Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Vijay Prashad: Deaths of children that don’t make news

Reprinted in full below, because Prashad says it better than I tried to do on Facebook a few days ago and it's really worth reading.

NORTHAMPTON — No community easily suffers the death of children. Accidents, violent crimes and illness: the cause is immaterial. 
No death of a child is for a reason. All such deaths are senseless. 
In his emotional address shortly after news came of the massacre in Newtown, Conn., President Obama pointed to the frequency of such mass crimes and nudged the country to widen our field of vision: “Whether it is an elementary school in Newtown, or a shopping mall in Oregon, or a temple in Wisconsin, or a movie theater in Aurora, or a street corner in Chicago — these neighborhoods are our neighborhoods, and these children are our children.” 
The contrary nudge came in his last destination, the “street corner in Chicago.” 
When a singular mass killing occurs in mainly affluent suburbs, it shocks the nation — and rightly so. But it might be a shock to some to know that this year alone 117 children died from handgun violence in Chicago. These deaths do not get discussed, let alone memorialized in the national conversation of tragedy. 
There are at least two reasons for this. First, these deaths do not happen in a spectacular fashion. They take place in ones and twos, often in the lonely hours of the night when bullets depart from their targets and settle in the soft tissue of children asleep in their homes, or in the afternoon as they play on the sidewalk. 
Take the case of April 12. One-year-old Jayliah Allen was shot while she slept in her bed, the bullet entering the window. Seven-year-old Derrick Robeteau was shot in the leg while playing outside his grandfather’s home and a 7-year-old girl was shot as she stood outside her home. Three children hit by handguns in one day, but in an unspectacular form. 
Second, old racist habits linger. These are African-American and Latino kids, whose neighborhoods are considered dangerous. Which is why when Jayliah and Derrick were killed no one called their neighborhoods bucolic or thought that this violence was senseless. There is a hardness that has entered our consciousness, allowing us to avoid the sealed fates of these kids. 
No memorials exist as well for the 178 children killed by U.S. drone strikes in the borderlands of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Noor Aziz, 8, Talha, 8, Najibullah, 13, Adnan, 16, Hizbullah, 10, Wilayat Khan, 11, Asadullah, 9, Sohail, 7: these are some of the names of children killed by the drones. News reports frequently say “three militants killed,” and then a few days later, in the Pakistani press, one hears that amongst the dead were children with no association with the militants. Unlike the street shootings in Chicago, there have been mass killings by drones, which have received only minimal attention. On Oct. 30, 2006, a U.S. drone struck a school in Bajaur, Pakistan, killing 83 people. The New York Times story ran Nov. 10 with the headline, “American Strike in January Missed Al-Qaeda’s No. 2 By a Few Hours.” 
The Times noted in the story that the drone hit “a madrasa, or religious school,” but left it at that. It did not mention that only three of those killed were older than 20. The rest were between the ages of 7 and 17. 
There was no apology for this strike, authorized by the White House, no call to put an end to this kind of tragedy. One of the more unseemly coincidences of the Newtown massacre is that just down the road from the elementary school is Forecast International, a military intelligence firm that has been bullish on drones. 
On Oct. 23, Time’s Joe Klein was on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. Host Joe Scarborough spoke passionately against the use of drones, saying “it seems so antiseptic and yet you have 4-year-old girls being blown to bits because we have a policy that now says, ‘You know what? Instead of trying to go in and take the risk and get the terrorists out of hiding in a Karachi suburb, we’re just going to blow up everyone around them.’ ” 
Klein, a defender of the Obama record, answered emotionlessly, “The bottom line in the end is — whose 4-year-old gets killed? What we’re doing is limiting the possibility that 4-year-olds here will get killed by indiscriminate acts of terror.” 
Such a callous calculation is not Klein’s alone; it is reflected in the general lack of concern for what is being carried out in our name. 
No human beings can tolerate to see their children killed. No human beings, not anywhere.

Vijay Prashad, who lives in Northampton, is the author of “Arab Spring, Libyan Winter” (AK Press).

Monday, December 17, 2012

Berkeley Winter Walking Poem

walking to Trader Joe's
cold legs
smell of Nation's
and Indian food
mingle in the air
man standing too close to me at checkout
people driving too fast down residential streets
wonder if they will hit me
the smell of fires burning in fireplaces
I wish I had one at home
settle for a space heater
to warm up numb fingers
and toes

Friday, December 07, 2012

Review: The People's Apocalypse

The People's Apocalypse
The People's Apocalypse by Ariel Gore and Jenny Forrester

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

This book is as highly varied as it sounds from the description, and it's as hard to sum up in a short review as it was difficult for me to put down! I was just eternally curious what the next short story or informational article would be.

The People's Apocalypse is divided into 7 section: Revelations, Plans, Signs, Visions, Cataclysms, Demons and Saviors and my favorite entries include the very practical "Preparedness 101," "You'll Need a Solar Oven," and "You Might Need Urban Goats," the heart-rending "Tsunami Warning," the inspirational "To Hell With Chicken Little," "Happy Endings," and "Revolution," the meditative and sad "The End Times Project" and "After the Very First Quiet Morning," and the musings on different possible outcomes of one event of "Biochemical Weapon Zombie Dog Dream: A Political Allegory."

Some of these pieces are quite explicitly political as well, with analyses ranging from environmentalist, radical people of color, class politics, religious politics and politics of place. Some pieces weave these elements in more subtly. But again, the strength is, I believe, in the variety of points of view, content and style.

One glaring critique for me: the indeed erotic "Erotalyptica" was also unfortunately very heteronormative and obliviously racist (relegating Mayan peoples to the past, as if they do not still exist). Were I an editor I would have certainly pointed the latter out and probably the former too, given the story's premise. Frankly, some queer relationships in the stories in general would have made the book even stronger, they just would have made particular sense included in that story.

All said and done I think this is a unique and totally worthwhile read.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

When Was the Last Time I Did a Round Up of Good Shit to Read?

I don't even know.  But as I was linkspamming the shit out of my Facebook friends (sorry y'all) I thought to myself that really I should be doing this here....  And it's going to be quite the clusterfuck of various areas of my interest and their recent discussion in media, so buckle up.  You're welcome!  :D

Cleveland anarchist bomb plot aided and abetted by the FBI
Rather than target real risks of domestic terror, like neo-Nazis, the FBI entrapment machine demonises anarchists and Muslims
A+ priorities and strategies FBI!  /sarcasm  This is one of the reasons why I am so burned out on anything professing to be "law and order" or "security" matters.  We're creating terrorists so we can catch them...instead of looking at ACTUAL TERRORIST GROUPS like neo-Nazis.  Oh, ok.

The homeless man and the NYPD cop's boots: how a warm tale turns cold
A picture that started as a seasonal heartwarmer has now become a reason not to feel sorry for the homeless as Hillman is painted as a wilful eccentric.
I was really struck by this story and what a great example it is of the demonization of the poor, the way that there is only one "proper" way to BE poor, and the way deviance from that narrative is SOUGHT OUT by people and then used to blame the poor for their situation and thus absolve all others of any complicity or guilt in the system that keeps them there.  I also think this overlaps with my final story....

In solidarity for the respect of Holy Places
In appreciation of the many gestures of solidarity from the Muslim world following the recent desecration of Christian Holy Places, the Auxiliary Bishop of Jerusalem, Bishop William Shomali, visited Al-Aqsa Mosque on Thursday, October 4 where he met Grand Mufti Mohammad Hussein and the grand magistrate of the mosque Abdel Adhim Salhab...The Bishop also assured Muslims the support of the Christian community with respect to their holy places.
People not being assholes.  I felt like I should mix it up a little bit.

Homefulness! A Real Solution to Houselessness
Homefulness, a project of POOR Magazine, is a solution of interdependence, love, and equity-sharing for landless youth, adults, and elders across Pachamama. It is a poor people-led, self-determined, truly green model for housing, art, microbusiness, spirituality, interdependence, self-accountability, caregiving, and community that incorporates the teaching of our elders, ancestors, and spiritual leaders in harmony with Mother Earth. We aim to create permanent and lasting solutions to houselessness for families in poverty who have been displaced, evicted, gentrified, and destabilized out of their indigenous lands and communities.
An IndieGoGo campaign that I would really encourage you to participate in, if you can!

Remember Their Names: In Memory of Kasandra, Cherica & Others
This tragic story pushes to the forefront an important issue in terms of domestic violence and murder. When the murderer is famous, attractive, rich, or charming people don’t want to believe that they are guilty. I don’t pretend to know Jovan Belcher’s heart, motives, or mind set when he fired numerous gunshots into the body of his baby’s mother, and then turned the gun on himself. I don’t know why his only option, in that moment, felt like a desperate one. I don’t know what caused him to murder Kasandra, but what I do know is that it was not Kasandra’s fault. I know that staying out until 1 o’clock in the morning at a concert was not an invitation to die. I know that it doesn’t matter what she wore that night, or what she may have said, or whether or not she may have been intoxicated, or rolled her eyes at him, or called him out of his name, or talked to another guy in passing, she didn’t deserve to die.

Nigeria: Security Forces Open Fire On Protesting Ogoni Community
Armed security forces protecting the interest of the Anglo-Dutch oil and gas major, Shell, on Friday, opened fire on a protesting Ogoni community in the Rivers State axis of Southern Nigeria. The community, Eleme, was protesting against the presence of some Shell officials at the Ebubu Oilfield.

U.S. finalizes $3.4 billion settlement with American Indians
The missing funds at the center of the class-action case involve what are called Individual Indian Money accounts, which are supposed to represent the property of individual Indians. The accounts are held by the United States as trustee.
The lawsuit had accused the government of failing to account for the money, failing to make proper payments, and converting tribal money for the government's own use.
In making the announcement Monday, Obama remembered Cobell for "her honorable work." In 2009, she said that many represented in the class-action lawsuit "subsist in the direst poverty," and that the settlement is "significantly less than the full amount to which the Indians are owed."
This one made me happy, sort of, and also really fucking angry and sad.

The Adoption of Johnny Depp

A video from the 1491s recounting and dramatizing the events of Johnny Depp's adoption by LaDonna Harris of the Comanche nation. Not to be missed.  I'm serious.  Watch this shit.


An absolutely wonderful infographic on what "Trans" means!!!!!!!  <3

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell Confirmed for BBC Miniseries

If you've read this book, you know why I'm excited!

Who's Afraid of the Qassams?
So stopping Palestinian rockets is not a plausible explanation for Israeli attacks. Indeed, the Israeli leadership – at best – does not care much about such deaths, posturing to the contrary. There’s a reason for that. The Zionist political and intellectual elite makes a lot of cantankerous noises about the rockets falling on southern Israel, usually accompanied by the question, how would you respond if rockets were falling on your head? But less frequently noted is whose heads those rockets are falling upon. Sderot and other southern cities are not merely populated by Jewish Israelis. They are also populated by mostly Mizrahi, usually lower-class, Jewish Israelis, the outcome of a planning regime which puts some populations of Jews in some places and kept other populations of Jews in others. 
Sderot, summoned up so sedulously as the very symbol of Israeli terror and fear due to Hamas’s – mostly ineffectual – rockets was initially a transit camp for Kurdish and Persian Jews. Later, it was populated by Moroccans. And still later, Ethiopians and the darker Jews of the ex-Soviet Caucasus. That was where they were dumped, with the European elites concerned, according to a 1950 Jewish Agency brochure, that the darker Jews might create “quarters of poverty, filth, unemployment, and crime.” Accordingly, there needed to be “a greater effort to settle the immigrants in the countryside.” And so they were. 
[...]And so Tel Aviv, the cosmopolitan, Ashkenazi, cultural core of Israel could remain distant from the front lines of the conflict created by the policies pursued by its economic and political elites, while the cannon fodder on the Israeli periphery would bear their brunt.
So, yeah.  Let's keep this in mind when we're talking about rockets and "retaliation," yeah?

Finally, 'Squatters are not home stealers'
What the squatting dispute boils down to is a split between those who consider private property to be sacred, and those who would prioritise the right to shelter. Few people would happily forfeit a second home to squatters, but nor does it feel morally justifiable for a nation to have an estimated 930,000 empty homes while people sleep on the streets.

This is a really interesting article recounting the situation primarily for squatters in the UK, where a measure (section 144) was recently passed criminalizing them in new if not unprecedented ways, as well as in several other European countries and the United States.

The part I've highlighted here is, for me, one of the common denominators in all of these debates: private property and profit versus the right to shelter and measurements of worth outside of capitalist profit.

Even as I plan to buy a house one day and thus participate more directly than I currently do in the system of private property/profit (through equity), I really think we as communities need to THINK ABOUT what private property means to us, its "sacredness," its use for profit, and our priorities around use of space.  Because it's simply not a question of IF we have an excess of buildings - WE DO - and if people are going to put them to use as homes, gardens, community spaces; isn't that a GOOD THING?

I think it is. And I don't think everything needs to be about PROFIT, or that the use of space is only "good" if PROFIT is made.  But that's the way all this is constructed and POLICED right now.....

This is just one of those things I don't think many people know about, much less question. It's something I didn't know about or question until it was put in my face with the response to building "occupations" over the last couple of years.  So here I am...writing about it.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Cloud Atlas: Racebending, Genderbending and a Film for Us

Before going to see Cloud Atlas, I knew I few things about it.  I'd seen the trailers, and could see its scope was epic.  From the trailers I also knew it was a film by the Wachowskis, whose movies I generally FUCKING LOVE.  I knew it had been a book.  I knew it practiced racebending (actors of one race made up to look like people of another race/characters of one race played by actors of another).  And I had read two reviews, one referenced and linked to in the other: Cloud Atlas is a Film For Us - It is Our Film, in which the author argues, in part;
This won’t make much sense to a lot of people, but Cloud Atlas is Our Film. And there isn't a trans person in the film. But truly, this is a movie that is as rich and complex and deeply moving as the lives of Trans people, and it carries forward with so many themes that it resonates soundly with transness in a way that it id challenging to describe (sic).

It is a movie for those who love, and for those who are loved. It is a film for those who struggle, who wonder, who hope.
As I was watching the film myself, I couldn't help but agree with this review.

Her words kept ringing in my ears.

But I don't want to start there.  I want to start with what made me profoundly uncomfortable about the movie: the racebending.  Quite frankly, the white men made up to look Asian looked more like Vulcans or Romulans than actual Asian people of any ethnicity.  Like, the makeup people really tried, but it just DIDN'T work.  It was SO distracting.  It was SO awkward.

Similar feelings were conjured when Doona Bae was made up to be white and then a darker Latina, although this was more successful.

Halle Berry I didn't actually even recognize when she was made up as a white woman.

There is a LOT in here about my own perceptions, the perceptions of the other people in the theater, about "passing," about Otherness, and about mixed race features and "beauty" that are beyond the scope of this review (like I'm wishing I was back in school cuz I just keep coming across more things that are so fucking worth analyzing and talking about that I just want to write a huge research paper or something, but I don't want to do all of that right here and now)...

But whether the makeup "worked" or didn't, isn't really the point and isn't what ultimately bothered me about watching white men play at being Asian.  What bothered me was thinking about all the Asian men who could have played these roles, and who ultimately weren't in the movie because of the choice to racebend white men into the roles instead.

At the same time, I do understand the choice to have the same actors portraying many different characters.  I mean, without going into heavy spoilers, this is a lot of what the movie is about.  And not in some white-washed liberal colorblind way (even if in the end whitewashing did occur) but more in the sense of the idea that our souls have been/will be tied into bodies that are different from the ones we have now, and to represent that, they chose to use the same actors, so we can identify these souls visually as they move from body to body throughout time.  From a visual storytelling perspective, this strategy makes sense, and as I said to one of my friends as we discussed our reactions, this is basically the ONLY scenario I can even entertain the idea of racebending of this nature being remotely appropriate/excusable.  It's also a very theatrical choice, as my husband pointed out, which given the Wachowski's grand style of film-making, is also rather appropriate.

That said, I can think of other ways they could have achieved this.  There is a running visual element throughout the film of a distinctive birthmark.  Put that birthmark on anyone, and we could know it was this character reincarnated.  You could then have multiple actors play that role (which they did) and we know to trace them all together.  Obviously the actors, Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving and especially Tom Hanks in particular would have had considerably less fun and demonstrated far fewer of their acting ability in that case, but many more actors, and importantly, many more actors of color, would have had the opportunity to demonstrate THEIR skills instead, and it would not have reinforced Hollywood narratives of the erasure of actors of color and current social narratives of whitewashing.

Note I do not say here "colorblind" narratives, because I absolutely did not take that message away from the film.  The message of the film, in the way it takes us through so many various lives, and shows us their interconnections, is one that does not shy away from difference, nor try to argue we are "all the same;" but that we are connected, that we are not totally separate from each other.  This was one of the messages that I thought was brilliantly done and beautiful to behold.

So yes.  This practice of yellowface made me deeply uncomfortable.  Even as I think it attempted to challenge the idea of the Racial Other, I also think it didn't really succeed.  And that is where I wanted to start my discussion of the film, because it deserves to be put front and center.

Existing alongside this really fucking important discomfort is the fact that I loved this film.  So I cannot over-emphasize my ambivalence here.  What they tried to portray with it was just epic.  There are quotes from the film I want to put in here, and I regret not taking notes as I watched, but I return now to the idea that "this film is for us."  I'm not trans, but I kept thinking about that review at different points in the movie, because, YES.  As someone who has long felt that the status quo/normative culture is one I am forcefully alienated from, YES.  The complexities, and beauties, and tragedies of life, hope and betrayal and greed and love are all in this story instead of some easily digested fantasy, and what ultimately comes out of it all is the need for us to stand up for each other.  To risk that.  To risk telling our truths.  To risk suffering and dying for each other.  That "boundaries are conventions," and conventions must be challenged, pushed at, broken through.

In other words:


Revolution so that we all can survive and REALLY FUCKING LIVE.  In all our difference and splendour and variation and BEAUTY.  And even in our imperfection, making some of the imperfect choices made in its creation perhaps even sort of appropriate.

This movie is so QUEER that it doesn't surprise me that not everyone is "getting" it,* as attested to by the fact that it hasn't been a box office "success," apparently, and that I've heard/read so many saying they were confused by it.  But I don't know.  With all its flaws, it spoke very clearly to me.

And this was why the genderbending didn't make me uncomfortable like the racebending did.  Yes, Hugo Weaving still basically looked like Hugo Weaving, but he didn't play that character as a caricature.  More than that, I was fascinated by this choice of genderbending, given that this is the first movie (IIRC) after Lana Wachowski's transition, the first film she released as Lana publicly.  And in it she chooses a man who has been in like, all but one of the Wachowski's movies, to play a woman.  To play a butch, masculine woman.  Maybe, to play a trans woman.

In fact this is perhaps one of the most stereotypical ways that Hollywood presents trans women, one of the ways it displays it's transmisogyny** and undermines trans feminine identification.  That REALLY, they are not women at all, but "men in dresses."

It would be easy to read this character in that light, and it can't be ignored that this character exists within a movie-making context that is openly hostile to trans people, one that does undermine the perceived validity of trans identification in this manner.  And yet, in her first movie created openly as Lana, she chooses this man, clearly like their favorite actor ever and I'm guessing close friend, to portray this character.  And he does so really, really well.  Nurse Noakes is not played for laughs (although I did hear some VERY uncomfortable and surprised laughter when she first came on screen), and her femininity is not played to a hyper/false-feminine "drag queen" stereotype.  Weaving does affect his voice to make it higher, and this isn't done flawlessly, but it also isn't done hyperbolically.  So to me, this read as a great moment of trust on Lana Wachowski's part.  Of wanting to put characters on screen that don't conform to cisnormativity even as she had to know the hostile environment she would be adding that character to.  And so she chose to person close to her to portray that character, and tried to navigate a razor thin line between challenging the normative and falling into its traps.

It worked for me.

Let me also not ignore here that Weaving was not the only actor to genderbend in this film.  At least one of the woman actors (Xun Zhou, I believe) portrayed a man.  However, this character didn't have as big of a role as Weaving's nurse, and was not as apparently genderbent.  In fact, it wasn't until the end of the movie that I realized she had played that character at all.  And part of my brain screams about what this says about the way in which Asian men are portrayed/perceived as feminine, that this perception arising out of white supremacy's influence on normative gender means it is the Asian actors who have more gender mobility when swapping parts.  It is playing along that edge again, of challenging normativity, and sort of playing with normative perceptions too?  Perhaps in that legacy of Disidentification.  I'm not sure.  I probably won't be sure until I've seen this several more times, but I don't want to ignore any of the inklings of critique bubbling their way to the surface of my mind.

If you have gotten this far, I'm going to guess you've figured out this is a complicated and multi-layered film.  It is.  It is also at times a beautiful film.  Maybe even a transcendent film (a word I don't use lightly as I find it horribly cheesy and pretentious usually).  I do hope you will see it.

It is a film for us.

*and by that I do not mean "have a problem with any of the totally critique-able parts" but the frequently heard "I have no idea what this movie is about"
**versus "merely" its cissexism in pursuit of "validation" of trans feminine identity through their portrayal by cis woman actors

As for Time relegating this to "the worst movie of the year" all I can say is LOLZ.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Day of Thanksgiving: Challenging Colonialist Myth

Thanksgiving in the United States is wrapped in colonialist/nationalist myth that most of us learn from pre-school/day care and on.  I don't think most of us are ever taught the realities of "Thanksgiving;" why the holiday exists, what cultural narratives it perpetuates, what present realities it obscures.  In an annual effort to challenge the fucked up colonial underpinnings of this holiday, I give you the debunking of myths most of us probably learned growing up.

Myth #1: “The First Thanksgiving” occurred in 1621.

Fact: No one knows when the “first” thanksgiving occurred. People have been giving thanks for as long as people have existed. Indigenous nations all over the world have celebrations of the harvest that come from very old traditions; for Native peoples, thanksgiving comes not once a year, but every day, for all the gifts of life. To refer to the harvest feast of 1621 as “The First Thanksgiving” disappears Indian peoples in the eyes of non-Native children.

Myth #2: The people who came across the ocean on the Mayflower were called Pilgrims.

Fact: The Plimoth settlers did not refer to themselves as “Pilgrims.” Pilgrims are people who travel for religious reasons, such as Muslims who make a pilgrimage to Mecca. Most of those who arrived here from England were religious dissidents who had broken away from the Church of England. They called themselves “Saints”; others called them “Separatists.” Some of the settlers were “Puritans,” dissidents but not separatists who wanted to “purify” the Church. It wasn’t until around the time of the American Revolution that the name “Pilgrims” came to be associated with the Plimoth settlers, and the “Pilgrims” became the symbol of American morality and Christian faith, fortitude, and family.

Myth #3: The colonists came seeking freedom of religion in a new land.

Fact: The colonists were not just innocent refugees from religious persecution. By 1620, hundreds of Native people had already been to England and back, most as captives; so the Plimoth colonists knew full well that the land they were settling on was inhabited. Nevertheless, their belief system taught them that any land that was “unimproved” was “wild” and theirs for the taking; that the people who lived there were roving heathens with no right to the land. Both the Separatists and Puritans were rigid fundamentalists who came here fully intending to take the land away from its Native inhabitants and establish a new nation, their “Holy Kingdom.” The Plimoth colonists were never concerned with “freedom of religion” for anyone but themselves.

Myth #4: When the “Pilgrims” landed, they first stepped foot on “Plymouth Rock.”

Fact: When the colonists landed, they sought out a sandy inlet in which to beach the little shallop that carried them from the Mayflower to the mainland. This shallop would have been smashed to smithereens had they docked at a rock, especially a Rock. Although the Plimoth settlers built their homes just up the hill from the Rock, William Bradford in Mourt’s Relation: A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, does not even mention the Rock; writing only that they “unshipped our shallop and drew her on land.” The actual “rock” is a slab of Dedham granodiorite placed there by a receding glacier some 20,000 years ago. It was first referred to in a town surveying record in 1715, almost 100 years after the landing. Since then, the Rock has been moved, cracked in two, pasted together, carved up, chipped apart by tourists, cracked again, and now rests as a memorial to something that never happened.

It’s quite possible that the myth about the “Pilgrims” landing on a “Rock” originated as a reference to the New Testament of the Christian bible, in which Jesus says to Peter, “And I say also unto thee, Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church and the Gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18) The appeal to these scriptures gives credence to the sanctity of colonization and the divine destiny of the dominant culture. Although the colonists were not dominant then, they behaved as though they were.

Myth #5: The Pilgrims found corn.

Fact: Just a few days after landing, a party of about 16 settlers led by Captain Myles Standish followed a Nauset trail and came upon an iron kettle and a cache of Indian corn buried in the sand. They made off with the corn and returned a few days later with reinforcements. This larger group “found” a larger store of corn, about ten bushels, and took it. They also “found” several graves, and, according to Mourt’s Relation, “brought sundry of the prettiest things away” from a child’s grave and then covered up the corpse. They also “found” two Indian dwellings and “some of the best things we took away with us.”  There is no record that restitution was ever made for the stolen corn, and the Wampanoag did not soon forget the colonists’ ransacking of Indian graves.

Myth #6: Samoset appeared out of nowhere, and along with Squanto became friends with the Pilgrims. Squanto helped the Pilgrims survive and joined them at “The First Thanksgiving.”

Fact: Samoset, an eastern Abenaki chief, was the first to contact the Plimoth colonists. He was investigating the settlement to gather information and report to Massasoit, the head sachem in the Wampanoag territory. In his hand, Samoset carried two arrows: one blunt and one pointed. The question to the settlers was: are you friend or foe? Samoset brought Tisquantum (Squanto), one of the few survivors of the original Wampanoag village of Pawtuxet, to meet the English and keep an eye on them. Tisquantum had been taken captive by English captains several years earlier, and both he and Samoset spoke English. Tisquantum agreed to live among the colonists and serve as a translator. Massasoit also sent Hobbamock and his family to live near the colony to keep an eye on the settlement and also to watch Tisquantum, whom Massasoit did not trust. The Wampanoag oral tradition says that Massasoit ordered Tisquantum killed after he tried to stir up the English against the Wampanoag. Massasoit himself lost face after his years of dealing with the English only led to warfare and land grabs. Tisquantum is viewed by Wampanoag people as a traitor, for his scheming against other Native people for his own gain. Massasoit is viewed as a wise and generous leader whose affection for the English may have led him to be too tolerant of their ways.

Myth #7: The Pilgrims invited the Indians to celebrate the First Thanksgiving.

Fact: According to oral accounts from the Wampanoag people, when the Native people nearby first heard the gunshots of the hunting colonists, they thought that the colonists were preparing for war and that Massasoit needed to be informed. When Massasoit showed up with 90 men and no women or children, it can be assumed that he was being cautious. When he saw there was a party going on, his men then went out and brought back five deer and lots of turkeys.

In addition, both the Wampanoag and the English settlers were long familiar with harvest celebrations. Long before the Europeans set foot on these shores, Native peoples gave thanks every day for all the gifts of life, and held thanksgiving celebrations and giveaways at certain times of the year. The Europeans also had days of thanksgiving, marked by religious services. So the coming together of two peoples to share food and company was not entirely a foreign thing for either. But the visit that by all accounts lasted three days was most likely one of a series of political meetings to discuss and secure a military alliance. Neither side totally trusted the other: The Europeans considered the Wampanoag soulless heathens and instruments of the devil, and the Wampanoag had seen the Europeans steal their seed corn and rob their graves. In any event, neither the Wampanoag nor the Europeans referred to this feast/meeting as “Thanksgiving.” 

Myth #8: The Pilgrims provided the food for their Indian friends.

Fact: It is known that when Massasoit showed up with 90 men and saw there was a party going on, they then went out and brought back five deer and lots of turkeys. Though the details of this event have become clouded in secular mythology, judging by the inability of the settlers to provide for themselves at this time and Edward Winslow’s letter of 1622, it is most likely that Massasoit and his people provided most of the food for this “historic” meal.

Myth #9: The Pilgrims and Indians feasted on turkey, potatoes, berries, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and popcorn.

Fact: Both written and oral evidence show that what was actually consumed at the harvest festival in 1621 included venison (since Massasoit and his people brought five deer), wild fowl, and quite possibly nasaump—dried corn pounded and boiled into a thick porridge, and pompion—cooked, mashed pumpkin. Among the other food that would have been available, fresh fruits such as plums, grapes, berries and melons would have been out of season. It would have been too cold to dig for clams or fish for eels or small fish. There were no boats to fish for lobsters in rough water that was about 60 fathoms deep. There was not enough of the barley crop to make a batch of beer, nor was there a wheat crop. Potatoes and sweet potatoes didn’t get from the south up to New England until the 18th century, nor did sweet corn. Cranberries would have been too tart to eat without sugar to sweeten them, and that’s probably why they wouldn’t have had pumpkin pie, either. Since the corn of the time could not be successfully popped, there was no popcorn.

Myth #10: The Pilgrims and Indians became great friends.

Fact: A mere generation later, the balance of power had shifted so enormously and the theft of land by the European settlers had become so egregious that the Wampanoag were forced into battle. In 1637, English soldiers massacred some 700 Pequot men, women and children at Mystic Fort, burning many of them alive in their homes and shooting those who fled. The colony of Connecticut and Massachusetts Bay Colony observed a day of thanksgiving commemorating the massacre. By 1675, there were some 50,000 colonists in the place they had named “New England.” That year, Metacom, a son of Massasoit, one of the first whose generosity had saved the lives of the starving settlers, led a rebellion against them. By the end of the conflict known as “King Philip’s War,” most of the Indian peoples of the Northeast region had been either completely wiped out, sold into slavery, or had fled for safety into Canada. Shortly after Metacom’s death, Plimoth Colony declared a day of thanksgiving for the English victory over the Indians.

Myth #11: Thanksgiving is a happy time.

Fact: For many Indian people, “Thanksgiving” is a time of mourning, of remembering how a gift of generosity was rewarded by theft of land and seed corn, extermination of many from disease and gun, and near total destruction of many more from forced assimilation. As currently celebrated in this country, “Thanksgiving” is a bitter reminder of 500 years of betrayal returned for friendship.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

On Gaza

Watching Israel's latest bombing of Gaza has been heart breaking.

Watching friends and former friends of mine defend it has been sometimes worse.

But, I refuse to be silent, because I think genocide must be opposed under all circumstances.

Even when the victims of genocide aren't "perfect victims," even when their elected governments do things I also think are wrong, like send rockets into populated areas.

As a Jewish Anti-Zionist friend of mine said as we sat lesson planning over dinner, when we both wanted to be out in the streets instead: "yes, rockets are REAL," the VIOLENCE of them is real and that cannot be ignored or minimized... But, without dismissing their violence, let's also recognize that this violence has cost very few people their lives.  Let us also acknowledge that the lives lost to them (as this same friend pointed out) are largely those of the marginalized classes of Israeli society: the poor, the Mizrahi.  That Israel pushes these people outwards as a buffer for its more valued citizens against this violence, as have so many militarized/colonialist societies before them.

And this kind of exploitation and violence practiced on less valued human beings (on both sides of the border) is why (I think) groups like Gaza Youth Breaks Out have said not only "fuck Israel" but "fuck Hamas."  And it is with such groups that I align myself as well.

So yes, the rocket attacks need to end, this bombing has to end, the occupation needs to end.  A free Palestine must emerge.  And I have faith that it will.  I pray that it will.  I pray to the Mother that we will not continue to ignore the genocide of the Palestinian people, as so many other genocides have been and continue to be practiced and validated by governments around the world (including the US...which you'll hear more about in my Thanksgiving post!).

Free Palestine!  Decolonize Everything!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Transgender Day of Remembrance

Today is the Transgender Day of Remembrance. A time set aside to acknowledge/mourn those we have lost because their bodies and lives as trans people are still so hated in our societies.

Light a candle, say a prayer, take a moment of silence, whatever it is you do.

And don't forget.

The names of those we have lost this year can be read here:  http://www.transgenderdor.org/memorializing-2012

Brandy Martell
Location: Oakland, California
Cause of Death: Gunshot
Date of Death: April 29th, 2012
Brandy was 37 years old.
Rest in Peace.
Rest in Power.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Musings: on black bloc and property destruction and violence

This is something I've been thinking about and trying to figure out for a while.  I'm also extremely nervous posting about it, for a lot of reasons, but I am interested in your thoughts so please feel free to respond (as always I reserve the right to moderate your comment if you just act like a jerk).

So I've finally put together why property destruction in demonstrations coupled with black bloc bothers me so much on a personal/emotional/psychic level.

I'm constantly afraid that destructiveness is going to turn on me.  

It's related to the feeling I get when cat-called or when someone I'm arguing with starts to take that anger out physically (hit a wall, etc.) - that as a woman I am NOT safe in this situation.  That I am a target of this aggressive behavior.  

And not just generally as a woman but also individually as someone whose experiences with violent/hypermasculine behavior has been in the context of people wielding power over me; whether teachers, cops or bullies.  Without knowing/trusting the people in the bloc and fully understanding/knowing beforehand what property they are destroying and why, I experience those moments as an unleashing of destructive feeling/emotion/impulse that I KNOW can turn on me and people like me and people not like me but who are also targeted by hatred/violence/aggressive/hypermasculine/-phobic behavior.

As someone who knows intimately the catharsis of slamming a door or punching a wall, as someone who knows well the symbolic power of smashing/burning/destroying something, it's not the theory of the tactic I really have a problem with, but with the experience of it that I've had over the last year in marches, with people I don't know suddenly performing acts around me that I experience as violence (and the looming police threat around us only magnifies that feeling, at times when they haven't been around I have been noticeably less frightened by these actions).  

Black bloc contributes to this because the masks don't just prevent surveillance by cops but by our ability to see each other.  Most of the time, I don't know if I know these people, much less if I trust them.  And I'm just not naive enough to trust on faith that if they're there in this march with me it actually means we're on the "same side."  

I also don't think I'm the only one having a reaction like this in these crowds, which may contribute to why some others also label these actions "violent."  

And PLEASE don't misconstrue this: on a theoretical and even practical level I don't have any problem with BofA having its windows smashed, they and all others like them have practiced violence on many communities, and the cathartic and symbolic power and the message of those smashed windows is, in my view, potentially really valuable.  

But I would also say that I don't think my reaction to these situations is just "a personal problem" or something like that, and that the way I, and others who have experienced destructive impulses/actions that target us, should be taken into account when these things are planned.  Obviously sometimes the smashing of a window is spontaneous and there is only so much you can do about spontaneous actions, but sometimes it's not.  And in those times shouldn't we know and consent to being in this situation BEFORE it starts happening all around us and we're caught in the middle?  If we are all comrades, aren't those of us for whom that might be triggering owed some sort of warning?  

Or do we just deal with it, or not show up?  Because not showing up is almost where I'm at with anti-capitalist marches because of these experiences, and that sucks, because I am anti-capitalist.  

Obviously, it's quite fashionable right now to hate on black bloc* and property destruction, particularly here in the Bay where those tactics have led to some pretty damned divisive conversations...and I don't really want to add to that? (Which is why I've sat on this piece for weeks, actually).  But once I FINALLY figured this out, I also really, really, wanted to write it out and share it and maybe get others thinking about it too, because it seemed important.

*Obviously not all black blocs practice property destruction and not all property destruction is done by a black bloc, this is simply the context in which I have experienced these moments.  The exception being the black bloc on Move-In Day for Occupy Oakland, which I found really inspiring because they took a really awesome militantly defensive tactic of having shields and protecting people by standing between them and the cops and serving as a kind of wall so medics could get to injured people more easily, etc.  That was great.  I would love to see more of that.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Dia de los Muertos

Dia de los Muertos. 
All Souls Day.

So much love to the Ancestors. 

So much love to those I have known who reside on the other side of the Veil. 
I miss you on a regular basis. 

I hope I make you proud.
And thank you for your guidance.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Something to Share on Mabon

Today I found this a very worthwhile read: SouLar Bliss – Autumn Equinox Recipes, Remedies and Rituals.  Here is a sample:
The arrival of the Autumn Equinox on Saturday, September 22nd, opens up a new season in our lives and within the Earth. In the Northern Hemisphere, the Equinox welcomes the newness of Autumn and the birth of Libra season. We witness the continued beautiful metamorphosis of nature shedding its summer layers and walking into its Fall. Our ancestors used this time to give thanks for the abundance from the year and gather the resources they needed to prepare for the darker and colder months This shedding process we witness in nature is a powerful keynote for us to listen to. A call to action to bring more awareness into the different layers of our lives and our communities. What will we choose to sustain? What will we choose to shed?
This is a ripe moment to uncover the patterns that make up our foundation and breath new light into them. Another opportunity to recalibrate and reflect back to ourselves what we are grateful for, what needs to shift and where we need to grow. Here we can find new compasses or fix old ones, with an intention to specify and affirm the direction we want our lives to move in. We can choose to act in ways that either accept or disrupt self depricating programming, either sourced from us or from the oppressive factors around us that beg to silence us.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

My Review of "Womanthology: Heroic"

Womanthology: Heroic
Womanthology: Heroic by Bonnie Burton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So I want to be really clear, besides just putting stars on it, what I think about this book. I think it's important to acknowledge that on the one hand it's really groundbreaking and beautiful: when have we ever seen woman comic writers gathered together in this way? When have we seen all the advice from professionals breaking down how to do myriad things so that you can make your own? And most of the stories, in my opinion, are also just PLAIN GOOD. I tore through this 300 page treasure trove in a day.  This is the five stars.

BUT, even as all these things are really great, the diversity in the contributors/representations just isn't there on a number of measures. There are really only a handful of contributors of color, and a few more representations of women of color in the stories themselves.  There are no queer relationships at evidence in the stories.  There is only ONE representation of a woman with disabilities. It is BEAUTIFUL and one of my favorite solo pieces, but... there's only one. And it's on the last page of the last section in the five main sections. Ouch. And while there are various gender presentations (ranging across normative femininity to agender, androgynous, femme and butch) in both contributors and represented characters, I saw no evidence of trans women in either contributor (which obviously might not be apparent) or, more importantly, in story subject.

I'm sure the usual reasons will be used to explain this: only so many people got in touch! And I'm sure that's TRUE. But here's the thing... This book got launched through Twitter. So what that means is that the call for submissions was dispersed from person to person. And if this is the demographics that came out, it means this is representative of the circles those passing the tweets on are a part of. I think it would have behooved the editors to do some (more?) outreach beyond their usual circles. OR at the very least, the people who build on this project MUST MUST MUST do that.  We've got to stop making excuses and find a way to change this problem that just keeps coming up and keeps coming up. And that's why I write this. Not to shit on this project, I really loved this book, but to really encourage people to look at it's strengths and it's weaknesses and to address the latter.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

My Hero(ines): A Tribute to the Women Who Made Me Who I Am

When I started writing my thesis, one of the first things I wrote out concerned my childhood and how the fictional characters I loved affected me in lasting ways; how I modeled myself after them.  Out of that writing came a section in my Introduction called "Modeling: Lessons Learned Watching TNG" where I talked at length about Star Trek: The Next Generation's portrayal of Counselor Deanna Troi and Tasha Yar, and what those portrayals taught me about womanhood and femininity.  While this is, I think, a really strong section and I am happy with it, there was a lot more in my original conception of this idea of "modeling" that got left out (and rightly so: I needed to focus in on the pieces most relevant to the overall project).  It is that which got left out that I want to return to, perhaps briefly, now.  It's a return I wanted to make for some time, but I got the kick in the ass I needed from the Heroines Zine project, where I plan to submit some version of this piece.

A Chronological Tribute Poem Thing

To the woman who taught me to sing, Ariel (The Little Mermaid).

To the woman who taught me to read, and that it's ok to be "strange," Belle (Beauty and the Beast).

To the woman who taught me to feel, to empathize, and that perceiving the world through feeling is ok, Counselor Deanna Troi (Star Trek: The Next Generation).

To the woman who taught me to fight, to defy unjust authority, and to hold myself with dignity, Princess Leia Organa (Star Wars).

To the woman who taught me to never give up, to think things through and to embrace my own power, Agent Dana Scully, M.D. (The X-Files).

To all the women who fired my imagination and made me look at myself and womanhood a little differently: Thank You.  I would not be who I am with out you.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Important Shit I Have Been Reading: Some Reflections on Creating Fragrance-Free Space

Also file under: "stuff I haven't talked about that much but should."

Read it all, the author talks about not just the challenges of this issue of accessibility and large gatherings (excerpted here) but also methods of implementation and the point of the whole thing.  If you don't know much about fragrance accessibility, this is a great post for learning a whole lot in a short amount of time.  It's something I've been working on for the past few years, negotiating and figuring out what things are most important to get fragrance free, and where/when fragrance can still be in my life.  It's a process, and it takes time, but I do think it's pretty important.

via Tape Flags and First Thoughts
The first challenge is that many people don't know that they are making a choice about fragrance. It is so ubiquitous in the products we use that it comes to seem a natural part of our environment; the proverbial water the fish are swimming in. Why would people who don't have sensitivities think about this on their own? You'd be astonished if they did. So it's necessary to, first, let people know that there's a problem.
This leads directly to the second challenge: a lot of people--perhaps most people hearing about this for the first time, if my experience is any indication--don't believe there's a problem even once they're told about it. I don't, in general, blame people for this. If they've never known anyone who was affected, they probably have no idea how bad it can be. I have sometimes been tempted to tap someone on the shoulder and say, "Excuse me, I need to leave now, but I wanted to let you know before I go that your decision to wear perfume to this event not only excludes me from it but means that I will probably be sick until next Thursday." But hardly anyone has ever received that shoulder tap, from me or anyone else. So they've never enountered a sufferer in the wild.
Even if they believe there's a problem, and that for some people it can be quite bad, they're inclined to assume that these folks are very rare. The first time I brought up the issue of fragrance at the summer gathering, many years ago, the person I spoke to assumed that I was the only one affected, and that the problem of one person was not sufficient to merit asking 1500 people to change their behavior. In other words, the problem might be real, but it's the job of the sufferers to manage it.
One friend told me that she met a woman at the gathering two years ago who was ranting about the FF policy. She thought it was just another pointless PC thing. My friend told her about me, about how hard gatherings had always been for me, and how much my experience had improved since the FF policy had started to get some traction. The woman was surprised and moved. She'd had no idea this actually mattered to anybody.
I also suspect that many of us progressive types suffer from issue fatigue. We've gotten on board with "Column A: The Essential Social Issues." However imperfectly, we've embraced racial justice; gender equality; the gay and lesbian rights movement; physical accessibility for people who use wheelchairs, scooters, canes, and walkers. In addition, each of us has probably also chosen to prioritize some or all of the "optional" social issues in Column B as well: factory farming, a struggling educational system, the dismantling of voter rights, conditions for workers in overseas factories, animal rights, over-reliance on petroleum fuels, global warming, the environment, the existence of bisexuals, the bottled water industry, invasive species, and whatever else I can't think of off the top of my head.
It can be very frustrating when you try to introduce the fragrance issue to the very people you think will be most open to it, and instead they resist. But I do think that resistance often comes from folks feeling like they have enough on their plate and they don't have the energy to take on one more thing.
I also wonder if some of the resistance might come from a desire not to seem even more like whacked-out troublemakers than we already do. I can imagine--and this is entirely my imagination, not anything I have any knowledge of--but I can imagine the person whose job it is to talk to universities or retreat centers about our needs ranting, "I already have to tell their cafeteria staff that they have to learn to cook vegan food, turn off the ice cream machines at Wednesday's lunch, and get us re-usable cups instead of the paper ones they usually have at the beverage station. And I need to tell the facilities people that we need some of the bathrooms re-designated from Male and Female to Gender-Neutral. Now I'm supposed to tell them, what? That we want them to switch out all the bathroom soap for fragrance-free, and that they can't use their usual cleaning products in the bedrooms? Well, I sure look forward to that conversation!"
Even once people decide they'd like to make some personal changes to help with this problem, there are challenges. They might not know where to find FF products for instance--though this has gotten much easier in recent years. I used to be able to use only Clinique makeup, for instance--$15 for a lipstick!--but a few years ago, when I needed to buy makeup for the first time in years for a choir concert, I was able to get cheap FF lipstick, blush, foundation, eyeshadow, and mascara at my corner Rite Aid.
But people who haven't looked before may not know that somewhere in that wall of shaving cream is one brand whose "extra sensitive" product is fragrance-free, or that Common Brand Of Lotion makes a FF moisturizer you just have to read the fine print to find. It can be disorienting and overwhelming.
People might also be concerned that FF products won't work as well as what they're used to. And that might indeed happen. Sometimes that's a trade-off people should just resign themselves to making (are your perfect hair and blinding-white gym socks really that important?), and sometimes it's a trade-off they can't make. I had some things to say about this previously in a post called The Hierarchy of Harm.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Important Shit I Have Been Reading: Pollution, Poverty, People of Color: The factory on the hill

via Environmental Health News:
"While most coastal cities breathe ocean breezes mixed with traffic exhaust, people in north and central Richmond are exposed to a greater array of contaminants, many of them at higher concentrations. Included are benzene, mercury and other hazardous air pollutants that have been linked to cancer, reproductive problems and neurological effects. People can’t escape the fumes indoors, either. One study showed that some of the industrial pollutants are inside Richmond homes. 
It's the triple whammy of race, poverty and environment converging nationwide to create communities near pollution sources where nobody else wants to live. Black leaders from the Civil Rights Movement called the phenomenon environmental racism, and beginning in the early 1980s, they documented the pattern at North Carolina's Warren County PCBs landfill, Louisiana's "Cancer Alley," Tennessee's Dickson County, Chicago's South Side, Houston's Sunnyside garbage dump and other places across the country. 
About 56 percent of the nine million Americans who live in neighborhoods within three kilometers of large commercial hazardous waste facilities are people of color, according to a landmark, 2007 environmental justice report by the United Church of Christ. In California, it’s 81 percent. Poverty rates in these neighborhoods are 1.5 times higher than elsewhere. 
Those numbers, however, reflect a miniscule portion of the threats faced by nonwhite and low-income families. Thousands of additional towns are near other major sources of pollution, including refineries, chemical plants, freeways and ports. 
Richmond is one of these beleaguered towns, on the forefront of the nation's environmental justice struggle, waging a fight that began a century ago."

As you've probably heard, the Chevron refinery in Richmond had a fire a couple of days ago.  This fire left huge toxic clouds which are now going to make their way around the bay area (in fact, currently, in my direction).  Environmental racism is a deathly real thing, and I think it's very important that we understand that it's part of a long pattern of behavior.  This is not simply "an accident," it is part of a historical trajectory that says low income people, people of color, and Native people (in particular) are fair game to be slowly poisoned and their lives risked for the profit of an upper crust of normative White people.  This article does some of that work, and so I share it with you.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Good Shit I Have Been Reading: Defining Muslim Feminist Politics through Indigenous Solidarity Activism

It's been a long time since I did a round up of good pieces I have read recently, and to be honest over the last two years in particular I just haven't kept up my reading as I once did.  But I am doing a bit more of it lately and I felt particularly moved to share this piece by Shaista Patel with you.  Do go read it all at The Feminist Wire....

Defining Muslim Feminist Politics through Indigenous Solidarity Activism:
"While we may share some histories, it is critical for us Muslims and other non-Indigenous people here to not fall into the trap of equating the struggles of Muslims with that of Indigenous peoples in white settler colonies, where Indigenous people who have been living here since time immemorial have now been outnumbered by whites through illegal land grab, dispossession, and outright genocide. Under settler-colonialism, as Patrick Wolfe asserts, “the dominant feature is not exploitation [of Indigenous peoples’ labor] but replacement” of Indigenous people by white people.[iv] Our connection as racialized people to this land is not the same as that of its Indigenous peoples, and we have to remember that they are not just a “minority” group here, like we are. In “Heteropatriarchy and the three pillars of white supremacy,” scholar Andrea Smith explains how the logic of the genocide of Indigenous peoples and slavery, and continual treatment of Black people as property under capitalism, interrelate and work with the Orientalist logic of seeing Muslims and Arabs as inferior, which legitimizes constant war on their lands and bodies.[v] It is important, therefore, to understand the different but interrelated ways in which white supremacy affects and implicates us. My Muslim feminist praxis asks me not to leave this recognition of living on stolen land as rhetoric, as a mere admission, but rather to make my complicity into an urgent political and personal task. 
How does this sense of complicity translate into an everyday feminist praxis? As a Muslim feminist, fighting racism, sexism, and homophobia has been at the forefront of my agenda.  However, an understanding of ongoing colonial relations between Canadians and Indigenous peoples here makes it necessary to remember that, as several Indigenous women have patiently pointed out again and again, colonization happened precisely through patriarchal gendered violence against Indigenous women. As Smith explains in her ground-breaking work,Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide:
[I]n order to colonize a people whose society was not hierarchical, colonizers must first naturalize hierarchy through instituting patriarchy.[vi]
Drawing on these insights, I recognize that my struggles against gender violence will fail if articulated in isolation from confronting colonial patriarchal relations that continue to strengthen sexual and other forms of violence against Indigenous women, women of color, and white women. I cannot fight against the invasion of my body if my politics do not account for the ways in which Indigenous women have been constantly marked for death and disappearance. If I am angry about Mark Steyn’s anti-Muslim vitriolic cry that the “future belongs to Islam” because Muslim women are reproducing “speedily” while the Western (white) population is declining,[vii] I have to remember that Indigenous women are still seen as “better dead than pregnant”.[viii] The “Stolen Sisters” report by Amnesty International (Canada) states that a 1996 Canadian government statistic reveals that Indigenous women between the ages of 25 and 44, with status under the Indian Act, were five times more likely than all other women of the same age to die as the result of violence.[ix] Native Women’s Association of Canada reports the number of missing and murdered Indigenous women at 582 since 1980,[x] while several other Indigenous men and women report the number to be much higher, which is not surprising given the fact that colonialism works precisely through targeting Indigenous women’s bodies. If Indigenous women’s bodies are disposable and a site of everyday violence, what integrity can my body demand here?"

'via Blog this'

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Once More into the Spuffy Breach, Dear Friends, Or; My Evolving and Complicated Relationship with Spike

There was a day when I was a teenager, probably 15 or 16, when I saw the sex scene from "Smashed" (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, if you didn't already know from the post title) on television.  It was completely out of context.  I literally clicked the remote onto the channel right at the moment where Buffy and Spike were making out, tearing down a house, and fucking.  And my jaw dropped.  And I was like, "holy shit, is this seriously on TV right now?"  And then I was simply very aware of how turned on I was by the whole scene.

Cut to... At least seven years later and I still haven't really watched Buffy cuz honestly I didn't care that much about the show, but friends of mine are STILL raving about it so I finally give in and decide to watch it - also there's that sex scene at some point to see again and I'll be honest: I was looking forward to it.  So I watch the series, and I get really invested in Spike as a character.  Yeah, he is really stalkery, but that's ok (it's not really [and I'm over-simplifying my reaction, I wasn't ok with it then either but I also chose to sort of let it go]), and he doesn't know how to take no for an answer (not cute IRL in any way).  BUT WHO CARES LOOK AT HIM OMG (no really though you should care, but I didn't).

But despite this, when I got to that sex scene again... It didn't affect me the way it did that first time.  I suspect because, in part, I knew the story that went along with it.  Truthfully the kiss at the end of "Once More, With Feeling" affected me more (IN MY PANTS) than that sex scene did.  But I still have lots of feelings about that sex scene because of what it meant to me the first time I saw it, and I felt I should continue having those feelings for it.  I certainly was still attracted to Spike, hugely so, so I just accepted that perhaps part of the fun of that first viewing was that it came out of nowhere and caught me by surprise - along with that sense of (in my parents living room sort of late at night) "I should NOT be watching this right now!"  But still, that it didn't affect me the same way bothered me.  And has continued to bother me.

Cut to lots of years later and Mark of Mark Watches getting to season six of Buffy, getting to this episode and his reaction...could not be more different than mine was over ten years ago now and I'm just like "WHAT?" because you see I'm still really invested in this scene and this character.  But along with that "WHAT?" reaction is the same nagging little voice that bothered me the last time I watched this scene, the one that's like, "you're not turned on, why is that?"  The very non-reaction of my body to this scene is in itself a reaction and it's one that I don't know how to process.  Hell it's been processing for years at this point and I still don't know how to express what I feel and why it matters even as I know it does matter to me.

The best I can figure is that this matters to me now because I understand something about the politics of desire - that what we desire is as imbued with political meaning as everything else.  I started exploring that in my posts about how it bothered me when I realized my "hottest guys" list was populated exclusively by white men.  I have over the years consciously forced awareness of these things onto myself, in an effort to decolonize my mind in this arena to the best of my ability (with noticeable positive results).  And it was roughly during this period that I watched Buffy all the way through for the first time.  I was subconsciously already processing these issues when I watched the series, though I wouldn't be able to write about (or articulate) them until much later (obviously).  Although, if you look back, my very first posts on this blog were reposts from livejournal about...what else?  Spuffy. (P.S. those posts have major spoilers so if you're watching for the first time don't go looking for them, also if you do go looking for them please excuse my ableist language. Good gods that is some old writing...)

Quite frankly I don't know if I'm ready to dissect my attraction to Spike.  I am certain that is a very loaded piece of my psyche, maybe that doesn't NEED to be totally unpacked? (I waffle on this).  But here's what I do know.  I do know that what Mark wrote in his reactions to these scenes and this relationship hit me in the gut.  I do know that I had a hot mess of conflicted feelings reacting to what he wrote; some of which are very personal feelings about whether or not I am in fact a fucked up person (in ways I didn't already know about/am not ready/don't want to deal with).  And I do know that I've been putting off going back and rewatching that episode; that I'm wary of what I might find this time around.  I also know that, given the clusterfuck of a reaction the fandom has given Mark as a result of his writing on that episode (now dubbed the Great Spuffy Meltdown of 2012 by Mark himself), I am getting indications that maybe my reactions to these scenes and this relationship are ones I SHOULD analyze more than I have.

And for once I don't really have a conclusion here, I'm just kind of laying out the things I've been thinking about.  I keep thinking about these things off and on as I read Mark's reviews, and revisiting feelings that have lain dormant for YEARS as it goes along.  I know there are Buffy fans who read my stuff, what do you think about all this?  What were/have been your feelings watching this relationship evolve?  Where is consent in their sexual relationship, if it's there at all?  I remember brownfemipower having some interesting thoughts about the sort of BDSM type nature of the Spuffy relationship and its being a rare instance of that sort of relationship being OK on mainstream television and agreeing with her interpretation, but I haven't been able to find those posts again on tumblr.  Does something along those lines ring true for you?  Or am I just way out in left field?

Friday, July 20, 2012

Imagining Social Justice Through Sci-Fi TV: From "Trek" to "Torchwood" (Part Seven: Conclusion)

Previous installments:
Part One: Introduction
Part Two: Reviewing the Literature
Part Three: The Star Trek Universe (part one)
Part Four: The Star Trek Universe (part two)
Part Five: The Doctor Who Universe (part one)
Part Six: The Doctor Who Universe (part two)


"You cannot destroy an idea!  That future; I created it, and it's real!"
-         Benny Russell, "Far Beyond the Stars" (Behr)

In 1998 Star Trek: Deep Space Nine aired an episode called “Far Beyond the Stars” that transported us from the twenty-fourth century to the twentieth in a story about the power of the imagination.  This was a “fun” episode of Star Trek, one where the actors were able to parody themselves.  They also got to take off their makeup; alien became human again.  Human faces put on alien enemies, and they were still enemies, conquering imperialists turned policemen.  Human faces also put on alien friends, breaking down the wall between the fictional world of a space station and our own history, our own reality; stripping back the layers of spectacle to reveal what those of us critically engaging with sci-fi TV already knew: these are stories about us.  This was a story about a man named Benny, a Black American writer at a science fiction journal in 1950s New York City who writes a story about a space station.  He is writing about Deep Space Nine, and through his imagining it (and writing the story down), the station became a reality, with his words literally transforming into the actions taken in the universe we had come to know.
This was an incredibly complex, multi-layered story, at once looking critically at the racism of the United States and the exclusion/marginalization of people of color and women in science fiction writing (and perhaps science fiction television writing?), all while linking together the power of ideas, stories and the futures we create through them.  Quite bluntly, this was one of my favorite episodes of science fiction television, across franchises.  If any story I’ve ever seen embodied the idea that I started this project with (that our imaginings create our futures) it is this one; and powerfully so.  “You are the dreamer, and the dream” says Benjamin Sisko’s father/the mysterious street corner preacher (Behr), and we truly are always both.  We imagine the future we want to build, and we work toward bringing it into existence: through story, through activism, through teaching each other what matters about our past and present; and so we must imagine carefully and fully and critically.  You are the dreamer, and the dream.  It is this image that I want to leave you with.  It is this image, this idea, so eloquently put in this episode of DS9, which has changed forever how I view the stories I love.
In looking at where science fiction television was, how it represented people and the tactics chosen in story-telling, when I was a child watching Next Generation, in comparison to where it is now in Doctor Who and Torchwood (even with the missteps I see in the latest incarnations of both series) I am incredibly encouraged by the turn to more complex, nuanced, and “gray” storytelling.  There is immense potential in the model I see Davies using on DW and TW, and I hope the next generation of sci-fi TV writers takes it even further, pushing the boundaries into more structural critique and more explicitly re-centering marginalized people through their stories.  Indeed, if the response to characters of color being central, if still secondary, characters in the recent Hunger Games movie/book is any indication, there is much work left to do expunging the centrality and invisibility of Whiteness and overt racism in our communities.  I hope my analysis around the way Whiteness has functioned in TNG and Doctor Who will help others consider where the same is at work in their favorite stories (science fiction or otherwise), and that my analysis on the re-centering of stories will help us imagine more productive, justice-oriented ways to imagine and tell our stories.
This has been an incredibly personal journey for me, helping me to see both where my urgent sense of the need for social justice has in part come from, as well as some problematic ways of seeing and understanding the world that I internalized.  I hope it has been as productive for you, reader, as it was for me.  In exploring the political narratives of these shows I have attempted to put on display the way in which their stories  replicate and challenge kyriarchal structures of power, in the hopes that through understanding these dynamics fan-scholars can interrupt normative conversations in geek culture, teachers can liven up class discussion with examples of important issues played out for the students, and we can all encourage ourselves and each other (in whatever capacity) towards an ever more insightful critical media literacy that challenges the kyriarchal structures of power embedded in our fiction, our politics, our economic systems, and so on; because these narratives are indeed embedded in all facets of our social life, and they do contribute to the oppression of real people throughout the world.  We must resist.  From all sides, through all the means at our disposal, and particularly through those means wherein we ourselves have been most invested and wherein our talents lie.  For me, that is in stories.

“NO ONE WAY WORKS, it will take all of us
shoving at the thing from all sides
to bring it down”
-         Diane di Prima (Revolutionary Letter #8)

“Impermanent spirals embed themselves in asphalt, concrete, in dust. Slowly, slowly, they eat into the foundations of the structures of power. Deep transformations take time. Regeneration arises from decay. Si se puede! It can be done” (Starhawk)

Find my bibliography below the cut...