Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Sexual Baggage & Values

I attended the recent Guttmacher Institute Exchange entitled "Where Do Young People Learn About Sexual Health." There was a panel of six people, four adults and two youth speakers. I'm not going to sit here and rehash the entire panel because you can listen to it online as it was recorded. However, I do want to discuss one specific area that was very much a trigger for me as a sexuality activist, woman of Color, and educator.

The second speaker was William Juzang, the Vice President of Business Development of MEE Productions, a media organization that creates "cost-effective and culturally relevant messages for hard-to-reach urban and ethnic audiences." Juzang presented information from their Black youth sexuality research from 2002 entitled "This is My Reality – The Price of Sex: An Inside Look at Black Youth Sexuality and the Role of the Media." This is a national survey of youth from several cities in the US using both qualitative and quantitative methods.

When I first heard him mention this work I thought "Ok, this research is 7 years old since publication, which means it may be almost 10 years old, but let's see what they found and if anything has changed or stayed the same." I sat and listened to his overview of MEE Productions and how their work is imperative for our community. He addressed how understanding, as educators and communicators, where we are, what our baggage and issues are. I agree with this, but when he said it during his presentation it did not resonate with me until he began to share the findings from the research in their Black youth sexuality research.

On Juzang's second slide which was part of the qualitative focus groups, MEE Productions examined environmental factors that went into how Black youth learn about and are impacted by family, education, media, streets, influence of health care. He read off the list of items youth provided and then he said this:

"Black females are valued by no one."

I can't begin to explain to you the warm feeling I had that filled my body from my head to my toes. I clinched my teeth and tried to hold tears back as I heard him move to his second slide where they examined the statement further. Youth discussed the negative name calling, images seen in videos and other aspects of media, lack of "sisterhood," and women being in limited no win situations.

Data that is almost a decade old and our youth know that Black women are not valued by anyone in their community or outside of it. I've heard so many parents and educators talk about how we want to "protect" our youth from such negative messages, but how is it that regardless of how we raise them there are even more messages they come into contact with that tell the the opposite? How can years and years of work become undone so quickly and in such an intense and stunning way.

I was hurt. I am still hurting. Some may wonder why I am writing about this on a Latino Sexuality website, and that is for several reasons. First, Latinos can be of any race especially with the racial formation that is created and held in the US. Second, do we think this idea and belief (and fact!) that "Black females are valued by no one" excludes any other women of Color? This can clearly be applied to anyone who is considered "Other." Third, this affects all of us. Fourth, I believe we can make the same statement and include men of Color too.

As I listened to the rest of the panel, Juzang being the only Black male on a panel full of White women (the two youth were young people of Color), my palms started to sweat, I found myself restless in my seat, I zoned out and could hear my heart beat through my throbbing ears every time I swallowed my orange juice. i found myself questioning more of the panel's discussions in relation to this one statement Juzang had presented.

When the panel was opened to questions from the audience (there were about 50 people in the room), I put my pen down and put my palms on the side of my legs to absorb the sweat that had been produced. I wondered how I would ask all of my questions, should I comment on what Juzang had mentioned, would someone else bring it up besides me?

Four questions in and nobody brought it up yet. Topics of reaching youth and families who speak Spanish, how to make websites more youth friendly, and ways to reach parents were discussed. I raised my hand and was selected to comment and ask my question.

I warned participants and panelist that I had several questions and one comment. I chose to begin with my comment based on Juzang's research finding. I shared all that I wrote above about not being able to describe the feeling of seeing those words on a screen. I got choked up. I had to pause. I clinched my teeth so that I would not cry or let any tears fall. A few seconds passed and I realized the room was quiet. I looked up and saw Goddesses Rising who had invited me, looking at me with an expression of support, understanding and solidarity. I began to finish my comment and thanked Juzang for reminding me of this no matter how painful it was.

I shared with the group how Juzang's mention of educators and providers needing to understand what baggage we bring to a space resonated with me in a whole new way when this finding was presented. I realized this is my baggage. The fact that in the US I am not valued. My homegirls are not valued. We do not value one another. What kind of educator and activist am I if this is my baggage? How do I try to mask the fact that I know this to my youth? What is available or currently in existence for those of us in this field to regroup, process, and heal so that we can continue to do this work? I realized I do not have such a space and that it is sorely needed (happy hour doesn't count! Plus I'm not a huge drinker).

I've resisted writing this down because it is so painful. To be in a group of people committed to this movement of sexuality and sexual health and to have that ideology at the center of the work I do and there being no discussion of it any further than what I mentioned. I'm hurting.

I don't want to place blame on any one individual, that is not what this is about. It's about how our youth are so much more intuitive and astute than we give them credit for. They know what is going on no matter how much we think they don't. They know more than we think they do. Our youth know.

So, I ask, what is next? What do we do? How does knowing this information change how we work with our youth? How do we change our messaging? Do we discuss how our bodies have been abused, raped, ignored, tested, probed, murdered and how they continue to be? How do we create spaces for us to cope with this reality when we need it to continue the work that we do? I'm open to suggestions as I know a group of activists and educators are in the same situation as I am. We need to preserve not only or spirit, but our bodies, minds, rituals, cultures, families, community. We need to preserve and take care of ourselves and each other. A todo mi gente: I got your back.

Thank you Goddesses Rising for being present when I found myself struggling. Those few seconds gave me all the strength I needed to complete my thoughts and honor our bodies.

1 comment:

  1. La Bianca, te amo mucho. Thank you for being present at the discussion. Your comment resonated even if there was an empty silence. I didn't share this with you but your comment came up in our meeting after the event. My director, a gay man of color, felt your pain...he was moved by you and openly expressed that. I would imagine that many of the other folks of color (and just those of any consciousness) felt the same way. I felt that same anxiety and disgust at those results that "confirm" that we are not valued. I have the same questions. The "lack of sisterhood" bothered me, and does on a daily basis. How can we foster strong relationships among young women in which we build each other up? How can we counteract the media and teach young men and women to work together? How can we create understanding and respect in our communities? It's all completely rhetorical but I think that just having these questions in our consciousness can help us begin to create these spaces, especially since they are currently non-existent or very hidden.
    I appreciate you and your voice. Thank you, Goddess Bianca!