Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Solidarity, White (Male) Privilege and Occupation

I've been involved with Occupy Oakland over the last couple of months, primarily around discussions about decolonization and the term Occupy itself. There have been several teach-ins on Solidarity with Indigenous Peoples, particularly the Ohlone, that have furthered this discussion. Simultaneously, there has also been a movement to change the name of Occupy Oakland to Decolonize/Liberate Oakland to recognize not only solidarity with the Ohlone, but the vast ways that people of color have been colonized historically and, perhaps more importantly, in the present. As news of an upcoming proposal to change the name has spread, there have been several oppositional blogposts, twitter posts, and other discussions that are virulently in favor of keeping the name "Occupy."

With all due respect to Indigenous Peoples, of course.

At least that's how many of the posts start out. "Decolonize the Americas, but Occupy Oakland," one post declares.  "Voting No to Decolonize Occupy" another states. After I posted on twitter the upcoming proposal date at the general assembly, I actually received a message that started out, "No offense, but..." Really? No offense? I don't think I've heard that expression since junior high. And, for the first time in a long time, I'm surprised.

By the phrase, not the sentiment.

A sentiment in defense of, to quote bell hooks, white male supremacist capitalist patriarchy.

See, here's the thing that I love about people of color and white women: we're hopeful every time a new protest or movement comes along that, like Occupy, speaks to us. We get involved. We organize. We take on leadership. We fight. We stick around, even when racism, sexism, and homophobia become explicit. In other words--when white male dominance is challenged and subsequently, (and staunchly) defended--we hang in there.

Because it always happens.

Whenever we organize with white men (or their comrades who protect white male dominance), there comes a time when they feel their status is threatened. And really, it can be from something as little as proposing a name change--mind you, this hasn't even went up before the GA yet and already there is a backlash, er, freedom of speech I mean. A name change that recognizes the experience of the majority of people living in Oakland.  A city whose unemployment rate is 17%, twice that of the national rate. And you know what that means? That means that the people that experience the rapid collapse of capitalism, which you so vehemently defend (I was also told that recognizing how Blacks, Indigenous People, and Asians have been colonized in this country was a distraction) are people of color. And we've been feeling the effects of this collapse for decades, not since September or whenever the decline began to impede on your ability to get a piece of the pie.

Personally, I support the name change (as other cities have changed the name to Unsettle and (Un)Occupy with little resistance) and I won't be deterred if the change is blocked, but I am and will continue to be swayed by the ongoing fight against white male patriarchal dominance masquerading as "community." No offense.

So, here's a tip: What you need to do now is listen, not interrupt. Cause what you're doing is interrupting. Listen to the majority of people who live in this city. Listen to people whose land we occupy. People of color make up the majority of Oakland, physically and metaphorically, the very fabric, and our voice in this movement needs to be recognized. Not in a "caucus," or a "working group," as some have graciously offered and declared support for. But, as the majority of the city that you are representing. The majority of the 99% in this city. We are as much a part of this movement, involved fully or not. And, as some of you have stated, you need to reach us. And, reaching us does not mean being defensive, posting numerous blogs and posts about your movement to block the passage of a name change, and trotting out your friends of color to tell us what "occupy" means.

You need to find another path to build and maintain this movement.

In solidarity.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Oakland, Occupied

I went to the first teach-in on colonization, decolonization and Indigenous Solidarity tonight at Occupy Oakland. There were several of us who met beforehand to strategize some about the larger discussion of occupation, (de)occupation, and the current movement. I came primarily as an ally to Indigenous folks, particularly the Ohlone, whose OakLand we occupy and to think and discuss how the terms occupation and colonization relate to  Black folks in Oakland.

As Black people in the U.S., a conversation about colonization has to begin with the occupation, the theft of African bodies, enslaved into forced servitude on the stolen land of the Americas. And every way that our bodies were used to "develop" and cultivate this land and its resources and build the structures that have enabled capitalism to prosper. The ways that our bodies, particularly women's bodies, were colonized in an effort to greatly expand the workforce that so called slave owners depended upon to increase their wealth and further theft of land--severing our families, our varied cultures, our languages at will. That's a beginning point. Those physical acts of colonization, rape, and genocide is one place to start. But, as we discuss what "decolonization" means, we have to look at the effects of colonization, or where we have taken on a colonizer's mentality in everyday situations: ownership, consumerism, and space. In Oakland, gentrification is one place to link this conversation.

I've been trying to finish a post on gentrification since Joan and I returned from our summer trip where we traveled through the Black Hills and the Badlands in South Dakota. Driving across Lakota (Sioux) land, the process of displacement resonated with me as a Black woman living in an increasingly gentrified area in East Oakland. I live on a nicely carved out, middle class street where we are one of two renters, near Mills College off the High St. exit. We moved here because of the high numbers of queer couples, lesbians, who live in the area alongside (and sometimes pushing out) poor and working class Black people who have lived here since the second great migration. The process of displacement has been on high speed in recent years as "urban pioneers," mostly white, but also middles class folks have begun buying (or stealing) short sale and foreclosed upon homes that populate the neighborhoods where predatory lenders encouraged longtime homeowners to refinance (an important side note, as I was writing this, I came across the realty company in San Francisco called Urban Pioneer Property Management, no joke, you can't make this stuff up). The area I live in is one that non-inhabitants continue to frame as "ghetto" and "scary" in their "I braved the streets so that I could get my favorite ethnic food" posts on Yelp. The fearlessness of these folks is emboldened in recently formed neighborhood groups who want to "take back High St" or whatever neighborhood street they live on. This kind of colonizer mentality about property and ownership, "This is my little .25 acre of land," "my house," "my stuff" is one that we must examine as it relates to our individual and collective practices. As we are seeing with the decline of capitalism and it's tightening grip as its current form collapses, our ownership of things is temporary. Those things we thought were ours: homes, jobs, pensions, etc. are being taken from us. So we need to reexamine our attachments to ownership and to colonization as more and more of us are displaced, joining the ranks of the "unrecognized."

This is not to say that we shouldn't fight and demand accountability and recognition of the role that capitalism, corporate greed, and corporate personhood (racism, sexism, heterosexism, and imperialism) has played in our displacement. However, we must also recognize the ways that colonization continues to inform our decision making, our organizing frames, and our everyday practices.

In Solidarity.

Above photo of a tshirt, courtesy of Oaklandish.