Saturday, February 19, 2011

White Women: On the Daily

It's 5:34 and I am awake. I am overwhelmed with the love of being an academic, an activist, a Black woman, a friend, a girlfriend on vacation with hers, and a deep, deep lover of music. Yes, I have been at the Women Who Rock conference organized by my friend and colleague, Mako Fitts, and new friends and colleagues, Michelle Habell-Pallan, Sonnet Retman, Quetzal Flores and many others. This post (and more I will write later) is because of the deep love for that work and being around other women like Kehaulani Kaunanui, Daphne Brooks, Alice Bag, Maylei Blackwell, Tiffany Lopez, Sherrie Tucker, Leisette Rodriguez, Carrie Lanza, Martha Gonzalez, Lara Davis and men like Garry Perry and George Sanchez, speaking on and embodying our passions about music, feminism, This Bridge Called My Back, community, and our lives. 


I have much more to say about all of these things and these wonderful, wonderful people but, truthfully, what woke me up this morning was thinking about my response to something that happened during a panel I was on this afternoon. And, as Maylei reminded me at dinner, it needs to be called out. 


A group of us were invited to sit on a panel and provide feedback, "do the work," as Mako said of talking about the feminist community organizing and organizers that came to the conference. We participated in breakout sessions during the day where women and men talked about the incredible work that they do/have been doing for years ranging from: organizing and living as out, queer women in Mexico, publishing a print feminist  'zine in this technological age, creating a safe and empowering place for women and girls via Home Alive, Willie Mae Rock Camp, Ladies First, Fandango, and Riot Grrrl. These were amazing sessions and people, and a group of us sat for two hours on a stage giving our perspective, interweaving our lives and experiences into a discussion about these groups. After we talked (a panel of five women of color and one white ally), Mako opened it up for dialogue. The first person to step up to the mic to offer feedback, ask a question or make a comment, was a white woman, an activist who works for Planned Parenthood, which is currently under attack.


Let me just back up and repeat. 


The first person 
to step up 
to the mic 
to offer 
feedback
ask 
a question
or make 
a comment 
was 

white 
woman.


I can't tell you how many times this has happened in my academic/activist/personal life. I. can't. tell. you. how. many. times. this. has. happened. I can't tell you, collectively, how many times this has happened to the women on the panel who have been carving out our lives with This Bridge mapped on our bodies in punk music scenes, feminist spaces, and academic circles. I can't tell you how many times this happens in the conferences where I present papers, places I'm asked to give a talk, the classes I teach in my department, in faculty meetings, and when I'm, you know, getting coffee. I really can't, I'm not being facetious. I can't count the times. It's too many. We talked for two hours about various topics related to the woman of color space that was created this weekend by women of color and our allies. White women were mentioned twice during that time, one a story of a personal friend and ally, and the phrase "not a white woman's issue" with regards to reproductive rights. Twice, for less than five minutes. And the first person to step up to the mic was a white woman whose statement began with, "I need you to clarify" and then later, "because I'm a white woman who works hard." Can't. tell. you.
And I can't tell you how much it takes to sit on a panel and not begin to take my earrings and heels off because it feels like the shit is about to go down. And I have never been in a fight in my life. How much it takes to try and frame a response on top of the pushed down anger, betrayal, and distrust of working with, being friends with, and organizing with white women. Try to frame a response that doesn't start out with, "Look, b*tch, Ima 'bout to...." 


And I wasn't even asked the question. The need for clarification was not directed at me. 


And, I think it needs to be clarified that I don't even know this woman's name, didn't really hear the question, because this happens so many times. I couldn't hear you. The demand to clarify even though you point out that we're the educated ones, not you. Making clear that, effectively "we hold the power in the room," because of our academic status (like the shit was easy), yet your privilege and entitlement to step up to the microphone first, with demands, doesn't enter into your understanding of what's going down. I only remember bits and pieces of your question, your interruptions when measured responses were being given. The compassion that a couple of panelists used when trying to "reach you." The explanations given of what kind of academics we are and what we're trying to do as a group of younger women. The brushing off because mustering up an answer was too exhausting. The clarifications that, actually, what you heard is not what was said. And then the number of women who stood up in the community to say, "look you need to check yourself." That shit takes work. And it takes a little bit from our lives, our spaces each time. Women of color create these spaces so that we can celebrate, see each other, remember, be rejuvenated, dialogue, eat with one another, dance, sing, and tell our stories in various form.  Not to clarify for you. And you need to remember that. Print this post out and carry it with you if you need to. But, recognize that I, we, are not here to clarify for you.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Superbowl Sunday

I love my girlfriend, I think that's pretty clear. We have a lot of fun together and I'm challenged in ways I haven't been before. I wouldn't say that watching the superbowl is necessarily one of those challenges, but, it is something that catches me by surprise as we watch it every eyar. In fact, any football watching catches me by surprise, and we watch quite a bit. Joan is from Michigan, which, apparently by default, means you're a born and bred football fan. University of Michigan, Michigan State, and probably the smaller schools and community colleges have huge football fans. She has sweathsirts and wears baseball hats with the U of M and State logos. Recently, she asked for a Michigan t-shirt for her birthday. The love runs deep.

I can dig it. I never thought I'd be a "superbowl wife" and, let's be clear, I'm not a wife, nor will I ever be in name or practice. But, I did host a little pre-birthday, superbowl party for my woman yesterday and it was super fun. Now, I've been gathering with friends around the superbowl for a while, you know, for the commercials (which, are no doubt incredibly sexist, racist, and homophobic). Last night was, keeping with tradition, a bit pot-luck like and included a homemade birthday cake for my girl. We ate a lot, laughed a lot, and just had a general good time with friends. And, we watched the game. Or, should I say, my girlfriend watched the game. I watched some parts of it but, as she pointed out, I did rewind it to watch the Christina Aguilera flub during the beginning of the second half. That's not really something you do when others are watching the game. Hmmm.

Now, I know what I'm going to say from here on out is stereotypical in all respects, but I really never thought I'd live with a woman who watches football. I mean, I mostly think, "who gives a sh*t about football," really? It's kind of boring, looks really painful, it's a GAME, it's hugely aggressive, and it's just weird to spend 3-4 hours watching. I can't keep up. And the only people I've really been around who can or do care are the men in my family. Every year when I visit for the holidays we spend our time, regardless of the occasion, sitting around the television watching football. It's comforting and I like hanging out with my dad, uncles, and cousins (and aunts sometimes), but I still don't get it. Plenty of women, including my beloved butches, watch and play football. OK, it's not necessarily about gender. And I am, following type, a huge WNBA fan and more and more am getting into local college faves,  the Stanford Cardinals and baseball "world" champions, the San Francisco Giants (I'm currently on a quest to find this shirt by the way).

But, the superbowl (and football in general) still feels odd to me. Maybe it's the lingering claim that domestic abuse escalates on this day. Although, really, violence against women in and outside the home happens everyday, not just the first Sunday in February, so...

I'm not sure what to say as I bring this post to an end. But, secretly, I kind of love that Joan watches football and sits in her Michigan State or Detroit Tigers hat and really gets into it. It's kind of hot. Maybe that's the trouble, trying to reconcile what tends to make my eyes roll a little when I see Oakland Raiders flags and other memorabilia on cars or rather, trucks and SUVs, around town, but in the comfort of my house or in the frame of my woman, makes me grin and blow kisses from across the room.