Monday, January 23, 2017

"This Is What Democracy Looks Like!"

Saturday, January 21st, 2017

My First Snap of the Day
I drove to the Metro stop closest to me, hoping that I was far away enough from DC to get a parking spot. I got a parking spot as well as a seat on the train. The first thing I noticed were all the pink hats with cat ears (henceforth referred to as p-hats). Actually, the first thing I noticed were all the white women wearing pink p-hats. I was the lone brown girl on the train going to the Women's March on Washington. 

I felt completely out of place. I could feel myself losing the initial excitement I'd originally felt when I first decided I was going to the march. On November 8th, I went to bed feeling sick. I'd been following for the past few weeks, feeling pretty confident that Hillary Clinton was going to win and become the first woman President of the United States, like everyone else. But as I kept reloading the electoral map and seeing red, I got nauseous, my body and soul seemingly splitting from one another, and at about 12:30am, I made myself go to bed. I woke up at about 3:20am, believing with all my heart that this close race was going to take a few days - that all the votes would be counted, that Hillary Clinton wouldn't concede even if HWSNBN (short for "He Who Shall Not Be Named," aka Voldemort) surpassed her in electoral votes. And at 3:20am, there was still no declared winner. I slept fitfully until 5:30am. I looked at my phone and saw that HWSNBN was declared the winner of the 2016 presidential election. 

I died inside more than a little that day. I dressed for work in the deepest black I owned, a dress that fits like a burlap sack and the thickest tights to protect myself from reality. I cried on the way to work, and when I got there, I could see that many of my colleagues were fighting back tears as well. Ironically, many of us were attending a mental health first aid training that day, and the consensus was that WE needed the mental health first aid. (Hello!) We were expected to be fully present during this training, meaning no cell phones. NO CELL PHONES on the day of the apocalypse, really? I sat through the training, which was actually a really good distraction, then went home to cry. That night and over the next couple of days, I saw a "Million Woman March" with different state delegations popping up on my Facebook newsfeed. I could see that there were several iterations of this march idea over the next few days, with more than a few debates taking place in the event posts, until it morphed into the Women's March on Washington, co-chaired by Linda Sarsour, who I was familiar with as a returning commentator on several MSNBC broadcasts. When I saw Linda Sarsour, someone who'd gained my respect over the past year, I was in. I took time to research Carmen Perez and Tamika Mallory as well, and that's when I knew that this march was going to be historic in nature, and I had to be part of it.  

Let me be clear. I saw the initial chaos around the march. I knew that women of color, especially black women, were concerned that our voices weren't being represented. Even worse, white women were booking flights and hotels with no idea how to actually plan a rally/protest - possibly because they didn't have much to protest before this? - and women of color were like, oh hell no. If we're going to do this, we're going to do it right. Again, let me be clear, I only committed to this march when a Palestinian, a Chicana, and an African-American joined with Bob Bland, a white woman, to co-chair the march. That's when it became MY march, too. 

So when I got on that metro and rode for about five stops before I saw a black woman get on with Women's March paraphernalia, I was very guarded. I looked down at my phone. I pretended to myself that I was just riding the metro that morning to get somewhere else - that I wasn't going to this march with all these white women with their pink This march wasn't for me. 

This older white woman sat down next to me, and somehow, I found myself talking with her, because she exuded this excitement, and I think I found it intriguing that this woman who was clearly in her 60's pulled out her phone and then pulled up the WMW app that I'd been secretly looking at. Soon, I was giving her tips on how not to get separated from her friend who was sitting across from her. Then, I saw a Latinx family with a little girl, who was trying to make sure the little one didn't get squished on the train, which was packed like overstuffed luggage. One of the young white women sitting near me moved into a corner between me and her friend to let the little girl sit down, and that's when I saw her sign.

"And to all the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams. - Hillary Clinton" 

Photo Credit: M. Mfume
And that was when I dropped my guard. I fought back serious tears, remembering why I decided to go to the march in the first place. 

By the time I got to the station where I was meeting my (black) friend and her (white) husband, there were all kinds of women waiting in line for the bathroom with me at the Starbucks on the corner. Our other friend who was supposed to come (a black man) texted us that he was running late and the trains were full of "a sea of white people dressed in pink and/or HRC paraphernalia," and he couldn't get on the train, so we started walking. The closer we got to the Capitol and the meeting spot for the rally preceding the march, the less I thought about these white women in pink. My friends and I found ourselves walking with hundreds of thousands of people, when someone started chanting, "This is what democracy looks like!" and others responded, "This is what democracy looks like!" "Tell me what democracy looks like!" "This is what democracy looks like!" "We are what democracy looks like!" "We are what democracy looks like!"

Me, giving in to the energy of the day
I saw white men and women chanting "Black Lives Matter!" with me and my friends. I saw white women, young and old, wearing Black Lives Matter t-shirts and buttons and carrying signs saying, "Respect Women of Color." My eyes were opened. This WAS my march, too. This fight that has been a part of my life as an educator and activist for the past twenty years gained soldiers who may not look like me, but who now understand what I have understood for a long time - we cannot take our bodies, our very lives, for granted in the face of tyranny.

To those white women in the pink p-hats, I'd like to say: maybe this is your first time at a march. Maybe this is the first time you've heard messages from women of color about racism, about the undocumented and immigrant experience, about police brutality. Thank you for listening. Remember the Women's March on Washington - and fight with your brothers and sisters of different races, orientations, ethnicities, faiths, gender identities and socioeconomic class - because, together, WE are what democracy looks like.

Sunday, January 22, 2017


Black Lives Matter, Even When You're Only 22% Black
(alternate title for this post)

I am Latina (or Latinx, or Puerto Rican, or Hispanic, or a mixture of three races - Caucasian, African, Native - or Afrolatina because that's what I most closely identify as, or American). This sometimes places me in an awkward position when discussing matters of race in the US, especially after the election of the current 45th President. After all, 33% of Latinos voted for the man. And while I often find myself disagreeing with the politics of some of my Latinx family, I must insist that we are such a diverse entity that there's no way our politics could align. We are approximately 22 countries (including the US) with varying languages, cultures, and politics. When race comes up as a topic of discussion, it is primarily a black and white conversation, and Latinx people don't neatly fit into those categories.

I decided to have my DNA analyzed recently, and found out some interesting information; this self-proclaimed Afrolatina is 59% European - not too surprising due to the mixing created by imperialism (i.e., the rape of native and African women by European colonizers), guaranteeing that practically everyone born in the western hemisphere has some European ancestry. However, I don't identify with Europe because I don't have the privilege of that ancestry. 

My AncestryDNA results.
I am brown, and that 18% Native American ancestry is clear in my phenotype. Having lived in Brooklyn most of my life in a predominantly black and Latino neighborhood, I identify with the black experience in the US, and I have long understood that there's African blood in my veins. When the black community experiences instances of oppression, I identify with that oppression - I don't just empathize. I have seen black and brown people die at the hands of police brutality and systemic oppression in New York City for as long as I can remember. I have been called the N word in my lifetime. So when discussions of race come up, I tend to speak from the perspective of the black experience, even though I'm not technically what most people would consider black. Back in the early 90's - my first encounter with activism - this did not matter; as a matter of fact, solidarity was welcomed. Now, I tend to step back more because I understand that, due to my phenotype, there are certain privileges I own that are based on the 78% of me that is not (technically) black. I hear the pain in my black brothers' and sisters' voices when they speak of the micro- and macroagressions they experience daily. Sometimes I hear my black brothers and sisters say that I don't understand their experience as a non-black person of color. I have to respect those feelings, and as a counselor I have learned that it is never my job to tell a person what they should or shouldn't feel.

I went to the Women's March on Washington yesterday. The march was, from the onset, controversial because the original organizers were primarily white women. Before we could blink, however, experienced activists Tamika Mallory, Carmen Perez, and Linda Sarsour were added as co-chairs, and the march's principles became intersectional. In a synthesis of several articles I'd read and conversations I'd had prior to the march, I learned that some black women stated they wouldn't be attending because it wasn't until the election that white women seemed interested in speaking out about oppression. Others referred to the suffragette movement, when the women's right to vote prioritized white women's right to vote, literally pushing black women to the back of the movement. Some black women needed to know that the white women attending were going to "check their privilege." Some rightfully questioned the 53% of white women who voted for the current administration (I was at the march thinking the math wasn't adding up, to be honest). Some needed time for self-care. Again, as a counselor, I can't tell anyone how to feel and I respect those feelings. What I will say, though, is that I was encouraged to see more than a few white women (and men) at the march wearing Black Lives Matter paraphernalia and wholeheartedly chanting "Black Lives Matter." I can't really judge whether any of this support was genuine - I don't know any of those people I saw - but witnessing that made me realize that we're missing a narrative in the media - the support for Black Lives Matter by non-black people. 

Every time we see Black Lives Matter marches on television, we don't often hear the voices of those white supporters of the movement. Just as mainstream media portrays people of color negatively, feeding stereotypes to white people who live in predominantly white worlds, it also negatively impacts black people's perceptions of support from non-black people, further creating a sense of isolation and alienation. Honestly, I was surprised to see how many white people at the march were supportive of Black Lives Matter and against the oppression and marginalization of people of color in general. Pleasantly surprised, but still surprised. 

If we all took DNA tests to discover our ancestry, the ethnicity percentages that shape our identities might not be what we'd expect. After acknowledging my DNA results and celebrating the diversity of my existence, I think it's time for me to focus on the one percentage that impacts the majority of our lives - the 1% that is hoarding all of the privilege, power, and wealth, and the system that is maintaining that imbalance. 

Taken at the Women's March on Washington, 1.21.17