Tag: race

Race is Not Gender: About Rachel Dolezal

Posted by – June 13, 2015

As much as I joked yesterday that America just found out, via Spokane, that race is a social construction, I meant it to be only that: a joke. It has lead to a lot of people actually talking about what race IS and specifically what blackness is, and to me, that’s a long overdue conversation where maybe some white people will learn a little more about paper bag tests and colorism, “passing” as a means to survival, marrying up to have lighter children than their parents, etc. There are amazing histories and books full of information and deep knowledge about what it means to be black.

But that this whole idea that she is “transracial” is just upsetting to me. First, I always discourage comparisons between race and gender because they never, ever hold up. Gender is constructed by very different discourses of being, through different bodies and histories. Race – especially race in america – is constructed through specific historical contexts (slavery, for starters). Even the movements toward liberation are different. Look at how differently the term “passing” is used, for instance — which is one of the main reasons I hate using the term when it comes to gender.

Here are a few reasons this bothers me: (1) we’re having a conversation about race, finally, at long last. It seems at best disrespectful to make it about anything else when we are so, so overdue in talking about race in the US.

(2) It’s pretty clear that Dolezal doesn’t identify as black.

Ezra believes the only reason his sister would change her identity was due to the racism she claimed to have encountered at Howard University, where she graduated with her master’s degree in fine art in 2002.

Rachel, he added, would often complain that she was treated poorly as one of only a few white students on a mostly black campus.

“She used to tell us that teachers treated her differently than other people and a lot of them acted like they didn’t want her there,” Ezra said. “Because of her work in African-American art, they thought she was a black student during her application, but they ended up with a white person.”

(3) Why are white people so quick to defend what she’s done when they don’t know her? White privilege, again. When those in your own gang are behaving badly, it shouldn’t take someone from some other group to point that out. When I work with men on issues of violence against women, my most frequent refrain is that the good guys have GOT to stop defending the bad guy in their midst. Their best work is to call out the bad guys, to use their own male privilege to confront the people whose actions are oppressing others. White people have to call this woman out for exploiting and mocking the experiences and identities of black people. More

Anti Cop?

Posted by – April 29, 2015

One of the issues that always comes up when police brutality becomes visible – as it has been consistently for this past year – and especially when that police brutality is expressed racially – is that somehow being for justice and against racism makes a person anti-cop.

I grew up white working class so I grew up with men (and maybe some women) who became cops. They were good guys, brave guys, often guys who weren’t scared of a whole lot. They have my unending respect for being willing to step up and try to do some good in the world. Some of my crossdressing friends are police officers or are in other law enforcement. I went to HS with a federal agent whose job scares the fuck out of me, but I’m glad he’s the kind of smart, brave man who can do it.

I’ve worked with the Appleton PD on quite a few occasions. A few of them I count as friends but certainly as colleagues in community building. We throw everything, as a culture, that we don’t want to deal with at them – racism, poverty, domestic violence, addiction, theft, and – as was pointed out to me recently – all of the mental health issues our system isn’t acknowledging, much less dealing with. They are given precious few resources to “solve” a whole swath of problems, and if we listened to compassionate police more about what is needed, we’d hear a lot about educational opportunity, community participation, access to mental health services, even social justice. They know it. They see it.

But I really really dislike having it assumed that as someone whose heart breaks over the broken spine of a young, poor, disenfranchised man of color in Baltimore that somehow I don’t care about cops. I’ve personally had both good experiences — I am, after all, white, currently middle class & newly middle aged — and not so good ones (because I am also queer, female, and have been, many times in my life, a protestor). That is, I am assumed to be on the side of law & order because of some of my identity, and assumed to be suspect because of other parts of myself.

Freddie Gray had pretty much of nothing about him that told the cops he might be on the side of law & order. We create these binaries of identity, assume kinds of legitimacy or don’t, but the issue is that we tend to put an awful lot of muscle and guns and power on the side of those who have more power.

To me the issue isn’t the cops the same way the issue isn’t the media. Both are reflections of our current systems of order and power – who, in a nutshell, is assumed to be okay, who is assumed to be a good citizen, who might be given a second chance, and who gets the benefit of the doubt.

The thing is, poor people live in public. Their lives are, as a result, seen more easily, examined more closely, judged more often. Mental health issues go untreated – even undiagnosed. Addiction likewise.

And so we send in the cops to clean up the messes we’ve created, created not because we’re bad people, not because we’re Republican or Democrats, but that we’ve created in letting these systems that assume some people are okay and some people aren’t, often based on their gender or orientation or race or immigration status.

But no, the fault is not often with the police except for when they – as their own community – protect and defend practices that prey on the least of us. And the least of us, in the US, are still black and poor with less access to good educations, who are often living in families rife with addiction, mental health, disability, and untreated and undiagnosed medical conditions. And maybe it’s because sometimes it’s obvious to me that the only thing separating me and them, my family’s ancestors from theirs, is the color of my skin.

Stay safe, Baltimore: and by that I mean not just the protestors but the police too.

Today I Want: Thoughts on Baltimore

Posted by – April 28, 2015

Today I want for more of us to see what I see in black men. There is something so humble and simultaneously proud, the kind of humble that living in a system that tells you to keep your head down and your mouth shut, the kind of humble poor people have, and yet, too, I see the pride, the fire of dignity that has to be kept nearly invisible from most, a fire like the pilot light of a gas stove, full of power to destroy but full of power too, to lead and to defend.

Today I wish I could remove the gauze on the eyes of so many white people I know, who see thugs where there are only scamps, who see anger where there is only frustration and sadness. There is something to spending your 20s in Harlem as a young, stupid, white woman; the way older black men just laughed quietly when I was getting hit on and didn’t know it; the young teenagers eager to prove themselves by asking a terrified white girl whose dick she was there to suck; the young boys with those big eyes and big ears and big brains who have a snowball’s chance in hell of using any of those to live in the world and make it more awesome. We’ve all lost, for so many years, so much of this human potential because white people can’t get past being afraid.

Maybe it’s having grown up working class and white, raised by a grandma who was in a janitor’s union, but there is something about black men — who never get to be men and yet who are despite everything.

Stay safe, Baltimore.

#blacklivesmatter

Posted by – December 9, 2014

Oh, #alllivesmatter people, please, just listen for a minute.

For those of us in communities that are targeted for violence – from both people who hate us and often the police who are supposed to serve and protect us – we’re aware that our lives are supposed to matter. We know our own lives matter.

But for LGBTQ people, that is not often the case.

For trans people, it is rarely the case.

For Hispanic people, it is rarely the case.

For black people, it is almost never the case.

The reason #alllivesmatter is an insulting response to a racial problem is because it whitewashes the problem. Being more humane doesn’t work; racial prejudices and homophobia go so deep historically, personally, unconsciously, that unless we pay special attention to the kinds of hatred that fuels the killings of trans women and black men, trans women of color in particular, young black men in particular, our systems don’t get any better.

Look, the hippies tried loving everyone and that was a long time ago, and if the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner teach us anything, it’s that people refusing to call our national race problem a race problem is part of it.

Please. Of course #alllivesmatter. But as Orwell once wrote, the problem is that some lives matter a hell of a lot more than others, which is why we need to highlight that #blacklivesmatter and #translivesmatter and #queerlivesmatter.

Step away from your white privilege. We are part of a system that kills black men and imprisons them and throws them away. “Universalizing” is exactly what disappears black lives in the first place.

Elliot Rodger

Posted by – May 25, 2014

Elliot Rodger was still a virgin at 22, and he was angry that he was because too often, men’s value is in their ability to “get women”. There are a lot of good articles out already – Slate’s & The Belle Jar‘s & Jess Zimmerman’s in Medium’s Archipelago are standouts – all of which have pointed out that Rodger was not a madman because he didn’t need to be. He only had to be a man, full of entitlement and male privilege – entitled to women’s bodies and to sex. His connections to various groups who persist in thinking that “game” is what convinces women to have sex with men, and that women are only attracted to jerks – never to a “perfect gentleman” as Rodger thought he was – has been well documented, despite those groups and online communities having scrubbed any and all of his posts. I assume they don’t want to be held responsible for failing to recognize someone who wasn’t just blowing off steam but planning to kill.

And what always strikes me about these kinds of complaints is the thing that I had to explain to my wife as she was transitioning: there are men who can yell that they want to do you across a crowded street and it’s a compliment, even if totally inappropriate, and there are others who can shake your hand politely who fill you with caution if not fear.

When I have made this observation (here on my blog and elsewhere), invariably someone who is male – or who used to be – says something about how the real difference is whether or not the man is attractive or handsome or whether the come-on is welcome.

That is not the case.

As Jess Zimmerman points out in parentheses:

“If women‘s mysterious disinterest drives you to consider murdering them, consider that you may be terrifying. Women are smart enough to notice that you’re the kind of guy who’s driven to blood rage by simple rejection.”

And I would add, not only do women pick up on someone who hates them enough to threaten or commit violence; they can, too, pick up on a more subtle and less violent misogyny as well. And that is what I feel is the difference between the men I’ve just mentioned: using “gentlemanly” manners to cover a deeply felt hostility or hatred toward women will not work.

And as someone who has hung out with kinky folks – for whom fulfilling a woman’s fantasy of rape, degradation, or humiliation is not uncommon – I know there are men who respect and adore women enough that even these difficult fantasies do not change their respect for the women they top.

By no means am I saying that only when men respect women enough do they “get” to exert power over them; that is the illusion, not the fact. The fact is that what comes first – what gains a man privilege into a woman’s trust – is their respect and understanding that only once their misogyny is something they have become aware of, worked on, realized and acknowledged does it go away.

It strikes me that this is not unlike racism, or transphobia, or ableism or any of the other kinds of blind hatreds are culture teaches us. And we are all taught them; women in a patriarchy can also be misogynists who do not trust or like or respect other women the same way that even gay men can hate themselves and other gay men because we are all raised in the stink of homophobia.

But the thing about Elliott Rodger is this: so many men who want to date or have sex with or marry women figure it out. They realize they love their moms or their sisters or their daughters and realize the women they are dating or sleeping with or marrying deserve the same respect as the women they know and love. Gay men, on the other hand, especially those who live in a very intense masculine homosocial environments, can express a misogyny that is raw and unchecked. That is, they haven’t had to do the work necessary to realize that women are awesome. Those gay men, I might add, are very, very rare, and getting rarer by the day. The only time their misogyny is still apparent is in the disrespectful, violent attitudes they occasionally express toward trans women, which many, many people have witnessed in these recent uproars about RuPaul and Trannyshack.

What I’m saying, ultimately, is that people – not just women – are wise enough to pick up on someone who hates you for who you are. The white kid who loves rap but who hates black people will never feel welcome by blacks socially. Gay men and lesbians often know when someone who is truly a homophobe is in their midst.

And women, like all of these other groups, know deeply when a man hates them for being women. They may not know it enough to articulate it, but they know it enough to keep their distance.

No amount of chivalry or good manners or “game” will perfume over the stink of that kind of misogyny. In this time when we hear a lot of talk about how accepted gay people are, or how “post racial” we are, or when we hear a gay man talk about how much he really loves trans people but doesn’t want his language policed, we might do well to remember what Elliot Rodger accidentally taught us: that it’s only in owning and dismantling these kinds of systemic, taught, culture-wide hatreds that we free ourselves of them.

What He Did

Posted by – January 20, 2014

I love this Daily Kos diary which explains what Dr. King actually did. It’s not about the quotes. It’s about standing up to systemic violence.


My father told me with a sort of cold fury, “Dr. King ended the terror of living in the south.”

Please let this sink in and and take my word and the word of my late father on this. If you are a white person who has always lived in the U.S. and never under a brutal dictatorship, you probably don’t know what my father was talking about.

But this is what the great Dr. Martin Luther King accomplished. Not that he marched, nor that he gave speeches.

He ended the terror of living as a black person, especially in the south.

I’m guessing that most of you, especially those having come fresh from seeing “The Help,” may not understand what this was all about. But living in the south (and in parts of the mid west and in many ghettos of the north) was living under terrorism.

It wasn’t that black people had to use a separate drinking fountain or couldn’t sit at lunch counters, or had to sit in the back of the bus.

You really must disabuse yourself of this idea. Lunch counters and buses were crucial symbolic planes of struggle that the civil rights movement decided to use to dramatize the issue, but the main suffering in the south did not come from our inability to drink from the same fountain, ride in the front of the bus or eat lunch at Woolworth’s.

It was that white people, mostly white men, occasionally went berserk, and grabbed random black people, usually men, and lynched them. You all know about lynching. But you may forget or not know that white people also randomly beat black people, and the black people could not fight back, for fear of even worse punishment.

This constant low level dread of atavistic violence is what kept the system running. It made life miserable, stressful and terrifying for black people . . .

This is the climate of fear that Dr. King ended.

(I think sometimes that in a very different way, this is what LGBT people have been doing for the past 20 years or so.)

The 15%

Posted by – January 13, 2014

There’s a project called “We Are the 15 Percent” that collects portraits of interiracial marriages and families, and I came upon this one and decided they were too cute not to post.

The project came about because of the ridiculous, hateful backlash that came about as a result of that sweet Cheerios commercial a while back. From the Tumblr:

In May, Cheerios posted this new commercial on youtube. It sparked a firestorm of backlash, and (naturally) the comments on the video have been deactivated.

When my wife and I watched the video, it felt great to (finally) see a representation of our own family. Especially considering what happened at a Wal-Mart in Virginia a few weeks ago.

We created this site to publicly reflect the changing face of the American family. According to the 2008 census, 15% of new marriages are interracial. And yet, it still feels rare to see something like the Cheerios ad represented in mainstream culture.

It’s especially nice to see a queer married couple in the mix.

Renisha McBride

Posted by – November 7, 2013

So what the fuck is going on in this country? A woman’s car dies so she stops in a suburb (of Detroit) and knocks on a door for help and is shot in the back of the head when she turned to leave.

Her body is found nearby, except nope, it wasn’t, it was found on the front steps of this house.

I’m assuming I don’t have to tell you the suburb was white & the woman was black.

Horrifying, sickening, frustrating, and saddening. I’m tired of these stories, tired of people resolving everything with guns and violence.

& Ugh, her poor family.

 

 

Love & Shame & Having a Thing for Trans Women

Posted by – September 17, 2013

Here’s a great interview with the amazing Laverne Cox and Janet Mock about Mister Cee – who was caught soliciting a trans female – that he loves women, dates women, but occasionally desires fellatio with a “transsexual” – that is, a trans woman.

What’s fascinating is how many people think he’s “just gay” and needs to come out.

Liking fellatio – and he’s unclear if he’s interested in a trans woman blowing him or blowing a woman who still has a penis – doesn’t make someone gay.

Liking men, as a man, makes someone gay (if anything does).

Men who like trans women are straight. Maybe adventurous. Maybe they like penises and women.

They said there is no language for someone who loves trans people, but in fact the term “trans amorous” – “trans am” for short – has been around quite a lot. They’re called trans admirers sometimes, or “transsensual” (which is used more on the FTM end of things).

THAT SAID: plenty of men who date trans women are straight men. Period. End of statement.

Janet Mock talks more about shame and gender policing in her article which is, as per usual, right on.

A very, very long time ago I asked trans admirers to step up.

I’m still waiting.

Becoming White

Posted by – August 4, 2013

As per usual, a good post at Abagond about American whiteness: this article details the way ‘my people’ became white in America. I’m both Southern European (Italian) & Eastern European (Polish) and also German & a tiny, tiny little bit Irish (who weren’t white either when they first came to the US, of course). Here are some highlights, but do go read the whole thing.

The Third Enlargement of American Whiteness (1930-1980) was when the Jews, Italians and others from southern and eastern Europe became White Americans, when they melted into the melting pot.

. . .

Late 1800s: Crossing the Atlantic becomes cheap. Suddenly anyone can come to America: unlettered peasants from Italy, penniless Jews and others from southern and eastern Europe. They fill the slums of New York and elsewhere. The government fears they will be stuck there forever – a permanent underclass.

1910s: They are called “alien races” … they bring crime and poverty. They have too many children. They do not understand freedom and democracy, voting for corrupt political machines. Skull measurements (and later IQ tests) prove they lack intelligence.

. . . More

Lorde & Baldwin

Posted by – June 2, 2013

Here is an amazing thing: a conversation between Audre Lorde and James Baldwin.

The incomparable Audre Lorde says:

There is a larger structure, a society with which we are in total and absolute war. We live in the mouth of a dragon, and we must be able to use each other’s forces to fight it together, because we need each other. I am saying that in our joint battle we have also developed some very real weapons, and when we turn them against each other they are even more bloody, because we know each other in a particular way. When we turn those weapons against each other, the bloodshed is terrible. Even worse, we are doing this in a structure where we are already embattled. I am not denying that. It is a family discussion I’m having now. I’m not laying blame. I do not blame Black men for what they are. I’m asking them to move beyond. I do not blame Black men; what I’m saying is, we have to take a new look at the ways in which we fight our joint oppression because if we don’t, we’re gonna be blowing each other up. We have to begin to redefine the terms of what woman is, what man is, how we relate to each other.

It’s worth reading, and re-reading, and re-reading again.

Stupid White People

Posted by – May 30, 2013


This is one of the best things ever.

Integrate Prom?

Posted by – April 4, 2013

I’m sorry — what did I just read?!? Is it 1953 all over again?

These students in rural Georgia have decided it is ABOUT TIME their prom become an integrated event. Yes, integrated, as in race integration.

I have to say I’m flabbergasted.

Support them by liking their FB page.

Ending the Day: Amiri Baraka

Posted by – January 21, 2013

Every year we read a ton of quotes attributed to Dr. King, and miss out on all the other amazing, liberatory art that’s come out of Black america. This is only an excerpt:

This is my own transcription:

But I aint come from a foolish tribe
we wants the the mule / the land / you can make it 300 years of blue chip stock in the entire operation
we want to be paid in a central bank the average worker farmer wage for all those years we gave it free
plus we want damages for all the killings and the fraud, the lynchings the missing justice the lies and frame ups the unwarranted jailings the tar and featherings the character and race assassinations historical slander ugly caricatures for every sambo stepnfetchit flick
we want to be paid
for every hurtful thing you did or said
for all the land you took for all the rapes all the rosewoods and black wall streets you jobs
all the miseducation jobs lost
segregated shacks we live in
the disease that ate & killed us
for all the mad police that drilled us
all the music and dances you stole
the styles the language the hip clothes you copied
the careers you stopped

all these are suits, specific litigation

Race Matters

Posted by – November 30, 2012

I’m going to be teaching Cornel West’s Race Matters next year, to first year students, and was compiling some links for my colleagues, but thought you all might appreciate them too:

Here are a couple of good link for alternative writers on race.These are my regular reads.

(The “Three Kinds of White Racists” is the best, to me, but might upset people who are not ready to admit to being racist.)

& Abagond talks about the Bechdel Test for race, which is a nice connection to Fun Home (the post explains The Bechdel Test in the first place, too).

 

IMHO, most white people are clueless and in denial about their own racism, and like gender discrimination, racism is a problem for all of us – not just black people. So let’s get our act together, shall we?

Race & Gender & Life Expectancy

Posted by – September 23, 2012

So this is shocking news: whites who don’t graduate high school have a life expectancy that’s four years shorter than it used to be. And look at this:


In 2010, American women fell to 41st place, down from 14th place in 1985, in the United Nations rankings. Among developed countries, American women sank from the middle of the pack in 1970 to last place in 2010, according to the Human Mortality Database.

Uneducated white women are now living not even as long as black women with the same lack of education. That is honestly shocking. The life expectancy of uneducated black women has always been horrible, but now even more women are dying at the same rates.

But then there’s this guy:

“There’s this enormous issue of why,” said David Cutler, an economics professor at Harvard who was an author of a 2008 paper that found modest declines in life expectancy for less educated white women from 1981 to 2000. “It’s very puzzling and we don’t have a great explanation.”

Um, what? Bad health care, single parenting with little to no safety net (which can cause more stress), substance abuse (especially of prescription drugs and cigarettes), sexual violence… is this really hard to work out?

The one good part, I suppose, is that the percentage of everyone without high school diplomas is down from 22% to 12%.

So much for feminism being redundant in America, eh?

Isis King / Janet Mock

Posted by – July 21, 2012

Here’s a cool interview by the folks at In the Life: Isis King of America’s Top Model is interviewed by/conversing with Janet Mock, the out black trans woman of People magazine.

Treated Like a Woman (Or a Young Black Man)

Posted by – May 27, 2012

My friend Lena pointed out this short article on Think Progress by Alyssa Rosenberg about the return of D’Angelo to me, which talks about how D’Angelo was undone by the pressure to strip – and maintain an exacting and desired physique for his fans – and Rosenberg talks about how he was, effectively, treated like a woman.

Which, well of course: women have to be beautiful to be considered talented, but if beautiful have to work against type to be considered smart, or artistic.

Yet there is this long, long history of treating young black men as a stereotype too, of the young black buck: known for their bodies, and brawn; assumed to be hung, sexually provocative and yet also sexually and physically objectified. In a culture where well hung or athletic or both is often also assumed to mean small brained, or non/anti-intellectual, young black men are up against a lot of stereotypes women are up against as well. Both too are demonized for their apparent sexuality: women for having any, and black men for having their assumed and expected expertise “threaten” white men’s power and self-image.

So in a sense he wasn’t treated like a woman at all; he was treated as many young black men are treated, and have been: expected to be nothing more than their physical, sexualized, and objectified bodies.

Horrible, Horrible Racism

Posted by – April 24, 2012

Here’s the story.


On Sunday, April 15th, at the Moderna Museet the Swedish Artists Organisation celebrated World Art Day, as well as celebrating its own 75th birthday. Lena Adelsohn-Liljeroth, the culture Minister, was Invited to speak and a number of artists were invited to create birthday cakes for the celebration. The Minister was informed that the cake would be about the limits of provocative art, and about female genital mutilation. The event was launched with Lena Adelsohn-Liljeroth cutting the first piece of cake from a dark, ruby red velvet filling with black icing, which we understand was created by the Afro-Swedish artist Makode Aj Linde, whose head forms that of the black woman, and is seen with a blackened face screaming with pain each time a guest cuts a slice from the cake. Rather disturbingly for many African women, the minister is pictured laughing as she cuts off the genital area (clitoris)from the metaphorical cake, as the artist Makode screams distastefully. The gaze of the predominantly white Swedish crowd is on Lijeroth who is positioned at the crotch end, as they look on at their visibly ebullient culture minister with seemingly nervous laughter as she becomes a part of the performance – a re-enactment of FGM on a cake made in the image of a disembodied African woman.

Here’s the petition. Sign it.

7 0f 10

Posted by – February 4, 2012

In honor of Black History Month, here’s a neat article from Queerty about seven African-American LGBTQ people who have made some kind of significant impact, either politically or culturally.