Chinatown Music Festival

[Image: A four-piece band plays on an outdoor stage. Instruments include an electric guitar, a guzheng, and an upright bass.]

Today I headed back to Chinatown to take photos at another outdoor festival, the sixth annual Chinatown Music Festival.

SF Guhzeng Music Society
[Image: Two young children play guzhengs on an outdoor stage.]

SF Guhzeng music society
[Image: Two people play guzhengs on an outdoor stage.]

SF Guhzeng Music Society
[Image: A young person plays a guzheng on an outdoor stage.]

The first several performers were from the San Francisco Guzheng Music Society. The guzheng is a Chinese zither (I learned today from Wikpedia).

Creative World Music Ensemble
[Image: Three musicians perform on an outdoor stage. Instruments include a guzheng and an upright bass.]

Creative World Music Ensemble
[Image: A singer plays a hand drum while singing into a microphone on an outdoor stage. An upright bass player plays in the background.]

The next group, the Creative World Music Ensemble, also featured a guzheng. I was excited seeing this band set up when I arrived, as I hoped the upright bass meant they might play some jazz. They did not disappoint. The white percussionist also got great applause, as well as praise from the MC, for singing in Chinese.

Portsmouth Square Dance Club
[Image: Dancers perform in front of an outdoor stage, wearing red “I ♥ SF” T-shirts and black pants.]

Portsmouth Square Dance Club
[Image: Dancers perform in front of an outdoor stage, wearing red “I ♥ SF” T-shirts and black pants.]

Next up was the Portsmouth Square Dance Club. Portsmouth Square is where this event took place; these dancers practice there regularly. I recognized some of them from last month’s Dancing on Waverly festival.

Yea-Ming and the Rumours
[Image: A four-piece band performs on an outdoor stage. A banner in front of the stage reads “Chinatown Music Festival.”]

Yea-Ming and the Rumours
[Image: A guitarist sings into a microphone on an outdoor stage. An electric bass player plays in the background.]

The final set I attended for this festival was Yea-Ming and the Rumours. (Performances continued for the remainder of the afternoon.)

Glad I ventured out, even on a hot sunny day at noontime, to enjoy free music in a great city. I’ve uploaded the full set of photos to Flickr. If you like my photography, please consider supporting me on Patreon or leaving me a tip so I can continue to do shoots like this.

Nonbinary erasure

[Image: The signup page for Facebook. The words Female and Male are circled in red.]

Yesterday I read a great response from agender writer Tyler Ford to the question “Do I Have A Penis Or A Vagina?” (Spoiler: You should never ask this question of anyone.) When I went to leave a comment, MTV.com offered me the option to link to my Facebook or Twitter account, or create an account on the site. I chose the latter, and then was presented with a signup form that asked me to specify my gender: Female or Male. Highly ironic considering the author of the article is neither female nor male.

In the course of my gender transition I’ve become increasingly aware of nonbinary erasure. Some sites, like Google, have added nonbinary options, though they are usually hidden under a “More” option, or allow gender to remain unspecified. Facebook added custom gender options years ago, but in order to sign up for a new account, you still need to specify Female or Male first (as seen in the screenshot at the top of this post). Yahoo requires Male or Female to be specified at account creation as well.

Yahoo signup page[Image: The signup page for Yahoo. The words Male and Female are circled in red.]

My assumption is that this forced binary gendering is for the benefit of advertisers, whose systems probably aren’t set up to handle anything other than two genders. Considering the backlash at the idea of degendering children’s products, it seems US-Americans still believe that men and women have fundamentally different needs when it comes to shopping. And as for people who aren’t men or women, well, I guess we don’t exist.

I’ve started sending messages to customer support when I see only Male and Female options presented on a form. I’ve had mixed results thus far. Two years ago I signed up for an account with Rovio so that I could save my Angry Birds scores online. I sent this message:

Why do I need to specify my gender in order to register? My gender has nothing to do with my gameplay. And the two options given, “Male” and “Female”, are actually sexes, not genders.

Their response:

We are very sorry to hear that you are upset about our registration form. The inquiry includes gender due to marketing reasons and to ease the targeting of certain campaigns, games etc. We apologize for the inconvenience caused for you and we hope that you can still enjoy the games!

I had better luck with Wikimedia, when I contacted them after responding to a survey last year:

Hello, I just made my annual donation to Wikipedia after receiving the fundraising e-mail from Jimmy Wales, and I took the survey afterwards. On the last page I was asked to specify my gender, and the two options presented were Female and Male. Please note that Female and Male are sexes, not genders, and not everyone identifies as one of these. Please consider adding options of “Other” (with or without a fill-in box) and “Decline to State” to this question on your survey in the future.

Their response:

Thank you for your email and your support for the Wikimedia Foundation and free knowledge. Thank you also for your suggestion about the extra options for the survey. It’s a good one, and we will add it to the existing list of proposed improvements. We may have higher priorities to implement in the immediate term, but appreciate your input in making the donation process the best it can be.

I’m going to keep sending short messages like this, though I’ll probably drop the bit about male and female being sexes rather than genders, as I don’t want to confuse people too much in this setting; I just want them to be aware that nonbinary people exist. I’ll also consider not signing up for sites and services that require a binary gender to be specified. I declined to sign up for MTV.com, for example, though I did send a message to customer support first.

Another nonbinary person who has been far more active in this area is Cassian, aka on mxactivist on Tumblr. Amongst other things, they’re working to get the title Mx included on every form in the UK. That gender-neutral title is already gaining official recognition there. I’m not terribly fond of it myself, but I do hope it catches on in the US, so nonbinary people can specify a title other than Mr, Ms, Miss, or Mrs. (Justin Vivian Bond is one notable nonbinary person in the USA who goes by Mx.)

Even if you’re not nonbinary, you can help stop nonbinary erasure by sending quick e-mails to customer support like the above. And speak out whenever you hear others say that people like me don’t exist, are freaks, are “special snowflakes,” or are mentally ill (though some of us are, just as some binary people are, and there’s no shame in that). As a member of the LGBT studies task force on Wikipedia, I am constantly seeing vandalism of the Genderqueer page and others like it; vandals edit the page to say that we are all autistic teenagers on Tumblr with make-believe identities. Yes, these are trolls and their vandalism is soon reverted, but being confronted with this sentiment day after day wears a person down.

Nonbinary people are not “really” biologically male or female. What we really are is exactly what we say we are, whether that’s agender, bigender, genderqueer, genderfluid, or something else entirely. (See Genderqueer Identities for a partial list.) Nonbinary genders are not new and are not going away. It’s time that society stops erasing us and starts respecting us.

Gender neutral agenda

[Image: Two mesh bath sponges rest side by side on a blue background. The charcoal gray sponge has a tag reading “mesh sponge.” The lavender sponge has a tag reading “delicate mesh sponge.”]

Target recently announced a move to gender-neutral signage for some of their children’s products. While this is a welcome development for many parents and kids, the horrified responses from people can’t handle this kind of change are sadly predictable. One enterprising person posed as a Target representative and trolled their Facebook page, mockingly responding to and screencapping many comments from angry customers. Complaints of pandering to “political correctness” turned up frequently. Fox News, of course, also asked “Have the PC police gone too far?”

Here’s the thing. Gendering children’s products is flat-out ridiculous, and forcing children to only play with or wear “gender-appropriate” items has serious potential for harm. Trans author S. Bear Bergman has a great essay on raising his son amidst relentless gendering of everything from training toilets to prescription shampoo for lice. He and his spouse aren’t forcing their views of gender-neutrality on their son; they just want him to choose whatever makes him happy.

The idea that “pink is for girls, blue is for boys” is a recent phenomenon. I’ve seen no evidence that boys who wear pink or play with dolls turn out to be gay or trans any more than boys who wear blue and play with trucks. Clothes and toys do not have the power to change a person’s gender or sexual orientation.  And of course, the implication that turning out to be gay or trans would be a bad thing is just ugly. Trans children especially need supportive parents.

Regardless, gender has no color. Look at the charcoal gray and lavender bath sponges pictured at the top of this post. The shelf tag for the gray sponge, and the receipt when I purchased it, read “MENS.” Heaven forbid a man use the wrong color sponge to scrub his manly ass in the shower. (I bought the lavender sponge for my male spouse, for the record. I hate pastels.)

While I can’t speak for Target, I myself do have a “gender-neutral agenda,” because I think that not just children’s products but nearly all products are pointlessly gendered. Eyeglass frames for example. The last time I shopped for them, I was happy to find a store that did not use gendered labeling at all; they merely grouped the products by brand.

As for clothing, I posted yesterday about men’s versus women’s pants. Here it does make more sense to have separate clothing sections, because most adult women have wider hips than men, amongst other differences in body proportions.

But these differences are not consistent even for cis people, and are reversed for most trans men and women. And any department that is separated into “men’s” and “women’s” erases nonbinary people. For clothing you might think “just shop in the department that matches your actual sex” but this is biological determinism. Many nonbinary people do not consider themselves to be male-bodied or female-bodied. (I myself was assigned female at birth, but am agender and male.) And being nonbinary does not imply any particular clothing choice, regardless of a person’s body configuration.

My agenda is not to eliminate gender completely, but to eliminate forcing the gender binary on everything: Clothing, accessories, titles, salutations, single-occupancy restrooms,  and on and on and on. Gender-“nonconforming” people exist. Nonbinary people exist. Intersex people exist. Eliminating forced binary gendering will reflect and honor this reality, rather than erasing the real and valid identities and expressions of children and adults alike.

In the pocket

For years before my transition, I complained about women’s clothes, pants in particular. The sizing was ridiculously inconsistent, and the pockets were miniscule-to-nonexistent. But I also hated purses, so for a good twenty years I strapped a fanny pack to my waist.

Switching to men’s pants, with ample pockets and sizing by waist and inseam, was a relief. I can easily fit my wallet, keys, cell phone, and miscellaneous small items in the pockets of my jeans, cargo pants, and even dress pants. On days that I’m not going shopping and not planning to be out long, I love the freedom of walking unencumbered by bags, wearing nothing but the clothes on my back.

Recently I read an article on the gendered nature of encumbrance, which made me think more about why women are expected to carry their possessions in bags and men are not. I rarely see a man carrying a tote bag (which is part of why I switched back to wearing a backpack after my transition). Women are expected to do more of the childcare, grocery shopping (sometimes with young children in tow), and the like, so would be more likely to have diaper bags and other things for children.

In addition to the other issues the author points out (being expected to carry items for others), cosmetics may also play a factor. I remember when I was still being sent women’s clothing catalogs, I’d read descriptions of tiny purses having “just enough room for the summer essentials: A lipstick and compact.” I haven’t worn makeup in over fifteen years, so I can’t really relate to this, but I feel strongly that people of any gender should be able to wear makeup without being judged for it. And for some trans women, a careful makeup application can make the difference between having a peaceful day and being outed and violently assaulted.

The sturdiness of men’s versus women’s clothes isn’t something I had thought of much, but makes sense, sadly. I currently buy most of  my clothes from secondhand and discount stores. When I first started shopping for men’s pants, I was surprised to see a whole line of sturdy work clothes I had never seen in a women’s clothing section. People of all genders do manual labor, of course, but it isn’t considered  a “woman’s job.”

Ultimately, when it comes to gender, clothes are just clothes, and ideally shouldn’t be gendered in the first place. Three times now I’ve bought secondhand pants from the men’s section of Out of the Closet (I prefer to support them rather than Goodwill), and had them rung up as “WMNS BTMS, ” presumably because I looked like a “WMN.” The third time this happened I pointed it out, and the clerk made some excuse like “Oh it’s just whatever the cash register rings it up as.” Well, no, there was no bar code to swipe so the clerk actually did make an assumption based on my apparent gender and not the clothes. If my male spouse had approached the counter with a skirt to buy, I guarantee it wouldn’t have been rung up as “MNS BTMS,” even though my spouse is a MN (who happens to wear skirts).

In closing, because I need some comic relief nowadays, here’s a lighthearted tune from the always entertaining Jonathan Coulton, Mr. Fancy Pants. (I think I was actually at the concert where this video was recorded.)

 

On echo chambers

[Image: Black and white vanishing perspective of a wooden pier.]

Some people wonder why folks like me are so intolerant of comments questioning the impact of racism, cissexism, and other oppression, and our tactics to fight it. Why do we want to be in an “echo chamber” of people who think just like we do? Why can’t we be open to a variety of opinions? What about free speech?

First of all, freedom of speech does not apply to my personal blog, Facebook page, or any other space I control. As atheist feminist blogger Greta Christina has written, “If you don’t respect my basic right to moderate my own online spaces — don’t bother to comment in any of them.”

But more importantly, these questions, however well-intentioned, overlook the fact that I already live inside an echo chamber 24/7. I am queer, black, agender, and transsexual, and am constantly bombarded with messages that people like me are thugs, freaks, perverts, special snowflakes, and dangerous. I don’t need people to come into my space to tell me what the mainstream already wants me to hear. Nor do I need to subject myself to this dialog in group discussions.

When I post about racism, heterosexism, or cissexism,  I want to hear a resounding echo of people shouting “We’re mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it anymore.” I am not just venting, I am urging people to take action.

As someone who suffers from depression to the point that some days updating this blog is the only thing I manage to do, I do not have the energy to educate every person about these issues. Nor am I obligated to do so. That’s where true allies come in, who have the knowledge and patience to amplify the voices of the oppressed, and educate their peers from a place of privilege.

If you don’t like what I write, no one’s forcing you to read it. Post in your own space about “all lives matter” if you like. No one’s going to arrest you or beat you or murder you for doing so.

But I will not tolerate any more unsolicited opinions from my oppressors on how to be an effective activist or a “nice” person. Get out of my chamber.

Black Lives Matter is not about white people

[Image: The sun sets over the water in Seattle, with a lone sailboat visible.]

The latest thing white self-appointed allies are upset about is that some uppity black people dared to interrupt a rally for their pet presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, in Seattle. The group put out a press release on Facebook and on their blog. A video of the protest is below.

Horrified whites are now saying, amongst other less tactfully stated things,  that they are no longer going to support Black Lives Matter because of this “disrespectful behavior,” that they can’t believe black people would turn against our “natural ally,” and that we should interrupt the speeches of conservative candidates instead.

Here’s the thing. If you’re white, you have no business telling black people who or how to protest, which candidates to support, or who our allies are. This is not about whether these protesters were “right” or not, or whether or not it’s permissible to criticize black people in general. This is about white people asserting and imposing their unasked-for opinions about what’s best for us, again and again and again.

White people, Black Lives Matter is not about you. Black Lives Matter was created by queer black women to bring attention to systemic oppression and violence against black people in the USA. It is not for you to decide for us whether Bernie Sanders or any other political candidate is the best person to fix this oppression. We can and will decide that for ourselves.

It is also not your place to tell black people how to protest. A lot of us are tired of quietly asking for our rights to be respected whenever it’s convenient for you all to get around to it. As I’ve learned from my participation in animal rights activism, direct action is necessary for social change.  If you only support black people when we speak quietly and deferentially, you are no ally at all. You are merely a tool of white supremacy.

For the record, I support no political candidates, and am currently registered with no political party. I vote on local ballot measures and nonpartisan offices only. This post is not about whether or not you should support Bernie Sanders, it’s about my disgust with white supremacy and my own role in it during my years of performing whiteness. I am fed up with respectability politics and with white people imposing themselves on black people (and likewise with cis and trans people).

White people, not everything needs to be about you. Take a damn seat.

Pistahan Festival

[Image: Dancers and musicians in brightly colored outfits perform on an outdoor stage. A banner above reads “Pistahan Parade + Festival.”]

Yesterday I attended the Pistahan Festival, an annual celebration of Filipino culture in San Francisco. This two-day event included a parade and a number of performances and exhibits. I stayed for only a small portion of the festivities; my primary interest was taking photos of the performers on the main stage at Yerba Buena Gardens.

The Reflex at the Pistahan Festival[Image: A singer with a black and white checkered shirt and white rimmed sunglasses sings into a microphone on an outdoor stage.]

The Reflex at the Pistahan Festival[Image: A six-piece rock band performs on an outdoor stage. Square multicolored flags hang above them.]

First up was a cover band, The Reflex, who played basically a “greatest hits of the 80s” set. (Including, as you might guess from their name, Duran Duran.) I could tell it was an 80s band as I recognized every song in their 45-minute set; I was glued to MTV and Casey Kasem’s Top 40 for a good part of that decade.

Tip to singers and other rock musicians: If you need a music stand, but also want good photos/video, consider lowering it to half-height. (I speak from experience on both sides of the camera, here.)

Little Manila Dance Collective at the Pistahan Festival[Image: Barefoot dancers in matching maroon shirts and black knee-length pants perform on an outdoor stage.]

Little Manila Dance Collective at the Pistahan Festival[Image: Dancers in matching multicolored sarongs and brightly colored blouses perform on an outdoor stage, holding yellow fans.]

Little Manila Dance Collective at the Pistahan Festival[Image: Barefoot dancers in matching blue and white dresses smile and perform on an outdoor stage. Behind them smiling barefoot dancers wear stripped blue and black shirts and knee-length orange pants.]

Little Manila Dance Collective at the Pistahan Festival[Image: Young barefoot dancers in white and yellow outfits perform on an outdoor stage.]

Next up were several groups from the Little Manila Dance Collective. As with last month’s Chinatown dance festival, I loved all the brightly-colored outfits; my image descriptions don’t do them justice. Getting decent photos of all the white costumes at high noon was also quite a challenge. (As was finding a good spot to shoot from without getting in the way of the audience or the official photographers. I really need a long lens for my primary camera…)

Nuff Kidz at the Pistahan Festival[Image: Dancers in matching long-sleeved maroon T-shirts, black pants/leggings, and white shoes perform on an outdoor stage.]

Nuff Kidz at the Pistahan Festival[Image: Dancers in matching long-sleeved maroon T-shirts, black pants/leggings, and white shoes perform on an outdoor stage.]

Aftermath at the Pistahan Festival[Image: Dancers in matching black T-shirts, leggings, and shoes perform on an outdoor stage.]

Two high-energy  dance troupes, Nuff Kidz and Aftermath, followed on the stage. I took a lot of photos of Nuff Kidz. They had an audio glitch and ended up restarting their performance, then the sound glitched in the same place. But they finished the dance without music, to wild applause.

Mika Gorospe at the Pistahan Festival
[Image: A young singer wearing a white off-shoulder crop top and peach skirt sings into a microphone on an outdoor stage.]

Mika Gorospe at the Pistahan Festival
[Image: A young singer and three backup dancers perform on an outdoor stage.]

The next performer was thirteen-year-old singer, Mika Gorospe. Complete with backup dancers, she’s already set for stardom.

Crywolffs at the Pistahan Festival
[Image: A violinist wearing a black jacket, light brown hat, and black-rimmed glasses performs on an outdoor stage.]

Crywolffs entertained the crowd with an electric violin and live looping.

Shelby Miguel at the Pistahan Festival
[Image: A singer wearing a gray and black sleeveless top and black leggings sings into a microphone on an outdoor stage.]

Singer Shelby Miguel gave a rousing performance, the final set I watched for the day.

Happy to have attended this festival, which, like the one in Chinatown, I found out about through Funcheap SF. I’ve put the full set of photos on Flickr. If you like my photos and want to help me continue doing free shoots like this (and maybe get that long lens I’ve been coveting), please consider supporting me on Patreon or leaving me a tip.

Shedding blood

[Image: Pax (pre-transition) stands in semi-darkness in their underwear, in front of closed vertical blinds.]

Menstruation is a taboo topic in much of modern US-American society. It’s a subject I feel uncomfortable reading about or discussing myself, given the serious dysphoria I have over my female-assigned reproductive system. But even though I no longer bleed every month (thanks to testosterone therapy), the hundreds of millions of women, trans men, nonbinary, and intersex people who still do are stigmatized by misinformation and prejudices over this routine bodily function.

A recent Everyday Feminism article debunks many of the myths about menstruation. I greatly appreciate that the author points out that not only and not all women have periods (a point the TERFs constantly misstate to deny that trans women are female). Yet menstruation is primarily a women’s issue, and I speak in this article primarily as an ally to women and girls.

I was somewhat alarmed to read in the above article that the average age for menarche in North America is now between eight and thirteen years old. An eight-year-old is still a young child. As people reach sexual maturity at younger and younger ages, it is imperative that children receive timely and accurate sex education. This education must not put the burden solely on girls and women to prevent pregnancy or defend themselves against unwanted sexual advances.

Our patriarchal society dominates women not only through abstinence-focused sex education and denial of reproductive rights, but also controlling access to sanitary products. This article by a woman who was imprisoned shows how jailers deny basic human rights and decency by not providing adequate tampons and sanitary pads.

Another article by a woman who ran a marathon while on her period, without using tampons or pads, brings more attention to misconceptions and shame regarding menstruation. Having run a full marathon and several half-marathons myself, I can relate to the concerns about cramping, changing pads or tampons, and worrying about stained clothes.

Shedding menstrual blood is a fact of life, and should not be a source of shame. People of all genders should educate themselves about menstruation.

Sugarcoating supremacy

[Image: The face of Brahma, a steer with dark and reddish-brown hair.]

Sometimes I feel that my entire adult life has been a process of unlearning all the lies that I was taught as a child. As I wrote yesterday, I was ignorant of the pervasiveness of racism for a long time, despite being black myself. There are powerful systems in place in the USA to ensure continued white supremacy, and part of that is convincing everyone, including black folks like myself, that we live in a post-racial society, where everyone can be happy and equal regardless of skin color.

This is a lie. We do not live in a color-blind society. Never have, and never will. Having white skin is a privilege, independent of any other factors. Denying it by saying “Not all white people” is an attempt to bury the reality that yes, all white people benefit from white supremacy.

The defensive response of “not all white people” also gives the person responding an “out” to assure that the charge of racism isn’t being levied against them. Society’s protection of white fragility ensures that the supremacy continues.

In parallel, there are powerful systems in place to ensure people that we need to eat animal products for good health, and that farmed animals are happy, well-treated, and willing to give their eggs, milk, and their very bodies up for human consumption.

These are also lies. The American Dietetic Association stated over ten years ago that a vegan diet can provide appropriate nutrition for humans of all ages. But even though many now accept this nutritional wisdom, most continue to believe that eating meat, dairy, or eggs is simply a personal dietary choice. Even calling an animal’s flesh “meat” sugarcoats the reality that it is someone’s body that is being eaten.

For those who do claim to care about animal welfare, the defensive response of “not all farmed animals” when confronted with the horrors of animal agriculture buries the reality that yes, all farmed animals suffer, and no, none of them consent to having their milk, eggs, or bodies taken from them. This is true whether on a “factory”, “organic”, or “free-range” farm, or even in a backyard. The Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary exposes this humane myth.

A. Breeze Harper of Sistah Vegan Project illustrated these parallels in her blog yesterday, also emphasizing that, as I’ve also written, white vegans need to pay attention to racism. Most black folks are insulted at being compared to animals, and this is totally understandable, as we have been treated as less than human by white people for centuries. As Christopher-Sebastian McJetters has written, we need to compare like systems of oppression without appropriating the struggles of oppressed humans. And always keep in mind who has the power. A black person describing animal agriculture as slavery has a very different impact from a white person doing so, especially when addressing a black audience.

Dismantling the lies we’ve been taught can be painful, but also empowering, because now we can do something about it and educate others. Just as you can fight racism without attending BlackLivesMatter rallies, by calling attention to racist language and oppression whenever you hear it, you can fight speciesism without participating in an organized disruption. You can start by speaking out – to your friends, to your family, in person, on social media – when you see animals being exploited for food, clothing, entertainment, or other purposes.

Going vegan is a powerful rejection of speciesism, but is not currently possible for everyone, and not the only way to help achieve animal liberation. Those who genuinely cannot commit to a plant-based diet due to homelessness, incarceration, or other circumstances can still speak out against the system of oppression, in situations where it is reasonably safe for them to do so. An article by DxE activist Zach Groff tells the story of a homeless man who spoke out at a disruption, despite the fact that he still ate animals.

Many will read this and similar essays, shrug, and continue on as before. This is exactly what the oppressors want. The status quo is rewarded. But the harm is real and will continue, with or without sugarcoating, until we stop believing the lies and take action.

Performing whiteness

[Image: Pax’s Northwestern University student ID,  circa 1990.]

There’s a meme going around on social media that’s pissing a lot of white people off. It reads:

Things white people consider to be racism

1. direct, open involvement with the KKK

2. poc saying something about white people

3. literally nothing else

The reactions are predictable.

“Is that what you think of me? I’m so hurt!”

“Not all white people are like that! Stop generalizing!”

“This is reverse racism! What if I posted something like that about black people?”

“How do you expect to get allies if you’re being so divisive? Why not speak with love and bring people together?”

I recognize these reactions because I used to say these things myself. As I posted yesterday, I come from a mixed race family (black mother, white father), and my formative years were spent surrounded by white people in a small town in West Virginia. When we moved back to the city of my birth, Pittsburgh, I was harassed by the black kids in middle school for “talking white” and not fitting in. I pushed back against that, and made mostly white friends in middle and high school.

I didn’t want to think about race. I said I was “color blind.”

When I was accepted to Northwestern University in 1988, I was excited and also hopeful that we would all be there to learn, and put race divisions behind us. I had also recently become a devotee of Ayn Rand’s objectivist philosophy, primarily because it resonated with me as a fellow atheist. As her followers hated the Democratic Party (which I had registered to vote with for the primaries as soon as I turned 18), but also hated the Libertarians, I felt I had no choice to re-register as Republican and vote for George H. W. Bush.

Yes, you read that correctly. I was a registered Republican and voted for George H. W. Bush in the 1988 presidential election.

So it was with this mindset that I entered college, applauding capitalism and decrying affirmative action. (Nevermind that I was a beneficiary of the latter. I reasoned that I’d earned the scholarship money thanks to my good grades, not my skin color.)  Again, I made mostly white friends. I didn’t understand why black students all sat together at a table in the cafeteria, all hung out in what they informally dubbed the “black lounge,” or had a “black house” to gather in. Why all the division?

I got a position with the conservative alternate campus newspaper. I had been disturbed seeing black students with T-shirts with Malcolm X on them, holding a gun and reading “By Any Means Necessary,” and also seeing the slogan “It’s a black thing, you wouldn’t understand.” I wrote an editorial entitled “I’m black, and I still don’t understand,” spewing my vision of color-blind race unity.

In response, I was sent anonymous threatening letters, including anti-Semitic statements about my father and then-boyfriend. One envelope included an honorary membership in the KKK. Copies of these letters were sent to my mother at our home address. She was livid, and called the university to complain.

I didn’t understand the source of this anger at the time. I was truly ignorant. I doubled down even further, ignoring attempts from other black students to explain to me why my writing was so hurtful. I retreated to my studies and my supportive white friends.

By graduation, I realized that objectivism did not accurately reflect the world we live in. I moved to California for grad school at UC Berkeley – again thanks to affirmative action, this time granting me a full fellowship – and returned to my previous liberal politics. But I still made mostly white friends, and married a white man, and then another (Ziggy, my current spouse) after our divorce.

It wasn’t until many years later that I began to understand the pervasiveness of anti-black oppression and racism in this country, and the source of the anger and desire to be in spaces free from white people. Ironically, becoming an animal rights activist is what really opened my eyes to all of the oppression – against blacks and other people of color, women, LGBTQIA+, the disabled, and on and on. One book that helped me make these connections was The World Peace Diet  by Will Tuttle. Given my background, it’s not surprising, though still depressing, that it took a book by a white man to clue me into these intersections.

Another turning point was reading an essay by a Chinese friend, Wayne Hsiung of Direct Action Everywhere. (Edit, Sep 2017: I left DxE in September 2015.)  His essay on Performing Whiteness helped me realize why I distanced myself from other black people. Raised in a white environment with respectability politics, I really thought that it was the content of my character, not the color of my skin, that would define me to the world.

Now thanks to social media – which was not available in my younger years – I saw one black person after another beaten and killed by the police who are supposedly sworn to protect us. I saw one black trans woman after another murdered, mocked, and misgendered. I saw how the mainstream media used different words and imagery when covering blacks versus whites. And I saw black folks who spoke out against the violence being shushed, being told they were always “playing the race card” (another odious phrase I used to use myself).

I saw every cry of frustration, born of centuries of oppression at the hands of white people, met with the response of “Not all white people.”

I no longer believe in the myth of a color-blind society. I no longer believe that your skin color doesn’t matter as long as you “pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” I no longer believe all the lies and self-hatred I internalized about being black in the United States of America.

As I quoted previously from Mikael Owunna, I have gotten off the Kool-Aid of white supremacy.

So when I see a meme like the one at the top of this post, and the predictable responses, I don’t rush to reassure white people that no, of course we’re not talking about you, you’re one of the good ones. No, of course we don’t mean literally all white people. No, of course I don’t want to be divisive, we need all the allies we can get. I’ll just go back to the kitchen and be a good quiet house nigga, massa.

Fuck respectability politics.

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