Sunday, April 3, 2011

Down the Rabbit Hole

This is the story of a night on the internet. I went down a social justice rabbit hole, and I want to show you where I went. I want to tell the story of my experience and what I found. I am posting links rather than embedding video because it's gonna be a long haul, folks.

It started with a newsletter from Kimberly Dark. I met Kimberly for the first time at the 2009 National Women's Studies Conference. She walked up to me in the exhibit hall and introduced herself. She had seen me present on a panel about teaching fat studies earlier that day. Between my crazy hair and my loud dress, I suppose I was easy to recognize. She complimented me, we chatted briefly, and she gave me a postcard about her work. When I came home, I put her postcard on my board in my office with a thumb tack. Later, I visited her website and searched for videos of her performances on YouTube. I was in awe of the stories she told and the way she told them. I signed up for her newsletter. Since then, we've become Facebook friends and met again at NWSA 2010, where I was very grateful we got more time to chat. Kimberly is powerful artist/performer, activist, and sociologist. If you know anything about me and know anything about her you might understand why I look up to her. Let's just say she's my kind of gal.

So instead of leaving her newsletter in my Inbox to be forgotten, I opened it up and read it with a smile. Here's the part that started the rabbit hole:
Campus Pride Blog names Kimberly as one of the Top 25 "Best of the Best" LGBT speakers, performers who raises awareness of inclusion, visibility on college campuses nationally!

I clicked the link. I read Kimberly's bio. I scrolled. I wanted to see if there was anyone I recognized, and more importantly, find people I didn't know about who I obviously should know about. I began the YouTubestravaganza. Though I didn't YouTube every name, there were some people who stood out.

"Kit Yan tell stories through slam poetry from the lens of a transgender Asian American from Hawaii now lost in the big city of New York."

I watched Kit's "3rd Gender." I really wish I had known about this so I could show it to my class this week when we were talking about sexuality and gender identity. It would have blown their minds.

My favorite quote:
"Sometimes my gender is boy who looks like a girl who likes boys. And sometimes my gender is girl who is a boy who still feels like a girl sometimes. And sometimes my gender is a boy-girl who likes everything in between, but most of the gender is FUCK YOU, MIND YOUR OWN GODDAMN BUSINESS."

I also watched Kit's "Open Letter to HRC." Honest and touching. If you're not familiar with critiques of the HRC, do some Googling.

After YouTubeing a few more people/groups, I came upon the bio for Mia Mingus. I will post it in its entirety because it blew me away.

"Mia Mingus is a queer physically disabled woman of color, Korean American transracial and transnational adoptee, living in Atlanta, Georgia, raised in St. Croix, US Virgin Islands, and born in Korea. Through her work on disability justice, race, reproductive justice, gender, queer liberation, transformative justice, transracial and transnational adoption, multiple oppressed identities and multi-issue politics; she recognizes the urgency and barriers for oppressed communities to work together and build alliances for liberation. Though her work for liberation changes and evolves, her roots remain firmly planted in ending sexual violence. Mia was a Co-Executive Director of SPARK Reproductive Justice Now until January 2010. She is a member of the Disability Justice Collective, the Sins Invalid Advisory Committee, and the Atlanta Transformative Justice Collaborative. She is currently speaking at various conferences, universities and gatherings around the country in order to support her writing."

I YouTubed her and found this POWERFUL video of Mia speaking at the CLPP conference. Holy shit. This woman busts it up. She reminds me of Andrea Smith, who spoke at the 2010 NWSA conference, because she just pummels you with knowledge and liberating passion.

The finale of her speech:
"We have to start relating to each other more as whole people. I don't want to live in a world where I have to leave the movements that I'm a part of in order to feel like I'm whole or in order to be able to practice healing. I don't want to do that. I don't want to have to feel like in order to stay connected to this movement or to other social justice movements I have to cut off pieces of myself, and say, "Okay, well I won't talk about my queerness." "Okay, I won't talk about being an adoptee." "Okay, I won't talk about being disabled." That's not the kind of movement I want. And that's not the kind of movement that I know you want. So I hope as we go through this weekend, we can practice what it would be like. Challenge ourselves to be as whole as possible and to be as connected as possible."

Of course then I had to know what CLPP was. CLPP = Civil Liberties and Public Policy. I watched the video on their homepage to get a sense of what they were about. Seems like I should know about them too. I signed up for their listserv and also bookmarked their amazing resources page.

Then I YouTubed Unique Robinson, one of the interns for CLPP, who appears in their front page video. Unique and Monika Martinez, performing also at a CLPP conference, weave a beautiful and painful narrative, drawing on their experiences as women of color. They end by highlighting the unproductiveness of tearing each other down and suggesting, "Just listen to ourselves/ a future trapped in our past/ where whiteness equals beauty/ and brown paper bags/ Drain your brains of this poison/ and embrace all that is true to you/ so we can't call ourselves free/ until we call ourselves beautiful/ until we call each other beautiful." Definitely thinking of pairing this with Kiri Davis' "A Girl Like Me" when I teach beauty, body, and race next time.

Unique is also a part of SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective. So I decided I should get more educated and browse their website. I knew about SisterSong, and am still hittin' myself for missing the opportunity to hear Loretta Ross speak at NWSA a few years ago. I'd only heard about the anti-choice billboards that are targeted at communities of color, so hadn't seen these videos of theirs about the group behind the billboards and their "Freedom Rides" event. Another long haul, but worth it to watch em. It's some messed up shit and is also revealing about the complexity women of color face when it comes to reproduction and abortion in the U.S.

Then I was on twitter and saw a Crunk Feminist Collective post called "How Chris Brown is Effing Up My Sex Life: A B-Side to Dating While Feminist." The post is about whether or not you can sleep with someone who believes things you think are harmful. I think it depends on the people involved and the situation. I think no is the right answer for some and yes is the right answer for others. But regardless, it's an important question to consider.

In the comments of that CFC post Alexis said, "Makes me want to create an ad campaign that gives new meaning to the phrase “come correct.” Then, like magic, someone created a Tumblr in honor, called "Betta Come Correct." Apparently some amazing women created it over their lunch break.

Betta Come Correct introduced me to the Lost Bois, D.C. duo A.O and B.Steady, speaking about consent with the Consensual Project. After watching this video, I YouTubed and Googled Lost Bois. Sincerely was the first Lost Bois video I watched, full of cute nerdiness, crushing hard, and swagger. Here's a good interview interspersed with videos. GEMS.

BCC also has an interesting post on Jessie J's "Do it like a Dude," which I had never heard. While the video gives a crazy amount of visibility to queer women of color, again we see a white woman appropriating women of color and using them as "background color" in a video for a song that admittedly is making fun of black masculinity in hip hop. While calling out that appropriation, CFC notes that Jessie J also invokes the male gaze and CFC asks the question, "What does it mean that boys are getting hot by women performing a decidedly black masculinity?"

If you've never observed the fact that people of color are used as background color for white people, you need to think about that some more. Think of Outsourced, a show about a call center in India, where the show's main character is a white man. Google "Gwen Stefani cultural appropriation." Hell, I watched Florence and the Machine's "Dog Days are Over" video the other day and was just SHOCKED at the level of blatant excessive cultural appropriation. And if you may not yet think cultural appropriation is a problem, go back and read the Background Color link and the subsequent posts on the same topic.

So that's my social justice rabbit hole for the week. I'll leave you with a US Social Forum compilation video on "Liberating Gender and Sexuality" that features Mia Mingus, Andrea Smith, and Loretta Ross, among others.