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On Epistemic Violence

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Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and while perusing my usual daily fare of blogposts and daily updates ( as well as thinking more of my research), I noticed  a bit of a trend. I think as activists/feminists/womyn we often get so caught up in championing our collective causes, that we are unaware of the universalizing, stereotypes and distortions that we might be replicating.

Spivak defines epistemic violence as the violence of knowledge production, notably by white feminists in their writings on Africa, women in the global south and even feminism in the global south. Such epistemic violence includes the distortions, sterotyping and generalizaing of Third World women’s conditions, as if they were all homogenously belaboured, lacking agency and needing saving.

The truth of the matter is that as we wage our collective battles against multiple forms of transnational oppression, especially in the constrained written nuggets of the world of social media, we need to be wary of not being complicit  in this epistemic violence. Writing from a position of privilege, either by virtue of geographical location and context, class, access, what have you,we need to be careful of making sweeping generalizations like ‘ African women and girls are the most oppressed group in the world’. Well..not always, and not all the time. In our enthusiasm to champion our causes we sometimes make reductionist statements to get people on board, kinda like those WorldVision ads. Yes, we want to bring people to the table, and yes we want others to be as passionate about the issues as we are, but at what cost? Are we ultimately replicating relations of inequality, and saying that African women need to be saved by rich people in the West. Or that I, as a privileged, Western educated, Western- located expert, can go back and save the people. This smacks a little of a messianic complex, and as women working for change we need to check our hubris at the door. That is not to say that we can not make change, but to bear in mind that people have their own solutions, knowledge and expertise, and that I women’s studies major, do not know everything about community development, international development or gender issues.

Love, love, and encouragement to everyone fighting the good fight in the academy, on the streets, and in this world we love that is the blogosphere!

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The Immediate Need For Emotional Justice

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From the amazing folks at Crunk Feminist Collective

Original post:

This post echoed so many of my frustrations regarding community organizing and paying attention to our bodies and spirits. This is definitely a must read!

The Immediate Need For Emotional Justice
Guest Post by Yolo Akili

Oppression is trauma. Every form of inequity has a traumatic impact on the psychology, emotionality and spirituality of the oppressed. The impact of oppressive trauma creates cultural and individual wounding. This wounding produces what many have called a “pain body”, a psychic energy that is not tangible but can be sensed, that becomes an impediment to the individual and collective’s ability to transform and negotiate their conditions.

Emotional justice is about working with this wounding. It is about inviting us into our feelings and our bodies, and finding ways to transform our collective and individual pains into power. Emotional justice requires that we find the feeling behind the theories. It calls on us to not just speak to why something is problematic, but to speak to the emotional texture of how it impact us; how it hurts, or how it brings us joy or nourishment. Emotional Justice is very difficult for many activists, because historically most activist spaces have privileged the intellect and logic over feeling and intuition. This is directly connected to sexism and misogyny, because feeling and intuition are culturally and psychologically linked to the construct of “woman”, a construct that we have all been taught to invalidate and silence. So by extension we invalidate and silence the parts that we link to “woman” in ourselves: our feelings, our intuition, and our irrationality.

This disdain leads to many things: a dismissal or minimization of our own and other’s feelings, a fear of revealing oneself as “emotional” (instead of as sternly logical) and a culture of “just suck up your feelings” or shrug them off. All of these responses to our emotions have consequences that contribute to a range of emotional and spiritual stressors which impact our lives. In this article I am going to focus exclusively on the reasons I believe activist communities struggle with emotional justice and why the integration of our emotional selves into our activist work can’t wait.

Reasons I believe activist communities struggle with emotional justice

1. Activist Organizations Are Often Over-capacity
Many grass roots organizations and non-profits operate with a small staff that is expected to complete herculean tasks. This expectation leads to fatigue, stress and emotional imbalance. Asking to add emotional justice discourse(s) to the workplace/organizing is seen as a waste of time when organizations are trying to survive and fulfill grant/monetary obligations with limited resources. Yet it is an emotional discourse that could offer many movements opportunities for self-evaluation, especially as it relates to perpetuating models of capitalist productivity that they are often seeking to end. Regular guided dialogues and retreats must become a priority and should be led by outside consult. They can help build connections, clarify the mission(s) and re-invigorate the collective.

2. Emotional Justice Has No Succinct Time Line
There simply is no timeline that can be put on someone else’s healing. Within an emotional justice framework, someone is able to bring up their pain as they feel the need. Our patriarchal emotional discourses will push back against this, however, and will instead encourage us to deny, dismiss, and move on as quickly as possible from difficult emotions. Engaging emotional justice requires us to check this attitude within ourselves and develop ongoing strategies that allow us to express our concerns and feelings.

3. Emotions are Used as a Tool for those with Privilege to Avoid, Minimize or Escape Accountability
In an experience working with a group of queers on a racism project, a white identified cis gendered woman in the group would constantly break into tears whenever someone challenged her on the choices she was making that perpetuated racist themes. Her crying, which happened in several sessions, led to the entire group, especially the women of color, to comfort and assure her that she wasn’t a “bad person.”
Yet in the midst of attending to her emotional expressions, she continued to evade accountability and perpetuated the same dynamics. When she was challenged on her use of crying, she was able to come to an understanding that as a child crying had been a tactic she had used within her family to avoid being held responsible. This awareness led to her participate in the space in a much more accountable manner.
Stories like these happen all the time. Unfortunately in most spaces there are not always individuals with the skills to compassionately address these kind of emotional dynamics. This lack of skill prevents many from engaging emotional justice for fear they will get lost in these issues. This another reason seeking the support of healing justice/emotional justice educators is necessary.

4. Very Little Knowledge of the Emotional Body or Emotional Language
What is a feeling? What are the lessons they offer us? How can they invite us into ourselves? These are the questions that emotional justice guides us toward. Emotional justice can help many begin to work with their feelings in constructive ways that can help the movement as a whole.
An example: If someone asks many activists, what do you feel? The response may be something like,
“I feel like we just need to hurry up and make this thing happen because they keep on trying. yaddda yadda.”
But that was not a feeling. That was a thought. A feeling is one word. The feeling for this statement could be: “I am anxious, or I am frustrated”. Aiming directly for the feeling, as opposed to the thought around it, can help save time and address deeper issues. If feelings are continually confused as thoughts, then the intellectual debate process kicks in, and before you know it, we are battling for philosophical dominance instead of saying that we are hurt.

5. Lack of Self-Awareness into how our own unique Psychological Frameworks, Trauma and Social locations inform our Interpretation of Reality
Journeying into our own narratives and seeing how they inform our current understandings of others around us can be invaluable in times of challenge. There are many tools for this; one in which I find very effective is Psychological Astrology; as it invites us to explore, whether we believe in Astrology or not, what our motivations are, what we need to feel emotionally satisfied, the root of our personality conflicts with others, and how we express our aggression. This exploration can help us recognize an area of difference that is predicated on the ways in which we psychologically experience the world around us, a recognition that can help us understand and hear each other better in conflict situations.

6. Ideological Violence
“We were often poised and ready for attack, and not always in the most effective places. When we disagreed with one another, we were far more vicious to each other than the common originators of our problem. ” -Audre Lorde

It is apparent from Audre Lorde’s words that ideological violence was a big problem for her generation. Many years later it continues to be, as unproductive ego wars rage amidst our movement spaces.
These ego wars (or as many of my friends say, “intellectual dick fights”) are for many apart of the academic environmental training that encourages us to battle for philosophical dominance. While debate in itself is healthy and can be empowering, the challenge here is that this “training” is colored with patriarchy and a “power over others” construct. Tactics such as Interrupting, yelling, belittling each other, and personal attacks, are dynamics of patriarchal communication and must be seen as the acts of emotional violence that they are.* As this is acknowledged, steps must be taken to train and understand assertive communication and the myriad of cultural communication styles that allow us to express our hurt, rage and frustration in ways that minimize harm.

Emotional Justice is not anything new to our movements. It is already being enacted in many spaces and in organizations all across the country. My hope in writing this is that this work is expanded, illuminated and raised to a level of importance on par with our intellectual critiques. It is my hope that we realize that just as we must construct new systems and institutions, we must also develop new ways of relating with each other and to our emotional selves. These models of relating will call on us to develope skills and to work with our feelings, our trauma and our pain. It calls on us to recognize that emotional justice is an immediate need, not only for our movements, but for the world at large.

Yolo Akili is an Emotions Educator, Performance Artist, Practicing Astrologer, Yoga Teacher and long time activist. He can be reached at Yolo@yoloakili.com

Gender-bending in hip-hop

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Cross-posted from clutch magazine.

Gender-Bending Rapper Starts ‘XY Movement,’ Is It Just A Gimmick?

FRIDAY NOV 11, 2011 – BY 

Hip-hop isn’t the most accepting of men who don’t fit the conventional definitions of masculinity. In a genre so comfortable disparaging gays and lesbians, it seems like career suicide for an new rapper to rock lipstick and wear pink tights–and NOT be in contention to be the next Nicki Minaj. But that’s exactly what 19-year-old Daryll Duane Philips is doing.

Philips, who goes by the name DPhill Spanglishman, created the XY movement to encourage men to get in touch with their feminine side.

Predictably, many aren’t feeling his style and question his sexuality (he’s straight), but DPhill says he’s unfazed.

He told reporters, “I believe I’m 40 percent female basically because of my emotions. I’m a very emotional person”

DPhill continues, “Everybody has a soft spot, I just embrace both sides.”

The defensive “reverse” racist

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Oh. My. God. What a fucked-up story. We know about the defensive racists, the ones who say, “I’m not a racist. My best friend is [insert non-white “race” of choice here].” Here, this Apaak character is playing the defensive “reverse” racist. Ew.

Dr. Apaak’s reference to Lydia B. as “blond-haired” has been interpreted in some on-line comments as racist. He said he was not referring to her race, but repeating the description he was given by the concert organizers.

“If you see my record of what I’ve been doing in terms of my advocacy, the issue of racism and speaking out against it has been one of the things that I’ve been doing. So, I certainly indeed apologize that I have made a statement that has been interpreted within that context, but I guess we are all human and we should be willing to apologize when we have fallen short.”

Dr. Apaak also pointed out that his ex-wife is white and his children and current partner are bi-racial.

Bodies in translation

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Warning – this is a brief missive perhaps full of contradictions that is not about the perambulatics of air travel but about corporeal recognition/misrecognition and translation. And the fact that the body is/may be the seat of all knowledge.

I am one of those lucky (or perhaps if you knew the real circumstances of this endeavour perhaps you would deem me unlucky) people who one week ago was able to be in three countries in one week. I left Toronto on Thursday, was in Rome on Friday night and was in Nairobi the next Wednesday morning. In all of these places my body sought to tune in to the corporeal norms, sought to lunge into the masses and move within the uniformity that was corporealy and consistently being established in each location.  My ventures in these performances were not always free of folly and failure, and I wonder if that has to do more with me as an individual or what the body and perhaps what a black womyns body means in all of these locations. I guess to elaborate more on this and finally get to my point I have to make you privy to these performances….. dang… just don’t tell my mother  and especially not her church going friends..

You see having being regimented into a somewhat Ottawa body uniformity (rather as much as my African (?) womyn body would allow) lets just say my ‘swagger’ was bit diminished.  Ok I wont blame everything on Ottawa as I usually do ( nevertheless I implore you to remember I am NOT from OTTAWA),  it was the multiple coincidences of  school, immigrant life, lots of jobs and other diagnosed frustrations… that also worked to hinder this swagger,… And so for the most part the southern/ ‘tropical’/ rhythms in my hips sounded more like a beginners first violin lesson, choppy, staccato, un-unifom,  rigid, uneasy(?)….

So check it, I am in Toronto and for the first time since my escape from Ottawa, I am seeing lots of people of colour and so my body that in Ottawa that had manifested those violin lessons, was now manifesting itself a little less staccato…a little less opera, a lot more jazz…

Amsterdam airport…. dang… only the airport and I feel like I just joined the ceremonial guard. My body feels rigid as the school chair I sat on…. is this lack of sleep or has the atmosphere given me an early onset of osteoporosis?

Italy… I get of the bus in this seaside town having forgotten crazy Rome airport, and I’m feeling lighter, more mellow mood, less ceremonial guard… more southernity.. I’m getting comfortable until… I see a black woman standing in the night, tight clothes, bleached face, cold in this night, with a countenance sad… so far from home, waiting waiting waiting for whatever will be her salvation this evening…. As I ask my friend if I saw right (he confirms indeed that I did see right).. I can feel my body going from polka dancing group back to that violin…

Interestingly the next evening having followed one of my hosts to partake in the nightlife that this little town had to offer, the course of the evening saw three men try to use their mack to give me some local nightlife and then some. My body is now back to that staccato that was increasingly made defiant by the sight of my sister on the street the night before and I resolve not to in any corporeal way respond to those advances ( if any of ya’ll sisters are from Ottawa you will know that that was pretty hard considering the absence of any kind of this love in Ottawa) because I have yet to discern what a black womyns body means in this location… and I was not going to give in to any man’s black womyn raunchy fantasy.

However  three very strong beers later – beers that somehow have channeled my ancestors back to my body – I have danced the shuffle multiple times in a very small bar on this one street and I am now making my way to the rave space for the ‘ after party.’  My body now thinks that it is a Bahian/Brazilian street party (albeit in the hills of Abruzzo) and so I dance and dance and dance… and kiss and kiss and kiss (the recipient of these kisses did not have as bad mack as the previous three men and also found me when I was manifesting my ancestors and so you really cant blame a sista…) and in a strange way find my body back again…

The next morning, the rigidity has found its way back to my body, the violin still playing in every corner … (although not as loudly and staccato as it is in Ottawa)… and I never hear from my kissing friend again.

Consequently, I begin to think that perhaps I should have been more resilient and protective of this black womyns body (even though my dancing was pretty pg 13, and the pg 13 of the 1980’s and not of the present… and also all I did was just kiss, pretty relaxed for someone whose ‘morals’ are on holiday…) until I could discern what these types of bodies mean in this location…. But… you know at the same time, I really quite enjoyed being in a Bahian street party all by myself in Abruzzo, so should I really care to think about what images I was giving out ?

In reality, as I sit here a week later I still have not reconciled myself to what I should have felt during all of these travels, and especially in Italy. My body now has for the most part attuned itself to this East African vibe, and I have even become re accustomed to seeing people walk with their whole bodies and people dancing with their pelvis’s (life is good yes!). Nevertheless, I also wonder if I am being too naïve in thinking that this abundance of body signals a pervasive self body ownership and comfortability all of the time.

What I take though from this one week of corporeal investigation is that the body, this place of much knowledge, is consistently being recoginsed and misrecognised, read and misread, constantly being translated in idioms that may not be so kind. However, at the same time I see that my own translations of my own body/bodies are perhaps not always valid and rather as a result of my own defiance, experiences… perhaps also of my own fatigue, work, stress and holiday morals…

So the question remains (finally I arrive at my point) should we be having our own street party in our bodies always (even if I truly believe Amsterdam airport gave me osteoporosis)? Or should we work to discern what our bodies mean in every location and then choose whether of not to be ourselves? Should I in a bid to feel my own body forget about the image of my sister in the street, forget about the translation of coloured bodies as well as female bodies in many locations? Or should I always aim to be responsible for the remedying of racialized stereotypes and thus refrain from any corporeal expression that may affirm stereotypes?

I am still torn, for the solution that I am more drawn to, the one that sees me defiantly tackling these translations of the body … may not always allow me to live and make my own translations of my body.

Where are your manners?: Racism and rudeness on True Blood

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I hesitate to post about this, because I don’t want to hear any spoilers as I wade into the series, but I’ve been so struck by a scene in True Blood that I’m going to press forward. I recently watched the first few episodes of the show, intrigued by what I’d heard about its representations of gender and race. Like another show about vampires in a small town, this one stars a skinny blonde woman with powers who’s got a thing for vamps. Unlike that other show, the star’s best friend is a Black woman. (I just have to say that it makes little sense to me thus far in my viewing that these two are friends. Another post for another time.)

Why Tara is an instantly interesting character is that it quickly becomes evident that she recognizes racism and white privilege. We know this instantly, because she’s got a sharp tongue and doesn’t hesitate to make white folks uncomfortable by asking unorthodox questions. In most scenes, the white folks that she catches offguard are strangers to us, one-time characters, so we can easily watch in amusement as they struggle to respond.

In another scene, the one that has captured me, Tara is at her best friend Sookie’s house, along with Sookie’s grandmother and brother. They’ve gathered because Sookie has brought home a suitor of some concern to them — Bill, a vampire. Sookie isn’t worried about him, and her grandmother is easygoing too, more interested in the firsthand historical account he can provide than sussing out any danger he poses. Sookie’s brother, on the other hand, is far from pleased by the vampire in his living room and aggressively questions the idea of rights for vampires.

Tara isn’t thrilled by Bill either. But her line of questioning doesn’t concern Bill’s vampire nature. As the conversation turns to Bill’s memories of Sookie’s ancestors, Tara interjects to ask, “Did you own slaves?” Sookie immediately scolds Tara and gives her a look to let her know she’s transgressed the boundaries of politeness. Bill proceeds to explain he didn’t own slaves, but his father had owned two: a woman whose name he can’t remember and “a young, strong man named Minus.” Sookie’s grandmother then announces cheerily that her history club will be very interested to hear about this, to which Tara retorts, “About slaves?” This prompts another scolding look from Sookie, who appears uncomfortable.

This scene captured for me one way white privilege does play out in the real world. The white people carry on a conversation completely ignorant of how their privilege oozes from every word; a person of colour calls attention to it, and instead of receiving serious consideration and a serious response, she’s peremptorily shut down. Doesn’t Tara know it’s impolite to ask white people if they or they families owned slaves? Doesn’t she know how rude, inappropriate, and irrelevant it is to ask someone about their relationship with racism? How dare she imply any of these white folks are racist? Doesn’t she have any goddamn manners?

Before I wrap up this post, let me just point out that Bill can’t even remember the names of the two slaves his father owned. I mean, it’s not like they were even real people, right?

And did I mention that I don’t understand why Sookie and Tara are best friends? Or even friends at all?

(I’m serious when I say no spoilers. Refrain from telling me about future episodes please!)

white Seattle cop punched a black girl.

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Why I Miss bell hooks

August 2, 2010 by Gina Ulysse · 10 Comments 

A month ago, when that white Seattle cop punched a black girl in the face over a jaywalking incident, I thought of bell hooks. When, with assistance from the Urban League, the girl apologized days later in order to get a reduced sentence and I waited for the public outrage that never came, I realized I really miss bell hooks.

To get a reality check, I talked to my girls. We agreed this situation was seriously messed up and, moreover, there wouldn’t be any Obama beer summit over this one.

I considered different angles on this moment. No doubt, this was about the intersections of race, class and gender. It was also a story about performances of civility and docility. About what is acceptable behavior for a young black woman confronting legitimized white power. But I just could not write it.

Lakia Brown at TheRoot.com came close to expressing my feelings when she wrote that the punch in the face felt like a kick in the gut. But writing about it required that I go to a place where black women know we dare not go publicly (though I tend to go there in my performance work). We dare not go there in mixed company, particularly among white folks with unexamined white privilege–who think that Obama’s presidency means we are all miraculously equal and now live in this purportedly post-racial society.

Each time I looked at the YouTube video of that incident I felt so sick I refused to share what went on in my head and body. Ultimately, I gave up. I had the luxury to decide not to put myself through any more of it, especially after I saw the results of a CBS news poll that asked viewers whether the cop’s action was justified or if it was an act of police brutality. Seventy-three percent of those who voted agreed his actions were justified. Another kick in the gut.

Where was the feminist response to this incident? I don’t doubt for a minute that Black feminists talked about it amongst ourselves. Fact is, we all know only too well there is always a high price to pay for offending white sensibilities. There’s never been a safe public place for our rage. These days, some of us take less risk since the backlash blows can be particularly brutal. This means more conversations with friends–reminders that we are not crazy. But we keep coming back to one question: Where is bell hooks? We miss her.

My buddy KLO–a writer and former student of hooks’ at Yale—said,

[the punch reminded her] of the scene where Sophia gets decked by the white cop in The Color Purple while everyone just stands by looking, too. That punch demonstrates the continuity of black women being put in their place (violently!) whenever they should deign to stand up for themselves. No one likes a strong black woman, right? This is why bell is so important. She stands toe to toe with authority and TELLS IT LIKE IT IS. We know, because she writes about it, that she pays a huge emotional price for speaking truth to power.

bell hooks (née Gloria Watkins), humanist and kickass feminist theorist, has been a fearless cultural critic for more than three decades. For years, she has courageously taken to the front line and, with her academic sword, deconstructed everyday occurrences as evidence of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. That punch brought me back to her essays in Killing Rage: Ending Racism. That punch is another moment that highlights how a black woman’s rage, as hooks wrote in the Killing essays, must always remain
 repressed, contained, trapped in the realm of the
 unspeakable. bell is relevant now more than ever!

I decided to hang in there, respecting the fact that bell is somewhere in Kentucky doing as she must do. And then the Sherrod affair broke out. A dedicated black woman was wrongly discredited by both the right and the left, white and black men, and had to confront power at every level all the way up to the White House. Of course, I found myself wondering … what would bell hooks have to say?

And as the Essence magazine controversy recently unfolded over their decision to hire a White fashion director, I remembered bell hooks’ penchant for pop culture and thought of her essay “Madonna: Plantation Mistress or Soul Sister,” from Black Looks: Race and Representation.

Essence.com interviewed hooks this year in honor of women’s history month. To the question, “What should Black women be paying attention to the most?” she provided a substantive and critical response. My favorite line from it– “I think the revolution needs to be one of self-esteem because I feel we are all assaulted on all sides”–sums up why I have been missing her presence and insights lately.

Really miss you, dr. hooks. Wish we could get you to come back.

Photo of bell hooks from Flickr user Rainer Ebert, under Creative Commons 2.0.

Do you miss bell hooks? Inspired by this post, Ms. is seeking blog submissions relating bell hooks’ work to current events/pop culture/life. Email pitches to jstites@msmagazine.com.