Category Archives: community

When Allies Fail, Part II

By Guest Contributor Tami, originally published at What Tami Said

[In the following post about allies, I am confining my discussion to anti-racism and feminism because those are the movements with which I am most familiar. I hope, though, that these ideas have broader application.] Last week, in a post titled When Allies Fail – Part 1, we began a discussion about maintaining alliances in the face of failure:

What does it mean to be allied? The dictionary definition is to be joined in a group to advance common interests or causes. And what does this joining require? I think mutual respect, shared activism and adherence to mutual goals and objectives. Alliances are by nature two-sided affairs. Both sides bear the responsibility of maintaining the relationship. And this isn’t easy. I have witnessed too many battles between members of marginalized groups and their professed allies to think otherwise. The disagreements are often raw, emotional and ultimately unsatisfying. Sometimes, I think we expect too much of our allies. Sometimes the privileged are too confident in their roles as allies and too slow to examine their own biases. As enlightened about race or gender a person may be, we are all products of a racist and sexist society. To expect any person, no matter how good-intentioned, to never reveal a racial or gender bias is to invite disappointment. If members of marginalized groups want to work with allies, we have to know that they will fail us sometimes. Our allies have to know that they will fail.

In that post, I tackled the responsibilities of anti-racist and feminist allies. What should an ally do when he or she has made an unwitting show of prejudice or privilege? Today, I want to talk about the responsibilities of marginalized people who want to work with allies. “Responsibilities of marginalized people”…already I am hesitant to speak about allied relationships this way.

First, marginalized people are the owners of the anti-racist and feminist/womanist movements. The outcomes of the movement are about our humanity, our treatment, our futures, our children. Our fight is based not on empathy, but lived reality. Yes, racism and sexism ultimately effect everyone, no matter their race or gender. But, for instance, women involved in the feminist movement feel the urgency for change much more strongly than our male allies. We are more invested, I think. I say this not as a slight against men. It is the rare human being who is not most invested in things that effect them directly.

Second, marginalized people, like POC, have historically been oppressed. As a result, we adapt to living in a society that does not treat us as equals and sees us as “other.” We try to conform. We code switch. We hide our culture. We change our physicality to match that of the majority culture. We hold our tongues in the face of the everyday dull aches of racism. We do this every day, both consciously and unconsciously.

Continue reading

When Allies Fail, Part I

By Guest Contributor Tami, originally published at What Tami Said

[In the following post about allies, I am confining my discussion to anti-racism and feminism because those are the movements with which I am most familiar. I hope, though, that these ideas have broader application.]

Allies are important to any equality movement. It does not help people of color if we are the only ones who understand racism and how it still exists in society. It does not help women if we are the only ones that believe we deserve equal treatment. This is especially true considering the ways that women and people of color have been kept from places of power. The battles are ours to fight, and we can win them, but we need allies.

What does it mean to be allied? The dictionary definition is to be joined in a group to advance common interests or causes. And what does this joining require? I think mutual respect, shared activism and adherence to mutual goals and objectives. Alliances are by nature two-sided affairs. Both sides bear the responsibility of maintaining the relationship. And this isn’t easy. I have witnessed too many battles between members of marginalized groups and their professed allies to think otherwise. The disagreements are often raw, emotional and ultimately unsatisfying. Sometimes, I think we expect too much of our allies. Sometimes the privileged are too confident in their roles as allies and too slow to examine their own biases. As enlightened about race or gender a person may be, we are all products of a racist and sexist society. To expect any person, no matter how good-intentioned, to never reveal a racial or gender bias is to invite disappointment. If members of marginalized groups want to work with allies, we have to know that they will fail us sometimes. Our allies have to know that they will fail.

And what do we do when this happens–when allies fail? How can we address mistakes, while preserving relationships and maintaining the power that comes through alliances with people outside of our group? How do I think an ally should respond when their bias or privilege is called out? How do I think marginalized groups should handle the mistakes allies make?

This is the first of two posts on maintaining alliances in the face of failure. Today, I will tackle the responsibilities of anti-racist and feminist allies. What should an ally do when he or she has made an unwitting show of prejudice or privilege?

Continue reading

Toward A More Colorful Queer Future

by Guest Contributor Alex Niculescu


Over the last few years mainstream gay advocacy groups have focused their efforts on one issue, a panacea to seemingly solve all forms of inequality that gays are faced with: marriage rights.

With the passage of Proposition 8 this summer in California, many people’s hopes that gays would achieve full equality in this country were dashed. What was even more distressing, however, was the wave of racist backlash against people of color in California, who were accused of being the cause of Prop 8’s passage (this is a completely unfounded claim, as studies have shown). When I look at the actions of HRC, GLAAD, and other mainstream gay advocacy groups from the past years, they make me sad to call myself queer. In particular, their perpetual focus on marriage rights as the most pressing issue facing queers, the only obstacle blocking the road to full equality, is an awfully myopic and misguided claim. To assume that marriage is the main issue all queers should be organizing around automatically constructs an essentialized version of a gay person, when the very existence of queer people should enough to  contradict and confront any attempts to standardize our lives.

As anarchists say that “our dreams won’t fit in your ballot boxes,” queer bodies and experiences are too, well, queer, to fit in the state’s centuries-old definition of marriage. For queers to appeal for marriage is to desire assimilation into a heteronormative conception of sexuality, gender, and relationships, things which the government should have no business regulating or legislating in the first place. What scares me even more about assimilation is that it compels us to ignore the structures of power and interaction of power dynamics in this country.  Supporting marriage is supporting a means of institutional oppression. Historically, marriage was never rooted in religion, but rather it was a way for the state to regulate the transfer of property from a womyn’s family to her husband. This effectively bound the wife into a slaveholding document – she too became part and parcel of the man’s life possessions.  Consider the language that we use to describe when a womyn weds –  Mrs. is a possessive form of Mr.  For queers to appeal to an institution that has historically oppressed womyn (as well as non-whites – through miscegenation laws and the inability of slaves to exercise the so-called ‘human’ right of marriage, because, of course, it would humanize them in the face of their oppressors) baffles me. Continue reading

It’s Not All About You, or The Case for Empathy

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

Back in 2004 when I first started speaking and blogging about race, I was invited to facilitate a phone discussion with a group of parents who had adopted children from outside the United States.

One of the mothers in the group was white and Jewish. She adopted her son from an African country, and was raising him in her faith. She told me that she wanted my advice on a situation she was dealing with.

Her nanny was a Jamaican woman. One day, the nanny came home and the mother noticed she looked upset. The mother asked her what was wrong, but the nanny just shook her head and said everything was fine.

The mother was concerned, so she kept prodding, but the nanny was still reluctant to say anything. The mother was persistent, and told her that this was a safe space for her to share. She said there wouldn’t be any judgments, no matter what it was about.

Finally, the nanny broke down and said, “You people don’t know how to act!”

She explained that anytime she took the child for play dates in their mostly white and Jewish neighborhood, parents would treat her brusquely and avoid eye contact. Whenever she went to a store, salespeople would follow her around to make sure she didn’t steal anything. When she went to pay for items, the cashier would treat take great pains not to touch her hand when giving her change back.

She had been putting up with this kind of discrimination for a long time now because she loved working with this family, but she didn’t know how much longer she could go on as it was wearing on her emotionally.

“Can you believe that?” the mother asked me, her voice shaking with anger.

I was about to respond by expressing how sorry I was that this level of prejudice existed in her community, when the mother continued.

“I’m going to fire her! How dare she call Jews ‘you people!’ I’m Jewish and my son is Jewish. I’m just going to have to fire her because I don’t feel safe around her anymore.”

I was stunned.

Not only did the mother completely ignore the very real discrimination her nanny was dealing with; she managed to turn the entire situation around so that she became the victim.

In subsequent years, I’ve come to realize that this kind of behavior is not at all unusual.

If anything it’s the norm, not the exception, for people to be pre-occupied with their own suffering and supremely uninterested in hearing about the oppression others face.

This lack of empathy is one of the biggest roadblocks we face in dismantling racism.

If we’re serious about social justice, we need to recognize that when one of us is discriminated against, it’s an affront to us all.

President Obama Signs Executive Order on AAPIs

by Guest Contributor Jenn, originally published at Reappropriate

[October 14th] was a very big day for America’s Asian American and Pacific Islander community. In conjunction with a Diwali celebration, President Obama signed an executive order that reestablished an advisory committee and a White House initiative on Asian American and Pacific Islanders. The advisory committee was first established by President Clinton ten years ago, but was eliminated by President Bush in favour of a committee housed under the Department of Commerce that focused primarily on economic issues within the APIA community, ignoring other issues like healthcare, language and education.

Here is video of President Obama’s speech and the signing of the Executive Order:

What I really loved about the speech that President Obama gave was that it discussed the issues facing the Asian American community in language that really suggested familiarity with ongoing concerns. President Obama referenced the “model minority myth” and talked about high prevalence of specific diseases. These are problems that the APIA community has been dealing with for years, and I feel as if for the first time in a long time, they are finally receiving the national attention that our people merit.

Our AAPI communities have roots that span the globe, but they embody a rich diversity, and a story of striving and success that are uniquely American.

But focusing on all of these achievements doesn’t tell the whole story, and that’s part of why we’re here. It’s tempting, given the strengths of the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, for us to buy into the myth of the “model minority,” and to overlook the very real challenges that certain Asian American and Pacific Islander communities are facing: from health disparities like higher rates of diabetes and Hepatitis B; to educational disparities that still exist in some communities — high dropout rates, low college enrollment rates; to economic disparities — higher rates of poverty in some communities, and barriers to employment and workplace advancement in others. Continue reading

Latino In America goes out with a whine

By Special Correspondent Arturo R. García

For a review of Part 1, click here

marta1No way around it: Latino In America was a failure.

At the very least, Thursday’s conclusion, “Chasing The Dream,” seemed equal parts melodrama and bait-and-switch, with the broadcast component weakened by a lack of questions that undercut even its’ more compelling segments.

For instance, in the report on the murder of Luis Mendoza, we got an overview of events in Shenandoah, Penn., leading up to the crime, and of the area’s history with several immigrant populations, but when one individual reported he felt he was being intimidated because of his speaking to CNN, we got no follow-up with local authorities. When it was mentioned that one of the four defendants – who were acquitted of hate-crime accusations – testified the cops told them to get their stories straight, we got no follow-up.
Continue reading

Notes on Brick City: Part 1 and 2

by Guest Contributor Kiana, originally posted at ProperTalks and Postourgie


Sundance’s Brick City is the only reality TV show worth watching this week. The street soldiers, sheroes and heroes of Newark New Jersey along with Mayor Cory Booker are all attempting to renew Newark’s urban landscape but they are up against the city’s infamous reputation, earned mostly with blood and corruption.

The spirit of Newark is rough but Brick City wins because it doesn’t romanticize or demonize Newark and its people. Comparisons to The Wire are inevitable but I think Brick City will appeal to the people who thought The Wire was too raw. The irony of that is laughable since The Wire was a drama and Brick City isn’t scripted, but the miniseries is a tamed version of David Simon’s masterpiece.

There is violence (a 10 year old is shot and killed in his neighborhood in part one), there is incredible pain, which leads to frustration, but there is also a sense of optimism that I rarely saw in The Wire.

The two clear standouts of Brick City are Mayor Booker and ex-Blood, Jayda, who is in love with an ex-Crip and pregnant with her second child.

Mayor Booker hammers over and over again his message that Newark leads the nation in crime reduction. We see him navigating two worlds, the ghettos and city hall, but he seems out of place in both settings even as he’s embraced almost everywhere he goes.

He usually dresses down, in gym clothes, when he rides around the more dilapidated sections of Newark, talking to teenagers and offering corner boys jobs. These street images of Booker are juxtaposed with scenes of him draped in suit and tie, delivering fiery speeches to a room full of police officers or local politicians and potential donors.
Continue reading

Fong Lee, and Violence

by Guest Contributor Bao Phi, originally published at Your Voices/The Star Tribune


UP IN ARMS: A Night of Hip Hop and Spoken Word to Honor Fong Lee and End Police Brutality

Saturday, October 3rd, 8 p.m. (doors at 7:30)
Kagin Commons at Macalester College
1600 Grand Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55105

Featuring performances by Magnetic North (NY), Nomi of Power Struggle (Bay Area), Michelle Myers of Yellow Rage (Philadelphia), Maria Isa, Blackbird Elements, Guante, Rodrigo Sanchez-Chavarria, e.g. bailey, Tou SaiKo Lee with PosNoSys, True Mutiny, Shá Cage, Kevin Xiong with Pada Lor, Tish Jones, Maipacher, Logan Moua, Bobby Wilson, Poetic Assassins, Hilltribe, and special guests. Tou Ger Xiong and Amy Hang will emcee and DJ Nak will be on the one’s and two’s.

$5-$10 suggested donation.  All proceeds go towards legal costs for the Family of Fong Lee.

As an artist and community member, I was asked to be a part of the organizing committee for this benefit concert for Fong Lee’s family.  And it made me consider how violence has always been a part of my life.  I was three months old when the Communists shelled the airport all night to hinder our escape from Vietnam.  My family came to Phillips in South Minneapolis, where we encountered different types of violence.  There were war vets who blamed us for the war, who would yell at us and threaten us in parking lots, on the street, who screamed that they fought for our people and that we owed them.  There were gangbangers and crack dealers – every neighborhood in the world has bullies, and they were ours, mercurial, lively with friendship and smack talk one second and livid with menace the next.  There were straight up racists who hated us for the color of our skin, who believed it was our fault that there were no jobs and no homes, or maybe they just hated anyone who didn’t look like them, eat like them, talk like them.  And then there was the police, whom I was taught to wave at as a child when they drove by, their cars slow in the tight streets, stand up straight, smile.

As I got older, I stopped waving to police cars and firemen.  No, I never rolled with a crew, but in the 90s during my very early teen years I did rock the Raiders clothes and caps, mostly because that’s what we did back then, and partly, I admit, because I wanted to be feared.  I never went looking to beat up anyone, bully anyone.  But too often, as a young man I found myself fighting or fleeing from all manners of people who wanted to do me harm for all different reasons.  You tire of it.  Some young men join gangs, some take up martial arts and boxing.  Me, I tried to perfect my swagger, practiced my stoic look, blew my paycheck from my minimum wage job on overpriced sports gear, walked like I belonged.  And if something did happen to me or my family or friends, we hesitated to call the police, because too often they threatened us rather than served and protected us.  Threatened us with violence, with false accusations, with deportation.  For us, if we were victimized by violence from a civilian, calling the police felt like an invitation for round two.  And they’d walk away to do it another day.  By most standards I was an easy child who didn’t get into much trouble despite the circumstances.  And still I feared the police – because they had an almost mythical power, especially if you were a person of color, to make you feel guilty even if you weren’t doing anything wrong.  Chris Rock once joked, “police officers scared me so bad, they made me think I stole my own car.”

Continue reading