Category Archives: identity

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Sense8 And The Failure Of Global Imagination

By Guest Contributor Claire Light, cross-posted from The Nerds Of Color

How do you imagine a life you could never live? Though not really a theme, this problem is at the heart of Netflix’s new original series Sense8, created by the Wachowskis and J. Michael Straczynski, and heavily influenced by Tom Tykwer. Like many fantastical or science fictional premises, Sense8’s premise is a wish fulfillment: not — as is typical of this genre and the Wachowskis’ earlier work — the wish fulfillment of the disempowered middle school nerd stuffed into a locker, but rather the Mary Sue desire of a mature, white American writer/auteur who has discovered that an entire world is “out there,” one that the maker doesn’t know how to imagine.
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Google to Latinos: We Will Define You for You

by Guest Contributor Roberto Lovato, originally published at Latino Rebels

MISSION DISTRICT, SAN FRANCISCO—A new age is upon us, the Age of Soy.

No, I’m not talking about some new genetically-modified organism that will (further) fundamentally alter the corn in our tacos, the gas in our cars or the farmland of the Midwest.

The development of which I speak has to do with how Mountain View, California-based Google’s launch of .SOY, a web domain targeting the country’s Latinos, was supposed to herald a new day on the Latino web, with some “Hispanic marketing experts” waxing triumphant about our (finally) getting some respect from a company that has a less-than-triumphant record of hiring Latinos or black people.

And then the Latino and vegan web responded: Hey Google, “soy,” (Spanish for “I am”) sounds more like a domain name for one of the tony vegan Mexican restaurants that Google and other Silicon Valley workers eat $15 tacos at than it does a hub for online Latinos.

Far from being the Latino web sensation Google and its “experts” expected, .SOY provides fodder for the amateur comedian in us all, with Latinos and vegans joining forces, taking the “.SOY” domain and applying it to different adjectives like quépendejo.soy (how stupid I am), #soyhispandering or calling .SOY “The must-have domain for the lactose-intolerant.” Continue reading

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Live From San Diego Comic Fest: Latino Comics

By Arturo R. García

Over the weekend I went to the third annual San Diego Comic Fest, which has pointedly positioned itself as the anti-Comic Con.

Specifically, the size of the event is kept manageable for vendors, presenters and attendees alike; no conference room holds more than 40 or 50 people at one time, allowing for a more relaxed atmosphere and easier conversations between panelists and their audiences.

One end result is, panels focusing on diversity don’t feel as lost in the shuffle. And the Latino Comics panel covered not only industry trends within Latin America, but the rapidly-evolving effects of Latinidad on the U.S.’ identity.

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Voices: RIP Karyn Washington, Founder of For Brown Girls (1992-2014)

By Arturo R. García

For Brown Girls founder Karyn Washington.

The online social justice community suffered a sobering loss with the death of Karyn Washington, who created For Brown Girls and the #DarkSkinRedLip Project, Clutch Magazine reported late last week.

Adding to the shock was that Washington, whose work helped uplift her fans and readers and raise necessary conversations about the unfair beauty standards pushed on communities of color, reportedly took her own life at just 22 years of age, after struggling with depression following her mother’s death last year. Her passing has not only inspired conversation about her work, but about the struggle facing many of our communities and mental health.

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Derrick Gordon Becomes First Out Gay Male NCAA Basketball Player

By Arturo R. García

University of Massachusetts guard Derrick Gordon announced to the public on Wednesday — after telling his parents and teammates — that he is a gay man, becoming the first gay male NCAA basketball player.

“I know what it’s like to cry yourself to sleep or ‘have a girlfriend’ when that’s not your girlfriend, just to try and impress your friends,” Gordon said in video published by Outsports on the day of his announcement. “Nobody should have to try to live like that.”

Though his opening up to his teammates was by all accounts positive, the road there appears to have been rough for Gordon.
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#POC4culturalenrichment: The Racialicious Interview

By Arturo R. García

All tweets posted with permission of Suey Park.

Colorado State University graduate student Suey Park opened up another welcome Twitter discussion into diversity and race relations over the weekend when she coined the tag #POC4culturalenrichment, which picked up steam within a day of her beginning to recount her own experiences. But rather than try to sum up the story, we contacted Park — who has also blogged about the #KeepVeronicaHome campaign — to get her account of what led her to delve into the topic, and where it led her.

AG: From what I could tell — and please, correct me if I’m mistaken — the tweet above was your first tweet that used the tag. But let’s talk about what led you to coin it and begin to elaborate on your experiences.

SP: It’s been building up for a while, honestly. It seems I’m only allowed to talk about racism if I center my world around the feelings, power, and learning of white people. I have consistently been reprimanded from both people of power who have progressed within a white heteopatriachal system and white folks that the pathway to success is playing your cards the right way. That is, acting like the focus of racial justice should be centering our work around developing white allies and reinforcing hurtful power dynamics. It also means shifting from focusing on baseline survival of people of color to the self-improvement of white folks who want to challenge biases to feel less guilty. This doesn’t actually fix the situation, it gives white people a free pass for letting racism continue by letting them point to and identify something might be racist, why deflecting any personal responsibility. And although it’s cliche to say, people totally think people of color should still pull themselves up by their bootstraps to some extent. Even the first lady and President talking about the “personal responsibility” of people of color to improve their situations, but we never talk about the personal responsibility of white folks to do something very simple: to educate themselves.

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Am I Black Enough, Woman Enough, Trans Enough?

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By Guest Contributor Koko Jones; originally published at Koko Jones

There are several places where my multiple identities intersect; Black/African American, Native American, Musician, trans woman, trans woman of color. My blog is an attempt to address these issues for myself and where I land in the maze of multiple identities.

Watching the Melissa Harris-Perry show this morning I wanted to join the conversation on Race and Identities. On the show there was a white woman who is raising two black children and a white woman who is the mother of two interracial children. It made my mind wander a bit as well as wonder a bit about my own duality and identities. There has been a theme this week with conversations about identity and labels (i.e.: B. Scott).

I grew up knowing I was a black child; I knew nothing else. All of my friends were black, my neighbors were black, my uncles, aunts, cousins were black, the only grandparents I knew were definitely black. We ate typical southern black cuisine in our house; neck bones & cabbage, collard greens with ham hocks, pig’s feet, fish and grits, the list goes on. The music we listened to and what I remember from childhood was all basically black music; from Mahalia Jackson to James Brown and Aretha Franklin. Jimi Hendrix was considered a Rock God in our house.

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However, my mother looked incredibly like a white woman despite the skin color of her father. My brothers and sisters; six of us in total all had relatively the same pigment of skin. It has been a bone of contention in our family for years; what are we really? I am a child of many ancestors. Some of those ancestors are black; some are white and some are Native American (Cherokee and Choctaw). I knew nothing of the culture of Native Americans growing up and knew nothing of the culture of white people. I was often teased as a child about my skin color and sometimes I still am by some of my closest friends in jest. Terms like “Light Bright” or “Injun Joe” have been used by some of good friends and I laugh at along with them.

So it’s natural for me to identify as “Black”. Not to give up my age but for context I will.  I was born in 1959 and grew up during the civil rights movement of the 60s. My mother joined the fight to integrate the Englewood Public School system in the 60s, which I vaguely remember. While growing up in my little New Jersey suburb in Englewood, neighborhoods were segregated. Just over the town line from us in Teaneck there was a white neighborhood we called “Crackatown”. The houses were nicer; the streets were smoother and kept much better. It was those nicely-paved streets, excellent for bike riding, that attracted the kids from my neighborhood. One day a group of friends and I went riding in “Crackatown” when we were attacked with water balloons by a group of white kids. A water balloon hit me in my head and I went flying off my bike. That was followed by the hurling of racial slurs: “You niggas get out of our neighborhood!” That neighborhood has long since become integrated. But the memory still remains. It didn’t matter to them how light-skinned I was, I got the smack because I was still black.

Despite this, there were times when I first started to go to public school where I felt a strange awkwardness when my mother picked me up from school. I remember kids asking me, “Yo, is your mother white?” I would answer, “No, she’s black. She’s just really light-skinned.” It was if I had to prove somehow that I was totally black.

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As the years went on it was well established that I was black, but in a certain way I always felt that perhaps I had to prove my blackness. Could this be the reason why I chose to play congas and African drums?

Yet and still, there was another search for my identity in terms of gender. As one who transitioned relatively late, I had to deal with (and still deal with) people questioning my gender as well. There are those inside and outside the trans community that sometimes question whether I am trans enough. After all, I play a very physical instrument: the drums. I play like I’m supposed to play. To me there is only one way to play the congas and that is the way that I was taught. I carry my instruments from the car to the venue without asking for any help from anyone. This is the way of the drum. Max Roach used to tell me, “Learn to carry your instrument.” It’s just a part of the learning process and the oneness of you and your instrument. It doesn’t make me more ‘butch’ or less ‘fem’. I’m just an artist doing my art, my craft that I have honed for 44 years.

In my years it has taken a lot of growth to accept myself the way I am without a ton of surgery or having the ability to transition early in life. It takes a lot to love your self when there are so many standards set for women in society. I believe myself to be a beautiful woman. But there are times when I feel eyes upon me. I often use the example of going into the ladies restroom in the Port Authority in New York and getting stares–or at least what I feel are stares. Sometimes I feel it so fiercely that I want to ask them, “Do you want to see my female realness card? Can I see yours?”

So the question is: What is “realness”? Is it being what the status quo believes or is it created by our own perceptions based upon our experiences?

Just the fact that someone feels like they don’t belong to any group for whatever reason, can be very traumatizing. I remember standing out in front of the legendary club, the Grapevine, in the early 80s and getting “read” by a trans woman there. She said to me, “You tryin’ to be a woman with that face?” Of course, I was questioning at that time and I hadn’t truly started my transition. But the fact remains that there are still those in our community that judge one another based solely on looks.

Being judged on several levels is a tough thing to take at times. I have lost jobs; no I have lost a career based upon judgment and looks. It is only through my resilience and tenacity that I still continue to pursue my music career. Just a couple of years back I lost a really good job with a band that I worked with on a pretty regular basis. I will never forget those emails and the letter that was written to me by the manager and owner of the entertainment company I was employed by, explaining the reasons that they were letting me go. I will paraphrase: “I know I have been a chicken about approaching you about this and I’m sorry. Although you are unbelievably talented, it is because of the complaints of our clients that we are unable to book you for future gigs.” A range of feelings from sadness, to self pity, to anger permeated my being at that time. But self doubt about who I am seemed to creep into my soul. It was just one more trauma I had to endure. Certainly it is painful to see my good friends and colleagues in the music field continue to work and further their careers. However, I was fully aware that this would take place before I transitioned physically from male to female.

It hasn’t been until recently that I have been able to fight those feelings of self-deprecation with tools that I have learned in my study at Hunter College. Coping skills are extremely important for “Girl Like Us” for we face such a wide variety of challenges. I am hoping to be able to teach these skills that have been helpful to me to others. I have a long way to go but we can only keep what we have by giving it away. Of course I am a teacher, too, so teaching comes so natural to me. I am not giving up on society for I believe that everyone has goodness inherent in their lives. But we can start by discontinuing the propensity for us to judge one another.

White Times: 5 Keys To American Racism (Plus 3 Reasons For Hope) [Essay]

by Guest Contributor Hari Stephen Kumar, originally published at Kinetic Now

Trayvon Martin Protest Photo, by Flickr User WorldCan’tWait

Shortly after George Zimmerman was acquitted, a friend said that “these are dark times in America.” To which I said, “No, these are white times in America, as always.”

In the month since the Zimmerman acquittal, the mainstream conversation about the case has morphed into a personal verdict on Trayvon’s behavior and a cultural indictment on black people more broadly. When even the President of the United States, a black man, begins his heartfelt statement on the issue by saying that he wants to address “the issue of the Trayvon Martin ruling,” you already know that in the public imagination the case of Florida v. Zimmerman has become instead a Trial of Trayvon.

And when the President ends his speech by asking the American people to ask ourselves, echoing Martin Luther King, Jr., “Am I judging people as much as I can, based on not the color of their skin, but the content of their character?” you cannot help but reflect on all the ways that it was indeed Trayvon’s character that was judged and assassinated in both the legal courtroom and in the court of public opinion.

For many, this is one of the strangest things about the case: why did the trial’s focus shift to Trayvon instead of Zimmerman? After the verdict, why has the so-called “national conversation on race” become so fixated on “problems” with “black culture”? Why did the acquittal give license to commentators from across the racial and political spectrum to speak so bluntly in blaming black people for Trayvon’s death? How do we make sense of the ugly racial rhetoric coming from white commentators like Fox News host Bill O’Reilly and NRA board member Ted Nugent who are so quick to condemn the character of “the black community”? Why do their talking points get repeated across online comments and in personal conversations?

And why do so many such conversations begin with “I’m not racist but …”?

I mean, there’s even a satirical app called iNotRacist which allows anxious white people to demonstrate their level of non-racism by surrounding themselves with tokens of minority cultures:

In all seriousness, though, how do people across the racial spectrum get to ask genuine questions about race with each other? What about people who recognize that there is indeed something deeply odd about race relations in America but are not sure how to begin asking about it without getting accused of being racists?

In summary, here are five keys that explain how mainstream conversations and perceptions about race in America contribute to a broader history of racial injustice:

  • Key #1: Practice racism without being racist
    American racism is more of a color-blind cultural racism than a personal racism. This kind of racism allows people to believe cultural stereotypes about minority communities in general, without feeling like they are being personally racist against minority individuals.
  • Key #2: Continue a long American tradition of condemning blackness (while confirming whiteness)
    American cultural stereotypes linking blackness to criminality go back a long ways, to discriminatory social policies and Jim Crow laws instituted after the Civil War that condemned black people as a group based on biased crime statistics. Meanwhile, similar patterns of crime by white immigrant groups were instead humanized and individualized.
  • Key #3: Use new Jim Crow methods to legally profile black/brown men with “reasonable suspicion” 
    Our current legal system enforces a new kind of Jim Crow policing and segregation in urban black/brown communities, while largely ignoring suburban white communities, through the court sanctioned use of de facto racial profiling and discriminatory sentencing in the War on Drugs. This results in a disproportionate suspicion of black/brown men.
  • Key #4: Rely on whiteness to deny ‘neighborliness’ to black/brown neighbors
    White privilege shapes the ways people interpret and suspect the actions of their non-white neighbors. This happens even if the person suspecting the neighbor is non-white, because whiteness is a system of beliefs that we are all immersed in, so you don’t have to be white in order to uphold the normalcy of whiteness.
  • Key #5: Stand your (white) ground by supporting gun laws based on white supremacist talking points
    Laws like Stand Your Ground (which, by the way, was absolutely part of the Zimmerman defense) reflect fears and paranoias that once were the domain of white supremacist groups but are now a part of mainstream NRA talking points that openly encourage violent white vigilantism as a “reasonable” response to suspicious behavior in “your” neighborhood.

These keys interconnect to explain how so many Americans believe and act upon a deeply entrenched set of cultural prejudices that make black/brown bodies automatically suspicious in everyday encounters, suspicious enough to justify an aggressive and even violent pre-emptive response. The next few pages explore each key in more depth, but there are also significant reasons for hope. Continue reading