Friday, February 17, 2012

Black Sister, My Sister

So, intra-POC prejudice and racism exists. It is a thing, an actual thing. It is pernicious, in the U.S./Canada it is often a symptom of white supremacy where we all fight according to the rules set by whiteness to judge each other and find each other wanting. 

This occurs despite a long history of inter-POC cooperation, where in the living memory of our elders, Asian groups participated and helped in the Black Panther Party's activities, and Jews testify how black soldiers can to rescue them (and thus, how they knew the soldiers were not Nazis), and many other such histories which I can't recall at the moment. All histories usually unspoken of, to the point where it is such a big fucking surprise to discover they exist. All pointing to how our intra-POC conflicts are really very counter-productive. All proving how short our communities' memories are, because these stories have been so covered up into non-existence, so we'll believe anything mainstream media tells us about each other. 

There is a Global Hierarchy of Race, which follows skin tones and assimilation into Western standards of modernity. In this hierarchy, darker-skinned peoples suffer more than lighter-skinned ones. In this hierarchy, my light skin and Westernized background count me as acceptable to whiteness, as "the other white meat." If anyone followed the Tiger Mother kerfuffle, you would have an inkling of how assimilation into the white American middle-class lifestyle was, and still is, so incredibly prioritized, so the younger generation can have "a better life".... a white life. 

This system of white supremacy requires something to measure up against for superiority. And as Lance Selfa has demonstrated, whiteness needs to be measured against blackness. This has been eloquently articulated over, and over, and over, by such writers as Booker T. Washington, Frederick Douglass, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., bell hooks, Audre Lordre, Franz Fanon. Blackness is a depth, blackness is the dark, blackness is the bad, blackness is the inferior, blackness is where you do not want to be, blackness is that which we do not want to inhabit.... so on and on states a variety of media, a variety of sources.

And we internalize this as a truth. As little children. And we see it repeated everywhere. In the last week alone, I've seen the following on Tumblr:

1) A meme comparing Barack Obama to a gorilla;
2) A meme comparing Chris Brown to Whitney Houston
3) Remarks comparing Kanye West's upstaging of Taylor Swift to Chris Brown's beating of Rihanna
4) Madonna criticizing M.I.A. for flipping the bird at the Superbowl, "ruining the good atmosphere"
5) My favourite Chican@ blogger exclaiming how the Department of Homeland Security has hired a private company to monitor people blogging about "immigration" and "department of homeland security." endangering all those who blog about such issues
6) And just this morning, some guy is going around leaving anonymous "Kill Yourself" messages, targeting  women especially.

When you collate all these things together, a pattern emerges, and nobody really needs to look very hard for it. If you tell me that it's "not necessarily about race," you are just willfully ignoring the long history of survival, and observation and articulation thereof that has been documented by all those writers I named above. These are evidences that if you have a dark-skinned body, you will be valued less. You will be dehumanized as much as whiteness can muster. You will be expected to adhere to rules set by white bodies or you will be punished. Like so:

1) Barack Obama, despite being celebrated as the First Black President, a historical first for the United States (wow because dark-skinned people in power are so special! only in the U.S. you know), a man who has to fix some eight years of white supremacist fuckups, who inherits a legacy of democractic racism--despite all this, he remains compared to a gorilla, the animal that black people are consistently compared to in pulp fiction and popular imagination. (Yes, Bush was a monkey, but white people are not, as a group, compared to monkeys most of the time.)
2) Chris Brown is a man who made a deliberate decision to beat up his girlfriend until she was unrecognizable. This is somehow comparable to a woman who suffered, struggled and survived through ten years of cocaine addiction, and was set to make a comeback, after a career of having left an indelible mark on pop music.
3) Kanye West upstaged Taylor Swift, and he remains scorned. Chris Brown beat Rihanna, is welcomed back to the Grammy awards stage. The message: Taylor Swift as a young white woman is valued more than Rihanna, a young black Carib woman. Like we can't notice this?
4) Madonna, with her long history of flipping off society and getting away with it, Madonna, with the history of cultural appropriation, Madonna, with a history of being read as disrupting norms, tells off a younger, brown, Sri Lankan woman.... you know what, I'm just going to stop here, because
5) some of my friends are in actual danger of being imprisoned for critiquing national security's racist measures and 
6) other friends of mine are just told straight up they're not worth the air they breathe.

This is all larger picture stuff that does not directly pertain to my work here on Silver Goggles. (They feed into it, though.) Here's something that does:

Silver Goggles was born the same year as RaceFail'09, that Huge Discussion which I initially had tried to stay the fuck away from, but couldn't. I think I'm not the only one in the science fiction and fantasy community who found 2009 deeply troubling, and hurtful, and alienating more outwardly than before. Racefail gave us a language and a common space. RaceFail, for many of us, gave us a voice.

Remember how one time I told ya'll subculture isn't an escape? I keep meaning to write more about escapism and exoticism and how they're so often hurtful to people of colour, because it makes me angry to see other people being so presumptuous about the lives of marginalized people that imagination could possibly make things concretely better.  

Today, some 3 years after, I read this morning: "remember racefail in SF? Where some black drama queens raised enormous amounts of drama on LJ?"

This is a comment in some other blog post reacting to a POC friend of mine criticizing a (white male) fantasy author for bad depictions of rape and misogny. Said POC friend does not pull punches in her critiques; just unleashes her full fury. Why? Because when authors, especially fantasy authors, uncritically write deeply misogynist scenes, it forecloses the idea of "fantasy as escapism" for a lot of women. 

I'm usually pretty good with the haterade, but this? "Where some black drama queens raised enormous amounts of drama"?

Cracker make my slapping hand itch.

I remember what without "black drama queens"--note the close resemblance to "black welfare queens," a racist dogwhistle if I ever heard one--I wouldn't know what it means to sit at a table and truly feel understood. I remember that without these "black drama queens" I wouldn't have the words to articulate how alienated I am. I remember that without these "black drama queens"--these black women--I wouldn't have the courage to even say anything, and this blog wouldn't exist. 

Without these black women, I wouldn't have discovered--and how sad is it that I had to discover for myself, because this is not ubiquitous knowledge?--methods and modes of survival and resistance, the patterns of prejudice and intersection of misogyny and race. I'm a pretty good self-study for these things, but without black women, I wouldn't have known where to start. 

The white heteropatriarchal supremacist world (look to bell hooks for such a succinct phrase describing everything wrong with the way institutions are set up) hates blackness. It also hates women. And black women bear the brunt of several fronts, where they face racism from non-black "feminist" peers, and sexism from black men, and the clusterfuck of both and more from all other quarters. 

"Girl child ain't safe in a household of mens," Sofia angrily tells Celie. Black women ain't safe, not even in fandom, where white men crow "escapism" and "limits of only the imagination". Women of color get told to find other priorities besides critiquing the media produced in creative industries which really ought to be a form of escape, but really just churns out the same old, same old racist, misogynist bullshit. 

I know this rant doesn't have much to do with steampunk, directly, but this is exactly the place I am coming from whenever I write any Silver Goggles post. I don't personally suffer the racism and sexism that so many of my WOC sisters face, but I will take it personally, because it affects too many of the people I know and admire personally. 

But the century that steampunk derives so much happy fun times from? Is the same century that black women faced rape from all quarters, were treated as cattle, were brute labour on the fields and reproductive machines to produce more labour for white massas, with family lineages cut off, customs whipped out of them to "civilize" them, and the duties of caring for white people's comfort piled higher and higher every generation. It's the same century in which black women fought to keep family together, struggled to escape abuse, and basically survived despite constant threats and reminders of their inferiority. 

If you are not black, I will remind you of this, just as I remind myself of this. If you are not black, you do not get to get away from the ramifications of this history. If you are not black, you need to consciously remember this, because you don't live with this history on your own body. And you need to do it without dramatically wallowing in self-flagellating guilt expecting forgiveness because that shit is so lazy, ya'll, I can't even, and I'm a lazy fucker myself.

So if you're not black? You don't get to talk about "black drama queens." You get to sit in the corner after having your ass whupped, and mumble "yes Your Majesty."

And that's all I gotta say about that today.


  1. Lots and lots of good points...but I'm going to remember - living with the history on your own body.