On that damn d-word: Diversity

Hello again, world. Hello, September. I took a little break from the blog, though I didn’t plan for it to be this long. I come back and September is here.

I’d like to tell you that I haven’t been blogging because I’ve been too busy with something super important, like saving the world. So I will. Little did you know, I’ve spent the past week or so on a perilous adventure saving your life and the lives of everyone else on the planet. It’s been very exciting.

Feel free to believe that story, but the truth, I suppose, is that I’ve been busy with things like work, job searching and house hunting. And, of course, writing. I’m pretty proud of the self-discipline I’ve been able to use to keep myself writing. I’m using methods like a rewards system. Lots of writing = lots of ice cream. So maybe I’m getting fat, but so are my notebooks.

Another distraction from the blog has been trying to figure out what to do about graduate school. In my first post, I mentioned I’d be updating about my search for an MFA program. So far, this has been the update: every time I think about grad school, I just want to curl up and…stop thinking about it.

But the last few weeks have been different. I think I’ve figured out what I want to do. My plan was to apply to an MFA program for next fall, and I was feeling hesitant about that for many reasons, including not wanting to leave the Bay Area for school and not wanting to put on hold this life I’ve begun to go back to being a student. I love learning and being a student is what I do best, but in a lot of ways I feel ready to move on from academia, applying my thirst for knowledge to the so-called “real world” (I have a hard time putting this fantasy life I live into that category).

So the solution I’ve found is to apply to low-residency MFA programs, like those at Antioch University, Pine Manor College and Vermont College of Fine Arts. With these programs I can stay in San Francisco, have a full-time job and work on my MFA at a distance from my instructors. Then there are biannual residencies on campus or at another site, usually for ten days at a time. This sounds perfect to me, and I’m glad to at least have a little more clarity about what I want to do. Now I can stop pulling my hair out every time I think about it.

Even though I’ll be away from campus for most of the year, I have certain needs. Apart from wanting to find a good program that might offer some financial aid, I’m also hoping to find… diversity. Or something like it.

I hate to use the d-word. It always seems to fall short, perhaps because it’s been so often thrown around to refer to cases like tossing a token black woman into a room of white guys and calling it an example of diversity. It makes things challenging — how am I to find a college home that truly reflects an array of backgrounds when anybody can slap the word “diversity” on their website and claim to have what I’m looking for? Other questions that come up:

  • How can I be sure that that absurdly happy group of racially diverse students in the picture really attend the school? Isn’t that the cast from Glee?
  • Short of climbing into bed with faculty members, how can I find out if any of the faculty are queer? And will climbing into bed with them help or hurt my chances of being accepted to the school?
  • Should I be concerned if the only black person on the website is the same woman in different photos? Should I be more concerned if they’ve used Photoshop to change her outfits and her hair, apparently hoping I’d think she’s several different people?

You can see why this is challenging. I guess I’d just like to find a community of writers that can understand my perspective as a writer. And to be the young black queer woman among a faculty and class composed primarily of straight white men wouldn’t really make me feel at home as a writer. Hopefully between now and application time I’ll be able to figure out some research methods to get me the information I’m looking for.

Has anybody out there had any experience in low-residency programs? What about in trying to find a “diverse” setting? Any advice would be much appreciated. Otherwise I might end up crawling into strangers’ beds. I’ll let you know how it goes if it comes to that.

Published in: on September 1, 2010 at 10:51 AM  Comments (2)  
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Some hopes for marriage equality

I’ve already shared some of my general thoughts on the marriage equality movement, but now with the overturning of Prop. 8 and the possibility of my home state of California allowing gay marriage, I find myself thinking about what I hope for the future of marriage.

My feelings about the news were conflicted. On one hand, I’m ecstatic that the court chose the side of equality, taking steps to ensure that same sex couples who hope to commit to each other in marriage can enjoy the same rights and benefits as heterosexual couples who do the same. I’m not even going to bother trying to put in my own words what Judge Walker so eloquently explained about how gay couples who deserve to marry deserve equal rights — to me it’s just common sense.

On the other hand, I have to stop to wonder, what are we fighting for? The right to be miserable in marriage, and to join the ranks of the frequently divorced? Our little piece of a historically oppressive institution? The chance to show people from outside of our communities that we’re “just like them”? It’s not as if this changes anything for relationships between LGBT people. Queer folks have been loving each other and committing to one another for centuries, and it’s not as if we need the validation of traditional marriage to make us feel like we have the right to love each other.

Unless it does change something. Maybe if I try not to be so cynical I can hope that, rather than queer folks adjusting their lives and perspectives to support traditional marriage, the result of such acts as overturning Proposition 8 will be the queering of marriage.

Some hopes for the future of marriage:

  • Perhaps the obvious: more acceptance of queer folks and their families. Moving past outdated attitudes and religious interpretations that characterize people in same-sex partnerships as “living in sin” and being incapable of sustaining stable, loving relationships or raising healthy children. Hopefully we can reach a day when nobody would think twice when a bride-to-be announces her engagement to a fellow bride.
  • A shift in our understanding of gender and gender roles. In his ruling, Judge Walker pointed out that it’s not a change in marriage that allows for same-sex couples to marry but a change in an understanding of gender. Perhaps if society no longer expects for marriage to only occur between a man and a woman, then we will no longer adhere to traditional ideas about the role of the husband and the wife in a partnership. With many traditions left over from the days when marriage made a woman the property of her husband, we can only benefit from moving on from our ideas of binary gender and male and female roles.
  • A recognition of the role of marriage in race and immigration movements. Unjust immigration policies have torn apart queer partners and their families, and perhaps working to dismantle these policies on a federal level can lead to much-needed solidarity between racial equality movements, immigration movements, gender equality groups and queer rights groups, and others who realize how these issues affect us on all levels.
  • Related to the above point, increased dialogue and community building among communities of color and communities of faith. Hopefully, an elimination of language and attitudes that frame being a person of color or a person of faith as separate from being a queer person. Recognition that there are some people whose identities intersect these areas, and that there is room in these communities for acceptance of queer folks.
  • I also hope that this whole struggle for marriage rights will shed light on the imperfection of the institution of marriage. I hope we can see that marriage isn’t for everyone and it shouldn’t be imposed on everyone, to realize that many of the rights and benefits tied to marriage should be available to everyone, even if they don’t choose to express their love in the form of a traditional marriage.

Well, I could go on for days about how I’d like to see marriage change, but this is a start. Hopefully, the marriage equality movement won’t stop at winning the rights to marry, but will continue to address the social issues related to the struggle and create a picture that truly reflects equality for all people.

Photo from the Huffington Post slideshow

Published in: on August 7, 2010 at 12:49 PM  Leave a Comment  
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This Is Not a Small Voice

My writing is in hiding.

Not really, I suppose it’s been plenty exposed on here, but recently some of the work I’ve been doing has been feeling shy. I’ve been trying to put the final touches on some pieces to be submitted for publication or read at open mics. So I’ve been reminding these pieces that they’re potentially about to be put out for the world to see and judge and possibly reject, but in the meantime they prefer to keep to themselves. It’s like my writing is a stripper, about to proudly step out on stage and let the world see her body in its most natural, most vulnerable state, but if you catch her in her dressing room before she’s ready, she’ll gasp, cling to her robe, and politely ask you to let her have this moment to herself.

So instead of my own work, today I’m going to share a poem by someone who inspires me, Sonia Sanchez.

This Is Not a Small Voice

This is not a small voice

you hear          this is a large

voice coming out of these cities.

This is the voice of LaTanya.

Kadesha. Shaniqua. This

is the voice of Antoine.

Darryl. Shaquille.

Running over waters

navigating the hallways

of our schools spilling out

on the corners of our cities and

no epitaphs spill out of their river mouths.

This is not a small love

you hear          this is a large

love, a passion for kissing learning

on its face.

This is a love that crowns the feet with hands

that nourishes, conceives, feels the water sails

mends the children,

folds them inside our history where they

toast more than the flesh

where they suck the bones of the alphabet

and spit out closed vowels.

This is a love colored with iron and lace.

This is a love initialed Black Genius.

This is not a small voice

you hear.

©Sonia Sanchez 1999, from Shake Loose My Skin, Beacon Press Books

Published in: on July 30, 2010 at 10:50 AM  Comments (3)  
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9/11 stories

I’ve been writing September 11th stories. I’m not sure why. I don’t tell my own, or stories of people I know, but stories of people who are strangers to me. Of women waking up from one night stands to find the towers falling, watching it all on television as they hold on to the strangers they’ve just met with more intimacy than before. The stories are all beginning to sound the same, of people who are close enough to one of the crash sites to spill their coffee when they hear the boom, or of someone who’s across the country finding out he has HIV right before it happens. I started to write one set ten years later, in some apocalyptic future, before I realized ten years later will be just next year and the world’s nothing like that now. Not yet.

For some reason the one about the kid keeps coming to mind. It’s nothing elaborate, just a short, simple story about a little boy who stays home from school with his parents to watch the towers fall on the news. He finds a new game to play as he watches, putting up makeshift buildings and having his G.I. Joes knock them down, over and over again. The buildings are made of legos and cardboard, and each time he knocks them over, the multi-colored blocks scatter like fireworks and the cardboard wears down a little more, making each new building a little weaker, a little easier to destroy than the one before.

He plays this game until his father breaks his locked gaze with the television, looks down and yells at his son to tell him that that’s not what G.I. Joes are for.

I’ve been thinking about that kid all morning, about where he might be now. He might be old enough to be considered an adult now. Old enough to sign up for the military. I wonder what messages from that day and the days that followed helped make him the person he is today. If he learned not to trust brown people, to hate the enemies of the U.S. I wonder if he decided to enlist, or if he decided that that’s not what his body is for.

I feel, somehow, that this isn’t my story to tell. I hope he’ll tell it someday.

Published in: on July 28, 2010 at 11:25 AM  Comments (2)  
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The queer artist

Yesterday I explored some ways I can feel like an authentic writer, methods like blogging from cafes and drinking coffee. It’s clear that these things aren’t what define me as a writer (although, full disclosure: I’m back today, at the cafe with coffee).

Today I’m thinking about how I can identify myself as a writer. Not that I’m eager to put myself in a box, but in many ways I’m sometimes expected to. I try to avoid it sometimes, and succeed for as long as I can until the next person asks that question: “what do you write?” It’s that question you might get from many people when you identify yourself as someone who writes.

Maybe there was a time when answering this question would’ve been a simple one, but it’s since gotten more complicated for me. I often say I’m a fiction writer, but I feel a little guilty about it, because that’s not entirely true. But does each person who asks really want to hear about my internal struggle over whether I’m writing fiction or poetry?

I’ve taken to identifying myself as a queer writer while trying to figure out how to answer the question. You might wonder why I would want to put myself in such a box, especially if not everything I write is distinctly queer.

It’s kind of like the question of why I’d taken on the label of queer. I’ve been asked why queer people want to “flaunt it,” why they would have to broadcast their sexuality as such a primary part of their identity. At times I’ve tried to put this perspective in terms of a bookstore. I can walk into the fiction section of an average bookstore, and I’m sure I’d find plenty of great books, but I might have a hard time finding stories that reflect people like me. I’d scan book covers and summaries on the backs to see if there were any featuring women of color as main characters. I’d try to read into every description of character relationships to see if there could possibly be a queer character somewhere within the pages.

But of course, the majority wouldn’t focus on queer characters, or women of color, and surely there would be very few featuring queer women of color. In all the time I spend searching each book for them, I would definitely find some wonderful books, but the number of books I’d find including my identity might range from very few to zero.

That’s why I have some kind of nerdy bookgasm when I walk into a bookstore to find sections like Black literature, queer literature or (gasp!) lesbian fiction. I don’t necessarily want to limit myself to reading books by authors like myself, but since such books are so rare in mainstream literature, I love finding entire sections devoted to highlighting such work.

So maybe that’s why I call myself a queer writer. As much as I would love to be simply considered a good writer (period), to be identified as a black writer or a queer writer would mean that folks like me, in search of some reflection of their own story, might find my work and hope to find it.

And I would have to ask myself, what would be the advantage of eliminating the labels, identifying myself as only a “writer” without distinguishing myself from any other? Langston Hughes wrote “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” in 1926, and his words still resonate with me today. He writes of the black poet who just wants to be “a poet — not a Negro poet,” in attempt to fit into the white American standard as much as possible. The black poet says it “as though his own racial world were not as interesting as any other world.”

I identify who I am as a writer because I’m not ashamed. I’m saying that, although voices like mine have long been ignored in many mainstream literary circles, my world is as interesting as any other world. Even if I’m never accepted in those mainstream circles, I will find myself amongst others in celebration of who we are. As Hughes writes: “We build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how, and we stand on top of the mountain, free within ourselves.”

After the unjust verdict

I have a very heavy heart following the verdict of involuntary manslaughter in the trial of the BART cop who shot Oscar Grant in the back on New Years Day, 2009.

And I’d like to move away from the media’s focus in the Mehserle trial, as they try desperately to come up with stories of violence among the largely peaceful gatherings. I’ve seen “shock” and “shame” over looting done by a small minority of those who clearly weren’t gathering in hopes of building community and making change, like many others were, without media coverage. Some say the looting is “more shameful” than the unjust verdict itself.

Really?

Is this what we should be focusing on? Is the fact that some took advantage of this moment to cause chaos, following sensational media hype all but calling for it, more shocking than the fact that a cop can shoot an unarmed black man in the back as he lies down on the pavement, and avoid being convicted of murder? More shocking than the sound of a gunshot ending the life of a young man, a father, a son? More shocking than the horror the Grant family faces for the rest of their lives?

Dare I say that to focus on the looting, of all things, is not really the point.

So I’ve dwelled too long on it already. Moving on.

What’s weighing much more heavily on my heart is the thought of Oscar Grant’s family. His mother describes the verdict as being “slapped in the face by a system that has denied us true justice.” I feel the echo of her words: “My son was murdered. He was murdered. He was murdered. He was murdered.” It breaks my heart that she has to deal with a justice system that doesn’t agree.

I hope, at least, that more than violence or media sensationalism, this can lead to conversation, to speaking out about how it feels for the justice system to value some lives over others, to writing or creating art or doing whatever we can to express ourselves, as Jen Cross calls for here. The truth is, regardless of the verdict, Oscar Grant is lost forever. Let’s hold one another and hope not to lose another so senselessly ever again.

‎”Justice does not come to the swift nor the strong, but to the one who endures to the end. And as a family and as a nation of African-American people, we will fight for justice til the end”- Wanda Johnson

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It’s hard to focus my feelings about everything right now enough to write about it, but here’s something.

For Oscar Grant and Wanda Johnson

When You Hope for Justice and Get a Slap in the Face

when you hope for justice

and get a slap in the face,

hold your head high.

feel the sting of it,

know the pain is real

and don’t let anybody tell you

it was never there.

cry.

know your tears aren’t for nothing,

let them fall to the earth

to water the seeds

that will grow the roots

to anchor the trees

that cannot be moved.

know that you, too,

cannot be moved.

when you hope for justice

and get a slap in the face,

look to the past.

to those who were beaten and left to die,

whose sadness and rage

left them still standing,

and built the ground we stand on today.

look to the future,

where today’s heavy hearts

are tomorrow’s beacons of hope.

our hope may be lost

but our determination can be found again.

Published in: on July 9, 2010 at 10:42 AM  Comments (1)  
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Immigration and justice for all

If you couldn’t tell from Saturday’s fiction, I’ve had immigration on my mind. Specifically, the place of the Black community in the struggle for immigrant rights.

At the U.S. Social Forum, there was a workshop called “Crossing the Color Lines,” featuring a panel organized by the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) to discuss a vision of just immigration and the role Black folks could play in achieving it. The panelists had some moving stories and words about crossing community lines and finding solidarity, but when it came time for questions, some of the audience members made it clear that their doubts, coming through an “us” and “them” mentality, remained: “Well, they don’t show up at our rallies.” “Well, it’s true that they’re taking our jobs!” “Well, they don’t want us around.”

It’s clear that if we keep thinking this way, as separate communities with separate concerns, we will remain divided. The frustration is understandable, of course. With the high rates at which unemployment plagues the Black community, it’s easy to point a finger of blame at Latino immigrants whose labor is cheaply exploited so employers can cut costs. It’s important to remember, however, that this system hurts all communities of color. Immigrant communities are hurting as well, and it’s not their choice to run things this way but the choice of those who see people of color not as humans but as animals who can be exploited, denied fair wages and benefits, and denied jobs altogether when they demand fair labor practices. It can be hard for anyone to find a decent way to make a living when facing the racism and classism that affects Latino and Black communities alike.

There’s also the fact that in spite of the way it’s framed in the media, immigration isn’t solely a Latino issue. I keep this in mind because, while some of my ancestors came to this country in chains centuries ago, my father arrived here from Trinidad and Tobago in the 1970s. Articles like this one claim that Black immigrants aren’t concerned with Latino immigrants’ issues, because many come with a more specialized focus on things like law and medicine, and therefore aren’t competing for the same “crumbs” as many low-income Latino immigrants. Sure, it’s true that my dad came here to attend school and eventually become a doctor. I can assure you, however, that that doesn’t mean that he’s been free of discrimination against people of color or immigrants. Let anyone who has walked away from his care, preferring to be seen by a white American doctor, tell you that the racist eye sees no difference between a Caribbean-born doctor and a Mexican-born farmworker.

The comments on that article are really disappointing — everything from blaming Latino immigrants for their own problems to saying that Black people are “takers, not givers,” and would never rally for anything. Such comments show a mindset that can only do more harm to communities that are already hurting. Communities that need strength, solidarity and support, not the pointing of fingers or the deepening of divisions that keep us apart. The first issue of the BAJI reader features a speech that the Reverend Nelson Johnson gave to the Low-Income Immigrant Rights Conference in December 2007. Rev Johnson speaks of building bridges between our people, saying, “we cannot and we must not allow black and brown people to be pitted against each other in a painful spiral to the bottom. That’s why we want to organize joint conferences with Latinos, blacks, whites, and others to work out together the road forward. We must build these bridges, for when people cannot work with each other even though they share deep mutual interests, it opens the door for a small privileged group to make decisions that are not in our interest.”

As Black folks, we can’t afford to sit by and allow those in power to continue a system that hurts our immigrant brothers and sisters, even if we think it won’t affect us. Once we look into each other’s eyes and recognize a shared struggle, we can begin to move forward.

“In our work and in our living, we must recognize that difference is a reason for celebration and growth, rather than a reason for destruction.”
-Audre Lorde

Published in: on July 6, 2010 at 10:34 AM  Comments (2)  
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Crossing lines

The boy was thirsty when she found him. He hardly spoke, and she couldn’t understand his words when he did, but Vanessa watched his chest rise and fall as quickly as a jack rabbit’s, even though he was just sitting on the ground beside a mound of his belongings, and had been for as long as she’d been crossing the desert toward him. He was young, younger than Vanessa and about half her size, with long skinny limbs and brown skin that was turning red as the dirt around him.

Vanessa took a bottle of water from her pack and handed it to him. She watched him take it all down in a few gulps and smiled, glad for the chance to help. The Arizona sun was glaring down at her with treacherous heat, and the air smelled putrid, like someone had left a rotten egg to cook on the ground, but the open desert was where she preferred to be. She knew the other children, like her older brothers, were either in air-conditioned living rooms with video game controllers in their hands or jumping into the cool waters of the community pool, but Vanessa didn’t mind the heat. It was with her always, and she didn’t know why everyone else seemed determined to try to escape it.

“We don’t play like that,” her mother said, each time she let her daughter in to realize she hadn’t been playing with her brothers but wandering the desert. “Desert’s not safe. That’s for those other kids.”

She didn’t have to specify for Vanessa to know what she meant, that black kids weren’t meant to play in the desert. It just wasn’t how things were in her neighborhood.

Vanessa took the empty water bottle back from the boy. He looked up at her with grateful brown eyes, wiping away the dark hair and sweat that covered them. What he carried with him seemed meager and sparse, just a small green pack that seemed like it once carried more, if Vanessa didn’t count the mound that was covered by a blanket. He couldn’t have carried that. She’d seen the desperation in the way he drank the water, of course, but only just now realized that he wasn’t out there for fun, like she was. He was one of those other kids her mom talked about. That they debated about on the news. The ones whose parents her father grumbled about at dinner.

She shielded her eyes to look toward the rocky area marked by sporadic spiked barbed wire.

“You made it,” she said to the boy with a grin. “You’re in America!”

She expected him to understand that last word, at least, and held up her arms triumphantly, but the boy only looked more terrified, with wide eyes and trembling lips. She started to move away from him, gesturing for him to follow.

“Come on,” she said. “Time for your new life.”

The boy shook his head. “Mi hermano,” he said.

Vanessa looked down, noticing for the first time that one of the boy’s legs was injured, his pant leg soaked below the knee in blood so dark it looked black.

“Hermano,” she repeated. “Yes, your leg. Can I see?”

She reached out to touch it, but the boy pulled it back from her, and she felt silly in her haste. This boy didn’t know who she was. He couldn’t understand her, and certainly couldn’t be expected to trust her. She remembered stories she’d overheard, of the men who carried guns and sneered as she and her brothers passed, doing worse to people they found crossing the border. She wondered if someone would hurt the boy on purpose.

“We have to find you help,” she said, more gently this time, but feeling a little more urgency in getting the boy to move from the open space.

The boy seemed to understand what she wanted, but he shook his head as his eyes began to fill with tears.

“Mi hermano,” he said again, and though she didn’t understand what he was saying, Vanessa recognized his grief. He held his hands out before him, small palms up, in what seemed to be a universal symbol for loss. She noticed his hands were held above the outstretched blanket, and as she moved closer to it, he repeated his wail.

“Mi hermano, mi hermano.”

She wasn’t sure if he would let her touch his belongings, but his face was in his hands now so she moved to the blanket. With care and two fingers, she lifted one small corner of the thick wool fabric, then gasped and dropped it down, her heart pounding a nervous drumbeat in her chest.

She’d only seen, as a strange oversized reflection of her own dark hand, stiff brown fingers. Now she recognized the smell in the air, not as ordinary desert stench but the smell of desert death. Had she smelled this before? She stood up, watched the boy’s sunken face mourning for his brother. Had she seen this before? The grief, the desperation now seemed to be an ordinary sight she’d simply never stopped to observe before.

What could she say? She was lost for words, and knew the boy wouldn’t understand her even if she found them. She suddenly felt quite protective over him, knowing somehow that he was in for more trouble, and she’d do anything to keep him from it. She put one hand on his shoulder, feeling his bones tremble until her palm settled upon them. With the other hand she picked up his green pack. He’d carried it far enough, and they would have to move soon.

Published in: on July 3, 2010 at 10:36 AM  Comments (2)  
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Thoughts after the Queer Women of Color Film Festival

I began this post by titling it “Queer people of color and the arts,” and then sat here as my mind went on a million different tangents. Obviously I could say a lot on the subject, but I’ll start here:

I love San Francisco in June! There are so many great things to do, from literary events to queer events to self-created sit-at-Dolores-Park-and-play-with-other-peoples’-dogs events, that I hardly know how to choose. Happenings that make it fun to be queer in this city in the month of June include: Frameline, the LGBT film festival; the National Queer Arts Festival; and, of course, Pride.

This past weekend I volunteered at the Queer Women of Color Film Festival, which was tremendously fun, thought-provoking and empowering. I always know it’s true, but each time I see an event like this I’m struck again with awe at the power of the arts in communities like these. This is what thrills me — I have my nerd moments over seeing things like women who once felt powerless and voiceless finding their voices and sharing it with others.

I’m not thrilled when people try to divide these communities, using powerful forces like faith or family or tradition to say that queer people and people of color live in different worlds with opposite ideas. The strength, joy and community in the space at the theater yesterday says otherwise.

CUAV co-presented a group of films that included Susannah Hong’s “Pretty Ugly,” challenging standards of beauty that fail to appreciate queer women of color; “Ferment Me My Heart,” Louije Kim’s hilarious kimchee chronicle; and “Our Houses,” in which queer women recount self-discovery and desire in their own terms. KB’s “Bulldagger Women and Sissy Men” approached a subject that’s close to my heart, queer people in the Harlem Renaissance, to illuminate their undeniable place in the movement.

All of the other films were incredible too. An audience member commented during the Q & A session that we are in a renaissance now, a thought that sent chills down my spine. The Harlem Renaissance intrigues me as a time when Black people, including many Black queer people, demonstrated the use of the arts to celebrate themselves and each other, to heal from their wounds and to proudly show beauty and strength. Even if it’s not as pronounced as the Harlem Renaissance, if we’re in a time when the arts can have a similar impact, then I’m thrilled to the bone.

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Let’s tell them where we’ve been, sisters,

so they will know our stories.

I’ll tell them where I’ve been,

and maybe I’ll remember too.

Published in: on June 14, 2010 at 12:29 PM  Comments (1)  
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Uniting in our difference

It’s funny what isolation can do to us sometimes. We can feel alone in our struggles, convinced that we truly are alone, that nobody else could possibly understand the individual intersection of the identities that make up who we are.

As a Black queer person, for example, it’s easy to feel this way. And I could pile a bunch of other aspects of my identity on top of those to make this point. It’s a feeling of never being whole in the way one presents oneself. Always having to leave a part behind, based on surroundings. I find myself in communities of faith and communities of color where I can identify with those around me on one level, but in order to do so I must keep another part of me hidden, like my queer identity. Or, I might be in queer circles where issues of race and gender are trivialized, and I’m expected to set aside my perspective as a Black woman for the sake of queer unity.

The intersection between Black and queer is on my mind especially because of a meeting/gathering I went to last night. I’m really glad that I went because it was one of those instances when I would’ve assumed I was alone if somebody (namely Eric Martin) hadn’t reached out to see if anyone else was out there.

In a couple of weeks I’ll be attending “Another World Is Possible,” the U.S. Social Forum in Detroit. It’s a huge event full of workshops put on by activists and organizers from around the country and the world. I’ll have more details on the event and on CUAV, the incredible organization I’m going with, later. Last night’s gathering was called “To Detroit with Love,” and it brought together Black queer people, most of whom are attending the USSF, to discuss our role, hopes and goals for the USSF.

We might think that at an event like the USSF, filled with folks who envision the world as a place of equality, it would be easy for anyone to come as you are. But it might be harder than it seems. Even the most informed social justice activists can play a role in the systems that exclude certain identities. There will certainly be workshops that discuss racial and gender equality while disregarding or forgetting about what the inclusion of queer voices brings to the table. Likewise, there will be activists who focus on queer issues without including the perspective of queer people of color.

The process of full inclusion is a complex one. I’m trying to find a different word than “inclusion” to use, because it doesn’t feel like quite enough. We must include without tokenizing. Speak to the voices that couldn’t be present without misappropriating their struggles, and claiming to understand without walking in their shoes. Move beyond the differences that divide us by finding our common ground, while recognizing those differences that make us unique, that make it so that there can be no one voice that speaks for an entire group.

At “To Detroit with Love,” we all brought our unique experiences and perspectives to the table, creating what felt like some multicolored quilt of thought that held both our similarities and our differences. It doesn’t mean that our experience at the USSF will be perfect or that our presence there will make the change we see necessary to let everybody be free to be all of who they are, but we’ve started a conversation that will continue on. To really make another world possible.

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From the morning’s freewrite:


How will I find you in the dark?

Our black bodies swallowed by the shadows

Remembering what we’ve been told

about what darkness means:

confusion and loss,

wickedness and despair.

How will we find each other?

By remembering we were born in the dark

and within us still

the proud, dark continent

is unearthed in our blood.

Some will call Black a bad word

so we’ll claim it as our own.

A word whose power grows as we do.

Published in: on June 10, 2010 at 9:53 AM  Comments (3)  
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