Getting Real About Allyship

Drawing labeled "Be A Better Ally in 3 Easy Steps" from SJWiki

Image from SJWiki, copyrighted but used with Fair Use rationale, see here for details.

Each spring, ROOTEd (Respecting Ourselves and Others Through Education) holds a series of events about allyship in social justice, otherwise known as Allies Series. The programming usually consists of an allyship 101 teach-in, a discussion, and a panel featuring activists and community organizers. Having been a ROOTEd Peer Facilitator for the past three years, I think this is some of the most meaningful work the group does.

Most fundamentally, allyship means aligning yourself with a person, cause, or movement with whom/which you don’t identify. This might look like a non-black person supporting Black Lives Matter. On a more interpersonal level, it might be naming an oppressive comment a friend makes for what it is when neither of you experience that particular oppression. ROOTEd emphasizes ‘ally’ as a verb over ‘ally’ as a stable identity. Allyship is proven through continuous and active engagement, not through mere identification, which can lead to appropriation of struggle. Self-proclaimed allies who latch on to the identity but don’t actively challenge oppression, whether by redistributing resources or educating themselves and their communities, are a disservice to what allyship could and should look like.

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No Such Thing as Neutral

On November 8, 2014, members of the Flex and Lite Feet dance communities joined Ali Rosa-Salas ’13 for a lecture demonstration and discussion. NO SUCH THING AS NEUTRAL highlights movement-based artists who engage notions of subjectivity and materiality of the body in their work while utilizing the technical formalities of Abstraction. The project celebrates Flex and Lite Feet, looking at their evolution and the indelible impact they have had in the contemporary dance world. At the event, Rosa-Salas engaged Flex and Lite Feet dancers in a spirited discussion about their artistry, their techniques, and their personal experiences dancing a style considered “street” in a dance world that values formal training and classical technique.

NO SUCH THING AS NEUTRAL is the culmination of Rosa-Salas’s year-long work as a 2014 Barnard Alumni Fellow with BCRW. Much of Rosa-Salas’s research is interested in examining what she calls the false and problematic binary between “formal” dances and “street” or “vernacular” dances. The “formal” side of this binary houses ballet and modern techniques; “street” or “vernacular” styles like tap, jazz, hip-hop, voguing, Flex and Lite Feet make up the other half of the dance binary. While “formal” dance is privileged with forming the “bedrock of all contemporary dance,” with the highest levels of training necessary to perform these styles, “street” styles are thought to be “natural,” with very little formal training or technique necessary. Rosa-Salas also examines the ways in which “street” styles are appropriated by mainstream pop-culture and how race and class factor into the construction of hierarchies in dance. Her intersectional critique framed the lecture demonstration and discussion. “These false categories bare a hierarchy that trouble me,” Rosa-Salas said in her opening comments. “Because they relegate certain dance forms into this ‘otherizing’ realm.” NO SUCH THING AS NEUTRAL strives to make these categories visible and ultimately attempts to upend them.

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Invisible Lives, Targeted Bodies: The Conference

Amber Hollibaugh’s project Queer Survival Economies took the form of a conference “Invisible Lives, Targeted Bodies” on January 23rd and 24th. Queer Survival Economies (QSE) is a project that aims to organize poor and working class people around economic justice and immigration issues, particularly problems that impact LGBTQ+ people. The project works with various organizational partners and includes conferences, training curriculum, network building, and the development of a story bank of LGBTQ+ poor and low-income people’s experiences. Through research, training, and education, QSE wants to expand local and national economic and immigration policies to include LGBTQ+ people.

I approached the conference not only as a BCRW research assistant, but as a queer Indian woman, unaware of what to expect. My past experience with the queer community has been frustratingly whitewashed and (cis) male, full of successful coming out stories that failed to transcend intersectional boundaries of race, culture, age, gender, polysexuality, religion, class, (dis)ability, and colonialism. I was hesitant to enter the conference room, unsure of who would occupy it, but found myself happily surprised at the amount of diversity in the room. As a young Desi queer, representations of myself in the media have been literally nonexistent, but to my delight, I spotted Alok from Darkmatter, the trans Desi slam poetry duo.

Gender, Sexuality, HIV and Reproductive Justice panel with Reina Gossett, Cara Page, and Terry Boggis. Photo by @MargotDWeiss via Twitter.

Gender, Sexuality, HIV and Reproductive Justice panel with Reina Gossett, Cara Page, and Terry Boggis. Photo by @MargotDWeiss via Twitter.

The focus of this conference was on how certain bodies, such as queer bodies and Black and brown bodies, are seen as dangerous and disruptive to the social order. Panelists at “Invisible Lives, Targeted Bodies” discussed the impacts of the medical-industrial complex, the prison-industrial complex, and capitalism on the LGBTQ+ community. Higher rates of arrest and strip searches exist among LGBTQ+ people of color and queer disabled people, particularly those that are homeless. Because there are disproportionate amounts of homeless queer youth and adults, issues surrounding homelessness are queer issues.

The following are the two panels I attended at the conference.

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Transformative Justice Workshop Resources

On Friday, February 27th, BCRW Research Assistants and Ejeris Dixon (Founding Director of Vision Change Win Consulting) will facilitate “Transformative Justice Approaches to Sexual Violence on Campus and Beyond”, a workshop at the 40th Annual Scholar & Feminist Conference on education. We (BCRW Research Assistants) have compiled a resources guide to concepts that will be explored at the workshop with the hopes of extending knowledge and continuing conversations around these very important issues.

Scholar & Feminist XL Conference: Action on Education, featured image by Pete Railand, justseeds.org

Scholar & Feminist XL Conference: Action on Education, featured image by Pete Railand, justseeds.org

Alternative vs. Restorative vs. Transformative

I have become familiar with the terms “transformative justice”, “restorative justice”, and “alternative justice” since the beginning of my time at Barnard, in the sense that these terms are buzzwords on the current student social justice scene. However, these terms are frequently used interchangeably, and until recently I did not have a deeper understanding of their differences. Generally, alternative justice refers to justice practices that take place outside of the criminal justice system, and restorative justice seeks to repair harm through accountability practices rather than punishment. Transformative justice takes restorative justice one step further by aiming to not only respond to individual acts of violence, but also to transform communities so that structures that enable and perpetuate violence are eradicated. Transformative justice envisions communities in which responses to violence are not solely reactionary but also preventative. It is also important to acknowledge that transformative justice draws upon generations of work carried out by women of color and queer activists.

Carceral Feminism and Transformative Justice

Feminist activists and organizers initially theorized a framework of transformative justice in response to the state’s inability to stop sexual violence. White feminists have traditionally turned to the state to combat sexual violence and abuse through legislation to reform the criminal justice system (e.g. rape shield laws) and to increase police power (e.g. the Violence Against Women Act). This approach to sexual violence, labeled “carceral feminism”, does not recognize or criticize the role of the state in enacting violence and enforcing oppression. For instance, women of color who have turned to the police to escape domestic violence have in turn been brutalized by the same police officers that were supposed to help them. Clearly, we must look beyond the possibility of state justice in order to create communities in which all forms of violence would be unthinkable.

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NYC to Ferguson: A Reflection

Last Tuesday night, thousands of protestors filled Union Square and marched throughout New York City, shouting “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” and “No justice, no peace!” in response to the Michael Brown verdict. The day before, history was repeated as the grand jury in St. Louis County, Missouri failed to indict Darren Wilson, and yet another white officer was set free after killing an innocent black teenager.

The protest began on the northwest corner of Union Square, as a crowd of people from all racial and ethnic backgrounds held up signs saying “Black Lives Matter” and “Indict Darren Wilson.” Even before the march began, I witnessed the first of our obstacles: conservative news network reporters. One journalist stood in the middle of the crowd shouting at two black protestors for refusing to answer his questions. One of the demonstrators responded, “This is not about you. You are not getting shot at. When you start getting shot at, call me. Now please leave. Get out of here.”

Photo by Priyanka Bhatt

Protestors gather in Union Square. Photo by Priyanka Bhatt.

The group of over 3,000 protestors marched around Union Square, on Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive, through Times Square, and across the Manhattan Bridge. One section of the group also walked through Lincoln Tunnel. A police barricade was set up at Williamsburg Bridge, where NYPD refused to let protestors cross. A group of white protestors responded by trying to break down the barriers and asked people to help them. Several people of color were arrested as the police officers at the barricade became aggressive, leading most of the demonstrators to turn around in the opposite direction. For most of the journey, NYPD officers played games on their phones as they walked by us, groaning and rolling their eyes as if we were children they were forced to baby sit. Many joked and pointed their fingers, attempting to reduce our movement against racial injustice and hate crimes to a laughing matter.

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Remembering Leslie Feinberg

I remember first encountering an article by Leslie Feinberg in Workers World where zie wrote about the legacy of queer and/or trans activists of color who participated in left, black power, queer, trans liberation, and AIDS activist movements. It was in this article that I learned about Kiyoshi Kuromiya, a Japanese American AIDS activist who was born in an internment camp and became radicalized during the Civil Rights revolution, and Ortez Alderson, a black queer radical with roots in an anti-war activism, the gay liberation front and also an ACT UP Chicago and NYC member. I deeply appreciated how Leslie documented and preserved this history of resistance, which is so often obscured by dominant narratives that treat black and queer freedom struggle as separate at best and antagonistic at worst. For Leslie Feinberg, struggles against racial capitalism, heteropatriarchy, trans misogyny, police violence, and racism were united and inextricable from one another. In hir 2007 speech at a meeting of hosted Palestinian queer organization ASWAT in Ramallah, Leslie pointed to these connections: “the imperialists—the U.S. to Israelis—use the experiences of women, of gays, of transgenders as pretexts for imperialist war.” Leslie dedicated the proceeds from sales of the Hebrew edition of Stone Butch Blues to ASWAT.

Leslie’s nonfiction work Transgender Warriors, traces trans identities throughout history. Leslie’s writing for Workers World on queer and/or trans of color organizing, trans history, and interviews with Sylvia Rivera worked against historical erasure and disavowal. Hir writing for Workers World highlighted queer and/or trans of color left activism from the 1960s and 70s, figures such as Kiyoshi Kuromiya and Ortez Alderson, and moments of convergence such as the Black Panther’s Revolutionary Convention in 1970s which Sylvia Rivera, Afeni Shakur, and Huey P. Newton attended. Leslie understood that opening up genealogies of queer and trans of color resilience and resistance can counter historical erasure and invisibility. Leslie often marched with and was also arrested with Sylvia Rivera during direct actions. In Transgender Warriors, Leslie describes being at a Palestine solidarity rally in the early 1970s and seeing signs protesting the massacre at Attica prison as well as the Vietnam war: “One banner particularly haunted me: it read ‘Stop the War Against Black America,’ which made me realize it wasn’t just distant wars that needed opposing.” Leslie saw the connection between domestic racialized warfare in America and U.S. warfare abroad.

Towards the end of hir life, Leslie worked in solidarity with CeCe McDonald, writing and visiting her in prion and getting arrested in protest of the white supremacist, anti-queer, and anti-trans violence she faced as well as of the violence of the state’s incarceration of McDonald. Arguing that zie’s Jewish, trans, working class, and lesbian identities as well as white privilege demanded that zie speak out against oppression and violences, Leslie stated “CeCe McDonald survived a fascist hate crime; now she’s sentenced as she struggles to survive an ongoing state hate crime…As a white, working-class, Jewish, transgender lesbian revolutionary I will not be silent as this injustice continues!” Feinberg dedicated the 20th anniversary edition of Stone Butch Blues to CeCe McDonald and made a call for supporters to send in photos of solidarity, to create an archive and multimedia show of support to free CeCe, all our siblings, and ourselves.

Che Gossett is the Community Archivist and Student Coordinator at BCRW. They have also written about Leslie and hir lifetime’s work here.

Black Feminist Futures and the Practice of Fugitivity

On October 7, 2014, Professor Tina Campt gave the annual Helen Pond McIntyre ’48 Lecture. Professor Campt was introduced by BCRW Director Janet Jakobsen and publicly welcomed as the new BCRW Co-Director. Emma Schuster, a Barnard senior and BCRW Research Assistant, reflects on the lecture below.

“What does it mean for a Black feminist to think about, consider, or concede to the concept of futurity?” This was the question that framed Professor Campt’s talk, “Black Feminist Futures and the Practice of Fugitivity.” She urged the audience to consider the future not just in terms of hope, but in terms of tense, focusing on the grammar of the “future real conditional” tense, that is, “that that which will have had to happen.” What is central to this Black feminist grammar that she proposes is the idea of “living the future now,” or imagining what must be and embodying that idea in the present. Also central to the concept of futurity for Professor Campt is looking and listening for futurity not just in large, vocal political or revolutionary movements, but in less obvious places as well.

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Home Is Where the Heart Cannot Be: The Oppression of Haitians in the Dominican Republic

How does it feel to be a stranger in your own home? To be told that you don’t belong in the place you grew up? Activist and law student Altagracia Jean Joseph addressed these questions in her lecture “How Does It Feel to Be Stateless,” hosted by BCRW on October 1. Altagracia, of Haitian descent, was born in Batey Esperanza, a “company town” in the Dominican Republic constructed to keep Haitian workers close to the sugar plantations where they worked. She, along with other Dominicans of Haitian descent, must deal with the consequences of TC168/13, passed in September 2013. The law permanently annulled the citizenship of children born to “undocumented parents” going back to as far as 1929. Clearly aimed at Haitians in the Dominican Republic, who have historically been looked down upon by Dominicans as inferior, the law invalidates the identity of people of Haitian descent who were raised in the Dominican Republic and consider themselves Dominicans.

Photo by Miriam Neptune

Photo by Miriam Neptune

Altagracia described how even before the passing of TC168/13, sympathy towards the Haitians in the Dominican Republic was nonexistent. She recalled the difficulty she faced in obtaining a copy of her birth certificate; her request was constantly denied. She was told she could not get a copy of the birth certificate because her “last name was weird,” a “ridiculous excuse.” After the first time she was denied her birth certificate, Altagracia cried for three days. Then she made a decision: “I knew I had to do something.” She contacted people, went to the press, and organized other Dominicans of Haitian descent who had been denied—they began to hold public demonstrations, in order to protest their treatment as second-class citizens (or for many, not as citizens at all). In these demonstrations, she said, the use of dance and drums show how “we are Dominicans and we have rights.” Unfortunately, it may take a while for these protests to make an impact. The government has gone so far as to overlook its own constitution in favor of persecuting those of Haitian descent. Altagracia mentioned a provision in the constitution that views those born before 2010 as citizens. Yet, with the passing of TC168/13, it is evident that the government is more interested in pursuing their agenda than in upholding past legislation.

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Welcome Che Gossett: BCRW’s Community Archivist and Student Coordinator

BCRW is excited to welcome Che Gossett to our staff as Community Archivist and Student Coordinator. Che is a Black genderqueer independent scholar and activist who works to excavate queer of color AIDS activist and trans archives. They hold an MA in history from the University of Pennsylvania and an MA in education from Brown. They have received a research grant from the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University for their project on legacies of queer Black solidarity with Palestinian struggle, have been selected as a Martin Duberman Visiting Scholar with the New York Public Library, and recently received the Sylvia Rivera Award in Transgender Studies from the Center for Gay and Lesbian Studies at the City University of New York.

Che Gossett

As Community Archivist and Student Coordinator, Che will help BCRW digitize our ephemera collection, which is currently archived in the BCRW Library. They will help develop a plan to make the materials accessible to a wider audience. In addition to working on the archive, Che will also be working with our student research assistants to engage them in activism and research at BCRW.

Welcoming our new Associate Director, Tami Navarro

BCRW would like welcome Tami Navarro as our Associate Director. Tami holds a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from Duke University and is also a proud graduate of Wesleyan University (’03). She is currently at work on a manuscript entitled Virgin Capital: Financial Services as Development in the US Virgin Islands, which engages with a local program (the Economic Development Commission, or EDC) to explore the ways that neoliberal initiatives are often built upon existing inequalities, particularly those related to gender and race. This project is based on 16 months of fieldwork Tami conducted in the US Virgin Islands, a time during which she worked closely in the newly-formed banking sector with a number of local women and one billionaire who was later convicted of using the EDC program to run a multi-million dollar fraud.

tami-navarro

Before joining BCRW, Tami worked at the Women’s Coalition of St. Croix, a direct-service organization co-founded by Audre Lorde, an experience that solidified her commitment to feminist organizing. Just before coming to Barnard, Tami was a Visiting Scholar at the Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality (IRWGS) at Columbia University where she shared her work on contemporary development policies in the Caribbean in a talk entitled “Easy Money and Respectable Girls: Neoliberalism and Expectation in the US Virgin Islands” as part of IRWGS’s Embodiments of Science series. In this talk, she outlines the features and gendered effects of neoliberal policies in the Anglophone Caribbean.

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