Archive for the 'me' Category

Meeting Bill Clinton

Me and Bill Clinton

(Note: details of the meeting follow my personal narrative!)

A couple of weeks ago I received an invitation to represent Feministe as a credentialed blogger at the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting, which kicks off today in NYC. I was psyched, a tad skeptical, and more than a tad nervous all at once. I’ve never been invited to participate in anything as A Blogger, much less something this high-profile. I tend to think of myself as a relatively little fish in the blogosea, and all sorts of self-doubt about whether I was really qualified for this or deserved it started running through my head.

All of this anxiety was amped up exponentially when I got the additional invite to participate in a blogger meeting with President Bill Clinton before the start of the CGI meeting. I responded to the invite right away, but then all that doubt flooded in I nearly wrote back and said never mind. I mean, really – was I good enough or important enough to deserve a spot?

But then I thought to my self, now hold up, Jack. These doubts were certainly due in part to the sorts of insecurities that everyone gets from time to time about their skills, and also due in part to some rational acknowledgment of the fact that, for sure, I haven’t busted ass posting or networking or engaging in the public discourse as much as some other folks out there, so I’m understandably gonna be smaller potatoes. But I think they were also fueled in no small part by internalization of the sort of dynamics that permeate the blogosphere as much as the rest of the world; dynamics of privilege and power that automatically lend higher degrees of traction, legitimacy, or “authority” (as Technocrati puts it) to certain voices than to others for reasons entirely apart from the quality and quantity of their thoughts and words. The kind of dynamics, for example, that led to a 2006 blogger meeting with Bill Clinton being all white (and that helped this year’s meeting be predominantly white, too.) [1] Internalization is all about oppressed people learning to help keep themselves down, so I checked myself and decided not to help out on that count.

There was also an entirely different set of misgivings: how would I reconcile my politics with this meeting? Continue reading ‘Meeting Bill Clinton’

Blacks, Latinos, and the precariousness of “middle class”

Today I listened to a segment on Democracy Now! about a new report that’s out from Demos and Brandeis University on the state of the Black and Latino middle class in the United States. The study, entitled “Economic (In)Security: The Experience of the African American and Latino Middle Classes,” finds that three-out-of-four Black and four-out-of-five Latino middle-class families are economically insecure and at high risk of slipping out of the middle class. From the report, which can be downloaded as a PDF from the Demos website:

African-American and Latino families have more difficulty moving into the middle class, and families that do enter the middle class are less secure and at higher risk than the middle class as a whole. Overall, more African-American and Latino middle-class families are at risk of falling out of the middle class than are secure. This is in sharp contrast to the overall middle class, in which 31 percent are secure and 21 percent are at risk. Specifically:

  • Only 26 percent of African-American middle-class families have the combination of as- sets, education, sufficient income, and health insurance to ensure middle-class financial security. One in three (33 percent) is at high risk of falling out of the middle class.
  • Less than one in five Latino families (18 percent) is securely in the middle class. More than twice as many (41 percent) of Latino families are in danger of slipping out of the middle class.
  • African-American middle-class families are less secure and at greater risk than the middle class as a whole on four of the five indicators of security and vulnerability [named by the report as assets, education, housing, budget, and healthcare]. Latino middle-class families are less secure and at greater risk on all five indicators.

Jennifer Wheary, a senior fellow at Demos and one of the co-authors of the report, elaborated on Democracy Now!:

And what we found was when we compared the situation of white middle-class families to African Americans and Latinos, there were vast differences. You know, and what was astounding to us was really looking at—these are, you know, African American and Latino families that, by all sense and purposes, have achieved the American dream, people who, you know, have two earners, two professional earners in the household, you know, maybe are trying to own a home or do own a home, you know, very—have achieved all the aspirations that we typically go for. But even among those people, when you look at, you know, where they’re weak economically, we found that about two-in-five Latino middle-class families are in danger of falling out of the middle class. They’re so financially vulnerable, don’t have assets. Maybe somebody in the household is uninsured. And one-in-three African American middle-class families are also in danger, so vulnerable, so weak, that they’re in danger of falling out of the middle class.

I haven’t read the report yet, but when I do, I fully expect to cry. In fact, as I listened to the segment on the bus home today, I actually found myself tearing up; not only because the larger injustices behind what I was hearing, but because it hit a very personal chord.

Continue reading ‘Blacks, Latinos, and the precariousness of “middle class”’

A smart Puerto Rican

I’m sure that most everyone has already heard about Sen. Joseph Biden’s inspired description of Sen. Barack Obama as “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.” As if we needed yet another ignorant white presidential candidate. Less reported was that the current ignorant white president made similar remarks on Fox News, describing Obama as attractive and articulate.

Much has been written about the incident and the true meaning of those words, both in the mainstream media and the blogosphere (which I’ve been too busy to keep tabs on lately, so I unfortunately won’t be linking to any of the wise words that I’m sure my favorite bloggers have written on the topic.) Today I read two good pieces on the incident; from the New York Times, ” The Racial Politics of Speaking Well,” and another spotted on the blackfolk LiveJournal Community, entitled “An Inarticulate Kickoff.”

Both articles discuss how the frequent labeling of certain Black folks as “articulate” belies racist undertones. First, it indicates a certain degree of surprise that a Black person is intelligent or well-spoken – as if this is an anomaly, rather than something as commonplace as, say, a white person possessing the same qualities. As Reginald Hudlin, president of entertainment at BET, is quoted in the NY Times article, “It’s like an educated black person is a rare sighting, like seeing a spotted egret. We’re viewed as a fluke. How many flukes simply constitute reality?” (A spotted egret! Gotta love it.)

The articles also discuss how the “articulate” label is reserved only for Black folks who are not just well-spoken, but well-spoken in a very particular way. From the Times:

… such distinctions discount as inarticulate historically black patterns of speech. “Al Sharpton is incredibly articulate,” said Tricia Rose, professor of Africana Studies at Brown University. “But because he speaks with a cadence and style that is firmly rooted in black rhetorical tradition you will rarely hear white people refer to him as articulate.”

And from the piece by Eugene Robinson:

What’s intriguing is that Jackson and Sharpton are praised as eloquent, too — both men are captivating speakers who calibrate their words with great precision. But neither is often described as, quote, articulate. Apparently, something disqualifies them.

I realize the word is intended as a compliment, but it’s being used to connote a lot more than the ability to express one’s thoughts clearly. It’s being used to say more, even, than “here’s a black person who speaks standard English without a trace of Ebonics.”

The word articulate is being used to encompass not just speech but a whole range of cultural cues — dress, bearing, education, golf handicap. It’s being used to describe a black person around whom white people can be comfortable, a black person who not only speaks white America’s language but is fluent in its body language as well.

And the word is often pronounced with an air of surprise, as if it’s an improbable and wondrous thing that a black person has somehow cracked the code. I can’t help but think of the famous quote from Samuel Johnson: “Sir, a woman preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.”

I’ve had quite a few of my own experiences with being labeled exceptional or articulate in a such a way that the words “… for a Puerto Rican,” though left unsaid, came through loud and clear. The first such incident that I remember came in high school, when a white acquaintance was thoroughly surprised to hear that I was Puerto Rican, because I didn’t sound like other Puerto Ricans she’d encountered. When I asked what she meant, she said something to the effect of “you know, you sound smart.” My budding racial consciousness was offended, but I more saddened to hear almost the exact same thing from a coworker at McDonald’s a few years later – this time, another woman of color.

My mother, who was born in Puerto Rico and was poor for much of her life, likes to jokingly say that she’s a “smart Puerto Rican,” usually in response to some ignorant white jerk acting the racist fool towards her. The joke relies on “smart” and “Puerto Rican” being somehow contradictory. She’s always been extremely insistent that I learn “proper English, discouraging any slang or “street talk,” correcting me every time I said “yeah” instead of “yes” and whenever she thought she heard me leave the “be” off of “because.” It wasn’t enough that I knew the rules of English grammar and could speak and write within those rules when in an academic or work setting; it was a constant requirement, even in casual speech.

I never sounded anything like cousins my age, whose parents weren’t similarly obsessed and couldn’t afford to send them to private school, like my parents could. Language was among many things that created a cultural gulf between me and them, that made me something of a weirdo in my family. My mother was indeed raising me to be fluent in white America’s language, both the spoken language and the body language, because to her, that was the key to my success.

And was she wrong? Probably not. When it came time for college interviews and applications, and later, job interviews, none of my abundant nervousness was about my ability to speak or write; I know that I can talk the talk, and talk it well.

However, in cracking the code of white America, I think there’s also a great deal to be lost. I’m fluent in “standard” English, but when it comes to Spanish, I’m left struggling to express myself. I can understand a great deal, though with some effort, but I can’t speak very well at all, despite it being my family’s native tongue, and despite having studied it for four years in high school and a semester in college. Usually, I’m too ashamed at my lack of skill to even attempt to speak Spanish to Latino strangers. When I meet a white person who can speak Spanish better than me, that shame and frustration becomes tinged with anger. And that feeling of being the weirdo of the family never quite went away (though being a politicized, butch, raging homo might have something to do with it, too.) Class, education, and cultural differences all add up to a significant amount of privilege that most of my family – and far too many Puerto Ricans, Latinos, and people of color in general – will never be able to access.

But while that privilege affords me many an opportunity and many a comfort, it comes at a price: a distance, a disconnection, a weirdo status. I’ve got all sorts of deep down insecurities about being perceived as “too white” and “not Puerto Rican enough” by other people of color. The racism that we’ve internalized tells us that to be highly educated, upwardly mobile, and well versed in the rules of English grammar is to be white, or at least closer to white; that these are things that are not really meant for us; that, if we possess or attain these things, we have in fact lost a little of ourselves, our authenticity, our connection to our people. And mostly, that’s just racist bullshit meant to keep us down; but in another, sad way, because of a certain trade off that can exist between cracking the code and preserving your ties to your culture and your people, it’s true.

Did I miss the party?

And by party, I mean the little firestorm that has erupted around trans and feminist issues, specifically centering around the shitfest of a comments section on this post at I Blame the Patriarchy. Within those comments and the resultant posts on other blogs, there have been some very good points made, and some very disgusting and infuriating things said by people who like to call their transphobia “feminism,” thereby making you anti-feminist and anti-woman if you’re not down with it.

I’m actually glad that I missed the beginnings of this whole craziness; had I been online at the start, I would likely have waded into the fray and made myself batty with righteous rage in the process. As it is, it’s far too overwhelming to start reading everything now, so I’ll just direct you to the good things said by brownfemipower on her blog.

Now that my two weeks with the family for the holidays has been blessed with broadband wireless internet access, I’ma really try hard to start this blogging business again. Yeah yeah, I know, I’ve said it before, but this time I really mean it! But first I’d like to let folks know that if you comment on really old entries – say, ones about gentrification – I’m not likely to respond. I just can’t keep engaging with people who stumble upon those articles and want to tell me that gentrification is really a great thing and that I’m really just a reverse racist. Boring! Please wait until I write a new entry on gentrification, maybe then I’ll bother responding.

And finally – I returned to the blogosphere just in time to see Blac(k)ademic making her departure. We’re losing a really good one there. Kudos to her for all the knowledge she’s dropped over the year plus of blogging.

That’s Why I’m Voting for Alison Duncan…

… for lieutenant governor of New York.

Also, because she got me on TV. Heh.

But seriously – yes, I’m voting for Alison Duncan (and, in turn, Malachy McCourt, since you vote for the ticket, not the individual candidates.) And you should, too! And not only because they have a solid, truly progressive platform, and not only because I can personally vouch for Alison and say that a whole lot of people who never get paid much mind in Albany will get paid a whole lot of mind if she’s there.

I think it’s also important to vote for Alison and Malachy because we really need to break out of the two-party system. Especially when the two parties always look so damn similar. And a good way to do this is to get third parties, like the Green Party, a line on the ballot, so that their candidates actually show up as an option for people’s votes. If Alison and Malachy get 50,000 votes, then they’ll get ballot status back again.

And for voters who’d normally be more inclined to vote for Spitzer – he’s clearly a shoo-in (or is it shoe in? who knows), so if you agree with me that we need more parties and more options, why don’t you make your vote do some heavy lifting? 50,000 isn’t much, but it’s the kind of number where every vote truly counts.

So, head into that voting booth, look for Row F, and pull that lever for truly progressive, independent candidates. Pull that lever to make a clear statement about the need to break out of the stale and stagnant two-party system. And pull that lever for someone who’s just a right-on person and who I know would do a brilliant job. Yes, that’s an official endorsement – AngryBrownButch endorses Alison Duncan for Lieutenant Governor of New York! Hehe.

(ps When we speak about “our community” in the commercial above, it’s always about the LGBT community. it was a commercial for Logo.)

absent for a bit longer

Hi folks,

I’ve been spotty in my posting and responding to comments lately. I’m in the midst of finishing up at my current job and starting at another, planning a move, and big life stuff, so I’ll be fairly absent for a while longer. Hopefully after August 18 I’ll be back in the swing of things. So, ¡hasta luego!

post-post-Pride recap

Trans March photo from Workers World

Here I am, blogging about my Pride activities from more than two weeks ago. Oops.

I frame my conversation with pictures that people took of me at the front of two very different marches. Above, a photo from Workers World of the march that occured on the Trans Day of Action (TDOA). I’m the nearly-bald one making a weird face and wearing the dorky cell phone earpiece.

As I wrote earlier, the organizers of the TDOA were denied the requested permits to march down 8th Av. When I arrived at the starting point and rally location in Chelsea Park, I was greeted by two sharply contrasting sights. First, I saw many people, trans & gender non-conforming folks and our allies, gathered together, energized, enthusiastic, strong and ready to make their voices heard. A bit off to the side of them, I saw a large group of cops, standing around with clusters of plastic handcuffs dangling from their belts.

Now, you may think that plastic handcuffs sound more mild than metal handcuffs, but let me tell you, they hurt like a motherfucker, especially when you get to wear them for hours on end as I got to when I was arrested during the Republican National Convention, and especially when they’re cruelly tightened so that they cut off circulation and cut into your skin, as was done to many of my fellow arrestees. They’re also cheap, plentiful, and quick to put onto someone’s wrists, and are therefore well suited for situations where the cops expect (or, perhaps, hope) to be arresting large groups of people. Ever since the RNC, I’ve felt more wary, nervous, and even scared than ever before whenever I’m around cops, especially when they’re in a large group. And the dangling plastic handcuffs seem like nothing so much as a threat, a message of warning to protestors: “Hey, you – stay in line, or these will go on all your wrists real quick.”

Screwing up my courage so that their presence didn’t make me veer off to the side, I walked right past those cops and joined the gathered crowd. There was a good turnout and the energy was positive and high. We started chanting to get folks focused and enthused, and then had a short program of speeches by folks from various community organizations. I was called up to speak first as a representative of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project. I was really nervous, and what with the heat, the sun, and the shouting to be heard by the crowd, I felt like all the blood was rushing to my head and I might pass out, but it also felt great to be speaking up and out and to feel SRLP’s and the TDOA’s messages being echoed and applauded by the crowd. This is part of what I said, written together with other folks from SRLP:

“The City of New York has demonstrated time and time again that it will never take meaningful action to stop the discrimination and abuse of trans people unless they are forced to do so. The fact that TransJustice was denied the permits to march down Eight Av only reaffirms the city’s disregard and disrespect for the trans community. But this demonstration, our presence here today proves that our community will not be silenced or pushed aside. We can and will make the City of NY pay us heed and pay our community the respect that we deserve. We can create the world in which we want to live, by showing our power in the streets, by building our communities, and by making our demands known loud and clear.

“We want adequate and affordable housing
We want our communities to be protected from police violence
We want equal access to health care, including trans health care and health care for trans youth
We want our community out of prisons, jails, and the juvenile prison system
We want trans people to have equal access to jobs
We want our community to have equal access to jobs and to welfare benefits when we need them
We want to be able to access services and housing in the genders we are, not genders that are forced on us
We want access to real avenues for immigration that allow people to work and live free from harassment and government surveillance

“We want true justice and true respect for all trans and gender non-conforming people, in NYC, across this country and around our world, and we will not stop struggling, we will not stop speaking out, we will not stop fighting until we get it!”

I got down, successfully not passing out, and the program continued, filled with great speakers who all drove home messages of true justice for trans and gender non-conforming people, as well as all oppressed people. One of the best things about the work of Trans Justice (the trans people of color group that organized the march) is how they tie together all forms of oppression and discrimination; they address racism, classism, poverty, sexism, and homophobia, not only as they affect trans folks but as they affect all people who are oppressed.

And so ends my long, rambling, weeks-in-the-making entry on Pride. I feel like I can now return to my regular blogging schedule. Stay tuned.

After the speakers finished, there was a bit of waiting and then the announcement: we would march, permit be damned. It was exciting but also scary – certainly important to stand up for our rights and be heard no matter what, but also a little worrisome, given the cops and their plastic handcuffs and the big arrest wagon that they drove alongside us as we marched down the sidewalks of 8th Av (we weren’t allowed to take the streets until we were a couple of blocks away from our ultimate destination, the LGBT Center.) But as we stepped off and started marching through Midtown, chanting all the way, my nervousness was replaced by that funny mixture of joy and controlled, focused rage that happens during a march or a protest; a sense of community strength and power, a sense of being joined together in struggle, committed to continue despite fierce opposition and repression. It was a long march, snaking uptown on 8th Av somewhere into the 40s, then turning around and coming down 7th Av and marching all the way down to the Center at 13th St. We got some crazy looks and some hostility from evening commuters as we passed Penn Station, and the cops were ever present and ever obnoxious; one cop was heard to say “You’re missing a great transgender rally. Only in New York. I got he shes and she hes.” But, all in all, it was a tremendously succesful, energizing, and empowering event.

Me at the Dyke March

The picture above, taken by kaitlyn is of me, with my sign, at the front of the Dyke March on Saturday. The side of the sign that’s visible in the picture reads, “Dyke March Committee: Am I welcome here? If I am, THEN SAY IT!” The other side has a list of check boxes next to the following words: woman, womyn, wimmin, genderqueer butch, dyke. The boxes next to woman, womyn and wimmin are X’d out; the boxes next to genderqueer butch and dyke are checked off. (If you’re confused as to the purpose of my sign, read what I wrote earlier about my thoughts on the Dyke March. The weird face I’m making is because, by this point in the march, my sign was nearly falling off the pole and was held fast primarily by chewing gum; I’m looking up at it and willing it to not embarass me by falling off during those few minutes that I spent at the front of the march. (It didn’t.)

My girlfriend and I arrived in the vicinity of the march later than we’d expected, so we didn’t go all the way up to the starting point by Bryant Park. Instead, we waited for the march to come to us, down near the Empire State Building on 5th Av. It was the first time I’d ever seen the march coming at me instead of being in it from the start, and it gave me a little thrill to see the banner coming my way. That is, until I read the banner: “Women Wimmin Womyn.” Which, in and of itself, would not be such a big deal, but when combined with the “women only” gender policing of the march itself, was something of an unpleasant sight.

As the march approached, I held my sign high, despite feeling nervous and vaguely sheepish. There were a bunch of photographers and videographers up in front, and a few of them ran over and snapped pictures or took footage of my sign when they saw it. I got interviewed by a few folks, too. I was surprised – I definitely didn’t expect that kind of attention for me and my sign.

The march began to pass by. As usual, I saw many people I knew dispersed among the crowd. As my friend and Lt. Governor candidate Alison writes, the march “has the feel of both a powerful protest march and the largest class reunion you could imagine attending.” I saw both people I knew and strangers looking my way and taking in the sign. Lots of people smiled, clapped, or gave me a thumbs up. Some people thanked me for bringing the sign and that message to the march. A few folks told me that of course I was welcome at the march, and when I explained the women-only policy and my issues with it, some of them were surprised – they probably didn’t even know about the policy. That’s the thing about it – for all the Dyke March Committee wants to create its gender policing rules, most people never even hear about them, and many of those who do just don’t give a damn.

My sign was addressed specifically to the Dyke March Organizing Committee, so I wanted to make sure that they saw it. It seemed like the best way to do that was to march right up front. I’d mostly stayed on the sidelines until then, but down around 23rd St, I rushed up to the front. It took a little while for me to screw up the courage to step off of the sidewalk and into the street, directly in front of the big banner, but eventually I did.

After a few minutes, one of the organizers – actually one of the committee members to whom I’d spoken last year about these issues – came over to me and said that I couldn’t march in front of the banner. I pointed to my sign and asked her if, since she is a member of the committee, she could answer my question to them – was I, in fact, welcome at the march? She told me that the march was for women, for dykes. I told her that I was a butch. She responded, “Well, butches are women.” I couldn’t help but laugh a bit at this disregard for my right or ability to define my gender for myself. I told her that I identified as a butch, not as a woman, and then she told me that, in that case, she supposed that the march didn’t speak to me, and that I needed to move. I told her that I was going to enter the march, and that she should ask all the dykes around me if they wanted me to leave. As I stepped behind the banner, she told me that she wouldn’t waste her time, saying, “This march is for me.

I continued to march, eventually stepping to the side again for the final triumphant entry into Washington Square Park. This year, the construction on the big arch in the park was finally cleared up, so for the first time in the years that I’ve been attending, the march came right through under the arch and into the park. It was a terrific sight. I stuck around for a little while, watched the crowd, and spoke with some friends. After some time, my girlfriend and I walked to the subway; I abandoned my ailing sign in a garbage can near W. 4th St; we went home.

And so ends my long, rambling, weeks-in-the-making entry on Pride. I now feel like I can return to my regularly scheduled blogging. Stay tuned.

working my way back to you

Life’s been a little full lately. I’ll be back soon, promise.

so long, s-k.

sleater-kinney

Sleater-Kinney is my favorite band. (Which I’m sure comes as a major shock to people who seem to think that I hate all white folks and all things white.) And, after eleven years, it seems like they’re breaking up.

This is a sad, sad day, my friends.

Of course, I slacked on getting my tickets to the NYC show and I totally missed out. I actually tried to buy tickets a few weeks ago, but the damned TicketWeb website wasn’t working. Fuckers! I did, however, manage to get tickets to the Philly show, so even though the trip will be a bit of a pain in the ass, I’ll be seeing them. I’ll also probably try to get on line outside of the NYC show hours early with the slim hope that, somehow, a few tickets might free up. It could happen.

If anyone has any spare tickets for the NYC show that they’d like to sell (at a reasonable price) to me, I’d be a very happy brown butch.

if my friends could see me now

Lookie here – my piece on polyamory and radical feminism made it into the 17th Carnival of Feminists!

The carnivals kind of mystify me. I’m never on top of my game enough to actively submit something to one, and yet I’ve wound up in three so far. Hmm. I’m not complaining!

Also – I’m dreadfully behind on responding to comments. It makes me want to weep. Well, maybe not weep, but I definitely pout about it. There’s been a lot of thought-provoking stuff written and I’ve read it all, let me reassure you. Thanks to everyone who’s taken the time to write anything remotely thoughtful, whether it’s in agreement or in disagreement. I guess I never expected my blog to get this many comments and I haven’t yet hit my stride for handling them! Perhaps I should also not require myself to respond to nearly every single comment, since, you know, this is most certainly not my full time job.