Thursday, June 11, 2009

Reportback From the 2009 SFWAR Walk Against Rape.

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don’t be scared, don’t be quiet

affected by rape? join the riot!

That was one of the many chants we shouted as we walked through the streets of San Francisco on April 25th. The vibe is becoming familiar, and I continue to be re-inspired to do this important walk, do fundraising, and be visible as a male ally and a brotha around these issues.

I am really so thankful for the people who supported my efforts by giving to the San Francisco Women Against Rape. Because of y’all, I suspect i must have been at least one of the top ten fundraisers for the event. Friends, family and people of conscience altogether donated $1312.00 (and counting, my fundraising page is open until September), nearly double what i raised last year. And this is during a recession too! Hats off to folks, for real. And it is good to know that all of that will be going towards helping women in crisis get the services they need.

Being a male ally of color went to a new level this time (finally). Last year, I put out the call to men of color to walk with me. Long story short, i walked alone. I put out the call again this year-- a friend nearly flew up from Jamaica!! But funds were not really flowing, so instead we are starting convos around creating something similar in Jamaica. But one man did respond to my call, Ramesh. I had never met Ramesh in person before, but we had been emailing each other and other men around forming men’s groups. Among other things, Ramesh does work with Narika, an organization that is a resource for South Asian women dealing with domestic violence and abuse.

The walk itself was powerful and beautiful, but the piece around connecting with other men of color in this context was the crux of this for me.

The Walk Against Rape was scheduled to meet at Justin Herman Plaza at 10am. I had anticipated a chilly San Francisco day, but it was sunny and beautiful, and i found myself stripping off layers within minutes of arriving at the check-in point. Ramesh and I didn’t have much trouble identifying each other that Saturday morning, two brown guys in their 30’s amongst mostly younger women. I was pleased to see a large Asian /Pacific Islander presence. The largest male presence was definitely East Asian youth. I saw several black men, and some of us smiled and did the brotha nod of acknowledgement. I found myself taking pictures of them later, wanting to document their presence. I saw various photographer lenses sway my direction as well.

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Ramesh and I hit it off really well. I found myself smiling more and more as i realized i was looking into another brown male face and speaking about our lives, our passions, and feminist activism. Yay!!

Our first interesting exchange (one that challenged me) was when Ramesh suggested we talk to women of color to see what they wanted from male allies of color. I found myself hesitating, and some of it was shyness... but there was something else. I brought it up. One of my concerns around building a male ally presence at this rally, was about us even unconsciously taking up too much space. Ramesh nodded. He rehashed the approach and question for me, and though i forget how it was all modified, I felt more comfortable with it. It didn’t feel as much like it could be taken as “hi, educate us now!”, and definitely left the option for people not to respond if they weren’t feelin it.

I am glad we made that compromise.

We approached some young sistas wearing USF hoodies, politely introduced ourselves, and asked briefly if they had any thoughts they would like to share around what they would like to see male allies of color doing. The conversation started slowly, then built momentum. The young women said that they want men to be visible and present at events like this, like how we are. They also said that they want us to talk to other men about these issues. And we learned that there had recently been 4 rapes at USF by one man, and that the whole school was going through shock and trauma because of that. We talked about there needing to be more education around sexual assault, because college campuses have such horrible track records with rape, something that definitely isn’t advertised in the admissions office. One young woman said that since its a Jesuit school, there is more of a moralist approach to these issues, and not so much breaking it down into a need for education around these issues, or framing it as a violent manifestation of patriarchy. After maybe 10 minutes, we thanked them for their time and conversation, wished them a good day, and went on our way.

I started to think more about what being active meant, and how to find out what being a good ally meant without exhausting people... how to actually do the opposite, and give energy through active listening and acknowledgement. I’m still thinking about that.

4 other South Asian men from Narika, friends of Ramesh soon joined us. 5 brown dudes reppin at the SFWAR walk! Woo hoo! It felt good to finally be at this walk, talking to other men of color about anti-sexism work. We shook hands, and our eyes met in recognition of this reality.

Lisa Thomas-Odeyemo, the Director of Counseling of SFWAR stepped up to address the walkers with a bullhorn (pictured at the top). This has become a ritual that i look forward to. Not only does she facilitate us in grounding & stretching, to get in our bodies and feel powerful in our purpose, but she evokes the long lines of ancestors that are behind us all, leading us here to this space at this time. Grounding this in the spirit of ancestors is an important piece for me. Soooo many ancestors were dehumanized and raped during slavery, and so many others were raped in older patriarchal systems. By husbands. Fellow schoolmates. Policemen. Soldiers. Prison Guards. Gay Bashers. Relatives. Long legacies of sexual assault as a mechanism of control that are not only from older patriarchal systems, but are more than alive today. We acknowledge. And we make our bodies walking shrines of remembrance and resistance.

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We take to the streets, with purposeful fire in our eyes, and chants in our throats. A truck drives with us, playing live samba drums, layers of polyrhythms bounce of the alleys made by the tall buildings of Downtown San Francisco. The sun is high, and people are smiling and chanting. It’s a gorgeous walk, and we stretch for maybe two blocks, easily fillling up one side of the street. Cars drive by on the other side, honking horns in support, which always raises a big roaring cheer from the crowd. Me and Ramesh joke that if you are having a bad day, you can just drive past the rally and beep, and then hundreds of people will cheer at you! But on the real, the love was in the air, and it was a revolutionary love to be shared.

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Ramesh continued to engage other walkers on their thoughts around the rally. They were mostly male youth, and even a police officer. I took the opportunity to connect with the other Narika men.

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When we reach Dolores Park, the finish line was apparent, an arch of balloons blowing in the wind. The energy of the walkers picked up, and the cheers got louder in call and response style for the final stretch:

Tell Me What Community Looks Like?!

Tell Me What An Activist Looks Like?!


Tell Me What A Survivor Looks Like?!
Tell Me What An Ally Looks Like?!


Tell Me What Community Looks Like?!

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We are received by a smiling, standing ovation of park goers, supporters and organizers. The sense of arrival and triumph is buzzing in the air. Some walkers are received with hugs and kisses. Me and the Narika men go to sit in a circle on the grass to brainstorm over ideas for future meetings.

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Afterwards, we go looking for some food, and then i see my honey! Yay. I’m glad we can sit together and watch the upcoming performances. At some point, a female emcee steps up to the mic, and she shares heartbreaking stories of her own sexual abuse, and stories from her community. She also shared that a law was being introduced in Afghanistan that would legalize raping one’s wife under the law (which has since met much internal resistance, and will not pass). She went on to inform us about being in mutual alliance and support with Denim Day in Italy, a day that was created when a judge ruled that a woman could not have been raped because her jeans were too tight to come off without consent. Vomit. Also evoked was the disgusting case in the Philippines where US military officer Daniel Smith was arrested for raping a 22 year old Filipina, but then was whisked away by a US Embassy and acquitted. Outrageous. My pal Kiwi reports and blogs. Having illustrated the global impact of a rape culture, the emcee brought it back home and acknowledged the USF community for what they were going through, which inspired thankful cheers from the USF camp.

The featured acts were all very powerful, but a few really stood out to me. Imani’s Dream, a youth dance troupe from Oakland kicked it off, and brought magic. It was so good to see little black boys and girls in this space, dancing and embodying resistance to predatory masculinity and sexual assault- as well as have a real good time! They were beautiful. Oakland Represent!!

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Staceyann Chin also read from her memoirs, her new book “The Other Side Of Paradise”. Wow. Staceyann is a powerful Jamaican lesbian spoken word artist, i blogged a great clip of her performing “Feminist Or Womanist” here around a year ago. It was great to see her again on the SFWAR stage. After some funny and facetious questioning of what’s up with the cold weather (she didn’t have a jacket! ahh! It was sunny but breezy for sure) she went into her fierce spoken word. And... she rocked it.

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And on the real... her book is amazing. As a Jamaican, it consider it to be one of the most important works of literature to come from our own. It is well written, at times funny and shining with unmistakable Jamaican wit, but mostly just taking you on the challenging journey of a little girl from country who strove assert her humanity. It is a perspective that is important for all to read, dealing with gender, class, sexuality, and religion in ways that are rarely discussed in the larger Jamaican community. I wish it were prescribed reading in school. But I was more than pleased to see that it got good reviews in The Gleaner, Jamaica’s premiere newspaper! I don’t think I can really explain just how amazing that is.

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So that is the reportback. Sorry it took so long to write it! And thank you again to everyone who supported in cash, words or spirit. And if you know some men of color who REALLY should be walking with me next year, well, let me know :) Bless up



Anonymous said...

Whenever I get into an argument on a women's, lesbian/trans discussion board that I frequent about men and rape, it usually goes like this.

Some women: Men are so violent. Women are not safe around them. Just look around you.

Other women: Most men are good. I don't hate men and don't appreciate you male haters saying such horrific things.

My response: What are your good men doing? are they protesting against rape? Are they fighting to change oppressive laws against women? Are you calling them good even though they do absolutely nothing to help women?

All this to say that I'm really glad for the work you do. I;m proud to know that the type man that this world needs actually exists. Your title of being a good man comes because your actions are truly good. Thanks for being you. May more men become like you. Cheers.

richard said...

steadycat, i am so humbled by your words, thank you! its good to see you up in here too :)

and believe me, a lot of times i also essentialize (bio) men the same way that "some women" do (whew, was just reading "Stone Butch Blues"... important book, amazing... and super intense, the legacy of rape against butch women by bigoted male police officers. it went on and on. i couldn't finish it.). I also appreciate the stance you take, which i would apply to any person of privilege. At this point, my straight white male friends really gotta be people who step up. It was also a breath of fresh air for me to meet other dedicated men of color, and i look forward to finding more brothers and men who do this work.

thanks again steadycat!! bless up

Re-Sister said...

Hello Richard

I just came across your blog, and this post in particular is turning out to be one of those spirit-feeding, soul-nurturing things that I really need right now. So thank you!

Let me explain. I am personally, politically and professionally aligned against gender-based violence. I have been interested for a while now with supporting male feminists allies and help them in strengthening the parallel movement to revolutionize masculinities. But I often find myself working in isolation, and amidst opposition and misunderstandings. I came upon your blog post after one such interaction which left me with my spirit shaken up, and I am heartened to see your report on the SFWAR march. It validated to me that, maybe I wasn't just making stuff up in my head, and I did deserve to be heard! I appreciate the intersectional analysis you brought to your report-back. Reading about the march and your take on it gives me hope that it IS possible to engage men without disrespect, and without oversimplifications of masculinity and femininity.
I know I am being vague, but this is a deliberate strategic choice I am making. I would love the opportunity to explain more and get some advice and comments from you privately. If you are willing, let me know how we can do that. Thanks again.

richard said...

Re-Sister (love that moniker!!) thank you so much for your words. It is also soul warming for me to hear these responses to the labor of love that i do. I'm sorry to hear that you have met so much misunderstanding on this path. And i definitely hear the isolation piece, which is why i was so excited to write this reportback about finally not walking this alone.

i would like to start a dialogue, i am very intrigued! lesseee... i have a myspace account that i barely use, its more of a platform to promote my musicianship-- but if you have a myspace page, write me, then hit me back here to let me know that you did, and we can take it from there:

coo? have a great weekend Re-Sister. Bless up!

Barbara said...

Amazing! I live in Haiti and here we have kidnapping and rapes, It can happen to anyone and it does. It's great to see men of color being allies. I wish I could see more of that here.

Lala said...

Stacyann Chin, I didn't recognize her without her constantly talking over everyone and interrupting as she does on My Two Cents. I swear if a cat pisses she'd say it was "homophobia".

Cynic that I am I am inclined to say a march against rape is like a march against muggings... But Awareness is good and supporting organizations is good...

Speaking of Jamaica (as you did) you'd do well to assist some gay rights organizations there. I was talking to some folks from there a few days ago and I was stunned at how unabashedly they will tell you how they dislike "battymen". I didn't even know what that was.

Anonymous said...

lala, major difference is muggings were not ranked the most violent crime you (usually) live through. rape is 2nd only to murder. which is probably why there are marches for it, major organizations for it, prevention and counseling etc.

lets not be ignorant and call ourselves "cynics"

anyways... great blog. i linked you in mine!

Lala said...

Dear rapecentric...with a name like that I'd suggest counseling.

Lala said...

...and let me explain myself to anybody else as slow: nobody is not going to commit a criminal act because there was a march to wit I mention awareness in the first plae. Damn.

Anonymous said...

rapecentric references the rape culture we ALL live in. no counseling needed.

the only thing slow are your ideas.

feel free to refer to my link in my previous post for some education about sexual violence.

richard said...

@Barbara: Thank you! I am glad that my work speaks to you like this. I have friends who use this blog to open up convos with partners, family members, or even discuss things with boys (and girls) in schools- and i would imagine that organizing a similar event in Haiti with an amazing consciousness raising/culturally-apt performance could be done starting small and growing.

not trying to be "mr. fix-it", just sharing ideas :) thanks for your input.

@Lala: i definitely have to say... you help bring more vigorous debate onto this blog!!

@rapecentric: i'm feelin the meaning behind your moniker. powerful. thanks for your contributions and work.

Jacob Aziza said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jacob Aziza said...

I don't mean in any way to minimize the importance of what Richard does and how wonderful it is that he does it.

I feel one of the comments here needs to be addressed:
"Other women: Most men are good. I don't hate men and don't appreciate you male haters saying such horrific things.

My response: What are your good men doing? are they protesting against rape? Are they fighting to change oppressive laws against women? Are you calling them good even though they do absolutely nothing to help women?

So, does this also mean that any woman who isn't actively fighting to eliminate rape is a "bad" person (or at least not good)?
Is everyone not actively involved in social justice personally responsible for inequity? If you don't work with the homeless, are you guilty of causing homelessness? Is an American with no car who buys local food and minimizes consumption responsible for global warming and pollution by virtue of being an American, unless they actively work to change everyone else's behavior as well?
If everyone is required to try to fix all of the world's problems, then no one is a good person, because it simply can't be done.

What ever your cause is, and no matter how important it is, don't forget that it isn't the only one.

"Some women: Men are so violent..."
Putting all men into one category is sexism. Other words for it include "prejudice" and "bigotry".

Even on a purely practical level, since males make up 50% of the population, it makes since not to deliberately alienate all of them.
It is this sort of sentiment which makes many women reluctant to adopt the term feminist, and it is counter-productive.

That being said, I could not agree more with the final part of the comment: "I'm proud to know that the type man that this world needs [ie Richard] actually exists... Thanks for being you. May more men become like you. Cheers."

richard said...

Jacob! Thank you for your recent enthusiasm commenting on my blog. And thank you for adding to steadycat’s accolades around the work i do. much appreciated for sure :)

What strikes me is that we are operating from different approaches to the concept of power, privilege and what it means to be an ally. For us to all have a salient conversation on feminism, patriarchy and sexism, we should all have the same operating terms.

I’m not sure if you have been on a feminist blog and accused a woman of sexism before...! I see you are triggered and feeling lumped in. To be honest, i find steadycat’s assessment to be very valid, and not just because she is appreciating my work!

The first thing to clear as an operating term is that sexism = male prejudice + power. Sexism is an institution, created by men to benefit men and oppress women. So here goes... Women cannot be sexist. There is no such thing as reverse sexism (or reverse racism for that matter... all of these terms can map onto that oppressive institution as well). Women and girls can exhibit prejudice against men and boys, but it in no way can be likened to sexism. Women can have internalized sexism, and project that onto their sisters since we live in a sexist, patriarchal society, but nope, no women enacting sexism on men! It may seem like semantics, but it is of the highest importance to be clear that these systems of power can't simply be inverted and said to be the same thing.

lets look more closely at the institution of slavery, a racist, capitalist, oppressive institution that the US economy and white people still benefit from. Any rage at this truth from black people towards white people is not racism. An enslaved African was not able to enact their ire in a way that was backed by a an institution of power. Any uprising against the slave owner class by the enslaved, was not racism. Any violent words expressed towards white people from enslaved Africans, was not racist. it is prejudice based on an experience of whiteness. Prejudice means to pre-judge. An enslaved African would pre-judge that a white man was going to treat him/her in an inhuman way, because of prior experience. Only those white folks who actively became a part of the solution (abolitionists) could be considered to not be a part of the problem. White folks who turned a blind eye while reaping the benefits of slavery/racism, were/are a part of the problem. perhaps the largest part of the problem. Sure, there was the KKK (eventually), and slave owners, but the onus was on the white majority population to stand up and denounce racism/slavery. And those white folks who did stand up for black people, did not have an easy journey. They had to swim upstream against what was expected of white people in that time. It must have been uncomfortable. But in no way comparable to the hundreds of years of torture that black people were subjected to. An ally must be willing to be uncomfortable in order to advocate for humanity, and to use the power this society gives them in service of subverting the power imbalance.

richard said...

Today, many women walk a gauntlet just to leave their houses. Men invade space and shout sexist, disrespectful things. A lot of women have to navigate public space with their eyes downcast, iPod blaring in order to deflect some of the barrage. Other men stay silent as this happens. Why should i get involved? it could get violent. True. It could get violent. This is something that women don’t have a choice about, but we do. We have the power and choice to not think about these things. Rape represents one of the most horrible, dehumanizing manifestations of patriarchy and a sexist society. Afterwards, the law punishes female survivors in court, questioning their morals and word, subjecting them to invasive forensics, and forces them to recant the trauma over and over again. Men and boys are rape survivors too, but not to the extent that girls and women are raped. One may be hard pressed to find a woman who has not been sexually abused by a male. More men need to step up to end the war on women that is happening right now. Women saying general statements like “men are so violent” may seem essentialist and not helpful to dialogue, but it comes from the point of view of someone who is automatically a target of various forms of male violence, possibly daily. Arguably, this violence Includes men who collude by looking away. Being a man who silences or chastises women who share their perspectives of surviving patriarchy is also not helpful to dialogue. I have another post where i write a “prosem” around what it means to be an ally, its not easy work. It includes receiving anger you feel may be misdirected at you, and being understanding and supportive in that space.

Indeed, there are many social justice issues to contend with. We live in a racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, ageist, ableist, capitalist society that destroys our natural resources. And that is not a finite list of issues by any measure. I would say that the key is not to remain silent when oppression raises its head, and to be supportive of those who suffer in an institutionalized oppressive system. When an oppressed person shares their experience, it is a gift, a chance for looking at ourselves in non-defensive ways. I am working to be a better non-sexist, anti-oppression man on the daily, and if i ever think i’m done, then i know... i’m in trouble. i’m fooling myself. gotta keep movin!!

richard said...

i focus a lot on feminist work, because it encapsulates where i have the most privilege. I am a black man in a racist society, and I make a point to surround myself with people of color working on their internalized racism, and white people who are aware of their privilege, connected to their own ancestry, and actively anti-racist. I am also a straight male. Though not the same as if i were a white man, this positionality affords me privileges in a hetero/sexist society. As much as a i expect white folks to not stay silent when racist jokes and other forms of racism are happening, i consider it my responsibility as a straight male to work hard to remain vocal in the face of hetero/sexism.

I appreciate the fact that race and gender are social constructions, as i know you do. The fact still remains that oppressive institutions have been erected around these ideas, and the impact on people is very very real.

In closing, I want to thank you for making me really have to think deeply before responding to you! i also recommend checking out The Angry Black Woman’s Required Reading on these issues. There are great resources there. I would also very strongly recommend that you indeed read her required reading in entirety before commenting on her blog. She is not called The Angry Black Woman to be cute! I have great respect for her work, and i love the threads there, and the community of great thinkers there.

Will have to respond to your other comments another day, gotta re-channel my energy into other forms of productivity! Thanks again, bless up

Jacob Aziza said...

I can see where you are coming from.
I can see also why it might sound like defensiveness, or anger.

In fact, I was responding to what I see as a knee-jerk emotional reaction. I don't take it personally.
Much of what you wrote echos the basic sentiment of what I just wrote on race and White privilege.
However, I find a major distinction in that, while I made note that every white person benefits from the system and most are complicit in receiving that benefit, I did not imply that they were therefor bad people.

I have to disagree that oppressed people can not be racist/sexist/
Bigotry is bigotry. In one case it can be institutionalized and systemic. Ultimately hate is hate.

I won't hesitate to call people out just because it is not PC to do so. I think progressives/activists as a whole lose credibility and influence when they get too insular to expect criticism. I may even be totally wrong in this particular case, but if something is considered "off limits", sometimes it's the emperor with no clothes.

I agree that it is the responsibility of every individual to act against wrongs that are done in front of them.

I feel that expressing generalized anger at a group, any group, even one in power, is counter-productive if only in that it alienates potential allies. It may be emotionally healthy for someone angry to express themselves, but if reactionary self-expression is likely to turn others away from the cause, it may be inappropriate non-the-less.

I understand how it adds insult to injury and makes a woman re-live trauma to have her have to prove she did not consent in court.
Until very recently I felt this was an injustice. Then someone pointed something out to me: in the US, every suspect is innocent until proven guilty. It is one of the most fundamental protections afforded citizens by the constitution, and it exists for good reason. Applied in this situation it has profoundly unfortunate consequences for the victim. I am not going to claim to know what the best way to deal with this issue is, only that it is more complex than just being an example of systemic sexism. While this is the most clear example, I think in every area of social justice it is more complex than just "us VS them", or some individuals being "good" and others not.

Your last point, about it being the area where you have the most privileged and therefor the area in which to be the most involved, I haven't heard that idea before, but I like it a lot. I need to put more thought to the concept.
I look forward to when I have time to read the things you linked, and thank you for responding so thoughtfully and thoroughly.

richard said...

@Jacob Aziza

i’ve actually been intending to respond to your white privilege post, that too requires some time to respond thoughtfully!

We can for sure agree to disagree, but i really want to ask what definitions of sexism and racism and their relation to power do you work by? Is there a particular canon you subscribe to? Because it seems that the equations Sexism = Male Prejudice + Power and- Racism = White Prejudice + Power isn’t what you operate with.

To be clear, I am not saying that oppressed people cannot be sexist or racist, specifically women cannot be sexist (but can be racist) and people of color can not be racist (but can be sexist), because of the inherent linear trajectories of power that are in these systems. People of color do not benefit from racism, so cannot be racist. Oppressed people can be rageful, hateful, vengeful, prejudiced and more against oppressors, but simply cannot channel that ire into a historical power structure that affects oppressors with the same outcome. a black cop can pull over and needlessly harass a random white person, call them racialized slurs, beat them, etc... this would be a horrible act, and is definitely racialized in intent, but the white person knows that more than likely, the system will err in their favor, and that he/she does not have to worry about her white neighborhood being under siege by black cops, killing their children, and dragging them off to jail. That, is racism.

You are definitely free to criticize! Just wanting to make sure we are at least talking about the same terms with the same meaning in mind. Because in the language you are using right now, to most feminists and people who are anti-racist and anti-sexist, you are saying that women who say that “Men Are Violent” oppress and take away men’s power in every social institution in tandem with that statement.

re: your statement “Hate is Hate”: When you check out The Angry Black Woman’s resources, i would also recommend starting with her link to
“Anger Does Not Equal Hate”.
I also delve more into this later on.

re: how women are treated in court with rape cases, i am not understanding why a woman has to prove that she “didn’t ask for it” with her morals, style of dress, the time of night she was out, as well as invasive forensics when testifying against a repeat offender male rapist.

re: anger turning people away from the cause, i am of the strong belief that if an ally cannot tolerate anger from the people they advocate for, then they cannot be a good ally. Being an ally requires depth of empathy and a revolutionary form of love. It requires understanding that a woman may need to say that she is fearful of, and even hateful of men after being violated. This would not be the point in time to tell her she is being unreasonable, too angry, or sexist. An ally needs to create space for the more than justified anger of the oppressed. An ally who will only work with people if they are “well behaved” and “thankful” will probably find themselves hitting up against increasingly more and more rage and as time continues, because there is no space for authentic expression of oppression allowed.

we definitely agree though, that everyone has the responsibility to act against wrongs done to humanity in their proximity. for sho! And i am glad to hear that my choice to activate around the places i have most privilege is sounding good to you :) i am still working on the piece around my middle class privilege, but at the same time, i feel i advocate for women and LGBTQ people of all classes. Till next time!

richard said...

oh yes, one more REALLY important thing... An ally who will only work with people if they are "well behaved" is basically enforcing their privilege and power to dictate the terms of interaction. This defeats the purpose of being an ally. Definitely one should still take care of themselves, and have support systems to help process difficult interactions, but an ally intrinsically must release control over the modes of exchange.

have a good night Jacob!

Jacob Aziza said...

Re definitions: so, ok, ABW, yourself, (and presumably others) are choosing to redefine the actual terms racism, sexism, etc to mean specifically institutionalized, systemic prejudice. I recognize the value of a term with that meaning, but it would certainly greatly simplify things and enhance communication to make an explicit point that this is how you are choosing to use the word, instead of claiming it is its definition.
I don't ascribe to any cannons. Personally I prefer to stick with concrete consistent language - dictionary definitions, for the sake of universal clarity. After all, the people we most want to reach is not just each other, but the people who are as of yet not involved in the discussion. Creating an "in" language contradicts that goal.
But I don't really want to argue semantics, so if it makes it more clear, I could use the term bigotry instead.

I know environmentalists, anarchists, pacifists. My mother is concerned primarily with the war. I know people working within the system and others trying to subvert it, someone who feeds the homeless and another who works in preserving local agriculture. A recent co-worker was shot in the head by Israeli military police while attempting to document the (non-violent) protest of the wall construction in the West Bank. I've been on the streets and I have been to city council meetings.
I read about economic justice, gay rights, climate change, race issues...
Recently I have come across a number of examples of various progressive groups fighting each other, and I find this very disheartening.

We need environmentalists, or else there might not be any people to mistreat each other in the future.
If you are on the receiving end of US military force, that will likely trump other issues for as long as you survive.
We need people working on many fronts.
And we need all of us to be each others allies - whether or not those potential allies can empathize with us.

It would be wonderful if we could teach everyone revolutionary love, but it isn't realistic. I believe the best way to begin the process is to be consistent in tolerance and reason, and give others a chance to understand.

I believe that giving in to anger, even justified anger, leads to things such as the break down of protest into riot, and a community which directs its anger at cops (who killed 5 black men last year) while largely ignoring the violence within the civilian community itself (which killed over 120). It is worse than unhelpful. It is profoundly counter-productive. Encouraging generalized anger can only have the effect of increasing violence. It may be emotionally gratifying to reduce every conflict to "us against them" but stating "if you're not for us, you are against us" always has the effect of turning people away from the cause.
I believe every way we find to divide ourselves makes it harder for anything positive to get done.

I fully agree that a woman may need to say that she is fearful of, and even hateful of men. Indeed, there are times it would be inappropriate to tell her she is being unreasonable.
That was not the situation that prompted this exchange though. Psychology, emotion, and acceptance are vital - and have a place where they are appropriate. That place can not extend to progressive organizing.

Jacob Aziza said...

Re trials: you responded to my point with a very specific example which does not represent every case, nor even the majority. Forensic procedures are voluntary. They are unnecessary in a case where the defendants defense is that it was consensual. In cases where the defense is "it wasn't me", the forensic evidence can ID (or exonerate) a suspect with almost 100% accuracy. The fact that it is invasive is due to biology, not law, and as unfortunate as it is, there really isn't any alternative. My original point was just that our justice system is set up so suspects are presumed innocent until proven guilty. In many cases this can add insult to injury for the victim; my original point is just that it is a complex issue lacking any "correct" answers.

About focusing on helping where ones own privilege is most pronounced: it is more than just sounding good to me that you choose to do this - it is making me question what that might mean for me. Some of your posts and links (which I have been sharing) definitely have me thinking much about the privileges I personally have as a male, more so than I ever have. I really appreciate that.
I am also thinking about the privileged I have as an American citizen, where the average income is over 40 times the income of 1/3 the world's people, and even our "poverty line" is 14 times higher.
Living in the country which fires off the missles, and not one of the places they land, is a pretty major privledge which we don't think about much.
Of course I have privileged from being hetero, being educated, being able-bodied, probably many more, but those first three are seeming the most compelling to me at the moment.

I really appreciate the awareness you bring, to myself and to everyone. I also appreciate the respect, patience, and positivity you show to all of your readers on every comment they make. While I will no doubt continue to argue some points here and there, know that overall I feel I have things to learn from you, which is the most important gift anyone can give.
Thank you.

I read all of ABWs required reading. While I agree with those articles (except of course for the language stuff) I notice in the comments section her frequently responding to people with things like which amount to: 'you are just wrong' or 'you are too close-minded to be worth arguing with', and even 'unless you are in my position, you could not possibly understand, and therefor your opinion is irrelevant and invalid'.
Aside from the fact that I have never known of anyone to use those terms who was not themselves dogmatically close minded, it is simply not productive. Those are the only people there is any point to educating. The people who already agree with you don't need educating. The people who don't - but are bothering to read these articles - might be gotten through to; but not if they are responded to in such a condescending and dismissive way.
Its one thing to be angry, another entirely to be illogical and disrespectful.
While she does make many good points, I think I will stick to your posts from now on, because, like I said, you show a respect to your commenters, even when they disagree with you, which I admire and appreciate.

richard said...

hello again Jacob Aziza!

So, i think that we can just leave things where you are not comfortable with the foundational premise that most if not all feminists subscribe to: that sexism = male prejudice + power. For the record, anti-racists and anti-sexists have gone through centuries of struggle to reclaim words that speak to our experience.

I would like to point out the dynamic that you are a man, not comfortable with this foundational piece around how this word is used, and that you are offering that idea that it is better for targeted groups to use language that makes the privilege class more comfortable. This brings us back to square one. In order for power to be realigned, the privileged have to be the ones to make the effort to understand, and accept the experience/language of people in the targeted group... and not be in their usual comfort zone of privilege, in a world that affirms them/us all the time about the “right” way to do things through institutions that have been established by people in power. ie, the dictionary. It was reading the dictionary that gave Malcolm X insight into how twisted the lens is of those in power who wanted to define his experience. I would not be surprised if i did some research and i found out that the major dictionaries were written by white men who owned slaves.

its good to hear how many movements you have passion for! and i am feelin you on those. I’m very sorry to hear about your co-worker. sigh. Yes, there is a lot of upset in the world. When i look at this work through my lens, i feel like i like to start at the level of sexism and racism, because if we can’t get along, respect each other, and acknowledge oppression in our own circles, then we can’t efficiently tackle all of these other issues. You know, like having a dysfunctional family go to therapy before they... i dunno how to finish that analogy right now, but i think you get me :)

So many of the issues you mentioned affect women and people of color worse. The use of rape as a tool of war is widespread and terrifying. Environmental racism is just a couple miles from me... toxic plants and dumping grounds are zoned to be where lower income families of color are living, causing occurrences of asthma, cancer and birth defects to skyrocket in those communities. You won’t find that in Rockridge. My point is, all of these struggles are connected, and need not be an overwhelming notion. Everyone just needs to do their part. As you are. As i am.

I don’t think its unrealistic to teach revolutionary love. unless, one thinks it is unrealistic to teach love. Anyone who is on the path of revolutionary love can pass that on to their kids if they decide to have kids, and can share it in a variety of other ways. I am not trying to teach everyone revolutionary love, but one of my purposes is to be a beacon of this, and to join with other beacons to make enough of a difference. How sad it would be if everyone thought that it wouldn’t make a difference, so they didn’t try... ha! African proverb: Anyone who thinks that just one can’t make a difference has never fallen asleep in a dark room with a persistent mosquito... (not to equate revolutionary love with the annoying whine of a mosquito! Just that one person can make a difference.)

richard said...

I used the example that a woman should be able to express anger and fear towards men with an extreme example, but that example can be applied to what are called micro-aggressions as well. Women are bombarded with messages about their bodies, ogled, sized up, hear songs blasting out of car windows that objectify and demean them... this must be an accumulatively infuriating if not soul numbing experience. An experience that a lot of men are able to comfortably waltz through without a second thought. Anger is a Natural. Human. Emotion. And is justified under these circumstances. The privileged often express discomfort around the expression of anger from the target groups. The proliferation of the Stepin Fetchit, smiling golliwog, racist images of grotesquely grinning black folks is a manifestation of that. Treat Black people inhumanely, then make images of them happy and silly and accepting in their suffering. It was comforting to many white folks. Since people like Malcolm X, Richard Wright, Nat Turner, images have definitely shifted to invalidate the image of the “angry black man.”, turning into a stereotype, and if anything, proliferate the image that there is no other way for a black man to express masculinity. This complicates matters with how we relate to our more than justified anger.

I say again anger is a human emotion, and is furthermore a necessary expression of people in target groups. I agree, there must be more productive ways to channel them. The sad thing about oppression and anger, is that often, the closest target are those around you. Rioters aren’t usually bussed to the sources of oppression. I did notice in the Oscar Grant protests that the 1st one targeted small businesses, and the 2nd one... targeted Wells Fargo, and other larger corporations. Whether one endorses destruction of property in a riot or not, its debatedly an improvement. Another question might be, what is the difference between a riot and an uprising?

richard said...

Anger must be acknowledged, respected, understood in the experience of people who are targeted by oppression. Anger cannot be the sole jurisdiction of the privileged, percieved as a problem when others display it. Especially since anger of the privileged makes much much more damage. It is the job of people of privilege and conscience to honor and hear the anger of people targeted by oppression. If it sounds difficult, its because it is. The terms of engagement cannot be on the terms of the privileged. That is basically, more of the same.

ABW claims her anger without apology, I respect her for that. She has decided not to be a “good girl”, to giggle when inappropriate things are said, to not “rock the boat”. Perhaps i am able to express myself with more calm because i do not have to deal with what she deals with on the daily. I would probably be angrier if this was a blog specifically on racism, which is something i experience on the daily. And if someone came on saying that we are now in a Post Racial America because Obama is President, or something similar that i would consider pretty inane and “where do you start”, i would probably at some point have a lot less patience. If the racial issues got even bigger, touching on the more personal, and the person was still not getting it, i would also probably just chalk it up to a waste of energy, maybe state that i found it to be a waste of energy, and move on. I am also a big proponent of the concept that people of privilege DO need to do their own work, and find others of similar privilege to work these issues out, instead of draining the energy of people in target groups to educate them, while most of the time not really wanting to actually validate the experience/education anyway. For example, I am glad that you and i are having this exchange. ABW and many other women do not have the time, patience and energy to deal with sexism full time, AND educate men who are reluctant to really hear them. For these women (and there are many other blogs with women that have the word “angry” as the first descriptor) anger may be seen as a part of their power, their clarity on what is no longer acceptable in patriarchy, while living in patriarchy. And in my opinion, most of these bloggers channel their anger in constructive ways that build community and understanding. I salute them!

Again, thank you for your comments and your appreciation. This is most commentary i have done on my blog in a LOOOOOOONG time! I think the Bob Marley post has the record for most comments at this point... it goes from irate Rastas screaming at me to sharing erotic patois prose... crazy!! haha... and i am glad to know that this blog has been inspiring for you, and that you have been sharing it. Sounding like you are spreading the revolutionary love yerself! I was also nodding my head along with the acknowledgements of the other positionalities where you (and i) have privilege. Ain’t it the truth. Just the other day when looking at the “necklace of lights” around Lake Merritt, i remembered a bit of trivia, that those lights were turned off during World War II so that it wouldn’t assist attacking fighter planes in figuring out the topography of the land from far away. It struck me that i have never lived in a reality where i had to worry about bombs being dropped on me. And that is a huge privilege. One i am thankful for, and also one that i don’t want to take for granted.

Have a great weekend!

Jacob Aziza said...

So, now I know for sure that you are at least partially misunderstanding me, and I suspect that may be the root of apparent disagreement.
I know because of the recent comment "recently, a man has really been testing me on why i do this work". I assume, from the link, that that's me.
Remember, I originally commented on a very specific comment (not even one you made), which indirectly led to discussing the meaning of sexism, which branched out in multiple digressions.

Let me be totally unambiguous about this: I believe strongly that what you are doing is important, meaningful, and necessary. I think its an area of great significance and one much too neglected. I respect and admire not only what you choose to focus on, but also the mindfulness with which you acknowledge the limitations of your role considering being a member of the group in power.
Like I mentioned in the a previous comment, just because I agree with someone overall doesn't mean I won't question specific things.

I acknowledge that prejudice + power produces a qualitatively different effect than prejudice alone, and that sexism (or any other -ism) coming from the privileged group is not comparable to prejudice coming from someone powerless.

My objection is limited only to the re-defining of the term itself, when it already has an established meaning. Not because of any lack of legitimacy in the principal, but for the pure sake of clear communication.
Personally, I get it. If you look in the comments section of ABWs two posts on sexism and racism = prejudice + power, you don't have to take my word for it that a lot of people don't.
And what I am saying is THOSE are the people who need most to be communicated to. Preaching to the choir does nothing except making the writer feel better. If someone who doesn't get it is taking the trouble to actually read a post like that, there is a chance that the author changes their worldview. But not if they are written off, and not if the author chooses to use an "in" language on principal or out of convenience.

For purely practical reasons I believe it is important for activists to actively reach out to anyone who may be reachable. Of course they shouldn't have to. Of course it will be tiring and annoying. They shouldn't have to fight for justice in the first place. But they do, and they are, and as an activist its important to consider the effect that each political action or statement is likely to have.

I am not at all suggesting making the privileged group more "comfortable". I am talking about making sure they understand. Understanding will undoubtedly make them less comfortable. If you think I am biased by being part of the privileged group (and I would certainly grant that possibility) we could have the same discussion about race. As you know, I wrote my own essay on white privilege just a few days before we first met, and if anything I make a point of making people UNcomfortable. I don't think, in these issues, that people can stay inside their comfort zones. However, I was also very careful to be clear and explicit so that anyone who reads it, whether or not they have any background on the issues, whether or not they have ever thought about it, can understand what I am trying to say.

Jacob Aziza said...

The issue about established institutions of power (such as the dictionary) reminds me of the Ebonics issue. Some may make a valid argument about it being no more or less a structured language than any other. And you could say that white America "should" accept that someone who speaks that way may be just as intelligent and educated as someone who speaks "proper" English. However, we both know that's not gonna happen. This may not be fair. But I think educating young people how to speak standard English is a more winnable battle than trying to get employers to retrain all of their current employees in Ebonics. It was reading the dictionary which also allowed Brother Malcolm to educate himself in prison and in turn become the force he became. To use the establishment is not the same as to embrace it or support it.
Abolition and universal suffrage were both fought for - successfully - in established white male dominated legal systems. Had supporters, of whatever background, refused to engage with the establishment on principal, how likely is it they would have succeeded?
I am not suggesting that all activism must or should be or even can be done from within the system, but that working within the system should not be discounted as an important part of it. I am more interested in the practical real world results than I am in principals, theories, or people's feelings.

But really, I am not even talking about the terms of engagement. I am talking about just the simple issue of using language to facilitate communication. It goes too to the question of not taking the time to educate privileged people. In that case, what purpose does it serve to write in the first place? The great thing about the internet is the ability to educate people across time and space barriers, to reach people who would otherwise be in secluded groups of like-minded people. But we have to choose to use that, and not just seek out like-minded people on the web.

The point I was trying to make was that all these struggles are connected! So there is at least one thing we are in complete agreement about.

Thanks for all you do, and for all the feedback and new ideas and challenges.

richard said...

@Jacob Aziza: We definitely do seem to have our lines criss cross around language and politics- did you not see the the rest of that sentence? "i am really being tested by a man... in a good way." i believe we are testing each other, the foundations of our stances. in very civil, respectful ways. We may not agree on everything, but i think its clear that we both are men that value social justice.

I do hear you when you say that you believe i am doing good work. ANd I am impressed by the environmental work you do. Me saying that you test me, is not about antagonism. It is about having a discussion, and both of us causing the other to think about what we believe. In a good way.

Thanks again, as always for your words, thoughts and affirmations! Peace.

Jacob Aziza said...

What I wrote on racism is on a blog started by a (white, female) friend of mine.

She recently wrote something on race, inspired by my piece.

I had not yet read it when I wrote my last comment here.
She had no idea that you and I were having this discussion here.

And so I find it unbelievable that everything you (and ABW) wrote is exactly what I find myself wanting to say to her, and everything she wrote is exactly what I find myself wanting to you to you.

The title does not well reflect the content: