Saturday, April 26, 2008

Thoughts... from the Conference to the Blogosphere

I loved the conference I attended on the "State of Black and Brown Arkansas." One thing that came up over and over was the need for coalition building--among Arkansans of all races and ethnicities--but especially between "black and brown" Arkansas. I met and fell in love with this woman:Former AR state rep, Joyce Elliott. I've been trying to read more about her online--and this article is making me love her even more. After we were introduced and she heard a little bit about what I was going to discuss, she approached me to say that she was so interested in my topic because she was often disheartened by the position some African Americans take towards immigrants. It's a sentiment she expressed in that article when she described how disappointed she was that black ministers helped defeat a hate crimes bill in Arkansas that she sponsored because it included enhanced penalties for attacks against gay people. "I would expect," she said, "For ministers to stand up for the downtrodden."

And so she told the story of how black people were "immigrants" in their own country and spoke of migrations from the south to the North. We knew the story, she said, of hating to leave the place that we loved, had roots, knew the people and the land, but we wanted something different for our families. And so we moved north, and over and over, encountered "you're not wanted" and "you're taking our jobs." How could we have forgotten, she asked?

It's a question I wonder about, too. Ms. Elliott also talked about our responsibility, as African Americans to reach out and help uplift, to take up the cause of others who often lack "political capital," as Dr. Nestor Rodriguez described. She, of course, is not the first black woman to talk about this. The motto of late-19th, early 20th-century black club women* was often "Lifting as We Climb," and though they were troubled by elitism and internalized racism, they expressed a profound sentiment in that phrase.

During one question and answer session, a Latino student who was affiliated with the National Council of La Raza stood and asked Ms. Elliott, given the facts that Latinos were relatively small in number and that many were not involved in traditional electoral politics, upon whom did the burden fall to persuade politicians "to do the right thing" with regards to immigrants--from some other things Ms. Elliott and he said, I assumed he was referring to the DREAM Act? "Is it up to us?" he asked, discouraged because, as he said, "there are so few."

Do you know what Ms. Elliott said? That no, it was not solely up to us. It is incumbent upon us to sometimes highlight "our" issues, she said. But the burden, she said, is on the majority group to care, to be allies, to explore issues that might not seem to directly affect them, to bring the margins into the center--not to engage in "wite disdain." She was calling on people to recognize their privilege, I thought. It was up to the people who were privileged in any situation, to call out other privileged people, to make them question and reassess.

And then I came home and began to catch up . And thought Oh. My. God. I understood more than ever what Ms. Elliott was saying. Because no matter how many times certain people were called out by a certain "noisy group"of "haters" [/snark], it didn't make a damned bit of difference. The use of those "savage native" images in Amanda Marcotte's book--I vacillate between "How could you be blind to that?" to "You weren't blind, you thought somehow it was okay" to "You must be blind to that cuz why else..." And even Seal Press's apology is privilege-in-word,
Some have asked the valid question, "What were you thinking?"
Please know that neither the cover, nor the interior images, were meant to make any serious statement. We were hoping for a campy, retro package to complement the author's humor. That is all. We were not thinking.
Must be nice not to have to think about images like that--hell, not to see, really, images like that, and Jill talks about that. **Update--so does Jeff Fecke. (I'm still reading, btw. Lots of people have covered this)**

But that is not all I returned home to see. BlackAmazon is leaving. That is devastating. I know no other word to use. And--again, selfishly--I am tired of seeing my sister-friends leave. Most days, the community of radical women of color bloggers is more salient to me than my everyday world.

And while in the airport, I heard that the police who killed Sean Bell got off scot-free. I called my sister to rail a little bit and she cut me off to say, "but elle, we already knew that, remember? We said it when he was killed." So how do you express "I'm-not-surprised-but-I'm-still-hurt-FUCK!" Part of a poem by Lex:

that deep and elevated symbol
in the middle of the town square

that reminds the people

what they know

time to
get up
get up

brutally clear job of waking

that thing that reminds us

what time it is.
For me, the last few days have definitely been about being reminded "what time it is."


Giftie Etcetera said...

"But the burden, she said, is on the majority group to care, to be allies, to explore issues that might not seem to directly affect them, to bring the margins into the center--not to engage in "wite disdain."" -elle

I don't disagree with this, although I do believe to be truly effective, the burden must be shared among the majority and minority groups. But I must admit that I'm swamped just dealing with the blatant racism I encounter daily (use of disparaging and offensive language, my minority clients in jail and my white clients inexplicantly let out, and the constant judgment from extended family of the mere knowledge that I socialize with people who aren't white and rural). How does one make time for dealign with bigger issues, when the little but important issues are bogging you down?

elle said...

the burden must be shared among the majority and minority groups

I think so, to get anything accomplished, but I thinks she meant it shouldn't be so muchincumbent on the minority group(s) to "convince" as this young man was worried.

Revelations and ruminations from one southern sistorian...