Search Eminism.org

  • Enter search term(s):

Subscribe

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Categories

Archives

Recent Posts

Gangs and sex trafficking: How the movement against “modern day slavery” targets descendants of slavery as its primary perpetrators

Date: July 16, 2012

Popular discourse surrounding human trafficking in the U.S. have gone through several transformations since the dawn of this century. For example in 2000, with the passage of Trafficking Victims Protection Act in the United States. and the adoption of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons by the United Nations (as a supplement to its Convention against Transnational Organized Crime), “human trafficking” began to be understood primarily as a transnational criminal enterprise comparable to illegal trafficking of weapons and drugs. This perspective is a distinct departure from the more traditional approach which dealt with human trafficking in relation to poverty, migration, labor, and development.

The next transformation took place around 2008-2009, when American media and politicians began focusing (sometimes exclusively) on domestic minor sex trafficking (DMST) or commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC–although I believe it should be called CSEY with the word “youth”), instead of the more traditional emphasis on foreign victims who are trafficked transnationally. The frequency of media coverage of DMST/CSEY exploded, as did the number of “anti-trafficking” groups (which mostly focus on DMST/CSEY) in the U.S., and the sensationalistic rhetoric of “modern day slavery” and “sex slaves” became commonplace.

There is yet another rhetorical and substantiative transformation of the U.S. anti-trafficking discourse taking place today, even though few people outside of the law enforcement and anti-trafficking groups that partner with them are taking notice. The shift I am pointing out is the recent move by the U.S. government agencies to re-classify DMST/CSEY as a primarily “gang” issue and take actions accordingly.

This is a trend I’ve been sensing for a while, but it was not until I heard directly from a staffer at the U.S. Attorney’s Office of Oregon that it had moved the issue of DMST/CSEY to the purview of its “gang unit” (as opposed to the civil rights division, which handles transnational labor trafficking) that I began to realize that there is something to the vague suspicion I had been feeling. Further research has confirmed that there is a deliberate shift in rhetoric and strategy U.S. government agencies and its allied anti-trafficking groups employ in their campaigns against DMST/CSEY.

Media reports about DMST/CSEY involving street gangs precede official government declarations by two to three years. They first began appearing in the U.S. context in 2008, when teenage gang members were arrested for “sexual assault, engaging in organized criminal activity, prostitution, and kidnapping and trafficking of a person” in Fort Worth (Dallas Morning News, 01/16/2008). There were several other reports in Missouri, Washington State, Minnesota, and elsewhere in the next couple of years as well (New York Times, 07/23/2008; Seattle Times, 03/26/2009; Star Tribune, 09/23/2010; and others). A report by the San Diego Anti-Trafficking Task Force claimed that “street gangs are partly to blame for an increase in teenage prostitution,” describing it as the “second largest source of income for San Diego gangs” after drug dealing (KPBS, 11/09/2010).

(Note that this discussion is limited to media reports in the United States. News stories linking “gangs” to sex trafficking have been common in Europe since at least mid-2000s, but the “gangs” they are referring to are very different from what U.S. media are calling “gangs.” In the European context, “gangs” are frequently members of Russian mafia and other “grown up” criminal organizations with clandestine ties to members of the political and business establishment class, unlike U.S. street gangs that are made up primarily of young men of color.)

Former Republican presidential candidate and Texas governor Rick Perry was one of the first political leaders to call attention to the link between gangs and DMST/CSEY. According to Houston Chronicle (08/20/2010), Perry proposed “stiffer penalties” for human trafficking–25 years to life–on the premise that penalties were “directed at gang members who run the prostitution rings.”

The shift in the law enforcement’s approach to DMST/CSEY is evident in the changes from the FBI’s 2009 National Gang Threat Assessment to its 2011 revision.

In the 2009 edition of the report, there is not even a single mention of sex trafficking or DMST/CSEY except for statements that report the fact that some gangs operate “prostitution rings” or (voluntary) smuggling of “illegal aliens.” On the other hand, the 2011 edition contains a specific section about “Gangs and Alien Smuggling, Human Trafficking, and Prostitution” which describes human trafficking and forced prostitution as major sources of revenue for gangs:

Human trafficking is another source of revenue for some gangs. Victims–typically women and children–are often forced, coerced, or led with fraudulent pretense into prostitution and forced labor. […] Prostitution is also a major source of income for many gangs. Gang members often operate as pimps, luring or forcing at-risk, young females into prostitution and controlling them through violence and psychological abuse.

Three weeks after the release of the 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment, NPR’s “All Things Considered” aired a story titled, aptly, “Gangs enter new territory with sex trafficking” (11/14/2011), which seemed to have served as a template for many other news reports about the “new” development. NPR reported:

[A] new FBI threat assessment says MS-13 and other street gangs have been moving into some different territory: human trafficking. The bureau says gang members are leading women and children into forced prostitution. […] “You have a gang that’s taking advantage of people that are in a desperate situation, usually runaways or someone that’s looking for help from the gang,” [Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigator John] Torres says.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder echoed the message in his April 2012 speech about human trafficking at Clinton School of Public Service at the University of Arkansas:

As incomprehensible as it seems, trafficking in girls is an increasingly prevalent part of gang activity. These crimes are seen as “low risk and high reward.” […] Today, these transactions can be executed quickly, conveniently, and anonymously over the Internet–and many of them involve young children. […] Because we know these heinous crimes can arise in any criminal context–and because it is not uncommon for traffickers to be involved in a variety of other criminal enterprises, […] we are taking steps to ensure that investigators and prosecutors who work on organized crime, gang, and financial crime cases are fully trained to identify human crimes–and human trafficking victims.

Contrast this to Holder’s earlier public statements, such as the November 2009 written testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee or the May 2010 speech at the National Conference on Human Trafficking, both of which strongly condemn sex trafficking and emphasizes how the Department of Justice is vigorously fighting it, but do not make any link between sex trafficking and street gangs.

Anti-trafficking groups and activists have picked up on the trend as well. For example, anti-prostitution scholar and activist Laura Lederer published an article titled “Sold for Sex: The Link Between Street Gangs and Human Trafficking” on the exact same day the FBI released its revised National Gang Threat Assessment. Lederer wrote:

The facts from hundreds of criminal cases show a clear link between dangerous street gangs and the scourge of human trafficking. […] With state and national crackdowns on drug trafficking, gangs have turned to sex trafficking for financial gain.

She further argues that strict enforcement of anti-trafficking laws could be “another prosecution weapon against the dangerous street gangs that endanger our communities and our nation. […] The vigorous prosecution of human trafficking can help bring down street gangs that also engage in murder, robbery, and drug trafficking.”

Anti-trafficking groups have frequently argued that there are two main types of pimps: “boyfriend/finesse pimps” and “gorilla pimps”: The former refers to pimps who use romantic gesture and psychological manipulation to control their victims, while the latter describes those who use physical violence and intimidation to force the victim to engage in prostitution. Below is an example of this classification, taken from a 2011 presentation by Polaris Project, a national anti-trafficking organization.

Finesse Pimp vs. Gorilla Pimp

Below, you will see a newer version of the same classification system, taken from a May 2012 presentation by YouthCare, a Seattle-based homeless youth advocacy organization (which, like Portland’s Janus Youth, seems to have bought into the police-centered approach to DMST/CSEY). Instead of two, the slide depicts three distinct categories of pimps: “boyfriend pimp,” “gorilla pimp,” and the all-new “gang pimp.”

Finesse Pimp vs. Gorilla Pimp vs. Gang Pimp

What is ignored in all of these discussions of the (racially coded) evils of “gangs” is that many young men of color (and others) become gang members and engage in its criminal activities for many of the same reasons many young women of color (and others) are lured into the sex trade: poverty, failure of social and child welfare systems and public education, lack of viable economic opportunities, psychological and historic trauma. After all, what is the moral difference between a young woman who is told to go out and sell sex, and a young man who is told to go out and sell drugs? And yet, the mainstream anti-trafficking discourse would have us believe that the young woman is an innocent victim but the young man is an evil criminal.

Anti-trafficking discourse has always carried racist and xenophobic overtones, but the recent shift in the rhetorics and strategies of U.S. government agencies is escalating it to the level indistinguishable form the racist, classist War on Drugs and its vilification of youth of color, immigrants, street youth, among others. That we have a movement that claims to be outraged by the horrors of “modern day slavery” which then targets the descendants of those who have survived slavery and colonization as its primary perpetrators while remaining completely oblivious to the legacies and consequences of these historical trauma is nothing short of perversity, a moral and logical failure.

If we are to believe, which I do not necessarily object to by the way, that gangs play some role in DMST/CSEY, our approach to solving the problem cannot and should not rest on the “vigorous prosecution” alone. We need strategies to offer more attractive alternatives to gang life that are compatible with human rights and dignity for all involved, those that empower marginalized communities to take care of their constituents and deal with problems they have in their own initiative and leadership.

Ms. Magazine Blog quotes a line from my (really old and not so good) poem, and I panicked.

Date: September 27, 2011

A friend told me that a poem (not particularly a good one) I wrote almost a decade ago is being cited and linked from a new article posted in Ms. Magazine Blog. The article is in response to a statement issued by radical Black women criticising SlutWalk, and quotes a line from my very old poem that says “everyone is safe when sluts are safe.”

The author of the article, Janell Hobson, is also a Black woman, and I have nothing against her. But people began accessing my piece in droves, sharing it via Twitter, and I started feeling worried about getting drawn into this controversy. So I quickly wrote up what I felt about the topic, and replaced the poem with it. Below is the little write-up that is now on the URL that hosted the poem. It’s not a complete analysis and position paper on SlutWalk, but it’s not intended as such.

update 09/27/2011 – Hey people, I noticed that some people are linking to this piece in the context of recent discussions about SlutWalk. Please know that I wrote this piece almost a decade ago, under a different period. I’ve been recently approached by a couple of editors about reprinting this piece in a book or magazine, but I turned them down because I feel that the cultural climate has shifted in the post-SlutWalk era and I do not want this piece to be used out of context by people discussing the merits and demerits of SlutWalk.

As a participant in Portland’s SlutWalk this past summer, and the producer for a couple of events in early 2000s with the name “Sluts Against Rape,” I do believe in the validity of the strategy that seeks to disarm words and concepts like “slut” that are used to divide women/queers and harm us all. I further feel that some of the white radical feminist critics of SlutWalk have too often relied on mainstream media depiction of SlutWalk for their understanding of the movement, which is ironic because they, too, would be upset if we bought into the media stereotypes about the humourless, anti-sex “70s feminists.”

But when a group of women of colour I highly respect and work with stand up and make public statements criticising SlutWalk and its approaches, first and foremost I stand in solidarity even as I feel ambivalent about some points. If SlutWalk is to continue, the movement has to radically transform itself to incorporate concerns voiced by the radical Black women and other women of colour. I am not entirely in agreement with everything the statement says, but I firmly believe that they need to be taken seriously by anyone organising SlutWalk events.

I am therefore asking everyone to stop pitting my words against theirs to orchestrate an artificial conflict between me and other women of colour. There are genuine disagreements among women of colour, but they should be addressed directly between and among women of colour.

The short piece that used to be on this URL has been removed. You should still be able to find it if you really wanted to, but for now I want to place a barrier. I will probably restore it once the storm is over.

Text of the flier holding journalist Mika Tsutsumi accountable for her endorsement of the racist/xenophobic agenda in Japan

Date: April 14, 2011

Note: Following is the text of a flier I made in preparations for Japanese journalist Mika Tsutsumi’s scheduled talk at Portland State University on April 14, 2011. I found out on the day of the talk that it had been canceled, so the fliers were never handed out.

For those of you who don’t know: Ms. Tsutsumi is the author of “United States: Poverty Superpower” and other books that expose social and economic problems within the U.S. for the Japanese audience, and is considered very liberal/progressive. However, in this particular case she aligned herself with the racist/xenophobic nationalist camp that target immigrants and migrant workers.

*****

Until 2008, Japanese law did not grant birthright citizenship to children born to a Japanese father and a non-Japanese mother unless they are legally married.

This “loophole” mostly affected children of temporary migrant Filippina women who work as “hostesses” serving alcohol to Japanese men at clubs. The legal situation was convenient for Japanese men who seek extramarital affairs with these women without taking any responsibility for the consequences: both the women and their children disappear from Japanese men’s lives as they are forced to go back to the Philippines or wherever the women came from. Children are sent back to an unfamiliar country with unfamiliar culture and language without any financial or other support from their Japanese father.

In 2008, the Supreme Court of Japan ruled this part of the citizenship law unconstitutional, and demanded that the legislature fix the problem. All major parties endorsed the change to the citizenship law, while a small but vocal group of right-wing nationalists (mostly organizing in the social media) argued that granting citizenship to children born to foreign mothers would result in massive citizenship fraud and the foreign (often claimed as “Chinese”) “takeover” of Japan.

Journalist Mika Tsutsumi, along with her husband and member of the Parliament Ryuhei Kawada, joined with the right-wing nationalists to lead the opposition to amending the unconstitutional citizenship law. Tsutsumi warned of the “dangers” of historic proportion eroding Japan’s sovereignty if the law were to be changed, while Kawada specifically insisted that the immigration law’s impact on Japanese unemployment must be addressed before proceeding with protecting the rights of the children whose citizenship rights are unconstitutionally denied.

By the end of 2008, the change to the citizenship law passed both houses of Parliament by overwhelming majority (with Kawada and a few right-wing politicians opposing it). Contrary to the racist/xenophobic arguments in opposition to the change, there have been no report of massive citizenship fraud, or foreign “invasion” of Japanese homeland in the three years since the change.

Ask Ms. Tsutsumi to investigate and report how her own claims regarding the citizenship law hold up with the reality. And if they don’t–which, they don’t–demand that she make a public statement regarding her endorsement of the racist/xenophobic nationalist agenda in Japan. That is her responsibility as a journalist.

Delightful dinner conversation at the Gender Studies Symposium at Lewis & Clark College

Date: March 16, 2010

This past week, I attended the 29th Annual Gender Studies Symposium at Lewis & Clark College. Since I am local and available, I seem to get invited just about every single year on various panels, but this year I was invited to speak on the topic of disability and sexuality.

There is also a dinner reception on the first day of this conference for organizers, college staff, and presenters each year. I’ve never actually attended the dinner in all those years I’ve been part of the conference, but this year I thought I’d check it out. So I walked into a room full of people I didn’t recognize, and picked a table to join.

It turned out that all four people sitting at the table I picked were administrators at Lewis & Clark who had something to do with the conference. After a quick introduction, they went back to the conversation they were having before I joined the table, which was about the small swastika drawing inside men’s bathroom at the said campus.

To summarize their conversation, they were talking about how students initially did not take the issue seriously, dismissing the drawing as an isolated incident that didn’t mean anything. But the school took time holding campus-wide conversations about the incident and how it might affect Jewish students, students of color and others targeted by the Neo-Nazis and other white supremacy groups, and many white non-Jewish students began to understand that it meant something to some students and should not be tolerated.

“Can I ask a question?” I asked. “Well I was reading the program for this year’s conference, and correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems that all main speakers and performers seem to be white this year. I don’t think this conference was like that in other years I came. Has there been any conversations about that?”

Immediately, a couple of the administrators started stressing, “it was not intentional!” “We noticed that after we planned all the main speakers, but we didn’t do that on purpose. We picked our speakers according to their expertise in this year’s theme, and it was a coincidence that they were all white.”

It wasn’t on purpose? Of course it wasn’t! If I thought it was on purpose, there is no way I would step a foot on this campus ever again (and while this isn’t the main point of this blog post, WTF is up with the name of this school anyway?). And am I supposed to feel comforted because even though all of the main speakers and performers in this conference are white, it was not intentional?

The problem, of course, is not the presence of malicious intent, but the absence of anti-white supremacy intent to create a conference whose speakers and performers are not just competent, but also diverse. It is about the lack of willingness on the part of organizers to go a little bit deeper to find and invite researchers and speakers of color with equal level of expertise and knowledge who are not receiving fair share of attention or status either because of their background or because of the focus of research that white academia deems unimportant.

And if the college is not interested in making an effort to not let very predictable “coincidence” after “coincidence” take place not just in terms of the racial breakdown of the main speakers, but in other aspects as well, what’s the point of hosting Gender Studies Symposium anyway? Besides, how did the administrators fail to see the parallel between the defensiveness of Lewis & Clark College students over the swastika drawing on the urinal and their own defensiveness in response to my query?

To Portland State University Women’s Studies Governing Board re Proposed Name Change

Date: January 24, 2010

January 23, 2010

PSU Women’s Studies Governing Board members,

I am writing you as a former student, instructor, and frequent guest lecturer of Women’s Studies Program at Portland State University regarding the public discussion I attended this past Thursday about the potential change of the Department name.

At the public meeting last Thursday, it became clear from early on that there were two main concerns/interests that the group was trying to balance: first, there was a strong sense among some outspoken participants that the word “women” should remain, in order to honour the Department’s legacy and to resist erasure of women in the rest of academia; second, there was an even stronger feeling among others that the name should be expanded to include gender and sexuality, in order to more fully represent the content of the program as well as to appeal to a broader audience. Both groups quickly acknowledged each other’s arguments, which made the conjuncture, Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, a popular alternative.

And then, several women of colour brought up a concern that highly abstract terms like “gender and sexuality studies” alienate members of their families and communities, making it more difficult to recruit and retain women of colour within our program. I felt that their concerns were very relevant and valid, but I did not hear any other people acknowledge them or to offer compromises to address them. I requested a five-minute caucus time for the women of colour in the group because I felt that the “public” in this public meeting ignored and dismissed the real concerns of women of colour who spoke up, and I wanted to hear them better and to strategies how women of colour can have real impact in the process.

The voting took place immediately after the caucus time, and “Women’s, Gender and Sexualities Studies” was the most popular name, as I had expected. It received many more votes than the second choice, which was to retain “Women’s Studies.” I do understand that there is a need to change the name if only to reflect the presence of sexualities studies curriculum, and suspect that many people expect the Governing Board to go along with the popular will. But given the fact that the split between WGS and “Women’s Studies” went almost along the racial line, with most people in the white majority preferring WGS and most women of colour preferring “Women’s Studies,” I caution against the use of simple majority rule.

At the same time, I do not expect the Governing Board to throw out the most popular choice entirely, along with two years of internal discussions, simply because most women of colour voted against the change. I suggest that the Governing Board adopt the new name: Department of Women’s Studies and Gender & Sexuality Studies. This is longer than even the longest proposal that was on the table this past Thursday, but it is the natural compromise between the two top picks from the community, and has the advantages of both: it is inclusive of scholarly explorations into gender and sexuality issues outside of the traditional “women’s studies” framework, while at the same time allowing people to continue to refer to the program casually as “Department of Women’s Studies” as a shorthand.

To be honest, I did not walk into the meeting thinking that I would be sympathetic to the argument for status quo. I am very excited about the expansion of the program into areas of gender, sexuality, and queer theory, and I would have picked something more along the line of WGS if I were to decide it by myself. But after hearing voices of other women of colour, and seeing how the process failed to include and address their concerns, I felt that it was more important for me to stand in solidarity with them than to promote the name that I personally like most. I urge members of the Governing Board to take their/our concerns seriously, and come up with a solution that satisfies their/our needs, possibly but not necessarily along the line of my suggestion.

Sincerely,

Emi Koyama

Fred Phelps visits Portland, Emi counter-counter-protests the counter-protest

Date: November 25, 2008

Today, I spent a cold November morning counter-protesting folks from Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church, known for picketing funerals of anti-gay hate crime victims, U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq, and others to promote its homophobic interpretation of the Bible and current events (they argue that the 9/11 attack and hurricane Katrina both happened because of the nation’s acceptance of homosexuality, which I’m sure would surprise Osama bin Ladin). They came all the way to Portland to protest the establishment of Queer Resource Center at Portland State University, and gender-neutral bathrooms.

There were about five people from WBC, holding signs that say stuff like “God Hates You,” “You’re Going to Hell,” and my favourite: one that shows Barack Obama’s face with devilish horns attached, with the word “antichrist” over it. In contrast, there were about 200 students and community members there stretched across two blocks and an empty lot, who also held signs protesting WBC (I love the sign that says “Jesus had two daddies”). You can see the photos from the scene in my Flickr set.

After taking photos and chatting with my friends, I got courageous and walked up to the man I believed to be Fred Phelps Jr. (the senior Fred wasn’t there), and started a conversation.

“So, I think I understand why you don’t approve homosexuality, but what do you have against gender-neutral bathrooms anyway?”

“Well, it promotes something that’s against God.”

“Do you have two separate bathroom for men and women in your house?”

“No, but it locks, so women are safe in there.”

“So gender-neutral bathrooms are okay as long as there’s a lock?”

“You don’t have to call it gender-neutral bathrooms.”

“So the problem is how we call it?”

“It’s about what it promotes. Read Romans 1.”

“Don’t you think it’s easier to have homosexual sex in the bathroom when it’s single-sex?”

“Romans 1.”–and began citing the Bible, abruptly terminating a two-way conversation.

So then, I left “God Hates You” side, crossed the street to re-join “God Loves Everybody” side, who weren’t feeling so loving at that very moment as they chanted,

Hey hey, ho ho, Fred Phelps has got to go!
Hey hey, ho ho, Fred Phelps has got to go!

…which seemed strange, as Phelps actually wasn’t there at all. But soon the mostly white crowd began chanting a new phrase:

Fred Phelps, Ku Klax Klan, We can stop them, yes we can.

Argh. Phelps is pretty horrible indeed, but if he were the Klan we wouldn’t be so certain that we are physically safe enough to openly oppose him. I was irritated and wished that people would stop chanting it after a couple of times, but they didn’t. And it wasn’t one of those times I could pull them aside to have a deep conversation about (in)appropriateness of comparing certain aspects of racist violence with homophobic preachers, since there were dozens of people chanting loudly.

So I shouted “shut the fuck up white people, you don’t know what Klans are like” and walked out of the area. Chanting continued for a couple of more times before it subsided, and a reporter from a local TV station rushed toward me to interview me, thinking that I was a supporter of WBC or something. I ignored them and walked along.

So what if Blacks caused Prop. 8 to pass?

Date: November 19, 2008

This evening, I attended a meeting titled United & Moving Forward, which was convened by Portland Latino Gay Pride, Basic Rights Oregon, and other local LGBT/queer organisations. The discussion was on the outcome of Proposition 8 in California, which amended the state constitution to ban same-sex marriages, and how communities of colour are unfairly blamed for its passage. I’ve been following similar discussions online for a while, but I was glad to hear from a panel of activists who were actually involved in the campaign against Proposition 8.

On the night of the election, CNN reported on the basis of a small exit poll sample that almost 70% of African-American voters endorsed Proposition 8, leading many in the media to conclude that Black voters, who turned out in record numbers to push Barack Obama into the White House, was responsible for the ban on same-sex marriage, which in turn prompted many angry, often racist statements among (white) gay and lesbian communities that are too depressing to reproduce here (but you know what I am talking about).

At the meeting, a woman from National Gay and Lesbian Task Force explained to the crowd that CNN’s numbers are likely wrong, as it was based on such a small sample of exit polls, and they are working to produce the actual breakdown of Black votes, which appears to be much closer. Many people echoed the sentiment that the media were wrong to portray Black voters as the culprit for denying marriage equality, and we need to challenge those members of our LGBT/queer communities who are lashing out at the wrong people because of the misinformation.

But it concerns me that we are putting so much emphasis on disproving CNN’s numbers. What if they were real? What if 70% of Blacks actually did vote against marriage equality? Does that justify white gays and lesbians lashing out against the entire Black population, even shouting the N-word at them? And doesn’t it say something about the underlying racist bias on the part of white gays and lesbians that white they were so quick to believe the CNN figure in the first place and run with it?

And why is our national leadership so eager to pacify them with “accurate information,” as if the only problem with their racist display of outrage is that they were misinformed? How is it relevant if 50% of Blacks oppose same-sex marriage or 70%–would it become any more acceptable for white gays and lesbians to respond in racist fashion if Black people were in fact disproportionately homophobic?

CNN’s numbers should be challenged, because it is slanderous and harmful to the honour and reputation of Black communities across California. But it is not enough to simply challenge the notion Blacks caused Proposition 8 to pass; the LGBT movement needs to confront ugly bursts of racism within our communities as such, rather than providing excuse for it by pretending that people who lash out are merely misinformed.

Racist Feminism at the National Women’s Studies Association

Date: June 28, 2008

In March, I was invited to speak at the “tribute panel” dedicated to Black feminist thought, especially the work and life of Audre Lorde during the National Women’s Studies Association. I felt honored, and more than slightly intimidated, to be selected to address the importance of Audre Lorde’s work in my own life as well as in the feminist movement at large. Other panelists were Kaila Adia Story (University of Louisville) and Melinda L. de Jesus (California College of the Arts).

It was during my second year of college I was first introduced to the writings of Audre in a Women’s Studies course. Throughout the academic term, students read several articles each week, discussed them in the class, and wrote journal entries that reflect on the week’s readings. Week after week, most of the assigned materials were those written by white, middle-class, straight (or sometimes “political lesbian”) women, and I was having difficulty relating to much of what was being discussed. I kept writing in my journal how I didn’t relate to the reading, but I did not realize it had anything to do with the selection of the materials. I felt bad about being so “negative” about feminism and feminists.

Toward the end of the term, one week was dedicated to the work of “women of color” (yes, a whole week–woo hoo!). If I remember correctly, it consisted of selections from the anthology “This Bridge Called My Back” (Combahee River Collective statement, and I think one of the Cherrie Moraga’s pieces) and Audre Lorde’s “Sister Outsider.” For the first time, these articles spoke to me. They gave voice to my feelings of alienation and frustration that I could not point a finger on. And even though it was just a week out of the entire term, and it is possibly the worst form of tokenism within the discipline, they anchored me to feminism and Women’s Studies to this date. Without “Sister Outsider,” I may not have been a feminist today.
(more…)

Pages: Prev 1 2