“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.

 

Family Microaggressions Support Group

Last week I spent a wonderful week of vacation at my parents’ home in central Florida. Everyone from my immediate family was there, and I felt safe and secure and renewed. My parents’ house has always been and will always be my Camp David.

When it was time to leave, I grabbed my parents tightly and wailed, “It’s time to go back to my real life! I gotta go back to watching my own back and wearing my armor against oppression!”

A big part of what I was talking about was the constant stream of microaggressions that are a part of life as a person of a marginalized identity. Microaggressions are subtle insults or slights, verbal or nonverbal, intentional or not, that people enact against folks from marginalized backgrounds. It’s a way to perpetuate systemic oppression, rooted in stereotypes and underlying bias.

As a black people, every single one of my family members and I have been the victims of microaggressions on almost a daily basis. While these subtle incidents of oppression may seem like not so much to those with privilege, they add up and can have major effects on the health and well-being of marginalized people. To counteract these effects, it’s important to develop healthy and effective coping strategies. For my family, one of the things we do, though many of us live in different places, is to connect across the distances (usually via text messages or video chat) and share our experiences and frustrations.

Here’s a typical conversation from our Family Microaggressions Support Group:

Queen B: Hello, my beautiful family! How is everybody?

The Colonel: Pretty good, boss lady. The usual.

Baby Bro: Today at school, I was driving in the parking lot during rush hour looking for a space, and I started following this girl, hoping to get her space. When she saw me, though, she clutched her purse and darted between the rows. Later I saw her waving someone else toward her space.

Everybody Else: Hm, was she white?

Baby Bro: Yes. It was daytime and I wasn’t the only person in a car following people to a space!

Everybody Else: Was the other person who got the space from her white?

Baby Bro: Yep.

Queen B: Watch out, baby. It’s not fair, but people like that will call the campus police on you in a heartbeat, even if you’re not doing anything wrong or out of the ordinary. If you want a space, stick with one of our brothers or sisters. And be sure to leave early enough to give you the extra time you need to find a place.

Dr. Sis: Today at work, a dudebro med student mistook me for a nurse. Again. Even though he’s been working with me for a week AND I’m wearing a white coat like he is AND my white coat is embroidered with my name and the letters “M.D., M.P.H.”

Everybody Else: Was he white?

Dr. Sis: Yep. Still in his third year of med school. And I’m in my second year of fellowship. I graduated years ago!

Everybody Else: Groan. That’s so idiotic. What’d you say?

Dr. Sis: I told him he better get better at recognizing his superiors or he won’t last long in this profession.

Me: I guess being prejudiced makes it hard to recognize faces or read. Today at work, I had a faculty member mistake me for a student, even though I’d emailed and told her I was coming to meet with her at that time AND my email has my picture AND my name with the letters “J.D., L.L.M., M.L.I.S.” When she saw me in person, she just couldn’t believe that I could be a lawyerbrarian.

Everybody Else: Let us guess…

Me: Yep.

The Colonel: I was standing in the lobby of our office building, and this old man came up to me and asked if I’d take him up to the seventh floor. He then stood by the elevator and waited. I guess he thought I was the doorman, rather than an executive in one of the contracting firms with offices in the building.

Everybody Else: And of course, he was…

The Colonel: You know it.

Everybody Else: What did you say to him?

The Colonel: Nothing. I had important business  to attend to and didn’t have time for his ignorance. I turned and walked away. If he was waiting for me to escort him up the elevator, he’d be waiting all day. Racist old fool.

Queen B: Well, I was at the gym, and this woman came up to me to tell me that one of the stalls was broken in the ladies’ changing room…

Everybody Else: Uh oh.

Queen B: And I turned to that little miss and said, “Excuse me? Now, please, help me understand, because I am so confused, despite being an incredibly intelligent woman with a graduate degree and a doctor, lawyer, and computer scientist for children. Please help me understand why in the WORLD you assumed that I work here? You walked past the assistant in the company t-shirt over there to tell me about the stall. Why do you think I CARE about the stall? Hm? Please help me to understand.”

Everybody Else: *rolling on floor, laughing* We don’t even have to guess.

Queen B: Oh, you know she was white. Well, at that point, she was red. And gone. I think she left; I didn’t see her for the rest of my workout.

The Colonel: Well, this has been a good meeting. Stay strong, everyone. Remember what we taught you. Remember who you are.

Everybody: We love you!

FIN*

As you can see, our meetings center on what it means to be black in our respective spheres of school, work, and play. But microaggressions affect people across all intersections of oppression. And while they may seem minor, they are extremely harmful, particularly as they signal a deeper problem running through society. 

*While this was a dramatization, it was by no means an exaggeration. These are real things that happen all the time. I actually had trouble picking from the multitude of possible examples. Please keep that in mind.

Context is Everything

I’m sitting at my desk during an unexpected moment of free time (a meeting got cancelled) and reading Maura Seale’s excellent “Compliant Trust: The Public Good and Democracy in the ‘ALA’s Core Values of Librarianship'” when I come across this paragraph about the myth of library neutrality, using the Ferguson Public Library during late 2014 as an apt example:

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To be honest, I stopped there. I still haven’t finished reading Maura’s amazing article, though I fully intend to. This paragraph, and the broad set-up of Maura’s argument, unleashed a host of feelings and thoughts that have been bubbling within me for a while now.

It’s about the vitally huge importance of socio-political context.

Context wraps around everything we do. EVERYTHING. And by “we,” I mean, us human beings here on planet Earth. Not just librarians. Not just Americans. All of us. Context is everything.

I’ve said it before and others have said it before (here and here and oh look! here) and I’m sure we’ll all say it again: Neutrality does not exist. We live in a system of oppression. We LIVE a system of oppression. ← [No, I didn’t leave out the preposition there.] I said this in a recent talk I gave at the Association of College Libraries of Central Pennsylvania and again at Temple University (so, Pennsylvanians should really have it by now):

Screen Shot 2016-05-25 at 10.48.49 AM.pngRacism and other forms of oppression are like a river with a fast moving current. If you attempt to stand still in the form of so-called “neutrality” or “colorblindness,” you will quickly be swept away and become little more than debris in the mess. To make any kind of difference, you must actively fight against the current of oppression. Otherwise, you are just part of the problem.

Nothing about oppression is an accident. It’s all rooted in the broader context of systemic and structural oppression that goes beyond individual motivations and good intentions. In fact, good intentions mean precious little.

So, every single time a white man opens his mouth to say something to me or ask something of me, that experience is rooted in the history and socio-political context of slavery, Jim Crow, race and gender oppression. Even if we never mention race or racism, sex or sexism, it is there. It saturates the context. And it matters.

All of my encounters with white women are rooted in the context of racial oppression. Even if the encounters are pleasant. Even if we’re friends. It doesn’t matter. The context is everything.

Every time I open my mouth about my life as a woman, I am bringing in the context of gender identity politics that affects the lives of trans and non-binary people.

Every time I say anything about what I do, physically or mentally, I am implicating disability politics that touch the lives and experiences of people with disabilities.

Every time I even hint at general life or resources as a middle-class person, I am bringing class politics into the mix in a way that affects poor folks.

The list goes on.

This is something that can be so difficult for people to understand but is so vital to DOING THE WORK. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve encountered folks who are so caught up in their innocent intentions that they fail to realize the broader contextual implications of what they’re asking for, saying, doing.

Let’s all do the world a favor and take a step back to observe the context around us. Let’s be mindful of how that context rests on the lives of others. And let’s do our work from that place of mindfulness.

Growing Awareness as a Trans and Genderqueer Ally

This past weekend, I spent time with the lovely folks at the Gender and Sexuality in Information Studies Colloquium. I had a great time sharing but more importantly learning, learning, learning. Being challenged. Doing some growing.

One of the themes that seemed to run throughout our time together was the importance of people of privilege taking up the gauntlet to do this work of awareness-raising and education. For me, particularly in the context of this specific gathering, it really resonated as a call to step up my game as an ally to trans and genderqueer people.

As a cisgender woman, there was a time when I was thoroughly confused by the distinction between sex and gender. I just couldn’t get with the idea of gender being a social construct and marked by fluidity. I’ve since come to a better understanding of what this means and figured I would share my thought journey as a way to help educate other cisgender folks who may be mired in lack of understanding. My hope is that my process can serve as a potential resource so that trans people aren’t forced to bear the emotional burden of fielding ignorant and insensitive questions from confused cis people.

Though I also want to note that our understanding as cis folks is really not the point in the grand scheme of things. The Struggle is real for trans and genderqueer people whether we understand or not.

So, think of sex as nothing more than a biological description. Sex organs are like kidneys or blood type. There’s no social meaning to kidneys or blood type. You can be A or B or AB or O, and it really doesn’t matter from a social standpoint. It only matters for medical type stuff.

Now imagine that a group of As and Bs, the dominant groups, randomly decide that A blood types would distinguish themselves by only wearing the color red and B blood types would only wear the color blue. Anyone who has an A blood type but really identifies more readily with the Bs or feels more comfortable wearing blue is ostracized and vice versa. The random clothing rules are strictly enforced.

And when the ABs ask, “What about us?” The answer is, “Just pick one. We don’t want to deal with your difference.” And when the Os ask, “Well, what about us?” The answer is, “You’re really different, and we hate that. Just pick A or B and dress accordingly. Now, go away.”

And for those who don’t identify with blue or red, regardless of their blood type, and simply want the freedom to wear purple or orange or chartreuse? Just forget about it.

That is gender. This random social construct created by folks in the dominant group. Now, there are complexities to this—for example, the As could be further dominant over the Bs, in an intersectional twist, devaluing their labor and only paying them 76 cents on the dollar among other things—but I’m going to keep it simplistic for now.

Let’s take it a step further. Imagine that in order to buy food, which is essential to everyone’s survival, people have to go to carefully marked shops according to their blood type. Red shops are only for people with A blood type wearing their requisite red. Blue shops for the B blood types in blue. No exceptions. If you aren’t following the color-coded, blood type rules, then you aren’t allowed to get food. There are no shops for A blood types identifying as Bs, Bs identifying as As, or anything for ABs or Os or anyone who does not identify with either blue or red. Those folks just have to starve or find food where they can.

This is the kind of situation trans and genderqueer folks face when restrooms are marked according to the male/female binary and strictly policed. Transphobic actions, attitudes, and laws–like HB 2 in North Carolina–are an affront to a person’s basic human and civil rights, much like denying food to people based solely on their blood type.

There is, of course, so much more to know and learn. Like I said, this analogy is simplistic. But hopefully, my thinking out loud can help other cis folks out there get started in doing this kind of background ally work. We really need to step up to help fight the injustices constantly committed against trans and genderqueer folks. Let’s do our part to be effective and informed advocates and allies.


A few recommended readings:

“My Gender is a Journey” by Eric Anthony Grollman

Anything by mx. b. binoahan

“Intersectionality and Bathroom Panic” by Chris Bourg

 

Jim Crow 2.0

During my parents’ lifetimes, the law in many states, like Mississippi and North Carolina, allowed people to refuse to serve them:

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Bus station waiting room in Jackson, MS, 1961.                       William Lovelace, Express, Getty Images

This law also told them where they could use the restroom:

White Only Restroom Sign

1962, South Carolina, USA                                                             Restroom sign for segregated men’s room in county courthouse in Sumter.  Image by © Bob Adelman/Corbis

Officially, those laws don’t exist anymore…for my parents. But they’ve made a comeback.

With the passage of HB2 in North Carolina and the so-called “religious freedom” bill in Mississippi, Jim Crow is rearing his ugly zombie head.

Under these new laws, and others like them that are surfacing, people can tell others where to use the restroom and refuse to provide them with service. Sound familiar?

These kinds of affronts to civil rights cannot stand. While it’s great to complain about them on social media, the time has long come to take action. As my dear friend Chris Bourg notes:

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So, please join me in writing to Gov. Phil Bryant of Mississippi and Gov. Pat McCrory of North Carolina. Feel free to use my letters below.

Dear Gov. Bryant:

HB 1523 is an affront to civil rights. The law is unconstitutional and flies in the face of the very basics of human rights. It not only hurts LGBTQ people but all people.

Repeal HB

 

Dear Gov. McCrory:

HB 2 is an affront to civil rights. The law is unconstitutional and flies in the face of the very basic of human rights. It not only hurts trans and genderqueer people but all people.

Repeal HB 2 now!