Tag Archives: racism

Happy Indigenous People’s Day

[Image: Dancers wearing masks and colorful dresses perform at a Dia de los Muertos event.]

I no longer recognize Columbus Day. I haven’t since I moved to Berkeley in 1992, the same year that city declared October 12 to be a Day of Solidarity with Indigenous People. For some cold reality about Columbus and his legacy, check out this Everyday Feminism comic about European colonizers, and this article about Indian boarding schools.

As I posted the day before Independence Day, this country was founded by and for the benefit of  white heterosexual cisgender theistic men, on lands stolen from indigenous people, with the forced labor of black slaves. To right the wrongs, we need a revolution. ETA: In the meantime, here’s a guide from Black Girl Dangerous on how to celebrate and take action on this day.

Exploring my roots

[Image: Blackberri, a man with long gray locs, white knit cap, and multiple pieces of jewelry, sings while playing the guitar.]

Yesterday I went on a field trip with Animal Liberationists of Color to the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco. A docent and intern guided us through the exhibits, which were very educational to me. The docent began the tour by showing us a video graphic of the migration of humans from Africa to other parts of the Earth. She showed that as a result of the migration to South America, the most common language of black people is Portuguese, followed by Spanish, and then English.

We then went on to view the featured collection, Portraits and Other Likenesses. As a photographer, I had always thought of a portrait as a posed picture of one or more people, so it was interesting to see different interpretations of this idea. One was an artist’s depiction of her grandmother’s 1970s-era living room, with Soul Train playing on the TV, brightly colored furnishings, and a lipstick-stained cigarette sitting in an ashtray. Another was a series of pages printed in the style of antebellum newsletters about the life of the artist, Glenn Ligon, a gay black man born in 1960.

One of the most popular pieces in this exhibit, especially with children, is the Soundsuit, a creation by Nick Cave, a dancer and performance artist:

One of the reasons I wanted to visit this museum was that I’ve been concerned about a certain subset of black people who are promoting the mindset that homosexuality is destroying the black family, and that being gay or trans is a “white thing.” I felt that this cisheterosexism had no basis in pre-colonial African culture. I spoke with the docent and intern about this, and they agreed.

Our museum guides were also very interested in the purpose of our group. We explained that we are activists who seek to dismantle racism in the animal rights movement. The idea that veganism and animal rights are “white things” is not true, as Aph Ko discussed in a recent article for Everyday Feminism. I gave the intern links to Sistah Vegan Project, Aphro-ism, and my own blog, which she wrote down eagerly. She told me that her mother never allowed her to visit zoos when she was growing up, as she said that no one should be in a cage.

I look forward to learning more about African and African-American culture. As I’ve written previously, exploring my roots has been both difficult and rewarding. I’m fortunate to live in a place where I can be respected as a queer black trans person, and to have friends who support me and my desire to liberate all beings.

The city for the pay

[Image: The San Francisco skyline lit up at night, featuring the Bay Bridge and the Transamerica Pyramid.]

Last night I attended a talk by Alicia Garza, co-creator of BlackLivesMatter, on gentrification in San Francisco and the impact on queer* and trans communities of color. I didn’t take photos or take notes, wanting to fully concentrate on her words (and those of her interviewer, professor Nancy Raquel Mirabal, and the audience questions). So I only jotted down some notes from memory afterward.

Garza noted that San Francisco is now the – not one of, but the – most expensive city in the United States. You could literally buy a castle in France for the price of a San Francisco apartment. As I said in my earlier post about gentrification, I have no trouble believing this, having seen the astronomical rise in rents and real estate prices in the 12 years I’ve lived here. She explained that queer and trans people come to live here to be our authentic selves, but we’re now being priced out, as we cannot compete economically with our hetero and cis counterparts.

Queer and trans people face job discrimination, even here in San Francisco. Only those who conform to cisheteronormative standards have a chance of competing. Being a person of color on top of being queer and/or trans just doubles or triples the challenge.

Garza, a native resident of the area, described the changes gentrification has brought to the city, including the loss of black residents, especially black families in the Hunters Point area. She said the black population of San Francisco is now down close to three percent. Blacks are encouraged with respectability politics to cooperate with these city planning strategies, which have been in motion for quite some time.

On this anniversary of 9/11, Garza said that it’s no coincidence that Fox News pundits have been referring to BlackLivesMatter activists as “terrorists.” “Hate group,” “criminal organization,” and “murder movement” are other phrases I’ve found Fox using to describe the BLM movement. It speaks volumes about the entrenchment of white supremacy that disenfranchised people speaking out for their rights and lives can be branded in this fashion.

One observation Garza made that stuck with me is that under capitalism, everything and everyone is a product. Like myself, she believes that we cannot have true reform under a capitalist system. “Shinier, nicer” capitalism is still a tool of exploitation. I’ve been exploring socialism and anarchism and trying to determine what system is the most likely to bring lasting peace to all beings. I’ll write a  longer entry on this subject in the near future.

I’m glad I attended this talk, even though it made me angry, even more than I already was. I’m very fortunate and privileged to live in this city, but I’m really uneasy about it. I don’t like living in a place where only rich people are welcomed or wanted. I’m dependent on my spouse’s income and on our rent-controlled apartment so I don’t have the option to move right now, but I can at least bring more awareness to the inequality, racism, and cissexism in this supposedly ultra-progressive place.

* In her talk, Garza used “queer” as an umbrella term roughly synonymous with  LGBTQIA+. I recognize that not everyone under that acronym has reclaimed the word “queer” from its roots as a slur. Normally in my blog I use the word “queer” only to describe my own sexual orientation or to describe other individuals who explicitly identify with that term.

Stop ranking oppression

[Image: Section from a panel of a Robot Hugs comic. Words at the top read “No one benefits from being told that their pain is unimportant, or non existant!” Below the words is a scale with a lighter weight reading “Not Harm” and a heavier weight reading “Harm.”]

Today’s Robot Hugs comic in Everyday Feminism is one of the best I’ve seen all year. Please read it now before continuing.

Done? OK. This is what I’ve been dealing with in the year and a half or so that I’ve been involved in animal rights activism. I’ve written here numerous times about the racism, sexism, cissexism, and other human oppression that is either ignored or exacerbated by animal rights activists in the U.S. It’s driving people like me away from activism, and this is not OK.

Often the micro-aggressions faced by activists from oppressed groups (or by those speaking for other oppressed groups) are far more subtle than being told to “shut up.” It frequently takes the form of being told that non-human animals suffer far more than any human. Whether this is true or not, it is still a silencing tactic.

Silencing people who speak up for oppressed humans does not save more animals. It simply strengthens the perception that animal rights activists don’t care about humans. Some activists indeed proudly admit that they don’t care about humans, as they are misanthropists and hate everyone. Many of them deny their own privileges while saying this. Gary Yourofsky comes to mind.

Part of why I have not committed to taking on a more active or formal role with any animal rights group is that I’ve been continually disappointed by the ongoing oppressive language and tactics of other activists. (Coping with depression and fearing the police are my other reasons for being less active.) I do want to be a voice for the animals, and voices are stronger when raised together than alone. But I don’t like being associated with people whose views I find abhorrent, even if they don’t reflect the sentiments of others in the group.

So I will take this opportunity to remind people that while I occasionally participate in animal rights actions and share the writings of various activists, I am independent and speak only for myself. I do not support or condone any views or activities that are oppressive to other humans. I acknowledge my own privileges and mistakes, and ask to be called out if I make statements that are harmful to those in marginalized groups.

This does not mean that I pledge to never say anything that offends anyone. As a queer black trans person, my very existence is offensive to many. I make no apologies for moderating my own spaces as I see fit. Do not confuse calling out oppression with tone policing. I am a pacifist, but I am not passive.

As I’ve written before, a “vegan world” that continues to elevate the voices and needs of able-bodied cishet white men above all others is not a world I want to be a part of. While I will never go back to eating or otherwise exploiting animals – as to me they are people, not property – I will not continue with organized animal rights activism if that means setting aside the concerns of marginalized humans. I am not abandoning the animals, I am abandoning humans with toxic mindsets.

Black trans liberation

[Image: Banner reading #BlackTransLivesMatter Day of Action 8/25/15. Behind the words are black and white photos of trans women of color who have been murdered.]

Today is #BlackTransLiberationTuesday, a day of action to call for an end to the epidemic of violence facing black trans women. I’ve written previously about this state of emergency, and the importance of trans people telling our own stories to dispel the ignorance and myths that lead to anti-trans discrimination and aggression.

Black trans women are particularly vulnerable to violence as they face multiple axes of oppression. Even those who “pass” – i.e., meet society’s cisnormative assumptions of what a woman should look like – have to deal with everyday racism and sexism, which impacts their access to education, employment, health care, and housing. They are affected by the same media bias and police profiling as black cis women. Some turn to sex work to survive, with all the inherent risk and stigma that entails. Many end up as victims of the prison-industrial complex.

Repeating the names of our fallen sisters is one way to emphasize the urgency of the situation. But we must not merely pathologize black trans women. We need to celebrate them. We need to celebrate those who can transition, and those who cannot. Those who live as openly trans, and those who do not. Those who are disabled, and those who are not. Those who are straight, lesbian, bisexual, queer, pansexual, asexual, or any other orientation.

Here are the stories of two living black trans women who don’t have the celebrity profile of Laverne Cox:

Alena Bradford is a woman living in Georgia. Economic circumstances forced her to move back in with her mother and live as a man.

Kat Blaque is an animator and vlogger, who speaks frequently about racism and sexism. She illustrated the story of her life and gender transition.

Get to know black trans women. Don’t solely mourn their deaths. Celebrate their lives.

Celebrating black vegans

Yesterday, Aph Ko of the black vegan feminist web site Aphro-ism shared a post about reactions to her list of 100 Black Vegans. In a typical display of white fragility, commenters on the Vegan Society Facebook page denounced a list that dared to celebrate blackness as “racist.” They really couldn’t see how a movement that has repeatedly ignored and excluded black people needed a list like this, that was, as Aph Ko put it, “highlighting black people who were doing amazing work.” (In that vein, I’ve added both Aphro-ism and Sistah Vegan Project to my new Links page.)

Veganism is not a “white thing.” Black folks care about animals, the environment, and human health just as much as whites do. The media’s portrayal of black people as violent thugs who live on junk food is racist and ignorant, and contributes to the idea many whites have that blacks just aren’t interested in veganism. This sentiment also ignores the intersections of race and poverty that can make it difficult for many black people to access healthy plant-based food.

Not all of the vegans on Aph Ko’s list are animal rights supporters or activists, and some activists say that going vegan for health reasons is selfish or invalid, as veganism encompasses much more than a plant-based diet. While I advocate for total animal liberation from the perspective that non-human animals are people, not property, I also recognize that many people who initially come to veganism for health reasons go on to recognize the inherent moral worth of animals. So while I don’t normally share stories about health benefits of veganism or news about the latest vegan celebrities – regardless of race – I do not actively oppose others doing so.

Veganism is not just a rejection of violence; it is a celebration of life. And as the Ko sisters posted in another blog entry, we need to celebrate black Life, not solely focus on black deaths. And one way to celebrate black life is to tuck into some delicious vegan soul food. If you aren’t lucky enough to have a vegan soul food restaurant in your city, check out Bryant Terry‘s cookbooks and whip up some of your own!

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.

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.