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Seattle Unanimously Repeals Prostitution & Drug Traffic Loitering Laws

Date: June 26, 2020

Reposted from Coalition for Rights & Safety for People in the Sex Trade.

Seattle City Council has just unanimously approved a pair of bills repealing prostitution loitering and drug traffic loitering laws after dozens sex workers and allies gave testimonies in support. We have been working on this issue since 2018, meeting with Councilmembers as well as folks from Seattle City Attorney’s Office, and it feels really good to hear so many of our sex worker and ally friends speaking out and see the entire Council agreeing with us today.

Both ordinances have negatively impacted communities of color, but prostitution loitering law in particular have been used as a pretext for the Seattle Police Department to profile young women of color as suspected “prostitutes,” leading to unnecessary and unwarranted police interactions, background checks, unconsented and possibly illegal searches, harassment, and other harms. The City’s own Reentry Workgroup released a report to the Council in October 2018 which recommended repealing these ordinances because they disproportionately target communities of color based on who and where they are.

During the Council discussion, Councilmembers Andrew Lewis and others pointed out that it would be incorrect to say that these ordinances are “outdated.” To say so implies that they served a worthwhile purpose at some point in the past before they became obsolete since then. The truth is, they always had racially disparate impact and have always been wrong, serving no good purpose worth defending.

But the Council needs to go further. As long as the crime of prostitution (offering sex in exchange for money or other items of value) remains on the books, even if it is rarely prosecuted, similar profiling and harassment of young women of color will continue. Further, the City needs to stop the police from enforcing SOAP (Stay Out of Areas of Prostitution) and SODA (Stay Out of Drug Areas) orders, which are used exactly the same way as the loitering ordinances against exactly the same population despite having no basis in Seattle Municipal Code.

Also during the discussion, Councilmember Tammy Morales expressed willingness to work with sex workers (yes she used the phrase multiple times) to decriminalize sex work in Seattle so that sex workers and people in the sex trade can be safer and have access to emergency assistance. Other Councilmembers also committed to continue working with sex workers to improve safety and health for people in the sex trade. We are excited to be involved in these future conversations.

We also want to respond to a point made by a couple of people who identified themselves as survivors of trafficking and testified in opposition to repealing the loitering ordinances. Their concern was that repealing prostitution loitering ordinance would also prevent “johns” or buyers of sex, whom they consider perpetrators of harm against people in the sex trade, from being arrested or charged with prostitution loitering.

We generally believe that criminalization of clients of sex workers for purchasing sex from a consenting adult diminishes safety for people in the sex trade, but that beside the point here. Prostitution loitering ordinance has been used disproportionately against men of color (as suspected sex buyers) as well as cis and trans women of color (as suspected “prostitutes”), both for being in the wrong place as someone of a wrong race and gender, and therefore it needs to be abolished for that reason regardless of what one believes about paying for sex. Nothing in the bills passed today will legalize or decriminalize buying sex, human trafficking, or sexual violence in any way. That said, their voices belong at the policy table and we hope they will be part of future conversations about keeping our communities safe without over-reliance on the violent police system.

Thank you for your continued support, and thank you to POC SWOP/Green Light Project, UTOPIA-Seattle, Surge Reproductive Justice, Legal Voice, Coalition Ending Gender-Based Violence, and other allies as well! Join our email list by contacting us or follow our facebook page for future updates.

Seattle: Uprising’s early victories & further opportunities to participate

Date: June 15, 2020

Reposted from Coalition for Rights & Safety for People in the Sex Trade.

As many of you know, things are happening at the Seattle City Hall and around the country as a direct result of #BlackLivesMatter organizing in response to the police murders of George Floyd and countless other Black and indigenous people. For example, here is a (very partial) list of victories documented by Chicago-based activist collective Rampant: Rebellions Get Results: A List So Far (note this post was written on June 8th, and there have been many more victories since then, not to mention victories before June 8th that were not included in the list!)

In seattle, here are some of the victories that we are aware of:

  1. Mayor Durkan issued curfews to stop demonstrations, but demonstrations continued and she was forced to withdraw the curfew.
  2. Mayor ordered a 30-day moratorium on the use of tear gas. The order came with the caveat that Chief Best could still order its use if she felt the necessity, which she did just a couple of days ago, but still both leaders faced criticisms for going back on their promises.
  3. City of Seattle is withdrawing a lawsuit against King County which had prevented inquest into killing of civilians by the police for the last two years.
  4. City of Seattle withdraws its petition to be free from federal oversight placed on its police forces due to patterns of racial profiling and civil rights violations.
  5. Peaceful demonstrators persisted in Capitol Hill for over a week despite being attacked by the police with chemical weapons, flash bangs, stan grenades, etc. and forced SPD to retreat, creating what became known as Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone or Capitol Hill Occupied/Organized Protest.
  6. Seattle City Council unanimously passed a resolution rebuking President Trump’s threat to send in active duty military to Seattle.
  7. Chief Best ordered officers to stop concealing badge numbers with “mourning bands.” They did not follow the order, so the City Council is working on a legislation.
  8. City of Seattle agreed to transfer old fire station in Central District to the local African American community to use as a community center.
  9. City Council member Kshama Sawant proposes ordinances to ban the use of chokehold by police officers and the ownership, purchase, rent, storage, or use of “crowd control weapons” such as tear gas and flash bangs. [Update: Both bills passed unanimously!]
  10. City Council member Lisa Herbold proposes an ordinance to prohibit police officers from covering their badge numbers. [Update: Passed unanimously!]
  11. City council members Lewis, Pederson, and Morales propose an ordinance to abolish the crime of prostitution loitering (which the SPD uses to profile and harass women of color). [Update: Passed unanimously!]
  12. City council members Lewis and Morales propose an ordinance to abolish the crime of drug loitering. [Update: Passed unanimously!]

Do you have more? Please send it to us so we can add to this list!

ANYWAYS, Today (Monday, June 15th) at 2pm the City Council is discussing CMs Sawant and Herbold’s bills on banning certain police behaviors that have been used against protesters. The Council meetings are held online due to COVID-19, but you can sign up to testify and/or watch the meeting (direct YouTube link) live.

We are VERY interested in CMs Lewis, Pederson, and Morales’ bills to eliminate prostitution and drug loitering ordinances. City’s own working group had recommended repealing these ordinances TWO YEARS AGO and we’ve met with council members to ask them to follow up on the recommendation, but the Council has so far failed to act on it. The ordinances are likely to be discussed at a later time, but you can submit comments on them NOW on the link above.

Lastly, the Coalition for Rights & Safety for People in the Sex Trade has endorsed “Defund Seattle Police” campaign, which seeks to immediately cut at least 50% of SPD budget to fund community-based programs that prioritize health and safety strategies and free all protesters arrested during the recent protests. If you agree, please sign on to the campaign as an individual or as an organization.

Not another bs PR statement about #BlackLivesMatter

Date: June 5, 2020

Reposted from Coalition for Rights & Safety for People in the Sex Trade

It’s been a rough week of sadness and outrage. I am forced to be in quarantine to avoid coronavirus because I have many compromising medical conditions but every day I’ve been following many of my friends fight for systemic changes we seek, whether they are on the street or online. I feel heavy yet hopeful that this time, the national uprising will lead to lasting movement toward a more just society. When the coronavirus is sufficiently contained or vaccine becomes available, I anticipate that the struggle for racial justice and liberation of Black and other marginalized people will still be ongoing, and I look forward to joining you out there.

On behalf of the Coalition for Rights & Safety for People in the Sex Trade, I signed on to the call to Defund the Seattle Police Department, which demands the City of Seattle to: 1. defund Seattle Police Department (at least 50% of $363 already budgeted for SPD); 2. fund community-based health and safety initiatives that diminish reliance on the police to solve social problems; and 3. drop charges against protesters. You can join the call as an individual or as an organization by clicking on the link below:

http://tinyurl.com/defundSPD (individual)
http://tinyurl.com/defundspdorg (organization)

As the subject of this post says, I am getting fed up with bunch of self-serving PR statements arriving on my inbox from corporations and organizations expressing support for Black lives that do not reflect their day-to-day operations. Today, I received an email from a local (predominantly white, police-friendly) “anti-trafficking” coalition soliciting donations to themselves, claiming that their mission aligns with the goals of Black Lives Matter, after years of promoting more policing and prosecution of those involved in sex trade which further criminalize Black, indigenous, and people of color. They even quote a white academic “expert” who equates prostitution to slavery, comparing their white supremacist carceral politics to actual abolitionists who fought against American chattel slavery and continue to fight against the unjust criminal justice system and the Prison Industrial Complex. And of course they had to stress that they only supported “peaceful” protest by doubly emphasizing the word “peaceful” by italicizing and then underlining the word. This is opportunistic and shameful. You cannot promote carceral approach to social problems and then claim to be in the movement for Black lives at the same time.

I hesitated making a formal statement on behalf of the Coalition for Rights & Safety about recent police murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and many other Black men and women that we have not even heard about because so many of those statements are fake and I wanted to focus on mourning and fighting and supporting my friends rather than taking part in the PR fray. But when I saw anti-trafficking organizations using the national attention to their own advantage, I had to say something. But this is not just a statement; we commit to continue prioritizing the rights and safety for the most marginalized sex workers and people in the sex trade, especially sex workers who are Black, indigenous, or people of color, sex workers who are trans, are immigrants, are disabled, and/or lack housing.

Thank you for being in the movement with us. Please call me if you want to talk more about how we can continue to (and better) advocate for Black lives and the lives of other marginalized communities.

Emi Koyama
The Coordinatrix
Coalition for Rights & Safety for People in the Sex Trade

Also read:

You Can’t Say Black Lives Matter Without Including Black Sex Workers by Suprihmbé
Stop Calling Human Trafficking “Modern Day Slavery”

Stop Calling Human Trafficking “Modern Day Slavery” – Version 0.2

Date: October 30, 2016

This document explains why the U.S. movements against human trafficking should stop calling it “modern day slavery” or otherwise invoking the image of slavery by using terms like “abolition.” Please note that this document is intended for people discussing human trafficking in the United States context, and may not necessarily apply to discussions outside of the United States.

1. In the U.S., the word “slavery” inevitably invokes the specific historical experiences of the enslavement of African peoples by the white settlers in the U.S., which continues to negatively impact African Americans economically, politically, socially, and culturally today. Using the term “slavery” appropriates the historical and ongoing struggles of African American communities against the specific historical event of the Slavery.

2. Human trafficking is a crime. Slavery in the U.S. was criminal, but perfectly legal and supported by the full force of legal, economic, and political institutions. Human trafficking today does not receive such official backing, and cannot be compared to the Slavery. For example, courts today do not enforce contracts for trading humans nor the police detain and send back escaped trafficking victims to their traffickers.

3. It is the modern prison system, not contemporary human trafficking, that is the historical successor of the U.S. Slavery. The 13th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1865, abolished slavery “except as a punishment for crime,” and this caveat became a loophole to re-institute Black enslavement in the post-Reconstruction South under the guise of criminal punishment, where the State passed racist laws to criminalize freed slaves, then loaned out “convicts” as laborers to former slave owners. Modern prison system continues to criminalize and incarcerate African Americans at an extremely disproportionate rate while profiting corporations that build and manage prisons and employ prison labor at rates far below the legal minimum wage.

4. Like earlier “wars” on crimes, drugs, and terrorism, the government’s “war on trafficking” center primarily on surveilling, policing, and prosecuting African American and other communities of color, immigrants, street youth, and other communities that are already heavily criminalized. This includes targeting young people of color as “gangs” engaging in sex trafficking, profiling immigrants as both traffickers and trafficking victims at the border and beyond, and treating queer and trans youth supporting each other engage in survival sex as “trafficking” each other. The simplistic rhetoric of “modern day slavery” distracts us from complex systems of power and oppressions that make our communities vulnerable to exploitation, and allows the government to intensify policing and criminalization on marginalized communities, thereby imprisoning and enslaving more descendants of freed slaves in order to rescue “modern day slaves,” rather than addressing social, economic, and political roots of these vulnerabilities.

Version 0.2 – Please send comments or suggestions to emi at eminism dot org.

Seattle PD drowning #BlackLivesMatter rally with Christmas tunes

Date: November 28, 2015

Yesterday I attended the whitest #BlackLivesMatter rally that I’ve ever seen in downtown Seattle. I have things to say about the whiteness of the Seattle BLM crowd or the seemingly opportunistic white socialist/communist/anarchist/lefty/etc. groups promoting themselves at BLM rallies, but that’s not the topic for this post.

BLM Seattle Banner

As I arrived at the Westlake Park where the rally was held, I immediately realized that I could not hear anything speakers were saying because of the loud Christmas songs blasted through the sound system in the park. But this being the Black Friday for the rest of the community, I thought the music was something that just came with it in a busy shopping area like the Westlake Center area. But it wasn’t.

The sound was blasting from the “Pine Street Holiday Stage” set up in the park, but the stage was not in use at the time.

BLM Seattle Stage

And the music was not endless looping track: there was a hired DJ in the audio booth set up for this stage, along with at least a dozen police officers inside the fence protecting the booth. The man in the top right of the next photo is the DJ. I looked at his computer screen and verified that the music was coming from the computer.

BLM Seattle DJ

Of course there were cops everywhere—several dozens of them, including some on the second floor balcony looking over the park. Curiously, they were almost all on one side of the park facing Macy’s and Nordstrom.

BLM Seattle Cops

After a while, the march began, leaving the park almost empty. At that moment, the music also stopped. And it started blasting again from the sound system about fifteen minutes later when the march that went around a few blocks came back to the park.

BLM Seattle March

BLM Seattle Return

I understand that police officers were “just doing their job” surveilling the rally and protecting fancy department stores. But intentionally drowning the rally by blasting Christmas songs near the rally (perhaps the DJ was hired by the business association or something, but he was clearly collaborating with the police) seems more than a little pathetic and mean-spirited.

Dear the white BLM participant holding a sign demanding more “trainings” for police officers, do you really think that’s the solution?

(Also posted on Tumblr)

A note about trans exclusion at New Orleans Women’s Health Clinic in 2009

Date: March 30, 2015

Back in June 2009, I saw a post on now-defunct Questioning Transphobia blog that called attention the website of New Orleans Women’s Health Clinic, which read, in part, “We are currently not able to provide care to trans people who were male assigned at birth or who have had genital sex reassignment surgery. Please call for referrals.” The poster, a white trans woman who had recently relocated to New Orleans and was looking for health resources, was outraged to read the outright discrimination against trans women. When the post went up, many people were also outraged, and it ignited a firestorm of criticisms against NOWHC’s transphobia.

I agreed that NOWHC’s statement was deeply problematic and offensive, but I was also concerned how an army of mostly white trans women and allies initiated a campaign of full-on attacks on NOWHC, a small reproductive health clinic (which was at the time on hiatus due to lack of resources) established by (mostly) Black women affiliated with Incite! Women of Color (now “Women and Trans People of Color”) Against Violence after Hurricane Katrina left many women completely devastated and without needed services such as this. Yes, NOWHC’s exclusion of trans women must be addressed and corrected, but I felt that there was a better way to achieve that.

So I told folks on the blog that I was contacting someone I knew from Incite! New Orleans to get it addressed, and asked them to give me a little time to do so. For this, I was viciously attacked for a prolonged period of time for supposedly attempting to “silence” trans women’s righteous anger over the statement, but I was simply asking white trans women to take a step back and let me, a trans-ish woman of color with existing ties to Incite!, work things out with the women I knew from Incite! New Orleans.

After several email and phone conversations, NOWHC publicly apologized to trans women and had a statement posted on Questioning Transphobia blog. The original poster also apologized to NOWHC for rushing to publish the article attacking the clinic only an hour after sending them an email questioning the statement instead of waiting for their response.

Questioning Transphobia blog has since disappeared, as did many other blogs and websites that discussed the incident, so it has become difficult to learn what happened and how it got resolved. An unfortunate result of this is that it left a vague memory that Incite! has done something transphobic in the past, with no knowledge or awareness of a resolution, which continues to give the impression that Incite! might still be a trans women exclusionary institution.

I cannot find any web archive of NOWHC’s statement or Questioning Transphobia blog, but I was able to find email exchanges from 2009 that included the statement. With the permission of the Incite!, I am publishing an excerpt from the statement below.

We agree that the questions and concerns you raise are very important. The priorities we hold in providing safe, accessible, and unbiased care to women regardless of their race, income, sexuality, gender identity, body type, citizenship status, work sector, legal history, ability, age, language, and family size and status are often regarded as a “risk” and “liability” by many medical professionals. This reality has delayed our efforts to hire a new Medical Director and created many barriers for many members of our community, including you, in seeking safe, quality, and respectful services.

In making the statements “we are currently not able to provide care to trans people who were male assigned at birth or who have had genital sex reassignment surgery. Please call for referrals,” we were referencing the lack of experience and training that our former medical staff had in providing trans affirmative care to all women regardless of their body types, and gender identities and expressions. We recognize that the current language on our website marginalizes trans women in particular, even though it says elsewhere that we provide services to “all women.” Although “services” provided at the Clinic are not restricted to our medical programs, we recognize that the way it is written implies that we offer no services at all to trans women, which is marginalizing and confusing. It would be more accurate to say that our goal is to provide medical services to all women, though we are having a difficult time reaching it. We take responsibility for this inaccurate representation, and for the ways in which the language is disrespectful, and we sincerely apologize.

Collectively and organizationally, we are committed to creating institutions and environments that challenge gender-policing and trans and homophobia by dismantling racist, heterosexist, patriarchal, classist, and xenophobic ideologies of exclusion, discrimination, hatred, and violence, which creates barriers for many members of our community, particularly those persons who are women of color, poor, LGBTQ, immigrant, differently-abled, homeless, heads of households, disabled, sex workers, incarcerated and formerly incarcerated, young, and living in racially and economically segregated communities. Our website doesn’t reflect this politic effectively and we are currently in the process of modifying it.

Besides language, we share the concern about the core issue of offering safe, quality, and respectful services to all women. Since our founding, we have struggled to hire medical staff who don’t pathologize, demonize, and criminalize the bodies of undocumented women, women with disabilities, l/b/t/q/i women, women of color, low-income women, homeless women, and women working in the sex industry because of our sexuality, reproductive decisions, and gender expressions. Currently, we are evaluating if we can realistically find medical staff that meet this expectation, particularly given the current conditions of the city.

In the future, I think it would help to post such statements to Incite!’s own website/blog in addition to where the firestorm originated from so that memories of the organization’s mistakes and growth can survive the forgetfulness (except in the NSA database) of the internet.

One more thing: let’s name historical revisionism of the plantation tourism.

Date: January 1, 2014

Some people do not seem to understand why holding a retreat at the “captivating” (Ani’s or her publicist’s word) Nottoway Plantation Resort is not just offensive, but particularly wrong and unjust. I explained the reasons in a previous post, but I want to expand on that further.

From my perspective, there are two main reasons that holding the retreat there is particularly wrong and unjust, beyond the problem of our own inherent and inevitable culpability in social and economic systems that are oppressive.

First, Nottoway Plantation is a symbolic site of the violence and cruelty of slavery in the United States, as it was the site of one of the largest plantations in the country.

But more importantly, it is a white supremacist institution that continues to actively distort the historical suffering of Black people who are enslaved (whom it refers to as “willing workforce”) and glamorizes, romanticizes, and glorifies American slavery and its defender, the white ruling class and the Confederates.

Some critics have compared Ani’s decision to hold the retreat at the plantation to holding a similar event at Auschwitz. But that comparison is inadequate: it needs be compared to planning the event at a facility at Auschwitz that is actively being used by neo-Nazis to promote historical revisionism and antisemitism. (Of course, that cannot actually happen in Auschwitz, because the plantation’s historical revisionism would be illegal if it were in Germany or in much of Europe.)

By planning the event at the venue (I understand that Ani did not pick the venue herself, but she did not do anything except thinking “whoa”), Ani participated in the relentless campaign of historical revisionism when she (or someone who works for her) described the plantation as a “captivating” resort, while failing to acknowledge the venue’s history as well as its current role in promoting white supremacy and historical revisionism.

Before the whole controversy, I was not aware that plantations were being used as tourist attractions. But it turned out, there are many former plantation sites that are now considered “historic” tourist destinations. But unlike other places around the world that are preserved for “dark tourism” such as Hiroshima, Auschewitz, and Chernobyl, the attraction of plantations as a tourist destination is not to learn about historical atrocities or tragedies, or to memorialize their victims: it is to promote historical revisionism through white supremacist nostalgia and erase the suffering and resistance that occurred there, whether explicitly or implicitly.

I assume that Ani had not, in her white obliviousness, realized the significance of Nottoway Plantation beyond the fact that it was once a plantation, or its current, active, and intentional role in promoting historical revisionism and white supremacy. If she had, I believe that she would have not allowed the retreat to be scheduled there.

But because she did not realize this, in her white obliviousness, she in effect endorsed and legitimized Nottoway Plantation’s effort to promote historical revisionism. For that, she needs to directly acknowledge that she has made a mistake (and not just that “I understand some people think I made a mistake and I know where they are coming from”). Only by publicly acknowledging the mistake, she can begin to undo the damage she inflicted, however unintentionally.

(Reblogged from my Tumblr page)

It’s not an apology. Not even a “bad” apology.

Date: January 1, 2014

In “A list of problems with Ani DiFranco’s statement on slave plentation retreat,” I explained what was wrong with the statement Ani released in which she announced the cancellation of her expensive four-day hangout at the plantation.

But everywhere else, I find that people are describing the statement as an “apology,” or perhaps “fauxpology” or “non apology” when they find the statement less than satisfactory, but I don’t really understand why anyone can possibly confuse the statement as an “apology” of any sort—even a “bad” apology.

Reading the statement, it is obvious that Ani does not understand why people are criticizing her retreat. Most of her statement is all about how she was not wrong, citing circumstances, intentions, and how we are all culpable in oppressions anyway.

The only place she admits that she may have been wrong is where she says that, maybe, as a white person, it is not her place to know what’s right or wrong when it comes to racism. But she does not even consistently commit to that stance, as she repeatedly states that white people can and should speak on the issue too.

At most, she concedes that, if someone thinks that she was wrong, she understands where they are coming from. Except, of course, she does not seem to really understand where they are coming from. She appears to understand only what other people think are wrong, but not why.

And while she understands that her action “triggered” “the pain of slavery” (that is, the pain is caused by slavery, and not by her actions), she condemns those she harmed for how they “have chosen to do with that pain.” In other words, she is giving permission for African Americans and other people to color to feel pain, but does not approve them criticizing her for causing it.

In short, Ani’s statement can be summarized as: I don’t think I was wrong, and here’s why I wasn’t. But because I’m white, you might think that I don’t get to decide what’s right or wrong about racism, and I understand that. Your pain is real but don’t criticize me because that’s “hatred.”

So… where’s the apology?

(Reblogged from my Tumblr page)

(Added 01/02/2013) Ani actually apologizes to her fans.

A list of problems with Ani DiFranco’s statement on slave plantation retreat

Date: December 29, 2013

Singer-songwriter Ani DiFranco announced, and then canceled, an expensive four-day retreat for songwriters and performers at Nottoway Plantation and Resort after the internet erupted in outrage at her choice of the venue. Nottoway is not just the site of one of the largest slave plantations in the area, but is also preserved as an exclusive resort actively distorting and even glorifying brutal history of slavery in the United States.

I came into queer identity in a predominantly white rural lesbian (and bisexual women’s) community in the mid-90s, so Ani’s voice was a life support. I listened to her politically savvy and lyrically masterful music non-stop, traveled long distance to see her perform, and bought her merch from her mom who was working at her label, Righteous Babe Records. I collected and traded bootleg tapes of her shows with other fans (before Napster made it possible to share MP3 files online), and asked a friend who was a DJ at campus radio station to obtain her promo singles that were not commercially released. When I was in her home town of Buffalo back in 2006, I snuck into (with the permission of the friendly construction workers there) the historic building (which later became Babeville) that was undergoing restoration and renovation after Ani purchased it in order to save the gorgeous building from demolition.

So it was painful to me to witness how Ani somehow failed to recognize the offensiveness of holding the retreat at Nottoway Plantation, or to anticipate how people would react to the announcement, but I held on to the hope that, once confronted, she would immediately understand and acknowledge her mistake. Unfortunately, the statement she released in response to the criticism fell short of what I expected from someone who was so important to me at one point in my life.

Below is a list of problems (which is not to say that it is exhaustive) I find with the statement (all emphases are mine). Please also read “Things about Ani’s fauxpology I’m not okay with” by Jaya and “How Ani Should Have Apologized” by Mel Hartsell.

1. The statement treats criticisms as “pain of slavery” and “bitterness” misdirected at her, rather than acknowledging that her endorsement of a resort facility that glorifies chattel slavery was the problem. By doing so, Ani portrays herself as the victim of “hatred” directed at her.

i did not imagine or understand that the setting of a plantation would trigger such collective outrage or result in so much high velocity bitterness.

i know that the pain of slavery is real and runs very deep and wide. however, in this incident i think is very unfortunate what many have chosen to do with that pain.

i obviously underestimated the power of an evocatively symbolic place to trigger collective and individual pain.

but should hatred be spit at me over that mistake?

2. The statement fails to concretely acknowledge that the choice of venue was inappropriate and offensive. By using words like “if” and “maybe” and leaving the judgment to the community, Ani avoids taking responsibility for her mistake.

i have heard the feedback that it is not my place to go to former plantations and initiate such a dialogue.

again, maybe we should indeed have drawn a line in this case and said nottoway plantation is not a good place to go; maybe we should have vetted the place more thoroughly.

if nottoway is simply not an acceptable place for me to go and try to do my work in the eyes of many, then let me just concede before more divisive words are spilled.

She says that she is canceling the retreat, not because she realized that it was a mistake to plan it at the venue, but other people are being mean to her.

3. Ani claims that she had “imagined a dialogue would emerge organically over the four days about the issue of where we were,” but it is extremely difficult to believe this, given her initial “invitation” to the retreat stated “We will be shacked up at the historic Nottoway Plantation and Resort in White Castle, LA, for 3 days and 4 nights exchanging ideas, making music, and otherwise getting suntans in the light of each other’s company. […] In the evenings we will perform for each other and enjoy great food in a captivating setting.” Really, how am I supposed to believe that the event was meant to be anti-racist? Ani wrote:

i imagined instead that the setting would become a participant in the event. this was doubtless to be a gathering of progressive and engaged people, so i imagined a dialogue would emerge organically over the four days about the issue of where we were. […] my intention of going ahead with the conference at the nottoway plantation was not to be a part of a great forgetting but it’s opposite. i know that pain is stored in places where great social ills have occurred. i believe that people must go to those places with awareness and with compassionate energy and meditate on what has happened and absorb some of the reverberating pain with their attention and their awareness. i believe that compassionate energy is transformative and necessary for healing the wounds of history.

If this was her true intention, she should have been transparent about it in the original “invitation,” and also considered how the venue would be experienced entirely differently by participants who are white, Black, indigenous, or other people of color. I personally cannot imagine that a white person working solo is capable of arranging such an event, but that’s beside the point here. I am not really convinced that Ani had in fact intended to use the venue as a place to “heal the wounds of history,” but if she really did, she did the worst job imaginable of how one could go about doing that–and the issue is not (just) that she is a white person overstepping her boundary. She is claiming to “heal” wounds of historical violence with more violence.

4. The statement invokes superficially anti-oppression rhetoric to diminish the particularities of criticisms against holding the retreat at Nottoway Plantation.

for myself, i believe that one cannot draw a line around the nottoway plantation and say “racism reached it’s depths of wrongness here” and then point to the other side of that line and say “but not here”. […] i know that indeed our whole country has had a history of invasion, oppression and exploitation as part of it’s very fabric of power and wealth. […] it is a very imperfect world we live in and i, like everyone else, am just trying to do my best to negotiate it.

let us not forget that the history of slavery and exploitation is at the foundation of much of our infrastructure in this country, not just at old plantation sites. let us not oversimplify to black and white a society that contains many many shades of grey.

Ani is of course correct to point out that every inch of this land (the United States) is a site of genocidal violence. But Nottoway is not just any site of any sort of violence; as one of the largest plantations in the United States, it is specifically a site that symbolizes the violence of slavery. And in addition to being a place with the symbolic significance, it is an institution whose owner continues to profit off of romanticizing and glamorizing the enslavement of Black people.

5. The statement objectifies youth of color as shield and source of inspiration.

i also planned to take the whole group on a field trip to Roots of Music, a free music school for underprivileged kids in New Orleans. Roots of Music is located at the Cabildo, a building in the French Quarter which was the seat of the former slaveholder government where all the laws of the slave state were first written and enacted. i believe that the existence of Roots of Music in this building is transcendent and it would have been a very inspiring place to visit. i also believe that Roots could have gained a few new supporters. in short, i think many positive and life-affirming connections would have been made at this conference, in its all of its complexity of design.

The existence of Roots of Music is transcendent, but transcendence does not rub off on folks paying $1000-4000 each to hang out with Ani and her friends. Youth of color (who I imagine to be mostly Black youth) do not exist to inspire (who I imagine to be) rich white folks, and that the organization might gain “a few new supporters” does not exonerate the poverty tourism. Worse, it appears that Ani is comparing her retreat being held at an actively white supremacist institution to the resilience of Black people building and strengthening their own communities after centuries of violence and oppression.

6. Empty call for unity and “dialogue” that is actually meant to close down the dialogue. Ani ends the statement with the following:

i ask only that as we attempt to continue to confront our country’s history together, […] let us not forget to be compassionate towards each other as we attempt to move forward and write the next pages in our history. our story is not over and, Citizens of the Internet, it is now ours to write.

She implies that critics have been less than compassionate toward her (“should hatred be spit at me”?), but many of us are critical because we are compassionate (“we have to be able to criticize what we love, say what we have to say” as Ani used to sing). Further, this paragraph tells me that she still does not understand the gravity of the offense if she thinks she is in a position to demand “compassion” from those she directly harmed by her lack of compassion in the first place.

Nowhere in the statement does she acknowledge how she put Toshi Reagon, a Black female musician who agreed to be an instructor for the retreat before the venue was announced, in an extremely awkward and uncomfortable position, booking her to sing at the site where servants were required to sing in order to prove that they were not stealing food from their master, forcing her to be the first person to publicly explain herself even though she was not responsible for the controversy and her options were limited once the outrage ensued.

(Edited to add:)

I came across additional writings on the topic after posting this. Here are links to some of them:

Also, read my follow up:

Transgender Youth in the Sex Trade–my presentation at TransConnect: Resource and Cultural Fair

Date: November 20, 2012

Below is my presentation at this year’s Transgender Day of Remembrance event, TransConnect: Resource and Cultural Fair held at Portland Q Center. This is basically a shorter version of my keynote talk at Portland State University’s TDOR event last year, so there’s not much new materials in it, but I thought some people might prefer the shorter version. The presentation was sponsored by Portland Sex Workers Outreach Project.

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