Tag Archives: racism

Eating Local

Originally published at Feeding My Boychick

I live in Portland, land of organic vegan locavore ironic bacon hipsterism. Located in the (stolen and colonized) Willamette valley, one of the most fertile pieces of land on the continent (despite many greedy people having done their level best to destroy it), eating local here is downright easy. About the only things we can’t grow are tropical fruits, coffee, and hard wheat, and nevermind because we still import, roast, and mill those locally. It’s absurdly easy, if also absurdly expensive, to buy only foods grown, produced, slaughtered, or processed within 100 miles of here, either in a market or grocer or even dining out at a locally-owned restaurant. And this is great.

Except.

I also live in Portland, one of the whitest cities in the country with one of the worst track records of gentrification. And much of this push for “local” and “sustainable” is coming from relatively new, relatively wealthy, overwhelmingly white consumers and business owners, not from the communities of color who have eked out spaces for themselves here for decades. I see them, small business owners themselves, pushed out of business by white people who’d rather shop at a national name than someplace run by a person of a different color whose fluent English the monolinguists can’t understand, and now replaced by white people who spurn the corporate giants for “local” businesses that have been here for SO LONG — since the mid-aughts! — owned and frequented largely by other white people able to pay higher prices and higher rents and higher mortgages.

So here’s my choice: I can buy dinner from a locally-owned restaurant that’s been here for decades and uses conventional produce and imported noodles and factory farmed meats frequented by the people of color who have lived here for decades, or I can buy it from the three year old place that uses local and organic and fresh everything and is all the rage among the white people who have lived here for three years.

Or I can buy groceries from the locally-owned store that’s twice as expensive (but everything is homegrown!), or the budget Safeway that’s served the neighborhood for decades. I can support the brand-new co-op that sells organic produce, or the Asian market that sells unmarked, unknown-to-me veggies.

It’s not that I disagree with the small-business, locally-owned ethos nor the entirely logical reasons to support the same. But the fact remains that when my neighborhood (which I, middle class white woman with my young family, just moved into) started gentrifying, in classic Portland style, all the new mostly-white people said “we want local shops — let’s start some!” and didn’t ask their neighbors where to buy veggies, where they ate out, who owned and shopped at and was employed at the run-down supermarket. We didn’t move in to this imperfect neighborhood and ask “what’s being done to improve the place we now live, what’s important to our neighbors, and how can we help without taking over?” We moved in and assumed nothing of value was here and we needed to replace it all with trendy, “local” businesses and eateries (never diners!) and then we patted ourselves on the back for being so damn sustainable, so morally superior, doing something good while we bought our organic fair trade latte from the queer artist barista with all the body modifications.

But it’s culture. It’s all culture. We want to shop and eat and be seen at places that feel like ours, that reflect us, that tell others about who we consider ourselves to be and who we want to be. And that’s not wrong, not really. But it’s also what the people who lived here first, who we pushed out to the margins before we decide to take that over too, also want. And the conversation we need to have isn’t local-small-good versus corporate-giant-evil. It’s whose local? Whose good? Who was here first, whose voices have long been marginalized, whose foods are exoticized and whose normalized, who’s making the decisions about what’s valued and what the neighborhood needs?

Those are questions I need to consider as well, no less than “was this peach sprayed, is this asparagus local, is there MSG in this?” It’s not as easy a conversation, nuanced instead of ideologic, complicated instead of obvious. But it’s important. Because “community” isn’t a nebulous concept, it’s the family next door we never talk to, the people who walk up my street to get to the free clinic, the guy who runs the convenience store two blocks away. And the health and sustainability of food isn’t just how it affects and nourishes my family, but how it affects the people who grow it, the people who harvest it, the people who sell it, the people who cook and serve and clean up after it. Only considering part of that system isn’t sustainable; it’s selfish in the extreme.

(Note: I use “we” throughout not as writer-and reader, not to assume the “they” I speak of is not also you, but as writer-and-agent, as indication of my own guilt and reminder to myself of membership in the offending groups. I’m still searching for less alienating phrasing; please forgive any implications of exclusion.)

You will never be him; please don’t be them

Dear Boychick,

Last week was your fifth birthday. We made carrot cake and sang you happy birthday just the once like you wanted and opened so many presents from family who love you fiercely despite being so far away. We bought you a bike and a raincoat and I cooked breakfast and lunch and dinner (and did I mention the cake?) just like you asked for and I marvelled at how very fast you are growing up.

There’s someone I’d like you to meet. I don’t know if you’d like him, or vice versa. He was born twelve years before you, which is too much of an age gap to be peers, but maybe he was the type to like kids. I don’t know, and we will never find out. I would like you to meet him, but you won’t, because eighteen days before your birthday, he was shot and killed by a man who looked at a black kid in a sweat shirt and saw a threat. He was killed by a man who is walking free still, nearly a month later — after your presents are losing their luster, after your bike is no longer quite so new — because of racist gun laws and racist police departments. He was killed by a man who mistook vigilantism for protection, violence for justice, and a kid walking with candy in his pocket for a no-good criminal.

Millions of parents across our country are holding their sons closer now, with this one thought echoing in their heads: that could have been my son.

You’ll forgive me I hope if I hold you tighter tonight, if I snuggle you just a little longer, kiss your hair just that bit stronger. But the thought in my head is: that will never be you.

You will never be seen as suspicious because of your skin color. You will never be coded as a violent criminal because of your race and your gender. You may one day know persecution, may one day be subject to epithets and violence simply walking down the street — you may be a fag or a tranny or a crip — but this, this will never be your fate.

But I am aware, I am so very, painfully aware that you might be on the other side of this. You might be the one wielding the gun1. You might be the one looking at the dead kid and seeing a corpse, a criminal, a cause for gunfire and “self-defense”. You might be the one letting the killer go without testing him for drugs or alcohol. You might be the one lobbying to pass laws that are disproportionately harmful to black and brown communities. You might be the one opining that it’s all so tragic but the kid did look like a thug after all and he shouldn’t have been out walking where he didn’t look like belonged.

When I hold you tight, I am thinking, praying, begging: don’t be them. Don’t be them, please, child, my beautiful boy: don’t be them. Don’t be the one that black mothers are afraid of tonight more than usual. Don’t be the one that lets this happen without trying to make it better. Don’t be the one that cracks a joke, that thinks of it as their problem, that doesn’t bother to care. Don’t. Be. Them.

You are, no matter how much I wish it otherwise or how much I work to prevent it, going to be infected by racism. It will — is, has already — pervert you, damage your ability to see others’ wholeness and humanity and (says your theist parent) holiness. You live in this society, in kyriarchy; it cannot not touch you and make you rougher.

But you don’t have to let it make you them. You don’t have to let it turn you into Trayvon’s murderer and his family’s misery. You have to not. You have to resist. You have to find a new way.

I’ll help you child, as much as I am able — how can I do else when there is a family without a son and without justice for their loss? — but as much as I want, I cannot shape you as I will, cannot fill your tabula with my anti-racist scripts (nor would I know the right things to write there, even if I could). I can only whisper in your hair, pray to whatever gods are there, write to a you I hope will be ready to listen: don’t be them. Don’t inflict this pain. Remember a boy you will never meet, and for him, for his family, for every family knowing it could be them: please, be better.

For Trayvon Martin. For so many others. Please.

Yours always,
Arwyn

  1. George Zimmerman — per Mother Jones — is Latino, but the point stands: white men might kill a black boy, but they will never be killed for being black.

I’m alive! To prove it, have some links!

So I’m sort of, y’know, done? With this whole parenting-pregnancy-housebuying-blogging-daily-living thing? And my need for, and frequent inability to achieve, sleep has pretty much taken over my life? And yet, annoyingly, the world continues.

Fortunately, other writers have continued to, unlike me, write:

Both Salon and bluemilk have tackled the bruhaha around Madison Young (activist, artist, sex worker) and her Becoming MILF exhibit.

Salon:

The emotional response to her public breast-feeding conveys the Madonna/whore dichotomy better than Young could ever hope to do with her kitschy quilt and breast milkshakes. The idea that there is something inherently prurient about a porn star breast-feeding plays right into that classic either-or thinking: Her breasts are erotic in one venue, so they can’t be wholesome in another.

bluemilk (if you only read one of these articles, make it this one):

There is something else worth considering about Furry Girl’s criticisms of Young, and that is the way in which she can’t distinguish between mothers and mothering. Yes, Young’s daughter can’t give permission for being included in her mother’s artwork, neither can mine give permission for my writing. But who owns Young’s experience of motherhood? Who owns mine? Where do Young’s and my experiences of early motherhood and our desire to explore these all-consuming aspects of our lives end, and our children’s ownership of them begin? Can Young, who describes her devotion to her baby daughter so lovingly, not be trusted to know? Does being sexual as women (or even sexually objectified unintentionally) spill dangerously over into our responsibilities as mothers? Does it prevent us from good mothering?

These are particularly poignant questions for me, given the reactions to my recent public discussion of sex.

Also on the topic of breastfeeding, Scientific American reports that Breastfeeding Reduces Risk of Hard-to-Treat Breast Cancer among African-American Women:

The researchers analyzed data from the Black Women’s Health Study, which has collected health information from some 59,000 women for the past 16 years, focusing on 318 cases of ER-/PR- breast cancer and 457 cases of estrogen receptor- and progesterone receptor-positive (ER+/PR+) cancer. Palmer and her team found that black women with breast cancer who had two or more children and didn’t breastfeed them were 50 percent more likely to have the ER-/PR- form of breast cancer than those who had two children and breastfed them.

And a note on language: in hypothesizing some other potential explanations for the difference, the post declares African-descended women have “tougher immune systems to cope with endemic diseases of sub-Saharan Africa” (emphasis added). While at first glance, this might appear a benign phrasing, it seems to me another instance of the animalization of Black peoples; other, just-as-accurate ways of phrasing the same concept might include “more advanced”, “highly evolved”1, “smarter”, etc. But these would require different cultural conceptualizations of race.2

And I feel like I owe you so much more in the way of linkage (and to be sure, there have been some amazing posts I’ve encountered in the blogosphere recently, and please feel free to leave more, your own or others, in the comments), but, well, see aforementioned done-ness.

PS No one say this doneness is a sign of immanent birth. It’s not allowed to be. We’re still weeks away from closing on the house, so if you’re going to send vibes, send stay-in-and-healthy vibes, please. One of the few things worse than dealing with another few weeks of this would be The Man using up all his vacation time babymooning — and then still have to move. With a newborn. So, just, no.3

ETA OMG PONY DOCTOR WHO!

This is only quite possibly the best thing in the history of everything. Because pony Doctor. And bad French. You’re welcome.

  1. OK, technically we’re all equally evolved, because we’ve all been on the planet equally long, and therefore have evolved the same amount, if in very, very subtly different ways.
  2. I also have questions about the accuracy of generalizations that characterize sub-Saharan Africa as more disease-ridden, and inherently and long-term so, than other places, but am not knowledgeable enough about evolutionary epidemiology to make any challenges to this assertion.
  3. We’d survive, obviously; I’d manage somehow. I just don’t want to, ta.

For your edification and edjumacation

Liiiiiiiiiiiiiiinks!1

In case yesterday’s overextended metaphor wasn’t enough for you, check out this piece on the dog and the gecko, an amazing metaphor for privilege. If you haven’t figured out what I mean by “privilege” yet, read this.

And then there’re dogs and smurfs: why women writers and stories about women are taken less seriously (don’t worry, it’s not a metaphor — or rather, interrogates a trope we take as metaphor).

If you’ve ever asked yourself “Why does she stay with that jerk?” here are twenty answers. None of them is “she’s stupid” or “she deserves it”.

Filed under further rhetorical questions, would B. Manning be treated the same if out as a trans woman? As Emily says, not bloody likely.

Of course, being trans doesn’t mean Manning is, therefore, a woman — and being nonbinary doesn’t mean one is genderfluid, either.

Elizabeth of Spilt Milk is blogging at Feministe, and I couldn’t be happier. Check out especially Feminist mothers (you, being here, don’t need to be exhorted to read women who are parents and writing about feminism, but DO check out the other recommendations at the end of her post) and In defense of children.

Further to meta discussions of feminists, read this long and wholly worthwhile piece on white privilege in feminist organizations, especially those seeking “diversity”.

Race and gender are hardly the only axes (for lack of a better term) of privilege/marginalization, as you can read about in The Mental Burden of a Lower-Class Background.

But speaking of race and gender, do yourself a favor and watch Random Black Girl. (Lyrics, and a bunch of blather, here.)

This is, though rather male-centric, more or less how my mind works regarding writing.

Finally, this post is being pre-written and scheduled, because by the time you read this, I will have seen the final Harry Potter film installment, with the awesome Amy of Anktangle. But oh, do I wish we could have seen Joanne Rowling’s Hermione Granger series instead…

  1. For I am the zombie of the blogosphere, and posts are your brains. Tasty, intelligent brains.

Conference on Motherhood Activism, Advocacy, Agency: Day One

I’m in Toronto for a conference that, other than its distinctly academic bent1, seems tailored perfectly for me. It’s been one day (of three), and I have twelve pages of notes on everything from Motherhood and Menstruation2 to Mothers and Sons to Feminist Parenting as a Conscious Political act to DHS: Give us Back Our Children to Zines as an Organizing Tool in the Maternal Feminist Movement3. After each presentation4 I could sit down and spend hours writing and thinking and talking — but no, a round of applause and here’s the next speaker and my head is spinning and I have to lurch across the entire conference hall to obey my fetus-kicked bladder and now it’s lunch and another pair of sessions each with its set of all-too-inspirational talks and now we’re back at the hotel and the bed is calling and my brains fell out my ears somewhere in the never-have-to-set-a-foot-outside underground world of this fabulously diverse city.

I could, if I had the time and brainpower and ability to sit any longer, spin a post out of each of the talks I’ve heard today, but I don’t, so here is a scattering of thoughts inspired by the conference:

  • Guilt sucks. At least half of the talks mentioned the devastating effects of mother guilt — not only is it a tool of control of the kyriarchy (or “the dominant cultural discourse”) by keeping the focus on “what’s wrong with me” not “the prescription of the ‘good mother’ is wrong”, it makes us worse parents. We overcompensate out of guilt, we lose our autonomy and authenticity because of guilt, and we snap from the stress of feeling guilty. Drop the guilt.
  • Mothers deserve voice, recognition, research, and time on us-as-mothers, not only mothers-as-caregivers-so-it’s-really-about-the-children. Call it empowerment, or autonomy, or compassion, or feminism, or radicalism: all speak to this need for a focus on us, not only on what we can/should/shouldn’t/do do for our children.
  • Children are resilient (so drop the guilt!) and will become their own people despite us — and mothering and parenting is a place with huge potential for social change. As feminist mothers, mothers of sons, conscious mothers, and/or mothers “resisting the myths of motherhood”, we have the ability in our daily lives to perform activism and create change by the relationships we create with our children.
  • Feminist/conscious/resistant parenting (each presented as three+ distinct ideas, but with amazing commonalities) is enacted through a relationship that is not based in a traditional, power-over, parent-has-the-answers, hierarchical model, but in a conversational, egalitarian, speak-truth-to-power, process- and justice-based model. It’s only peripherally, if at all, about eschewing gendered products, and more about eschewing a patriarchal, kyriarchal, hierarchical relationship.
  • This one blew my mind5: the same conversational, autonomy, interdependent, respectful-even-if-not-agreeing relationship we bring to our relationships with our children (and parents) — “reciprocal recognition between autonomous individuals” — we can bring to our activist conversations, particularly between “waves” of feminism or activist communities. It doesn’t mean ignoring the problems of previous eras of feminisms or activisms, but being able to honor their flawed humanity while assert our own autonomy and right to respect for our ideas and ideals.
  • I’m not really sure what to say about conversations by Mother Warriors Voice (Milwaukee, Wisconsin) and the Ontario Native Women’s Association (Canada), but both spoke of the devastation wrecked on communities and families because of child-removal fueled by classism and racism — children being removed because the electricity is turned off, or inadequate housing, or assumptions about substance abuse. As foster/adoptive parent of color said in the film DHS: Give Us Back Our Children “If they can pay me to take care of these children, why can’t they pay their biological parents to care for them?”

My doesn’t-snore and doesn’t-kick-me-out-for-coughing roommate has her own post up about day one, with more reflections and a couple links you should check out. Also a picture. Because she’s blog savvy like that.

And now, I sleep6.

PS Happy Friday the 13th! I miss you, beloved.

  1. I’m almost afraid to reveal my not-even-Bachelor’s-having status, though everyone’s happy enough to hear about my massage training, and offers to allow me to practice on them. Yeah.
  2. See?? It’s like they set the agenda with me in mind.
  3. By Ariel Gore! I refrained from fangirling all over her, but by that time, it was mostly because I was feeling too creaky from pregnancy and this obnoxious cold and sitting for hours and hours to run up and gush the way I yearned to.
  4. 2-4 presenters/presentations per sessions, and four sessions just today!
  5. I drew a giant lightbulb next to it, after picking my jaw back up off the floor and scribbling a quick summary I’d been too busy being blown away to write at the time.
  6. OK, so I’m scheduling this to be posted tomorrow morning, so by the time you read this, I will have a full 8 hours of sleep, clear sinuses, calm leg muscles, and will be leisurely breaking my fast with definitely-not-Starbucks. …right? Let’s just say right.
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