the philosophactivist

Friday, January 13, 2012

POC Anti-racist organizing and burnout

Can POC organizers keep a sound mind and longevity in a career committed to anti-racism and anti-oppression? I've seen a lot of POC burn out and it leads to this reflection...

Co-signing for White folks
What this means is that you as a POC organizer are giving the go ahead for other POC organizers or organizations to work with white “anti-racist” organizers. Sometimes this is fine. Other times this may come back to haunt you because the “work” that the white anti-racist organizers/organization have said they have done around privilege and anti-oppression is not complete thereby leading to additional oppression. Many POC are wary of working with white anti-racists because, to put this bluntly, there is a sense of mastery that just doesn't exist. There's a lot of empty rhetoric, good intentions, and horrible actions under the guise of being educated as an anti-racist.

Whose Anti-Racism is it anyway?

And just what does it mean to be anti-racist anyway? Does it mean you are against racism from other folks but don't check your own racism? Does it mean you are an ally who checks your own privilege and supports POC? What does support mean to you? Does it simply mean saying your best friend or colleague is black/brown and you don't say racist things outside the comfort of your own home? Does it mean you are actually trying to create more space for POC and build with POC? Does it mean you are trying to tackle the institution of racism in a substantial way- other than attending one or two anti-racist trainings and thinking you know it all?

From what I've witnessed, groups and organizations that claim to be committed to anti-racist organizing are predominantly white and miss the mark completely. They commit grave errors in taking up too much space, saying that racism doesn't exist within their space, or denying anything can be done about POC members feeling unsafe in the space. I've seen POC blamed for being uncomfortable. I've seen POC called reverse racists when they try to point to racism that exists in these “anti-racist” spaces. I have seen white privilege rear it's head time and time again in POC being silenced during committees and councils, not getting to form their own committees to promote POC involvement, POC not being taken seriously, POC issues not being confronted, and POC being blamed for the lack of POC presence.

When POC try to speak out about all this suddenly they are a voice of dissonance. They are said to be divisive. When they leave the group/committee/council it is because they “weren't cut out for the committee” or because they were “reverse racists”, were “too angry” or “couldn't handle it”. Every explanation points to how deficient they were or how they were too hostile for the organization or committee. This is racist. It goes back to historical views on POC's “place” in this society. It's not our “place” to speak up and when we do it's just because we're angry and there can't possibly be any credibility to what we say. What we say is always to be questioned and disregarded.

Tokenism and being the "educator"

On top of feeling silenced or unheard in these organizations or groups, POC are tokenized or expected to educate on all that I've mentioned and it is seen negatively when they don't want to do the work for the white folks. No one in the group notices how much of a burden this is on POC...or how racist these expectations are. Yes, expecting brown people to tell you how to be better and then getting angry when they won't is racist and tied to a history of white folks building empires off the backs of brown folks. Think about it. Let it marinate. It's racist to think that a POC should be there to hold your hand through the processing of all this and expect them not to say a word as you lash out, say it doesn't exist, blame POC, and expect sympathy as if it is owed to you. I have seen this time and time again in anti-racist workshops. POC will flock to the white participants and try to comfort and console them as they realize the harm caused by white privilege. Yea, I know that there's a such thing as problem is with the expectation of some white folks to be coddled and walked through it....supported.

This leads me to talking about the lack of trust and disrespect POC have to deal with among their own community for being committed to anti-racism and co-signing for people who have not done the work on themselves and for the harm they continue to do to POC. It's really unfortunate but I get it. And when POC organizations are wary and apprehensive to work with you should get it to. It's not because THEY'RE's because YOU ARE.

Please dont....

Please don't reach out to POC organizations to do the work of unpacking your privilege and understanding racism. Please don't ask POC to be part of your committees, organizations, and coalitions until you've done this work. (I would say until you've “made a commitment to do this work” but...isn't that the point of having the “anti-racist” label that so many tout?) Making a commitment isn't enough. It just isn't. The work is hard...the work is continuous and never,ever done. It hurts to hear that though you've done the work, that you're still taking up too much space or asserting your white should be open to this constructive criticism if you are as committed to anti-racist work as you say you are.

You've got to do the work on your own and get back to us (POC) once you've begun healing yourselves and  are ready to actually support our communities. No more lip service, please. No more tokenism. No more blaming us for your superiority complexes, and such. White supremacy is endemic to this society and thankfully it is crumbling. Will you continue to feed into it while cloaked behind the “anti-racist” banner? It is important that both white and POC anti-racist organizers turn a critical eye toward themselves, address internalized racism, superiority and inferiority complexes, and once healed join to dismantle this institution of racism.

Who I am and Who I am not
I'll tell you first who I'm not. I'm not "just another angry POC". I'm not irate but I AM firm in my convictions and it is upsetting to be at square 1 half a century after the civil rights movement. The truth is that the movement is still happening. We are living and breathing it.

I am a person committed to diversity and inclusion, anti-oppression, cultural competence and civil rights and I'm not going to give up. No matter how arduous. There are so many civil rights leaders who had to endure so much more. Our foremothers and forefathers have had to endure so much more. I will carry the torch but I will not be taken advantage of. I have my eyes wide open and I'm not afraid to call what I see. No change will come if we don't.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Thoughts from a QPOC going into 2012

It's 2012 and I've been reflecting for a few days on my identity and activism. Being home for the holidays I've been forced to remember that I am a daughter, sister, and niece in the eyes of at least 48 of the 50 people who crowded my aunt's home to eat and reminisce. All of these folks don't know how hard I fought to come to terms with my identity for the past few years.  Yet, for once, I didn't withdraw from conversations or hide in the back room. I wore my tie and suspenders after a little anxiety about what older family members would think. I prepared myself for the silence around my personal life. I prepared myself for the pronouns and name I haven't been called by in a while.

A 7 year old boy cousin took to me instantly thinking that I was cis-male...his step sister called him out on his error in a jarring scene. "Toi...aren't you a girl? See. She's a girl!" What an awkward moment that was. I went upstairs defeated...not really knowing what could be going through his mind. A couple hours later...we were back to hanging out again. While playing basketball he told me , "I keep forgetting you're a girl." I consoled him, "It's ok. Not many people think of me that way anyway. And I prefer it that way."

In my family, I guess we don't really ask questions. We keep our assumptions to ourselves. (At least in front of your face). I bet they think I'm gay or some kind of tomboy. Nobody comments on it...or asks me if I have a girlfriend or boyfriend. (Though most of them know I've had girlfriends). As a matter of fact, no one asks anyone about who they're with. Maybe we just want to get through the holidays as smoothly as possible. Who knows. I do know that I was ready to do battle if anyone made a trans or homophobic comment. I had heard a couple jokes a few days before and was ready to confront whoever I had to. It didn't happen. I missed the opportunity to have dialog.

Sometimes I feel so torn about opening up to my family about my identity. Part of me feels like I just want to live my life away from the added scrutiny of family members.  Now that I'm back in the South, I deal with it enough on a day to day basis. But deep down I want them to accept me...want them to accept that there are others out there like me. I want to be able to talk about who I'm dating or have dated with them. I want to be able to talk about my queer activism with them, since it's such a big part of my life.  While I know I probably can't go spouting queer theory, it'd just be nice to actually be able to talk about things that are important to me.

So with TPOC activism

 I have found it hard to get people to contribute to this chapter on race and ethnicity in this trans resource guide. I want it to represent the TPOC community but we're barely getting any submissions. I suspect that it's because our project is mostly organized by white folks. The title also uses the name "Trans"- forcing people to identify as Trans which a lot of QPOC don't do. Not everyone wants to be under that umbrella term.
I've also found it hard to get in contact with QPOC organizations to get support. They probably don't trust the project, are too busy to worry about it, or who knows what else. I want this chapter to come from our community and speak to our community. I want this chapter to expose what is happening in the larger LGBT community. It's been slow going. I bet it would be different if I was doing a zine and the majority of the writers were POC.

Some have asked me why I keep going with this project...and it's simple really. Who else if not me? I have invested so much time and effort and I really believe in this. So, I'll continue with it to the best of my ability. I just wish we had more support...wish the people behind this project were more committed to building with POC organizations and reaching out to TPOC. But maybe that's a separate project. It's just so frustrating, though, to see a project with such potential that is supposed to be a resource guide for EVERYONE become so narrow and representative of such a few in the community. It just goes to show that our intentions are not enough. They are never enough. It takes work ....and a real committment to inclusiveness.

The last few years of my work have been dedicated to figuring out how to promote diversity and inclusion in different settings. Hospitals, academic institutions, groups and organizations....And the work isn't easy. We just had the civil rights movement 50 years ago. So much of this world...these systems....our thought, operate on the belief of the inferiority of others. So many times during the Occupy movement (and way before this) activists and organizers have urged us to decolonize our minds. They're right. This whole idea of inequality and superiority complexes comes from the mentality of the colonizer. Colonialism. This whole idea of "Integration" or "Inclusiveness" is impossible without acknowledging deeper, systemic issues AND our mindset. The value system of this country is deeply flawed. How can we pull our self up by our bootstraps with the man's foot on our neck? We have to address racism, classism, sexism, homo and transphobia and all other forms of hate and discrimination before we can create a better society. Many don't want change because they profit from those whose necks their foot is on...others don't have time to think about change because they are trying to survive. With the economy in the state that it's in...change is coming whether we like it or not. It's better to be proactive than reactive, as they always say. We have to come together and support each other while valuing each other's differences. In this day and age- the rhetoric of being "equal" is not enough. All I hear is that we "should" be able to be equal. Should doesn't mean anything to me right now. There is so much in place to keep the poor, poor which informs every other aspect of their life -education, housing, health care. I just don't believe in the American sense of equality anymore...especially if based on "meritocracy". No one deserves to be poor or discriminated against...or to die because they don't have housing or health care.

So much to think about as we start off a New Year. I am still committed to anti-oppression and making institutions and organizations more inclusive for the betterment of society. And also creating dialogue across differences to build healthier and more supportive communities.