Browse Author: Spectra Speaks

Spectra is an award-winning writer, media advocate, and new media consultant. Her work explores the relationship between culture, technology, and philanthropy, and her writing, gender, media, and the African diaspora. She's also the founder of QWOC Media Wire and community philanthropy programs officer at Africans in the Diaspora (AiD). Her mantra: "Love is my revolution."

QWOC Pride During Pride


Looking back at the past ‘rainbow year’ (June 2007 – present), I can’t help but feel proud of all our work and contributions to the community; through QWOC+ Boston, MadFemmePride, and my peripheral affiliations with other like-minded groups, change is happening… There are QWOC walking around, being screened at the MFA, planning events in PTown, being seen

It all started last year with Optionz, the diversity pride party Femily and I decided we needed to have after such an overwhelmingly positive response to our “Unladylike” party at Umbria. It was clear that people were sick of the same old clubs, same venues, same kinds of people, and that the Boston queer scene needed a facelift. Where were all the queer women of color? Where were all the grown ‘n’ sexy, married-with-kids couples? Where were the STUDS? And since when were high femmes ostracized from lezziedom because they ‘confused’ people?

The state of the Boston scene was dismal, just dismal. And, in my humble opinion, the reason was because promoters were still running it. I still had to log on to to find out what to do with myself every weekend. “Why?” I thought to myself, “In this age of web 2.0 social networking sites, free text messaging, crackberries and blogs, why am I okay with relinquishing social organizing power to THREE women?” Kristen Porter, Wendy Kelly, and Beth McGurr. Well-meaning they were, I’m sure, but the days of queers having no options but to go clubbing to meet other queers were over – or should’ve been. We’ve become much more than the rebellious, over-sexed, hot and sweaty clubbers the media makes us out to be, and our social scene should reflect that. Yes?

And, finally, it’s beginning to! People have house parties, organize wine-tastings, Obama fundraisers, nightclub options are not many but at least they’re always changing etc. And now, QWOC Week. Ah yes… stay tuned :o)

Hablando de Las Latinas (Continued): Dislocating Cultures

So many of my white American friends have never understood that when my parents come to visit that they of COURSE stay with me in my one bedroom apartment, and that my mother’s underwear will always be found hanging to dry in the bathroom. I know it’s funny, but that’s my life! When I was at MIT, my dorm head couldn’t wrap his head around the fact that when my siblings got out of school for vacation that they’d come stay with me in my matchbox of a dorm room. And, that if my parents had the money to come visit that summer, they’d book a hotel, but would always end up staying with us too! Crazy, yeah? I’ve found that situations like that are really hard for the average white American to understand. If you didn’t grow up poor, and you had the white picket fence and golden Labrador, ‘space’ was a right you acquired when you turned five, along with a play-themed room, which had a door that your parents had to learn to knock on to gain access to. Ha!

“Oh, stop the generalizing, iQWOC!” Well, if for the past eight years that I’ve lived here I hadn’t experienced looks of horror anytime I explained that my entire family usually stays with me during any given vacation/holiday period then perhaps my perception would be different. The fact of the matter is that – whether people want to admit it or not – if you haven’t had the immigrant experience, if you haven’t been dislocated from your culture in a new place, and you don’t even have family members (or even loud enough friends) that can say this, there are things about someone like me which are gonna be difficult to understand and/or relate to. Incidentally, it turns out that, of all the cultural groups that reside in the United States, Latinos are the ones whose experiences have most closely mirrored my own. Additionally, as I have come to identify partly as a “queer woman of color”, it follows that an even more specific subset of Latinos, queer latinas, most closely share my experience.

When I first arrived in New Hampshire for boarding school, the friends that I made instantly were from foreign countries – international students. I think most people would understand why that happened; we were all away from home, we could support each other, share our stories of culture shock, cook for each other etc. By the end of the semester, my group of international friends comprised mostly of students from South America. I honestly think that it was due to the fact that our cultures and general value systems were so close; family was the center of everything, and thus, your accountability to siblings, parents, grandparents… We talked about family and the differences we saw between here and ‘there’ all the time. Even the language barrier wasn’t strong enough to keep us from bonding (I was taking German at the time, not Spanish, but learned as we went along from listening to so much of their music – especially pre-crossover Shakira).

I’ve been asked a couple of times why (in place of Latinos) I don’t relate better to African-Americans/Blacks here, including people from islands like Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad etc. Well, the fact is that those people living here (if, first generation) usually identify as American, which is still very removed from who I am and where I come from. I love to party with those groups hard due to the commonality in the music culture; bass and drums are clear signifiers of African rhythms. But, on the flip side, they don’t know what it’s like to live in a country where everything about your culture is made fun of (or pitied) ALL the time, and perpetuated negatively throughout the media, including to people who LOOK like you. Reggae and Dancehall have become part of the music in this country. Everyone knows and loves old Bob Marley songs, Buju Banton, Elephant Man, Sean Paul, Jay-Z, 50 Cent (even him!), and it’s cool to know their songs, dance to them etc. It is NOT cool to be African in the US, even though ALL of this comes directly from the culture I am so proud to be a part of. Rather, our art is routinely collected (stolen) and displayed in foreign countries as ‘mystical’ and ‘ancient’, while our music is viewed similarly to ‘strange’ foods from Asia, from a distance. Or worse, in some cases (especially when the songs are recorded in English), as a pitiful attempt to ‘copy’, and so ignored thereafter.

Language definitely plays a factor into this. Moroccan hiphop artists will tell you that even though their music thrives in the rest of the world, it has been poorly received in the united states, and any attempt to record in English is ridiculed (Hiphop in French and Arabic? Noooo). So, whereas most of ‘black music’ – Hiphop, RnB etc – and popular music from the Caribbean is readily accessible, and thus, accepted, because it’s in English, this is not the case with African music. They say that the core of culture comprises Art, Music, and Religion. And, none of these parts of Nigerian – or even African – culture, are available to me here. At least, due to the inter-linkage of history between Cuba, Mexico, and Puerto Rico (not to mention the influx of immigrants from neighboring South America), Americans are routinely exposed to Spanish-speaking cultures: bilingual educational policies, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Ana Castillo, Hilary and the Latino vote, Miami, Reggaeton thriving as a new genre… all these make it “cool” to speak Spanish and take Salsa lessons. And, before someone mentions “African” dance (as if we ALL dance in the same way all across the CONTINENT), even with that, as I mentioned before, the movements are usually viewed mystically, and placed within the Afro-Cuban religious context. It’s not REALLY my Africa they’re talking about.

African dance… That’s definitely another blog, for another day. My point is that since I have been completely displaced from my culture and work every day to find a place for myself in this country, I am more likely to relate to women in similar circumstances. Immigrant Queers – male or female – take the cake.

Queer Woman of Color, I am… but only here; this identity would vanish the minute I stepped unto Nigerian soil. But, even I am beginning to forget what identity would take its place… and even, what there was before.

Melange Lavonne Takes a Stand Against Racism at LA Pride

I am reposting an excerpt from Melange Lavonne’s blog (link above). She sent out a bulletin yesterday titled “I do not support LA Pride” with a few reasons. Of course I responded and told her that I supported her decision to speak out against the racism that she experiences in the music industry as a hiphop artist… It’s fascinating to me that people think just because hip-hop culture has been embraced by american youth, and as such, has become somewhat mainstream, that these artists walk around on a red carpat all the time. Don’t get me started…

“Why I Do Not Support LA Pride”

I don’t support LA Pride Entertainment, three years I’ve submitted my material and because it doesn’t fit or flow with the other genres of music like rock, folk, alternative, (so I’ve been told) my hip-hop act wouldn’t fit the bill (main stage). I do not support LA Pride Entertainment. My messages aren’t negative and I would think the LGBT Community would get over themselves and stop seeing artists “like me” who do hip-hop, in a negative light.

Some Prides segregate music by having individual stages for acts of a particular type of genre to perform. Interesting how hip-hop always gets its own tent off to the side away from main stage. Hip Hop is a multi BILLION dollar industry, if you don’t like the music, at least hear some of the positive messages and think “smart” that it can get to a newer generation. Instead you repeatedly ask for artists who were big in the 70’s and 80’s to come back and perform.

I have to go out of my home state to perform at Prides, which is just fine with me. I love New York, DC, London for showing love for my Film, Boston, NJ, UConn. Hip-hop should be a part of mainstage as well. Not just folk, or rock, or etc, and that applies to Dinah Shore weekend in Palm Springs. Shame on you.

I will never take part or contribute to anything they do unless they make a public apology for the statement they sent me explaining why I can’t be a part of main stage.

I will not take part of any organization that discriminates or segregates people through music, preference, race, age, or background.

If these prides want to continue overlooking the new talents who are voices and influential artists who want change, then they don’t deserve the message we come with.

I love her. She’s such an amazing artist and am glad that she’s making it a habit early in her career to merge her music with her activism. LA Pride should be ashamed of themselves, and so should any other pride/festival that still treats hiphop artists like this.

Incidentally, a similar situation just happened in England with Jay-Z. Apparently there was an outcry when he was selected as the headline for a famous music festival. The festival has generally featured ‘rock/guitar’ musicians, but not necessarily because that was the theme – they just never asked any negros! With Jay-Z’s success and global popularity, the festival organizers decided that it would be cool to invite him to headline the show. Oh boy, the gall! A “rapper”?? So many artists spoke out against him, saying that his music wasn’t the ‘kind’ that the festival attendants went to hear.

Idiots. Dumb, ignorant idiots. Jay-Z’s music features live bands in his concerts, this past album sounded so funk jazz classic in its production. But nooo… white people still don’t get that hip-hop – an entire GENRE of music – isn’t comprised solely of “bitches” and “hos”. Anyway, unlike LA Pride, I am glad that the festival’s organizers are holding their ground and not giving into the bullshit.

Still… why are people so stupid?

Hablando de Las Latinas

“Speaking of Latinas…” I have had the biggest crush on Eva Mendes ever since I saw her wearing that sexy, white, figure-hugging dress in Ghostrider. Damn. The picture on the left isn’t even close to what I’m talking about. You gotta see the real thing. The scene in which she’s interviewing Jonny before he does the 100-car stunt is the only part that makes the film worth watching (besides numerous opportunities to mimic the devil’s deep growl… ‘hmmmm’).

Eva Mendes hasn’t been the only objeto de mi amor. Earlier this year, right after I’d decided to give dating a try again, it seemed that all I did was pick up Latinas everywhere I went. I’d go out with the sole intention of having a good time with my friends (ok ok, and flirting with some cuties), and the only woman that would make me stop dead in my tracks would be Latina. There was one time I got so excited over this Lebanese girl – danced with her the whole night only to find out that she’d lived in Venezuela all her life, spoke fluent Spanish, and identified more with her South American experience than her Arab heritage. She even cursed in Spanish! I decided to call her my “Lebatina,” because she was definitely one of a kind. However, she failed the test to become my one non-latina crush, and I found myself wondering if I had a weird fetish. In fact, I started to freak out. I’m not sure if the average person would think twice about their sexual preferences but, being the socially-conscious-and-commentating, intellectual, iQWOC that I am, I had to question it. Had I become one of those shallow consumers of pop culture that had joined the media and everyone else in exotifying women of color?

I’ve always hated it when certain kinds of white girls come up to me and are clearly only interested in me because I’m a tomboi woman of color, and they think I fit some stereotype; that I’m a ho-baggin’, shit-talkin’, ball-playin’ stud. And, I don’t even look 1/2 as gangsta as homegirl in the picture. Nevertheless, I get ‘profiled’ often enough when I go out in uber white Boston, and the ladies start talking to me funny, ending every exclamatory sentence in “girl!” or worse, try to prove that they know how to wind and grind by thrusting their asses into my crotch in the middle of the dancefloor as if we’re in a 50 Cent music video. Ridiculous. My brother and I ought to commiserate. Meanwhile, I’m supposed to be excited about playing this urban cool part, even though I know deep down that these girls don’t really see me at all. All I am to them is a really hot (ahem!) bad girl who’s going to mistreat them and, ultimately, isn’t going to become anything more than a fling. Ouch. Nah, there’s no way I could ever reduce an entire culture however stereotypical (or, in my case, easy) into a resume of one-night stands. I don’t care what the Advocate says; I know better.

I’ve never hollered “Ven aqui, mami!” ignorantly anytime a beautiful Borequa walked by, nor have I immediately demanded (before names have been exchanged, even) that they “teach me salsa” (since they must ALL know how to do it). I’ve always approached my crushes as individuals in spite of the fact that I saw something common about what had attracted me to them physically. I mean, the dark hair, brown skin, and cuuuurrves (that’s pretty much my type across the board, I don’t care what your heritage is) were especially hard to ignore, but I’ve never let that influence the way interact with them. Or, at least I hope not!

Recently, I caught myself a number of times struggling for something else to latch on to besides the ‘Latina-ness’ of the women I’m accidentally attracted to. I say accidentally, cause really! It’s not like I am attracted to them after they tell me their names or where they’re from or I hear an accent. It is usually from across the room I go “damn!” and then after I get the details, “Of course, you are…” Why else would I have clumsily spilled my drink when you walked by? (I don’t say that part out loud, I’m corny enough). Anyway, I find myself wanting to delve deeper and humanize them as quickly as possible (even under loud blaring speakers) . “What do you do? Where do you usually hang out? Do you like Sci-Fi movies? Otherwise we can’t be friends. Have you always lived in Boston? No? Where did you move from?” And, from that point on, it isn’t hard to connect. It is usually in that moment that I find a person similar to myself.

It all makes perfect sense to me now. I think I keep looking for her, the queer immigrant who has been dislocated from her culture… like me. And, as experience has proven to me, I have a greater chance of meeting her, connecting with her, and sharing with her, when she’s lived in the Dominican Republic, when her family’s Puerto Rican, or Brazilian… or a South American Lebanese girl, struggling to find her niche in Boston.

To be continued…

White-dendities : Gender, Sexuality and Other Stuff American People Like

If have to hear about yet another book, whose title sounds something like “blank, blank, and blank”, using variations of the following words: Race, Sexuality, Gender, Identity, Class and White Privilege, I will most likely shoot myself.

Just the other day, an enthusiastic academic brought to my attention a book she thought was worthy of merit. I believe it was entitled, “My Gender Workbook”, and, as the title suggests, it was in fact a workbook, for the curious reader to ‘work-through’ or ‘figure out’ their unique gender presentation. Naturally, I scoffed at this. I’ve little patience for “academic theorists” (or half-ass attempts at practicality, usually aimed at privileged and elite academic circles that can go on for hours and hours about the same subject using the same bloody buzz words). I’m an MIT graduate, and “mens et manus” (mind and hand) will always guide my thought process. I don’t believe learning should be wasted on concepts or “theories” that can’t be applied practically, or contribute substantially to the improvement of the human experience. I mean, sure, there is merit in publishing non-conformist garble about “blank, blank, and blank” but lately, I’ve become so fed up with all of it. Not only does it exclude me as a westernized “queer woman of color”, it excludes the most important part of my identity; my African heritage and immigrant experience.

It’s no surprise to me that most of the authors of these books are white. Or, even that the relatively small percentage of contributing people of color authors tend to be very light skinned (and with short curly hair). Hence, it should be just as readily acknowledged that people like me – iQWOCs, immigrant, queer, “Women of color” (what does that even mean to me as an African? This, too, sounds very American and twice removed from my own personal, ethnic womanhood) are often completely left out of such discussions. But hey! Before the academics jump in to remind me that the “intersection of race, class, and gender” deals with this issue of leaving “women of color” out of “white feminist thought”, let it be known that I am talking about a more granular level of inclusiveness; I was never a “woman of color” pre-biculturalisation, even though I have always been a feminist. An identity based on geography, and subsequently, discussions based on that identity, fall short of global relevance, which, in my book, does very little to impact the ‘human’ (not ‘english-speaking, american human’ experience in the grand scheme of things.

Sometimes I have to take a step back, close my eyes and breathe because I feel completely invisible in this country, even among my friends, fellow queers, womyn like myself, who are angry about everything. Still, I feel completely invisible. I wonder, desperately, how it’s possible that an activist like myself, who has been organizing “queer women of color” in Boston for almost two years now, can feel so left out of her own work. Perhaps in my quest to ‘connect’ with Americans – being the bridge person that I am – I have lost that firm hold of my reference point (an african value system, 3rd world womanism, afrofeminism) and have left behind some of my culture? It was such a burden to carry it around. Everything offended me!

For example, just a few months ago I was at a friend’s potluck, in a room full of queer women of color. The “blank, blank, and blank”-type discourse commenced almost instantly after dinner, but at least we were chatting like regular people. Connecting. Sharing. On being queer. On being women of color. On the pros and cons of Alicia Keys coming out. On whether Missy should be forced to do so. On family, and what it means to disconnect from it. However, it was when someone responded to a woman, who had just proclaimed strength and individuality through her decision to break away from her homophobic family, by saying, “Well, not everyone is as strong as you. So many people are weak, and don’t have the courage to break free from their families,” that I fell back into a hole again, completely silenced by the statement as I remembered…

I’m in America. Where dog eats dog, it’s every man for himself, and kids actually ‘owe’ their parents money. I come from a completely different culture, where my strength and courage are shown through my consideration of my parents trials during their lifetime. Come out? Come out? Homosexuality is ILLEGAL in Nigeria. If I did, I would be thrown in jail, where I would most likely be killed by other inmates. And if nothing happened to me, my parents would be ostracized, criticized, and disgraced their old age. Why on earth would I come out to my parents? How selfish! My parents went bankrupt to send me here to school, they barely make ends meet, and I should repay them by being ‘out and proud’? Ugh! How selfish!

I understand that it’s real easy to stay ignorant about the social climate of the rest of the world in this country (since it’s really so big and it’s a keystone in the global economy), but the gall of it; the arrogance of it all, like there is ‘one’ queer experience in this ENTIRE universe, just really pisses me off. That, someone would get offended that I don’t jump at the idea of a ‘gender workbook’ when the illiteracy rate of Nigerian youth (included closeted queers who MAY benefit from such material) is over 70%. I mean, really. It just pisses me off so much, that in your most vulnerable, open moments, when you think you’re finally connecting with people who share ‘some’ of your experience in this country, you can get a reaction like that; the kind that reminds you that you’re still a ‘foreigner’ and people have to read books to understand you.

Sometimes I wonder what I’m doing, organizing for “queer women of color”, American queers. I’ve seen TWO Africans at my QWOC+ events, which means I’m not doing a good job of seeking out African immigrants, who don’t have the privilege (and burden) of navigating the bi-cultural experience. I need to bring my idealist passions closer to home in order to truly see myself as a part of the bigger picture. And I need to be a part of the bigger picture in order to do any work that matters.

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