all together human

analysis + consulting for social change


Is there really no hierarchy of oppression?

I often hear social justice advocates say reflexively something to the effect of, “Of course there is no hierarchy of oppression,” quoting the visionary Audre Lorde.

And yet, such comments often come up in conversations where folks are pointing out a hierarchy, either implicitly or explicitly. This creates a level of cognitive dissonance that can be maddening.

Let’s be honest: If we’re quoting Lorde but don’t really mean it, maybe there really is a hierarchy of oppression.
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Putting ourselves in business for the long term

It’s New Year’s Day, and I am thinking about the future of social change.

I’ve often heard social change leaders and organizations talk about themselves in this way: “We are in business to put ourselves out of business.” We are all dreaming of some utopian time when we’ll have put human suffering and bias to rest, forever. After all, it doesn’t pay to tell ourselves or the people who support us that we will never be victorious. In politics and non-profit funding, hope is everything.

On the other hand, history shows us that no change — for the better or the worse — is permanent. In particular, our progressive innovations are vulnerable to backlash. Our ideas compete in a landscape where wealth greatly influences what ideas are spread. We need to consolidate and build on the transformations we achieve.

What if, instead of framing our work in terms of victory and defeat, we frame it as building something that lasts? A garden, let’s say, and the tools we need to tend it.

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White racial justice advocates: let’s get out of our own way in engaging more white people

White people who work to mobilize other white people for racial justice have a big task in store for us. We need to exponentially increase the number and impact of white people who work to end racism. That’s my sense of it. Do you agree?

If we’re involved in this work and have that goal, it must be because we feel some hope or confidence that it can be done.

Most of us have dedicated our lives to transforming society. We’ve innovated, but still haven’t found the innovation. White supremacy and structural racism remain entrenched in our families, communities,  and institutions (not to mention our minds and bodies, as scholars of implicit racial bias will tell you).

We have a lot to learn from each other, and new breakthroughs to discover that haven’t yet been tried. Sometimes we’re going to discover that part or all of our approach has been wrong. Sometimes we’ll get to celebrate achievements. All of this is part of our transformative work.

One of the lessons emerging for me is that white racial justice advocates need to build more loving, accessible movement and organizational cultures. Many of us are hard at work doing just that. This post is inspired by those who are leading the way.

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Queer community and advocates need to respond to trauma

Reflecting on the impact that the AIDS crisis, homophobia, machismo, and related challenges continue to have on LGBT people of my generation and younger. It’s been hitting close to home lately for myself and other gay friends in their 30s and 40s.

PTSD is common among us, though not something we’re talking about. While marriage equality and civil rights legislation are super important, it strikes me that we aren’t as a community doing much to deal with our collective trauma and its byproducts.

Still, I’m amazed by our community’s resilience in dealing with this stuff. Even though our resilience sometimes takes the form of addictive behavior, we also have a fantastic history of supporting each other as networks of family/friends. We’ve created things like the Radical Faeries, Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, and ball culture to feed our spirits.

Many of these traditions have been eroded by the isolating internet, a focus on being ‘normal,’ the absence of our history in schools and textbooks, and even generally greater societal tolerance.

Many of us, feeling more tolerated by our straight, cisgender peers, end up gravitating toward them and away from the difficult feelings we have around other queers and transgender people. This means we have even less opportunity to help each other understand and find healthy responses to our shared histories of trauma.

We need to (re)build community with each other, and find ways to make our needs known to the straight and cisgender people in our lives. We need to do so in a way that grapples with the other things that are stressing us the f*** out and dividing us from each other, like racism.

We need all of this very, very much.

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Towards love for all, as DOMA is overturned

This morning, as news spreads that the Supreme Court has overturned the Defense of Marriage Act and (by legal inaction) overturned Prop 8, I am sending huge hugs and much love to all of my married and engaged queer friends.

For my straight friends, how does it feel wake up in a country where my love is almost as federally legitimate as yours? I can imagine it relieves a little itch at the back of your heart. That makes me happy for you, too.

As of this morning, I can get married in my state of residence (California) and have that marriage be legally recognized in the state where I was born (Alaska) — at least as far as many of the federal benefits fo marriage.

Alaska is a state I’ve not returned to since I was eight years old. I could never imagine voters there voting for marriage equality. It’s so odd to fathom how much legalized homophobia has shut parts of the world off to me in my heart. It will take time to let sink in the vistas policy changes like this open up.

There’s still work to be done to make sure the Supreme Court’s ruling applies to all federal policies related to marriage. But lots of rights opening up immediately, which I’ll let more expert folks discuss. The most amazing one to me: binational couples can now apply for green cards. HUGE.

We have so much left to do. Life and love, for me, are about moving towards a world that we can barely imagine today. Because so many people whom I hold in my heard need change. Because our planet’s biosphere needs change (or, less change, as it were).

We have voting rights to restore and at long last attain.

We have corporate ‘personhood’ to overturn.

We have climate change to turn back, and an addiction to petroleum to kick.

And the journey towards queer liberation is far from ended. Yes, I can now have my love and wed another man and have that recognized throughout the country (with some work left in that regard). However, homophobia and its legacy still makes it hard for many LGBT people to love ourselves. We still risk violence and legally firing based on whom we love and desire.

We have the collective impact of centuries of homophobia and transphobia to heal, in our hearts and in our communities. We’ve already begun that, and there’s a lot more to do.

Lots more to do. Lots of good work to fill our lives with purpose. May this step towards a better world launch us into a full out, mass, collective run towards progressive change. I’m putting on my running shoes. Let’s go, all together.


Reflecting on ‘White Identity Politics’

Scot Nakagawa, publisher of the Race Files blog, just posted another great piece, called ‘White Identity Politics.” I urge you to check it out. It has once again spurred me to respond with my own thoughts. Thanks, Scot!

In his piece, Scot says:

White identity politics is a game in which whites demand they be judged by what they intend, not by the unintended consequences of what they do. But what they do (including keeping the spoils of what their ancestors did before them) has everything to do with what they have relative to people of color regardless of intention, as evidenced in the Census statistics cited in the link about the wealth gap above.

I agree on a great many things with Scot, with whom I’ve had some amazing conversations in the past. I think his analysis in this piece is right on. I agree that it’s essential for us to address white identity politics, and for white folks like me to be agents in upending white supremacy and white privilege. It can’t just be about good intentions, but all too often we get stuck at intention rather than actual impact or outcome.

Scot’s remarks reminded me of a shift I would like to see happen in racial justice work. It’s a shift that is already happening in many areas, and I want to see it grow bigger.
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MSNBC’s Bill Schneider + Racial Wedges

I highly recommend my friend Scot Nakagawa’s post, “Asians Are the Wedge”, in response to a segment this weekend on the Melissa Harris Perry Show (MHP). Usually, I am a BIG fan of MHP, but found myself also grinding my teeth during the conversation—and particularly at Bill Schneider’s comments.

I don’t necessarily object to a white pundit talking about Asian American perspectives—and it’s not for me to say whether one should or should not object, anyway. What I CAN say is this…
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