Why the DAPL?

Yesterday, the Army Corps of Engineers decided to pass the final easement allowing for the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).

I’ve been thinking about this as momentum builds behind the pipeline. The executive order, the banks that continue to fund it, and the large proportion of the country that view themselves as unaffected and therefore remain unfazed.

The question I hear, often from white men and women, is why should I care?

Maybe it’s the Pisces in me, or maybe my roots in Christianity, or maybe it’s the ecologist in me that tells me with utter conviction that everything but everything but everything is connected.

You may not live downstream of the pipeline, so your water supply may not be in danger. You may not know any members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, so your sense of cultural identity may not be at stake.

But as an ecologist, I can tell you that the mere act of constructing yet another massive pipeline through an already fragile ecosystem, not to mention the possibility (probability) of a rupture that would contaminate the water source for thousands of people and hundreds of acres of land… such an event has major ecological impacts with swathes of downstream (literally and figuratively) consequences. You may not see them all immediately, but trust me, you will.

In addition, our country is already overly reliant on fossil fuels and moving the production of those fuels from foreign countries to our own does not remove this reliance.

Our country, and in truth our planet, is careening towards its own human-induced suicide thanks to practices EXACTLY like this, wherein the environmental impacts are not fully considered or discussed. The Army Corps of Engineers failed to conduct a full environmental review. This is not only irresponsible but downright dangerous, sentencing the entire central portion of our country, already a vastly overlooked and under-valued segment, to once again bear the physical cost of corporate greed.

But, even if all of this weren’t true, the more important point remains:

This. Is. Not. Our. Land.

Honestly, this should be the thought that we wake up to every single day. (Primarily directed towards the white folks in the audience.) No, no one asked to be born here. If you are African American it is highly likely that your ancestors were kidnapped and brought here against their will.

As a white person, though, even if your ancestors weren’t a part of the initial colonization and genocide, our existence still contributes to one of the largest and most prolonged cases of gentrification the world has ever seen.

The question before us then is not only a question of physical survival, it is a question of spiritual reckoning.

You may not believe in human souls, but I certainly hope you believe in humanity.

The question facing us is this: Do we choose to atone for the sins of our ancestors by joining the fight of our brothers and sisters, listening to their voices too long ignored, and ensuring their rights so long denied?

Or do we once again turn our faces, block our ears, and continue our downward spiral into moral decrepitude?

This is the question that faces our country and each of us as individuals. It is the question that answers the initial query “Why the DAPL?”.

Native Americans, the myriad tribes, cultures, civilizations, traditions, and languages, have survived against all odds in the face of continuous brutalization, forced mass eviction, murder, sustained economic depression and spiritual and physical poisoning inflicted on them by white colonizers.

It is long, long past the time that we return the sovereignty that we have unlawfully usurped. It is long past the time we hold ourselves responsible for our transgressions. These transgressions may not have been enacted by us personally, but if we gain from the status quo and remain silent and passive, then we are a part of the inertia that obstructs the arc of justice.

It is long past the time that we stop asking the question “Why the DAPL?” and started asking the question “What can I do to heal these wounds?”.

Thank you for your time.

Beginning Thoughts on the Prison-Industrial Complex (PIC) and Abolition

Given the promise of increased criminalization, the promise of increased funding for the police state, and the threat of a heavy-duty deportation machine, it is now more important than ever to defund the prison-industrial complex.

If you haven’t read “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander or watched the documentary 13th, add it to your list.

I had the opportunity to hear Michelle Alexander speak at Carleton in my first or second year, it was life-changing.

Basically, post-slavery, the United States needed to find a new source of cheap (read free) labor. And so tada! Prison system began to really take off.

Thanks to a series of laws passed by both republicans and democrats (Nixon, Reagan, our would-have-been first spouse, Bill) and the call for “law and order”, we have a system of (in)justice in place that relies on and perpetuates the massive incarceration of people of color and especially impoverished people of color. In addition, the police force in this country has been militarized to continue this pipeline of free labor, petty misdemeanors have been criminalized, and neighborhoods of people of color are targeted disproportionately.

In other news of how everything is everything is everything. Meanwhile, the likelihood of a white rapist seeing even minimal jail time is negligible. Tell me again how this system is working to protect its people?

So this new executive piece-of-crap would provide funding for an already militarized police force. A force that also unfairly targets immigrant communities. P.S. it’s already started in SF.

Okay, so you may have already known all that. What practical steps can we take?

1. Invest in education.

Not only education about these practices, but also good-old-fashioned education in the United States. That means block Betsy Davos from being appointed to Secretary of Education. You’re probably already calling your reps a lot, but add to the list moving funding away from prisons and into schools.

2. Defund private prisons/ move funding for state prisons to localities.

Again, the root of the problem is capitalism. I should just buy a shirt that says that (ha, like, it was a joke… cuz… nevermind). There’s a giant evil conglomerate called the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and another called the GEO Group which is all the corporations with investment in private prisons. Once again you see the giant banks, Bank of America, JP Morgan and Chase, etc etc. So if you haven’t yet, please consider banking with a small credit union.

Additionally, as far as state prisons go, W. David Bell published a report that suggested moving the funding of prisons from the state level to the local level where the decisions are actually being made. So, now you can pester your reps on the state level, too, and tell them to follow those suggestions.

3. Join the abolitionist movement.

The above to suggestions are ways to help better a corrupt system. But really the best way would be to end the corrupt system altogether. So join the abolitionist movement.

If you needed more convincing, think about the fact that pregnant women in NYC are still being placed in solitary confinement. Roughly a third of prison fatalities are due to suicide (as of 2015 statistics).

This needs to be stopped. There are several organizations already in existence working towards this end.

Critical Resistance sprang from a 1998 conference and has several local chapters (the website is a little-outdated unfortunately). It has some good resources for education re: prison abolition.

Prison Activist Resource Center is a group based in Oakland that seeks to bring the injustice of the prison system to light.

Black and Pink is an organization working for solidarity with LGBTQ prisoners. It has a pen pal directory. Which leads me to:

4. Get to know prisoners.

It’s proven that the best way for ending stereotypes is by personal knowledge. So please, consider signing up to be a pen pal with someone in prison.

I started writing letters to my pen pal a few days after the election. I was nervous at first, unsure what to expect, full of these weird anxieties that I wouldn’t be good enough, that I couldn’t save this person, that he would want something from me that I couldn’t provide.

But I couldn’t have been more wrong. He’s just a really sweet human being in a really screwed up system. Despite all the horrific things he’s been through, my pen pal has one of the most upbeat and optimistic world-views. I am so inspired and motivated by him.

So, for your sake really, sign up to be a pen pal. Or find other ways of connecting personally with people in prison.

Again this is only a starting point. Let me know other practical steps to take. I have to run to work.

Why I Am Marching

The past few months I haven’t been writing.

I’ve made vague scratches at the page, but nothing felt like enough.

Donald Trump is nothing new. He is only the concentrated epitome of racism, sexism, classism, and xenophobia that has long held our country in its claws. His rise to power, however, has granted the more violent racist elements of the country a feeling of empowerment. It is not a small thing that Neo-Nazis and the KKK have both supported the small-handed creature that has now been inaugurated.

The cabinet that Donald chose, or more accurately the cabinet that the power directing his incoherent hate-filled gourd-of-a-body chose, is full of people whose careers have been based on denying climate change, electrocuting young members of the LGBTIQA community, and accumulating wealth at the expense of the marginalized populations. They do not care about me or the people I love.

Already, many of the people I love have lost their health insurance with the repeal of major parts of the ACA. For those who don’t understand what it’s like to wonder how you’ll pay for rent and groceries and utilities, let alone trying to pay for doctor’s visits or heaven forbid emergency surgery … it is demoralizing. It has made the concept of surviving in the United States, a high-wire act already for women and men of color, immigrants, non-binary people, indigenous folks, and the many, many others, an impossibility.

I have felt overwhelmed by the urge to act, the regret at not having acted sooner, the fear that my actions may cause further harm, the frustration of feeling that even when I do act it feels at times insignificant. Even my writing, which has carried me through my darkest hours, even my writing doesn’t feel sufficient for this challenge.

But I’m writing now. I am writing because I need to raise a voice, however imperfect it is, however misguided and idiotic my thinking, I need to speak out against those who do not respect human life. No matter how insufficient I may be, I need to write.

I do not support a Muslim registry. Freedom of religion was a foundation of this nation, and those who claim to be Christian should remember the persecution that once faced their own religion. And should also recall a time when people were isolated based on their religion and then slaughtered by the millions.

I will not allow this to happen while I am alive. I will not. I will fight any semblance of such a registry with everything I have.

I will not support the loss of female autonomy. Reproductive rights, already so fragile, are once again threatened. The most basic right granted by joining a society, physical autonomy, is on the line.

I will not support the continued persecution, imprisonment, and murder of people of color. There has never been an excuse for this enslavement and murder. The fact that this evil has continued essentially unchanged since the 1600s is an abomination. We live in a country that time and again has sacrificed its soul in order to perpetuate a racial hierarchy.

Black women are six times more likely to go to prison than white women. Rates of sexual assault against women of color are higher than the rates against white women. Young black men can be sent to prison for years without being charged. Young Hispanic men can be murdered because they “looked suspicious”.

My words fail. My words will never be enough. But I have to write anyway.

This world needs saving. This world needs changing. And I must use my words as a weapon. I will write fiction that does not evade. I will write fiction that eviscerates. I will write to enlighten and uplift, to tear down walls and build houses. I will write when I cannot write. I will write.

At my core, I believe in love. Love is the way to fight against seemingly insurmountable odds. Love saves those who cannot be saved, recovers what has been irrevocably lost. Love forces my fingers forward, draws my hand across the page, when everything inside of me wishes only to erase.

I love you. I love you completely. I will give whatever I have to protect you. I will put my body between you and the bullet, between you and the registry, between you and the forces that wish to destroy you.

I am small and stupid and insufficient. I do not know anything. But I am here for you. And you are why I am marching.

You are why I am writing.

A Note from Poor White America

I’m probably going to get SO MUCH backlash from this, but you know what, I stopped caring about ten days ago.

I’ve talked to a lot of people about this motherfucking election. And a lot of people I’ve talked to have noted that “racism/sexism/homophobia/utter disdain for the environment/etc. are bad BUT”

And then continue with a sob story about poor white Americans who are poor and white and American. And how we need to reach out to them right now. And worry about their futures.

Ignoring the fact that many white college-educated people voted for the king of rotting peaches, I have two responses.

First, where was this sympathy when you just thought we were ignorant cousin-marrying inbreds without any real political power? Why is it just showing up now to excuse us from any culpability in supporting a racist fascist dictator and his (how is it possible???) even worse cronies?

Second, I’m poor white America. I grew up in a family of six sharing a two bedroom, one bathroom house. I wore patches in my jeans and got my hair cut on the back porch well into middle school. I went to bed hungry most nights. It was a shock one day when I realized for the first time in a long time that I wasn’t hungry.

I’m not saying I’m the poorest. I’ve never known what it’s like to be homeless. But I know the poor rural white America you’re talking about. That’s where I grew up. I remember when the RV factory shut down and half the town was unemployed.

And GUESS WHAT. That still doesn’t excuse racism. That doesn’t excuse sexism. It doesn’t excuse anyone from being a good person.

To use that excuse (sorry “explanation”) is to ignore the fact that even when you’re poor you still have free will.

I have gone month after month where I wasn’t sure I’d be able to make rent. I’ve counted down the cups of rice left until the next paycheck. It’s disheartening and demoralizing. But I still knew that the enemy wasn’t immigrants or “the gays” or Planned Parenthood. I knew that the enemy was a capitalist society.

And, yes, I’ve had the advantage of a prestigious private education. But you know what? Even when I was an under-educated little runt, running around trying to hit boys because I wanted them to like me, I still stood up for gay rights and against racism. I never would have voted for the orange asshole no matter how bad things looked. And I know many other poor white Americans who agree.

Look, I’m very happy that wealthy liberals are now suddenly aware of the existence of rural America. It’s about fucking time. But don’t pretend like you “caring” about us now is anything other than a smokescreen to once again ignore that America is inherently racist, supports rape culture, and is intensely homophobic.

If you really do suddenly care now, then do something about it. It will probably arise that working for social justice for poor white Americans will require you to also work for poor black Americans and poor Asian Americans and poor Native Americans. If you really want justice for poor white America, then work for all of poor America.

I’m tired of hearing this argument as a way to avoid looking at the truth. You’re still responsible for your actions even if you’re poor. Yes, lets provide jobs, but lets not pretend that scapegoating is ever excusable.

The Five Stages of Acknowledging Whiteness

Note: I know a lot of times these conversations are framed as “black and white”. As if these were the only two races that exist in the United States. This is obviously not the case. There is a broad spectrum in which racism impacts people of color, each person and their intersection of identity will be impacted slightly different. I do not want to narrow the scope.

An Invitation

I realized recently that recognizing my whiteness followed along exactly with the five stages of grief. I’m sure I’m not the first person to realize this, but this is my personal blog, so I’m going to write about it anyhow.

I hope if you’re reading this and you are white, that you will not automatically shut down because I’m asking you to think about your whiteness. I know it may seem like I’m attacking you, but believe me I’m trying to invite you in.

I am a white person from rural Indiana. I have done and continue to do racist things. I am trying to stop this in myself and in others, and I know you can join me in this. I know from personal experience that it’s terrifying to interrogate your whiteness, but you can do it.

Let’s begin.

1.Denial

This is the stage where I spent most of my life. And a stage where I see many other people continuing to live. This stage is epitomized by ideas like “I don’t see race” or “I’m white so race doesn’t affect me”. It is saying things like “white privilege no longer exists” or “racism isn’t real, you’re just overreacting”.

If you see yourself in one of these categories, I’d like you to do one of the following things: attend a class on race history in the United States or read a book about race relations in the United States all the way through. In some way, I’d like you to challenge yourself, just for a number of hours, to explore whether or not these things that the majority of the population are saying, that our professors and philosophers are saying, that your friends and loved ones are saying, might be true.

Or message me. I will have a conversation with you. If you are genuinely interested in listening and being listened to, I will have this conversation with you.

It is difficult to confront the truth about the United States. It is difficult to confront the truth about ourselves. As white people, we may want to ignore these truths to protect ourselves, but as a wise old white man once said “the unexamined life is not worth living”.

Please, in my least argumentative and least condescending voice, recognize that the racial hierarchy in the United States benefits you as a white person.

2. Anger

So you’ve come to realize that you are white and that white is a race constructed by society the same as any other. You’ve realized that by being born white, not through any fault of your own, you benefit from the color of your skin.

You benefit by avoiding being arrested for petty crime or misdemeanors. You benefit by having a higher likelihood of getting hired for a job. You benefit from the sheer psychological support of seeing your face everywhere, your voice on every radio or podcast or whatever you kids listen to. You know that you can be the President. That was never in question.

So you’ve recognized all of these things. And you feel angry.

I remember when I finally took the life-changing course “African American History”, the first thing I felt after fear was anger. I was angry that I had been lied to my whole life. Angry that I had fallen for the bait. Angry that I was a part of the problem. Angry angry angry.

And this was good, because I had moved on to the next step. But we run the risk of misdirecting this anger.

A lot of the time after the revelation, I felt irrationally angry at People of Color. I was angry because I was reminded of what a piece of shit I am, what a piece of shit my whole culture is. I was furious. I think this is where many angry white people actually live. I don’t think they are unaware of racial realities, but I think they are so blinded by their anger that they choose to hide in denial again, or worse, direct the anger at POC.

But that anger should never be directed at the victim, the anger must be directed at the systems of oppression. And the anger must be channeled and not used as a way to shut down. (See below for a more in-depth discussion of white emotions/fragility)

3. Bargaining

The next step, if you have come to acknowledge your anger, and agree to channel it towards positive action, is often bargaining.

I think of the conversations I’ve had with very intelligent and caring people who say things like “But we’ve come so far” or “It’s so much better now”. It’s a fine line between taking courage from the progress we’ve made and allowing it to make you complacent.

We as white people, myself SO VERY MUCH INCLUDED, often fall into the trap of being “good” white people. We are aware of our race, we are therefore not racist, maybe we have retweeted something or liked something and we get that little rush of adrenaline telling us we’ve done enough.

But we haven’t. I’m sorry to tell you there is no “enough”.

I know I fall back into this stage a lot. I think, “Oh, look, I wrote another blogpost and my friends liked it. I’ve done so much today. I can now sit back and pat myself on the head.”

Do not stay in this stage of bargaining. Do not stay here, where everything looks okay if you squint your eyes. Keep moving forward, friends. Take sustained action.

4. Depression

I have long had struggles with depression, as I think is apparent by now. If you’ve read the blog at all. So this one is a real doozy for me.

This is also, I think , where a lot of white people fall into the territory of white fragility.

Listen, as a human being, you have emotions, whatever your race, gender, or other identities, you have emotions.

It is critical to your survival and growth as a human being to recognize these emotions. It is good that you recognize when you are feeling triggered, saddened, hurt, angered, because these are signs that something is impacting you. BUT there is a big difference between recognizing your emotions and letting them control your actions.

I recently had a very close friend call me out for making a compromising decision regarding race and my culpability in supporting racism. At first I felt attacked. My immediate response was to shut down and rationalize away all the things she had brought up. “Well, but she didn’t understand that–” or “It’s not fair to say–“. I wrote some things in my journal. I cried. I texted my support group.

And then I pulled myself together and recognized that she was right. I made a mistake. I hurt someone I care about deeply. I compromised the progress I have been making as an activist for racial justice. And I resolved to change my actions moving forward.

It is always important to recognize your emotions, but we need to treat them like a wave. Let them pass over and through you.

My emotions are not the most important part of this process. I am not the most important part of this process. Although I need to be a part of this movement, this movement is not about me.

It goes along with being a white ally. Supporting without taking up space. Saving and channeling your emotions in a way that does not counteract what you are trying to achieve.

You will feel depressed when you recognize the great pain and hatred that exists in this country. You will feel depressed when you recognize some of that pain and hatred has come from you. You are human, you are white, but you are human. It makes sense that you will feel this deep grief.

But watch it like a wave, and then move forward.

5. Acceptance Activation

Finally, there is activation. I already wrote that we as white people must activate, so I’ll attempt to be brief here.

Activation is the final part of our process as white people with race, but it does not mean it is a stopping point.

Race impacts all aspects of our lives in the United States, whether we realize it or not. So, I’m not advocating that everyone quits their job and takes to the street (although that would be pretty cool, I’m just saying), I’m saying that we should do what I’ve read in so many wonderful articles, take our knowledge of race and spread it to our fellow white Americans.

It is not the POC that we need to convince they are under attack. It is our white friends and neighbors, roommates and relatives. These are the people we need to be talking to, which is difficult.

I hate conflict and I hate difficult conversations, but as I noted earlier, this isn’t about me. This is about achieving a society where people are treated equally regardless of their race and other marginalized identities.

Here is a guide that is a good place to start. There are many many many others out there.

Keep doing the good work you are doing. Keep being the good person you are being. Interrogate yourself. Talk with your fellow white people. Keep fighting. Keep fighting. Keep fighting.

And please know I write this with all the love I have in my heart. We are making mistakes and we are learning from them and I am here for you.

Dear Moderate White People

We need to talk. I’m sorry we didn’t talk about this sooner.

You need to radicalize.

Listen, I was once one of you, in many ways I still am, there’s not an end to progressing, there’s only achieving all that you can in your lifetime.

It is easy to think that you are not a part of this. You probably didn’t vote for the racist rapist cheeto, you might have even voted for Hillary, but that is not enough. Maybe you are a woman, so you feel this on some level, but if you are not committing right now to changing your behavior and the society around you, then you are part of the problem.

1. Racism is ingrained in the fabric of the United States.

I grew up in rural Indiana, and I used to believe that there were only Racists with a capital “R”. I believed that as long as I didn’t hate anyone actively, didn’t use the “n” word, didn’t threaten people, then I was fine. But there is so much more to it than that.

As a white person, by sitting silently, I continue the status quo.

In the original constitution, black people were worth only three-quarters of a person, in reality they were treated as even less. We cannot ignore the fact that slavery took place, that it was based on race, and that the reverberations of those atrocities are still being perpetuated today.

Segregation continued in states until the 1960s, that’s only fifty years ago, well below a full lifespan. Interracial marriage was illegal until 1967.

And let’s not forget that black people are arrested and imprisoned at rates almost seven times greater than white people. If they are arrested at all rather than being shot and murdered in the streets.

2. The narrative vs. the truth

It is difficult, if you are white and don’t often encounter people of color, to imagine that this can really be happening. You imagine that the world is somewhat fair. And for you, as a white person, it usually is (unless you are disabled, poor, neuro-atypical, queer, trans-gender, etc.).

Perhaps, though, one of your other identities once made you feel unsafe. As a woman, for example, I was once groped in public.

After being groped, I felt dissociated from the world around me. I felt weak, unloved, and scared. When I tried to talk to male friends about it, they often dismissed it as a one off event, they didn’t understand why I was taking it so hard.

For me, in my lived reality as a woman, I knew that this was not an isolated event, that this behavior was a part of a much larger narrative, that women are traditionally undervalued, under-represented, and disbelieved. That sexual assault and sexual violence occur at much higher rates for women (though I do not want to discount the seriousness and trauma that happens for male victims of sexual violence).

If you’re a white woman, maybe you can relate to this.

If so then you have a vague, skewed picture of being a person of color in the United States. Except that white women are traditionally valued higher than women of color.

So imagine on top of being a woman you are also never represented in media, or when you are represented you’re shown as “a thug”, “a criminal”, “a rapist”, “a welfare queen” or any number of other short-hand for being black or brown. Imagine that not only are you not understood by men, you are also not understood by women. You are not understood by the entire population.

You can’t go to the police when you come up against harassment or discrimination because you run a serious risk of becoming victimized all over again.

If you’re Asian American or Latinx American you are constantly threatened with deportation, even if you are a citizen. As a person of color, your language, your heritage, your appearance, your family, everything about you is mocked, criticized, and misconstrued on a daily basis.

Every day you are engaged in conversations with well-meaning people about how good your English is, asked where you’re “really” from, told that you must be particularly good at one subject or another.

Every day you are engaged with less well-meaning people who tell you to “go back home”, when you always thought that this was your home.

You are attacked by words and by actions. Every. Single Day.

This is what is happening. Every day. For a person of color in the United States. In 2016.

If you’re tired as a white woman, imagine being a woman of color.

If you’re tired as a moderate white man, imagine being a man of color.

Most importantly, you must empathize with your fellow citizens. I know it is difficult when the narratives you have been fed are full of criminalized, one-sided stories of people of color. And you have no way of counter-acting this narrative because you’re surrounded by white people. But people of color are first a foremost people. They are good people and they are bad people, they are silly and serious. They laugh and cry the same as any other people in this crazy little world.

I’m asking you to treat them as you would any other human being.

3. EXCEPT

Historically and currently, people of color are not being treated as any other human being by the country as a whole. The economic depression in many populations of color is the direct result of discrimination by white people. To continue “business as usual” is to continue a system based on the subjugation of black and brown people. See point 1.

4. THEREFORE

We must radicalize in order to overturn the system that continues to harm people of color through economic strictures, criminalizing petty misdeeds, use of unnecessary force and murder by police officers, attempting to dissuade voters, high incarceration, misrepresentation by media outlets, and the many other weapons that the nation has at its disposal.

This system was put in place to keep white people in power. If you are a moderate white person and you do not actively fight to over-turn the system, then you are a part of the problem.

White silence keeps the status quo.

5. So, my dear moderate white people

It is time to act. You will be uncomfortable, that is good. Change is often uncomfortable. You may feel guilty, that is okay, do not let it stop you from doing the hard and necessary work. You may come to a point where you feel self-loathing, do not let it immobilize you.

You are fighting for your sisters and your brothers. You are fighting for your children. You are fighting for your own morality, for your very own soul.

Most importantly you are fighting.

This is your battle, and this is your call to arms. Stand by the people of color in your country, when you see protests, do not dismiss them as “rioters”, understand that they are fighting for their very survival.

When you see your co-workers, your compatriots frightened or harassed, step in, use your whiteness as a shield. If you know people whose citizenship is in danger, offer your support to help them through the immigration process. If you see people of color looking worried, offer to listen and then actually listen.

And call out the white people around you. If your friend is spreading hate speech, you are culpable as well. If your co-worker is acting out of ignorance, then you are as well. Talk to your friends and co-workers and communities. Stop hate speech and violence, sign petitions, protest, write letters, act.

I would not be writing this if I didn’t believe you had the capacity for good. So go out and fight with all the goodness in your heart.

 

Who Controls the Narrative: Thoughts on Being a Woman, Luke Cage, and the Presidential Election

*I was working on this before the election and I wish I had published it back then, but I hope it’ll still be relevant.*

**Content warning: discussion of sexual violence**

Narratives are what we tell ourselves to make sense of a disparate and confusing universe. Narratives have power. Narratives shape reality, our sense of identity, and how we empathize (or don’t) with other people.

When you control narratives you are taking on great power, and, if you are a moral person seeking to forward social justice (big if, I know), you are taking on great responsibility as well.

Thought 1

I am a woman. And it seems that everyone has an idea of what that means. And moreover everyone would like to tell me what it means. Or shout it at me while I’m trying to get to work.

Some of the most frustrating things I hear as a woman are from very well-intentioned people who truly have my best interests at heart. They are seemingly innocuous things such as: “You’re walking home at night?” “You’re traveling alone?” “You’re living where?” “You’re going on a date with someone from Tinder?” “You’re moving across the country with no job or housing lined up and you know absolutely nothing about the area other than what you picked up from a thirty minute visit a year ago?” (The last one might be me-specific.)

I in no way want to downplay the seriousness of sexual violence or gender-driven abuse. Honestly at this point I’m surprised I haven’t been raped yet. I feel like it’s only a matter of time.

Which is the problem.

Rape is a terrible reality for many women. 1 in 3 globally, 1 in 5 in the United States.

But it shouldn’t be considered the norm. Even by me in my own head. Pardon my French but it is FUCKED UP that I think it’s inevitable that I will be raped.

This is the narrative that I’ve grown up with. Men rape and women are raped. Men are violent and will hurt me if I don’t live according to a very strict set of rules that control where and when I go places. According to the narrative, if I don’t behave according to the rules of an acceptable respectable woman, if I drink or wear the wrong clothes, I will be raped.

HOW FUCKED UP IS THAT. This is the narrative that goes through my head EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

I’m not exaggerating. I’m not being dramatic.Women live in constant fear. Every day. Every interaction with men. We are weighing the consequences of our actions, judging whether we are within the bounds of the narrative.

This, we are told, is to be expected and accepted.  We are told it so often that we believe it, accept it, acquiesce to it.

There are so many reasons to throw out this narrative.

First, it isn’t even accurate. The rules don’t keep us safe. It doesn’t matter how we dress or act. We can still be targeted due to our gender.

Second, the fact is that anyone is capable of committing sexual violence and it is possible for anyone to be a victim. To say otherwise is to silence an already horribly marginalized part of our population.

Third, women are powerful. We do not have to live in fear. Living in fear is counter-productive to all the things I’m trying to accomplish. Particularly traveling alone. I love traveling alone. I’ve done it in the United States and abroad, during the day and the night. I will continue to do it. I love taking walks at night. I will continue to do it. I refuse to continue buying into a bankrupt narrative that doesn’t work for me. I can create better stories than that.

Thought 2

Now, let’s talk about Luke Cage. The best show on television right now. I don’t want to hear about Stranger Things or Breaking Bad or any of the other white-washed shows out there. I want to talk about Luke Cage. Because finally we see a narrative being controlled by someone other than a white man (0r even a white woman). It has a cast of black actors, shows multi-dimensional black men and women facing multi-dimensional problems. Not to mention the star-studded cast of black musicians. This is an example of the narrative being controlled by and for a minority. And it’s brilliant.

It’s certainly not the first of its kind. God, no. But it’s getting some well-deserved attention and is a particularly relevant, freeing, and constructive. Not to mention it’s also a hell-of-a-lot more interesting than the same “white man struggling with his fragile white masculinity” story we’ve been force-fed the last two centuries.

Thought 3

And so we come rambling-ly along to the current presidential election. I already wrote a piece about it. And I stand by what I said: even if Hillary Clinton has a troubling past, I believe that she’s willing to listen to her constituent. I believe she can change. I don’t believe the same can be said of the other guy. He has sexually assaulted numerous women and is likely to continue doing so. His hate speech is horribly destructive and inhumane.

I know that many conservatives are frightened. I know that they don’t want to vote for the corrupt wealthy elite (even though that’s what the other guy is). I know that they are familiar with and comforted by the narrative of a white man triumphing.

Which brings us back to point number one.

Women should be afraid, people think, so why is one running for president? She should be cowering, not attempting to hold public office. And why is she in support of minorities or immigrants, when all the minorities or immigrants they see are bit characters, stereotypes, or villains?

We need a new narrative. For women. For POC. For POC who are women and non-binary and queer in particular. We need to be writing and consuming and producing media that tells stories about and for these people. Because if we don’t we’ll continue to be trapped in this horror world, where women must live in fear, and men are trapped in a glass cage of emotion. Where POC are sent to prison or killed because they look like “a big, bad dude”. Where there are no “happy endings” for queer POC or queer people in general.

There is a mural on a wall in West Oakland, I see it every day when I ride the BART to work. It says “Culture is a Weapon”. I love this mural, and I take hope in it.

White culture, after doing our best to exterminate all other peoples on this continent, has sought to enslave or erase all other narratives. The power of Hollywood has done a lot to make this a reality, but it has not succeeded.

There are MANY wonderful examples of positive narratives, movies, TV shows, this thing called books, that exist already, and it’s our job to find out and support these voices. (Side note, it would be amazing if we could compile a list of these in the comments.) Let’s fight back with our votes, with our money, with our viewing.

We can change the narrative, not only through creating, but also by consuming. Think about what narrative you want to live in and pursue it.

Why Everyone EVERYONE Needs to Vote for Hillary Clinton

Friends, I have kept silent this election, mostly in stunned bewilderment. I thought it was funny at first, that this hateful peach of a man was running for presidency. Yes, I laughed at the farce of it, at the way it pointed out the flaws in our political system. Yes, the corruption, yes, the humor.

But it has stopped being funny. It is now deadly serious in the most literal definition of this word.

I am going to do my best, reasonably and rationally, to argue that we all, regardless of political background, beliefs, or emotions must vote for Hillary Clinton this election. I know that my arguments will largely go unheard, will largely be ignored, that people who have emotionalized their politics are unlikely to listen. But still I need to make this effort, because I do not want to live in a world where Donald Trump is the president of the United States of America. And I want to say that I did EVERYTHING I could to ensure that it would not happen.

So, I will do my best to unravel the major arguments I’ve seen against Hillary Clinton and for Donald Trump. Then I will scream into a pillow for a while since I’ve had to type that sentence.

1.) “I’m a Bernie supporter, and I’m so pissed off at the corruption of the political system that I’m going to vote for Trump just to prove a point”

I have a lot of very intelligent friends who I have heard make this argument. Largely spurred on by this article or articles like it. Which raises legitimate points about Clinton’s problematic past.

As with ANY politician in the United States government, Clinton has voted on bills that she and the country went on to regret. In specific the 1994 crime bill accompanied by the categorizing of young black men as “super-predators”. This is not something I take lightly. Everyone should read this article about Clinton’s track record with regards to African Americans. She needs to change, face up to her hurtful politics in the past, and listen to her constituents. All things I believe she is capable of doing.

However, it should be noted that most of the policies enacted were BILL Clinton and not Hillary. And anyone who is going to make the argument that Hillary is simply going to be another Bill may also remember the time when people argued not to give women the vote because they would simply vote for whatever their husband voted for.

Regardless, I do not expect that there is anyone with political expertise, who has been in politics as long as Clinton has will not have a unspoiled record. I also believe, perhaps most importantly, that Hillary will listen to advisors and constituents, that Hillary actually and fundamentally is trying. Yes, in the same way that your aunt who doesn’t quite understand about gender pronouns is trying. It’s still really incredibly hurtful, but at least you know that they are trying and that fundamentally they care about you.

Which leads to segment b. of this point. People voting for Trump to prove that the system is corrupt. If you truly believe that the system is corrupt, don’t vote at all rather than voting for Trump. If we elect Donald Trump as POTUS, we are giving up on the American experiment.We are saying that we have lost faith in our political system entirely, that we have given up on being a country that strives for equality and inclusivity.

But more importantly than some collective myth, if we elect DT, we are saying that we do not care for Latinx who have been called rapists and continually slandered throughout his campaign. We say that we do not care for women who have charged Trump with being an actual rapist. In addition to all the other horrible anti-women statements and actions that Trump has perpetrated. We say that we are willing to give up on all the positive changes we have seen because we couldn’t have the future we wanted.

2.) “At least Donald Trump is honest about being a bigot. At least he’s not a PC candidate.”

First, let’s talk about the idea and term of “political correctness”. Here’s the thing, I believe in honest and open conversations. I believe in getting to the uncomfortable truth of what is happening in this country. The prison-industrial complex, the support of rape culture, the Islamophobia, classism, racism, sexism. By all means, let’s talk about it. Let’s not shy away from difficult conversations.

But let’s have them be conversations based in respect, in a general willingness to listen and respond. Not a shouting match to see who can say the more hateful and idiotic statement. Political correctness is about recognizing and supporting people who have been continually traumatized by the verbal and physical hierarchy of our country. It is not about silencing people. It is about acknowledging that not all people experience language in a privileged way. All people should be protected from hate speech that has its roots in our violent past.

Secondly, PC is just a smokescreen. The same people who applaud DT for his “non-PC” methods are often the same who point out Clinton’s “super-predator” comment.

3.) “People are just voting for Hillary because she’s a woman. What a stupid thing to do.”

It’s very difficult to unpack this one for me. Partly because for me it is (somewhat) accurate. But here’s the thing, if you don’t believe that Hillary Clinton is qualified to be president of the United States, you aren’t likely to believe anyone is. I’m not saying she’s best. I’m saying she’s most-qualified. If you heard Obama’s killer speech at the DNC you know what I’m talking about.

Additionally, YES IT IS TIME THAT WE HAD A FEMALE PRESIDENT. It took us this long to elect a black president. Let’s not regress when we have a chance to move forward. We could make history again.

For every woman who has felt afraid to walk alone at night, who has been told she shouldn’t travel alone, that she won’t survive in a STEM field, that she is nothing more than her looks, that she should smile more, that she was asking for it, that she won’t be believed, that the world is too much, that she is too weak, that she is too aggressive, that she is the wrong kind of woman. For all those little girls out there with aching hearts, for all the women who fought for the right to go to school, to vote in elections, to be seen as people.

For all of them:

IT IS TIME WE HAD A FEMALE PRESIDENT.

And I’m not going to be bullied by the argument that it is somehow silly for me to vote based on gender, that it is irrational and irresponsible. People never vote for rational reasons. It has always been and always will be emotional. That’s why the candidates always go for either hope or fear-based arguments. Because they play our emotions, and they work.

4.) “I’m a Bernie supporter and I’m voting for no one. Because Hillary would ruin America and Trump would ruin America. It’s okay, Trump won’t win.” (Additionally, voting for Bernie/Jill Stein/etc.) 

Please, I beg you, for me and for whatever future you hope to have for yourself, vote for Hillary Clinton. She will listen to her advisors, she knows how to compromise, she has the support of people whose opinions you respect. She is respected internationally, is not an alleged rapist, and can make it through multi-syllabic words. No, she is not perfect, but I believe she will move us in the right direction.

If DT becomes president we are saying goodbye to rights for our climate, black people, immigrants, Latinx, LBGTQ, lower SES, and international relations. You will essentially be giving up on the ideals you claim to espouse. You are saying that all the work that your candidates did was for nothing.

5.) “I’m a Trump supporter because he’s honest and he makes money and he is tough and he supports American values and gives us a vision. Etc.”

To read what white wealthy cis-male privilege sounds like, give this a read.

So if you believe that sort of stuff, I doubt you’d have made it this far through the article. But just in case you did. Trump does not have a firm grasp on reality. He has lied so many times, he has gone bankrupt so many times, he has relied on hatred and fear and demagoguery, and the long-ingrained idea that because there is (slowly oh so very very slowly) starting to be more inclusion of black Americans, Native Americans, Latinx Americans, Asian Americans, LBGTQ Americans, etc. in our society, that this somehow corrupts the pure white bread America we all know and love. He spouts hate and fear.

So, I guess if that’s what you believe to be the core of the United States: hatred and fear rather than hope and love, then, yes, vote for Trump.

Conclusion:

The United States is not a perfect country. God knows I’ve cried this year. God knows I’ve been angry, unable to sleep more times than I can count. The shooting at Orlando, the Stanford rape case, the shootings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. There is so much that I hate about this country, its history, its racism, its patriarchal capitalistic society.

But I believe it can change and grow. I am not ready to cast it, and myself and everyone around me, to the wolves just yet. I believe that we have made progress over the past 600 years, too little progress, yes, but still progress.

Hillary Clinton is not a perfect candidate. But I believe Hillary Clinton is also capable of overcoming her racist past, just as the United States is. I believe that she will listen to her advisors and to her voters, and that she will work for what we pressure her to work for. I’m not saying she’ll do it on her own, but I believe she will respond where we push her.

I cannot say the same of Donald Trump. I do not believe he has any idea of how to lead, to listen, or to be a decent human being, let alone the president of the United States.

If we do not go out to vote for Hillary Clinton, if we do not do our best to convince others to do the same, then we are giving up on all the progress that we and those we respect have made.

So, probably everyone will yell a lot of things at me. Which is fine. I’m posting my opinions on the internet. I don’t claim to know everything and this article may not speak to or for everyone. I also reserve the right not to respond, because I sort of have a life.

Yes, absolutely, I’m with her.

Black Lives Matter

CW: Discussion of murder, racial violence, sexual assault.

Was going to write a post about my move to California, but police officers are murdering citizens. again.

Sorry, did I wake up in an alternate reality where the police are hired to hunt down black men? Oh, wait. No, that’s just the United States.

I need to stop being shocked every time this happens. Every time. This isn’t anything new. It was written into our constitution. A black person is worth 3/5s of a white person. That was in the constitution. Right there.

This is nothing new. White people have been killing black people since we enslaved them and brought them here to work our cotton fields. Since we raped them and then enslaved those children. Since we took their languages, took their cultures, stole their music, stole their clothing. Since we did everything we could to beat them down and break them.

We declared war on black people when the first slave ship arrived on our shores.

No, white people, we can’t hide behind the curtain of “But I’m a good white person. I’m not racist.” If you aren’t actively fighting against the system that your ancestors created, the same system that benefits you every. single. day. the same system that protects you from seeing people like you strangled, shot, imprisoned like animals, if you aren’t fighting against it, then you are part of it. Our silence is the strongest weapon that the white supremacy has.

So stop being shocked and start voting, petitioning, protesting, educating yourself, moving, shouting, screaming. Write a new future. Create a new narrative.

Imagine a world where police officers are selected from their communities (dare I say… elected?). A world where officers are trained to educate people about the laws, the systems that hold us in place, mental health issues, and non-violence.

You have to believe in it before it can exist. “Reality” and “practicality” are as real and practical as we believe them to be.

Believe in a world where we don’t wake up to senseless, infuriating, painful, horrifying deaths. Every. Single. Day. Believe in a world where we love one another, where that loving overcomes the scars and hatreds of the past. A radical love. A deep love. A love that believes in change.

It’s been 400 years. 400 years. 400 years and not a day more.

Black. Lives. Matter.

 

White Self-Hatred is Not Enough

TW: discussion of racial violence and self-harm

For a long time I’ve hated my skin. I hate the way it looks: all pale and pimply, puckering in the cold, burning in the sun. I hate its translucency, how it reveals my deepest secrets to the world. But most of all I hate what it represents: genocide, slavery, the KKK, Donald Trump, oppression, colonialism and murder. I look at my skin and I see internment camps, the Trail of Tears, and black people gunned down in the street.

I hate that this skin grants me privilege, privilege not based on anything I’ve done, but based purely on my ancestors at one point acquiring guns, boats, and a feeling of racial superiority. Some days I wish more than anything to peel off this horrid ghostly hide and dance around as a skeleton laughing maniacally at the idiocy of it all.

But I don’t.

I have problems with self-loathing anyway, a history of self-harm related to my struggle with depression. I know that self-harm, while at times a temporary relief, is ultimately useless. It does not change the underlying issues. It does not balance the chemicals in the brain. It does not convince me of my worth as a human or make me feel loved or cared for. Self-harm, like self-hatred, is only a way for me to feel slightly better for a very short time.

And in the struggle for justice for all people, self-hatred is equally worthless. White guilt is simply a way for me to distract from the real issue, a way for me to feel better without having to do any of the work that radical change requires. “Look at me, I feel bad!” does not absolve me of the racist thoughts I still sometimes have. It does not negate my past. It does not bring anyone back from the grave. It does not vote for better politicians. It does not educate my fellow white people. “Look at me, I feel bad!” is nothing but a slight of hand. Self-pity and self-hatred is not enough to create radical change.

Radical change requires radical love. Love of my brothers, sisters, and non-binary relatives who are struggling for the cause. And even love of the ignorant who deny them justice. James Baldwin wrote in his essay “A Letter to my Nephew”: “But these men are your brothers, your lost younger brothers, and if the word ‘integration’ means anything, this is what it means, that we with love shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it…” (Italics added for emphasis).

This does not mean forgetting their sins or allowing the white-cis-patriarchy to continue unchanged, it means forcing them to be better people for their sake and ours.

I am not a perfect ally. Such a thing does not exist. I am a coward and I often hide behind my shame and self-pity. But I will not allow myself this escape anymore.

I will listen and listen and then listen some more. I will pay attention. I will vote. I will read and read and read. I will correct myself when I fail. I will correct those around me when they fail. I will struggle with my racial identity every day, knowing that having the choice not to is white privilege at its pinnacle.

I will continue to look for more to do. I will not give up or give in to self-hatred. Because hatred of any kind is not enough. It is a quick burning flame that leaves nothing behind but ashes. And I want to live in a world that is vibrant and alive.

All the love.