“Say his name! Say his name! / won’t you say his name?”

“Say his name! Say his name! / won’t you say his name?”

Since my last post, more and more disturbing violence has indeed erupted — in ways both predictable and still, somehow, shocking.

I’ve been struggling pretty openly with how to best fit myself into the work of anti-racism, feeling both alienated from the work of white allies and as though I am an interloper in black spaces. What I have yearned for is a space that feels appropriate, i.e. a space in which I am able to do more of the heavy lifting to alleviate the struggles of the black community as they fight back against the daily injustices and dehumanization of genocide. And don’t kid yourself into thinking it’s anything but — our police force has our black citizenship held hostage, fearful to leave their homes, drive down their streets, to let their children outside to play.

Alton Sterling.

Philando Castile.

Delrawn Small.

We need to remember their names. We need to remember their lives. They are survived by families who loved them deeply and communities who will never be the same without them.

My time for inaction is over. My time to wonder where my place is as a non-black person of color is over. And though I still struggle with it, my place is certainly never to downplay what is happening to black people in my community, or to claim that my own struggles are more important. To do so only reinforces white supremacy and anti-blackness. My place is definitely to call out anti-blackness when I see it not just white folks, but my fellow POC who are not black, and who will use their places of relative privilege to suppress the dignity and vitality of black lives.

Case in point number one:

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What has been happening in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Bangladesh is unquestionably horrible. The Arab world and East Asia have undoubtedly been experiencing more than their fair share of bloodshed, and it is worth recognizing. Muslim people the world over do fear for their lives and safety, perhaps in much the same way as non-Muslim black folks, but here are two key points to ponder:

  1. Many Muslim people are black, and are impacted just as deeply when either of their communities face tragedy.
  2. Honoring the lives of one group of people does not mean you ignore the plight of others. Movements like #BlackLivesMatter do not insist we only care about black lives, but asks that we highlight and acknowledge the very real problem of anti-black prejudice and violence. It does not diminish one group’s struggle to discuss the other’s.

Additionally, it’s not okay to flatten the struggles of “people of color” into a singularity without recognizing that each of us is impacted differently as we move through the world. I am often mistaken for Latinx and have faced anti-Latinx hostility as a result. However, I am not Latinx, and I did not grow up with those traditions. What I have experienced insofar as racial prejudice is not the same as what black folks have experienced, nor is it the same as, say, what a Korean person has experienced, or First Nation/Indian folks have experienced. Class can’t be ignored here, either, or any of the other dimensions of identity, but no matter your culture or country of origin, the darker your skin, the worse you are likely to fare in your society.

So, sorry, Love Live of an Asian Guy, “people of color” is hardly a discrete or exhaustive category. There are nuances within and between these groups that are important to highlight. There are times when, for tactical reasons, it’s absolutely important for us to unite — but it’s in poor taste to do so during a time when black people are being disproportionately murdered by police. We share common history in many ways that is quite fruitful to understand, but our current sociopolitical systems of crime, punishment, and achievement do not unilaterally treat all people of color the same way.

This also completely lets us non-black POC off the hook on examining our own prejudices. Both my Southeast Asian and white family members taught me anti-black racism and shadeism. My mom bought me skin lightening creams as a teenager, and my white family members encouraged me to lock the van doors as we drove through black neighborhoods in Washington, DC on family vacation. The people who loved me the most also taught me to hate my skin, and to hate the very notion of blackness, and that is an inescapable fact. (If you are a member of my family and are reading this and you wish to take me to task, have at it, but I know what my truth is and how hard I’ve worked to overcome the racism I grew up with in my home and my school. I continue to dismantle and challenge it within myself to this day.)

Instead of playing Oppression Olympics, we need to acknowledge that sometimes our boat simply isn’t leaking as much as someone else’s. As this letter penned by Asian Americans in support of #BlackLivesMatter delineates, “It’s true that we face discrimination for being Asian in this country. Sometimes people are rude to us about our accents, or withhold promotions because they don’t think of us as ‘leadership material.’ Some of us are told we’re terrorists. But for the most part, nobody thinks ‘dangerous criminal’ when we are walking down the street. The police do not gun down our children and parents for simply existing.” The letter goes on to say that we as non-black POC benefit from much of the work that has been done by black activists; we need to acknowledge black contributions to all of our lives.

It’s also quite possible to validate the hurt we experience without stepping on the toes of those who are hurting more. As this article points out, four Latinx people have been killed by police in the last week, including Pedro Villanueva, who was shot by plain clothes cops as they chased him in an unmarked car. The article states, “While statistics clearly show that Black people are disproportionately killed by police, few numbers exist for Latinos, who can occupy several demographic categories… To explain the discrepancy between Latino and Black victims, some point to the more explicit history of law enforcement and Black slaves or to the high representation of Latinos in police departments.” In other words, we understand that both groups face discrimination, yet we also respect that our black siblings are disproportionately targeted. It does not erase the memories of Melissa Ventura, Anthony Nuñez, Raul Saavedra-Vargas, or Villanueva — and yes, we should say their names, too.

If you are a non-black POC like me and you want to know how to support your black neighbors, there are a ton of great resources going around on social media. Here are a couple of them I’ve liked especially:

15 Things Your City Can Do Right Now to End Police Brutality

Concrete Ways to Be an Actual Ally to Black People

Some other things black friends and activists have said:

  1. Show up in the streets. Use your physical presence and don’t just hang out on the internet.
  2. When you do attend that rally or march, move to the periphery and act as a buffer between the cops and black protesters. (This definitely is primarily for light skinned and white cisgender folks; if you do not feel safe around police because you are trans, Latinx, or part of another group likely to be targeted by police, then do keep yourself safe.)
  3. Don’t make it about you. Center black people and their experiences. If the media asks you for a quote, defer to black movement leaders.

And my personal addenda, for all non-black POC who enter into these spaces:

  1. When you do show up, it’s not your job to hold white people’s hands or to put up with their racism. Keep yourself safe and leave if you absolutely need to
  2. Get together with other non-black people of color and work on your internalized anti-black/shadeist views together without white people around. Find orgs and people in your communities doing this work together.

And please be sure to take care of yourself. This work is hard and you will likely feel like many parts of yourself are fighting with themselves at once. I hope to see you in the streets alongside me. We have nothing to lose but our chains.


photo credit: ABC News

“If you see my dad / tell Him my brothers / all gone mad / they’re beatin’ on each other.”

“If you see my dad / tell Him my brothers / all gone mad / they’re beatin’ on each other.”

To recap:

In the past two weeks alone, over a hundred queer and trans black and brown people were shot in Orlando’s Pulse night club, a man with a small arsenal was apprehended on his way to LA’s Pride eventBritish Labour MP Jo Cox was brutally assassinated outside a library,  a teacher’s strike in Oaxaca turned deadly as police murdered and injured dozens, the UK voted to leave the European Union, spurred on largely by anti-immigrant sentiment, and nearly 90 documented racist hate crimes have taken place in Brexit’s wake. It seems every day the news gets worse and worse, a kind of intersectional trauma weaving through each incident, with folks of color, queers, and religious minorities being hit the hardest. It feels as though whatever has made us human, whatever evolutionary advantages we have grown through cooperation and shared experience is unraveling at its very seams. We are becoming something else, or we are merely showing the world what has been there all along, simmering barely below the surface. It’s difficult not to think in hyperbolic terms in hyper-violent times.

It’s hard to know how to feel. I spent the weekend of the Pulse shooting at the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference, and that Monday night I attended a vigil whereupon I exchanged heartbroken words with a few familiar black, trans folk — the same I had accompanied to the con all weekend.

It could have been them, I thought. It could have been us.

I’m not black or Latinx. I’m not trans feminine. I’m not Muslim. I do not directly share identity with those who are so often the targets of hate in the Western world. While it’s possible that someone could have decided to take out their disgust of transgender people on the attendees of the PTHC, they didn’t. It’s not entirely genuine to say, “it could have been me,” yet it does feel fair to say that it very well could have been people I know and love. I once spent a few months living near Orlando, and I was relieved when an ex of mine checked in as safe on facebook. It wasn’t close, per se, but it was just too close for comfort.

At the vigil, folks wrote affirming messages in Spanish to the victims, their kin. My heart aches for those I won’t ever know, for those so unlike myself in many ways, and so much alike in others. But does it matter?

Do we need to BE Orlando to grieve for them? Isn’t it okay to just be sad, to just be angry, without having to be one of them? Is it the inability to accept difference that leads to this kind of thing in the first place? I know the sentiment comes from a good place. We want to be family, and we want to come together. We want to hold them all in our hearts, to be one queer family, one human family, even though we may never hold their hands or take them to our beds. This mourning feels disingenuous especially amid the backdrop of racism that has forced black and brown activists from Pride events, and has instead pushed police to the forefront. I firmly believe this is a time for white and light skinned queer and trans people like myself to take this Pride month, as it draws to a close, to reflect on the ways in which we benefit from anti-black, anti-Latinx, and anti-Muslim sentiment, and to show up for those who aren’t just like us.

None of this is to say that I feel particularly safe, even shielded by my own relative privilege. When I walk the streets alone, in my tan skin, tipping off only the status of “other,” and never my “true” ethnic background, in this body read as female just as often as male, I don’t ever take my own safety for granted. I refuse to distrust my neighbors, and I smile as I pass them, whether or not they have a smile for me in return. It becomes tricky, navigating this world which feels increasingly hostile, even as I know it is harder still for some of my friends.

These past few weeks have been trying times, to say the least. We’re all figuring out how to care for ourselves and show up for one another the best week can. While it’s important to be critical, and I know I have been even in this post, perhaps it’s just as important to be gentle with each other. If you’re feeling anything like I am right now, I know you’re on the constant lookout for “what next?” with every cautious refresh of your social media feeds and each addition to your inbox. I want us all to make it. Even when the victims don’t look like me, I mourn their loss, and feel a tug in my heartstrings for their surviving families. With every video I see of white people doing heinous things to POC and immigrants, I feel the need to disown and condemn the whiteness within myself. I am disgusted by my white kin while simultaneously knowing I am not safe from them; I am both potential victim and victimizer, and each headline puts me at war with myself.

These are complex pieces to put together, and none of us have all the answers. It feels like the world had turned inside out, and unfortunately it’s all far from over.

Let’s all try to be there for one another. If not us, then who?


Photo credit: the author

“Talkin’ ’bout my generation”

“Talkin’ ’bout my generation”

I’ll resist the temptation to post the nigh obligatory “Winter Is Coming” meme and just point out that I’ve been hermiting and watching a lot of Netflix lately. And I’ll counter the opinions of many who claim to current Golden Age of Television is dead; between House of Cards, Orange Is the New Black, Grace and Frankie, and scores of other Netflix exclusive films and shows, this era of on-demand, ad-free, quality television is something completely unthinkable to me as a young person. We had movies on demand through cable, but between Hulu, Amazon Prime, Netflix, and countless ahem more dubious opportunities to stream media, it’s never seemed more accessible. While these upstart streaming services may have seemed a base form of entertainment at first, it’s becoming apparent that they’re quite the contenders when contrasted with standard cable television. These venues also become a place for underrepresented voices to be heard, from trans woman of color Sophia played by Laverne Cox on OItNB to aging, closeted gay men and their families on G&F.

Enter Master of None by rising star Aziz Ansari. (Spoilers below thru-out.)

I’ll admit a few things right off the bat. Some of Ansari’s stand-up leaves me cold. It always feels like something I want to like more than I do, because Ansari himself is a likable dude. However, his Live at Madison Square Garden special made me have faith in his stand up (and stand up in general) once more. Here’s a cisgender man talking about how women face street harassment, the complexities of how we westerners get our foods, and tensions between generations of Asian American immigrants. It was refreshing, and fucking funny. I laughed and snapped my way through the special like I haven’t been able to do with stand up in quite a while.

Many of “the rules” of stand up have changed since I was a teenager – and for good reason. Punching up as a concept is now more universally understood and accepted; its meaner big brother, the “equal opportunity offender” is dying out. Those who bemoan the changing tides of “political correctness” sound like dinosaurs, and many younger comedians garner their appeal from being savvy on social justice concerns. While imperfect, the influx of female comedians gaining in popularity over the last decade – from Tina Fey and Amy Pohler, to Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer have shown that women who talk openly about feminism are not only funny, but can become comedy powerhouses. Even in the brief time between Fey and Pohler’s ascent to Jacobson and Glazer’s has been transformative in terms of how far the popular consciousness has come. In short, we demand more now from our entertainers.

Ansari has risen to the challenge in many ways. His series, Master of None picks up on points only hinted at during his Madison Square Garden special. Here we get a panoramic view of what it means to be a first generation Asian American. The show deals with racism in the entertainment industry and feeling pigeonholed as a minority. It pays homage to the struggles a previous generation endured in order to secure  a better life for their children, while owning up to some of the cultural differences between the two that cause them to be somewhat estranged from each other. Denise, a butch lesbian of color, features prominently as a recurring character, and her sex life becomes part of the discourse in a way that feels naturalized rather than objectified. Here again, as with his special, Ansari makes room for the stories of women and street harassment to have air time – even acknowledging how men tend to downplay these stories.

For all of its home runs, the show falls flat in two key ways… First, the material of the first few episodes is fresh, groundbreaking, and even subversive. During the last three episodes however, the show devolves into, well, a kind of tired rom-com. Second, during the Indians On TV episode, Ansari and co. delve into the struggles of overcoming racist stereotypes so ingrained in our popular representations, and the ramifications this has on casting decisions and opportunities for work for southeast Asian actors. They discuss whether or not it’s appropriate to use “a voice” that sounds like what western audiences are accustomed to hearing come out of Indian mouths; particularly if it’s nothing to close to how the actor normally speaks. Mindy Kaling is invoked by name during this episode, and the absence of her or any other Indian woman (other than the lead character’s mother) becomes, in that moment, especially glaring. Indeed, much of the show deals with the main character, Dev’s love life, but his only love interests are white women. Claire Danes cameos aside, it’s disappointing to see these casting choices made after an entire episode dealing with racism in popular media. While this does lead to an opportunity to discuss the dynamics of interracial couples (which the show successfully does) it is disappointing to see no Indian women of Ansari’s generation represented. As someone who is a third generation Indian (and mutt; that is, a host of other racial and ethnic backgrounds as well) it’s always a sore spot that there are so few Indian women and nearly zero Indian queer or trans folks in any sort of western limelight. This feels like an overlooked opportunity for another Indian to gain notoriety.

Don’t get me wrong – Master of None is a fine series. Compared to the also recently released W/ Bob and David by sketch comedy veterans Bob Odenkirk and David Cross (replete with Muslim stereotypes, threats to visually depict the prophet Mohammed, a hearing person using a Deaf “voice,” and actual, literal blackface) Master is comedy gold on a silver platter. If my social media feeds are anything to go by, it’s definitely inspiring some thoughtful conversation, the way any good comedy should.


Photo credit: Pitchfork.com

“This is where the party ends / I can’t stand here listening to you and your racist friend.”

“This is where the party ends / I can’t stand here listening to you and your racist friend.”

I’m thinking a lot lately about the ways in which we can be accountable to one another. For me this means deep personal reflection and self-inventory, and owning up to my screw-ups and trying to avoid repeat performances.

I also think about the ways in which I interact with others who do and say things that go against my own views of how we ought to treat each other. I’m lucky enough to work in an environment where hate speech isn’t tolerated, and we can actively participate in addressing it when we hear it. With my clients, I try to offer alternatives. “Instead of calling someone the b-word or c-word, why not call them a jerk or a pain in the ass or something?” “Instead of using the r-word, why not say this situation is frustrating or asinine?” “Instead of crazy, why not say bananas?” Sometimes it works. Sometimes it goes over like a lead balloon. With my co-workers it’s a little different. We’re all “adults.” We can’t reprimand or re-direct each other per se, but it’s completely legit to say to someone, “eh, that’s a little racist.” Or, “hey I have a learning disability, can you cool it with that?” For me, humor does wonders. It softens the blow and makes people a little more receptive. Instead of “you’ve sinned you horrible bag of shit,” it’s “hey that’s kinda messed up.” Sometimes just talking about why a word or phrase is messed up helps.

It’s more about the action than the person. We all fuck up. We all fuck up huge. Sometimes life throws fucked up things at us…

Someone who is crying and visibly wounded because their parent has just cut them out of their life for being queer? That’s not the time to call that person out for using the wrong word.

And sometimes it’s murky… A person of color talking about a stereotype pertinent to the way their family interacts, but applying it to everyone of that cultural background? I don’t feel comfortable calling that out unless I know that person really well, and even then I’d feel very hesitant.

The world is chaotic and messy. The stuff isn’t always cut and dry. I’m of the unpopular opinion that context matters, and that people matter. I’ve been called out on a number of things, and sometimes I feel it’s been constructive and helpful, and sometimes I’ve felt like my words and motivations were intentionally misconstrued.

I think part of being accountable means taking personal inventory and reflecting on why we want to call someone out. Do we want to make a scene/space/situation feel more safe? Do we want to help someone understand that they might be unknowingly committing a faux pas, and we believe them to be a well-intended person? Is it someone in a position of power who might not realize how their words and actions impact others? Are we reacting to trauma and can’t be calm or “rational” in the situation and need to voice our concerns right then and there?

Or could it be something else? Do I want to earn cool kid points with my other social justice buddies? Am I taking out shitty feelings on another person in a kind of online know-it-all bullying? Does this person not have the kind of educational privileges that would bring them into contact with certain schools of thought — in that case, is it cool to put them down publicly?

When I feel the need to call someone out, I ask myself why I’m doing it, and how I can do it in a way that’s effective. Will blasting them publicly on facebook work? Not usually. Especially if it’s someone I’m close with. A private message or talking to them in person would do better.

I also consider how egregious the oppressive behavior is. Atheists like Richard Dawkins are often guilty of spreading xenophobic and Orientalist notions in their critiques of Islam. As an atheist, I think it’s important to recognize that this kind of behavior is part of a centuries’ long history of the West treating the East as inferior — it’s part of delusional thinking and those who fancy themselves rational thinkers ought to reject it. A post on a friend’s wall recently stirred up a lot of anti-Muslim sentiment, and I was quick to publicly call it out. It wasn’t a simple misunderstanding; it was a group of white Western atheists talking shit about millions of people. My motivation wasn’t only to stem the vitriol spewed by the individuals involved in the conversation, but also for others who might be reading and following along. Based on my own interactions with the atheist blog-o-sphere, it can be an echo chamber, and I wanted to voice an alternate viewpoint.

When I do a speaking gig, or a friend who is genuinely curious asks me something about being a trans person, but might use an awkward word like “transgendered” or “hermaphorodite” when they mean intersex. In these cases, I would correct the language but understand the person is coming from a place of literal ignorance and not bigotry.

And sometimes [drumroll] I just let it slide. Sometimes I have to. Sometimes there are bigger fish to fry. Sometimes I like someone enough to squint past their fuck ups because we all make mistakes, and at the end of the day we all need each other. I might call it out again later if I notice the same thing happen again (like if someone repeatedly uses the same ableist slur) or maybe I’ll bring it up later. Sometimes I don’t have the mental bandwidth to do it, and as a counselor once told me, I don’t always have to go die on that hill.

Sometimes it’s okay to drop the flaming sword.

A lot has also been written on calling in v. calling out. I’ll post a couple of lovely links here if you’re puzzled about how to have those tough conversations and want a primer:

Here’s one from Everyday Feminism and another from Black Girl Dangerous.


Photo credit: This person’s awesome pinterest

“What a sad parade…”

“What a sad parade…”

CW: Murder, suicide, racism, transphobia


On July 19th Sam Dubose was shot to death inside his car in Cincinnati, OH by University of Cincinnati ex-officer Ray Tensing. Unlike many of the other illegal deaths of black people at the hands of police which have surfaced over the past few years, Tensing was fired from the force and indicted almost immediately, and as of 10am this morning, arraigned on charges of murder and voluntary manslaughter. I sat glued to the FOX 19 local streaming news, watching him file into the court room in a striped black and grey V-neck uniform, and stand before the judge and enter a plea of “Not guilty” — a plea entered in spite of the fact that he had turned himself in, in spite of the now viral body cam footage of the shooting. His attorney spoke of his client’s background, casually mentioning he was a graduate of Colerain High school. I stopped the footage and backed it up to make sure I’d heard it properly, and, in fact, Tensing and I graduated from the same school — only four years apart.

I grew up in Cincinnati and spent nearly 25 years there. I know it to be a place brimming with racial inequality, homophobia, and transphobia. An assault suffered by an ex of mine was the impetus which drove me to move to Maine a few years back, and while much time and space separates me from my hometown, my heart bleeds now for what is happening in what feels like my own back yard.

I felt just as lost and hopeless as when Leelah Alcorn’s suicide was all over the news last December. She lived a mere 20 minute drive away from my father’s front door. I felt just as disgusted when I learned of the murder of Bri Golec, the young trans woman who was killed by her own father in Akron back in February. And last August when John Crawford III was shot to death by police in a Wal-Mart parking lot by police for carrying a toy gun. And back in 2001, the year police killed Timothy Thomas and tipped off the “riots” in downtown Cincinnati that would in turn inspire a boycott from several black entertainers, and, in my mind anyhow, mirrored what I think of as the sister protests in Ferguson following Michael Brown’s death.

What is it about Ohio? I can’t help but connect the dots.

Whenever I travel back to my hometown, I am reminded all at once that it was never my home. I love many people there. I am forever and indelibly shaped by everything that happened to me while I lived there. But I know I can never really call it home.

Like the rest of the country and perhaps the world, I am watching with keen eyes to see what will taken place in Cincinnati once Ray Tensing is either convicted or acquitted. A woman holding a photo of Dubose (I believe his sister) shook as she told reporters that if his shooter is not brought to justice, the police will need to shoot her, too because she won’t be able to control herself. His trial is set to begin August 19th, and I hope for her sake and the rest of Cincinnati’s justice will finally be served.

Photo credit: WLWT Cincinnati