Sunday, April 26, 2015

Brown Bag: S. Bear Bergman

A business card-like post on S. Bear Bergman’s creatively designed website describes him as “author. storyteller, instigator.” During Bear’s visit to Colgate on March 20, he proved that all these labels we true. During his presentation, Bear chronicled the experiences that led him to develop his own publishing company, Flamingo Rampant, which is built on the platform of “feminist, racially diverse, LGBTQ positive books for all children and families.”

Bergman’s power as a storyteller is apparent as he weaves the narrative of his activist life into a story that intrigues his audience, balanced in wit and stark reality. Bergman’s journey begins, at least in the context of this Brown Bag story, with his own identity as a “queer trans identifying guy”. In alliance with other transgender and gender nonconforming individuals Bergman became involved with Gender Odyssey’s efforts to support gender independent kids and their families. More young kids were (are) coming out and feeling free in gender independence, and Gender Odyssey enlisted Bear to write stories for the kids to read during camp because they were not represented in mainstream children’s stories. Bergman wrote two “cheekily adorable” children’s books.The books featured gender independent or trans identified kids in full stories rather than isolated episodes. Having published “grown up” books (adult books implies something else, according to Bergman) in the past, Bear was inspired to get the books published after acclaim from parents of gender independent young children. Upon reflection Bergman claims “boy was I dumb.” This is because the world of children’s publishing is largely conservative, a fact that Bear was unaware of. Bergman highlights three points to remember in children's book publishing: girls will read books about boys but not vice versa, people of color will read books about white families, but not vice versa, LGBTQ families will read books about straight families but not vice versa. Such realities become especially disconcerting when paired with the aims of capitalism to maximize sales, not identity representation. Bear was often confronted with comments such as “if you write a book about a straight family…” or “how many nine year old trans kids are out there?” These remarks show how dominant narratives remain dominant. People undermine the efforts of those hoping to engage with and bring attention to alternative narratives.

The undermining of these efforts are seen in statistics about children’s books. In 2014 seventy percent of protagonists in were male. Ninety-three percent of the males were white. Less than one percent of characters were LGBTQ identified and most stories took place in the suburban as opposed to city settings. Knowing that mainstream support was limited, Bear started a Kickstarter through which he raise $19,000 and was able to publish two books. The books sold well, and Bear thought that he had solved the issue by proving that there was a need for these books. He continued to write grown up things. It wasn't until he had a son that he saw how the picture of childhood presented in children’s books did not represent the world that many kids live in. Bear struggled with finding books with two dads and gender independent families. Ultimately, Bergman headed back to Kickstarter, this time with the idea of publishing a set of books to make it easier for parents. Bear hopes that his books will help children see that their stories and families are valid. He engages with the stories of his characters because he wants children to know that their experiences are full stories, not just special episodes.

You can check out the work of Bear’s publication company at www.flamingorampant.com
 Bear's personal website is www.sbearbergman.com

-Sharon Nicol '17

Monday, March 23, 2015

Brown Bag: Global Feminist Artivism

This week’s brown bag was in celebration of International Women’s Day, which was this past Sunday, March 8, 2015. International Women’s Day, originally called International Working Women’s Day, was established in 1909 by the Socialist Party of America in response to a march that occurred in 1908. During this march, over 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding better pay, work hours, and voting rights. The brown bag featured Professor Cristina Serna from the Women Studies Department and Professor Ani Maitra from Film and Media Studies.
The first panelist, Professor Serna, started the brown bag with discussing artivism (artivismo), her research and experiences at Festival LesbianArte. Festival LesbianArte takes place in Mexico City and hosts a series of workshops, performances, and that functions to foster solidarity. Some of Professor Serna’s comments surrounded the spread of artivism in Latin America through social media and how the Festival LesbianArte interprets artivism. She shared a quote from the organizer’s that I thought was powerful: “art is the tool for social change and transformation, arte allows us to create spaces and faces, that are critical and emancipatory, that merge from our memories, reality and dreams. We profoundly believe that artivism opens and continues to open new paths for lesbians and feminism, in order to communicate our struggles and change our communities and societies.” Professor Serna also talked about translation within transnational activism, particularly how words and ideologies translate between languages, cultures, and location.
There have been many speakers on campus as of late, (Favianna Rodriguez, Aja Monet and Janet Mock) who have discussed the ways in which art can serve as transformations of silence and erasures, but what I started to contemplate after Professor Serna’s presentation, was how art can serve as translation. In thinking of how one can work across borders, physical and internal, art’s ability to connect to individuals across difference makes it an effective tool within social movements and social justice. In a lecture that Favianna Rodriguez gave during SORT’s Africana Women's Week, she expressed that art is crucial to equity. Culture shapes our minds, and inserting images, stories, narratives can create counternarratives that most of us our misinformed about and enact the political and systemic change that is needed.
Overall, the brown bag put a lot into perspective about what border feminism can look like, the role art and media have within transnational movements, and the ways in which we can enact change through artivism.

If you happened to miss the Brown Bag and would like to experience it for yourself, here is a link to the video:

NT

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Language of Racism



She asked “Wait, why can’t Black people racist?” I scrunched my eyes shut in annoyance whilst feeling the backs of glasses lift just a smidgen above my ears. I thought so clearly what is this basic ass 100 level question, not remembering that I was in a 200 level class. Immediately, I disengage and worry about the mind map I have due for the same class and how I wish I could already speak conversational portuguese. Vaguely, I see that rather than black voices responding to her, which were me and my friend, white women who who were currently taking Discourses of Whiteness responded by saying “Well the way we talk about it in class, is that individuals can’t be racist only systems are. People can be prejudice.” Although so familiar, the definition and explanation seemed oddly unsatisfying.
I, too, had taken the class just last semester where I had grown increasingly annoyed with white silence where every person of color has did and said all but write them an invitation to speak. Indeed, it was such a performance, it could have been a theater thesis. However, I think the  definition was just as unsatisfying then as it was in that classroom, because it sounded and felt like  someone who didn’t want to be called a racist or be a unique white oppressor. No, it sounded like it is much easier to take on the label of racist if you can equally call the traditionally oppressed racist too in order to diminish the pain, trauma, and violence you have caused. I walked out of the class annoyed, but the very next day I had to begin to question my reaction and  most of what I knew. Then again, if I don’t question what I know, why am I doing this work?
I had a meeting with my advisor about Black Feminism and she asked me a question I thought I knew so easily.  ] I was surprised by own theoretical and ideological contradictions. She asked what would I call call a lighter skin man who says he doesn’t want to date  darker skin girls. “ A colorist,” I quickly responded and immediately found an error, because as my advisor pointed out, colorism is rooted in racism. So sure about myself, I knew her answer wasn’t surprising but  I realized how my immediate label of colorism rather than racist was directly in conflict with my recent dissatisfaction with people not  seeing racist links. But something was definitely incomplete about calling this fictional guy (but all too real) a racist. This lighter skin man likely has been affected and socialized by institutional racism that has taught him anti-blackness, but by the same token haven’t white people also been damaged? The thought unsettled me. The idea of treating white oppressors merely as victims too seems incomplete in addressing positionality and understanding exactly who has to reopen wounds to convince the world of racism. Not white people.
Rather than thinking by myself  I took my dilemma to the Anti-Racism Coalition. Although uncomfortable with my peer’s thick boredom with the topic or perhaps perplexed minds, I landed upon a few things. Race(ism) specifically refers to a persisting system based on the prejudice and discrimination of race. The key word really is persisting. There has never been such system that has so systematically discriminated against white people based upon their whiteness alone. It doesn’t matter whatsoever if race is socially constructed, the reality is all too real. Next is that coupled with my dissatisfaction in not speaking truth, I remembered that racism is also rooted in the system of white supremacy. So perhaps the conversation should not have been divided between calling someone a racist or prejudice, but rather a larger conversation about white supremacy and racism.
I know that many people fear that with the misuse of racism and racist, the word will lose it poignant value, but that is truly the indicator of a sickness if the world grows to normalize the label of racist and white supremacist. What I  begin to think is that people of color and white people can be socialized to hold whiteness superior and effectively become white supremacists.  Racism should indeed be reserved for systems because even if a so called successful black light skin man perpetuates racist attitudes due to white supremacy instilled in his mind( *cough* Juan Williams *cough*) they will gain no real advance or benefit. A so called successful person of color who perpetrates racist violence, symbolic or otherwise, will only be successful as long as the system allows. Ze is and will never be free without actively decolonizing and deprogramming their mind. Material benefits is not freedom or success because it will not protect you as person color. The most disturbing and saddest lie the world tells people of color is that material benefits, light skin, class, and status will protect them. Sad and destructive indeed. If that were true, the world would have already been ours with the many things we have created and invented only to be used for profit by the same violent hands that put humans in chains.
So the answer to my advisor is , I think, that sadly the lighter skin man is white supremacist, corrupted and damaged by institutional racism. In addition, he is being used as a black body to propagate white supremacist and racist propaganda. Racism is embodied in the plethora of corporations that are meant to procure and protect wealth and capital for a select few white, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied men.
Lastly, I know that by calling the young woman's question “basic” I created a hierarchy of knowledge and consciousness... but some questions can be googled. With knowledge in mind, some may say that my knowledge and consciousness is a power and privilege and perhaps the narrative of privilege should be inverted. To that, I disagree. The knowledge I gain has never given me power but has rather left me in a state of hopelessness. Power is rooted in the destructive urge to colonize, exploit, and stand on the heads and bodies of those you other. So no, this knowledge is not my power but it shall be my salvation.
"I shall enjoy the fruits of my labor if I get free today"- Kendrick Lamar

-Alexandria Davis

Friday, March 6, 2015

Brown Bag Reflection: Food Justice with Tanya Fields

   
          This week’s brown bag featured Tanya Fields, a Food Justice activist from the South Bronx. She and the BLK Projek run and sell fresh produce from the South Bronx Mobile Market, a renovated school bus filled with food straight from the farm. This project began out of a necessity for affordable fresh food within her own community. Her talk did a great job connecting the personal to the political at the many levels of oppression and discrimination that occurs in the South Bronx community and many other similar communities.
As someone who is from the Bronx, I have seen and felt first hand what Tanya was talking about. A few years back, I remember being very confused when my mother brought home a pineapple. I didn’t understand how it was supposed to be peeled or cut or if it was even ripe. Because growing up, to me pineapples only came in a can and in fruit cups. I grew up thinking that canned pineapples and fruit were natural, and that the actual piece of fruit was not, that it was only luxury served to you ready to eat on a tropical island. But the reality for my family and many people in my community is that canned food was (and still is) a part of our diets, since canned foods can last until the end of the month.
Raw vegetables were not a common staple in my family, and the few vegetables that my mother bought often did not look so fresh. Even now when I go to the supermarket, I do not see a wide variety of fresh fruit and vegetables. In thinking about Tanya’s comment about working single mothers not having the time or energy to cook a full meal every night, I also think about how grocery shopping is often a gendered role, and how it is not possible to go buy fresh fruits and vegetables every week.
On this same day, Favianna Rodriguez also talked about food justice during her talk. She shared art pieces that depicted the way the current U.S. food system disproportionately affects children in poor communities and communities of color. Tanya did an incredible job debunking the rhetoric that poor people or people of color do not care about what they eat or about their health.
One of the problems that I see is how food campaigns tell people what they should be eating. In my mind I try to reconcile what I see is the “proper” foods and meals to eat and the food I grew up eating, dishes deeply rooted in my culture. A monologue in the Panza Monologues by Virginia Grise and Irma Mayorga, reflects these sentiments when “[the doctor] made mamí go to a nutritionist to learn how to cook out her love, ” after diagnosing her young daughter with diabetes and shaming the mother into thinking that her food made her daughter sick. Culture and food are deeply interconnected, especially in the Bronx, and I do not think that these communities should scrap their cultural foods for quinoa, tofu, and kale, but rather suggest adding raw veggies or a salad along with rice and beans. Or be provided with fresh, affordable peppers, onions and cilantro to make sofrito. Which is why I highly appreciate Tanya’s food bus and the fact that she brings these products to her community, where they can pick up a potato or some onions on their way to work or the doctor’s office.
I am so thankful to Tanya for sharing her personal narratives, and showing us the reality of many people in the South Bronx. I cannot wait to get home in May and support her cause and inform my friends and family about the fresh, affordable produce they can buy. 

Best, 
Valerie Garcia
Women's Health Intern

Monday, March 2, 2015

Brown Bag: Demystifying SORT

On Tuesday, February 23, Sisters of the Round Table kicked off their annual Africana Women's Week(s) with a brown bag focused on demystifying the organization. As one of the chairwoman of the organization and organizers of the brown bag, my hope was to humanize the organization, to put faces, experiences, and contextualize what SORT is truly about. Why you may ask? As an organization we have grown immensely over the past three years. As a sophomore, I can remember our meetings consisting of five people (including myself) and now we have over 25-30 consistent members. With growth comes more visibility, and with visibility comes misconceptions, as Maya Atakilti, one of the panelist echoed.

The brown bag opened with members of the audience readings parts of Maya Angelou's powerful poem Phenomenal Woman, which is a part of the organization’s constitution. Members of the audience were able to share their thoughts on the organization prior to the panelists speaking. Melissa Melendez '14 and Maya Atakilti '15 gave a brief history of how the organization was created, with its roots in providing a space where not only could women of color meet and talk about issues they were facing, but also create strategic plans on how to address them outside the space. Each of the panelist went through a series of questions pertaining to the organization. Antoinette Nwabunnia expressed why she joined the organization, her personal experiences with the leadership within the organization and what the space provided for her. Her sentiments on what the space provided for her is what stuck out to me the most. Similarly to what Antoinette expressed, I grew up in a household and community full of resilient women of color where we'd cry, fight, laugh, talk, theorize, or what have you. When I came to Colgate I didn't realize how important that community was for my spirit, and joining SORT fulfilled that void but in beautifully different way.

During the Q&A portion, the question of whether or not SORT should be an umbrella organization was brought up. This question wasn't particularly new to me, throughout my time at Colgate I've heard many raise this point. Should their be a space for Latina women? Asian women? And while I think those spaces would be important, I see value in what SORT does. I think of Loretta Ross' explanation of the phrase women of color, and how its political origins. She states, "it is a solidarity definition, a commitment to work in collaboration to work with other oppressed women of color who have been minoritized." SORT creates a space where all women of color can come together, which is I think is crucial on a campus like Colgate.

In thinking of what I wanted others to leave the brown bag with, are specifically these types of anecdotes and experiences. To nuance that label of "angry women of color" and realize that yes we are angry, but we are also happy, sad, excited, funny, hilarious, critical, engaging, faulted individuals. To allow others to understand the work we are doing within ourselves, our organization and our community.


- N.T.