Friday, May 19, 2017

Blackface Prom Asks Indicate it's Time to Remedy Closet-Racism

   
     There is, as always, a lot to write about, but this week, an act of unbridled ignorance and "unacceptable" baldly racist conduct at Los Gatos High School takes the cake. I attended Los Gatos High School and graduated just about four years ago. My friends from those times know where it is, but for everyone else, Los Gatos is a relatively small town on the fringe of the South Bay Area, the last town you pass through before entering the mountains on your way to the coast. Many of its residents are either older white retirees, or else families who are usually somehow employed in the Silicon Valley tech business. The population is overwhelmingly white, although a decent percentage of students at Los Gatos High School are also Asian-identified (ex. I had friends who were Vietnamese, Filipinx, Indian, Japanese, Chinese, and Korean) or mixed-race. When I attended school there, I could count the number of Black and Latinx students on my hands. According to this source, the total enrollment of non-white students is 30%.

     As you might guess, this relatively non-diverse environment creates a nice bubble for the residents, one where the issue of race is rarely confronted, simply because there are so few instances where it comes up. Even in my English and history classes, which are designed to deal with controversial social topics, racism was rarely discussed, and often thought of as a thing of the past. I can remember only a few instances where teachers pursued the issue enough to impress upon me that racism still exists, in Los Gatos and in other parts of the world. But even these well-intended lessons were not enough to break through the blissful ignorance that I was afforded as a white person who never had to go too far out of my comfort zone to understand other cultures, ethnicities, and racial identities.

     Until I went away to college and began studying racism, while also being surrounded by and learning from students who were not white and who had different experiences than me, my ignorance continued. When I finally became friends with Black students, Latinx students, Filipinx students, Native American students, students whose parents are immigrants or are immigrants themselves, students who are first-generation college students, students whose parents are landscapers or farmworkers, students whose families come from Compton or South Central L.A., my ignorance was finally shattered. And today I am appreciative of the teachers at Los Gatos High School who tried to break through this ignorance early on, but saddened overall by the realization that Los Gatos High and the town of Los Gatos continue to put diversity education and conversations about race on the back burner. Because when we do this, here's what happens:

     Quoted from Danika Lyle's editorial in El Gato: "On Friday, May 12, an LGHS senior asked a girl to Prom in blackface makeup. The ask was a recreation of a Bitmoji-Snapchat message he had sent to the girl earlier. The Bitmoji is an African American avatar with blue hair, glasses, a tank top, a bow, and a bright Prom poster. He asked the girl at her house without a bow, tank top, or blue hair dye, but did choose to blacken his face. The student posted pictures of his ask on Instagram, and as I write this article, the post remains." (Danika skillfully goes on to explain why blackface is offensive. If you need further information on that topic, please read her article.)

     This is not okay. Many LGHS alumni have been posting or commenting about the incident saying that they are not surprised, and I can't feign to pretend I am either. I am, however, disappointed and horrified by the students' behavior, as well as the arguments other students have made to back him up. My younger sister, who is a current student at Los Gatos High school, The incident exposes not only the intensity of racial ignorance present at Los Gatos High, but also perhaps the lack of empathy and compassion necessary for students to understand and stand up to acts of racism rather than defend their perpetrator. While I am not advocating for the punitive punishment of the students involved in this incident, I do believe that the situation needs to be remedied somehow.


     In a statement released by the Los Gatos High School administration this Thursday, administrators said, "We are aware of two prom asks this spring that have been of a racist nature and want this choice of behavior never to recur. Our obligation is to protect student safety and respond to actions that may create 'an intimidating, hostile, or offensive educational environment' (California Education Code). We are taking action and responding to the situations as a school and care to do so sensitively... We are also working to develop additional programming to support increased cultural sensitivity throughout the student body." I applaud the administration for taking a strong stance on the incident. Now, here comes my call to action:

     If you are a current student, an alumni, or part of the staff at Los Gatos High school, it's time to weigh in on this situation and what "cultural sensitivity programming" should look like. As members of this community, it's our responsibility to have the conversations and take the actions necessary to ensure that students take racist conduct seriously, understand its harm, and do not repeat it. Call or email the staff about the issue, make requests for education on specific topics, like "Why Blackface is Offensive" or "Why it's Important Not to be Racist" or "How to be Non-Racist", or even "How to be a Good Collaborator in the Movement for Racial Justice". Talk to each other; your students, peers, and/or colleagues, or fellow alum. Discuss why this is not okay and what we can do about it! For a long time I have dismissed Los Gatos as a closet-racist town beyond my help, but I recognize that as a former student, it is my responsibility to help eliminate, through dialogue and education, the quiet specter of racism from this community.

     If you are not tied to the community of Los Gatos (congrats), take this story to heart and think about how it applies to your own community. And, if possible, share this piece and the articles I have linked to so that this incident may not go unnoticed. We need to put pressure on the school and community to change. The more eyes on Los Gatos and its seedy racist underbelly, the better.

     Lastly, remember that its in incidents like these where the practices of allyship and solidarity become most important. This is a situation where white people need to recognize unabashed racism in their own community and address it, swiftly. Remember your place and the importance of your voice in issues like these. If you'd like to know more about this, please read my last post on solidarity. 

With love and energy to fight for what's right,

Madeleine

P.S. Unfortunately I was not able to get ahold of the infamous photo that was posted of the incident on Instagram. I believe that school codes or laws protecting minors unfortunately must prevent that.

Images: Both are not mine and were found via Google. 1 shows the front of Los Gatos High School, and the other shows North Santa Cruz Avenue, the main downtown strip. Just to give you an idea of the wealth in the community. 

Well, hey! Did you like that? Cool. Please help me keep writing and defaming users of blackface by supporting this here blog! There are a few ways you can support my blog and help me get my message out. You can DONATE via Paypal to help me pay for toilet paper and such, and you can LIKE on Facebook and also share this post with the people in your life. ALL OF THEM. This is important. Thank you <3

Friday, April 28, 2017

Community to Family in the Face of Trump


     Like the rest of the left, I am beyond tired of Trump's bullshit. I am actually at the point where I can barely speak with someone about it without feeling like I'm going to cry and spontaneously combust in anger (yes, both at once). Every day continues to feel like an uphill political battle for mine and my loved ones' safety and wellbeing. I've heard a lot of white women say and write "Well, I'm a white woman, I likely will not be deeply affected by the Trump regime". They're right. As a white, cisgender woman, I have the privilege of relative safety in this perilous time. And yet, I am not truly safe. As a partner, close friend, or simply acquaintance to many black and brown, queer, trans, non-binary, Muslim, and otherly-identified people, I stand to see my communities decimated. This is a great loss. Even if my individual wellbeing is not threatened, a threat to my communities, the people I know, the people I love, the people I pass every day on my way around town or campus - a threat to them is a threat to me. 
   
     I am saying this not only to justify or legitimize my political anxiety. I am also saying this as a call for all of us to take care of one another in these difficult times. Many people are feeling like me right now. As a result, self-care is a term and tactic skyrocketing in popularity as people feel overtaken by political anxiety, exhaustion, and burnout. But self-care is inherently individualist. It encourages us to look after ourselves and take responsibility for our emotions, but it also privatizes our pain and fuels the capitalist machine. Queer woman of color activist Brianna Suslovic writes in her article on self-care and new movement strategies, "Work more hours to earn more money to invest more in your personal self-care regimen, done in the privacy of your own home (or your own gym). This is scary not only because it leaves us with no examples of what caring for others looks like in public, but also because it sets the expectation that if caring happens privately, so should pain." Suslovic argues that we must break out of self-care talk, and begin to care for each other, at least to supplement our private coping.

     I agree. In this difficult and terrifying time, we need each other. It is important for us to come together to cry and share our pain, to share food, medicine, and resources to take care of each other, and to talk and dream together about what we can do and what we want the world to look like. I titled this article with the phrase "community to family" because I want us on the left to reframe what we think about others and how we see ourselves in relation to others. "Community" is a contested term with various meanings, but "family" is more clear cut. What do you do for your family when times are tough? You share with them, you take care of them, and your protect them. Your wellbeing is bound up with theirs; if they get hurt, you're hurting too. You might not agree with them on everything, but at the end of the day you'd do whatever it takes to keep them safe. This is how we we can and must relate to each other in these tough political times.

     My hero Grace Lee Boggs says in her book, The Next American Revolution, "We ourselves must begin practicing in the social realm the capacity to care for each other, to share food, skills, time, and ideas that up to now most of us have limited to our most personal cherished relationships…..We urgently need to bring to our communities the limitless capacity to love, serve, and create for and with each other." (yes I have used this quote before - it is amazing and I will repeat it until I see it in the world). If now isn't the time for the next American Revolution, I don't know what is. When we begin not only caring for each other as Grace Lee Boggs suggests, but also defending and protecting each other, and acting with the understanding that, as indigenous activist Lila Watson puts it, "your liberation is bound up with mine". When we begin treating each other and cherishing each other as family we can make it through this time, and we can create change.


     I understand my suggestions are easier said than done. Relating to one another on this level requires vulnerability, humility, emotional labor, trust, awareness, care, and love. It requires showing up for each other, checking ourselves, sharing, opening ourselves and our homes, confessing our pain and deepest fears. It is important that we stretch our capacities for each of these abilities. Without these bonds, we perish separately. We must reach out to each other. I'll cap this off with a quote from Martin Niemoller discussing the Holocaust that I hope everyone has seen before. It stresses the extreme importance of taking care of and standing up for one another:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Socialist. 
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

     To avoid this unhappy fate, we must stretch ourselves to be more open, to care for each other, and defend each other in the face of fascism. I'll see you all out there Monday May 1 defending the rights of immigrants and workers across the U.S., and if you're in Santa Cruz, I'd also like to see you May 2nd at Quarry Plaza, participating in the march and rally with the African/Black Student Association on campus to demand support for our black peers. Let's take these streets for each other!!

     Many of my articles hit on topics of vulnerability, allyship, and community support. Please read through my Whiteness series, Time to Get Real, and my article on de-powering capitalism if you want more of my writing on these topics. I also suggest this TED Talk on vulnerability, Francesca Ramsey's 5 Tips for Being an Ally video and Resistance Manual's Tools for Resistance. And of course, the resources linked above.

     Lastly, I want to say thank you to my community, to my family, for helping me through these times. I love you very much, and I am more grateful for you (all of you!) than my words can express.

With big, real, true love, support, and resistance, 

Madeleine

Well, hello there. Speaking of supporting each other, I'd would so greatly appreciate any support for my writing so I can keep doing more of it, and you can keep reading it :) There are a few ways you can support my blog and help me get my message out. You can DONATE via Paypal to help me pay for toilet paper and such, and you can LIKE on Facebook and also share this post with people in your life, especially those who would like to learn more about solidarity and self/community care!

Photos: Phoebe Wahl, 2 (click through for the caption, it's a beautiful photo)

Friday, April 21, 2017

A Letter to My White Friends: Cultural Appropriation and a Search for Cultural Belonging

   

     Cultural appropriation is a sore spot for many people I know. To some extent, that makes sense. No one likes to be told they can't have something. However, that doesn't mean that cultural appropriation isn't a viable issue. Until the people whose cultures are being appropriated by people who don't belong to those ethnic groups, whose traditions are being turned into products for people outside of that culture to profit from, it will continue to be a major issue. I myself find it difficult to write eloquently on the nuances of why exactly cultural appropriation is an issue. Instead, please check out these varying perspectives: The Dos and Don'ts of Cultural Appropriation by Jenni Avins and the 7 Myths About Cultural Appropriation Debunked video on Decoded with Francesca Ramsey (those videos are so good!).

     Please do read those and do more research into the controversy, it's a complex subject that I am still grappling with myself. What I do want to touch on today, is how interesting it is to me that often things that are appropriated or commodified are taken for two reasons: they are healing traditions or deep traditions that carry and create meaning and lend a sense of belonging. Some easy examples of appropriated and commodified healing traditions are Chinese medicine, Ayurvedic medicine, yoga, and the chakra system. Some examples of meaningful traditions or items that carry meaning include Native American headdresses, Rastafarian dreads, the om symbol, Buddha figurines, and Chinese and Japanese characters (how many non-Chinese [and non-Chinese speaking] people have you seen with a Chinese character tattoo? Just asking~). All of these items or traditions are examples of cultural practices which have been taken from their original cultural contexts, and in many cases, stripped of their rich cultural histories and meanings. I doubt that people at music festivals wearing feather headdresses know which tribes wear them (according to this source, "tribes in the Great Plains region, such as the Sioux, Crow, Blackfeet, Cheyenne, and Plains Cree") or why they do so (another source). Meanwhile, these tribes still suffer extreme discrimination and disrespect at the hands of the U.S. government, as exemplified by the ongoing #NoDAPL conflict

      Here is a plain example of the issue of cultural appropriation - the originators of the appropriated tradition continue to suffer systemic racism while the appropriators know little of the origin. And yet, we appropriate these things for certain reasons. Why? In today's modernizing and homogenizing world, white people especially often feel a lack of cultural roots. In a recent conversation with my mom about cultural appropriation, she objected by saying, "Well, what culture do we have? We're just American, we've been here forever, we don't have anything that's ours." I would wager that her sentiment mirrors an idea that many white people, and other people who have been removed from their cultural backgrounds, also believe. But I believe this idea that we have no traditions of our own to draw on is partly a lie to keep us dependent on mainstream and popular culture, and its encouraged consumption-based modes of thinking and being. Andi Grace supports a similar point of view: "this false belief in a spiritually-void past leads many european people to feel justified in appropriating the spiritual practices and traditions of indigenous people. and thus, we perpetuate the process of colonization in our spiritual and cultural practices. we see this with yoga, smudge kits sold at trendy hipster clothing stores, twerking and headdresses at music festivals just to name a few examples.”

      We are often made to forget that our ancestors, who had real ethnic origins and important spiritual and cultural practices, were forced through discrimination and persecution to lay down their cultures and traditions in favor of assimilation. ScottishIrishGermanItalian, and other peoples all faced much discrimination, not to mention Eastern Europeans, Jews, and other groups now considered White. Ever heard a derogatory joke about "gingers"? Or a knock against hillbillies? Those comments are somewhat more innocuous today (although the term hillbilly is still a site of controversy and discrimination), but they trace back to anti-Scottish and anti-Irish immigration sentiment during the nineteenth century in the U.S. Today, many of their traditions, like tartan or plaid patterns and St. Patrick's Day are commodified and de-historicized, signifying a degradation of their original cultural significance. (Some efforts to continue Scottish and Irish traditions specifically do exist, like Irish dance troupes and Scottish bagpipe brigades).

     These cultures which comprise our own ethnic roots, along with the cultures and traditions of early American settlers, can provide an answer to the question, "What culture do we have?". It turns out, we have plenty to draw from. Many of the practices we appropriate because they carry meaning or spiritual significance can be replaced or supplemented by practices from out European roots as well as from not-so-distant pioneer past-times. It has been said that in recent years, America has seen a breakdown in civil society, but building on the traditions of the past can give us practices to re-build the our communities, find and re-create our own meaningful symbols, customs and cultural practices, and essentially find meaning in our own lives, backgrounds, neighborhoods, and cultures. The challenge of avoiding cultural appropriation is inherently creative, asking us to look at our own cultural roots and build off of them to create our own practices that we enjoy and that serve us better than what most people think of American culture today: non-nurturing institutions and customs like WalMart, fast food, the hate-filled sect of the Evangelical church, our increasingly phone-addicted and fast-paced society. If we can create and re-create cultural practices to replace, or at least mitigate, these things, we'll be well on our way to healing and finding meaning without appropriating other cultures and perpetuating systemic racism.

     To that end, I'd like to list a few cultural practices from early settler America that persist in many pockets of the country (including rural Missouri) that might help us rebuild a culture centered on community and meaningful practices:


- Barn-raisings and quilting bees: these were essentially get-togethers that emphasized the principle of "Many hands make light work" - a neighborhood or community would come together to build a structure, make quilts, can foods, or accomplish some other work task, all while surrounded by other community members, turning the work into a social occassion. These work parties were often followed by actual parties, to celebrate the work they had done!

- Traditional food cultures: though the first thing you may think of when asked what American food culture is might be a hamburger, American people have developed traditional foods that are still served around the country. Some of my personal favorite American dishes include cornbread, mashed potatoes, and brussel sprouts. Delving back into these food cultures, which were developed for certain areas and eating with the seasons, can be a way to connect to earlier times, but it's also a great and healing practice to just enjoy good food together!

- Folk music and folk dance: over the summer I went to a folk music festival in Missouri, where people had come from all over the area to play instruments like the fiddle, banjo, and stand-up bass. The festival was a wonderful social occasion for musicians and spectators alike, but the best part was the square-dancing. One whole side of the square was covered with a wooden platform, which served as a dance floor for square dancing every night of the festival. Square dancing is an inherently community-building form of dance, since it requires you to dance with not one partner, but seven other people. The dancing was extremely fun, and I can see how incorporating dance and music traditions like this could really help to rebuild community.

- European-rooted witchcraft, herbalism, and healing traditions: the Salem witch hunts didn't quite root out all the witches. Herbalism and herbal healing knowledge are still alive and well today, thanks in part to the New Age movement, which unfortunately de-historicized many of these older healing practices. While healing is now dominated by Western medicine and the medical industrial complex, these traditions are not gone, and they can do as much for as Chinese medicine or Ayurveda.

- Storytelling: Ever heard a story about Davy Crocket? Then you've heard an American tall tale, an oral storytelling tradition practiced by settlers. We still do it today when we tell stories that have been passed on to us from others. The power of stories like these helps provide entertainment while also bringing people together and helping formulate the culture of the area, as a culture's stories have a hand in shaping the mindsets and beliefs of its people. 

     All of these practices can help us re-build community, re-create meaning and culture of our own, and heal us in the way that appropriated practices also do. If you're interested in these practices or in this idea itself, definitely research them more deeply, and perhaps delve into your family's own histories and traditions. Francesca Nicole has a great article on how to do ancestral research. You can also read more about a lot of these practices and how they encourage community and culture-building here, especially under the Community Project Examples heading (this website is amazing, by the way). Finally, there are many books out there on building new cultures, but a few that I have read and that I feel are tied to today's piece are The Next American RevolutionThe Cultural Creatives, and Radical Homemakers. They are certainly not unproblematic and open to interpretation, but definitely hit on the issues I've covered today.

     Please let me know your thoughts on the issue of cultural appropriation and culture re-creation. Is it necessary? Is it possible? What about cultural appropriation; what's your definition? Let me know! I'd love to hear from you.

With love and hope for a new culture and old traditions,

Madeleine

Hey, how do you think I did with this article? If you liked it, yay! I'd be ever so grateful if you'd consider supporting my writing so you can read more of it! There are a few ways you can support my blog and help me get my message out. You can DONATE via Paypal to help me pay for toilet paper and such, and you can LIKE on Facebook and also share this post with people in your life, especially anyone who participates in cultural appropriation (so, everybody) and anyone into community building (hopefully lots of people!). 
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Friday, March 24, 2017

What Anarchy Means to Me

     

     No, it's not just about burning things. You might imagine people wearing masks, black clothes, and throwing Molotov cocktails. Anarchism, practiced with critical thought, is more complex (and arguably less climactic than that). And while at times those things might be part of anarchist practice, they are just the tip of the iceberg, and are only done for certain reasons and through certain interpretations. For example, I'm an anarchist, and I'm more likely to hold a community dinner than get confrontational with the police. It doesn't mean it doesn't happen sometimes (see my strike guide!), but there's also a lot more to what I do and what I believe.

     Anarchism is defined differently in several places. You might have heard the familiar refrain "No gods, no masters." Most strains of anarchism are anti-hierarchical as a rule, meaning they oppose domination and superiority of all forms. This translates to a strong anti-government sentiment that, oddly, puts them very close to Libertarians on the political spectrum. After that, schools of thought may diverge. Some support the autonomy of anyone to do anything so long as it is not hurting anyone else. However, the Anarchist Library admits, "Every conceivable anarchy would need social pressure to dissuade people from acting coercively; and to prevent a person from acting coercively is to limit that person’s choices." This tends to lead to some theoretical disagreements about the means involved to achieve or create anarchy, but ultimately, true anarchy has yet to exist, and so these worries about social pressures or lack thereof are less pressing in our current time. 

     There is actually quite a rabbit hole of all the different types of anarchist orientations out there. What I tend to believe in can sometimes be characterized as anarcho-communism. My beliefs generally center on the need for humans to cooperate with and care for one another, rather than dominate or subjugate each other. However, what I most enjoy about anarchism is not the beliefs and theory behind it, but rather that it gives people practices to bring about a new and better world. 

    Basic anti-hierarchical, consensus-based, community-caring principals inspire many organizations and individuals today. When I dig into anarchist movements, I see some really amazing and creative forms of activism happening. Community centers and organizations grounded in anarchism, like Santa Cruz's own SubRosa Project, provide safe community spaces for music, art, community organizing projects, and people of marginalized identities (especially queers, at SubRosa!). Spaces like these, sometimes also called DIY spaces, are all over the U.S. and the world, many of them based on anarchist principals. Spaces like these are creating community and also helping create and/or rediscover alternative cultural practices to unhealthy mainstream monoculture. 

     SubRosa, for example, hosts community music and art events, queer dance parties, swap meets, discussion groups on witchcraft and politics, and serves as a meeting place for several community organizing projects. A related organization, The Fabrica, hosts workshops, events, and provides access to sewing machines and materials on a donation basis. Projects like these in Santa Cruz are the tip of the iceberg. The DIY/Anarchist subculture exists all over, in numerous iterations. Community co-ops, witchcraft covens, farms and gardens, housing co-ops, libraries of things, and organizing collectives like these are gifting the world new cultural practices based in emphasizing sharing, community care, accessibility, and responsibility. 


     Spaces like these and anarchist culture in general deeply inspire my own practice. The creative measures that anarchists use to fund projects and initiatives, like donation-basis, notaflof (no one turned away for lack of funds), and group funding processes (for a really interesting example, check out this one!), elevate accessibility and promote individual generosity. Focus on the people, artists, and skills in one's community gives me an alternative to buying into the mainstream monoculture's media and practices, while also helping to create a locally-based cultural alternative. The beliefs I support in my de-powering capitalism article are profoundly anarchist. Anarchism provides a roadmap for the way forward in these challenging and perilous times. As Grace Lee Boggs puts it, we must create movements in our local communities which "not only say 'No' to the existing power structure but also empower our constituencies to embrace the power within each of us to create the world anew."I believe anarchism is doing just that in a very real way, through the community-oriented initiatives it inspires. 

     My only critique of anarchist spaces is that, in my experiences both here in the Bay Area and in Missouri, many of the people involved were white. Though I can't make a generalizing statement about the racial identity of the movement as a whole, my partner and I often lament that POC can sometimes seem to be left out of our local anarchist scene. Though there is some excellent anarchist anti-racist organizing going on, sometimes even these movements still center white folks over people of color.  This is a huge issue. For a group of people who profess to be anti-dominance, actively discouraging racism in our movement is of paramount importance, and I actively try to move this forward in my own practice of anarchism. 
     
     Anarchism as a practice and school of thought is diverse and still to be perfected. I embrace it because I find it has valuable teachings to incorporate into the world I wish to see. What are your thoughts on anarchism? If you have any, send me a message or comment below, I'd love to engage with you. For further reading, I'd recommend perusing these two databases of anarchist organizations and community spaces, and "Anarchy is Boring" by Brendan Kiley. 

With love and anarchy, 

Madeleine

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Friday, March 17, 2017

A Letter to My White Friends: Smashing White Fragility, Fear, and Guilt



     Consider this your call-in. A letter to white people, from a white person, on the process of overcoming white fragility.

      Two weeks ago, I issued a call for my white friends to really examine our white identities, confront fragility, and help disrupt systemic racism. But the question remained, how do we go about smashing our fragility? To delve into the answer, let's be thoughtful about what this entails. First, I want to say that the phrase "smashing white fragility" is something of a misnomer. While it sounds powerful (and it is!), it also conveys the idea that this is a one-time thing, a hump you get over, the spell that banishes your fragility forever. It doesn't work that way. Confronting your fragility is an ongoing, life-long process. Unlearning the supremacy and comfort in our whiteness will be something we can engage with for the rest of your time on Earth. That being said, it is an important, rewarding, and desperately needed process for today's political moment. Please engage.

      Before we smash our fragility, we must identify it and understand why it's so insidious. Fragility is, as Courtney E. Martin puts it, the "gut emotional pushback" to anything that makes us feel uncomfortable about being white. Anything that calls our identity into question, asks us to shoulder any responsibility for racism, or really just asks us to think about our racial identity at all. In fact, this article itself might be triggering your fragility right now. If it is and you're still here, awesome. That's how we smash; we lean into the discomfort.

     There are many, many people who have expressed why white fragility is bad. I'll summarize here by saying this: white fragility is what makes us complicit in actively upholding structures of racist oppression. When we don't acknowledge our own racial identities, privilege, or even confront the issue of race at all, we continue to oppress others, sometimes without even knowing it. White people are the most racially privileged and therefore powerful group. The Western world favors whiteness to such a degree that if we choose not to look at our power and actively de-construct it, very little will change and everyone will continue to suffer, including us.

Break Through Your Fear and Guilt
     I don't believe it's good for us to live in such fear and opposition of each other. It's not good for white people to be so fearful and angry, gripping on to white supremacy the way the right-wing continues to do.  It's better for us to be humble and open to connection. So, we need to break through the fear and guilt that prevent us from looking at our white privileges and identities. We can pay attention to our gut emotional pushback responses when they occur. This will help us acknowledge the feelings we have, whether they be guilt, fear, or other things. When we are aware of these feelings, we can choose to actively address them by pushing through them and reassuring ourselves. This way, we can forge ahead on our exploration of our own whiteness, and our relationships to other racial identities.

Do Your Work
     I really like the phrase Anna Kegler uses to encourage white people to educate ourselves on our identities. We do indeed need to do our work. This means reading up on race issues and looking at perspectives from POC and white authors, learning about micro-aggressions, adopting the appropriate response to getting called out. It means #KnowYourBaldwin, understanding how whiteness manifests in the workplace, and making your feminism intersectional. As white people who haven't had to think about our race, we have a lot of researching and thinking to do in order to catch up with everyone else, and that is ok! In fact, I think it's really fun. Learning about whiteness is what helps your deconstruct your own identity and become aware of what it means. To be aware of yourself in that way is a joy and a privilege in itself. Podcast. Blog, and another blog. Honestly y'all I could keep going (seriously I have a Pinterest board where I collect this stuff) but I'll just let this be the jumping -off point for now.



Strike A Balance and Embrace Discomfort
     In my last article, I talked about how uncomfortable I would get in social justice spaces. Here are a few words of advice for myself and people who are experiencing similar things. First, people have a right to be angry at you. If you aren't well-received in certain situations, the people involved might not be mad at you personally, but angry at racial injustice as a whole. Alternatively, you might actually be doing something offensive or aggressive that you are not aware of. In either situation, it's important to observe your impact, which is often different than your intention (you can, and will, make mistakes even if you are well meaning). Validate the emotions of people who might call you out. Strike a balance between the understanding that race issues and discussions are not about you, and at the same time being careful to reflect on your actions.

     You will make mistakes! You will get called out! It will feel uncomfortable! I get called out by my friends and partner fairly often and it sucks, but it also means we're both trying to bridge the gaps in my ignorance. As Saroful says, "If someone tells you what you just did was wrong, it’s because they genuinely believe you are a good person who would do the right thing if you knew what it was." I apologize, learn what I did wrong, and we move on. In embracing the discomfort and moving through it, I am able to keep learning and de-powering my own identity.

Talk About Your Identity
      This is something I think socially aware white people need to do more of. We need spaces to be able to openly, non-confrontationally, and non-competitively (ie there's no one in the space trying to be "better"/prove they're less racist than everyone else). I am extremely lucky to have safe spaces with my partner and friends of color where we can reflect on race and whiteness together and talk about our differing identities. I have learned so much from them, and I think looking for these spaces with people of color can be beneficial if both parties are open and willing to talk about these issues.

     On the other hand, I also think it would be immensely helpful if these same safe spaces existed for white people to talk to other whites about their identities. My favorite example of this is AWARE-LA's Saturday Dialogues.  They explain the importance of these spaces in more detail, but I like this: "This is a long, difficult, and sometimes painful process [of examining one's own whiteness and racism]. It’s helpful to have a space where other white people engaged in this process can support and challenge us, without having to always subject people of color to further undue trauma or pain as we stumble and make mistakes. Having a community of white anti-racist people gives us hope, helps us grow our practice, and gives us strength to stay in it for the long haul." Creating space for white anti-racists to talk to one another about their journeys, realizations, and experiences can reinforce individual practices and keep us accountable to confronting our identity on a regular basis. It gives us a support group of people who are trying to do what we're doing too! (For more reading on AWARE's Dialogues)

Know Where We Are Needed and Speak Up When We Can
     In many conversations or demonstrations on racial issues, white people are not the focal point. We have race issues too, as you can see, but unless the event at hand is specifically about whiteness, we need to keep out of the spotlight. This article by Ashleigh Shackleford discusses the presence of white people at Black Lives Matter rallies thusly: "Whiteness operates in a way that means that using your privilege “for good” often requires Black folks to still be a position to be “saved” or “in need.” We don’t need white saviorism. We don’t need white people to speak for us. We don’t even really need white people to show up to rallies. We need our reparations, we need intentional disruption that involves high risk and we need y’all to stop playing." As white people, we need to be conscious of where we are needed and where we are not. When we are called on for something specifically, then we can show up. In fact, Showing Up For Racial Justice (SURJ), is a great example of organizing white people when they are needed for race issues. This organization resources organizing led by people of color, often by supplying white supporters for protests when POC-lead organizations ask for them.

     This all being said, it is also important to speak up when we can, or when we need to. If we're in a situation, say, with only other white people present, and something offensive happens, we can say something about that. I'm not suggesting that we dogmatically hoist our anti-racist moral superiority over someone's subtly racist comments. This doesn't need to be a callout, instead it can be an opportunity for everyone present to discuss the racialized incident and learn from it. Here's a really excellent article on how to call someone in by Sian Ferguson. In general, I find responding with genuine curiosity and openness, rather than suspicion and condemnation, will help open up the conversation.

    By engaging in these steps, and especially by continuing to educate ourselves, we can smash our fragility and begin to extricate ourselves from the web of fear, guilt, and fragility that makes us cling to our racial privilege. I hope these suggestions have been helpful. For further reading, definitely check out all the links above, all the links in my last letter to my white friends, and also: "When You're Accustomed to Privilege, Equality Can Feel Like Oppression" by Chris Boeskool, and the Trump Syllabus. Also, watch this clip from the documentary The Color of Fear and watch 13th on Netflix, for more understanding of systemic racism at work today.

     If you found this helpful, interesting, problematic, or what have you, let me know! Comment or send me a message. I am happy to take feedback, make suggested edits if I see fit, discuss ideas, and hatch anti-racist plots with you. I am one little human adding my voice to a conversation that has been going on for years and years, so I definitely did not say it all, nor do I profess to know it all. Keep reading, researching, experiencing, and practicing. We can do this.

In solidarity and support,

Madeleine

Did you like reading that? Wonderful. I'd be ever so grateful if you'd consider supporting my writing so you can read more of it! There are a few ways you can support my blog and help me get my message out. You can DONATE via Paypal to help me pay for toilet paper and such, and you can LIKE on Facebook and also share this post with people in your life, especially your white friends!! Friends don't let friends keep their white fragility un-smashed. 

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Friday, March 10, 2017

We Can De-Power Capitalism by Supporting Each Other


In June, I’ll be graduating college, and I’m going to have to find the answers to questions like, “How will I pay my rent?”, and, “How will I buy food?”. I am extremely privileged to have been able to not worry about these things, for the most part, up until this point, because many of us deal with these questions all our lives. Capitalism is what puts us in a situation of scarcity, controlled conditions in which we need to work to survive, and that’s what most of us do. Get a job, work hard, pay rent, buy food, and repeat. This is survival.


Not exactly feeling excited about the prospect of entering this rat race, naturally I’ve been thinking creatively about how I can support myself. At the same time, I’ve also been thinking a lot about how much of my money goes to places and people I don’t know. Naturally, it dawned on me the other day: What if my friends and I all just supported each other? What if we lent each other resources, food, money, places to stay, and looked out for each other? What if we traded and bartered with each other? What if we supported each other’s creative projects with our patronage and by spreading the word? Our money, time, and resources, would go directly to supporting and lifting up other people, who in turn, could also lift us up in our times of need.


I believe we can depower capitalism by supporting each other, in the ways outlined above. I like to think about capitalism as a machine we can, together, slowly shut down by increasingly sharing our time, energy, money, and resources. By embracing community support, we can eliminate money from some exchanges or meeting of needs altogether! In other situations, we can ensure our money goes to people and organizations we want to support.


Though these proposals might not entirely eliminate the need to work, they do create an alternative cushion to rely on aside from one’s own personal income. They also challenge us to deepen and strengthen our relationships with our friends and our communities. Think about it - when was the last time you shared something with someone who is not one of your closest friends or family? When is the last time when you went out of your way to support someone? In today’s capitalist, neoliberal society, sharing is hard! Take Genevieve Vaughn’s perspective on the matter: “Where there is enough, we can abundantly nurture others. The problem is that scarcity is usually the case, artificially created in order to maintain control, so that other-orientation [ie sharing] becomes difficult and self-depleting. In fact, exchange [capitalism] requires scarcity because, if needs are abundantly satisfied, no one is constrained to give up anything [ie giving up your time and energy to a job] in order to receive what they need.” In contexts of scarcity, it’s difficult for us to remember to share, protect, and nurture each other, and we focus on doing so for ourselves first. Living and sharing this way is a challenge.


That doesn’t mean we can’t do it. In an article on the gift economy, Paul Van Slambrouck says, “The fact is that we are probably all wired, both physiologically and socially, to seek cooperation and collaboration despite an educational system and social context that works from cradle to grave to inculcate in us a zero-sum view of the world.” I agree! Although I just asked us to think about how uncommon sharing behavior might be in our lives, I would also like to ask us to ponder what we do when we need help, financially or in other ways. I ask for help, and I receive it. A friend might pay for my dinner or offer me a free place to stay, my sister might buy me a shirt, my mom might find me a task to do in exchange for some money while I’m home for break. Despite the capitalist economy’s best efforts, sharing behaviors and the inclination to assist one another do persist in some contexts. Which is why my above proposal - simply supporting each other - doesn’t sound ludicrous to me. I believe in the collective power and creativity of my community of friends.


Creativity is key for creating alternative networks of support, because finding ways to support ourselves and our friends without absolute reliance on jobs and money is both a challenge and an opportunity for inventiveness. In his discussion of the solidarity economy, Ethan Miller picks out this quote from feminist economic geographer J.K. Gibson-Graham: “If we viewed the economic landscape as imperfectly colonized, homogenized, systematized, might we not find openings for projects of noncapitalist invention? Might we not find ways to construct different communities and societies, building upon what already exists?". Their perspective asks us to look for opportunities to work around capitalism, to build on the basic forms of economic independence and support, and to think creatively about how to support others and be supported ourselves.




I believe we already live in that creative age. More generously-oriented systems have existed alongside and within capitalism for a long time. In my lifetime, I’ve seen the internet allow efforts like these to mushroom. Now we live in the age of crowdfunding, KickStarter, GoFundMe, Patreon, Etsy, and others. With systems like these, we have better infrastructure for supporting each other in our daily lives and in our creative endeavors. We are also getting more creative with how we accept compensation. Many individuals and organizations accept payments on sliding scale, utilize the notaflof (no one turned away for lack of funds) tradition, or simply ask people to “pay what you can”. Other organizations accept barter and trade or work exchanges. These creative solutions to the tradition of exchanging money for goods and services allow more people access to what was previously only exchanged for a set price in dollars. They also signal our creative problem solving capabilities!


Sometimes, you don’t even need to pay. In many activist circles, I see and hear the phrase “I want you to have it,”. Goods and services are gifted, free of charge. And why not? In a piece advocating for the gift economy, Paul Van Slambrouck writes, “What exactly did I (or you) do to deserve to be alive? If you can process that question and come out thinking it was a gift that you can’t ever pay back, then beginning a life of greater giving is the only logical and remotely reciprocal way to go. If the most valuable thing you have isn’t anything you earned, why be stingy with all the lesser stuff.” . While this view does, of course, assume that its audience is in the position to be able to give, I do believe that many of us have things to give to each other, whether these be things that can be measured in dollars and cents or not.


What started as the search for a way out of the rat race has blossomed into a hopeful discovery: I believe we are in a moment of pioneering the crowdfunding and community supported vision of a future without extractive capitalism, where we give to each other and take care of each other and generously grant access to those in need. My next question is simply, how can I create this in my own community? Here are my ideas:


  • We can spend time with our friends! Developing our relationships with others strengthens our community support network and widens the circle we can call on in times of need. Plus, it’s good for us.
  • Support our friends’ creative projects. Buy our friends’ art and music, share our friends’ websites on our social media, volunteer to help out with projects for free.
  • Give each other money. If we have a little extra, instead of just going to Chipotle again, maybe we can lend to a friend in need, asking them to pay it forward. We could use the extra we might find in our budget to help our friend pay off student loans or give to a local organization or activist collective.
  • Give what we can. Even if we don’t have money, if we have other assets, sharing them generously is a surefire way to encourage community support. Even if all you’ve got is a smushy couch where someone can stay the night, that is something that can help someone out.
  • Make goods and trade with our friends. I make delicious bread. Will someone trade me some homemade toothpaste? I’m running out (seriously).
  • Expand our networks. Stretch our sharing and trusting abilities by including people we don’t know as well in these loving and supportive interactions. Example: once I let a band of five men from Iowa, Condor and Jaybird,  sleep on all the extra beds and couches in my house. Even though I didn’t know them, it was great. They were good company, and they made their beds when they left in the morning.


I know that in some ways these suggestions can be very radical. Imagine if you used some surplus in your monthly budget to help your friend or partner pay off their student loans, just because you cared about them? Interactions like these test what capitalism has tried to ingrain in us; we might feel like they owe us something, or like we’re doing them a favor. But if we recall that life is a gift, and that our well being is tied up in the well being of others, then we can gift others what they need when we have the resources, without feeling entitled to anything in return.


At the same time, I know that these suggestions might seem elementary to some, as we already practice these in many of our close relationships. What I’m advocating for today is that we take the forms of support we do perform for our communities, and up the ante. We can extend these forms of support, whether they be material, emotional, or otherwise, to people who we had previously not included, and also intensify these supports in relationships where they do exist. As Grace Lee Boggs put it in one of my favorite books of all time, The Next American Revolution, "We ourselves must begin practicing in the social realm the capacity to care for each other, to share food, skills, time, and ideas that up to now most of us have limited to our most personal cherished relationships…..We urgently need to bring to our communities the limitless capacity to love, serve, and create for and with each other."


If that’s not a brilliant and inviting call to action, I don’t know what is. With love, support, and the power to de-power,


Madeleine.

For more on these concepts, check out links and books recommended above, and look into this solidarity economy map, and this more involved definition of the gift economy. In some locales, there are groups on Facebook designated for gift or solidarity economies, and there are also freecycle groups! Check those out too if you like! And let me know if you have any resources for me to add here :)


In the spirit of community support networks, if you want to support my future writing, I would really, really, be extremely stoked and appreciative. There are a few ways you can support my blog and help me get my message out. You can DONATE via Paypal to help me pay for toilet paper and such, and you can LIKE on Facebook and also share this post with people in your life, especially your creative anti-capitalist besties. Depower!!!

Illustrations by the lovely Phoebe Wahl!



Friday, March 3, 2017

A Letter to My White Friends: We Fear Seeing Ourselves Clearly


A letter to white people, from a white person, on white fragility and mustering the courage to overcome it.

Disclaimer: I am not writing this to police other white allies and anti-racists. My purpose in writing this series is to create dialogue around the white identity, in hopes of sharing what I know, and helping to further white people's collective understanding of themselves, with the ultimate goal of promoting racial justice and prison abolition. I hope to spark discussions among/with fellow white activists so that we may better understand our place in this work. I also hope to catalyze new white allies coming to social justice in the wake of recent national events, who may feel scared, confused, or ashamed of their white identities and privilege. My goal is not to chastise whites, nor to claim that I am a "good" white person. I come to this not as an expert, but as one voice in a larger discussion. This is first and foremost a dialogue, and I welcome other perspectives, questions, and comments.

     How does it feel to be a white person in social justice work? When I first started out, I felt immensely uncomfortable with my own whiteness. I felt the need to try to hide or minimize it. I rarely spoke in my classes, most of which are focused on racial justice, and generally avoided drawing attention to myself. I felt guilty about my family's money and wealth, and would rarely bring up that part of my life. I felt the urge to separate myself from my own whiteness, constantly saying aloud "I hate white people."I really wanted to reject my white privilege. In situations where I was forced to look at my own privilege, I felt so much pain that I had a deep wish to ignore my whiteness, rather than to deconstruct and explore it.

     In one of my classes last year, we were instructed to do a privilege walk, where everyone started at the same spot in the room, and moved backward for every symptom of oppression, such as going hungry as a child or growing up near gang activity, and forward for every sign of privilege, such as housing security or having two parents with bachelor's degrees. Predictably, I ended up in the front, and in tears. Some of my closest friends and my partner, all of whom are people of color, were far in the back of the room. Seeing them there, and seeing myself so far ahead, broke my heart. I was extremely uncomfortable with realizing my privilege was so visible, and that I was so unfairly privileged compared to my loved ones. I felt so guilty about it, I shied away from acknowledging and confronting my privilege.

     I've seen this type of hesitation in many other fairly liberal white people. One person I know was planning to lead a workshop on Chinese medicine. When the hosting organization approached him with their concerns that the workshop might be culturally appropriative due to his white identity and lack of accrediting sources for Chinese healing traditions, he reacted with tears, guilt, and confusion. He failed to truly confront the issues of being a white individual attempting to teach an ancient healing tradition that was not his own. He hesitated to really own up to the fact that, as a white individual, he didn't deserve to claim that culture's knowledge as his own, as he was not a part of it.

     Similarly, someone I know recently went on a vacation to Cabo over a break from school. I heard later they were trying to keep it quiet. While this may have partially been done in an attempt to maintain a public persona as an enigma, it also seemed to me to be a strategy of hiding their class status, which is directly related to whiteness and privilege.


     This hiding behavior reflects an unwillingness to admit our privilege and acknowledge our identity as a white, upper or middle class person. In all cases, I think the unwillingness to confront whiteness here comes from the guilt and anxiety involved in owning up to privilege: "If I admit that I am privileged/that I have this much/that I benefit in some way from supremacy, what will they think of me? What will I think of myself?"This fear and the resulting pushback against situations which encourage white people to face their privilege are part of white fragility, which Dr. Robin DiAngelo writes about very eloquently when she discusses the reactions white people have to race-based stressors, which include some of the situations I've described above. As DiAngelo points out, we, as white people, don't have to look at our privilege on a regular basis. When we are forced to do so, we get scared, and we get angry. 

     Facing my own privilege does feel bad sometimes - looking at the privilege whiteness gives me, I feel dirty and gross and overly powerful, even tyrannical. The thing is, for those hesitating to confront their own white privilege, it's good to remember other people can already see it. The brilliant black writer and scholar James Baldwin, in a letter to his nephew entitled "My Dungeon Shook: Letter to my Nephew on the Hundredth Anniversary of Emancipation"writes about white people thusly:"...if the word integration means anything, this is what it means: that we, with love, shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it." Baldwin demonstrates how obvious white privilege is, and how racism and its related systems of oppression are ultimately perpetuated by white people and their inability - or resistance - to see themselves clearly. Though he writes this suggesting that people of color need to help white people face themselves, let us go further.

     White people, especially liberal, radical, and well-educated white people like myself, must take responsibility for facing and accepting our own privilege. We must become aware and be willing and committed to exploring how our privilege affects other groups and how it so greatly benefits us. We must look at our privilege and see ourselves clearly. Only by doing this can we really see all the opportunities we have to step back and make space for people of color, whether this be through relinquishing claims on traditional knowledge belonging to cultures outside of our own, or exposing our class status and using the resources at our disposal to donate to social justice causes.

     Facing, exploring, and continually dismantling your white privilege is a doorway to opportunity and an awesome way to deepen your social justice work or practice! Although it is scary, awkward, and embarrassing at times, it can also be very exciting. Courtney E. Martin describes the process by calling it a transformation of "white fragility into courageous imperfection". She writes:

     "If white people want to belong to the beloved community, if we want to be part of the tide that is turning thanks to people of color-led movements like#BlackLivesMatter, then we have to show up as bold and genuine and imperfect. We have to be weary of our fragility. We have to be intolerant of our own forgetfulness."

      Martin's suggestion of courageous imperfection means that we have to be open to the fact that we and our identities are, and will always be, very privileged and problematic. We will never be comfortable with our racial identities once we accept them for what they truly are. But Martin also writes that engaging in this process "is the beginning of a lot more joy. It’s the beginning of a lot more connection. It’s the beginning of the end of racism."

     As someone actively trying to beat back my own white fragility, I can agree. In my next letter to my white friends and other white anti-racists, I'll discuss ways of actually going about this process by exploring our white privilege and smashing our fragility. In the meantime, if you're looking for more on this concept, check out the articles linked above, "The Sugarcoated Language of White Fragility" by Anna Kegler, and WhiteAccomplices.org. 

     If you found this helpful, interesting, problematic, or what have you, let me know! Comment or send me a message. I am happy to take feedback, make suggested edits if I see fit, and discuss ideas with you. This writing is coming out of a year-long research investigation into whiteness, among other things, so I'm down to talk about whiteness, racism, and the like any time.

In solidarity and support,

Madeleine
If you enjoy what I've written here today, and you want to support my future writing, I would really, really, be extremely stoked and appreciative. There are a few ways you can support my blog and help me get my message out. You can DONATE via Paypal to help me pay for toilet paper and such, and you can LIKE on Facebook and also share this post with people in your life, especially your white friends!! Please support the dismantlement of racism :)

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