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Posts Tagged ‘intersectionality’

The Overwhelming Present: On Having Too Much To Write About

In Chronic Pain, Class Politics, Creative Writing, Crip Politics / Disability Politics, Identity Politics, Intersectionality on May 26, 2014 at 12:55 PM
"It burns the thing inside it. And that thing screams." - "An Agony. As Now." by Amiri Baraka

“Cold air blown through narrow blind eyes. Flesh,
white hot metal. Glows as the day with its sun.
It is a human love, I live inside. A bony skeleton
you recognize as words or simple feeling.”
– “An Agony. As Now.” by Amiri Baraka

 

Over the past year I’ve come to realize that my constant hesitation to write emanates not so much from anxiety or deep-seated insecurity, but from an overwhelming sense that there’s way too much shit to write about. If you’ve ever had to make a list of all the possible topics you could speak, write, or blog about, then you might have a sense of what I mean here.

Just the other day, heading back home from work in an hour-long trek from one part of Brooklyn (Bushwick) to another (Sunset Park), I was engaged in my most common activity: sitting, thinking, dwelling on issues that seem insurmountable. Even indescribable. Just the thought of putting these experiences and thoughts into writing was exhausting.

******************

For me, there’s an almost-insurmountable catatonia that comes with writing about the struggles of the everyday. Where to begin? After all, the elusive present is hard to understand without an acknowledgment of history. Do I cherry-pick old historical events, like the wave of destruction that swept over the Arawaks of the Bahamas when Columbus landed his avaricious gold-seeking feet? Do I speed through Manifest Destiny and slavery-fueled industrialization? Or the reproduction of urban savagery a lá Robert Moses and red-lining and… Or do I begin with what I’m seeing right now in 2014: the drastic efflux of white (with the ever-so-often black, brown, and yellow-hipster) faces walking past me at the subway stop near my job.

Goddamn. In a mere six years, the social landscape of this neighborhood has changed at a terrifying pace.

A view of Bushwick (foreground) and a violet-lit Empire State Building (background). Neoliberal urban colonization (aka gentrification) has a surreality to it that is hard to capture solely with words.

A view of Bushwick (foreground) and a violet-lit Empire State Building (background). The multi-story condo to the left was opened just a few years ago and already suggests near-full occupation. Indeed, neoliberal urban colonization (aka gentrification) has a surreality to it that is hard to capture solely with words.

 

In a world with too many wars to fight, to many colonnades to dismantle, reality is jarring. And at the end of the day, here I am…sitting inside a train. Zig-zagging my way out of Brooklyn, then back again. Joining up again where the political meets the personal.

I still have to deal with soul-crushing limitations. Trying to live like a revolutionary in a neoliberal age, my mind slumped after a night of teaching in impossible circumstances. And as much as I wanted to scream, a bourgeois sentiment in me also wanted to make demands and compelling critiques. But the number of topics I could potentially write about (that were also personally embroiled) were staggering:

  • I can write about gentrification, urbanization, and settler-colonialism in the United States. Using the example of Bushwick or Sunset Park to demonstrate how gentrification—a term that has been popularized in the left and right to the point of losing considerable political valence—is really just another iteration of white supremacist, urban colonization. Even in cases where the gentrifiers and the gentrified come from similar ethnoracial backgrounds, a similar logic of invasion, plunder, and proselytization operates, often with indirect repercussions to communities of color.
  • I can write about the linkages between police brutality, mass incarceration, and the reciprocal relationship between carceral regimes and capitalist development (including criminalization and its association with gentrification in Brooklyn).
  • I can write about the struggles of adult education programs, or the constant struggles and physical and cultural violence experienced by my transnational, multi-status immigrant students. The unique, indescribable experience of being a teacher at the crossroads.
  • I can write about the insidiousness of the non-profit industrial complex (NPIC), its ableist romanticization of long hours, commitment, and passion. Its coercive management of dissent. The funneling of revolutionary momentum into the rat race of data-driven bureaucracy.
  • Then there’s the fact that I often feel like I’m being ping-ponged between the NPIC and the (bio)medical-industrial complex. As if I wasn’t already drowning in paperwork and numbers, I also have to keep track of my co-pays, premiums, medications, and insurance policies. I have to manage a deeply crippling, mysterious condition (chronic pain) layered upon another (multiple sclerosis). I have to deal with doctors’ racisms, insensitivities, and general misunderstanding. I have to deal with pharmacists and insurance reps and union reps and social workers and disability lawyers. More days than I can count, I am filled to the brim with sadness and fury and hopelessness.
  • I can write endlessly about what it’s like to live with pain, all forms of spiritual, existential, psychological, physical, collective, or intergenerational pain. And the wisdom that pain provides.
  • I can also join the graduate student-blogger bandwagon and write about my detachment from academia (here comes another industrial complex: the academic IC). I can write about my alienation as an economically precarious “millennial,” or write about intersectionality and identity through the lens of a crippled, queer cisgender working-class man of color.

For me, it feels like the possibilities are endless. I can write substantially about any and all of these things—not simply because they seem fascinating, but because they are integral to my everyday material experience. But unlike those who have the luxury of waging war in one or two battlefronts, I’m living in sheer and utter political cacophony, living with the threat of debt, hunger, and detonations of pain. I’m forced to deal with an amalgam of interrelated injustices, not simply an isolated cause or issue of the moment.

******************

Fact is, no one embodies single-issue politics; but for some, the layering of oppressions is too adamant, too imperious, to conveniently omit in any writing of personal experiences. For how have I become the sort of subject, the sort of human that I am today were it not for a constellation of experiences that is simply more than the sum of its parts? While disembodied scholarship coercively tempts us into partitioning our lives like specimens under a microscope, life teaches us how beautifully, sometimes agonizingly, complex and unpredictable the world must be.

Glancing back at this list, I am reminded of how overwhelming it all is. It is overwhelming to be alive today—and most of us ignore the telltale signs (sometimes out of necessity). Living through the tyrannies of a globalized capitalist order, sensing that the orderliness of modern civilization, urbanization, and economic development is actually more mythology than a worthwhile endeavor. Putting our bodies through cruel regimens of poorly cooked, chemical-ridden foods and substances while working until we literally drop. Or resorting to a jaw-dropping level of consumption of entertainment, drugs, and alcohol to deal with the pain of isolation. Or lest we forget the weight of ruptured, dismembered, or even annihilated communities and histories.

******************

Reflecting on the obstacles to produce through writing, I recognize how frighteningly obvious some of the “internal” ones are. With my eyes looking straight ahead to an impending life in grad school, I’m reminded of what Andrea Smith has written about with respect to the academic industrial complex:

“A phenomenon that results from academia’s myth of meritocracy is that scholars feel an undue burden to prove their brilliance. They can never take short cuts. They cannot publish anything unless it is perfect. Consequently, it takes many scholars an inordinate amount of time to finish their work because they suffer from excessive anxiety attacks as to whether or not their contributions are going to be sufficiently brilliant to warrant their publication.”

This resonates: I can be a perfectionist and hesitate to print or publish anything that doesn’t conform to a standard I’ve created for myself. I am also fearful of being “too public” with my thoughts, emotions, and experiences, and fear their resultant social repercussions. I fear being stigmatized, or analyzed, or romanticized and co-opted by well-meaning liberals. I also fear not articulating myself in a way that reflects how I truly think or feel—something that becomes particularly salient in my life with chronic fatigue. Even as I write this, I am constantly redacting my statements, cognizant of the critiques (feeling more surveilled than an object of the Panopticon state)….

Of course, the joint effect of these fears is to avoid writing altogether, with only an inkling that perhaps one day I can do so at a difficult convergence of free time, good health, good energy, and “feeling inspired.”

******************

So, to what extent are these barriers psychological/individual vs. systemic? And to what extent are these barriers that I have agency over? I don’t think I’ll ever develop a satisfying response to those questions, but I’m very much aware of how I’ve come full circle since my very first blog post on overcoming writing paralysis.

I still believe in the importance of writing, and speaking out against all forms of violence. I even see the importance of writing within political projects, even if those projects cannot be reduced solely to an ideological exercise.

But it’s fucking hard to put all the pieces together, to synthesize an amalgam of experiences that often feel too disjointed and irregular and incredibly messy. Sometimes it’s too much work to synthesize and create a story that fictionalizes a union of the world’s haphazard parts.

And while it’s generally hard for most people to find the time and space to write, the challenges are exponentially worse when you have to struggle with pain, fatigue, and brain fog.

Yet, none of that is to render invisible a more basic conundrum: There is too much shit going on in the world. There is too much shit going on in my life. There are too many fucking things to write about.

Yes, there is way too much shit. 

View of Chinatown from the Manhattan Bridge.  What life in the city feels like to me, all at once: ever-moving, exciting, imprisoning, chaotic, indecipherable.

View of Chinatown from the Manhattan Bridge.
What life in the city feels like to me, all at once: ever-moving, exciting, imprisoning, chaotic, indecipherable.

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El Mundo Zurdo: Notable Queer People of Color on Art, Resistance, and Community

In Creative Writing, GenSex & Queer Politics, Identity Politics, Intersectionality, Latin@ Politics, Racial Politics, The Revolution on June 30, 2013 at 8:28 PM

Rather than be a spectator to this year’s celebration of Gay Inc.—with what I’m sure will be an overwhelming parade of “Equality” signs after last week’s ruling—I ended up, quite unintentionally, staying home. With my sickly body, however, I wouldn’t have been able to do much anyhow. I’m sure my headache light and sound sensitivity would have been irritated by the loud music, vibrant colors, the heteronormative displays of happy families and smooching couples, and the flagrant show of queer capitalism and “equality” symbols blazoned beside corporate logos. No, it may as well as have been for the best.

Yet, as I look over a Facebook newsfeed today, in 2013, I can’t help but ponder the meaning of the many displays of joy, love, and affection. While I sort of wish my wall wasn’t so littered with “Happy Pride!!!” messages, I’m also tired of being the Pride Grinch; the fact is, I do realize there is a need to celebrate. Communities besieged by multi-pronged wars against capitalism, imperialism, patriarchy, criminalization, and pathologization need to celebrate. Five hundred years of colonialism, genocide, and slavery (none of which have ended, in spite of what the McGraw-Hill® textbooks will have you believe) necessitate moments of enjoying the victories, enjoying life, enjoying the moment.

Yes, perhaps marriage “equality” was more a victory for bourgeois gay and lesbian whites. And, yes, it will likely perpetuate and fortify an institution of epistemic violence and exclusion that will hinder efforts towards an authentic queer liberation. The decisions of five people in our “highest court” will not liberate me as a Latin@, unemployed, and chronically ill queer person. But there are reasons to rejoice nevertheless. If it means less families will lose a loved one through deportation; if it means a partner getting much needed health coverage; or a couple being able to legitimize their relationship before their oppressively conservative families—then, well, it might actually be a good (albeit short-term) thing. So why not celebrate?

It is in honor of celebration, liberation, and resistance that I’ve decided to compile some important quotes from notable queer people of color in amerikka. While not to glorify these individuals at the expense of others, they were glorious, beautiful people in their own right. They showed us how we can persevere in the search for love—love of our (chosen or unchosen) families, love of a partner, love of our art, love of our communities, love of ourselves—amid the terrors of Oppression. They weren’t all “activists,” at least not in the narrow way it’s conventionally understood, but their work as embodied agents of change enabled for, not some paltry, self-oppressed form of acceptance from the mainstream, but rather a celebration of difference that confronts head-on the social realities of intersectional identity politics.

La lucha sigue

           James Baldwin

james baldwin

James Baldwin (1924 – 1987) was a renowned black novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and social critic. Best known for his novel, Go Tell It On the Mountain (1953), his novels poignantly include such complex themes as exclusion, isolation, racism, and sexuality.

“Most of us, no matter what we say, are walking in the dark, whistling in the dark. Nobody knows what is going to happen to him from one moment to the next, or how one will bear it. This is irreducible. And it’s true of everybody. Now, it is true that the nature of society is to create, among its citizens, an illusion of safety; but it is also absolutely true that the safety is always necessarily an illusion. Artists are here to disturb the peace.”
– 
“An interview with James Baldwin” (1961)

“[I]f one really wishes to know how justice is administered in a country, one does not question the policemen, the lawyers, the judges, or the protected members of the middle class. One goes to the unprotected — those, precisely, who need the law’s protection most! — and listens to their testimony. Ask any Mexican, any Puerto Rican, any black man, any poor person — ask the wretched how they fare in the halls of justice, and then you will know, not whether or not the country is just, but whether or not it has any love for justice, or any concept of it. It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”
– 
from No Name in the Street (1972)

Sylvia Rivera

Sylvia Rivera

Sylvia Rivera (1951 – 2002) was an activist and founding member of the Gay Liberation Front, Gay Activists Alliance, and STAR (Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries). She was a Puerto Rican New Yorker, transwoman, and vocal opponent of the assimilationist gay agenda.

“It was a fabulous feeling for me to be myself-being part of the Young Lords as a drag queen-and my organization [STAR] being part of the Young Lords.

I met [Black Panther Party leader] Huey Newton at the Peoples’ Revolutionary Convention in Philadelphia in 1971. Huey decided we were part of the revolution-that we were revolutionary people.

I was a radical, a revolutionist. I am still a revolutionist. I was proud to make the road and help change laws and what-not. I was very proud of doing that and proud of what I’m still doing, no matter what it takes.

Today, we have to fight back against the government. We have to fight them back. They’re cutting back Medicaid, cutting back on medicine for people with AIDS. They want to take away from women on welfare and put them into that little work program. They’re going to cut SSI.

Now they’re taking away food stamps. These people who want the cuts-these people are making millions and millions and millions of dollars as CEOs.

Why is the government going to take it away from us? What they’re doing is cutting us back. Why can’t we have a break?

I’m glad I was in the Stonewall riot. I remember when someone threw a Molotov cocktail, I thought: “My god, the revolution is here. The revolution is finally here!”

I always believed that we would have a fight back. I just knew that we would fight back. I just didn’t know it would be that night.

I am proud of myself as being there that night. If I had lost that moment, I would have been kind of hurt because that’s when I saw the world change for me and my people.

Of course, we still got a long way ahead of us.”

– from an interview with Leslie Feinberg

  Audre Lorde

audre lorde

Audre Lorde (1934 – 1992) was a self-identified black lesbian feminist best known for her poetry and critical sociopolitical essays. Her writings touch upon such topics as self-determination, celebration of difference, overcoming silence and oppression, and cancer, among other topics.

“If our history has taught us anything, it is that action for change directed only against the external conditions of our oppressions is not enough. In order to be whole, we must recognize the despair oppression plants within each of us–that thins persistent voice that says our efforts are useless, it will never change, so why bother, accept it. And we must fight that inserted piece of self-destruction that lives and flourishes like a poison inside of us, unexamined until it makes us turn upon ourselves in each other.
“Learning from the ’60s”  

“Difference is that raw and powerful connection from which our personal power is forged… As women, we have been taught either to ignore our differences, or to view them as causes for separation and suspicion rather than as forces for change. Without community there is no liberation, only the most vulnerable and temporary armistice between an individual and her oppression. But community must not mean a shedding of our differences, nor the pathetic pretense that these differences do not exist.”
– “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House”

Gloria Anzaldúa

Gloria Anzaldua

Gloria Anzaldúa (1942 – 2004) was a queer Chicana scholar best known for her book, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. Her works examine social and cultural marginalization in a physical and symbolic borderlands that goes beyond an either-or state of dominant binaries (e.g. U.S./Mexico, Spanish/English, indigenous/white).

“We are the queer groups, the people that don’t belong anywhere, not in the dominant world nor completely within our own respective cultures. Combined we cover so many oppressions. But the overwhelming oppression is the collective fact that we do not fit, and because we do not fit we are a threat. Not all of us have the same oppressions, but we empathize and identify with each other’s oppressions. We do not have the same ideology, nor do we derive similar solutions. Some of us are leftists, some of us practitioners of magic. Some of us are both. But these different affinities are not opposed to each other. In El Mundo Zurdo [the left-handed world] I with my own affinities and my people with theirs can live together and transform the planet.”
– ‘La Prieta’

“Why am I compelled to write? Because the writing saves me from this complacency I fear. Because I have no choice. Because I must keep the spirit of my revolt and myself alive. Because the world I create in the writing compensates for what the real world does not give me. By writing I put order in the world, give it a handle so I can grasp it.
Speaking in Tongues: A Letter to Third World Women Writers, from This Bridge Called My Back


Black feminists marching“We realize that the liberation of all oppressed peoples necessitates the destruction of the political-economic system of capitalism and imperialism as well as patriarchy. We are socialists because we believe the work must be organized for the collective benefit of those who do the work and create the products, and not for the profit of the bosses… We need to articulate the real class situation of persons who are not merely raceless, sexless workers, but for whom racial and sexual oppression are significant determinants in their working/economic lives.”
“A Black Feminist Statement” by the Cohambee River Collective

June Jordan

june jordan

June Jordan (1936 – 2002) was a Jamaican-American writer, educator, and activist who grew up in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. While in Berkeley, she founded the group Poetry for the People, and wrote extensively around themes affecting her and her students.

“Our earth is round, and, among other things, that means that you and I can hold completely different points of view and both be right. The difference of our positions will show stars in your window I cannot even imagine. Your sky may burn with light, while mine, at the same moment, spreads beautiful to darkness. Still we must choose how we separately corner the circling universe of our experience. Once chosen, our cornering will determine the message of any star and darkness we encounter. These poems speak to philosophy; they reveal the corners where we organize what we know.
-Introduction to the “Corners on the Curving Sky” section of  Soulscript (1970), compiled by Jordan. 

                                                                     

   

Alice Walker

alice walker

Alice Walker (1944 – ) is a black author, poet, activist, and womanist. Best known for her work The Color Purple (1982), for which she won the Pulitzer, she was also involved in civil rights activism in the South (with her professor, Howard Zinn). More recently, she has spoken out against the war in Iraq and Israeli apartheid.

“It has become a common feeling, I believe, as we have watched our heroes falling over the years, that our own small stone of activism, which might not seem to measure up to the rugged boulders of heroism we have so admired, is a paltry offering toward the building of an edifice of hope. Many who believe this choose to withhold their offerings out of shame. This is the tragedy of the world…  Sometimes our stones are, to us, misshapen, odd. Their color seems off. Their singing, like Paul’s whistling, comical and strange. Presenting them, we perceive our own imperfect nakedness. But also, paradoxically, the wholeness, the rightness, of it. In the collective vulnerability of presence, we learn not to be afraid.”
– from “Working Towards Peace

Cherrié Moraga

cherrie moraga

Cherrié Moraga (1952 – ) is a Chicana lesbian feminist, an essayist, poet, and activist. She co-edited This Bridge Called My Back (1981) with Gloria Anzaldúa, is currently a professor at Stanford University, and has written about intersectionality and the need for “oppositional consciousness.”

“We plead to each other,
we all come from the same rock
we all come from the same rock
ignoring the fact that we bend at different temperatures
that each of us is malleable
up to a point.

Yes, fusion is possible
but only if things get hot enough–
all else is temporary adhesion,
patching up.

It is the intimacy of steel melting
into steel, the fire of our individual
passion to take hold of ourselves
that makes sculpture of our lives,
builds buildings.”
‘The Welder’
                                                                                                                       

chrystos

Chrystos (1946 – ) is a First Nation (Menominee) rights activist and poet. From San Francisco, her poetry embodies such themes as love, alienation, identity, and violence.Chrystos

Chrystos

“Within this basket is something you
have been looking for all your life
Come take it
Take as much as you want
I give you seeds of a new way
I give you the moon shining on a fire of singing women
I give you the sound of our feet dancing
I give you the sound of our thoughts flying
I give you the sound of peace moving into our faces & sitting down
Come
this is a give away poem
I cannot go home
until you have taken everything
and the basket which held it

When my hands are empty
I will be full.”
–  “Ceremony for Completing a Poetry Reading”

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