Category Archives: activism

Prop 8 #1: A Material or Moral Defeat?

I know I am late on this one, but initially I thought that my essay from 2004, Is Gay Marriage Anti-Black, would be enough to help people think about the racial dimensions of the same-sex marriage debate. I can tell it’s getting alot of traction again, people have emailed to say it is circulating on listservs and it’s in the top 10 blog entries here for the last week. Sometimes, it’s better to be late than to be quick and not comprehensive. I think there are lots of things to say about this particular situation, so I am going to be blogging on this all week with short blog entries, while I work on a longer analytical piece. But I will use this series to talk about some of the flawed assumptions of the people upset about the ban.

One of the things that has been bugging me is the pro-marriage (and marriage ONLY) gays and straights have been talking as though this were the same thing as the Dred Scott decision–a total loss of rights tantamount to second class citizenship, or no citizenship at all. But is this true? Though it is a setback, in terms of cementing heterosexist law on yet another state in the union, is it really the loss of “rights” as is being framed by the advocates?

Something to consider: California already has a domestic partnership law on the books, that was signed into law in 2003, and took effect in 2005. According to the California domestic partnership law, “Registered domestic partners shall have the same rights, protections, and benefits, and shall be subject to the sameresponsibilities, obligations, and duties under law, whether they derive from statutes, administrative regulations, court rules, government policies, common law, or any other provisions or sources of law, as are granted to and imposed upon spouses.”

In essence, the benefits of domestic partnership are very similar to those given under civil marriage, which are pretty similar to straight married couples, with the exception of federal recognition to get the different benefits under federal law. The US government does NOT currently honor state marriages of gay couples.

Did the California Supreme Court decision which lead to default legal marriage for same-sex couples, end the domestic partner benefits already afforded under the 2003 law?

NO. According to the state website, “The Court’s decision regarding same-sex marriages did not invalidate or change any of the Family Code statutes relating to registered domestic partners. Until a Notice of Termination is filed with our office, a registered domestic partnership will remain active on California’s Domestic Partnership Registry. This office will continue to process Declarations of Domestic Partnership, Notices of Termination of Domestic Partnership and other related filings as permitted by the domestic partnership law.”

That would mean that same-sex couples could still get the domestic partnership benefits, even though there is now a ban on marriage, per se. Is there a qualitative difference between domestic partner benefits and marriage, if neither are recognized federally? I think not.

So I don’t think that the idea that gays in California somehow lost some substantive rights (though I don’t support the ban, obviously) in the few months where they were allowed to get a slightly differently worded piece of paper, makes not a whole lot of sense. This to me is more a moral debate than it is a material one, but I will get into that issue when I write a full piece…Stay Tuned.

Read American University Professor Nancy Polikoff’s Blog to keep up with the best legal mind on these issues.

"Incognegro" Author Frank Wilderson, III in NYC This Week

When the “free” elections in South Africa happened in 1994, I was a 19 year-old college freshman at a small liberal arts college in Ohio. Fortunately, I had become friends with many South Africans on my campus, and in the neighboring universities that dot the central and Southern Ohio landscape. I remember looking at a copy of the ballot, given to me by my roommate’s mother, and seeing the dozens of candidates of many political parties that made up the government of the “New” South Africa, which strangely enough, has turned out to be as new as the “new” American South. Nevertheless, we all (African, and Blacks from the US and Caribbean) assembled in front of the televisions to watch Nelson Mandela become the new President of South Africa, and transforming the ANC from an insurgent revolutionary movement to becoming the dominant political party of the neoliberal nation.

Little did I know, at 19 years old the price that had to be paid for the “progress” that the country was undertaking. While I now know that many were skeptical, few Black Americans knew that price better than Frank Wilderson, III, one of only two American Black members of the ANC, who with several other ANC members, was labeled by Nelson Mandela, “a threat to national security” in 1995.

Wilderson, author of the newly published and highly controversial memoir Incognegro: A Memoir of Exile & Apartheid offers an incisive view of how to a liberation movement that becomes a political party. He also reckons with what happens to a revolutionary who returns to a U.S. Left, mired in the politics of gaining access to the “rights” of civil society in multi-culti California.

I met Wilderson this past Sunday at a small reading at the Salon D’Afrique, a longstanding Harlem salon hosted by writer and scholar, Dr. Rashida Ismaili Abu-bakr, who gave a reading to about 15 invited guests would be engaged in a political dialogue with the author about the book, which according to Wilderson, intentionally does not offer a “what to do next” proscription for progressive movements in the U.S. or abroad.

“The Black demand is for subjectivity,” stated Wilderson. “But progressive political movements must have a coherent goal, but the reality is that the demand cannot be met by a coherent demand, like a civil rights policy for access into civil society.”

Though he talked a little about the book’s structure—modeled after the 1987 autobiography of Black revolutionary Assata Shakur (currently in exile in Cuba), and written with chapters alternating between South Africa and the U.S.

“The organizational structure comes from Assata Shakur—how do you write about a revolutionary underground movement, anti-black racism in liberal and progressive California, and also the use of poetry,” Wilderson remarked.

Many of the guests who’d read the book were struck by the biography of his early life, the son of two academics who were the first family to integrate a Minneapolis suburb., which as Dr. Ismaili noted, “was not the stereotypical background of a Black revolutionary.”

Others, including myself, were struck by the places of sheet vulnerability in the work of a Black male political memoir. I am still reading the book, but I find this aspect of the book particularly refreshing.

The other central question of the book, partly made by the books structure is what are any real difference between the U.S. and South Africa? The book recounts one story illustrating this point. In one trip back to the U.S. with his South African wife at the time, she leaves him in New York telling him that if she wanted apartheid, she could get it at home.

This notion flies in the face of what so many on the left extrapolate from Black leftist politics—people seem to love the idea that Black revolutionaries learn to transcend concerns about Black people to take on more “international” concerns. From Malcolm X‘s trip to Mecca and MLK’s speech on opposing the Vietnam War, Black radicals can make it into the leftist pantheon of stars. Wilderson is drawing the conclusion that anti-Black racism is a global phenomenon and has yet to be addressed, let alone already solved, as much of the Left seems to purport.

“The world needs the Black position,” Wilderson said.

And though my friends, in 1994, watched the elections in South Africa with some level of pride and relief, we knew that being Black, whether from Soweto or St. Louis, Mombassa or Montego Bay, is what brought us into that room in the student center, shut away from the rest of the campus. But that hope we had, is exposed as a fraud in this book, and by the realities of where South Africa is headed. One of those friends, who was instrumental in my political growth, was killed in Soweto, sometime around 2001. South Africa continues to expand its prison system much like the US, and HIV/AIDS rates in Black communities in the US that literally rival those of Africans on the continent.

Incognegro, as a book, and WIlderson’s incessant and unrelenting look at the failure of the integration of Black concerns and liberation into “civil society” makes me highly recommend this book, and suggest you get yourself over the next few days over to one of his three readings in New York City.

October 21, 2008, 6-8pm
Medgar Evers College, CUNY
Founders Auditorium
1650 Bedford Avenue
Brooklyn, NY

October 22, 2008 7:30-9:30pm
The Brecht Forum
451 West Street (between Bank & Bethune Streets)
New York, NY

October 23, 2008 06:30PM – 08:30PM
New York University
Meyer Hall, Rm. 121
4 Washington Place [between Broadway and Mercer]
New York, NY

Guest Blog: Time Out NY Thinks Cultural Elite is…WHITE?

I got this forwarded to me in email. I’m not endorsing the cultural “elite” framework but I think it’s an interesting view into how these “best of” lists get created, which often are sorely lacking in people of color representation(in this case, the people of color chosen by Time Out NY for it’s favorite people of the last 13 years, were also ALL MEN) . If journalism is the first draft of history, then it makes sense why we always have t go back and re-vise both. Check it out:

Dear Friends,

Two weeks ago Time Out NY featured the Top 40 list of New Yorkers who have made a “lasting, positive impact” on NYC in the last 13 years. The cover featured a group of prominent individuals who have in fact
made a positive impact on this city, but only three people of color made the list – Jay-Z, Derek Jeter and Junot Diaz.

To make matters worse….. the editor’s response as to why there were so few people of color mentioned, was New York is “a city whose cultural elite have been mainly white.” The entire response gets much worse (see link below).

I am writing because I think it is essential that people write Time Out (especially if you have a personal connection to any of their writers and/or editors), send a response to Editor Michael Freidson, post a response at the link below and forward your response widely to people that will care and respond.

Time Out NY: Where Are All The People of Color?

What is revealed in the Freidson’s letter (linked to above) is the closed cultural world of Time Out.

This issue privileges personal rolodex-list-making over actual culture reporting.

It’s a list of “who we know” not a list of “what we can discover.” How to find the top New Yorkers? Do you interview top curators, politicians, non-profit leaders to find the surprise folks? Nope… You ask only your staff and then process only with your editors…Without any self reflection about who your staff is, what
their taste is, and how well they represent New York as a whole…

If Time Out wants to be taken seriously as culture reporters and not just a smug magazine of listings then they need to take their jobs and their place in the city more seriously. Michael Freidson Editor, Time Out New York states, “We chose only those who have made a lasting, positive impact in TONY’s 13 years. They had to still be active, still creating. The pool was nominated by the entire editorial staff and then whittled down by a panel of five editors.” In his letter he then goes on to offer a defense of how certain people were or were not chosen. However these rules are quite randomly applied, and when you only have forty slots this makes for a real absence of rigor…

For example, Bill T Jones isn’t immediately “vital” enough for Time Out NY, but Eliot Spitzer is cool even though he’s not exactly “still active still creating” unless harassing the new governor counts…Visual arts are so grossly underrepresented that somehow they’ve managed to make a list of New York cultural elites that doesn’t include Thelma Golden (!) and that ignores proven international artists like Kara Walker while great-but-still-niche white dance and film artists carry many slots……In fact, Mr Freidson’s main complaint about “people of color” is that they aren’t famous enough, he goes on to use Jeffrey Wright as an example saying he doesn’t have the big credits of Liev Schreiber or Philip Seymour Hoffman, but then he doesn’t compare Jeffrey to the equally talented but equally unheralded Elizabeth Marvel who does appear ….

And this is the great problem with the list….the choices are random, taste-based and cliquish….

Tim Gunn (who?) Tyra Banks (oops?)… John Zorn is an active icon but the only NY rep for jazz???? His full-on peer William Parker is still kicking more ass then ever ….. Or on the younger tip Matthew Shipp, and Vijay Iyer…..Also, Alicia Keys and TV On The Radio give our city a vital pulse and move music forward and they definitely are more proven (“over the last 13 years”) than Nellie McKay (who is also a great addition to the new york music scene).

Kelly Reichardt (Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy) truly is a great visionary of the small human drama but so is Ramin Bahrani (Man Push Cart and Chop Shop)…Chris Wheeldon is a fantastic choreographer but so are Miguel Gutierrez, Nami Yamamoto, Ron K Brown, Donna Uchizono, and Jawole Willa Jo Zollar and their impact is notably greater and in some case far more international….. You’ve got Mr Shakeshack (Danny Meyer) but not the the culinary genius of David Chang (Momofuku)?…….Sure Tony Kushner is crucial but Adam Rapp over Suzan Lori Parks, Young Jean Lee, Talvin Wilkes, and George C. Wolfe?

The truth is that the folks on the list are important and talented and we are lucky to have them be New Yorkers, but they aren’t the only ones who are important. The New York cultural scene and its “elite” are a multifaceted and diverse pack of people–and if a first-pass list isn’t reflective of our great city, it should be Time Out’s mandate to discover the people that bring the richest range….

It is an exciting reporting challenge to surprise both reader AND writer. Sadly, the Time Out editors are happy to stick to what they know, not what they can learn or what surprises they can share as true cultural reporters. And when called on this approach, they retreat to the age old argument “Well the cultural elite is white” which should be more accurately phrased as “For Time Out’s list making purposes we’ve chosen to define the cultural elite as white….”

……… Imagine if some real reporting were applied to this exercise……maybe then we would have been able to give Spiderman’s slot to an actual person……..and maybe this list would represent the surprising New York I love, not the the odd “white new york elite” that TONY seems to believe in….

Let’s fight for the representation of the New York that we love and not the New York that Time Out and Editor Freidson so lazily inhabit and promote…..


Esther Robinson

On No Homo

I’m sure you’ve heard this “No Homo” phrase for the last several years from Hip-hop artists and now regular people on the street, as a way to break the normal social mores around same-sex interaction, and still assure the person to whom you’re speaking that you’re not actually gay. I know, a mess. But Hip-hop blogger and radio host Jay-Smooth over at his blog Ill Doctrine (that has me jealous on the style/layout tip), made a pretty funny video spoofing and explaining the “No Homo” foolishness.


Tecumseh Roberts: Gay Murder and Nation-making in Liberia

I have this theory–nationalism is bad for queers. Why? It seems to me that many nationalist movements are framed around an idea of nationhood that equates resistance with (hetero) masculinity. The idea of building a nation then means that the heterosexual family becomes the initial “seed” of the nation. All other people who fall outside of those terms of “reproducing” the nation, vis-a-vis the family, are expendable, and are often written off as socially dead, murdered, or suffer the brunt of infectious diseases or chronic illnesses (AIDS or breast cancer, to name a few specifics) Queer and non-normative sex, gender expression and identity become seen as counterrevolutionary in the nationalist politic.

I am not taking sides about “revolutionary”–I mean any organized group trying to overthrow a political/ideological government or regime. In the most recent case, Liberia. That West African nation “founded” by the U.S., using former U.S. slaves as the “colonizers,” is recovering from the throes of a very brutal period of violence and political instability which lasted, in various forms, for more than 20 years.To address the most recent conflict (1999-2003), the country has established a “Truth & Reconciliation” Commission to, according to the website, create “an independent and accurate record of the rights violations and abuses as a result of the conflict.”

Last week, Prince Johnson, a state senator and former guerilla leader was testifying about the death of Tecumseh Roberts, a Liberian popular musician. He testified that another member of his former militia killed Roberts because he was gay. Apparently Roberts was in charge of delivering rice to people in the territory that Johnson controlled, but read this synopsis from the Liberian Journal of Johnson’s discovery that Roberts was gay:

Mr. Johnson said following the discovery of musician Roberts, a stream of blood flowed down his pants leading to the confirmation of suspicion by Gen. Varnii that the musician was a “homosexual.”
“Gen. Varnii ordered Tecumseh Roberts to take off his trouser and when he (latter) took off his trouser, it was discovered that his butt [anal] was rotten. The man whole anus was rotten,” the senator told commissioners.
Following the discovery that he was a homosexual, Johnson said, Gen. Varnii shot and killed Mr. Roberts.
The suggestion by Prince Johnson in his testimony is that Roberts had been fucked so much and so hard that his anus was “rotten”–in a state of decomposing, no longer alive or viable. It was in fact, dying,and therefore Roberts’ whole body, and the idea of a gay Liberian, also had to die, and therefore he was shot (Nevermind the thought that if the man was in fact bleeding he may have been raped). One need not look to West Africa to find similar examples of non-heteronormative sex/sexuality is tantamount to social, political and cultural death. It is the reason why, I continue to blog about all the murders of Black queer folks here in the U.S.

Afro-Latinos in Colombia

In the last couple years there have been an increasing amount of news stories in the US about Afro-Latinos. I have been glad to see some of it because oftentimes I feel like in the US, it’s as if slavery didn’t happen in Latin America and there are no Black people there to speak of. Or that somehow or another, the Spanish speaking Caribbean and South America has “gotten beyond” racial categorization, when it was only a generation ago that people like Cuban singer La Lupe (among many others) proudly declared she was Black. And why don’t any of these Baseball players from the Dominican Republic get discussed as Black people? There’s also this thing that happens, where I have been told that I, as an African-American, don’t understand the nuances of what happens in terms of race/racialization in Latin America.

OK, I am not trying to take over that conversation, there are plenty of Afro-Latinos organizing on their own, but I know that when many of these organizations of Afro-Latinos in Latin America are referring to Black American struggles for inspiration, and sometimes directly seeking assistance from groups like the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (as did organizations in Brazil) to help address legal forms of racism in their countries. That says something to me about how Afro-Latinos in those organizations see what Black Americans have done as a possibility, and not as some group of people who don’t get it. And I do, ultimately, feel responsible for what happens to Black people wherever we are, however we got there, and no matter what conquistador language we now speak.

Anyhoo, I found this interesting story about Afro-Colombians, which are even less talked about than Cubans, Dominicans or Brazilians. What interests me most about the many different movements of racial justice happening in Latin America is in what ways are notions of “nation/nationhood” informing conversations about gender, sex and sexuality–that is, as a cautionary tale from many Black Nationalist configurations in the US–is the Afro-Latin revolution being formed as a (hetero) dick thing?


A Note on DNC Protesters…and Activists In General!

Today I came across this video report, from the American News Project, about police intimidation of protesters at the Democratic National Convention in Denver this week. This video, we’ve seen a million times since the infamous Seattle WTO protests of 1999, of mostly white protesters, exercising their “Constitutional right” to assembly and protest, and being righteously indignant if they’re impeded from that glorious goal. I stopped going to these kinds of anti-globalization/anti-war protests several years ago because of everything you’re going to witness when watching this video, but can ultimately be summed up in three words: WHITE LIBERAL ENTITLEMENT.

First of all the video opens with a quote from the First Amendment to the US Constitution which reads:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Note to protesters: Congress, in this case, did not make any law. You are dealing with the police. They kick ass and ask questions later. Your Constitutional rights can always be violated, and you can sue to get them back, only after the fact. But being white, you don’t often have to deal with the daily stop and frisks, arrests, detainments. So I guess thinking that you have rights in the first place that the police are supposed to respect ahead of time is a case of white entitlement. To the contrary, an older Black woman activist said to me in New Orleans years ago, “Why do we do these ‘know your rights’ trainings when we know you don’t have any?”

Everything else here flows from there.

Hordes of white people shrieking “Who’s streets? Our streets?” Well, we know. These same white hipsters/activists have priced Black and Latino people out of many neighborhoods across the US. I am well aware they are “your streets.” In a different context, say, Harlem, the policing increases ten-fold, to protect you from me. That protest slogan, which I have heard comes from the Gay Liberation Front (which was not without its race issues) post-Stonewall, has long outlived its usefulness, because of the dynamic witnessed in this video. White people do own the streets. The police getting in your face to protect the property/image of the State is not new or shocking.

Peep the woman in the red shirt shouting to the police THIS IS AMERICA!! WHAT ARE YOU DOING? My question is, What does she think America is? What does she think the police are for? This, to me, IS America. Period. This is not some aberration, or some recent (i.e. post 9-11) devolution of a once free state (the two terms are almost an oxymoron).

The two white men explaining that “they’re not protesters,” and yet they got hemmed in by the cops for two hours just the same. I wish the time I was nearly thrown to the ground by some kind of private security (I believe was Blackwater) goons in New Orleans I could have had that excuse. I was just Black and that was all they needed to know to assume I was trying to rob the mostly non-black friends I was trailing behind slowly on a bicycle. When you’re white, you assume that you have a personhood separate and distinct from your race. I’ve never made that assumption–or I’ve never been allowed to.

And to the point about racial profiling, peep the people with the scarves pulled above their faces. I know that is in part to protect one’s self against the use of tear-gas and mace, but it is also to protect one’s identity. Let me tell you, if my Black ass walked around any street in America with a scarf pulled above my face, I’d be assumed to be robbing some shit and be shot to the ground, no questions aked. Once again, the assumption that you have an “identity” to be protected from policing and surveillance, versus knowing that you are constantly policed and surveilled because of your racial/gendered body.

For all of this white liberal outrage about their right to protest being denied, they cut a 6 minute video piece (from what was probably several hours of footage), and got ALL UP IN the face of these police officers without an act of retaliation or violence.

I think that the protest hopping Left really gets off on these huge displays police intimidation and violence enacted because of protesting. They’re mostly content with other forms of police violence, and these displays seem to make them feel oppressed and gives them a relevance they seem to relish!

Oh yeah, watch this bullshit.


Introducing…Bandung 1955!

Writer & Educator Tamara K. Nopper has started a new blog, Bandung 1955 which is “preoccupied with racial, gender, sexual, economic, and national politics and how power, asymmetry, and social relations inform the global organization of social life, lived experiences, and political appeals.”

The first two blog entries are definitely work reading:

For those of you not familiar with the “Bandung” Conference in 1955, today’s blog entry celled “The Illusion of Afro-Asian Solidarity?: Situating the 1955 Bandung Conference is a good grounding and critique on that historic conference of African and Asian nations/people. Nopper offers this critique:

Indeed, despite today’s tendency to describe the coming together of “people of color” as inherently revolutionary, it does not appear that the US government was convinced that Africans and Asians were steadfastly united in some primordial sense of brotherhood. Rather, research suggests that the White House was more concerned with what they anticipated to be certain Asian countries’ efforts to make participants look to the east and away from the west. In other words, it appears that the White House was not too concerned with a real possibility of solidarity between Africans and Asians. Rather, evidence suggests that the US really feared that certain Asian countries were using the platform of solidarity in order to achieve Asian self-determination. This of course would undermine US and Western interests in controlling the Asian region and its people. Further, the specter of Asian nationalism and regional cooperation was driven by the specter of cooperation between Asia and the USSR. Ostensibly, the US worried that the platform of Afro-Asian solidarity was really a ruse to turn the Black and Asian worlds into what can crudely be labeled “communist dupes” vis-à-vis a strategic discourse of self-determination and anti-colonialism.

The first post, The Trouble With Transgender Politics, is a bold critique of trans politics. It is one that I often hear discussed iprivately, but there is a lot of fear in the community–even among queers, to take this on publicly.

When I have asked friends why we should politically care about transgender politics, I am often told that we should support people’s ability to transition or express oneself as trans–and have political and legal protection for these transitions/expressions as well as financial resources to facilitate medical processes if need be–because this is who the person “really is.” I interpret this defense of trans politics as suggesting that gender (even if not the gender one was assigned) is “real,” and race is a “construction.” As such, transgender people are supposed to get our progressive support for being able to express who they “really are” and to have their bodies and bodily expressions align with the “true” (gendered) person existing inside.