Join me Weds in SF for the SFWC event – CELEBRATING DIVERSITY: The Opportunities for Writers of Color in Today’s Publishing Landscape

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As many of you know, one of my favorite conferences is the San Francisco Writers Conference. As a debut novelist, it’s been one fo the few moments of the year when there’s a critical mass of literary industry professionals within a ten mile radius of my home.

Since I had my daughter, I haven’t been able to galavant off to New York or LA or wherever writers might happen to be gathering at any given time. But SFWC brings it all to us. While the last few years have brought some diverse writers and professionals (including my editor, Mercedes Fernandez from Kensington), there haven’t been specific discussions of diversity…until now.

I have curated and will be moderating the San Francisco Writers Conference Kickoff Event: CELEBRATING DIVERSITY: The Opportunities for Writers of Color in Today’s Publishing Landscape, which will take place Wednesday, February 10th, 2016 at 7:30PM in San Francisco’s Mark Hopkins Hotel, California Room, C Level. The panel will feature Regina Brooks, agent and non-fiction author; Carolina De Robertis, novelist; Ayize Jama Everett, novelist; Bharti Kirchner, novelist and cookbook author; Innosanto Nagara, children’s book author and illustrator; Brooke Warner, editor, publisher, and non-fiction author

This event is FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC. There are also other panels at the conference which explicitly address diversity, although the conference is sold out. 2016 marks the 13th San Francisco Writers Conference: A Celebration of Craft, Commerce & Community. February 11-15, 2016 / sfwriters.org / sfwriterscon@aol.com

The last few years have brought a fierce and renewed wave of an ongoing conversation about the need for the stories we read to reflect the world we live in. Hope to see you on Wednesday night!


Brown Is the New White – Buy the Book! + my poem from last night’s launch

IMG_6053Last night’s Brown Is The New White book launch event in Oakland was amazing.

Steve Phillips has laid out the numbers and they are clear: we currently have a majority of people of color and progressive whites to win national elections. The problem is that many white Democratic organizers and strategists are still prepared to use the tired old strategy of pandering to white swing voters.

But if this book becomes a bestseller, it’ll send a clear message to everyone in electoral politics that it’s time to pay attention. Be part of this demographic revolution. Today or tomorrow are the days to buy the book in order to be part of the first week sales count. Buy the book!

If you want to donate to VONA in the process, use this link.

Meanwhile, here’s the poem I read last night:

Testimonial

 

Have you ever seen somebody wake up

round marble rolling beneath the eyelid

just before the lashes blink apart

 

sleep   the leading cause of waking

when we got gas/housing/everything prices rising

and the nation goes from complacent to disgruntled

and Trump terrifying some of us into following him

and others into checking Canadian real estate prices

 

Meanwhile South American mountain ranges murmuring

turning over in their sleep

Peruvian land muscle feeling the massage of

Thousands of of indigenous women’s feet

 

have you ever seen somebody wake up

a lover? a roommate? a baby?

that moment of where-am-i?

before inkwell pupils adjust to light

 

and I know some of us feelin despair and depression

but I don’t care how much prozac big pharma prescribes

can’t nobody keep the human spirit asleep indefinitely

I said somebody is ready to take the red pill today

 

because I have seen queer kids

whose families have thrown them out of the street

left them for roadkill       stand up

rip the tire marks off their skin        and prophesy

 

i have seen survivors of rape reach inside themselves

rip the violation right out of their vaginas their mouths

with a shriek that is part rage part terror part triumph

 

i know everyone doesn’t make it

eyes sometimes close and never open again

but if we got a 50/50 chance

then I choose to believe that some other human race

on some other planet earth will be the unlucky one

 

because i have seen lashes part

seen people sob their appetite for addiction right out of their bellies

seen mushrooms suck poison out of the earth

and belch rose petals

 

and badasses like South American ecofeminist Zezy Yadryda in Peru, at only a quarter century of years can say–and I quote:

“the Andean cosmovision makes it triply complicated…I’m feminist, campesina and indigenous. we defend the Pachamama…Mother Earth. And we give feminism an intercultural focus. Our body is our territory; so we defend it. And we promote the interrelation of women with nature”

 

so if cuba can stand strong and black and socialist seventy miles outside Miami and now got an embassy

plus meanwhile indie hop hop still ain’t dead

then we got brown South Bronx environmentalists cool enough

to stop global warming and Obama is only the opening shot

 

I suspect some coalitions building with the ancestors

hear the Kennedeys been kicking it with Crazy Horse and Sojourner Truth while Confucius and Che and Jesus

been chopping it up with Emma Goldman

But when Bayard Rustin came in to organize everyone together

Mahmoud Darwish rolled up to write the poem while June Jordan invited the murdered teens from Oakland and all the legions of dead Iraqi children to have their say

and Tupac had to throw down a freestyle verse while

Selena, Nina Simone and La Lupe started to improvise on top

I heard it got so hyphy up in there that

in the nearby realm of the unsettled souls still not at peace

bull connor and heinrich himmler wished they still had bodies

so they could put on BROWN IS THE NEW WHITE t-shirts

 

cause however many freedom fighters the fbi and cia kill

that only means we got more warrior ancestors

to whisper in our dreams

rolling marbles under five billion eyelids   upper and lower eyelashes kissing each other goodbye

1600 pennsylvania avenue is not where the power lies

it resides in these bodies connected to these opening eyes

 

the ancestors cannot be confused by the views from the pews and the hues of the red white and blues on fox news

 

i know some of us running scared on some rip van winkle worried we gon sleep forever but have you ever seen somebody wake up

brown/blue/hazel marbles rolling under lids every shade of skin

in every bed/pallet/mattress/sleeping bag/straw mat on this rotating earth

only a matter of time when somebody surfacing from dreams

smelling grandma cooking breakfast and singing a freedom song

somebody waking up on some liberated indigenous soil

I said only a matter of time before we got so many marbles rolling in the rhythm of the earth

and united ancestors whispering in our dreams

and we see that we can win this shit

and the people       finally       wake        up

 


Bernie, Come Get Your Bros -Standing Against Sexism on the Left

As a black/Latina feminist, I have to decide—over and over again—to continue my allegiance to the cause, in spite of racism among white feminists. I am that committed to the liberation of all women worldwide, so much so that I won’t let a few narcissistic white women deter me. Period. And this stance is partially possible because there are enough white women allies who are loud and equally committed.

Bernie Bros-1At this historical moment, the BernieBro phenomena is pushing me to look closely at sexism on the left. And it doesn’t look pretty. But I think this is a moment—like Kamau Bell was saying about white people and Trump—to “come get your boy[s].” This is a historical moment where we need to hear from Bernie that sexism isn’t okay. Yes, I would want my presidential candidate to be willing to risk hurting mens’ feelings to do the right thing in fighting sexism, including internet microaggressions and trolling. Even if there’s no big public chastisement of the Bros, any strong anti-sexist talking point would be welcome. It’s been reported that Sanders campaign staffers are working quietly to restrain the Bernie Bros. But isn’t that how liberal sexism works? One group says/does things that are totally offensive and another group quietly apologizes behind the scenes and gently encourages the offenders to change? If Bernie wants to stand against the billionaire class, he needs to do better than a whisper.

Because I want to know that fighting sexism is on my candidates agenda, and what larger commitment can a candidate have than fighting it among his own people? Because a free college education is of much less value to women if there’s no change in the epidemic numbers of sexual assaults on those campuses.

Bernie, come get your boys.


Run out and buy BROWN IS THE NEW WHITE; Oakland Book Launch Thursday; Black People & Voting

This Thursday, I’m thrilled to be performing at the book launch of Steve Phillips’ Brown Is the New White: How the Demographic Revolution Has Created a New American Majority. The book is a call to action for Democrats and Progressives – According to his research, progressive whites and people of color constitute a majority of voters now, but we will lose if we do not prioritize voters of color in 2016 and beyond. It was recently reviewed in The Root.

In his book, he drives home the troubling fact that despite evidence that progressive whites and people of color—the New American Majority—make up 51% of all eligible voters—most progressives and Democrats continue to waste millions of dollars chasing white swing voters.

I am delighted to come out and perform at the book launch; I’ll also be buying a copy when it goes on sale this week. The official release date is Tuesday, February 2nd.

Voting is a complex issue in general and particularly so for people of color. As a working mom writing a book, I’m always a few years behind in watching films. I recently saw Ana DuVernay’s brilliant film Selma, and so I had this brutal struggle in my mind when I came across a conversation on Black Twitter about voting.

This intrigued me, because I grew up with an elected official for a mother. My mom, Anna de Leon, was the first Latina elected to the Berkeley Board of Education. In a local race in a small city, every vote counts. I grew up never questioning the importance of voting. When I learned about the Civil Rights Movement, it just reinforced my commitment to voting, knowing my ancestors had died for it.

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A still from Selma

And yet I also resonate with those who reject electoral politics as the pathway to the deep, sustained changes that are needed to make our society more evolved, based on human needs and values, not violence and consumerism. We can’t vote these in right now, because the system is so corrupt. However, binaries of radical change vs. electoral change are false.

Here’s what I think: the difference between Democrats and Republicans is not that Democrats will make the changes in the society that are needed. The difference is that Democrats will stay out of the way of the people as we organize to make those changes. Whereas Republicans will do all they can to use the power of the state to crush our movements, particularly movements of black people and other people of color. That alone is an important enough distinction to mobilize me to engage in electoral politics: they clear a path for the people’s movements.

BITNWFlyerFINAL2That said, I hope you’ll join me on Thursday, if you’re in the Bay Area. Or buy the book wherever you are.

Democrats and progressives are going to lose if they don’t turn out people of color in 2016. That’s the urgent message of the new book, Brown is the New White: How the Demographic Revolution Has Created a New American Majority.

Brown is the New White is slated to be one of the most important books of the year. To help make the New American Majority a priority this election year, we’re hoping to sell thousands of copies in the first few days of its release (between February 2nd and February 6th), which could help it land on the bestseller list — increasing exposure of the New American Majority and creating a platform for Steve and others to speak about prioritizing voters of color in American politics and policy.

 


“New” Barbies, Same Old Sexism. #NotEvolved

barbie


Julie Delphy, White Feminist Temporary Narcissism Syndrome & the 5 Stages of An Offensive Remark in the Media

Lately, celebrities making offensive comments in the media and then apologizing has become so common that I’ve been noticing a certain pattern to it. Julie Delphy is the example of the week. And an analysis of her blunder has also led me to diagnose a new syndrome: White Feminist Temporary Narcissism Syndrome (WFTNS). I tried to get a WTF into the acronym, but it was too much of a stretch. Anyway, first let me lay out the stages.

Stage 1: Crossing the line.

White actress and filmmaker Julie Delphy was quoted by The Wrap as saying “Nothing worse than being a woman in this business,” and “I sometimes wish I were African American.”

Stage 2: The Backlash.

Social media critics—particularly women of color—were quick to respond.

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In particular, these parody tweets by Jane SeeMoar were KILLING me.

I had my own snarky Twitter moments, as well.

 

Stage 3: The apologists and defenders.

While every instance of crossing the line has its detractors, it also has its cheering squad. They generally fall into two groups. People from the target group who defend the line-crossing and people from the privileged group who defend their privilege.

I read a couple of tweets by women of color on team Julie Delphy who said they couldn’t see what was wrong with what she said. It looks like those tweets have since been taken down. They probably got a lot of negative comments. It always throws a wrench into the mix when someone from the supposedly offended group comes to the defense of the accused. This is why female defense attorneys are called in to defend rapists and sexual harassers. The privileged use this same logic when they say “some of my best friends are black.” Or gay or Muslim, etc. The argument is that the rapist couldn’t really be guilty if this nice lady has taken his side. And the white person couldn’t possibly be bigoted if they bowl with their black buddy every week. But of course this is absurd. You can be racist and have black friends. You can be a rapist who pays a woman to pretend you are innocent.

The second group of defenders shares a demographic with the person who crossed the line, and is interested in defending their privilege. We see this with Bill Cosby’s defenders, nearly all African American men, who continue to insist that either there’s a conspiracy against Cosby as a black man, or that the women are all at fault. This is an obvious move to protect their privilege as men in rape culture: if I manage to lure a woman into my house, she is to blame for anything else that happens.

I was surprised that a Delphy defender came out of the woodwork and argued with me on Twitter. We had an exchange, and a couple of kindred Twitter spirits jumped in on my side:

IMG_5875I was particularly surprised about the defender’s assertion that there would be an apology and that there was an issue of context. My first thought was to consider the idea. After all, I had just skimmed the original article. Media does often distort peoples’ words to create controversy and get page clicks. But then I thought about it. What would the context be that would make this comment okay? It would have to be a context like the following: “When I think about the hundreds of years of brutal oppression that African Americans have experienced in the US, from slavery to police violence today, and I think about the incredible obstacles that black people face in Hollywood, I sometimes wish I was African American. Because they have developed such a thick skin and a culture of resistance. I, on the other hand, as a white woman, come from such a place of relative privilege. I was led early on in my Hollywood career to believe that I would just have everything handed to me. And now that I’m older, now that I’m trying to get behind the camera, now that I’m resisting Hollywood sexism instead of being a fuckable white ingénue, I really need some of that African American fierceness. In fact, I think I’m going to go purchase a book by Audre Lorde and hire a black life coach to help me, because I wouldn’t ever want to take black labor for granted. There’s nothing worse than being a woman in Hollywood, or any other oppressed group. Really being anything other than a white man.” Yeah. So if that was the context, Delphy would get a pass from me. But of course it wasn’t. And a little internet research revealed that the written quotes were taken directly out of a video. And I watched the whole video, and there was no issue of context. Which brings us to the next stage.

Stage 4: the weak-ass apology. So then Julie Delphy apologized.

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And the apology was predictably muddled and contradictory. She never acknowledged what was really wrong with her original comment. “I’m so sorry for this unfortunate misunderstanding, people who know me, know very well that I can’t stand inequality and injustice of any kind.” These are the important subtexts. I’m sorry but I didn’t really do it. It was a misunderstanding because it sounded racist, but I’m not like that. No Julie. Nobody misunderstood you. What you said was racist. That’s why you are in the media again, apologizing.

My partner and I have had a couples’ counselor who schooled us in making apologies. You have to mean it, and you have to show you get what was wrong about it. And it really helps if you do something to make it right. Why couldn’t we get a real apology from Julie Delphy like: “Sometimes I get so pissed about sexism that it blinds me to everything else. It creates a sort of temporary narcissism where everything else in the universe—every other community or struggle—seems to exist only to reinforce my point about sexism, the place where I’m wearing a target. Of course, this is a terrible symptom of my white privilege. Now that I’m no longer blinded by my fury, I can see that my comments were offensive. But more than that, are a huge problem among white feminists, and a reason why feminism hasn’t made more strides. I take responsibility for the damage done, and in the interest of transformative justice, I will be setting up a fund to assist women of color directors in Hollywood and working with white anti-racism groups to do consciousness raising among celebrity feminists.” Like Cookie said in “Empire” season 1, “now THAT’S an apology.”

Because I understand how White Feminist Temporary Narcissism Syndrome (WFTNS) works. I mean, it’s a symptom of white supremacy, and really harmful, and an obvious symptom of their privilege and willingness to step on people of color in their entitled quest to have what the white boys have. But on some level, I get it, particularly as a member of that couple that went to counseling. I have been so mad and felt so victimized that I’ve said things that are thoughtless to my partner. I understand that part of the impact of sexism is that we get so upset we can’t think straight. I wouldn’t say I accept Julie Delphy’s apology or that I forgive her. But white feminists are a work in progress. We’re not gonna end sexism throughout the world without white feminists’ participation (although perhaps less of their leadership and more WOC). My goal is to end male domination, and I am willing to make room for the slow and painful learning curve of white feminists in the interest of changing the world.

Stage 5: Back to business as usual.

Soooo…Bill Cosby is doing both well and badly in his various court cases as an alleged serial rapist. Meanwhile, it’s Oscar season. Jada and Will are boycotting. Their cause is noble, but their reasons seem a bit self-serving (see my post from last week). Like many others, they are upset because no one of color was nominated in any acting categories #OscarsSoWhite.

In other news, CBS is rebooting Nancy Drew, and supposedly with a “non-white” actress. I promised to write about that this week, but then this Julie Delphy drama pre-empted it. And I’m actually curious about this Drew reboot. Will it be a breakthrough like “Scandal” or “How to Get Away With Murder” or even “Quantico”? Or will it be more of Stage 5, business as usual?


A Tale of Two Hollywood Boycotts: Jada Pinkett Smith & Mos Def

The Black Hollywood power couple at the Oscars in the past

The entertainment news is reporting that Will Smith will join his wife Jada Pinket Smith in boycotting the Oscars, as the nominees in the four major acting categories are all white.

When I look at Jada Pinkett Smith, I see a woman trying to move with integrity and trying to exert herself politically in the service of change. In the past, I’ve talked about in the troubles that I have with celebrity feminism. These same challenges really seem to plague Pinkett Smith, and her attempts at activism are often ineffective. Part of the problem is that celebrities don’t have access to comprehensive yet grassroots political education and an opportunity to develop a strong, nuanced, and multi-layered analysis of political problems. Yet they are celebrities. So when they have an controversial opinion–however well or poorly reasoned–there is immediately a microphone and a camera in their face.

Overall, Jada’s point is well-taken. “We can no longer beg for the love [of white Hollywood leadership].” Part of the problem with celebrity feminism or any kind of activism, is that the act of drawing attention to oneself is always good for the personal brand and good for business. At the same time, it was challenging for many people to see someone like Jada who is overall very invested in Hollywood, and has been for decades, to call for a boycott during the year that her husband is perceived as having been snubbed. Which begs the question: if Will Had been nominated, and was the only personal of color–which is still not good enough from an anti-racism perspective–would she be calling for a boycott or shopping for a dress?

And I can’t answer that. What I will say is that it’s in sharp contrast to the news that came out a few days later from Mos Def that he is quitting the music industry and quitting Hollywood altogether. First of all, he isn’t calling on anyone else to join him, he’s simply making the personal decision to fully divest himself from these racist industries.

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But one of the big differences between Mos Def and Jada Pinkett Smith is that he comes out of a more grassroots community. He started in theater and underground hip hop, while Jada started in TV. In the 90s I first saw him perform in New York in a politically radical benefit show before he started working in Hollywood. I first met him when I was on Def Poetry, but And then I continued to share stages with him even after he began doing movies. In particular, we co-hosted the San Francisco kickoff event for Current TV, a network started by Al Gore, in an attempt to increase progressive and grassroots media. We later performed together an event honoring Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States. Zinn’s work is part of the canon of rigorous politically progressive education. Also as a radical hip hop artist, Mos Def has had an audience that is more likely to hold him to a higher standard of political accountability. Including criticizing him for allowing his music to be used in a Nike ad in an era when Nike was being condemned by progressive communities for widespread use of sweatshop labor in the Global South.While he says of himself, “I’m not a perfect man,” we also see his image often reflecting a more radical aesthetic. He has certainly participated in Hollywood and the music industry, but has always continued to push that edge, and to criticize those industries. While I don’t think Jada Pinkett Smith has.

At the same time, I want to honor her as someone who got into TV as a teenager. Which adds another layer of complexity. When anyone, particularly women or people of color get into the industry that young, their ability to participate in any community-based political education is utterly truncated, because they are immediately surrounded by entourages of yes-women and yes-men, who will fawn over their every thought, like it’s the most profound idea they’ve ever heard. Mos Def on the other hand was moving in grassroots communities and operating as a very independent artist well into his 20s and had more of a chance to develop his political perspective. Also, Jada is an actress. She was selected for her looks and for her ability to give life to other people’s words. Mos Def is a rap lyricist, and the skill he was developing in his 20s was about analyzing the world around him.

For me, Mos Def is the anti-boycott artist. He’s the reason I became a hip hop artist in the first place. I was boycotting hip hop in 2000, when I came across his Black on Both Sides album. He challenged the hip hop community to stop asking him where hip hop was going, and to take responsibility for hip hop. “Ask yourself, where am I going?” I was a former hip hop lover who had broken with hip hop because I felt it was going in a negative direction, but I was going somewhere positive. From his words, I realized that I had a responsibility to take hip hop with me.

However, there are things I really appreciate about Jada Pinkett Smith’s attempts to get off the beaten path. In particular, I really appreciated her decision to sing in a metal band in her 30s. Who does that? And as a woman, a black woman, and a celebrity, those guys did not roll out any red carpet for her. She had to pay her dues, and she did. I admire that choice. And yet…

Yet, for example, her attempt to speak out on human trafficking came not from some sort of community-based political education she was participating in, but from her daughter reading on the internet. And then Jada got more information from the internet. And the special report she developed on the topic for CNN, really reproduced all the distortions, hysteria, lack of accountability and shoddy journalism that is found on the internet. As I said in the piece I wrote on the topic, I am convinced that, in the cause of fighting human trafficking, it definitely did more harm than good. Certainly, it was harmful to sex workers, but also to those who have been trafficked.

Pinkett Smith and her husband have come under fire from Janet Hubert, who played the first Aunt Viv on “Fresh Prince.”She said of the couple: “I find it ironic that [the couple] has made their living and has made millions and millions of dollars from the very people that you’re talking about boycotting.” She went on to talk about their lack of solidarity in the past on the cast of Fresh Prince “I do remember at option time coming to you and saying ‘you know what Will, you’re the star of the show, why don’t we all get together and with you maybe we can all get a little raise. Maybe the network will think that since the show is such a hit and you being the star of the show, your influence will help us greatly. Like they did on Friends. Like white shows do!’ Remember that? Do you remember that? Because I do. Hmm. And your response to me was ‘my deal is my deal. And your deal is your deal.'”

A more recent example comes from Jillian Bowe, Senior editor of Daytime Confidential. She pointed out on Twitter, Smith was quoted in an interview last year as saying “racism [based in notions of white supremacy] is actually rare,” and used that to question the sincerity of his current position.

Pinkett Smith isn’t responsible for her husband’s behaviors nearly a quarter century ago, and I don’t want to just drag her in the blogosphere. What I see in Pinkett Smith is a black woman in Hollywood attempting to have some kind of political impact and integrity, at the same time that she, as an over-40 black actress, is struggling to stay relevant, and not just become the mom of Willow and Jaden. Unfortunately, she she doesn’t seem to have access to the kind of political analysis that she would need to be able to put forth more effective critiques, whether it’s about human trafficking or racism in Hollywood.

At the end of the day, I think it’s good that she is part of a growing chorus of voices that are taking Hollywood to task on racism and sexism. And on the same topic, next week I’ll be talking about the upcoming reboot of Nancy Drew. CBS has promised that she will be played by a non-white actress. I’ll be looking at the politics of that decision. Is this just an example of Hollywood diversity tokenism, or does it reflect some kind of real change. Tune in next week…


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