Wednesday, May 18, 2011


It has taken me a long time to write this and I thought perhaps it was because I was so frustrated, angry or disappointed by it.

But what I have learned during this most affirming time in North Carolina, that in fact I was deeply hurt. My feelings, my heart and my spirit were assaulted during that experience. And it could have been avoided, it could have even transformed in real time. But the folks in charge wouldn’t allow it, despite the surging of energy in the room. I felt tokenized, exploited and silenced, so I left early and didn’t return – until now.

But I want to, I need to write about this because I want to warn us all, to affirm us all, and to remind us to trust our intuition, and to conserve our energy in order to nourish ourselves and our communities.

That is the thing with oppression, it is violent and violence hurts. But unlike a hit to the face, which can be treated directly, with intention. You can ice that until the swelling goes down. Oppressive violence, whether it is overt, subtle or systemic doesn’t operate in isolation, it becomes chronic, exists across centuries and can seed itself on our insides active or dormant, lodged in our subconscious. It is a parasite. You may not even notice that it is there at first. It may have already had time to multiply inside you, trick your body and brain to believe that it is supposed to be there. That its presence is somehow normal. It may have you doubting yourself, your very right to exist - but my folks it is real. 

I have had many elders in my journey recount that prior to segregation, at least you know what was good. You knew that the government didn’t believe you were human. But now, they want us to believe that it is somehow a post-racial time, that all these experiences are things of the past, figments of our overactive, understimulated imaginations. And that all the power lies in you. If you fail or succeed, it based on your own individual efforts.

This is not true.

The workshop I attended was around ‘walking out’ of systems or structures that are failing, recognizing that although there can be no purity in a walk out because we are all still part of a larger system that is inherently fucked up, it is still possible to resist and challenge/change parts of it.
The first question we were asked was around courage, and where do we need courage. And I sat with it for a minute and realized the question itself was seated with so much privilege. In my communities, courage is not the question. For my genderqueer siblings who have to go to public bathrooms every day, for all the survivors of war and refugee camps who have to sit through another obnoxious air show, for all the First Nations folks who have to listen to one more O Canada, for all the nannies and caregivers who raise another one of their children only to have to exit through the ‘help’ door – courage is not the question.

We have courage and lots of it.

We keep going in the face of a system that criminalizes us, erases our histories, denies us access to basic civil liberties. And we still create culture wildly, irreverently. We still raise beautiful children into strong and resilient adults, we still learn and share our stories. We scare the shit out of the folks at the ‘top’ and still are the source of most if not all of the innovation in this world and we watch as our ideas are appropriated again and again. Watered down and whitewashed out. I look across the frontlines and see our bodies littered there, from Tecumseh to the Black Panthers, I need a damn good reason to continue sending our bodies out there.

The question for us isn’t courage and maybe it is for other folks. Do you have the courage to take a $30,000 pay cut, do you have the courage to check the racist things your family says, do you have the courage to seek justice?

The question for me is this;

Why are we going to work so hard to affirm the youth in our communities to remember their brilliance if you are still going to racially profile and deport them? 

Why am I going to praise the beauty of gender diversity if you are still going to watch while others call them deviants in the street? 

Why am I going to make another incandescent mural to affirm hope if you are going to murder one of our participants?

My question is; what is the work that you are willing to do? What power are you going to give up?

My challenge to you is to put your money where your mouth is.

Are you willing to give reparations and not charity?
Are you willing to fight for affordable housing not because you need it, but because we need it?

Are you willing to show solidarity and not sympathy?

Do you recognize that all of our liberation is wrapped up in each other and that you don’t need to save us, you need to save yourselves.

The conversation continued and a model was shown to us that proposed that belief systems come into existence, as they peak, then people begin recognize that it is flawed and they and others work together to hospice the old system, and create something new from the old one.

And even in the way it was framed, we were asked to just accept it as a pattern that has been noticed across the world and not to criticize it. Now I have seen this model before, and I had the same criticisms then as I had in that moment even though I was asked to silence them in order to participate in an education system that was denying that I exist.

If we fill this model with people, what it looks like is this.

1. Cash poor and racialized people are at the bottom and have been for a while. They have always known that the system doesn’t work. It was built on their backs whether through the trans atlantic slave trade or through the prison industrial complex or through the non-profit industrial complex.

2. Middle-class folks ride that line. The system was designed to keep them placated and at first things are good and then they get better. But somewhere along the peak, things aren’t as good as it seems, the quality of life might decrease, they might finally hear the folks on the bottom, they may even feel responsible.

3. At the top are the rich, the ones who making away like bandits, who ultimately need to quell the dissent to maintain their raping and pillaging. They figure out how to package, propagandize and institutionalize the new system these ‘edgewalkers’ ‘create’ so that ultimately the status quo doesn’t change.

Now this is just my idea and I welcome other ways of reading this model. But the way it is presented is inherently oppressive because it assumes that all things/experiences/people are equal and that simply isn’t true. It is very similar to the same primary fallacy with economics, the assumption that resources are infinite and that profit can grow forever is akin to the primacy fallacy that plagues this model – that somehow race, class, gender – one’s social location doesn’t matter. And I hate to break it to y’all but in this day and age, it is impossible to have any meaningful dialogue without acknowledging that.

Environmental movements are meaningless without conversations around environmental racism, just as state and foundation sponsored anti-violence initiatives are irrelevant without criticism of state sanctioned violence.

We need to recognize that we have different work to do. While we are figuring out how to heal, how to live away from the edge of subsistence, how to learn to love ourselves and each other – those who enjoy vertical mobility need to step down from the seats in government and ensure that the people most directly impacted by policy are in fact the decision makers, they need to learn and study the real histories of the people in the world, they need to give money back – money made through plantations, slavery and fucked up foreign policy.

But a start to all of this, is to have the courage to step aside so there is finally room for all of us.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

For Femmes Of Colour Who Rose Too Early & Set Too Soon

This is some real hard talks and for all my sistren who have lived through or who are living through sexual violence, be careful with yourself. You don't have to read this to prove anything to yourself or others. You are magnificent as you are.

I, like many of the femmes of colour in my life, regardless of sexual orientation, have experienced sexual violence at the hands of strangers, friends, family even lovers. Hell the media and the government actively participate in this shit as well, even knowledge masquerading as 'science' (psychology today, I am looking squarely at you) are to blame. It requires courage to as the brilliant Arti Metha says to walk out with, "me and my slutty thigh high sparkly fishnets against the world".

Over the course of my life this violence has come in the form of caregivers, street harassment, and at the hands of partners both male and female. I was introduced to sex and sexual desire at a very young age, and let me be specific, I was introduced to being 'sexually desired' at a profoundly wrong age. I felt deep, gut wrenching shame, responsibility and oh so much guilt. I was sure that people could see it written all over me. I begged and pleaded to what I understood God to be, to have me forget. To wipe away the memories, the sounds, the dreams, the flashbacks and start me all over again.

I think something very different happens to girls know sex too soon.
Girls who come to know that sex is a currency and we are in a recession.
Girls who don't yet know the context, that we come from a history where sex workers were priestesses and now our bodies are regularly dismembered and commodified. We are blamed and branded as we tap into a power stemming as far back as time immemorial. And my sistren, I want to remind us that we remain both beautiful and priceless no matter how many people we sleep with, no matter what happens to our sex.
In this patriarchal, racist, mind fuck of a world we are both what is desired and defiled, vessels of power and of shame.

And there I was trying to walk that impossibly fine line between Madonna and whore. Completely inexperienced, but with a body that clearly said otherwise and I had no allies. Had no mentors, had no women I could ask to provide me with guidance as I wandered, or rather strutted.

And then we are told that this is what makes us special. And at first it feels like it, and even when it doesn't it still is the only place where women are truly 'validated'. We can be smart, athletic, creative, but we all are required to still be attractive. And being this exceptional, holds in betwixt the fingers of its' mysticism the promise of love, attention, adoration, but mostly the promise of a promise. The promise of something more.

I find myself searching the eyes of each person I meet and asking the following questions:
“Could you love me?”
“Would you hurt me?
“Do you want to fuck me?”
“And how would I know the difference?”
I imagine that it must be so freeing, so beautiful to look into someone’s eyes for the first time and see eyes, and feel nervous and curious, maybe some butterflies, some deep in the chest, down in the belly welling up of something. I wonder what it must be like not to need to know the answer to these questions, not to have your survival depend on knowing whether someone’s desire to fuck will overwhelm their desire to protect you from harm, on knowing what you must exploit, what you must manipulate in order to get space in the midst of this.
We girls of the fatherless tribe, girls of the motherless tribe we work in trade.
And I have done it too - for love, support, to build family and to find freedom.
And I have no regrets.
Not one.
We glorify men as pimps and hustlers, but I want to shout out to all the womyn doing what they have to do to survive, all the womyn doing what they have to do to thrive. To the video girls, and the trans womyn, the sex workers and the dancers. Our society gives us few options and we are still able to leverage these experiences into book deals, professional dance careers and Masters degrees in physics.
And I want to say, it's not enough to tell us to keep being strong and keep on hustlin. We actually need work, commitment for others to challenge this culture and transform the dialogue. And I want to give props to those of you who do it. Those of you who sit with us and devise plans for us to come home safely, those who tell us that we are are your heros, those who check their brethren when they spit whack 'game' to a sister - because it isn't a game.
This is our lives.
And these are our bodies.
And even if we like sex that is rough or that explores rape fantasies, even if we love or have deep appreciation for masculine energy regardless of the body that it comes in - the fact of the matter is that the consent is what turns us on. We are giving permission to ourselves to be submissive and this in fact is a reclaiming of our bodies in a culture that decries that it is our 'no's' that mean 'yes'. It is possible to protest misogyny with my legs spread wide open and I am going to just that.

And as much as wish I didn't have to say this, we have to say this.

Don't rape us.
Don't shout slurs at us on the streets.
Don't act with ownership over our bodies.
Don't police our bodies and that includes how we dress, how we fuck and how we birth.
Yes means yes. That's it.
Don't drug us, slip things in our drinks, wait until we are drunk - these things are not consent.
We are not responsible for getting you off, or tempting you or in general for your lack of self control.

We are children of the universe no less than the sun or stars.
It's time you all acted like it.

Saturday, May 14, 2011


The silence and the noise between us is deafening and defining us
As we speak and mouth words of sorrow and promises, things far too delicate to share.
We instead stick to the profane
Eroding each other's heart
Happy to feel the soft, warm spot
Where we can again lay our weary heads

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

I don't have a really strong grasp on what family means.
And trust and unconditional love are things that I found only in my relationship with my grandmother. So now as I look through footage of my grandmother and think of how to piece things together, I find myself walking into increasingly uncharted territory. Soft and sharp memories, unending contradictions.

I am trying to challenge myself to be honest, not narcissistic, but to release the shame that has kept my womyn suffering in silence.

I am also trying to observe, and note the inevitability of life and the passage of time and energy from one body to another.

I grew bigger as she grew smaller.
I grew louder as she grew quieter.
I learned more and she remembered less.

Granny, do you you really think I am ready to hold your legacy, to carry our stories in my bones alone?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Radical Education

I read once that radical means grasping something at its' roots.

It took me more than a minute to get what this meant, so maybe I can share my process of understanding cause I feel like it helps illuminate how I finally get to the crux.

Big Ol' Metaphor
The medium is the message. This is what I realized in this process, the 'how' is just as important as the 'why' and sometimes more so.

North American/European ideals and colonization itself relies upon a symptomatic (probably not the right word, I would love to get another) linear understanding of the world in order to oppress and exploit.

The Message
Another way to think about this, is that what happened second gets told first. i.e. "Columbus discovered America" as opposed to "First Nations people living on Turtle Island had complex societies all across the continent and Columbus couldn't navigate his way out of a paper bag and somehow made it to their homes."
This type of messaging or propaganda is necessary because it allows for the empty and unrelenting pursuit of profit and policies that support this.
Another example is 'The War On Crime" as a policy as opposed to recognizing that people commit crimes because of being cash-poor and oppressed, lacking access to basic human rights like healthcare, self-determination, right to education that affirm their identity. As well realizing that many people in prison didn't commit crimes at all, but we have an inherently racist system.

The truth is, it's all just a cover for ensuring the perpetuation of legalized slavery of these "criminalized", "demonized" bodies of Black, Brown & Red bodies.

The Delivery/The Medium
It needs to be linear as opposed to circular, because that shapes the mode of understanding. Linear and monotheistic means that there is only one model, one path, one right answer, one god and only ONE right answer.

So all this to say that I think that what would be radical would be to grab things at the root with our whole hands encircling the plant.
The roots are the content and a full 360 grab will now be the method of delivery.

Bear with me family,

I am proposing that education go down way differently.
I am proposing that these institutions like 'elementary school' or 'university' teach the practical.

Community educators teach the practice.

Elders, in particular people of colour, teach and tell stories (because that is what history is at it's root, adding 'his' to the front of story does not add to its' legitimacy in my opinion. Stories from our past should be told by many different people in order to share many different perspectives)

Children would teach joy, honesty, playfulness and remind us of the basic things in life we need to survive. Nat's nephew Faenin is so self-aware that he has been able to turn to me and tell me "I am grumpy because I have to poo." Sometimes friends, that is all people need, sometimes people are just full of shit.

And what if we qualified them all as educators, even the media.
And they articulated their responsibility as educators.
And no one was exempt from this responsibility, we were all held accountable and we all took ownership of educating our young.
And it was actually a village, a global village that was committed to raising our young as though they all were our own.
And educators wouldn't have to fight against horrible, irresponsible and damaging messages. Instead we would be in it together.
And mothers, aunties, fathers and humans would all be honoured for the role in educating.

Let it be clear that we wouldn't all be performing the same role, there would still be a separate and distinct space for those who chose education as a life's purpose or career. We would not be participating in this in the same way, that doesn't make us all valuable and complementary.

This would mean that the work would be done by millions as opposed to few and there would be structural change to support this.

I also want to recognize that the trauma of past generations, particular of Red, Black, Brown, and Yellow folks and even current experiences can leave many unable to speak, to share stories. I know that the legacy my family has passed down to me has often been silence, secrets and shame. This too is something that we can learn from. I don't have delusions that this would be easy, but I would like to talk to my community about the stories we need to tell to our youth and to each other. I would like to hold advertisers and food companies accountable for the lies that they tell in the pursuit of profit.

I was lied to for a long time in our 'traditional' school system. From Columbus to the war of 1812, I only began to learn some of the truth in university. During my 3rd or 4th African History class, I cried, there was so much I didn't know. And since taking my learning into my own hands and into the arms of my community, I have been able to root myself as part of a narrative of cultural creators, activists, nurturers, femmes, as well as Red, Black, Brown, and Yellow people. My story is woven together from the stories we never hear. The moment I began this learning journey, my ability to self-determine drastically transformed. No one could name me, I now had the language and context to name myself.

This is radical.