Wednesday, November 9, 2016

White Feminism Did Not Save Us

It is the morning after and my feed is full of angry posts about who is responsible for this. I have a suggestion:

Back off from third party voters or eligible voters who did not vote, and take a break from reprimanding pro-Trump voters with your ALL CAPS Facebook posts, they are not going anywhere.

Instead, have a moment to take responsibility for your candidate and the work you did or did not do to make them better. Own your role in this mess because you played one. You declared your candidate the untouchable messiah, the holiest of all white saviors, and shamed anyone on the left who dared critique them on their record and merits. You conflated critical civic participation with sexism (even when we were crying out the name of Berta Cáceres) as if your amnesia of your candidate's past also wiped away your knowledge of your fellow social and racial justice activists/academics/artists' gender politics. You confronted intersectional discourse with "DO YOU WANT TRUMP TO WIN?"--when you knew better. You chose a single identity movement and left no room for those who had concerns and critiques, morally prohibiting one of the greatest virtues of a democracy: public debate. You forgot or ignored that many of your kin do not have the luxury of a single identity movement, that it is antithetical to their very existence.

I am not upset about Bernie Sanders not winning the primary, in many ways he was offering too little too late and learning too little too late (and, yes, the Bernie Bros were/are misogynists and often racists [are they inseparable?]). I am upset that you did not value what the Sanders campaign did to push your candidate ever so slightly to the left (Minimum Wage, Pacific Trade Partnership, etc.) and that many people who look like you were a part of making that happen. You dismissed him and dismissed those of us who are your kin who supported him by writing us all off as Bernie Bros. Again, you knew better.

I am upset that you did not hold your candidate accountable to be that beacon of hope you saw but that many, many (and we were many) did not see. You had the opportunity to push your candidate to center the lives and priorities of people of color so that our people could be inspired and activated to come out to vote. You could have risen up in unison and demanded a VP candidate of color (Cory Booker, Lucy Flores, etc.--there were options). You could have decried the Spanish-speaking white cis missionary man they gave us as a slap in our faces (yours included). You could have demanded that your candidate take a stand against Wall Street, that they be transparent about what they said in those paid speeches to them, that they stand in solidarity with the Water Protectors of North Dakota. You didn't.

You could have acknowledged your candidates' grave sins against people of color ("super predators," for example) and pushed them to go beyond sorry-not-sorry tactics like "I shouldn't have used those words." You could have demanded they prove to those Black children who are now adults that not only did your candidate regret those words because they are politically inconvenient today, but because they were despicable and had palpable repercussions that are very real today. You could have demanded that your candidates' every move be intentionally and explicitly about rectifying their role in helping create human catastrophes such as today's prison system (again, this is only one example). You saw that so many racial justice activists were not satisfied, yet instead of taking that as a sign to push your candidate further left, you turned to us and scolded us for being ungrateful, ignorant of the political system, or simply sexist. 

You relied on the fear of a Trump presidency to stifle critical dialogue and when we had questions--questions based on the same political consciousness we shared before the primary season--you dismissed us as foolish and divisive. You drew white feminist lines in the sand with your black/brown fingers and othered your kin as though we were traitors--but traitors to what? To women or to white feminism? Did we, the traitors, completely misunderstand the role of womanism/feminisms of color and not realize it until this election cycle (never mind 2008)? Is that what you were trying to tell us? Did you actually believe we did not value the historic importance of a woman president? I believe we did (I know I did), but we also remember the cost of single-identity movements and their (mis)use of people of color (white women's suffrage, white gay and lesbian marriage equality, white environmental movements, etc).

You said your candidate was the best option because they knew how to get things done. Get things done. Where? In the same political system of always, that political system we spent decades critiquing together? That system we were so excited to transform in 2008, but only got stronger. That was the strategy. Well look at us now.

I am not saying this is your fault nor that I or other people critical of your candidate share no blame--we do, I do. What I am trying to say is that instead of catching a cold all the way up there on that high horse, come down here and let us have the hard conversations. Let us look at where we went wrong. Let us learn from our many, many mutual mistakes. Let us test each other's values and hold each other to task so that we may imagine a democracy that is larger and greater than this. Let us envision from a place of shared social and racial justice values and develop the language to articulate our discrepancies and the capacity to receive when our kin offer us a mirror.

Let us do the work, the heavy work, the dirty work, the necessary work. Just, please, do not let this historic tragedy be in vain. Do not interpret this loss as only the result of sexism or that white supremacy was only at play among republicans. Please, let us not make these mistakes again. You played a role in this. I played a role in this. Let us now play a role in confronting this with our lessons in hand.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

I'm not with her, but I voted for her.

I'm not with her, I'm with the Central American children (children!) she wished to send back to their very possible deaths so we/she could send a message to desperate families who had no other choice. But I voted for her because fighting against a neoliberal's immigration policies (who is our Deporter In Chief after all?) is different than those of a Klan-endorsed and colluding white supremacist who wishes to ban all Muslims.

I'm not with her, I'm with Berta Cáceres and the other indigenous peoples whose lives she put in harm’s way. But I voted for her because Chiapas indigenous activists schooled me that a Trump presidency would mean dealing with the repercussions of a global warming- and science-denying world dominating country in addition to continuing to fight against bloody U.S.-backed regimes and corporations.

I'm not with her, I'm with the campesinos/peasants (my family included) whose livelihood and homelands were poisoned and decimated by a trade deal (NAFTA) she championed. But I voted for her because fighting to dismantle trade deals that prey on the poor in the Global South and in the U.S. is different than the prospect of fighting against new trade deals that come from the mind of a man who boasts of his business schemes and frauds.

I'm not with her, I'm with my uncle Tony who is serving life in prison because of a crime bill she championed. But I voted for her because we need a Democrat in the White House if we are to push Congress toward criminal justice reform.

I’m not with her, because white feminism cannibalizes women of color instead of saving them. But I voted for her because the work of women of color to push white feminists toward dismantling white feminism is necessary, possible, and vastly different than the work of fighting an irrational white supremacist rapist president.

I’m not with her, I’m with the Native Water Protectors whose bodies and ancestors’ bodies have been on the line for over five centuries. But I voted for her, because, although I’m outraged at her refusal to take a stand on behalf of the rights of our peoples and our right to water and sacred sites, pressuring her as president would be drastically different than pressuring a vile white supremacist rapist president. 

I’m not with her, I’m with the Black children who she called super predators who should be brought to heel. But I voted for her because those Black children are now adults, still under threat of state violence, and leading the way toward dismantling the machine she helped build—something that would be insurmountably harder to do under a fascist white supremacist rapist president.

I’m not with her, I’m with the organizers on the ground, the freedom fighters, the Black Lives Matter activists shutting down freeways, the Water Protectors of North Dakota, the immigrant justice activists, the sexual and reproductive justice activists, the Amazon guardians of South America, the agroecology peasants of the Global South. But I voted for her because I am convinced that change happens from the bottom up and bringing about change under a status quo presidency is one fight, whereas bringing about change under a presidency that will set us back by decades will be an entirely different battle.

I'm not with her, I'm with the Undesirables, Unrespectables, and the Uncivil, the Queers/Dykes/Faggots/Trans kin who held it down for bodies like mine because death was the alternative. I'm with the heroes who were for me before it was politically strategic. But I voted for her because of that One Supreme Court Justice seat and the two to three more that may come in the next four to eight years.

So, no, I am not with her. I am with my people. But I voted for her because within the confines of this democracy, I had to choose between the neoliberal who is slightly less committed to white supremacy over the fascist incarnation and byproduct of this country’s white supremacist foundations.

I believe my vote counts and I voted. I didn’t have to be with her to vote for her and neither do you. I do hope you vote. Go, please, vote.

[Image description: Lorenzo stands against a white wall facing the camera. To his right is a white square-shaped art piece with a three-dimensional heart, above it the image captures a part of a circular handwoven banana leaf basket that is brown with light yellow and orange interwoven. Lorenzo has short hair, wears dark blue glasses, has a beard, and tattoos on his right arm and forearm. He wears a black tshirt with white lettering that read "The work: To make revolution irresistible," which is a quote by Toni Cade Bambara.]

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Abigail Fisher and Unharnessed Sexism

Today (as with every day it seems) has been a day of mixed emotions. I am glad the Supreme Court upheld Affirmative Action in Texas and saddened (and furious) that they turned their backs on millions of undocumented families.

I am also sitting with unease about the posts and articles about Abigail Fisher, the young white woman whose case was used to challenge Affirmative Action. I say "used" because that is what I believe happened.

The process through which a law/policy/practice is challenged all the way up to the Supreme Court is something I do not fully understand. However, I do know that cases intended to challenge unconstitutionalities are neither isolated nor random. A lot of thought, a lot of money, and a lot of power go into identifying, funding, and fighting these cases. There is nothing about the process as I understand it that leads me to believe Abigail Fisher opened her University of Texas rejection letter and dreamt she would be the one to bring down Affirmative Action.

I do not know Abigail Fisher. I know nothing about her other than what has been reported. And while I feel a visceral urge to also deploy words like "mediocre" to talk about her, I have had to stop myself. I stop because I was (or am) that student who did not score straight-As, I am also a student whose university aspirations were not fulfilled, and I know what it is to be called or thought of as mediocre. But, most of all, I stop because this is a young woman living in a misogynist country. Whatever Abigail's actions were and despite the devastating blow to communities of color had the Supreme Court judged in her case's favor, this is still a young woman living in a still terrifyingly sexist world.

Calling Abigail Fisher mediocre or whatever other terms were used and that I, too, embarrassingly admit, chuckled at when I first read them, does not help anyone. Certainly, I experience the immediate gratification of describing someone the way people of color are described daily and were described during the Supreme Court hearings. There is a vindication and an entitlement I find myself wanting to justify, a desire to laugh at and in the face of the person who represents yet another white supremacist attack on people of color. Perhaps I am justified. But does my justification outweigh the repercussions of my perpetuation of sexism? Answering for myself only: No.

I am not here to deny Abigail Fisher's agency to be a full-fledged racist. Nor am I here to defend or dismiss the harm Abigail Fisher and her words are accountable for.
But I am here to publicly question myself, to hold myself accountable, and to ponder with others what it means for me as a cis man, however brown I am (or browner I think I am), to add my voice to a chorus tearing at the perceived worth of a young woman, however white and embodying and deploying of whiteness, in the United States of America. The urge is seeping through my fingertips, but I cannot do it.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

"Love is Love" and the Sanitation of Queerness

Something about the phrase “Love is Love” hurts when I try to swallow. The implied universality, the seemingly innocuous standardization, the flattening, the sanitizing toward negating desire, the unqueering.

My queerness is centered, not only on who I love, but also and perhaps more so, on who and how I desire. The Marriage Equality Movement committed grave injustice by crafting a narrative of homonormativity that rendered us virtually sexless beings desperate to reincarnate into 1950s white, middle class, picket fence Woolworths catalogue caricatures. But, you, my ally, need to know and conduct yourself with the knowledge that I am not that caricature. I am not sexless.

I do not wish to be sanitized for consumption or comfort. When you see me, know that who and how I desire is woven into every word I say, how I walk, who I walk toward, and who I walk away from. My desire fuels my politic and informs how and who I love. I am queer specifically because of my desire. Desire is not an afterthought or an inconsequential coincidence. Desire is at the core of my queerness, it is the reason.

My desire is not universal. Why should my love be? My love is not your love, your love is not my love. My love is neither equal nor greater than your love. My love does not stand in opposition or in contrast to your love. My love is my love, your love is your love. Both are love without mirroring or justifying the other. My love is, whether you recognize it or not. My desire is— especially when it causes you discomfort.

Your love should not necessitate indistinguishability from my love in order for it to be love. Your love should not be conditioned or based on how similar my love is to yours. That is not the ally I want you to be.

I want you to my ally by looking me in the eye when I stand at the urinal next to you. I want you to be my ally when someone calls me a pervert and I accept it as a compliment. I want you to be my ally when I am unlikeable, when I don't feel like being your "gay," when I stop telling jokes. I want you to be my ally when you realize I am the one your mother warned you about. I want you to be my ally when I speak of white supremacy while looking in your direction. I want you to be my ally when I ask why you forgot to invite me, again. I want you to be my ally when I burn an HRC flag in protest for selectively coopting and/or erasing my people’s history. I want you to be my ally when I burn a U.S. flag in protest for killing my people. I want you to be my ally when you realize we are nothing alike, that who and how I desire and love have nothing to do with you. I want you to be my ally when my existence does not bring you joy or comfort or forgiveness.

Be my ally right now, not by imagining me as palatable, but by recognizing and honoring the perversions that render my people and me sacred, a gift, an atonement for human sins. Be my ally, not by claiming your love is the same as mine and therefore worthy of justice. Be my ally because I am here, because we are here, because justice should not be an award we receive for aligning ourselves with your morality. Be my ally because it makes you uncomfortable, because it is unsettling, because witnessing me whole is an affront to the heterosexism, the patriarchy, and the white supremacy that offer you happiness in exchange for the lives and happiness of people who love and desire differently. Do it. Be my ally.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

When Vigils Are Not Large Enough for Our Grief

On September 11, 2001, I attended a vigil for the first time. I was living in Austin. The vigil, held at Republic Square (telling already), included faith leaders, elected officials, and community leaders who spoke of our collective strength and resilience and how the tragedy of that morning was at the hands of monsters who hated everything we stood for— mainly, our freedom. I was 22 years old, at a loss for words, still unable to describe my experience, but I knew something about those words and the energy in the crowd were at odds with who I was and how I was grieving.

On Sunday, June 12, I learned of vigils happening in the Castro and in downtown Oakland. I could not get myself to attend either. I could not stand in the crowd, U.S. flags hovering over and flapping about while people (politicians and community leaders alike) spoke in the plural of a mythical "We" I have never experienced, a “We” that implies (if not explicitly stated soon after) that there is also a "Them,” a “Them” that looks nothing like “us.”

I no longer know how to stand in a crowd where I am meant to be moved to goosebumps and tears for being a part of a group that some other group is trying to kill. I do not know how to count myself among the "We" when the "We" is defined by the political and ideological borders of this country. I do not know how to count myself among the "We" when my membership exists only because my mother's water broke within the geographic confines of said borders. I do not know how to belong to a group that is bound by a way of loving and desiring, when this same group fails to understand that my way of loving and desiring is rooted in a history, a politic, and polylithic hopes.

Where will my goosebumps come from if this very "We" is doing everything it can and cannot to keep people who look like me, but whose mothers' water broke on the other side, from becoming a part of "us"? Where do I dig for tears when my wells are just as brown and deplorable as the one who died trying to cross the Arizona border? How do I convince myself that I am one of "us"?

I could not attend another vigil because I fear patriotism. I fear patriots. I fear myself among them, drowning in a whitewashing and othering that leaves or keeps people who look like me on the other side. I do not know how to breathe through proclamations of unity and country when the bodies carried out of that gay bar in Orlando were the bodies of Black and Brown queers —patos, maricones, jotos, dykes, bulldaggers, queens, locas—, outsiders exiled from a gay and lesbianism that defaults to white, and too often, from our own gente who don’t know what to do with us.

I do not know how to mourn my beloveds while standing alongside those who weep only because they see their sexual orientation in those bodies, but have failed to love and honor and include the Black and Brownness of the ones they now mourn. I do not know how to fall into the arms of someone who does not mourn Black and Brown bodies that are unqueer nor the explicit Black and Brownness of the queer. How do I stand beside those who do not understand why queer people of color weep the way we weep right now? How do I accept a hug when the part of me that is offered a hug is the only part that makes me a perceived kin? I cannot weep and explain that my grief is not compartmentalized, that all of who I am is wailing, that I see all of me in every one of those bodies.

So I mourn in private, mostly. I walk through the day holding this grief in my bones, wishing I could physically join a mass of mourners and know that when I am held, they are holding all of me as I grieve all of who my beloveds were.