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Posts Tagged ‘people of color’

Wars on All Fronts: Why Solidarity Among People of Color Matters

In Decolonization, History, The Revolution on August 18, 2014 at 1:49 PM
Art by Melanie Cervantes at Dignidad Rebelde (dignidadrebelde.com)

Art by Melanie Cervantes at Dignidad Rebelde (dignidadrebelde.com)

I was in San Pedro Sula when the first bombs from the latest Israeli offensive were dropped onto Gaza. I was already in bed, but my decision to jump into the Facehole kept me thinking.

It was my last night in the city that gave birth to my mother, and where a good deal of our family still lives. And having had the opportunity to experience—if only tangentially and precariously—life in what bourgie whites have dubbed “the most violent city in the world,” I tried to relate what I saw and heard to the news accounts coming out of my MacBook. Before I even had time to process my thoughts on this emotion-ridden trip, I saw (in one of those brief moments of Internet access) a post on my Facebook News Feed from the Electronic Intifada: an unmistakable cloud of dust over buildings in Gaza City. It was, supposedly, the culmination of a series of events that could be traced back to Nakba Day, when two Palestinian youths were shot dead by Israeli soldiers. It was a culmination of events that brought on a full-scale bombing by one of the world’s most well-equipped military regimes in the world. (As of 2009, Israel’s military was only second to the United States in terms of per capita spending)

It was already almost midnight as I read about it on my smartphone. Gang-based terrorism keeps most of the San Pedro Sula indoors by nightfall, so it was, for a New Yorker like myself, more solemnly dark and quiet than I was used to. I had spent a good part of the past week reflecting on something that has been making headlines for months, but now it felt all-too-real in its complexity: What were the factors that would propel people to flee a narco-run Honduras, risking their lives to avoid a destiny of insecurity, if not death? What was driving this renewed genocidal impulse against Palestinians? And in this latest show of force on a marginalized, Black community in a St. Louis suburb, I’ve been made to wonder again, now from the luxury of my Brooklyn apartment: what does it mean to be an American citizen and a person of color in a time of ongoing wars?


Coming back from Honduras, I didn’t know what to make of the relative lack of non-Arab people of color at the Palestine solidarity marches. Where are the people who came out on May Day to protest the Deporter-in-Chief? Where are the people who made their beautiful voices heard on Union Square—and in the spontaneous follow-up march—the day after Trayvon Martin’s killer was acquitted last summer? Likewise, are the Arab youth who made their way to the United Nations some weeks ago also seeing an image of their brethren in the Brown children being deported at the border, or the unarmed Black youth gratuitously shot multiple times by hyper-armed, racist police?

This brings me to the point of this exercise: Solidarity. Lately, the most inspiring, hope filled moments in this time of War—in Gaza, in urban America, in the borderlands—have been during the courageous displays of crucial love and support, even when these displays were no more than symbolic. It has been demonstrated in protest signs, joint letters (examples: here and here), and countless alliances; here, too, social media seems to have played a role in at least making them more visible (if not also helping facilitate the exchanges).

So having, like many of my friends, absorbed most of my news media through my Facebook and Twitter accounts, my online Walls have forced me to home in on the linkages between the issues that matter to me. While we’re often inured into parsing issues by region (e.g. the Middle East, urban America, the Southwest), exhibitions of solidarity also have the potential to break down the dictatorial walls of rigid disciplinarity and news-mandated regionalism, and help us see common ground and common goals. After all, as frustrating as it is for me to choose between a march for affordable housing in Manhattan, and a concurrent march for Palestine in Brooklyn, or between a bus trip to Ferguson and a bus trip to Nogales, having to ghettoize the world’s problems the way we do our cities strikes me as counter-revolutionary. (This is not to argue in defense of large mobilizations versus smaller formations, but, rather, that when we make our way to our respective marches and rallies, we should have the plight of others in our heart as well)

Our data-drenched world also has the potential to facilitate a broader, more critical understanding of what has long been intuitively felt: the same multinational corporations, like Elbit Systems or Caterpillar, will be as involved in the destruction of communities at the US-Mexico border as they are in the construction of Israeli settlements and separation barriers that torment Palestinians in the West Bank. The back-and-forth exchange in surveillance and “defense” technologies, as well as policing tactics, between the states of Israel and the United States will end up producing analogous outcomes against Black and Brown people around the world. The flip side of this liberalized exchange, however, is the accessible, live action sharing of information between peoples struggling for liberation, as was seen in the Tweet suggestions between protestors in Palestine and Missouri, both of whom have faced the tear gas canisters manufactured by Pennsylvania-based Combined Systems Inc.

Shedding light on the crucial linkages between mass incarceration, militarized policing, immigration politics and the War on Terror is not merely an ideological exercise—it is a necessary part of the struggle for liberation. As the error-prone militant groups from the early ’70s themselves realized, tracing out the different ways in which oppressive neo-colonial logics and technologies work to ‘divide and conquer’ is part of the ongoing work against capitalist white supremacy. And so I put myself to work researching  three battleground areas: Gaza, criminalized/gentrified America, and the US-Mexico border.

And then the political economy crept back in again. I realized these issues, while rising in prominence in the last decade, had common roots in the 1980s—the same period most commonly attributed with the rise of global neoliberalism.

As made evident in David Harvey’s iconic A Brief History of Neoliberalism, the decade saw: the roll-back of the welfare state; the growth of austerity programs locally and abroad; the pummeling of poor (er, colonized and robbed) economies; the rise of civil wars in Central America and the concomitant migrant refugee crisis; the crack “epidemic” and the rise of the War on Drugs (and with it, the beginning of the rise of mass incarceration); and, lastly, the beginning of the first Intifada.

Recognizing the perverse capitalist incentives that enable for these common oppressions, and tracing the genealogies of colonial thought that make themselves manifest in the undying quest to destroy the livelihoods of people of color, one comes to see that solidarity is not only useful—it is essential. And resistance is not simply justified—if we are to survive, it is mandatory. That protestors in Ferguson and Gaza need even supply a rationale—that resistance under occupation is justified—already speaks to the heavy hand the State exerts in the colonized mind.

In speaking about solidarity with Palestine (or about child migrants or the gunning of black youth, for that matter), it’s not enough to talk about “humanitarian crises” and the condescending “poor people” of Gaza. This dispels actions abroad as something that is out there, when the reality is that they are just as much in here. If there is a message I would like to emphasize above all others, it is that this is not a “Middle Eastern conflict”—this is (for those of us in the United States, but also everywhere) just as much about us, and our complicity as purveyors of genocide, as it is about the people who are resisting.

And in directing this message particularly to the people of color of the United States (“people of color” being as problematic a phrase as any, but being useful in this context), the intent should be clear: a failure to show solidarity among ourselves is not merely a tactical error. It’ll be a perpetuation of the colonial divide and conquer strategy that killed off my ancestors in the Native American Holocaust. The tired ol’ adage of people not knowing their history will be ever more real in this context.

 

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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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