I can’t even begin to state how much I adore this week’s Crush, Janet Mock, and how much I loved interviewing her!
While I calm my happy ass on down, please check out the first half of the interview at the main blog, then come back for this second part, in which Janet and I talk about socio-racial politics in Hawaii, what she’s planning to avoid this summer, and her love for Mad Men.
You’re from Hawaii. And you’ve seen how some conservatives constructed Hawaii as practically a foreign country in regards to demanding POTUS Obama’s birth certificate from the state. What other images/stereotypes do “mainlanders” have about Hawaii that’s divisive to progressive politics?
Like the people of the “mainland,” the people of Hawaii are not a monolith (we don’t all surf, we don’t all dance hula and we are not all Asian) and have a rich history with their land. And this may be getting way too deep, but my mother’s mother was Native Hawaiian (meaning indigenous Polynesian people of the Hawaiian Islands) and her father is Portuguese, and if it weren’t for the U.S. military’s occupation of Oahu, my mother would not have met my dad – a Naval officer and black man from the South – and I would not be here. To be part Native Hawaiian and part black, I am a product of Hawaii and the mainland – which shapes my existence and political perspective and relationship to my homeland. When I think of Hawaii, I think about how missionaries came to Hawaii feeling that they were going to “do good,” forcing their religion and western values to an indigenous people they wrongly viewed as savage and ended up doing quite well instead, making major money in industries like sugar and pineapple and of course tourism. For Native Hawaiians (kanaka maoli) in the Hawaiian sovereign movement, they do feel Hawaii is separate and was colonized and stolen. The U.S. history of the Hawaiian islands is a revisionist telling of the story of our statehood, and like most indigenous people, Native Hawaiians have been displaced on their own land and would actually love for Hawaii to be its own sovereign “foreign” land again, as wrongly appropriated by the conservatives who wish to dismiss President Obama as “un-American” or “foreign.”
How/why did you move to New York City? Along those lines, what are you into outside of your incredible activism? Hobbies? Books you’re reading? Music you’re into? Movies you can’t wait to see?
I moved to Manhattan to study journalism at New York University and get a job as a magazine editor. Luckily, after earning my masters, I landed at People.com, where I worked for more than five years writing and editing stories, creating fun pun-filled photo galleries and of course developed my voice in social media. Right now I’m into everything, from following my dear sister in this movement Reina Gossett’s active archiving and retelling of the activist roots of trans women of color like Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson. I’m also into Instagram selfies, sharing curly hair photos and every bright lip color I find. I’m into books that critique and expand ideas of womanhood and blackness. I thoroughly enjoyed Sister Citizenand Iconicas well as Black Cooland How To Be Blackand Seasonal Velocities, and read This Bridge Called My Backtwice in one month. I also have a summer reading list of women of color writers’ classic and new works, like Salvage the Bones, Kindred, The Summer We Got Free, Drinking Coffee Elsewhere,and Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self.Oh, and I want to read the Katharine Hepburn (she’s my fave movie star) style book Rebel Chic,as well as Nevadafrom Imogen Binnie. As for music, my tastes are pretty mainstream, not original at all – though I have been listening to Diana Ross‘“Home”from The Wizon loop while writing. It soothes me and inspires me to own my space in this world. As for films, it’s about to be summer movie season so I am boycotting Hollywood, though I will see Free Angela Davis & All Political Prisoners.I’m more of a TV girl anyway, live-tweeting Mad Men, Scandal, The Mindy Projectand eyeroll-inducing escapism like The Real Housewives of Atlantaand Beverly Hills.
Anything else you want to add?
I just want to thank you for finding me crush-worthy and sharing your first-ever #nerdland appearance with me. I love that we got the chance to discuss Scandal in such a giddy and hopefully impactful way. For me, it was just amazing to be embraced as another woman who has something to say. Not dismissed as a trans woman, but embraced as a fellow sister. Often I fell I must put my pop culture passions at bay to discuss more pressing trans issues in mainstream media so it was awesome to show my other intersections, as a woman of color, as a visible trans woman, and yes, as a pop culture lover!
Ma’am, since you’re a Mad Men lover, we may have to recruit you for our Mad Men roundtable!
In fact, masculinities, including black masculinities, are performed partially in response to the various external conditions present within the geographical spaces, like NYC, where they emerge. In other words, masculinities are shaped by skewed conceptions of gender, a sexist culture, and the range of structural conditions that impact black men quite negatively.
Consider, for instance, what type of black masculinity might emerge in response to a city funded teenage pregnancy prevention ad that pretty much tells black teen females that black boys ain’t shit in a city where police use tax-payer funded guns to shoot its residents? And how can we encourage black boys and men to resist the need to perform power (that hurts), toughness (that victimizes), and swag (that boasts chauvinistically) when, in fact, demonstrations of power, toughness, and swag might be performed by black boys and men to counter state violence? Thus, we should ask how we might re-create masculinities that do no harm and also consider the forces at work that tend to shape black male gender performances in destructive ways.
Black masculinities are created within heteropatriarchy and tend to be overdetermined by misogyny, sexism, violence, and rape culture. It is our responsibility as black cis and transgendered men to name and disengage caustic masculinities, but we should also consider why black men would fight so damn hard to perform the “strong black man” caricature in various spaces in the US, like NYC. Indeed, we black men must consider how our senses of self and the masculinities we perform are shaped by the conditions present within the spaces that we move through.
The idea that racism lives in the heart of particularly evil individuals, as opposed to the heart of a democratic society, is reinforcing to anyone who might, from time to time, find their tongue sprinting ahead of their discretion. We can forgive Whitaker’s assailant. Much harder to forgive is all that makes Whitaker stand out in the first place. New York is a city, like most in America, that bears the scars of redlining, blockbusting and urban renewal. The ghost of those policies haunts us in a wealth gap between blacks and whites that has actually gotten worse over the past 20 years.
But much worse, it haunts black people with a kind of invisible violence that is given tell only when the victim happens to be an Oscar winner. The promise of America is that those who play by the rules, who observe the norms of the “middle class,” will be treated as such. But this injunction is only half-enforced when it comes to black people, in large part because we were never meant to be part of the American story. Forest Whitaker fits that bill, and he was addressed as such.
I am trying to imagine a white president forced to show his papers at a national news conference, and coming up blank. I am trying to a imagine a prominent white Harvard professor arrested for breaking into his own home, and coming up with nothing. I am trying to see Sean Penn or Nicolas Cage being frisked at an upscale deli, and I find myself laughing in the dark. It is worth considering the messaging here. It says to black kids: “Don’t leave home. They don’t want you around.” It is messaging propagated by moral people.
However, most analysis of Uber’s costs and benefits leave out one huge piece of the appeal: the premium car service removes the racism factor when you need a ride.
In 1999, actor Danny Glover made headlines by filing a taxi discrimination claim in New York City, noting that cabs failed to stop for him due to the color of his skin. Good Morning America experimented with having a black man and a white man hail cabs again in 2009 and found that the racial profiling still continued. In 2010, Fernando Mateo, head of the New York State Federation of Cab Drivers, encouraged racial profiling in the name of safety. Though it has been over a decade since Danny Glover made the issue a national conversation, the landscape hasn’t changed much.
As a black woman, I am generally seen as less of a threat than my black male peers. But that doesn’t mean my business is encouraged or wanted.I stopped using DC cabs back in 2003, when they were using zoning practices that ensured every time I stepped into a cab I wouldn’t get out for less than $25.00, even if I was just going ten minutes down the street. As I learned DC better, I figured out all the routes serviced by buses and trains and committed to walking the rest. The addition of a bike share program to DC has almost completely eliminated my need for a cab rides. A few years later, I repeated the process in New York and Boston, having learned the hard way that I could not count on getting a cab if I needed one, no matter how I was dressed or where I was going.
I had dismissed Uber outright, until a friend convinced me to take a second look. My friend is young and white and, when I asked her why she chose to use the expensive black car service as opposed to any other DC cab, she informed me that her neighborhood isn’t well-liked by cab drivers. As it turns out, while my friend could normally get a cab to stop for her, she suffered the same issues with cabs that black urbanities usually face. Though it is technically illegal for drivers to ask where you are going before allowing you in the cab (New York has clear rules about this; DC has similar rules that are not on any governmental site), it is a common practice. So, my friend noted with a shrug, she’d rather pay the extra five bucks for a fuss-free experience than hail cab after cab, hoping to find a driver to take her to her next destination.
Brooklyn bound on the ‘A’frican Xpress—a.k.a. the A train—yesterday. Sardines have more room than rush hour commuters on day 1 of regular traffic post Sandy’s wrath. Young brother to his co-worker. ‘You votin?’ Brother shakes his head: “Nah, son I ain’t vote. I could, ain’t gonna. My vote ain’t count no-ways.” His co-worker tries to persuade him he should vote, especially because it is his first time. Young brother not convinced. Behind me, packed train I hear a lady’s voice. ‘Xcuse me, pardon me sis, xcuse me’. Elder with a walker trying to manouevre her way through a packed subway car. Everyone’s pissed, only her elder status & the fact of the walker stops out-loud comment. Much side-eyeing instead. “Young man!” Elder to the young brother who just said he wasn’t voting. “Me?” “yes, young man you. You’re not voting?” Young man shakes his head. The elder lady starts. She explains it is not his right to not vote, that neither she nor her friends and family stood and faced danger so he could shrug his shoulders and just decide not to vote. She tells story after story. Everyone is quiet. Young man waits for her to finish, he tries to explain he doesn’t agree with President Obama’s policies. Elder stares at him. “You’re not voting because of him, you’re doing it for me and every woman who took a beating so you can. You need to wake up, xtra early, get down to them polls and vote. You hear me?” “Yes’m”. Am thinking about the young man today and that elder.
As workers and city officials try tirelessly to get the Big Apple back up and running, it’s worth taking a minute to look at how race keeps the city going. Chances are, if you were stuck inside and had the luxury of ordering a pizza or calling an emergency worker about downed power lines, that worker was likely someone of color. In his presser this morning, Bloomberg noted how dangerous the work is to get the subways back on track. “Subway workers have to walk the thousands of miles of track to inspect the subway tunnels,” the mayor said. Here’s a quick demographic look at New York City’s subway workers:
—Three out of five urban transit workers are black or Latino.
—A majority are at least 45 years old.
—Nearly 80 percent are New York City residents.
—Almost 35 percent live in Brooklyn.
The work is, almost by definition, is a health hazard.
It’s almost a rite of passage to complain about a city’s subway system, and no matter what city you’re in, transit workers are almost always represented poorly by the media and criticized for issues that are far beyond their control. But it’s in times like these when we all start to realize just how important their work is to our lives.