Thursday, January 12, 2012

Puerto Rican “Activists” Workin’ It In The Wrong Way

cross posted from my Media Justice column

By now you’ve heard of the ABC television show “Work It.” A triflin’ and low rating show that features two middle aged men (one racially white another Latino) who dress up as women to secure employment in the US. Yes, you read that correctly; at a time when women still don’t make as much as men (and where transgender people don’t make as much at all!), when the feminization of poverty is still a part of our society and world, and when transgender people are still the most oppressed, underemployed, murdered, invisible anderased members of our communities.

ABC Chief Paul Lee states he “doesn’t get” the big deal about how harmful “Work It” is based on GLAAD and the Human Rights Campaign's activism around the show and their efforts to challenge it coming to air. Lee states he doesn’t “get it” because he loved the movie “Tootsie.”

What Lee and others fail to see is that these are characters that are created so that we can laugh at them. These characters are performing stereotypes and misconceptions of what we assume to be a challenge when people “dress up” as the opposite gender. The characters perpetuate a gender binary. These characters are making a choice to dress up which gives the illusion that sex and gender are choices that people can simply change their mind about.

Others that fail to see this problem: some Puerto Rican activists. For the past week I’ve received so many emails about how Puerto Ricans are represented on “Work It” by Latino character Amaury Nolasco, who plays a Puerto Rican character. The “dehumanizing” and “blatantly offensive” comment where the “culture was attacked by an insensitive stereotype” by Nolasco’s character who states: “I’m Puerto Rican, I would be great at selling drugs.”

This statement took less than 10 seconds to say and hear. Because of that 10 seconds a huge storm of protest has erupted among Puerto Ricans.

My heart breaks here. All of this mobilizing and protesting for one line by a character, yet NOTHING from any of the grassroots organizations, such as Boricuas For A Positive Image, celebrities or community activists that have jumped on this protest about how Puerto Rican and Latin@ transgender people are impacted by this show. There is an overwhelming silence. Where is the alliance building with transgender activists? Where is the joining with GLAAD and HRC? Where is the mobilization beyond targeting me as a Puerto Rican, but not as a human being that values all members of our community, especially those who are harmed the most?

The images and video that have been created around the challenging of ABC by Puerto Rican activists are very single issue when we are not a single issue people! The messages being sent: Transmisogyny is alive and well. We don’t care about your gender we care more about your ethnicity (and only if it is Puerto Rican). We don’t care how something may harm and dehumanize the Puerto Rican transgender community unless it impacts us directly.

I understand this response especially since Puerto Rico has been struggling with drugtrafficking, drug use and abuse, and drug related crimes for decades. One of my most vivid memories of Puerto Rico was in 1995 when armed US military would line the streets and randomly pull cars over and check for drugs. It was a scary time, and those times remain today, especially with the high murder rate in Puerto Rico (and a number of those murders are of transgender Puerto Ricans and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer Puerto Ricans) and when the stop and frisk experiences of Latin@ and Black youth living in NYC and in-school arrests are ridiculously high.

What I don’t understand is how can “activists” separate these issues so easily? If we stood with our transgender community in fighting this show when it was being created and knew it centered a Puerto Rican actor who was misrepresenting Puerto Rican transgender women, would we be here today? It’s possible we would, it’s also possible our voices as Puerto Rican consumers, Puerto Rican media makers, and Puerto Rican people would have resulted in a similar apology and a more quick removal of the offensive show. When we partner together to support and make change for our most oppressed members of our community we all benefit.

My hope is that Puerto Rican activists today learn about the anti-oppression legacy that civil rights activist Sylvia Rivera, a Puerto Rican-Venezuelan New Yorker, has left us. And then share her legacy and not keep it just for ourselves, but speak on it to youth, our elders, other Latin@s, everybody! To learn how you can support the Sylvia Rivera Law Project visit their website.

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