Saturday, August 7, 2010

Representing Ourselves

cross posted from my media justice column

I have several friends who have taken this summer to decide that they will begin writing blogs. Many of them are amazing writers and I’m excited to share their work with you when they get themselves and their blogs together! One of the reasons I’m so excited about this is because they are creating media on their own and representing themselves. They will learn so much about their own thought process, evolve in their writing, and learn all they need to about moderating comments!

Representing ourselves in the media is a huge part of why I love the Internets and I promise, I promise, I promise a post on net neutrality is coming! Although the Internet is available, self publishing on the rise, and zines still extremely popular, there are people who do not have the opportunity to create media that represents themselves. There is still a huge lack of resources and access, millions of stories that are not told, thousands of people who want to share, and no outlet to support or give them that opportunity.

I began to think about this when I read the book Lady Q: The Rise And Fall Of A Latin Queen, written by Reymundo Sanchez and Sonia Rodriguez. The story is the testimony of Sonia, who while in the Latin Kings/Queens went by the name Lady Q. As Lady Q, Sonia became the Queen of all Kings, one of the highest ranking Latin Queens. She shared her story with Reymundo, who is the author of “My Bloody Life” and “Once A King Always A King,” where he shares his life stories and experiences as a Latin King who left the life.

Reymundo reached out to Sonia because he wanted to share a women’s perspective on leadership and gang involvement. I reviewed the book and you may read my full review here. One of my many critiques and issues of the book is that Sonia’s voice seems forced and not always centered in the text. In addition, Reymundo is extremely critical of Sonia and her choices to live her life, survive abuse, neglect, drug abuse and sexual violence. This made the text extremely problematic for me. I shared in my review:

Yet, I can’t get past the idea of a man writing a woman’s testimony. This bothers me and I have yet to find the exact language that can help contextualize this perspective but I will try.

Men writing our stories is nothing new. In fact it is so tired I knew before reading the book that I would have an issue with this aspect of the text. There is something so innately paternalistic about this that it is enraging. I’m not clear why there is a desire to write our stories for us, versus creating a space where we have the opportunity to write our own stories without having a man claim some level of that ability or accomplishment. I should rephrase: I understand why there is a desire, because there is a level of stature, a “look a the wonderful gift I gave her,” the adoration and odd respect given to such men who do this work. What level of input did she have in the creation of the actual text? Was she a part of the creation or did she just get a final draft?

First, I am concerned that Reymundo gets the first author credit and this bothers me. This is something that happens often in the publishing industry and even in academic and formal writing spaces: the author who did the “most work” gets their name first on a publication. Yet, if all Reymundo did was transcribe Sonia’s story, why does he get first author’s credit? It is her story to tell and share yet for some reason he has taken her story and claimed it as his own in a sense.

If there was ever an example of patriarchy and how men of Color have benefited from it and continue to use their male privilege in our patriarchal US society to oppress women of Color and very clearly/overtly take away our voices this is one of them. I shared:

Then there was the ending, when we hear Reymundo’s voice again in first person, providing an update on Sonia and her situation. I found this part of the book most troubling and condescending. Not only is Reymundo discussing how Sonia’s living environment has not changed and she has not decided to leave her hometown, but he also judges her choices to stay near her daughter and grandchildren. He argues that the only way to get out of the life completely is to remove oneself from the community entirely. This means relocate to another state altogether.

My concern with this discussion and perspective is that it takes away Sonia’s self-determination by judging her choices. Hasn’t Sonia been judged her entire life? Why continue this under the guise of helping her? How is this any different from the abuse and neglect she endured and survived as a child? There are ways to be firm and honest with people without belittling them and harm reductionists have been working to master such approaches for decades.

Part of me is super frustrated with the idea that Sonia may be extremely grateful to Reymundo for taking her story, judging her, and now seeking to create possible films from her story. Another part of me is glad that she has found someone who, even with constraints, has listened to her. I know all too well what it feels like to have and need someone listen to you, to witness your life and your memories. That is a gift we can give people each day.

It is this gift that I wish to give to my friends who have begun to write blogs this summer. The gift of reading and commenting on their blogs and on the writing they produce. As we write and post comments here at Amplify let’s be mindful and remember that there are so many brilliant and amazing stories that are not being told, stories and narratives that are being taken and claimed by others as theirs, and that there is still a lot of work to do to have the media represent us as individuals, but also us as collective communities of practice. What’s in our agenda to make sure others can represent themselves?

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