Tag Archives: intersectionality

Quoted: Battameez on Interpreting the Kamasutra


Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai published Queering India: Same-sex love and eroticism in Indian society and culture wherein they read many “key ancient texts” against the grain to state that they’re texts that challenge the assumed heterosexism of our “ancient Indian society”; Kamasutra, they said, was one such text. Burton’s translations (along with a few other Orientalist scholars like Max Muller, Clarrise Bader, etc.) saw “Indian sexuality” as effeminate, and predictably justified its colonization, whereas Upadhayaya writing in the post-Independence era, washed away any queerness the text may possibly have suggested and re-framed it to fit the needs of the Hindu nationalist agenda. Vanita and Kidwai use all these texts to illustrate how pain and sexual pleasure can coincide and how there is plenty same-sex action going on, enough to say that Kamasutra is a queer and therefore, a liberatory text. On close inspection, the incidences where BDSM seems to be evoked, it is mostly practiced on bodies of Dasis—the slaves in the Vedic age—sometimes by the wives, usually by the husband/master. Again, most queer instances happen under the surveillance and force of the husband/master. The question here isn’t whether people then were “really” queer, nor am I concerned with the politics of BDSM and consent within this particular text (not sure if consent can even exist, if one cannot say “no”). This is where I want to inspect the politics of feminism itself, if slavery is seen as liberatory simply because there are events where the boundaries of “accepted sexuality” are pushed.

Studies like Queering India create a frame that suggests Indian culture is “inherently radical” because “see queerness has always existed here too!” frames that are produced and upheld within Subaltern historiography departments, the very academic disciplines that critique and challenge the colonialism within academia! They tend to equate queerness with progress, backed with Vedic texts like Kamasutra and Manusmriti—both of which mention queerness only within the contexts of slavery and caste/skin-color based sexual domination—and the conversation is limited to “We have always been queer, because our heritage (the texts) say so.” Don’t think I need to point out the dangers of such a limited conversation again.

However, I do want to ask why talking queerness is inherently political, revolutionary, and radical, given that many of these conversations happen at the cost of erasing slavery in ancient India (books like The Palace of Illusions, The Pregnant King come to mind here). Talking sex—especially about the Kamasutra—is progressive, but discussions of the political economy of the text don’t get the same pedestal. How can I claim and embrace queer liberation (as much as I may want to), when it silences someone else?

—Battameez in “Kamasutra and the Indian Feminists,” published at Bitch Media.

Quoted: Hisaye Yamamoto, Short-Story Author, Dies

From LA Times:

Often compared to such short-story masters as Katherine Mansfield, Flannery O’Connor and Grace Paley, Yamamoto concentrated her imagination on the issei and nisei, the first- and second-generation Japanese Americans who were targets of the public hysteria unleashed after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

Yamamoto was 20 when the attack sent the United States into war and her family into a Poston, Ariz., internment camp. Her most celebrated stories, such as “Seventeen Syllables” and “The Legend of Miss Sasagawara,” reflect the preoccupations and tensions of the Japanese immigrants and offspring who survived that era. Among her most powerful characters are women who struggle to nurture their romantic or creative selves despite the constraints of gender, racism and tradition.

….

Yamamoto was born in Redondo Beach on Aug. 23, 1921. The daughter of immigrant strawberry farmers from Kumamoto, Japan, she was a voracious reader and published her first story when she was 14. At Compton College, where she earned an associate of arts degree, she studied French, Spanish, German and Latin. She wrote stories for Japanese American newspapers using the pseudonym “Napoleon.”

During World War II, she wrote for the Poston camp newspaper, which published her serialized mystery “Death Rides the Rail to Poston.” She briefly left the camp to work in Springfield, Mass., but returned when her 19-year-old brother died while fighting with the U.S. Army‘s 442nd Regimental Combat Team in Italy.

After the war ended in 1945, she returned to Los Angeles and became a reporter and columnist for the Los Angeles Tribune, an African American weekly. Her experiences there deepened her awareness of racism to a point of nearly unbearable anguish. She wrote a story about the intimidation of a black family named Short by white neighbors in segregated Fontana. She attempted to hew to journalistic standards of impartiality, cautiously describing the threats against the family as “alleged” or “claims.”

After her story ran, the Shorts were killed in an apparent arson fire. Yamamoto castigated herself for failing to convey the urgency of their situation.

“I should have been an evangelist at Seventh and Broadway, shouting out the name of the Short family and their predicament in Fontana,” she wrote decades later in a 1985 essay called “A Fire in Fontana.” Instead, she pronounced her effort to communicate as pathetic as “the bit of saliva which occasionally trickled” from the corner of a feeble man’s mouth.

She left the newspaper and rode trains and buses across the country. “Something was unsettling my innards,” she wrote of her dawning multiethnic consciousness. “I continued to look like the Nisei I was, with my height remaining at slightly over four feet ten, my hair straight, my vision myopic. Yet I know that this event transpired within me; sometimes I see it as my inward self being burnt black in a certain fire.”

She drew from this well in the burst of writing that followed. Her breakthrough came with the 1948 publication in Partisan Review of “The High-Heeled Shoes, a Memoir,” a shockingly contemporary story about sexual harassment. She weaved intercultural conflicts and bonds into “Seventeen Syllables” (1949), in which a nisei girl’s blooming romance with a Mexican American classmate offers an achingly innocent counterpoint to her issei mother’s arranged marriage. “Wilshire Bus” (1950) explores a Japanese American woman’s silence during a white man’s racist harangue against a Chinese couple on the bus they are riding.

 

Image credit: goodreads.com

Race, Disability and Denial

by Guest Contributor A. Rahman Ford


Although I have been both black and disabled my entire life, for years I lied to myself about being disabled. I could appreciate the pride that accompanied the black experience, the historic and perpetual triumphs and tragedies that inspire the progress of a people. But disability was different. Disability was a curse much worse than the curse of Ham, and instead of accepting it I fled into a lie of being someone I could never be and should have never wanted to be. I became a victim of an able-bodied orthodoxy, one memorialized into my memory, derived from the seeds of my lived experiences and the veil of myths through which those experiences are strained. I believe we all succumb to societal orthodoxies in some way, because the procurement of favor demands it and it allows us to live without troublesome confusion. But for many of us, orthodoxies become a memorial, a shine at which we pray and to which we cling, all the while privately acknowledging that the shrine is not of our making, not to our liking and that it segregates and kills us very casually, very privately and very slowly. This photo helped free me from my denial.

Feeling starved, sunken, gaunt and untouchable, I long held certain conceptions of who or what I had and wanted to be, but could not, and thus did my best to hide it from others and myself. For me, poverty is fundamentally about not only the absence of choices, the impossibility of choices and the consequences of that impossibility. I decided to take this photo as a challenge to myself to confront the poverty of my own body and to better understand the costs of my negotiations with my own public and private identities. Many of us fear how easily we parade and perpetuate our public selves, while at the same time fearing the vulnerable, deviant and shameful self we can only be in private. When I saw the photo for the first time I was both shocked and surprised because even though I had lived with that person my entire life, I could never before accept how spent he was. Nothing had ever frightened me more than having to face the nakedness of my own indigence.
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Whose Community Is It Anyway?: White Privilege in the LGBT Community

By Guest Contributor Chris MacDonald-Dennis, originally posted at  The Pink Pink Elephant

“But you all have the same issues we do! I mean, why are we even dividing ourselves, race doesn’t matter—we are all gay.”

Fifteen years ago, a white gay male friend said this to me after I asked him how responsive the LGBT group he ran focused on issues affecting people of color. He truly did not understand that LGBT people of color might have unique needs or that we may have different priorities than the white LGBT community. Since that conversation, I have worked diligently in the LGBT community to help my white brothers and sisters understand the privileges they enjoy as white people.

White privilege is a difficult concept for many whites to understand. As Peggy McIntosh contends in her seminal piece “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”, Whites are not taught to recognize how their status as white people confers on them many privileges. Hopefully, this piece will try to break the layers of denial that whites have about their privilege and that work to protect, prevent awareness about, and entrench that privilege.

White privilege is a set of advantages that white people benefit from on a daily basis not afforded to people of color. White privilege can exist without white people’s conscious knowledge of its presence and it helps to maintain the racial hierarchy in this country. The biggest problem with white privilege is the invisibility it maintains to those who benefit from it most. The inability to recognize that many of the advantages whites hold are a direct result of the disadvantages of other people, contributes to the unwillingness of white people, even those who are not overtly racist, to recognize their part in maintaining and benefiting from white supremacy.

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