“Transracial” and Transgender are NOT the same.

(Riley is a disabled Black non-binary femme in his late 20s. He is a CS and math student in NYC with history in art, music and writing, looking to complete the holy quadrilateral of creative capability with tech skills.)

I’m really tired of the bullshit, so let’s get down to brass tacks. I’m Black. I’m trans. I think I know a little about race and transgender issues by now.

Caitlyn Jenner comes out as transgender, and people think that comments like “if Caitlyn Jenner can change genders, why can’t Rachel Dolezal change her race?”

It’s very simple.

Trans people have historically experienced violence.

Note that I have not said “men” or “women” have experienced violence. Specifically, transgender individuals have a long history of suffering, abuse, poverty and murder caused by their transitioning and transgender status.

In other words, the act of being trans itself is brings violence, not simply the act of being simply a man or a woman.

Caitlyn Jenner submitted herself to a lifetime of this violence when she came out. Statistics have shown that the rate of violence against trans people, and particularly trans women, is particularly high. Earlier this year, a number of Black and Latina trans women were violently murdered, a fact most didn’t even realize.

There is no history, tracking, record, or give-a-damn for murders of white people “race-transitioning” (a term I use tongue-in-cheek, here) to Black. I don’t even think there’s a single record of such. There are records of murder against Black people, but it is not the act of “race-transitioning” from white to Black that yields violence…not to mention there is not much of a record on this, if any at all.

Because the transitioning is the crux of the violence, being trans produces in a lowering of status in the eyes of the respective group one transitions to.

Trans men are not accepted wholly as men amongst cisgender men. Trans women are certainly not accepted wholly as women by cis women, they’re often barely considered human beings, considered rapists and pedophiles and are ostracized from women communities while being abused in male communities. However, cis women accept other cis women’s womanhood. Cis men accept other cis men’s manhood. Non-binary people, as you can see here, don’t really exist on this extreme scale at all, and have no real place.

Rachel Dolezal went from being a mediocre white woman with no identity to the prize of a Black community. As a group, we treasure light skin, pale eyes, blond hair, and the “biracial look”, which Rachel Dolezal pretended being. Black people more than anyone else are accepting, and those who are pale as chalk and 99.9% white can get in if they claim a bit of Blackness, making it easy for Dolezal to slip in past the doors and achieve a position in the Black community that trans women are not afforded in the woman community, nor trans men afforded in the man community. By penetrating Blackness like a virus, she attained a teaching position in Africana Studies, teaching numerous classes, she ripped  away positions from Black people who have trouble getting the foot in the door at these universities. Black people, who are already overwhelmingly living in poverty were passed up by someone passing themselves off as light skin. She was exalted and held above the people she imitated, an experience that white people have no matter where they go in the world, no matter what culture they invade and overtake, whiteness and white features are loved and desired in PoC communities, assuring her seat of power amongst them.

But cis men and women are not passed over for jobs because trans people exist. Many trans women can’t find jobs at all. Trans men and trans women are not considered more attractive than cis men and women, respectively, and there is no desire, want or love of trans people in the cis community. They do not receive quarter there for having transitioned!

Race isn’t the same as gender.

On its face, it’s very easy to make some weak comparisons between trans-racial (a term actually used to describe adoption) and transgender, the idea of changing oneself overall, the thought processes that go into desperately wanting to be something people tell you that you aren’t. But once we get down to the specifics, we find differences that split the two wide apart.

Race is determined and experienced differently from gender.

Race, today, in the US in 2015? Is based on some bits and bobs and what your face looks like, the slope of your nose, the size of your lips, the shape of your eyes, the exact tone of your skin and curl pattern of your hair, your history and your ancestry. Many have come into their race as an identity, but there are plenty of situations wherein your race as determined by ancestry is completely different from your race as determined by your looks. Furthermore, it’s not only your looks, but how the racial class in power view and translate those looks.

In other words, race has history, but what determines one’s actual racial station is imposed. It’s not affected by how one acts or thinks, or how they adorn themselves. It comes from an external source. That is its history and has been since its inception.

Gender in a colonialist transphobic society may be based entirely on what bits you have when born (and if you don’t fit into two categories you are often violently altered until you do), but this is not the historical crux of gender, as this thing determined by a vapid declaration of one thing or another. One’s biological ancestral history has no effect on one’s gender; you are not your gender because your parents and grandparents were that gender. Gender is internal, and comes from the self, and that is its history, clearly displayed in a long line of various genders that have existed in PoC communities since the beginning of time. Thus, as it is internal, one’s own thoughts become relevant to one’s gender, and this simply isn’t true of race.

The respective communities are affected differently.

One suffers, the other experiences no difference at all.

What matters is the privilege dynamic. Cis women are not in any way deprived or damaged by Caitlyn Jenner or any other trans woman. The only person who stands to suffer is Caitlyn herself, whether or not the privileged community of cis women supports her, as a person who stands at the marginalized end of this stick.

But most of the people who don’t support Rachel Dolezal are those that Rachel Dolezal oppresses. People she’s stolen from. People her existences harms. Her presence does not leave the lives of actual Black women intact, it robs them of enrichment. When outed, white people defended her. They tried to call attention to potential mental illness, they told angry Black people to leave her alone and let her live. Black men who hate Black women defended her, Black men who oppress Black women and often demonize Black women. Non-Black people of color flew from their caves to come and tell Black women to “leave Rachel alone”, to “let her be what she wants”, and tried to assert their own definition of Blackness on the people who live its reality!

The oppression that Black women already face was pronounced by Rachel Dolezal. Increased. Once more, pro-injustice from sites-that-shall-not-be-named came to renew and refresh their abuse of Black women on social media.

This did not happen to cis women when Caitlyn Jenner came out.

Rachel Dolezal was happily welcomed into a community based on recreating a background that didn’t exist. Her white features earned her spaces that were meant for Black women, a group of people she oppresses. In addition, she has tried to exercise that power against Black women by announcing that she doesn’t believe they should be given a platform to speak if they don’t buy her story. She dresses in a marginalized costume, but she then says that Black people who don’t side with her lies don’t deserve a place. A place that her white body is only able to fill because whiteness, lightness are treasured in all communities.

Anyone can be transgender. But only white people can change their race.

If a person determined irrevocably Black by white people tried to smooth into their society as Rachel Dolezal has done to Black people, the only thing that will happen is…well, historically, death. In modern times, ridicule, ableism in the form of insistence that it is a mental illness that should be medicated or hospitalized, or flat out ignoring it.

There would be no discussions. No conversations. At best, humoring the idea. Certainly no defense of such.

If a person determined irrevocably Black by white people tried to smooth into ANY other race as Rachel Dolezal has done, the same thing would happen. Hell, Black people who are multiracial are often forcibly delegated to the “just Black” category regardless of their history!

This is not an identity. It is simply an extension of white privilege to include the capacity to become other races freely, something that is afforded to no one else.

Rachel Dolezal flat out lied about her life and her experiences, and not to protect herself, but to protect the benefits she received and the space she acquired through those lies. She lied to protect her privilege, a trait of white people and all privileged groups. Her life could have been the same had she merely remained the white woman she was. White people already devour space in Black communities as a bonus of their whiteness, but she chose to take her farce further, becoming a “Black” woman who happened to be indistinguishable from the party in power.

There is no benefit to being transgender, and there is no harm, but there is every benefit and harm to a white person picking a less privileged race to join because white features are privileged in every race and identification has no effect on that.

Caitlyn Jenner is now being treated as a woman, and as a trans woman, and receiving every detriment of those two identities with no mal-effect on cis women, but Rachel Dolezal is still being protected and defended as white women are, to the suffering of the Black women she pretended to be. White people can reap the benefits of relative privilege in the PoC community they choose to inhabit, PoC can never, ever do the reverse. Rachel Dolezal lived her “Black life” centered and important in Black spaces, and trans women will NEVER be centered in women’s spaces, nor will trans men be centered in men’s spaces, and non-binary people will float in a void between the two groups.

There is a difference between recognizing a fact about oneself based on an identity aspect that is internal, like gender, something that harms no one, something where anyone can transition and become trans and deal with a similar set of experiences, versus joining a group of oppressed people and shoving them out of it, a privilege only afforded to white people, an “identity” that is at its crux nothing but white supremacy.

Sometimes voting feels like a waste of time…Chicago’s apathy in the runoff election explained

If you’re not from Chicago, it may seem like Rahm Emanuel’s deep pockets and political ties should make him a shoe-in to be mayor for another four years. Yet for many Chicago residents, Rahm’s first term was more enraging than exciting. Voting in this mayoral election isn’t about who has the deepest pockets, it’s about the way the last four years have gone, and deciding which candidate is least likely to ruin the next four years of our collective lives. On one hand, you have current Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s curiously pitiful “Well yes, I was rude, overbearing, and I didn’t listen to you, but I’ll do better next time,” interspersed with “Chuy’s going to act like every other Chicago politician” and on the other you have his opponent, Cook County Commissioner Jesús G. “Chuy” García’s “Rahm did a terrible job, I can’t be any worse” mixed with “I’ll promise to do whatever it takes to get your votes.” Frankly, neither set of messages is remotely convincing, but they exemplify what’s going wrong in Chicago politics this year.

Like many residents of Chicago I’m angry at what happened over the last four years as mental health clinics, schools, and other resources were gutted, often with little or no input from affected residents. Rahm’s decision to cut funding for teachers right before announcing the building of a new $60 million-dollar school is probably more memorable than anything else he might say during a campaign. Whether the discussion is school funding, Rahm’s alleged poor treatment of a grieving mother who wanted answers about the closing of the mental health clinics, or any of a dozen other examples, in many ways Rahm’s bad behavior is the candidate, not the softer image he’s trying to peddle now. The idea of voting for Rahm to have a second term feels like deliberately choosing to vote for Voldemort.
Meanwhile Chuy’s campaign can’t help but be underwhelming, especially given the fact that his political record in Chicago is so bland as to be nearly forgettable. The most damning thing Rahm’s campaign can find about his history is that he voted for an unpopular but necessary property tax almost 30 years ago. However pragmatically Chuy may have voted over the years, the fact that he wasn’t the first, second or third choice to be Rahm’s opponent outweighs any flowery rhetoric his camp can write for him. This isn’t even a case of choosing between the devil you know, and the one that you don’t. It’s more, “Well do I pick the devil sitting at the table, or the one standing in front of it?” Chuy isn’t necessarily exciting or inspiring as candidates go, but he doesn’t need to be for his campaign to be a refreshing change.

Chicago politics are a contact sport in any year, because even with our creaky crooked machine, would-be politicians have to work their way into the system, and then work very hard to stay in it. Despite the implied anointing of Rahm’s candidacy via his ties to Mayor Daley and to the White House, no politician in Chicago can ever afford to rest on their laurels. A recession, a pension crisis, and a range of long standing financially questionable political decisions have upped the stakes so much that Rahm’s educational agenda alone would have been enough to put his seat at risk. Add the much-publicized shootings in Chicago’s most economically vulnerable neighborhoods, the announcement that police misconduct cases cost the city over $521 million in the last decade, school budget cuts that followed the closing of 50 schools, the refusal to explain the closing of six mental health clinics, the push to spend TIF (Tax Increment Financing) funds on a stadium for a private school, and the “solution” of shifting that funding to a hotel project? Rahm has consistently made choices that could torpedo any incumbent’s hopes for reelection.
While in office Rahm focused on plans that appealed to the upper middle class and outright wealthy voters who largely funded his first campaign run. And though he paid lip service to wanting the best for all of Chicago, many of his decisions have been detrimental to the lower middle class and low income voters who actually carried the last election for him. Much is made of racial segregation in Chicago, but in reality it’s often economic differences that divide Chicago’s North, South, and West sides from each other. Race and class are heavy factors here, candidates can’t afford to ignore either. I’m a middle class Black woman on the South side now, but I spent years in one of the lowest possible income brackets and like many I vote based on where I was, and where I am now.
Jesús G. “Chuy” García is for many voters a contender this year despite his history, not because of it. After nearly 30 years in Chicago politics, Chuy’s record doesn’t show that he’s the best candidate, so much as it shows that he is more in tune with the reality that Chicago voters live in places that aren’t the north side, and at socioeconomic levels below the Federal poverty line. Promises to support an elected school board, come up with a better financial plan for a foundering city budget, and do more to stop street violence sound good on paper. Unfortunately, without more concrete information, it is not as though voters can be sure he’ll keep all of his campaign promises. Unlike Karen Lewis, Chuy’s mild mannered “We will come up with a way to fix this” isn’t the firebrand rhetoric that swayed many voters to support the idea of her run for Mayor before illness made that impossible.

I can’t state for sure who will be the next mayor of Chicago. I know that as a native of Chicago’s South Side, a parent and a long time voter, my trip to the polls today wasn’t the optimistic bounce of someone excited about the future of Chicago politics. It is the pragmatic choice between the devil I know has ignored the needs of many constituents, and one who has at least had the good sense to try to work with voters who measure their income in hourly wages, and not in capital gains. Rahm might mean to keep his promises to do better, to listen more, and to make all of Chicago’s communities a priority. Chuy might be able to keep his promises to clean up the mess that predated Rahm’s term, as well as correct some of the things that went wrong under Rahm. Or they might both be full of it, and Chicago will stay mired in the same ugly mess that it has been in for decades.
Voting in a Republican, a different Democrat, or an Independent has been touted as the answer so many times, and every time the choices have come down to picking who voters thought would do the least harm. Because a single candidate can’t remake the whole system no matter how much we wish they had the power. This is democracy, this is politics in an era where best choice for the job may never even run, and even if they do, they might never have the funding needed to mount a successful campaign.

Your Feminism is Probably Bullshit…You Should Clean That Up

Patricia Arquette’s onstage comments from the Oscars were a meme before the show even finished airing. She was lauded for speaking up for equal pay for women, and bringing up the “Women earn 78 cents to every dollar a man earns” which sounds really awful. But which men? Which women? The answers of course are to a white man’s dollar and that white women make that 78 cents, while Asian women make an average of 90 cents to that dollar. Black, Latina, and Indigenous women make substantially less from 65 cents all the way down to 54 cents. So it’s important to talk about equal pay in a context of the reality that some women are making substantially less than others. And that white and Asian men and women earn more than many other groups including Black, Latino & Indigenous men. If we’re going to talk about equal pay in this age of demands that women “Lean In” let’s talk about who is getting hired, and for what jobs. Let’s talk about racial bias in hiring that means that qualified people of color (and yes that includes women, because despite the clumsy alienating phrase women and people of color, women of color do exist) may not get hired at all, much less have a chance to fight for pay equal to a white man’s.

Of course that takes us into the rest of Patricia Arquette’s comments at the Oscars. The ones made backstage in the press room that said “And it’s time for all the women in America and all the men that love women, and all the gay people, and all the people of color that we’ve all fought for to fight for us now.” because that’s where things go sideways. While a federal amendment guaranteeing equal pay for women sounds great, it doesn’t do much to get marginalized people any closer to actually being hired. It doesn’t do anything to correct structural inequalities that make it harder for some people to get hired at all. It certainly doesn’t address the fact that calls like Arquette’s which specifically cite stats based on white women aren’t actually inclusive, or respectful of the work that marginalized people have been doing to get the minimum wage raised to a living wage, to get better protections for transgender people in the work place, to make child care affordable, to get better protections for people in care giving positions, to keep programs like Job Corps alive etc. Where are those voices when women veterans are facing higher rates of homelessness, or when low income women are penalized for being poor?

White women are the primary beneficiaries of affirmative action, yet more than one lawsuit against it has been filed by white women who claim that the limited success of POC unfairly disenfranchised them. So it rings incredibly false to see not only Arquette’s speech demanding the support of marginalized people so that white women can achieve pay equality, but the words of organizations lauding her for saying white women’s pay is an issue that everyone should be focusing on, as though white women are the ones who have been waiting the longest for access to opportunity. Equality doesn’t trickle down, liberation rhetoric isn’t meant to be the lubrication for the advancement of white women at the expense of everyone else. So why are we still having these same teach ins about the facts of inequality? Intersectionality isn’t a difficult concept with hard to grasp tenets that fly above the heads of people in positions of power. It is literally taking the step back and asking yourself, “If X affects me and people like me in this way, how does it affect others?” and then doing the (not at all) heavy lifting of listening to the lived experiences of people who are not like you.

Arquette’s most ardent defenders will laud her as a feminist, call any critiques of her words last night divisive and short sighted. It’s the same routine every time, yet those same feminist voices are mysteriously silent when discussions of a living wage, discriminatory hiring, educational and other social inequalities that primarily impact POC and other marginalized people come up. Equal pay for equal work is incredibly important, of course so is equal access to opportunity. So is equal protection under the law, and equal respect for the work being that done that actually has helped white women all along. If your calls for solidarity aren’t informed, inclusive, and intentional in focusing on ending inequality for everyone then all you’re doing is demanding that you be supported in your quest to be an equal oppressor. I’m certain Arquette’s intentions were to be feminist, but that doesn’t make what she said intersectional, that doesn’t negate the harmful impact of her behavior or that of her supporters.

Flavia Dodzan said it best, “My Feminism Will Be Intersectional Or It Will Be Bullshit” and it still applies today. What is Patricia Arquette’s feminism? What is yours? What equality can be found when the face of feminism is all about leaning in to making as much as a white man, and not about making sure that every woman can afford to eat, can access education, healthcare, affordable housing and other basic needs? It’s great to pursue your dreams, it’s even better when everyone else can pursue theirs too because they’re not struggling to to gain entry to a living wage. Equal pay is one of the last steps on the road to equality, not the first one for all women so stop insisting that it matters more than anything else, stop demanding that other people struggling to survive drop what they’re doing in fights you don’t participate in, to support your desire to have even more than you already do. Or you know…keep going with the bullshit feminism that hurts far more people than it helps.

The sad reality is that Arquette’s comments were just the latest in a long line of such incidents. They aren’t going to be the last examples of this problem either. Whether we’re talking comments made on E!’s Fashion Police about Zendaya’s Oscar night look or the way that some of Arquette’s defenders have used offensive rhetoric against any critics of her speech the reality is that in many ways a refusal to hear that feminism isn’t one size fits all is actively hurting progressive causes. Imagine what could be done with this kind of feminist star power if it was actually used to benefit the most vulnerable people in the progressive movement instead of being used against them? Everyone’s feminism is imperfect, because everyone is imperfect but if you’re not trying to be more inclusive, then what exactly are you doing calling yourself a part of any progressive movement?

History Books We Love Or Would Love To Read

I started tweeting this list, but umm…I have a book problem. It’s possible I’ve never met a history book I wouldn’t at least skim. And many that found their way home with me. I blame used bookstores like Powells, Afterwords, O’Gara & Wilson’s, & whatever stores I might wander into when I’m on vacation. And libraries. And reading apps. And…it’s me isn’t it? It’s me. This is an incomplete list because well…I really do have a lot of books in various formats. I was a book dragon in a former life.

The Souls of Black Folk  by W.E.B. Du Bois

Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City by St. Clair Drake and Horace R. Cayton

Making the Second Ghetto: Race and Housing in Chicago 1940-1960 by Arnold R. Hirsch

Creole New Orleans: Race and Americanization Paperback by Arnold R. Hirsch

Romanticism, Revolution, and the Afro-Creole Protest Tradition in Louisiana, 1718-1868 by Caryn Cosse Bell

The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism by Edward E. Baptist

 

American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass by Douglas S. Massey

A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn

Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James W. Loewen

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

At the Dark End of The Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance–A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power by Danielle McGuire

Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves by Adam Hochschild

King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa by Adam Hochschild

Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement by Barbara Ransby

For Freedom’s Sake: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer by Chana Kai Lee

Assata: An Autobiography by Assata Shakur

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday by Angela Y. Davis

Afro-Latin America, 1800-2000 by George Reid Andrews

The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

The White Scourge: Mexicans, Blacks, and Poor Whites in Texas Cotton Culture by Neil Foley

In my defense my focus in undergrad was Afro American history & it sparked an interest in other histories that has maybe led my wallet astray some times. Maybe. What books do you think I should be reading? What histories fascinate you?

On Abuse, Consent, & Life After Childhood Sexual Abuse

I’m so sick of talking about Lena Dunham. I’m even sicker of talking about what’s wrong with white feminists. Feel free to read any missing backstory here on how those things intersect for this piece.  It’s a lot to rehash & really the Google machine exists for a reason. But, people keep asking me about why I am not on the “Lena’s being maligned unfairly” bandwagon. And no, it’s not about my personal distaste for her work. I don’t like it, I’m probably not going to like it. I’ve long since accepted it’s not for people like me. And I have a long running policy of mostly ignoring it & by extension her because I don’t find “ironic hipster racism” funny or quirky or whatever it is that people are going to tell me her schtick is. That’s life. I don’t like Sarah Silverman, Lisa Lampanelli or a dozen other “Tee hee I’m too delicate to do harm” white comedians making their bones that way. You’ll note that none of them have been accused of writing about behaving in sexually inappropriate ways with a child. Because as far as I know, none of them did. Lena Dunham did. And yeah, we could debate the validity of the story from when she was 7 on any number of fronts. And I’ve seen a few defenses of the masturbation in the bed next to her sister at 17 too. You want to defend that? Your bag. Not mine. I find it repellent & vaguely triggering & I have learned how many people exist that I would never let watch my kids. And yes, she was younger & there’s a whole child development & parenting post that I could write, but really…I don’t want to write more than one post, and this one is probably going to be too long.

This isn’t really about Lena, Grace, or the dozens of people who are sure to flood my mentions on Twitter later to disagree with me from the bottom of their hearts. I read the book (well most of it, I skipped the food diary because really I just don’t give a fuck about it), and I have my read on the words on the page. But I’m not Grace. And I don’t have to live with Lena (thank fuck for that because OMG), or try to reconcile myself to a sister who outs me & talks about my private life as though it belongs to her. Who I am, what I am, is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse who spent years pretending it didn’t happen, followed by even more years of trying to come to terms with it. And like everyone else my personal bias colors my interpretation of the words on the page. Lena is not my abuser. I know that, you know that, but damn…she sure sounds like him in so many awful ways.

The person who abused me was a long time family friend who told similar stories to me, and about me later at family functions. He had a special nickname for me that some members of my family might still use if I spoke to them because they don’t know any better. He plied me with candy, access to TV shows, and other treats to get me to sit on his lap, to get me to agree to things that weren’t necessarily physically painful, but are to this day emotionally painful. And while I hope and pray for Grace’s sake that I am misreading, that all of us that find this narrative disturbing are wrong as wrong can be…there is something starkly horrifying about the casual way an adult Lena Dunham describes herself as behaving like a sexual predator to win affection from her sister. This is not about punishing the 7 year old, or the 17 year old for me or many other people.

This is about all of us taking a good hard look at what the adult is saying, how the adult is saying it, and the way that people are rushing in to insist that the person they like, look up to, (or have a business relationship with) is completely innocent of all wrongdoing. This is a cultural problem writ small and large, inasmuch as we may never know what happened in the Dunham house, but we are still pretending that abusers can’t be children, can’t be women, can’t have meant no harm but caused it anyway. Because I suspect that conversation (which should be forthcoming) isn’t going to happen in any larger way I’m going to try to have a part of it here and now.

Here’s the thing about being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse that no one really wants to talk about, but maybe we need to anyway. A lot of it is innocuous, so much so that you may forever doubt if what happened to you is really abuse. Some of it even feels good. And if things never get truly painful or scary (mine did, which is not something I will detail, but in some ways it makes it easier for me to label) or if the abuser is someone you love, then your mind and social norms work together to make you reject the idea that it was really abuse. And maybe that’s Grace’s story. Maybe it isn’t. I don’t know her or how she feels. And that’s not all that unusual because there’s another peg in all of this which seems to have been tossed aside for some folks for whatever reason. Even when survivors admit the abuse to themselves they often don’t admit it to others. It was a secret, it stays a secret.

My primary abuser is dead. Has been for years, and while I still have nightmares about some things I have never ever come right out and told my family what he did to me. They loved him, have fond memories of him, and I don’t know what value there is for me in raking all of the bad things up now. They get to keep their memories, I don’t have to suffer through the telling, or the recriminations, or the questions I can’t answer without causing more pain about why I didn’t tell anyone. And while it has damaged some things in me, it doesn’t define me, so I have made the choices I can live with in handling it. That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Didn’t hurt. His love for me doesn’t lessen the harm he did to me. And the years I spent feigning affection for him that I wasn’t sure I felt are long gone, never to be recovered. But at least I get to be the one who tells my story, and since he can’t consent to me giving out his name in public, I choose to give him what he didn’t give me. Privacy. Respect for the harm I might do those who love him. Because consent always matters, even in situations that are awful and complicated. I was too young to consent to what he did to me (not that I would have I think, but who knows?) and as an adult I shudder at the thought of replicating that behavior. It might be my story too, but I’m not the only one involved.

Other survivors who are struggling to reconcile themselves with a feminism that says someone can’t be an abuser because…reasons are probably going to be more articulate in examining what’s gone wrong. In hashing out why consent keeps getting ignored, disrespected, and generally erased from a place where it belongs. They are probably better equipped to address this assumption that jealousy is a factor instead of you know…normal human feelings that we all have on reading something designed to evoke a response. It might not be the desired response, but welcome to the world of writing in public. People get to read what you put on paper and dislike it. They get to interpret the words on the page, and decide how to respond.

You don’t have to like my opinion of Dunham’s work, book, or self. That’s fine. But keep in mind I don’t have to like yours, and like so many other people in this conversation I don’t have to agree with it. Or keep liking you. We all have our places where we make a stand. Mine is: If you present yourself as someone who doesn’t respect boundaries, thinks racism is a joke, and who engages in a string of things that I find repellent? I’m not going to be here for you on any level. All your faves are problematic. Yes, including me. All I can do, all you can do, is decide what you can live with and move on. I can’t live with pretending to see nothing wrong with what Dunham says about herself, and so she can be your fave, but she’ll never be mine. All any of us can do is make the choice that suits our own morals.

On Annie Lennox and erasure.

(Morgan Jerkins graduated from Princeton University with an AB in Comparative Literature and is currently pursuing an MFA in Fiction at the Bennington Writing Seminars. Follow her on twitter @MorganTheScribe or her Tumblr blog, “Black Girl in MFA.”)

When I initially heard that Annie Lennox was promoting a new album, I, like countless others, was excited about it. Annie’s a living legend who has been in the music industry for nearly 40 years, and she’s a well-known social activist, raising money and awareness for marginalized communities affected by HIV/AIDS. So it was safe to assume that interviewers were going to ask her about feminism, right? After all, feminism has been a hot topic, and Annie was alive during the earlier waves of feminism.

In an interview with Pride Source, Annie is specifically asked what she thinks of Beyoncé in the context of feminism. She says that Beyoncéas well as a few others—are “feminist-lite,”calling their brand of feminism “tokenistic,” “cheap,” and shallow since it does not delve into the depths of feminism wholeheartedly. The crux of Annie’s argument lies within the polemic relationship between a woman’s body and her agency to use it however she chooses. More than that, her thoughts become complicated when we consider the polarizing relationship between black and white feminists.

Now, I cannot blame Annie for talking about Beyoncé because the interviewer, Chris Azzopardi, geared the question in that way which elucidates a point: the mainstream media is fascinated with Beyoncé’s feminism. He didn’t ask what Annie thought about Emma Watson’s feminism, but Beyoncé’s in particular. It’s not enough that Beyoncé said in an interview with British Vogue that she calls herself a feminist, believes in equality, and advocates for women to be whoever they would like to be. It’s not enough that Beyoncé included Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s famous “We Should All Be Feminists” speech in her song Flawless. It’s not enough that Beyoncé had a huge neon sign with the word “feminist” behind her during a MTV Video Music Awards performance. It was not enough, because Annie took it a step forward. In a later interview with NPR, Annie praises Beyoncé and says that her critique was centered on the singer because she was asked about her, which is fair. But she then goes on to say that twerking is not feminism.  Granted, Beyoncé’s feminism may be debatable to some because of her sexualized dance moves and her Bow Down lyrics, but whose feminism isn’t? What about Miley Cyrus, who popularized twerking for mainstream audiences, and proclaimed that she was one of the biggest feminists in the world in a 2013 BBC Radio 1 interview?

I don’t know what was going through Annie Lennox’s mind during either of these interviews. I don’t believe that she intended to maliciously single out Beyoncé, even though she and her interviewers know that Beyoncé is the biggest black female pop culture icon of this generation. However, we mustn’t forget how often Black female artists are challenged for their forms of feminism with a degree of severity. For many Black people across the globe, Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj, and Rihanna are feminist role models; but to others, their feminism is not feminist enough.

This inability to see eye-to-eye on how the black experience is oftimes misunderstood, neglected, or condemned revealed itself once again in a recent interview with Tavis Smiley, during which he asked Annie about her decision to cover Billie Holiday’s iconic song “Strange Fruit.” Annie was right in saying that “Strange Fruit” was a protest song but then fell down the slippery slope of political correctness when she said, “This subject of violence and bigotry, hatred, violent acts of mankind against ourselves…it’s a human theme that has gone on for time immemorial.” The song’s subject is the lynching of black people in the American south. It was not a violent act of mankind against ourselves, but a systemic and almost carnivalistic practice of lynching Black people that was carried out by racist whites. This song was specifically tailored to this “cultural sport,” which is why her words are so hurtful. One should not make the words of “black bodies swinging in the breeze” a universal issue.

Was it her intent to minimize the black experience in this country under the huge umbrella of universality? Perhaps not. But that’s the thing with words: you have to mean what you say and say what you mean. She’s a highly intelligent woman and I, as well as others, expected her to say outright what the song was about. It’s not enough for us that the song is not metaphorical even in the slightest. It would have been nice if she acknowledged what the song was truly about.

Shortly afterwards, Tavis Smiley rushed to Annie’s defense, arguing that those who were upset with Annie’s explanation of “Strange Fruit” because she did not say “our word of choice” were arrogant. Yes, lynching is bigotry and violence, but that is not the point here. What we seek is acknowledgment. The song is specifically about lynching. Lynching was racialized bigotry and violence.

How many people, especially Black men in media, have ran to the defense of Beyonce or Nicki Minaj whenever they were being attacked for their views, sexuality, or song lyrics? T.I. threatened to assault Azealia Banks, but rushed to rapper Iggy Azalea’s defense when Snoop Dogg lambasted her looks. These conversations about feminism and intersectionality seem circular because the same things keep happening: black women continue to be criticized for their choices, and left unprotected. Historical components of the black experience continue to be sugarcoated or ignored. When will there be a change?

#WeNeedDiverseMedia for reasons….part 96464864 of a never ending list

So this interview with Mathew Klickstein about the Golden Age of Nickelodeon is up at Flavorwire. It should have been a fluffy little piece as part of the press for New York Comic Con. I’m pretty sure that was the intent, and I say this as someone who has written these kinds of pieces, and who will be on a panel at Comic con preceded by a similar interview. Instead Klickstein decides to talk about how hard it is to be a white guy, with a side of “diversity is exploitation” that…well I think he had a point somewhere in there that doesn’t sound quite so racist. But I had to dig to find it, and I’m 99.9% certain that he made it by accident. What was it? That having white creators present one of a handful of characters of color isn’t really diversity. And I agree with him. Diverse media absolutely requires diverse creators, show runners, and executives. But, where things fall apart is his idea that there needs to be a reason for a character of color to exist at all. Because some how it’s find for kids of color to have to identify with white leads, but if the lead is a POC then there needs to be a reason for that.

Yet, it’s already been established that TV is damaging to the self esteem of anyone that isn’t a white male. And I guess it is possible that Klickstein somehow missed all of the discussions before and after that study about media’s impact on kids. Maybe he even ignored #WeNeedDiverseBooks and their data on the impact that having characters of color has on a kid’s desire to read, though one wonders how none of these things penetrated. Of course, it’s also entirely possible, and in fact probable that Klickstein is aware of these things, and just doesn’t care. It seems much more likely given his response to Clarissa’s success that anything that doesn’t center white men isn’t important to him. Nothing anyone says or does is likely to change that, and frankly I don’t really want to bother arguing that same point again.

It’s just more proof of why #WeNeedDiverseMedia. It’s not enough to be a token character bringing diversity to a white protagonist’s story. Nor do we need white savior creators to speak up for POC as though we don’t have our own stories to tell. We have been telling our own stories to combat racist tropes for generations.We haven’t let our history, our cultures, or our stake in our creations be erased even when it was just this side of illegal for us to exist at all.

Now, the problem is avoiding tokenism in terms of creators. What Shonda Rimes has accomplished is amazing, but she made history by being a showrunner on primetime broadcast TV recently. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could stop having “The first Black/first POC to do X in media” because it wasn’t so hard for creators of color to get access to major platforms? Wouldn’t it be great if the demographics of people in power in publishing houses, Hollywood, and major cable networks reflected the populations they claim to represent? No one’s going to hand us seats at those proverbial tables though, so we create our own tables, and clearly when we do, we have to be aware that for some people we need a reason to exist, and we can’t afford to worry about what those people, all we can do is focus on the work in front of us.