Gearing Up for 2017

Season’s greetings, everyone. 

However you choose to celebrate this time of year, or not, I wish you a moment of renewal, reflection, and recentering. This year has certainly brought its challenges, and it looks like the next will bring many more. But I feel confident in our collective ability to fight, fight, fight injustice with everything we’ve got to the very end. 

In the meantime, may you continually remember your self-care and find moments of solace in  the midst of the struggle. 

For me during the next couple of weeks, I’ll be enjoying time with family, time of laughter and joy and peace, time of quiet reflection and meditation, time of marveling at the miracle of radical, justice-bringing, oppression-fighting love peeping out from a dirty stable. 

And I’ll be sending good thoughts with lots of love to all of you. 

See you in 2017. 

Me, lucking out with a beautiful hat that perfectly matches my sweater, at a white elephant gift exchange

F@ck you, ALA

After all we’ve heard and continue hearing about the current U.S. administration—the proof of known and encouraged Russian hacking of the election; the sexual assault admissions; the racism; the Islamophobia of planned Muslim registries and internment; the xenophobia of mass deportations; the racism; the sexism; the homophobia; the transphobia; the business conflicts; the nepotism; the proliferation of “fake news”; the parade of horribles filling the Senate, including union-busters, and known white supremacists, and whole-hearted misogynists—after all this, a representative from the American Libraries Association Washington Office sent this email to the ALA Council list:

Screen Shot 2016-12-15 at 10.10.15 AM.png

What. The. Actual. Literal. F@ck????

Here’s my response:

screen-shot-2016-12-15-at-10-11-27-am

You all may remember the bullsh!t collaborator statements that ALA administration released immediately after the election and the equally bullsh!t non-apology, non-response statement from ALA President Julie Todaro. Back when things were already horrible, but still more was to come. At the time, I didn’t say much because I was suffering post-election fatigue, but amazing people like my friend Emily Drabinski and the incredible Sarah Houghton made it very clear that this kind of fascist ass-kissing would not be tolerated.

ALA membership was livid about those statements, and we made our feelings very well known. We took to our listservs and social media and we made phone calls and sent direct emails to ALA board members and administrators. I thought we made clear how utterly unacceptable collaboration with this administration would be. That more was at stake then just the funding of libraries. That this administration was nothing like previous administrations.

I guess not.

The reality is, and has always been, that ALA does not care about its members or their communities. ALA does not care about our code of ethics or core professional values. ALA talks about it a lot, but ALA does not care about diversity and inclusion and justice. Not really. ALA cares only about its bottom line: funding libraries. 

Which is fine in and of itself. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to fund libraries. We all do. But nothing exists in a vacuum and context is everything. The truth is ALA will gladly sell out its members and their communities for this bottom line. It will collude with hate-filled fascists. It will trample all over its values. It will spit in the faces of the marginalized. All in a hot Washington Office minute. 

This email from ALA, and the attitude behind it, is a slap in the face to all its members, regardless of their political leanings. And to those members and communities already the targets of oppression, it is a punch in the face. With knuckledusters. 

My ALA does not collude with fascists. My ALA does not normalize hate. My ALA does not sell me and mine on the auction block to the highest bidder for a few bucks to fund a library. This is not my ALA. 

F@ck this ALA. 

Performing Whiteness with “Little Black Tombo”

This past summer I read Lois Benjamin’s book The Black Elite (check out my Recommended Reading list) and in it she quotes a story written by Arthur Hoppe, a white columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. The story was published in 1968 in the midst of the black civil rights movement.

In the story of “Little Black Tombo,” the title character, an enslaved boy, wants “to be free, to be equal and to be a man.” So a group of characters known as “some Nice White People” set out to help Tombo achieve his goals. First, they change the laws and offer him freedom from slavery. But Tombo still doesn’t feel equal to them. Then, they help him secure an education. To no avail, though with education, Tombo decides to change his name to “Tom.” Then, they change the laws to allow Tom to purchase a home in their neighborhoods. That still doesn’t work. And so, they conclude,

“The problem,” said some Nice White People, “is sociological. You must dress like us, talk like us, and think like us. Then, obviously, you will be equal to us.”

Tom does all this, and while he is never accepted as an equal of the Nice White People, he does get invited to their cocktail parties and asked to share his opinion “but only about racial matters” as the story goes.

Reading through this story made me think about the work I’ve been doing in examining the ways in which people of color perform whiteness in order to gain and maintain privilege in our society. When I wrote my article on whiteness for ITLWTLP, I was saddened by the number of POC, most of whom enjoying some privilege or other, who responded so defensively to the idea that performing whiteness is a natural part of our defense in a racially-charged world. They wanted to believe that their ability to enjoy the fruits of their hard work and boot-strap-pulling was solely a matter of their own innate, racially neutral, color-blind efforts.

And I get that. I used to feel the same way. But the fact is that, like Little Black Tombo, we all reach the point in this white supremacist world when we realize we have to be a person of color-but-not-too-much-color in order to get ahead. We have our own well-intentioned, liberal-leaning, self-proclaimed allies of Nice White People subtly encouraging us to “dress like [them], talk like [them], and think like [them].” And when it’s necessary, we do just that.

There’s nothing wrong with being a POC performing whiteness for self-preservation. At least, there’s nothing wrong in the sense of self-blame or shame for POC. We live in the world of white supremacy, and we do what we must to survive. In the black community, we are often taught the importance of wearing “The Mask” to get in the door and up the ladder, so that once we’re there, we can change things up and make things better for everyone else.

6114275452_269e292b0d_z

“Vergessen” by Rubina V. via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

And that’s the key. We perform whiteness without shame because we’re answering to a higher calling, if you will; we’re doing so for reasons that reach beyond ourselves. It’s one of many strategies in our mission to force change in our white supremacist world. So, while I perform whiteness without shame to move up in the world, as I move to each new level, I also shout out against the white supremacy that requires my performance in the first place. It’s a multi-level approach in my radicalism. Each level I clear, I strive to make less racist for the next person coming through in the hope that the need for performing whiteness can be done away with altogether.

One last note: It’s important to realize that performing whiteness and having privilege are not the same. We, as POC, can have privilege on our own merit. We’re smart and charismatic and talented and brilliant people. We don’t have to be white for that. But in some cases, in far too many cases, we have to perform whiteness in order to have our smarts, charisma, talent, and brilliance fully recognized. We can work hard and gain privilege, be it financial or educational or something else. But more often than not, we have to perform whiteness successfully to be able to enjoy the fruits of that hard-won privilege.

So, we do. For now. But the struggle continues and the struggle is real. And with the way things have been going lately, they’re probably only going to get worse before they get better.

By the way, in the end of the story, Tom changes his name to “Tombo X,” grows a beard, wears dark glasses, and shouts, “Black is beautiful” before hitting a couple of the Nice White People over the head. When they complain with “deeply hurt” white feelings, the response goes,

“It’s funny,” said Tombo X, smiling, “but at last I feel like a man.”

 

Self-Care Warfare

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

~Audre Lorde

Hi, friends. 

I’ve been a bit quiet on the social media front over the last few weeks. That’s because I’ve been reveling in self-care:

I roasted a turkey and baked my grandmother Muz’s famous mac ‘n cheese. 

I teased and giggled with my little sister and talked video games and grad school with my baby brother. 

I watched football with my dad. (Well, not really. He watched and I read a book and checked in the score every now and then.)

I went Christmas shopping with my mom. 

I gave treats and belly rubs to my furry nibling. 

And then I joined my favorite people in the world to celebrate the 60th birthday of the queen of our lives. (She looks fantastic. So glad those good genes gave birth to me.)

Long live the Queen!


Now I’m on my way back to mycity  and my work and my day-to-day life. 

About a month ago, I said I was going to grieve and then go back to the fight. Looking at my activities over the last few weeks, it might seem like I’ve been just chilling, taking a break. But don’t get it twisted. As librarian, poet, black queer and feminist activist Audre Lorde made clear, self-care is “an act of political warfare.”

This is wisdom that goes way back for my people and many other marginalized folks, I’m sure: the best way to defeat your enemy is to live and love your living, even as you fight. That’s why so many mistakenly embrace the image of the happy slave as full historical truth. They miss the acts of intense physical, spiritual, and emotional warfare that looms behind those smiles: My enslaved ancestors weren’t happy or even accepting of their lot. But a major part of their strength to fight back, a powerful weapon in their arsenal, was their ability to continue to live, love, and laugh with all the dignity the oppressor tried to withhold from them. 

And that is what I do today. With every kiss, hug, shout of laughter, giggle, and burble of joy, I shoot a flaming F— YOU! at those who would try to deny me my joy, peace, and justice. I fight and I smile as I fight, not because the fighting is enjoyable but because this is my life and it is worth living. It is mine. 

So, I revel in my self-care. And I encourage you all to do the same. Sharpen those weapons and fill your enemies hearts with fear. 

Love and peace to you all. 

My favorite people on the planet.