Monday, August 31, 2009

The Real Meaning of Birthday

In the 3rd grade, I remember a friend of mine, her name was Kim. Every holiday, Kim would park herself in a corner and stare longingly over her shoulder at the rest of the class as we exchanged Valentine's Day gifts, shared birthday cake and cupcakes during a classmate's birthday, opened Christmas treats, and shared Halloween candy. Kim was a Jehovah's Witness and therefore not allowed to celebrate personal or religious holidays with the rest of the class.

One day, Mrs. Rimmer (my favorite teacher...and one hell of a name)...watched Kim's sad face...and finally walked over to her, slammed a piece of cake down on her desk and said, "You don't have to sing the songs, or play the games, or exchange gifts. But you ARE going to eat this piece of chocolate cake!"

Kim's eyes turned as big and round as the cupcakes floating around the room. And with gusto she tore into that cake as if Mrs. Rimmer had just appeared in a burning bush and started issuing commandments.

Nikki Rimmer, once her back was to Kim, broke out into a big smile. She saw me see her smile and she smiled even wider. Winking.

I personally loved Kim because she would warn me on Friday if her Mom and the rest of the Witnesses were planning on marching down our block on Saturday. I would warn my Mom, and I would sit in the living room and wave to Kim as she walked passed with her parents. While my Mom pretended that we weren't at home.

As a kid, I learned that holidays were times for you to get your hands on as much loot as possible (whether the haul be presents or candy). BUT, since I grew up dead broke...I learned that loot was in short supply, so I had better content myself with the love, attention, and adoration of my friends and family.

By the time I was 18, I was throwing my own birthday parties, paying for all the food, and using it as a time for me to bring together the people I love to celebrate them and honor their presence in my life. For the majority of my adult life, I have asked folks to give to a worthy cause instead of buying me presents. Some people still choose to buy me gifts, and I know that for those people it is important to them to honor me with something meaningful. This year, I got a box of GOYA Sazon con Azafran in the mail from my friend Crackity. For us, that was more than just a package of MSG and was a physical reminder of our time living together in Puerto Rico, cooking almost every meal together, wandering around the island, and sharing sex and love war wounds during our time together. Birthdays are a time to celebrate the people you love. And, in doing so, they celebrate you back.

This year was my best birthday ever. There were no wild parties or overly drunken nights. Saturday I cooked and David baked a cake. I was with people I had me that night, met that spring, or met 12 years ago in college in Minnesota. We ate, drank wine, played games, and by 1am folks were gone, I was vomiting a little bit, and then I went to bed happy as a clam. Last night, my actual birthday, I was blessed to have a friend, Nea aka Bebe Benet, from home with me. We met up with my friend yk, Tasha and David joined us, and we were traumatized by the touring performance that included our friend Asha from Atlanta. Afterwards, a new friend, Stacy, joined us for dinner. We ate delicious tapas, laughed our asses off, had a glass of wine, and by 11pm, I was at home and in bed. I spent half of yesterday respondoing to dozens of birthday wishes on Facebook. And I felt loved, celebrated, cared for, honored, and appreciated. And I felt that I had been able to show that some love back to the people I care about that were able to spend part of my birthday with me.

I am lucky. My family has always known and demonstrated that holidays are not about the gifts. It is about the time spent with people you love...nurishing them with good food...and soaking up the love and care to help keep and hold you through the next year of your life.

Thank you to everyone that shared my birthday, this year, with me.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Revolution in the Time of Hamsters

The following essay and call to action was written by my friend, mentor, co-conspirator, and former co-member of the Visions Collective: Ricardo Levins Morales. Ricardo is best known for his amazing political/poster art. I have been in the offices and rooms of radical folks all across the country and there, inevitably, hanging on the wall was a poster or two crafted by Ricardo and sold through the recently defunct Northland Poster Collective. Ricardo grew up in Chicago during the time of the Panthers and the Young Lords. He came of age during the anti-imperalist and anti-colonialist struggles in Puerto Rico.

His brilliance is in that he is able to put his finger to the ground and take the pulse of movements, see strategic opportunities, and articulate new modalities that will, I believe, lead us to that place we dream of call justice. One of the most important questions Ricardo taught me to ask was about equality. The rhetoric of equality demands that we ask the question: "Equal to what?" When we talk about "marraige equality," what are we really asking for? To be equal to a system of misogynistic and oppressive property laws? When we talk about racial equality, are we asking to have the same rights and privileges to oppresses and excess enjoyed by white folks? When we talk about gender equality, are we asking that women have the same right as men to participate in corporate greed and subjegation of third world resources? Or are we looking for justice...a complete dismantling of systems of oppression and the formation of new ways of being that recognizes the interrelatedness of all systems on this earth and the rights of each person to live without oppression and with the responsibility to work towards the continued uplifting of everyone else?

Ricardo is truly one of my heroes, and I thank God that I have had the opportunity to know, work, and struggle with him.

Revolution in the Time of Hamsters
by Ricardo Levins Morales

“I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore, Toto,” Dorothy shared her suspicion with her little dog as they peered out onto an unfamiliar landscape. Still reeling from her own climate crisis, Dorothy could recognize a new strategic reality when she saw it; one which would force her to rethink her capabilities, her goals and the alliances she would need to pursue her interests under radically altered conditions.

We in US left and progressive politics are experiencing a “Dorothy moment.” Pressures that have been building for decades along underground political fault lines are combining to produce political tremors that cannot be ignored. Words do feeble justice to the dramatic scope of the changes: the steep decline of US imperial power; an unraveling financial sector and disintegrating social support systems such as housing, health care and nutrition; receding glaciers, rising sea levels, extreme storms and droughts, collapsing fisheries and agricultural systems; re-emergent infectious diseases, increasing hunger and burgeoning migrant flows.

Most of what passes for the US left, however, is content to believe that we are still in Kansas; that it will be sufficient to do what we have always done but more so: “redoubling our efforts” to protest abuses, fighting to expand the “political space” and hoping that more favorable conditions will someday allow us to address fundamental issues. These comments are meant to challenge that complacency. I will argue that the very way that protest and advocacy are structured ensures that our impact will be safely contained and that working twice as hard at flawed strategies will not bring us closer to a humane and sustainable future. I suggest that the tired leftist mantra, “we are weak, we are powerless,” reflects a learned helplessness that prevents us from seeing, let alone seizing, a world of opportunity that surrounds us.

Our inability to think in bold strategic terms or to appreciate the abundant resources within our grasp is not an accident. It is the structural legacy of the mass movements that peaked forty years ago and the methods employed to disperse them. Brutal police repression was directed against the militant organizations of the darker communities while millions of federal and corporate dollars were directed into a fast-growing “non-profit” sector. Their emergence represented both a victory for movements that had demanded resources be directed toward the services and organizing efforts they had initiated and the success of the power structure in stripping them of their radical content. The aspirations of civil society would now be channeled through these closely regulated entities whose mandates are to advocate for specific constituencies or seek to limit the damage from particular corporate or government practices. Questioning the sanctity of corporate rule itself is not on the table. Accepting these constraints qualifies an organization to maintain its tax exempt status and compete for corporate and government funds. This provides an outlet for discontent but ensures that even when we win hard-fought victories they do not impact the overall balance of power.

This set-up can be likened to an array of hamster wheels. They do generate energy and often provide vital and necessary support to those most in need, but within limits that they usually cannot see. Struggles for homeless shelters, side agreements to treaties, pollution standards, welfare rights, media access and civilian police review boards, after all, are not struggles for justice. They are struggles to mitigate, limit and regulate injustice. Challenges to the structures of oppression (not just individual perpetrators) are quickly deemed “beyond our mission” and certain to alarm funders. Meanwhile, our adversaries work on a larger scale, molding the broader landscape upon which a hundred thousand hamster wheels doggedly spin. The non-profit focus on limited goals is reinforced by the lingering trauma of the Red Scare, which has made leftists exceedingly shy about articulating an alternative moral vision.

This devil’s compact has precedents. The Wagner Act of 1935 (and its 1947 step-child, Taft Hartley) conferred recognition on unions’ right to organize for narrowly defined purposes while declaring broader political and class issues off limits. A year before Wagner, the Indian Reorganization Act conceded a truncated “sovereignty” to Indigenous Nations in exchange for their submission to federal authority. The establishment of the “Commonwealth” of Puerto Rico (1952) fits this pattern.

The Oval Office operates within similar constraints. A President may seek reforms that do not threaten the sanctity of corporate power. Policies that express the current consensus of the corporate elite as a whole are known as “bipartisan” issues and are beyond the reach of a mere President to tinker with. Policy papers from the Rand Corporation or the Council on Foreign relations or Wall Street Journal editorials are generally a better predictor of future Presidential policies than any promises made on the campaign trail. This is why today’s major policy initiatives, be they about health coverage reform, financial regulation, housing, climate change or foreign policy, all have the protection of corporate interests at their center.

The current effort to invite the progressive non-profit sector into the imperial coalition follows the route taken by the labor movement over the last half century. In exchange for a bargaining relationship with domestic employers, the AFL-CIO assisted a US offensive against activist unions worldwide. The resulting suppression of union militancy in the poorer countries facilitated outsourcing of manufacturing to these now-pacified regions, followed by an all-out assault on those pesky US unions. As Tecumseh argued two hundred years ago, individual bargains with the empire don’t tend to end well.

This structural overview tells only part of the story. Need produces innovation and there is no shortage of viable and exciting solutions to the crises afflicting our essential life support systems. What is lacking is what former UN Development administrator James Gustave Speth calls “a new operating system” which could integrate these initiatives into a new, sustainable social paradigm. That would require a radical shift of power from the corporate/financial elites to democratic structures rooted in civil society. The world can be a sustainable home for all who reside here or a giant ATM for the insatiable few… it cannot be both.

Uniting a multitude of fractured mini-struggles into a powerful movement requires a vision broad enough to embrace them all. This can produce both short-term and long-term benefits. People’s movements won more progressive reforms under Richard Nixon than under Bill Clinton because mass movements were in the streets making “unthinkable” demands. The liberal establishment was spurred to make concessions to Martin Luther King Jr., knowing that more militant Black Power forces to his left were gaining influence.

Believing that the President is the “organizer-in chief” for a people’s agenda has led labor and progressive leaders to seek influence rather than build power. Bill Clinton demonstrated where such a strategy leads: he paid eloquent lip service to labor law reform (including banning “replacement workers”) but reserved his real political capital to pass NAFTA and “end Welfare as we know it.” A glance at the current line-up of forces suggests a similar fate for the Employee Free Choice Act. The rabid attacks from the right against even the most tepid reforms – and by extension the Obama White House -- is causing the liberal left to mobilize all its capacity in defense of tepid, corporate-friendly bills.

If the road we are on leads to a precipice, then a shift in our strategic orientation is overdue. If the Obama administration proposes modest green-oriented initiatives and then waters them down to mollify corporate interests, we will still (it can be argued) end up further along than we were to begin with. If we envision ourselves as advancing across an expanse of open field, then we can measure our progress in terms of yardage gained and be satisfied that we are least moving in the right direction. If, instead, a chasm has opened up which we must leap across to survive, then the difference between getting twenty percent versus forty percent of the way across is meaningless. It means we have transitioned from a system of political letter grades to one of “pass/fail.” We either make the leap or not.

Organizing is a form of public story-telling as the right wing has devastatingly demonstrated. At its best it transcends specific grievances to point to a compelling vision. Students in 1960 risked their lives to integrate lunch counters because it was part of a larger narrative about dignity and equal rights.

To achieve that kind of resonance our reform struggles must transcend the hamster-wheel model of addressing narrow grievances on behalf of single constituencies. Instead they should serve to illustrate the commonality of our dreams so as to foster grassroots alliances. In the 2006 strategy paper Beyond Marriage, its 17 authors propose a radical framework for challenging conservative “family” politics. Rather than a narrow focus on legalizing same-sex marriage, they articulate a broadly defined, pro-family agenda that encompasses legal protection for a wide range of deliberate domestic relationships (romantic or not): the right of immigrant families to be reunited (and an end to the raids that break them apart); mutual care agreements among elders; support for families with incarcerated members; nutritional support for school children and so forth. The Arizona Repeal Coalition in Arizona takes a similar approach in their campaign to roll back all anti-immigrant legislation, demanding “Freedom to Love, Live and Work Anywhere We Please.” What emerges is a strategy that organically links constituencies that can otherwise be played against each other (witness Proposition 8 in California).

A radical, narrative approach to organizing can open new strategic possibilities. Reframing the issue of immigration, for example, might include blockading the Mississippi River with small boats to block the barges hauling subsidized GMO corn to Mexico where it undercuts the subsistence farm economy, driving farmers off the land. It would illuminate the common interests of immigrant and other workers, farmers (on both sides of the river), and consumers all confronting the same corporate interests. Targeting the logistics of trade would expose a vulnerability in the system and open attractive avenues for youth participation.

The expanding financial crisis offers other promising arenas for organizing around immediate human needs. The emerging movement against home foreclosures in the US includes in its tactical arsenal blocking evictions and moving homeless families into foreclosed houses. This directly challenges the legitimacy of the “bankocracy,” asserts the primacy of need over greed and demonstrates the power of collective direct action. Like the landless movement in Brazil it combines protest with reclaiming vital resources for those who need them. Most significantly it embodies a transfer of sovereignty from the suites to the streets.

The tired dichotomy between struggling to improve people’s real-life conditions vs. fighting for fundamental change will not serve us now. If the advancing ecological and social crises increase the urgency of bringing about systemic change, they do the same for essential reforms. For progressive administration insiders such as Hilda Solis or Van Jones to make effective use of their window of opportunity, they will need a stronger wind at their backs than that which blows from the oval office. That wind will not come from corporate power centers but must emerge from the streets in the form of demands for more far-reaching changes than are currently “thinkable.”

If we raise our sights from our advocacy struggles, to take in the entirety of the dominant system, it becomes possible to notice its weak points. Of particular significance is the dual strategy of population management: the exponential expansion of a color-coded penal system to bring the African-American population substantially under the control of the criminal justice system (today’s version of the “Black Laws”); and the restructuring of immigration policy to replace the vast, undocumented workforce with a documented but highly monitored labor pool with limited legal rights, subject to inescapable employer control. In other words a new domestic order is under construction that straps the two populations who for historical and demographic reasons are best positioned to mount a major political challenge, into a straightjacket of legal vulnerability. This should suggest that targeting these repressive systems – and reducing that vulnerability – is a key to unlocking the political power of these constituencies. For other indicators of weak points in the system, look to what paths have been closed to us through legal or bureaucratic means: unions meddling in broad class issues, civil organizations addressing the causes of oppression and direct action which interrupts the functioning of commerce and empire. What clearer invitations do we need?

This larger perspective can also reveal strategic resources that are invisible from the hamster-wheel world of single-issue advocacy and contract management. The one growing sector in the collapsing newspaper industry, for example, consists of publications serving communities of color. These outlets are more progressive than the corporate press and enjoy the confidence of their readers. With Black newspaper circulation at fifteen million, Latino dailies at sixteen million and Chinese language papers reaching one million (to give only a partial picture), they constitute an established network of relatively independent media rooted in thousands of communities. These under-resourced outlets are often receptive to alternative news and analysis but rely on the wire services because they are easy to access. Offering a steady harvest of movement material to these papers along with neighborhood and local labor council press, can help shape the national discourse in way that is hard to do if we wait for New York Times to transmit our story. Such a strategy might have kept the battered Gulf Coast from slipping off the national radar even as it became the central battle ground for corporate land grabs and ethnic replacement. We may not have the media sound system of the corporate class but shouting down a canyon can make hella noise!

There is more and in many ways more sophisticated organizing taking place today than at the peak of the mass movements, but without a unifying vision it does not constitute a movement. It is as though we had suffered a traumatic brain injury that severed our strategic vision centers from our functional capacity. This issue –the connections between our vision, our voice and our on-the-street capacity – defines the difference between generating energy and accumulating power.

No one knows what will trigger the next wave of mass struggles, what frame of reference will unify them into a movement or what organizational forms will emerge to embody their aspirations. Movement experience suggests that there are still things we can do to improve their chances for success. The most urgent of these tasks is to “decolonize our minds.”

Is it sensible to speak of revolution in the time of the hamsters? Some experienced movement heads are counseling the opposite. They argue that after decades of bombardment by the right wing sound machine it would isolate us to present any ideas too radical for our time. We would be vulnerable to reactionary attack and ridicule. That is true of course, but the right will attack as fiercely no matter what we offer and nothing excites them more than the scent of timidity. When conservative activists regrouped following the electoral defeat of Barry Goldwater in 1964, they wisely began their march to power by establishing a clear right wing pole around which to organize. They did not water down their vision because the left was dominating the public space. An unfavorable political culture is a thing to change, not accommodate to. The left intellectual strata have largely fallen into a paradigm of learned helplessness. When liberals are in power we are compelled to defend them lest the Republicans return. When the right is in power we must replace them at all costs, which means backing the Democrats. Logically that means there will never be circumstances that would justify building a movement that speaks with its own voice. The absence of such a voice makes us even weaker at each new juncture and that fact becomes an argument for further timidity. With no countervailing pole to the left of them the Democrats continue to move right in the Republican wake.

A strategy of timidity today will only reproduce the pathetic spectacle of the health care “debate”: orchestrated, right-wing mobs launching attacks against a tepid, corporate-friendly “reform” that sets no one on fire (despite mass public support, single payer is declared “off the table” by the ruling Democrats). If things have deteriorated to the point that the selections on the political menu range from neo-liberal to neo-fascist it is past time to proclaim another option rather than select among those offered. After decades of rightist propaganda people are hungry for someone, anyone, to unapologetically declare for cooperation, generosity and solidarity. That’s what they thought they had found in Obama. Millions of people stepped up to support what they thought was a radical turn toward justice, peace and compassion! Does that seem noteworthy?

Leaders do not create movements. Movements create leaders. When there is no movement, there are no movement leaders. In such a time the job of activists is to prepare the soil for both. Steps that can be taken include probing for volatile pressure points around popular grievances (remember the Montgomery bus boycott); instigating radical/narrative strategies in popular struggles (as in the examples above); strengthening our fragile web of movement institutions (the right figured this out a long time ago); learning from sister struggles in other places and times; encouraging the practice of concrete, rather than symbolic, solidarity; and continually exposing the oppressive structures underlying our people’s suffering.

Most important of all, we need to talk. This cannot be overstated. In other times that called for movement renewal we have turned to study circles, consciousness raising groups, freedom schools, popular education encounters, and other means to tap the creative reserves of the grassroots. Resetting the strategic compass for a movement is not something we can leave to a self-selected few. The changing correlation of political, economic and natural forces calls for a wide-ranging, complex, strategic discussion at every level of our movement and in our communities. This process, which is beginning to crystallize, should become an explicit priority for radical activists of all political tendencies. It is a process that can merge into organizing if discussions are initiated around people’s concrete experiences, such as food prices, gang violence, housing and homelessness, jobs and workplace power, war and the economic draft, and so forth. When community people share their stories of police brutality it quickly becomes apparent that the problem is bigger than “a few bad apples.” Through such collective, participatory engagement we can begin to shape the activist theory and organizing language we will need to break away from the hamster wheels of Kansas and reclaim the struggle for that other world we like to say is possible.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Nair Incident

So, the other day, while David was off working in North Hampton, I decided to have a vanity moment. Since moving to New York, I have been working out, on average, about five to six times a week. For the first two months here, I only missed one day at the gym. Now, every fagala knows that if you shave your chest hair, you are able to see your musculature better. So, as a reward to myself, I decided to grab a bottle of Nair for Men and give myself a look see at what the body was tellin'.

Now, I did this while David was away because he is partial to my chest hair. I don't mind it, but at times it gets in the way when I want to have an ooh ahh session with myself.

So, into the bathroom I went, bottle of Nair in hand (thanks Rite Aid!), and I applied the contents to my chest. I stood around in the bathroom, flexing in the mirror, waiting the requisite amount of time, opening the window so as not to pass out from the harsh chemical smell. After about a minute, I started having a tingling sensation around my nipples. After two minutes the sensation had increased to a soft burn. I held on and told myself I am a man. I could stand the pain for the three to five minutes recommended on the bottle. By the end of three minutes, my nipples were on fire.

At that point, I jumped into the shower and called on the name of Jesus.

After rinsing the hellfire from my chest, I noticed two things. One...only a small patch of hair had been removed on my chest...and two both of nipples had swollen up and looked like Macy Day Parade floats. If my nips were pierced, I would have tied strings to them and rented them out for Thanksgiving.

I gently pulled on a t-shirt and chalked the whole experience up as a life lesson in why DowJones and its chemical offspring are evil. My nipples were sensitive and swollen, but I thought...hey...they are still it's all good.

That is until I woke up this morning and found that my areolae had been replaced by two scabs.

Right now my already ample nipples look like I have two giant melted Hershey's kisses covering the tops like yarmulkes. Shalom!

After showering today and shaving off the rest of my chest hair, so as to match the one conspicuous bald spot just below my right pec, I came into the studio with the towel wrapped around me, under the armpits, covering my breasticles, like a real lady.

I told David that I had to show him something, and he wasn't allowed to laugh. I removed the towel. David's lips clamped down in a WWF death grip, and I was afraid the effort of not guffawing was going to make him blow out a testicle.

Be warned Nair for Men. Ye have made an enemy for life!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A New Black Literary and Cultural Renaissance

This poem is one that I discovered just today. It is by the late, great poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. This poem is important for its humor, its structure, its linguistic heritage, and how it illustrates how free black and slave black used the Christian Church as a source of inspiration, but more truly, a source of organizing. When folks today wonder why the black church is so important, still, to the black community it is because it was the one place where we could gather, free of a watchful eye, where we could sing and shout our pain and anger, celebrate our small joys, and also connect through music and dance with our African heritage, which had been systemically stripped from us (for example, U.S. black slaves were the only black slaves in the Western Hemisphere to be denied the use of traditional drums...this...of course...was impetus for other musical expression and seeded the roots of country, blues, soul, hip hop, rock and roll, and jazz).

The poem also demonstrates how and why the Preacher held the role he (and she) did in slave communities. Since slaveholders proclaimed themselves to be God fearing and Christian, it was in their best interest, and supported their standing in the community, to have their slaves educated in Christian theology. As such, Black preachers enjoyed a freedom of mobility denied to common free blacks and slaves. Yet, this freedom did not come without a price. As Dunbar points out in his poem "but fu' feah some one mistakes me/I will pause right hyeah to say/Dat I'm still a-preachin' ancient/I ain't talkin' 'bout today," and when he states pithily, "Now don't run an' tell yo' mastahs/Dat I's preachin' discontent." That is to say...a preacher could and did slip in messages of freedom and liberation but those things were dangerous and could result in more strange fruit swaying in the breeze. Though, even with the fear of lynching riding high on the backs of ministers, they still travelled the pre-war South and preached messages of freedom and liberation.

This poem, though written post-Emancipation, shows also the freedom with which late 19th and early 20th century black writers wrote. Folks like Dunbar and Zora Neal Hurston were masters of the English language yet would, without apology, write in Southern black vernacular English, not as a characterization of ignorance (as was done by well meaning folks like Harriet Beecher Stowe), but as a illumination of how Southern black vernacular English (slave English) was far from ignorant and could and did transmit complicated ideas and dangerous messages in an era where a slip of the tongue or a cut of the eye could end with a black person swinging from a tree.

This is in stark juxtaposition to the debates around Ebonics in the 1990s and the characterization of Black Standard English as an expression of ignorance that needed to be stamped out with "proper" education. Indeed, all Americans should be proficient in textbook English: reading and writing. But just as a native Spanish speaker should not be discouraged from writing and expressing him or herself in Spanish even though he or she should be American born, neither should black folks distance themselves from a rich literary and linguistic tradition because the white power structure in America has characterized and still characterizes it as lacking in intellctual richness simply because it is a divergent dialect from Webster's English. That tends to happen when you snatch up entire populations of people with their own syntax and grammatical structures inherent to families of languages, force them into bondage, and then attempt to mold their languages into the boundaries of ones own.

Language was meant to grow, change, diversify, and birth new linguistic (and literary) traditions. Once upon a time, French, Spanish, and Italian were considered bastardized local offshoots of Latin. Hell, the Catholic Church didn't allow vulgar Masses until after Vatican II. Imagine...speaking to the people in a language that they understand.

In the end, this poem demonstrates the power of language and culture. Almost a hundred years after its composition, it still resonates deeply in theme, subject, content, and humor with the issues facing black communities and black culture today. Though slavery ended some 144 years ago, and black folks in the U.S. have progressed far beyond the days where preaching the wrong word could end with a short drop, the overwhelming economic, pyschic, and spiritual burdens of 300 years of slavery and a 100 years of state sponsored segregation and terrorism against black folks in United States still hangs as a heavy lodestone around the weight of the collective black psyche. Finding the strength and beauty developed and cultivated during bondage, shucking the husk of white supremacy folded around those modalities, and serving up a new black literary Renaissance that builds on our literary and linguistic traditions and opens them wide to embrace new art forms (spoken word and hip hop to name a couple), and new black communities (black Latin@s and African immigrants) could be the foundation for the next stage in the evalution of the black community in the United States.

An Ante-Bellum Sermon
by Paul Laurence Dunbar

We is gathahed hyeah, my brothahs,
In di howlin' wildaness,
Fu' to speak some words o comfo't
to each othah in distress.
An' we choose fu' ouah subjic'
Dis—-we'll 'splain it by an' by;
"An' de Lawd said, "Moses, Moses,"
An' de man said, Hyeah am I.'"

Now ole Pher'oh, down in Egypt
Was de wuss man evah bo'n,
An' he had de Hebrew chillun
Down dah wukin' in his co'n;
'Twell de Lawd got tiahed o' his foolin',
an' sez he: "I'll let him know'
Look hyeah, Moses, go tell Pher'oh
Fu' to let dem chillun go."

"An' ef he refuse do it,
I will make him rue de houah,
fu' I'll empty down on Egypt
All de vials of my powah."
Yes, he did—-an' Pher'oh's ahmy
Wasn't wurth a ha'f a dime;
Fu' de Lawd will he'p his chillum,
You kin trust him evah time.

An' you' enemies may 'sail you
In de back an' in de front;
But de Lawd is all aroun' you,
Fu' to ba' de battle's brunt.
Dey kin fo'ge yo'chains an' shackles
F'om de mountains to de sea;
But de Lawd will sen' some Moses
Fu' to set his chilun free.

An' de lan' shall hyeah his thundah,
Lak a blas' f'om Gab'el's ho'n,
Fu' de Lawd of hosts is mighty
When he girds his ahmor on.
But fu' feah some one mistakes me,
I will pause right hyeah to say,
Dat I'm still a-preachin' ancient,
I ain't talkin' bout to-day.

But I tell you, fellah christuns,
Things'll happen mighty strange;
Now, de Lawd done dis fu' Isrul,
An' his ways don't nevah change,
An' de love he showed to Isrul
Wasn't all on Isrul spent;
Now don't run an' tell yo' mastahs
Dat I's preachin' discontent.

'Cause I isn't; I'se a-judgin'
Bible people by dier ac's;
I'se a-givin' you de Scriptuah,
I'se a-handin' you de fac's.
Cose ole Pher'or b'lieved in slav'ry,
But de Lawd he let him see,
Dat de people he put bref in,
Evah mothah's son was free.

An' dah's othahs thinks lak Pher'or,
But dey calls de Scriptuah liar,
Fu' de Bible says "a servant
Is worthy of his hire,"
An' you cain't git roun' nor thoo dat,
An' you cain't git ovah it,
Fu' whatevah place you git in,
Dis hyeah Bible too'll fit.

So you see de Lawd's intention,
Evah sence de worl' began,
Was dat His almight freedom
Should belong to evah man,
But I think it would be bettah,
Ef I'd pause agin to say,
Dat I'm talkin' 'bout ouah freedom
In a Bibleistic way.

But de Moses is a-comin',
An' he's comin', suah and fas'
We kin hyeah his feet a-trompin',
We kin hyeah his trumpit blas'.
But I want to wa'n you people,
Don't you git too brigity;
An' don't you git to braggin'
"Bout dese things, you wait an' see.

But when Moses wif his powah
Comes an' sets us chillun free,
We will praise de gracious Mastah
Dat has gin us liberty;
An' we'll shout ouah halleluyahs,
On dat mighty reck'nin' day,
When we'se reco'nised ez citiz'
Huh uh! Chillun, let us pray!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Court of My Opinion

In reality, my opinion is worth about as much as a pound of pigs knuckles.

But that has never stopped me from sharing it.

This evening, I had my first encounter with the New York court system. No, no, Perez Hilton is still alive and breathing and being stupid somewhere in the world. As much as I fantasize about putting his dangly bits in my Cuisinart and pushing puree, it is highly unlikely that I will be the one to do him in. My money is on his parents.

No, tonight I showed up for moral support for my best friend who is being sued by his ex boyfriend/my ex friend, for a stupid amount of money from when they were together. That story is not mine to tell, so I shan't tell it. But let me just say that this small claims is so stupid and so dumb and so frivolous that it makes me want to vote Republican and start screaming about tort reform at a Town Hall meeting on health care.

Instead, I am going to talk about our experience tonight.

First of all, let me say that there are some people in the world that need to grow the hell up. Now, I understand in a messy divorce people that were close to a couple will take sides now and again, particularly if the couple had been together for say 7 years or so. But, my best friend's ex brought a woman with him with whom he works to the courthouse today. Now, I have met this woman exactly once. We got along just peachily. Tonight, as I was going to get a drink of water from the fountain, she stared me down and gave me stank eye as if I am the one that killed Jean Benet Ramsey.

Bitch please.

This white girl with a chip on her shoulder better recognize that only the grace of God, and my naturally sweet disposition kept her from getting read like the Bible at a Southern Baptist tent meeting. I didn't break off my friendship with my best friend's ex. He didn't get an invitation to a cocktail party I threw last winter, shortly after the break up, at which my best friend and his current boyfriend were to be. For this sin, I was declared toxic and in the darkness, and he shunned me like an Amish that bought an electric can opener. Old girl, his side kick in misery, had the nerve to toss shade at me with both hands. I smiled and laughed and engaged my joy. But the next time I see her, she had better take off her earrings and Vaseline up her face, cuz it's on like Donkey Kong up in this borough.

But she didn't have anything on the damn court clerk.

So this evening, my bestie had the option of going directly to arbitration with court appointed attorneys but without the right to appeal. He had the right to demand a trial before a judge with the right to appeal. And he had the opportunity to enter a counter claim.

Considering the level of assininess of his ex, I thoroughly encouraged him to register a call of "by the court," and take this shit to trial. If his ex wants to play Beau coup the Fool up in this piece, it is entirely within my BFF's rights to make sure that he exercises his entire range of personal liberties and protects his name and credit as best he can.

So, after entering a claim of by the court, the clerk calls my bestie and his exie off to the side. He attempts to arm twist and persuade the parties to agree to arbitration aka a decision that would not take into consideration the real facts of the situation and would probably end with my bro owing money to this poop deck heathen that he doesn't really owe. So, before making a final decision, my pal came back to consult with me and his man. We encouraged him to move forward with a court date. And lord have mercy, you would have thought we had talked about the Court Clerk's mama, cuz this big old Paula Deen deep fried chitterlings eatin' bowl of lard and Bisquick got all swollen up (or more swollen up). shook his head, and declared..."You gave him BAD advice. I mean it bad advice."

Ummm excuse me. It was bad advice only in that the court is overburdened and your job has nothing to do with encouraging an individual to make an informed choice about exercising their Constitutional rights and everything to do with making sure Judge Judy gets out in time to make her mani/pedi.

I love how everyone that works in the criminal justice system and civil justice system act as if the rest of us are morons with no understanding of right/wrong or how the system works. And court clerks are the worst...they are power hungry, power wielding little vipers with an associates degree, love handles, bad skin, and in desperate need of a fuck that doesn't involve a hand, a power tool, or an exchange of currency.

Actually, let me be specific...the clerk tonight was one of those people. I am sure there are perfectly lovely and sweet and justice minded court clerks in the world. I also believe in Santa Claus, fairies, ghosts, and the Resurrection of Christ. But I ain't seen any of them (except a ghost...I did see a ghost once).

In the end, though my opinion may count for about as much as an opposition vote in an Iranian national election, I have convened the court of my opinion, and in the case of Court Clerk v. Stupidity, I find the clerk guilty as charged.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Michael Jackson Homocided!

By the power of Latoya Jackson, I abjure you! In the name of the Almighty Joe Jackson, I cast you out! In the name of the L.A. coroner's office, I declare your death a homocide!

Granny get your gun and Dr. Murray get a lawyer cuz somebody is going to jail.

According to an anonymous law enforcement source, L.A. county is declaring Jackson's death a homocide. And Latoya Jackson's crazy ass predicted it. Give that bitch a turban and a 1-900 number...cuz Miss Cleo has been reborn. Call her Miss Jackson if you're nasty.

The story was reported at, a magazine for which I have formerly written (and those bitches owe me almost $1000...don't make me call Judge Mathis).

The entire tale is a sad one that started with Joe beating Michael's ass and ended with Michael begging for ever increasing levels of narcotic substances best left to an anesthesiologist and an episode of Grey's Anatomy. As one friend of mine put it, Michael's nose died a long time ago, and his body just caught up.

Although I thoroughly believe that Jacko was ready to move on and have words with his maker. I also believe that his death highlights the reality of the ultra rich, ultra fabulous, and ultra unbounded by the laws that encumber the rest of us. I got my ass beaten on an almost daily basis for a good chunk of my life too. I did what most broke ass people do, and I got myself an addiction and a trip to rehab. Only the extremely over privileged get beaten, become mega super stars, build a personal amusement park, die with a billion dollars in assets, a new facial structure, and a different race from which they entered the world.

The world needs to let MJJ rest. For good or ill he had children that he obviously loved. His family and his children need time to mourn. Show them the same respect that was shown Jennifer Hudson when she lost her family. Shut up. Back off. Let the living grieve and let the dead rest in peace.

As for the murder charges...

Find the doctor, smack him in the face, tear up his medical license, and then let him go free. I believe that he did exactly as Michael asked him to do. There is no indication, at least that has been made public, that the doctor stood to benefit from Michael's death financially. There is always the chance that he was working for someone else. My money is on Joe Jackson's evil fucking ass. If that turns out to be the case...then the doctor goes to jail, Joe goes to the electric chair, and his surviving children are given first dibs to draw straws to see which of them gets to throw the switch. Of course, Mama Jackson gets to whoop Joe's ass first while he is tied up in the chair. I hope they air that shit on the season finale of American Idol. Now that would be a goddamn show. The only way it could be better would be if Ryan Seacrest came out of the closet and Simon Cowell admitted to slipping Paula pills.

In the end, the wheels of justice have been set in motion. Black folks tend to come out poorly in our criminal justice system, and the public at large is baying for blood. It doesn't look good for Dr. Murray. In the end, whether or not the death was accidental or pre-meditated, the fault lays squarely at the feet of Joe Jackson and the torture to which he put Michael and the rest of the children. The media are not guiltless or blameless in all of this. And, though it is harsh to say, Michael, at any point, could have asked for help and paid for the best fucking help available on the there is fault with him as well.

The coming months are going to turn his passing into an even greater circus...the only question remaining is who will be the ringmaster.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

I Got a Vagina on my Left Testicle

Ok. So. It isn't actually a vagina. But it does kind of look like a little pink vajajay. Let me be clear, I have no envy of the miracle of life. I don't have vagina envy. I have never wished for a clitoris or a visit from the "monthlies." I don't see pregnant women and hate them for their ability to bring forth new human beings. Actually, when I see pregnant women during the summer months, I want to shake them and tell them to wait until winter before getting knocked up next time. It's just too damn hot to walk around with an extra person floating around in ones midsection.

No no, my little, rapidly shrinking (to use the word of my ex boyfriend who couldn't remember how to say the "C" word in English) cunk, is actually the left over remains of a staph infection on my left teste.

Talk about disgusting (the staph infection, not vaginas. Vaginas are a gift from God and should not be disparaged, particularly by stupid sexist men).

At the end of last week, I was just minding my own business when I started to get a fever. Both Thursday and Friday I felt like a big old ball of crap. My caca levels were extremely high. Then I noticed that my left nut had basically doubled in size. By Saturday, I was feverish, and I noticed that my nut had started to grow a mouth.

That's when I recognized the little beast for what it was. A staph infection. I had a staph infection once before...on my elbow and on my leg. The first time it showed up, I had no idea what the hell it was. I named it the Lump. That time, it didn't "open" by itself...and by open I mean it didn't create a fissure from which brilliant neon lime slime oozed out. That time, on the 4th of July, as I could hear the rockets red glare and all that shit, I took a cab to the emergency room, and the doctor shot my giant lump with Novocaine (aka liquid fucking fire)...and then sliced into it...and tried to suck out some of the juice with a plastic syringe.

That was about as fun as being fisted by Elizabeth Hasselbeck wearing Michael Jackson's glitter glove and holding a handful of rusted nails dipped in rattlesnake venom.

So, once I knew what this little (aka softball sized) nut affliction happened to was off to the doctor. Before I left, however, I went to war on the nut. I squeezed it, and squashed it, and finally, using my bare hands, grabbed a handful of the banana slug that had taken up residency in my crotch, and yanked it out.

And there, left behind, was a vagina.

I stared, fascinated, at a 1/3 inch deep hole that was about a half an inch long. I had no idea there was that much space and/or meat between the surface of my nut sac and the actual testicle itself. The poor teste had fled to a lower part of the nut sac and was huddled against its twin brother, attempting to break through the pouch wall, and move into the other half of my ball sac.

The doctor actually told me that I was lucky that it had opened on my own cuz, in her words, "it saved me a cut."

The thought of an ER resident coming at my balls with a scalpel after, perhaps, a recent rough breakup from her long term boyfriend that she caught mounting a charge nurse, almost made me flee from the ER before getting my prescription for nuclear antibiotics. I figured I would take my chance with the flesh eating bacteria over the over worked, exhausted, bitter, Asian girl who might decided to buck the model minority stereotype and go all Nip/Tuck on me.

Now, less than a week after being on antibiotics, my little vagina is almost gone. Where once was a giant angry girl with a guitar vagina...oozing spooge and waving at now a cute little innocent virgin vagina....not yet knowing the evils of the world and gentle.

I will be happy when my little foray into intersexuality is gone.

Until then...I guess I get to check another box on demographic forms.

The human body is an amazing thing.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Health Care for All or Gay Couples' Rights?

This is a repost of an article by Professor Lisa Duggan. I adore Prof. Duggan. I met her in Minneapolis after attending a reading from some of her academic works. Like a total Nerd Superstar, I brought a copy of her book on identity politics for her to sign. This article brings to mind the piece that I wrote back in May called Obama and Gay Marriage or Shut The Hell Up and Let the Man Run the Country. . I absolutely agree with Lisa's viewpoints, and thank you to Joseph DeFillipis for bringing this to my attention.

Health Care for All, or Gay Couples Rights?

August 19, 2009
Posted by bullybloggers in Political Rants and Raves.

By Lisa Duggan

The battle royal has now been engaged over the question of whether health care reform will include a public option, with insurance industry flacks and free market ideologues drumming up hysteria and hauling out the loonies to denounce any public option as “socialist” (I wish) and “Nazi” (say what?), while mild mannered liberals defend it for bringing “choice and competition” to the health insurance markets.

It’s a hard war to watch, given that the so-called public option is a pale shadow of single payer–the approach that might provide universal quality care without siphoning buckets of money into executive salaries and profits for the health care robber barons.

But here’s my question for today: Where are the homosexuals? While all the mainstream gay groups and lgbt media and bloggers are rehashing Prop 8 and planning a march for equality in October, honey, Rome is burning right here right now. Much of the furor over marriage rights in the United States is fueled by the desire for access to health care–employment and marriage being the primary routes for insurance coverage. In countries with universal health care, the battle over same sex marriage rights has been much less intense and consequential. Gaining universal access to health care in the U.S. now would meet the widespread need that is now largely expressed in campaigns for partnership recognition. In addition, it could address the crying need for adequate health care for masses of queers who have no wish to marry. In the large balancing scale of benefits–free universal health care, or single payer, would do more for The Gays than marriage equality. So where are the gay groups and activists? Where have they been for the past decade when organizing for single payer might have helped push it onto the national political agenda, before it was so unceremoniously replaced by the “public option”? And where are they now that the public option may be replaced by the even paler, more impotent health co-op plan?

Are gay groups and activists serious about gaining concrete benefits for queer constituencies–homeless kids, transgender sex workers, lgbt populations that are unemployed, elderly, migrant or immigrant, disabled and sick? If so, then it would make a lot more sense to spend $50 million in donor funds pushing for free universal health care, than even thinking about spending that sum to redo the Prop 8 referendum next year. Should we rename the current organizations to peg them as the Gay Couples Rights Movement?

Access to health care is a national emergency, for queers folks more than most. It’s past time for us all to mobilize on the front lines of this political battle–it matters more to more queers than marriage ever will.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Burden and Blessing Of Truth

Two days ago I wrote what was perhaps my most difficult blog entry. I take that back. It was unequivocally the hardest thing I have ever written and published. Though I was desperately terrified, I hit the post button, closed my eyes, gritted my teeth and waiting for the inevitable feedback.

I was ready for anger, outrange, condemnation, a lack of understanding, and some support.

What I recieved was an amazing outpouring of love, support, understanding, compassion, and connection. The truth I spoke allowed so many others to send me private emails sharing that yes, they too had gone through something similar. People that I have known for a short time and others I have known for years came out as positive and shared pieces of their stories. Straight friends, queer friends, childhood friends, new friends, old friends, anonymous readers, and many others shared how I have touched their lives, how my stories have touched them, and how, though they may not have experienced what I have it still resonated with them.

I have to tell you a story about a woman I know named Marge.

Marge and I worked together during the time I described in my last blog posting. Marge and I were always friendly to one another, but though we worked in the same department our jobs did not overlap and it was rare that we had much interaction (even though we sat with only one cubicle in between us). Marge is a good woman that came from corporate America. I knew she was a Republican (there was running joke that Marge and our boss were the only two Republicans on a staff of almost 100 people). She was always polite, but I never really got to know her. What I did know was surface. Last night, she reached out to me via Facebook and said some very moving and beautiful things about my writing. She said that she was happy that I had found love and a way to express my gift. She was deeply compassionate and very caring, and after our conversation I went to my partner and said that I hadn't realized until speaking with Marge last night that I had deep preconceived notions of who would be touched by my story and how.

I misjudged Marge, which means I have misjudged so many people. If a white, straight, suburban corporate woman...about as opposite demographically from my own identity as one can get can connect with what I write and how I write it, then I have to seriously examn further my own assumptions and prejudices. Marge, you taught me a deeply valuable and welcome lesson last night. I thank you for your compassion, your honesty, and the support you demonstrated. Thank you, I hope I can return the favor sometime.

When I write these blog entries and tell my stories, I always hope that by sharing them I can visit them more closely, look at the experiences more deeply, and take away something from them that I may have missed while in the moment of the events. Last night, through Marge, and through so many others that shared their thoughts, hopes, sadnesses, and joys, I have been able to do that. It is an honor to have readers as wonderful and engaged as all of you are. You are a gift to me, and I value you greatly. You sustain me with your honesty and with the stories that you reflect back to me, and I appreciate you for it.

You humble me again and again. Thank you.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Sex, Drugs, HIV

I am HIV positive.

Since 2005, I have been largely open about my HIV status. While I do not generally wear a t-shirt that declares my status nor do I have a bio-hazard sign tattooed on my body, if you know me, if you have read any of my work, if you Google my name on the Internet, then you will be aware of that fact.

I haven't always been open about my status. When I was first diagnosed, I went into a deep and shameful self-hate spiral. Before long, I was half strung out on crystal meth. I have often wondered why I found meth so exciting and so addictive. As a college student I had tried most popular party drugs: X, GHB, ketamine, and pot. I hated weed, and the rest I enjoyed but I could take or leave for long periods of time and never had any “cravings” for them.

Then I tested positive.

I had never tried crystal meth on its own before, it had always been in a mix with other party drugs. So I had no idea its potency or its effect. I could walk away from all of its effects but one: it made me feel touchable and desirable for the first time since testing positive.

When I first tested positive, I became asexual. I refused to have sex with my boyfriend at the time. I went into a deep depression, and I was completely lacking in a conscious awareness of what was going on. I eventually broke up with my boyfriend, I was unemployed, and I gained a tremendous amount of weight. I told two people about my status, both of whom lived more than 2000 miles away from me. Not even my best friend, who lived across the hallway from me, had any idea of what was going on in my life.

I can't remember the first time that I tried crystal meth by itself. I don't remember who I was with or what I was doing. But I do remember that something changed, and I felt wanted and desired and touchable. I turned to the online cruising sites: Manhunt,, and Adam4Adam. I began spending almost every weekend on meth binges and having sex.

And in that world where everyone is high and everyone is looking to have wild sexual adventures, no one ever asked about your status and no one ever used a condom.

Eventually the guilt and shame at having rampant unprotected sex and putting my community at risk gave way to a mind crushing guilt, and I had a snap with reality. On a plane ride from Albuquerque to Minneapolis, I believed that the FBI were out to arrest me and were going to arrest me specifically for having unprotected sex. I spent a week as a guest of the Fairview Riverside Hospital, where every day, I literally looked out of the window and could see my university. I wondered how, in just a few years, I had gone from being a star student with invitations to parties at the university president's home at one of the largest and best colleges in the United States to sitting staring out of a mental ward window just trying to make it through another day.

Since that time I have been sober and I have relapsed. I have dealt with massive guilt and shame at risky sexual behaviors. I am not proud of myself for my behavior during addiction, and I am not happy about the risks that I took with my life and the lives of others. I apologize to my community for what I have done.

Having said that, I am pissed off.

I am pissed off because not only have I had to deal with the outrageous stigma attached to being HIV positive. Not only do I have to live with the guilt and the shame of my own behavior during my times of drug abuse, but also I am expected to carry the burden of the sexual health of others as if somehow by being positive I am also responsible for making choices for others.

Let me be clear, it is my duty and responsibility to inform sex partners of my HIV status. BUT that does not now or ever abrogate the responsibility of another person to take necessary precautions to protect themselves. Also...and this is directed towards the negative folks in the community...if we have not HAD sex...if all we have done is made out or fooled around and no orifices were penetrated, then I have absolutely no obligation to disclose anything to you. CHECK yourself and your prejudicial stigma. THINK about how your reaction to a friend or a potential sex partner is going to land when you find out that he or she is positive. This is 2009, there is NO excuse for ANYONE, especially a queer person, living in the United States to have any kind of fucked up ass backwards response or reaction to an HIV positive person. Period. And if you do...if you have the NERVE to treat positive people how YOU were treated in high school gym class or when the neighborhood kids suspected that you were gay...then YOU need some serious fucking help.

I have NEVER raped anyone. All of my sexual partners have been fully willing. I will no longer bear the burden of the choices they made or did not make. I have enough guilt and shame to deal with that is linked to my own behavior and my own fucked up choices. I don't and won't carry the guilt and consequences of your choices anymore.

Even if your partner smiles at you prettily and bats his eyelashes and tells you that you are wonderful and swears that he is negative...if you choose to have sex without protection the ultimate burden of your sexual health is on YOUR shoulders.

This doesn't lessen my own culpability for the choices I have made, but I am tired of reading rants in the media or on the chat sites about men who go out and WILLINGLY look for bareback sex....and then blast the positive community for continuing to have unprotected sex. Log into Manhunt or Craigslist...peruse the ads there...and you will see ad after ad after ad after ad of “Bareback bottom looking for Negative Top.” All that says to me is that is another person attempting to put the burden for his sexual health on the shoulders of another person. So if the top that comes over swears that he is negative, and fucks you, and isn't...and you test positive, who is at greater fault? The asshole that lied? Or the asshole that opened up and took an uncovered dick and let a stranger ejaculate inside of him?

If you have unprotected sex, whether you are high or whether you are sober, and if that sex was not coerced through the use of force, then your sexual health is YOUR responsibility.

I am deeply sorry for the actions that I have taken during periods of drug use. No one in the world can even approach a level of anger with me that I have had and continue to have with myself. But if you think that somehow the positive community is responsible for your sexual choices, then you have a twisted sense of privilege akin to white privilege and gender privilege and like all privilege the only way to maintain it is through oppression. Fuck that.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Different Kind of Hero

This article appears in the September issue of Zona Rosa Magazine (New York's only magazine dedicated to the lives of gay and bi Latino men), available now online at, and will be available in print early next week.

A Different Kind of Hero

Two years ago, as the nation began to shake off eight years of regressive dictatorship from Pennsylvania Avenue, we began hearing quite a bit about heroes. John McCain was a war hero because he survived torturous conditions in the Hanoi Hilton. Hilary Clinton was a hero because she not only had taken off her petticoats and burned her bra but also had climbed the corporate and public ladder of success until she was within reach of shattering that ultimate electoral glass ceiling. By the end of the election, Barack Obama had become a hero to the poor, black folks, and a broad coalition of people who wanted only to feel hope and see a face that looked more like home.

Our national and personal dialogue is filled with heroes: from pilots landing a plane safely in the Hudson River to cops gunned down in the line of duty. Almost all of those that are bestowed with the honorific of hero are those that through circumstance, birth, political anointment or military appointment are thrust into the spotlight and crowned with laurel leaves. In truth, many who are called heroes are, indeed, heroes. Others, I suggest, are not. A police officer with a record of brutality who loses his life in a gunfight, is not a hero. A soldier that beats his wife, yet manages to survive a war, is not a hero. A Republican Senator from Arizona that chooses to stay with his comrades instead of being released from a terrible Vietnamese prison and then chooses to live a life where he actively participates in the oppression of women, queer people, and people of color for political gain is not a hero.

In the end, heroes are defined narrowly, conventionally, and too often are white, straight, men who have served in wars in which they have simply had the luck of surviving. History is full of those heroes.

As communities of color, we have been given little space for our own heroes. And those are largely the ones that have been too great to ignore or have been co-opted for the purposes of communal pacification by a power structure built on racism and economic slavery and inequality. Black people are given a street in major cities named for Martin Luther King Jr. Latin@s are given, in some places, a school named for Cesar Chavez. And with those we are meant to be contented.

I am far from content.

History is full of heroes that are unsung, ignored, or hidden. It is time to call their names and carry their spirits with us as we move forward. From Sylvia Rivera, a transgender Latina that took off a shoe and started a world-wide revolution, to Bayard Rustin, an openly gay black man that was the architect of the 1963 March on Washington and taught Martin Luther King, Jr. the principles of nonviolent resistance, our communities are full of heroes.

For many of us, our heroes are our mothers that worked two jobs to feed us and responded to our coming out with a simple, “te quiero mijo.” Our heroes are the street outreach workers and drop in center volunteers that are working to make sure that there is never another Gwen Araujo lost. From FIERCE in New York to ALLGO in Texas, there are out, proud, queer Latin@ that are working tirelessly and too often thanklessly to make sure that our lives are celebrated, supported, and cherished. We are all surrounded by family, friends, and loved ones that have made a difference in our lives. These are heroes. It’s time to speak their names.

-W. Brandon Lacy Campos

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

White Noise: White Adults Raising White Children to Resist White Supremacy

This article is reprinted with permission of the author, Susan Raffo. I met Susan Raffo twelve years ago while a student at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. From day one, when I met her in a race and privilege workshop, I was in awe of Susan. My awe turned to adoration and my adoration to love and respect as I came to know and work with Susan, her partner Rocki (an amazing anti-racist organizer and justice worker in her own right), and later was privileged to be a part of the community that welcomed their daughter, Luca, into the world. I have been to the majority of Luca's seven birthdays, and she is, as I have said publicly, my favorite young person.

Susan sent me this article yesterday with a sweet note about many of the conversations that she and I have had on these topics both before and after the birth of Luca. Susan is my family as surely as my own Mother or my partner, David. I have grown up with Susan, been raised in some aspects by Susan, been Susan's peer, and had the honor of learning with Susan. She has been many things to me throughout almost a decade and a half, and I love her for her gentle ways, her willingness to look closely at herself and her privilege, her loving way of holding the people she loves (INCLUDING ME) accountable, and the myriad of ways, times, and circumstances when she has loved me when I could love myself enough. If you are a parent, particularly if you are a white parent, this article is one that you should print out and post next to your child's bed and above your own.

White Noise: White Adults Raising White Children to Resist White Supremacy

written by Anti-Racist Parent contributor Susan Raffo of White Noise

It hit me while I was still pregnant. Standing there at the Mall of America, looking up at the huge rotunda of bright lights and countless stores, I realized something. This baby I carried inside of me, at this point no bigger than a knucklebone, was going to be privileged with a capital “P.” And with that awareness, I entered a place of contradiction. You see, I could already feel the mama-self growing in me; that place where my bear claws would live, where the desire to do anything to make this child safe, make this child whole, would growl as it grew stronger. That mama-self doesn’t feel like a choice. It’s in there, hooked around my mitochondria and woven into the DNA.

But there’s this other self; sometimes called the political self or the activist self or the stand back and pay attention self. It knows that my child — white and raised by white parents in a family where the adults have the gift of education, have choice about their work, and own their own home — is a privileged child. Every gain my mama-self wants to support my child in making will be on the backs of other children, children with mother’s whose mama-selves are just as fierce as mine but who have to fight against real monsters like hunger or violence.

And this is the contradiction that crept into my belly standing there, at the Mall of America. I felt sad, and a different flavor of fierce. Luca’s creativity, her curiosity and her passion have the time and space to be priorities when we think about raising her. We don’t have to protect her daily from violence or spend most of our time finding food. All children should have the same kind of space. Standing there in the Mall of America, my fierceness shifted and grew larger. It became less about my child and more about the community of children. In other words, my question was not “what is the best for my daughter” and more, “what is the best for all children?” How does this question affect how I parent? How do my partner and I – and all of our friends and families – raise our children in a way that honors the lives and struggles of all children?


Here is what we noticed right away: both the race of our daughter and the economic privilege of our family. We have enough – not a lot, but enough. And we are white women raising a white daughter. Here is the question that followed that: how do we, from the very beginning, start raising Luca to be a different kind of white? What does it MEAN to be a different kind of white? This feels about way more than having a commitment to anti-racism. It feels like being a different kind of person entirely.

As a quick aside, my partner and I have a belief system about race, racism and white privilege that assumes that the legacies of slavery, the attempted genocide of Native Americans, European colonialism and its affect here in the Americas and elsewhere in the world has created a present day moment of inequity based on skin color, language, culture of origin and so on. Within that belief system, the fact that my partner and I have light skin and ethnicities with the majority of ancestors being European gives us a kind of privilege. There isn’t the space in this article to explain what we mean by white privilege and white supremacy and racism. At the end, there are resources listed for further exploration.

So, white parents raising white children. We looked at books and blogs. We googled for magazine articles and newspaper features. We talked with our friends – white and of color – and kept coming against the same thing: there is hardly anything out there that directly talks about raising white kids to be anti-racist, to work against white privilege, to be a different flavor, an accountable and creative flavor, of white. There are resources about raising children to live in a multicultural world. There are resources about raising your children to respect difference. There are books about nonviolent child-rearing. But really thinking about what kind of white your kid might be? It’s not out there. And here’s why: most of us white adults don’t really understand what it is to be white ourselves. We sometimes have language about being Irish- or Italian-American, or about growing up on a farm, being Midwestern or from the mountains, but this whiteness thing? The ways in which being white affects our sense of who we are and the communities around us? We usually have no words.

My partner and I decided that if we’re going to raise a white child we want to pay attention to how she becomes white and how she is white. It’s the same thing as paying attention to the fact that she is a girl, that she likes to dance but isn’t so into playing soccer, that she gets shy in front of lots of people she doesn’t know. Each of these things is about her, and each is about the world around her.

Paying attention to how our child becomes white is about a lot of things: and we already know that we don’t know half of them. Sometimes it means paying attention to all of the ways in which being white gives her a kind of “get out of jail free” card, a kind of free pass into better jobs, more income, and less stress and struggle. It means watching and learning from what happens when she pops out of me, all instinct for survival and connection to mama, and starts to grow a personality and set of understandings about herself and the world. It means learning what there is to be proud of, to celebrate, about who she is in the world as a white person.

So, since this is true, we decided to get help. And while folks of color probably are smartest about what being white means, after all, they have to deal with us all of the time, they aren’t the ones who have to fix this part of the crazy mess. It’s up to us to figure this one out. I mean, if as white parents, we can’t figure out how to help our white kids become compassionately or powerfully or collectively white, well, then who can? It’s pretty much our responsibility.

Laying the groundwork

We gathered together a group of white friends, parents every one of them, and decided to form a group. We call it White Noise as a way of describing the everyday annoying distraction from thinking and paying attention that’s akin to living with white privilege. Our kids are all young – the oldest is Luca and she’s only seven. And we sure haven’t figured everything out. But we figure it’s time to bring the light in. The more we share what we’ve learned, the faster it’s going to grow. And growing our understanding of how to raise a white child to make being white an entirely different thing, that’s what we want to grow.

Right now, we call what we do “laying the groundwork.” Meaning, since we have young children whose needs and questions are still more simple than complex, we figure we’re just trying to help their bodies get clear about whiteness. At the end of the day, there is no single recipe for how to do this. Raising white children is really about just plain raising our children to pay attention to all of who they are. We can’t protect them from anything. The best we can do is prepare them to carry the tools they need to weather the multiple storms their lives will bring them. That’s why we call the work we are doing with our young children, “laying the groundwork.” Our intent is to support them to experiences themselves and the world around them in a way that will feed their ability to not only do anti-racist work but also be anti-racist “from the ground up.”

Making whiteness visible

Somewhere around four years old, we started to notice Luca, when describing her friends, only “raced” her friends of color. Meaning, when she was describing people to us who she knew, she described her friends of color as “Black” or “Native” but her white friends as “with red hair” or “tall.” Already, at four years old, and living in a multiracial community, white had become normal for Luca. Normal in a way that means invisible. So, one of the first steps is to just plain make whiteness visible. This means making sure that all of us, when we are describing people, talk as much about white friends as we do our Black or Asian friends. But making whiteness visible is more than that.

The minute we are born, we are surrounded by information. Some of it is directly pointed out for us by the adults in our lives. Most of it goes completely unnoticed by all of us, children and adults alike. Making whiteness visible means seeking to notice the presence of whiteness in every aspect of our lives. How do we do this? We practice everyday. What does that mean? Well, one example is when we walk into a store or into a restaurant or down a neighborhood street, we ask: “Who is here?” and then we notice. Once we notice who is here, we began to intentionally wonder about why they are here. And then to notice who isn’t here. And to wonder the same thing.

A story for explanation: we are out running errands and we all get hungry. We stop by a coffee shop. Right away, Luca notices, “There are only white people in here.” Raquel and I both look around and see that she is right. So then we ask, “Why might there be only white people in here?” We notice that the coffee shop is in a predominantly white upper-middle-class neighborhood. So we assume that drop-in traffic is going to be mostly local. We wonder if people of color might not come by this coffee shop or this neighborhood because it might not be comfortable or because they wouldn’t feel welcome or reflected back by the staff or other customers. We next wonder if there are people of color who would even be interested in this coffee shop – maybe the culture of this coffee shop is one that mostly white people are attracted to and so some folks of color are choosing to not come here, or to instead go somewhere that will better reflect their experiences. Then we talk about what it is like for us to be in this coffee shop – noticing that when we are white and we fit in with the other white people, we barely even notice that we are white. We talk about how there are different kinds of white people, but even though there are different kinds, we don’t really need to think about race when we are among all white people. This is important. We notice that we don’t need to think about or even notice race when we are around other white people.

Making whiteness visible means noticing the books we read, the movies or television shows we watch, the people in our families and neighborhoods, and the rhythm of everyday life. It’s a practice for white people, just like meditation or parenting is a practice. If we don’t do it constantly, we don’t notice.

Learn together

Don’t assume you have to already know everything before you start trying to teach your children. You know the syndrome: the perfect parent syndrome. Our kids look up to us. They ask us questions about the world around them and wait for us to share what we know. When they’re young, we are all-knowing in their eyes. It can be scary to have to admit to your child that you are clueless about some aspect of the world around you.

Figuring out how to be white is something we do together with our children. We can tell them what we have experienced, our ideas and struggles and understandings, but living in the world with consciousness as a white person is not about getting it right once and then being done forever. It’s about making mistakes and learning and then making more mistakes and then learning more and inch by precious inch, feeling the world open up around us.

Learning with our children is about being in process, in struggle, in family with the most important people in our lives. It is about sharing the fact that this is life-long work, that we are all learning together, and that your child has some valuable things to teach you even as you have things to share with them. That last piece is really important. The minute our kids are born, they are learning –both directly and indirectly – how to be white, which includes how to be a racist. Thandeka in her book, “Learning to Be White: Money, Race and God in America,” states that the first act of child abuse directed towards all white children is that the minute they come out of the womb, they are being taught to be racist. So the game has already started, whether or not we ever directly address race and whiteness in our family. But kids have something we don’t have. Even though they have already started learning their whiteness, it hasn’t embedded itself over decades of experience. Their brains and nervous systems are still literally creating their bodies, their identities, their sense of self in the world. Much has already been established no matter when we start, but much is also open for shifting and changing.

Some of what is confusing to adults is likely to make gentle sense to children. Some of the places where we adults make this thick and complex is likely to be simple and poetic to our children. In listening to the questions they ask, the reflections they make, we can learn a whole bunch about how whiteness grows.
Know your own shit. Oh lovely shit, oh layered deep old stuff which gets triggered by the innocent voices of our children. The shame of it. The guilt. The embarrassment. What do I do if my child says something racist? What will others think of me? Will they look over at me, knowing what a horrible mother I am, because my son just came out with something funky about that woman’s hair, her skin, the way she talks? What will people say?

This is a big one. A really big one. As soon as we encourage our children to reflect on the world around them, to say what they are thinking and feeling and to invite conversation, well, they start to talk. And they will say things just about everywhere. And in front of just about everyone. And they will ask questions. Why is your hair like that? Did you notice that your skin is really dark? Wow, look, my mom’s arm is really white next to your arm! How come all the Black kids play basketball? Did you know that your grandfather was probably a slave? Your kids will say things that are beyond what you could possibly imagine. And they should say those things. Because this is how they learn. But they are only going to learn if you are open to hearing them. Which means knowing your own shit. Here is what we mean by that: What is going on for you when you hear your kids say something that triggers your “that’s racist” button? What emotions come up? What are you concerned about? What do you do when those emotions come up? We have all seen parents, when reacting to something their child has said, looking quickly around and saying, “shhhh, that’s not a nice thing to say,” or “Stop that! Don’t be rude!!” or any number of other things. We know the feeling in our bellies when we are walking through the world, thinking about our grocery list or the drive back home, when junior says something that immediately makes us feel exposed and visible. As white people. As potentially bad parents. Raising our children to be white is about knowing our reactions and finding ways to NOT shut our children down when they ask those kinds of questions.

Of course, this is also complicated. It’s a different thing to have a three-year-old making a comment about a stranger in a store, it’s another thing for a 13-year-old to say it. Embedded in supporting our children to ask questions and be open to learning about the world around them, is also teaching them about respect. Teaching them that people are not objects but individuals with feelings and complex lives. Because the reality is that while our children are reflecting on the world around them, the people of color they are reflecting about are real people who just might not be in the mood to hear yet another person talk about their hair – even if it is a gap-toothed five year old. Everything about this work includes supporting our children to act as respectful members of communities, every single day and in every single context.

Another part of knowing your own shit is knowing your own story, all of it. What is your culture? Did you grow up in a city, a suburb, the countryside? What celebrations and rituals did you grow up with? What kind of food? Do you have a word for it? What did you learn about work? About taking care of your own family or other people? Who felt “like you” and who felt different? What is your culture?

The other piece of knowing our own shit is knowing our own understandings of race and whiteness. What did you learn about race and whiteness when you were a child? Really, spend time here. Think about the kinds of things you were directly taught and the things you witnessed. Notice what your life looks like, who the people are who surround you, your sense of why different people are different form you. Think about what it means for you to be white, to be an anti-racist. Find people you trust to talk to about these things. There is a whole bunch you can talk to your children about, and there’s a whole bunch you need to learn with other adults. Don’t stop thinking about yourself, noticing your beliefs, your reactions, your concerns. Stay with your own work.

Don’t immediately go big, stay specific. Remember those reflections our children make in public places – or sometimes private? The ones that make our insides flare up as we struggle to make sure our own shit doesn’t get in the way of our children learning? This is about those times. Example, when Luca was walking by the basketball court in our neighborhood park, she suddenly asked why only Black people play basketball. In my belly flared up things like: oh shit, that’s so racist. It isn’t only Black people that play basketball, and oh god, I have to help her understand the complexity, and on and on. But here’s the funky thing about young children: she was only describing what she saw and asking about it. It is true that when Luca walks by this playground, most of the time the people she sees are Black men. And so she wants to know why. And while the answer is complex and many-layered, there is an answer. Or there are answers that will unravel over the time of her growing up. It’s a legitimate question based on an observation. Stay specific, listen to what your child is saying or watch what they are doing. Are they in distress? Are they worried or having any kind of emotion? Is it just a question? Before making any assumptions about what your child’s question might mean, ask them about it. Refer to knowing your own shit and learning together. Keep the channels of conversation and learning open.

Here’s another example from a white friend of mine: she picked up her white grandson from his preschool. His first comment to her was: “I don’t like Black people. I don’t think I want them to be my friends”. My friend freaked out, her emotions rose up to the sky, and she jumped in immediately, asking with an anxious voice what he meant but also saying that of course he doesn’t know all Black people, and a whole bunch of other things that she doesn’t remember because her emotions were so high. And as she was talking, she saw him retreat into himself, getting quiet and logging away the information that this wasn’t something he should talk about.

And my friend kicked herself from here to the preschool and back, knowing that she had goofed but feeling overwhelmed. As she later asked more questions, she learned that her grandson’s school had just done a chapter on the civil rights. During this chapter, there was a lot of conversation about Black folks as a people or as a community. Her grandson knew Black folks but he knew them as individuals. He had never thought of anyone as a “people.” While he knew Black folks out in the world, there was only one Black child in his preschool class: a boy who, for whatever reason, teased him a lot. So my friend’s grandson put things together in a pattern in his head: “this kid is a Black kid and he is mean to me. Black kids are part of a Black people. I don’t like playing with this Black kid and I don’t want to be his friend. Therefore, I don’t want to be friends with Black people.” If you take away the sting and the legacy of racism, you’ve got to admit there’s a logic to this.

As we talked about it, my friend wished that she had just hit the pause button after her grandson spoke. She wished she had started right away with asking questions, not putting any kind of value on his words until she understood what he was actually talking about. Because now she has to undo something, one of the somethings that white supremacy depends on. She has to undo this idea that some things are not “polite” to talk about, that there is something uncomfortably emotional about talking about Black people, that grandma freaks out when you bring it up so don’t bring this kind of stuff up.

And every single one of us is going to have to undo moments like this. Because we will all make mistakes. Because we are learning as we go. We make mistakes and we will continue to make them. The important thing is to keep coming back, being honest with our kids about our own struggle, and asking for their help in figuring this out.

And maybe that’s how this article will end. As we enter our third year of White Noise, the group focus is shifting. There are some new people joining in the Fall, some people who are stepping out. We now share a groundwork among ourselves as adults, and we share some thoughts about how to start laying the groundwork with our children. In our meetings, we laugh a lot, we freak out, we forget to bring up important things, we spend too much time talking about the easy stuff and sometimes we dip into the hard and scary things that move us all forward.

Recently, we’ve been talking about the aspects of our cultures that really prop up white supremacy. We’ve been talking about how the protestant work ethic is one aspect of white supremacy, the particular values about how we approach work and “responsibility”, what gets called laziness or self-indulgent, how we think about the relationship between work, family and community. We have talked about the difference in valuing relationships and community versus valuing “getting things done.” We have talked about how raising our children to code-shift is an important part of resisting white supremacy. This means being able to move across cultures and communities without losing a sense of themselves and without assuming that everyone else has to be just like them. And we are talking about moving outside of our own comfort zones in figuring these out. Meaning, not just reading books and getting together to discuss, but maybe, actually, playing; with our kids and not just alone as a bunch of serious adults.

We will continue to learn together. As our children get older and enter different developmental stages with different relationships with friends, community and self, we will need to figure out new things. And at the end of the day, we know this group is far more for us adults than for our kids. Because they will be living their lives separate from us. Their choices will be their own and their mistakes their own as well. By laying the groundwork, our hope is that we support our children to feel empowered and creative as white people to live in the whole world, with wide open eyes and a sense of accountability and celebration. And that in living in the whole world, they might be part of shifting the pattern so that there are more children with each successive generation who also truly have access to the whole world. What we have realized is that we can’t take our children’s privilege away but we can work to shift our collective understanding of what that privilege means.

A good basic article on White Privilege is by Peggy McIntosh:

White Privilege: Essential Readings on the other side of Racism (an anthology) by Paula S. Rotherberg, Worth Publishers

White Supremacy Culture by Tema Okun

Acknowledgements: Susan, Raquel, Susan, Nicola, Amy, Lisa and all past members of White Noise, Vikki, Kris, Kristen, Kristin, Jen, Laura, and Karn.

White Noise is a group of white parents with white children who have been meeting for two years to learn together and support each other in ending white supremacy.

(Editors Note: I also know Tema Okun, and she is amazing as well. Check out her stuff for sure).

Monday, August 10, 2009

Interview with a Comic Diva: Yamaneika Saunders

So, a couple of Sundays each month, David and I mosey up the street to the queer night spot Therapy in Hell's Kitchen for the comedy show hosted by Brad Loekle. Now, sometimes the show is a little bit on the wakka wakka side. In general, the first comic of the night, to put it gently, sucks yeast infected nuts. Not always, but sometimes. In general, as the show progresses, so does the talent. In general, the headliner never fails. Sometimes, though, the headliner blows your friggin' mind.

Yamaneika Saunders was the headliner, and she not only blew my mind...she blew it up. I was picking up pieces of my medulla oblongata off of peoples tables, from under bar stools, and out of folks' cosmos. This woman was a raw talent for tellin' the damn truth in a way that will have you laughing with her and at yourself. She uses comedy to examine the world, pick it up, shake it, and set it down again...giggling.

After the show, bold as brass, I stalked Yama. I also asked her if she would be willing to be interviewed for my little piece of the World Wide Web. She graciously agreed, and here is her dynamite interview. I can't wait to see where she goes, because she is going to go further than, I think, she even dreams about. Thank you Yama for taking the time to respond to these questions, and I am sending you much love.

You are funny as hell...a comedienne extraordinaire...what first pushed you to take the stage and make folks laugh? What is it that you get from being a comedienne?

Yamaneika: Aww, Thank you, Brandon . The first person who got me into stand-up was, surprisingly enough, my mother. We were living in LA and she (my mother) was taking stand-up classes with Sandi Shore. After talking to Sandi about me and how funny she thought I was, my mother enrolled me in a comedy class w/ Sandi per Sandi's request. Each class Sandi taught ended in a showcase, and I was fortunate enough that Sammy Shore (Father of Sandi and Pauly Shore) was the host for the showcase. Sammy pulled me to the side after the showcase and told me that I shouldn't take any more classes because I was ready to do it without training. Before all that happened, I was on my way to becoming a political science major w/ the hopes of being the first black female Supreme Court Justice.

Your persona on stage is a fierce, no shit taking, black woman that radiates a type of strong-black-woman ferocity that I recognize from my own stage you are sweet as a peach...tell me a little bit about these two personas and how they interact with one another?

Yamaneika:My grandmother and my upbringing are responsible for my duality on stage and in life. I grew up in the suburbs of Maryland, in a middle-class family, attended private school, and I am a granddaughter of ministers. There is this very religious side of me: the side that believes in Jesus and prays. That side is very sensitive and worries about others, would volunteer at a shelter and all that Mother Teresa shit! I go home at night and cry because I feel like I should be doing more to help the world, but I just don't know how! That's who I am when you meet me off stage: very sensitive, proper, and quiet.

However, when its time to perform you have to bring that alter ego out. That exaggerated side of you that needs to be heard. The character you see on stage is the person who says the things I would like to say in real life, but I just don’t have the balls to say. I’m so concerned off stage with hurting people’s feelings and disrespecting people that I often limit what I say to people that I don’t know.

Your beauty and blackness are front and center when you take the does your racial identity inform your comedy?

Yamaneika: I was blessed to come from a family that believed in telling you how beautiful you are. I grew up with an abundance of self-esteem and worth. Even in school when I was teased for being the only minority and being chubby, I still held my head up high. Kids would call me a nigger to my face and I would say, “takes one to know one” or “don’t you wish you had these nigger looks?” I was so confident.

I have always happy to be who I am. I believe that if you love who you are then you aren’t threatened by loving people for they are.

It wasn’t until the 7th grade, when another black student came to our school, that I realized how strong I really was. This student was feeling a lot of pressure and was desperately trying to fit in. I understood how hard it was because there were no other minority children at this school, not even an Asian kid and they are everywhere! I spent a lot of time defending this young lady and talking to her. I realized that she needed a little of what I had even if I wasn’t always sure of my real strength. It was through pep talking this young lady, and encouraging her, that I really realized that I could make people laugh. When she was being attacked I would go up to the kids who picked on her and would snap on their asses so hard! I would cut them down to size, and then crowds would form and people would crack up. It got to the point where people used to love to taunt us just so I could go off in a comical rant! In hindsight, it defeated the purpose of diminishing attention around us, but it also became very fun. I experienced much racism at the school, but the one thing that broke the barrier was humor. Humor knows no color.

Comedy is a way for me to say to the little dark black girl "you are beautiful" or to the unloved woman "I love you". This society is structured to divide us on many levels. I hear from the industry all the time that I can't reach the important audiences (which to them are white males). I have just as many white men who approach me after a show, as anyone else. Am I a woman? Yes. Am I black? Yes. Am I a big girl? For now. But ask me if I had the same feelings this 19 to 35 year old male demographic had when I had my heart broken for the first time, had my feelings hurt, or when I heard my mothers voice over the phone. We all have things that connect us as humans, which are what I like to tap into.

On stage you seem to evoke the comedy styles of everyone from Moms Mabley and Aunt Esther to Monique...who are your influences?

Yamaneika: I think I evoke those feelings from some, because we like to categorize people to understand them. I have great respect for Moms Mabley and Lawanda Page [Aunt Ester from TV’s Sanford and Son], I definitely have watched and listened to them and respect their comedy styles. A lot of people compare me to Monique because we are both big girls and from Baltimore , MD, but that is where the similarities end.

My influences are Richard Pryor, Lenny Bruce (I do have a few problems with Bruce, but I respect him), George Carlin, and Paul Mooney. I respect people who aren't afraid to go against the grain and speak their mind, like it or not. I like to push the envelope. I love when people say, "No, she didn't just go there!” I will go there, I live there, I bought a house there and I hope that eventually I'll have a few neighbors there so I can have a cook out in "Thereville.”

I spent the first few years of doing comedy being that reserved little girl that my grandma wanted me to be. Don't act ghetto because everyone is expecting that, remember that as a big girl people will expect this, as a woman people will expect that. That is too much shit to think about. Like Frank Sinatra said, "I Got To Be Me"!

As a full figured woman, you talk about size in your comedy. You work the body you have, and you work it well. How does the way that society treats folks that aren't a size 0 impact how you personally move through the world and how you decide what to bring into your stand up?

Yamaneika: Well, I try not to let being big define my material because I’m more than just my size. I have plus sized jokes because its relevant to my current life, but I don’t hate skinny girls. My material is very conversational so I try to focus on those things in my life that I can talk about and people can relate to, not everyone can relate to being fat so if I limited myself to that content I wouldn’t go very far.

I do think that being a big person has opened up different realities to me in this world, it can be a struggle sometimes. I also know that I have advantages, because (not be cocky) I am a “cute” girl so that helps me maneuver were some people who are plus sized and “unattractive” are restricted. I do feel an impulse when I see big people in the audience to do material that about being big, because my big jokes are uplifting and not self-deprecating. Big people laugh, cry, eat, shit and fuck just like the rest of the world.

Sometimes, comics will say its easier for a big girl to get up and make people laugh cause they think we are automatically funny. I disagree, at the end of the day I have to say funny stuff just like everyone else; no one is giving me pity laughs up there!

You are a straight woman (I am assuming here) that I met doing stand up in a queer does your sexuality come into play in your stand up? Your work resonated with folks in the audience despite sexuality differences, why do you think that is?

Yamaneika: As I said before, when we relate to one another on a human level race and sexuality can’t divide us. I grew up in a very religious household starting from the age of eight, but before we became so “sanctified” my grandparents owned a nightclub and my mother was the DJ. We knew how to party, and we knew how to socialize; I never lost that ability. When I’m on stage, I am there to have a good time. There was a time when I had a real fear that I would be rejecting God if I kept doing gay shows, or supporting my gay friends and then God said to me, “love”. I literally heard a voice say “love”. God put me here to send love and not to judge, that is what He does.

So, what I focus on is loving my audience and sharing my life with them. Let the rest of the people fight over those things. I don’t see race, I don’t see sexuality, I don’t see anything but another human being on the stage when I perform. I’ll never forget one night I was in Connecticut and there was a cute chubby guy in the front row. I said that I would love to take him home later on that night. He turned red and started to look a little uncomfortable, as if I was picking on him. He finally said, “I’m not what you think.” I said, “I know you’re gay, that’s why I’m hitting on you. I love a man who doesn’t want me, it’s a challenge”, and I threw him a little wink. He laughed and his friends relaxed. He came up to me after the show and said, “I loved you. You were the first comic who didn’t make me feel uncomfortable in this gayphobic town”. I could tell he thought I was going to make fun of him being gay, but what I noticed when I spoke to him from the stage is that he was trying hard to relax so I was going to help him relax!

Who gives a shit if I’m straight (well, every female comic these days is gay … so, I’m not making any commitments to that status) and who gives a shit if I’m a woman. I’ve been put down, I’ve been talked about, I’ve been rejected, and I’ve overcome. So, let’s talk about that shit so we can move on!

You are an amazing can folks that want to hear you, see you, love you find you in this big wide world of ours?

Yamaneika: My website is under construction, so people can check me out at I keep peeps posted on my events. Don’t be afraid to add me!