Solange Knowles has never been shy about standing up for what she believes in and her latest interview is no exception. As the cover star of BUST‘s latest issue, the A Seat at the Table singer opened up in her interview about what feminism means to her in this day and age. “I am a…
By Jennifer Harvey
DES MOINES — Last year at this time, my 7-year-old was running around singing the praises of George Washington. I was happy to see her so engaged with what she’d learned at school. But I was dismayed that the peace- and diversity-centered curriculum she gets at her public school had left her with such a one-dimensional view of history.
I struggled with how best to respond. Then one morning, she overheard the news on our kitchen radio about a politician charged with ethics violations. “What’s that about?” she asked. I told her someone in the government had done something wrong, and she asked how an adult who was a leader could possibly do something bad.
“Unfortunately,” I responded, “a lot of our country’s leaders have done bad things.” When her eyes grew big and she said, “Like who and what did they do?” I knew I had my opportunity.
“Well,” I said, “you know how you’ve been running around here celebrating George Washington? We always talk about George Washington fighting for freedom. But George Washington also owned black people as slaves.” Her intrigue turned to horror.
Fast forward, one year. For those of us raising children, the future couldn’t be more on our minds. With the news full of reports about vandalized Jewish cemeteries and mosques on fire, police officers who terrorize and endanger black and Latino children, and engineers from India being shot while enjoying a meal after work, it’s tempting to shut off the radio, turn off the TV and cancel those news alerts on our cellphones. But it’s more critical than ever that we talk about difficult and morally complex issues with our children.
Of the many dangers this presidency poses, one of the greatest is deep damage to our children’s perceptions of race, gender and other kinds of difference. We know the youngest children internalize racist perceptions of themselves and others. As early as age 5, children recognize differential treatment and understand something about the social status of different racial groups, their own group and others. These effects are powerful in normal times. In this political climate, they’re on steroids.
Meanwhile, studies have long shown that generic messages about equality aren’t effective in countering such racial socialization. Right now, then, it’s even more urgent that parents who rely on messages like “we’re all equal” or “we’re all the same underneath our skin” in the hope of teaching our children the values of inclusion, equality and difference significantly up our game. And let’s be frank, it’s parents of white children, like myself, who tend to rely on these sincere, but ineffective, strategies.
The consequences are serious. When we don’t talk honestly with white children about racism, they become more likely to disbelieve or discount their peers when they report experiencing racism. “But we’re all equal” becomes a rote response that actually blocks white children from recognizing or taking seriously racism when they see it or hear about it. This is at best.
At worst, the consequences are akin to what happens when you breathe in polluted air. Not realizing the pollution is there doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect you. White children are exposed to racism daily. If we parents don’t point it out, show how it works and teach why it is false, over time our children are more likely to accept racist messages at face value. When they see racial inequality — when the only doctors or teachers they see are white, or fewer kids in accelerated classes are black, for example — they won’t blame racism. Instead, they’ll blame people of color for somehow falling short.
We have better models. Parents of black and Latino children have long made thoughtful choices about when and how to engage in difficult and nuanced discussions about difference. Studies show that such parents are two to five times more likely than whites to teach their children explicitly about race from very young ages to counter negative social messages and build a strong sense of identity.
These parents have responded to the racial epithet overheard at recess in age-appropriate ways. They’ve figured out when to have “the talk,” explaining how their children must conduct themselves around police officers. They’ve had complex discussions about equality: “We should all be equal, we all have equal worth, but we don’t all experience equality yet.” Parents of children who are not white have long contemplated how to make their kids aware of painful racial realities in the United States, while simultaneously nurturing resilience and a healthy sense of self.
Those of us who are not immigrants or Muslim and who are raising white children stand to learn much from parents like these, even as we apply the teachings differently for our particular families.
For example, I’ve tried to go beyond the abstract “be kind to everyone” to encourage my children to recognize racial meanness and understand that white kids have a particular responsibility to challenge racism. These are necessary skills when the racism emboldened by this administration shows up in the world.
One-dimensional, generic teachings are tempting. They feel easier and safer. That’s the only reason my daughter’s school would settle for partial truths about George Washington. But raising children who are resilient for justice and able to do their part to create an inclusive society takes more, especially now. And it’s not as hard as it might seem.
After I told my daughter the whole story, she asked, “If Washington held slaves, why do we celebrate him as if he was such a great man?”
What a good question — one that allowed us to engage in moral reasoning together. I asked her what she thought the reason was. In turn, I speculated that sometimes it’s hard to admit our white predecessors did bad things because it makes us feel bad. Then we talked about how we don’t have to just feel bad about the past, but instead should find ways to challenge injustice today. We talked about the importance of telling the whole truth, even when it’s hard.
It’s always risky to tell other people how to raise their children, and I don’t want to imply that I’m some kind of perfect parent. On top of that, our children and families are all different and there are many distinct ways to have conversations about race with our children. But however we talk about it, we need to talk about racism now more than ever.
Nobel Laureate Poet Derek Walcott has died this Friday at 87 years old. Walcott’s poetry centered around his life in St. Lucia in the Caribbean, and with the complex colonialist legacy that created his world — but it contains multitudes, and it travels around the world as much as its voraciously erudite author did. By turns epic and compact, Walcott’s poetry has a dazzling musicality and lyricism. It begs to be read aloud; you can almost taste the words as you read them.
To celebrate his legacy, here is a stanza from In the Village, a poem about Walcott’s time in New York’s Greenwich Village:
Who has removed the typewriter from my desk,
so that I am a musician without his piano
with emptiness ahead as clear and grotesque
as another spring? My veins bud, and I am so
full of poems, a wastebasket of black wire.
The notes outside are visible; sparrows will
line antennae like staves, the way springs were,
but the roofs are cold and the great grey river
where a liner glides, huge as a winter hill,
moves imperceptibly like the accumulating
years. I have no reason to forgive her
for what I brought on myself. I am past hating,
past the longing for Italy where blowing snow
absolves and whitens a kneeling mountain range
outside Milan. Through glass, I am waiting
for the sound of a bird to unhinge the beginning
of spring, but my hands, my work, feel strange
without the rusty music of my machine. No words
for the Arctic liner moving down the Hudson, for the mange
of old snow moulting from the roofs. No poems. No birds.
Related Story: Derek Walcott In The New Yorker
The Pulitzer Prize-winning Viet Thanh Nguyen tells stories about people poised between their devastated homeland and their affluent adopted country
Consider the distinctions between the words “expat,” “immigrant,” “refugee.” “Expat” suggests a cosmopolitan spirit and resources that allow mobility; to be an “immigrant” suggests some measure of need. A “refugee” is, by definition, desperate: he has been displaced from his home, has been rendered stateless, has few or no resources. The expat retains an identity as he retains his citizenship, his privileges; the refugee loses his identity amid the anonymity of many others like him. In the way that enslaved persons are truncated by the term “slaves,” defined by their condition, there’s a loss of identity in the category term “refugees.” It might seem to be more humane, and accurate, to give someone who is forced to seek refuge a more expansive designation: “displaced person.”
Viet Thanh Nguyen, one of our great chroniclers of displacement, appears to value the term “refugee” precisely for the punitive violence it betrays. Born in 1971, he is, by self-description, the son of Vietnamese refugees, and he has been a refugee himself; he has married a refugee, a fellow-writer named Lan Duong. In the acknowledgments of The Refugees (Grove), his beautiful and heartrending new story collection, he speaks of his son, Ellison: “By the time this book is published, he will be nearly the age I was when I became a refugee.”
It is hardly surprising that the refugee is obsessed with identity, both personal and ethnic. He is likely to be highly sensitive to others’ interpretations of him and of his “minority” culture. And so his peripheral status confers certain advantages, for he is in a position to see what others do not. As Nguyen has recounted, in an afterword to his début novel, The Sympathizer (2015), “I watched ‘Apocalypse Now’ and saw American sailors massacre a sampan full of civilians and Martin Sheen shoot a wounded woman in cold blood. I watched ‘Platoon’ and heard the audience cheering and clapping when the Americans killed Vietnamese soldiers. These scenes . . . left me shaking with rage.”
Thrilling in its virtuosity, as in its masterly exploitation of the espionage-thriller genre, The Sympathizer was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, and has come to be considered one of the greatest of Vietnam War novels. The book’s (unnamed) narrator speaks in an audaciously postmodernist voice, echoing not only Vladimir Nabokov and Ralph Ellison but the Dostoyevsky of Notes from the Underground:
I am a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces. Perhaps not surprisingly, I am also a man of two minds. I am not some misunderstood mutant from a comic book or a horror movie, although some have treated me as such. I am simply able to see any issue from both sides. Sometimes I flatter myself that this is a talent, and although it is admittedly one of the minor talents, it is perhaps also the sole talent I possess.
The speaker is indeed a spy: he was, in the Republic of Vietnam, a Communist mole on the staff of a South Vietnamese general, before being evacuated from Saigon and taking refuge in America after the Vietnam War.
His confession is fraught with irony and his history is tragicomic; unlike the refugees of The Refugees, he regards himself with the distance of self-loathing, for he has participated in assassinations while following orders. Obsessed with “universal and timeless” questions, he is the epitome of twentieth-century man: “What does the revolutionary do when the revolution triumphs? Why do those who call for independence and freedom take away the independence and freedom of others? And is it sane or insane to believe, as so many around us apparently do, in nothing?”
The stories in The Refugees, too, feature protagonists who are poised between the past of a devastated homeland, Vietnam, and an affluent, adopted country, the United States. The book takes one of its epigraphs from James Fenton’s A German Requiem:
It is not your memories which haunt you. It is not what you have written down. It is what you have forgotten, what you must forget. What you must go on forgetting all your life.
To survive, for the refugee, is to be buffeted between the grief-suffused admonition to remember the losses of the homeland and the self-protective counter-admonition to “forget,” the effort of which will be enormous and lifelong.
Ordinary existence, to the death-haunted, is populated by ghosts. These are not ideas of ghosts, or poetic metaphors. These are ghosts who leave behind damp carpets and the brine-soaked clothing in which, twenty-five years before, they drowned while escaping a war-torn homeland. They are family ghosts: a fifteen-year-old boy, for instance, who had traded his life to save a sister threatened with kidnapping and rape by pirates. “These fishermen resembled our fathers and brothers, sinewy and brown, except that they wielded machetes and machine guns,” we read in the almost unbearably moving opening story, “Black-Eyed Women.”
Compulsive and unflinching introspection—another symptom of “refugee” consciousness—may lead survivors to realize harsh truths about themselves, as with an eighteen-year-old refugee who, in “The Other Man,” has been taken into an affluent San Francisco household:
He tried to forget the people who had clutched at the air as they fell into the river, some knocked down in the scramble, others shot in the back by desperate soldiers clearing a way for their own escape. He tried to forget what he’d discovered, how little other lives mattered to him when his own was at stake.
Truths about others are no more comforting. At any time, the refugee is likely to be confronted—confounded—by the myopia of non-Vietnamese. In “The Transplant,” Arthur, the beneficiary of a liver from a Vietnamese donor, has “trouble distinguishing one nationality of Asian names from another,” and is “also afflicted with a related, and very common, astigmatism wherein all Asians appeared the same.” In “Fatherland,” a Vietnamese girl working in an upscale Saigon restaurant overhears tourists speaking of “delicate and tiny” Vietnamese women, whose “dresses look stitched onto them.” A Vietnamese tourist guide entertains his credulous American customers for whom “act was fact”—“we’re all the same to them . . . small, charming, and forgettable.” As the sharp-eyed narrator of The Sympathizer tells us, the “all-American characteristic” is not sympathy or generosity but racial paranoia: “In America, it was all or nothing when it came to race. You were either white or you weren’t.”
Which you were, of course, could be a matter of context. In “Fatherland,” a young Vietnamese-American woman, Vivien, goes to Saigon to visit the children of her father and his second wife, her half siblings. (Vivien’s mother had fled to America with her kids after the war.) Her visit is a grand occasion for the family. She gives them expensive gifts and treats them generously, taking them to the sort of restaurants that native residents can’t afford. In particular, Vivien’s half sister, seven years younger than she, is in awe of Vivien’s glamour, and has fantasized about coming to the United States to live with her, and to emulate what she believes to be Vivien’s success as a doctor in Chicago. Disillusion comes when she discovers that Vivien isn’t a doctor but, rather, an unemployed receptionist with prospects as limited as her own. After the American half sister leaves, the Vietnamese half sister burns photographs of the two together: “Vivien’s features melting before her own, their faces vanishing in flame.” It is the final image in The Refugees, ashes blown into the sky above Saigon.
Although only now published together in book form, the earnest, straightforward, relatively conventional stories of The Refugees would appear to have been written before the more stylized and experimental The Sympathizer. But all Nguyen’s fiction is pervaded by a shared intensity of vision, by stinging perceptions that drift like windblown ashes. By the end of The Sympathizer, we have doubled back to its thematic beginning, as the narrator, now a survivor of torture in a Communist reëducation camp, becomes a refugee again amid anonymous “boat people”—a name, the narrator notes, that “smacks of anthropological condescension, evoking some forgotten branch of the human family.” Nguyen leaves us with a harrowing vision of the sprawling tragedies of wartime, and of the moral duplicities of which we are capable. And yet, The Sympathizer ends with a proclamation that would work as well for the displaced Vietnamese of The Refugees: “We will live! ” ♦
Joyce Carol Oates, a visiting professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley, is the author of, most recently, “A Book of American Martyrs.” More
This article appears in other versions of the February 13 & 20, 2017, issue, with the headline “Not All There.
A Refugee Crisis in a World of Open Doors – NYTimes.com
By Mohsin Hamid
231 pp. Riverhead Books. $26.
You own a house or rent an apartment. You live with your family or by yourself. You wake in the morning and drink your coffee or tea. You drive a car or a motorbike, or perhaps you take the bus. You go to work and turn on your computer. You go out at night and flirt and date. You live in a small town or big city, although maybe you are in the countryside. You have hopes, dreams and expectations. You take your humanity for granted. You keep believing you are human even when the catastrophe arrives and renders you homeless. Your town or city or countryside is in ruins. You try to make it to the border. Only then, hoping to leave, or making it across the border, do you understand that those who live on the other side do not see you as human at all.
This is the dread experience of becoming a refugee, of joining the 65 million unwanted and stateless people in the world today. It is also the experience that Mohsin Hamid elicits quietly and affectingly in his new novel, “Exit West,” which begins “in a city swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace, or at least not yet openly at war.” The city and the country are unnamed, unlike the two characters at the story’s center: Saeed and Nadia, a young man and woman whose courtship begins in this moment of impending crisis. They are cosmopolitan city dwellers who meet in “an evening class on corporate identity and product branding,” and whose first date is at a Chinese restaurant.
Hamid’s enticing strategy is to foreground the humanity of these young people, whose urbanity, romantic inclinations, upwardly mobile aspirations and connectedness through social media and smartphones mark them as “normal” relative to the novel’s likely readers. At the same time, he insists on their “difference” from readers who may be Western. Their city is besieged by militants who commit terrible atrocities, evoking scenes from Mosul or Aleppo. As for Nadia, she was “always clad from the tips of her toes to the bottom of her jugular notch in a flowing black robe.” But while this robe seems to be a form of conservative Islamic dress, one of the starkest signs of difference between Nadia and non-Islamic readers, she is more daring than Saeed. She is the one who offers him marijuana and psychedelic mushrooms, and she is the one who initiates sex. The robe, it turns out, is camouflage to allow Nadia to be an independent woman.
The backdrop for “Exit West” is both the plight of refugees from places like Syria and the specter of Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism. Hamid takes full advantage of our familiarity with these scenes to turn “Exit West” into an urgent account of war, love and refugees. Politics also matters as it does in his other novels, which likewise dealt with pressing issues: the troubles of contemporary Pakistan (“Moth Smoke”); 9/11 and the tensions between being Pakistani and American (“The Reluctant Fundamentalist”); and naked capitalism and ambition in an unnamed country (“How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia”). Throughout his oeuvre, Hamid envisions an interconnected world in which East and West inevitably meet as a consequence of complicated histories of colonization and globalization. The dramas and love stories of individuals like Saeed and Nadia cannot be separated from these histories, even if, in their own lives, those histories are not necessarily preoccupations. Until, that is, those histories erupt.
When they do, people die. They do so often, unexpectedly and in violent circumstances. Hamid offers a few incidents like this, and in their spare detail they are enough, as when Nadia’s cousin is “blown by a truck bomb to bits, literally to bits, the largest of which, in Nadia’s cousin’s case, were a head and two-thirds of an arm.” Refusing to dwell on the morbidity of such a scene, Hamid declines to turn the destruction of the city and its people into a spectacle, the way they would normally be visible to those outside the country, watching its doom from a digital distance. Examining the destruction at a slight remove, Hamid discourages readers from pitying the city’s residents. Instead, focusing on Saeed and Nadia, and removing the particularities of the city, the country and its customs, Hamid aims to increase the depth of a reader’s empathy for characters who can be, or should be, just like the reader. The reader, of course, must think about what would happen if her own normal life was suddenly, unexpectedly upended by war.
Most likely, the reader, like Saeed and Nadia, would flee. They do so through the sudden, unexplained doors that appear throughout the city and that are portals to other places. While the city is unnamed, these sites of refuge are named — Greece, London, the United States. In their concreteness, versus the deliberate vagueness of Saeed and Nadia’s city, they call for identification from readers of the novel who live in these kinds of desirable places that the refugees want to go. The novel implicitly asks these readers why doors should be closed to refugees, when those readers might become refugees one day? How these doors work is not Hamid’s concern. The doors can be manifestations of magic realism, fantasy or science fiction, or all three, but they simply stand in for the reality that refugees will try every door they can to get out.
What happens once Saeed and Nadia arrive at these promised lands makes up the second half of the novel, in which it seems that “the whole planet was on the move, much of the global South headed to the global North, but also Southerners moving to other Southern places and Northerners moving to other Northern places.” Here Hamid’s novel reveals itself to be a story not only of the present but of the future, where migration will be the norm. Depending on one’s point of view, this is either terrifying or hopeful. When everyone is moving, then mobility becomes normal rather than disturbing. While these movements cause unrest on the part of the “natives” — what Hamid, in a postcolonial reverse, calls the inhabitants of the host countries — the vision that he ultimately offers is peaceful. After the natives get over their initial fear of strangers, both the natives and the strangers discover they are just as likely to get along as not. From this measured, cautious recognition of a mutual humanity, the natives and strangers attempt to forge a new society.
This gentle optimism, this refusal to descend into dystopia, is what is most surprising about Hamid’s imaginative, inventive novel. A graceful writer who does not shy away from contentious politics and urgent, worldly matters — and we need so many more of these writers — Hamid exploits fiction’s capacity to elicit empathy and identification to imagine a better world. It is also a possible world. “Exit West” does not lead to utopia, but to a near future and the dim shapes of strangers that we can see through a distant doorway. All we have to do is step through it and meet them.
Viet Thanh Nguyen’s debut novel, “The Sympathizer,” won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. He is also the author of “Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War” and, most recently, the story collection “The Refugees.”
Nike is the latest big brand to embrace a more inclusive tone in a company advertisement. Over the weekend, the world’s largest athletic-gear maker debuted a new film/advertisement called “Equality,” which features several Nike-endorsed athletes including NBA star LeBron James and tennis champion Serena Williams. The film aired during the Grammys and will also air…
“I feel you whisper make the world a better place as you drift to sleep, so obsessed with changing it that you forget that the world is made up of little people like me.” CodeNewbie founder Saron Yitbarek writes about her relationship with the tech industry.
Never in a generation have women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community more dearly needed active allies to counter inequality. Unfortunately, the contours of active allyship are elusive to most Americans — even progressive ones. It’s not simply that it is easier to disapprove of bigotry passively than it is to actually do something about it. (Though it is.) It’s also that many people lack experience resisting the prejudice baked into American society.
But there are plenty of men and women who have long been committed to living the values of anti-racism, -sexism, and -homophobia who can teach us how to do better. In the weeks leading up to Donald J. Trump’s inauguration, I spoke to everyday activists — writers, lecturers, Sunday School teachers, and mothers — about how to support marginalized people and fight discrimination. Conspiring with marginalized people to beat back bigotry requires five things of would-be allies, they told me: learning, listening, speaking up, taking action, and being brave.
Ashley Ray was motivated by her family to learn more about race: She is white, her husband of 17 years is black, and her children are biracial. She began teaching herself about racism and white supremacy as a way to be a better wife and mother. She started online, where several organizations devoted to social justice and equality have robust resource pages, including the Human Rights Campaign, Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC),Conspire for Change, and Showing Up for Racial Justice.
She also sought out the actual voices of people of color. This is crucial, because most Americans live in a bubble: Seventy-five percent of white people, for instance, do not have non-white friends. This is why, Ray says, it is so important to listen to firsthand accounts of what it is like to be Latinx or Native or African-American or Asian in America. Allies should expand their media consumption to include outlets — like Colorlines, Ms., Bitch, The Advocate, and Black Girl Dangerous — that feature voices and reporting often ignored by mainstream media.
And, Ray stresses, allies must “learn to believe these voices and understand that you’ve been conditioned not to. You have to make the choice to believe them.” It is a sad fact that women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ community are often suspected of bias when speaking about their lived experiences and the real impact of inequity. Advocates have to challenge themselves to listen to marginalized people and to trust them, even when that means confronting their own prejudices and inaction.
Deanna Zandt, author and founder of Lux Digital, currently runs a blog called Ask Deanna About Racism But Only If You’re White. Deanna has always been a progressive and an ardent feminist, but finding her race politics took some soul-searching — prompted when she was chastised for talking the talk without walking the walk.
“I am part of the Women, Action, and the Media (WAM!) community. We had a conference where during and afterward a bunch of women of color, and then queer women of color specifically, spoke up publicly about not feeling included or welcome,” she explains. Feelings hurt, she responded to the complaints with defensiveness.
“One of the things that happened during that process is I realized that everything that had ever been said to me by [men] about gender, I was in my head saying to these women of color about race,” she remembers.
That experience led Zandt to reflect on the ways she’d failed to intervene in black women’s erasure from feminist spaces, and how she had been denying her own race-related blind spots.
Ray also acknowledges that being called out for race bias still sometimes prompts feelings of defensiveness — a very human reaction. But, like Zandt, over time, she has learned the most helpful response as an ally is to be quiet, listen, and examine the charge. Ray says, “Most of the time if something is getting called out, it needs to be called out.”
An ally’s ability to speak up for marginalized people to other privileged people is perhaps the most valuable thing they have to offer.
“It’s very effective for boys and men to hear other boys and men speak out against violence against women,” says Byron Hurt, an activist and filmmaker whose documentary Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes examines toxic masculinity. Hurt says that men who support women give other men permission to think about themselves and women in a different way. This proactive advocacy by men is imperative, because sexism is men’s problem to solve, he says: “[Men] can’t expect women to fight all of the battles around sexism.”
Likewise, says Terri Kempton, “racism is a white problem created by white people to benefit white people and it needs white people to change it,” she says. White Nonsense Roundup, the group she co-founded four months ago, is a collection of mostly white people trying to educate other white people about issues of race and privilege. The group serves as an “on-call service” for people of color who are experiencing harassment or are embroiled in tough racial discussions with white people online. “They can tag us or they can use our handle on Twitter and call us into a conversation and we will take over some of the education piece so the burden doesn’t perpetually fall on people of color.”
The other part of the group’s work is coaching white people in having conversations about race with friends and family — for instance, teaching them how to push back on offensive jokes. (Kempton says not to laugh, but to put the burden of proof on the joke teller to explain why they believe their comment is funny. She also suggests leveraging common ground and shared culture. For example, reminding a dedicated mom of her love for her kids may help her understand why immigrant parents also want the best for their children. And, she says, it’s okay to prepare snappy comebacks in advance or to circle back if you get tongue-tied when incidents occur.)
Most Americans are not activists. And not all people can take the same risks. But everyone can work within their sphere of influence to make change.
“There is a part of me that wanted to leave my job and go to Standing Rock,” says Dr. Liza Talusan, an educator, facilitator, activist and writer. “[I] wanted to block the highway or do a ‘die-in,’ at City Hall. [But] I totally admit that’s not me. My capacity is doing it through the systems of education.”
Talusan said that for her — a straight woman who’s motivated to support gay and trans equality because of her Catholic faith — that means, in part, being a resource for “religious institutions looking to be more inclusive of LGBT communities” and visiting Catholic schools to talk about gay and trans inclusion. While these actions align with her profession in diversity education, Talusan also acts on her values in everyday life: for instance, by “disrupting norms” when she teaches Sunday school, using inclusive language that acknowledges different family structures.
These things are not always comfortable. But Ray says that allyship means “committing to pushing past the point of comfort to take effective and impactful action to change things” — even if that action is messy or dangerous. A willingness to take risks is non-negotiable. Kempton says that to be an ally requires “bravery.”
Whatever their discomfort, good people must intercede, for instance, when they see a Muslim woman being harassed for wearing a hijab. Maeril, a French art director and filmmaker, created an illustrated guide to standing up to public Islamophobia and other harassment: Sit beside the person being harassed and engage them in conversation, ignoring the attacker. Maintain eye contact with the victim and continue the conversation until the attacker is starved of attention and leaves. Escort the victim to a neutral area where they can collect themselves. Respect their wishes if they say they are okay and just wish to leave.
Speaking out against bigotry and inequality can come with a personal sacrifice. Jackson Katz, an educator, filmmaker, author, and creator of Mentors in Violence Prevention (which works on gender violence prevention), says that people working in solidarity with marginalized groups “give up the ease of interaction with people in [their] own group.” Dr. Damon Berry, a professor of religious studies, says that in some cases he’s lost relationships with friends and family, “because there was just no space for us to develop any understanding of each other.” At the same time, he’s gained “deep friendships and real, profound connections” with people different from himself. “You learn things about them, they teach you things about yourself, and you support one another and you care for one another,” he said. “To me, that’s what a society should be.”
Looking ahead to a Trump presidency, the moral imperative to do what’s right has to override the costs. “People who want to perform allyship are really going to have to consider what they would risk,” Berry says. “There may come a time where one is called upon to sacrifice economic comforts, to sacrifice even physical safety. And if you are not willing to sacrifice those things, and more, perhaps — to stand for what you believe in and the commitment you made — then you don’t have the courage of your convictions. Perhaps you never believed it at all.”
Of the many compelling keynote speakers at the Women’s March on Washington on Saturday, transgender activist and author Janet Mock delivered a striking tribute to transgender women of color and sex workers. Her words on sex workers in particular echoed similar points she made in a Tumblr post published earlier this week, which explained why it was so important to include sex workers’ rights in the official Women’s March policy platform.
At the march, she focused on intersectionality. “I stand here today most of all because I am my sister’s keeper,” she said. Read on for her full speech below.
So we are here. We are here not merely to gather but to move, right? And our movements, our movements require us to do more than just show up and say the right words. It requires us to break out of our comfort zones and be confrontational. It requires us to defend one another when it is difficult and dangerous. It requires us to truly see ourselves and one another
I stand here today as the daughter of a native Hawaiian woman and a black veteran from Texas. I stand here as the first person in my family to go to college. I stand here as someone who has written herself onto this stage to unapologetically proclaim that I am a trans woman-writer-activist-revolutionary of color. And I stand here today because of the work of my forebears, from Sojourner to Sylvia, from Ella to Audre, from Harriet to Marsha.
I stand here today most of all because I am my sister’s keeper. My sisters and siblings are being beaten and brutalized, neglected and invisibilizied, extinguished and exiled. My sisters and siblings have been pushed out of hostel homes and intolerant schools. My sisters and siblings have been forced into detention facilities and prisons and deeper into poverty. And I hold these harsh truths close. They enrage me and fuel me. But I cannot survive on righteous anger alone. Today, by being here, it is my commitment to getting us free that keeps me marching.
Our approach to freedom need not be identical but it must be intersectional and inclusive. It must extend beyond ourselves. I know with surpassing certainty that my liberation is directly linked to the liberation of the undocumented trans Latina yearning for refuge. The disabled student seeking unequivocal access. The sex worker fighting to make her living safely.
Collective liberation and solidarity is difficult work, it is work that will find us struggling together and struggling with one another. Just because we are oppressed does not mean that we do not ourselves fall victim to enacting the same unconscious policing, shaming, and erasing. We must return to one another with greater accountability and commitment to the work today.
By being here you are making a commitment to this work. Together we are creating a resounding statement, a statement that stakes a claim on our lives and our loves, our bodies and our babies, our identities and our ideals. But a movement – a movement is so much more than a march. A movement is that difficult space between our reality and our vision. Our liberation depends on all of us, all of us returning to our homes and using this experience and all the experiences that have shaped us to act, to organize, to resist. Thank you.
On Holocaust Remembrance Day—a somber day some used to remember those killed in Nazi concentration camps after being turned away from entering the U.S.—President Donald Trump signed executive orders implementing “extreme vetting” of refugees in an effort to keep “radical Islamic terrorists” out. “We don’t want ’em here.