the philosophactivist

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Oppression and Organizing Against Obliviousness


I'm not going to lie. I am feeling extra-angsty right now after reading multiple articles about people using racial slurs, anti-gay slurs, and a lesbian and her mother being killed by her partner's father in Austin. I have to also say that I just did a needs assessment for a non-profit addressing discrimination and the importance of diversity trainings....sat in on a talk by Grace Lee Boggs (an organizer for the past 70 years, author of The Next American Revolution and co-founder of the Boggs Center), went to a radical book fair and sat in on a discussion about solidarity networking, and the list goes on and on for the past couple of weeks. So needless to say I am primed for a discussion on oppression...organizing...and obliviousness.

First and foremost...let's address oppression and its many forms. Because I really think that people don't know that it's not always overt. Oppression (my makeshift definition) is that lack of power...that sense of hopelessness because of that lack of power...the inability to "succeed" or sometimes even survive or cope... or that sense of having to overcome an invisible barrier that is inevitably linked to your powerlessness and another person/group/organization/system's powerfulness. When we are oppressed it is because our own well-being....our livelihood is not in our hands. We no longer are autonomous (if we ever were in the first place). We can't do for ourselves. And our self-dignity is not preserved. 

In this country there is this feigned and unwritten rule that EVERYONE can do for themselves. This sense of meritocracy..which I coin, Ameritocracy. Everyone gets what they deserve if they work hard enough. Everyone has the tools to overcome their challenges and at least be middle class. Everyone has access to everything if they only try hard enough. That is what this country sells to us and other places around the globe. Globalization-- the exportation of our warped economy and, with it, western ideals, values or lack thereof are an outgrowth of our confidence in how this country (and western countries) think and are run. 

But wait! Obviously we don't all buy into this...there are people who know that this is complete and utter b*s*, right? Why don't they say something? Hmm...let's dissect this quickly. Who has voice in this country? Not the poor...not immigrants...not most people of color....let's just say that the "marginalized" have no say. So, basically there are these allies who are these rich, liberal artsy/progressive- type people connected to the upper echelons of society who can at any point decide whether or not our oppression is a "good cause." Great.Allies.

Then there are these lobbyists and policymakers who basically operate in the same manner but with much more power to create legislation who can address our oppression...if and when they so choose (you know, if they can a)fit it in their schedule b)get some votes by pulling some rich people heart strings). sidenote: no I am not demonizing the rich...I'm just saying that a lot of wealty people's interests are not in line with those of the poor ---obviously. 

So back to this voice thing...yea, we (and by we I mean the majority of people) don't have one. And the principles and values of this country are not necessarily the voice of the actual majority. In this country where we assimilate into the thinking patterns and value systems of an elite's easy to not wear our oppression on our sleeves and to buy into this whole "i'm middle class" thing and be spoon fed that we are equal. *Shrugs. The media says so...our politicians say so...oh wait! Some of us live in overwhelming poverty, have no jobs or healthcare,etc. Whoops! Let's just...let's just move on past that population shall we..

.nothing to see there...

So obliviousness. It comes in so many forms doesn't it? There's the blatant kind where a person or group of people is just not informed or educated on the issues...then there's people who misinterpret the issue. And eople who conflate the issue. And people who don't want to think about the issue because it's too hard, too close to home, or they actually don't believe it exists because they have never experienced it. Then there's the stealth obliviousness where a person truly thinks that they are addressing oppression in some way when they are really perpetuating it...and are oblivious to that. Then there's when people use hate speech or language that perpetuates oppression and fail to see the connection to larger systemic oppression and how it perpetuates itself within us. Then there's the all-in-all obliviousness to who we are as an individual and our actual place in this society which honestly is in some way no fault of our own since we are expected to not really care about this and work our fingers to the bone and into an early grave. (told you I was feeling angsty,folks). 

Yes so it's complicated. Don't you fret. I will talk about solutions in a bit. Let me finish opening up the last bit of this can of worms...

So know, organizers sometimes get a bad rap. Why are we raising all this awareness? Why do we want people to be conscious? Why can't we just let people sleep under their nice warm blanket of obliviousness? Stop speaking out. Bite our tongues. Stop agitating. To this I say...isn't there enough silence? Like Audre Lorde said..."Your silence will not protect you." People think that in not saying things, that this will cease their existence or at least keep them from thinking about it. But...hello...yeah hi...this is oppression. It is constant.  We feel it daily. Trudging on through it is an antiquated notion from colonialism. We aren't chattel anymore, we've gotten a promotion from pack mule to cog. (At least some of us, anyway). 

A lot of times we feel really isolated in our oppression...even if we know it's because of an identity group that we belong to, are associated with, or involuntarily labeled as. When individuals come together to talk about their problems outside of work,etc. this is powerful. It is even more powerful when "critical mass" is formed--tens, hundreds of people realizing their marginalazation or oppression due to x,y,z and strategizing and coming up with solutions for how to alleviate and ameliorate this unwarranted foot on their neck.

 So, why did you want silence again? Why are organizers bad? Oh...because they don't want what the upper 1% (economically) who control the wealth of this nation want. I can understand. I see how your goals, aspirations, and values align with them. Naturally. So when they bail out banks, cut our social services (because...who needs those when we've got yachts and vacation spots to tend to), and such...we completely and utterly understand. Right? Lowering taxes for the upper tenth or whatever percent is in our best interest! (saying with those little cartoon hypnotized swirlees in my eyes) Can someone please snip these strings on my arms....and, I guarantee you that my nose is not growing.

The Truth is painful...and people with power don't want it out there. It's easy not to believe all this anyway. We just want to be happy. We just want to raise our families and be left alone. If they tell us not to think or to keep it down-why can't we just do that...? Hey, I don't blame those who do...I just don't think they should have the right to complain ...or the right to use their silence to oppress others by attacking them for knowing the truth and trying to organize to end the perpetuation of discrimination and oppression. know the type. Well here's one of the types: They usually make a little more money than you, laud their education over you or pretend to be highly versed and educated on matters...and accuse you of being radical and your ideas dangerous...because you see...they are playing the game and have bought into the system. They are sentinel assimilationists who have been indoctrinated and hired on (subconsciously) to be a Yes man/woman. When you say no...they are the ones who systematically (as if second-nature) push you to the margins of whatever group or society you are that they can go on climbing that 3 rung latter (never seeing that there are 10 more rungs that are inaccessible). As long as they are above you (even if this is a guise)...that's all that matters. AHhh maybe I"m getting to matrix-y and post-apocolyptic or whatever the genre may be...

Sigh. Gatekeepers. True story.

But deep down you already knew and saw this. Most oppressed people have. It's this understood and unspoken Truth. We don't need to go to workshops on this. We don't need to be educated in some classroom on this, we live it every.single. day. We need an advanced course or something. This isn't new and frankly we're tired of talking about it. So tired...we don't even want to organize against it because a)we have and we're burnt out b)we are and we're burnt out c)we have a family to raise and can't take up the cause or d)it just plain hurts.

Grace Lee Boggs spoke about the civil rights movement. The differences in the ideology of Malcom's "By any means necessary" and Martin's "non-violence" - she said that she was always looking for a middle ground. She also said that we can't expect to "go back" to these models and re-create them here and now. The political climate is different, the culture of this country is different. There were a number of events that led up to what became the civil rights movement, and other movements that she had been involved in. Usually there's political unrest, an economic downturn, increased marginalization, public outcry, hopelessness,etc. People have to organize. It has to happen if we want change, folks. 

Grace talked a lot about love being a basic principal in organizing and creating movements. (Sidenote:Even she had been skeptical about Martin's message at first).
Hmph. Allowing ourselves to go on being uneducated, unaware, and downright oblivious is not what I call being loving. I know that we as a People have not lost the capacity to just feels like loving our communities, our society has become more and more difficult. But we do it...especially in communities of color. As much as we are pitted against each other economically---along class lines---we come together on many issues. And it's out of love.

 Organizing - bringing people together from multiple socioeconomic backgrounds to unite and accomplish a single goal --> the end of oppression along multiple is this rabblerousing? Having dialogue to understand each other and supporting one another through this economic downturn, pooling our resources so that we can ALL survive the crash of our is this bad? Capitalists want to call us communists and socialists because we want to survive their botched and dysfunctional system. I see a problem with that. It's about time they were held accountable. About time their inflated rhetoric was brought down to size. Most of us brown people, people of color...operate in a way that people in our community support each other---it is part of our heritage-->not part of the eastern bloc. Not related to Stalin or Russia.  And even other western countries have social programs that take care of their citizens...we are the only country who expects our citizens to fend for themselves...vetting Big Business, Big Pharma, and insurance companies against little Joe Schmoe...because it's good for the economy folks! Um. yeah.

Let's get back to love. So mushy, warm and fuzzy...gross, yuck! Love never solves anything! I encourage you to tell me a time when violence and war did. Name a movement that happened and created sustainable social change from violence. Now think back to all movements that created some form of change and how they were built and sustained or why they were not sustained. Think on that...

This morning I've been mulling over a lot. I have to constantly remind myself as an activist and as a student that ...I need to not get carried away with multiple fronts of oppression. That I can't speak out against every single issue...but yet I need to realize that it's not an excuse to not speak out, not to organize. It's a call to action to figure out how to do it more efficiently...and I think that's why I was drawn to diversity and anti-oppression education. 

You know, I was thinking this morning that with so many atrocities going on in this world and in our country alone, that it's so hard to focus and care about academics...
you buying into this whole " a degree makes your views more valuable in this society" thing...But I've since checked myself...and realize that in focusing on my studies...that IS one way that I'm combating oppression. It's in every single one of my academic papers. It's in every discussion point I bring up in class...I am a part of creating awareness and obliterating obliviousness. I live my life in this way- every single day. Now, that might seem tiring...and you know what, sometimes it can be...but I have an obligation to myself, my family, my community to not go on being silent. To speak out when I know that something is wrong. To organize when I have the capacity, the tools, and the awareness. Not speaking out means death on so many levels for me. That's a whole other blog that I can't wait to write...

I encourage everyone to really think about silence and awareness. Ways of organizing that are both overt and covert. Subversive and in your face. We can't all picket and protest- I'm aware of that. We can't all come to community meetings....I'm aware of that. But, how then can we go out into our jobs and communities and create change bit by can we be more intentional about it? How can we create the communities we wish to see...and then the policies we wish to see...and then the society we wish to see? Can this be done with love as opposed to violence? Can we end oppression? Grace Lee Boggs says that we have to be able to conceive of this first...and I say that we've all got to get on the same page and educate each other both on our oppression and the oppression of others and how we can overcome systemic and individual oppression by organizing against it. Grace also said that we can't just be "against" everything...we've got to be for things...I agree. I am for a more inclusive and accepting society in which we all have equal rights and respected cultures and identities, I am not just anti-racist/homophobia/classist/ableist/sexism,etc. 

sigh. so much food for thought. I've got to go ponder. And write papers...about oppression...

That is all.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Discovering our ability to Heal Ourselves after Invisibility, Voicelessness or Confrontation with the Medical Establishment (and in our Lives, in general)


In these past few weeks, nay, months- I have been encountering challenge after challenge with my lupus symptoms. The disease has a funny way of manifesting in different or all parts of your body sporadically. One day you are fine, the next day you have limited mobility. One day your energy is at an all time high, the next day you can barely get out of bed. My newest symptom is sharp pain in my left foot that doesn't allow me to walk without hobbling. In NYC, I feel like a lame duck, a pariah. There is no sympathy for the disabled. No one tries to help me with my bags- in fact, I am inevitably whisked by with aggravated grunts. If they could step on my foot to get one second added to their commute time, I am almost certain that "some" people would. It is frustrating to have bus drivers tell me that I had plenty of time to get off the bus and to have to divulge that "I have limited mobility" which is met with a grunt...and then backtracking moments later. They want to know why my pain is not more visible. Why don't I have some wheelchair or cane or something. Well, because my wrists are affected alongside my feet...and it can last for hours, days, weeks...I never really know until I open my eyes in the morning. The cage of pain- I like to call it. When I wake up feeling a huge weight around me...intense pain--like I can't move. I remember this cage well---back in 2005 when I was depressed with my job, my relationship, and life in general. Sometimes I just could not get up...Black Pain by Terrie Williams addresses this and the mask we as African-Americans wear to cover all the internal, emotional pain. We don't know what it's called she says--we don't have time for it, my own mom has said to me. Williams says that depression is a "white woman's" disease to communities of color. Hm. Noted. I used to buy into that whole idea of communities of color buying into this whole martyrdom thing. It's an actual theory you know...but as I do research for my independent study on perceptions of pain, autoimmune disorders Lupus and Fibromyalgia and the perpetuation of the pain cycle due to the perceptions of the medical establishment and community members, I see that there is something else more substantial than just being masochistic or seeing ourselves as some sacrificial lamb.

Yes. I said it. It has been expected of us since we were slaves, crossed borders as immigrants, refugees, etc. Our ancestors were denied their humanity and in this, they were also denied their experience of pain. Chattel don't feel pain. They are inhuman. Strong pack mules who serve their purpose and then are discarded. We internalized this and--Williams says that this is passed down throughout generations creating this cycle of how we view ourselves and our pain. Do we think we deserve it deep down? Is it something we just have to deal those slaves who picked cotton and were lashed at or those house negroes who expected to be raped night after night by the master...or those immigrants breathing in pesticides daily as they tend someone else's crops, provide food for others when they barely have enough to subsist.

How does this tie into illness you ask? Debra Walker King, another phenomenal author, talks about the tripartite---mind,body, soul. This sense of wholeness. When we are wounded...when our souls are wounded- this wound manifests in our body and our mind and as Williams noted, it is passed down from grandparents, parents,etc. These wounds are inherited. you understand why I might get a little upset when white folks tell us that slavery happened over 400 years ago and we need to "get over it" or when they call brown people "welfare queens" or say we need to "pull ourselves up by our boot straps." What if we never got a pair?

Is it any coincidence that women of color (and more disproportionately and specifically, black women) have the highest incidences of autoimmune disorders that are associated with chronic pain (for example, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, lupus, etc.) And thinking back to the history of the inaudibility of women's voices and the intersections of race and gender and the implications of how silence and silent pain manifests itself---does one have any doubt that it plays some role? Physicians are predominantly white. The health care system is set up for who? Who goes unheard? Who stops going to the clinics because of this? Who experiences the most disparities? The most fatalities due to going in "too late"? The book Medical Apartheid addresses the roots of mistrust within the black community of the medical establishment. And it has a focus on the egregious violations of medical researchers against black bodies. It goes much farther than Tuskegee, folks. From gynecological experiments, to genocide, to viewing those infected with tuberculosis and HIV as criminals--and black and brown bodies being seen as pathogenic to white,innocent, pure, healthy bodies.

 To say that we are in a post-racial society after all the endemic implications of racism perpetuated for hundreds maybe even thousands of years is ridiculous and beyond naive. Just because we want something to be so...doesn't make it so. Just because the Civil Rights Movement happened, doesn't mean racism or xenophobia or any other oppression was eradicated. Paradigm shifts are needed...a shift in consciousness is needed both in white folks and people of color. We have to stop perpetuating this and this cessation comes from addressing internalized oppression and the way it manifests itself. Health disparities are a manifestation of oppression...both internal and imposed on us by others. We feel that because we are people of color that we just don't get the same type of access. It's unfair- but what can we do about it? The government helps us, right? Medicaid and Medicare...which are far harder to access than society would lead us to believe especially if we live in states like Texas who don't want the federal government involved in any of their affairs. But let's move on....for now.

In my own journey...discovering the ability to heal myself after years of invisibility, voicelessness and confrontation in the health care setting has been both frustrating and empowering. Disheartening and Inspiring. It is no coincidence that the moment I started to learn about my heritage and the ways of my ancestors and who they really were, that I started to heal in many aspects of my being. It all goes together. If we don't know our roots...if we don't respect that tree...those people before us...if we pick at the branches and leaves but don't examine the roots--- I ask you, how far will we get? 

Assimilation is making us ill. Acculturation is making us sick. The denial of the existence of brown bodies in white spaces is giving us high blood pressure....the microaggressions (See articles/books from  Dr.Derald Wing Sue) that people of color face multiple times daily are killing us inside, literally. Of course our minds aren't right- so our neighborhoods aren't right-- so the messages in our music are at times degrading and we seek self-worth from our clothing, jewelry and cars,houses. We are trying to find our worth...and seeking happiness because we are unhappy and sick. Sick and tired. Sick and tired of being sick and tired. So when our body ...our limbs, muscles, joints just won't work anymore and that white physician looks at us dead in our eye and says it's "growing pains" or that it's "normal" --doubting what we are feeling day to day, not only does it play into the denial of our voice, existence in so many other white spaces and our perceptions of Self and others in our community, etc...but it also contributes to our silence, our not showing up to appointments...our hidden despair and our mask of being a superhero. (See "Black Pain" for more on this mask).

On being a superhero...My father maintains that there is a reason that Africans were used as slaves. He says they were strong, intelligent, healers. They were viewed as a "superior product".  I've been processing that as I've been trying to write a poem called "airplane" which talks about white people's "entitlement" to climb over and above since they view themselves as having "less baggage" know...better communities, education, medicine- you name it. He wanted me to tell the WHOLE story. To talk about co-optation of our culture and envy of who we are as a people. Also, I've been watching documentaries like Afro-punk and Electric Purgatory and it has cemented that knowledge about how our music was co-opted. Blues, Jazz, Rock, Punk...stolen from us. Now- I believe that art should be shared and we should learn from each other--but that's not what happened with black music. It wasn't credited and it was bastardized and thrown back in our face for a profit. Black musicians lost legitimacy and the music became inauthentic and hollow. Also, black and brown people's history has been handed to us for centuries by white colonizers and we are expected to smile and say "please and thank you" (see my poem "Intentions"). Then when we gain some knowledge *true knowledge* we are called angry and ungrateful. And at worst, we are called bad historians who are making things up because we are inferior beings and want to be white. Well if that's not the projection of the century, nay, millenium. 

Ok, ok I'm getting off my metaphorical a second, in a second. So- healing ourselves is empowering and has been since the beginning of time. Especially for brown folks- you know, people of color. We respected the earth. Treated ourselves holistically. Didn't slaughter meat for the sake of greed and profit. Paid attention to our emotional, physical and spiritual health and saw this all as a union. As a whole. You see how everything we do now is the antithesis of who we *were* as a People? Of course we're sick. Sick and tired. Sick and tired of being sick and tired. Our ancestors weren't overworked until they were expected to adhere to the world of the white man. To mold our perceptions, concepts, and worldview to that of his. An example of this is time...and time management. Every single person of color, no matter what their ethnicity, has the concept of "color people time" or CPT. Isn't it odd that we outnumber white people yet our concept of time is in the "minority"? Well, because they run the businesses, the hospitals, our liiiives. Mhm. I see. What we eat-- is what white men deem nutritious or maybe not even that--let's go with satisfying. Certain diets- are for white people. True story. The medicines that they give us that make us sick...the research they do on diseases---are done predominantly on white people. I could go on and on...write a series of books on this- but they already exist. The knowledge is out there. The question is...what do we do with this knowledge? How do we empower ourselves and come together to say enough is enough? How do we get back to our roots and heal ourselves of these disorders and stop listening to the erroneous information that is clearly not for "us". How do we acknowledge this emotional and physical pain that we've been trained not to for so long? How do we eradicate this inherited pain and self-hatred? We can't do it alone- that's dangerous.  We need the whole community to be aware so the cycle STOPS

And most of all we need our white allies to be actual allies who continuously acknowledge their privilege and strive to check it daily. We need our white allies not to co-opt our status, occupy our spaces and judge who is a worthy person of color due to actions taken or perceived not to be taken toward the obliteration of internal and external oppression on our parts. We need our allies not to use labels like "liberal" and "progressive" and turn around and perpetuate hatred and oppression under the guise of "good intentions." We need white allies to understand that being an ally is not a one-time badge...but a life-long process. We must all come to an understanding. Black folk, brown folk, white folk---folks! Our experiences are NOT the same...Color-blindness = assimilation and is an excuse not to recognize cultural differences. It's a type of microaggression. Racial microaggressions are subtle and happen daily--especially in the medical setting. Sure, being told I am loud on the train or the denial of my existence in predominantly white spaces in Westchester county is an annoyance---but physican's assuming I have sickle cell anemia and misdiagnosing my lupus and thalassemia for three+ years, or assuming that I am not in as much pain as I say I am and that I am drugseeking because I am "black" is a serious,serious problem. It took the white female director of my program asking for pain meds at a doctor's appointment with me before I actually got a prescription. !!! Yea. Denying me the best care because of your internal racism, rampant assumptions and biases and unchecked privilege is not..."o.k." Just because a physician or medical social worker thinks they can leave their biases at the door before they enter work does not mean that this happens. It is highly illogical...

Back to my allopathic healing or lack thereof- Anti-malarial drugs and chemotherapy drugs to "manage" not cure my lupus symptoms are ridiculous. They want to suppress my immune system and kill my cells not even to heal me? To not even address the root cause? Which inevitably is tied to environmental pollution and stress of being a queer, brown (seen as only black) person in a white world??? Get out of here.

That is all.
There's Hope- India Arie

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Throwing Stones at the windows of the Ivory Tower (and bringing knowledge to the People for $Free.99)

So most of us already know how exclusionary and exclusive academics can be. The rise of the piece of paper..I or diploma and its importance to our very existence in the economic sector...or whatever. The way that we are denied a chance to thrive because of our lack of this credential...or whatever. No- I'm not saying that we need that piece of paper. I'm just saying that without it-- it sure is hard to be "middle class." No matter what the majority of Americans think they are. If you are struggling from paycheck to paycheck and in debt up to your eyeballs and trying to keep up a veneer to keep up with the Joneses then, baby, you ain't middle class. You know, I've been thinking a lot about education and how it can exclude you from your community. Especially if you come from a black community or a mixed community of, say, latinos, whites, blacks, and asians. As soon as you get to high school it's like you start working your way out of the community with your good grades. Athleticism is fine. You know, us people of color are expected to be track stars and football stars and basketball stars. In my little po-dunk town, brown people were held to the lowest of expectations when it came to academics. White teachers were shocked and surprised when I could form a coherent sentence and knew how to read way before elementary school. Yea, I have a lot of ideas on that --now that I've processed my educational experience. I used to think that they thought I was intelligent and never really read into it. Now I think they were patronizing. I think that their shock wasn't how I read it at all. They were proud of me for being brown and having a brain---not like the other brown people. Ugh. Process that. No wonder brown people hated me. Why did I get attention? I didn't want the attention. In fact, I was bored in class and talked and made animal noises and started food fights in biology labs. I had a permanent seat outside of most of my classes. They tolerated me, though. They knew that come test time I'd get an A. That was a jerk move I did---disrupting others who might have needed those boring lectures. But..well, on the other hand I kept them entertained and helped them with their homework and papers if they needed it. Hell, I even wrote papers for people if they paid me $15. Yep...that's right. I was a hustler. Nay, hustla. My mom always wondered how I had money...I wrote papers for people. $10 for a B, $15 for an A. Psshhh academic integrity--whatever. They were feeding us bullsh* in MISD. Where was THEIR integrity?

Which brings me back to the discussion at hand. Elitism---academia. There have been many movements to bring knowledge to the people for free. Now this knowledge is intermingled with what is called "local knowledge," (That knowledge from the community that comes from elders and members of expertise--or who just know sh*!! Pardon my language).  You know- I am a firm believer that any knowledge should be accessible. Academic, Spiritual...whatever. There should be no policing or gatekeeping. A person is going to do with it what they can. And you should NOT be charging for it. So academic institutions will say, but we have overhead---we have to pay these teachers, run this school. Psh whatever. Our ancestors did that stuff for free. They bartered. Traded sheep and let people use their land, or exchanged other resources. We need to go back to that. I am down wholeheartedly with the skillshares that have been happening throughout NYC, California, and Texas. The Free Skools that I see popping up in metropolitan cities with numerous universities. Academics and organizers who are coming together to bring knowledge to the people...

Who? What? Where? You say...
Well, there's The Free Skool in Austin. Here in New York City-at my very own (soon to be) alma mater Sarah Lawrence there are free classes given to staff and our food delivery workers,etc. There are also the skillshares done by Quorum and the Audre Lorde Project. There are also schools like this located across the nation and in other countries, see Chiapas, Mexico's school for the indigenous community.

I want a part in the passing around of both local and academic knowledge. It has been exclusionary for long enough.  More on this later...I just wanted to get this posted since it's been sitting in my "Edit Posts" section for a couple weeks now!