Browse Tag: boston

Reflections from a Woman of Color on the War on Women: “My Sisters-in-Arms, We Are Not United”

Yesterday, I took part in the MA Women United Against the War on Women rally at Boston City Hall. 

Across the US, thousands of men, women and children gathered in front of municipal buildings to voice their outrage at recent state and federal initiatives to propose and/or implement anti-women measures, including the GOP’s attempt to redefine rape, making abortions illegal or virtually inaccessible to low-income women, and removing government mandates for companies to include birth control coverage in the health insurance they offer to employees.

Despite the fact that it took challenging the white women organizers to include more women of color in their speaker lineup — as a little birdie told me — I was honored to be invited to participate, and share the stage with fellow women’s rights activists and feminists, Jaclyn Friedman, Sarah Jackson, @graceishuman, Idalia, and even Norma Swenson, reknowned author of the book, Our Bodies, Ourselves.

I found myself thinking about the concept of “unity,” and the fact that so many women of color, immigrants, transgender women etc are often left out of mainstream women’s movements. But this isn’t news to me, nor to my mentors separated from my experience by four whole decades — mentors who fought so that I would have something different to say to white women “united” for (white) women. It breaks my heart to tell them that we’re still having the same conversations after all their sacrifices.

Hence, for the rally, I decided to have an honest conversation about marginalization with the crowd via a call-and-response speech I partly improvised. Here’s the message I gave, in poem-ish form.

Post-Rally Reflection: To speak from a place of anger doesn’t always mean to speak from a place that is without love. How emotional I became when speaking to the rally yesterday has everything to do with how much I love my comrades of all shades and stripes, fellow women, my sisters-in-arms. And their response to my calling out to them, “My Sisters in Arms” with “We Are Listening” helped me through my anger to the other side… hope.

—-

When I was younger, I dreamed of being part of a revolution.

I imagined it would feel very much like it did in the movies, like Braveheart for instance:

Mel Gibson riding back and forth on horseback, pumping his fist in the air
as he inspired the army before him to FIGHT for their freedom,
we would win this war together.

My Sisters-in-Arms…
(We Are Listening!)

Like every big budget Hollywood movie,
I’d be the handsome, mysterious, emotionally constipated protagonist
who never really wanted to fight,
but live happily ever after in the same village of my beautiful virgin wife-to-be…

until one day,
the fight came to me

and wiped away the smiles of my love, my family, my home.

Only THEN, would I charge forth, my spirit consumed by purposeful rage
and the moment — the moment I’d dreamed of having my entire life — would arrive…

the epic war speech.

My Sisters-in-Arms…
(We Are Listening!)

Yes, like Braveheart, my heart would be re-forged in stone; I would feel a bond with my comrades united in arms (and social media channels) like I’d never felt before.

And in that moment, against the violins and horns of a moving Hans Zimmer film score,
in the faces of all my sisters standing before me,
I would remember:

the battle, the war, the revolution
isn’t about me,
the battle, the war, the revolution
isn’t about them
but about US.

We would stand UNITED against whatever forces dared to oppose us,
and charge forth together.

My Sisters-in-Arms…
(We Are Listening!)

But the revolution hasn’t quite turned out like the Hollywood movie I’d imagined it would be.
For one, it actually never occurred to me that I wouldn’t be riding a horse.

Mel Gibson turned out to be one of the biggest bigots of all time.
And sexual assault has caused too much pain to the women I love to perpetuate the idea that virginity is a prize to be won,
not when rape is still being used as a mass weapon of war.

My Sisters-in-Arms…
(We Are Listening!)

It’s true, the revolution hasn’t quite turned out the way I dreamed it would be,
it never occurred to me
that battle after battle,
rally after rally,
I would find myself standing in front of a sea of white women who don’t look like me,
having to keep reminding them that:

United we stand, Divided we fall.
United we stand, Divided we fall

My Sisters-in-Arms…
(We Are Listening!)

I know why we’re here.
There is a war on women happening,
We’re angry — and we’ve had enough.
On that we agree.

But today, I want to make sure we do more than just agree.
I want to make sure we’re paying attention to our subconscious definition of “we”
I want to make sure we’re paying attention to who is missing.

Look around you, my Sisters-in-Arms…
(We Are Listening!)

I ask you to consider,
is the women’s movement making a stand, or falling into pieces?
Are we uniting through our differences so that we can be stronger?
Or reaching for something way less grand,
with way less hands,
hoping that our “good intentions” will pay off if we just wait a little longer?

Which members of this army — of our family — are missing?

Where are the voices of low income women of color?
Where are the voices of transgender women?
Where is the rest of our family?

My Sisters-in-Arms…
(We Are Listening!)

This women’s movement shouldn’t just voice the concerns of women who are pissed
that they may have to pay for birth control out-of-pocket,
but the concerns of low-income women who would have no access to birth control, period
because they rely completely on government-mandated coverage,
I know you agree, but…

My Sisters-in-Arms, are you listening?
(We Are Listening!)

we cannot profess to be building a movement for ALL women,
we cannot claim that we are UNITED against anything — especially not a war on women
when too many women of color, transgender women, women with disabilities — members of our family, are missing.

My Sisters-in-Arms…
(We Are Listening!)

When we picture the women’s movement what faces do we see?
What voices do we hear?
And are they reflected in our choices? In our larger strategy?
Are transgender women a part of this movement?
Have we done our jobs to make that clear?

If so, where is the outrage when transgender women are murdered at an alarming rate in this country?
Where is the feminist takedown when — even in death — the media refers to our trans sisters with male pronouns and the media suggests that their very existence warranted their assault and murder?

Too many transgender women are being left behind.
Too many members of our family are dying.
Too many members of our family are being  tortured and incarcerated, simply for surviving,
Just because we’re too busy “uniting” to look behind.

My Sisters-in Arms
(We Are Listening!) 

You must do better.
We must do better.

If I’ve learned anything about real-life revolutions
it’s that they sometimes can take on the form of the war you’re fighting.
it’s that it matters less what you’re fighting for, but who is fighting with you

The War on Women needs to mean more than reproductive justice for middle class white women.
The War on Women needs to mean more than the debate over abortion and birth control.
The War on Women must mean to us the impact of racism on women of color and our sons.
The War on Women must mean to us the impact of racism, sexism, and homophobia on transgender women of color.
The War on Women must mean to us the impact of un-checked privilege and ignorance within  our movement.
The War between Women is real.

And until we can be brave enough to face the truth —
that we have to END the war over who counts as “women” amongst ourselves
we are NOT united.

My Sisters-in Arms
(We Are Listening!) 

We are NOT united, yet.
But I know we can get there.

I believe in you, my Sisters-in Arms
(We Are Listening!) 

I know we can get there.
And so I dare to dream of the day
when I can finally show up to rallies and protests
and not have to say,
“Where are my sisters?”
but “Here are my sisters, united.”

I dare to dream of the day when we can all feel the impact of true sisterhood
and unleash the power of sisters-in-arms, united,
against those who dare to challenge our quest for liberation.

My Sisters-in Arms
(We Are Listening!) 

I believe in us.

My Sisters-in Arms
(We Are Listening!) 

We are not united, now.
Let’s do the work, now
To make sure that one day, we will be.

And when that day comes,

My Sisters-in Arms
(We Are Listening!)

God help them.

Spectra is an award-winning Nigerian writer, women’s rights activist, and the voice behind the African feminist media blog, Spectra Speaks, which publishes global news and opinions about all things gender, media, diversity, and the Diaspora.

She is also the founder of Queer Women of Color Media Wire (www.qwoc.org), a media advocacy and publishing organization that amplifies the voices of lesbian, bisexual, queer, and/or transgender women of color, diaspora, and other racial/ethnic minorities around the world.

Follow her tweets on diversity, movement-building, and love as a revolution on Twitter @spectraspeaks.

Interview w/ Letta Neely, Black Lesbian Poet, Playwright, Activist and Mentor

I decided to close Women’s History Month with a conversation with someone who has inspired so much of my work as an activist, and is living proof that we can create change in the world simply by speaking out and staying true to ourselves: Letta Neely.

Letta is the phenomenal woman who inspired me to found Queer Women of Color and Friends (QWOC+ Boston), the only grassroots organization dedicated to serving the needs of queer women of color in New England, and the lead producers of QWOC Week, the nation’s only pride week that exclusively celebrates LGBTQ women of color. We are turning five years old this year, so I think it’s really important for us — and myself as a leader — to not just reflect on our achievements and milestones, but to honor the people who have mentored and supported us through the years. And that certainly includes my friend and mentor, Letta Neely.

In this special edition of my podcast series, Kitchen Table Conversations, Letta, an award-winning black lesbian poet, playwright, and activist, joins me to talk about everything from writing, to activism, to love, and back again. She bares her soul in this interview, and talks about the loss of her brother, wrestling with addiction, burning out as an activist, and schools us all on how ego can win if you let it. But what I loved about my conversation with Letta, is that she (as always), shared her story with so much introspection, candor, and humor, sending the message to anyone who has ever walked a similar path, “You are not alone.”

I couldn’t have been more honored to end Women’s History Month by sharing words with someone I deeply admire, respect, and have come to love as more than just a mentor, but a friend. Letta, you are part of the reason so many people, including myself, are determined to “Write it down!” as you commanded we do, as far as being a visible part of History. Thank you for continuing to be an inspiration to so many people like me, for your friendship, and for always keepin it real.


Listen to interview with Letta Neely on Blog Talk Radio

Here are some of my favorite excerpts from the written portion of the interview. Enjoy, share, nourish your spirit.

Many New England artists eventually move to New York to pursue their dreams but you left to come to Boston (of all places), and did the flip. How come?

I was sowing love with a woman who lived in Boston. All that early tending that we did (post weeding, pre-harvest) created a phone bill significantly higher than my rent in Harlem. The love, the money, and mostly, a weird situation with my little brother and baby cuz facilitated my dropping my cat with a friend, getting on a greyhound in the middle of the night with 1 bag of clothes, 2 suitcases of books, and a backpack filled with notebooks and cassettes.

When did your identity as a black lesbian first surface in your work?

In my first year of college, my ma picked me up for thanksgiving . I handed her a group of ten poems I’d bound at Kinko’s. At least half of each poem was a nervous riff or a tenuous riff or a fierce chord of “hey ma, I dig females….No ma, not like your girlfriends….hey ma, girls taste real good.” My ma says she knew even when she didn’t want to. Says that when she told me what wives did (cook, dishes, etc). I responded, “l’ll be getting me one of those”

What led you to become so involved in Boston’s local social justice scene?

My activism has more to do with getting to where I want to go. I think “don’t start none won’t be none “ And yet, so many of the systems involved in our living…I mean, a majority of equations and geometries we are told to solve or travel toward the *dream (American, others) are maintained & enhanced by fucked up asinine insecure greedy people all over the globe from then to know. Their strategies try to labyrinth access to baseline human needs: Food, Water, Spirit, Sleep, Laughter, Self-navigation, Dream, Dance, Open places where we can stretch or sit unadulterated. Basic jazz we’ve all been told we can’t simply access.

During busing, the prices and the taxes became unacceptable to me. My neighborhood unbecame community. We lost each other and became valueless. We killed each other. Where there had been fist fights there were bullets. Where there had been alcohol sold from car trunks on Sundays and spirited home there became crack vials left for 6, 7, 8, year old neophyte archeologists. We evolved into a burial ground, burying so many people each summer we forgot their names by winter. Sadness led to large scale depression. Many of us undead yelled, stamped our feet, protested, trying to wake our nearly dead. But in the protest, we neglected kitchen tables, unrushed collard greens, cook-outs, front porch card games. Trying to be free, we forgot that we were free. We forgot who we are. We became adept at using their tools. We punctured a helluva lot but we didn’t dismantle shit that way.

When I moved here to Boston…our people were being stalked and murdered and disappeared in the same ways. Bodies and decapitated dreams were clogging our pathways. Our articulations regarding justice were building too many separate troops. Struggles around Economic justice, racial justice, gender justice, sexual justice had distinct armies, with distinct guerrilla game plans. Our hungers overwhelmed our sight and we were blindly stabbing comrades we’d labeled enemies. I can’t be Black or Dyke or Broke or Female or Artist or Butch. This “or” shit is the shit that makes us crazy makes us dangerous, abettors to murder.

Most obstacles to any freedom are labeled/celebrated/denigrated/codified as specific social justice issues/initiatives. That’s all fine, well, and probably necessary. But most of this “work”, most of this “involvement” is because when I think “don’t start none, won’t be none”…da shit be already started.

What about being an activist or community organizer do you wish you had known ten years ago?

I wish I had known that asking for help for myself was key. I wish I had known how to take a vacation. I wish [other activists] could have read my mind. I had such a hard time asking for what I needed. And then, I ‘d get upset because it seemed no one anticipated my having a need. What’s more true is that I never asked and when folks asked me, I always, always said, “I’m fine”

What would you say to young leaders who are passionate about working to further equality for LGBT people of color, but need advice/guidance?

Please remember to eat well, sleep well, love well. Leadership is a support position. You are not alone. You will make mistakes. Do better next time. Eat. TELL SOMEBODY EVERYTHING.

 

About Letta Neely
Letta Neely, originally from Indianapolis, Indiana, is a Black lesbian playwright, performer, poet, mother, teacher and community activist who has been involved in progressive, anti-racist and queer liberation movements all her adult life. Her work focuses on the connections and intersections of queerness, Blackness, and awareness.
Letta’s first play, Hamartia Blues, was produced by The Theater Offensive at the Boston Center for the Arts in 2002 and enjoyed great critical acclaim and received two IRNE [Independent Reviewers of New England] award nominations. Letta has written two books of poetry, Juba and Here (Wildheart Press), which were both finalists for the Lambda Literary Awards. Her literary work has been included in numerous anthologies, literary journals and magazines including Through the Cracks; Sinister Wisdom; Common Lives, Lesbian Lives; Rag Shock; African Voices, Rap Pages, Catch the Fire, Does Your Mama Know, and most recently, Roll Call—a Generational Anthology of Social and Political Black Literature & Art.

A Rant — The Ugly Business of Good Social Causes

I really wish the LGBT and non-profit industry in general would stop hiding behind “good causes” and own their mistakes/shortcomings so we can all move forward. [Free Idea: Someone should create a Yelp.com for the non-profit industry]

Companies in corporate America (yes, those ugly ‘for-profit’ entities) get “reviewed” all the time. And guess what? The smart ones make it their business to incorporate both positive and negative feedback into their marketing campaigns, products, and services. They’ve learned that alienating their customers by guilting or scaring them into silence is a sure way to fail. Moreover, they only ever defend themselves from competitors, which — at least in this analogy — would be warranted if a similar non-profit / group was using internet slander to harm your reputation or to make themselves look better.

I was just perusing some non-profit blogs today, and read a number of disheartening, angry remarks from alleged “community leaders” all across the country. Geez — and I thought Boston had issues. It seems it’s not uncommon for people, who are supposedly working angelically towards social justice, to sling low-blow internet shots at social commentators for stating opinions that expose new flaws (or highlight old ones). *In one case, a blogger simply mentioned that a certain social group / organization wasn’t her cup of tea in passing, and was called a fame-monger for using negativity as a means to receiving more site hits. Are you kidding me? This really got me thinking…

Shame shame shame to organizers, non-profit execs, promoters-for-a-cause, or anyone who thinks that manipulating others into feeling guilty for admonishing your “good” work, or worse, threatening them with internet attacks is justified or “good for the community.” None of us are above judgment. I work very hard to bring racial equality into dialogue within the LGBTQ movement but it doesn’t mean that I am without fault — ask my volunteers, I drive them nuts — and it certainly doesn’t do much for my popularity ranking, even if I’ve just been cited as a “celesbian” (lol, I love this new word). Plus,  I know that at the core of our resistance to hear negative feedback (I include myself in this) is a strong desire to be recognized for our efforts, to feel as though people do acknowledge how hard we’re working. However, as leaders, we should learn to pat ourselves on the back. In so doing, we can rid the general public of the responsibility of prefacing each and every criticism with praise, and learn to not take things so personally. Moreover, if we all learn to give cross-issue support to each other, we’ll have each other to lean on (or to rant to) while the crowd chants on…

Moving forward, we should remember to thank community members who voice their opinions (no matter how callously… ok – I take that back – some people need to chill out), and tell them “Thank You” for keeping us accountable. Shoot, at least some of them have an opinion you can take direction from; this certainly trumps the blank stares and shoulder shrugs one typically receives after requesting constructive feedback. But, I digress… Regardless of what kind of feedback you choose to accept, at the end of the day, it all boils down to whether or not you’re sticking to your mission statement. If your mission is too narrow to matter, or too broad that you do a piss-poor job of including all the relevant stakeholders (who then start complaining), consider redefining it, or better yet, scrapping it altogether. You’ve gotta be clear, and listen, cause fact: some companies —  non-profits, organizers, promoters, and lobbyists included — will do a much better job than you if you’re not.

The non-profit LGBTQ community shouldn’t have to deal with mediocrity due to lack of competition or options. Our social justice movements can only be as effective as our ability to listen and incorporate both kinds of feedback into our work.

So, to community members, if an LGBTQ promoter hosts a night that sucks, tell them why, and let them know how it could be better. If a grassroots movement leaves out people of color, damn right speak up, even if they throw buzzwords (like “diversity” and “inclusiveness” at you). Moreover, I dare you to take the next step — volunteer your time. If black people forget to advocate for latinos, asians, white allies etc during conversations about “people of color” then it is up to anyone who notices to call it out. Being unpopular isn’t fun (I should know), but it does get people to sit up and listen (even if they don’t admit that they will).

We are all part of the problem if we choose treading on eggshells vs. keeping people in check.

We are all part of the problem if we discredit our individual opinions based on some smackademic concept of oppression hierarchies.

We are all part of the problem if no one speaks out.

Social responsibility includes more than just donating old clothes to Haiti, or volunteering at a homeless shelter; it means raising your voice whether in solidarity or (respectful) disagreement so that your community leaders never forget who they are serving.  And for leaders, this also means keeping a finger on the pulse of your constituents’s needs, even at the expense of your ego. We can’t call ourselves leaders if we do not learn to hear reason rising from the heat of an angry crowd.

Diversity speaks. (That means you.)

*Note: I’m not posting links to the forums I was reading because the platforms / arguments don’t matter. I’m more interested in debunking the perceived benefits of blogging on the internet, one of which is that free speech is without reprimand (or cost in mental health)

Emerson “Both Black and Gay” Panel Recap: LGBT People of Color Discussions Too Narrow for 2010

Last night, I had the pleasure of sitting in on a panel titled “Both Black and Gay: What It Means to Be a Person of Color and a Member of the LGBTQ Community.”

When I first received the invitation, I was both honored and pissed off (I’m a virgo sun, and saggitarius moon – my emotions usually come to me in opposing twos). I was of course very excited about the opportunity to talk to students, because I don’t think they get enough support or are exposed to enough role models while they’re in school. However, I wasn’t as thrilled about the panel topic: not only did it sound like an academic dissertation, but the colon-ed explanation that followed the words “Gay” and “Black”  insinuated that the larger discussion about the experience of being Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and/or Queer would inevitably be reduced to a much narrower (and unfortunately, more popular) discussion about what it means to be a black and gay man.

How is it that in 2010, we’re still unable to remain inclusive of the various cultural and ethnic backgrounds – not to mention the L, the B, and the T! – we claim to feel connected to during such critical discussions? Furthermore, are we really okay saying to our LGBT youth groups that narrow discussion scopes that blatantly disregard other cultural groups, gender expressions, and sexual orientations are okay? Disheartening as it was, I decided to focus on the excitement I felt around empowering and equipping the students, and not so much on the semantic snafu that was the panel topic. And for the most part, that worked really well. It was easy to get all warm and fuzzy when I saw the bright, young, eager minds slowly trickling into the room, and remember that “gentle” – not “militant” – is usually the best way to deliver a message.

But just as I feared, I ended up being the only woman on the panel, and was flanked by two “Black” and “Gay” male fellow community organizers (and dear friends) for the two-hour long conversation: Carnell Freeman from Men of Color Creating Change (MOCCC) sat on my right, and Steven Fleury of the Multicultural Aids Coalition (MAC) sat on my left. (Not to worry, ladies, I held my own ;)) We began rather formally: Tikesha Morgan, the Director of Student Multicultural Affairs introduced the three fabulous panelists, and then a blackgayboy student moderator (dressed in the cutest must-have vest!) kicked off the discussion by posing the first question of the evening: “What challenges did you face before you became comfortable with being an LGBT person of color?

[Crickets…] There would clearly be no warm-up. We all looked at each other, chuckling, scratching our heads as we struggled to come up with a succinct starting point to the loaded question.

After a minute or so, Carnell of MOCC rolled up his sleeves and kick-started the conversation; as a Boston native, he grew up in a predominantly African-American community, it was clearly no piece of cake, and a daily struggle to assert his identity as a gay man, particularly among straight black people, hence his creation of MOCCC, a social space in which he could interact freely with other African-American gay men. Steven, who has Haitian roots, talked about the challenges (and triumphs!) he experienced reconciling his sexuality with his religious beliefs and present-day activism within the Multicultural Aids Coalition. I described my experience as an on-going journey to which I held no end point in sight; my gender expression had evolved drastically over the past several years: from privileged femme to fluid futch to soft stud (and beyond), who knew on which part of the spectrum I would settle on (if I ever did)? My racial consciousness, I explained, had evolved too, but unlike my sexuality, I felt pretty sure that it wasn’t going to change. [Just for kicks, here’s the “iQWOC” journey I touched upon].

As you can imagine, the discussion got deep very quickly – there was so much — too much — to talk about. The panelists jumped all over the place, touching upon our experiences in the workforce (unanimously gay black men are “in” and iQWOCs are ostracized), our thoughts on Prop 8 and “the Church”, the use/mis-use of labels, coming out in communities of color, etc. The mix of personalities provided enough variation and alignment in perspectives which (I think) made the stories that were shared more interesting. So, even though we seemed to fly off on tangents every two minutes, the students in the room remained fixed in their seats and soaked it up for two whole hours.

But there was so much talk about “The Church” and Black Gay Men on the DL that I left reconfirming my belief that LGBT people of color are still unprepared to add any real value to the gay rights movement. As we discussed Prop 8, gay marriage, and other buzz-worthy political issues, I frequently had to play (devil’s) advocate and offer the women’s, latino, immigrant perspective in order to guide the conversation back to a more inclusive platform. I still find it mind-boggling that in 2010, people are still VERY comfortable substituting the word “Black” for “people of color”, passing on the experience of mainly white lesbians as the “women’s voice”, and leaving out Asians and Latin@s in almost every important discussion. Take for example, one student’s request to hear our perspectives on community leaders and advocates that aren’t “completely out.” Her question, although very smart and well-posed, seemed completely isolated from the variety of cultural contexts under which we should be exploring the issue. As a first generation immigrant, whose parents still live in Nigeria, a country in which it is ILLEGAL to “practice” homosexuality, it is not only dangerous for me to be out there, but for my parents as well – they could be physically harmed or socially ostracized (which in our country is financial suicide). I have a number of Latina friends who echo similar sentiments, and so most of them are only out in some variation. To imply some informal standard of “outness” would (and I’m sure already does) alienate a large subset of the LGBT people of color community: mainly the immigrants

All the panelists argued their positions on this politely, and the students, hungry for information, took it all in. So, even though I had a few hairs standing on end by the end of the evening, I felt very good about participating on the panel.

A few stream-of-consciousness takeaways:

  • We’re clearly not providing enough mentorship and support to our youth.
  • “Black” people in particular are going to need to do a better job of owning their American privilege if we are to unite the LGBT people of color community
  • Community-building is SO important for the LGBT people of color communities. It’s the foundation on which we can stand to raise our voices in the future.
  • Academics need to become more practical and ‘apply’ their theories to school reform; teen youth programs are reactive and just aren’t cutting it
  • Sexuality should stop being confused with gender expression (ugh!)
  • Being a community leader is HARD work!

Many thanks to the students of EBONI and Multicultural Students Affairs staff at Emerson College for inviting me to participate in their Black History Month celebration!


Plugin from the creators ofBrindes Personalizados :: More at PlulzWordpress Plugins