Saturday, December 27, 2008

Travel Tips: San Francsico Bookstores

So I had the great joy of visiting some awesome independent bookstores while I was in San Francisco this weekend. If you happen to be in the Bay Area you should check these bookstores out. Then spend lots of money there to support them! I, myself, had a difficult time not buying more books than I could take home on the plane with me. As it is, some of them might have to be shipped. But am I going to find an out-of-print signed copy of This Bridge Called My Back in St Louis? No way man. So it was money well spent!

Modern Times Bookstore, located in the Mission District, is a collectively run bookstore with a huge selection of latino/a literature and studies books both in English and Spanish, an awesome children's section featuring multicultural and anti-racist books, and a diverse selection of used and new women, gender & LGBTQ studies books. I heart them big time. I am super impressed that they can stay in business.

Dog Eared Books, also located in the Mission, is a pleasantly grubby used bookstore just down from Modern Times. Crammed full of books with surprising little nooks and even more surprising little sections (e.g. beekeeping), Dog Eared Books has a small but decent section of LGBTQ and women's studies books, as well as a classy series of sections on African American, Chicano, Latino, and Asian History and Studies.

Green Apple Books, located in the Richmond District, is HUGE. So huge that "I Married a Green Apple" Maps are distributed throughout the store. Mainly stocking used books, Green Apple also has a selection of discounted new books bought as remainders. This bookstore is so big that I sort of want to refer to it more as a library. This store has STACKS, my friend. I got dragged out before I could thoroughly explore it, however I very much enjoyed getting lost and witnessing the extensive shelf space dedicated to all manner of sections. Cooking was probably 40 feet long. Art was even longer. I didn't even see fiction, but their bookmark says they have a mile of it. I found the previously mentioned out-of-print, singed copy of This Bridge Called My Back in their women studies section.

The Booksmith, located in the Haight, was nice enough, I guess. I don't go in for slick bookstores; I prefer a certain amount of dishevelment that you can poke around in and feel the history, so I'm already a bit predisposed to be hard on the Booksmith. Carrying only new books, The Booksmith is very new looking: very clean, well-lit, well-marked — no mystery at all. I have no doubt at all that the owners of the Booksmith are good folk, probably fairly liberal, and are doing their best to survive as a general-interest, non-niche-based, independent bookstore; however their store shows the stresses of compromising in order to make ends meet. I was alarmed to see staff picks for Twilight (see why this is alarming) and Sweet Valley High, and their identity-studies sections were underdeveloped. The Booksmith is not a bad bookstore, it's perfectly fine as a general-interest store and their displays were very well done; however with so many bookstores to choose from in the Bay Area, there are others I would recommend.

Spoken Word Saturdays: Jay Smooth

Okay I know I've been way behind with the rest of the features and stuff I want to do with this blog, but you know, it's the holidays... I work in retail so this has been a really crazy fall. New Years Resolution: Stay On Top of Blog.

Anyway here's Jay Smooth of Ill Doctrine on "How to Tell People They Sound Racist."

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Spoken Word Saturdays: Zora Howard & Kelly Tsai

Okay, I wanted to feature Zora Howard today performing her poem, "Biracial Hair" at the 2006 Urban Word NYC Annual Teen Poetry Slam. It's on You-Tube, but you can't embed it, so click here to see it. It's awesome. Check it out. In the meantime, here's Kelly Tsai performing "Mao" at the Def Poetry Jam:

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Spoken Word Saturdays: Yellow Rage

Okay, I'm a bit late with this, but Yellow Rage will more than make up for the delay. I'm channeling their what-the-fuck-do-you-know-about-me-just-because-you-read-a-novel-about-my-identity today. Why is it always the responsibility of the oppressed to answer the nosy questions the privileged class? If you want to know so badly about my identity go to the library. And no, one book does not make you an expert. Instead of tokenizing me with your nosyass questions do some friggin research. THEN we'll talk.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Book Review: Speaking Treason Fluently

I really wanted to like Tim Wise's new book, Speaking Treason Fluently. And at first I did. The articles at the beginning about Obama's campaign were very interesting and relevant to the election at hand (I started reading it sometime at the end of summer). And upon a recent conversation with some acquaintances who spend less time thinking about social injustice, I can see how this book could be very useful. Wise does a good job of incorporating statistical evidence to back up his argument that racism is still a very relevant problem (although he doesn't do the best job of citing his sources). However Wise's newest book is hampered by his denigrating and insulting tone, a lack of intersectional analysis, and the erasure of experiences of non-African-American people of color.

Despite perhaps being more useful to those who have not yet thought deeply about race-relations, this book is clearly not aimed at them. Wise constantly denigrates and insults the intelligence of racist people. I understand that Wise is angry; I'm angry too, and it's easy to just call racists idiots and dismiss them as not worthy of notice. However, ultimately, this is not a constructive way to deal with the problem of racism. Yeah, it's true, they ARE racist, it's totally condemnable. But let's address the difference between ignorance and stupidity. Most racists are not by definition unintelligent as Wise repeatedly implies, but are uninformed and perhaps have not thought deeply about systematic oppression. Perhaps they have been deceived into believing in meritocracy. Perhaps they are themselves struggling with the horror of working hard and not being able to succeed in a society that tells them that anyone who works hard can make it. Perhaps they are unhappy people who have been poorly treated and deceived by their society/government and are clawing to get ahead by tearing down those who are perceived as being socially less worthy than themselves.

I am not excusing their actions and words; it is ignorant and racist. But also I think probably even you, Tim Wise, were once racist yourself, given that we grow up in a culture that practically insures that white people are inculcated with a belief in their own moral superiority. So perhaps instead of insulting people who are racist, giving up on them, and talking to them as if they're idiots with no chance of ever growing, perhaps you should consider that they ARE YOU. You as you were in your past, before you became Oh-So-Enlightened. No, perhaps you never became as extreme and consciously racist as some of these people, but surely you, who have so well explained the structural basis of racism in our society, can understand how they got to that point? Why not try to talk them through a calm, non-insulting, non-alienating transformation of thought instead of giving up on them? After all, we are all harmed by oppression and ideas of superiority (of course not to the same degree, but it is harmful to all of society), so everyone stands to gain from it's destruction. This insulting tone severely wounds the potential of Wise's book. I would have been much more excited to see an analysis that tried to educate instead of denigrate.

I was also alarmed by the lack of intersectionality and power-analysis in Wise's book. There were occasional off-the-cuff remarks and statistics about non-race-based oppression, however there was no incorporation of the way racism interacts with classism, sexism, xenophobia, heterosexism, etc to affect people of color in very different ways. Nor was their much discussion of an intersectional approach that would attempt to reach out to racist people who — though they may not be racial oppressed — might be oppressed in a different way by the same system that harms people of color. For example, it's easy to rag on low-income whites for being racist when they bring down black people. I mean it's TRUE. It IS racist. However the conversation cannot stop there. Classism is all mixed up in racism, and instead of endlessly raging against the moral corruption of low-income whites who don't stand up for black people, how about some interesting conversation about uniting people who are oppressed by the same system, albeit in different ways? Not to excuse low-income whites from personal responsibility, but to try to actually think of a solution, instead of alienating potential allies by condemning them for wanting to get ahead in a system that has taught them they must oppress others in order to be successful. We need some Dorothy Allison up in here. As she says, "The horror of class stratification, racism, and prejudice is that some people begin to believe that the security of their families and communities depends on the oppression of others, that for some to have good lives there must be others whose lives are truncated and brutal." We need to speak to those who have been thus deceived — people who are, in reality, good people (or at least want to be), but who have become used to thinking and acting in a way that oppresses others, whether intentionally or unintentionally.*

Speaking of intersectional oppression, Wise's book concentrated almost exclusively on the way that racism affects African-Americans (not Black people, not people of African descent globally: African Americans only). There were occasional mention of Latinos, and a few spare references to how America treats Arab-Americans post-9/11, but these remarks were usually thrown in as an aside or as additional statistics to back up Wise's arguments about African-Americans. There was no discussion of the way racism affects Asian-Americans in a very different way from the way that it affects Black people. No discussion of the experiences of mixed-race people. Little conversation regarding the treatment of native and indigenous peoples. There would be nothing wrong with that, except that the book made the claim of addressing racism generally; Wise did not say that he was going to focus only on the way that racism affects African-American people, instead he says he hopes that Speaking Treason Fluently (along with his previous book, White Like Me) will "form... an effective one-two punch at the edifice of racism and white supremacy" (Wise 2008: 7). Thus, by claiming to address the effects of racism generally and then by talking almost entirely about the experiences of African-American people, Wise effectively (if perhaps inadvertently) erases the experiences of a wide range of people of color who are NOT African-American. Mixed-race women living abroad, low-income Vietnamese immigrants, Caribbean-American queer people of color, people of Arab descent, native and indigenous populations around the world — the list of people erased by Wise's analysis is long, and the omission of their stories implies that the racism they face is less severe or perhaps even non-existent. I do not think that this is Tim Wise's perspective, but the lack of a broader perspective on racism could imply to a non-alert reader that non-African-American people of color do not face "real" racism.

Wise does an excellent job of incorporating relevant statistics and news events, and his step by step logical breaking down of racist myths had real potential to be useful in the education of those new to the ideas of racial oppression. Reluctant as I am to knock the well-intentioned attempts of allies trying to combat racism, I have to say that Tim Wise could have done a much better job. His extensive collection of anti-racist writings would have benefited from a less-judgemental tone, an intersectional approach to anti-racism work, and a more inclusive selection of evidence that included the experience of many different people of color.

* One of the parts of Wise's book that stuck with me the most acknowledges, in fact that racists are people too and that they have potential to change. While talking about white-denial he says "Acknowledging unfairness then calls decent people forth to correct those injustices. And since most persons are at their core, decent folks, the need to ignore evidence of injustice is powerful: To do otherwise would force whites to either push for change (which they would perceive as against their interests) or live consciously as hypocrites who speak of freedom and opportunity but perpetuate a system of inequality" (Wise 2008: 61). Okay, Wise doesn't seem to be too optimistic about the ability of white racists to overcome white-denial, but he acknowledges that most folks want to be decent people. And it doesn't seem to me that insulting these folks who want to be good people is the best way to get them to cease their racists-ways.

Spoken Word Saturdays: Introduction & Staceyann Chin

Another regular feature I'd like to introduce is Spoken Word Saturdays which will (duh) provide you with a regular stream of awesome clips from spoken word artists, poets, activists, musicians, and speechifiers. Education and communication are one of the most important parts of activism, and spoken word allows artists and activists to communicate and educate in a more immediate, personal and creative way than more academic forms of expression.

Today's feature is one of my favorites ever: Staceyann Chin performs If Only Out of Vanity at the Def Poetry Jam.

Letters to a Young Woman: An Introduction

One of the regular features I'd like to include is a series of open letters written to women from conservative and/or conservative-religious backgrounds.

I think it's pretty important to be able to have respectful open-minded conversations with people who disagree with you and/or who come from a very different ideological standpoint. There are too many liberals who stay within their ideological bubbles and think of conservatives and people who are religious as 'the enemy.' In Give Me Liberty: A Handbook for American Revolutionaries, Naomi Wolf says, "like most pro-choice activists, I had lived a whole lifetime formulating my ideas about abortion rights without ever having coming in contact with a pro-lifer" (Wolf 2008: 183).

I have a lot of respect for Naomi Wolf and the work she's done, but it seems irresponsible to me to be an activist who never engages with the people she disagrees with. After all, those people could potentially be your allies, right? As she says, "I was sitting at a table with 'the enemy' — and yet the men and women I had been taught to disdain were decent, compassionate people. To my amazement, all of us... had more in common with one another than we did with most people outside that room — whatever their political backgrounds. Overwhelmingly, the people gathered were there because they cared more than most people did about the suffering of women and children" (Wolf 2008: 185). So if we can communicate with people "on the other side" we can keep social change from becoming a battle, and instead let it become a collaborative effort by people who seriously care about making the world a better place. (awww....)

So! Letters to a Young Woman will be a feature dedicated to communicating with people from a totally different ideological background. These letters will consist of the following (and more!):
- respectful introductions to progressive ideas regarding social justice and change
- questions, explorations, and speculations meant to promote dialogue between the left and the right
- non-condescending, non-insulting, constructive responses and rebuttals to ideas coming from the political right
- and more!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A Short Disclaimer Before We Begin

So I should say right off the bat that I'm not in school. Neither am I currently active enough to be considered a real activist. However I am deeply interested in social change, feminism, activism, and social justice generally. I've been thinking about going to graduate school for women & gender studies, LGBT studies, social work -- a whole variety of options. If there was a field called "Studies in Ending Oppression and Privilege" I would be in line for that degree. The really big problem for me is that it is really privileged to go to graduate school, and honestly I don't feel like it's necessary in order to have a positive impact on the world. However I sincerely want to learn as much as I can about social injustice, as well as participate in a community that questions the system, challenges me to think more deeply, and encourages me to take direct action. So really I pretty much want to be in school. School for Activists. BUT! I have some ethical problems with attaining a degree that will allow me to get choice jobs over the heads of people who didn't have the money to go to school, but who are probably much more intimately familiar with oppression than I am. Not that we should really quantify oppression, but you get the idea.

Thusly! Follow me as I embark on a quest to read as much social justice literature as I can get my hands on! I shall update you with the new things I've learned, reviews of books I've read, and the status of my quest to effect radical social change. I'm also on the search for practical "how-to" info for wannabe activists, so stick with me and I'll update you on any helpful hints. Not "how to write a press release" hints, although I'm sure those are helpful. More like: how to meet other activists, how to raise hell, how to not starve, how to network with the activists you have a crush on, recommended reading lists, recommended educational programs, activist-y places to locate when you move to a new city, etc.


Also, a few more notes upon poking around a bit more in the feminist/womanist/WOC blogosphere.

1. Yeah, I don't know what I'm doing. Clearly. That's why it's called School For Activists. So — not that anyone's reading this yet — but let's all just stay calm and I'll try really hard NOT to step on anyone's toes, be condescending, erase anyone's experiences, silence anyone with calls for niceness, unwittingly flaunt my privilege, exclude anyone by not talking about them, or generally be an asshat. Because that's some shit. But at the same time I'd like to emphasize again that this is a blog for me to document my progress in trying to become an all-round better informed, more active, and more effective intersectional radical feminist activist. Obviously I'm not there yet.

2. I'm increasingly annoyed whenever I come across statements whose sources are not cited, so (at least in terms of citation, if not style) I'm going to operate as if I were writing an academic paper and cite everything in APA (or by simply linking). Posts will have tags with all the works they cite (author's last name and year, with the exception of statements that are cited through links) and I'm going to keep a running list of works cited under the Reading List if you need more information about specific works.

3. The Blog Roll, Reading List, and Magazine List comprises material that I have either read, read regularly, or really want to read. I'm not going to put anything on there that I haven't looked at least a little bit — enough to know if it's something I want to spend time pursuing or not.