March 14, 2016

Mic Check!

Ale, a dear friend and former classmate of mine, and I decided to get together to have awesome conversations about our goals, accomplishments, and deconstruct the oppressions and nonsense all around us.

Please join us in our mock podcast rehearsal, a pilot of sort, if you will, in which Ale and I share things we're proud we did recently, discuss the film The Intern, and make goals for ourselves.

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April 7, 2015

Collective Solidarity vs. Individual Comfort

A few weeks ago in my seminar, we read a piece by Andrea Smith called "The Problem with 'Privilege". Directed at activists and people who are engaged in grassroots work, Smith calls for more focus on collective action to actually dismantle oppressions as opposed to individual "confessing" of privileges in so-called safe spaces. What Smith meant by this is that activists claim and try to create their spaces as safe spaces so that people feel comfortable being there, but no space is ever really free of oppressions. Instead, Smith argues that it serves all of us better if we acknowledge that every space already has people who can oppress and work to dismantle those systems. Moreover, in these safe spaces there are people who confess their privileges and then people who either have zero or few privileges to confess. Privileged people, once again, get to take up space by talking about acknowledging their privileges. Furthermore, this act individualizes oppression by allowing individuals to talk about their own privileges. But oppression is not just individual persons having privilege. Oppressions are systemic and that's why they're so powerful and hegemonic and problematic. Even though our ideas and thoughts are always already clouded by these forces, Smith claims that we need to continue to think of and re-imagine new ideas to tackle structures that create privilege.

Since then, Smith's piece has been circling in my head, resurfacing and coloring how I see activism and social justice work around me.

Several campus organizations are organizing a Fast-A-Thon for students to fast for a day and then end the fast together with a meal, to dedicate their thoughts to those who live with hunger. What does that mean? How does fasting for a day-ish compare to those who actually live with constant chronic hunger? Hunger is not just about being hungry all the time, it is part of some people's experiences with systemic oppressions constantly. How can we begin to understand what those experiences are like if we just pick the hunger part for a day? How does being hungry for a day as a Rice student even compare to being hungry constantly as abject people who lack other basic needs? Do we have to "try out" someone's life in order to extend compassion and empathy with them? Obviously, I am advocating for a No. Dedicating our thoughts to those who live with hunger do not even ask us to dedicate our actions. All that is asked of us is to think about it, and maybe highly encourage us to donate money and volunteer at a soup kitchen. Most of all, we get to feel good about ourselves when we fast for a day and then go have a meal together and learn about what people's real hunger is like. We did something by depriving ourselves of food for a day, attended an event, and absorbed some ideas. I don't mean to say that fast-a-thons inspire no one or that they are useless. Raising awareness about chronic hunger and poverty are really important and ought to be done. But if our money and time are spent buying food for a group of people to break their fast with, we should spend more time and money elsewhere to tackle the real problem.

Another type of activism on campus that individualizes social justice is ally trainings. Ally trainings, according to the Wellbeing office, aim to "raise awareness about the ways homophobia and heterosexism impact everyone, and to teach skills in being an Ally to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning community." They do this through learning about the history and terminology of LGBTQ communities, practice scenarios, and listening to a student panel about their experiences at Rice. I never attended an ally training at Rice. I always felt bad about that, and I want to be a better ally. I attended a lecture about a week ago and it changed how I thought about allyship. Mia Mckenzie, the founder of the blog Black Girl Dangerous, felt that allyship is less useful when what we want are actions of solidarity instead of a label of support. It's like saying "I can't be a racist, I'm an ally!", said Mia. That got me thinking. The labels of having gone to ally training and received a placard for it or having a black friend do not qualify us as not-oppressors. What matters is action in solidarity. Maybe ally trainings can be called solidarity trainings, since ally is passive and waits for occasions to arise to respond to, while solidarity is active and consistent.

By no means do I think ally trainings at Rice are not about solidarity. For Rice students, committing to a 3-hour long event is plenty of action. But allies are never contacted after that. Queers and Allies and the Wellbeing office aren't inviting allies to their events (not that they have a responsibility to), and allies do whatever they want afterwards. Allies get to pick and choose what events, if any, they want to go to in support and solidarity. Ally trainings are kind of a gender 101 seminar. But how many times do we need to get LGBTQ students to testify to a room of people about their experiences at Rice due to their sexual and gender identities or choices? It becomes a burden on them to have to constantly educate people on what their lives are like and how to interact with them politely. Where is the 201? Solidarity is not just putting a placard on our dorm room door and waiting for something to happen. It requires diligent efforts to reimagine and create a better more just world for all of us. I don't even have a placard, so I have a lot of work to do. Here's one thing I've done that I want to do more of, though: changing bathroom signs on our own to reflect and respect all genders. It took me until a few weeks ago to realize that I can just cover the original bathroom signs with my own pieces of paper. I drew some toilets and wrote ALL-Gender Restroom. I stopped paying attention to the placards and my privilege allows me to comfortably look for just the woman's bathroom. It's going to take a while to get the whole school to systematically change all bathroom signs to all-gender, so why don't we start now with our own temporary signs and make them permanent?

February 18, 2015

Systemic Violence

The Rice Hillel held an event recently where they brought in several IDF soldiers to talk about their diverse experiences and backgrounds. In response, the Rice Left walked out in the middle of their event. I wasn't sure how I felt about the event itself when I first read about it in my college's announcements email. I thought it was weird to have soldiers talk to us all the way in the U.S., and it seemed fishy as a political and politicized event, but I couldn't pinpoint exactly what is so wrong with it.

After reading the Rice Thresher article about the event and walkout, I reflected on the issue of systemic violence and realized what the problem is: individual IDF soldiers' experiences and stories cannot account for state-sanctioned systemic violence.

Recall all the Black lives we lost and continue to lose due to state brutality in the U.S., for example in cases where police officers are the killers. Would it suffice for communities to meet and greet several police officers and have the officers talk about how they are pro-communities and anti-violence? No, because the problem is not that individual officers are "bad apples." Instead, the problem is that the justice system itself is inherently unjust and the violence is sanctioned by the state, not because of individual impulses of individual police officers.

Similarly, hearing from individual IDF soldiers who profess their love for peace and their solidarity with their Muslim, Christian, Jewish comrades does not address the problem of Israel's systemic violence against Palestinians. This is not to say that Palestinians are all innocent and do not commit harm. What I do mean to say is that Israel's systemic violence against Palestinians who do not have a state is a bigger problem than the straw-man problem of individual IDF soldiers being depicted in a bad light. Israel has the capacity and therefore has committed more violence overall, killing way more Palestinians than the other way around.

We should promote dialogue and peace, but if the dialogue is happening at the wrong place with the wrong people directing at the wrong problem, we are just distracted from the real problem.