On Antifa and Social Justice Struggle

The anti-fascist resistance groups that have been fighting the public displays of hate and oppression of white supremacists and other Trumpsters have been declared “domestic terrorists.” Apparently, some of their tactics have involved violence. I don’t know, I haven’t been keeping tabs on all their actions. But I have seen all the finger-wagging hot-take think pieces from both sides of the political divide.

And to be quite honest, I just don’t care.

I don’t care what or how Antifa is fighting oppression. I’m more interested in the age-old narrative emerging here in which the oppressed are only allowed to fight oppression in ways deemed acceptable by the oppressor. This is a tone-policing tale as old as time.

When Nat Turner led one of the largest American slave rebellions in the early 1800s, both slaveholders and so-called abolitionist allies alike decried his use of violent “terrorizing” tactics. It got people seriously thinking about how to end slavery, though. The Black Panther Party, which instituted the free breakfast program for kids and fought against police brutality (yeah, how are we doing with that nowadays?), was deemed by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover to be “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country.” Today, Black Lives Matter is constantly undergoing similar scrutiny; and it constitutes an explicitly peaceful movement, despite the oppressor’s determination to characterize it as otherwise.

That’s the thing, though: it really isn’t about whether there’s violence or not. Even peaceful movements get denigrated as divisive and dangerous. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was jailed how many times for his peaceful, nonviolent interventions? How long has it been since Colin Kaepernick has been out of a job because he took a knee during the national anthem to protest police violence against black people?

Here’s the real deal: the same folks who decry the violent acts of Antifa were the exact same people calling for us to uphold the First Amendment free speech rights of the white supremacists marching on Charlottesville. White supremacists who plowed a car into the crowd of anti-racist counter-protestors, killing a woman and injuring many.White supremacists who waved guns and shouted violent epithets at these same counter-protestors. As I’ve said before, free speech only applies to certain folks.

So, you’ll excuse me if I refuse to care about what Antifa has or hasn’t done. You’ll excuse me if I choose to take those finger-wagging hot-take think pieces by so-called liberal allies and toss them right into the rubbish bin. Because I know what they’re really saying.

Violence against oppression is just as bad as violence within oppression.

Translation: I’m all for anti-oppressive praxis as long as it leaves my privileged comfort bubble intact.

Thing is, fighting oppression is messy. It’s not always going to be done right or peacefully or with perfect grace. And that’s okay. It’s still vitally worth doing. As Frederick Douglass has been done told us all:

Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.

This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.

“West India Emancipation” speech (1857)

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This Is What (Straight, Cis, Capitalist, Christian, White Male) Democracy Looks Like 

If I hear one more white person whine about free speech, I will scream with a deep primal yell borne out of the viscera of my enslaved ancestors down through the ages on whose blood, sweat, and stolen tears this mock-democracy of a country was founded and built. 

A little while ago, the almost-ironically named American Library Association Think Tank on Facebook was full of white people determined that we should go out of our way to do outreach to the KKK, and other white supremacy terrorist groups, in the hopes of promoting free speech and intellectual freedom. Not just allow them to use public facilities, mind you, but do active outreach. Because their opportunities to share their hate-filled message are so limited. 

Lately, many white people have decried the negative response from many black folks and allies to a proposed new HBO show, from the makers of the already problematic Game of Thrones, about an “imaginary” world in which the confederacy won the Civil War and slavery still existed. As if the white supremacist legacy of slavery and settler colonialism and genocide isn’t still very much alive and well in this, the real world. These folks falsely, though typically, equate the #NoConfederate response as a form of “censorship” and call for all of us to relive the spectacle of black subjugation for the sake of “free speech.”

Just recently there’s been literal outrage about the firing a white dude from a big private company for releasing a statement about the so-called “biological inferiority” of women in his field and the need to do away with calls for more diversity and inclusion. Because, ya know, when your private employer fires you from your at-will job for behaving in the job as a racist, sexist jerk, that’s such a travesty of the constitutional protection against government sanction of speech. (Please note the intense sarcasm here.)

Apparently, white people care a LOT about free speech. 

They care so much that a couple of weeks ago many of them took to calling administration at my workplace, sending me heinous emails and tweets, and leaving me threatening voicemails to demand my firing because I dare to exercise free speech to call out white supremacy and racial oppression. 

They care so much that when researchers of color across the country are faced with reprisal, including job loss, for speaking up about oppression, many celebrate the destruction of these professional lives as the cost for speaking the truth. 

They care so much that some of them, who are long-time members of the Society of American Archivists, are quitting in a huff because the SAA dared to allow a program on dismantling white supremacy in archives, in which archivists of color and white allies exercise their freedom of speech to educate others about the inherent oppression of the profession. 

(Again, please note the sarcasm.)

The fact is, these fighters for free speech only care about free speech that serves to maintain the white supremacist status quo. Freedom and democracy for all comes with an unspoken asterisk.* (*Only straight, cis, upper-class, Christian white men need apply.)

I’m tired of these proponents of oppressive democracy. Folks who pretend to care about equity and inclusion but only care about keeping whiteness front and center. 

But I appreciate the work of those who continue to speak up and speak out, even when it’s made clear that freedom of expression is just not for us. Those who take on the burden and personal risk on behalf of their communities or as allies, or both. Let’s continue to support them and each other. Let’s make “freedom for all” really mean something. 

Post-ALA Race Fatigue

I just spent the last 5 days at the American Library Association annual conference in Chicago, and I am suffering serious race fatigue

Race fatigue is a real physical, mental, and emotional condition that people of color experience after spending a considerable amount of time dealing with the micro- and macro-aggressions that inevitably occur when in the presence of white people. The more white people, the longer the time period, the more intense the race fatigue. 

My ALA Annual 2017 conference badge

I usually come back from conferences pretty exhausted anyway. I’m an introvert, an over-achiever, and an over-joiner, so I’m always faced with having to be conscious about taking breaks, saying no, and engaging in other forms of self-care. But when you combine that with 5 days of being talked at, over, and through by folks in a profession that’s 88% white…well, let’s just say I hit my limit. 

Its been 5 straight days of being tone-policed and condescended to and ‘splained to. Five days of listening to white men librarians complain about being a “minority” in this 88% white profession–where they consistently hold higher positions with higher pay–because they don’t understand the basics of systemic oppression. (They’re librarians. You’d think they’d know how to find and read a sociology reference, but whatever.) Five days of having “nice white ladies” tell you to be “civil” and “professional” when you talk about the importance of acknowledging oppression and our profession’s role in it. 

Even with well-meaning white people, friends even, it’s been exhausting; the fatigue is still there. Five days of having white colleagues corner you to “hear more” about the microaggressions you’ve suffered and witnessed, not because they want to check in on your fatigue, but because they take a weird pleasure in hearing the horror stories and feeling superior to their “less woke” racial compatriots. 

Five days of mounting anger and frustration that you struggle to keep below the surface because you can’t be the “angry and emotional person of color” yet again. 

Don’t get me wrong, there were delightful moments of reprieve. I went to the Spectrum Scholarship 20th Anniversary celebration and met the amazing Dr. Carla Hayden–first black, first woman, first librarian–Librarian of Congress. (She’s so wonderful. We chatted about my name, which I share with the main character of her favorite children’s book.) I caught up with friends and colleagues of color and met new ones. These moments kept me going. And I did have some moments of rest with a few absolutely invaluable and genuine white allies. 

But I’m tired. 

Luckily, the rest of my summer will be spent going on vacation with family, steeping in time with the people who love and know me best. I’ll be getting some much needed R & R in this racial battle called life. And when I get back to it all, I’ll keep on fighting, bearing in mind the inspiring words Dr. Hayden imparted to us at the Spectrum celebration: “You gotta be in the room. You gotta be at the table. You gotta fight.”

Reading and Responding to the Margins 

I write a lot about race, racism, and whiteness. And without fail, I’ll hear from a white person responding to my work with:

I get what you’re saying, but [lengthy whitesplaining].

Or

Well, actually, [lengthy quibble about the accuracy or inaccuracy of one statement I made among many].

It’s funny because it’s like these folks are demonstrating my point for me. I write about the often subtle nature of white supremacy and then a bunch of white people fill my comments and Twitter notifications with real-life examples. They don’t even realize they’re doing it. And so the cycle continues. 

These responses, no matter how well-intentioned, are a form of defensiveness and derailing–a means of shying away from dealing with the true nature of what has been written. Rather than accept my experiences as a black woman for what they are and processing their feelings accordingly, these folks retreat to petty debates about word choice or experiential accuracy. (This last even more so in the age of “alternative facts.” This false dichotomy of facts versus non-facts represents a very colonized way of knowing. That’s not to advocate for “alternative facts” or lies at all, but to say that there are other traditional ways of knowing and embodied experience that go beyond what is and is not a fact. Alas, that’s a post for another day.) 

These comments get framed as friendly debate and discussion but are actually active examples of white supremacy refusing to be in any way affected by the racialized reality of one of the oppressed. 

It’s a natural reaction. And it goes beyond discussions of race. I myself have read things by queer folks, native folks, trans folks, disabled folks, working class folks, and reacted in this very same way. I have to fight the urge to reach out to them with my response because I realize it doesn’t matter. I, in my position of privilege, get to see and hear my perspectives and realities all the time, everywhere. They, in their marginalized identity, have to fight for the right to express their truth and speak their reality without reprisal. My defensive maneuvers are not necessary and are certainly not welcome. 

Despite my hurt privileged feelings, it is not silencing for them to tell me to shut up and go away. The fact that I feel the need to ‘splain my privilege all over them is the true silencing of oppression. 

Next time you read something by someone “at the margins” and feel the need to respond with a question, comment, or correction, ask yourself these three simple questions first:

  1. What is it I want to say about what I’ve read?
  2. Why do I feel this way about what I’ve read?
  3. Why is it important for this marginalized person to hear my reaction?

Be honest in your answers. And even then, sit with your reaction for a while. Give it space and time to breathe. Re-reflect and allow yourself to form a new response. You just may learn something. 

“The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”

Happy New Year, friends.

Hope you all had a restful end of year and are ready to head back into it.

I spent the time off with family, as is key for my own self-care warfare. This time included spending a significant portion riding in the car with my parents and brother on the road between my home state of Florida and my sister’s home five states away. Which means I got to listen to a lot of my favorite music: holiday classics by the Temptations and Mahalia Jackson and funk and soul classics on the SoulTown station of XM radio. The Delfonics. Betty Wright. And this truth-telling spoken word funk piece by Gil Scott-Heron:

You will not be able to stay home, brother.

You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out.

You will not be able to lose yourself on skag

and Skip out for beer during commercials,

Because the revolution will not be televised.

Well. Yeah. Go ahead and listen to that one more ‘gain. I’ll wait.

The reveolution will not be right back

after a message about a white tornado, white lightning, or white people.

This is where we are, folks. We are in the midst of a revolution. For some of us, we’ve been here for a while. This is nothing new; just the standard way our lives are hard fought as victims of systemic oppression. For others, this feels like a new era. The weight of revolution is unfamiliar. It’s okay. We’ll show you the way.

We’ll show you what it means to live in a world where you cannot rely on the powers that be to protect or save you. Where the government “of the people” is clearly not the government for your people. Where “not my president” literally means “not my president” and has for a long, long time.

(There’ve been quite a few people–mainly white–pushing back against this slogan. “But he is our president! We can hold him accountable!” Tell that to the millions of us who have never had a president accountable to our communities in our lives. Hillary wouldn’t have been our president either. Let’s face it, Obama wasn’t even our president. Not really.)

This is the world of the margins. The world of the revolution. It is not safe. There are no performative pins worn here. It is not nice. There are few words of encouragement here. It is full of hard work and that work is very often not rewarded. There are no ally cookies here.

There is rage and pain. There is facing the frustration of historical trauma and modern-day oppression from those you seek to help. There is knowing that “not all _____” is a derailing lie meant to recast the focus on your own privilege. There is taking shots from “friendly fire”and yet getting back up to fight in the struggle because you are committed. Because you know your complicity as a direct result of your privilege. Because you feel your hurt feelings and cry your privileged tears on the sidelines so you can be better equipped to be a good strong ally who can handle the rage of your oppressed comrades.

There is all this.

And there is progress.

We have to be ready for this in the revolution. It’s hard, I know. But it’s a commitment worth making.

I’m not much for new year’s resolutions, but I’m committing to  being a better ally in the areas of my privilege–listening more, signal boosting more, learning more, taking the rage of my comrades and activating my privilege to broadcast their message. Putting myself aside and doing what they need me to do in the way they need me to do it. Without praise or reward or even my own comfort. Because–

The revolution will not be televised, will not be televised,

will not be televised, will not be televised.

The revolution will be no re-run brothers;

The revolution will be live.

That’s What I Know

Whenever my sibs and I say something obvious that my parents have been telling us for ages, my dad always gives the same reply,

That’s what I know.

His people are Gullah and I’m sure this is an English translation of a phrase the old folks used to say. 

Me: “Daddy, I just realized you were right about [something he and my mom have always known and said]!”

Daddy: “Hmph. That’s what I know.”

Pretty much everything that’s been happening after the election–the open spewing of hate, the resulting shock of people of privilege who had no idea all this was happening all along, the pleas from misguided peace seekers that we “all set aside our differences” and “try to find common ground”–it all has me repeating my dad’s words: That’s what I know. 

Those of us from marginalized communities, particularly people of color, especially, particularly women of color, have known about all this all along. We’ve known about the hate. We’ve known that it doesn’t just or even mostly live with the poor or uneducated; but it lives just as comfortably among the well-to-do and multi-degreed. We’ve known that there are otherwise perfectly “nice, decent” people who are willing to scream racial slurs at us on the street. Or paint swastikas on doors. Or deface places of daily prayer. We’ve known that the hate of the new administration’s supporters didn’t begin and so will not end with the new administration. 

We’ve known this oppression all along. We’ve suffered under it. And we’ve been saying it. Our parents and ancestors were saying it for centuries before us. We said it before the election. We’re saying it now. We’ll keep saying it. 

I understand that for some of you, this is your first time hearing and realizing. And that’s fine. Privilege can make things a bit hazy. You don’t know what you don’t know until you do know. 

But as you realize, you need to also acknowledge that what’s new to you is not new to everyone. In fact, it’s not new at all. It’s been here. It’s been around. It existed before your awakening. And it will continue to exist even after many of you forget. Or grow bored. Or move on. Because some of you will. You’ll sink back into the haze of your privilege and leave the rest of us to continue fighting. It’s harsh to hear, I’m sure, but that makes it no less true. 

For the rest of you committed to joining the fight to the end, welcome. You’ve got a lot of catching up to do. But we need you. This struggle is ugly, believe us. 

That’s what we know. 

Look It Up *Wavy Hand Emoji*

My mother is an educator by trade. And my father believes in doing your own hard work. Put the two together and often when we had questions about stuff growing up, our parents encouraged us to seek out the answers on our own. Not that they wouldn’t help us tackle difficult questions, but they also saw the importance in teaching us how to find the answers we sought. Teach a kid to fish and all that.

Nowadays, as “grown-@ss people” (Mama Hathcock, 2016), my parents don’t even try to be gentle about it anymore. In fact, a common meme in our family is an image of Mama waving her perfectly-manicured hand back and forth in a dismissive wave and saying, “Look it up. I’m done.”

waving-hand-emoji

Waving Hand Emoji from Mihika P. on Google+

Last week, I went to NDLC and spoke a couple times. It was a wonderful conference, and I had a great time; but there did seem to be a common theme that kept surfacing: The fatigue of those from marginalized identities as a result of constantly being expected to educate those with privilege. As a fellow black woman said during dinner one evening, “I’m just tired.”

The fact is there are simply too many situations that spring up in our institutions/organizations/conferences that look like this:

Nonindigenous person: Please, teach me about the effects of colonialism. Like, what’s the deal with that Dakota pipeline?

Indigenous person dragging self up through pain and degradation from modern effects of historical trauma and continuing settler violence: Uh, ok, sure. I mean, there’s all kinds of information on the internet about it. And I’m kinda busy fighting against the day-to-day marginalization of my people in a world that thinks we’re all just characters in some racist cartoon, but by all means, let me take some time and energy to educate you…

 

Cisgender person: Gee, why’s everyone talking about bathrooms all of a sudden? Can you fill me in on why this so important?

Genderqueer person tightly and painfully holding on to bladder muscles because they don’t feel safe enough to risk being gender policed in the binary restrooms, which are the only facilities available: Ummmmm, ok. I’m in physical pain and discomfort right now because there’s nowhere safe for me to go engage in basic human bodily functions, but sure, let me just take a moment and educate you on why my physical existence matters…

 

White person: People of color are are always talking about racism and how they’re offended by stuff. But isn’t there a limit to how racist something can be? Like, explain to me how and why exactly you get to decide? I’m really asking ‘cuz I wanna learn.

Black person closing up news app after reading about yet another unarmed black person shot by police for no other reason than they were black and thinking fearfully about their own lives and the lives of their friends and families: Uh, have you been watching the news? I’m really scared for my physical safety right now; it’s like people who look like me are being hunted down by the state on a daily basis. But, sure, let me put those things aside to teach you a few things…

 

Able-bodied person: Why are disability politics a thing? When you think about it, aren’t we all disabled in some way?

Person with a disability who has just spent virtually every waking minute of the day trying to navigate a world that has made pretty much zero attempt at accommodating their needs while privileged others whiz through without a second thought: Riiiiight, I’m really exhausted from just trying to live in this world, but uh, let me gather some of my remaining spoons to educate you on why my life matters…

There are so many other examples I could name, but I’m sure you get the point. These conversations are annoying and exhausting and we need to do something about them.

What can we do? Well, if you’re someone with privilege who is really looking to learn, follow my Mama’s advice and “Look it up.” It’s really not hard. The hard part is actually doing something about what you learn. Making real change in the way you relate to marginalized people in your world.

Which leads to the other thing people with privilege can do: Be a good ally and offer to take on these 101 lessons. Give marginalized folks a break and educate your fellow people of privilege. Pull them aside and offer to explain the basics so already exhausted marginalized folks don’t have to. That is a huge help.

Let’s make a point of remembering that people from marginalized identities aren’t here for our education or edification. They are not responsible for helping us to learn. Learning is our own responsibility as “grown-@ss people.” So, if we’ve got a question and want to fill in our gaps, let’s just take the time to “look it up.”

 

A Lot’s In a Name, Romeo

I’m sitting in my office diving into Hope Olson’s “The Power to Name: Representation in Library Catalogs” and thinking about the power of naming.

Yesterday, I taught a pre-college library instruction course to a group of students entering their freshmen year in the fall. They’ve gotten a jump-start on their studies over the summer to help with the transition. All of these students in my class were students of color, and they are entering into an institution that is physically, mentally, value-ly, historically and systemically steeped in whiteness.

It’s no wonder then that one of my students, while running a database search for her summer essay topic on “concepts of beauty in the black community,” was aghast to come across the following suggested subject terms for her on search on “blacks” as a race:

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 2.34.53 PM

Screenshot of a sample search for “blacks” in PsycINFO

I, then, as a librarian and as her instructor and as a fellow black woman in this very white institution, had to explain to her how our subject headings for academic libraries come from the Library of Congress and, sadly, the LoC continues to use the outdated term “negroes” as an official search and categorization term. I then had to tell her that if she wanted to get a full picture of the research available, alas, she was also going to have to consent to the use of that term in her search.

Having to explain these things to my student infuriated me. Not because she didn’t understand but because they existed for explanation in the first place.

It also made me think about all the to-do surrounding the proposed changes to the LoC subject heading “illegal alien.” Even the recommended changes—”noncitizen” and “unauthorized immigration”—are hugely problematic.

No one—and I mean no one—is a “noncitizen” unless you’re that Tom Hanks character in that goodness-gracious-awful movie Terminal. And even then…no.

 

portugal street

No one is illegal!” in Lisbon, Portugal, CC BY-NC 4.0 April Hathcock

As simple as it would seem to allow people to name themselves, the established order resists any and all attempts to reconstruct the way we name, organize, and identify ourselves. The power to name is indeed a power. It is a vastly effectual power that those with privilege are always hard-pressed to cede.

But those of us on the margins continue to fight and resist and rebel. We continue to insist on our own names. We continue to wrest that power away from those who would deny us.

What’s in a name? A lot, Romeo.

When You’ve Got Privilege, You Don’t Need Pride

It’s summer time and Pride celebrations are going on all over the world. Last week, I was in Portugal on vacation and saw the posters and other festive remnants from their celebrations.

Unfortunately, just as Pride comes every year, so too do the swarms of cis-het folks claiming they want to celebrate their so-called “heterosexual pride” or “cisgender pride.” People with privilege who can’t stand to see marginalized groups band together in celebration of their right to simply be alive. (Which, after the devastating tragedy at Pulse earlier this month, is a big f–king deal.)

What these people fail to realize is that when you have privilege, you don’t need pride.

I’ve alluded to this a little in my pieces on exclusive spaces. When it comes to celebrating identity, as with everything, context is key. Folks from marginalized identity need their pride celebrations as a means of resisting the mental and physical violence of an oppressive society that tells them they have no right to exist.

LGBTQ Pride is about fighting a queer-phobic and trans-phobic society that says that LGBTQ folks have no right to live their lives. A society that insists that they do not matter and are not worth protecting. This society already values the lives of cis-het people; we have that privilege of knowing that society privileges us and centers us in subtle and very not subtle ways.

So we don’t need pride.

We can use restrooms safely and securely without running the risk of someone hurling verbal or even physical abuse against us for stepping outside their construct of gender identity.

We can love whom we want and marry whom we want without running the risk of someone refusing to provide us service or care because of their false conceptions of religious convictions.

We can go to nightclubs with out friends and have a good time and come home safely without fear that we’ll suffer physical violence or worse because of our gender expression or sexual practices.

We don’t need pride. We have privilege.

Just as white people don’t need race pride. Middle class people don’t need class pride. People with a full range of mental and physical abilities don’t need ability pride.

Pride is for those who are oppressed and marginalized by society. Those who do not have privilege. But if you’ve got privilege, if you’ve got the stamp of approval and value from society, then you most certainly don’t need pride.