Friday, September 30, 2011

Media Literacy At Work

cross posted from my Media Justice column

It’s been a while since I wrote about using media literacy skills, one important step towards understanding and creating media justice. I really enjoy this article by Elizabeth Thoman at the Center for Media Literacy as it outlines what media literacy is and its various components. As I wondered what to write about this week, I realized that I had been thinking about a segment I watched this weekend on 60 minutes. I’ve decided to share some of my questions and analysis to show how I use my media literacy skills to examine the media I’m consuming. One of the things I’d like to highlight is that different people experience the same media message differently and I know this may occur and I welcome it. So, if you have a different or other response to the media please share it! I wrote this article before writing this introduction, so there may be a more conversation style of writing below.

Did ya’ll see this past Sunday’s 60 Minutes? It had some interesting stories. One on a white supremacist militia leader who was murdered at close range by his 10 year old son (not on the rise of white supremacist militias). Another story was about the creators of South Park, but it was the first story about NYC Police Commissioner Ray Kelly speaking about what the NYPD have done since September 11th, 2001 to make the city “safer.” Here’s the entire segment to watch (sorry no transcript). I found myself using a lot of my media literacy skills and focusing on media justice at the same time. The story is called “Fighting Terrorism in New York City.”

It’s important for readers to know that when I watched this I was with a group of racially Black New Yorkers who ranged in age from mid-thirties to mid-sixties (I being one of the youngest folks there). All of us identify as radically left leaning as well and I’m sure others may identify us as “radicals.” As we watched, I had a LOT to say, but said it mostly under my breath as the room was very silent as we sat and watched. I want to share some of my personal thoughts as well as some of the conversations that occurred during commercial breaks.

One of the first things discussed was the mispronunciation of the word “hierarchical” by Commissioner Kelly and then followed by the journalist. This occurs at the 2:42 mark if you want to go back and hear. We wondered what does that mean when the journalist, who probably knows the proper way of pronouncing that term, mirrors what their interview subject states, even if it’s wrong? Is this a good thing? A sign that the journalist was listening and centering the interviewer? Or is this poor choice? I’m still not sure where I’m at on this because often I think when folks mirror slang or terms that a community has created, especially when youth-centered, it becomes almost a performance of that term/word when it is mirrored. What do others think?

The counter terrorism division that was created in NYC was the focus of the segment. As I shared in a previous post regarding coping and healing during September 11th, I was here in NYC at the time, and have returned and witness first hand the work of the counter terrorism division. In the beginning of the segment we are told that NYPD are “armed like soldiers” and they are! Now, seeing ginormous guns in the hands of NYPD where I may go in the city does not make me personally feel more safe. Instead it actually makes me more tense. It triggers memories I have of visiting Puerto Rico during one of the height of the US war on drugs in the early 1990s where military occupied Puerto Rico and armed military men were pulling over random cars and searching them. This is a jarring experience to have and witness at any age. Yet, this is what may spaces such as Penn Station has turned into in NYC.

In the piece we learn that the NYPD is working with the secret service, military, FBI, federal emergency management, state and local first responders, but not the CIA. The absence of the CIA was something we discussed as well. Reports citing that the NYPD has been working with the CIA since 2002 are not new. What may be new is that folks didn’t realize this is not something the CIA is allowed to do: collect information/spy on “Americans” (I put “Americans” in quotes because America is NOT just the US, geographically speaking America includes Canada, the US, Central and South America. Yet, when people in the US use it, the purposes are primarily to mean US citizens or people living in the continental US. I put this note here because it is important to show that even the media we consume don’t always get it “right” or craft language in a particular way. Language is powerful!) Yet, this is exactly what has been done for almost 10 years. Currently the CIA is investigating the legality of working with the NYPD to focus on Muslim communities.

$3 billion has been spent to prepare NYPD for “every kind of threat” including having the ability to “take down a plane.” This includes training assault teams in specific ways like the hostage situation in a subway car we were shown. But, I wondered: why are there NO dummies or masses that could be people in that space, which is the reality of subway cars in NYC? How is this a good training simulation without having the knowledge that folks may be occupying space, screaming, terrified? This reminds me of the Maryland driving test where you take the driving test in a closed parking lot versus on the road where people actually drive in real life in this country!

Another part of the segment I struggled with was how it is impossible to walk a block in lower Manhattan without being monitored. There are currently 2000 cameras and soon to be 3000 that feed into the system created to monitor us. This alone a $150 million project. The artificial intelligence created, we are told, can identify packages that are left in a place too often (as we have been socialized for ten years to “if you see something say something” yet often there are no ways for us to “say something” until we are off the subway and find an employee, which the MTA has limited due to financial burdens). Now, the technology can also identify the description of a person. The example used was a person wearing a red shirt, but I wondered how sophisticated this was, as in would it racially profile people as well? This reminded me of the movement of young men of Color wearing white t-shirts all over their communities to make racial profiling harder for officers. I also wonder, if it can identify people why do we still have so many missing person’s reports in that area? Oh, right this is only for counter terrorism.....

And that counter terrorism effort is not just in the US, it’s abroad, where other NYPD are located. They are said to be “gathering intelligence all over the world” including Jordan, France, Madrid, Tel Aviv, London, Toronto, Singapore, and Dominican Republic. From a globalization perspective these countries must have agreed to have these folks placed in their country right? Well, that’s not stated, but i would like to think that’s the case and Commissioner Kelly would have not discussed things in this way if they were not agreed upon through a collaboration between nations.

The parts of the segment that I’ve also experienced where when NYPD signal subway cars to stop so that they can eyeball every passenger before letting the train go. Many folks may say all of these things are efforts to keep us safe, that who cares if we are a few minutes late for whatever we are going to do. But this is still racial profiling! What exactly are these officers looking for, or whom? What is considered a suspicious package or person? I really do still believe this is a form of institutionalized Islamaphobia.

One of the aspects of the counter terrorism efforts that the journalist was impressed by was one that I found to be deeply troubling. This was the NYPD Cricket group that consists of 12 teams and 200 Pakistani youth. The officer who coordinated the league stated that cricket is national pastime of Pakistan. Yet, cricket is also the sport in many Caribbean countries, so why the focus on Pakistani youth? Journalist stated that “Hundreds of Muslim immigrant parents have kids playing for the NYPD.” This is impressive to our journalist and media providers? This leaves me frustrated.

Finally, this whole conversation about being “lucky” in catching the bomb that was in Times Square last year. That wasn’t because of the $3 billion training or technology, that was luck? So then how do we know any of this will actually ever work for reasons it’s been created? We just heard a 12 minute discussion and presentation on how this new approach is great and impressive, yet we are still holding onto luck. Again, I don’t feel any more safe after watching this segment.

I learned that the US and NYPD define terrorism in a very rigid and specific way. Terrorism is not connected to the number of rapes, domestic violence, or hate crimes that are committed often by US citizens towards and upon other US citizens. Oh the irony of it all! What would our society (at least in lower Manhattan) look like if these resources shifted to social issues and experiences that a larger group of people experience and are impacted by? What more are we willing to give up regarding privacy and safety for a city and government counter terrorism plan of action? We’ve learned that the Patriot Act has resulted in more arrests for drugs (over 1500) than for terrorism (15).

What are your thoughts about how counter terrorism efforts have been presented and shared in our communities? Are there other aspects that came up for you while reading and watching the clip? If you live outside NYC what are ways your communities have seen counter terrorism efforts? What are the advantages and challenges experienced?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

What I Learned When I Made My First Zine

cross posted from my Media Justice column

I made my first zine ever in life over last weekend. It became the program for entrepreneur, author, and artist Erika Lopez’s east coast The Welfare Queen tour that is on limited run in NYC for Latino Heritage Month. Erika had given me all of her hard drives that had all of her artwork on them and that was amazing!

A zine is very do-it-yourself (DIY) form of media making. Some folks say zines are similar to magazines where they have stories, interviews, poems, words, images, and other forms of text similar to how we read books and magazines. Sometimes the text is handwritten, but it is definitely a way for the use of radical typography. So, even though I was making a program for an off Broadway show, it worked out.

I’ve read so many zines, have many friends who create them, and have toyed with the idea of creating one and this seemed like a good time. One of the ways I found this to be a useful activity was that I only had to credit all of the artwork to one person, Erika. That made things so much easier, as does having access to all of her artwork. When the artist supports you using their art, it’s such a great way to begin.

I asked one of my homegirls Aaminah (whom I’m trying to get a Media Makers Salon interview with where she shares her background, interests, and experiences creating zines) for some mentorship and guidance for creating the zine. She sent me to this post she created online about making zines. I specifically wanted to know how to set up the pages for making copies of the zine (my zine was all black and white).

Here are some lessons I learned:

1. For the zine I was making, spelling is important (unless part of your media making is to challenge conventional modes of spelling and language/grammar rules).

2. It’s important to pace yourself while creating the zine. This means setting realistic goals. For me this was also connected to planning and printing things out well.

3. Organization will really help you create the product you want. I knew I had to have certain elements, logos, and text in the zine, so I made sure that if I didn’t want to use my own printer and ink to get to campus or the library early.

4. Embracing a “gritty” look, or not being adverse to such, will help when you need to make copies and end up at a copier that is less expensive.

5. Making edits after first run is not as frustrating as it could be, especially if the zine has a “gritty” feel and various fonts. I had to make 3 changes and each was easy since I cut up another one and made the edits and copied them.

6. Sometimes big corporations who specialize in copying and printing mass quantities are worth the extra pennies per page. I tried to make copies low budget at first but the machine kept breaking and the paper getting caught. It took me almost 15 min to make 50 copies of one page. Then I went to Staples, added money to my copy card and made 50 copies in less than 5 minutes of all the pages of my zine! It costs more, but it was worth it to save time, have folks there to help, and know what I’m paying for is quality and these services.

7. Text and typography are important to keep in mind especially if you want to reach many folks and make an accessible zine. For example, I knew I had to save some space, and I know my zine has small lettering, so folks who have vision differences will not be able to read my zine as well/quickly as folks who don’t have vision challenges.

8. Make sure to credit folks, especially if you use their artwork and text. I included an acknowledgement page that helped me to also identify folks who were helpful in the process and needed to be included.

9. Keep a master copy for yourself and file it away. Also keep one copy for yourself as well. My zine was not for sale, but if you are selling your zine keeping these makes additional copies useful and helpful.

10. Give yourself credit. It wasn’t until Erika said “plug yourself - you are making it” that I thought to write that I had created the zine.

What are some things that you have learned as you have created your zines? What are some things you’d like to know about zines (for my media makers salon with Aaminah)?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Media Justice & September 11, 2001: How Do We Prepare & Cope?

cross posted from my Media Justice column

This was going to be a short article. That’s mainly because I’d like to hear from you all and what your ideas are about this topic. Perhaps I could have written this more timely and had it posted last week. However, it was not until last Friday when a student asked me for some guidance that I considered this topic for discussion and to even write about it here. As I began to write I realized it wasn’t so short as I had thought.

As you all know I live in NYC and we recently commemorated the 10th anniversary of September 11, 2001 (it’s important to put a date as many events in history have occurred on September 11th). I don’t want to share my own personal story of surviving that day, as I was living in NYC and a grad student at NYU, or have others feel that they need to do that. I knew in preparing to teach this semester that there were events that were planned and that this topic would come up.

To prepare I had asked folks in my network who are educators in various spaces how they are preparing for such conversations to begin in their classrooms. I asked specifically for suggestions and ideas for facilitating a conversation. Here are some of the topics I asked about:

• How to approach Islamaphobia in the classroom?
• How do we negotiate some of the –isms that may come up in this discussion with conversations of social justice?
• How may we interrogate ideas of patriotism?
• How may we approach the complexity of defining patriotism as perpetuating oppressions against others? (i.e. racial profiling by police, at check points, at airport, etc.)

There were several suggestions for establishing ground rules, to reminding ourselves as educators that statements our students make are not about us, and sharing up front that our classes will bring into the conversation voices that are often ignored or isolated. These are all great suggestions and I wonder how folks reading this may have experienced conversations in class when their instructors make such statements to facilitate conversations. Has it worked? What has been your experience?

What led me specifically to this topic was a student’s request after class. As one of our first assignments due date approaches there are more students who wish to speak to me after class. One student waited after class and after several other students asked me their questions about the assignment. We were alone in our classroom when the student asked me “do you have any resources for teaching about September 11, 2001?” I asked what specific type of resources the student was looking for. The student shared that curriculums, approaches, or activities would be useful. I asked what the population was and the student shared that this was for a group of youth of various ages that the student has worked with for over a year. They were scheduled to visit the memorial site where the World Trade Center was and is being reconstructed.

We had a good discussion. I asked first if the student knew what their boundaries were in having this conversation. For example, do they know what they are un/comfortable talking about regarding this issue? The student shared that they wanted to be prepared for a discussion. I suggested one approach could be to ask the youth they are working with what their understanding is of what happened in NYC on September 11, 2001. That this may mean to be prepared to hear a range of comments from very detailed and biased ideas to very general understandings of what occurred. To be prepared to approach biased commentary and ideas in a way that is not isolating for those youth, but welcomes a discussion about those ideas, where they come from and why.

I also shared that I don’t know of any curriculum or resource that has been established or created to discuss the events of September 11, 2001. I’m not sure why this may be. Perhaps the curriculums that have been created are less than exceptional, only for an age group I do not work with, or are not widely developed. I do know I have seen some biased, stereotypical, and racist images and narratives for children about September 11th, 2001, such as coloring books and pamphlets.

At the end of our conversation the key things I shared with my student for preparing included: know your own boundaries around the conversations that may occur, be ready for very emotional responses (i.e. anger, crying), and to encourage each person to learn more about the events that occurred on their own in various ways. My student thanked me and left the classroom. I’m not sure of what the outcome was of that conversation(s) the student had with the youth, but I felt that the little bit of advice I gave was honest, centered self-care, and was what I may find useful if I were in their same position. I also think this question for guidance and resources speaks to why media literacy and media justice as so important!

What I find interesting is that my students were probably 8-10 years old when this occurred. This means that their memories and ideas about what happened are very much informed by personal testimony and various media representations. As a New Yorker, this past Sunday was one where I consciously chose not to leave my apartment or turn on the television. This is because I need to center my own self-care as well regarding these media representations and how people are treated in our society and city. Many of you may know that NYC increased police presence during the weekend, which for me does not make me feel safer. Instead it makes me sadder for the folks who are targeted and racially profiled, and to think for one moment that a woman of Color would not be targeted is not unrealistic. The people who know their rights, who may not consent to a search by police in the subways, but because they know their rights, are seen as a threat. (And for those who don’t know NYC already has armed military in certain places every day to help us all feel more “safe.”)

I don’t want to witness such abuses, especially on the weekend, my time off. I also planned ahead and made sure I had the X-Files season 4 (which is 25 episodes!) at home to keep me company and that my partner was with me as well as we prepared for the week. This would distract me from turning on the television and watching the news, seeing images, and hearing testimonies. I know some folks really need to witness those forms of media to heal and cope. For me, this is not useful. In fact it is very triggering.

I share this with you because I think it is important to know that whatever form of self-care you find useful, selecting isolation like I practiced that day, communal gathering, reflection, writing in a journal, lighting a candle, whatever else you may do is alright. There is no right or wrong way to heal and cope with such experiences. And this goes for other things we experience, especially in the reproductive justice movements.

We are fighting to end oppressions and allow folks the ability to make the best choices for themselves and stay healthy and centered regarding their sexual and reproductive health. This work can become very personal, difficult, and overwhelming. It’s important to remember that we are doing the work that we find to be right and just and that we are not alone.

I’d love to have a space here where those of you in the reproductive justice movement share ways that you cope and find support and healing. Also, what are some useful forms of approaching conversations around September 11, 2001 that have been productive and helpful for you? What additional advice would you have offered to my student?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Revisiting Abstinence In Media

cross posted from my Media Justice column

As I prepare for a new season of some of my favorite shows (can’t wait to check out the Sons of Anarchy (which I’ve discussed here before) I’ve been indulging in watching some of my favorite shows that I own on DVD. One of the shows that I’m constantly in awe of is Pushing Daises.

Pushing Daises is one of those rare shows that is not only entertaining with a strong, funny and intelligent script, but also mixes magical realism into the plot. One additional element to this show that I really adore is the representation of abstinence as well as the create ways characters find to express their love and attraction to one another. I find this type of narrative often omitted from stories of courtship or experiences in dating and forming relationships. Check out the trailer below:

I find this series extremely useful when discussing abstinence. Not only does this show center abstinence since this is a reality for the main characters, but it also offers a look into how we can be and get creative in our expressions of love and attraction to others that is safe in many ways. The premise of the show is that Ned (Lee Pace) is a pie maker who works with Olive (Kristin Chenoweth) but also has a secret power, which is where the magical realism comes in, in that he can “awaken the dead” for one minute, but if he leaves them alive something/one else must die in its place. He may touch them again and they are dead for good. Ned is using his power to help solve crimes of people who are murdered with private investigator Emerson Cod (Chi McBride). When his childhood sweetheart Chuck (Anna Friel) is murdered he awakens her but is so caught up in his love for her he does not touch her again. Their entire courtship and relationship centers around Chuck and Ned not touching one another’s skin, which of course limits their ability to show love and affection. But they find ways to do so.

This show is one of the few that has only had two seasons but has been so influential, at least for me as an educator. Using this in a classroom setting for a sexuality class is how I envision this piece of media being a good guide into conversations on affection, attraction, abstinence, limiting transmission of STIs, and safety. For example, take Ned and Chuck’s experiences kissing one another. This is something that if done without any barrier methods for Ned and Chuck, can result in Chuck’s death. As a result, they get creative. Check it out below:

Chuck and Ned use plastic wrap as a barrier method to protect themselves from coming into skin-to-skin contact with one another. This may not be a perfect example of reality, but it is a good example of how using plastic wrap can be used as a barrier method. For example, it’s not rare to hear that plastic wrap (as long as it is not microwavable) can be used in place of a dental dam to limit exposure to bodily fluids when engaging in oral sex. They also do similar things when holding hands as they wear gloves. Early in the show they did not hold one another’s hands, instead they made eye contact and held it and held onto their own hands. It’s a great example of showing affection towards someone by holding hands, but it’s also a great example of a safe activity that may limit STIs. The use of a glove for this safety speaks also to the use of latex gloves as barriers for various types of sexual activities.

Ned also finds his co-worker Olive is infatuated with him and desiring him as well. Their experiences are ones that are honest, hopeful, charming, and realistic for many folks. Being able to talk to someone we are attracted to, have a crush on, or want to get to know better takes courage. Olive is all of these things and so much more! Take a look at the witty and fun exchange Olive and Ned often have here.

Ned and Olive’s relationship is one that evolves in ways that I find realistic and supportive. At the end of season one Olive goes to a convent and there discovers that Chuck’s birth mother is also her Aunt Lilly. Here we have a narrative of young mothers being sent away to birth their children. This was not uncommon in many communities at particular times in the US, but today we don’t really have young mothers being sent away for fear of embarrassment (of themselves or their families) as we did years ago. Here’s a great clip of how Ned discovers the secret Olive has discovered.

I also appreciate how Ned and Chuck discuss their relationship with one another. Sometimes these conversations are scary and difficult to have, but Ned is very much the type to “spit it out” to get the conversation going and the statement out! This is a characteristic I enjoy about Ned, but also one that I can relate to because often when you think about something so much you become anxious, often some folks may just blurt out what is on their mind to find piece of mind. Here is the exchange Ned and Chuck have about being in a relationship with one another. Chuck wants to be realistic and acknowledges that Ned may want and need different types of affection that she cannot give and share with him because of their situation. Ned’s response to Chuck’s statement is that “just because we want things doesn’t mean we need them to be happy” and reminds Chuck that he wants to be with her even if they cannot be together in certain ways.

I find this interaction between Chuck and Ned one that speaks to how relationships may work even if/when one sexual encounters are not at the center. In our society we usually assume that a partnered, monogamous couple, especially one that is married and/or in love are engaging in sexual activity. Rarely do we imagine that their relationship works for them in ways that bring them both joy but does not include sexual activities. It really does challenge our way of thinking about relationships.

This is such a great show and I miss it dearly! Not just because it’s great content and stories, but it’s also useful in the classroom and entertaining. I’ve yet to find another show that embraces all of these conversations in such a unique and complete way. What are some forms of media that you all enjoy that discuss and represents abstinence that is accessible?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Media Justice Mash-Up

cross posted from my Media Justice column

The past 5 weeks of sharing notes from my Human Sexuality course (read all 5 parts here) meant I wasn’t writing about what was going on in our communities for a bit. A media mash-up seemed like a good place to start as there is so much going on and being discussed! But more importantly, there is a lot of action around things that folks believe are connected to injustice.

Gun Hill Road in Theaters
The film Gun Hill Road was released in NYC (and soon LA) a few weeks ago and there has been a ton of media attention for the film, as there should be. Not only is the film one of the first independent movies to get such acclaim and notice in theaters, it also shares the story of a young transgender Latina from the Bronx and has cast a young transgender Latina from the Bronx to portray this character! The film introduces Harmony Santana who plays Vanessa (who is also called Michael in the film). Harmony has been interviewed numerous times since her role and speaks about her experiences preparing for the film, her experiences with her family, and what she is planning to do today.

Check out the trailer below

Here’s an interview with Harmony at the Sundance Film Festival this year (sorry, no transcript).

It took me a few weeks to watch Gun Hill Road in the theater, but when I did, I was glad I did. You may read my review here, where I share some questions that still remain for me about this film and include some areas that were deeply uncomfortable and triggering. If you’ve seen the film I’d love to hear your thoughts. To see the next cities Gun Hill Road will be at visit the official website.

Reactions to “The Help”
Another film that is receiving tons of attention is the novel turned film “The Help.” I’ll admit I have not seen this film, and I’m not sure I’ll be able to before it leaves theaters (mainly because the next time I go to the movies I really want to see Attack The Block!). Yet, I do remember seeing the trailer for it when I went to see Bridesmaids and sharing my initial reaction then. Many folks are not happy about the film and the Association of Black Women Historians (ABWH) has released a statement to all fans of the film stating their concern to be:
Despite efforts to market the book and the film as a progressive story of triumph over racial injustice, The Help distorts, ignores, and trivializes the experiences of black domestic workers. We are specifically concerned about the representations of black life and the lack of attention given to sexual harassment and civil rights activism.
A lot of talk among women of Color and those who did/not see the film has flooded my social media! One good friend of mine has posted a list of historical readings to help folks challenge the representations of the film and provide a more inclusive experience of Black domestic workers. Even Latina Magazine jumped on The Help bandwagon reminding us of 10 Latinas Who Have Played The Help (and they thought this was a useful article!) Most recently, Jamia Wilson, has written about the film from a different perspective, one that is positive. Wilson argues that the film “made us talk about race.” She shares how her father encouraged her to see the film and she left agreeing with many critics, but not hating the film. She writes:
But I confess: I didn’t hate The Help. It has sparked a rare and much-needed public dialogue about race, something very few blockbusters ever do, and has given a platform to a powerful cast of black women actors to showcase their talents, expand their audiences, and possibly snag some Oscar wins.
If you haven’t seen the trailer I’ve posted it below, and if you haven’t read Amplify columnists' reviews of the film I encourage you to do so as well.

Nivea Advertisement Targeting Men
Another August media image that has resulted in action, is Nivea’s ad targeting racially Black men and their grooming products. In the foto you see a young Black man dressed in a v-neck sweater, button down white shirt, and dark jeans with a low cut hairstyle and no facial hair. He is in a position to throw a head that he holds by the hair. The head is of a racially Black man with a long afro hairstyle and goatee facial hair. The text next to the image reads “Re-Civilize Yourself.” In a text box on the upper right hand corner the comment “Look like you give a damn. Nivea for men. Face Body Shave.”

Many folks have found this advertisement offensive for multiple reasons. Not only does it argue that natural hairstyles and full facial hair is undesirable, gives the impression people do not care about their appearances, and are “sloppy,” but it also brings into the conversation colonial and ethnocentric ideologies connected to physical features, class, race, ethnicity, and gender that are a part of a larger system of oppression. One system of oppression you may be more knowledgeable of would be that of US slavery. Others would be the extensive discussions of Eurocentric standards of beauty, and ideas of cleanliness and decency as they are tied to religion and class status. All of these are a part of a larger history of colonization which has used terms such as “primative” and “civil” to assign to people into a dichotomy of what is right/wrong, un/desirable.

I was not surprised when Nivea pulled the ad and issued an apology. Or when I heard that there was an ad geared towards racially white/lighter skinned men which has a man with low cut hairstyle and limited facial hair standing in a full suit holding a head of a lighter skinned person with long hair and full facial hair. His ad says “Sin city isn’t an excuse to look like hell.” See the difference in phrasing?

Femmes Of Color Symposium Keynote
And it’s from this advertisement of standards and expectations of bodies and beauty that leads me to this next piece of media. If you were in the San Francisco area you may have heard of the Butch Voices and Femmes of Color Symposium. Mia Mingus, a “queer disabled woman of color korean adoptee working, creating and loving towards wholeness and connection, love and liberation” was the Femmes of Color Symposium keynote speaker. Mia’s speech titled “Moving Toward The Ugly: A Politic Beyond Desirability” is stunning. I saw many friends tweet parts of her speech while she was orating and was all too happy when she published the speech in full on her site. Highlights for me, a person who identifies as femme, include the following:
“To me, femme must include ending ableism, white supremacy, heterosexism, the gender binary, economic exploitation, sexual violence, population control, male supremacy, war and militarization, and ownership of children and land.”

“It seems so basic in our communities, but I think we need to stop making assumptions about each other’s identities and make distinctions between how someone identifies verses what someone’s lived experience is. We need to make the distinction between descriptively femme and politically femme.”

“As femmes of color—however we identify—we have to push ourselves to go deeper than consumerism, ableism, transphobia and building a politic of desirability. Especially as femmes of color. We cannot leave our folks behind, just to join the femmes of color contingent in the giant white femme parade.”

“If we are ever unsure about what femme should be or how to be femme, we must move toward the ugly. Not just the ugly in ourselves, but the people and communities that are ugly, undesirable, unwanted, disposable, hidden, displaced. This is the only way that we will ever create a femme-ness that can hold physically disabled folks, dark skinned people, trans and gender non-conforming folks, poor and working class folks, HIV positive folks, people living in the global south and so many more of us who are the freaks, monsters, criminals, villains of our fairytales, movies, news stories, neighborhoods and world. This is our work as femmes of color: to take the notion of beauty (and most importantly the value placed upon it) and dismantle it (challenge it), not just in gender, but wherever it is being used to harm people, to exclude people, to shame people; as a justification for violence, colonization and genocide.

If you leave with anything today, leave with this: you are magnificent. There is magnificence in our ugliness. There is power in it, far greater than beauty can ever wield. Work to not be afraid of the Ugly—in each other or ourselves. Work to learn from it, to value it. Know that every time we turn away from ugliness, we turn away from ourselves. And always remember this: I would rather you be magnificent, than beautiful, any day of the week. I would rather you be ugly—magnificently ugly.”
(emphasis in original)
Freeing Ourselves: A Guide to Health and Self Love for Brown Bois
Released this summer at the Sister Song National Conference, The Brown Boi Project is making revolutionary media. They have released a new health guide by and for transgender men of Color and masculine-identified women of Color. The press release shares that
“Freeing Ourselves”
serves as an exciting new tool for empowerment, as transgender men and women on the masculine spectrum continue to face a health sector in which they are largely invisible. For people of color in these communities, who are often uninsured, these challenges are often compounded; high levels of unemployment, discrimination in public service delivery, and income inequality are the norm, not the exception.
The book is available for purchase online and don’t be shy to request that this book be purchased at your school or local library. It’s also a useful tool to have if you are a part of a health center or group working with the population targeted in this book.

FREE College Guide E-book
The Black Girl Project’s Guide to College is the first e-book featuring advice directly from The Black Girl Project (BGP) participants! You may remember my interview with (BGP) director, founder, and media maker Aiesha Turman when she discussed her film (of the same name) and the work she is creating. The e-book is FREE and just in time for back to school. If you or anyone you know is interested in advice in preparation for college please check this book out. It’s accessible and less than 30 pages. It’s also FREE!