cross posted from my Media Justice column
I'm writing this letter regarding a particular interaction I recently had with a racially white person in the field. This person is planning a new program and project of which I was invited. I asked what the demographics were for this space, if there are any people of Color, with disabilities, youth, or trans* people. I was told, right now, there are no people of Color who are a part of the programming identified as "experts" and the demographics of participants is not available. The letter I wrote to this person is one that is filled with the same arguments I, and many other people of Color, have been making to racially white people in the field for years.
My decision to write and share with you this letter comes from my investment in the field (of which I've been a part for over a decade), but mostly because I care about the people of Color who wish to join this field, those people of Color who gave their lives to this field, and those of us who are still here doing work.
Have you noted the lack of people of Color in the field? When I've brought this to the attention of some of you, your responses have mostly fallen into the category of: "the field is what it is." This response is problematic on numerous levels. It ignores and erases the people of Color who were a part of the field, helped create it in the US, those of us here today, and those of us to come. This response does not question the colonial legacies and white supremacy of which the US field was created and remains.
The field "is what it is" because of the lives, bodies, and sacrifice of people of Color. From the life of Saartjie Baartman, to the enslaved African women experimented on by "doctors" such as James Marion Sims, Henrietta Lacks, Black families in the Tuskegee Experiment, the forcibly sterilized Puerto Rican, Native and people with disabilities in the US; Rosie Jimenez, and the nurses, healers, doulas, midwives, and educators of Color save the lives of people every day make the field.
I understand when I write about youth people assume it is always folks under the age of 18. Sometimes this is true. Sometimes the term "youth" is more inclusive. What does remain when people who identify as "professional" or "experts" in the field is the ageism and elitism that isolates and excludes youth of any age. Assuming that youth are not serious about this profession, or cannot understand or put the time in necessary to develop their skills and abilities ignores the amazing work youth have done in their communities, especially as peer educators. Many of the amazing people of Color I know moving the field forward are under 30, several under 25. I have met and mentored peer educators who at the age of 14 are working at a local clinic/health centers or are students in college (because not all of us can afford to go to college or have the ability to attend) and seeking careers in this field. It is them who are on the vanguard of the work and who will remain when we are no longer here. Why are they ignored?
If we truly believe the field in the US must grow, evolve, and change and that we welcome anyone who cares and wants to do the work, we cannot exclude youth. Ever. It seems only certain types of sexuality professionals are seen as being able to grow, evolve and move the field in the US forward. When you think of why people of Color are not attracted to your space, website, services, etc. think about the marketing you implement. Many of the "experts" and professionals that are highlighted or treasured as valuable are all racially white people. Not only are they all racially white, but often the well known, highlighted "experts" are all blonde/light-haired people. Some of the "experts" that are highlighted have made offensive and oppressive remarks that perpetuate anti-Black racism and xenophobia.
When you reach out to those of us who are people of Color in the field, requesting our assistance in reaching our community it is often from a selfish space that is about your profit and advantage, not ours. As a result, we make our own spaces. Many of us are a part of Sister Song http://sistersong.net/ and/or the Women of Color Sexual Health Network, a group that was established at the 41st Annual AASECT Conference by 18 women of Color who were present (including myself) and were shocked and saddened by the exclusion of our lives, perspectives, work, experiences, community.
Honestly, at this point, this is the most I wish to help you reach more people of Color, trans* people, and people with disabilities. A internet search will help you find the national and local organizations that are centering the sexual health, and reproductive justice of people of Color. If you do not receive a response from them, know it is not always because we are disinterested, but because the images, language, and message that is a part of the space you wish to build already excludes us.
I have done my share of "helping" racially white people move their ideas, work, projects forward and target people of Color without any reciprocity. How are racially white folks in this field mentored, supported, prepared to succeed in this field and how is it different from how people of Color are prepared, mentored, and expected to succeed? Have those racially white folks considered how they have benefited from the white supremacy in the field that allows them success? How do those of us who are not racially white but in the field find and become successful? What are the barriers that racially white people in the field hold up, ignore, and not question or see that limit those of us of Color in the field? Why do racially white people only hear, what people of Color have said about the field for generations, when a white person says and repeats it?
These are questions I and many of us in the US who are of Color and in the field ask often. We will continue to ask more questions. My time in the field has led me to realize that unless these questions have been examined and attempts are made to shift, unlearn, relearn, heal, and process, I cannot find a space to grow, mentor, and to evolve. As a result, we create and find our own spaces.
My hope is that you consider speaking with your "experts" and those that you actively work to highlight and ask them how they would answer these questions, consider including such a dialogue in your sessions, and actively work to change this so that the field doesn't remain as it is, but evolves in a way that recognizes the dignity people of Color embody and the safety and respect we too deserve.
Bianca I Laureano
Sexologist, Educator, Revolutionary
Amplify Media Justice Columnist