My friends and I created an impromptu space for discussion earlier today. Originally, I was talking to one friend about worries she had about a romantic interest to whom I introduced her. Soon, another friend of ours came along and moving away from the personal topic, we started talking, venting, exchanging ideas about life. We talked about so much—we went from talking about majors and financial security to personal philosophy to the role of school in shaping and developing personal philosophy to talking about how families shape our personality and values, all the while critically analyzing various aspects of our responses. We were in our impromptu space—a wide, open hallway in front of an elevator—for about two hours. So eventually, we sat down in a crude circle.
So picture it, three women of color created a space for themselves in an Ivy League university to talk about their personal lives. Given it wasn’t a private space, nor was it completely polite to sit so close to the elevator, there was space enough for people to walk around us. Recognizing and respecting our space, most people did.
One white guy, however, walked—purposefully—right between us. He stepped over my friends legs, without saying excuse me, without acknowledging he came in contact with another person. And it greatly angered me. I had to stop our heart-to-heart conversation to rant for a few minutes. This one occurrence is an epitome of the lack of respect white men in particular have for spaces occupied by women of color.
The feeling of entitlement is so pervasive among white men. They learn that the whole world is basically handed to them from a young age. This is especially true for rich/upper class white men found at prestigious universities such as Columbia. Although there was more than enough space for white guy to walk around us, he felt entitled to have access to our space. He physically inserted himself and disrupted our conversation and our space. He had such a lack of respect for three women of color that he felt he didn’t feel the need to take 10 extra seconds in his trip to walk around us. There was a marginally shorter path and as a rich, white man, he was entitled to that path regardless of the people he would literally have to step over to pass it.
I note now, that I made eye contact with him before he interrupted us and he had a spiteful look in his eye.
Basic manners dictates that you don’t step over another being if there isn’t a need. Basic manners also dictates that if unavoidable, you say “Excuse me,” and either wait for the person to adjust themselves so you can move or until they acknowledge that they are not in a position to move and you can step over them. Basic manners is not something that is taught to the rich, white male.
The same entitlement they feel to spaces occupied by women of color is the same entitlement they feel to the bodies of women of color, is the same entitlement they feel to the work of women of color (whether creative, emotional or physical).
Simply because it is present, it must be present for them and their use.
I have an unpaid internship for a non-profit that makes documentaries. And their most recent documentary is about conditional cash transfers in Latin America as a method of reducing poverty. My job is to research themes related to the documentary and compile links for an educational packet.
But what I noticed is that we never talk about race. It isn’t a related theme. And at first I was thinking “This isn’t about race, this is about poverty and the women in poverty.” But just as poverty disproportionately affects women, it disproportionately affects black and indigenous people in Latin America. A related theme is the “feminization of poverty” but not the racialization of poverty.
Which is interesting, considering a lot of the links I find point out that black people, especially, face the brunt of poverty in Latin America. All the people I work with are white, some are Latino, yes, but still white. I just find it interesting how race isn’t a related theme although race is just as related to poverty and gender is. I also find it interesting how I refused to acknowledge their neglect of this topic until now. Hm.
thank you so much! this means a lot coming from you, i love your work soo much!!
their high school principal
told me I couldn’t teach
poetry with profanity
so I asked my students,
“Raise your hand if you’ve heard of the Holocaust.”
in unison, their arms rose up like poisonous gas
then straightened out like an SS infantry
“Okay. Please put your hands down.
Now raise your hand if you’ve heard of the Rwandan genocide.”
blank stares mixed with curious ignorance
a quivering hand out of the crowd
half-way raised, like a lone survivor
struggling to stand up in Kigali
“Luz, are you sure about that?”
“That’s what I thought.”
they won’t let you hear the truth at school
if that person says “fuck”
can’t even talk about “fuck”
even though a third of your senior class
I can’t teach an 18-year-old girl in a public school
how to use a condom that will save her life
and that of the orphan she will be forced
to give to the foster care system—
“Carlos, how many 13-year-olds do you know that are HIV-positive?”
“Honestly, none. But I do visit a shelter every Monday and talk with
six 12-year-old girls with diagnosed AIDS.”
while 4th graders three blocks away give little boys blowjobs during recess
I met an 11-year-old gang member in the Bronx who carries
a semi-automatic weapon to study hall so he can make it home
and you want me to censor my language
“Carlos, what’s genocide?”
your books leave out Emmett Till and Medgar Evers
call themselves “World History” and don’t mention
King Leopold or diamond mines
call themselves “Politics in the Modern World”
and don’t mention Apartheid
“Carlos, what’s genocide?”
you wonder why children hide in adult bodies
lie under light-color-eyed contact lenses
learn to fetishize the size of their asses
and simultaneously hate their lips
my students thought Che Guevara was a rapper
from East Harlem
still think my Mumia t-shirt is of Bob Marley
how can literacy not include Phyllis Wheatley?
schools were built in the shadows of ghosts
filtered through incest and grinding teeth
molded under veils of extravagant ritual
“Carlos, what’s genocide?”
“Roselyn, how old was she? Cuántos años tuvo tu madre cuando se murió?”
“My mother had 32 years when she died. Ella era bellísima.”
they’ve moved from sterilizing “Boriqua” women
injecting indigenous sisters with Hepatitis B,
now they just kill mothers with silent poison
stain their loyalty and love into veins and suffocate them
Ridwan’s father hung himself
in the box because he thought his son
was ashamed of him
Maureen’s mother gave her
skin lightening cream
the day before she started the 6th grade
she carves straight lines into her
beautiful brown thighs so she can remember
what it feels like to heal
“Carlos, what’s genocide?”
this right here…
“I don’t want you to think I’m cute. I want you to think I’m powerful, fierce. I want you to see the movement brewing inside of me. I want you to see more than thick thighs, I want you to think “She could crush my head between her thighs if she so desired.” Don’t tell me I’m cute, tell me my voice is important and that I need a larger platform. I’m over wanting people to see me as attractive, see me as a human being, with a will to change the world.”
I’m so fucking tired of people attempting to be representative and missing by a long shot. Representation is not one dark skin black woman, or one fat white woman. These feelings came from watching Colbie Caillat’s video for “Try.” The video features many women, removing make up from their faces and showing off their hair how it naturally is. While I appreciate the concept behind the video that you don’t have to try to look beautiful because you naturally are, I feel like the video didn’t change anything or wasn’t revolutionary in any way. Is is really that extraordinary for a thin, white woman to accept herself without makeup and hair extensions? Personally, I feel like to change things and to be revolutionary, you have to make a lot of people feel uncomfortable. Yes, this goes for concepts of beauty too.
Firstly, most of the women in the video were white, or white-passing, or at least light-skinned. She included one skinny dark skin black woman with natural hair, one skinny bald woman, one (or a few) skinny red headed woman, a couple skinny women with freckles, and a fat white woman with blonde hair and blue eyes. I appreciate the sentiment, I really do. But if your idea of beauty is one degree away from what is normally presented as beauty under this white supremacist system then I really don’t want it.
Beauty in women is marketed and presented as being white, and thin with long, blonde hair and blue eyes. So the one black woman is still thin and has medium length hair. The one fat woman has blonde hair and blue eyes. The one bald woman is white and thin.
What about every one else? What about the other shapes, sizes, and colors women come in? What about transwomen, women who aren’t feminine, women with disabilities?
This is a reoccurring trend where people think they add one black woman, or one fat, white woman and it’s representation. It’s not. It isn’t anywhere close to true representation. I refuse to be complacent with acceptance and representation as a gradual, step by step, degree by degree thing. I want it all, and I will fight for it all.
But honestly, I’m really not surprised. I don’t really expect anyone that benefits from a white supremacist, cisheterosexist, patriarchal, capitalist system to present revolutionary, inclusive beauty. This supposed “progress” we’re making is much too slow.
If there’s only one thing I learned so far this summer, it’s that I need to speak up. I’ve been so afraid of speaking up and using my voice when I’m in unfamiliar places and with unfamiliar people. I learned that people will abuse me for not speaking up for myself.
I read a quote by Audre Lorde, that inspired me to want to talk, to speak for myself and to inspire people to talk for themselves. “What’s the worse that can happen?” she asks.
Sometimes when I’m really passionate I fear speaking will make me cry, and I suppress my voice, and I suppress my tears. But tears are human, some people may question why I was crying, but they’ll forget eventually. I think I need to remind myself that the interactions I remember are not the interactions other people will remember. I need to let more things go. I need to not be angered so easily. I strayed a bit from my main point but these are things that will help me speak up. I think I should be more compassionate and understanding. Care more for people.
But before I care for other people, I have to properly care for myself and that involves speaking more, even if I feel it isn’t something groundbreaking or revolutionary. The more I talk the more comfortable I will be talking about the more controversial things when they arise. Suppressing my voice will not work if I plan on making a difference anywhere. Sometimes my voice is the most important thing I have, and if I don’t use it then what’s the point? I will lose nothing if I speak up, and if I do, then it was never meant to be mine anyway.