Important Disclaimer

Since I currently have several employers/supervisors/churches/etc., please know that none of the words on my blog represent them or their beliefs. This blog is my own creation.

It also does not represent my children's perspective, nor my mother's; they think I am funny, but misguided.
(Quick update: only my mother thinks I'm funny now.)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Intersections

 I spent some time tonight reflecting on intersections of identity, which actually is a fairly usual past time for me. Today those thoughts were prompted by a blogpost written by Dr. Yolanda Pierce, one of my professors while I was at Princeton Theological Seminary.  Her post, "When It Happens to Me" is a discussion of the "new" TSA security procedures, in particular pat-downs and body searches. Dr. Pierce juxtaposes the current outrage over increased bodily scrutiny with the indifference most of us show toward the increased surveillance and bodily violation experienced by persons of color: surveillance, questioning, and frisking for "walking while black."

I say "new" TSA security procedures, because they aren't really that new. TSA has been conducting pat-downs and body searches for all kinds of reasons prior to November 1. At the end of October, I was pulled aside for additional screening and patted down. The reason? Because I was wearing a long skirt. The skirt was cut up to my thighs in 6 places and swirled around loosely exposing plenty of leg, but apparently it fit the criteria for "voluminous clothing." As I sat shaking at the airport bar, it occurred to me that this category had probably been invented for women who cover themselves in traditional garb, so that the issue of "voluminous clothing" becomes a racial, ethnic, and religious issue, allowing us once again to conduct more intense surveillance of people of color.

I thought then of the men I worked with at Bellevue, the summer I was a chaplain there. I was assigned to the prison floor--most of the guys were from Rikers Island. A few were from "The Tombs" or "The Boat", two city jails for short term offenders.  The Boat is literally a barge in the harbor and is otherwise knows as the Vernon C. Bain Center. The guys told me The Boat is cold and drafty; most of the inmates are housed in dormitories with little privacy or personal safety. They told me stories--a lot of stories--about where they came from and how they got there. Everyone had a story about how they didn't do whatever they supposedly did and a dream about how they were going to live differently when they got out. I sort of expected that. But what was new to me was this:

     -Almost all of the men were people of color.
     -The men had grown up with a level of police surveillance I didn't even know existed.
     -Many of them were serving or facing long prison sentences for things that white
           people I know did much less time or none at all.
     -Additional charges for loitering, spitting, public urination, resisting arrest, etc.
          were piled on top of the original violation.
      -None of them had access to adequate representation; that requires money.
      -Most of them were afraid, and had lived in fear their entire lives.
      -They knew I couldn't do a thing to help them.


One man explained to me that he had completed vocational training and earned a certificate that he could use in a job search when he got out. I was excited for him until he told me about the certificate. In big bold letters across the top of the certificate it read: Department of Corrections. He said to me, "Chaplain, I know I'll have to tell them about my record at some point, but the first thing a new boss is going to see is Department of Corrections. They're never going to hire me."

I was thinking about intersectionality today because my own experiences living in fear as a girl and as a woman are deeply connected to the stories those men told me of their own lives. My stories are deeply connected to those of women who cover themselves from head to toe--and not because I judge their choice of attire. No. Because each of us has the right to choose our attire, to show or not show our bodies, as we desire for our own selves. 

And I was thinking about intersectionality because it was Dr. Pierce writing. Two years ago when I was a student in her class I had the opportunity to start off one of our discussion sessions. I came prepared with a quote from Marcella Althaus-Reid's Indecent Theology about Santa Librada, a crucified Mary who is the patron saint of thieves and prostitutes. I had some remarks on queer theory and lesbian feminism to add to the mix, and Dr. Pierce not only made space for my remarks, but incorporated them into that day's class. She legitimized both me and my words and granted me dignity.

Later that day I discoverd that a few students had published a satirical newsletter that was racist and sexist. Dr. Pierce was featured in the newsletter, and not in flattering way. The newsletter had been distributed that morning before class. Dr. Pierce had already seen it by the time I arrived at class. Yet without thinking twice she granted me time and authority to speak in her class. It was a gift, and I will not forget the kindness.

Our struggles are connected, and we must pay attention to what is happening to women and men of color. Because if feminist or queer concerns are addressed at the expense of racial concerns--or if we think for a second that feminists and queer folk are not also often persons of color--we have sold ourselves out while betraying brothers and sisters. Ida B. Wells called out Jane Addams in 1901. Audrey Lorde called out Mary Daly in 1979. The Combahee River Collective called out white feminists in 1986. Dr. Pierce is calling us out now. Go read her post and think about it. 

Pierre Bourdieu wrote in his book Masculine Domination: 
I have always been astonished...that the established order, with its relations of domination, its rights and prerogatives, privileges and injustices, ultimately perpetuates itself so easily...and that the most intolerable conditions of existence can so often be perceived as acceptable and even natural.

We have a rare moment when collectively we suddenly see the established order that has been so easily perpetuated. Startled outside of our usual perspective we have the opportunity, each of us, to remain cognizant of injustice around us or to put back the blinders and pretend that we don't see it. Either way, we are inescapably connected to one another. We intersect.



No comments:

Post a Comment