Is the March Mine When the Pussy Hat is Pink? A Links Round-up of Responses to #WomensMarches by Women of Color

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This week, we are gathering here a few of the various voices we heard from women of color on their participation in the Women’s Marches that occurred across U.S. cities and cities across the world.

First, an interview with Angela Peoples, whose photo with her sign “Don’t forget, White women voted for Trump” went viral; it crossed our feeds many times, shared by our friends of color.

“Most were saying, “Not this white woman,” or “No one I know!” I’d say, “[Fifty-three percent] of white women voted for Trump. That means someone you know, someone who is in close community with you, voted for Trump. You need to organize your people.” And some people said, “Oh, I’m so ashamed.” Don’t be ashamed; organize your people. That’s why the photo was such a great moment to capture, because it tells the story of white women in this moment wanting to just show up in a very superficial way and not wanting to do the hard work of making change, of challenging their own privilege. You’re here protesting, but don’t forget: The folks that you live with every single day—and probably some of the women that decided to come to the march—voted for Trump, made the decision to vote against self-interests to maintain their white supremacist way of life.”

Next, a twitter thread written by an Indigenous woman (@sydnerain)that connects her disheartening experiences with white women who were disrespectful at the D.C. March to a larger critique of settler colonialism, stolen land, and indigenous sovereignty. The twitter thread includes responses to her narrative that mirror the disappointing interactions she had at the march, as individual women discount her truth and seem resistant to hearing her. We think the thread speaks to both the possibilities and limitations of trying to have a dialogue online.

One of the important interventions that many of our friends undertook after the marches was to challenge the celebration of the “peaceful” nature of the marches. This article uses powerful images of the state violence faced by Black and Indigenous activists, in particular, to ask what do we mean when we say “non-violence” and “peaceful.”

Finally, we end with Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, who asks whether anger and cynicism is helpful in terms of the practice work of moving forward politically. She concludes,

“If there was ever a time to activate our organizer super powers, this is it. I’m not going to argue that black people or other people of color need to stop holding white people accountable. White people are not going anywhere, but neither are we if we don’t start to think and do differently.

Hundreds of thousands of people are trying to figure out what it means to join a movement. If we demonstrate that to be a part of a movement, you must believe that people cannot change, that transformation is not possible, that it’s more important to be right than to be connected and interdependent, we will not win…If our movement is not serious about building power, then we are just engaged in a futile exercise of who can be the most radical.”

Resiliency and allyship

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At Carleton’s MLK event this year, one of the student speakers asked the audience if they were engaging in self-care, making sure that they were getting enough sleep and eating well, etc.

That speech got us talking about how that this notion of self-care can be extended to thinking about how we build the resiliency and emotional strength to react in productive ways when we are being “called out” for something we said or did, particularly around issues of identities.

We wanted to share first a couple of examples of how we have reacted in the past–sometimes well, sometimes not–when we were challenged about something we said or did.

Recently, Anita was talking with a friend who is biracial about the Whitewashing phenomenon in Hollywood (and hey, check out our post on this topic if you haven’t already!) and, at the end, she jokingly said, “Yeah, you’ve got to get your people to get their act together.” Her friend said, “What do you mean ‘my people’?”

Anita: “Well, I mean, you have a White parent, you grew up with mostly White family members.”

Friend: “But they’re not ‘my’ people. I don’t get seen as White.”

At this point, Anita should have just stopped talking. Instead, she tried to defend her statement: “I know but they’re your people in a way they’re not mine because you grew up with them.”

Friend: “But so what? That doesn’t make them my people because you and I are more ‘people’ together because we’re both not seen as White.”

And so on. Eventually, Anita admitted that perhaps she was wrong and the friend graciously moved on, and even joked about White folks being “their people” a few days later.

One lesson that we took from this: Anita’s need to defend her not-so-well-thought-out joke become more important in this moment than respecting her friend’s right to name their own experience, community, and identity. Her comment reinforced essentialized notions of racial identity, which can serve to reify and naturalize racial categories. As two of our favorite theorists Omi & Winant note, “‘Essentializing’ race is always possible–treating it as a fundamental, transhistorical marker of difference can reduce race to a sort of uniform people are made to wear, thus reproducing–however consciously or unconsciously–the stereotyping that characterizes racism itself” (p. 261).

Adriana’s experience occurred at a retreat a few years ago where everyone was talking about their racial, cultural, and gendered identities. It’s probably important to know that there were several black women, a few Latinas, a few Asian American women, and several white people. Adriana found herself–naturally, in her eyes–bonding with the other Latinas and feeling close with the other women of color. She wanted to, and did, affirm their experiences openly.

On the third day of the retreat, after the group had gone through a few highly-emotional scenarios, including a discussion of colorism and prejudice, one of the women of color confronted Adriana during a full group discussion, demanding to know why she could identify as a woman of color while presenting as someone so white. She was angry, and in pain. Adriana didn’t know how to handle it at first; her instincts were to shut down, or to leave, or to be angry in return. Whose instincts would be any different? But instead, using a couple of the skills learned in the workshop, she stayed and listened. And then she asked the woman to ask her a question, which she would answer. And then she did.

It’s not that important to know exactly what the woman asked. But it matters that, even though it had been a while since Adriana had been confronted about her whiteness directly, she had a long history and practice of thinking about what her whiteness meant for how she was perceived and how she could and would build trust within communities of color; she knew she couldn’t expect any individual or group to accept her just because she said she belonged. And she was willing to be vulnerable and share with the room her story of who she had learned she was so that they might be willing to trust her.

That moment was hard, but Adriana’s willingness to take a deep breath and listen through the understandable anger opened up the possibility of building connection by being honest and acknowledging her white-passing privilege. This move then made space for the woman to hear Adriana’s truth.

While it seems difficult in the moment to step away from one’s own feelings and logic, it is possible to do so as Adriana’s example beautifully illustrates. And we’d argue that it is not only possible but also necessary to do because we need to be aware of how we might be contributing to discourses and practices that perpetuate inequality or oppression.

We’re not saying it’s easy nor are we saying that it’s not necessary to process one’s own emotions in such situations. Clearly, it’s difficult to let go of wanting to defend oneself, the impulse to say “hey, no, this is what I really meant to say,” because, well, we’re human. We are suggesting, however, that perhaps that emotional processing should not happen with the person who has been brave enough to say something to you or ask a question about how your actions, words or ways of navigating the world are complicit in reproducing discourses, practices, structures or systems that are racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist or classist.

Thinking about how to build and practice resiliency in these situations led us to a few overarching suggestions. First, we think it’s important to recognize your privileges, so that you are better able to listen to and validate people’s experiences when they don’t have those same privileges.  Second, we both endorse the deep breath method. When you’re challenged by someone else’s emotional truth that counters your own, you’ve just received a kind of shock that might shatter your perceptions about yourself and what you take for granted. So take a deep breath, and let your whole system adjust to this new reality. Finally, like any other skill–and we both see resiliency as a skill–it gets easier with practice.

Resources

Sally Huang-Nissen, 1999, Dialogue groups: A practical guide to facilitate diversity conversation (Los Altos, CA: Corner Elm Publications). Chapter 2.

Michael Omi & Howard Winant, 2015, Racial formation in the United States, 3rd ed. (New York: Routledge).

Katherine Roubos, 2016, “Cultivating Resilience: Antidotes to White Fragility in Racial Justice Education.”

Saroful, 2017, “How to survive in intersectional feminist spaces 101,” Crossknit.

Jamie Utt, 2016, “Learn about common ally mistakes,Everyday Feminism.

The Another Round podsquad gathered ideas from their listeners about how to be better allies and, of course, listening is listed as one key move. While they were focused on racial allyship, we think their ideas apply more broadly.

 

How to engage in interracial dialogue when you have no friends of color

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As you might know from our previous blog posts and from just knowing us, you know that we are supporters of interracial dialogue. We have been a part of our college’s Critical Conversations program for a few years now–Critical Conversation is Carleton’s version of Intergroup Dialogue. A key principle of intergroup dialogue is that there is a diverse set of participants in these sustained and structured dialogue about identity, power, and privilege. If a dialogue group is focused on race, for example, it is ideal to have half of the participants who identify as White and half who identify as people of color. At Carleton, our groups do not focus on race solely but the general idea is to have groups that are diverse along various identity groups. We believe that, in order to understand differences in experiences and identities, it’s important to have people in the room with a range of experiences and understandings of how their identities matter in the world.

However, these kinds of interracial settings for dialogue about race often have to be intentionally organized because of the high levels of racial segregation that continues to exist in the U.S. As one study found, 75% of White Americans have no friends of color. How then are these White folx supposed to engage in interracial dialogue?

One way that some folx have tried to do so is to reach out to people who are visible in the public eye for speaking about race. We want to highlight today two discussions about what happens when the only people of color a White person knows is a celebrity and how these folx of color feel about engaging in conversations about race with people they don’t know. Hmm, given the topic of our last post, we’re seeing a theme here, right? Shall we call it incidents of “Random Racial Interrogative Accosting”? RRIA, for short. Rhymes with diarrhea. [Shoutout to our buddy, Kevin Wolfe, for helping us come up with that! Thank you, brother!]

Both of these discussions feature one of our favorite media person who speaks about race–Gene Demby who co-hosts the podcast, NPR’s Code Switch.

First is a conversation published on Slate that starts with a particular incident of RRIA that happened to Gene Demby and the second discussion is on the podcast, About Race, where Demby talks more about this incident.

Check these out and let us know if you’ve ever had a RRIA experience yourself as a person of color!

P.S. Given the current racial demographics of the country and residential segregation patterns, it can be hard for White folx to figure out how to get started on these kinds of conversations. Here are a few resources and local organizations:

Curriculum for White Americans to Educate Themselves on Race and Racism–from Ferguson to Charleston

Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) MN

Workshops by YWCA Minneapolis’s racial justice department

Oh, Tilda.

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Dear Emma,

You don’t know us, but you’ve been in our heads for years. We’re fans. We’ve enjoyed seeing you on the screen in many a movie, including the one where you’re playing a hapa character. Oh wait, we didn’t see that one. Because Whitewashing. Which leads us to why we are writing to you. We want to ask you some questions about a truly important social conversation that we hear is happening on social media. No, we lie. We don’t just hear about it. We read about and engage in those conversations all the time because it is important to us. Mostly, though, we have these conversations with other people of color and we decided that perhaps we needed a White perspective on this issue, especially from someone who has a recent role in perpetuating this longstanding phenomenon in American popular culture.

We hope that you will be willing to answer these questions even though you have no idea who we are. Tell us to fuck off if you want, but you’re probably aware that we’re only two of many folx who are invested in these questions and in getting answers.

What gave you the confidence to feel like you could portray well a hapa character? Were there questions for you as you read the script about “Could I authentically the experience of someone whose multiracial identity might have subjected them to discrimination, self-doubts, exclusion, and bonds of community?” If all you thought was “I can portray that person because she’s a person, and well, so am I. Color does not matter,” what gave you the confidence not to think about how racial identities are built, established, and reproduced through histories and social circumstances? What kinds of experiences have you had in your life that “Color don’t matter”? When you say, “The character was not supposed to look like her background which was a quarter Hawaiian and a quarter Chinese,” what do you imagine it means to “look like” one’s background?  

As scholars of race, while we are deeply suspicious of any statement that suggests race is written on the body in meaningful (consistent) ways, we also recognize that much of racism and racialized experiences are based on the fact that we assume we can accurately place people into racial categories and we act on those assumptions. As Omi and Winant put it, “Race is ocular in an irreducible way. Human bodies are visually read, understood, and narrated by means of symbolic meanings and associations.” Because this is all so complex, we want to know what kind of conversations you have had and are having about the complexities of racial identities and experiences and what exactly you feel you have learned from the debate about “Aloha.” [And we don’t want to get too much into racial theory right now since this email is already getting long, but see our P.S. for some suggestions on what to read.]

We thank you for taking time to read this letter and for answering our questions.

Your fans,

Adriana & Anita

P.S.

Michael Omi & Howard Winant, 2015, Racial formation in the United States, 3rd ed. (New York: Routledge)

Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, 2013, Racism without racists, 4th ed. (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers)

Critical Race Theory: The Key Writings That Formed the Movement, 1996. (New York: The New Press)

Yen Le Espiritu, 1992, Asian American Panethnicity: Bridging Institutions and Identities (Philadelphia: Temple University Press).

Note to our blog readers

Happy new year, y’all!

If somehow in the excitement of making and possibly already breaking your New Year’s resolutions, you missed the email exchange between Tilda Swinton and Margaret Cho on the whitewashing of Hollywood movies, (a) check it out here and (b) check out the fabulous analysis by Tracy Clayton, Heben Nigatu, and Gene Demby about the email exchange on this episode of Another Round, starting at 3:50.

Inspired by our take on Tilda Swinton–i.e. she’s someone who thought she wanted to listen, decided to reach out to someone she did not know personally, and sent this email as “kindly” as she thought possible–we decided that we should write to a White actress we don’t know to ask her our questions about why she chose to participate in an instance of Whitewashing in Hollywood. And we imagine that the letter above might have been the kind of letter Margaret Cho might have written back to Swinton if she hadn’t been so kind in her first response, and if she had been as salty as we felt reading Swinton’s first email.

 

 

Standing with and Understanding Standing Rock

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Decolonizing Thanksgiving

The last time we wrote about what’s happening at Standing Rock and the resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline, the unarmed water protectors (the term the Indigenous folks there use for themselves) had been attacked by dogs and pepper spray. We are writing about what’s happening there again after more violent attacks on the water protectors this past week with water cannons and concussion grenades. What’s happening there has been getting more mainstream coverage, assuming The View is relatively mainstream. We wanted today to highlight two resources to learn more about what’s happening in Standing Rock currently and to understand the historical, social, and cultural context of the protests:

  1. Dr. Adrienne Keene visits our favorite podcast to speak about her visit to Standing Rock (before the water cannons and concussion grenades) and describes what’s happening there and provides a larger context for the protests, explaining terms such as settler colonialism. Dr. Keene writes the blog, Native Appropriations, which you should all check out. (Anita was lucky enough to attend her convocation talk earlier this month at Carleton.) (Adriana is jealous, but plans to watch the video soon.)
  2. Check out the #NoDAPL syllabus created by a group of Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars and activists to understand the current resistance against the pipeline in the long history of colonialism and racism.

Education matters, but action should follow. Here are concrete ways for you to take action to support the water protectors:

  1. Call North Dakota governor Jack Dalrymple at 701-328-2200. See phone scripts here.
  1. Donate items from the Sacred Stone Camp Supply List: http://sacredstonecamp.org/supply-list/
  1. Call the White House at (202) 456-1111 or (202) 456-1414.
  1. Contribute to the Sacred Stone Camp Legal Defense Fund: https://fundrazr.com/d19fAf
  1. Call the Army Corps of Engineers and demand that they reverse the permit: (202) 761-5903
  1. Sign petitions asking President Obama to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. Here’s the latest – https://act.credoaction.com/sign/NoDAPL
  1. Write to the 17 banks funding the pipeline and consider moving your accounts if you have any at these banks:

http://www.commondreams.org/…/how-contact-17-banks-funding-…

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The Week After

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“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” –Martin Luther King, Jr., 1965.

“You have to really put your shoulder to the wheel to bend the arc of the moral universe.” –Adriana and Anita, 2016.

In the week after the election of Donald Trump as the next president of the United States, there have been a growing number of incidents of harassment and violence targeting those perceived to be immigrants, racial and religious minorities, women, and members of the LGBTQA+ community. The two of us have had various reactions to reading story after story on social media of friends and colleagues, many of them women of color, speaking of their experiences. Anita signed up for a self-defense course. Adriana’s been running and trying to get faster… and she’s been calling representatives and brewing up some collective, community actions.

One institutional action we are hoping that our college takes is to declare itself a sanctuary center. What exactly this designation means is being discussed and developed on campuses across the country, with over 80 schools (see map) developing and signing petitions asking their institutional leaders to become sanctuary campuses. While the expectations of a “sanctuary center” are being defined through this process of collective action and institutional response,  this essay by colleagues at Pomona provides a great, succinct history of the practice of sanctuary. They describe the role of colleges in assuring “the community and the outside world that that we will protect undocumented students and staff along with Muslim, Middle Eastern/North African and South Asian international staff, faculty, and students.  We have to insure that we remain an open educational community for all, particularly those who have been targeted in recent months.”

This goal–understood as a moral and ethical one–might look different at different colleges.

A petition being circulated at De Paul University argues for the following:

— Reaffirm current admission and financial aid policies regarding undocumented students;

— Guarantee student privacy by refusing to release information regarding citizenship status;

— Take steps to protect the visa status and funding of international students;

— Refuse to comply with federal authorities regarding deportations or immigration raids

In the article linked above, in comparison, they ask the institution to “refuse to cooperate with immoral laws, executive orders, police demands, or judicial decisions that target these members of our community.”

As we circulated among faculty and staff a letter addressed to our college president asking him to consider declaring the college a sanctuary center, there were questions from our colleagues about whether it was effective or desirable to make such a request. There were concerns, for example, that this kind of move would be merely symbolic–that in the end, there won’t be anything the institution can do to protect undocumented community members from being deported. There were concerns that supporting such a letter publicly might put people’s jobs in jeopardy and, in some cases, people’s or family members’ already precarious immigration status in jeopardy. The process of organizing a response on campus became an occasion for us to reflect on why we decided that we could go more public with our request to the college.

  1. We are privileged: We are tenured faculty members. We are U.S. citizens. We are financially stable.
  2. We are not privileged: Anita doesn’t have white-passing privilege, so her brown skin could make her a target of racial harassment. We are women, making us vulnerable to gender-based harassment. We speak languages other than English, loudly and publicly, making us vulnerable to anti-immigrant harassment. Given that we already feel targeted for how we look and act in the world, our response has been to become even more public about our support for our people, communities, and causes. We will be proudly rocking our Black Lives Matter and El Silencio Mata t-shirts. Anita will be proudly rocking this awesome giant safety pin a friend made for her.giant-safety-pin
  3. We believe in the moral and ethical power of institutions to stand for righteousness and justice. Sometimes our institutions do so in small, quiet ways. Sometimes, it’s necessary that they do it (with our help and support) in large, loud ways.

In the end, after circulating our letter for about 72 hours, we had 159 signatories.

We don’t know yet what will happen. When you start collective actions, after all, there’s no guarantee that you’ll get the response you want or need or even that you’ll get any response at all. We act because acting is better than staying silent.

“It may well be that we will have to repent in this generation. Not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say, “Wait on time.”” –Martin Luther King, Jr. 1968.

“If you stand for nothing, Burr, what will you fall for?” –Lin Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, 2015.

“Support friends, process emotions, and join in collective actions.” –Anita and Adriana, 2016.

 Addendum: After writing this post, we and other cosigners received an email from the President outlining actions the College will be taking to protect our DACA students; these commitments are not being made public at the moment, but we are hopeful that these steps will move us forward.

The Day After

El Silencio Mata. Silence kills. Oaxaca mural.

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(Anita)

I went to bed early Tuesday night, not knowing the results of the presidential election. The first thing I saw Wednesday morning was a text from my brother: “Are you okay?” I knew then that Donald Trump had won. I logged onto Facebook: friends expressing surprise, sorrow, concern, anger, solidarity, love, and resolve. I appreciated white, straight friends promising to stand up for and with friends who are immigrants, queer, trans, POC–thank you and I’ll hold you to those promises. I appreciated the helpful reminders that the struggles against patriarchy, settler colonialism, racism, and xenophobia have been going for a long time; they have continued during the Obama presidency, would have continued during a Clinton presidency, and will continue during the Trump presidency.

(Adriana)

I had planned to go to an Election eve party on Tuesday, but a descending migraine kept me at home. In retrospect, that headache was an augur and a gift. At home, I sipped whiskey, ate Halloween candy, listened to the NPR stream, and read the 538 and NYT coverage. Slowly but surely I felt the world slip out from under me. At 10 p.m., heavy with a throbbing head and a growing sense of dread, I went to sleep, after texting with my son. “…” he first wrote. I knew exactly what that meant.

I woke up throughout the night. I would roll over, check my phone, fight to contain my fear and my sadness, then try to sleep again. Waking up to the day felt wrong. Mourning is like this. You look towards this possible future, the one you thought you were headed for, and you have to recognize it’s gone. Then somehow you have to keep on moving forward into the future you now realize you don’t understand or know or want. But this mourning is different, right? I’m grieving for the United States that I thought we could be, might be, and most importantly, should be.

How do we teach in sadness? I spent the morning running. Literally. I headed out to the woods and grounded myself in the feeling–ephemeral though it may be–that I have some strength, some power, and a world that makes sense to me. I wear a t-shirt for the day with the words, “El silencio mata” and make plans to hold space for my students. bell hooks prepares me for that: “I believe whole-heartedly that the only way out of domination is love, and the only way into really being able to connect with others, and to know how to be, is to be participating in every aspect of your life as a sacrament of love, and that includes teaching.” Love is not just a feeling. Love is a set of actions. Let us love deeply and radically; let us act wildly and meaningfully.

(Us)

We go to a rally on campus organized by our students. There are at least 300 students, staff, faculty, and community members in attendance. Students share their thoughts. They share their worries about feeling targeted in their women/queer/Black/Brown/immigrant bodies. They remind their peers that they had been so organized and involved in Get Out The Vote efforts, in supporting local progressive candidates, and in going out and voting. They talk about the practical steps moving forward to support those who might be affected most by policies and practices in the next four years–-getting trained as an escort for women going into reproductive health clinics, for example. They remind us to support and care for ourselves and each other. They make us feel hopeful and inspired.

To our students who organized the rally and who have been organizing and have been building bridges and coalitions across differences before the election and will continue to do so now: we see you, we support you, and we thank you.

To our former students who are now teachers themselves, working with children and young adults whom they are supporting and holding space for right now: we see you, we support you, and we thank you.

Teaching, learning, listening, and organizing trumps hate. Let’s get (back) to it!

Some suggestions for next steps:

Let us know if you have any other suggestions that we should add to this list.