Race-work, Race-love

Posts Tagged ‘race’

Open Letter to “Latina” Magazine and Their Six Most Fascinating Latino Stories

In Uncategorized on December 28, 2012 at 8:38 pm

I write this on the third day of Kwanzaa, in the spirit of Ujima – that of collective responsibility or the understanding that everyone plays a role in the building of their communities. I write this in response to Latina magazine’s “The Six Most Fascinating Latin@ Stories of the Year”   in which George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin’s murderer, is highlighted as second most fascinating story after Victoria Soto, a teacher who was killed after protecting and saving the lives of all her students in the Newtown, CT massacre.  I write this in the spirit of playing a role in the advancement of magazines such as Latina, one of the few magazines that centers on Latin@ audiences.  I write in the spirit of love for my people with the hopes that it will in some way influence how we use our social media outlets, perhaps more responsibly, in order to use our few magazines not just to advance the Latin@ community, but to educate those who are not Latin@ about who we are as a community.

That being said, I should recognize that this may not be the aim of Latina magazine. Thus, this piece is not written just as a social commentary or critique, but I will also provide my own list of “fascinating Latin@ stories” for 2012. For the next couple of days, I will post different stories, themes that have come up in the media. I may miss a few.  But I expect you, readers in the community, to help this list for future years to come.

Before providing my list, the first issue to address is conceptualizing the idea of a “fascinating Latin@ story”. What does this mean?  What criteria should be employed? Did Latina magazine accomplish their goal of providing a fascinating Latin@ story?

Latina magazine chose to represent a fascinating Latin@ story by using people who either self identify as Latin@ or Latin American or has been identified by the public in such a way. They describe these individuals without really describing why they provide fascinating Latin@ stories.  In so doing, Latina magazine creates the illusion that the individuals highlighted for this piece are “fascinating Latin@ people”.  This is highly problematic. If the sole criterion for having a fascinating Latin@ story is only to self identify or be identified as Latin@, then should George Zimmerman, who it seems, only recently became Latin@, be on that list?  And what of Dania Londono Suarez, Colombian escort to the Secret Service, highlighted as Latina magazine’s third story? Is the story fascinating just because she is Colombian? While I embrace this hermana as Latin American or Latina, I have to ask what is the fascinating story about her? Indeed, if Latina magazine is going to use these individuals to sell their magazine, then I am requesting that Latina magazine treat their audience with more respect: We enjoy a good story. If you are going to tell me that you are going to write me a fascinating story, then, I expect you to write a fascinating story. We are smart enough to handle it.  We don’t need you to throw us some words in Spanish or for you to write some sensationalized story about sensationalized people in order for us to read.  You caught the wrong kind of attention, Latina magazine, and many are fed up with the superficial ways in which you treat your readers.

The second issue to address is the use of social media as platforms for representations of the Latin@ community. There are few platforms that are dedicated to the Latin@ community. Latina, specifically, is a fifteen year old media outlet that, whether positively or negatively, has some readership in the Latin@ community. The lack of rigorous discussions that affect Latin@ communities are demonstrated in the ways Latin@s are constantly being overlooked as researchers, commentators, scholars, writers, and even owners of our own experiences and social realities.  We are not looked upon as Latin@ intellectuals capable of sitting next to other brilliant scholars when discussing politics, education, or other parts of society. While this is part of the mainstream imagination, I also place some responsibility for this lack of visible Latino intellectuals on our own media outlets – Latina  magazine, specifically, with its longevity, for not providing a more comprehensive picture of who Latin@s are; we are not just entertainers and athletes.  We don’t just sing and dance. We also teach, write, analyze, make sense of policies, and this is just to name a few things.

Thus, we must occupy this void.  Yes, I am looking at you — you wonderful, amazing, brilliant Latina/o scholars/ activists/writers/journalists/dancers/fashionistas/educators/etc. — we must be at those discussion tables, board rooms, policy decision making meetings, and even magazines like Latina. We cannot be satisfied with just being on the menu. We can no longer just sit while we hear others talk about us and make decisions on our behalves.  Latina magazine could be an interesting platform for issues that affect our community. Their foci on entertainment and fashion are fine – but why just remain there? In other words, there are very interesting and fascinating stories that could be written out of areas of entertainment and fashion – some I have highlighted in my own examples.  A fascinating Latin@ story cannot just have only one criterion – that of highlighting Latin@ people just because they are Latin@s, as Latina’s Top Six Stories demonstrate. Delving deeper, getting insights from thorough and thoughtful Latin@ writers to contribute to Latina magazine could prove to be a fruitful one – as the case with Ebony magazine demonstrates.

Latin@s have stories, yes, even the monstrous ones, that help us understand the fabric of our Latin@ lives and social realities – our past, our present, and our future. For the sake of our communities and our relationships with allies, we must be more responsible with what we publicly describe as representations of our people. Although I have no official affiliation with Latina magazine, in order for me to truly live in the spirit of Ujima, I must represent Latina magazine as much as Latina magazine represents me. In that spirit, I write these short essays, to provide a strong counternarrative to the poor taste and judgment that Latina magazine employed in their magazine. It is my hope that these conversations continue to not just improve magazines like Latina – but can also be a strong call for the advancement of our people and our community.

The following is a list of the summaries I will post over the next several days. I invite you to share my world, contribute your own stories, or even disagree with the few I highlight.

(FSN = Fascinating Story Number)

FSN 1:  El Voto Latin@

FSN 2 & 3:  Open Letter to Latina – The Fascinating Stories Missed: Librotraficantes, La Casa Azul Bookstore, and La Diva

FSN 4 & 5: Open Letter to Latina – The Racialization of Latin@s, Healthcare, and the Latina Warrior

FSN 6: Open Letter to Latina: The Year of the Latin@ Intellectual & the Fascinating Story I Missed – La Muerte de La Comay

Racial Analysis of the Vice Presidential Debate: Joe “Angry Black Man” Biden

In Uncategorized on October 12, 2012 at 1:11 am

Attributing Angry Black Man status to an irreverent and emotional Joe Biden is dangerous. At the end of the debate, I read many posts on Vice President Biden’s ability to act out the Angry Black Man – suggesting that it is a role that our President could not easily play and one that President Obama should play. This requires serious racial analysis since the Angry Black Man ideology is one of the many ideologies that supports and maintains White Supremacy and White Supremacist values. Let me take the time to briefly explain.

Why is calling Emotional Joe Biden an Angry Black Man dangerous? First, it puts an unnecessary expectation on our President. When have we ever seen President Obama become unhinged, emotional, or angry? It’s unfortunate that we WANT to see President Obama become angry, like he is supposed to BE angry. I think I can count the number of times on one hand when we have seen our President be a little “off” including his debate with Romney. Why is anger an expected emotion for a Black President to possess when he never exhibited this trait during his Presidency? In fact, many have enjoyed his cool passion and swag.

Secondly, by focusing on the Angry Black Man that President Obama isn’t, we ignore who Joe Biden has been and continues to be – a Vice President who comes out of pocket on many occasions. In fact, many of us EXPECTED to see this side of him come out tonight and why many of us made sure to watch the Vice Presidential debate. I have heard in the past week “Can’t wait to see what Crazy Joe is going to do!” and other phrases like this. Interestingly, even though Joe Biden was expected to play Crazy Uncle Joe, media pundits acted surprised that Joe Biden exhibited this behavior – even though he has been this way all along. Why are they surprised? Even Saturday Night Live makes fun of Joe Biden’s behavior. Did they think he was going to be different tonight? But I digress. Yes, Biden’s White Privilege allows him the ability to express the way he wants without getting maligned too much for it – but this doesn’t mean that this side is the Angry Black Man side. Biden isn’t Black the way Clinton isn’t Black. We continue to call Clinton our First Black President because of some characteristics he demonstrated in public, despite policies he implemented that perpetuated the disenfranchisement of People of Color. This breaks down Black people and People of Color to a set of characteristics rather than whole human beings.

Finally, by reinforcing that Emotional Joe Biden is able to be an Angry Black man, are we saying that President Obama was originally supposed to be an Angry Black Man? To say that Biden could be the Angry Black Man that Obama cannot be, means that we as People of Color also believe that inherently, we are angry people of color. Now, don’t mistake my analysis for a misunderstanding of White Privilege and how it operates. Having been called an Angry Hispanic Woman on several occasions, I am fully aware of how expressing my emotions is not only unacceptable but damn near dangerous sometimes. But I don’t think I was born to be an “angry Latina” – in the same way that I don’t think our President or other Black men were born into the role of angry black men. We experience dignified rage, we fight against social injustice, and we get the diminished “Angry Person of Color” status. I am not just angry and I am not just an emotion – I am a race worker, someone who fights toward racial justice, someone who employs her anger to move this work. To believe and uphold Angry Black Man ideology is to uphold one of the several ideologies that sustain White Supremacy and White Supremacist values. Can we imagine our Black President to be angry? Of course! We all can be angry! But to attribute Angry Black Man status to an emotional and irreverent Joe Biden contributes to the dehumanization of People of Color and in particular Black people.

White Supremacy is not just the belief that white people are superior. Racist beliefs undergirds the practices and policies that create and maintain a system of White Privileges. One of these privileges is the ability to express emotion without getting penalized in employment, education, and other important social capital. Angry Black Man status is an ideology, a misconception of Black people specifically and People of Color generally, that is not only maintained by white people but also by People of Color when we start calling emotional white people Angry Black Men. If we want to begin the process of dismantling White supremacy, we as People of Color must understand origins of Angry Black Man ideology – understand that this is a racist misconception – a cultural deficit attributed to People of Color and emotional white people – and reframe what Angry Black Man really is – white folks’ imagination gone wild, fearing the worst in Black men and people of color. And we, People of Color have internalized this – a sign of internalized oppression.

As People of Color we must critically analyze how these ideologies maintain oppressive systems in order for us to begin the road toward racial justice. Let’s begin by questioning why we call emotional white people Angry Black Men.

The Long Walk Home: The Race Analyst & Street Harassment

In Uncategorized on June 15, 2012 at 4:33 pm

You lived about 10 blocks away from a college your whole life. In that time, you’ve seen the ways in which the neighborhood has changed as if to fit the expectations of the college. But as hard as this college tries, they can’t get to everyone, some pockets of the neighborhood remain the same.

So you go to those pockets to remind yourself of where you came from and the reason why you wanted to go to that college in the first place. You go to those pockets because engaging in the life of the mind reminds you of how you could have been involved in the life of the streets. The ivory tower calls it “being a statistic”. You call it home.

Those streets that you call home and are simultaneously warned to not become them. Those streets that protected you while catcalling and whistling and hollering at you at the same time, reminding you that you are a female and that means you belong to them.


“Chula, ven aqui”

“Que Dios te bendiga, mami”

“Pero tu si eres mala, bembona”

Them. Show and prove means something entirely different for women. Show and prove means that you can be that cute girl while at the same time smacking gum with the message that you have the potential to smack someone too should they lay a hand on you.

Them. Those eyes that linger on you as if you are supposed to linger back, as if that should be enough to make you go to them and respond back, Hey chulo.

Their eyes linger on you, whether you think YOU are cute or not.

You know this, this street harassment is a daily experience in the city. So, in the morning it takes you double the time to get dressed. You want to wear something comfortable but nothing too revealing. You want to wear something that makes you feel good but that doesn’t attract too much attention.

You wear a long dress that covers your legs. It clings to your body so you throw over a purse that covers your back so that when the street harassers linger, they only linger on your purse. Not your behind.

Your head held high, your gum fresh, your elbows swinging with your keys or another potential weapon between your fingers — you are ready. You go out because someone told you that these streets could eat you alive. But you’re not about to let that keep you from enjoying your home and walking outside on a beautiful day. You are ready for battle and love. Those are the streets of Harlem undergoing change.

So you walk. The further uptown you go, the signs that you are leaving New Harlem is more real. New Harlem means you overhear conversations about the news or academic thoughts, ivory tower conversations, mostly in English. Walking uptown you hear the news. In Spanish.

You walk a little further and you walk past a huddle of young men, desperate to show and prove. As you walk past, you realize you interrupt their own version of street harassment. That one Asian young man in the huddle of Dominican men who gets slightly taunted enough for him to have a great comeback. The retort that makes you root for the underdog. You hear the retort, and you mistakenly smile. They catch your smile and give the young Asian man pounds.

But you wonder if they will resume to their taunts.

You keep walking further and you hear music that blares from cars, outside bodegas, and homes. Ranging from bachata, to merengue, to reggaeton. You feel very Latina – you know this neighborhood, these are your people. But you remember not to smile.

This time, you don’t make that mistake.

This is New York, you think. Fruit stands are outside because the bodegas sell outdated food sometimes. Mothers and children are struggling with each other to get home, neighbors see you and you stop. “Hey sweetie, haven’t see you in days, where you been?” they ask.

You love those impromptu conversations. You hear about the building you live in, any changes in the neighborhood. This particular neighbor has lived here for over 40 years. They can tell you about the changes, too.

You keep walking up and you run into the bodeguero that knows your father. “Please say hello on our family’s behalf!” Gracias, you respond back. You can’t help but feel proud that your family has built a solid legacy in this pocket of the neighborhood.

This is home, you think. The ivory tower can’t change me all that much. Your heart is warm and you smile again.

“Hey ma! Take my number…”

You come back to reality. You purse your lips, make sure not to smile and keep walking ahead. You see scaffolds ahead and make sure to walk around them. If you can’t avoid them, you make sure to be extra alert. Scaffolds mean more opportunities for lingering.

You are at home. But you are also an analyst. A race love analyst. Because you love your streets. You love your home. You work to improve the conditions of your people. And you know you get love back, too.

You count how many blocks you got before you reach your apartment.

Revisiting Racial Passion In My Dissertation and Race-Work: Thank You, Professor Derrick Bell.

In Higher Education, Latino; Latina, New York City, race work, racism, Uncategorized on May 29, 2012 at 10:44 pm

“Why are you interested in this topic for your dissertation?”

*Sits in front of the computer – for hours.*

It’s my birthday and another year goes by — not just me getting older but also diving deeper and deeper into my dissertation topic.  Last year, I completed a year of emotional cleansing and clearing out the negative influences in my life. And, although one can never completely get rid of this negative stuff (like bacteria) I am learning to live with them and even use them to help me think through my values as a Race–Worker and a race analyst. I am in the process of doing this and probably why I am stuck on the question above and others such as:

Why are you doing what you are doing right now? What brought you to this point?  Why do you want to continue on this path?

This is the year to ask “Why?”


Courtesy of PhD Comics

*Still sitting in front of the computer. Crying my eyes out.* 

So I go back to the end of my second certification exam and the beginning of seriously thinking about a dissertation topic. To help with these memories, I read again a post from my friend Tara Conley who is beginning her search for a topic. 

I remember those days.  Nothing feels right. But you want to do EVERYTHING.  Everything seems so dang interesting.  You’re scared that you may pick the wrong topic.  Like going on a long journey and realizing that you took the wrong train. I thought then that a literature review could be done in a summer.  I pressured myself into finding a topic and getting it done.  There is pressure because you really do believe it can be finished in a summer. But at the institution that both Tara and I attend, this is highly unlikely.  The thought-process to arrive at a topic is a long and arduous one that is exhausting and deserving of a badge of honor – a thinking one that is.  No other process will allow you the opportunity to value “thinking” in the reading, writing, and researching process. One idea follows another like watching one slow moving train after another. And you are just sitting there waiting for the right one to jump on.

Until the day came when it hit me – that big idea that has been afflicting me my whole life:

Why are people so racist?  And what are we doing about it?

That’s the train!!! Music you listened to, movies you chose to watch, books lined up like soldiers in your personal library as if ready for battle when you are ready to say “FIRE!”  all of a sudden begin to make sense. 

YES!  I found it! That’s the train I want to jump in and the path I want to go on. Of course! But it’s a train ride.  We forget that this journey has multiple stops and can be a long one.

The bright side: We are no longer sitting in the station waiting to get on the train. We may now be on that train, but we are still sitting.  Going along for the ride. Because although we think we chose the topic, in reality, the idea chose us.  We are going along this IDEA’s journey. We haven’t mastered learning how to operate the train.


Oh, those days seemed bright…

The topic, like the train journey, obviously is very broad, but as you review the literature you start noticing patterns, like the ads inside the train and the occasional graffiti outside of the train, or the people who come in to stay or leave.  Those patterns become natural to you and if you just stay long enough they push you along.  Noticing these patterns are key to honing down your research agenda.  And guess what? You haven’t even begun to write.

You begin to realize that you will write multiple literature reviews, edit multiple versions, find new literature to include.

Think, review, write. Think, review, write. Version #127

You have your big idea.  Then you marry that with what is missing.  Ideas start to swirl.  Like a baby first learning how to talk, you start verbalizing those ideas.  Sounds crazy at first. Like when you ask a passenger for directions to a particular location but you aren’t quite sure where you are going either.  Those people, the nice ones, sit there patiently looking at you as you start talking, you take back what you said, then start again on your BIG idea.

“That’s too big.”

‘You need to read some more”

“Are you sure you want to do that?”


Then you wonder: Why am I doing this again? Why am I on this dang train, again?

I continue to write.  But as I continue to write and ride this train, I started losing touch with why I am interested in my topic in the first place.  The Race-Worker forgot?  I have a whole blog about this!  My friends thought I was crazy when I told them. “But that’s all you talk about!” they exclaim.

So the next step, for me, is to look to my heroes and talk to the other passengers on this train.  We may be going the same way, I think.  They may be able to help remind me of why I wanted to get on this train in the first place.

In this case, one of those passengers is Derrick Bell.  Derrick Bell is the ultimate Race-Worker.  He responded to the lack of faculty of color at Harvard University by giving up his own position.  His TENURED position! At Harvard!  Who responds that way to institutional racism?

Derrick Bell did.  

His response to racism was one of the reasons why I was inspired to delve into my dissertation topic.  I research responses to racism particularly by colleges and universities. I wonder about the ways we choose to respond to racist incidents. How do we confront racism?  How do we teach others to do so?  I wanted to talk with him about this and other things.

Unfortunately, my hero died on October 5, 2011.  Having never had the guts to meet him personally, I thought I could at least attend his memorial in New York City. Image

At his memorial, Professor Derrick Bell was remembered as the “last of the race men”, “climate changer”, “a hero for choosing principle over prestige”, “teacher”, “father”, “confessor”, “mentor”. He was best known as someone who “always brought blankets” for student protesters, someone who believed in “radical inclusivity” and a man who’s alter ego was a woman named Geneva Crenshaw.

His teaching was described as “student centered” – someone who always put every single one of his students at the heart of his classes, someone inspired by Dewey and Freire, who taught classes up until the last week before he passed away. His students denounced anyone who called him a pessimist, explaining that his insistence on the persistence of racism actually provided him with the kind of humanity that allowed him to never run away from a struggle. He was described as a man who deeply loved his students and enjoyed karaoke.

His students one by one began speaking with strength but ended up tearing, some crying, almost as if the realization that he was no longer physically with them really hit home. Many of them said “I do what I do because of Derrick Bell”; “I am a law professor because of Derrick Bell”; “I study and think about race because of Derrick Bell.”

In the end, he taught others how to be Race-Workers, too. The ultimate response to racism.

His courage, along with others, made me seek that ingredient, that antidote to racism and inject that to our colleges and universities. I want to help in the fight against racism by figuring out who is doing this well – and perhaps helping colleges and universities with these lessons.  The stories I heard at Professor Bell’s memorial made me wonder, in the hustle of writing and producing and conferencing and all that other jazz, how are future scholars, future administrators being taught to fight against racism, to develop anti-racist values?

I am still on this train ride – the train ride a Race-Worker jumps on hoping to find ways to confront racism every day. One of those ways is hopefully through this dissertation.  And, while everyone talks about the good dissertation being the “finished” one – which I completely agree with – as a Race-Worker and Race Analyst my values are linked to this dissertation.  I was never told that fighting racism was easy – that it would be one of the most difficult fights that I would take on – but I guess I and Race-Workers before me wouldn’t have it any other way.

I think I remember why I jumped on this train.

Prince Charming or the Racial Justice Warrior: Choosing Race Work as a Core Value

In Uncategorized on December 16, 2011 at 4:39 pm

ImageNo one has made more sacrifices to realize the completion of this work than Leith Mullings. For more than a decade, she has been my constant companion and intellectual compass as I have attempted to reconstruct the past.  This work is hers.  ~ Manning Marable, 2011.

Swoon.  Intending to read another analysis on the life of Malcolm X, a long awaited work by Dr. Manning Marable, I found this.  I really love reading dedications. But this one took me by complete surprise. The ability to support another in their life’s work is a tremendous attribute.  The ability for two souls like that to meet and like each other – seems almost miraculous.Image

The miracle, I think, is in understanding one’s own values ranging from the general to the specific, and sharing that with a life partner.  For people who truly value racial justice – or social justice in general – this can often be a hard find.

For the fourth time this week, I was told by a friend about a new love interest.  And what excited them was the value of social justice my friends saw in their potential new love interests.  Instead of hearing the following:

“He is so smart!”

“He is so kind!”

“He is just wonderful!” 


I was told this:

“He fights for racial justice!”

“He believes diversity is important.” 

“He is involved in issues of social justice!” 

“I don’t have to explain why I hate “The Help” so much”

Tall, dark, and handsome are what we are taught that we should look for.  Prince Charming also had to be rich and willing to help poor girls out of their socio-economic misery.  Novelas (both in the US and Latin America) taught us the same. Not much more was known about Prince Charming, well, he also had to be wanted by many women. And he may have dabbled with those women, too.

“The idea of falling in love with a good man still lingers. But now I look forward to falling in love with a man whose goodness brings out the goodness in me. The rest is insignificant.” ~ Doris Tan

About a year ago, I wrote about racial intimacy.  In this post I revealed the importance of race-work and racial justice as core values for me.  I am very aware that this should not be the only value I seek in future partners.  But, it is just as important as kindness, desire to learn, ambition, and self-love. It is a mutual understanding and knowledge about a particular value that many have or may have the desire to build:

“Some of us seek racial intimacy. We seek that understanding, that racial/cultural specificity, that knowing glance, that sigh on the other end of the phone line when we describe the racist encounters at school, at work, on the train ride home. We seek that strength to be passed on to our children when they come to us and ask “Why did (insert racist encounter here) happen?” We hope that we won’t have to be alone to answer this question. But some of my sisters are.”


How important is racial justice as values we seek in a potential partner? For journalist and activist Almena Lomax (1915-2011),this value was very important. Lomax was founder of the Los Angeles Tribune and reported on the Civil Rights Movement. Lomax is a woman who can be identified as a race-woman, a race-worker. Her husband, Lucius Lomax, disapproved of her trip to cover the Montgomery Bus Boycotts. After realizing over time that her husband was not only un-supportive of her choices but that he also exhibited some qualities of being disinterested in racial justice, she chose to divorce him.  In her words:

“I faced it at that moment: Montgomery meant nothing to my husband. He hadn’t heard the signal to rise. “The brother” meant nothing to him. He didn’t feel the emotion pulsing rhythmically under his skin when the halting, crippled words of a front-line fighter like Moses Wright, the ancient uncle of Emmett Till, were lined out like a hymn at a mass meeting…He could only say pedantically that it was all part of the ‘struggle against man’s inhumanity to a man’. But he could not exult in the struggle.”

 A race-worker — so committed to her values that she divorced her husband who did not share the same passion for the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Probably those of us who value racial justice also have a tough time finding compatible educational institutions and work places.  During a talk I gave on racial incidents, a young Master’s student asked me a question that continues to linger in my consciousness. We were discussing the inappropriate ways students often behave when hearing about race.  When these topics are raised, students roll their eyes, laugh, or exhibit some type of exasperated behavior.  Exasperated about the topic. As if they hear “it” all the time.

 She asked “How do you change people so that they become interested in discussing race in the classroom?” I honestly did not know how to answer.  But I did respond as best as I could at that moment: “You can’t.”

She said “You can’t?  But there has to be a way to stop them from rolling their eyes or laughing or get them more interested in the topic.”

 I said “You can only control your own behavior.  Racial justice is a value of mine. It is part of my everyday life, a value that I uphold in my public and private spheres. Because of this, I will continue to bring it up in discussions even at the risk of being mocked or laughed at.”

 But that evening, I realized that my response was not enough. I realized that our institutions, Imagealthough espousing commitment to “diversity” in their mission statements, do not admit students or hire faculty and staff whose values are aligned with these public declarations. Their programs may or may not have core course requirements ensuring that students engage in classroom discussions about racial justice. So the few that do have a commitment to racial justice – will encounter a hostile racial environment. And we are left to think “We can only control ourselves.” This is how we heal ourselves and each other in the same predicament.

This kind of passivity never sits well with a race-worker. And why I was so bothered that I even said that publicly.

The truth is there are not many institutions with a cultural value of racial justice. They may say it, write it up in their mission statements, but these good intentions do not translate into action, into race-work. 

Similarly, we pick partners who may not have a commitment to racial justice — so, we end up creating and producing more environments, both personal and public, that do not foster or nurture racial justice or race-work as core values.

How many of us can say that our value of racial justice is that strong that we could leave our partners, our jobs, our institutions that do not stand just as strongly for racial justice?

On the other hand, how many of us are all too willing to stay with a partner who’s only compatible value is racial justice while all other values – are not ? 

Slowly raising hand…

ImageI must admit – I do not have much faith that many people include racial justice as a core value in their value systems. Men like this, I think, are very few.  Institutions and programs who strongly espouse racial justice and race-work as values are very few.  In my humble opinion, anyway.

But I have hope. I find it very heartwarming that my friends are finding social justice warriors – or at least – partners with social and racial justice as core values. They don’t just say they have this as a core value, as in the superficial “like” that has been popularized by Facebook.  They actually do work to create environments that are infused with racial justice values. 

So I dedicate this piece to my friends – my friends who are brave enough to choose racial justice as their core values – and are braver to wait for their racial justice warriors – even at the risk of being alone.

This is for those racial justice warriors, those race-workers, who continue to pressure institutions and organizations to include racial justice as a value.

This is for those of us who do not sit well with the notion that you can’t change anyone or anything, but who understand that in order for others to see race-work and racial justice as important values, that we must work at these values in ourselves, too.

And that, my friends, is race-love.


Letter to a Young Latina College Freshwoman Attending a Historically White University

In Uncategorized on August 19, 2011 at 1:21 pm

‎According to an article in the LA Times, close to 60% of Latinos who attend four year institutions, are at least 50 miles away from home (Gordon, 2010). With this in mind, I recall exactly how I felt the week before I went off to college. I write this piece using three questions I was asked by a young Latina, a first year student attending a historically White college.

“A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.” — Maya Angelou

“Why is everyone so excited to go away, except for me?”

I don’t know why some of your friends may be so excited. I didn’t understand either when I was going away to school. But I do understand why you may not feel as thrilled as your friends may seem. We come from a very close-knit family. Many Latinos/as do. We grow up really appreciating bonds of the nuclear family. For immigrant families, sometimes we are even more closely knit often because our extended family members still live in their countries of origin. Thus, we rely on each other greatly for social activity and economic necessity.

So your excitement to go to college may just be crowded out by your love for your family. I can assure you that you are not alone on this… I felt this way too. Leaving my family to go off to college was one of the toughest things I had to do. But, you have the ability to be both excited and sad to miss your family. When those moments of excitement creep up, please share that with your family too. We often think that expressing our happiness to leave for college is wrong. But it is perfectly natural to be excited one minute and be sad the next.

I think I was less excited about going away to college because I genuinely had no idea what college or being away from home was going to be like. I didn’t know many people who attended and the ones I did know, I didn’t really know what kind of questions to ask. Also, because I knew I was going to miss my family, I stayed close to them as much as possible until it was absolutely time to part. Our family members tried to advise me. That last week before I went off to college was full of family visits and questions I could not answer. Since I was the first to go to college in our family, we were all new to this experience. I heard many warnings of “Be careful” and “Don’t worry — God will protect you”.

As loving as that was, I felt like I needed more. It’s evident to me that you need more too, more answers and more of an idea of what you are about to face. I don’t know what your experience will be like. That is for you to shape. But, I can tell you that we share an identity in common that could influence your experience: we are first generation Latina college students. Before going away, I had no knoweldge of those terms or what they meant together — “Latina” “first generation college” “freshman/freshwoman”. These terms mean that we share a common experience, not exactly the same, but certain things like not being excited about going away is one of them. I know this now. Back then, I started off being me, identified with “those terms” and then I settled into that identity. I write to you from this perspective. I probably will always write from this perspective.

“Did you find your passion in college?”
I think college both helped reveal what I was always passionate about and help nurture new ones. For example, I have always had an interest in race and continue this passion in my doctoral work today. Another passion that I was surprised to discover was my love for Latino culture. Choosing courses that shed light on Latino culture encouraged me to continue to fight for other Latino students to be exposed to similar work. This helped bring my grades up, boosted my confidence, and helped me begin a vocabulary that identified the issues Latino college students faced. I also always had an interest in dance. The opportunity to learn came randomly. My friend, a Black woman, became captain of the cheerleading team. When that happened, the white women all resigned and she was left without a team. She needed her friends then and without hesitation, we joined. This experience has influenced me in many ways – both politically and personally. I’ve been dancing and talking more about race and racism ever since.

“Everyone already seems like they are ahead, like they already know what they want – they worked in their families’ businesses, companies, restaurants over the summer. I feel left behind”

I went to school with people whose grandparents’ names were on buildings. The dorms I slept in, the hallways I walked through, the bench outside my professors’ offices, books that we read — at some point I met people who were closely affiliated to those names I’ve crossed mulitple times to get to class or to go to sleep. In many ways, I felt left behind too. They all seemed to know the popular music, faculty on campus, have worked in internships already and know what they wanted to do. They even knew how to discuss how ironic the word ironic is (true story). I was too focused on what I thought they had and not enough on what contributions I can make. I felt behind because I didn’t reinforce and expand what I already knew. Here are some examples:

1. Family Cultural Wealth – I learned this phrase as a graduate student when I read the book “Over the Ivy Walls: The Educational Mobility of Low-Income Chicanos” by Patricia Gandara. In it she describes the role that recounting family history played in the lives of Mexican-Americans who achieved doctorates. Your grandmother, my Tia Mercedes valued education so much, she was willing to send her children (your mother) away to school so that they received a better education. She used to get criticized for this. But Tia Mercedes was adamant that her daughters receive a formal education. Like my dad, your grandmother only attended up to the second grade. See your grandmother could have easily asked your mom and her sisters to help with the farm. She didn’t. She wanted a different life for her daughters and eventually her grandchildren (you). Family cultural wealth. We value education in our family. Don’t let anyone ever tell you that Latinos don’t value education.

2. “Don’t forget to speak Spanish”. — Indeed, this was one of the most valuable lessons my mother, gave me before she and my dad left me on campus. My mother’s initial fear for me going away was that I wouldn’t have anyone taking care of me. What will she eat, she thought? Where will she wash her clothes? When she came to campus on that first day I could tell she was terrified. My father verbalized some of what she was thinking “Who can I talk to in Spanish when my daughter is in trouble?” It was heartbreaking. I didn’t have any answers for them. So before she left, my mother said, “Don’t forget to speak Spanish.” I had no idea the significance then. But I understand now the importance of her statement. It is our link to our family. Our connection to our past. Historically, in the US, Latinos were banned from speaking Spanish in schools. Speaking Spanish, reinforcing it, getting better at it, was therefore a revolutionary act, cloaked in love. I will always thank my mother for that reminder.

3. Read about our history — I fell in love with the Young Lords, the Brown Berets, and the Black Panthers. I fell in love with Junot Diaz, Sandra Cisneros, Edwidge Danticat, Pedro Pietri, Toni Morrison, Gloria Anzaldua, and Sor Juana Ines De La Cruz. I fell in love with Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Guayasmin, and Eduardo Kingman. They increased my Latino cultural wealth. They restored my Latina soul. They gave me an Ecuadorian direction. And I’ve been inspired ever since.

In other words, forget who is behind and who is ahead. Take note of where you are. Step by step. Moment by moment. What can you learn in that moment? Who can you talk to if you need that internship? Where can you go if you are looking for guidance? Get answers to those questions and start working on you.

Finally, I have some last words of advice:

Take pictures of your surroundings. The good, the bad, and the ugly. Pictures and literature are your best defense.

Sit at the front of the classroom. I would sit in the back and become distracted by what I saw. A sea of white kids. One Black student. One Latina student (me). Observations like these are good if you’re a researcher. But since you are there to study, and if you don’t want to be distracted by what you will inevitably witness outside of the classroom, sit in the front. On the occasion that you do want to observe what is happening in a classroom and all its race and class dynamics, go to a class on your free time and sit in the back.

When you hear a comment that you are not sure is racist or not, and you have the urge to say something, try putting it back on them by asking them questions. Things like “How so?” And “What evidence do you have for your statement?” are ways to make those people have to explain their negative comment. And you don’t have to sit there and try to figure out what they *actually* meant.

Be respectful to administrative personnel, maintenance staff, and cafeteria employees. Always say good morning, good afternoon, or evening. When you ask them how are you doing, wait for a response. I always think that they could have been my dad and hoped that someone would be kind to him. Secretaries know when professors will be in and out. Maintenance staff can help you locate items that you may need. And cafeteria employees may help you with getting good food! Above all, they may share with you their own stories, and add to your family cultural wealth. I say this because many of them became my family at Brandeis University. They inspired me with their stories. They were happier to see me than most faculty I knew. They would encourage me to keep going like they would their own children. And – some knew how to pronounce my name and help me never forget to speak Spanish.

I don’t know what your future holds, but if my story, and the countless other stories of Latinas/os in higher education are any indication, you my dear, shall be no different.

It is now your turn to create more family cultural wealth!

Pa’lante Latina College Freshwoman!

Introduction to Race-work, Race-love

In Uncategorized on October 12, 2010 at 4:03 pm

I heard the term “race work” for the first time in a book called Race Work: The Rise of Civil Rights in the Urban West by Matthew C. Whitaker. In it, Whitaker describes the lives of Dr. Lincoln Johnson Ragsdale, Sr. and Eleanor Dickey Ragsdale, Black professionals who lived in segregated Arizona. Their work in Phoenix, their commitment to racial justice for descendants of Africans and African Americans between 1945 and 1995, and their love for each other inspired the author to explore the racial subordination and subjugation that existed (and continues to) in Arizona. In this book, Dr. and Mrs. Ragsdale were each identified as a “race man” and “race woman”, respectively, committed to race work. Additionally, Mrs. Eleanor Dickey Ragsdale was known to intersect her race-work with gender. As a Black woman in the 1940’s she understood that being a woman, in addition to being a woman of color, contributed (perhaps complicated, perhaps enhanced) to her race-work.

This race-work, one that has been passed on to me and many of my friends, colleagues, and even agitators, can only come out of what I call “race-love”. Thus, this blog is dedicated to that race-work and race-love that continue to inspire us to perform such work despite indications that we are crazy, threats via email or letters telling us to stop, and even our own racial battle fatigue. Specifically, I am interested in exploring what race-work and race-love means to Brown people, Latino/a individuals from the African and Native diaspora. As a Latina and self-identified race woman, I believe it is important to start documenting this tension between race-work and race-love particularly as it relates to Latinas/os people, but broadly to my Asian and Black and Native and White allies, brothers and sisters in the struggle for racial justice.

Aside from work on racial justice, I wonder about our work on love. For this blog, I explore how is our love affected by our race? And how has our race been affected by love? Inundated with messages about White-love – through movies, books, history – our particular knowledge of race-love is still largely unexplored. Why is this important? Well, to begin, I can think of few movies or books that focus on race and love and its impact on the community of people of color. Many of this work is focused on African-American heterosexual relationships and recently homosexual relationships as well. The Latin@ community has brought forth a largely Chicana lesbian perspective on race and love, but more work still needs to be done! Finally we know virtually nothing about the Asian-American and Native peoples’ experiences with race and love.

While movies like “500 Days of Summer” and series like “Sex and the City” have been executed well and help us begin a conversation on love and sex, many of us racially conscious folks begin to wonder “How is it different for us?” “Why aren’t we represented?” These are valid questions. Now is the time for some answers.

My hope is that you will explore race and love with me.

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