Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Thoughts on Endings, Beginnings, and the Radical Mapping Project

   

     About two months ago, I successfully completed my undergraduate education at UC Santa Cruz. The experience was a long and formative one - I learned so much about the world and myself, and have to come to understand many more things about both. I was privileged to be able to do field research in rural Missouri, and get to explore the social and political realities of a place completely unlike the Bay Area. There, I learned more about the U.S. and our current political paradigm, and I also learned more about myself and my own white settler cultural roots.

    A big part of this period of my life has been the act of discovery. I am continually discovering both myself and the world around me. I started out as an art major and ended up with a degree in Community Studies and Education, two academic areas which focus mainly on modern social issues. I shaved my head, entered my first queer relationship, started playing the bass, built up some serious community organizing chops, and went from googling "how to steam broccoli" to being a fairly accomplished cook and baker of tasty vegan cuisine. I lived alone and without internet and discovered I loved it. I am still discovering and mastering the art of adulting (baby steps). I have discovered what it means to be a white upper middle class person in today's political climate and continue to learn more about all the systems in this world whether they be systems of government, economics, systems of domination and oppression, and emotional and moral/ethical systems which command our social world and shape our context. Learning all of this, I have become so much more conscious of my own position within my tiny micro-universe but also within our country and world.

     Graduating in the time of Trump and attempting to navigate this world of heightened Neo-nazism and emboldened hate speech is a harrowing experience. My parents told me that when they graduated from Eastern Illinois University in the 80s, they felt like they had the world by the tail and couldn't wait to "get out there and make some money". I have trouble mustering that same enthusiasm and optimism when I've grown up my whole life watching things like 9/11 and the Iraq war unfold (along with the saga of Bush idiocy), enduring the recession of 2008, and always hear the background whispers about worsening climate change. To come of age in the midst of a time of heightened overt racism and violent upstarts from neo-nazi groups who experience no police brutality (my thoughts and love go to Charlottesville and the victims of the rally - please look into how you can help) is a trying experience. Some days it's difficult to keep it up.


     But in the face of all these things I see around me that I do not want, that I want to tear down and destroy, even though it is very easy to despair, I find that what gives me hope is to focus on building the things I do want. I have been reading and writing utopic fiction, letting myself daydream community gardens and affordable housing and drug rehabilitation services. In 16 days, I will embark with my partner and two friends on what we are calling The Radical Mapping Project, a fieldwork journey focused on documenting and learning from the lives and organizational strategies of radical activists around the U.S. We hope to gather data which will help connect and strengthen the network of organizations working to create an alternative to the toxic gentrifying racist-capitalist-patriarchy we find ourselves in. I could have gone t seek the security of finding a salaried job already, settling in somewhere and preparing to be there for a few years. But this is a dangerous time, and I feel called to do something beyond what is safe. I feel called to strive for something better, to use my own skills and resources to create, rather than simply settle, hide, and keep my head down.

     Some days it feels like the world as we know it is coming to an end, and I think it is. We're in a serious period of transition in many ways, and I want to contribute to that transition by creating things I want to see in our new world: community, equality, greater representation and involvement of POC, Indigenous, LGBTQ+/QTIPOC folks, and food, water, shelter, health, and love for everyone. These things are some of the principals I see in the radical activist culture my friends and I will be documenting in the Radical Mapping Project. Adbusters is calling Trump's election the beginning of a "new world". I don't want to live in Trump's world, so I will use this time and this volatile energy to perform acts of creative resistance. Embarking on the Radical Mapping Project marks a moment for me where I step beyond the bounds of safe, predictable, expected actions. Let the new world begin.

     I am beyond thrilled that very soon I will have the chance to talk to many amazing and interesting people who are engaged in creating a new world founded on justice and equality! If you want to know more about the Radical Mapping Project, our collective, our route, and how you can support us, check in at our website, Facebook page, and GoFundMe! I hope that this little thing I have written here helps others address their own feelings over the current political climate (rage, fear, and confusion, anyone?), and embrace their own power and autonomy to create good things and safe(r) spaces in the face of a government and neo-nazi movement that are so not-good and unsafe. If you have any thoughts, questions, or just want to talk, please feel free to contact me. (Also, here's a little something for further inspiration, a 1988 speech from Vito Russo, an Act Up activist who was diagnosed with AIDS.)

With love, zest, and courage,

Madeleine

Photos: 1. Trans Youth of North Carolina by Hunter Schafer for Rookie Mag, 2. Artwork used with permission by artist Sybil Lamb, text added by RMP collective.

Well hi there! Did you like that? Cool. I am an independent and currently unpaid writer and community organizer, and I could really use your support. 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. You can also support the Radical Mapping Project on our GoFundMe page, help us find places to stay (look at our route), and send us/me kind words of encouragement.  You can also just commit yourself to doing something today to help bring into existence the better world we dream of. Your choice, and anything you do helps. Thanks for reading <3

Friday, June 9, 2017

Open Letter: UCSC's Student Activists Stand Up to Chancellor's Criminalization of Activism

   
     Last week on May 30th, UC Santa Cruz Chancellor George Blumenthal sent out a message containing threatening language that targeted campus activists. He threatened students, staff, faculty members, and all other campus affiliates with disciplinary consequences for engaging in direct action. This message seemed to be a response to two recent and very successful actions.
     On May 1st, UCSC students shut down the campus in solidarity with International Worker's Day. The strike specifically served to spotlight the ways in which the UC exploits its workers while also celebrating the heritage of Latinx migrant workers. During the strike, students were informed by the campus laborer's union that the action was very beneficial for them, as they were in the process of bargaining their labor contract. 
     Then on May 2nd, UCSC's Afrikan/Black Student Alliance reclaimed Kerr Hall, the campus's administrative building (home of the Chancellor's office). The reclamation lasted for only two nights before the administration agreed to meet A/BSA's demands, which included housing guarantees for all Afrikan/Black students and the instatement of a mandatory in-person diversity training for all incoming students. A/BSA's statements and other news on the reclamation can be read at those links. 
     On the heels of these two extremely successful actions, Blumenthal's statement reads like the words of a sore loser, who doesn't realize that the victories of activists mean that everyone wins. Here's his full statement (bold added by me for emphasis): 

"Our campus has a long and proud history of challenging the status quo. We do it through research, through teaching, and through activism. The exchange of ideas—sometimes done quietly, sometimes not—helps to move society and our campus forward.

Over the years we’ve made many changes on campus after hearing thoughtful and reasoned arguments from students. We are ultimately here as a university to support them, and it’s essential we remain attuned to their needs. A university is a dynamic environment. I want to be sure our services, programs, and policies are serving students.

For that reason, we have staff across campus committed to working directly with students to ensure that their voices are heard. They can connect students with the appropriate administrators, guiding them to the proper avenues to effect change.

Our Division of Student Success, overseen by interim Vice Provost Jaye Padgett, offers a host of services that aid our student body: Those include our Office of Campus Life and Dean of Studentseight Student Success Centers, and six resource centers.

Additionally, Teresa Maria Linda Scholz, our campus diversity officer for staff and students, is available to meet with those who have concerns about our campus climate

However, I want to be clear: While I support First Amendment rights, I do not endorse efforts to halt the normal work of the university, such as blocking campus entrances or taking over a building.

Such actions are not protected speech under the U.S. or California constitutions. They can keep students from learning, faculty from conducting research, and staff from performing the essential business of this university.

Moving forward, people who choose to engage in conduct that obstructs or disrupts teaching, research, or other university-sponsored activities violate university codes of conduct and will be subject to discipline under our student handbook, employment or other applicable policies. Disciplinary measures can include warnings, suspensions, or—in the most egregious of cases—expulsion or dismissal.

We also must strive to be respectful and civil in our dialogue, as described in our Principles of Community. Allegations of hateful remarks directed at certain groups by others in our community are deeply troubling. That behavior is at odds with our goal of having a welcoming and open campus. 

I ask our campus community to keep these expectations in mind as we move ahead.

The all-inclusive campus community we aspire to takes work, but it is something I believe is eminently achievable if we adhere to our principles. They allow us to respectfully discuss our differences while also acknowledging our common humanity." 

     Of course the use of such openly threatening language sent a shockwave through the campus. With this statement, Blumenthal positioned himself against not only the Black and Latinx students who protected their communities last month, but also anyone wishing to stand up to the administration and ask for what they deserve through a means that could actually secure a response. A/BSA had requested meetings with the Chancellor for years prior to this action, as have countless other groups on campus, without getting any real response to their needs. Unfortunately, direct action has in recent times proven the only way to get the administration to listen and respond to the needs of students, staff, faculty, and other groups. 

    To protect our right to direct action, a group of student activists, including myself, wrote an open letter to Chancellor Blumenthal in response to his statement. I presented the letter to him yesterday at an awards ceremony. Here is what we wrote: 

"Dear Chancellor Blumenthal,

We are sending you this letter in response to your email titled “Community expectations.” As you may have heard, this email ignited a great response within the student activist communities here at UCSC. We are expressing this response to you clearly and publicly in order to bring to light the threats and contradictions your words communicate to us.
We are disturbed to read a communication intended for the campus community which so baldly condemns the actions of campus activists as grounds for serious disciplinary action. When you write, “People who choose to engage in conduct that obstructs or disrupts teaching, research, or other university-sponsored activities violate university codes of conduct and will be subject to discipline under our student handbook, employment or other applicable policies,” you inherently criminalize the important and necessary actions of student activists, as well as those of campus unions and laborers. These words display blatant hypocrisy when you simultaneously champion UCSC’s activist spirit with your campaign slogan, “The original authority on questioning authority.” If we are not allowed to question your authority without being targeted for our actions, how will you keep up UCSC’s activist reputation?
We reject your threats to students, staff, faculty members, or anyone else. These threats create an even more polarized and uncertain campus climate, and directly contradict the concern you seem to express in your email.
We believe that you fundamentally misunderstand these actions and the needs of the communities forced to organize them. Campus activists are not organizing merely for the sake of interrupting learning, research, or university business. Students organized the May Day strike to bring light to the ways the university exploits its workers and to celebrate the work and heritage of Latinx migrant workers. A/BSA students reclaimed Kerr Hall only after making repeated requests over several years for certain demands which you subsequently ignored or dismissed. In short, campus activists organize out of necessity because these actions are often the only effective way to receive the appropriate and necessary response from your administration. Clear injustices exist on this campus which seriously hinder or endanger the lives of students, faculty, and staff, and Black and brown lives in particular. Actions such as the ones you have chosen to address in your email are at times the only means we have available to us in order to see proper responses to our varying needs, as seen in the success of the A/BSA reclamation this past May.
We assert that your requests for students, staff, and faculty to follow "community expectations" and recognize our "common humanity" must be coupled with administrative accountability. Organized actions must be met with understanding and listening rather than discipline. Better yet, the University administration can preempt these actions by fulfilling their responsibility to listen and respond to the requests of our campus communities. Because of UCSC’s size and influence, you and your administration are accountable for the many ways your actions - or lack thereof - affect the lives of students, campus workers, Santa Cruz residents, and others. This means you must be willing and available to discuss and negotiate with all affected parties when a group expresses its needs, especially when those parties are comprised of those with marginalized identities, including but not limited to Black, brown, LGBTQ+, low income folks, Muslim folks, and those with disabilities. We know you are capable of addressing students' needs from your responses to groups on campus such as Slugs for Israel. However, it is blatantly apparent that not all groups on campus have access to this type of necessary communication with you, particularly the students and groups who are most discriminated against on this campus.
We agree that organized actions are disruptive. They are meant to be precisely because it is these actions which prevent your administration from shirking their responsibilities to the greater community. We hope you recognize that these actions are a means made necessary by the lacking responses from your administration. We also hope you will understand that meeting these actions with disciplinary measures will only further exacerbate the issues these actions are intended to address and contribute to greater unrest on campus. In light of the recent scandals regarding the state audit of the University of California, including $175 million in hidden funds and survey data that was altered by your office, administrative accountability and campus activism are both more important now than ever.
Your email sets forth a new precedent of threatening and aggressive action perpetrated by the administration against the campus community. Furthermore, it proves to discredit and eliminate the important work that activists and organizers do for this campus to create more equity. Political times like these characterized by rising hate crimes, assaults, and aggressions on and off campus especially call for the need of student activists and organizers.
The activist’s role on this campus, and more largely in any community, is to ensure all peoples receive visibility, equitable treatment, and justice. Our value shall not be disreputed. The activist’s role in the livelihood of our campus community should not be diminished by threats and fear mongering as conveyed through your email. We will continue to do the very important work of protecting the rights of marginalized campus communities and our greater Santa Cruz community as a whole. We will not back down from fighting for the principles of justice and freedom which we stand for and we hope that you can stand with us.

Sincerely,
Representatives of UCSC’s
Student Activist Community"

Not included are the student and organizational signatures that were on the document given to Blumenthal.
Handing this off to Blumenthal in the midst of an awards ceremony was an experience in itself. I was the last student to get called up to get my certificate, and as I did, I spoke to the whole room, saying thank you for the award and then telling everyone that I was presenting Blumenthal with an open-letter response to his email. I informed everyone that they could read it online on City on a Hill Press. It went off without a hitch, and afterwards a few faculty members came up to ask me about it and thanked me and my co-authors for making a response. 
It's currently circulating around the campus via social media and email, but I wanted to post this here with both Blumenthal's message and our response, because I think people outside UCSC and outside of the realm of higher education need to know how authoritarian college administrations are trying to be. His attempt to quash protesting will not work, but does signal that campus activists need to be more prepared for the legal ramifications the university may thrust upon them. Blumenthal's actions coincide with a larger trend toward criminalizing political protests and dissenting actions, from Trump's infamous arrest of journalists to Indiana's recent "commerce-block" bill.
We can't stand for this y'all. We have the right to protest, we have the right to not be okay with what's happening in our country and our world, we have a right to our voices. Let's use them.

With love and defiance,

Madeleine


Heyhey! Did you like that? Cool. 'Cause I'm graduating in less than a week and could really use your support, both financially and for my voice to be heard! 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, 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

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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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