Racism is to White People as Wind is to the Sky – Part 2: We Built The Sky and We Can Tear It Down

Dear White People Part 2,

Over 35,000 people have read the article I posted about the need for myself and other white people to acknowledge and be responsible for our racism. Thank you to so many people for reading and sharing this. I asked my partner Chanelle to collaborate with me on responding to the most common responses.

From Chanelle & Sunny:

The responses have been very mixed. From Black people, people of colour and Indigenous folks, direct responses have been overwhelmingly positive and encouraging. Obviously some would not have felt comfortable or wanted to give critical feedback. It’s also racist to expect entire groups of people to agree with each other or share the same opinions. From white folks, the responses have been more mixed. Many white folks said “yes absolutely”, others that it was a challenging yet important thing for them to read and engaged in critical conversation from a genuine place of wanting to understand, discuss and learn. A smaller number of white people wrote Sunny abusive messages. This article is especially directed toward those white folks who felt challenged but also wished to understand and learn more. We want to talk to you because we care about supporting you to move you further toward liberation and because we need you in the movement to end racism. We want to be part of a movement of white folks taking responsibilty to educate each other and hold each other accountable, so that this labour doesn’t fall on the shoulders of BIPOC* (Black, Indigenous and people of colour) communities.

A few white people mentioned that they found the title of Sunny’s first piece depressing, because the suggestion that racism is inevitable in white people as long as we live in a white supremacy, makes it seem like we can’t do anything about it. Yes, it’s true that white people created racism and we enforce, defend and maintain it everyday- some of us intentionally and others of us through our denial or our inaction. However, the good news is the fact that we built it also means that we have the power to resist it everyday in hundreds of ways! We can learn to dismantle it and build mindblowingly beautiful things in its place, following the strong leadership of BIPOC communities and stepping up into leadership roles in transforming ourselves and other white people.

Firstly, we want to honor that what we have learned about racism, we have learned from Black people, Indigenous folks and people of color. These communities have explained and documented racism in every possible format and setting. Books, art, kitchen table storytelling, journalism, science, music, poetry, historical research, blogs, theatre, fashion. Entire libraries and schools–and critical viewing of the nightly news–exist for those wanting to understand racism. We have also learned a huge amount from other white anti-racist organisers and friends, like from workshops and training (e.g the Catalyst Project’s Ann Braden Program). We say this from a place of care: many of us white folks remain confused or willfully ignorant of some of the most basic structures of racism (and oppression more broadly). We are not trying to judge you. We make mistakes all the time–there will certainly be mistakes in this article too! We aim to be supportive and firm and this may mean we feel really uncomfortable sometimes.

“But people of colour are mean to me too – isn’t that reverse racism?”

Many of the comments regarding the original article fell into this category: “But people of color did this to me–so how come when I do it you call it racism and when they do it, it’s not?” The idea of “reverse racism” comes from a misunderstanding (intentional or not) of how racism and oppression work. White people created the idea that if us white folk experience discrimination, harassment or any kind of unpleasant thing by Black, Indigenous or people of color then we are experiencing “reverse racism”. This is a used by many white people as a justification for not having to be responsible for racism.

The concept stems from the misinformed idea that racism is just shitty behaviour from one individual to another, and that it’s about feelings and not power. Let’s talk about power and see how that informs our experiences of individuals.

Like all forms of oppression, racism has (at least) 3 layers:

Internalized. This is the ways that oppression lives inside of people’s hearts and minds, how people are being oppressed compare themselves negatively to those with power and hate themselves and their families and communities, sometimes being self-destructive or undermining or distancing ourselves from each other. Someone could be experiencing internalised racism, internalised homophobia, internalised sexism etc.

Inter-personal. This is what happens between individuals. So this would include a person with power (in this case white privilege) discriminating against someone, acting from prejudice based on stereotypes. This can be everything from micro-aggressions like avoiding eye contact all the way up to murder.

Institutional, Societal, Cultural. These are the larger structures that we usually didn’t create ourselves but that we inherit and that we either benefit from or are targeted and exploited by. Like schools, legal systems, workplaces, economic systems, religions, government etc. Almost all of these institutions are shaped and dominated by white people, specifically rich white men. This is the key to understanding why a power difference can’t just be “reversed”.

These institutions are a set up to punish some and benefit others and the impacts are so pervasive. Let’s look at how things are right now: a kid of color is born. Over her lifetime, she is more likely to die at childbirth, to not get the nutrition she needs, to go to poorer quality schools and drop out, to live in substandard housing or become homeless, to struggle with her self worth because she’s been told she’s not as valuable, to experience violence from state agents like the police and in her personal relationships, to be denied respectful and effective health-care, have her culture and spirituality disrespected, not be able to get a job and to earn less than white people in whatever work she does find. There is a lot of variation within this but each exception does not disprove the overwhelming evidence that there are structural forces creating these problems.

So if someone doesn’t give an individual white person a job because they are white, that may have an impact on that person. But it is likely an isolated incident and doesn’t have entire systems of power perpetuating it every single day.  Discrimination against us white people might hurt our feelings or have some harmful impacts. That could be a real bummer. However, there are no institutions that harm white people because we are white (they may harm us because we are poor or trans etc, but that’s not based on our race).

Inter-personal racism–context is important

Another way to think about it, is that the context is important. It is the presence of not only shitty behaviour, but its combination with power that makes racism real.  Let’s look at the example Sunny gave of how it’s racist for him to get the names confused of people of colour, even though he also frequently mixes up white people that he doesn’t know. A lot of white folks struggled to understand this. A friend, Tiara, responded very succinctly to this on their facebook page when questioned:

“there’s a lot more cultural history and baggage associated with POC (people of colour) being confused for each other – “oh all you Asians look the same” etc – sometimes to malicious means (WW2 propaganda about how to spot a “Jap” for example).”

We experience things based on how we’re treated in other spaces and at other times. It’s actually a very white thing to divorce ourselves from the context, to think that we can operate independently from our surroundings. So if a person of colour or another white person doesn’t remember who I am, it may just feel like a personal sting. Compared to, for a person of colour, it may jab into a painful spot that’s been jabbed over and over again. I hit you once, it hurts. I hit that spot 400 times, I’ve created a wound. And of course it’s more complicated than that – lots of white people feel dehumanised or have baggage around this for different reasons – like because they/we are trans or femme women etc. We’re not over-riding your experiences of being squashed for various parts of your identities – we’ve chosen to focus on unpacking white supremacy and racism in this article.

Respecting Black, Indigenous and People of Colour Only Space

Some white people took offense when they were asked to refrain from posting on some facebook walls and spaces in the aftermath of the Zimmerman verdict. Sometimes we simply don’t recognize the impact that just our presence can have. We are whole human beings and have many different impacts on the world, both wonderful and crappy. And being white automatically impacts a space. We bring our whiteness everywhere and our (unintentional or not) racism. It makes total sense that sometimes (or often) BIPOC communities would want spaces for their own healing, discussion, fun or organising, where they don’t have to deal with our racism. It also makes sense when a person of colour doesn’t want to be our friend. If we were being treated awfully by a racist world, I imagine many days we’d hate white people too. In fact, expecting people of colour and Indigneous people to like us can actually be a sign of being privileged – why should we feel entitled to other people’s respect, without it being earned? Between the two of us, some of the most exciting, powerful and transformative experiences we’ve ever had have been in spaces that were centred around a particular group of people facing oppression (e.g. femme or trans only spaces) and so we absolutely want to celebrate and support BIPOC folks doing the same and encourage white folks to step back.

What makes us white people so confident that we really understand racism?

Some white people also commented that Sunny had chosen “ridiculous” examples that weren’t really racism. White people – how would we know what is and isn’t racist?! The only way we can understand that is to listen to Black pepole, Indigenous folks and people of color (BIPOC). And not just one or two people–be tuned in to movements. The fact that we might not understand how some BIPOC may experience our actions, speaks further our racism. Consider this — in what ways is it essential to your everyday life, your job or your survival, to know about racism, or anything at all about BIPOC communities?

In an in an anti-oppression workshop, artist, activist and educator Kim Katrin Crosby pointed out that she has to know everything about white people. As a woman of colour, her survival is dependent on knowing exactly how to navigate a white system that’s designed to squash her (she said it way more eloquently than this). As white folks though, we could learn about various BIPOC communities if we wanted to, but our survival is not dependent on it. We can get by just fine remaining ignorant. And in fact, it’s not just a passive ignorance – many of our ancestors and our current white culture works very hard to actively erase the voices, histories and ideas of people of colour and Black and Indigenous people. Who gets to write the history books? Who controls the vast majority of mainstream media outlets? Who has the resources to put their ideas into action? Who gets their television shows produced? Yes, mostly white people. For every Oprah, there are 100 David Lettermans. So, in a culture of white supremecy, while it’s not a personal failing for a white person to not know much about communities of colour, it is, nonetheless, our responsibility to find out. And not in the way where we just culturally appropriate and exoticise and devour everything about others. Rather consensually valuing, respecting and learning how to treat people with dignity and respect. Another teaching Kim offered in her workshop, was instead of the saying “treat people how you’d like to be treated” to rather treat people how they want to be treated. If communities of colour are saying something is racist, if we don’t understand why, it’s our job to find out.

“But people of colour are racist to each other too”

What is called “lateral-racism” is real–and it is is based on racist white systems offering folks of colour and Indigenous folks some privileges by competing with each other for points in a system designed ultimately for white people’s benefit. When white people point this out though, it’s not usually to take responsibility, it’s to divert any attempt to be responsible for our own racism. Of course, folks of colour and Indigenous people have a lot of healing to do around racism. And there are a lot of people of colour doing powerful organising around building alliances together to do this.

“But what about mixed race people?”

Some people have pointed out that Sunny’s original article doesn’t acknowledge mixed race people. You’re absolutely right. That was a shortcoming of the article. These conversations are so much more complex than “black or white”. We’ve heard some mixed race people talk about complex experiences of sometimes passing as white (being read as white) and other times being read as from a non-white cultural background. Let’s remember to keep complicating our analysis and understandings.

“But what about me?”

We all experience intersections of power and privilege. Some of us are white–and also poor, trans, disabled, fat, femme and experiencing a lot of oppression based on that. Yes, transphobia, poverty, fatphobia, ableism and misogyny suck. And if you compare your experience with someone with the *same* identities and experiences–except they are not white–you can see that there is a dramatic difference. Some of us white folks cannot stand a conversation about our racial privilege without turning it into a conversation about our other experiences of oppression. This is called derailing or detouring. But our needs do not need to be in competition with each other. What made you think that by focusing an article on racism, it was detracting from your liberation?

There is a powerful saying from a Murri community (an Aboriginal community in Queensland, Australia), “If you’ve come to help me, you’re wasting your time, but if you’ve come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” Working on our racism will support our own and other’s liberation. In fact, it is NECESSARY for our liberation. Why? Because the people most impacted by our shitty systems often live at the intersections of multiple oppressions – like people who are dealing with poverty and racism and transphobia and sexism all at once, for example. And these people have seriously powerful stuff to offer social change movements. They don’t need to go to university to learn fancy words like “intersectional politics” – these concepts are obvious from their lived experience–and when the solutions that have been created by these communities have the power and resources to be implemented, they benefit us all.

Second, because it feels incredibly shitty to be a world where it is difficult to build genuine relationships with people because racism has divided you and to know that many of the good things in our life (our privileges) rely on other people being oppressed. If we want to see justice, peace and safety, and realise our true potential as communities and individuals, then we need to understand that we can’t achieve this while some people are dehumanized, robbed and victimized by systems of white supremacy. How are we going to have to transform to be a world where we all get a fair piece of the pie? That’s the amazing challenge ahead of us, that we have the power to embrace everyday in a million ways.

Working on our racism will unite us, not divide us

A few white people commented that they thought Sunny’s article would just divide white people from Black, Indigenous and communities of colour (BIPOC), by pointing out the awful things, rather than the things we have in common. Whether we talk about it explicitly or not, our racism gets in the way of our connections with BIPOC every day. We may not notice it because we’re not the ones who our racism most obviously hurts. But we are divided because we are NOT talking about racism and NOT actively transforming our racism. Denying the ways our racism keeps us separate from BIPOC is not going to bring us closer. Only actively working on our shit will.

This racist system our ancestors built (and that we perpetuate) was very intentionally built to keep us separate. Let’s take a quick trip down history lane with an illuminating example from the tobacco fields of Virginia. In the late 17th century, black and white workers on the farms were starting to organise together to fight for better working conditions and possibly overthrow the white bosses. There were so few white bosses, vastly outnumbered by the thousands of black and white workers. So, to increase their stability, the bosses used “divide and conquer” strategies. To break up the workers, they created the the concept of “white” (before this there was English people and German and French people etc), lumped most of the pale skinned people together, and gave them privileges like extra food rations and shorter working hours. Now the “white” people had something to lose. If they continued organising with their black comrades, they’d have these privileges taken away. This still happens today. Even though ultimately only 1% of the population (mostly white people) get the most massive benefits from the work of the rest of the world, because other middle class and working class white people get some benefits, comparative in general to people of colour, Black and Indigenous people, we fear that if we rock the boat, we’ll have it taken away.

It is this racist system of handing out privileges to white people and punishing people of colour, Black and Indigenous people, that divides us. And we will stay divided unless we work on our racist shit.

We’re not saying you’re the Ku Klux Klan

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate.” Martin Luther King Jr. from “Letter From a Birmingham Jail”

Sometimes those white people most opposed to racism are the most defensive (and therefore unaccountable) about our own racism. We can respond with rage, disbelief and denial because we believe that opposing racism means having erased it out of our hearts, lives and minds. For example, when Chanelle was about to undertake an anti-racist training program, a white person said to her “gee you must really have a big problem with racism”. It was unthinkable to him that continuing to do active work on racism was a part of being anti-racist. He saw himself as above that, as an anti-racist person who had it all worked out and was therefore just “not racist” anymore.

Aside from the pretty clear arrogance of believing that white people get to decide for ourselves when we’re “done” with our racism, we also see it differently because of our understanding of institutional racism. White folks are placed into racist institutions whether we want to be there or not. For example, for the most part, our schools reflect white realities, goals, histories and leadership. So no, you don’t need to be a part of the KKK to be a part of white supremacy. We’re all in it, it’s up to us how we respond. Some people feel so much shame about this that they give up (or use it as an excuse to give up). What if, just as an exercise, you removed any personal shame associated with the word racist? Would that change what you would consider racist? Just for this exercise, imagine you saw doing racist things with as little emotional weight or shame as say forgetting to take the garbage out on garbage day? This is not meant to trivialise racism, rather as a tool to assist white people to acknowledge our racism as the first step in being responsible for working on it.

Being in Love with Our Communities: why we take a stand against racism

A racist world tells us as white people that we will lose stuff if we challenge racism. That there’s not enough to go around. That it’s too much work. That we’re not responsible anyway. That racism is over. Or any number of other slippery ways to get out of being responsible. What we stand to lose by failing to address racism, is far greater than the comparatively small things we will have to give up like being right, being the centre of attention, being comfortable 100% of the time etc. Working on our racism, we risk looking silly or ignorant or being called out – for example, we will likely have made embarrasing mistakes in this article. Contrast this with what we risk by failing to work on our racism – friends, awesome communities, healing, justice, safety, peace, learning and living in a harmonious world. And we can do this work from a place of love for ourselves, our friends and our communities. It’s not about hating ourselves as white people, it’s about loving ourselves so much that we want to live in a awesome world and stand with our friends who are Black, Indigenous and people of colour.

 To read the original article, “Racism is to White People, as the Wind is to the Sky”, click here.

Resources:

If reading is your jam, here is a fuckton of resources you can check out.

http://vasundharaa.tumblr.com/post/31917466176/this-is-a-resource-post-for-all-the-good-white

TAKE ACTION!

http://www.showingupforracialjustice.org/wp-content/uploads/Justice-for-Trayvon-Action-Kit.pdf

We also recommend quieting that inner voice and practice listening to the people of colour, Black and Indigenous people in your life.

Some other popular blog articles:

Femme Ally Conversation Starter

Boy Tits in the Locker-room

the Boy Tit Finale Summer Collection

2 articles on sobriety: Wet >< Dry and The Brandy is Just for the Zit in My Throat

Like Sunny Drake on facebook, follow on Twitter or instagram, connect on Linkedin

Check out video, photos, theatre shows and workshops on Sunny’s website

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Racism is to white people as wind is to the sky

imageDear White people,

It’s not enough to simply know that racism exists, that we live in a racist world. In the outpourings of grief and anger about the Zimmerman verdict, I’m asking myself and other white people: how are we reflecting on and actively transforming our own personal racism? And our collective racism? This is not about hating ourselves, it’s about loving ourselves so much that we commit to transforming ourselves and our communities. Because white people: we are ALL racist. It is impossible to have grown up in a white supremacy and not have taken on racist beliefs and actions. And before you defensively cite the number of friends of colour you have, please remember that sometimes these beliefs and actions are incredibly sneaky – they are designed by white supremacy to look normal and natural. As white people, sometimes we can find them difficult to spot – yet they are glaringly obvious to those who are hurt EVERY SINGLE DAY by our racism. Towards the end of this post I’ve included a list with some concrete examples of the racism of myself and other well intentioned white people, including anti-racist activists. The list has a warning at the top so that folks of colour and Indigenous people can choose whether/when to read this.

White people, the shame is not that these racist things come up in us – growing up in a white supremacy, it is impossible for them to not. The shame is when we deny it, refuse to do the work and therefore turn our backs on our sisters, brothers and genderqueer siblings of colour. The shame is when we are inactive through fear of doing the wrong thing. The shame is when we don’t own up to the damage we cause on a daily basis. The shame is in not putting the time and resources into figuring out how the fuck to transform ourselves – and it will take time and resources, because we’re battling a massive system of white supremacy that will seek to minimise, deny, divert and violently uphold itself. And remember, whilst I can take a break from doing the work of unpacking and challenging mine and others’ racism, our friends of colour can NEVER take a break from racism.

If you’re a white person having a hard time reading this, I’d ask you to examine why are you feeling defensive? In my experience, when I’m defensive it’s usually because I’m avoiding some element of truth. It’s actually only threatening to me to admit my racism if I intend on doing nothing about it. Obviously, there is a massive variation in how racism manifests. When we completely distance ourselves from those white people whose racism manifests in ways that are more “obvious” to us as white people (like murder, assault, belittling other cultures or employment discrimination) essentially, we are letting ourselves off the hook. Yes, my racism may manifest in less intense ways, but it is still from the same origins: growing up in a white supremacist society. It has the same stink – it is the same air in the sky which sometimes blows as a small breeze and other times whips up into a hurricane. Whether or not I like it, I have been shaped by this culture. I have breathed this toxic air into my lungs and it informs my immediate thoughts, reactions, actions – including what I’ve been trained to consider as “racism”. Add to this, the massive amount of privileges I inherit as a white person – and these are not privileges I can simply choose to not take, because privilege is something given to me, not taken. There’s an article by Peggy McIntosh called “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” if you want to understand white privilege with more concrete examples. And for an awesome understanding of anti-oppression and inter-sectionality – check out’s Kim Crosby’s presentation.

It’s indicative of how incredibly low the bar is for white anti-racist allyship that I am so applauded for even the most basic anti-racist things that I do. All I need to do, is get “anti-racist” into a sentence, or remember to include an analysis of racism when I’m talking about transphobia or sexism, or volunteer in support of an event centering people of colour and I am wildly celebrated and applauded. Contrast this to how folks of colour and Indigenous people are often cast as angry and confrontational when they point out racism. The bar is so incredibly low for being a white anti-racist ally. This is no judgement on folks of colour who choose to offer kind words to me for the stance I take on racism- please know, your words of support are appreciated, but not expected. Rather, it is a call to action to white folks: there is something very wrong that I get so much praise for the simplest, most basic acknowledgement of racism.

Let’s raise the bar. Let’s listen deeply to people of colour and Indigenous people and respect their wisdom and stop appropriating it and re-packing it into $30,000 university degrees and pretending we came up with it (thanks Kim Crosby for pointing that out). Let’s learn to admit when we fuck up (because we do, everyday) and figure out how to transform ourselves and make amends to those who we hurt. Let’s lovingly yet firmly point out racism to each other and hold each other accountable for making amends to the people we hurt and changing our behaviour for future. Let’s remember that we are the ones responsible for holding each other through the process of changing, so that we’re not expecting the support of folks of colour – think about how painful that must be- first, being hurt by racism, then having to hold the hand of the person who hurt you. And for every bit of support we offer to white people to change racist behaviours, let’s offer double the support to folks of colour in dealing with living in a racist world. Whilst people of colour may not necessarily want to debrief racism with us (let’s respect their own safe spaces and not seek to insert ourselves in these spaces), there are plenty of other tangible ways we can support: photocopying zines, housework, emotional support, helping set up events, doing childcare, fundraising and being behind the scenes in support of the priorities, activities and movements led by people of colour and Indigenous people. Let’s start daily practices of BELIEVING people of colour and Indigenous people when they talk about racism, even when we don’t understand. Let’s do the work to understand. Let’s talk with other white folks and figure shit out so we don’t demand the labour of people of colour and Indigenous people in educating us, yet remember who we ultimately will be learning from and who we need to be following the leadership of – the people most affected by racism. So let’s find consensual ways to learn about racism from folks of colour, like through multi-racial organising, social media/books/films and doing support work like those things listed above. And let’s get ourselves set for the long haul – because this will be lifelong work filled with heartache, satisfaction, embarrassment, humility, joy, pain, sorrow and sweet, sweet victories.

WARNING: CONCRETE EXAMPLES OF RACISM IN WHITE ANTI-RACIST ALLIES BELOW.

A few examples of my racism and the racism that I see in white friends to whom anti-racism is very important:

– The times when I have tokenised people of colour by thinking “shit, my project is really white, I should ask some people of colour to be a part of it”, rather than building the vision and collaborating with people of colour from the beginning and/or building genuine mutually supportive relationships.

– When I have given more support, time and resources to white projects and individuals. It doesn’t matter if this was by default (like who happened to ask me) – it is my responsibility to seek out and support people of colour and Indigenous people (if and when my support is welcome). In a world where these communities are systemically barred from access to resources, it is racist to perpetuate this on a personal level in my own life.

– The times when I have assumed people of colour and Indigenous people have drinking or substance problems when I see them drinking or using in public. I am in fact an alcoholic, yet nobody thinks that of me if I’m seen drinking in public.

– When I have failed to understand the ways a police presence could impact on the participation of criminalised communities, especially Black and Indigenous communities. Any time I have invited police presence or failed to take steps to deter it, this is my ignorant racism showing up.

– When I have failed to take the time to consider how I could make sure people of colour and Indigenous people are central in the decision making of groups I’m a part of.

– When I have over-identified with the struggles of transwomen of colour as if they were my own experiences – see my article “Boy Tits in the Locker Room” for more on this

– When I have spent more time reading white people’s opinions on racism than people of colour’s and Indigenous people’s opinions and lived experiences. Yes, I believe there is a strong role for white people in challenging racism, but it shouldn’t over-ride the leadership and wisdom of those who are most impacted by racism. Note, we also need to make sure we’re not putting the burden on folks of colour to come up with all the solutions.

– When I have minimised the feedback of people of colour

– Those times when, before even consciously knowing what I was doing, I assumed that communities of colour would be more transphobic and homophobic towards me than white communities.

– When I have gotten acquaintances who are people of colour confused with each other. It doesn’t matter that I also frequently can’t recognise white people who I don’t know very well – this is where context matters. In the context of a racist world that makes invisible and dehumanises people of colour, my actions are racist.

I’m working on My Racism AND I love myself

As well as a bunch of emails from white people who expressed commitment to working on their racism, I’ve gotten some emails from white people “wow, you have so much self loathing”. I don’t loath and hate myself. I am appropriately critical of some of my thoughts and actions, yes, but that’s actually because I love myself and I love my friends and my communities. In fact, I love myself so much, that I want to be part of a community that is beautiful with space for everyone and I am committed to working to make sure that my own ingrained racist thoughts and behaviours don’t block that vision. I love myself so much that I want to get to have AWESOME people in my life, and that means working on my racism.  I love myself so much that I want to overthrow messed up systems that hurt people I care about and an important part of doing that is owning up to my own shit, and through supporting Indigenous people and people of colour in strong leadership positions. I love myself so much that I’m not afraid to look at the parts of myself that do messed up things – this actually is a sign of my self respect and respect for others, not of self loathing. And I’m not afraid to make my process public. Well more accurately, I’m totally afraid (sometimes terrified!) but I love myself and my community so much that I still do it anyway.

And yes, there are a lot of things that you/we will have to give up. Like needing to be right. Needing to be perfect. Needing to always being seen as the “good anti-racist white person”. I get that part of why some of you feel so challenged is because anti-racism is important to you and so to be called racist challenges your idea of yourself. I’m asking you to rise to the challenge and find a way to see the racist parts of yourself as inevitable as long as we continue to live in a racist world. It’s not a personal failing. If you believe that we live within a racist world, then how could this not have shaped your thinking, even despite your best intentions? I’m challenging you to see working on your racism as an act of love. Love for your community. Love for yourself. Love for your friends.

To read Part 2: Click here

Racism is to White People as Wind is to the Sky – Part 2: We Built The Sky and We Can Tear It Down

Some other popular blog articles:

Femme Ally Conversation Starter

Boy Tits in the Locker-room

the Boy Tit Finale Summer Collection

2 articles on sobriety: Wet >< Dry and The Brandy is Just for the Zit in My Throat

Like Sunny Drake on facebook, follow on Twitter or instagram, connect on Linkedin

Check out video, photos, theatre shows and workshops on Sunny’s website

My Boyfriend is a Lady

ImageA sales assistant was trying to usher me out because the store had closed 10 minutes ago. I told her I was waiting for my partner who was using the washroom. So the sales assistant dashed over to the men’s washroom entrance and started calling out “Hello? Hello? The store is closed!” I blushed and shuffled over to the women’s washroom and softly called out to my lady partner. The sales assistant looked me up and down with that “Who are you kidding? Does your girlfriend know you’re gay?” look that I’ve become so accustomed to.

The sales assistant hadn’t even seen my partner, so it wasn’t that my partner was being misgendered as male, it’s that I was being read as gay. Sometimes I wonder how people know I’m queer. Then I look down at my outfit on any given day. It usually involves something like: pink leopard print necker-chief and matching pocket square, dangly fake pearl earring, tight shorts, bright pink socks and studded boots. Oh… that’s right, most straight people can’t differentiate between effeminate men and queer men. And mostly it’s only queer men who have the guts to express femininity in a culture like mine where femininity is punished and devalued. Patriarchy devalues both women AND femininity. I feel very sad for all those straight (and queer) pansy men who are in the closet about their love of lace, ruffles, pink and dangly earrings. For that matter, I also know a lot of women who choose not to present their feminine sides because of the harrassment they get from dudes. Ugh, more reasons why the patriarchy is not only horrible and violent, but incredibly boring as well. The world will be so much more sparkly, frilly and joyous when we throw down the racist, able-ist, colonial heteropatriarchy!

I love that people read me as gay/queer. I am queer, and that’s very important to me. I feel so grateful that I’m queer! Yet I find it incredibly awkward when they assume I have a boyfriend.  They are often being really sweet by trying to affirm to me “hey, I can see you’re gay, and that’s fine by me!”. And I want to celebrate their open-mindedness without embarrassing them, so how do I respond? My “closet” looks quite different than some other queers I know. For me, coming out of the closet involves declaring to the world, “my boyfriend is a lady!”. Sometimes I say this directly and then they assume I’m straight, or more likely closeted, and look apologetic like they’ve just insulted or outed me, when in fact, I see being read as gay or queer as a compliment. Just as commonly, they get a betrayed look on their face and say something like “but you said you were gay?” to which I’m a little baffled because generally this is people I may have known for 2 minutes or less and probably only talked about the weather. Many people are so compelled by their stereotypes that it’s as if before I even open my mouth, a loud speaker announces “this is Sunny. He’s Gay. Gay…. Gay gay gAy GAY gaaaaaaaay”. Other times I just avoid using pronouns about my partner for as long as possible and let them continue with their assumptions that I have a boyfriend. But then I feel like fraud who’ll be discovered at any moment and also I want to honour and celebrate my wonderful lady partner.

My partner and I get stared at a lot in public. We sometimes make a game of trying to figure out why. Maybe we make each other look trans? My partner is not trans, but she is quite tall and has a somewhat deep voice for a cisgendered woman. And I’m a short dude with some of the tell-tale signs of a trans-man (at least to the trained eye). Maybe we’re just a sight because she’s so much taller than me. Maybe it’s because we’re often both wearing dazzling, sparkly outfits. Or possibly they’re worried about my partner- “that poor woman, is she the last one to know that her boyfriend is so clearly gay?”. I feel like yelling “she knows I’m gay and she’s hella gay too!” Well, we’re both queer with an affection for the word “gay”. We’re both attracted to queers of all genders: women, men, genderqueers, including both trans and non-trans people.

Whereas my queerness is hyper-visiblised, my partner’s queerness is often invisiblized because she’s a femme cisgendered woman and therefore doesn’t fit people’s stereotype of queer women as butch. She’s only read as queer when she’s being sweet with someone who’s being read as female. Or when she’s with me–because they’re reading me as gay, they’re reading her as something-other-than-straight.

I’m considering making a t-shirt or a pamphlet entitled: “My boyfriend is a lady and we’re both hella queer!”

Some other popular blog articles:

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2 articles on sobriety: Wet >< Dry and The Brandy is Just for the Zit in My Throat

Like Sunny Drake on facebook, follow on Twitter or instagram, connect on Linkedin

Check out video, photos, theatre shows and workshops on Sunny’s website

Interview with Alvis Choi

Alvis Choi (aka Alvis Parsley) is an artist, curator, project manager, researcher, and an aspiring clown. Their project, Chinatown Community Think Tank, caught my eye and I was excited to find out a bunch more about Alvis and what they do.

Sunny: What was the first art or creative project you remember doing?

Alvis: I’ve been curating and programming since 2008 but the first performance that I did was in 2012 at the Radical Queer Semaine in Montreal. It was called “HOW TO DO GAY IN CANADA – A Survival Kit for Chinese Lesbian Newcomers”. I introduced a survival kit invented by my company Fantasy is Reality Unlimited (FiRU) with all the products that helped me survive during my short time in Canada. The piece talks about cultural differences, racism, my struggles as a “newcomer” and my experience in Toronto’s Chinatown as a queer person.

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 HOW TO DO GAY IN CANADA – A Survival Kit for Chinese Lesbian Newcomers, 2012, Meow Mix. Photo: viva delorme

 

Sunny: How has your approach to creating art changed over the years and why?

Alvis: My artistic practice revolves around my life experience, identity, and what I learn everyday. I came to Toronto in 2011. My identity here is very different from when I was in Hong Kong. I am a person-of-color, a temporary resident, and I’m in a different class. All these that define my marginalized identities have an impact on the content of my projects.

In terms of style, I’d like to think that my work is down-to-earth and connects with the audience in a genuine and truthful way. My performances are often witty and poignant, in a way that challenges the mind of the audience and political correctness.

 

Sunny: Tell us a bit about Chinatown Community Think Tank.

Alvis: Chinatown Community Think Tank (CCTT) is a dialogue-based neighbourhood engagement project. The aim of the project is to invite the Chinese-speaking community based in the Chinatown of downtown Toronto to collectively envision the role of art in the neighbourhood. I’m turning the storefront space of Whippersnapper Gallery into a social space for the Chinese-speaking community in Chinatown. My role is to engage community members in conversations about a wide range of social, political, and cultural issues that have an impact on their perception and definition of art. These dialogues become a bridge between contemporary art, which is often inaccessible to non-English speakers in the city, and the Chinese speaking community.

I speak both Cantonese and Mandarin and it has been a fruitful month meeting community members, getting to know them and building relationship through open dialogues. In July, we will continue these dialogues in the form of survey and conduct a series of community mapping workshops.

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Sunny: What inspired you to do the project?

Alvis: The project started with the question of “how is Whippersnapper’s programming accessible for the Chinese-speaking community in Chinatown?” As a Hongkong-Chinese who’s lived in Toronto for less than two years, I find Anglo-centrism in the city and the art world in general problematic. I wanted to share my creative practice with the Chinese-speaking community.

The first time I worked at Whippersnapper Gallery was at Nuit Blanche 2012. I was going to invite the Chinese-speaking woman who works at the print shop on Spadina Road to come see the project that I curated, but very quickly realized how inaccessible it could be because of the language barrier and the cultural differences. Since then, I continued to reflect on the incident and the issues that come along, and eventually started a conversation with Maggie Flynn, the director of Whippersnapper, about the potential of engaging this community in a deeper level.

 

Sunny: In your wildest dreams, if money was no barrier, what would you hope to achieve with Chinatown Community Think Tank?

Alvis: I would like to see Chinatown Community Think Tank grow into an ongoing project that facilitates and supports the Chinese-speaking community to engage in the arts in the neighbourhood, not just at Whippersnapper but also in other galleries or even museums. One of my many dreams is to work with the AGO to make the Art Gallery more accessible to the Chinese-speaking community. I’ve been thinking a lot about Whippersnapper as the west end of Chinatown and the AGO as the east end of Chinatown. They are at such perfect locations to advocate for improved access to arts for the Chinese-speaking community and I’m hoping that what I’m doing this summer will build a foundation for such advocacy.

 

Sunny: What’s a terrifying or embarrassing or confusing moment you’ve faced in your creative projects and how did you get through it?

Alvis: Ha! I don’t think I’ve ever had a terrifying or embarrassing moment doing creative projects. I am always excited about trying new things and going on adventures. I feel very positive about making mistakes. I think some of the questions that I continue to ask are whom I am making art for and if it matters if what I do is being called art. I am against art elitism. But at the same time it’s challenging to strike a balance between getting resources and presenting work that is accessible.

 

Sunny: What are some things that you couldn’t make art/ creative projects without?

Alvis: A free mind and an open heart – to feel free regardless of the surroundings and difficult situations. It’s challenging but a really fun thing to practice. Hopes keep me going, love, rage, and the magical universe – chance, coincidence, and strangers – things that I couldn’t live without!

Alvis’ work sounds amazing, doesn’t it?! Here’s how you can support their project: Chinatown Community Think Tank! Any donations small or large, gratefully received. Oh, and there’s awesome perks including haircuts and tea-leaf readings and mentorships (including a 2 hour mentorship conversation with me). Click here:

http://igg.me/at/cctt/x/3467782

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Photo: Bonz Merlin

Some other popular blog articles:

Racism is to White People, as Wind is to the Sky

Femme Ally Conversation Starter

Boy Tits in the Locker-room

the Boy Tit Finale Summer Collection

2 articles on sobriety: Wet >< Dry and The Brandy is Just for the Zit in My Throat

Like Sunny Drake on facebook, follow on Twitter or instagram, connect on Linkedin

Check out video, photos, theatre shows and workshops on Sunny’s website