Presidential candidate Jeb Bush used the term “anchor babies” to refer to immigrants who are not citizens, but have children born in the US who will automatically have citizenship. Then he said it was ok because he didn’t mean Latinos, but Asians. Then he said everyone needed to “chill out” and not be so “politically correct.” And here’s what I have to say about that:
Earlier this week on Alternet, Chauncey DeVega had a brilliant piece on AlterNet about the politics of forgiveness. The piece begins with Lezley McSpadden, mother of Mike Brown, the teen killed by a Ferguson police officer a year ago.
[McSpadden] told Al Jazeera that she will “never forgive” Darren Wilson and that “he’s evil, his acts were devilish.”
Her response is unusual. Its candor is refreshing. Lezley McSpadden’s truth-telling reveals the full humanity and emotions of black folks, and by doing so defies the norms which demand that when Black Americans suffer they do so stoically, and always in such a way where forgiveness for racist violence is a given, an unearned expectation of White America.
When the piece ran on salon.com, the title was “Black America owes no forgiveness: How Christianity hinders racial justice.”
It was with this in mind that I encountered today’s story on Gawker.com, the latest installment in the media volley between Dee Barnes and Dr. Dre.
Friday, Dre apologized in the New York Times:
I apologize to the women I’ve hurt. I deeply regret what I did and know that it has forever impacted all of our lives…Twenty-five years ago I was a young man drinking too much and in over my head with no real structure in my life. However, none of this is an excuse for what I did. I’ve been married for 19 years and every day I’m working to be a better man for my family, seeking guidance along the way. I’m doing everything I can so I never resemble that man again.
Like Barnes, I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I’m glad that he was able to muster up a real apology, in lieu of his grudging admission in a previous interview that he’d made some “fucking horrible mistakes.” Barnes wonders if this is heartfelt, or a PR move encouraged by his corporate backers, Apple and Universal, to do damage control.
I look at all of this and see in all of this the same underlying Christian script that DeVega mentions. Dre doesn’t say the name Jesus, but he spins a tale of redemption. Delivered from alcoholism, marriage, a family man, seeking guidance, transformation. In the Afro-Christian script, we are supposed to applaud Dre for his testimony and celebrate his salvation.
But I have two questions.
First of all, Jesus was all about social justice. Where is the justice? In particular, where is the amends, Dre? Where are the reparations? Where does he invite Dee Barnes to host something he’s working on, consult on some big project, join in his spoils. His violence and blacklisting is the reason she lost her position in media. He could be the reason she regains it. Yet there’s no talk of making things right. She and the other women are just casualties in his successful rearview mirror.
Second of all, it’s just the usual question: do Black Women’s Lives Matter? Where are the boycotts of Straight Outta Compton until Dre makes it right? Mike Brown can’t be resurrected, but we know what justice would look like. Justice would be holding Darren Wilson accountable for murder. We also know what justice would look like for Dee Barnes. Dre has the power to resurrect Dee Barnes’ career and livelihood. He has three billion from Apple, a ton of money from Universal, and the ear of the New York Times.
Even if it’s not about reparations for Barnes, personally, where is the gamechanger donation to a battered women’s shelter, a rape crisis center or a girls’ club in the Compton area?
And while we’re at it, what about reparations for all the women he’s hurt–with his music. All the women who grew up hearing him disrespect women since they were in utero. Where is the apprenticeship program for young women DJs in his beatmaking empire? (…with careful scrutiny so there’s no sexual harassment). Where’s the annual award to an emerging black feminist emcee? (I nominate Coco Peila). Where is his commitment not only to apologizing for his own misogyny, but to reducing the misogyny in hip hop? Is he prepared only to collaborate with artists who build up women instead of breaking us down? Yeah. I didn’t think so.
Enough with the blah blah, Dre. Time to put your money where your mouth is.
For anyone not following the Hugo Awards (sci-fi/fantasy literary awards), there has been a huge upset this year, based on changes in the genre over the last several decades, and the larger sci-fi/fantasy (SFF) community. In essence, women, queer folks, and people of color have been increasingly taking up space in the genre. A number of community members who liked things the way they were are upset, and staged an awards coup.
You can read about the details here and here, but I am most interested in exploring two related dynamics: first, the complaint that the genre was being taken over by people with a “social justice” agenda, and the corrollary question of what is the deep attraction/fascination that binds people to a particular genre.
The pejorative term among disgruntled SFF folks for those with a political agenda is “social justice warriors.” As a veteran activist, I find this term laughable as a slur. I tweeted about it earlier this week:
Also, increasingly, women of color are finding space in the SFF community, from early vanguard work of Octavia Butler, to Tananarive Due in a 2nd generation, to a new generation. This includes highly political WOC SFF feminist critics like Mikki Kendall, to men of color who write female protagonists and think critically about writing from various perspectives, like DJ Older.
Meanwhile, it makes sense that the traditional white male core audience of SFF from decades past wouldn’t have a massive activist agenda in the world, because the structures of the society generally supported their well-being. However, with an influx of people of color, queer folks, and women into the genre—people who find themselves targets of institutional oppression in the society—visions of the future would necessarily include grappling with these issues. One of the biggest social justice coups of the year was the groundbreaking anthology Octavias Brood by veteran SFF lovers and WOC activists Adrienne Brown and Walidah Imarisha. They began with the hypothesis that all social justice work is SFF because it’s about envisioning a different future.
In many ways, the Hugo battle has been inevitable. It’s been coming since the US ended the era of legal racial segregation and began to question strict gender roles. In the latter case, young women have historically been pressured to read materials that reinforced their domestic roles. They weren’t supposed to be concerned with what happened outside their door in this world, let alone be concerned about what was happening in other worlds. But in the 70s and 80s, women SFF writers have developed a strong body of work in the genre and beyond, exploring issues of gender and developing wide readership.
For people of color, prior to integration, SFF was for white people. However, in the 70s and 80s, an early vanguard of black SFF writers began to integrate the genre. During that time, a relatively small number of people of color would read SFF (sometimes—prior to the internet—they were completely unaware of the POC who were writing it). The readership was primarily those of us with white friends, at white schools, or in white communities. Not surprising that SFF themes of alienation or actual aliens spoke to many of us.
Over the past two decades, with the rise of the internet, POC, women, and queer folks can find books with our stories online, even if they aren’t in our local library or bookstore. The last decade has seen a rise of intersectional nerdery/geekery from Junot Diaz winning the Pulitzer with a book about an AfroLatino Caribbean nerd protagonist, to Black Girl Nerds, Black Girl Geeks, Black Girls Code. Or Renina Jarmon who posits that Black Girls Are From The Future. However, for those of us who grew up before the internet, many of us genre-loving black girls thought we were the only one.
And as we increasingly participate in the SFF/nerd community, both online and in fandom, we bring our issues. That is to say, our consistent dissatisfaction with a society where we are systematically denied human rights and targeted for violence. As readers and writers, we crave in our fiction to have visions of the future that support our humanity and affirm our continued existence.
Every genre has its yearnings.
Recently, the hashtag #UnpopularHorrorOpinions was trending on Twitter. I tweeted my own unpopular opinions as follows:
I got some angry reponses, to which I responded as follows:
I think every genre has its own fascinations, rooted in some kind of personal struggle. Here are some possible struggles that might make different genres so compelling:
Romance – yearning for someone to rescue us.
Mystery – a need for justice and to have some unanswered question answered.
Spy thrillers – the inability to be seen and known.
Serial killer and stalker thrillers – about anxiety and dreaded anticipation of violence.
Heist – a belief that the wrong people have triumphed in society, and a need to change that.
This is not to say that every reader in every genre has this particular psychological issue. However, these are some of the central emotional/political issues in the genres and part of their appeal. Some of my thinking in this area was initially sparked by Bay Area author Claire Light. at a birthday party for Kenyan author Shailja Patel, in which Light–as a feminist–fervently defended the romance genre, and pushed me to question my assumptions. It also pushed me to embrace my inner-romantic and find ways to join the growing numbers of authors who bring our feminist perspectives to romance storylines.
So I have become curious about what underlies our attraction to different genres. For example, heist is my genre. #FeministHeist, to be specific. I am most certainly preoccupied with a sense of injustice at the current distribution of resources in the world, and in the novel series I’m writing, I’m excited about women of color who move some of that money around.
From my tweens to my twenties, I read mystery (and a bit of spy genre), but lately I have become fascinated with spy/heist. In fact, I’ve pretty much lost interest in mysteries. Maybe all that therapy paid off and I got the answers I wanted! In other genres, I have read a bit in SFF, but it doesn’t call to me in the same way. Still, I do have nostalgia for many of the old SFF images. For the photo to accompany this post, I selected Tananarive Due dressed in Star Trek gear. Due reminds us of Nichelle Nichols as Lt. Uhura. Yet Due wasn’t sitting with her headset on, waiting for Kirk to tell her what to do. Due is a veteran, award-winning writer in her own right, and was a co-host of the Hugo awards this year. Due is not only highly political in her writing, she comes from a multi-generational activist background.
I think SFF has historically been many things to many people, including a refuge for white men who felt alienated by the society and wanted to escape to other worlds. There’s a reason it’s called fantasy. For that crowd, all these POC, women, queer folks, and our issues and our books that include our issues, are a buzzkill. They didn’t come here to make change. They came here to escape. Yet the very struggle at the Hugo awards shows that the political challenges of our time are inescapable. In other words, if you came to this planet to escape the problems on your own planet, you’d better start dusting off your spaceship and prepare to keep it moving. Find another planet, guys. The Hugo Awards aren’t going back.
Yesterday, I was praising Katie Barnes for her article revealing the misogyny in Straight Outta Compton. Today, I’m praising another Barnes (no relation, I presume). Sista Dee for speaking out about the violence she experienced at the hands of Dr. Dre.
Black women will not stand for our experience to be surgically removed from the story and for the violence against us to be glorified, trivialized or glossed over.
I was so inspired by Katie Barnes’ Feministing film review post, “Straight Outta Compton: Another Step in the Legacy of Erasing Black Women,” that I made this meme today as part of my Public Feminist commentary on hip hop.
It’s bad enough that–during NWA’s time–the story of black people and hip hop excluded, denigrated and marginalized women. But it’s even more outrageous that decades of hindsight haven’t improved the male-dominated documentation of that part of hip hop history. Barnes’ analysis is refreshing. I particularly love how she points out how Dr. Dre’s history of violence against women was sanitized to “better serve the narrative.” Are you kidding me? This isn’t a Disney narrative. This isn’t some white boy’s senate career. These are supposed to be hip hop’s bad boys, not boy scouts. Yet the casual, laughable, humiliating and objectifying violence stays in the film. However, the undeniable gender violence that is illegal and shows Dre as an out-of-control bully of women gets washed away. This is a boy story. Elite white boys learn about race/class privilege by hanging with the black boys from the hood. Don’t worry, nobody will have to learn anything new about women.
Barnes’ post starts with the warning that it contains spoilers for the film. But I didn’t find any. The misogyny of that era is what spoiled hip hop for me. Barnes’ refreshing review revitalized me today. The film’s revisionist history that erases women and sanitizes violence is rotten. What Barnes did was the opposite of spoiling.
Today, Amnesty International voted in favor of supporting the decriminalization of sex work as a human rights policy.
I’ve spent the last few weeks revising my novel, Uptown Thief. I’ve spent a lot of time in the head of my protagonist, Marisol Rivera, a former sex worker who runs a clinic for women in New York City. In fact, she’s so committed to protecting sex workers that she returns to a life of crime, but that’s another story. My point here is that I’ve been spending a lot of time in her head. Just today I read through the entire manuscript to edit for consistency. So, having spent the day in her head, I can’t help but think about how she would react to today’s human rights victory for sex workers with Amnesty International.
She would be crying in her office. First by herself, because she works too hard and is often one to go it alone. But then the women at the clinic would storm the office door and be screaming and opening bottles of champagne and putting on loud music and dancing. It is truly a victory that one of the largest and most respected human rights organizations did their homework and talked to everyone involved, including sex workers and sex trafficking survivors, all over the world, and not just “experts” in the West but those most affected. They created a policy that prioritizes the human rights of women in the sex industries–including those there by choice, force, and circumstances–and the organization is brave enough to share it with the world, despite the backlash.
A number of actresses have come out against AI’s policy, and I can add this to my list of #CelebrityFeministProblems. By way of compassion, I will say that it is very difficult, as a celebrity feminist, to get access to poor and working class women’s perspectives–particularly those who are most affected by any given policy issue. By way of calling out, I will say that wealthy, often white women in Hollywood need to work much harder to educate themselves and become of aware of their privilege blind spots. Actresses spend more time sharing their opinions than they do forming their opinions. They have very little access to leadership development and systematic political education. Yet they often take political stands and are positioned as leaders. (I had a post this week on The Honest Courtesan about the shortcomings of Rashida Jones and Jada Pinkett Smith in this area).
I have read many commentaries on and distortions of the Amnesty policy, and I was concerned about a number of things. But it turns out that the issues that raised red flags were not actually part of the policy, and were distortions. I figured this out when I read Amnesty’s own statement. So I share it with you. Here is their illuminating policy Q&A, in its entirety, with a link for more info.
May this just be one of a flood of unprecedented human rights victories in the days to come.
1. Why does Amnesty need a policy to protect the human rights of sex workers?
Sex workers are one of the most marginalized groups in the world. In many countries, they are threatened with a whole host of abuses, including rape, beatings, trafficking, extortion forced eviction and discrimination, including exclusion from health services. More often than not, they get no, or very little, legal protection. In fact, in many cases these violations and abuses are carried out by the police, clients and abusive third parties.
For example, a 2010 study of sex workers in Papua New Guinea’s capital Port Moresby found that over a period of six months, 50% of sex workers had been raped (by clients or by police).
2. What is the difference between legalization and decriminalization? Why isn’t Amnesty International calling for sex work to be legalized?
The decriminalization of sex work means that sex workers are no longer breaking the law by carrying out sex work. They are not forced to live outside the law and there is better scope for their human rights to be protected.
If sex work is legalized, it means that the state makes very specific laws and policies that formally regulate sex work. This can lead to a two tier system where many sex workers operate outside these regulations and are still criminalised – often the most marginalised street based sex workers. Decriminalization places greater control into the hands of sex workers to operate independently, self-organise in informal cooperatives and control their own working environments in a way that legalization often does not.
During our consultation with sex workers, most of those we spoke to supported decriminalization but were frequently nervous about the implications of legalization. This was not only because of their mistrust of law enforcement authorities but also because of fears that if the wrong model of legalization is adopted, it may disempower them or even lead to criminalization and abuse.
When sex workers are no longer seen and treated as ‘criminals’ or ‘accomplices’ they are less at risk of aggressive police tactics and can demand and enjoy better relationships with and protection from police. Decriminalization returns rights to the workers, making them free agents.
We are not opposed to legalization per se, but we would want to make sure that any laws passed promote sex workers’ human rights and comply with international human rights law.
3. Doesn’t decriminalizing sex work just encourage trafficking?
It is important to be very clear that Amnesty International strongly condemns all forms of human trafficking, including trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation. Human trafficking is an abhorrent abuse of human rights and should be criminalized as a matter of international law. This is clear for all of our policy deliberations.
Decriminalizing sex work would not mean removing criminal penalties for trafficking. There is no evidence to suggest that decriminalization results in more trafficking.
We believe that decriminalization would help tackle trafficking. When sex work is decriminalized, sex workers are better able work together and demand their rights, leading to better working conditions and standards and greater oversight of commercial sex and potential trafficking within it.
When they are not threatened with criminalization, sex workers are also able to collaborate with law enforcement to identify traffickers and victims of trafficking.
Organizations such as the Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women, Anti -Slavery International and the International Labour Organisation agree that decriminalization has a positive role to play. It fosters increased recognition of the rights of people who sell sex and can help end human rights violations against them, including trafficking.
4. How does decriminalizing sex work protect women’s rights?
The policy proposed by Amnesty International aims to provide greater human rights protection for sex workers – who are often among the most marginalised women in society – by arguing for greater protection and empowerment of women sex workers.
Gender inequality and discrimination can have a major influence on women’s entry into sex work. We are not naive or blasé about this problem. But we do not think that criminalizing women for their lack of choices or using criminal laws and police practices that make their lives less safe is the answer to this problem.
Criminalizing sex workers makes it harder for them to obtain employment of their choice. Our proposed policy outlines a range of actions that States must take – in addition to decriminalization – to empower women and other marginalised groups in order to ensure that no one has to undertake sex work in order to survive.
States must provide adequate and timely access to support – for example, state benefits, education and training and/or alternative employment. This does not mean that sex workers should be compelled to take part in such programmes.
5. What evidence does Amnesty have to back up its proposed policy on sex work?
We have spent two years developing our proposed policy to protect the human rights of sex workers. This policy is based on solid research and consultation with a range of organizations and people.
We looked at the extensive work done by organizations such as World Health Organisation, UN AIDS, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health and other UN agencies. We also looked at the positions of others such as UN Women, Anti-Slavery International, the Global Alliance in Trafficking in Women. We conducted detailed research, interviewing more than 200 sex workers – and former sex workers, the police, governments and other agencies in Argentina, Hong Kong, Norway and Papua New Guinea.
Our national offices around the world also contributed to the policy through extensive and open consultation with sex worker groups, groups representing survivors of prostitution, abolitionist organizations, feminist and other women’s rights representatives, LGBTI activists, anti- trafficking agencies, HIV/AIDS activists and many others.
6. Those who sell sex need protection, but why protect the “pimps”?
Our policy is not about protecting “pimps”. Third parties that exploit or abuse sex workers will still be criminalized under the model we are proposing.
But there are overly broad laws, like those against “brothel keeping” or “promotion” that are often used against sex workers and criminalise actions they take to try and stay safe. For example, in many countries two sex workers working together for safety is considered a “brothel”. Our policy is calling for laws to be re-focused to tackle acts of exploitation, abuse and trafficking – rather than having catch-all offences that criminalize sex workers and endanger their lives.
7. Why doesn’t Amnesty International support the Nordic model?
Even though sex workers are not directly criminalized under the Nordic model, operational aspects – like purchasing sex and renting premises to sell sex in – are still criminalized. This compromises sex workers safety and leaves them vulnerable to abuse; they can still be pursued by police whose aim is often to eradicate sex work through enforcing the criminal law.
In reality, laws against buying sex mean that sex workers have to take more risks to protect buyers from detection by the police. Sex workers we spoke to regularly told us about being asked to visit customers’ homes to help them avoid police, instead of going to a place where sex worker felt safer.
Sex work is still highly stigmatized under the Nordic model and contributes to the discrimination and marginalization of sex workers.
8. Why does Amnesty International believe that paying for sex work is a human right?
Our policy is not about the rights of buyers of sex – it is entirely focussed on protecting sex workers who face a range of human rights violations that are linked to criminalization.
In adopting this policy, Amnesty International is saying that we believe that the rights of a group of people who can be extremely vulnerable to human rights abuses should be protected.
9. As a human rights organization, does this vote mean that you are promoting sex work?
No. We do not believe that anyone should enter sex work against their will and should never be forced or coerced into being a sex worker. There is evidence that sex workers often engage in sex work as their only means of survival and because they have no other choice. This only perpetuates the marginalization of sex workers and this is why we want to ensure we have a policy in place that advocates for their human rights.
10. Amnesty International has adopted a resolution, but what happens next?
The vote has given our International Board the go-ahead to develop and agree a policy to protect the human rights of sex workers. This will be discussed at their next meeting in October. They will draw on the findings of the consultation and the research carried out to-date and make a decision about the best policy to reflect Amnesty International’s commitment to protect the human rights of sex workers.
I was a teenage anti-nuclear protester in the 80s. The only black teen I knew of. I was arrested several times. My best friend Amy Bomse and I organized over 100 other minors to get arrested in protest of nuclear weapons.
Every year, I wore mourning clothes for the anniversaries of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I obsessively read the comic book series Barefoot Gen by Keiji Nakazawa, which chronicled the odyssey of two Japanese boys through the atomic bombings.
At the time, in the context of a nearly all-white peace movement, the bombings were situated in a narrative of nuclear danger. That story didn’t offer much more of a racial analysis than noticing that while Germany was the more vicious enemy, it was Japan—the country of color—that was selected for atomic attack. Today, on the 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, I’m pleased to see many activists of color placing the attacks on Japan in the context of US imperialism and violence against nations in the Global South.
In my own life, I also understand my family to be permanently changed by the atomic bombings. My [white] grandfather was a military officer who worked at Oak Ridge, where they had developed the bomb. After he saw the destruction it caused, he proceeded to slowly drink himself to death. My mother grew up poor, with an alcoholic father, and then no father—all due to the damage of war. Certainly, the people of Japan suffered horrors that make my family’s burden miniscule in comparison. However, I offer the story as testimony that in war, and particularly nuclear war, even the “winners” are impacted by their own brutality.
The above photo is of me playing the part of Death at a “die-in” on the lawn at UC Berkeley. I wore my favorite black vintage dress and a Mexican-style calavera face. The man standing behind me in the suit is the bomb-maker who profits from the arms race adn thinks he won’t be affected by nuclear the threat. But in the end, I kill him, too.
May our continued activism for peace and ecology lead to many deep changes that can halt the trajectory of climate change, bring environmental justice and end the nuclear age. Blessings to all the survivors of Hiroshima, even the 390 year old bonsai tree.