Wednesday, October 31, 2007

trick or treat

this flier was created by members of the student activist group, Coalition for Campus Unity. CCU works to combat bigotry and promote diversity and justice at Yale by organizing to effect institutional change.

we found the message of this flier relevant to our campus given the popularity of this fall's ethnically themed parties, such as "Mustachio Bashio"(featuring caricatures of Latino men), "Cowboys and Indians" (featuring men dressed up as cowboys and women as 'indians') and "the ghetto party." and of course, the campus spotting of a young white man out and about in blackface.

stop, think, respect.

happy halloween.

Voices that Choose, Memories that Live

I don’t leave people.

But as I listened to a post-show discussion of the play, Trouble in Mind, I could not help but tap into my visions of that talk. The talk where I leave. The conversation where I declare the fullness of myself and offer a choice: respect my identity or receive a wave, hello, and how are you. That’s it. See, the star of the show, E. Faye Butler, had some advice about how to deal with that frustrated friend who just does not get it. Her advice? Leave.

Banish yourself from the lives of the seemingly static ignorant and move on. Unfortunately, the actress did not problematize this action. As people of color, our actions do not have the privilege of being read with nuance. Our slow walks offstage are not always read as poignant resistances to racism. Usually, they are (mis)interpreted as either nothing or a “colored problem.” The ghost of ourselves becomes their one “friend” of color to pull them through 21st century interviews and “I’m not racist” defenses. Our shadowed selves are also the reason they don’t believe in serious dialogues on race. To them, these hazy and soft voices beyond the veil are mostly a legitimization of our silence. They did not want to speak. They did not speak. They do not speak.

Silence. I did not voice this concern at the event. I remained silent, but I am speaking now and I trust it counts. I hope the longing I feel when I dream of these “would be” experiences empowers me to have the courage to finally communicate my frustrations in a full and strong voice.

If we choose to leave, we must leave with force—with honesty. You could have known me. We could have developed kinship—a trust enriched by moments and, hopefully, memories of accepting and actualizing love. However, you allowed the constructions of society to frame, bind, and paralyze our friendship. I have tried to build a bridge, to meet you where you are, to see where you could be someday. I hoped that we could meet in the middle as I am not a complete project either. Yet, you resisted while I opened myself wider than ever before, a process that hurt me—that continues to hurt me.

And I am here to say goodbye. I am here to leave, not empty handed; instead, I leave you with a choice, a promise, a challenge. Choose a privilege that grants you ignorance or choose to reckon with these topics and to reconcile with people like me. I promise you that I will still be here when you want to meet on that bridge. And, lastly, I challenge you to let me live within your memory. Do not tokenize me, compartmentalize my experience, or forget me. Let me live as you rub against these topics, as you see someone who looks like me, as you stumble across me in your “universal,” that world that erases my color.

And I will live with a memory of you. Someone who saw me even if it was with an ignorant lens. Someone who began to engage parts of myself. Someone I had to believe and hope in simply for respect. As I continue to move and act, I will use a broad vision to see how you could be affected. You will join others and I will try to keep you distinct. I know the change will come from your person, rather than your skin.

I pray for you all; I do not leave.

We should not leave silently. We must leave with a trail. And only they know if we truly leave at all.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Race in America: Irrelevant & Incredibly Consequential

Clinton. Kennedy.

And yes, Bush.

We all know that a few families wield immense political power in this country. In fact, if a certain democratic candidate gets elected in November of 2008, the same two families will have been in the White House for at least 32 consecutive years. If this scenario holds true, however, we still could have a major first in American politics: our first female President, or our first President of color.

No, that is not a typo.

Lynne Cheyney, the wife of Dick Cheyney, recently discovered that she and her husband are related to Barack Obama as both descend from 17th century French immigrants. Obama is also distantly related to Bush through 17th century residents of Massachusetts. Although these relations have had absolutely no impact on the lives of any of these people, it does shed light on the concept of race in America.

Race is a social construction. Many historians will argue that before Bacon's rebellion in 1676, the concept of race was far from what it subsequently became. Prior to the rebellion, black slaves worked plantations along with black and white indentured servants. It was only after this event took place that the plantation working force became composed almost entirely of African slaves. Only then did the concept of race develop, and that was primarily a tool by which the new poor white farming class could ascend socially.It follows that race is not biological at all, but simply a holdover from another American institution - slavery.

Furthermore, if race is not biological, then it is irrelevant to the psychological development of a human being - independent of a society which conditions otherwise. For example, examine the case of Wayne Joseph, a Chino, Calif., high school principal. Joseph has lived his more than 50 years self-identifying as African-American who, "a few years ago, took an ethnic DNA test out of curiosity about his genetic history. To his surprise, the test found Indo-European, East Asian and Native American DNA, but none from Africa!" (Chicago Tribune). There is nothing that ties Joseph to the continent of Africa, but his self-identification has inextricably bound him with a group of people who are tied to the continent. As the article continues to say, "His chromosomes might not show African roots, but his identity was produced by the African-American experience" (CT). In short, this man was conditioned to be black. Thus, the concept of race without a society is irrelevant.

Race can be constructed or deconstructed as people desire. Until a society desires that deconstruction however, race is incredibly consequential.

As race is a social construct, it spurs the construction of other social institutions like racism, prejudice and bigotry. Those concepts have the power to stop individuals from reaching their dreams and to bind a people in the shackles of indignation. For that reason, America must continue on its road to racial equality - a journey that will require the efforts of all involved - especially people of color.

As Obama is the first realistic opportunity for a person of color to become President of the United States, his candidacy alone is cause for celebration. As much as we would all like to bury the racial history of our nation, none of us should fail to recognize that Obama will be campaigning for President in 2008 - just 40 years after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. Just 40 years after blacks were being imprisoned for marching for freedom, a black man will be a serious candidate for President.

Maybe his candidacy can expedite the journey.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

race and violence: freshmen of color at yale

i have someone here at yale this year who i love very much. we have known each other a long time and he is a brilliant, forward thinking, conscious young black man. he is a freshman from brooklyn, new york with sensibilities he has gained from navigating all sorts of worlds - prestigious boys' school for the New York City elite, elementary school in clinton hill in the nineties, all sorts of neighborhoods in brooklyn and queens and the bronx, now yale's campus and new haven.

in the two months he has been at yale he has had white men threaten him multiple times with violence, with power, with their own acute and oppressive sense of entitlement. during his first days here he went to a party at one of the greek houses on campus with a large group of other freshmen. he alone was singled out of the line for entrance. he was not simply asked to show ID before being allowed in, which is standard procedure for racists about town who are scared of mixing company with the black and latino new haven residents who have been here long before they were accepted to yale. this young man was instead frisked by another student - a young white man who had the audacity to put his hands on another human being, without any authority vested in him by law, institution, or consent. he acted only with the authority he perceived bestowed upon him somehow by his whiteness.

the humiliation of being frisked in front of the other freshmen, othered in his construction as black, as latino, as a danger. of course, this white student who did the frisking would not have known what to do should he have even found a weapon. he did not really expect my friend to have a weapon. the frisk was merely an exercise of control: a performance of power. "This is my space, I can put my hands on you because I am white, because you are black, and because I decide whether or not you can stay here --- for now and of course, on my terms."

weeks later, when my friend - this young brilliant, good natured, resilient, black man - attempted to attend an "integrated" social event at yale with his dignity in tact, he was lifted up by the shirt by yet another tall, big white man and shoved out of the way. this man was drunk too. my friend responded. he let this other man know that he was never to touch him again, to use violence with him again, to move him out of the way as if he had ownership of the room, the whole planet, my friend's body. he was also never to assume he could do that unchallenged, without resistance.

three weeks ago, my friend's experiences came to a climax (for thus far, that is). he was sitting on a bench on high street across from a drunk white man. this man was with another male friend and his girlfriend. he called this young man that i know jermaine and then jerome, which my friend ignored. he asked my friend why he was here to which my friend replied, "i am waiting for my sister and her friends." the drunk white man then went on to say, "ooh - your sister is she hot?"

my friend went on to tell this kid to leave him alone, to stop asking him inappropriate questions about his sister, that he didn't know him. apparently, the kid's girlfriend shushed him. but he went on. "are her friends hot?" when my young friend told him again to be quiet, to stop harassing him, and to stop asking questions about women (of color) and their respective hotnesses, the kid announced: "whatever, he probably doesn't even go to yale anyway."

beyond failing to address my friend (probably lacking the courage to look him in the eye and say "you probably don't even go to yale anyway"), this drunk white man assumed that because of the color of my friend's skin and the manner of his dress he could not possibly be a yale student. and of course, to this man to be a yale student is tantamount to being his equal. what he was really saying was: "you are probably not even my equal." moreover, this other student's words reveal that other people, particularly people of color, are not worthy of his respect, time, or recognition, if they do not attend yale.

an argument ensued, during which the drunk white man issued threats such as "i'm twice your size." this man and his two companions made my friend acutely aware that he was outnumbered and smaller. being from brooklyn, the young man i know did not flinch.

my friend communicated - with no ambiguity at all - that this drunk white man did not know him, ought not underestimate him, and would not be able to harm him.

when three of the women of color my brother was waiting for arrived, they noticed the anger and tension in the scene. they told the drunk man's girlfriend and friend to take him home. "what kind of friends are you? leaving your drunk, belligerent, racist friend out on the street to harass people?" when tensions reached a climax, one of the young black women announced, "fine! i know you're not 21. let's call the police then!" they arrived in bold defense and solidarity, supporting my friend who was already handling himself well - unwilling to be diminished, to be harmed - with words or blows. the situation resolved and the three senior women walked with the young freshman man, welcomed yet again to this new academic community with accusations of non-belonging and with the desire of others to assert their own eminence through assaults on his mind, his soul, his self.

i am most moved by two things. first, the incredible pride of these men who continue to assault my friend. they all appear to have what some might call a God complex - they believe in their own eminence and invincibility; they believe that they have the power and authority to manipulate the life and rights of others. i am moved by friend's steadfastness and conviction in his own humanity and his own rights. that he would assert his self in the face of such danger, unafraid of defending himself, but unwilling to enter the sort of fray that might jeopardize an educational opportunity that he, his family, and his community have worked very hard to obtain.

my heart aches for this young man. he is a man of great promise, who has transcended all sorts of life circumstance, to arrive at a place of light and truth that included no pictures of such threats of violence in the glossy pages of a brochure.

earlier this year, Dr. Beverly Tatum came to speak to yale freshmen about her book Why are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria and Other Conversations about Race. Dr. Tatum's presence was part of an innovative and important initiative coordinated by the yale administration and student leaders to pro-actively address issues of diversity and community. some freshmen (of many colors) objected to being assigned readings from Dr. Tatum's book and the "forced" dialogue about race and segregation and justice. to some, the talk felt like part of a propagandistic liberal agenda or a reinforcement of racial lines by talking about the existence and division of race in college.

in general, the response from freshmen was overwhelmingly positive; many felt the difficult conversations expanded their minds to new ways of thinking and opened their hearts to new ways of loving. only time will tell whether the program will foster unity and conscience. however, a few students deemed the events irrelevant or oppressive.

such students are the sort of folk that ralph ellison might call "sleepwalkers."

Open Your Eyes.

freshman year is not all dances and kegs and problem set parties for all freshmen at yale.

thinking of these experiences my friend has recounted to me, i wonder:

is there is an infrastructure to report such acts of violence, such grievances, such threats? is there a body at yale that students of color, that muslim students, that women, can report such acts to so that they might feel safe on the street and in their dorm rooms? so that such pride, irresponsibility, and hatred may not go unchecked, may not ever culminate in the violence that destroys fleshes and futures? something to think of blactivists and friends...

the story of this young man is not uncommon. i know black men who have had gate doors slammed in their faces, who have had the police called on them while they are doing their laundry in dorm basements, who have been told by campus police they do not look like yale students. i know black women who have been accused of stealing, who have had their bodies regarded as sites for conquest and control, who are punished for their spirit and their voice.

this is of course not typical of yale's campus alone. this is the treatment we experience as black students within the yale bubble, carrying IDs that prove to policemen and frat boys, however unbelieving, that we have a right to walk the streets of new haven. this is a right consistently denied to the citizens of new haven - who without the plastic white proof of belonging - are invisible and dangerous.

when i spoke to the aforementioned young man on the phone, he told me he was not scared. he's been attacked by drunk white men muttering the n-word on late trains coursing through brooklyn, where he lives. where i am from as well. this event was not upsetting for my friend because it had never happened to him before - it had. he was most upset because these sorts of encounters he is having on high street in new haven, connecticut are precisely the reason he did not apply to schools in the South.

welcome to New England.

since this young man has been at yale he has experienced all manner of racism. beyond this sort of incident involving a threat of violence, he has, of course, seen and circumnavigated and resisted many racisms that others might deem less "severe." These "subtler" forms of racism ---- underestimation by professors, objectification by peers, tokenization, dismissal, denial of history, social exclusion, sexual harassment, economic oppression --- injustices that are no less violent, less injurious, less unjust than white hands roaming, shoving, pounding.

while i believe very much in non-violence and the importance of peacemaking, i also currently believe very much that self defense is a human right. i worry to think of what would have happened should that kid have begun to swung at my young friend. i worry to think of who would have left yale, and who would have remained. i worry to think of how that story might have been re-spun and history revised.

all i can promise is that there would have been a rally, a protest, a movement: vigilant and committed organizing on the part of black yale and our allies. it is a wonder we are not doing all of this already.

perhaps it is the sense of complete involvement we have in our schoolwork. and surely, our educations are important. unlike many white activists at Yale who rhetorically and effectively dismiss school work as somehow irrelevant in comparison to the immediacy of "The Struggle," as students of color at yale we know that our presence here is political, that we inhabit yale in preparation for our return to the communities from whence we came to work collectively for real good; we know that the histories we are studying are our heritage and may be our deliverance. we know that these histories are ours to recreate.

however, although we regard our experiences in yale and in new haven as preparation, we cannot be still. our time in this city is time in "the real world," irrespective of what others might insinuate about what college is or should be. complacency will never be a part of a true education and our immersion in action, in reflection, in good work, and in each other will be what ensures that we learn.

press on, young one. the drunk white kids on high street can't take your education away. and in the words of e st v, remind those who would assault us, night and day, ceaselessly, with hateful egocentrism and cruelty:

See you in class.

Biden's "American Pragmatism" = Racism

Thanks, Biden.

You have continued to run your mouth and reveal your ignorance and deep seated prejudice that you most likely see as a true "American pragmatic" spirit. You take statistics, ignore the roots and systemic causes, and essentialize numbers and stereotypes onto brown and black bodies. Trying to identify the reasons Iowa schools are outperforming Washington D.C. schools, Biden's jumped to racial demograpics. According to the Delaware Senator and Presidential candidate, Iowa stained only with a 1% African-American population must be a "cleaner" situation than DC. Biden continued, "There is probably less than four of five percent that are minorities. What is in Washington? So look, it goes back to what you start off with, what you're dealing with."

What I'm dealing with? Assumptions, Supremacy, Racism, Bigotry? Check, check, check, and check.

Biden, of course, has a bigger mouth than that. "When you have children coming from dysfunctional homes, when you have children coming from homes where there's no books, where the mother from the time they're born doesn't talk to them — as opposed to the mother in Iowa who's sitting out there and talks to them, the kid starts out with a 300 word larger vocabulary at age three. Half this education gap exists before the kid steps foot in the classroom."

Again, inscribe the dysfunction on our bodies.
Again, make the black mother the source of all social wrongs.
Again, sidestep a teaching moment on the increased need for personal responsibility in light of a government that cuts education funding to start wars without borders or causes. I-r-a-? Forger the next letter. Bomb it, anyways.

Biden, you bought into popular American racial constructions hook, line, and sinker. If you cannot discern that societal framework or, at least, be smart enough to "Clinton" your situtation out and only racialize foreign bodies (next post is for you, Hillary), you have no place in this race. Step down and move on. Wait, out.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

What do neocons have to do with blackface and green card parties?

"Hey Ted, you goin' to the green card party tonight? Remember to bring your wife beater. Best look like a real chullo. You know, f'in crips and bloods! West Side!"
"Yo Dan, I want at least two cases of 40s at the party tonight. Remember McClellan, A 43.
"Hey Erin, don't you want to look a little skankier? I mean, it's the ghetto party after all. I like your outfit and all, but what if you showed a little more skin? And I mean, gold plastic jewelry's a plus."
"Hey José, did you get the facebook invite to the green card par..oh, sorry. It's just a joke, you know? We didn't mean it like that. I...we love your culture. The guy who looks after the frat is a Latino. I went to public school. I'm part Irish, you know.. eh.. immigrants, unite! Eh.. I guess you're not coming, huh?"

Last semester, I remember going with Camille back to her room to hang out, and on our way upstairs, running into white college kids in oversized jerseys, baggy jeans, tipped-off baseball caps, you know the deal. There may or may not have been plastic gold jewelry. The source was none other than Camille's own suite, where every time the door screeched open, another action figure from the Appropriated Ghetto Playset walked in...rolling deep...with his thug crew and a girl who looked liked she missed the memo on How to Dress Ghetto and made up for it by just wearing fewer clothes.

So here Camille and I are, only folks of color in the suite at the time, standing as these characters file in and out. We opt to...bounce...instead of seeing the party through to its disastrous end (ya know, before they whip out the Kanye). But what does anyone do when not just your college, but the very place you live is host to a modern-day minstrel show? Point being, you can't even run back to your room to get away from it.

What happened last semester's probably not the first time it's happened at Yale or at colleges around the country (just google 'ghetto party' for starters) and probably not the last. After reading about how Arab American is the new cool, I'm waiting for the night when I walk through Timothy Dwight and get accosted by a band of scruffy, toy gun totin' mujahidin wannabees (Afghan, Arab, what's the difference; it's not like you're responsible for anyone else's history, right?). Six months later, it's time to complicate my criticism of McClellan's Jammin' Hip-hop hoedown.

Two professors, C. Richard King and David Leonard, are looking at ghetto parties through a new lens that goes beyond making connections to black face and minstrel shows. King and Leonard see this unfortunate trend as a nervous swat back by conservative college kids at what they see as a changing academic environment where daddy's old-school bigotry is passé and classes like ethnic studies are holding people accountable for history's injustices.

The article takes an interesting look at the corporatization of colleges and universities, beyond corporate branding and ownership of campus food services, that reaches into classes like cultural sensitivity for future I-Bankers of America (which bumps the seminar on Race, Hip Hop, and the NBA off the course list). The article then goes through the rise of big money neoconservative campus activism, wherein some organizations pump millions into getting their message across (one of which, namely, is 'white students are the victims now, haven't we already done enough for minorities?'). And how that translates into it seeming like a valid political position to stand behind a white-only bake sale or to do mock ICE-terror raids.

The article's not going to point you to why or how these campus minstrel shows started (or for a visual-historical breakdown, as I was hoping) but it gives a good background for understanding how this mockery (or, let's go far as to say hate crime) goes unnoticed or viciously defended on American campuses.