Friday, July 30, 2010

Tattooing As Media

cross posted from my Media Justice column

As summer begins I am often looking forward to the sun kissing all parts of my skin. I can't wait to visit the beach, which is one of the few spaces I find peace of mind and am reminded that there's so many bigger things out there and that my problems are just a small speck of something larger. In addition to this ritual beach trip and the sun kissing my skin, I know I must prepare for another type of exposure: showing my ink.

As a fat sexologist of Color who is also inked and over six feet tall with a disability, there is often an additional element of awareness that my body is being read by others. This is something that has come up for me since I was 18 years old and began to adorn my body with images, words, and symbols that are meaningful to me. As I've aged, I've continued the journey of using my body as a canvas, it sounds cliché, but it's true! There have been many issues that have come up for me as someone who is getting older and my multiple identities intersecting in various spaces have resulted in extremely diverse interactions with people and amazing opportunities to share and create knowledge.

One of the reasons I chose to write about tattooing, or ink as I like to call it, is because I believe that tattooing is a form of creating media. As someone who started their first ever tattoo with symbols and words, I've had a very interesting path to figuring out why and how I want to choose an image or term and on what part of my body I wish to do so. I know today, that just as I put glitter on my camouflage jacket back in the early 90s, that my tattoos also send a message about who I am, what I wish to represent, and how I choose to move my social justice agenda forward.

I have one large tattoo on my upper left arm, which gets me a lot of attention, especially unwanted attention. I've shared this foto with many readers before but as a refresher here it is (this foto is from the Adipositivity Project, read more about why I chose to be an AdiPoser):

While away on a chosen family emergency in my homeland of Puerto Rico last week, there were many people who approached me and had something to say about my ink, specifically this image. It is an image by artist and sex worker Isis Rodriguez. Her series called "My Life As A Comic Stripper," created in 1997 is where this image, No More! is found. One of the many reasons I chose this piece is because of the amazing detail and thoughtfulness behind the art. Not only does Isis challenge stereotypes about Latina (and women of Color's sexuality) and the dichotomy we are often forced to fit into (i.e. the virgin/whore dichotomy), but she is also discussing a new way of being a responsible sexual being.

Introducing the series "My Life As A Comic Stripper," Isis writes on her website:

"My Life as a Comic Stripper" was a cartoon survey that observed the commercial sex industry in relation to society and ourselves. I used cartoons in the editorial manner commenting satirically on exotic dancers, customers, managers and owners, children toy manufacturers and advertisement. Working as an exotic dancer for over 10 years in most of San Francisco's strip clubs, impacted me as an artist and individual. The strip club was a place where I learned of profound humanity. It was there, that I saw the empowerment, the vulnerability, the rewards, the consequences, the drugs, the exploitation, the determination of everyday people.

The experiences she had as a sex worker and student was one I could relate to on numerous levels. Never had I gone into the sex work industry as an undergraduate, but the fact that I wanted to study sexuality from a sociological and anthropological lens (and not a psychological one that pathologizes people and our choices) there was a huge question of my motivations, goals, desires, and expectations to "make money" in such a field. Under the image No More!, Rodriguez writes:

Be careful what you wish for because that ain't no p*&%y between her legs! How does a woman in this industry become liberated from societal stereotypes and the ridiculous expectations of a sex worker?

When people stare at this image on my body it is often with a certain assumption. It is rarely the intense and thought provoking ideologies that guided Isis when she began working on this project. Often the main people who approach me to ask me about the tattoo are people whom I read their gender identity as men. They often assume it is a sexualized message about what kind of lover I am or the image may represent. They are not ready for the actual message. When people get a closer look it's as if that "ah-ha" moment occurs and they each "get it" whether they wanted to or not. Often they don't want to "get it" and are kind of disappointed they just had to learn something. But that's what they get!

The reactions I often get from people whose gender identity I understand to be women, is different. It is rare when I get a woman who approaches me and has supporting, encouraging and/or affirmative things to say, although it does happen and when it does I know the work I do is important. Often there is teeth sucking, eye rolling, "hmmphs" shared, and judgment in the tone as they ask me "now, what's that supposed to mean?" I wonder why there is such a harsh reaction to something that I find so beautiful and affirming. I'm confused how something so liberating is resulting in such rigid disgust. Then I remember that even if the message I am sharing is constructed and that I want to share it in a particular way, that different people have different perspectives. Another principle in media literacy.

There have been a few instances where I have experienced what I would call street harassment. Now I have to admit that it is not often that I find street harassment to be something that I do not desire. I think the fat thing comes into play when people on the street choose to say something to me about the way I look, and often people who speak to me say specific things that are rarely vulgar or unwanted. For example, I have never been told what a person would want to do to me sexually, or that they find a certain body part that is connected to an oversexualized part attractive/desired. Instead, I often have people from the community comment on my hair, my make up, my jewelry, my smile, the way I walk with confidence (and not fear), and of course my ink. I often simply reply with a "thank you" and keep it moving. Rarely have I ever experienced what filmmaker Nuala Cabral has shared and presented in her film "Walking Home."

With that said, since I have begun to show more skin, The warm weather has always resulted in more eyes on my body reading me. Recently while visiting a friend in Manhattan, a man stood behind me and attempted to take a foto with his iphone without my permission. I can't begin to explain to you all how upset and violent I instantly became when I noticed he was doing this without my permission. I quickly slapped the iphone out of his hands and yelled to him: "If you had asked me I would have allowed you to take a picture now erase it." He was so startled and fumbled with trying not to let his cell phone drop that he obliged to my demand quickly and without comment and left in the opposite direction. While in Puerto Rico last week I had a man approach me on the beach asking permission to take a foto of my ink and I granted him that telling him other people have rarely been as honest and courteous as he was.

Then there are the people who think if I have it out people can look and think what they want. I don't disagree with this ideology, where my concern lies is in such people thinking they have the right to speak to me and share their opinion or thoughts. It sounds harsh, but what do I care what a random stranger may think? What makes people think I care about their opinion about my body? Is it that whole "women are supposed to look a certain way" form of socialization that I'm supposed to care what they think because I should? I'm very privileged to not ever having experienced this in public to feel unsafe. Yet, there have been several times I have felt unsafe when someone is hitting on me in a confined space (i.e. a cab driver). There is also a lot of privilege I have to be inked and have that ink in places where others can see and still keep a job in a certain environment.

How many of your professors have ink? Have you seen their ink? I have double digits and I can hide a majority of those pieces, but not all of them. It is rare when I think that because I have a visible tattoo I may not get a job. It is also rare that I worry that if I show my ink I may risk losing my job. And if you don't remember I work at a private Catholic college in the Bronx. Privilege, I have a lot of it!

I asked all my followers on Twitter to tell me their tattoo stories, why they chose the ink they did, what they hope to gain from the experience, and how they see the symbolism and messaging of their ink. I did not get into details about their experiences getting the ink or how they chose to pay for it (which is also a form of privilege) and how they found artists they appreciate. My artist is Louis Barak, a Moroccan Jew from Chicago whom I met in NYC and has a degree in fine art. I immediately fell in love with him when I realized he knew the color wheel and what colors would look amazing together!

My homegirl PazEnLaVida, who is currently crafting her first tattoo, shared that she was getting something that represented her radical woman of Colorness. She said she wanted "either an eagle or a snake. I want to get it on my arm. I want it because I want to mark my body with something that represents who I am. It's something I'm doing for me. To love my identity and link to my community."

My friend PostModernSexGeek shared that her tattoo on her back is the "image/representation of Coatlicue. To remind me of where I came from but also to remind me that I am powerful in my own life. The message for others? Here be Goddess energy, Proceed with caution ;-)"

My other homegirl Bianca, a tattoo enthusiast who is engaged to a tattoo artist, shared that her first tattoo was one that she wanted to mark a "coming of age" on her 16th birthday. Her second was a matching tattoo she got with her high school best friend and her third marked a change in her life. This third tattoo was during a time when she "had gone thru a really bad depression the year I graduated high school. I got the tat to symbolize the pain I overcame. When I added to it, I was closing a chapter in my life & starting new."

For me, when I got this arm tattoo it was in the winter. I knew that I wanted to show it off that following summer and it was one of the many ways I began to appreciate my body. Before getting inked there I did not expose my upper arms thinking they were far too fat and unattractive to expose. When the summer came and I knew I had this ink on my body all of that went away. I was proud of what I looked like, how my body moved and what I felt like when the sun kissed it as it was exposed with no clothing covering it. I was sending messages of appreciating and loving my body and people noticed.

I've had this experience before with other tattoos that I have. For example, since having my disability I've also gotten tattoos that are in the area of my disability and that are representative of the pain and stigma I survive daily. In addition, I've inherited what I call "skin tags" from my father. These are small pieces of skin that form extensions of skin off my body and that are attached to a blood vessel. I have them all over my body and one large one at the back of my neck in the center. I chose to have an image of the Mujer de Caguana, the goddess who is believed to have birthed all the people in the Caribbean (which is why she is squatting in a amphibian like position). I asked that the skin tag be positioned in between her legs to act as either an enlarged clitoris or a penis. I like the idea of having her be a gender-bending goddess. I also like that my hair can cover it and I can share this image when I chose to. It was one way I chose to come to terms with having my skin tags and it has worked!

Although my parents constantly tell me that this was probably the "worst decision I've ever made in my life" (I'm glad that dedicating my life to a sex-positive agenda is not the first one!), I'm happy with the person I've become and the media I continue to make. I do know that there are people who may not see their ink as a form of media, yet I think for many of the people I know and the artists I've worked with it is media, it is art, and, as a past lover has said, art is evolving life. I evolve through my media and my media that is with me wherever I go is my ink.

I've written in the past on things to consider and how to prepare for new ink especially as a way for surviving and healing scars on our body. To read that article, click here. If you are inked, or if you aren't, what are your thoughts about consenting to wearing media on our bodies forever?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Black Girl Project Documentary

I'm on the advisory board for The Black Girl Project and value and love this project and organization with every part of my body, soul and spirit. Please join us for this film screening! Purchase tickets today.

Read more about filmmaker Aiesha Turman.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Media Justice & World Cup Racism

Cross posted from my Media Justice column.

***I began writing this early last week prior to my computer needing repair. It is now a bit dated, but I think it’s a dope read nonetheless!***

While attending my sister’s wedding in DC a few weeks ago I got into a disagreement with my father about the FIFA World Cup. You see, I’ve started to watch the FIFA World Cup and, to the surprise of no one, have been cheering for the African countries with teams. I’ll be honest; I want to see an African team play in the final in South Africa. At the same time I am cheering for teams that are more African than others; i.e. Brasil, Honduras, and Switzerland (I have affectionately named the Black Swiss players: Bliss). Our disagreement came about when I said to him that I think the World Cup can educate and bring to light a lot of social issues and possibly lead to some forms of social change and social justice. He disagreed.

I gave him two examples of how I see the FIFA World Cup being an important space for beginning work around activism, and both have come out of the media. First, the history of FIFA World Cup players speaking out against racism is phenomenal. In 2006 there was an entire campaign regarding ending racism that FIFA World Cup teams and players participated in while in Munich. The themes were “make new friends” and the anti-racism message of “say no to racism.” Granted, the racism message from the last World Cup reminds me of the “just say no [to drugs]” campaign the Reagan Administration promoted; I still find the efforts useful and important.

This is an issue that I find still prevalent today, around the world, not just in the US. Several African and Black players have expressed and shared their personal stories about racism within the sport. Earlier this season, Samuel Eto’o, a player from Cameroon who has played on Italy’s soccer team and other international leagues, has shared his hopes for how the World Cup can begin to shift ideologies about race. He shares:

It's always been a very tough journey for African footballers, and it's still tough today. I suffered a lot. I had to deal with it so often I found ways of making a point against racism.

Eto’o has experienced a huge amount of racism while playing the sport. Here’s an interview he gave discussing his perspective and treatment as a player for Italy:

This film clip has also made the rounds highlighting racism within the FIFA World Cup, not only among players and coaches, but among fans as well. Here we see more of Eto'o and specifically one game where he was the recipient of racial slurs and name-calling while on the field. Additionally, we hear more Black and African players share their testimonies as well. The clip is pretty intense and may trigger some things for some viewers so please take this as a TRIGGER WARNING:

When my homegirl Angel responded to this video she asked something along the lines of: "why does the US newscaster think people living in the US would not understand the instances of racism occurring abroad?" I have to ask myself the same question. It's such an erroneous and ethnocentric way of viewing the rest of the world! Assuming that those of us living in the “post-racial” US experience no more racism or any –ism for that matter is a false idea of what role we play in creating and sustaining racism and xenophobia (and other -isms) around the world.

I then shared with my dad what my homegirl Maegan wrote about regarding Brasil and if they go to the final for the FIFA World Cup. She shared that Newsweek published a story regarding Brasil’s communal celebration and support for their team if they went to the final. Author Mac Margolis asks the question "What does it mean that so many in the global workforce grind to a halt during the most-watched sports event in the world?" Margolis opens with some complaints about the early closing of a bank he uses and the potential that his daughter’s kindergarten class may be canceled if Brasil makes it to a certain level of the FIFA World Cup.

I share Maegan's sentiments about this story as she writes:

No word on the positive community of futbol fans watching the games. Everything has to be monetized and have a value placed on it (as if the futbol industry in and of itself weren’t lucrative enough). This perspective is no accident, Brazil and Chile both have been centered in South America as examples of democratic and economic success following years of military dictatorships. This doesn’t erase the reality of the widening gap between rich and poor in either place.

And I am especially thinking of Brazil now that floods in the Northeast have killed at least 41 and disappeared at least 1,000. About 100,000 have been left homeless.

I'd like to also add how many US researchers and scholars from around the world have looked to Brasil as an important way to examine race. Most recently I read an article by scholar Howard Winant, of Racial Formation In The United States: From the 1960s to the 1990s fame. Winant examines what we know about the current racial situation (classifications, census data collection, identity politics, and intersections of class, color, race and gender) in Brasil. His article: Rethinking Race In Brazil examines the literature (and it is vast) and asks some questions about progress.

By Sunday, in the Netherlands versus Spain final for the FIFA World Cup, I find myself cheering for team Netherlands simply because of my Pan-African bias. When the four teams left in the FIFA World Cup were primarily European I know many of my friends and peers lost interest. They started to call the game the "European Cup." I know this sentiment very well.

At the end of the day and at the beginning of the FIFA World Cup Final, I decided I really didn’t care. I took a nap in the middle of the game, but before I did I sent a tweet saying that team Netherlands is more diverse than team Spain and that makes me choose sides. Putting on my sexologist hat, I appreciated the role the Netherlands plays in a worldwide platform regarding sexuality education, access to contraception, policies on sex work, same gender marriage, and I dig their ‘multi-party system’ of politics. Yet as an activist, I don’t forget the colonization both countries have engaged in all over the world.

I had a lot of these thoughts as I watched the World Cup and I know I can’t be alone. My homegirl Maegan was using the World Cup as an opportunity to teach her children about the history of the world, specifically colonization by both countries. This is why she’s a radical Mamí of Color and a “Mamita Mala.” Imagine what education could be like if these conversations occurred and we challenged our thinking on how sports defines nationalism and embodies forms of liberation and communal celebration. This is what I tried to convey to my father. He wasn’t trying to hear it. At least he wasn’t at that time, but I know he’ll hear it in another way at another time.

Finally, my hope for the World Cup is that with all the vuvuzela jokes, I do hope people become more comfortable saying vulva as opposed to all the other botched up words people use. A femme can dream can’t she?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

How We Treat Inter-sexed Babies Part 1

This article is cross posted from my blog at RH Reality Check

**The title to this article was changed. It was originally titled: Caring For Clitorises"

Recently there has been a burst of discussion regarding unethical and questionable research conducted in the United States on babies whose assigned sex at birth was female but who were born with enlarged clitorises. Many of these stories shared outrage over the practice of shortening the babies clitorises, and most especially about the ethics surrounding the “follow-up” examination conducted by Dr. Dix P. Poppas.

When I first heard about the article Bad Vibrations written by Drs. Alice Dreger and Ellen K. Feder it came to me from a good friend who had introduced me to several activists working in Africa around female genital mutilation and ritual cutting practices. As I read the article I had a few problems with the responses and writing about Dr. Dix P. Poppas who was shortening (i.e. cutting) the clitorises and following up with the young children as they aged.

My issues are as follows: 1. This is not a new practice in the United States, 2. The “professionals” quoted were not people who were the best to be quoted on the topic, and 3. How/When will the outrage presented lead to action? I will share each of these positions and discuss them in depth over three posts. I’m doing this because I tend to write a lot because I have a lot to say and want to make sure readers don’t get overwhelmed reading the screen! Today, I’ll focus on issue number one: This is not a new practice in the United States.

In the United States it is common practice for physicians to examine the genitalia of newborn babies. It is also not an unusual practice to measure the size of a baby’s clitoris. I remember in my master’s program in human sexuality education, one of my professors sharing with our class the device (basically a “ruler”) that is used to measure a newborn child’s external genitalia (clitoris, penis, testicles). I’ll admit I was shocked at this. I asked a friend, Pierrette Mimi Poinsett MD FAAP and board certified in pediatrics since 1992, who is a pediatric physician the name of the device and she told me there are multiple ways that physicians are trained to measure such body parts. She said that “actually the rulers we use to read TB skin tests - very small, also one can use calipers.”

In the book Adolescent Health Care: A Practical Guide by Lawrence S. Neinstein, Catherine M. Gordon, Debra K. Katzman, David S. Rosen and Elizabeth R. Woods, published in 2008, Chapter 58 on "Hirsutism and Virilization" states that for a physical examination for signs of virilization practitioners shall:

Check clitoral diameter or index. A clitoral diameter >5 mm is abnormal and is a measurement that can be easily followed up. The clitoral index is the product of the vertical and horizontal dimensions of the glans. The normal range is 9-35 mm, a clitoral index >100 mm suggests a serious underlying disorder (page 750).

If you have not yet read Sexing The Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality by Anne Fausto-Sterling, add that to your summer reading list as soon as possible! I’m using chapter 3 of the book: Of Gender And Genitals: The Use And Abuse Of The Modern Intersexual this summer in my Sociology of Human Sexuality course I am teaching.

In the text Fausto-Sterling discusses what unfortunately happens all too often to babies born with “ambiguous genitalia” or as Fausto-Sterling says, “mixed genitals.” Fausto-Sterling writes:

“Oddly, the contemporary practice of ‘fixing’ intersex babies immediately after birth emerged from some surprisingly flexible theories of gender. In the 1940s, Albert Ellis studied eighty-four cases of mixed births and concluded that ‘while the power of the human sex drive may possibly be largely dependent on psychological factors…the direction of this drive does not seem to be directly dependent on constitutional elements.’ In other words, in the development of masculinity, femininity, and inclinations toward homo-or heterosexuality, nurture matters a great deal more than nature. A decade later, the Johns Hopkins psychologist John Money and his colleagues, the psychiatrists John and Joan Hampson, took up the study of intersexuals, whom Money realized, would, ‘provide invaluable material for the comparative study of bodily form and physiology, rearing, and psychosexual orientation.’ … They concluded that gonads, hormones, and chromosomes did not automatically determine a child’s gender role.

“Today, despite the general consensus that intersexual children must be corrected immediately, medical practice in these cases varies enormously. No national or international standards govern the types of intervention that may be used. Many medical schools teach the specific procedures discussed in this book, but individual surgeons make decisions based on their own beliefs and what was current practice when they were in training—which may or may not concur with the approaches published in cutting-edge medical journals. Whatever treatment they chose, however, physicians who decide how to manage intersexuality act out of, and perpetuate, deeply held beliefs about male and female sexuality, gender roles, and the (im)proper place of homosexuality in normal development.” (p. 46-48).

I share these quotes with you because, although the babies whose sex assigned at birth as female had one of the most common types of intersexuality--congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH)--the determination of their sex came from what their genitals looked like. These quotes also demonstrate the decades of research and “work” physicians have done with and on human patients. The decisions by physicians are embedded in paradigms that run deep and that overlap with how intersexuality and “mixed-sex” people are seen as needing to be “fixed” to live a “normal” life.

Many people commenting on this study expressed confusion and disgust with how parents have chosen to have their children clitoris’ cut/shortened/operated on. Fausto-Sterling’s discussion of parental consent and information is that:

“[d]octors, because they generally view intersex births as urgent cases, are unaware of available resources themselves, and because the medical research is scanty, often simply tell parents that the condition is extremely rare and therefore there is nobody in similar circumstances with whom they can consult. Both answers are far from the truth” (p 51).

This is an institutionalized practice. I’ve discussed with many friends and colleagues in the field of sexuality and sexual science the need to train doctors and practitioners on various aspects of human sexuality. Of course, this “training” has rarely been provided, and when it is provided, it comes from people whom many advocates today would consider as perpetuating a rigid and dichotomous ideology about gender and how genitals are supposed to look. When I discuss genitals with my students I use a popular analogy that vulvas and penises are like faces. Many have the same parts and work in similar ways but they all look different, not always the same.

I’m an advocate of having sexologists who do not have medical degrees train doctors on how to work with and speak to families of children born with genitalia they would consider different. In addition, I think it’s also a good idea to have people who have become adults and were categorized as intersex speak with providers and share their histories and experiences.

In part three I will discuss advocacy efforts by various groups in the U.S. and abroad surrounding this topic and provide references and resources to their work and activism. The questions in part three will include: How can we learn and build from past efforts to create change within our communities while also producing knowledge to help shift rigid ideas about genitals and gender?

Part two will focus on who is considered worthy of quoting as an “expert” and how that affects our ability to acquire and create knowledge. Who is included and excluded and what limitations exist? How do we hold our “experts” accountable when the work they do continues to harm and hurt our communities?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Media Makers Salon: Nuala Cabral

cross posted from my Media Justice column

This is the second interview in a series of interviews with various media makers who have agreed to share with us their motivations, process and hopes for the media they create. Read the first interview with youth media maker Espie Hernandez.

Earlier this month my homegirl Jaz posted a video on Facebook called “Walking Home.” I watched the video and immediately shared it with people in my community. The responses were amazing and affirming of the video. “Walking Home” presents an interdisciplinary story of the street harassment women experience. I wrote a quick post about this film hoping a dialogue would begin among educators about how to use the film effectively in a classroom or with youth, especially young men. Take a moment to watch the video:

I reached out to filmmaker Nuala Cabral who agreed to a virtual interview about her film(s). In my communication with Nuala I asked if she would give me permission to use her film in my class. She was very supportive of her film being used by community members and in various spaces to produce discussion and education. My class in which I use her film is coming up next week and I’m very eager to hear how my students respond to her film. I encourage you all to please share here with Nuala your thoughts about her film as well! Below are her responses about her motivations in making the film, hopes for it’s use, future work, and media justice.

1. What were some of your goals in creating this film?

I wanted to shed light on a personal and universal issue so I say that I created it for the walkers, the talkers and those who say nothing. For the walkers, it is an effort to honor and reclaim our humanity in the public sphere. I want those who identify with this experience to know that they are not alone in their frustration, fear and feelings of powerlessness. I think many of us have grown to accept street harassment. This film attempts to question and disrupt that acceptance and the pervasive silence around these everyday interactions.

2. What makes this an “experimental piece” for you in comparison to your previous work?

Most of my previous work fits in the documentary or music video genres. This piece combines poetry, music, video and film. I call it experimental because it does not easily fit in one category.

3. How do you go about choosing the music and poetry in this film? Did you write the poem yourself?

I wrote the poem and my friends added the parts about the meaning and significance of their names. After seeing a rough cut of Walking Home my friend April King, a talented drummer and emcee, sent me songs that she thought would work well. I wanted the music to give an edgy feel that enhances the words and the images… I didn’t want the music to distract; I wanted it to add intensity.

4. What have been some responses to the film since you have shared it?

After watching the film some men have admitted that they hadn’t really thought about what goes through a woman’s head when she experiences street harassment. One friend wrote “it made me feel uncomfortable (in a really effective, good way).” A few men have told me that the film has made them rethink the way they approach women.

The majority of responses I have received have come from women who relate to this experience. One woman commented ”I felt my blood pressure rise and my body tense as I watched the film and re-lived so many of those same moments captured in the film. By the end, I just wanted to scream… I think had I seen this when I was younger, I would have been able to identify harrassment (sic) and not hold myself responsible for how others reacted to me.”

I received an email from a woman that I have never met who wrote about how her father’s constant catcalls to women on the street affected her and her sister. She wrote, “your work brought to the forefront of my mind for the first time in many years that hurt, that anger which was never addressed and never healed. It really moved me, exactly what great art does.

These words inspire and motivate me as an artist. They remind me that I am not just creating art for my own journey towards healing and growth. Others are on this journey too and art helps connect and sustain us on this journey.

5. Do you see yourself as a media maker? How do you see creating media as fitting into a larger social justice agenda you have?

Yes. I view media as a powerful tool for social change and I see myself and other artists as potential change agents. I want my work to reveal humanity and complexities that are overlooked. I hope to create media that fosters understanding and dialogue among people who rarely communicate. I want my work to inspire people to connect and become change agents in their own communities.

6. Will you share with us how you began creating films and media?

When I was in 7th grade I began documenting my life at school with a tape recorder and this continued through high school. In college I upgraded to a video camera. However, it was not until I took a video production course my last year of undergrad studies, that I began to see video as more than a hobby. Screening my first documentary, “Who’s that Girl: Women of color and hip hop” to audiences around the country was a transformative experience that greatly shaped me as a media maker and activist. This film also introduced me to the world of media literacy, a field where I can fuse my passion for media analysis with media production.

7. For readers who are seeking to create similar media for their communities, what would you like to share from your experience?

I started shooting films with those around me— my family and my peers. I used the simple equipment that I had access to; I didn’t wait for fancy equipment or lots of money. I began to think about the issues that were important to me and the messages I wanted to communicate. As a filmmaker I have learned that addressing an issue alone is often not enough, however. Good films involve good stories that make people feel something. I have also learned a lot from mentors and community resources, such as Third World Newsreel in New York City and the Scribe Video Center in Philadelphia.

I have also learned that it is extremely helpful to build relationships with those who share a passion for the issues I want to address. For example, Holla Back, ( a digital project that seeks to expose and counter street harassment, widened my audience for Walking Home when they posted my films on their blog. When it comes to grass-root media making, building these kinds of relationships is critical.

8. One of the comments I made at the RH Reality Check post was if same gender street harassment was different, and if so how. What are your thoughts about this form?

I would argue that there are both similarities and differences. I think power/powerlessness has much to do with street harassment and gender dynamics and other aspects of identity play into this. For example, as a woman I may feel more threatened by street harassment when it comes from a man. It’s interesting and important to recognize the interplay of race, gender, class and sexuality when looking at street harassment or any social issue really.

9. What future projects are you working on?

I am currently working on a multi-media project called FAAN Mail (Fostering Activism and Alternatives Now) with several women writers, scholars, artists and activists. This project has elements of media literacy, media activism and media justice and is designed to promote critical audiences, alternatives, and accountability in the media. Our website is currently under development, but we do have a facebook page.

10. What does Media Justice mean and look like to you? What responsibility do viewers and consumers have in your opinion?

To me, media justice is about promoting equality and fairness in the media. It raises questions about access to information and the quality of that information. It raises questions about who gets to produce and distribute the information we consume and who is omitted from this process. I think we as viewers and consumers share a significant responsibility to be aware and critical about the media we consume. However, I recognize that this is difficult to do. It is difficult to think critically about the things that we consume, particularly when these things give us pleasure. This is further complicated when young people are taught to consume media but not taught to think critically about it. This is where the need for media literacy in schools comes in.

We should not expect media producers and owners to work towards media justice on their own. We as audiences and consumers can support this movement or impede it and ultimately I believe we must work together for change.

11. If readers want to contact you what is the best way to reach you?

My email is