid Row and Gentrification

The narrator/creator is right in asserting that Skid Row has “one of the largest concentrations of homeless people” in the U.S., a reality that is a direct result of policies by local authorities that attempted to concentrate the city’s entire homeless population into one area with few resources and services.

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I Can Haz Rant? “That’s So Ghetto.”

Most of the time, I try to create well-reasoned and carefully-crafted blog posts about pressing social issues.  Today, though, I’ve gotta rant.

There’s a lot of common language that bothers me for its oppressive and prejudiced implications.  With some of that language, though, I find a lot of allies in ending their problematic use.  For instance, I know of at least one school that is hosting an “End the R Word” rally to stop people from calling people and things “retarded.”  I hear more and more young people speaking out against “That’s so gay” and “You’re such a fag.”  That gives me hope.

However, there’s lots of hurtful and messed up language use that seems to go unchecked an awful lot.  So going along with my posts on White people using the “n-word” and on the word “bitch,” here goes my rant…

People need to stop using “ghetto” as a synonym for shitty, low-class, ugly, cheap, scary, or otherwise undesirable.  Seriously.

I mean, what does it even mean when we call something “ghetto”?  After all, the word ghetto refers to the outcome of isolating a particular population (often one that is oppressed or marginalized in society) to a specific area, often forcibly or through economic policy.  That might be a specific area of a city or to a camp or prison.

So when some sunglasses break and you call them ghetto, does that mean that there is a tiny population of people living in your sunglasses that have been placed there by racist and classist policy?

No.  What you are saying is that your glasses were made poorly and that they break easily.

Can I get a little precision of language please!?

Because let’s be clear: every time you call something ghetto, you’re communicating one of three very specific, very messed-up messages.

  1. The item or person you are calling “ghetto” is low-class, cheap, or otherwise associated with those who don’t have access to wealth and wealth mobility.
  2. The item or person you are calling “ghetto” is (most often) Black, Brown, or associated with African American or Latino culture (or occasionally other racial or ethnic minorities).
  3. The item or person you are calling “ghetto” is a combination of 1 and 2.

No matter how you look at it, when you use that language, you’re either using some pretty classist language or some pretty racist language that positions certain items, people, and spaces as beneath you.

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Hijacking the Language and Legacy of Dr. King

Yesterday, on the day honoring the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, a lot of people were posting quotes from Dr. King to Facebook and Twitter.  By far, the most commonly posted quote was one from King’s I Have a Dream speech that he delivered on August 28, 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC.  During that speech, Dr. King said,

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

His sentiment is a powerful one, a sentiment that calls for a different racial reality than he knew as a child or than his children knew.  This quote is part of a radical ideology of racial justice that moves past a negative peace of White Privilege and Supremacy to a justice that is only realized through concerted social action.

Out of context, though, White people LOVE this quote.

As someone who regularly takes part in or initiates conversations about race and racial justice, I have been noticing a disturbing trend more and more often lately: people using the words of Dr. King out of context to silence conversations on race.

The conversation usually goes something like this:

Person A:  A colorblind ideology is not useful!  We need to acknowledge race, its history, and the role it plays in present reality!

Person B:  By bringing up race, you’re the one being racist!  Race shouldn’t matter!  Remember, Dr. King once said that we should “not be judged by the color of [our] skin but by the content of [our] character.

Person A:  That’s completely out of context!  Dr. King saw race as a reality we must face . . .

Person B:  [Interrupts] By bringing race into the conversation, you’re only distracting us from the real conversation we should be having.  After all, White people can be discriminated against, but you don’t hear us complaining!

Person A: *Bangs Head Against a Wall*

The problem with this line of thinking is that it divorces the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a symbol from his lived reality as a radical, anti-war, socialist-leaning, anti-racist activist who recognized the intersections of oppression.  Instead, he becomes a moderate, race-neutral man on a pedestal whose words can actually be used to argue against programs and actions that might realize social justice.

One of the things that is most striking to me about this issue, though, is that it is not a partisan trend.  I find White people on both the left and right using this line of thinking.  For instance, a White, leftist #OccupyOakland activist was recently arguing with Jay Smooth on Twitter about the ways in which colorblindness as a value within the movement is being used to silence activists of Color and their concerns.  Jay Smooth was trying to make the point that it does not help the movement to have an attitude of, “Put aside our differences for the betterment of the whole.”  In fact, that only can create resentment in the movement and doesn’t realize justice.

In response, the White activist had the following to say:

In essence, he was trying to use the words of Dr. King to argue why we should not be divided by race, but this fictionalized Dr. King is not the Dr. King of, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

On the right, I hear a similar logic.  The logic from the right is often that conversations about race are, in themselves, racist because they “choose to judge people by the color of their skin rather than the content of their character.”

I saw this hijacking of Dr. King’s legacy clearly from the right in Newt Gingrich’s language on the holiday honoring one of the greatest activists for social justice.

In his speech “honoring” Dr. King, he discusses the Rev. Dr.’s passion, his faith, and his persistence.  He asks people to “look forward” and “ask ourselves to what degree can we give to [young people] the same spirit of hope, the same idealism, the same belief in America, the same understanding that salvation comes from faith in God, and that together we can, in fact, create a dramatically better future for all Americans of every background.”

However, in the same day, a day that honors the man who helped lead the Poor People’s Movement, Newt had the following to say:

Not only is the former Speaker of the House of Representatives paternalistic and classist in his language, but he refuses to see how his racially-coded language could be insulting to Black Americans (and for that he received a standing ovation).

It is insane that someone could speak out of one side of their mouth lauding the legacy of an advocate for justice and the poor and out of the other side to put down the poor as lacking work ethic and as desiring food stamps over jobs while equating the nation’s first Black president as “the food stamp president.”

Whether from the left or the right, this sort of language does little more than defend what Dr. King called a “negative peace” where those who are oppressed must “passively accept [their] unjust plight.”

Dr. King had harsh words in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail for White Moderates like @geekeasy2 and Newt Gingrich, words that must give all White people pause:

“I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a ‘more convenient season.’ Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.”

 

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Check out my post from last year’s Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Celebration: Forsaking the Dream – Reflections on the Vision of Dr. King.

Occupy Denver has a Race Problem

I was recently talking about the race-related problems that I see in the #OccupyDenver movement with a friend, and he said, “Why don’t you reach out to your friends and allies, your contacts who are activists of Color?”

I responded, “While I support the general #Occupy movement, I do not trust the folks at #OccupyDenver nearly enough to welcome activists of Color into the movement.  I have worked hard to build trusting relationships and allyships with some respected community leaders of Color from around Denver, and there is no way I would risk jeopardizing those relationships for what I have seen as a poorly-organized group of activists at #OccupyDenver.”

Saturday at the #OccupyDenver march, I was reminded of exactly why I would not feel comfortable encouraging my allies of Color to attend.  Just before the march began, a group of Indigenous activists from the American Indian Movement of Colorado showed up with a group of protesters bearing signs opposing the Tar Sands Pipeline.

Upon their arrival, one of the White folks who identified himself as a member of one of the #OccupyDenver committees used the “People’s Mic” to say, “Our brothers and sisters from the Indigenous community have joined us!  Welcome them!”  People cheered.  Then our White activist friend went on with what he was saying.

It was as if he was saying, “Hey!  Look!  Some Brown folks joined us!  Yay Brown people!  Now look back over here at the White agenda!”  Essentially, the mention felt like little more than tokenizing.  “Our token Brown folks have arrived!”

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