Thursday, December 8, 2011

Plan B still not eligible for ALL

In direct contradiction to all of the recent recommendtions from the FDA, Kathleen Sebelius the secretary of Health and Human Serives decided that the emergency contraception Plan B will not be allowed to be sold without a prescription to children under the age of 17.

A letter written by FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg states, "I reviewed and thoughtfully considered the data, clinical information, and analysis provided by CDER, and I agree with the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research that there is adequate and reasonable, well-supported, and science-based evidence that Plan B One-Step is safe and effective and should be approved for nonprescription use for all females of child-bearing potential." The possibility for all women to have access to Plan B was one step away from being instituted and the secretary believed otherwise and due to FDA having to respond they sent the complete response letter to Teva today. Plan B One-Step will remain on the market and will remain available for all ages, but a prescription will continue to be required for females under the age of 17.

This misconception that having Plan B over the counter will somehow make young girls all of a sudden more interested in sex is a ignorant view on the issue at hand and seems to be the true motive in why the secrertary believes younger women shouldn't have the opportunity to the emergency contraceptive. The view of society to believe that just because someone young is requesting Plan B means this girl is promiscuous is not appropriate. You never understand why this person may have felt the need to select this type of contraception. It takes a lot of confidence and strength sometimes for men and woman to even buy these barrier methods and then to be judged when they build up this courage is not acceptable. When condoms are for sale for all ages why cant Plan B be? It is just as safe and effective as other barrier methods, additionally an important saftey net for when "Plan A" methods (like condoms or the pill) fail. Contrary to popular belief it is not our place to justify why someone should be denied access, whether we fear they may begin to abuse the pill or not.

Tylenol, Advil, Benadryl, and Robitussin are all more dangerous than Plan B and yet they are on the market for all ages, over the counter. With this in mind, what is the point in denying access to Plan B? I am totally astonished by the act of denying this access without any legitimate reasoning. There is a clear double standard in place here: women have rights and limited access to reproductive health services but still are hindered by the misconception that young women shouldn't have access to these pills because being a sexually active young woman is still looked down upon. It saddens me that this still occurs but I write this post in hopes that things will change.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Los Angeles protesters are asking the courts to address the reason they are being deprived of public forum. On Monday, November 28th a complaint sent that protesters felt they were unconstitutionally being deprived and wanted their access granted.

According to CNN Wire Staff, the city police are forming an anti-camping provision for the protesters due to all the chaos the protest is causing. At the opening of Twilight there were so many people on the sidewalk camping out the street had to be closed. A city council member stated, "Each of these 'camping' events is highly publicized in the media, takes place in highly-trafficked areas and could not possibly be an unnoticed and unintentional exception to enforcement of the municipal code." With all the protesters outside of Occupy Wall Street getting their stories out why would the actions of these people against the system be denied the same right to get noticed. These protesters are not only demonstrating within their first amendment rights, but they feel they have been forced to do so. Authority telling these protesters they cannot perform such acts, or that they are being outrageous, is their opinion, and doesn't matter. They aren't taking into consideration the pain these people are going through and the detrimental effects this denial of access has been to them.

With all the other problems that L.A. has going on the only one they care about is the fact that people are being peacefully disobedient to unjust laws. They are portraying these actions for a response which authority is giving them. However they are attending to the issues that are not at hand as in how dirty the parks have become or how many people are in the way instead of thinking WOW that is a lot of people out there maybe we should do something. The primary concern is not about the people as it should be, but instead they are worried about just getting the people out of the way. They are not protesting so that you say let's move them but so that you say let's help them. With anybody being subject to getting arrested, the allegations of health and safety issues and the police rallying to get rid of these people soon cities will have to get further involved, what would you do to make history when they come for you? This movement is outstanding and for so many great reasons they deserve to get what they wish and if it ends we are all in danger injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere- Martin Luther King Jr.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

It's time to have a (feminist) house meeting y'all...

I apologize for not posting in such a long time but grad school is no joke friends. I want to do something a little different with this post. I want to have a very honest/raw/unfiltered/respectful conversation about this:

For those of you who don't know, this picture was taken during the NYC SlutWalk, although the person holding the sign was not the original creator of the sign.  Now  I could very easily write a whole analysis on this, but I think there are plenty of great ones already written out there. Check out this AMAZING post on Racialicious if you're in the mood for a breakdown of some key issues around this sign.

But I want to hear from you. What are your reactions to this? Let's have a real conversation about our feelings, our struggles with this, our reactions to all of the other dialogue out there about this, how we can begin to heal...All that jazz.

Ready? GO! Let's have the convo in the comments section.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Cruelty in Syria

Zainab Alhusni was only 18 years old when she was brutally dismembered and mutilated by Syrian security forces. She had left her home early last month to buy groceries and her family never again saw her alive. She was whisked away to coax the surrender of her activist brother, and ended up beheaded and dismembered, a neighbor, activists and human rights groups say. As said by CNN, reporter Her older brother, Mohammed, became a well-known activist in the family's hometown of Homs in western Syria, often leading the demonstrations against embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and treating the wounded. "Protesters would carry Mohammed on their shoulders so he could lead the chants," Fares said. "He was very loved by everyone. The protesters even had a chant they would say for him, using his nickname: 'Abu Ahmed, may Allah protect you!'"

Due to her bothers disobedient behavior in the eyes of the officials she was had the wrath taken out on her. In what way did she deserve such dehumanizing acts to occur to her. why was she the victim of a hate crime. They were demonstrating on her the things they hated about her brother and all who rose up against the government. Several days after Zainab disappeared, security forces called the family and offered to meet them in a pro-Assad neighborhood where they would trade Zainab for her activist brother. On September 10, the family says, Mohammed was wounded in a demonstration. He came back to his loved ones a corpse. The family believes he was tortured to death. The ferocious Syrian government crackdown against dissenters began in mid-March when anti-government protests unfolded. The number of people killed over the past six months has reached at least 2,700, according to the U.N. human rights office. Some activist groups put the toll at around 3,000.

Zainab dreamed of owning her own tailor shop, so she could support her impoverished family, he said. But she never had a chance to fulfill that dream. Authorities forced Zainab's mother to sign a document saying both her daughter and her son had been kidnapped and killed by an armed gang, Amnesty International said in an online statement. The acts being demonstrated to people of Syria is demonizing and barbaric and should not be tolerated, how could we sit back and watch as such horrid acts occur whether they be here or there it doesn't matter. I blog about instances as these because it infuriates me to know such evil is still acceptable. I understand somethings are apart of people traditions and who am I to say what they believe in but when you are removing the rights of the people and treating them as tools, and property to be treated as you wish I must not hold my tongue. As Waleed Fares, a neighbor and family friend of Zainab said, "The case of Zainab Alhusni is not just for our town, or province, or even for the country of Syria. It is a human rights issue that should bring the attention of the world."

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

To Slut Walk, or not to Slut Walk?...That is the question.

My answer? I have no freaking clue. This is going to be a really honest, not based on anything but emotion/instinct, blog post.

Look, I've seen all of the dialogue about where the SlutWalk began, what it's become, what they're accomplishing, and what they could be doing better. But to be frank, I still don't know if I am personally all that comfortable with it. I love that feminism is catching on again, but I sometimes feel like you've got to be hip to enter some feminists spaces today...and I'm just not all that hip.

Exhibit A:

"We can't fight the patriarchy if we're busy fighting each other." So true. And I am not one to constantly "police" the spaces that I'm in...but I'm also not one who has the energy to "insert myself" into feminist spaces because of the invisibility/silencing of my various social identities. There's something off about the SlutWalks to me, something feels disingenuous...I really can't put my finger on it.

How do you feel about SlutWalks?

The SlutWalk in NYC is happening on October 1st, and I encourage you all to check it out and decide for yourselves.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Dark Girls: A Preview

I came across a really powerful preview to a film called "Dark Girls" that looks at issues around skin color, specifically darker skin tones, in the black community.

Dark Girls: Preview from Bradinn French on Vimeo.

 The film seems to take a multidimensional approach to understanding why people feel the way they do about dark skin, using examples from popular culture, psychology studies, personal testimonies of internalized, intra/interpersonal, institutional and ideological oppressions, and others.

Please share with people you think would be interested because I feel that this film has the potential to have a strong impact on its viewers!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Burning Nanny

Shweyga Mullah worked as a nanny for two of former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's grandchildren. When she couldn't keep one from crying, Aline, the wife of Gadhafi's son Hannibal, poured boiling water on her head. When Mullah was found her attacker and husband had fled the scene and she was left with bruises, scars and much patchwork to be done. Even though the burns were inflicted three months ago, she was still in considerable pain. The wounds and pain she feel can never be erased, but she rejoices at the fact that she is loved by god and have been blessed to have people support and help her. The Libyan health Minister, Naji Barakat stated "I think it's a crime against humanity," which indeed is true, this is absolutely disrespectful, immoral and completely degrading to any human to disregard them in such a way. She is only human and she cannot control the emotion of a child at all times. Sometimes children cry and if you cannot stop it does it mean we go around burning those who help us when we are in need. This act of dehumanization completely aggravates me and I refuse to see this SURVIVOR not see JUSTICE.

This was not only a horrific act to put someone through, but as well not the only time that this Aline had portrayed such hateful behavior towards servant of the Gadhafi household. As said by CNN, A man too frightened to reveal his name led CNN reporters to another one of Hannibal Gadhafi's properties, a gated, high-walled villa-like house, where the man said more abuse was meted out to staffers. This masked man stated, "Shweyga is not the only one," describing a Sudanese man who was also scalded with water after he burned an undershirt he was ironing, "Foreign staffers bore the brunt of the abuse." Another woman describes basically a prison cell that she had stayed in as a care giver to the family. This behavior is a form of discrimination, hatred, racism, and enslavement. These people were not given proper meals, dormitory or respect and that is the worst thing you can do is disrespect someone. I feel the most sympathetic to all these beings and wish nothing more than happiness for all of them.

Back at the burn hospital, Mullah faces months of recuperation and surgery. Her story generated enormous public response. So far, people have donated more than $16,000 dollars for her care. CNN is making sure that she receives proper care to be eligible to return home to her family. This relates primarily to the Women's Center because not only is it an act of violence against a woman, but against multiple workers because of their race and against servants in general because of the stigma attached to how people treat lower level classed workers. As an activist and advocate for the Women's Center this relates extremely to our mission of advocating for a violence, harassment free environment, as well creating an anti-racist, non-sexist queer-affirmative space for all to feel free, but I cannot ever truly feel free knowing in the world such acts are still occurring. I pray that all the places in the world like us fight as diligently to stop these acts.

Friday, September 2, 2011

"Spirit Day" of Action!

Let's wear purple again for Spirit Day on October 20th, but this year let's take it a step further!

In response to last year’s high profile anti-LGBTQ-related suicides, thousands of people across the country wore purple on October 20th as a way to show solidarity with those in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer community struggling with bullying, violence, and harassment. Let’s make “Spirit Day” an annual day of both solidarity and ACTION. 

Wearing purple as a way to show unity and support for those in the LGBTQ community is just the first step! If you are on a college campus, create an event or bring in a speaker that focuses on ways to counteract bullying. Recruit a bunch of friends to volunteer with a local non-profit or organization doing LGBTQ advocacy work. If you already work for a great organization, organize an event for October 20th! If you don’t have any organizations around you, create a community project of your own! (A mentoring project, community art piece, etc...) Help to organize a “Spirit Day” event at your school or in your community that focuses on bullying and how LGBTQ youth (or those who are perceived to be LGBTQ) are often at risk of being on the receiving end. And don’t forget to actively challenge bullying whenever you witness it!

Submit and share your stories/projects/reflections on 

Twitter: Follow us @SpiritDayAction | Tweet using the hashtag #SpiritDayofAction

And of course if you are unable to do any of the above, you can always WEAR PURPLE and spread the word!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

This is GENIUS!

I love The Crunk Feminist Collective. Their writing inspires me to write more, even when I feel like no one is reading. Their work keeps me grounded as I work through my love/hate relationship with feminism and feminist spaces. Their words are a constant reminder that there other people like me who experience the complexities of feminism today, rather than just surface, non-intersectional,  second-wave notions of feminism.

And I also love that they write awesome Back-to-School Survival Guides! Follow the link to read in its entirety, but I just had to highlight a few of my favorite tips:

"Be your own best advocate. Prioritize your own professional needs/goals.
  • You have not because you ask not.  You have to be willing to ask for what you need. You deserve transparency about the rules and procedures of your program, cordial treatment from faculty, staff and students, and a program that prepares you not only for the rigors of grad school but also for the job market (should you desire a career in academia).  But folks won’t hand it to you on a silver platter. You have to build relationships, ask questions, and make demands.
  • Figure out your writing process (the place [home, coffee shop, library], time [morning, afternoon, night], and conditions [background noise, total silence, cooler or warmer] under which you work best and try to create those conditions as frequently as possible during finals, qualifying exams, and dissertation.

Be proactive about self-care.
  • Figure out your non-negotiables. For me, sleep is non-negotiable. I must have it. I don’t do all nighters. I also generally don’t do weekends, so I adjust my schedule accordingly. What are your non-negotiables?
  • Take advantage of on-campus therapy services. My last two institutions have had women-of-color thesis and dissertation support groups. Consider joining.
  • Cultivate a spirit-affirming practice. Grad school/the academy is a mind-body-spirit endeavor. So meditate, pray, exercise, do yoga, go to church, cook a good healthy meal. Do whatever you need to do to keep your mind, body, and spirit in balance.

Be willing to get CRUNK!
  • If the environment is hostile, it is most probably characterized bymicroaggressions of various sorts.  Racial microaggressions –“brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color– are quite common for women of color, but microaggressions can be used in sexist, heterosexist, or ableist ways as well.  A microaggressive environment demands resistance of various sorts. So do you and be you. Unapologetically.  Keep a copy of Sister Audre near by so you can make sure you’re channeling your legitimate anger productively, and then, get crunk if necessary."

Working in Higher Education while earning a Masters in Higher Education Administration feels like double the pressure at times. It's like I'm learning about issues of retention, diversity, intercultural communication, access and inequalities, then sitting (somewhat) idly by as they play out on campus. Ok ok...I suppose working in an LGBTQ Student Center that approaches campus diversity from an intersectional approach isn't all that idle...but issues and incidences of microaggressions on campus feel overwhelmingly much deeper and larger than my work sometimes.  

But that's my story...and I'll work it out! Either way...check out the guide, and thank you to THE CRUNK FEMINIST COLLECTIVE!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Bad-Ass Folk!

This month's Bad Asses are....MY AMAZING BOSSES for making the NYU LGBTQ Student Center a totally amazing place to work! I know you may be asking yourself why is this person trying to suck up to her bosses? Well that is a silly question because they probably won't read this, so there.

But in all seriousness, New York University was recently named the most LGBTQ-Friendly Institution in the US! The Princeton Review released it's annual ranking and once again NYU placed first, followed by Standford. Honestly, I'm not sure what criteria was used to earn NYU this ranking, but I know that my supervisors have definitely contributed greatly to campus climate. I love this work! Check out all the schools on HuffPo!

Monday, August 8, 2011

I'm saying you should settle...

This upcoming presidential election is becoming more frightening every day. The Tea-baggers are strengthening, the Republicans are becoming more and more radical, and the Democrats seem to be giving in on major issues.  I get that Obama has absolutely fell short of my expectations as queer, as a woman, as a person of color, as poor, as a student...well as a lot of things. And it's easy to say that we need to teach him a lesson by not voting for him, but politics are not so black and white.

Let's say that Obama isn't re-elected...who then will speak for the issues you care about? Will this person have enough pull to actually win a primary or an election? What if we are so divided that an uber-conservative is elected? I know what a lot of queer folks are waiting for: inclusive federal Employee Non-Discrimination Act, and marriage. But where should we place our efforts, in a Republican, an incumbent, or a president who has kept a small percentage of his promise. As much as the tides have seemed to turn in this country, if Obama wants a second term, there is no way he will legalize federal civil unions or ENDA.

Obama isn't perfect. No politician is. But I'm hoping that the change I was promised will come in his second term. And if he doesn't do it on his own, you bet your ass I'll be there rallying and protesting and causing a ruckus... because he'll have no excuse. No second term to worry about. It'll be his chance to be the president I voted for.

I have hope, do you?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Queer Without Borders

It's only now occurred to me that I have yet to write about my final project, and the places I have gone and beautiful people I have met because of it.

When  I was Queer Peer Services Coordinator at the Ramapo College of New Jersey, I organized what we called Queer 101 Panels for various social issues classes. These panels basically consisted of 3-5 students with some sort of LGBTQ identity that would answer whatever inquiries their audience had. Having served on at least 50 of these panels myself, I  learned rather quickly what kinds of questions non-queer people had for me and my community. I've answered anywhere from "How old were you when you knew you were LGBTQ?" to "How do lesbians have sex?" Upon panel after panel, I realized that everyone had a unique story, and that I never grew tired of hearing them.

I decided to conduct and record my own Queer 101 Panels in South Africa! I began with hotel staff, moved onto queer peer educators at the local LGBTI community center, and finally ended with a group of university students.  I thought I would hear some radically different stories, but in truth all of their stories sounded so familiar. Aside from the obvious difference Apartheid tended to cause such as understandings of race, many of their narratives seemed as though they were slightly different versions of stories I heard many times before.

Their voices seemed to play on repeat. The struggle to identify their own sexuality. The anxiety around coming out to the family. The physical, sexual, and emotional abuse that seems to occur far too often in the LGBTQ community. Their many struggles with religion and spirituality. Their difficulty to find a safe and welcoming space to call home.

Their experiences have touched me deeply, and all I've wanted to do the past couple of days is to find more and more people to tell me their stories. But alas this South African journey is coming to a bittersweet end. What I take with me is that no matter how different a place may seem, we are all inevitably connected through basic human experience. Perhaps this experience is connected even more so when queerness is taken into consideration. Perhaps queerness occurs without borders! I consider everyone I've met a member of my queer community, and I'm so touched to have found a home here in South Africa.  I'm incredibly honored to have been able to meet so many wonderful, courageous people, and I know this journey is only the beginning!

P.S. I am not able to post my final documentary on youtube because of the safety and security of the people I interviewed, but if you are my facebook friend expect to see the final film soon! See everyone in the States!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Education as a Tool to Reconcile Racism

The question came up in class as to whether or not education can be used as a tool to help mend the racial divisions of Apartheid. While I think education is a good start, there are problems with the current education system that keep it from being as powerful a tool as it could be.

Racial interaction happens on two important levels in schools:

1. Student to student
2. Staff to student

While many schools have changed drastically in terms of racial demographics, many schools still contain a majority. The schools in the townships that we have learned about have been primarily Black, while more expensive less accessible schools schools in more suburban areas continue to educate primarily White students.  I'm curious as to how students make sense of their identities and interactions with those of other races when placed in a school where there are only a handful of people who look like them in their peer group. Unless the teachers are comfortable facilitating difficult conversations around race and reconciliation, will Apartheid simply become a history lesson rather than a recent system that affects current systems like education and the economy?

I use the word "staff" as opposed to educators in the second category of interactions for a reason. Race matters for educators and support staff. We visited the Oprah Winfrey school (no we didn't see Oprah despite my prayers), and I couldn't help but notice that while a majority of students were Black, there were very few Black teachers or administrators. In fact, the staff that was painting one of the dormitories were entirely Black. One of the tour guides of another group was commenting on how she preferred White teachers because Black people in South Africa weren't as educated or talented.  She was Black.

My tour guide expressed that she wished she has more White students in her peer group because she was told by a few White students that she had met from a different school that the Black Economic Empowerment Act was reverse discrimination. Oprah's school is technically for those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, so there were only a few White students. This does somewhat fit the national populations considering there are far more Black people living in poverty than White. My tour guide didn't really understand that the school she was attending, and other programs like it, are more so to rewrite the systematic wrongs of Apartheid policy. Even though those policies went away, it will take decades for the system to function more equally.  To call Oprah's school or the Economic Empowerment Act reverse discrimination is to completely ignore historical wrongs.

I couldn't help but wonder how students at Oprah's school found mentors. Personally, I tend to seek out mentors that I have similarities with. Aside from Oprah herself, I was having a lot of trouble finding successful Black women with whom the students could look to for guidance. How many of those teachers and counselors really understand the students' struggles? And is success being defined as being more acceptable in White spheres? I wonder if that one tour guide would feel the same way about teachers in South Africa if she had more experiences with Black teachers in Oprah's school.

I have a lot more about staff-student interactions, but I need a little more time to process a recent experience. Until next week, but in the meantime please posts reactions and thoughts in the comment section!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Running Parallel

After interacting with schools, organizations, and folks from South Africa for three weeks, I can't help but to find similarities with the States.

Even though slavery and Jim Crow segregation laws ended several decades ago and Apartheid ended only two decades ago, they both have had long lasting impacts. These impacts can be seen both on interpersonal and institutional level. Institutionally, schools are still incredibly unequal in terms of resources and quality of education.  Schools with majority Black learners in the townships produce significantly less matriculating students than those with primarily White/Afrikaans learners. The one university program we visited in Soweto had a fairly diverse mix of students at the BA level, but diversity was lacking when I looked at the racial makeup of the MA students and professorial staff.

The poverty disparity in terms of race is also incredibly visible in almost every area we've been in. To be fair I haven't seen every part of South Africa, but after having visited Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban, and several townships I feel as though I've observed a fair amount of the major areas. But I didn't realize just how unequally wealth is distributed here until I found myself shocked in Durban to see White people asking for spare change. For the entire trip, up until this past weekend, I had only seen Black faces on the streets asking for food or money.  I didn't realize how desensitized I was to the racial background of , to a certain extent, until I was in a more urban area where the population wasn't as homogeneous as the townships.

In many communities, there is also a distrust and lack of emphasis on the importance of education.  The affects of an inoperable government and education system are still evident. Even though in theory everyone has access to some form of education now and the system is compulsory until grade ten, our observations show that students are held to the same expectations nor are they provided with the same affirmations. A course called Life Orientation is offered at many secondary schools, and is meant to provide practical life skills. It was discussed in my class that many White students are taught how to be good bosses/employers, while many Black students are taught how to be good employees. Expectations definitely affect performance and aspirations. If those who educate you tell you, either implicitly or explicitly, that you can only amount to subservient professions, you may begin to believe it.

Some of this may sound a bit bleak, but I have to ask myself, is it really all that unfamiliar?

I grew up in urban areas where the faces of those living in poverty were almost entirely the same color. The school districts New Jersey are also segregated along the lines of class with large implications of race.  School districts had unequal resources and student achievement suffered greatly. the majority of students in colleges are White, especially for upper-level degrees. Granted, the disparities are more striking in South Africa because the majority of the population is Black and not White, but both countries suffer from distorted representations in higher education.

Of course the countries are different, especially in terms of recent past versus distance past of government-sanctioned racism, but as I spend more time here I become more and more shocked by just how similar our current systems are.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Colored Like Me

The concept of “race” is something I've found myself reflecting on quite a bit while in South Africa. I mean, how could I not? “Race”-based segregation that seperated Blacks, Whites, Asians, Indians, and Coloreds (people of mixed-heritage) ended less than twenty years ago. I keep putting “race” in quotation marks because the simple notion that there is more than one race in itself perpetuates the same type of thinking that has been responsible for many atrocities throughout human history.When I was younger, my education told me that racial categories were concrete, and that those categories carried with them languages, customs, and traditions. But in terms of how race is usually utilized, the only thing people infer from one's racial identity are ability, intelligence, and 'civility' of different groups.

I've heard the word “Caucasian” used a few times on this trip to describe White people, and it triggers me. According to 19
th century anthropologist Blumenbach, White people originated in the Caucus region and are considered the most beautiful, intelligent, and superior race. The Caucus region was also fabled to be the birthplace of mankind even though we know that the human race originated in Africa. There were also sub-racial groups within each of these categories. In fact, according to Blumenbach, the white race included Egyptians and other north Africans, known as the Hamitic race. You may be saying to yourself "why is this a bad thing, he's saying that some Africans were as superior as whites?" Well, the Hamitic race was added as a sub-group mostly to explain the great historical civilizations of Arabia and Egypt. Blumenbach needed a way to separate "good and intelligent" Black people(Hamitics) from he viewed as the animalistic Black people of southern Africa(Negroids).

How has this way of thinking impacted our lives? Colonialism, slavery, the holocaust, Apartheid all seem to come to mind. Blumenbach's work still echoes today. Genocides, racial purity, race wars, racism, and the imaginary notion of reverse racism are especially prevalent amongst the current debate about the Black Economic Empowerment Act in South Africa and immigration in the States. And while the race may not be a scientific or medical truth, discrimination based on race is a very real truth.

All of this emphasis on race makes me reflect on my own racial identity. My ethnic identity is Italian, Jamaican, and Indian, but I've always called myself brown in terms of race. Jamaica is made up several different ethnic groups. While 90% of the population is Black (African in origin resulting from the slave trade), there are also substantial White, Indian, Chinese, and Arawak populations on the island. After slavery was abolished on the British island, there were huge amounts of indentured servants brought over from the other British colonies and protectorates. Chinese and Indian workers would finish their mandatory years of servitude and then set up families and communities of their own. These lines and separated communities have continued over the decades resulting in only 7% of Jamaica being multi-ethnic. So apparently my father's mother was black but his father was Indian.

Why does any of this matter? Well as someone who has constantly felt lost in their ethnic identity and having very few mirrors in my family to identify with, I have always found some refuge in being knowledgeable about why I look the way I look. Why my skin is an ambiguous brown instead of a clearer shade of definitely this or that. Why people will forever ask me "what are you?" Why the texture of my hair comes as a surprise. Being in mono-racial spaces makes me uneasy at times. With the participants on this trip seem somewhat segregated by race, and I feel forced to be two different people in one space versus the other, rather than my whole self in both spaces.

So when the little girl from the community project asked me if I was Colored, all I could do was say “yes.” I wonder what it would be like to have a brown community to relate to. Although racial segregation is a terrible travesty, imagine if the Colored category existed as a community in the States. I have to admit, it would be so wonderful if I could be my full self instead of having to float in three racially divided worlds.  

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Master's Tools

The prevalence of HIV/AIDS in South Africa is alarming. While a few people close to me are HIV+, and I somewhat consider myself a queer health and sex educator, I've never been in a space full of so many HIV+ children. We visited a community project that provides meals, services, and a space to HIV+ children, many of whom are either orphans or in the foster system because their parents have died. The project was headed by a mix of people including local community folks and two Americans.

As soon as we entered the church where the center is currently operating out of, a few of the children climbed up a few of our waists, some what begging to be held. We tried to hoola-hoop a bit and then the children were told to go outside and play. We did not know they were all HIV+ until one of the staff members, one of the American women who work there, began to explain the project to us. My immediate thought was, wow. How can so many children be HIV+ in a relatively small area? Wouldn't anyone who knows they're positive want to do everything in their power to ensure their children aren't? Aren't prenatal drugs that can be taken to prevent transmission from mother to child available everywhere?

Well the answer is, no they're not. Healthcare and health education are not so readily available or financially accessible. I have to admit, I was angry. Not at anyone in particular, but at all the broken systems that had lead up to this situation. I tried to focus on the positive aspects of the project. The participants are given whole meals every weekday and taken on different trips. The younger children have a group of people roughly their age to play with everyday. But the teenagers were distant and stayed indoors. I wondered if the program was to provide a safe space for HIV+ youth, or to keep them away from others. The gates surrounding the gravel playground took on a malicious connotation.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Greetings From...SOUTH AFRICA!

Hello Not Your Average Feminist readers! As some of you may or may not know, I'll be spending the next month in South Africa! This trip is a blessing and a privilege, and I can not wait to share some of my experiences with you all. Luckily for me, there is a journaling component to the course I'm taking, so I decided to share my entries on NYAF. Most of my writing will revolve around issues of race, gender and queerness, but expect some random observations and tidbits as well.

I suppose a good place to start would be with what I expected South Africa would be like. When I was younger, I had a single narrative of “Africa.” I put Africa in quotations because Africa was always referred to as though it was one country with uniform experiences. It was almost always spoken about in relation to other countries rather than as a continent with multiple countries. For instance, I learned about the Slavery from Africa, Roman Empire and Africa, England and Africa, Belgium and Africa, France and Africa. The list can go on and on. Before high school, my education had painted a bleak desert-like place full of tribal customs and half-dressed warriors.

What is most disturbing about this experience is that the majority of my classmates identified as Black. But even as I sat and listened to the history of slavery vs. immigration, I always wondered when African identity became African American identity. Other stories of peoples immigrating to the United States spoke of pride and holding onto one's ethnic identity and cultural traditions. But African people, once again African as a collective rather than as individual nations, were just in the States and only had a place in the retelling of the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement. Now some folks, like myself, identified as Caribbean and not African American, but even African diaspora was never discussed.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Libya's Fighting Women

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi is calling for fresh volunteers in a months-long war with rebels attempting to end his 42-year rule - and women of all ages are answering. At the training facility in Bani Walid, women are training to "defend Moammar and the country," said Sgt. Faraj Ramadan, a woman who is training other women to properly handle weapons. "They train to use it, assemble it and take it apart, and to shoot," she told CNN recently. "They were trained and got excellent scores."

Women who attended the training would graduate at the end and are then fully eligible to prepare for combat no matter what the age of the women. Is this an attempt at making women equal or to kill them off. Is it a chance to save their government or to return to the conditions they had before. No matter what the reasoning women are fully interested in this opportunity and they are training in the thousands.

A woman, who did not want to identified, fresh from the front lines, attended the graduation of former trainees. She was still wearing a cannula in her wrist."Do not underestimate any woman in Libya, whether old or young," the woman said. "The woman is still able to perform more than you think."

Women from in and around Gadhafi's stronghold of Tripoli have been traveling south to a training facility in Bani Walid to practice with weapons, a common sight in a country where young girls receive military training in schools.As NATO's airstrikes crossed the 100-day mark and rebels continue to fight to oust Gadhafi, he is tapping everything and everyone in his arsenal to hold on to power and to fight to keep him in power. Check the video to see these women in uniform.

Comment and tell how you feel about this issue.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Affirmative Action... On The Basketball Court?

Zaneta posted this video on facebook wondering what people thought about it. I started to respond in a comment, which quickly grew far too long for facebook's word count... and so here we are.

If you don't want to watch the video, this comment from the youtube page for the video more or less sums up the director's main (ill conceived) point:
None of these "future leaders" don't seem to understand affirmative action. It's all right to cheat a student who worked hard for 12 years to achieve high grades to loose an education to a student with lower grades, but don't weaken their basketball team.

This is partially true, the people that they interviewed don't fully understand how affirmative action works... but neither do the filmmakers.

The Basics of Affirmative Action

First, lets get a major misconception out of the way: quotas are illegal. Schools do not have a certain number or percentage of students from various minority groups that they must admit. Instead, schools and employers set goals for inclusion based on what groups are not being represented, and then they set a time frame during which those goals should be met. However, they face no retribution of for whatever reason these goals are not met. [Source]

In this framework, affirmative action is not a plot to screw more qualified white students out of "their" place in an institution, but rather to keep the concept of diversity firmly in mind when creating a student body or a group of employees. To meet these goals some organizations employ a "points system" whereby being a part of an underrepresented group gets you a certain number of points... but so do your SAT scores, grades, references, your community involvement, and so on. Within this system being a member of an underrepresented group does not get you a free pass into a college or place of employment based on your race, but rather, it affords you a few extra points in light of the fact that (more likely than not) you have faced some amount of race or gender based discrimination in your life that has hindered your ability to get stellar references/grades/whatever.

Basically, affirmative action comes down to two major concepts: generating diversity AND acknowledging the uneven playing field that exists, and taking that into account when making decisions about people. [Click to learn the truth behind some more myths about affirmative action!]

So Why Shouldn't We Apply Affirmative Action to Basketball Teams?

Basically, if we lived in a world free of race and gender based discrimination, where everyone was afforded comparable resources and opportunities to succeed then, yes, affirmative action would be silly. But that is not the world we live in. In order to apply the concept of affirmative action to basketball, we'd have to make a compelling argument that white people are facing some sort of systemic discrimination that hinders them from achieving in basketball.

Or, as the filmmaker so eloquently put it...

"How is like, academic ability really different from athletic ability. [...] I mean athletics is the same thing as academic ability."
Although none of the people in the interviews made the final cut of this short film could answer the question, I can! Academic success is largely influenced by a student's environment. While raw academic ability can provide students with an edge, ultimately they need a strong and supportive background in which that ability can be nurtured to succeed. Children who grow up in poverty tend to lack that background: they don't go to schools with funding for fantastic teachers and up to date equipment and textbooks, they often go to school hungry and return to homes where . It just so happens, due to the social structures in place due (in part) to the United State's history of slavery and race-based discrimination against immigrants, that people of color tend to be disproportionately impacted by the cycle* of poverty.

This same argument can be applied to basketball. Players who can afford great coaches, nourishing food, the time to practice, and so on will have an edge over other players. Are white basketball players somehow systemically being denied these resources? If anything, given what we know about who tends to be impacted by the cycle of poverty, the opposite can be argued in terms of the big picture. White people are more likely to have access to these resources... so why, again, should they get a leg up when trying out for a basketball team?

All of this said, I think the affirmative action model could use some improvement... luckily I am not alone in that belief!

In this modern day and age many institutions and politicians are considering and experimenting with shifting to a model that focuses more on socioeconomic status. This makes tons of sense to me since people with money tend to have access to better resources (like homes in good public school districts, money for private schools, money for SAT tutors, the freedom to take an unpaid internship, and so on) not to mention the fact that they also have their basic needs (food, shelter, clothing) met, thus freeing their minds to focus on getting ahead rather than just surviving. Although people of color disproportionately tend to be forced into this cycle, systems that looks primarily at socioeconomic status are a viable way of ensuring that all people living in poverty get assistance in breaking the cycle.

At the end of the day, if affirmative action was simply about giving certain groups of people a leg up for no discernible reason, the video's argument would make perfect sense. Its not though. I'd challenge the directors of this film to point to the social structures that keep white kids from excelling at basketball (while subsequently putting black children in a position to excel at it.) If someone can convince institutions that the basketball field isn't equally accessible, then it would make sense to look at ways of leveling it... but until that argument can be made, affirmative action on the basketball court just doesn't make sense.


Crossposted at Imagine Today

* Why is it called a cycle? I mean think about it, if your parents are poor they are not going to be able to provide you with the food you need to focus in school, a home in a well-off school district, tutors when you fall behind, etc. Thus, you are more likely to not make it to college and not go on to get a better job than your parents, thus setting your children up for a disadvantage. This is why it is called a cycle - its not to say that people don't break out every day, its just acknowledging that the odds are stacked against them. Affirmative action is one way of evening out those odds.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

"Glitter Bombs" for Equality?

First it was Newt Gingrich...

Then it was Pawlenty...

And TODAY, Michelle Bachman became the latest receiver of the glitter shower.

The glitterings seem to only be related in the sense that the first incident inspired other individuals to act independently, but the latest video of the glittering calls for people everywhere to join the "glitterati movement." While the first person to throw glitter was not involved with GetEqual, the organization is now asking for others to "Get Equal" with glitter. 

I literally can't decide how I feel about throwing glitter on politicians. A part of me thinks it's hilarious and harmless and bringing much needed attention to some anti-queer happenings, but another part of me can't help but feel that it will ultimately hurt queer political efforts. Some folks are calling the glitter showers "glitter bombs" and categorizing them as assaults.

The latest glitter protester explains the reasons behind her actions:

How do you feel about it?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Weinerlogues **strong language warning**

How does one continue to hold office after this? Thoughts? Reactions?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The “Gay Girl in Damascus” Hoax didn’t cause any real harm…right?

MacMaster with his Che shirt trying to get brown activist-street cred
Cross-posted at BornLikeThis.

Daniel Nassar and other amazing activists and bloggers who are actually living in totalitarian states think otherwise.  As reported, hoax-man Tom MacMaster kind of apologized for the lies, but in the end he feels as though he's brought light to an issue near and dear to his heart. He's even joked about writing a book about the entire process.  Tom thinks he's doing the world a great justice by speaking for a group of people, but I wonder if he's ever spoken to Syrian LGBTQ folks about their needs.

Daniel Nassar has something to say to Mr. MacMaster:

"I'm so outraged I can't even type well.

Mr. Tom MacMaster, with due respect, has the audacity to say on the blog he created over the last two years that he did not harm anyone with his fictional writing; I beg to differ.

Because of you, Mr. MacMaster, a lot of the real activists in the LGBT community became under the spotlight of the authorities in Syria. These activists, among them myself, had to change so much in their attitude and their lives to protect themselves from the positional harm your little stunt created. You have, sir, put a lot of lives, mine and some friends included, in harm's way so you can play your little game of fictional writing.

This attention you brought forced me back to the closet on all the social media websites I use; cause my family to go into a frenzy trying to force me back into the closet and my friends to ask me for phone numbers of loved ones and family members so they can call them in case I disappeared myself. Many people who are connected to me spent nights worrying about me and many fights I had with my family were because you wanted to play your silly game of the media.

You feed the foreign media an undeniable dish of sex, religion and politics and you are now leaving us with this holier-than-thou semi-apologize with lame and shallow excuses of how you wanted to bring attention to the right people on the ground. I'm sorry, you're not on the ground, you don't know the ground and you don't even belong to the culture of the people on the group.

You took away my voice, Mr. MacMaster, and the voices of many people who I know. To bring attention to yourself and blog; you managed to bring the LGBT movement in the Middle East years back. You single-handedly managed to bring unwanted attention from authorities to our cause and you will be responsible for any LGBT activist who might be yet another fallen angel during these critical time.

I'm outraged, and if I lived in a country where I can sue you, I would."

Well said! Silencing those who are oppressed so that your own voice can be heard is not liberation.  Rather, Tom has committed liberally-educated "do-good" work that he was only able to accomplish because he comes from a place of privilege. I hope he is held accountable for his actions, and if he decides to publish a book, it should primarily feature actual Syrian LGBTQ voices.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Humor is NOT an excuse for homophobia, Tracy Morgan

Cross-Posted at BornLikeThis (A new project I'll be writing for!)

Actor and comedian Tracy Morgan recently went on a huge homophobic rant during one of his shows. Here are some excerpts (trigger warning):

-”All this gay shit is crazy”
-”Born This Way is bullshit”
-”Gay is a choice because God don’t make no mistakes”
-”There is no way a woman could love and have sexual desire for another woman”
-”Gays need to quit being pussies and not be whining about something as insignificant as bullying”
-”Gay is something that kids learn from the media and programming”
-If Tracy’s son was gay…he “better talk to me like a man and not in a gay voice or I’ll pull out a knife and stab that little n**** to death”
-Tracy said he “doesn’t f***ing care if he pisses off some gays, because if they can take a f***ing dick up their ***…they can take a f***ing joke.”

Did any of that sound like a “joke” to you? You may feel differently about it, but I think he really feels that way. From Comedy Central Roasts to a former Seinfeld cast member spewing out the “N”-word, comedians often get away with a lot more than other celebrities. How are we to hold comedians accountable when lines are clearly crossed? Thoughts? Reactions?

**Update** Tracy has issued an official apology for his rant. Is it too little too late?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Transphobia and Thailand's Ladyboys

Gender is cultural.

Gender is understood differently in different parts of the world.

Transnational gender experiences and identities are not meant for humor/entertainment! Meet the LadyBoys of Thailand:

This message goes out to The Hangover II and Uberhumor! Now don't get me wrong, I loved The Hangover II.  While the plot was basically identical to the first one, the situations were way more ridiculous and absurd.  I laughed out loud (quite embarrassingly so) for almost the entire movie, except for one section. One of the main characters sleeps with a dancer whom he believes is a cis woman. He later comes to find that she has a penis. Now the feminist in me would love to think that the writers of The Hangover II were trying to push the lines of the gender binary and beauty standards. But the realist in me knows that this plot turn was intended to add a gross-factor, as evident of the movie theater's collective reaction of "Ewwww....grosss...that's sick, ect...."

Along the same lines, the website Uberhumor (which claims to be the funniest site on the web), posted a set of pictures recently that asked their readers to "pick out the transsexuals from the girls." After clicking a link, it is revealed that all of them are "actually boys" and competitors of the Miss LadyBoy Pageant in Thailand. The joke is on the reader for thinking that any of these beautiful people were "real women." Get it? Hahaha (SARCASM).

Ladyboys are actually apart of a third gender category in Thailand, and are somewhat similar to the Hijras of India. While not quite equivalent to trans women in the states, they definitely blur the gender binary! But movie audiences and blog "test" takers are not going to see rich histories or vibrant culture. They're going to see a chick with a dick, and react the way their upbringing has told them to react, with disgust and fear.  I don't see any humor at all in that.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

HIV/AIDS: A Reflection on 30 Years

It has been 30 years since the CDC issued its first report about a new disease that was initially thought to be a rare form of pneumonia. Many doctors thought these rapidly fatal symptoms in homosexual men to be a rare form of cancer. From pneumonia to GRID (gay-related immune disease) to HIV/AIDS, the medical field has attempted to understand the disease we have come to know as HIV/AIDS in ways that have stigmatized people living with the virus.

In response to a lack of support by the government for medical treatment and non-discrimination, many folks came together in the early 1990s through an organization called ACT Up to demand direct action to end the AIDS crisis. The work of ACT Up through rallies, kiss ins, and courageous activism moved the nation to think of people with HIV/AIDS as individuals demanding respect and equal rights.

While progress has been made as Obama recently promised increased support for HIV/AIDS research and prevention, HIV/AIDS continues to be understood by many people as a "gay" disease. How many gay men have heard from family members on multiple occasions that they need to be safe because HIV/AIDS is a "gay" disease? I know I have, and yet my family does not understand when I explain to them how HIV/AIDS can affect ANYONE and it has. 60 million+ people around the globe are infected with HIV/AIDS and 30 million+ have died from AIDS-related illnesses. Even though some institutional support has been given to help prevent the spread of HIV, there is still a 30 year build up of ideas, stigmas, stereotypes, and beliefs about HIV/AIDS that need to be deconstructed and educated about. I think it is important that this prevention work also include education work. Education for people living with the virus, for family of people living with HIV/AIDS and for the other people who could be at risk for the contact with the virus. Many grassroots organizations and NGOs around the globe treat their patients medically and emotionally by offering counseling to patients and their families/friends about living with HIV/AIDS and being supportive.

OK...thirty years later, what are the next steps? As feminists and activists, what are your thoughts?

For those of you who are interested in doing further exploration, start with this article in the NYT from 1981 and work your way to today! Hopefully, you can come up with some thoughts about next steps.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

I'm not racist but...


Check out this amazing blog that collects facebook writings that contain some form of "I'm not racist but..."

Here are some of the worst ones so far, click to enlarge (TRIGGER WARNING)

I definitely encountered a person or two (or several) in my college days that spouted some similar garbage. I always find it interesting that the people who use this type of language will try to distance themselves from "real racism." As though they are just saying what everyone is thinking. Racism is racism, regardless of whether or not you put a disclaimer on it. If you have facebook friends worthy of this site, submit a status or two!

Friday, May 27, 2011

"Marriage matters" does racism...Trust People of Color!

Check out this video from a New York based "family research" organization.

Did you notice anything interesting? Perhaps how the speakers were entirely white men, yet the van was full of faces/families of color. One might say that the van is purposefully targeting religious people of color as pawns for their own political agenda? I don't know. Maybe I'm ready too much into this.

But you have to admit that with the recent anti-choice billboards funded by white men and aimed towards communities of color seem awfully similar. It feels like white politicians and zealots dictating what communities of color should really fear: abortions and gay people.

Well I have one message to all those who use these political tactics:


We don't need you posting billboards or driving vans up into our communities pretending you care for our well being. As a matter of fact, trust all marginalized and oppressed communities to make their own decisions. Maybe you should be looking at the distribution of wealth in this country instead? That's the real threat to our well being.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

No Homo

An interesting look at just how ridiculous "No Homo" is...

Thoughts? Reactions?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

I Will Attend NYC Pride

Dan Savage is wrong for his transphobia and racism, 100% wrong, the LGBT Community cannot allow such a visible and public figure to make such disturbingly bigoted statements. Leaders in the LGBT Community should publicly question his remarks.

But not going to NYC Pride because of Dan Savage? No, I will attend the event. It is one of the largest and most visible LGBT events in the world, and only gets bigger each year. It is still a most effective way to spread a general message to the non-LGBT society of uncompromising tolerance. All things considered, I still believe the amount of good that comes out of NYC Pride far outweighs any shortcoming (so far). This should not be the criterion for everything, but for a major event such rationale is valid.

What about the other Grand Marshal? No, not Terry Miller, I mean Rev. Pat Bumgardner (pictured). She is the Senior Pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church. She has dedicated her life to combating racism and transphobia and in many ways her actions speak much louder than Dan Savage's words. She is being honored for her work, and is just as much a Grand Marshal as Dan Savage. Totally boycotting the NYC Pride on account of Dan Savage's past comments would be to allow his divisive remarks to overshadow this woman's good works.