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


Loretta Ross on ‘Women of Color’

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=82vl34mi4Iw&w=480&h=390]

This video of well-known activist Loretta Ross talking about the origin and the political nature of the phrase ‘women of color’ made the rounds through our staff emails lately and I thought it would be particularly relevant in light of the fact that the UW Women of Color Reception just happened last week. Also, because March is “Women’s History Month” (how about Women’s FUTURE Month? because for some of us Women’s History/Future Month is every month).

“… and it was in those negotiations in Houston the term ‘women of color’ was created, ok? And they didn’t see it as a biological designation – you’re born Asian, you’re born Black, you’re born African-American, whatever – it is a solidarity definition, a commitment to work in collaboration with other oppressed women of color who have been minoritized… We self-named ourselves. This is a term that has a lot of power for us.” –Loretta Ross

In love, solidarity and respect,

Maggie


Just Because I’m Brown…

A few weeks ago, at a place in downtown Seattle where I volunteer, a man walked in the door and asked where he could set up his prayer mat. He was wearing a traditional Muslim cap and a long white dress with pants underneath, similar to some traditional clothes often seen worn by Muslim men. Upon hearing his question, I immediately understood what he meant. Having grown up in a majority Muslim country and having been brought up learning about Islam, I knew what he was looking for. I told him that he could pray right there in the room. I even took out a compass I had with me to tell him where East was. He thanked me and proceeded to pray. After he had finished, I announced to the office that I was going to the coffeeshop downstairs to get coffee. The walk-in man offered to go with me. He was fascinated by my strange name and my apparently not-exactly-white-looking features and asked me where I was from. I replied that I was originally Iranian. He then asked if I was Muslim and I replied that even though I was born Muslim, I no longer believed in god, so no I was not Muslim per se. I usually don’t engage people I don’t know well in conversations about their background but since he had begun the questioning, I allowed myself to return the questions, so I asked, “What about you? What’s your ethnic background?” He looked a bit surprised by the question and said, “African-American.” It probably took me a second, but I quickly responded, “Oh, so you converted to Islam?” And he affirmed that indeed he had. We got our coffee and returned to the office upstairs.

I have to admit that I was extremely embarrassed by this entire exchange. I had made so many assumptions about this man that I normally did not allow myself to make about people. So I chided myself: just because he’s black, doesn’t mean he’s not American! Just because he’s Muslim, doesn’t mean he’s from some North African country! The point is I had truly expected him to reply that he was FROM a certain African country BECAUSE he was Muslim, even though he was just an African-American who had converted to Islam. How could I, who so often gets angry about people who make these assumptions about my background, make the exact same assumption about somebody else? The implication is: if you’re Muslim, you’re not American. If you’re brown/black, you’re not American. If you’re a brown/black Muslim, you COME FROM some place else; you’re an immigrant.

I am often confronted by a variety of assumptions about my identity, my positionality, my beliefs, my values, my social roles, and my relationships due to the color of my skin. So I thought that if I was able to perhaps list the myriad of assumptions that I’ve experienced in the United States regarding who I am, perhaps I might be able to prevent myself from acting on my own prejudices, assumptions, and privileges, and to liberate myself from my own internalized racism and whiteness.

So here is a list of assumptions made about me because I am Iranian/Middle Eastern/Brown/Person of Color. People assume:

1. That I’m Muslim.
2. That I’m straight.
3. That I don’t speak English well.
4. That I don’t understand American idioms and expressions.
5. That I’m filthy rich.
6. That I’m dirt poor.
7. That I know how to bellydance.
8. That I’m gender-conforming.
9. That I speak Spanish.
10. That I speak Arabic.
11. That I come from an impoverished country.
12. That I come from a war-torn country.
13. That I’m not American.
14. That I’m not a US citizen.
15. That I’m religious.
16. That I’m a FOB.
17. That I’m privy to secret information about the “situation” in the Middle East that no one else has access to.
18. That I always feel oppressed or discriminated against.
19. That I benefit from Affirmative Action.
20. That life is easy because I benefit from Affirmative Action.
21. That because I’m a brown female, I’ve been “oppressed” by brown males and am waiting for white males and white female feminists to “liberate” me.
22. That I hate America.
23. That I am Arab.
24. That I would only date within my own ethnicity.
25. That I know every other Iranian in this area.
26. That I know everything about the history, culture and politics of Iran.
27. That I’m exotic.
28. That I’m not familiar with American pop culture.
29. That I’m the spokesperson for everything Iran or Middle East.
30. That I know everything about the history and all sects of Islam.
31. That as a female living in Iran, life was difficult and horrible.
32. That I grew up without any concept of and access to technology.
33. That as a female in Iran, I’ve never done any sports.
34. That I’m a terrorist.
35. That I support the Iranian nuclear program.
36. That I don’t like people from other ethnicities.
37. That “my people” are backward.
38. That “my people” are homophobic.
39. That “my people” are sexist.
40. That I have a people.
41. That I will always defend Iranian politics no matter the policy or the situation.
42. That I’m anti-Semitic.
43. That I hate Israel and want it seen “wiped off the map”.
44. That I “should go home”.
45. That I automatically have a sense of identification with all Muslims, Middle Easterners and other brown folks.
And last but not least…
46. That I’ve ridden camels…everyday…to school. :)

This list is not meant to be comprehensive or to encompass the experiences of all Iranian/Middle Eastern/Brown/People of Color, but quite the contrary, it’s meant to show how often experiences of people of color are homogenized, uniformed, and marginalized.

Just for interest, indicate the ones you’ve personally experienced and please feel free to add your own in the comments section below. :)

SH


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.


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