I Remember

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I was there when the events discussed at the beginning of this post happened. I started the Girlcot Seal Press accountability campaign. It is a traumatic story in the sense of cavalier disregard for intellectual property and closing of the ranks by certain mainstream feminists and a large portion of NWSA attendees that year as much as how the careers of those folks were completely unhindered by their involvement in both oppression and “potential” plagiarism. Yet it is also a powerful testament to the work woc social justice and feminist bloggers engaged in then and, if you know them, now. I am so proud of my virtual sisters for the community we built together and for all the amazing work I see them doing now. I too have grown and changed but I have never gotten to carry our histories with me.

Please click the link to read

An Open Letter to Amanda Marcotte

Not Much Has Changed

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I was reading Breeze Harper’s piece on racist and misogynist trolling of her website Sistah Vegan a few days ago and thinking how little has changed for black intellectuals in North America. Breeze mentions how she has advanced degrees from prestigious universities, honors, and awards that should make her word hold some weight. However, as a post-colonial reading of Merleau-Ponty quickly points out the imagined black Other supersedes that of any disconfirming information. So we are always ignorant until proven smart. Always race baiting haters until we allow racism to run rampant on our sites or bow down to the know it all white expert who is likely reading an uncited bastardization of our own text back to us incorrectly. And so on.

What struck me most reading Breeze’s article was not just the long list of educational credentials that amount to nothing in the face of whiteness, but also the fact that she has been harassed by so-called Buddhists for daring to participate in decolonizing wellness practices. Not only does this seem decidedly anti-Buddhist, but it touches very close to home. You see, I have a white male Buddhist in my life, through no fault of my own, who is consistently harassing me about my intersectional politics and my desire for equal treatment at the university. He denies that there is any sign of discrimination in the classrooms he oversees and yet there are multiple complaints about racism, sexism, and homophobia overheard in the halls, claimed to be written on the evals, and most importantly several students and one faculty member have threatened to sue over oppressive behavior or pedagogical choices. He calls me unstable when I advocate for myself or others, and has literally told people to stay away from me if they want to succeed in our profession. Once, he even maligned my family and allegedly physically threatened a gay male colleague. But when anyone who he cannot menace asks him about the rumors about his behavior, he laughs and falls back on his Buddhism as proof that he would never harass students and faculty of color, queer students and faculty, women, or differently-abled people. He talks about his spirituality and its call for authenticity that he takes seriously and even publishes about. When backed into a corner, he even beats his chest and talks about his own experiences of being bullied in school and all the poor black families he worked with when he was young.  He, like the Buddhist in Breeze’s post, is accessing whiteness through the lens of “good person”, i.e. the idea that because he practices benevolent spirituality he has already conquered oppression not only in his own mind but in any arena in which he enters or controls. As such, he has the right to silence and deny evidence of oppression and the need to heal from it coming from the people most likely to know what it looks like: the oppressed. Unlike the spectres in Breeze’s article however, he is not a pimple faced kid hiding at an internet cafe or in the back room of the Women’s Studies class he hopes will get him dates all the while resenting nothing else was open in this time slot. He is a tenured department chair. A real live, living breathing man, with the power to shape minds and marginalize and oppress those he does not see as fit to complain.

This is why I started with the image above. You see, it was not too long ago that schools were segregated and people had to fight to get access to good educations. It was not too long ago that students had to walk out to see themselves reflected in the curriculum. And in fact, despite these huge gains often met with unspeakable emotional and physical violence from the “good people” brigade, the reality is that very little has changed. Key historical figures in the history of social justice in this country are slowly being removed from history books. Important people of color, queer people, and women are being slowly erased and their contributions being usurped by the assumption that the men in the books did it first. Differently-abled and trans folks have very seldom if ever seen themselves in the textbooks and when they do, it is often with their identities completely washed away. The demographics of schools are also showing a rise in re-segregation and the middle and high school level which leads to even more “Real World encounters” at the university level. Just last year I had a student tell me that she had never had to be in a class with a black person before meeting me and another tell me that she lived in a neighborhood where the police would escort me out if I ever visited. But the Chair swears this is a safe place for students of color to learn and faculty of color to teach, all though there are no faculty of color to speak of in his department if you do not count us fellow cross-listing faculty, none.

So, what does it all mean? Ultimately, while Breeze’s piece resonated with me on so many levels from shared experience in and outside of the blogosphere to the myths I internalized about education and meritocracy without even realizing it, I have to disagree with the premise. I do not believe that trolls are the stuff of the internet. I work with trolls every day and in this climate they are empowered to troll me with the goal of making me break without any consequences. Like the girl pictured above, I sit in classrooms with students who literally point and say snide things about the way I smell, how I do my hair, the things I find important and meaningful, etc. and when I discuss it with other faculty, I often see folks who are lead by the likes of Dr. Crackhead or worse Mr. Buddhist-light, whose capacity for emotional sadism rivals any white supremacist in the history books or outside of it. (Material added 4/27/13) To be clear, the N word, “black bitch”, and the like have all been said to my face or the face of my colleagues at one time or another in our careers; one can only wonder what these “colleagues” and instructors call us behind closed doors or with the not-so-invisible veil of the internet. (End of added material)

Something has gone horribly wrong with us as a nation when we have already fought the battle of equal education and seen its toll, only to let it slip through our fingers. Something has gone horribly wrong with us as a people when we have looked on lynching images and read about how group think works, and we let our classrooms slip back into seethingly invalidating environments egged on by the person in the front of the room or their boss. I write this, with no answers, as one person trying to change it, speaking to all of you readers who I hope are doing the same. Let’s join our thoughts and our voices and our strength because otherwise it will be too late.

X-Men First Class: Finally


So I played hookie today to see the latest reboot of the X Men at the opening screening. I must admit that I was a little worried after the train wreck that was the last film in the franchise and the move to push it off it’s traditional memorial day weekend slot; but, I love James Mcavoy. Despite his decision to participate in Wanted, I trust that he has the keen sense of science fiction and fantasy folklore necessary for the complexities of Professor Xavier. I was also curious to see the interim years between the concentration camp and the battle weary Magneto of old.

Eschewing special effects driven drivel that has defined the genre of late, First Class returns us to the basics of storytelling and relationship. We are introduced to a bevy of mutant characters without the feel of the high school lunchroom that usually happens in films that have to introduce a lot quickly. (Except in the scene where they choose new code names, which was a bit of a show and tell.) And all though the film gives us the prerequisite young people behaving stupidly scenes, it leaves most of the heavy lifting to its seasoned lead actors: Kevin Bacon, James McAvoy, and Michael Fassbender. In fact, the two most compelling things about this film are the relationship between McAvoy and Fassbender and Fassbender’s compelling portrayal of a concentration camp turned long term abuse survivor working through the horror of his traumas with his abuser-father figure. Magneto’s violence is always tempered by Fassbender’s inflection of pain and pathos and McAvoy’s striking ability to display profound depths of compassion without a single word. The connection between these two actors and these two characters is better than the vapid connections the studio thinks will bring in audience, i.e. pre-professor X drunken college days, his awkward “ack put that blueness away” relationship with Raven/Mystique, and especially his ridiculous connection with Rose Byrne’s character which was so throwaway I don’t even remember her name.

The only relationship in the film as compelling, exempting for a moment the conflictual relationship between Magneto and Shaw that the film does not spend enough time on for obvious reasons, was the short encounter between Magneto and Mystique. Again and again, Magneto offers her unconditional positive regard and the holding space to have faith in who she is on the inside and the outside. His kindness with her starts from the moment he sees her. And it is their relationship that gets at one of the central questions of the film: do you embrace who you are or hide in shame? Interestingly, young Professor Xavier seems to share in some of the shame that these young mutants carry. When asked by Mystique if he could love her in her real form, he seems as though he has eaten something slightly off, though he tries to be positive. When he sees her naked later, the top-level reading of him as prudish gives way to a deeper level reading that might explain why she ultimately chooses Magneto.

The way the film frames questions of identity lends itself to dual layer readings constantly pitting the X Men against Mutants who simply want to live their lives and recognize from the battlegrounds of history that there may only be one way to do that. In the intial Singer films, which I loved, they steered clear of any implication that Xavier might be engaging in compensation but this film dares to look at the interpersonal pain of each character and ask very hard questions in what is ultimately an extremely positive way. When Magneto asks Xavier about arrogance it is powerful enough to make you reflect on the meaning of hero complex and why so much self-acceptance on the side of the X Men is peppered with shame and attempts to hide, change, or fit in.

What divides Xavier and Magneto will always be the willingness to do harm and the driving force of fear versus hope in their lives. Again, rather than take these differences lightly, the First Class follows in the footsteps of Singer by exploring what these two world views ultimately mean in a world that is operating outside of the existential crisis the mutants are having with themselves and each other. Xavier’s consistent message of mindfulness in the face of trauma, exclusion, and violence, shows us the better part of both men. While Magneto’s willingness to ask hard questions about genocide and arrogance hit home for both his warped mirror image in Kevin Bacon’s character and his possible best Self reflected back at him through Xavier.

The film is not without slippages however. Despite a bevy of female characters,acting in main, supporting, and background roles, none of them manages to make it through this movie without walking around in their underwear at least once. Several of them play sex workers in seedy clubs that are often scenes that combine fantasies of male sexual power and actual state power (ie the power to destroy or save the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.) and physical violence trotting out the trite connedtion between arousal and violence that Singer helped put to bed in the first two films. In one of the more benignly demeaning scenes, Magneto and Xavier sip wine on a bed while Angel spreads her wings and the three of them exchange sexual innuendo. Meant to make male audiences laugh and certainly the least of the many scenes in which powerful women take off their clothes to prove they are capable or get their jobs done in this movie, the underlining absence of female subjecthood throughout the bulk of this movie is disconcerting.

On some levels, Raven’s character counters the stereotype. She explores her insecurities with great depth despite Xavier’s dismissing them as “concern about her body” and she tries her best to reflect back a sense of pride in oneself to Beast even as he tears them both done. Though much of her angst falls into the same tired, offensive, trap of a girl pining for a man who will never really see her and acting out sexually when she doesn’t get what she wants, when she walks into the light naked in this movie, she does it not as titillation but as a fully realized Self whose body is all her own.

It is a much more powerful message than the psuedo-feminism of Frost who sits in her underwear rolling her eyes about men while she projects an image of herself into the mind of a Russian diplomat to get him to do what she wants. If Frost can project her image into the head of a diplomat, why does her image need to get naked to get the job done? And if Frost is powerful enough to block Xavier and sense when he has grown stronger, then why is she so often using sex as her prefered weapon? And if itmis because of Shaw’s warped connections to sex and violence, why not make that more explicit, since itmismhinted at more than once.

Lastly, ask yourself this question at the intersections of race and class, why are all the women blonde and blue-eyed in this film except for Angel, the only mutant woman of color? While Rose Byrne has brown hair, she isn’t a mutant, AND she is a CIA agent who puts up with endless sexist remarks about her competence because she is a “girl”. In other words, she plays the Diana Prince to the amazonian Wonder Women around her. In the same way “pretty” is explicitly linked to white and blonde, Rose’s hair color is meant to mark out the stereotype of “smart woman” even as she too is relegated to running around in her underwear under the in your face gaze of several men. I suppose some will justify this trite tropes by pointing out Byrne gets the man in the end, unlike the blondes. But she doesn’t actually get him, he wipes her memory without her consent and she seems happy about it because she remembers vaguely he kissed her first … More successfully empowering than hollywood pseudo-feminism is Byrne’s character’s intelligence, integrity, and success despite the sexism in her workplace. She is instrumental in stopping Magneto’s planned massacre as well as in getting the mutants on board to stop a nuclear war. It’s just too bad these feats culminate in her empty headed kiss memory.

The people of color in this film are central enough in the background. Two of the first mutants they pick to join the still forming X Men are played by black actors and meant to be Latinos. (I am going to just leave you to ponder that casting on your own for now … You should note, there is a Latino actor with an important role on Shaw’s team but he has no lines, and sits in the background until it is time for him to use his power) In the show and tell turned frat party the young members have post-recruitment, both characters get to show their stuff just as much as any of the others. And when push comes to shove Darwin is the only one who acts, dragging Havoc reluctantly into it, to stop Shaw and his crew after they massacre an entire base. For his efforts, Darwin is the first and only mutant to die. Angel on the other hand, is the first and only mutant on Xavier’s team to join Shaw. So both black actors are eliminated from team X Men before they even start training. All of the people of color in the film are also absent from most of the promotional material and when they are pictured, it is usually only Angel (played by Lenny Kravatiz’s daughter) and she is in the back. ( see image at beginning of this post for an example.)

I have to say that despite these glaring slippages and the pointless partying scenes in the beginning of the movie, I found X Men First Class a compelling film with several important reflective questions about identity, power, and humanity. In embracing the complexities of the main male characters it gave us a chance to look at both the Self and the Shadow of each man and wonder what we would do in their place. It’s messages of self-esteem and self-respect, healing, and forgiveness are all things we could spend more time cultivating in this world. It also gives us several distinct reflections of masculinity that run counter to man=big gun and damsel in pseudo-feminist distress storyline that dominates summer blockbusters; and as I have implied some of that masculinity has queer window dressing all over it. And it manages all of this in a slick summer package full of special effects and nods to movies’ past.

Go see it and tell me what you think.

(PS. the director has said that the sequel will need a new opponent for Magneto because Xavier is in a wheelchair, so look for me to revisit ablism next year when that film comes out.)

all images are the property of 20th Century Fox (2011) “X Men: First Class”

Another Opportunity for Healing and Growth for Black Women

Hey all, this post comes straight from Alexis @ Broken Beautiful Press announcing their next summer of healing institute. I cannot tell you enough how much I love watching young feminist women take their growth and their healing into their own hands and use it to create and lift up community. So go be fed. (And even if you can’t participate, consider donating and starting your own summer healing group.)

In honor of the great poet Lucille Clifton, who was also a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, a mother, an artist and self-identified Amazon warrior through her poetry, the Lucille Clifton ShapeShifter Survival School is especially designed for families that are committed to ending childhood sexual abuse and all forms of gendered violence. Informed by Generation 5 and the regional plan of the Atlanta Transformative Justice Collaborative, the ShapeShifter Survival School is part of a holistic process of ending child sexual abuse by creating healing community.

Lucille Clifton Rebirth Summer

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F0r 5 Thursdays in Lucille Clifton’s birth month of June we will gather as survivors of child sexual and physical abuse and sexual violence and parents and caretakers committed to ending cycles of abuse in our families and communities to do writing activities based on Lucille Clifton’s poetry and the ShapeShifter Survivor Rebirth Broadcast video series.  (See videos here: http://blackfeministmind.wordpress.com/category/shapeshifting/).    Participants in the series will also receive digital mixes of the music we work with to create a sacred space of memory.  We can use the digital music mixes at home to activate memories of safety from the group writing space.

Rebirth Summer Thursdays:

Thursday. June 2

Unapologetic: Reclaiming Our Memories and Voices

Thursday, June 9

Bright: On Clarity and Power

Thursday, June 16

Gentle: On Cultivating Self-Love

Thursday, June 23

Futuristic: Towards the World that We Deserve

Thursday, June 30th

Planetary: The Depth and Urgency of Our Healing

Our intention is that after this summer month of Rebirth the Shapeshifter Survivor writing group will continue on a monthly basis hosted by participants as an ongoing source of support and healing drawing on work by Lucille Clifton and other writers.

For more information or to add your name to the reminder list email brokenbeautifulpress@gmail.com

National Poetry Month

When I downloaded the “random words” app on my iPad, I had no idea it was National Poetry Month. Instead, I was looking for a way to jumpstart my creativity in a meeting that was sucking the life out of me. Interestingly, the poem below based on an image I chose from my files and the words generated from the app actually inspired me to do more found word writing, ie to be more aware of the words, phrases, and messages in my world and to transform them into art.

autumn breezy light/immaculate in the fields/laughing wonder/ fresh/ tremble me

For the month of April, I will be writing down grafitti, bumper stickers, quotes, etc. and doing short writings on why they intrigued me or simply passed me by in the past and transforming that into poetry. I won’t make you sit through all that processing, but I may post a poem or two … we will see.

What are you doing for National Poetry Month?

Family Acceptance Project

The Family Acceptance Project is an evidenced based best practices research, intervention, and education project on family therapy for families with queer and questioning youth. It’s goals are to decrease health risks, suicide rates, substance abuse, HIV, and homelessness of LGBTQ youth through family therapy and education. They are housed at SFSU but need your donations, no matter where you live, and your voice, if you are in CA, to keep the project going.

One of the things they do is record family stories about how individual family members understand sexuality and how queer kids see themselves within the context of their families. Here is an example:

The Beauty of Books

Did you know it was eBook week, in which we are all asked to celebrate the eBook by reading at least one?

Long time readers have been privy to my “reading in the heat” debacles with the iPad and have also no doubt followed the links to historiann’s discussion of eReaders here and elsewhere, so I won’t go into those issues again. What I will say is that there is something amazing and wonderful about surrounding oneself with the written word in a way that is visible and tangible. Combing through the stacks in the library or discovering an old bookstore and walking it aisles endlessly. I think it became easier to overlook real books when bookstores became flooded with over-bright lights, corporate coffee screaming at you from just beyond the paid for by the publisher displays or the slightly corporate masquerading as alternative rose, purple, and blue rooms of an occasionally union busting store that caters to hipsters and poc in the know are getting more and more wary of racial profiling in. And now we have 1,000 book libraries in slim casing, with no pages to dog ear or sense of their magnitude. They have little more substance than the video games or movies we carry on the same devices. They have little substance at all considering they can be deleted, changed, or reclaimed by the  store that sold you the book at any time. No one can come into your home library on a whim and say “oops, we’re sorry we didn’t actually mean to sell that to you, so we’re taking it back” or add advertisements to its back or front pages. We live in a digital age. And I am an iPad owner who is seldom seen without it. But I can tell you, nothing seems more peaceful than when I am sitting in my home library, surrounded by books, soaking it all in.