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!
We are particularly outraged by the racist and sexist treatment of Professor Anita Hill, an African American woman who was maligned and castigated for daring to speak publicly of her own experience of sexual abuse. The malicious defamation of Professor Hill insulted all women of African descent and sent a dangerous message to any woman who might contemplate a sexual harassment complaint.
We speak here because we recognize that the media are now portraying the Black community as prepared to tolerate both the dismantling of affirmative action and the evil of sexual harassment in order to have any Black man on the Supreme Court. We want to make clear that the media have ignored or distorted many African American voices. We will not be silenced.
Many have erroneously portrayed the allegations against Clarence Thomas as an issue of either gender or race. As women of African descent, we understand sexual harassment as both. We further understand that Clarence Thomas outrageously manipulated the legacy of lynching in order to shelter himself from Anita Hill’s allegations. To deflect attention away from he reality of sexual abuse in African American women’s lives, he trivialized and misrepresented this painful part of African American people’s history. This country, which has a long legacy of racism and sexism, has never taken the sexual abuse of black women seriously. Throughout U.S. history black women have been sexually stereotyped as immoral, insatiable, perverse, the initiators in all sexual contacts–abusive or otherwise. The common assumption in legal proceedings as well as in the larger society has been that black women cannot be raped or otherwise sexually abused. As Anita Hill’s experience demonstrates, Black women who speak of these matters are not likely to be believed.
In 1991, we cannot tolerate this type of dismissal of any one Black woman’s experience or this attack upon our collective character without protest, outrage and resistance.
We pledge ourselves to continue to speak out in defense of one another, in defense of the African American community and against those who are hostile to social justice, no matter what color they are. No one will speak for us but ourselves.
— You know those historical documents that you wish you could’ve signed? This is the full text of “African American Women In Defense Of Ourselves,” the open letter that 1,600 Black women signed back in 1991 to show solidarity with then-beleagured Professor Anita Hill. She spoke out before the Senate Judiciary Committee against Judge Clarence Thomas being seated on the US Supreme Court.
I saw Freida Mock’s new doc, ANITA, this past week. In her loving tribute to Professor Hill, she forgot to mention this turning point in Black feminist history. Having lived it as well, I couldn’t—this is how much this document and Professor Hill helped shape my feminism. That’s why she is my Crush of the Week. Read the rest of it on the R today!
[Curator’s Note: I totally screwed this up! This was supposed to post last Friday, and I didn’t do it! So, I apologize to everyone, especially to our Crush, Ainee Fatima.
So, here I am, correcting it—please enjoy the second part of the interview with Racialicious Crush Of The Week, Ainee Fatima!—AP]
If you haven’t been following Badass Muslim Girl…what are you waiting for? Get to following, check out the first half of the interview, then come back and check out the rest of the interview that I did with the Tumblr’s creatrix, Ainee Fatima!
I love your response in your FAQ to the question asking if you plan to use your Islamic Studies degree to help American Muslim communities. What I love about the response is not only the “my community comes first” but the idea that you need to “teach” somebody else about Islam. Again, the idea of your existence is a walking classroom for others…thoughts?
I think it is a responsibility of being a Muslim to be a walking classroom, Islam is so strict on the preservation and need for knowledge and education that it expects us to be activists in every area of the world. I believe that being an activist means being and educator as well. At first, I used to get very annoyed when people came to me with questions regarding Islam in relation to race, feminism and politics but I had to step back and realize that I might be the only Muslim they have access too, which is a big responsibility but it is flattering that they do see my peers and I in a high manner when it comes to asking these questions. I feel as though there are not enough representations for young adult American muslims living in the United states and we’re beginning to see that change within our communities with people taking charge, even if it is by running a blog.
From your FAQ, you’ve been on the spoken-word scene for a while and your work has been recognized by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. When did you start writing poetry and when did you get into spoken word? Are you still doing it while pursuing your degree?
I wrote short stories for myself and my friends throughout Islamic School for many years. Then when I got into high school, I focused more on poetry but I wasn’t good at all. It’s actually really embarrassing for me to read my old poems! But my English Teacher in Freshman year “discovered” me and encouraged me to try out for the school’s poetry slam team. In sophomore year, I preformed on a stage at the poetry slam competition, Louder Than A Bomb, for the first time and it was scary. I still get stage fright till this day even though I’ve been performing for 6 years now. When you have a skill or talent, it’s work…you need to practice to make it perfect and get better. No matter how good you are, you always need to practice and by writing all the time, I got better.
I haven’t been able to write anything new since I began university, but I get inspiration everyday and make sure to jot them down to save it for later use. My style had always been personal story telling but I think when I start writing again, it’ll change, especially now that I’ve grown up a lot since high school.
Following up on that, where do you see spoken word—and poetry—in the larger conversations about social justice, especially in a world of blogging, tweeting, and tumbling? I feel it has a special place in some communities as a bassline and a balm in the rough times…
Oh yes! Poetry and Spoken Word is so crucial to the discussion in social justice. Even if it taking a stab at it humorously like Kai Davis’s poetry, who is an amazing poet and some people might have seen her duet piece talking about white hipsters. Those people who haven’t been in the poetry scene might look from the outside with a skeptical perspective but in the Chicago spoken word scene, so many of the poems are real stories from Chicago youth suffering from unfortunate things like domestic abuse, gun and gang violence, racism, sexism and religious oppression. It is very much a platform that has been pushed away to the side but I see it making a huge comeback in the future.
The last question I try to keep light: what are you into nowadays? What are you reading, movies you’re digging, music you’re into, people/things moving your soul?
Well, recently I just became a columnist at MuslimGirl.net, where you can read stories and articles written by Muslim women about their experiences living here in the United States. So I’m busy writing up my latest article about menstruation which was inspired by Laci Green’s misquotation of the Qur’an in her latest video which is also about menstruation. I’m also currently taking classes about social justice issues in university. I’ve learned so much from tumblr but it’s good to go out and know that it is being applied and taught in university classrooms, so it’s helping me a lot in learning every day.
Anything you’d like to add?
Nothing else but to thank you for this wonderful opportunity to be featured on one of my favorite blogs. You do some amazing work and I’m looking forward to reading and learning from you.
As we at the R look forward to doing with you! ::hugs::
This week’s Crush and I chatted about deep things at the main blog, like casting in theater, working with the incredible actor Joe Morton, and “California racism.”
In the second part of the interview, Isaiah offers his holiday-break list of things he plans to see/read and his glad tidings for the new year.
OK, enough deep questions. Here’s a shallow one: what book do you want to curl up with and read, which movie do you want to see, and/or which TV show do you want to catch up with during your break from Stanford?
There are a number of books that I plan to tackle in the coming weeks: Nicole Fleetwood’s Troubling Vision: Performance, Visuality, and Blackness, Salamishah Tillet’s Sites of Slavery: Citizenship and Racial Democracy in the Post-Civil Rights Imagination, and Brandi Catanese’s The Problem of the Color[blind: Racial Transgression and the Politics of Black Performance, to name only three. I hope these will prove useful to my project. In between reading, writing, sleeping and generally enjoying the energy and comforts of the east coast, I also hope to make my way through the first, second and third seasons of Treme. I am a huge fan of David Simon and Ed Burns (even if I sometimes question their depictions of Baltimore) and an even bigger fan of the incomparable Khandi Alexander and Wendell Pierce. I am eager to see how they engage and render the great city and culture of New Orleans in the show. And since I will be directing Tarell McCranney’s Marcus, or the Secret of Sweet, which takes place in a fictional town, San Pere, Lousiana, that bears a resemblance to New Orleans, in the coming months, I’ll just consider my television-watching research!
Since you’re the last Crush of 2012, what’s your New Year’s resolution and/or your wish for humankind for 2013?
As most of my friends know, I love a launch! There’s nothing more exciting to me than new beginnings. Accordingly, I find great joy in crafting New Year’s resolutions. In fact, I place my resolutions in an excel spreadsheet at the start of every year; I return to the spreadsheet at least once a month to track my successes and to note room for improvements. My 2013 resolution spreadsheet has already been created and saved! This year, I hope to: write daily; eliminate fear; and, significantly, surface love. I also plan to: get back into a consistent running rhythm; drink more water; and, travel internationally (a month in Cardiff, Wales is already in the works!).
My wishes for humankind mirror the wishes I have for myself: that is, the elimination of fear and the surfacing of love. Indeed, I hope 2013 will see us all loving fearlessly! If we do, it promises to be a beautiful year! Here’s to another one…
I think this week’s Crush has a certain 360 way of thinking about social justice: not just how issues and activism around food, women’s rights, poverty, land rights, and immigration connect and cross each other, but, like I said at the main blog, it’s almost like he’s moving toward to an almost unified theory of progressive philosophy and action.
Below is a excerpt of an 2010 interview with Up The Anti, in which Patel discusses the concept of “food sovereignity,” how capitalism causes both starvation and obesity, markets without capitalism, and why he gives side-eye to “professional revolutionaries.”
In Stuffed and Starved you write about the international system of food production and distribution. You argue that this system results in starvation and obesity. Can you elaborate?
These problems are an inevitable outcome of the way capitalism controls and distributes food. When you distribute food through a capitalist market, you’re guaranteed two outcomes: people who have money get to eat, and people who don’t have money don’t get to eat. The original imperial idea behind the creation of world food markets was that they would allow people around the world to eat. But under this model people who don’t have money go hungry, and it’s no accident that these people live in the countries where food is grown.
In Stuffed and Starved, I look at the concentration of power within capitalism and the food system, and show that corporations control a great deal of what is alleged to be the free market in food. On one end of the food system, this control allows them to underpay people who produce the food. The worst paid people on earth are farm labourers, closely followed by small farmers. That’s why in the Global South people who are undernourished and living on fewer than 1900 calories per day tend to be farm workers. On the other end of the food system, corporations have an incentive to produce food that is profitable – that is, high in fat and salt and sugar and all the things we crave. These foods are principle sources of the obesity epidemic. But the epidemic doesn’t affect everyone equally. In the Global North, overweight people tend to be food insecure. This points to a more general rule. Poverty, whether in rich countries or poor countries, means you are less able to control your diet. For the very poor, this means starvation. For the urban poor – in the Global North and increasingly in the Global South – this means food that contributes to obesity and diabetes.
You claim capitalism is central in creating and reinforcing these problems, but you distinguish between capitalism and markets. Why are you in favour of markets?
Markets are terrific. Markets are as old as human civilization – the idea is simply that people from different groups get together and exchange stuff. They’re a venue for interaction, for building trust, and for reciprocity. Exchange is vital if you’re going to live in a world that moves beyond village autarky (and there’s nothing precious about village autarky).
But markets today are typically held to be synonymous with capitalism. In the confusing conflation of markets and capitalism, many people blame markets. However, the problem is not the phenomenon of exchange, but the way in which goods are produced for the market. Most people like the idea of free exchange of goods and services, de-centralization, and of not being told what to do. But this reasonable appreciation of markets becomes a forced love of capitalism because we are denied the tools to think of other ways of producing goods for exchange. There are, however, other ways of organizing production while retaining the decentralization and absence of coercion that make markets liberating.
So you think markets can be combined with something like workers’ control?
They already are. This isn’t just some leftist pipe-dream. We already see that the largest industrial cooperatives, such as the wholly worker-run city of Mondragón, Spain for example, are nonetheless capable of operating in markets. Without wanting to oversell workers’ control as a panacea – it is possible for there to be coercion within and between workers’ organizations, after all – the Mondragón cooperatives at the very least demonstrate the possibility of large-scale worker-owned organizations. There are, of course, other civilizations in which markets prevail and capitalism does not, which remind us that markets and capitalism have been historically separate, and will be again.
What would food sovereignty look like? How do you relate progress in this sphere to broader issues of social transformation?
Food sovereignty is an idea that comes from the international peasant movement La Via Campesina. In 1995 at the World Food Summit in Rome, they tried to articulate a vision different from the neoliberal conception of food and food politics. Central to La Via Campesina’s vision was the idea that we need more than food security. Historically, the definition of food security specifies that there should be enough healthy food available and that everyone should have sufficient access to it so that they can lead a healthy life. The trouble is that this concept hinges on “access.” You can, after all, be “food secure” in prison where, if you’re lucky, you can get nutritious food three times a day, and not starve. Therefore, food security can look like someone shoving food down your throat.
“Food sovereignty,” by contrast, is the idea that people have control over their food system. Basically, it’s a demand for democracy in the food system. And that demand is intricately linked with a range of other struggles and questions.
Although “democracy in the food system” sounds vague, it rests on a series of non-negotiable foundations. Among the most important is the demand for women’s rights. At the 2008 Via Campesina summit in Maputo, Mozambique, one popular slogan asserted that food sovereignty is about “an end to all forms of violence against women.” In other words, in order to have vibrant food democracy, gender-based injustices and inequalities need to be challenged from the World Trade Organization and World Bank down to dynamics in the household. This is what makes La Via Campesina’s call for food sovereignty a twenty-first century idea. They’re not demanding a return to some sort of bucolic peasant past, but are instead insisting on a politics that we have yet to see.
At the heart of food sovereignty is the idea that ecological and political constituencies should intersect, and that democracy entails many overlapping sovereignties. Designating a state or a single body to decide things is a recipe for disaster. We need overlapping sovereignties and jurisdictions in order to have a politics that’s workable, vibrant, and democratic. In perforating the boundaries between jurisdictions – sometimes calling on local forces to shape food sovereignty, sometimes on national or supra-national forces – food sovereignty is an invitation to re-imagine the very notion of political constituency along overlapping ecological lines.
Given the interconnections between the food system and other systems (such as patriarchy, ecological destruction, and imperialism), is it possible to seriously confront any one of them without simultaneously confronting the others? How could these various struggles be tied together without something like a revolutionary party – though not necessarily a Leninist “vanguard” party?
My inner anarchist is very suspicious of the idea of a revolutionary party because within them power is typically concentrated in the hands of a few people. I’m suspicious of the idea of a professional revolutionary. The interesting kinds of social change that I’ve seen (and which I write about in Stuffed and Starved), are driven by very unprofessional revolutionaries, and are decentralized and autonomous in ways that aren’t really captured by classical ideas of the party – vanguardist or otherwise. I’m very open to the idea that there are other forms of the party that might work, and I’m keen to learn more about those.
We do need to tackle several things simultaneously. But is the party the best vehicle to be able to do that? The Brazilian Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) – a movement of landless rural workers that relies on the concept of multiple fronts – is one of the most interesting initiatives addressing the food system. It’s not a party. It’s a movement in which cells of 100 families get together and figure out not only how to reclaim land but how to manage their affairs collectively: how to arrange their education, how to demand health care from the government, how to do many things simultaneously. There is a division of labour, and there are militants who help to organize the movement. But those militants are part of the communities in which they work, and the communities are firmly in the driver’s seat. Good organizing skills and organizing culture are central to the kind of social change we need to see. Organizers have a key role, and I don’t think ‘spontaneous’ organizing ever happens. Anyone who has been involved in social movements knows that a ‘spontaneous’ protest takes forever to organize. That said, I’m not convinced that a single revolutionary party is the way forward. It’s an approach of which the MST are wary, and I think their suspicions – founded on many more years of experience than mine – are worth taking seriously.
As I said on the R’s main blog, I think Mira Nair’s guiding filmmaking principle is if you’re brown, grown, and sexy, you need to be in her films. So, I had to giggle when I came across this 2002 interview she did with the Guardian where she lays down her “no lipless actors” rule.
Below is an excerpt from the interview where she not only talks about the rule but also what it was like to work with Denzel Washington on Mississippi Masala.
BG: Mississippi Masala is probably the film closest to me because I have a lot of family down there. But I want to focus on the idea of the child as witness, with the camera looking up from the child’s point of view. Can you tell us a bit about that?
MN: I always like to reveal the fact that the emperor has no clothes. And children are best at that. They teach us how to see the world in that sense. They are without artifice; they see it for what it is. I am drawn to that ruthless honesty. In these films, children give us that way in.
BG: Did the moment where the little girl waves goodbye reflect something for you? Was it a frozen moment in time for you?
MN: I grew up in a very small town which is remote even by Indian standards. I always dreamed of the world. I read a lot and wrote quite a bit. We took great journeys across the country to visit relatives. Our relatives lived very far away because we are Punjabi from North India but my father was East India. We took long car journeys and looking out of the window was all there was. So that probably came from that. I remember in Satyajit Ray’s great film Days and Nights in the Forest also captured the same landscape because he comes from Calcutta, which is a neighbouring place to where I grew up. I remember seeing that in his films. I realised that was something I understood. And of course you use everything that excites you in film. But if I have an obsession at all, it is with hands. I love hands and I love lips. I never cast lipless actors. So Kenneth Branagh, no thank you. It’s a weird thing but I do have these two obsessions.
BG: In Masala there is an issue that I’ve never seen dealt with before, the issue of black and brown - the conflicts and situation. That is very fresh, and goes with you saying you wanted to make cinema that puts black and brown people at the centre.
MN: Well, Mississippi Masala grew out of being an Indian student at Harvard. When I arrived I was accessible to both white and black communities - a third-world sister to the black community and Kosher to the others - yet there were always these invisible lines. I felt that there was an interesting hierarchy where brown was between black and white. Even before Salaam Bombay!, I had wanted to tell this tale. That, along with the irony of Indian racism and the separatist nature of the Indian community in America … I began to read about the weird phenomenon of every southern motel being owned by an Indian, and many of them were exiles from East Africa after Amin had thrown them out.
There is this very cerebral concept: what was it like to be an African, but of Indian skin who believed India to be a spiritual home without ever having been there and to be living in Mississippi? An what if this world collided with that of black American who believed Africa to be their spiritual home, but had also never been there? It must collide through love, because we must sell tickets!
BG: I’m going to ask you a fan’s question. What was it like to work with Denzel Washington?
MN: Well, that was at the beginning of what he was doing, really. We are very good friends and I’m so happy to say that our [Oscar] campaign worked for him this season, a long time coming. He was consummate, he was so easy with the camera. But the one thing that was difficult for him was to be in a stupor of love. I was in a stupor of love, I had just met Mahmoud who I am now happily married to, and I knew what it was like to be in that stupor.
The film came out of that stupor and I really wanted Denzel to be in that stupor. He had done all the nice scenes - being his father’s son and the good boy - but then it came to the love stuff, and I noticed him throwing it away. I couldn’t have it because, as any director will tell you, all you’ve got is that moment. I’m not Woody Allen, I don’t re-shoot.
Now, he had won the [best-supporting actor] Oscar, a month before we begun shooting and although he was not that well known, he was still flavour of the month. So I remember being quite nervous about asking him to “put out”, you know? So I told him that he couldn’t be rational, he just had to go there and be weak-kneed. He was looking at me really suspect. So I said that the point is that if you’re allowing yourself to be totally vulnerable, no defences, then the female audiences will just eat you up …
BG: Oh yeah … !
MN: Spike Lee is a good friend of mine, we used to share editing studios when we were poor - I would work in the morning, he would work in the evening - and I remember him telling me that when I cast Denzel, he was never going to take his shirt off. But then one day we were filming this harmless mechanic scene with Denzel under the car and he had his shirt off!
I told him that he didn’t have to, but he said that it needed it, and by that time he was in a stupor of love, in love with the movie. He was great.