Category Archives: Response Papers

Re: Seeing Over the Rainbow, Transgender Identities

Over the Rainbow

By Laurie Essig

I am exhausted from a weekend conference on transgender identities and issues, a late Sunday night meeting with a queer campus group, National Coming Out Week, and the news stories about the Bronx torture of three men apparently for being gay.

All of these things weave in and out of each other like colors of the rainbow and yet I can’t help thinking that what they also point out is that we may in fact be over the rainbow.  Identity politics have come to a dead end in the path to liberation, the end of modernist narratives of progress, where closet leads to the public confession ritual of coming out which leads to a liberation of the true self.  The liberated gay, one of the most powerful fairy tales of Modernity, is now faced with both pre- and postmodern alternatives.

Let us begin with the Bronx.  Last weekend nine men ranging in age between 16 and 23 lured three men to a home where they proceeded to torture them.  Their victims were anally raped with baseball bats, beaten with chains and burned with cigarettes.  The New York Times has described the oldest victim, who is 30, as a “gay man” and said the torture was “punishment for being gay.”

This is a crime that exists within modernity and premodernity.  A stable identity based on sexual practices and a fixed gender– gay man– is attacked by what the police have described as a “wolfpack,” a violent and punishing–and of course racialized–force outside of that state (premodern since the only legitimate source of force within modernity is the state).

But wait.  Because the story now leaks into a different time.  A time where identity is no longer stable and the assumption that gender and sexual expression are both binary (male/female and straight/gay) and unilinear, that is, there are no narrative slippages, is called into question.  Because the victim described as a gay man was in fact someone who used feminine pronouns and was known in his neighborhood as la Reina (the Queen).

As David Valentine points out in Imagining Transgender, it is difficult within modernist thinking to imagine that trans and gay bodies can coincide.  We have trouble constructing a story about a person who is both the Queen and a gay man.  And so we rewrite bodies that do not express a stable gender as either “trans” or “gay.”  If the Queen is trans, then she is in a heterosexual relationship with men, feminine to masculine.  But if the Queen is gay, then he is in a homosexual relationship, masculine to masculine.

Yet the body of the Queen confuses us because it doesn’t fit into modernist understandings of stable selves.  How can there be a body with a penis that is both a gay man and also female.   There is nowhere to turn except to postmodernity, what some have called “the road to nowhere” since liberation is never part of a postmodern story.

Within postmodernity, the demand for a stable and coherent identity where gender is separated from sexuality is refused.  Indeed, it is the refusal of stable identities and the embrace of the performativity of self that marks off the postmodern from the modern.

Which brings us to the conference I was at while the Queen and her lovers were being tortured in the Bronx.  Within the Translating Identity Conference at the University of Vermont I witnessed modernist notions of stable gender identity rubbing shoulders with postmodernist notions of refusal and subversion of binary and stable gender.  In other words, authentic selves are confronted with unstable selves, nouns with verbs, men who are “really” women meet those who identify as gender anarchists.

The results are not that different than the current mainstream gay and lesbian movement meeting up with radical queers.  Fireworks, fights, arguments, and a growing sense that the rainbow no longer represents a diversity of gender and sexual expressions, but a stable gender and sexual identity movement.

Which is why I was meeting with a student group on a Sunday night as they tried to think through Coming Out Week, with some  trans and gender queer students wondering whether “Coming Out” was a story they could tell since they could only come out as complicated and messy and gay and lesbian students talking about the liberation they felt the first time they confessed their “true” identity.

Modernist time and postmodernist in the same room, the same movement, lumped together by a legal system as well as the extralegal violence of torture in the Bronx.  The rainbow as a symbol of stability.  The rainbow as no longer a place many queers want to go.

And yet, alongside all of these stories lurks the threat of violence, discrimination, and hate–both from “wolfpacks” and from the state in the form of discriminatory laws and practices.  Which leads to a strange melting of stories and times somewhere over the rainbow.

Source: http://chronicle.com/blogs/brainstorm/over-the-rainbow/27605

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News Way of Looking at the Word, “Ho”

Has Black Culture’s appropriation of the word “Ho” changed it’s meaning, in the male perspective. Has the word “Ho” now become a way of dehumanizing the general population of Black women by refusing to acknowledge their individual and complex identities, and become simply another term to describe a mass of name-less, face-less, PUSSY. A term that was once given on the basis of a woman’s sexual morals can now be used in casual conversation in discussing Black women among Black men and sometimes amongst Black women, to describe women, whether familiar or unfamiliar, without any knowledge of her sexual practice or promiscuity.

 

Has Black Culture’s appropriation of the word “Ho” changed it’s meaning in the female perspective. When used in discussion amongst Black Women, it is often used to reference the undesirable Black woman, or those deemed by the speaker as undesirable. Often said with disdain, or indifference. But when used in these type of discussions, does the word, “Ho” become a term that’s essential existence is to verbally appropriate the person with the label as morally less than, regardless of their sexual standing?

 

Has the meaning of the word “Ho” become a term used simply to dehumanize and lessen the value of the Black woman of which we currently hold in contempt when using the word OR has the appropriation of the word “Ho” transformed the term into a simple denotation of  race, gender, and class, as being  lower-class(economically), Black and Female?

 

The sexism and sexual oppression of women throughout the world is evident. However, in this discussion, analyzing the use of the word “Ho,” and the perception of Black Women as seen in mass media and popular culture, is crucial to the understanding of the term and it’s use as a controlling and oppressive image of Black womanhood and femininity, used to justify the sexual oppressive acts and behaviors that target Black women. The black woman’s experience within the U.S. is one that is unique and different from the intersecting oppressive forces amongst women of different cultures. The oppression is different, not of higher value or lesser value.Therefore, as a result, we can not minimize the differences of the African American female experience by trying to place it amongst a broad homogenous struggle of women. In doing so, we refuse to acknowledge the unique and indiviual experiences of not just African American women facing sexism, but the unique and individual experience of all women facing racism in the world.Confronting the controlling images forwarded by institutions external to the African-American community remain essential, however, it is equally important that we examine how these same controlling images are being perpetuated in the African -American community and create the appropriate solutions and acts of resistance. So the question becomes, if we do not discuss the unique forms of oppression aimed at Black women or that often effect Black women, how do Black women as a collective resist intersecting oppressions as they affect us and the communities we live in? How do U.S. Black women indentify the specific issues associated with controlling images of Black womanhood without safe spaces within the Black community where we can talk freely? And, how do we contest and resist these images if we do not first identify the language being used within their oppression?

-Dean Steed

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Response: Michelle Obama’s Portrayal as an “Angry Black Woman”


The stereotype of the “Angry Black Woman” is used to justify and validate the unjust treatment of Black women in the U.S. This controlling image implies that U.S. Black women’s anger deviates from what is culturally acceptable, due to being biologically inferior (being born of the wrong sex and the wrong race, Black and female) or due to being culturally inferior (as a consequence of Black Culture deviating from the white “mythical norm”). By making this assumption, Black women’s anger becomes regarded as invalid and dismissed. The stereotype of “Angry Black Woman” assumes that there is no reason for the Black Woman in the U.S. to be angry. That anger is a deviant behavior due to inferiority. By doing this, we ignore the realities of racist and sexist inequality that exists here within the United States. 

The stereotype of the “Angry Black Woman” serves to mark the cries of Black women across the U.S. as illegitimate.

By further acknowledging this controlling image as valid, we ignore the oppression and obstacles faced by women of color daily. The stereotype of “Angry Black Woman” serves the Patriarchal and White Supremacist agenda to suppress the legitimate cries of Black Women, relieving America of it’s responsibility to this particular group of oppressed people. It also serves Black men who sit at the table of Male Privilege and Male dominance within a patriarchal society. 

Black Men who affirm the validity of the controlling image of the “Angry Black Woman” used to deem the cries, hurt, and anger of Black women as irrelevant and unjust, become apart of a interracial sexist alliance that persists in the emotional, social, political, psychological, and oppressive “gang-rape” of Black womanhood.

author: Dean Steed

Re: Racism is absurd but reverse racism is ok?

*Important Note: This paper was written in response to a published article for GSU’s, The Signal, bi-weekly news paper in November 2011. Find it here: http://www.gsusignal.com/opinions/racism-is-absurd-but-reverse-racism-is-ok

___________________________________________________________________

So…

It has been brought to my attention that certain individuals, not just the author, feel that they have experienced what they refer to as “reverse racism. I want to address this issue by discussing the historical context of racism and differentiate it from feelings of prejudice. To be clear, I am neither disregarding personal feelings of racial prejudice, nor am I disregarding the right to a “freedom of speech.” Everyone should be able to vocalize their opinions of how they may feel in an open, honest, and direct fashion. To be clear, I do not believe any of the diversity student organizations here at Georgia State exclude any students from joining their group in any overt or covert manner. As a fourth-year member and the current student president of a black & queer-focused student organization at Georgia State, BlackOUT, I have had my own accounts of people questioning why BlackOUT should exist, even though there is a general queer student organization all ready present here at Georgia State. However, that is not my issue either. My issue mainly lies in the lack of knowledge, understanding, objectivity, and fundamental support to state such an argument about racism without looking at its historical and concurrent functioning in a society built off of racial disparity.

It is important that many do not confuse what racism is and how it functions, with racial prejudice. Racism embodies a socialized and politicized system of oppression that keeps minorities (generally people of color) at a greater distance from accessing economic and educational advancement. By the definition proposed in the article I’m responding to, “reverse racism is “a term that describes the outcome of a group of people that try to protect a minority group so aggressively that it actually leads to hypocrisy.” This term “reverse racism” cannot compare to the years of complete desolation, segregation, and discrimination endured by minority groups such as African Americans, Latin Americans, Asian Americans, and Native Americans. Throughout time, these groups have faced, and continue to face, racialized inequalities because of legal discrimination in the past.

For clarity, I am not interested in making this a black or white issue. Also, I’m not interested in the pleading for the acceptance of diversity student groups on college campuses, for I believe that these groups all have a common purpose and a human right exist. From different point of views, these social groups bring about much needed awareness and education about their own struggles and accomplishments. Moreover, “reverse racism” is presumably to be referring to not exactly the white race, but to those who connect with the affirmation of white privilege. Racism, as it stands today, is as invisible as white privilege. In relation to racism, white privilege also consists of power and entitlement over others. One might acknowledge the existence of racism, but fail to be held accountable when she or he uses it at the expense of others. Therefore, I am not surprised that people who acquire white privilege feel the need to protect it, and the feeling of being discriminated against when they cannot attain that privilege. Besides, we cannot ignore the histories in which constitute people of color the need to unite in order to fight against racial, political, and social inequality.

Additionally, it is quite unfortunate that many can only recognize racism as it occurred during enslavement, three-hundred years ago. Racism has been, and still is, institutionalized in U.S. culture, even after the disassembling of Jim Crow laws in the late 1960s. Many of those who access their white privilege are unable to recognize the contemporary presence of racism, for it is so embedded into their own imagination of a just world.  They fail to realize that it took forty-four years after those racist laws for a 44th president, who was non-white, to be elected. Let’s face the facts. We are still living in world where a vast number of people of color continue to face enslavement by both the government’s legal and penal system. According to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics, Hispanics comprise of 20.6% of the incarcerated population, and African Americans are comprised of 39.4% of the incarcerated population. This means that 60% of people of color are disproportionately incarcerated.

We are still living in a society where black women and other women of color are being sterilized because they are seen as menaces to society: unwanted, hypersexual, and needing to be controlled. We are living in a time where our bodies continue to be policed, fetishized, and demonized by not only the government, but by the general public and mass media, too. We are living in a system where incarcerated women of color are still hand-cuffed and shackled by their hands, ankles, and even their bellies while giving birth to their babies. This is the unspoken, modern-day racism that is being exercised through and faced by people of color across the nation. Thus, it should be clear that it does not mean racism is a thing of the past. It has only been repositioned.

As a final point, it should be understood that the diversity student groups on college campuses are much more than the “FREE PIZZA” flyers you see in the hallways of buildings, in school emails, or that you inadvertently see on Facebook. Therefore, I challenge any and everyone to explore at least one out of the 300 diversity organizations here at Georgia State, if you have not all ready. Groups, such as BlackOUT, are not created to be exclusive. They are meant to gain more support from members who stand by their mission to educate others in order to fight against racial discrimination, criminalization, and other inequalities.

We all should embrace cultural diversity and not see it as a proposed threat. These systems of oppression: racism, classism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, and countless others are still co-existing, and must be countered. And as you can see, we still have a ways to go in order for people to understand that they are only profiting from a system that nourishes itself off of the malnutrition of others. Besides, we cannot ignore the histories in which constitute people of color the need to unite in order to fight against racial, political, and social inequality. You support racism when you choose to ignore its existence, question its resistance, and benefit from it. You must deconstruct its functionality, challenge its existence, and educate others on how to stop it, not those who are already doing so.

Author: Angie Cain

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