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:

Black Lesbian Excitement in Tejas

So … it seems two of my favorite people and/or their work will be featured in co-sponsored events by Allgo this week. For those who don’t know, Allgo is the place for queer people of color in Austin TX, a place I do not reside but Allgo often makes me wish I did. They sponsor artists in residence, film and discussion series, performances and activism, and just generally conscious-righteous stuff for the qoc.

This week they are featuring a poetic play by one of my favorite black lesbian authors, Sharon Bridgforth on Friday March 4 (TODAY PEOPLE):

8pm, The University of Texas at Austin, Winship Drama Building 2.180, 300 E. 23rd Street, Austin, TX

AND

Tomorrow after the amazing conference Performing Lesbian Archives, Allgo will be hosting an intimate dinner and discussion with  fellow blogger and newly minted PhD Alexis Pauline Gumbs (who I love and you should love too) and colleague in revolutionary black lesbian praxis Julia Wallace.

Bring a dish to share and get a chance to see footage from their amazing intergenerational project on black lesbian lives @ Out Youth 7:30pm 909 1/2 E. 49th Street, Austin TX 78751

And hey, if you can’t be in TX for these events, then consider getting your local college, women’s center, queer center, or feminist bookstore to invite these people out to your town.

Repost: Last Minute Gift Guide for the Social Justice Set

Why am I reposting a year old gift guide? Because:

a) I am lazy and updating this blog is too much effort

b) I am still bitter about having taken over a colleagues’ course this term and having to administer multiple choice tests

c) did I mention B yet

This is the one where I lay down the guilt trip in the hopes of getting you to give twice, three times if you use your gifts as a way to open discussion about women’s rights globally, this holiday season. Categories include: Arts & Crafts (cards, clothes, jewelry), Magazine subscriptions, young adult books, mystery bundles, and direct gifts to women and children  in need

Arts and Crafts

buy hand made cards by Columbian feminist collective Taller de Vida ($6 each or set of 5 for $25) – cards, and bookmarks not pictured, are made by a feminist collective in Columbia that is empowering women through art and self-sufficiency, run by and for Columbian women. They make the cards exclusively out of flowers and plants, by hand, images vary. These cards not only make great art work, killing two birds with one stone, they support the work of indigenous feminists.

Jewelry from the Mitra Bali Artist Collective ($20 and up) – These beautiful gifts support subsistence level artists, primarily women, who use sustainable local resources to meld artistic vision and skill with the desire to be self-sufficient and they are as gorgeous as any conflict diamond you might be tempted to buy otherwise.

African Mudcloth bags and totes from One World Projects ($14-$40) – these wallets and bags are helping Mali women and men become self-sustainable, they encourage a discussion of cross-gender cooperation as traditionally men make the cloth and women do the intricate designs and they look good when you have drag books from class to class or office to home :)

Love Shrines from Crafty Chica ($12.99)- these gifts are unique because they meld the basic design of the kit with your own mementos. You can make one for the person you are gifting in advance or sit down with them and make it during the time when the holiday gets too be to hectic and you need arts and crafts to bring you back down from tensionville, they also make great healing arts work and can help teens work on their issues creatively opening the door for a joint project that could help you talk to your teen without prying, and they support a Latina artist all at the same time.

Jewelry from NightLight, a program that supports women, young men, and children who have been trafficked into sex work around the world.

Shirts/Blouses from Shona Crafts ($15.99-22.99) – These shirts are made by differently-abled women in the DRC to help turn the tide of ableism against women and ensure sustainable development that includes them.

Window flower Journals from General Welfare Pratisthan and Free A Child ($14) – These journals not only give your gift recipient the chance to explore both their inner and outerworld but help provide needed sustainable sources of income for young women and girls escaping sex-trafficking.

Handmade Jewelry from Swaziland Women’s Artist Collective ($12 and up) – You can get a unique piece of Jewelry and support over 750 women artists working to sustain themselves and participate in discussions about women’s issues and women’s rights.

Jewelry and Bags from Conserve India ($13.50 and up) – These beautiful items are not only made by women but are made out of discarded plastic bags that are ruining the environment. (learn more about the effort to impact India’s environment through women made textiles here.)

Peace Baskets from Darfur ($38) – These baskets are made primarily by female refugees in Darfur looking to escape the poverty of displacement and refugee camps and the make great heavy duty alternatives to shopping bags at the grocery store (ie helping you help the environment) or stand alone art pieces in your home.

Silk Bags from Vietnam ($38) – handcrafted silk bags from Vietnam are made by women, helping to revive artistry from pre-Vietnam war era, and ensuring rural women and girls have alternative economic choices to trafficking and hard labor.

Tortilla Holders from Mujeres por La Dignidad ($10) – handcrafted, simple decoration, keeps your food warm and supports women.

Jewelry from Native Harvest ($9.95 and up) – these items, and other more expensive items in the Native Harvest store, help support Native American Education, Fair Trade and Environmental activism by indigenous peoples, and the feminist work of Winona LaDuke.

Magazines For the Reader and/or Budding Activist in The Family


Gift Subscription to: Left Turn Magazine ($25) – Left Turn Magazine is one of the oldest ongoing independent magazines of its generation, and covers decidedly activist, radical, feminist, critical race, and class issues. It is made by activists around the world engaged in critical praxis for social justice. You can pick up a few choice editions for $5 each, bundle them with pretty wrapping and a little card promising a full year of enlightenment. Might I suggest bundling Issue 32: Igniting the Kindred (LGBTQ), Issue 24: Say it Loud (black left), and Issue 18: The Revolution Will Not Be Funded (the feminism issue is sold out). Even if you just give a card with a not about getting the subscription, you can always type up a nice note on a card stock with the words “better than money” at the top and put in the money pocket of one of those cards pre-designed for you to insert money. Either way, this gift subscription will not only provide hours of enlightenment and news for the person you are gifting, but it will also ensure the continued survival of one of the last truly independent media magazines of its caliber.

Gift Subscription to: Make/Shift ($20) – Make/Shift is an anti-racism, transnational, pro-queer rights feminist magazine produced by a women’s collective (which includes woc, trans women, differently-abled women, etc.) and featuring many of the women of color and LBTQ feminist bloggers who are traditionally overlooked by mainstream-“alternative” publishers and feminist magazines. Again, you can do a bundle with a card for $5.95 per back issue; might I suggest issues 3, 5, and 6 (but any issues would delight). Or you can use the card stock/money card idea to make a subscription sans issues look fancy. Either way, this gift subscription will not only encourage critical thinking about women and feminism from a perspective that centers all women, you can trust that you are giving to a magazine whose main head quarters are not in a gentrification hotspot that has shoved out most or all of its elder residents and residents of color like other feminist magazines, and know that you are helping keep decolonized feminist thought in print.

For the Young/er Adult Reader (& a few adult reads as well)

How about a bundle of books that don’t reduce women to self-abusing whiny girlfriends or mask their considerable intellectual talents by centering the stories of the boy/s they hang out with? Each of the sets listed below feature strong girls and young women who never give up who they are to make friends or date. Forthcoming reviews of all of these bundles will be on the blog.

The Uglies by Scott Westerfeld ($34.99 for 4 books) – The Uglies is about two girls trying to find there way in a world that privileges beauty and conformity. On their 16 birthday, everyone in the world receives plastic surgery to become “pretty” and part of the surgery also includes the loss of their will to question or engage in advocacy of any kind.On the eve of their 16 birthdays, two girls find themselves face to face with the authorities behind the procedure and they must decide what kind of world they really want to live in. As the series unfolds the conflict between the two girls, and that they have with themselves about who they want to be and how, unfolds amidst a back drop of intentional and unintentional revolution. Westerfeld’s world is white and his characters are described in detail so there is no imagining your way out of it, the third book includes people of color outright and the fourth offers a multicultural world, including Asian American main characters, but is largely unconnected to the central plot of the other three books. There are no centered queer characters either.

The Morganville Vampire Series by Rachel Caine (1st 2 books 9.99/ series is 6.99/bk) – Young Claire Danvers arrives in a dead-end town with a low ranked college hoping to do her two years there as she promised her parents and move on to MIT, unfortunately, she falls afoul of the meanest girl in town and finds herself living with a ghost, a goth, and a slacker trying to avoid her and the vampires who protect her. Unlike other vampire stories, Rachel Caine creates a world where vampires are unapologetic, ruthless, and yet markedly vulnerable and human beings are neither infatuated with them nor ignorant of the prices they have to pay to stay alive and free in a town run by them. Claire Danvers is strong, intelligent, and willful and she often weighs all sides with insight beyond her years while always coming across as a typical teenage girl, falling in love, making friends, and wanting to live her life free of nagging parents. Morganville is a decidedly white world that suffers from mildly offensive stereotyping when the occasional character of color arrives; However, Caine leaves much of the description of the characters to the reader to fill in which means you can imagine them anyway you’d like (except for Michael and Eve who are described in detail), and she does try to bring in pivotal African American characters closer to the end of the story whose centrality to the plot cannot be overlooked. (There are no queer characters, but Caine did choose an out gay actor to depict Sam Glass, a key secondary character, on her website, which cracks me up).

An Octavia Butler Bundle ($9.50/ book) - You will have to make this one yourselves as they are not bundled together or part of an ongoing series, but these books by Octavia Butler all feature contemporary themes in Sci Fi fantasy with African-American main characters and multicultural, and some times queer, casts of characters. For the vampire lover, Fledgling, a world populated by vampires and genetically modified 1/2 human and 1/2 vampires who are being hunted by pure breds who don’t like them or the humans. It’s a complex world that weaves issues of race, gender, and environment together with a battle royale near the end. Post-Apocalyptic fans will enjoy The Parable Sower and The Parable of the Talents, like other great works in this genre, Butler creates a wide tapestry of critique about consumerism, environmental degredation, and the rise of gated communities into a scifi meets fantasy thriller. Unlike many of these stories however, Butler also offers a tale of hope and rebirth rather than just the simply myopia of self-centered community fail that has become the norm in this genre. All three of these books center black women and girls, make diversity a key imperative to our survival, and the latter has a strong critique about the way the world views black female leadership. They also include queer characters.

A Nalo Hopkins Bundle – again, you will have to make the bundle yourself which makes it more expensive. Start with Brown Girl in the Ring ($11.89), an Afro-Caribbean Canadian novel set in a future where the rich have abandoned the inner city except to harvest body parts from the poor and one young Afro-Canadian girl learns to fight back through old ways and new spirituality, Midnight Robber ($7.99), a story of an Afro-Caribbean girl who has to find a way to transform herself into the Robber Queen in order to save herself from magical world of New Half World, The New Moon’s Arms ($9.60) , the story of a young girl who develops psychic powers as she approaches puberty.

Multi-Culti Magical Realism Bundle: Esperanza’s Box of Saints by Maria Escandon ($14), tells the story of a grieving mother’s search for her presumabl,y dead daughter after a saint comes to tell her she is still alive, When Fox is a Thousand by Larissa Lai ($5.95) a novel that combines Chinese mythology, real historical female figures, and API women’s stories through time and space in a trickster tale, The Bone Whistle by Eva Swan ($7.95), the story of a Native American girl who is knowingly caught between two world, rez and western world, and unknowingly caught between two others, human and supernatural, as she comes to terms with one she learns how to navigate the other, and Cimmerian City by Rae Lindley, Pharmacuetical companies search for ever increasing prophet has split the world into two “races” the vampire-like people changed forever by bad meds and the human beings where medical companies are the aristocracy, a secret agent in the vampire-like race is about to change it all, ideal story for today’s current issues. Night Biters by AJ Harper (), the author wanted to provide a multicultural series of alt fiction for YA b/c she missed it herself, this is the first novel in her proposed series featuring a multicultural cast of vampires and vampire slayers living in LAHere are some other places to look to make your bundle: La Bloga “Sci Fi, Latinos, Chicanos and Aztecs in Outer Space” and SciFi Latino Blog (note, many of her posts are similar to mine in the sense that they find minor or secondary Latin@ characters in the U.S.)

Mystery Bundles

For older readers who can’t get enough of female centered mysteries these bundle or some combination of them should work the trick:

Nicola Griffith’s The Blue Place ($6.95) and Stay ($8), these two books tell the story of lesbian feminist detective Aud Torvignen and her investigation into both homophobic and domestic violence related criminal cases, they are packed full of pain and haunting, intense mystery, and astute feminist critique on violence against women. They are among my favorite lesbian detective novels, though they have no characters of color.

The Virginia Kelly Series by Nikki Baker (between $2-$6.95/book), black lesbian detective Virginia Kelly tries to manage a hit or miss love life with female centered mystery cases in a series that has been called a breath of fresh air in a decidedly segregated genre.

Chicana Mystery Bundle – Mary Beal’s Angel Dance ($1.50) detective Kat Guerrera is former military turned PI who is trying to solve a case while also wooing a feminist writer in a mystery that once again centers violence against women, sexuality, and feminism and The Conquest by Yxta Murray ($12.30) a literary mystery in which a female book restorer who endeavors to prove that the memoir of a lesbian Aztec woman who plots ways to stop Cortez from destroying the “new world.”

Direct gifts

Instead of donating money in someone’s name or simply donating money in your own name this year, why not give gifts to women that will help them empower themselves and move beyond the cycle of charity and poverty that has become all too normal on the left?

Tool kit ($25) – this basic carpenter kit by Women for Women International, includes the tools and training a woman needs to become a basic skilled carpenter in her own country. Not only does this gift help a woman become self-sufficient, it challenges gender norms in most countries, and invites the recipient of your gift (if you give the donation in some else’s name as a dual gift) to think about what decolonized feminism really means.

donation to Danish School for Girls in Afghanistan ($25 and up) – RAWA run Danish school for girls is the only girls school in rural Farah Province. It has been educating and empowering rural young girls since 2002. A gift to the school helps curb teenage pregnancy, female poverty, and exploitation of girls all of which go down when girls educated at similar rates to boys, it also supports internal efforts to educate girls divorced from U.S. war interests, and finally, when given in the name of someone else as a dual gift, it empowers your gift receiver to not only think about decolonized feminism but also to invest in learning about Muslim feminism.

Sterile Childbirth Kits from Partner in Health ($15 for 3 women) – These kits provide basic sterile equipment (exam gloves, razors, umbilical cord clamp, sterile gauze, washcloth, and soap or antibacterial wipes) for rural clinics in Haiti, Rwanda, Malawai, or Lesotho. These kits will help up to three rural women hoping to give birth to healthy babies and turn the tide of avoidable infant mortality while encouraging your gift recipient (if you donate in someone else’s name) the opportunity to discuss what real decolonized reproductive rights look like.

Scholarship to Women with Disabilities and Development Leadership Program ($10-$100)- You can donate directly to Mobility International and earmark the donation to support their women’s programs, which include the Leadership Program to train and share information about supporting differently-abled women around the world and has previously funded women’s sustainability projects like building functional wheelchairs in developing countries or advocacy for accesible roads, sidewalks, and housing. Not only does this donation help women become self-sufficient, it helps women train each other for self-sufficiency and ensures your gift recipient remembers that women includes both temporarily able bodied and differently abled women and that ensuring their success globally means more than exporting discarded aids from the “first world.”

It Saves Trees

Public glass waste collection point in a neigh...

Image via Wikipedia

A funny thing happened on the way to going green …

Many faculty and staff have gone completely paperless in their day to day activities on campus. It is part of the INCREDIBLY SLOW process of greening the campus that began with a few students refusing to use plastic utensils in the dining hall and a few professors, like yours truly, schlepping paper home and bottles home to recycle half a million years ago. Now that basic changes can been seen all over campus, a lot more people feel really excited about the greening efforts. My social activism courses all participate in one way or another in the process by thinking up ways to link campus dining with local farmers (and ensure fair wages for day laborers), working on congestion studies to determine if campus buses, walkways, and bike lanes can be expanded or made safer options than the gas guzzle commute, and even in volunteering to take the recycling out to our over taxed and underfunded recycle center when it tends to overflow in the dorms. It all sounds great doesn’t it? And in many ways it is.

However, a recent class discussion reframed the efforts in ways very few on campus had considered. Pov U is a commuter school, many of its students are first generation college kids who drive through two or more towns to come to class. They drive beat up pick up trucks and jeeps that help them get their farm work done or are simply sturdy enough to get them from place to place in their unimproved stretch of the N. American landscape. They resent the ease with which the media discusses hybrid cars as if the price falling to the moderate range means anything to families who have kept the same car for two or three generations by switching out the parts and ignoring the rust in the floor boards. They cannot bike and bussing it would take half the day one way, a train, if we had one that connected to some of their small towns, would cost a small fortune as would the grey hound that does reach some of them. Many of them cannot carpool either because they have kids who have to be dropped off at school on the way in or husbands, boyfriends, or partners who have to be dropped off at work or the day laborer center on their way in. Many of them have to pick groceries up on the way back as well, and transferring from bus to bus with groceries and kids over 3 towns is something that only feels novel to people who CHOOSE to do it, not those who have to.

This is the part of the story we should all recognize. The limitations in transportation that green discourse does not consider or simply demands be dealt with by the poorest among us “if they really care about the planet”! But it is also the part of the conversation that many involved in decolonized discussions of transportation and mobility have been working to change. From plans involving green, fast, and accessible transit to expanding safety features and late night routes to the push to decrease the cost of green cars, plans have gone into places to make green transportation a reality across the class divides even as local politics may continue to fail people in rural areas or from working class and subsistence areas.

But what about on campus? Most of my colleagues no longer pass out syllabi on the first day. Many have gone electronic with their packets, their textbooks, and even their exams and handouts. In fact, many items are turned in electronically as well. The mantra is “it saves on paper [trees]”. The reality is that it also saves on budget for cash strapped departments with limited access to free copying as well. I for one have been at the forefront of putting my materials online. All of my courses have Black Board, a listserv, and an e-reserve. Having finally been allowed to use a smart classroom once in a while, I have also taken to putting the syllabus up on the screen and going over key points rather than bringing in hard copies. I can literally highlight the key points in any color of my choosing on word as I speak, and ask them to do quick expectations oriented assignments while referring to a large print version of the syllabus in front of them. I’ve teched out y’all and happily patted myself on the back for greening my classes.

Until … one of my students had a melt down. She pointed out that she has no computer and probably never will. She has three kids she has to pick up in one of those beat up trucks I was talking about and even with her own transportation it takes over a 1.5 hours to get to and from campus not counting if they stop to do errands. Her husband needs the car for his second shift, so her time on campus is also limited. For her, the adage “there are always computers on campus” has little meaning. There is no library in her town and the nearest one has only one computer that is too old to access the latest version of Black Board or download pdf files. For her, “it saves on paper” translates to “you learn nothing”. She is not alone. Many students on our campus have limited access to computers outside of campus and some do not have the money it takes to print the articles and syllabus to take with them when they leave. As we become more and more “green” these students struggle with the standardized expectation that they have access and funds and the stigma of admitting they do not. In fact, if some of the self-reporting that occurred after my initial student spoke is any indication, the stigma of being working class or susbsistance level on campus has increased considerably as a result of the “it saves trees” plan.:

  • They come to class confused because the syllabus changed in the middle of the night on line but they are still working off the one they printed on the first day.
  • They have less time than other students to consider the essay questions or the exam questions because they can only access them on campus inbetween trips to daycare, job, etc.
  • They appear to not have done the reading because they either did not have enough time in their on campus window to absorb the material online and they couldn’t afford to print it, or they printed it and some of the pages were missing because someone else in the lab accidentally took them, the printer broke, or the pdf was wrong and by the time it was fixed they were already gone

In other words, they appear to be checked out, confused, or inconsistent students when in fact they are doing their best to keep on top of a system that is supposed to be saving the planet for a better life for everyone on it, including them. When they get called out for not doing their homework, most are already too embarrassed to say the problem is finances. They look at the students in the front with laptops open, raising their hands, and wonder if college is even for them.

And I find myself wondering why any of us thought that cost saving paperless options meant those costs just disappeared. If we don’t print the handout for students, then each student bears the burden of printing, ie paying that cost. And yes, I just assumed those who didn’t want to pay that cost read the material online but that requires a computer and reliable internet both of which are hard to come by in many of the communities our students come from and we know it. Saying we have labs all over campus ignores the demand we have created for those labs, the work and care giving schedules of many of our students, and even the basic things that we all know go wrong with overused printers and copy machines. More than that, how exactly does “it save trees” if we know full well someone else is printing the material when we are not?

And so I find myself rethinking campus greening in a lot of ways. From the push to ban cars on campus and to reclaim campus provided parking lots, which is suppose to discourage driving but will result in exorbitant parking fees and possible fines for most of our long range commuters, to the farmers to table programs that students report has decreased meal plans for on campus diners but increased the price of individual meals for most commuters. Where is the class analysis in our efforts to go green? And why are class discussions so often poo-pooed as so many straw men and naysayers?

My cousin, who called me in a rage about her grocery bag tearing open on the bus and yuppie teen bus riders who ride for fun,laughing at her in front of her two young boys the other day, all because the Mayor of her town has decided that plastic bags are the biggest sin on earth and thinks everyone can afford those $12 designer bags he apparently shops with, said something that is now ringing in my ears “It takes green [$] to go green.” Isn’t there something wrong with that? What do you all think? And do you have any class-sensitive or class-inclusive community level greening tips that you want to share?

It Gets Better

Dan Savage and I are not often on the same page when it comes to issues of race and women (gay or straight), but where we agree is that the polarizing politics currently dominating the U.S. landscape is especially dangerous for the survival of queer youth. While adults fight over the meaning of marriage, diversity education programs, and even adoption, young people who are still figuring out life are subjected the backlash from these debates that vilify gender transgression, desire,love, and even people’s families. More than that, the national debate has led to a clear uptick in violence against both queer people and people “perceived to be gay or trans”. In this dangerous time, strides that we had made in helping youth feel comfortable about exploring their identities and their desires have fallen victim to policing, inaction, and despair. High profile child suicides are rocking the nation and many of them include stories of parents who tried to get the school to listen, children who tried to be stronger than the hate that surrounded them, and other kids whose lives are equally lost because they listened or were taught hate.

Dan Savage and his partner have started a youtube channel of people telling their stories to encourage young people to hang in during the bad times and know that as Radcliff Hall says “somewhere there is a place for us”. As expected, the people participating so far have been largely male, white, cis, and middle class. However, everybody’s story matters in the fight to save struggle children. If you are from a traditionally marginalized background in the queer community (person of color, immigrant, lesbian, bi, trans, etc.) please consider making a video and helping young children see the diversity of the community reflected as well as the promise that no matter who you are you can survive and ultimately thrive.

As you can see from some of the videos I have chosen, the project is open to people from all over the world who would like to weigh in, so if you are part of the 58% of my blog readers who come from outside the U.S. you can still help with the project by making a video or spreading the word!

Now What ?!?

gapingvoid.com

An interesting reaction to one of my posts about rape and police inaction solicited a comment on stumbleupon complaining “once again nowhere to donate.” The comment made me think of my students who often look extremely depressed midway through my social justice courses. When I ask them why they are pouting, they always say “well, this class is great but the world sucks and what are we supposed to do about it?!?” It’s about that time I give them my “soft drink” talk. I ask them to look at what they are drinking, knowing that most are drinking a particular product because it pays pov u a lot of money to feature its products on campus (shhhhh!!!!). Then I tell them about all of the violence against women, children, poor people, and people of color that the particular company is implicated in around the world (shhhhh!!!!). As they stare at their drinks horrified and dumbfounded as to how this information could possibly help their depression, I tell them where all the alternative drink machines are on campus and tell them just by buying a different product they make a statement to the company about their practices. I draw a connection between those choices and anti-apartheid movements on college campuses started by students that ultimately caused the universities with the most to lose to divest from Apartheid driven South Africa. Then I remind them that school is about learning to ask questions you might not otherwise ask or even know to ask. It is about learning to be critical thinkers and taking responsibility for what thinking critical reveals about our world. Everyone has choices and everyone can make a difference regardless of their politics. It is also at this point in the class, that I challenge them to do what other students have already been modeling, get involved in our communities and bring in opportunities to be involved locally and globally to class. In other words, I reframe that old comic book saying about great power and responsibility to remind them that they can and do have power to change the world. Think of it as the With Great Knowledge, Comes Great Responsibility, model.

Why am I telling you all of this?

It seems to me that the internet is both a reflection of the hopelessness under the weight of oppression that so many struggle with and an amplification of it. On the one hand, everyone has felt confused about where to start or how to start or even if doing anything would help when dealing with inequality. On the other hand, the internet spoon feeds information to users. You don’t have to look up material anymore because we link to everything. You don’t have to sit with any information you read because we have distilled everything into 144 words. And now you don’t even have to think about how to get involved because we link that too. And so people, in general, have become extremely lazy about owning the power they have to become informed, get involved, and work toward change.

Example One:

Remember when I put up a post on intersectional reading material with the full citations a year or more ago? I did not link the articles because most of them were not available online and I knew that linking to incomplete sources would have led people to read the few pages available and move on. People spent months demanding I link to the material, literally calling me lazy and stupid for not doing “basic things” like linking to articles; the irony of their own laziness in refusing to look up the material with a simple google search or trip to the library and their own ignorance in demanding links to full material that was not available on the internet was lost on them. Then someone actually wrote a post claiming I had intentionally withheld the links to force people to think resulting in a bunch of people coming to the blog to go off about how “condescending it was” for me to withhold information and how it “completely undermine[d] [my] efforts” because “no one was going to look up the information”, so I “might as well have not written [the] post”. Again, they did not bother to read my post or any of the comments reiterating it’s point about some sources not being digitized, they just demanded to be fed information as if was their right to sit back and depend on someone else.

Like the plant in Little Shop of Horrors, everyone commenting was capable of doing their own work or at the very least finding a way to get it. Unlike the plant in Little Shop, they were unwilling to work, to advocate for themselves, or even to consider how offensive it might be to demand that a woman of color provide every ounce of information on diversity readings to a mostly white, middle class, audience with more access to libraries, bookstores, good schools, and income needed to track down and/or buy the materials. In the midst of so many women of color and allies saying thank you for the resources, these readers collective opened their wide mouths and demanded “feed me” expecting blood if nothing else.

Example Two

While many of my posts do include links to organizations where you can volunteer, donate, or learn more information, my post on Antione Dodson did not. That post was about people’s reactions and inaction to issues of rape and sexual violence in poor communities, especially of color. It was not an activism post.

According to the 2007 National Crime Victim Survey, 500 people (.05% of them men or boys) were raped every day in the United States. That is roughly 20 people an hour. According to the US Department of Justice Bureau 2009 Justice Stats on Rape and Stalking, women between the ages of 19-24 make up the largest group of survivors. While my readers cross multiple identities, the largest group of people linking to my post based on an informal survey of links is female between 16 and 25; ie, they are roughly the same age group as the largest targeted population in the U.S. for rape.  1 in 3 women is a victim of domestic or sexual violence in their life time, since this post garnered 10,000s of hits per day for several weeks, that means that on average both the people linking or reading the post have some known relationship to rape survivors as friends, colleagues, or survivors themselves. Given this information, it seems to me that it isn’t too much to ask that people reading would be aware of rape, domestic and sexual violence, and either know the names of some of the organizations working on these issues in their area or how to look this information up with a simple google search. “Rape survivors + [city I live in]” yielded 5 helpful agencies, with addresses and phone numbers, and a law firm specializing in victim’s rights in the first 6 links on Google. “Women’s Crisis + [state I live in]” yielded a list of shelters, hospitals, and advocates in the top links. And so on. When you do the same thing using Dodson’s hometown, you find survivor support groups, AIDs hotlines, hospital advocates, and lawyers. It really is that simple.

The specific criticism of this post was that there was no “Donation” button or link to “do something about the issue.” Again, the ease with which we pass information on the internet seems to have stunted both people’s willingness to take charge of their own power to know and act, but also to engage in critical thinking about knowing and acting. Many people, especially in the radical woc, feminist, and dis/ability blogosphere have been deconstructing the idea of “donation culture” as social justice. In other words, we have been working within and expanding on existing critiques of who writes checks, who can write checks, whether check writing shifts thinking and commitment after the ink dries, and whether writing checks is a solution or a band aid. While I think most, if not all, of us understand that philanthropy is a critical part of keeping movements funded and operational, the idea is to do more than write a check through options ranging from educating yourself on the issues to organizing a group of people to get personally involved for the long term in the work of changing the system or aiding people. It is also about listening to communities and what they want, if they ask for money then money is the primary way to honor community need, if they ask for publicity and consciousness raising, then writing blog posts, writing editorials to your local paper, sending in emails to the national news about the issue, and talking about it with everyone you meet is the primary way to honor the community need, and so on. And no, honoring what the community says it needs does not preclude you from doing other things as well, it just makes their voices foremost and centered in your activism.

Getting back to the Dodson post, I specifically linked to a woc blogger who had listed all of the major players in the incident who had not acted on information about a serial rapist. She had phone numbers, websites, and action ideas in her post. Since my post was about perception, reception, and the failure of people who actually self-define as activist communities to act, linking to this information seemed more in keeping with the point of the post. So once again, no one bothered to follow through with the links I did provide because it wasn’t spelled out for them that they should click on the links. Have you noticed how we have gone from a digital culture that links to items to one that spells out explicitly why you should follow links with annotated bibliography type blurbs before or after the link? FEED ME SEYMORE.

(This is not a critique of the individual who said this but all of the people who thought it right a long with her and all of the ways that the internet encourages such thoughts.)

Conclusions

The way power works, is to convince you that power over people and things is normal and natural AND that you can do nothing about it. The people in power want you to believe that you are “just one person” and to constantly be asking “what could I possibly do to change things” so that you will give up. The practices of internet writing and activism are embedded in this system and potentially making it worse by making people passive consumers of information. According to recent research on brain development, the 144 word tweet culture is actually remapping pathways in the brain away from empathy and reflixivity. I want to encourage you to begin the decolonization of your mind by refusing to accept these easy constructions and expanding your information sources to a level that keeps your ability to connect and empathize with others intact. One person can and does change the world. One person can and has challenged the system:

Tiananmen Square/unattributed

You can start by being an active reader. When you see stats or other material cited or referred to, look it up. Ask who the source is, what is their theoretical and methodological training or usage, has the author of the post that linked to them accurately portrayed their content, etc. When you cannot find it online, go to the library or search around the topic, for instance in the Dodson case, look at information on the area, HUD and police stats vs. community reports, etc.  Once you’ve done that, consider how you can become involved in changing social inequality in your own communities as well as support those in other communities referenced in the article that got you fired up in the first place. Again, in the Dodson case that means looking up rape survivor advocacy programs and getting involved or making a donation (clothes, money, gas vouchers for volunteers to get to the hospital, etc.) in your own area and/or giving money to rape and domestic and sexual violence agencies in Dodson’s area, sending a letter to the police or HUD about your concerns over their seeming inaction about a serial rapist, or starting an online petition that would flood them with faxes or signatures saying we are all watching. And if you really can’t think of anything else to do but be depressed and hit the resend button (which is a start in and of itself) then talk to your peers, families, and educators about what they think you could do. Worst case, come back to the blog owner and ask, but if you ask me, I am going to suggest you do your own research first.

To end on cliche that just happens to be soooo true: Knowledge is power. What you do with that power is up to you.

(By the way, I have chosen these related articles for the ways that the critique, expand, or agree with the opinions I have expressed in this post rather than their take on the same specific topic.)

Color of Change Save Net Neutrality Email Campaign

Worried that the end of net neutrality is the beginning of the official sanctioning of class, race, and location (as in rural vs urban, inner city vs gated community) inequality on the internet? Worried that this will in turn translate to large inequalities in the real world as even the most basic job now requires a large degree of internet savvy? I am. Most of the people who I know, read, or follow on the internet are as well. And if you are, here is your chance to tell Google how much it will cost them to join hands with the oppressor (you know, for those of you who don’t think they already have):

Dear friends,

If you value the free, fair, and open Internet, then you need to act now, before two corporate giants deal it away.

Several news outlets have just reported that Google and Verizon are about to cut a deal that would allow giant corporations to control which websites load slowly, quickly, or not at all. Google used to oppose this kind of corporate control over the Internet, but now it looks like they’re changing their tune. Google’s motto is “Don’t be evil,” but it looks like their pursuit of profit might be getting in the way of living up to that ideal.

Thankfully, it’s not a done deal yet. If enough of us speak out now, we can create enough pressure to get Google to back off this corporate takeover of the Internet. Will you join me in adding your voice, and then ask your friends and family to do the same?

sign petition here

The basic promise of the Internet lies in the guarantee that information you put online is treated the same as anyone else’s information in terms of its basic ability to travel across the Internet. Your own personal website or blog can compete on equal footing with the biggest companies. It’s the reason the Internet is so diverse — and so powerful. Anyone with a good idea can find their audience online, whether or not there’s money to promote the idea or money to be made from it.

This is critical for Black communities and others that have had our voices compromised by corporate-controlled media. For the first time in history we can communicate with a broad audience, educate, politically organize, and create new businesses — without prohibitive costs or mediation by gatekeepers in government or industry. It’s the strength of your ideas, not the size of your budget, that largely determines your success. In television, radio, and print this can’t happen on a large scale because access is determined by big media corporations seeking to turn a profit.

This deal could take the Internet in a different direction. It could end the Internet’s level playing field by allowing rich corporations like Google to pay for faster-loading websites and services. It could destroy the potential for independent voices to compete with giant corporations for an audience — big corporations who can pay for preferential access to Internet users would drown out the smaller voices online. And it could mean that you’ll start getting less Internet service at a higher cost.

We expect the big telecommunications companies to try to stifle freedom and equality on the Internet — they’ve hired an army of lobbyists to do just that. But Google has always said it supports a free and open Internet. Google likes to portray itself as a corporation with principles that go beyond profit, and it would be disappointing to see Google abandon them.

Google has tried to downplay this story. They issued a short, carefully worded statement that says they’re still committed to an open Internet, but they haven’t denied that they are in talks with Verizon to cut a deal that would give corporations more control over Internet traffic.

By speaking out, you can pressure Google to walk away from this deal. But time is running out — please join me in signing ColorOfChange.org’s petition to Google today:

Sign Petition click here

Thanks.

Key Links:

1. “NYT: Google Just Killed Net Neutrality (UPDATING: Google and Verizon Deny Internet Traffic Deal),” Gizmodo, 8-5-2010
http://gizmodo.com/5605310/google-just-killed-net-neutrality

2. “Google and Verizon Near Deal on Web Pay Tiers,” The New York Times, 8-5-2010
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/05/technology/05secret.html

3. “Google, Verizon Try to Shape Net-Neutrality Law,” Wall Street Journal, 8-5-2010
http://bit.ly/bivjd6

4. “Google, Verizon Said to Strike Deal on Web Traffic Rules,” Bloomberg, 8-5-2009
http://bit.ly/diIrZP