Sunday, November 11, 2007

To Be Here, part 2

part 2. baldwin

i think that i could easily write about this Baldwin compilation piece each week for the remainder of our class. here's the short(er) version.

i. in thinking about who you are and when and what it means to be home/trapped:

Prof/Lex's discussion points and Baldwin's insights in this article kept reminding me of the experiences of some the farmworkers that i used to work with in north carolina. when i was working at student action with farmworkers i helped coordinate summer intern documentary projects. these were not your average black & white pictures documenting poor, helpless, down-trodden farmworkers in miserable conditions. these projects focused on the cultural traditions of individual farmworkers such as cooking, crafts, song, dance. the projects over the years have turned out very differently--some workers talk about a tradition they did before coming to the US, others talk about traditions they started while in the US as a lifeline to home, still others have brought a tradition from Mexico and continue to participate in it while in the US. (check out some samples here:

One of the stories that has always stayed with me is that of CS, who is a popular musician in Mexico and is also a farmworker at a camp in North Carolina. I was with the two interns who interviewed CS about his life. He was speaking very excitedly about his music career and I remember his reaction when they asked a question about "life as a farmworker in the US." he seemed almost startled to be identified as such. he explained that he was never a laborer before and he really wasn't cut out to be one; that this was his first summer here and he thought it was really hard; that is was so shocking to be treated so differently--from being a pop star to being a farmworker (he knew what to expect, but didn't know it would feel like this). I remember having a very intense insight about my own racism at that moment. Despite knowing and working with farmworkers and organizing for farmworkers rights for years, CS's description made me realize how often I think about farmworkers as one-dimensional, as fundamentally hard workers, as somehow more able to deal with or more "cut out" to deal with oppressive working and living conditions.

I remember one of the student documentary intern's reaction to this comment. He was a US-born Latino who had worked in the fields with his family his whole life and was now in college for graphic design. He described how different he was perceived/treated when he was in his work clothes versus when he was in his school clothes.

When I was reading Baldwin's words about Harlem, I was thinking about this conversation with CS. I was thinking about how he is a multi-faceted person like we all are. I was thinking about how he is perceived so differently depending on which side of the border he is on. I was thinking about how his perception of himself changes so drastically depending where he stays. I was thinking about how he, like so many others, moves fluidly in and out of his identities and yet is simultaneously trapped (quite literally) on one side of the border or the other. trapped by systematic economic exploitation on the macro level. trapped by immigration policy. trapped by back door deals and handshake photo ops. trapped in the US for 8 months. trapped in Mexico for the other four. straddling borders without being allowed to shift your weight, to live fully or freely on either side.

trapped in housing on a labor camp. trapped in housing projects. trapped in the "proof of how thoroughly the white world despised them" (pg. 175). trapped in the knowledge that "nothing can be done as long as they are treated like colored people"(pg. 175). trapped in the revelation of "the real attitude of the white world" (pg 174).

or liberated by it?

liberated by knowing the truth. liberated by knowing, without doubt, what you are up against. trapped and liberated. home and trapped.

as Baldwin writes, "I know Negroes who prefer the South and white Southerners, because 'At least there, you haven't got to play any guessing games!' The guessing games referred to have driven more than one Negro into the narcotics ward, the madhouse, or the river." (pg. 178)

ii. in thinking about what is worse:
here again, i kept making the connections to some experiences I had organizing for farmworker rights. Baldwin gives several examples of folks who try to refute or down play or justify the oppression of Blacks, because bad things happen to white people too:

"People are continually pointing out to me the wretchedness of white people in order to console me for the wretchedness of blacks. But an itemized account of the American failure does not console me and it should not console anyone else" (pg. 172-173).

"The world has never lacked for horrifying examples; but I do not believe that these examples are meant to be used as justification for our own crimes" (pg 178).

i used to speak to a lot of church groups and other congregations of people about why white people should care about farmworker justice. undoubtedly the most frequent response that i got was "well, my family were immigrants too!" sometimes it was just that, which often left me asking, "and??" many times it was followed with, "and no one helped them!" and sometimes continued with, "they made it on their own so i don't see why i should have to help these people!" after the first time this happened, I came up with some responses that generally addressed these concerns (whether they changed minds & hearts, who knows):

"thank you for sharing your story."
"thank you for sharing your story. it sounds like you must have a very deep appreciation for the discrimination, persecution, and hardships that new immigrants often face."
"wouldn't it have been great is there were folks who would have helped your grandparents to learn to speak English?"
"wouldn't it have been great if there were resources available in their native language when they first got here? do you think that would have helped mediate any of their hardships?"
"if your family was immigrating to the US now, would you try to help them?"

reading Baldwin's eloquence on responding to these justifications floods me with the feelings of affirmation that Lorde's insights offered me in part 1. when i encountered these passages i was left thinking, "no way! people did that to him too?" and "i knew it! i knew that kind of response was fucked up but i couldn't articulate why very well." and then the elation of validation subsided to a twinge of sadness thinking, "how long are we going to keep doing that?"

still, i am left with inspiration and two new quotes for my toolbox:

"But an itemized account of the American failure does not console me and it should not console anyone else" (pg 173).

"This perpetual justification empties the heart of all human feeling. The emptier our hearts become, the greater will be our crimes" (pg. 178).

iii. in thinking about assimilation:
Baldwin writes, "Nor was it long, naturally before prominent Negroes rushed forward to assure the republic that the UN rioters do not represent the real feeling of the Negro community" (pg 180).

this quote jumped off the page at me. It reminds me of how nasty the effects of assimilation can be. it reminds me how people in the queer community are really quick to distance themselves from sickness. to say, "no. we're not the sick ones" as a way of saying "look how normal we are" and "hey we're just like you and that means we should be treated fairly and have rights too." this is so unproductive. it is one of the things i spoke about at the last stay ALERT workshop about queerness and ableism. what does it do to sick people if we accept that sick=bad and continue to distance ourselves from sickness? what does it do to those queers of us who are sick? what does it do to non-queer sick people? what does it do to those queers of us who are freaky and not assimilated and like it that way? how can we reframe the discussion here? after all, "what's so bad about being sick?" (shout out to for help with this).

this quote also belongs in conversation with Lorde's piece and her ideas around horizontal splintering. i just want to scream, "stop fighting each other. recognize what this does for the ones in control. recognize what it does (not do) for you."

let's stop hating ourselves and trying to prove how much like our oppressors we are. let's make it easy on ourselves. let's start showing each other how easy we could make it to love ourselves.

iv. on living in the north, but loving in the south:
i moved to nyc from durham about 14 months ago. when i first arrived on the scene i was welcomed with "so, you decided to move into a blue state, huh?" and "i bet its a lot different for you up here, huh?" it was a lot different but not in the ways they were implying. i spent a lot of my time explaining to people how different organizing in the south is and why they should get off their high horses about being new yorkers. and then i came across this:

"Northerners indulge in an extremely dangerous luxury. They seem to feel that because they fought on the right side during the Civil War, and won, they have earned the right merely to deplore what is going on in the South, without taking any responsibility for it; and that they can ignore what is happening in Northern cities because what is happening in Little Rock or Birmingham is worse" (pg. 178).

and i couldn't believe what i was reading. and i took a deep breath.

v. on showing up or a deep, personal revelation:
"Those white people who are in favor of integration prove to be in favor of it later, in some other city, some other town, some other building, some other school. Northerners proffer their indignation about the South as a kind of badge, as proof of good intentions; never suspecting that they thus increase, in the heart of the Negro they are speaking to, a kind of helpless pain and rage--and pity. Negroes know how little most white people are prepared to implement their words with deeds, how little, when the chips are down, they are prepared to risk."
Baldwin, page 183

"and I have to thank you for forgetting to stick your neck out for me after I craned my neck so often in your arms." Kara Walker, Letter from a Black Girl, art installation at the Whitney Museum of American Art

"Now that you’ve forgotten how you like your coffee and why you raised you pious fist to the sky, and the reason for your stunning African Art collection, and the war we fought together, and the promises you made me and the laws we rewrote, I am left here alone to recreate my WHOLE HISTORY without benefit of you, my compliment, my enemy, my oppressor, my Love." Kara Walker, Letter from a Black Girl, art installation at the Whitney Museum of American Art

Thursday, November 8, 2007

To Be Here, part 1

part 1. lorde
What does Lorde teach us about how we can lovingly and critically inhabit a struggle that we are IN?

i read Audre Lorde's "Scratching the Surface" in transit to a workshop that I was about to facilitate about multi-issue organizing. At the end of the workshop, I had used at least three quotes directly from the piece to help me articulate my point.

Two themes resonated with me most strongly in this piece: 1) the idea of naming a different enemy and what that means for multi-issue organizing and 2) the idea of (and complications in) critically inhabiting a struggle you are in.

sometimes i feel like i talk a lot about multi-issue organizing and what it means and why its necessary for liberation and i get a lot of blank stares. many times i'm not sure exactly what i am talking about myself. i had the opportunity this year to start a workshop series that uses the life experiences and identities of members of the community i work in Queens to explore the ways that oppressions intersect in really concrete terms as a way to de-mystify, de-academicize, and breakdown this big bulky ambiguous term and get on to doing it, instead of just philosophizing about it. its called stay ALERT (activism, leadership, and education for a radical takeover) and im generally really proud of it (have i mentioned it before? sorry.) the series has met 10 times so far and has had great workshops and not so good workshops. we usually have a small number of really engaged participants who come as a favor to me but don't really know what the fuck i'm talking about before the sessions begin. by the end, we've usually all moved somewhere together and that is really fabulous. although this little workshop series is the most meaningful part of my job, i often dread planning the workshops. i think i figured out why. i have to constantly remind myself what i am talking about. forcing myself to do that in real terms can be really hard.

so when i happened to read this piece by Lorde on my way to the next workshop, i was in a particularly ripe place to appreciate and be in awe of the way the words worked together on the page. i was also ready for affirmation and encouragement. with these quotes (and applying them broadly) i had a deep sense of "ah-ha! i knew i was trying to say something legitimate.":

"Black women and Black men who recognize that the development of their particular strengths and interests does not diminish the other do not need to diffuse their energies fighting for control over each other." (pg. 46)

"The tactic of encouraging horizontal hostility to becloud more pressing issues of oppression is by new means new, nor limited to relations between women." (pg. 48)

"It is the structure at the top which desires changelessness and which profits from these apparently endless kitchen wars." (pg. 48)

i have added these to my "this is what i mean" toolbox that also includes the following quotes:
"If you let them red-bait, they'll race-bait; if you let them race-bait, they'll queen-bait. That's why we have to stick together." Allan Berube

"Because we no longer want others to impose their forms of being and thinking on us. We want to be free. And the only way to be free is to be so together. Because lack of freedom makes us the same." Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos, 1997

"Don't you get it? They're trying to make us fight each other to keep us from uniting to win real change." Unknown, 2007

This article also helped me understand what I think Prof/Lex means by "to critically inhabit a struggle that we are IN." The way I interpret it is to be an active part of a movement and still be visibly/audibly critical of it without letting that criticism prevent you from engaging in the struggle. I wonder if that could extend to something like holding people accountable but loving/trusting/believing in them enough to want to call them out and hold them accountable and still work with them and work towards deeper understandings of oppression, instead of just writing people off or disengaging because the movement isn't perfect or because someone's analysis is deeply flawed. am i getting off-track here?

Lorde's constant attention to "keeping our attentions focused upon our real needs" and the importance she places on rising above distracting horizontal splintering helped me understand what it means to critically inhabit one's own struggle. yet, in one moment she says, "and within the homes of our Black communities today, it is not the Black lesbian who is battering and raping our underage girl-children out of displaced and sickening frustration." in this quote i think she does her piece a disservice. i suspect that she is at least partially responding to lesbophobic assertions that lesbians are perverse or are child molesters (help me out here). however, saying "i'm not the problem; you are." seems to go against what she is encouraging throughout her article. additionally, since domestic violence and abuse is a problem within lesbian families and communities (one that we rarely talk about) i wonder what this statement does to lesbian survivors of lesbian rape/abuse/violence. i wonder what it does to how we address LGBT domestic violence in LGBT spaces. i wonder how it works against Lorde's own critical inhabitation of the movement.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

To Be Real or That's Not Funny!

ok. this piece is about my reluctance to participate in racial humor, where that comes from, why this is different, and how i can use radical laughter and the enlightenment that this discussion has brought me.

I generally have a really hard time dealing with satire, because I think that satirical pieces often fail at expressing their point (at all or effectively to the audience); satire can be overused or used as a crutch which can breed some really not self-aware/reflective/complex analysis; and it can often backfire, reinforcing what it claims to be resisting. But White Boy Shuffle was a very different experience for me. About one-third into the book I commented to one of roommates, "Generally I'm no good with satire. I just struggle with how it is received by its audience so much. But this book is different. Somehow I trust it and I trust where it's coming from and its analysis and I think I might get it." When H-A pressed me as to how, I couldn't articulate why. But reading Prof/Lex's comment that making the charicatures tight and complex as a strategy is helping me understand. I think, in a really simplistic way, I can use the stereotype/alternative litmus test to help me navigate. That is to say, when viewing racial humor/racial critique I can ask myself, "Can I get the stereotype without the alternative here? Are they inseparable? Is the alternative portrayed? If not, why not?"

I generally shy away from mainstream (and sometimes otherwise) race-based humor because I have a really hard time dealing with, listening to, and critiquing it. I am purposely choosing the words "race-based" here because I don't believe that it all constitutes race critique. I think that I am really uncomfortable with this type of humor because for the most part I do not trust that it is doing anything productive and i do not trust that (white) people are laughing for the right reasons or understand why they are laughing at all. I am speaking here primarily about mainstream comedians, sitcoms, etc. who use racial humor and seem to get away with it under the premise that it is somehow a sophisticated analysis or otherwise appropriate to say and that even though it often recreates racial stereotypes or charicatures it is some how not racist. (in the ways that media decide what is racist and what isnt. i.e barriers to accessing healthcare is not framed as racist, but the don imus comment is). In the past I have generally avoided this type of humor for several reasons 1) plainly, I often feel like racist jokes are racist and im not ok with that 2) I dont feel like I have the tools to accurately figure out when other types of racial humor are radical and when they are just dressed up racist jokes and 3) i have a really hard time trusting people's analysis and intentions with racial humor.

here again, this class discussion is helping me differentiate. its helping me move from a semi-comfortable cut & dry analysis to a more complex and REAL one (which is clearly much harder to navigate and articulate). we're being real, after all, right?

I' d like to speak specifically to radical laughter. I found Kameelah's quote really enlightening. She states, "My mom always says that 'sometimes we need to laugh to keep from crying’ which in a lot of ways speaks to this politics of radical laughter–the laughter that unconsciously moves us closer to the realities and pains we try to distance ourselves from. Radical laughter can bring us back to life. If we are speaking on the politics of life and death–we can think about radical laughter as a form of metaphorical resurrection whereby we have taken the opportunity to collectively self-reflect to the point where we can laugh at ourselves as the first step towards meaningful action." I really related to this idea, but from a different perspective. It made me confront the ways that I consistently and continually try to distance myself from reality and pain (my own and that of others) and it also gave me a way to deal with my pain and guilt--laugh. not in an uncritical or unaware way. but RECOGNIZE and NAME what is happening and then work to change it--in my own behavior as an oppressor, an ally, and as oppressed and in others. this helps me understand more tangibly why guilt isn't productive (which can be easy to know but hard to grasp or deal with) and what some ways to go beyond it are. That might not seem like a big revelation, but I've been stuck in a bad place for a while and this is helping me move forward.

Prof/Lex and Kameelah (consistently) leave me at a moment of "damn."

postscript: I cannot believe how many times in the last two weeks I have referenced this book, this discussion, these thoughts. I have been having many conversations about dyke humor and what it does to communities, how it affects me and what it means. I recently received a clip from youtube about lesbian phone sex where the operator turns the client on by talking about organizing protests and having potlucks. my dyke-identified friend who sent it thought it was hilarious. i didnt. dont get me wrong here--i think protests & potlucks are hot. but i also think that two not-totally-femme women can have really hot sex together. i also think that lesbian bed death stereotypes are really hurtful to me and can be to lesbian communities in general. and seeing this clip on youtube made me react really negatively. i felt like it was perpetuating the bed death stereotype to a general audience without demonstrating the alternative. here is how i initially responded:

i just watched the video and i didnt like it. i mean feel free to call me oversensitive here, but i really hate how representations of lesbian sex are always either 1) hot for straight men (or reduce lesbians to only sex) or 2) about bed death

i think there's an important place for self-mockery but i have a really hard time figuring out the line and trusting the politics of the source and the analysis of the audience (ie do they know why they are laughing?). i actually just wrote a response for my online class about similar ideas (when do racial charicatures radicalize and when do they reinforce/let-off-the-hook racial stereotypes?)

anyways, i think bed death stereotypes are really hurtful to lesbian communities. (check out this paper: i realize that this wasn't specifically about bed death, but do you see how its connecting for me? i think im also sensitive about it cuz i feel like i am simultaneously some of those stereotypes (and i like those parts of myself) and also not others (which i also like about myself). im sick of lesbians making fun of me because i like ani difranco, for instance. im also sick of people assuming that id rather go to a protest than have sex or that because ive been dating the same woman for 3 years and we are able to communicate the we must not have really hot sex all the time. and making that distinction isn't important to me an assimilative way. not in the "see lesbians are just like normal people--we have sex all the time" way. in the way that "why the fuck do you either oversexualize us or undersexualize us depending on your needs or depending on how femme we are?" way.

it all gets back to developing more complex and REAL analyses.

organizing in the south

so people used to always tell me, "yeah, but you're not gonna leave the south, right? you can't leave the south. there's nothing like organizing down here."

and i smiled my broad smile and giggled my nervous giggle and responded, "i love north carolina."

and then i moved to new york city.
and now i understand.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

To be Black? or Queer Diabetics exist?

wow. the Cohen chapters really resonated with me this week. i keep finding more and more examples in my community work and interactions that i want to bring up in this response, so i think i will focus there.

I want to touch on something that Cohen discusses regarding when health issues become legitimate. On page 5 she writes that one church pastor describes that the church response to AIDS was either non-existent or negative because the disease was seen as a "disease of homosexuals" and goes on to say, "However, after women, children, and hemophiliacs--those who have no control over this disease--were found to be infected, church leaders began to realize that a more compassionate response was called for." This idea of fault/blame/guilt/immorality/legitimacy seems to be everywhere when dealing with disease. I run an online group for queer diabetics that came out of my identity as, ahem, a queer diabetic. The idea of the group is to make connections between multiple types of oppression in real terms (ie lesbophobia and ableism) and also to bring basic visibility to this double identity. Many people don't understand why its necessary to make space for queer diabetics or don't see the two pieces as connected. Yet, NONE of the mainstream diabetes advocacy groups have any information geared to queer folks about the healthcare disparities and dealing with a chronic illness. I believe that this does not just come from the ignorance of dominant groups to whom it "never occurs" that these are issues (a form of homophobia in itself--presumed heterosexuality and/or lack of knowledge about issues affecting queer communities). I think that these mainstream providers/advocates do not want to risk delegitimating their issue by talking about diabetes as a "queer issue." Particularly type 1 (sometimes called juvenile on-set) groups frame their subjects as innocent children that didn't do anything wrong, victims to whom this disease happened. since they are seen as wholesome and innocent, people feel bad when they get sick and they give money. Many of the events that these orgs put on have a large "family" focus, meaning cis-man + cis-women married with a couple (straight& cis) kids. They want to preserve this image. They do not want queers hanging around and threatening their funding (or poor people of color, or undocumented folks, etc. for that matter). Diabetes is seen as a worthy cause because white middle class kids get it; HIV contraction finally deserved compassion when "innocent" hemophiliacs & children were infected. Similar to what Cohen is explaining about membership in black communities and owning of issues, the dominant members within the diabetes community get to decide what the issues are for that community, where the research money goes, who will receive support and services and who is allowed in. Even though queer diabetics face greater health disparities than hetero diabetics, they are less likely to be able to access diabetes-specific services due to homophobia and to a lesser extent, LGBT-specific services due to ableism & disease-stigma.

Examples of dominant groups within marginalized communities deciding that group's agenda & focus issues abound in my life this week. Three others that I am dealing with today include: substance abuse prevention groups ignoring/avoiding LGBT inclusion in surveys, mainstream nyc LGBT groups focusing on gay men's health almost exclusively, and trans/queer mobilization of support against police brutality without community accountability for sexual assault.

I would like to finish with a comment about the discussion happening here around centering deviance. I firmly believe that the folks on the margins absolutely need to be the center of and leaders of movements. Yet we consistently witness the selling out of deviants once they become popular or in the center. I think that this often happens because the frameworks of these movements have not actually shifted in the ways they needed to. I have often thought that business women really aren't that liberated, they are just (sometimes) allowed to be a part of discussions/negotiations/decision-making if they are willing to take on the characteristics of the dominant group. If we were actually able to put deviant-created, deviant-led frameworks in place maybe it would be possible to make change. That's what I'm hoping for at least.

other notes:
-issue of "black community really exist?" reminds me of conversations about ageism and what is "culturally appropriate" programming for seniors being prescriptive instead of wide-ranging and self-determined

"consist mostly of people with economic and educational privilege is MORE concerned with presenting a “respectable” face to the dominant culture and reaping the rewards of proximity with white folks than with being accountable for the lived experience of the majority of black folks."

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

To be Game or 41 questions

(in reading & thinking & feeling & responding to ida b wells' "mob rule in new orleans" and audre lorde's "need")

i can't pretend to understand what it means to be black.
i can't pretend to comprehend the depths of my white privilege.

i am not making excuses
i am searching

was it for hate?
was it for lust?
was it for revenge?
was it for envy?
was it for entertainment?

did it slice off your fear?
did it burn off your accent?
did it cut out your pain?
did it secure your family's position?
did it tie down your job?
did it set fire to your inadequacies?
did it stake down your belonging?
did it beat back your vulnerability?
did it display your power?
did cooking tongues silence?

will you realize what you've done?
will you turn yourself in?
will you confess your horrors?

would you plead not-guilty?
would you do it again?

was it for love?
was it for need?
was it for survival?
was it for liberation?
was it for destruction?
was it for redemption?

did it help?
did it burn off your oppression?
did it beat back your vulnerability?
did it cut out your pain?
did it kick off your fear?
did it awaken your anger?
did it move like manhood?
did it feel like need?
did it die out?
did slitting tongues silence?

will you realize what you've done?
will you remember?
will you listen?

would you name the enemy?
would you dismantle the enemy?

Monday, September 17, 2007

To Be Poetic or White People Take Everything

deep breath.

i had to read the Sylvia Wynter article, "Ethno or Socio Poetics" more than twice to begin to understand. i had a hard time with the language and the vocabulary, but that made it all the more exhilarating when the same words began to transform from letters in a row to thoughts that made me franticly scribble barely-legible notes in the margins. reviewing my notes now, it seems that they are mostly just paraphrases of the author's ideas in more accessible words for myself. still, i'd like to spend some space reflecting on definitions as relations or "a relation between We and an Other."

part 1.
i was really able to follow the author's explanations of how identities are/have become/were forced to become relationships. but i do not fully follow her point that jazz allowed blacks to reinvent "themselves as a WE that needed no OTHER to constitute their Being." In some ways, I understand how art allows creation that is not confined to opposites. I find Wynter's point confusing though because it seems to me like there is still a white other. She states in the same paragraph that the popular oral culture created by the black was in response to white negation of black humaness. that makes me think that there is still a that helps define what black popular culture is. maybe i am not fully understanding the idea of definitions as relations. but maybe, despite the fact that there is no tangible other that serves to define jazz music, still the existence of jazz and how it is defined as a musical genre is somehow deeply related to being different than white culture. right? is that possible?

but, then again, it seems possible that something could be created in response to something else, but need not be dependent on that first thing to define its being...

i think that Wynter's use of music as the example of how this is possible is particularly poignant. trying to name and define music and music genres reminds me of an ethnomusicology class that i once took. on the first day of class, the professor played a song and then asked us to describe what it sounded like. it was nearly impossible. each person who tried, ended up saying things like "its was like a beep bop bo bop." part of the point of the exercise was to show that music was a not just another way to express oneself, it was not just a different adjective that could be simply substituted in a sentence, it was an alternate means for expressing experiences and feelings that we do not have the language to relate, to describe. so then, does using music as the example of a "concretely universal ethnos" work because music itself is so hard to describe and define? is that exactly the point? i mean, is that why Wynter suggests that art/poetics/creative processes the way to cease relying on exclusion? oh. did i just write myself into an insight?

part 2.
I want to stay in this same part of the article and continue to talk about definitions as relations and share a thought that i had while reading that isn't part of the posed questions. i first started really understanding and connecting with the piece during my first read-through when i got to the part on page 84 that talks about the "NORMATIVE MODEL OF MAN." Wynter describes European culture being "posited as a gold standard of value, its possession acting as a definition of...humanity" and then explains how written tradition, not oral tradition came to be identified with culture and humanity. She continues with, "The myth of the cultural void of the non-West--The Other--was to be central to the ideology which the West would use in its rise to world domination." When I first read this I stopped at the end of that sentence, looked up at my fellow subway riders, and began thinking about how the meaning of the word "culture" has changed and what is often implied now when folks speak about "having culture." i wondering who my co-rideers would identify as culturally void today.
(so, being white and having studied anthropology in undergrad, i spent a lot of time in the early years thinking about other people's cultures, mourning my "lack of culture," and wishing for "more culture" before even recognizing what it meant about white privilege, white supremacy, and white ethnocentricity to think in these ways).

still ruminating from this twist, i continued reading until i reached the NORMATIVE MODEL OF MAN phrase screaming at me in all caps. it clicked in my head then how european/white culture could easily transform/abstract from defining itself as the pinnacle of CULTURE to becoming the dominant, standard of culture and therefore the norm, or normal, plain, unexotic, un-noticeable culture (to the dominators). yet, becoming the normative model has created a sense of "lack of culture" for many white people. this can often lead to white people "going in search of real culture" i.e. cultures of the Others and then appropriating it for themselves. this cultural appropriation can then lead to fucked-up "white ally" behavior, increased stereotyping of the non-white cultures, and increased alienation in us/other definitions of self.

thinking through this chain of actions got me thinking more intensely about cultural appropriation and why its so bad. i immediately re-read the section about black popular culture constituting a universal ethnos and it struck me profoundly: cultural appropriation of the very art that black folks created to reinvent themselves as fully human (necessitated by white dehumanization of blacks) means white people taking everything. i immediately wrote in huge caps over the top of my print out


fuck. and then in this moment of revelation, i still can hear my own words in a conversation many years ago before i even knew what cultural appropriation was: "but if i want to have dreads, why shouldn't i be able to?"

and my friend's simple reply: "because they are not yours to have."

part 3.
i am going to have to leave off without finishing my last part, but i want to include my notes here so that i can return to it as i think about it more. i want to respond to prof gumbs question about whether its effective to define through exclusion. in my work at an LGBT center in Queens I have often struggled with questions of safe space and inclusion/exclusion particularly as it relates to perceived identities, infinite self-identities, and rubrical institutionalized identifiers. more on this soon...

d) effective to define through exclusion? (think of LGBT and struggles to create safe, inclusive, but still (blank) spaces and the trouble with language/term/identity that ensues