Gil Scott-Heron, 1949-2011

Gil Scott-Heron, well known musician and artist, died over the weekend. He’s most famous for his spoken word piece The Revolution will Not Be Televised, which is about the need to begin the revolution inside your own mind before it can spread anywhere else.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rGaRtqrlGy8]

Racialicious did a nice piece compiling some of his videos and quotes from interviews and articles. Well worth checking out.

 

In solidarity,

Maggie


Toe my god

I’m sure you’ve all heard the news by now. There is, in this country, at least one woman who paints her son’s toenails pink (and happens to be the creative director for J Crew and therefore has access to national marketing campaigns). Shocking, right? I know I was completely shocked.

While I tend to belong to the camp that believes that if something is seriously no big deal and doesn’t deserve national media freak out, then giving it even more attention to point out how stupid it is will only make it worse (in other news, why are we still talking about Sarah Palin?), I think this whole situation is hilarious so I’m going to offer some of my own thoughts. Also, some of Jon Stewart’s thoughts.

The “debate” on this has been ridiculous. Many national media figures that have jumped on it have asked, in their “I’m-a-very-serious-and-concerned-reporter” voices, what kind of harm this might be doing to the woman’s son. Because as we are all aware, toenail polish is very dangerous and has been known to infect small children with gender identity crises.

Somehow they make the vast rhetorical leap from talking about a picture in an ad campaign to claiming that J Crew celebrates transgender children, or (gasp) gender bending.

As if transgender children and gender bending shouldn’t be celebrated. The implicit argument here is that parents should enforce rigid gender roles on their children no matter what the child wants, and that if they have gender non-conforming children they shouldn’t love them for who they are.

“It’s an attack on masculinity,” says some guy with “Dr.”  in front of his name who gets paid to commentate on Fox News.

Not the masculinity! Anything but the masculinity! If these sorts of challenges to our rightful system of gender hierarchy continue undisputed, soon all boys will have to wear dresses, women will be able to own property, go to college, have careers, and vote, and gender non-conforming folks will actually be considered to be real people and not less than human! This must end!

In all seriousness, though, the thing that bothers me about this is doesn’t have anything to do with gender. It’s that the mother and son in the ad are “bondvertising,” as Jon Stewart put it. The photo isn’t just an adorable picture of a mother and a son, it’s a clothing ad designed to sell a product, which to me feels super creepy.

In solidarity,

Maggie


culturally queer

My parents never forget to remind of their good intentions: “We say this because we love you.” But with so much of my life hidden from their peripheries, I wonder if they can fathom the thought of their little girl standing up on her own two feet and taking charge of her own life. When did the hand holding and spoon feeding stop and the independent social justice queer superhero persona begin? When did I make the transition from their daughter to my self? Somewhere between my gender and sexuality, I started fighting for myself rather than fighting against them. Nonetheless, it is always a fight to be who I am because it’s hard for them to understand the butch behind the babe.

They have yet to be acquainted with the world I have come to call my own. How could I expect them to know what I, as a gay genderqueer individual, need? They grew up in irony. Post-colonial India, the mysterious subcontinent, the womb of the karma sutra, shies away from its roots and boasts a hush-hush attitude toward any thought of sex, sexuality, and gender nonconformity, as if somehow it makes them more chaste. What is morally pure about perpetuating the cycle of oppression? How is it that a culture that worships an androgynous god, who is represented by an abstract sculpture of a lingam and yoni (male and female sex organs, respectively), can’t talk about sexuality?! This symbolism for oneness is not a promotion of heteronormativity but a union of male and female energies, an embrace of sexual dualism. The true nature of this culture, based on the idea of natural balance and fluidity, has been drowned out by colonialism, insecurity, and ignorance. I can still feel the effects, generations later, continents apart. These human experiences, sexuality and gender, were never discussed in my house, as I was growing up and even now. And I never dared to ask. I only dared to learn.

Imprisoned within their mental models, they remind me: “We’ve been through it, we were your age once, and we know what it’s like,” without realizing that they are not me. Do they really know what I’m going through? Have they really gone through the questioning, acknowledging, and coming out process? Do they really know what it is like to live in dissonance trying to balance who you know you are and who you know they want you to be? They live life from their perspective, like everyone else, but they can’t seem to see beyond it. They are the “experts” of their lives, but without being me, how could they be the experts of mine? I don’t doubt their intentions but I certainly doubt their knowledge.

At first, I didn’t know what I needed as a queer person. Since knowledge is power, I turned to the knower of all knowledge: google. Researching myself was beautiful, but things got tricky when I went for the “giant leap for queer kind;” from the inter-webs to the real world. I can still remember the fear I experienced the first time I visited the Q Center. I hardly felt like I could walk in the building, let alone the center, I was so afraid of being seen by someone I knew. What would I say about where I was going and why? Do they know what the Q Center is? Are they judging me for going there? At that point I had experience with avoiding the rapture, as many fresh-out-of-high-school students had, but this was bigger than “oh, I wasn’t smoking, my friends were, I just watched” or “yeah, their parents were home and no, we didn’t drink.” No amount of air freshener and no amount of spearmint gum can mask the fact that I am gay. Intimate and powerful, my sexuality and gender expression needed to be acknowledged, nurtured, and celebrated, even if it meant judgment. I had to remind myself that the truth is the truth, and the truth was that I needed to put myself out there in order to seek guidance, despite my paranoia. I am worth the fight. I deserve to find peace.

As a shy person, I was literally shaking as I walked in. I had never been in a room with more than one or two queer people, other than myself. But it felt right. My experiences were shared by many (even my experiences as queer Indian), and it wasn’t long before I found a community of people who don’t look at me funny for dressing like a lumberjack or performing drag or expressing my attraction to that grad student, who is WAY out of my league. They liked me for me, in all my queerness. And I liked them. Being gay was one less thing we judged each other on and one more thing we unified to celebrate. To say I am a different person, a better person, a happier person, after finding this community is an understatement. I am finally able to say “I am ok” and believe it. And for once, I have hope that I am to make it through to another day and love it. Having found my niche, I know that if I ever lost that hope, I have people holding it for me. My parents may not understand who I am yet, but with “Team Sasha” backing me up, I feel like I am where I should be: happy and whole.


My mom rocks

My mom was recently (and is generally always) awesome and I’m really proud of her! So naturally I’m sharing the news. We were on the phone last night discussing a mutual friend who had recently made some weird comments/jokes to the effect of finding the idea of Queer 101, which I am helping to facilitate this quarter, amusing. Apparently this friend had speculated to my mom about what a “straight 101″ might look like.

And my mom went all anti-oppression on her! Even hearing my mom retell it to me nearly made me cry with pride. She raised some seriously awesome points about heterosexism and systems of oppression (not exactly in those words but those were the concepts she was getting at, and she was able to do it in a way that the friend would get). Evidently my mom was able to change the friend’s thinking about the need for something like Queer 101.

I’m super proud of this because I know that my mom’s anti-oppression views have a lot to do with me and how I have changed since coming to the UW. This whole event makes me extremely happy, and optimistic that I can create positive change on a personal level. Next up, I’m going to work on the friend :)

In love and solidarity,

Maggie


the smallest minority

True story: Waiting for the bus one morning, I overheard a mama talking to her 5 year old daughter:
“There are so many different kinds of people in the world, right baby?”
Chewing a mouthful of cold smore poptarts, she nods.
“There are big people, there are little people, there are mama people, and daddy people, and baby people. There are tall people, who play basketball, and small people… There are black people, and white people, and brown people… What kind of person are you baby?”
Still chewing that mouthful of cold smore poptarts, “A cute person!”
Smiling, mama affirms that baby is indeed a cute person.

I too am a cute person (or so I think), but I am also a short person, a chubby person, a silly person, a female bodied person, a gay person, a genderqueer person, a 19-year-old person, a middle class person, and a first generation Indian American person. It might have taken me a long to realize, but I’m definitely a cute person. In fact, it took me a long time to realize who I am. The more I discovered about myself, the more I felt like I was falling further into the minority rabbit hole. I felt more alien than anything. Did anyone else’s intersectionality, intersect with mine? Or was my unique being going to be isolated, alone, and unappreciated?

Intersectionality is a funny thing. It divides us, drawing lines in the sand of humanity, erecting chasms between you and me. And it unites us. And it leaves us solitary. And it creates solidarity. This double edged sword so integral to our being makes us who we are, as individuals and as a human race. There is pride in being the one and only you, celebration and beauty. But what is a celebration without others to share with?! Isn’t there a sense of excitement in meeting someone who shares an experience with you? In seeing someone like you? In realizing you are not alone in your struggles and achievements? This interpersonal connection, this sense of community, plays a pivotal role in self-appreciation and in self-love. In turn, this creates the foundation for the appreciation and celebration of others too.

The branches of our intersectionality all lead to the same trunk, our being. Each branch affects another and cannot exist alone. My race affects the filter with which I view my sexuality or gender expression or class or age or my physical appearance, abilities/disabilities, or the culture I want to create for myself. Finding a balance between the aspects our lives, the tidbits that makes us who we are, can be difficult without affirmation of our existence. It wasn’t until I met another queer, first generation, Indian American that I was able to see how the mosaic fit together. I was opened to a whole new dimension. Realizing that I wasn’t some kind of mistake or freak or monster let me adjust my filters. Apparently the Indian culture is chock full of instances of homosexuality! Gods that are half male and half female, sex positions for lovers of the same sex, even religiously accepted marriages between women! My culture wasn’t as suffocating as I thought, exploring the intersection of my race and sexuality has given me a new appreciation for my mother culture. I’m not a mythical creature, “queer woman of color”, but I am the child of millions, if not billions, of others just like me. There is so much peace in this enlightenment.

Dedicated to gita mehrotra


Spokane MLK march attempted bombing

On Martin Luther King Jr. day in Spokane, the annual MLK unity parade had to be rerouted because of a suspicious backpack that three city workers found on a bench on the corner of Washington and Main. The three workers reported it to the police, and when the police investigated it turned out to contain a bomb that was almost certainly put there to target those participating in the march. According to the FBI, the backpack contained one of the most sophisticated bombs ever used by anyone attempting ‘domestic terrorism’ in the US, and the timing and placement of the bomb was very clearly linked to the MLK march.

The bomb was able to be remote detonated, and it was placed on a metal bench in front of a brick wall – which means that it was designed to inflict as many casualties as possible.

Spokane, and the general Eastern Washington/Northern Idaho area, has a long history of violence and white supremacist groups. Below is a segment from a Spokesman-Review article about the attempted bombing and the local history of violence:

“In 2009, someone spread hate literature throughout North Idaho and Spokane Valley, Stewart said. There was a lull in activity, until the events last week, he said. …

Stewart and others started their efforts to combat hate in 1981 after Richard Butler founded the Aryan Nations compound in 1973. Stewart said his organization tracked more than 100 felonies committed by hate groups in the area in the 1980s and ’90s, including eight murders, several bank robberies and other crimes intended to intimidate residents.

The crimes attributed to people linked to the Aryan Nations included several bombings in the mid-1980s, including those at the home of a Catholic priest, the federal courthouse in Coeur d’Alene and other locations, Stewart said.

Then in 1996, three bombings linked to racists caused severe damage to a Planned Parenthood building, Spokane City Hall and the Spokane Valley office of The Spokesman-Review.

Butler began holding annual marches in downtown Coeur d’Alene in the 1990s before Morris Dees, of the Southern Poverty Law Center, bankrupted Butler in a civil trial in 2000. Butler died in 2004 and much of the crime spree ended with him, Stewart said.”

Additionally, a bomb was discovered last March outside of the Thomas S. Foley Courthouse in downtown Spokane. The authorities still have no idea who planted that one.

Clearly, this is nothing new to the area. But as a Spokane native (the house where I grew up is about 1.5 miles from where this bomb was placed), this history of the area was not something that I was familiar with. Growing up I had heard of the white supremacists that were “somewhere over in Idaho” but I never connected any of these groups to Spokane or to anything personal/local. This wasn’t something that was talked about in schools or any of the other places I had access to as a child growing up.

But why not? And why hasn’t this bomb become a national news story? Aside from some coverage by Rachel Maddow and a couple stories on NBC there hasn’t really been much.

The reason why I’m blogging about this here is because it is a BIG FREAKING DEAL. And it should matter to all of us. The fact that this kind of violence still happens in the US should be something that everyone knows. Racism, prejudice and oppression still exist in America even though we like to pretend that we’re all post-racial and tolerant now. Just because Obama is president doesn’t mean that a long history of oppression and hatred is automatically wiped out or that people don’t face oppression (racial, gender, sexuality, dis/ability, class, or otherwise) daily.

This attempted bombing should be something that everyone who is involved in anti-oppression and social justice work knows about, particularly those of us who are active in Washington. We should be creating dialogue about it and working actively to expose all the hate that these white supremacist groups are still spewing, and educating our friends who think we’re living in a post-racial society. Because we are still living with racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, classism, and a whole slew of other oppressions, and the only way we’re going to overcome one of them is to overcome all of them through continual struggle, resistance and education.

 

In love and solidarity,

Maggie