Tag Archives: privilege

On Collaboration: Starting With Each Other

*Excerpts from the 5th Annual Queer & Asian Conference, “Collide, Connect, Create,” keynote address, delivered on April 28, 2012.

sea buble with stones and sand stuck to it, set against the sun.I would like to invite you to breathe, deeply. To remember why you do this work—this work for liberation. Think of the communities your work is in service of—hold them in your mind—feel them. What are your wishes and dreams for them? Let’s remember why we’re here, what brought us into this work of daring to create movements that value all of us; daring to assert that Queer Asian and Pacific Islanders matter; that we matter.

Let us ground in all those who have come before us and honor them. All the freedom fighters who have made this moment possible. All of the queer Asian and Pacific Islander (API) folks in particular that have gone the hard road of being the only queer person or the only person of color, or the only asian, or the only pacific islander. Let us ground in the legacy of racial justice and queer liberation organizing and community building, of immigrant justice work and radical women of color and trans liberation work. Everyone who has wanted something more than criminalization, isolation, shame, self hatred and invisibility.

Let us ground in and honor all of the people who are currently fighting for us. For all of us in this room—each and every one of us. For the first queer API person we ever met; or whose writings we read or who helped make it possible for us to be who we are. For the first time we were ever in a room full of queer APIs. For the queer APIs in the south, rural lands, small cities who don’t have access to this type of space and belonging. For the queer API folks who have families that do not support them. For everyone currently involved in and committed to building queer API community. For all of the people fighting for liberation in this country and around the globe in big and small ways whether they are working for food justice, reproductive justice, the community caretakers, child care workers, prison abolitionists, healers and radical educators.

And finally, let us ground in and honor those yet to come, the people who we do this work for. We hope we can give them intact queer API communities and organizing. We vow to be able to pass on concrete, substantial tools and learnings to them; and wish for them a deep sense of pride, belonging and dignity in who they are, in all of their complexities. Our work and our time is responsible to them and we work so that they may have a lighter burden to carry…

I do this work in service of community. I tell my story with the knowing that our stories are tools for liberation. I speak knowing that all of our voices are important. I speak to leave evidence for the people like me who are searching for reflection and recognition and a “yes, we exist.” I speak to leave evidence for folks who have been told that disability is not as important as race, or that gender justice will have to wait until after class equality is won. For folks who have been told that how you feel is less important than what you think; for those who don’t have the luxury of being able to rattle off 10, even 5, writers or books that reflect their identities or experiences. Those of us who straddle the lines between multiple oppressed communities. For those of us who are working to end violence for all of us, not just some of us. For those of us who truly believe that no one’s safety is more important than anyone else’s, even when we feel unsafe.

I want to specifically name my privilege as a disabled person, when so many of us are locked up in prisons, institutions, group homes, or in the back rooms of our families’ houses. I have a level of mobility that many disabled folks don’t have and I know it is a huge reason I am visible. As someone who is physically disabled and does not have mental or cognitive disabilities, I know how privileged it is to get to speak from the mic to a crowd full of people and be listened to…

I was asked to speak about collaboration and how we build alliances for social change. There is so much I could say about it, but really, to me, it comes down to our relationships. It’s not about the smartest analysis or the fanciest organizing campaign with sleek billboards, buttons and stickers. It’s about the quality of our relationships with each other, how well you can build community and how you treat people.

If we are truly committed to ending oppression and violence, then we must be committed to each other. Then we must live out of the simple truth that we need each other. We need each other. And this is where I would like to center my comments for today.

The best analysis in the world is useless if we don’t treat each other well. If we don’t invest our time and energy in learning how to love each other better, if we can’t build relationships that can last more than 2-5 years. If we can’t commit to practicing working out hard dynamics in our relationships or if we are recreating the very conditions we are fighting against inside of our collectives, organizations, and movements.

It doesn’t matter how much you know, if you’re not willing to work on your heart and your relationship with yourself. If you don’t know how to say, “I’m sorry,” “that really hurt my feelings,” or “I messed up.” None of this matters if you are interested in staying “right” all the time or always wanting to only talk about the places you’re oppressed and never talk about the places you are privileged.

All of us here know that oppression needs to be ended. All of us have been moved to come out here today. But then what? Our movements don’t lack people being inspired and motivated, it lacks what comes next: the day-in and day-out work to end oppression and violence that is not glamorous or easy.

Take the day-to-day work of being an ally to queer disabled API folks, for example. The work of learning about your able bodied privilege, valuing the voices of disabled queer APIs, making sure your events are accessible, fighting ableism in public and private, educating your fellow able bodied queer API comrades about their able-bodied privilege. As a queer disabled korean adoptee woman, I ask you, how are you connecting your identity as an able bodied person to your identity as a queer API? How are you connecting your fight for queer APIs to fighting ableism? How are you making sure that queer API community and family building is accessible for all queer APIs? How are you actively listening, valuing and learning about queer disabled APIs?

Because you can know about something and it doesn’t mean that your behavior is going to change. It’s the white middle class way of activism, isn’t it? If I know different, then I will do different, but we all know that it takes much more work to change. Good intentions are not enough. We need to practice. We have to be in it for the long haul.

Because hopefully what that sharp analysis should tell us, is that systems of oppression and violence are deeply embedded in our lives and world, intertwined with each other; and white supremacy and transphobia are not going to be ended in a campaign or in 5, 20 or 50 years. It is going to take a long time. And we have to be committed to each other through it. We have to think of our relationships as long-term relationships with each other, as people we will be working with and plan to know for the next 30, 40 years.

Any kind of systematic change we want to make will require us to work together to do it. And we have to have relationships strong enough to hold us as we go up against something as powerful as the state, the medical industrial complex, the prison system, the gender binary system, the church, immigration system, the war machine, global capitalism.

Because we’re going to mess up. Of that I am sure. We cannot, on the one hand have sharp analysis about how pervasive systems of oppression and violence are and then on the other hand, expect people to act like that’s not the world we exist in. Of course there are times we are going to do and say oppressive things, of course we are going to hurt each other, of course we are going to be violent, collude in violence or accept violence as normal.

We must roll up our sleeves and start doing the hard work of learning how to work through conflict, pain and hurt as if our lives depended on it—because they do. We have to learn how to have hard conversations and get skilled at talking about and dealing with shame, guilt, trauma, hurt, and anger. That’s the kind of skills building and workshops that I want to see at conferences! And not some new-aged privileged imperialist, “let’s go to India and get healed and work on our relationship disconnected from the rest of the world and injustice.” But rather, we are doing this in service of liberation because our movements, organizations, groups and communities are imploding from the inside. People get into fights and then we never see them in the same room again; most of our non-profits feel more like corporations with CEOs and dictatorships; break-ups divide entire queer communities or people are exiled or leave and never heard from again; activists are burning out or being traumatized by the very movements that seek to end trauma; campaigns fail because we don’t know how to listen and work together, so instead of coalitions, we have turf wars and undermine each other for next year’s grant that barley pays the bills.

We must work to transform our selves, each other and the systems we’re up against. The task in front of us is to learn how to value and practice individual, collective and systematic change together. There is no other choice. Someone once said, “ community is taking responsibility for the relationships in the group.” What if we moved from that place? What if we understood each other as our collective responsibility? What if we understood that we are all interconnected and what harms you will impact me—and THIS is why addressing power and privilege are so vital?

How can we demand accountability from the state, if we can’t even hold our selves and each other accountable?

How do we stretch for each other and learn to live past our lifetimes? How do we live in service of people 3-5 generations to come? How do we grow our skills to be able to center our vision and think long-term? That’s the kind of thinking I want us to have. Because, the truth is, most of us won’t live to see the kind of large scale change that we dream of, but we can do our best to lay the necessary ground work for the next generation to be able to take it and run.

I want to leave a legacy of useful tools and substantial work for the people coming after us. I want to be able to give them loving, intact queer API communities and API women (gender queer, trans and cis) who love themselves and each other. I want to give them a world free of sexual violence. But most of all, I want to be able to leave them with a legacy of stories of how people came through harm with each other, how they risked loving each other in the face of uncertainty, how they built family and community that centered resiliency and healing.

Because the truth is, we need each other. We need each other. I need you and each and every one of you make my life more possible. We owe our existence to each other in so many ways. I don’t know how you have survived, but I am grateful you are here.

Take some time to look around at each other. Connect with each other and realize all the brilliance in this room. Commit to each other and remember that every time we turn away from each other, we turn away from ourselves. Remember that loving each other as fellow queer API folks is loving ourselves. This is where coalition building, collaboration and building alliances across movements begins: with each other. Because movements, coalitions, communities… they’re all made up of individual, living, breathing people. What good is it if you claim solidarity and alliance with disabled people, if you don’t treat the disabled people you know well?

Commit to not letting go of each other, even when it’s hard—especially when it’s hard. Commit to finally learn that the ends do not justify the means. How many times do we have to learn that how we do the work is just as important as the work we do? Commit to thinking about after the meeting, after the protest, after the revolution. Commit to being a grounded force to end violence and oppression. Commit to being a grounded force for healing and community. Commit to learning about where each of you are different and how “our differences lie down inside of us,” as audre lorde talks about.

What I’m talking about is reinventing how we love each other and knowing that solidarity is love, collaboration is love. And really, isn’t that what queerness is about: loving? I am talking about growing and cultivating a deep love that starts with those closest to us and letting it permeate out. Starting with our own communities. Building strong foundations of love.

And I just want to be clear, I am not talking about love that isn’t accountable. I am not talking about staying in harmful and dangerous or abusive relationships. The kind of love I want us to grow is accountable and assertive. Really, I am talking about collective love, where we look out for each other…

I have been all over the country speaking for the past seven years and across the board, almost everyone I have met, has longed for community and love that will be able to be the foundation for justice and liberation. Community and love that are just and libratory. But most of us have been so hurt, experienced such harsh things, that we are afraid to try again. Each time community, political work or love fails us, it is that much harder to muster up the courage to try again. I know it’s hard. And I am not standing up here saying I am perfect at this by any means—far from it.

But what I am saying is that it is our only chance. We have to be bold. We have to be courageous. We have to be willing to risk again and again and again. In a violent and oppressive world, the work of love is never done.

I’d like to close with one of my favorite quotes, by a fellow korean adoptee:

I am realizing that our stories weave together, that acknowledgment of your story does not mean a necessary preclusion of my own. Something has been shattered. Some door flung open that I will never close. And I will lose some people when I acknowledge the door, while others will accompany me to the other side. And I cannot forget the people who are waiting there, people i have been holding my breath to see.

–Soo Na, from Garlic and Salt in

Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption

Thank you.

5 Comments

Filed under Writing

Changing the Framework: Disability Justice

How our communities can move beyond access to wholeness

(Written for the RESIST Newsletter, November, 2010.  Initially posted on the RESIST website.)

spider web stretched between rocksIn my time doing social justice work, I have found that disability is something most people know very little about—and that includes seasoned, fierce and well-respected community organizers and activists. People usually think of disability as an individual flaw or problem, rather than as something partly created by the world we live in. It is rare that people think about disability as a political experience or as encompassing a community full of rich histories, cultures and legacies.

Disability is framed as lacking, sad and undesirable: a shortcoming at best, a tragedy at worst. Disabled people are used as the poster children of environmental injustice or the argument for abortion rights. For many people, even just the idea that we can understand disability as “not wrong” is a huge shift in thinking.

Towards interdependency

Our communities and movements must address the issue of access. There is no way around it. Accessibility is concrete resistance to the isolation of disabled people. Accessibility is nothing new, and we can work to understand access in a broad way, encompassing class, language, childcare, gender-neutral bathrooms as a start.

We must, however, move beyond access by itself. We cannot allow the liberation of disabled people to be boiled down to logistics. We must understand and practice an accessibility that moves us closer to justice, not just inclusion or diversity.

As organizers, we need to think of access with an understanding of disability justice, moving away from an equality-based model of sameness and “we are just like you” to a model of disability that embraces difference, confronts privilege and challenges what is considered “normal” on every front. We don’t want to simply join the ranks of the privileged; we want to dismantle those ranks and the systems that maintain them.

In no way am I saying that accessibility is not important—it most definitely is. We cannot have disability justice without it, but we want to question a culture that makes inaccessibility even possible. Just because disabled people are in the room doesn’t mean there is no ableism (a set of beliefs that favors non-disabled people) or that people won’t pretend we’re invisible.

This work is about shifting how we understand access, moving away from the individualized and independence-framed notions of access put forth by the disability rights movement and, instead, working to view access as collective and interdependent.

With disability justice, we want to move away from the “myth of independence,” that everyone can and should be able to do everything on their own. I am not fighting for independence, as much of the disability rights movement rallies behind. I am fighting for an interdependence that embraces need and tells the truth: no one does it on their own and the myth of independence is just that, a myth.

The power of disability justice

Disability justice has the power to not only challenge our thinking about access but to fundamentally change the way we understand organizing and how we fight for social change.

It has the power to bring our bodies back into our conversations. What do we do with bodies that have limitations, that are different (no matter how much we want to change them)? How do we acknowledge that all bodies are different, while also not ignoring the very real ways that certain bodies are labeled and treated as “disabled?”

Disability justice activists are engaged in building an understanding of disability that is more complex, whole and interconnected than what we have previously found. We are disabled people who are people of color; women, genderqueer and transgender; poor and working class; youth; immigrants; lesbian, gay, bisexual and queer; and more.

We are pushing for an understanding of how ableism affects all of our movements for justice. We are drawing connections between ableism and other systems of oppression and violent institutions. We are pushing for a more nuanced and fierce interrogation of the medical industrial complex and understandings of health, wellness and healing that aren’t rooted in ableist notions of bodies and what is considered “normal.”

We are trying to understand how we can build organizing and community spaces that are mixed-ability, cultivating solidarity between people with different disabilities. We are working to move together, as disabled people, through a world that wants to divide us and keep us separate.

Disability is not monolithic. Ableism plays out very differently for wheelchair users, deaf people or people who have mental, psychiatric and cognitive disabilities. None of these are mutually exclusive, and are all complicated by race, class, gender, immigration, sexuality, welfare status, incarceration, age and geographic location.

Finding home

As a queer, disabled woman of color, disability justice feels like a political home for me, a place where I can engage in conversations about disability and race and gender and queerness and capitalism and more.

I tried to look to the disability rights movement, but I saw very few leaders who reflected me, and I found that, for the most part, disability was being talked about as an isolated single issue. Having been involved with racial justice, queer liberation, reproductive justice and feminist movements most of my life, I have rarely encountered spaces that addressed disability or connected it with other issues.

What does it mean to not have the luxuries of deciding when to use the bathroom in the place where you live, having alone time or going to visit a loved one in their home? How do we re-imagine relationships that center interdependency? How do able-bodied people move from simply “supportive allies” to political comrades who are actively incorporating a disability justice understanding into their work and lives?

We cannot fight for liberation without a deep, clear understanding of disability, ableism and disability justice. The bodies of our communities are under siege by forces that leverage violence and ableism at every turn. Ableism is connected to all of our struggles because it undergirds notions of whose bodies are considered valuable, desirable and disposable. How do we build across our communities and movements so that we are able to fight for each other without leveraging ableism?

I imagine a world where our organizing and activism is less segregated, where our movements and communities are accessible and don’t participate in the isolation of disabled communities. I imagine places where we fight for whole and connected people, families and communities.

22 Comments

Filed under Writing

“Intersectionality” is a Big Fancy Word for My Life

(Excerpts from MBGLTACC 2010 Keynote Address)

picture of a green bottle with grass and trees behind it.We have to confront white supremacy within LGBT and Queer communities.  A queer politic MUST include solidarity with people of color; it MUST include fighting racism and white supremacy.  Because we aren’t queer OR people of color; queer OR white; queer OR able bodied; queer OR working class.  We can’t just decide to come together as queer people and expect that we are all going to be united and work together—or that we’ll even feel comfortable.

We must be willing to have hard conversations as queer people with each other about how we are different as queer people.  It helps us to expand what “queerness” is—to see that there are many different ways to be queer.  We can’t be afraid to do our own work at our own tables.  And yes, there is much work to be done out there, with folks who aren’t queer.  Yes, that is important too, but we are outsiders here as well.  Because really, there is no “out there.”

For those of us living with multiple oppressed identities, we know this well.  And as adoptees, we know this well—especially as transracial and transnational adoptees.  As people who straddle many different communities, so much of our work must be done with the people in our own communities.  And we do this work for our very survival, because often times, we do not have a choice not to.  There is literally no where else to go.  Our homes are rarely comfortable. (And I know as queer folks we know something about that too).

To the queer white folks in the audience and the folks who benefit from white privilege, I would ask you: how are you connecting your fight for queer liberation to challenging white supremacy?  How are you connecting your queerness to your white privilege?  How are you listening to queer people of color in your world, supporting them and practicing solidarity?  How are you actively noticing how whiteness, racism and white supremacy play out in queer communities, student groups, organizations, and movements?

Racism and white supremacy are so pervasive, that we don’t even have to be consciously or intentionally doing anything to participate in them.  It’s in the air we breathe; it’s how the machine rolls; it’s the default.  It’s backed by everything in our society.  That’s the thing about oppression, power and privilege: unless you are actively challenging it, you are colluding with it. We live in a heterosexist society, we live in an ableist society and we all have a responsibility to actively work against it. We can’t guarantee that things won’t be ableist or won’t be racist (that’s not the world we live in right now); but we CAN guarantee that when there is racism, when there is ableism, that we will do something about it.  We will LISTEN to those most impacted; we will listen to people of color, we will listen to disabled folks; we will listen to trans folks; we will listen to queer disabled people of color—and hear them.  We can guarantee that we will act and communicate with each other.  And we will make mistakes; and we will learn from them.

There is no such thing as neutrality.  If you have privilege, you can never be neutral, because you are constantly benefiting off of that privilege—even at the same time as you are also being oppressed. That is what “intersectionality” (for lack of a better word) is about.  It is about moving beyond single-issue politics; it’s about understanding the complexities of our lives.  It is understanding that fighting for racial justice IS queer; fighting for disability justice IS queer.

It is trying to understand the way our differences lie down inside of us, as Audre Lorde would say.  It is knowing that heterosexist and patriarchal modes of family and gender and sexuality were used in service of white supremacy as the building blocks used to colonize first nation communities and communities of color and their lands.  It is knowing that women of color’s sexualities and genders are policed everyday (in different ways), whether they identify as queer or not. It is being able to hold the trauma and exploitation of transracial and transnational adoptees, as queer people who often think that transracial and transnational adoption is a valid route to parenting.  It is holding the power of building queer family and new models of parenting AND also challenging compulsory child bearing in a heteronormative culture.  It is knowing that race gets used strategically to divide us all the time as queer people.  That ableism, capitalism and class get used to make us think that independence, freedom and consumer choice are more important than justice and liberation.

“Intersectionality” is a big fancy word for my life; for your life, for our lives.  It encompasses so much more than I could ever talk about in one talk.

Intersectionality is not just talking about the places you’re oppressed, but also the places where you have privilege.  Intersectionality is disabled white folks enacting their white entitlement through their disability identity.  It’s me having to choose between the POC caucus, the disability caucus, the API women’s caucus, or the adoptee caucus at the Creating Change in Detroit.  It’s thousands of LGBT and queer folks coming out for pride and 150 people coming out for Transgender Day of Remembrance…

So I would say the same thing to the queer able-bodied folks in the audience and the folks who benefit from able-bodied privilege (in many different ways):  how are you connecting your fight for queer liberation to challenging able-bodied supremacy?  How are you connecting your queerness to your able-bodied privilege?  How are you listening to queer disabled folks in your world, supporting them and practicing solidarity?  How are you actively noticing how ability, ableism and able-bodied supremacy play out in queer communities, student groups, organizations, and movements?

10 Comments

Filed under Writing

Interdependency (exerpts from several talks)

mangroves

It is from being disabled that I heave learned about the dangerous and privileged “myth of independence” and embraced the power of interdependence. The myth of independence being of course, that somehow we can and should be able to do everything on our own without any help from anyone.  This requires such a high level of privilege and even then, it is still a myth.  Whose oppression and exploitation must exist for your “independence?”

We believe and swallow ableist notions that people should be “independent,” that we would never want to have to have a nurse, or not be able to drive, or not be able to see, or hear.  We believe that we should be able to do things on our own and push our selves (and the law) hard to ensure that we can.   We believe ableist heteronormative ideas that families should function as independent little spheres.  That I should just focus on MY family and make sure MY family is fed, clothed and provided for; that MY family inherits MY wealth; that families should not be dependent on the state or anyone else; that they should be “able-bodied,” essentially. We believe the ableist heteronormative racist classist myth that marriage, “independence” as sanctified through the state, is what we want because it allows us to be more “independent,” more “equal” to those who operate as if they are independent—That somehow, this makes us more “able.”

And to be clear, I do not desire independence, as much of the disability rights movement rallies behind.  I am not fighting for independence.   I desire community and movements that are collectively interdependent.

As a disabled person, I am dependanton other people in order to survive in this ableist society;  I am interdependent in order to shift and queer ableism into something that can be kneaded, molded and added to the many tools we will need to transform the world.  Being physically disabled and having mobility needs that are considered “special,” means that I often need people to help me carry things, push my wheelchair, park my car, or lend me an arm to lean on when I walk.   It means that much of my accessibility depends on the person I’m with and the relationship I have with them. Because most accessibility is done through relationships, many disabled people must learn the keen art of maintaining a relationship in order to maintain their level of accessibility.  It is an exhausting task and something that we have had to master and execute seamlessly, in many of the same ways we have all had to master how to navigate and survive white supremacy, heterosexism, our families, economic exploitation, violence and trauma.   This is also one of the main conditions which allow for disabled people to be victims of violence and sexual assault.

As a child, I learned quickly how accessibility often operates.  I learned how to hold multiple relationships at the same time and value them all at once.   I learned how to build out and out and deepen relationships quickly, building bonds with strangers in a matter of minutes in order to be able to ask them to assist me with accessibility.   I understood the importance of having many different kinds of people and relationships operating simultaneously for my own survival.

It is not a coincidence that this anti-ableist understanding of community aligned with and was actually a very politically queer and anti-heteronormative understanding of community as well.  The idea that we can understand the richness and diversity of many different types of relationships at once, not merely having to base them on narrowly defined notions of biology and legal marriage-bonds.   That we don’t have to rely on the state to define our family, parents, children and lovers.  That we can be the ones who define what love and desire look like and, in fact, that the current dominant models of relationship and love have been constructed by the very conditions and systems we are fighting against.

Interdependency is not just me “dependent on you.”  It is not you, the benevolent oppressor, deciding to “help” me.   It is not just me who should be grateful for whatever I can get.   (and we can think about this as it relates to service provision, as it relates to political organizing, right?)

Interdependency is both “you and I” and “we.”  It is solidarity, in the best sense of the word.  It is inscribing community on our skin over and over and over again.   It is truly moving together in an oppressive world towards liberation and refusing to let the personal be a scapegoat for the political.  It is knowing that one organization, one student or community group is not a movement.  It is working in coalition and collaboration.

Because the truth is: we need each other.  We need each other.  And every time we turn away from each other, we turn away from ourselves.  We know this.  Let us not go around, but instead, courageously through.

5 Comments

Filed under Writing