Category: community

December 9, 2009 / / activism

by Guest Contributor Dumi Lewis, originally published at Uptown Notes


I am an African-American man. I am a heterosexual man. I am a middle-class man. These three statements are the basis for my social justice work and advocacy, but each carries its own hazard for working on social justice. While many will assume my position as a Black man in America makes me sensitive to “minority statuses”, in reality, over the past 10 years I’ve learned nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, in many ways, my status as Black man in America has the potential to undercut my work of engaging the pursuit of equality of opportunity, equality of outcome and the right to self-determination for all people. I am both privileged and disadvantaged. I have identities that I celebrate, identities I conceal, and all these decisions matter for my view on the world and what I choose to fight for and against.

I didn’t really begin to grapple with my privilege as a Black man until I was a student in Beverly Guy-Sheftall’s class on Black Feminism at Spelman College. I can remember rebutting each point she made about the Million Man March (MMM) as an extension of patriarchy, heteronormativity, and an attempt to further embed misogyny. Besides being a slew of words I didn’t fully understand, I could not understand why she fixated on all the “negatives” of the March. In the class, she essentially argued the MMM because of the patriarchy, etc. she could not support it and thus thought it held little value. By the time I landed in her class I was a senior at Morehouse and certainly had come to believe the MMM was one of the most transformative events I’d ever personally experienced and I refused to have the event mischaracterized.

I paraphrase, but I told her, “Yes, it does ask men to come back into the family, but it doesn’t always mean that have to be at the head. I know some talked about being at the head of the household, but not everyone believed that. We didn’t invite sisters because it was our time as Black men to redefine our commitment to the Black family and Black community.” I wanted to her to see the value of the event beyond her points. She let me finish and sagely replied, “It must be a nice privilege to tell someone to overlook the oppressive elements of a program, because it was helpful to you.” My face fell, my mouth shut, and I  sat sheepishly quiet. My head spun between realization, frustration, and confusion. For the next few classes, I sat quietly and tried to figure out how I had not “seen it coming.” I realized that the lesson I had learned on the athletic field so many times applied to social justice work, “sometimes you got to get the wind knocked out of you to bring you back to earth.”Guy-Sheftall had pointed out what I’d seen done some many times but by those who came from outside of a community to do social justice work in my community. Someone(s) coming from the outside, declaring themselves an ally and expert and overlooking the view of those who were subject to the oppression in favor of their own perspective. Read the Post The F word: On feminism, being an ally & social justice

December 8, 2009 / / activism

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.

Read the Post When Allies Fail, Part II

December 7, 2009 / / activism

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?

Read the Post When Allies Fail, Part I

November 24, 2009 / / LGBTQ

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. Read the Post Toward A More Colorful Queer Future

November 20, 2009 / / community
October 26, 2009 / / asian-american

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. Read the Post President Obama Signs Executive Order on AAPIs

October 23, 2009 / / Uncategorized

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.
Read the Post Latino In America goes out with a whine

October 12, 2009 / / african-american

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.
Read the Post Notes on Brick City: Part 1 and 2