Browse Tag: racism

Dear White Allies: Stop Unfriending Other White People Over Ferguson

Earlier today, as I was scrolling through my news feed, I noticed  declarative statement after declarative statement from a number of my white friends either threatening to, or professing that they’d just unfriended several of their white friends based on “wrong,” “terrible,” “racist,” (read: conflicting) views about the grand jury’s decision to not indict the white police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown – an unarmed Black teenager – in Ferguson.

If you haven’t been following the story, start with this Jon Stewart recap here.

With each “unfriend” post, I felt myself getting angrier and angrier, wondering how on earth white people (who understand racism) disconnecting from white people (who don’t) was supposed to help anyone.

As a Black person enraged by the blatant racism in Ferguson, I felt involuntarily benched by my emotions; I was too angry, sad, etc to engage on the subject period, let alone with white people who felt differently and required that I engage “objectively.” This stood out to me as a moment in which white allies could come in really handy. So, I shared the post below on my Spectra Speaks page in an attempt to articulate my thoughts and propose an alternative to disconnection: empathic engagement with the “other side” on my behalf.

The post was well received and felt too important not to share on my blog, so here it goes…  After reading I encourage you to share your thoughts — on being  a good ally, on facilitating critical conversations, on connecting with unlike minds — by commenting below.

———-

Dear white allies, this is not the time to “unfriend.” This is the time to “engage.”

This is the time to remember that the outrage you feel can in no way match my own and therefore you have way more emotional capacity than I do to talk some sense into the “other side.”

This is the time to remember that your “solidarity” does not render you powerless; in fact, the entire point of your solidarity is to lend the power you DO have to folks who do not.

And by the way, this is the time to remember that you do have power.

It may not feel like much – your empathy may temporarily make you forget that you’re not like Brown, you’re not “one of us” and that in fact you are still one of “them” – but please try and remember how USEFUL you could be should you decide to be brave enough to speak up to the folks more likely to hear YOU than me.

I’m seeing one too many white people bragging about defriending other white people. I don’t need your condolences. I don’t need rash actions that absolve you of the responsibility of facilitating hard conversations with folks I will never be able to reach.

I need you to step up in a major way, and leverage the connections you DO have to address ignorance with conversation and interrogate white privilege with compassion. Because I will not do this. I cannot do this.

My rage as a black person witnessing yet another moment in the endless cycle of racism in the US prevents me from engaging in “level headed” conversations with people who see this terribly unjust Ferguson ruling as just another news story to banter about at the water cooler.

But you, don’t do me any further injustice by claiming to stand in solidarity with me while really (really) excusing yourself of the hard work that is engaging with fellow white people on this issue. Don’t hide behind “being a good ally” without actually doing any work beyond merely echoing my cries of pain, anger, and soul wrenching disappointment.

You’re a socially conscious white person? You don’t share *their* views? It’s disappointing to hear your friends say racist things? You don’t wanna talk to them? I hear you. I really do. But if you don’t speak to “them” who will?

Who will?

(Hint: Not me.)

So before you squander the opportunity before you in an attempt to demonstrate your solidarity, ask yourself which choice would be easier: unfriending the guy who attended your birthday party last year because he posted support of the non indictment OR responding to his post with an open ended question to begin a (likely long and strenuous) conversation?

What would a good… actually, forget good… What would a useful, valuable, effective ally do?

We need you to be brave, now more than ever. Stop with the Unfriending. Speak up.

And to those of you doing this already, thank you thank you thank you.

Confessions of a Serial Roach Killer: On Irrational Phobias, Racism, and Black Genocide

I didn’t know what else to call this post, so forgive the title.

A Bit of Background: My Fear of Nigerian Roaches

I have a really terrible phobia of Nigerian roaches. Yes, Nigerian roaches. Have you seen them? They’re HUGE — from a meter away you can see their entire, segmented bodies, rotating heads, menacing antennae, including what they’re doing — sniffing the bare floor, eating decaying particles of food, ugh… *shudder*

I’m okay with other kinds of roaches. I’m even okay with other kinds of insects. When I lived in the U.S., on the east coast, I remember thinking that the insects there were such a joke; small, few in number, and always fleeing, they didn’t stand their ground like the ones I knew from home. But then again the coldness of winter kills most insects, so I rarely had to contend with the range (and size) of species that thrive in warmer climates. Still, I don’t think one can claim to have seen a real cockroach until they’ve come face to face with the African-sized sort that perch themselves on your fridge handle in the middle of the night, and dare you to try to get by…. but I digress.

We all know that phobias are irrational.

As a smart person who perhaps over-intellectualises almost all of my emotions so that I may better take control of them, and be proactive (vs. reactive) in my responses, whenever I encounter a big Nigerian cockroach, all that critical thinking and control goes out the window. I almost always scream, jump up and down, become really religious (“Oh my god! Oh my god! Oh my god!), and descend into a dry-heaving panic, crashing into nearly everything around me. To compose myself, I almost always go through this exact train of thought:

Sad Harmless Nigerian CockroachCalm down.
It’s just a cockroach. An insect.
It’s harmless.
I’m nearly 1000 times its size!
This is just a phobia – it is irrational.
Phobias are irrational.
(Ahhh, it’s so scary!)
Okay, stop. Just stop.
It won’t do anything. Really! Look at it!
It’s just chillin’ over there.
You can kill it.
Just kill it.
It’s just a useless cockroach.

I’m going to tell you something very embarrassing, but true.

A few weeks ago, I woke up in the middle of the night to go use the bathroom. Yawning and rubbing my eyes, I walked dazedly through the door, then caught the sight of a dark brown figure on the mirror. Squinting to bring the figure into focus, I stopped dead in my tracks; staring back at me was a big brown cockroach – the size of a USB modem, with extra-long, thin antennae flailing wildly about. I freaked out.

Screaming madly as I recoiled at the sight, I stepped back and lost my balance, falling hard unto the ceramic floor and scrambling away to safety. The commotion caused the cockroach to begin crawling frantically against the mirror glass, further freaking me out. Still unhinged and shrieking, I reached for the doorknob and pulled the door shut; I couldn’t risk the creature flying into my bedroom, you see — ’cause, yeah, Nigerian cockroaches fly. In 92 degree weather, I slept with my head buried under the covers.

The next morning, it took me about 30 minutes to muster up the courage to re-open that bathroom door. When I did finally, I discovered there was no cockroach; it had clearly slid back into its hiding place, away from the daytime light. I got ready in the bathroom mostly with my eyes shut (don’t ask how), then hurriedly fled the apartment. However, when I returned home later on that evening, and absent-mindedly walked into the bathroom, I saw the cockroach again! Startled, I ran back out, shut the door, and sat trembling on the bed. I spent the entire night dreading that the cockroach would grow tired of the bathroom and sneak into my bedroom from underneath the door. But the really sad, pathetic part was this:

I let my fear of this one cockroach chase me out of my apartment for a whole week. 

I normally wouldn’t share this much, but I need you to realise how deeply rooted my phobia is: my paranoia at running into the nightcrawler persisted — and got worse — over the course of the week. It got so bad that I resorted to using the bathroom only when I was out for the day, just so I wouldn’t need to when I got home in the evenings (when nightcrawler would be out on the prowl).

Nigerian Cockroach Takes Over HouseThe straw that broke the camel’s back was the day I forgot to pee before I got home. I’d been out at a restaurant with friends and it had slipped my mind. I’d ordered a soup for dinner, so around 10 pm, I really needed to go. But it was dark outside, the night belonged to the cockroach, not me. So rather than brave the inevitable face off in the bathroom, I held my pee… for 8 hours.

Yup. I stayed up rocking back and forth in the fetal position in my bed trying to hold it until dawn, when the ferocious bug would have retired. I got NO sleep that night and, as a result of the exhaustion and anxiety, I developed a severe headache and wheezing (from my asthma). By the time I had to get ready for work, I had no choice but to call in sick. I was so ashamed of myself. It was totally pathetic, right? But now you know how frightened I was, and how deeply-rooted my phobia is.

Despite hours of reading about how non-threatening this insect was, I couldn’t shake the fear. He had to go. It was either him — the cockroach – or me; two of us couldn’t occupy the same space. I wanted him out, period. So, the next day, I purchased some insecticide (the cruelest way to kill bugs), sprayed the bathroom, and left the apartment for the damn thing to die

Where am I going with this, you might wonder?

Honestly, I’m not sure how to articulate the feelings I experienced after coming home to open the bathroom door and realising what I had done: I’d given into my phobia and the cockroach had lost. The revelation of this – that I’d carried out the torture and murder of a Nigerian cockroach – might seem a bit dramatic; maybe it is, but I haven’t been able to shake or clearly articulate what I’ve been feeling over the outcome of the whole fiasco.

So, naturally, I wrote a poemthing: a somewhat apology or eulogy for the Nigerian cockroach. Silly (and comical) as it is, maybe after reading it, you’ll understand better understand why this insignificant moment about an insect holds some significance to me as an activist. If not, hey, you at least got to laugh at me shrieking and tripping over myself as I tried to flee a bug. As we say here, nuttin’ spoil.

In Memory of the Indigenous Cockroach, Nightwalker:

This morning, before I left, I sprayed the shit out of my bathroom so I could murder the African-sized cockroach that had been my torment for weeks.

I fled the scene, coughing as I escaped a fate I could not wait for the foul thing to meet. But over the course of the day, my conscience got the best of me.

A butterfly flew by, landed neatly on a jasmine leaf and I thought, “How pretty,”
right before I began to question what it means
to pick and choose what shade of life offends.

We play God with cans full of poison, then cry foul when they insist the wrong version of history is truth.

Whose home is this? Whose ceramic floor?
Who decided white tiles and bath towels meant foreclosure?
What is home if not the audacity to feel
safe — to roam freely in black and brown without fear
of finding yourself in the wrong neighbourhood?

Dear Nightwalker (can I call you that?),
you’re dead and gone
there’s no coming back
no resurrection from violence this absolute,
just a self-indulgent eulogy to make your dead corpse political
lest we forget that it wasn’t fear that killed you,
but my unwillingness to place your survival above it;
that this IS your house,
that this IS a murder,
that it is I who have been the intruder,
and life is unjust.

My phobia-turned-hate got the best of me,
so I sprayed my humanity away,
justified insecticide just so I could feel a little safer
from that cruel brown creature of the night whose corpse I cannot face
for fear of seeing myself.

But this is not a poem.

This is an apology, for killing you AND your wife.
I had no idea she’d be at home when I cast the first stone.
I thought you were a rogue in the night,
not a nighttime hustler
head of your own household
seeking bread crumbs for a family you’d kept out of sight.

You must know that when I returned home and saw not one,
but two overturned corpses laying side by side
I knew the war had just begun…

They say the sins of the father follow the son.
I do not wish to kill any more, so I hope to god they’re wrong.
(I know they’re not.
My time will come.)

RIP Cockroach (and Cockroach Wifey – my bad)

Cockroach Family

In Honor of Nina Simone: Why Black Women Must Re-Frame the Conversation about Racism in Hollywood

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the internet’s sensationalized debate over Zoe Saldaña playing Nina Simone in a Hollywood biopic: How the Light- vs. Dark- Skinned Debate Misses the Point about Black Women in Media.

In summary, my post called for marginalized communities–especially, in this instance, black women– to be more aware of the way the mechanism of racism and colorism in Hollywood too often keeps us sensationalizing debates about Hollywood’s perception of our beauty (and even, as in this case, pits us against each other), rather than embracing the opportunity for us to affirm our collective power as both media producers and consumers.

For me, this debate was yet another moment in the cycle of abuse between the black community and the gatekeepers that control white media; the fact that Zoe Saldaña, another woman of color was getting a lot of backlash (via comments that suggested she was hijacking a role meant for black women, dismissing her self-identification as a Black Latina, not to mention personal attacks against her character etc), was discouraging, to say the least.

It’s one thing to criticize the white supremacist media machine that is Hollywood; it’s another thing entirely for us to let that criticism distract us from seeing how that machine is designed to keep us fighting each other over scraps (e.g. debating over who gets the few lead roles written for women of color) more often than we brainstorm how we can work together to grow and harvest enough seeds to keep nourishing us all.

As long as we keep Hollywood and mainstream media at the focal point of our discussions (and criticisms) around media representation, we will remain stuck in a very unproductive cycle.

Same Ole’ Mainstream Media vs. Nuanced Alternative Media

Case in Point: The New York Times published a story this week, summarizing the debate around Zoe Saldaña’s casting for the lead role of Nina Simone. (Please note: My comments are based on the article published online, and not what made it into print, as I’m currently in South Africa).

Despite being interviewed by the reporter, and sharing my thoughts about the importance of black communities recognizing the ways in which alternative media–and initiatives to produce more black-owed and -directed content–could lead to  better representation in the future, the article didn’t do much at all to move the conversation forward. In fact, it maintained the status quo.

The NYT article‘s framing of the issue was barely nuanced. In a nutshell, here’s how it went: black people are angry because Zoe Saldaña doesn’t look like Nina Simone, here are other examples of black people protesting the casting of light-skinned actresses, Hollywood is racist and will always prioritize profit, oh well.

Panelist, Salamishah Tillet
Source: Wikipedia

Conversely, Huffington Post Live was able to expand the conversation beyond the sensationalized polarity because black women actually led the conversation.

The segment, titled “50 Shades of Black,” featured an impressive panel of five black women commentators, including Ann Daramola, Michaela Angela Davis, Salamisha TilletTiffani Jones, and Gayla Burks.

Further, this lively panel was facilitated by Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, an academic, activist, journalist, and television personality (i.e. the male version of my idol Melissa Hill Perry). Hence, the collective response to the messy biopic debate was way more nuanced, poignant, and thought-provoking.

Marc Lamont Hill, Huffington Post Live Host

In this case, black women’s voices didn’t just play a supporting role; the panelists had more control over the conversation, the media through which they were sharing  their perspectives, and thus, the outcome.

Even though I wasn’t particularly thrilled with the way the conversation was framed (or even the way it ended), the segment, for me, proved that the more ownership we take of media, the better we have of ensuring that our stories and perspectives are authentic, complex, and representative of the plethora of issues we care about.

Black Women Must Re-frame (Then Lead) the Conversation

In the NYT piece, Cynthia Mort, the director, of the biopic is quoted as dismissing the historical implications of her casting choice by stating, “It’s a Biopic, not a Documentary,” and thus, a creative take on Nina Simone’s life. Her response offers more proof (as if we needed any at this point) of how rampant white privilege is in Hollywood; that a white director gets to use an African-American socio-political icon as formidable and celebrated as Nina Simone as creative fodder with no consequence should be scaring folks into finally moving beyond these cyclical conversations that aren’t getting us anywhere.

So, for instance, instead of a segment titled “Why Does Hollywood Light-Wash Blacks?” (’cause, seriously, we already know the answer to that), how about we as media professionals and activists get into the habit of tackling more action-elicit questions e.g. “How Can Black People Combat White-Washing of Our Images in the Media?”, especially when we have five brilliant black women social commentators on standby? Just a thought.

Cynthia Mort, Nina Simone Biopic Director
Source: NYDailyNews

When I was interviewed by the reporter for NYT, she revealed that she’d spoken to a high end stakeholder in the biopic, who said, and I quote, “Listen, Zoe is hot right now,” as justification for the casting decision.

Need I elaborate? This is — and always will be — about money. This movie will be made, online petition or not. Per my rant on Tumblr,  Hollywood will not suddenly wake up one day and prioritize our authentic histories over their capitalist projects. The situation is not going to change. So, we need to change our strategy. Thankfully, there are others in the media sphere calling for this as well.

Yaba Blay, Africana Studies teacher, scholar, and consultant to CNN Black in America recently commented:

… although I think casting Zoe is a bad move (and disrespectful to Nina’s image and estate), I also think we have to hold “us-folk” accountable. Why haven’t any Black filmmakers made a film about Nina yet? Doesn’t the late, great High Priestess of Soul deserve more than one movie? Or is it only now that a White filmmaker is doing her own thing with Nina’s image that we recognize/remember her legacy? Rather than (or in addition to) complaining, we need to be creating.

Similarly, amidst the familiar stagnant critiques of racism and colorism in Hollywood that were saturating the Huffington Post Live segment, Ann Daramola , stated repeatedly, “Why are we surprised? Why should we continue to expect that Hollywood will tell our stories for us?”

In her post, Zoe Saldaña as Nina Simone is a Reminder to Keep Telling Your Story, Ann offers more than just a fluffy call to action, but calls for strategic investment in black media infrastructure that will give us more autonomy over the creation, curation, and distribution of our stories.

we have so much work to do to get our stories spread. We need to build a media infrastructure as formidable as Hollywood’s that can distribute these stories and support those at the margins who are telling and creating them.  We need to create platforms that we own, community-owned media centers that are not at the mercy of funding cycles or internet service providers.

To Ann’s point, if we can accept that we are actually not surprised, and we know that Hollywood won’t change, I think we’d naturally focus more of our efforts on highlighting and supporting solutions, of which there actually are many.

We Need More Than Black Media Producers; We Need Black Media Consumers, Too

Source: Madame Noire

During the Huffington Post Live segment, Michaela Angela Davis highlighted a few of these solutions: AFFRM, an African-American film distribution company dedicated to diverse cinematic images; Image Nation, a film production company nurturing a strong local film industry in the United Arab Emirates; Nollywood, Nigeria’s thriving film industry (and the 3rd largest in the world), which produces and distributes films made with very small budgets.

Still, what good are black-owned film production initiatives if we as a community don’t call for more strategic consumption and critique of the media produced by them? What value are we assigning these solutions in the media if we ourselves reduce them to being one-off mentions, tangents in the larger conversation about racism and colorism in Hollywood?

Source: Wikipedia

In a 25 minute segment, a total of about 3 minutes (yes I timed it) was dedicated to highlighting solutions already in place, before getting right back to criticizing Hollywood.

It isn’t enough to simply mention that there are minority film professionals already contributing to part of the solution (i.e. by creating more media). We need more discussions around their work’s value and potential to subvert the power structure in the film industry.

I don’t doubt for one second that criticism of Hollywood plays an important role in keeping Hollywood accountable. I just question how often that phrase (“keeping Hollywood accountable”) keeps our voices restricted to being reactive, when we are way more powerful when we use our voices in service of others; young black women, for instance, who need to know that there is hope for them to have flourishing careers in film and media; older black women who are tired and frustrated with Hollywood’s chronic appropriation and alteration of our histories.

We owe it to each other to more frequently use our voices to highlight our resistance, and use our collective power to increase support and visibility for the projects that will get us closer to the future we wish to see, because it is possible. Here’s how:

  • Black People Are Repeat Consumers of Blockbusters, Why Not Redirect the Dollars?: A quick scan of this study on black movie-goers from BET Networks shows that the black community has way more power than it’s using e.g. African-Americans go to the movies 13.4 times a year vs. 11 times for general market, they’re repeat movie-goers for films they like, and are heavy consumers of alternative media. However, in this same study, when listing the top films supported by black audiences, only 3 out of 19 films featured a prominent African-American character. What would happen if we changed that? What would happen if made it a priority to only support the films we want to see? Think on that.
  • Hollywood Taps into Their 1% and So Should We: When I published my call for more creation and support of black media, the most popular attack at the plausibility of profitable black media infrastructure was limit to capital. That is certainly an obstacle to contend with, but from the recent successes of the Tyler Perry franchise, Steve Harvey’s Think Like a Man, and other projects, not one that’s insurmountable. There is a black middle class and elite in the entertainment industry, creating and leading their own projects, raising millions of dollars for Obama. Let’s not erase their accomplishments by continually perpetuating the idea that there is no capital for projects we’d like to see at all.

There are so many other avenues to explore when it comes to black alternative media, even if for the purpose of mainstreaming that media eventually. So why do the most vocal commentators on this issue keep reverting to the same old conversation i.e. the “problematicness” of Hollywood?

Michaela Angela Davis,
Image Activist and Consultant

As one of the panelists, Michaela Angela Davis noted, the colorism evident via this casting decision is very triggering for black women, who constantly have to defend their right to feel beautiful, appreciated, and respected. I imagine that’s part of the reason it’s been so challenging for us to break this cycle; our feelings regarding the media’s (mis)representation of our beauty and aesthetics have been either continually invalidated, or worse, ignored.

Still, we cannot let our pain keep us lingering outside of Hollywood’s gates, hoping for an apology, expecting retribution, or worse, throwing stones at the few of us who have managed to make it inside. We must embrace the idea that we can be gamechangers, that our collective power is formidable, that we can create media that’s better and more representative of who we are, for the sake of young black girls everywhere, for the sake of  Nina Simone herself. Time to change the game.

Gabby Douglas, Olympic Gold Winner, 16-Yr Old Role Model

Food for Thought: When the facilitator stated that he didn’t want his daughter growing up to think Nina Simone looked like Zoe Saldaña, it would have been incredible to have all those brilliant minds put their heads together and offer, from their various perspectives, ways in which we as community could ensure such a thing never happens.

Instead, via a vote about who each panelist would have liked to see play Nina Simone, the conversation ended with these black women on the bench as spectators of Hollywood’s game.

After such a lively conversation, I couldn’t think of anything more disempowering to end on a note that ultimately suggests to young black girls that Hollywood will always be upheld as the ultimate validation of their voices, their stories, their work. Can we please change this?

Here lies an opportunity for us to commit to handling the next conversation like this differently, to frame future conversations around racism, colorism, and media around solutions, which tap into our power as a community, and send the message to future generations that change is indeed possible

Even though we have very far to go, I believe this conversation was a solid start. Take a look. And let me know what you think.

 

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.

Racism and LGBT Rights: Where are the African Films in the South African LGBT Film Festival?

Originally posted at Gender Across Borders.

Today marks the 19th Out in Africa film festival, a South-African Gay and Lesbian film festival launched to celebrate the inclusion of the clause prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in the South African constitution.

Headlining the festival is triple Oscar nominee Albert Nobbs, a film about a woman passing as a man in order to work and survive in 19th century Ireland. Additionally, A Marine Story, an award-winning drama about the US military’s invidious “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy told through the eyes of a white American female soldier, and Kyss Mig (Kiss Me), a lekker lesbofliek which was named Best Breakthrough Film by the American Film Institute last year, will make their African film festival debuts.

There is, obviously, no shortage of films about women in the festival — an achievement worthy of note given how often the LGBT community is depicted as male. Yet, within the context of Africa, the LGBT community is also frequently perceived (and depicted) as white and western. So, the question is: where are all the black South African films in this African LGBT festival?

Out in Africa — which runs from March 23rd to April 1st, 2012 — states that its mission is to address the lack of visibility of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex individuals (LGBTIs) in South African social and cultural life in order to counter negative images of LGBTIs that prevail in traditional and religious communities after decades of apartheid repression i.e. segregation by skin color. Given the historical context of their mission statement, it’s hard not to wonder about the lack of racial diversity in the feature films.

Out of 9 feature films, just one of them is based on a black South African narrative: The Secret, a film about a married man in denial about his sexuality. This feature film is being paired with Paving Forward, a 16-minute short about the evolution of gay rights through the eyes of a lesbian love story. The pickings are slim for black South Africans eager to see their experiences reflected on film, but to be fair, these selections are part of just the first installment of the festival’s three-part format.

Last year,  rather than showcase new films in one long weekend (as is typical for many film festivals), Out in Africa implemented a new format of hosting three mini-festivals spread out over the course of the year in different parts of the country in order to optimize their outreach efforts (perhaps also to include more racial and class diversity?).  The 2012 second edition is planned from 27 July-5 August, with the third edition scheduled for 17-28 October 2012. So there’s still a chance that future installments will showcase narratives from South Africa’s black community, which faces marginalization not just along the lines of sexual orientation and gender identity, but race and class as well.

The task of depicting LGBTI Africans in a manner that presents multiple and intersecting facets of their experiences is far from easy. But Out in Africa was the only LGBTI film festival shouldering this burden until Kenya made its debut with its OUT Film Festival in Nairobi last year. Originally meant to cater to just 60 people, the Kenyan festival ended up having to turn people away after over 200 people showed up, proving that there is a thirst for Africans (straight and LGBT alike) to see the lives of LGBT Africans reflected on screen.

However, film festivals can’t meet this need alone; the world needs more filmmakers to brave the relatively uncharted territory of producing films for and about LGBT Africa, a sure challenge given that many African countries have outlawed homosexuality, not just reinforcing the subject as taboo but threatening the lives of those who dare to even broach the subject with imprisonment and even the death penalty.

Hence, documentary films like Call Me Kuchu (about David Kato, the prominent Ugandan LGBT activist who was murdered last year), along with other South African films such as The Sisterhood (which follows transgender women farmers competing in a beauty pageant) and Waiting For (which explores the controversial issue of white lesbian couples adopting black children) are rare gems, which we should never take for granted; the filmmakers have taken huge risks in order to give LGBT Africans — whose identities are too often silenced and erased  — a chance to feel seen, a chance to feel hope.

From across the ocean in the US, a country with a deep-rooted history with racism and thus similar in context to South Africa, an African-American actress comments on the importance of seeing one’s identity reflected on screen:

The way I watch movies, I’m really searching for myself, because I don’t get to see enough of myself, and I don’t get to like myself enough…. But if I get to see myself on screen, then I know that I exist.

To follow, Africans — perhaps even the ones who claim that “homosexuality is unAfrican” — will know that LGBT Africans exist if they see their lives represented more frequently on screen. Thus, beyond empowerment for the individual, the potential for cultural shifts brought about by nuanced LGBT films makes pushing for greater inclusion of African and Diaspora LGBT films in film festivals absolutely critical, especially if they’re taking place in Africa.

For its constitutional protections based on sexual orientation, South Africa is often hailed as the leader of gay rights in Africa. But it’s deep-rooted issues with racism and segregation, including the continued marginalization of black South Africans (LGBT or not), warrants that LGBT activists and filmmakers go the extra mile to ensure black South Africans are included in this post-apartheid’s picture of freedom.

Check out the Synopsis of The Secret and Paving Forward (the two black South African films featured): 

The Secret (Imfhilo): The closet was never fashionable, but living the DL is super trendy. Down Low means living under the radar as a straight man having gay sex, or having two separate lives. In Fanney Tsimong’s soap opera-like story of a gay man’s affair with a closeted married man, it gets neatly transported across the Atlantic from the US into aspirant township life. Generations actor Sipho “C-ga” Masebe’s plays Mandla, openly gay, good looking and searching for love. He bumps into old college buddy Thoriso at a birthday party. Thoriso is married to the controlling Thuli, bent on nothing so much as getting ahead in the upwardly mobile world of the BEE nouveau riche. As Mandla chases Thoriso, worlds and assumptions are overturned and lives altered forever. The climax of the film is a credit to the writer – there’s no preachy quick-fix, rather a reality check of what’s really going on out there. Intriguing contemporary South African cinema. (Dir: Fanney Tsimong SA / 2011 / 45min)

Paving ForwardMosiuoa Lekota is hardly the man you’d expect to be headlining Lembethe’s snapshot of where black gay rights are today. But, keeping it real is Nosipho Mahola with a tale of lesbian love that has torn her family apart. (Dir: Mthokozisi Lembethe SA / 2011 / 16min)

For more information about the Out in Africa film festival, visit www.oia.co.za

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