#EmotionalLaborDay

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Image shows a genderqueer Asian sitting in a light blue inflatable kayak in the middle of a lake surrounded by trees. They are grinning and holding a black paddle.

Today I’m celebrating what I’m calling #EmotionalLaborDay, uplifting and honoring the often-invisibilized emotional work that goes into our communities and movements.

Holding space; processing trauma; building relationships; offering care; setting, navigating, and respecting boundaries; holding ourselves and others accountable — all of these acts are beautiful and necessary, and they are also work. I am grateful to the femmes, women of color, and QTPOC who are my possibility models and inspire me to grow, to do and be better. I see you, I see your labor, and I appreciate you.

I am also celebrating my own work, my difficult / rewarding / beautiful journey toward healing, the ways I have learned to become accountable to myself by stepping into my values. I am uplifting my recognition that organizing is not just #clipboardface, it is building and growing and love and hope and visioning and manifesting the universe we want to thrive in.

I am celebrating and honoring rest. At the beginning of June, I drafted a note on my phone asking for support in taking a temporary step back from organizing to focus on self-care. Instead of posting that note, I took on new projects and coordinating roles and kept pushing beyond my capacity. All of this work has felt necessary and rewarding and beautiful, and it has strengthened many of my relationships with comrades and friends I’ve been organizing with, who have offered care and support and wisdom and creativity and laughter over the past few months. AND ALSO I know that I am tired and right on the edge of burnout (or, to be honest, probably three months past my edge of burnout), and that constantly burning through all of my spoons is affecting my physical, emotional, and mental health. Being constantly tired and emotionally drained also makes it harder for me to live in my values. (All of the values, because it is hard to be cranky and tender at the same time, but particularly values around agency and self-determination; when I take on labor that is beyond my capacity, I do not honor myself or the fact that we are interconnected, not alone, in our work. I do not allow others to move in to take on what they can.)

Last December, I started a series of posts about self-care, and then I started a new job and haven’t finished the posts I planned about community care and interdependence. Over the last few months, I have seen beautiful care support teams flourish around loved ones who have gone through surgery and in the ways allies have rallied around the #DecolonizeLACityHall encampment led by the LA chapter of Black Lives Matter. In addition to wrangling supplies, offering rides, coordinating schedules, and gathering resources, I have seen folks show up hard (physically, digitally, and emotionally), and I am grateful to have participated in and witnessed this labor.

At the last full moon, I set an intention for stillness and art, and ⅔ of a lunar cycle later, I hope to spend the next few weeks focusing on both of these things. My motto for September is going to be “work hard, introvert hard.” I am committing to not taking on any new tasks, projects, or coordinating roles for the rest of the month, to re-learning how to say no, and to making time for reflection and creating for myself.

I just searched through my coaching notes to look for something my coach told me about rest, and I found this from a mid-July session:

what are the gifts of stillness?
opening up possibilities, being able to see past the present moment and also be in the present moment
opening up space and time in a way that isn’t constantly moving
what’s important about opening up that space and time?
it feels like the opposite of trauma
allows folks to just be
cultivating the opposite of trauma, when you say that, recognize that, what do you notice?
the first thing is that I haven’t been making that for myself
so there’s something about feeling like I can’t rest, recognizing that I have been contributing to that, not just the things around me
what stops you from being still, Audrey?
feeling like there’s too much in the world, if stop, won’t ever be able to start again

My original plan was to close with a quote about the importance of rest, but instead I offer you this glimpse of the things that feel most terrifying and most hopeful. Rereading my own words, I remember how grounded I felt when I named stillness as “the opposite of trauma.” I wish this feeling & truth for myself, and I wish it for you.

[Edited to add accountability tips I posted on FB, feel free to borrow, edit, and use for yourself!]

Ways you can support/hold me accountable:
– Please feel free to reach out and/or check in, but be aware that I may be slow to respond or not respond.
– Tell me how you take care of yourself! Comment below, send a message / email / text, etc.
– Keep inviting me to things, so I know what’s going on in the world & can also practice saying no.
– Send affirmations / gifs / memes about self-care as community care, taking breaks, rebirth, growing, and/or healing.
– Model rest and self-care and healthy boundaries for yourself. The more we practice these skills individually, the better we all will be at holding space for each other.

love poems for dysphoria 

[content notes: dysphoria, sex mention, dissociation]


I came like a panic attack:
quickly, silent at first,
body surrendering

that flood of chemicals
rushing through bloodstream
leaving me breathless, gasping

so dizzy
with the thrill of it
that I
could not stay
in this body,
not yet

oh god, please
sensations ebb
at last

to faint tingles
and
a promise
of more to come


haiku: depression

not speaking his name
didn’t stop Voldy, either
i speak, & i fight


pull on your favorite tank top
strap on the hand-me-down watch
ticking from a comrade’s wrist to yours
paint eyeliner over swollen lids
anything can be armor if it keeps you safe

ask your lover to remind you
of the ways your body is beautiful
tell them exactly the words you need to hear
swim into the space they pull open
repeating your truths back to you

fill your pockets with stones
reread every affirmation
drink deep from the jar of moon water
sitting cherished on your altar
watch that gif on a loop until flux turns it orange

honor the ways your trauma has made you softer
you flowing salt water back to shore
the depth of your sadness
the wholeness of your breaking

remember that even stars
were once clouds of dust
collapsing inward

self-care: cultivate your bubble

content note: white supremacy, examples of

At the beginning of this year, I started working with a coach through Black Girl Dangerous’ “Get Free: Healing For the Revolution” program. I saw this part of the program description, and my immediate reaction, was “Yes, I want that.” (Also, are you still looking for places to make your end-of-year donations?)

Our program provides personalized support so that you can:

  • Let go of things you’re holding onto from the past that don’t serve you.
  • Identify, and do something about, areas where you feel stuck in your personal healing and growth.
  • Be accountable for areas where you’re not taking responsibility for your life.
  • Speak and live truth.
  • Do activist work in a way that nurtures and makes you come alive.
  • Cultivate healthy and supportive relationships.

I wasn’t really sure how to set goals; the biggest thing I could think of was “build resilience.” I felt like the microaggressions I experienced in Portland were affecting me more than usual, like I wasn’t bouncing back as quickly, if at all. Looking back now, it’s obvious to me that the change wasn’t just internal. I moved away from a support network and community of organizers that I had spent 10 years cultivating in LA, and I was surrounded by post-racial white liberals — like Board members who talked about the importance of equity (Oregon funders’ buzzword for diversity initiatives) and then also said that they “don’t get white privilege, because their (rich, white) kids were raised not to see skin color”; and poets writing spoken word pieces about how Ferguson, Ohio (sic) taught them, as white women, to fear the police; and people who called me a racist for asking them not to invite me to culturally appropriative events.

I felt stuck and sad and isolated, even though I was lucky to be in community with a handful of wonderful QTPOC organizers. Without going into all of the detail in this post, through coaching, I realized that one way to be accountable to myself for my happiness  was move back to Los Angeles.

“You’re living in a bubble”: Yes I am, and also you’re not invited any more (but I also believe in transformative justice, so here’s some reading and a snack, I hope we’ll be able to share bubble space later)

(Note: In the interest of the “open-source mind” aspect of this blog, the part below is the kernel that this chunk started from. It’s mostly, like, “oppressive people are poop, poop bad, cut out the toxic poop” but thanks to Tk’s wisdom, I’ve spaced out the posts and I get to add nuance. Yes, limit the toxic poop in your life as you are able to given the context of your safety and finances, but also, curate the bubble you do want to live in!)

So how do we minimize the need for emergency self-care?

In different conversations with my mother about community, she’s asked me variations of “Why don’t you hang out with straight people?” and “Do you have any white friends?” First of all, I have plenty of exposure to white cishets in pop culture, politics, positions of leadership, and work — and some of my best friends are straight white people [citation needed]. Second, the subtext here is also that I’m not “living in the real world,” but as people I love and respect have pointed out, constantly surrounding yourself with trauma and sadness is just as much a bubble. And if I have to choose between a bubble of grounded joy and QTPOC magic and a bubble of poop, guess which one I’m going to pick?

I deal with enough poop all day; when I have a choice, I am not going to intentionally curate more poop. A hugely important part of my self-care journey has been finding ways to center people who move me toward healing and growth, folks who embody a commitment to building and personal accountability, folks who I want to laugh and cook and celebrate and create and mourn and heal and process and share love with.

The argument about “living in the real world” comes up all the time, and it is toxic — and false — because it assumes that the real world is a fixed, oppressive nightmare that is impervious to change. When people criticize students organizing on college campuses by saying they “lack resilience” or won’t be able to survive outside of the bubble of college campuses, they are not just being ageist (and often ageist, ableist, classist, racist, and anti-feminist); they are upholding the status quo and cynically accepting it as the only possible reality there is.

In short: Cut the toxic folks out of your life. Refuse to accept that being an adult means accepting that the world is and will always be a bleak disastrous hellscape of loneliness. There are many practical and emotional and financial considerations here, that make this less of an actual choice or possibility in many situations, but where you can: Cut out the toxic poop. Cherish the unicorns around you.

Find your unicorns: Curate the people who are not-poop and pour your intention into these relationships.

When I say I hate capitalism, the toxic poop is why. It forces us to navigate shitty situations, be in community with folks who harm us but have economic control over our lives, and sacrifice our wellness in order to be able to put food into our bodies and pay for shelter. (More on this in the last post.)

With that context in mind, I think it’s absolutely necessary that we cultivate relationships that help us move toward healing and wholeness. (And even when I say “cut out the toxic poop,” I recognize that in my own life, I don’t want to give up on folks who are invested in learning, and I also believe that part of how we will win is moving folks toward embracing justice and working toward our collective liberation. However, I do think it’s important to recognize that this work is draining, and for me, a huge part of self-care is knowing when to disengage.)

A month or so ago, I put up a support request on Facebook to talk through an incident I was grappling with. As I typed the names of friends into the filtered post box, I felt gratitude toward each person, recognizing that I trusted each of them enough to talk through something I couldn’t process on my own and that was bringing up a lot of uncomfortable realizations I wasn’t ready to confront.

Looking back later, I thought about how writing that post and choosing who to share it with gave me a moment to process who feels safe and why, what it meant that the list was relatively short (people who I trusted, who would understand the context, and who I could trust to listen without judgment), and also whether I behave in ways that would make folks feel safe reaching out to me to process their shit.

So here is a random list of thoughts on how to cultivate and curate a bubble:

  • Think about who feels safe and doesn’t, and why. I like to keep in mind that no space will ever be absolutely safe, but seeing how folks hold themselves accountable and react when they commit harm is a very good indicator.
    • I’ve linked to Ngọc Loan Trần‘s article “Calling IN: A Less Disposable Way of Holding Each Other Accountable” before, and I value the way they don’t pit calling out/in as a binary, and also the way they point out that it’s important to think about what makes a relationship with another person important: “Is it that we’ve done work together before? Is it that I know their politics? Is it that I trust their politics? Are they a family member? Oh shit, my mom? Is it that I’ve heard them talk about patience or accountability or justice before? Where is our common ground? And is our common ground strong enough to carry us through how we have enacted violence on each other?”
    • Thinking through why a growth conversation matters helps to maintain perspective throughout navigating harm; and when I don’t want to call someone in or address their mistake, it also helps me to understand the limits of my relationship with them. Maybe I don’t trust them enough to be able to carry out this conversation; maybe I do think they have the capacity to grow in this way, but in this moment, I can’t be the one to navigate harm with them. And that’s OK.
  • What kinds of time and spaces makes me feel more free? A lot of my healing and self-care comes from time spent with cherished folks. I also spend a lot of time in community space that is nourishing to me in other ways, because it feels important or necessary, or we’re having conversations that need to happen, or it’s a party and it’s fun. But I need to check in with myself and see “was being in that space part of my self-care? was that healing? do I need to be alone to recharge?” (keeping in mind, of course, that none of these are binary answers, and that healing work can also be draining).
    • Internal indicators that work for me:
      • Did I feel like my guard was up? Do I need to mentally and emotionally gird myself in preparation for being in that space/with those people?
      • How did my body feel before, during, and after the event/hangout? Am I relaxed or tense? Do I feel energized or tired?
      • Also, here’s a list of “15 Ways to Catch Up With Friends That Aren’t Grabbing Coffee or a Cocktail” (There is also a better list of ways to show up for and spend time with SDQs, and I a)m looking for it in my thousands of bookmarks … will update when I find it.)
  • Emotional labor: Do you have people in your life who share the emotional labor in your relationships? How do you talk about and navigate boundaries? Are you able to successfully communicate when you need space?
      • This piece by Mahfam Malek is about dating, but the questions are good to consider (and to answer for yourself).
  • Who do you want in your corner? Think about moments that have brought you deep joy, that have made you feel grounded, that have moved you toward your own liberation. Who was there with you? Who do you wish had shared that moment with you? What about the last time you were deeply sad? Who did you turn to? Who did you wish you had reached out to?
  • Who do you have in your life who will tell you when you’re being an asshole? Who will tell you if your behavior is out of line with your values?

You may have some people who fill all or some of these needs, and you also definitely have needs that are different from mine, because we are different people. For me, it helps to remember that each relationship is unique and nourishes me in a different way, and that growing intentionally requires communication, trust, and care — and not just with others; if I want to get free, I need to trust myself enough to listen to my intuition, be honest about my needs, and cultivate the community that moves me toward wholeness.

self-care: context matters

The numbered points below were my outline notes to myself while fixing this draft; I figured I could just leave it as a tl; dr. (The 3rd point will actually be addressed more in the next post.)

  1. people are tired
  2. we’re tired because we’re oppressed
  3. so don’t bring that shit into your personal life

In my intro post to this ~self-care series~, I mentioned that this year has been challenging but amazing, and also tiring. For me, personally, it’s been a year of healing and growth, along with processing a lot of learning that came out of living in Portland for a year and being miserable for a lot of it. (More on that in the post about curating and living in a bubble, but here’s a preview.)

I have also felt tiredness from people around me, and I think a huge factor in feeling that from the community has come from intentionally focusing my energy and time on building community with QTPOC and centering these folks in my life. When I think about the daily trauma we experience on the intersections of multiple axes of oppression, I am often amazed that we’re not more tired.

I also believe that there are different kinds of tired.

There’s the kind that comes from dealing with all the bullshit around us, the tired of having to explain for the 47th time (today) that “reverse racism” is not a real thing, the tired of being constantly misgendered and having a piece of your identity forcibly and repeatedly erased, the tired of feeling invisible and hypervisible, the tired that comes from having to expend a huge chunk of your energy to pass as neurotypical for a full work day (while also remembering all the different edits to yourself you have to make to fit in to the norms of professional workplace behavior), and then also the many things I’m privileged not to have to experience, including navigating institutional ableism, anti-Black racism, Islamophobia, and classism, and all the ways these tired-making things intersect.

And then there is a different kind of tired that comes from holding hope and believing that a different world is possible, and dreaming alternative realities and bridging gaps between people to bring those worlds into existence, and making beauty out of the terrible.

That second kind of tired, for me at least, comes from a place of wholeheartedness, and it feels much easier to bounce back from. That kind of tired feels like next-day-sore muscles after a good workout, or the slight buzz of finishing a Sunday crossword.

It’s important to think about “self-care” in context because 1) We should understand that our need for self-care is directly related to the harm we experience and 2) For me, and it seems like for many of the folks I consider my people, it’s hard to make time for self-care when we feel like there’s so much work to do.

On that second point, I genuinely want to move toward a place of self-care because we need it, but that truth seems to be constantly drowned out by the nagging voice saying “maybe we all need to try a little bit harder.” It has helped to try to consider these two voices not as a dichotomy, but as two things that are true to me.

Am I saying that people who aren’t doing the work aren’t worthy of care? No. But a part of me still has a lot of feelings that come up around this. That is, I’m not writing a bunch of posts about self-care for the people who are jetting off for the weekend to do yoga on a mountain so that they can feel fit and recharged the following Monday when they go back to work for their multinational corporation.

However, I do think for organizers (and everyone) that the need to disentangle our worth (and that we are worthy of care) from the work is an important part of moving toward wholeness. I am looking for ways to think of worthiness and self-care as things that are inherent to everyone, including myself, regardless of what they or I contribute to the movement.

I was lucky to get a ticket to see Laverne Cox speak at USC last week (thank you, Queer and Ally Student Assembly!), and in addition to talking about her life and tying her own journey as a Black trans woman to Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I A Woman?”, she also took questions from the audience. The last question was “How can organizers doing social justice work sustain themselves (emotionally, etc.) in the movement long-term?”* Laverne’s response centered on recognizing that “the list of injustices is really, really long,” and that for her, it’s important to detach from the work and not become “codependent” with it. That it’s possible to separate her own self-worth from the work, without losing her will to fight the fight:

I have so many moments of ‘Laverne, you could be doing more, you should be doing more,’ and I’m doing the best that I can. And I have to be able to just give that to myself. And I think that it’s important to give that to ourselves; to know that we’re doing the best that we can, and when we know better, we’ll do better. […]

So many of the challenges I’ve had throughout my life, my worthiness has been on the line. I have been hustling for my worthiness, trying to be enough.

And those moments when I can take my worthiness off the table, when I can understand that worthiness is a birthright, those are the moments that are deeply healing for me — when I understand that because I am a child of god, I am worthy — those are the moments when I can stand in my truth, and stand in various spaces, and feel like I am enough, I have enough, and I do enough.

I recognize that this is still a process and that I easily fall into the habit of leveraging judgments on myself and others, that I carry guilt around feeling like my own care is selfish or solipsistic. (And I do think that there is room for necessary critiques of how folks with privilege can mobilize “self-care” as a concept to reinforce their privilege.)

But if for no other reason than that getting stuck in guilt does nothing to serve the movement, I am repeating, until I internalize it fully, “I am worthwhile. I matter because I exist.”

Readings and resources:

  • Original title: “Context matters: Maybe we should be thinking about why we need so much self-care (OR the world we live in is often a deeply fucked up place and instead of feeling guilty about not being more grounded, maybe we can shift the blame outside of ourselves)”
  • Autostraddle: 36 Reasons Why QPOC-Only Spaces Are Very Necessary by Gabrielle Rivera (please do not read the comments)
  • Kama La Mackerel’s piece “What’s love got to do with our politics?,” particularly the part where Kama addresses the question “How did you learn to love yourself?”
  • Social Justice League’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Polite: The Issue of Nice versus Good” — I link to this post all the time, usually as a starting point for folks who don’t understand why tone-policing is oppressive, but I think it also has a great breakdown of kyriarchy and how folks demanding “niceness” from oppressed people are part of the problem. (This piece is a good reminder of how structural inequality functions in insidious ways, and how this loops in to microaggressions, gaslighting, and silencing of oppressed folks, as well.) Note: Piece includes the (transmisogynistic) t-slur, as an example of how that slur is not equivalent to being called a racist.

* She answered my question! BASICALLY WE HAD A CONVERSATION IRL.

thoughts on self-care: I have a lot of them

This is an intro post to a multi-part series (of an indeterminate number of parts) on self-care and community care that started as one post, and then it was too many words, so now it is more than one post.

This year has been … a lot of things. A huge part of me wants to curl up into a ball (maybe surrounded by puppies and kittens, also curled up, resting their fuzzy little faces onto their tiny fuzzy paws) and take a break from everything. I am tired, and it feels like people in my communities are also tired.

I’ve been meaning to write a post about self-care and trauma, with links to resources, for at least the last 6 months. I’m recognizing in finally writing this post that I have been thinking “I need to write that self-care post,” while my heart and life have been traveling down a different path of “What does community care look like?”

selfcare.jpg

By the way, this is my favorite hobby/self-care practice (working on my photo book “Hey, can I hold that?”)

Thankfully, this hard and tiring year has also been amazing and rewarding in many, many ways, in large part because I have met and deepened relationships with so many rad, radical QTPOC organizers. I have learned so much from reading their status updates and blog posts, from talking through trauma and #organizerproblems over meals, from observing how folks hold space.

I’ve learned about what I want care and access support and communities to look like, how I want to show up for folks, how to ask for support and articulate needs and boundaries. These are all things that I recognize are ongoing practices, things I hope I will strive to be better at for the rest of my life.

So. I am accepting that I don’t have all of the answers, which is like, probably important to growth? And part of my self-care process and accepting imperfections? I guess?

My original post had paragraphy subheads to help break up the text, so I will leave them here as a preview of what I think follow-up posts will be, with links added in once other posts go live:

  • Context matters: Maybe we should be thinking about why we need so much self-care. (OR the world we live in is often a deeply fucked up place and instead of feeling guilty about not being more grounded, maybe we can shift the blame outside of ourselves)
  • “Self-care for sustainability” is part of the problem. If we’re only doing self-care so we can work more, how can we disentangle our self-worth from the work? Hint: I don’t think we can. (Also, this is capitalistic and ableist.)
  • “You’re living in a bubble”: Yes I am, and also you’re not invited any more. (But I also believe in transformative justice, so here’s some reading and a snack, I hope we’ll be able to share bubble space later.)
  • What does the opposite of a bleak disastrous hellscape of loneliness actually look like?* Moving from self-care to community care.
  • [Something about trauma, secondary trauma and therapy, which I had already decided to break out into a separate post.]
  • Here is an oddly curated list of resources.**

* This is particularly odd without the context of the section that comes before it, which might not make it through edits.
** I may break up the resources a bit to go with each post, and then create a final post with all of the links, along with any additional suggestions I gather from the comments or Facebook. Please comment with resources you’ve found helpful!

Anyway, here’s Wonderwall a partial list of things that help me maintain perspective:

  • my hobbies: baking bread and picking up animals and taking pictures with them
  • journaling, even if it’s only for 10 minutes at a time (if 10 seems daunting, start with 5; if it helps, try promising yourself that you won’t go back and read what you wrote for a month, or 6 months, or ever, and find a good hiding spot for your journal)
  • QTPOC workouts: being able to move in a space that is affirming and inclusive, that welcomes all bodies, openly encourages modifications, and where folks are actively respectful of pronouns and thoughtful about how they are communicating feels almost unrealistically magical but it’s real
  • Chani Nicholas’ weekly horoscopes
  • Lucille Clifton’s short, powerful poem “won’t you celebrate with me” (full text, video, skip to 30 seconds in)

And some additional things I’d like to share:

getting to the other side 

A year ago, I channeled rage and grief into a blog post called “discussing white supremacy at the dinner table,” which is basically a bunch of links to articles breaking down white privilege, anti-Black racism, and tactics for navigating conversations about race and how to get by some common derailing tactics.

Writing that post and trying to put it into action over the past year has been part of a constant process of unlearning and relearning. As a non-Black person raised in a country founded on white supremacy, I know I have so much more unpacking and unlearning to do. I say this as someone who for decades wanted to run for office, as someone who believed in American exceptionalism and meritocracy and equality of opportunity, as someone who has benefitted from the model minority myth (to the extent that East Asians are most privileged from the ways our diasporas are consolidated into one monolith) and by extension, from my complicity in anti-Blackness.

My identities as a queer and genderqueer non-Black person of color and child of immigrants don’t exempt me from my class privilege or relative race privilege or from benefitting from anti-Blackness.

Saturday Night Live recently created a digital short called “A Thanksgiving Miracle” that is being hailed as a perfect solution to racist and/or otherwise problematic dinner conversation — play Adele’s “Hello,” and magically shut down the conversation as everyone starts singing. (Full disclosure, I think this song is very overrated and kind of boring, sorry.)

 

Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 5.10.27 PM

(This is a screencap, not an embedded video. Image shows a group of mostly white people sitting around a table full of Thanksgiving food. A white woman seated next to a young white child points an accusing finger at a Black man, the only person of color present.)

(This article recaps the video.) On the surface, I get why this is supposed to be funny. It worked well when they did a similar sketch with everyone crying to Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” but as a card-carrying SJW I am duty-bound to tell you your fave is problematic. Even setting aside my many other critiques about this skit for a moment,* this video annoys me because a bunch of cisgender white people ignoring oppressive statements with karaoke does nothing to fix anything.

Ok, so maybe Thanksgiving dinner is not the time when you’re going to your racist Aunt Sally/Zhang Ahyi. And often, Thanksgiving is already a traumatic experience. As I said last year, Thanksgiving is a hard time for a lot of reasons — how do indigenous folks commemorate a holiday that literally celebrates the attempted genocide of their people? For queer and trans folks who have been cut off from their families, what table do we sit down around? For folks who don’t have access to class privilege or the ability to support themselves financially or other systems of support, being cut off from family is dangerous and violent.

That may be the case for you, and I am not here to make judgment statements on what your activism should look like or how you approach social justice, but my point is that letting these comments go unchecked is a choice, and when you are not a member of the oppressed group being targeted, being able to turn away from these conversations is a privilege.

It’s hard enough to go into these dinners, but it helps to think through these conversations ahead of time. Some guiding questions:

  • What are my stakes in this conversation? What comments am I not going to let go by unchecked?
  • What are the consequences of letting those comments slide? (Are there youth present who will hear and internalize these comments, without seeing anyone offer a counter narrative? Will you regret not having said anything to defend your friends, loved ones, chosen family, whether or not they were present?)
  • What topics are likely to come up, and is it possible to plant a seed of noting your discomfort, so that you can have a follow-up conversation later?

And let’s face it. Fighting for our liberation is not just about saying the right things — reductionist critiques of political correctness focus on this idea that SJWs are saying some words are bad and can never be used. It’s not just the words — finding different words to say the same harmful things and uphold the same systems of oppression is nothing new. (See, for example, the use of “thug.”)

This work is about changing people’s perspectives and shifting things for long-term change. For folks who are giving themselves an ally label, do the work at home. We can’t just dismiss people because they’re old or they’ve always been that way; things “always being that way” is what has brought us to the present day.

hello from the other siiiiide

I must have tried a thousand times
to tell you that’s racist, everything that you’ve said
but when I comment you never seem to take accountability for your facebook posts

Think about what it means to turn away. We are not on the other side of this. As Shaun King laid out, “more unarmed Black folk have been killed by police THIS YEAR than were lynched in any year since 1923.” Armed white supremacists in bulletproof vests fired upon peaceful protestors in Minneapolis, and then walked away from a crowd full of police. The KKK has been openly recruiting in Portland and surrounding cities, where police also put up a billboard saying “Having enough police matters,” directly across from a church that has been displaying a #BlackLivesMatter banner. Shooting an unarmed Black person doesn’t lead to jail time, but protesting these murders by police does. Police have literally been targetting and arresting Black organizers who are leading protests and direct actions. 

Across the country (and in other nations), Black organizers are drawing attention to the open war on Black folks in this country.

Having “a conversation about race” is not enough, by far. But right now, we as non-Black folks, need to take on the labor of these conversations in our own communities, with our own families.

* Specifically, this is a perfect example of casual racism and transphobia, in that “progressive” cisgender (mostly) white folks get to make racist and transphobic statements (which the video also reifies by drawing on drag tropes which are often if not always transmisogynistic) for laughs. See where the laughs come in, and see also Dave Chappelle’s comments on taking a break from “Chappelle Show” after hearing a white person’s laughter at “the wrong moment.” (I have many thoughts about comedy and the limits of its usefulness.)

read more books by people of color

Oops, I started this blog post 9 months ago. (I started writing on a lunch break and realized I could export my GoodReads data, and then I spent the rest of my break formatting and analyzing data. ~little nerd things~) In the interest of the “open-source” part of open-source mind, this is what the post outline looked like: 

Screen Shot 2015-09-23 at 7.02.23 PM

Near the end of 2014, I decided to read 50 books of people of color in 2015, partly inspired by Victoria Law’s post “I Read 50 Books By People of Color This Year.” (“Parly inspired” as in, I read the headline on a few people’s news feeds, thought “huh, yeah, I should do that,” and then didn’t click through to the article until months later, when I started writing this blog post. Victoria’s post includes a long list of recommendations, yay! And also, Victoria is the author of Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women, which is on my to-read list, so yay again!)

Here are some numbers from my past reading challenges:

omg i love data

2015 data current as of Monday, Sept. 21.*

Background on reading challenges:
In 2013, I decided I wanted to read 50 books, but I didn’t set that number until December, so I read 7 books that month, including 4 books on Dec. 30 and 31. (I was literally late for a New Year’s Eve party; I left my apartment late with a chunk of book I figured I could finish at the bus stop/on the bus, and ended up reading the last few pages under a streetlight outside of my friend’s building.) Also, speeding through The Time Machine because it was already on my Kindle and I could tell it was short seemed kind of not in the spirit of a reading challenge.

In 2014, I raised the goal to 60, and then was funderemployed, so I had time to read a lot. You can also tell from the numbers that about halfway through the year I semi-intentionally started reading more books by BIPOC (Black, indigenous, and people of color). A huge factor in that shift was living in Portland and feeling surrounded by whiteness, and also being more intentional about carving out space and time to be in community with QTPOC and wanting my personal time to reflect that commitment, too.

But even thinking about last year’s reading compared to this year’s, when I have a more ambitious goal of reading 50 books by BIPOC writers, I can tell that there’s a huge difference. Not only am I intentionally seeking out authors of color, I’ve also tabled reading books by white authors because I was behind on my reading challenge. It’s also, incidentally, made it more jarring when I’ve made exceptions to read books by white authors. I read Alison Kafer’s Feminist, Queer, Crip in May, and wanted to love it, but the race analysis throughout her text often felt inauthentic and/or tacked on and/or appropriative, in an aspirationally intersectional feminist way.**

I am bored of writing this blog post, and I keep not finishing posts (the last thing I published was last November), so the rest of this post will be bullet points.

  • Here’s my “authors of color” bookshelf on GoodReads. Here’s a bookshelf based on Facebook friends’ recommendations (it unfortunately doesn’t include books that were recommended that I’ve already read because they are already on other shelves and I’m not feeling that ambitious/generous at the moment.)
  • Reading nonfiction by authors of color was incredibly refreshing, and I was surprised how much of a difference it made. It is really, really nice not to be racially microaggressed or erased and invisibilized in the middle of a chunk of otherwise great analysis. It’s also pushed me to read nonfiction that has been languishing on my “To Read’ shelf for a long time.
    • Some of my faves:
      • Redefining Realness, Janet Mock
      • The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century, Grace Lee Boggs
      • Assata, Assata Shakur
      • The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, Marie Kondo (I would have been very stfu if this book was written by a white person)
      • Asian Settler Colonialism: From Local Governance to the Habits of Everyday Life in Hawaii, Ed. Candace Fujikane (technically read last December)
      • The New Jim Crow, Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness Alexander (I will love this book more when Alexander finally decides that she is a prison abolitionist and releases a second edition editing out some of her more reform-minded passages)
  • I’ve read everything Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has published and am sad.*** More sad: Realizing there are a finite number of Octavia Butler works and that I have to pace myself because I can only read her books for the first time once. (In related news, I pre-ordered Octavia’s Brood, and have been hoarding it to read on a special occasion.)
  • Things I love about libraries:
    • Did you know you can freeze holds? If you’re going out of town or behind on reading, you can suspend your book holds so they don’t come up when you’re not ready to read them!
    • If you have a library card, you can check out ebooks even when you’re not in the city. (I prefer paper books, but the Kindle is light and my brother bought it for me, and it’s nice to be able to preload a bunch of stuff instead of taking 9 books on a week-long trip.)
    • Theoretically, if you always manually downloaded your ebooks and kept your Kindle on wifi mode, your Kindle would not know to automatically return your library ebooks after the three week checkout period.
  • For a while, I considered doing a “rereading the canon” project and revisiting and critiquing books that I’d loved when I was younger, but so far that has just made me sad. (i.e. Being more aware of the colonialism, imperialism, and racism in Cat’s Cradle, rereading the passage in Fahrenheit 451 where Ray Bradbury calls “political correctness” the root of censorship.) Of course, it’s also nice to reread things and be able to recognize my own growth and evolution; and I also think it’s important and valuable to have a concrete understanding of how and where I’ve internalized problematic and or toxic messages, and to reflect on how my perspective has shifted and how I need to intentionally and consciously unlearn internalized oppression. Maybe this line of thought will grow into its own blog post.
  • I’ve also been thinking a lot about how writers who are not in oppressed groups can be better about writing diversity. I appreciate the work of We Need Diverse Books (and that they include disabled and queer characters as part of their definitions of diversity instead of solely focusing on race), but I also wish they were more critical and pushed back a little harder on problematic representations of diversity. There’s been a really awful trope (always, really, buy also it seems to be gaining popularity?) of cis writers revealing characters’ trans identity as a surprise plot twist, and it’s really, really gross and lazy to have that be the explanation of someone’s entire pathos. Or look at the anti-Blackness in Sherman Alexie’s Ten Little Indians. Or male writers in general sometimes forgetting that women are people.
    • Roxane Gay spoke at UCLA on Monday (I literally left work in the middle of the afternoon, but I was still late, so my live tweets are mostly of her Q&A), and one of the many fantastic things she said was “Don’t be lazy when writing difference. … People who get excoriated for writing difference poorly don’t have good intentions.” That seems like a great starting place.
    • I have many, many more thoughts about the politics and burdens of representation and the importance of intersectional feminist analysis and also ~art~ and “censorship” and etc., etc. For now, I will say that reading writers of color obviously doesn’t eliminate the potential for problematic or oppressive writing, but being intentional about curating what I choose to read has let me enjoy reading time a lot more.

This is blog post length now, right? I will live you with some other faves from the last two years;

  • Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler — I’ve heard this described several times as “if The Hunger Games acknowledged that POC exist” and also if the writing and political analysis included an understanding of racism and intersecting systems of oppression, plus it’s based on post-apocalyptic LA and then the road up to Portland
  • On Such a Full Sea, Chang-rae Lee — future Baltimore, with race and class and science and community engineering
  • Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie — hence reading everything she’s written; the intertextuality of the narrator’s blog posts is fucking brilliant, and also the way she talks about race and also there are hilarious moments
  • Notes of a Native Son, James Baldwin — owned for years, read in preparation for Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, which I started today, thank you LA Public Library! I did not have to wait as long as I thought I would.
  • Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel, Sara Farizan — technically I gave this book a 3, but it is melodramatic queer YA featuring an awkward fat Persian high school girl, and it was very rewarding to read
  • Ash, Malinda Lo — a queer YA retelling of Cinderella! And it’s dark! Some passages are brilliant, and I loved the feel and pacing
  • The Painted Drum, Louise Erdrich — intergenerational Ojibwe family narrative with multiple kinds of storytelling woven in
  • The Lowland, Jhumpa Lahiri — Interpreter of Maladies is still my favorite, but have I mentioned that I love multigenerational interwoven family narratives? (see also Zadie Smith’s White Teeth)
  • Ten Little Indians, Sherman Alexie — see note on anti-Blackness above, and also I think some of Alexie’s writing is misogynistic, so this is with a big asterisk, but “Flight Patterns” and “Can I Get a Witness?” are two of the best post-9/11 short stories I’ve read.
  • Other short story collections: Gold Boy, Emerald Girl, Yiyun Li; Dismantle: An Anthology of Writing from the Vona/Voices Writing Workshop; A Good Fall, Ha Jin
  • Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay —❤ and now I have a signed copy!
  • chapbooks: Narinda Heng‘s what is precious and Tk Le’s The Labor of Longing (it’s not out yet but will be soon, and you will be amazed and cry many tears)

* Technically it’s current as of today, because I just started a new book on the bus ride home and have only read 22 pages. (I put a footnote in a caption just because I could.)

** (I had the same critique for how she addressed neurodivergence, though I feel less comfortable making that argument as an able-bodied person.) Also, the appendices include great resources.

*** Shout out to Beyoncé for making the waiting list for all of her books exponentially longer.

Discussing white supremacy at the dinner table

I will keep this intro brief. My intention for this post is to share resources for white and non-black folks who are interested in having conversations about dismantling white supremacy and anti-black racism. I will primarily be linking to black authors, with some exceptions as appropriate (e.g. people explaining how their experiences of class/race-based oppression doesn’t negate their complicity in/ability to benefit from anti-blackness).

Context (feel free to skip):

I flew home to San Jose on Monday and landed just as Bob McCulloch was beginning his nonsense. I realized I’ve been having a hard time navigating in-person conversations with family and 長輩 (zhǎng bèi, elders) about Ferguson, white supremacy, and anti-blackness.

I originally wrote this: “There are a ton of links circulating on Facebook right now. Information is available. Please do your part in actively seeking out media that has already been created, instead of putting the burden on people of color to explain it to you.” (n.b. In general, yes, if you want to be an ally, put in the work. I don’t think POC owe it to white folks to explain racism, and I don’t think black folks owe it to non-black folks to explain anti-blackness or how to dismantle whiteness. However, I have some time and have been doing some light reading lately, so here is a resource post.)

tl;dr It’s not black people’s responsibility to educate people on white supremacy. It’s hard to confront elders/family/ourselves about racism. I thought a study guide/cheat sheet might help.

Glossary:

  • anti-blackness/anti-black racism — racism specifically targeting black people, including within POC and inter-ethnic communities (see also: “Riding with Death: Defining Anti-Blackness” by Nicholas Brady)
  • microaggression — a brief exchange that dehumanizes a member of an oppressed group; intent is irrelevant. Think about a bunch of strangers, friends, classmates, etc. all flicking you in the same spot on your arm, several times a day. Each individual flick may not cause harm or hurt at first, but over time, you’ll develop a bruise in that spot, and each ensuing flick will bring out that same pain. (People also commonly use the example of Chinese water torture, but I have also seen people use that metaphor in a racist way, so … )
  • POC — people of color, non-white people (btw, people self-identifying as POC does not give you permission to use the expression “colored people”)
  • white supremacy — “White supremacy is a low-level assumption about characteristics that white people allegedly have which transforms inequality between them and everyone else into something natural. It often masks itself as fairness and goes unquestioned as a result.” (H/T Imara Jones, here)

Breaking down white privilege

Resources for non-black POC

  • Understand that there is a time and place for using the “people of color” umbrella. (Now is not one of them.) Yes, other communities of color experience racism and policing. That is not an invitation to co-opt the work and words of black authors, artists, and academics to apply them to our struggles. Erasing anti-black violence and anti-black racism is anti-blackness, and it is an act of violence.
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  • Also. ALSO. You better not be responding to #BlackLivesMatter with #AllLivesMatter. Don’t do that.
  • APIs: “So why do I expend so much effort on lifting up the oppression of black people? Because anti-black racism is the fulcrum of white supremacy.” — Scot Nakagawa, “Blackness is the Fulcrum” (short article)
  • APIs: Soya Jung “The Racial Justice Movement Needs a Model Minority Mutiny” (medium-length article, some academic jargon, but fairly accessible)
  • Latinx: “Four Person-to-Person Things I Do to Address Anti-Blackness con Mi Gente” by CarmenLeah Ascencio (intro + listicle, strategies also relevant to other folks)

Other conversation starters

Responding to “Violence never solved anything!”

First of all, for those of you who are quoting MLK and calling for nonviolence (a popular choice is “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”), please keep in mind that just before his assassination (which the U.S. government wanted and helped along), MLK said “We have fought hard and long for integration, as I believe we should have, and I know that we will win. But I’ve come to believe we’re integrating into a burning house.” He also spoke specifically on riots during a speech on March 4, 1968:

I would be the first to say that I am still committed to militant, powerful, massive, nonviolence as the most potent weapon in grappling with the problem from a direct action point of view… But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard.”

Maneuvering through derailing tactics

  • Try calling in instead of calling out. It’s hard to know how to respond when someone you love says or does something hateful. First of all, it’s your choice if and how you want to respond, and you should do so in a way that makes you feel safe. (Note, that’s safe, not “not uncomfortable.”) Calling someone out treats them like they’re disposable; Ngọc Loan Trần discusses how to engage with someone who made a mistake and keep building.
  • “People of color are being oversensitive! We’re caving to political correctness!” This is tone policing. You shut that down. Tone policing is a tool used to maintain oppression. Read this: “The Revolution Will Not Be Polite: The Issue of Nice versus Good” on Social Justice League.
  • “But why doesn’t anyone talk about black-on-black crime?” First of all, that’s just wrong, the community is and has been talking about it. Also, most murders are intraracial (within racial groups). And also, that’s changing the subject from police violence and appropriate use of force.
  • “But not all white people are terrible!”/”I didn’t choose to be born white!” Pro-tip: If you feel the need to write a dissertation on “not all white allies,” not only are you derailing the conversation you are proving the point.
  • (And while we’re at it, can everyone stop sharing that quote from To Kill A Mockingbird that only children are crying? Quote a black person, not a white savior text, and not something that ignores the real pain and fear of adults.)
  • “Talking about race makes you the racist!” No. Race is a social construct, you say? So is having seven days in a week. A week is socially constructed and socially real, and it has tangible impacts on your life.

Other resources/articles:

Ways to Support Ferguson:

  • The Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment (MORE) legal fund is collecting funds for protestors’ bail and legal fees. Police have been violating protestors’ first amendment rights, as well as setting punitively high bail (ave. $1,000). Donate to the legal fund here (URL is for a donation processing portal).
  • Operation Help or Hush has been providing food and shelter for protestors. Donate here.
  • The Ferguson Municipal Public Library is staying open as late as possible, since local schools are closed. (They were open from 9-4 on Tuesday.) Donate here. (They’re also accepting BitCoin … )

Other action steps:

  • Read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “The Case for Reparations.” The subhead is a pretty good break down: “Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.”
  • Keep pushing for body cameras on all police officers (link to petition).
  • Dismantle the prison-industrial complex.

OK, so I was going to start a short list and then wake up early and finish, but now it’s 3:43 a.m. and I think I’ll just hit publish.

I want to acknowledge that this post assumes that people will be spending the next few days with family and parents specifically, which is definitely not financially/emotionally/physically possible and/or safe for everyone. I also want to recognize that the Thanksgiving holiday has its own genocidal legacy and is an ongoing site of the erasure of Native Americans and that folks may want to have those conversations as well/before/alongside.

I am open to comments to fix mistakes and/or add resources. I will most likely delete troll comments, or I will screencap them and blog about you later. Haven’t decided.

blog inertia + random list of thoughts

I have three different drafts of blog posts about different things, many of them heavy, and because I haven’t written a blog post for so long, I feel the need to write about everything, and to do it well, and instead I have spent large chunks of the last few days scowling and/or frowning at my laptop with WordPress open. So instead of a full blog post, here is a random list of thoughts:

  • I talked to my parents about Vincent Chin for the first time today, and until then I never realized they’d never brought him up before. I asked my dad if he was scared at the time, and he replied simply, “There were just some places we knew not to go.” He mentioned being on a business trip with a black co-worker in the South a while back, and he remembers that co-worker telling him how nervous he got when he got lost on the way to a presentation. “You just couldn’t be sure, so you knew not to go some places.”
  • We talked a lot about happiness and what that looks like, and values and work ethic and what it meant to grow up in the community we did. I asked my mother what lessons she hoped she imparted on her children, and she started to answer, then asked, “Isn’t this kind of cheating? Shouldn’t you know?” In a way, it does feel like cheating, as a writer — why bother with metaphors and signs and allegories and trying to figure out the subtext, I’ll just ask her.
  • The Poets for Ferguson cypher was amazing, and powerful, and so heavy. I talked to my friend Ami about it today, and we are both working our way through the hours we didn’t see live. I feel an absence, almost, now that it has wrapped up, and I realize how much I crave space that is centered on and exclusively for people of color.
  • I am grateful to have a friend I can Skype with for three hours about everything we are thinking and fears and feeling stuck and not being sure what lessons our parents wanted to teach us and what we should be doing next.
  • I am thinking a lot about inertia in general, and about living up to one of the poems I performed — one of its conclusions is that the road to progress is long, but that it’s important to keep moving. So often over this past month and a half (and in other stretches before), I have wondered how we are supposed to keep moving forward, and whether we will be able to. And I keep reminding myself to balance the need for self-care against the knowledge that my ability to turn away — and the instinct to do so — both of these are rooted in privilege.
  • Today was my mother’s birthday. Her 33-year-anniversary with my father is coming up soon. They went to get Thai food to celebrate. This morning on the phone, my mother misheard me say I would call her back and thought I’d said I’d be at the house at noon. “My heart jumped for a second,” she told me in disappointment.
  • I have been sitting on a post about “The Giving Tree” and motherhood, and I wanted to talk to my mom about it first. She said she doesn’t find it sad, just accurate. I texted my brother about it later, as he got ready to head to the Thai restaurant to surprise my mother.
    (does the boy come back? / As an old man he returns and sits on her stump / oh, happy book then!)
  • What is a sad story about motherhood, then? Is it a tree that keeps waiting, having given away all of its fruit to show how deeply and unconditionally she loves? Will she continue to wait, forever, unable to move past the spot of her last and most painful sacrifice? How can we ever begin to heal the wounds of boys who never return and trees who will always be kept waiting?

low-key lovers (accidental crosspost from fiction blog)

Oops, was trying to post on my fiction blog. Guess I’ll still leave this here.

We were low-key lovers, though less of a rarity in our high school than we would have been in others. She had done passionate and dramatic before, and I had, too, in my own way. For us, what mattered was the silences we could sit with, the easiness of not having any words pass between us. Some weekends we drove for hours, stopping to eat when we felt like it, or sticking to the road and stopping only for prepackaged snacks.

Most of the time we talked, thoughts about where we might end up next, or rehashing the banalities of the day, or sometimes coming up with hypotheticals and exploring possibilities that felt safe because we knew they would never come to pass. Sometimes we just listened to the radio, taking turns driving while the other person looked out the window.

Our parents didn’t suspect us, two nice girls with good grades and good track records, and solid groups of friends. They knew we shared a close bond, but that our lives didn’t revolve around one another. Nothing enough to make our families worry that we could be different, even though they knew they’d accept us no matter what. What else can you do? They’re still your child.

I had overheard that line from my mother in middle school and carried it with me for years, long before I realized how and why what she said was important to me, then later, how the sentiment still wasn’t quite enough. Not being disowned never really felt like a victory, though realizing its hollowness did.

Low-key lovers. She was the one who coined the phrase, as we rehashed the fallout of another dramatic breakup we’d witnessed in the quad that afternoon. We’d been sitting together on the low bench of a planter box, sharing a sandwich and people-watching. The girl in question was in my French class, usually fairly quiet. I was vaguely shocked to hear her yelling, and to hear her voice suddenly loud, rattling off curses in English.

We watched openly, same as everyone else. Later, after school, we drove around.

“We’re not like that, you know?”

“Hmm?”

“You and me, we’re, like, low-key. We’re low-key lovers.”

“Low-key. Yeah, I like that.” I smiled, turned the phrase over in my mind. Somehow with her it didn’t feel like a big deal, like some great identity shift or dramatic turning point in my life. I just had a friend I enjoyed being around, and sometimes — sometimes often, sometimes less so — we were lovers, but low-key.

She smiled back, turning  her head away from the road for a moment. I saw the tenderness of her smile extended to her eyes.

“I like it, too.” The smile stayed on her face as she turned back to the road. We kept on heading east.