Introduction to this group of posts is here.

I would be interested in hearing how white people process the emotional baggage of what their ancestors did. I would be interested in trying to understand what it did to white families. How much silence did white people have to cope with? How did white people build a shield around themselves to be able to deal with the system in which whiteness operated all these years?

–South african poet Lebo Mashile (also quoted in the intro).

I don’t think I am processing it all that well. I think it is a great source of anger for me; there is one kind of anger of oppression and knowing my own powerlessness, but there is another kind about hating things that work for me, hating aspects of me, people I love dearly and people I owe things too. People could dismiss this feeling as “white guilt” and I can analyze it all day but the point is, for me it’s mostly anger. The desire to fix it combined with knowing how little reward we’ll see but we must keep struggling and building.

I think racism operates as just such a shield; when you have a cognitive dissonance of knowing that you’re well off and other people aren’t, you can become uncomfortable with yourself or you can just decide they deserve it. More on that later, I think. But erasure, especially, is a shield like that. It’s easier to think less about people of color’s lives, and (especially when thinking of Native Americans) pushing injustice always into the past so that you have a supposed “clean slate” to operate from. Like in the US when I was growing up, I was naive, and absorbed ideas of race from white people around me who might have known better in fact, but what I got was what they said when they hedged and didn’t want to say things. That Black people, that immigrants and people of color had faced historical injustice, but that stuff ended and now they are moving up just as “everyone else” did–meaning immigrants who whitened, whichever Asian immigrant groups could be used to support the model minority myth. (And Native Americans were just fine on their reservations.) So basically we didn’t owe people of color anything. This is the thing about being “not responsible for your ancestors”: it means whatever white people do for people of color is a favor or a gift. A gift (in my culture) is something you can give and expect it to be accepted politely. You can justifiably be offended if it doesn’t seem to be used and appreciated; moral debts are things people can ask for, on their terms, and if you’re a decent person you’ll do whatever you can.

What did it do to my family? My mon’s side has so much silence in general, being a Catholic and military family that loves to joke and compete but are not very connected to emotions, that it’s hard to sort through that silence. I do know that I have had some serious conflicts with my extended family as I have become more aware of the racism that a lot of them have and are pretty close to explicit about. An aunt who says “welfare queens”. A grandmother who I always looked up to as a wonderful person, but who thinks it’s too bad that in “such a PC society” it’s not okay for an old white man to be terrified that his nurse will be a “big black woman”. (The same grandmother has met one of the best people I’ve ever known, who also is a well-built Black woman. She wanted to be a nurse for a long time and may yet seek it again; she would be a fantastic and gentle nurse, she seems to have endless wells of kindness and understanding without sacrificing any of her sarcastic and fun-loving personality.) And then there’s my grandparents on my dad’s side side, who have two Black women (sisters) taking turns caring for them, and who years ago hired a Black nanny to raise their kids. Yet my grandfather–as my mom says, he’s classist–treats them like servants, and my grandmother thought it was okay to talk loudly in passing about the life expectancies of Black people. There is silence there because I don’t know how to begin to talk to either of them about racism, to bring up the exploitation of nannies of color without seeming to disrespect their affections for the woman who (I hear) told tiny me “I’m your Black grandmother”.

I guess what I am thinking is, we all know how White people’s feelings get in the way of talks about racism. So when that’s your own family, then not only are you probably placing higher value on those feelings, but you are experts at deflecting and avoiding each other’s critique. Some might question me “where did these ideas come from?” (I hear people of color have that experience with White family.) One or two would agree with me but silence me, or even agree and know what little change can be wrought. But I think that silence is a silence about morals, and it invades our lives. My mom’s family especially has a lot of emphasis on values, and purports to teach me those–so if we can’t always talk about values, right and wrong, where does that leave us?

Someone I respect* linked me to this South African speaker with a note about how we can look at how this applies to our situation in the USA. At the end, the speaker says, “I would be interested in hearing how white people process the emotional baggage of what their ancestors did. I would be interested in trying to understand what it did to white families. How much silence did white people have to cope with? How did white people build a shield around themselves to be able to deal with the system in which whiteness operated all these years? That’s an emotional conversation, that’s a delicate conversation….”

I’ve been considering writing about “my white feelings” for a while, the things that white people often share in response to articles and words about racism. We should not do that, it takes away from people of color’s needs.  We should be able to make our own spaces of sharing, that people of color can come to when they choose.  This is obvious if you think about it, but since we haven’t made enough of those spaces, or since those spaces can get so problematic, we come to people of color instead.  And I think we do it (or have done it) because of white supremacy, which is heavily influenced by Christianity: it turns feelings of wanting justice into white guilt, turns admission into confession, redirects white people’s anti-racist work into the pursuit of virtue, makes us seek people of color as judges of our own moral purity. Or we want to be labeled white anti-racists and have people of color be grateful to us.  That’s of course among white people who don’t (or seem to me they don’t) want to be racist.

But there are so many feelings I have specifically about whiteness, where to start? Which writing would potentially be useful to broader movements, and which will not? When should I be speaking alone, and when with other white people? I don’t have a lot of examples to follow; many white people have written well about anti-racism, even about understanding our own peoples better, but not about anger and whiteness itself. Not so much about feelings; I was even in a workshop where we talked about how not talking about feelings is a symptom of white culture. And my first invitations by other white activists to process with them had me help perpetuate a mess of so much white supremacy, it’s a major source of anger and bitterness for me–as is the way they shut a couple of us out once we became a threat, or maybe I was the main threat. And when trying to talk about this with people close to me, I find myself muddled and unsure what to say.  So I’m gonna start this alone, although informed by others.

I think this video was a tipping point for me, a place to start. My intention here is to write my truth, to where it overlaps with other white people’s lives, but not to speak for them and definitely not to perpetuate racism. I have heard multiple calls from people of color for white people to be vulnerable in this way, but I am still afraid of doing it, in part because of what people may think of me, but mostly because of the potential for people to co-opt my words.  I have told my truth in the face of white supremacy and had other white people say they “agreed” with me then demonstrate they understood nothing that mattered.  If you are a white person talking to me, that is great, and I will engage with you as much as I can especially if I know you.  If you are linking to me though, really to anything on my blog, you better be damn sure it’s really for something I said, not something people of color taught me, or say it better. Here are some of my sources of inspiration and understanding in discourse right now, but there are so many I can’t hope to link them all. (1 2 3 and 4 and many more.)

*This refers to a queer person of color who has shared a lot of insight and vision with me due to past and maybe future work, together and apart.

Contains discussions of rape culture, feminism, and lots of spoilers.

Tamora Pierce’s The Will of the Empress has four central characters, who are powerful mages with a shared childhood bond, but who are also young adults whose histories of trauma interfere with all their relationships. The sexual relationships of each character are different: one has been burned in the past and no longer wants to think about sex or romance. One is plagued by nightmares, but an experienced flirt who pursues superficial relationships in order to have companions at night. One discovers she’s lesbian, and has a heady summer romance. The fourth one, whom another writer might have made the protagonist, is an heiress pursued by men who want to marry her with or without her consent.

I had an argument with another SFF fan about this book recently. The fellow queer woman I was arguing with contended that Daja’s lesbian romance was never explained well and was not realistic. I replied that I’d related quite strongly to Daja’s experiences, but that that all the characters were very young–Daja imagines that her lover will happily leave her social life and prestigious position to live with Daja and be unlikely to find other work–and that this was the only romance in the book at all. She disagreed, in a way that really jarred me.

The heiress, Sandry’s, plot, is so political that before this conversation I might have criticized it as too obviously so: it’s set up and executed as a lesson about rape culture. In the early stage of the novel, the characters have recently come to Sandry’s inherited estates in an empire she knows little about. They learn that there is a law in place that men can kidnap unmarried women and force them to sign marriage contracts, and that this will go unpunished. Sandry is able to release a peasant woman from such a marriage, but she herself is vulnerable to such a kidnapping by anyone who used enough powerful magic. She would then have to appeal to the empress, who having escaped two kidnappings herself, has declared that any woman who does not escape is “a caged bird by nature” and deserves what she gets.

Real-life feminist lesson number one: Women in power do not always support others; often they blame other women for their own oppression. Okay Tammy, I get this one. I’m a mathematician, aren’t I? If I had a pay raise for every time I met another female mathematician who said something like “if someone in the department feels uncomfortable because of her gender, maybe she shouldn’t be there”, I could hire a great therapist.

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I just read Nisi Shawl’s essay on “Appropriate Cultural Appropriation”, which gives a few tips and advice to Western authors on how to behave, and what questions to ask themselves. Because I was reading it on a plane with no internet access, I even read the comments.

Of course there was the sort of comment that is so typical, it’s why I really truly don’t read the comments most of the time: the aggressive, probably male, white and Western, voice, saying something like:

“…call me insensitive, but I’ll borrow whatever cultures I please…” (said in almost those exact words, but expanded upon in several paragraphs of course.)

Due to some stage in my own thinking about cultural appropriation and power dynamics, I suddenly saw this comment in a new light.

It does not occur to the writer that this assertion of “I’ll do whatever I want” might come at any cost other than a few people calling him out by name for it. (He didn’t hide his name.) It doesn’t occur to him that publishers might reject his work, that editors would tell him to cut appropriative material or send him off to do more research, or even (most likely) that anyone he gets to help his research should be entitled to compensation. He is asserting a power of independent expression that writers of color, non-Western voices in the USA, are routinely and incessantly denied.

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Originally posted on Detention Watch Network: Monitoring & Challenging Immigration Detention, Immigration Enforcement & Deportation:

It’s an ugly truth:

The immigration system in our country holds tens of thousands of people behind bars every day, languishing for weeks, months and years as they wait for their cases to be resolved.

 Click on each image for larger version.


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Mind if I join you?

No, not at all!

There is plenty of room for more of us

Quietly living our lives

Eating, drinking, learning, thinking,

Mind if I sit here?

Of course I don’t mind.

Who could begrudge you

A place at the table?

Should I have said,

It depends–how much baggage will you bring

How much space will you take?

Should I have said,

How many friends will you bring

Loud, inconsiderate,

Thinking that because I live quietly, 

I don’t matter much?

Should I have said,

If I am considerate of you

You must be considerate of me?


In small life I left the table,

Made my anger obvious

Gave them a few awkward moments

Before enjoying themselves.

After all, it is not my table,

Only temporary space for me.

In large life I am the friend invited to the table

Given much space and new ways to live.

In large life my they are still waiting

For them to shut up, to go away,

Whether they are angry or not.

It is not their land, 

(But we can decide what to do with it.)

We need the space to survive,

(So we can make all the rules.)

Why is it so often like this?

Trying this thing where when I learn a new piece of politics that may be shifting my framework, I write it down.

So I’m reading this book by Shiri Eisner, and there’s a bit about how the word “bisexual” and bisexual movements are particularly conceptualized as transphobic, not that they aren’t but that they may be criticized as reinforcing the gender binary more often than “gay” or “lesbian” are.  That’s not really my experience, but perhaps because I follow so many trans women as intellectual leaders on queer politics, and have more queer and trans women as friends-with-shared-politics than masculine people; and I refuse to see that experience as so very unusual, because why should it be?

My experience is one of using the term “lesbian” for myself but always having to modify it, like saying “dyke” or “pandyke” or the specific “I’m attracted to cis and trans women” or even the long specific explanation of “I’m attracted to some people who are femme, feminist, and female-identified.”  Because I know very well how transphobic queer women’s communities can be, and not only white ones but queer women of color communities (ones that I’ve witnessed anyway), and I would rather be clumsy in explicitly distancing myself from that, then let the expectations stand.  So I don’t find myself worrying much in my daily life about bisexual cis people, or bisexual binary-identified people in general, being transphobic, whereas I worry a lot about what I would call “queer AFAB communities” because those are the groups that form though they may self describe as queer women’s communities.

That said, I do see a lot of this discourse elsewhere, and I do meet a lot of people who say that they are “pansexual”, sometimes because that’s the best term for them and sometimes because they want to explicitly not be transphobic as well, because “bisexual” is supposed to be inherently binary-reinforcing.  At the end of her first chapter, Shiri Eisner goes a lot into explaining where this idea comes from, rather than trying to deny it or trying to erase any actual transpobia by bisexual people.

So there’s this one quote that really struck home and told me something new:

“Another thought regarding the origin of those allegations is what Julia Serano calls the masculinism of the transgender movement, which I think comes into play on this issue as well.  Serano says, and I agree, that the transgender movement consistently prefers masculine-spectrum viewpoints and ideas, while marginalizing those of feminine-spectrum trans and genderqueer people.  Specifically regarding the issue of increased criticism toward the bi community and relative lack of criticism toward the lesbian community about transphobia, I think this is heavily influenced by the fact that the transgender movement is mainly controlled by trans men who emerged and were influenced by lesbian communities.  That is, the reason why they don’t criticize lesbians is that very often, these are their home communities.  However, criticizing bisexuals is very much in keeping with the often-present biphobia of many lesbian communities.” –Shiri Eisner, quoting herself

Bingo.  One of those pieces of critique that I may have known in experience, but now that it’s articulated, will make me think or say things a little differently.


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