How Superheroes Can Demonize People of Color

I went to an anti-police brutality rally protesting the death of Mike Brown recently. But it wasn’t just about Mike Brown. It was Trayvon Martin. It was the woman down the street.  It was for everyone who ever suffered under a racist police system.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ari/8460113914/

Anti-police brutality rally, Feb. 2013.

And as I stood in the crowd and chanted and yelled with my voice ringing with a myriad of voices around me, I thought about superheroes. I thought about the Justice League coffee mug I own and how out of all the superheroes depicted everyone is white.

jla

The mug features head shots of Robin, Batman, Superman, The Flash, Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) and Wonder Woman. Everyone is white. What this means is that the heroes are white. The good guys are white. The guys who win, the guys who have the power, the moral righteousness that lets them make difficult choices. These heroes are white (and overwhelmingly male). I know not all police officers are white. I know you can be a person of color and still be racist both against your own race and against others. But I also know the message DC sends to its fans when it produces merchandise like this.

Cyborg is now on the Justice League and I’m thrilled that DC has taken this step, but it’s not enough. We need to show comic book readers of all colors  that your race has nothing to do with your morals. We need to show casual fans that in a world where racist police exist, at least in fiction it doesn’t have to. That’s the joy of fiction: it can illuminate the world’s problems and it can also offer solutions to them. And sometimes the solution is depicting a world where it has already been overcome.

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Websites You Need to be Following

I always struggle to be politically informed and I don’t have an excuse. I have access to print and online sources. I have no excuse not to be informed. However, I am always concerned about where I read my news and what sources I can trust to give me a full picture of current events. Here are a list of websites I’ve compiled for anyone suffering under the same dilemma I face. These websites are not just news sites, but also websites with links to important petitions and social action campaigns.

1. http://www.truthdig.com

Truth Dig (founded 2005) is an online news website dedicated to digging up the truths more mainstream media would not cover. Some of their most famous publications include “The Last Letter” (written by a paralyzed American veteran who served in Iraq and writes to former President Bush and Dick Cheney calling them war criminals) and Sam Harris’ “The Atheist Manifesto.” The website has won 5 Webby awards for best political website.

2. http://www.democracynow.org

It’s an independent news site. That in and of itself immediately makes it more trustworthy  because I know they are not bought and sold by corporations. The hosts, Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, contribute to the news both through broadcasts and online journalism. If you do not want to read their stories online, check them out on NPR.

3. http://www.justforeignpolicy.org

As Just Foreign Policy explains on their homepage, they are about changing American foreign policy to be more just and reflect the views of average Americans not corporations. Like Democracy Now, Just Foreign Policy is also an independent news site. Their current campaigns range from releasing the US’s torture report to the public, to ending Drone Strikes in Pakistan. What I like best about this source is that it does not just encourage you to donate, but offers alternative means of action. Most times you are asked not only to sign a petition but also to make a phone call or send an email to your local representatives or even President Obama.

I am open to further suggestions of your best news site and I plan to add to this as I become more educated.

 

 

 

Bring Back the 2% Solution

In December 1930, Albert Einstein gave a speech in New York expressing his dedication to the peace movements in America and abroad. But he did more than speak in abstract ideals of a peaceful future. He proposed a solution. He said:

Even if only two per cent of those assigned to perform military service should announce their refusal to fight, as well as urge means other than war  of settling international disputes, governments would be powerless, they would not dare send such a large number of people to jail.

On December 30th 2013, the US census bureau projected that in 2014, the US population would be 317,297,938. Two percent of the American population is over 6 million people! Imagine the political strength of 6 million especially if, as Einstein suggested, each of these individuals encourages others to stand against war and militarism.

What if 2% of the American people decided to stop paying their income taxes until military spending is cut down and the money transferred to education or sustainable energy? What if 2% of the American people rallied against the NRA? What if 2% of the American people demanded Guantanamo Bay be shut down?

What if 2% of the American people realized they have a powerful voice?

I’m speaking specifically about the American people because America, and specifically American youth, have become depoliticized just when the world most needs a protest movement that moves beyond internet circles.

Politics and politicization is not just for radicals, but for everyone who has something they believe in. Politics is for everyone.  It is the way to have a voice and recognize the power of that voice, especially in standing for peace in a violent world. The suffering of people in Syria, in the Ukraine, the violent attacks on protesters in Taiwan and in Turkey cannot be ignored as conflicts for others to deal with and broker peace. The US cannot take any stance for peace beyond its borders until the US government cuts down its military budget and takes steps toward a domestic peace process to end their own state monopoly on a violence. The US relies on a racist and sexist system inherent in a violent culture to control its population.

Bring back the 2% campaign! With enough people believing in a world free from militarization as a means of political  control, radical change can be made toward a realistic peace.

For more information on the history of an international peace movement I recommend reading Peace: A History of Movement and Ideas by David Cortright.

Our masters have not heard the people’s voice for generations and it is much, much louder than they care to remember. -Alan Moore, V for Vendetta

 

Culture of Protest: Do not Fear Change, Fear Passivity

Before coming to Turkey concerned friends and family only knew Turkey was part of the dreaded Middle East. They told me not to go near Syria even though I’m living on the opposite side of the country on the European continent. They told me not to go near Gezi Park–the site of anti-government protests summer 2013 which turned violent when police used water cannons and tear gas canisters to disperse Turkish people encamped in the park. The protests have been compared to the Occupy Movement and the 1968 protests in America because of how people of all political affiliations have been involved and it is not just one issue they are fighting for.

When the Occupy  movement swept through American news, it was a joke to me. The people holding their protests against Wallstreet weren’t making change, they were making fools of themselves and contacting TB while they struggled to get organized. From my sheltered life as a college student in GA these protests were futile and I barely paid them any attention.

But living in Istanbul I’ve seen protests. I walked outside of Istanbul Cevahir (the biggest mall in Europe) and there was a crowd of people chanting in Turkish, yelling in Turkish words that I didn’t understand. The other American exchange students I was with stopped to gawk, inching closer with smiles on their faces as they felt like such big-damn heroes for braving a protest scene. As soon as the police showed up and started attacking people in the crowd, my acquaintances ran off, yelling for me to follow them. I cannot remember the last time I was so angry. How could these other exchange students be so heartless and exploitative at the expense of people putting their safety on the line for something they believe in? When did protests become a spectacle?

I believe it happens when people find them exotic. The Occupy Movement aside, there is not a large protest culture in America since the 1960s because it seems as if protests haven’t been working. Maybe it’s because America is such a large country that creating national fervor has become near to impossible. Maybe it’s because the American government is so great at turning its citizens against each other that we’re too busy to fight the real enemy of the government who is supposedly elected to serve us. I do not feel served as an American citizen, I feel betrayed by a system I was taught all my life is perfect. American Democracy.

And because have American democracy, things may not be perfect as we’re told they are as children, but things could always be worse so sit down, shut up and don’t complain. Laugh at the people brave enough to complain. Run away when things get too dangerous and don’t you dare try to stand up for your rights. It won’t work.

The protests in Atlanta after the Zimmerman trial didn’t stop the government or the court systems from being racist. The No More Names protest against gun violence following the Newtown school shooting didn’t stop the NRA from keeping its boot on the American government’s neck. They marched on Washington and nothing has happened to pass gun safety laws. It seems as if every protest we have is quickly forgotten as people turn a blind eye to suffering that does not affect them. Again, we are too busy fighting ourselves to fight the government and this is a form of oppression. Although the system of democracy advocates for the voice of the people in making decisions, the real world of living in American democracy tells you the opposite. It tells you not to make change and that maybe change isn’t possible.

Yesterday, March 11th 2014 marks the death of Berkin Elvan a 14 year old who left his home to buy bread during the Gezi Park protests and was hit in the head by police. Elvan had been in a coma since he was attacked and yesterday he died. In Istanbul and Ankara (the two largest cities in Turkey) there were massive protests and looking at the pictures  I wondered if protests like this could happen in America today. I wondered if protests like this do happen today and the government is great at covering them up or turning them into parodies to be laughed at.

But no matter what I wonder, there is one thing I know. One of the most striking ways Turkish protests differ from what I have seen and understand about American protests is that in Turkey, the protesters are not pushing for the government to enact small reforms. They are asking the government to resign. 

That is what American protests are missing: the belief that large-scale change can occur and that we are not beholden to the current system. I do not have all the answers for a perfect government but I do not fear a change in the system, I fear living my life under the belief that change is impossible.

Chelsea Manning: The US’s Warning to the Queer Community

Chelsea  Manning’s trial rages on and I didn’t think I could find something more disgusting than the fact that she was on trial in the first place. When I wrote Collateral Murder and Bradley Manning  a few months ago I thought I had seen it all and could firmly claim that the US cared more about the vague term “national security” than it ever would for its people.

The trial has gotten worse however. It is a small blessing that the government is not seeking the death penalty as Manning’s punishment, but the sentence now pending is 90 years in prison for six Espionage Act Convictions. Manning put out a confession recently saying:

I am sorry my actions hurt people. I’m sorry I hurt the United States.

Even if this confession is in the hopes of receiving a lesser sentence who did Chelsea Manning hurt? The pride of the US military? Boo hoo. How did Chelsea Manning hurt the US? By informing its citizens of war crimes? By her apology, she implies that she is guilty of treason. She has hurt the US. He has hurt people. This confession is sickening and I wonder what was done to her to make a person of her moral caliber turn around and take everything back. Yes, she could have gone through a more “legal” means of informing the American people of these war crimes, but she knew what was morally correct. I am terrified to think of what was done to her for him to come out with such a confession of guilt.

But even the confession itself is not the worst piece of the trial. Instead of focusing on evidence related to WikiLeaks, Dr. Michael Worsley has testified that Manning is diagnosed with Gender Identity Dysphoria. The military definition is someone who feels he or she is born into the wrong body (I do not know if this is the same as transgender although a lot of sources tend to conflate the two). Supposedly due to the gender roles associated with masculine army men, Manning felt isolated and had no resources to seek guidance. Her gender identity is spoken about not only as a disease. And even worse, it is used as evidence against Manning!

It is as if her gender identity is the cause of her supposed treason. Why else would such unrelated material about Manning’s personal life be brought into a trial concerning actions  of “aiding the enemy”?

This tactic of broadcasting her queer identity terrifies me. There is a message here to the queer community of America, spoken through Manning’s trial. We are being told with a subtle threat to keep our heads down. We are being reminded that we are the minority and should be on our toes. By linking Manning’s queer identity to her actions, standing up against the government, we are being told that any of us could also be traitors to the state. Queer = traitor.

If America wants to claim we are only a few steps away from being Chelsea Manning, then I have to say one thing:

We are Chelsea Manning.

 

 

 

Russia’s Neo-Nazi Homophobia

I don’t keep up with politics and current events as often as I should. Though I’ve been aware that Russia has serious human rights issues going on with homophobia, I had no idea that it was as bad as it is. I thought I package it neatly in my mind under the vague umbrella term of human rights issues and that because I didn’t see it happening that it couldn’t be so terrible. I am incredibly naive at times and still need to check myself and my privilege far more often than I currently do.

A friend of mine posted this link on facebook from The Gaily Grind complete with videos of a Russian Neo-Nazi group torturing a teenage gay man.

Here is the video. I have not watched it yet because just reading the article made me sit down and cry and I know I do not have the stomach to watch this violence. But I also know that it is important to do so in order that we are all shocked awake from our day dreams of a progressive world where bigotry and hatred are small nuisances, existing on the frames of our conscious minds.

We have a long way to go in human rights and I feel that no matter what I say, nothing will sum up this atrocity. Especially because it is not the only case of torturing LGBTQ people and it is being treated as commonplace in Russia! The Neo-Nazis who recorded this video are not being punished or taken in by the police. Public opinion supports their monstrous behavior.

The Gaily Grind’s article posted above reports that:

A recent poll by Pew Research Center found that three out of every four Russians say society should not accept homosexuality. The percentage of those who think homosexuality should be accepted dropped 4% since 2007, from 20% to 16%.

In March, Levada Public Opinion Center reported that 85 percent of Russian adults said they were strongly against a law that would allow same-sex marriage. They also found that supporters of same-sex marriage in Russia fell from 14% to just 5% over the past three years. On the other side of the spectrum, some expressed strong opposition to homosexuality: 16 percent of those polled suggested that homosexuals should be isolated from society, 22 percent said that the treatment of homosexuality must be made compulsory, and 5 percent said that homosexuals should be ‘exterminated.’

I read this and I cried. What can be said about this? What can possibly describe the horror and hate we turn a blind eye to because we don’t want to see the great evil people are capable of? I don’t have the words! Maybe I’ll have the words someday, but right now all I can think of is how it is easy to pretend that because such hatred does not exist as blatantly in America that it does not exist. But hatred is hatred and there is no way to quantify it.

I was on the phone with my brother when I found this article. I paused in our conversation and told him that I was reading an article on how a gay teenager was tortured to death in Russia and if I was quiet for a few moments that was the reason. My brother told me that if I needed to go, then I should go. It hurt that he didn’t offer up an opinion. It hurt that he felt that if I just had a few moments to collect myself then I would be alright and that our conversation wasn’t truly muddled with death or stained with reality far beyond our mindless conversation of Pokemon games.

There are no words I know to describe this hurt I felt because hurt is too simple. I don’t have the words, but I need to share this article, this video and my story with finding out this information with anyone who will listen because someone will have the words. Someone will be able to describe why torturing someone for his or her sexual orientation is wrong and how it stems off from something as simple as gay slurs and other minor forms of hate speech. Hate is hate is hate the same way love is love is love. Even if I don’t have the words someone else will.

Wilde Interview: The Editor and Founder of Wilde Magazine on her Publication

I recently posted a blog highlighting the queer art and literary journal Wilde Magazine. Now I am lucky enough to have been able to interview the founder and editor of the Magazine, Nicole Wilkinson.

Here’s the complete transcript of our interview:

  1. Queer literary magazines have been around for a while already, what prompted Wilde to start now?

It began primarily as a personal endeavor. I was the editor of my high school literary magazine, as well as the vice-president of the GSA. As my senior year was coming to a close, I foresaw an emptiness that was bound to come once my involvement in these two groups had ended. So, I began to plan out Wilde Magazine, a magazine that would combine my need for involvement in the queer community, as well as my love of working on literary magazines. However, once I actually began to get to work on it and correspond with contributors and supporters of the magazine, I realized that Wilde was to be much bigger than a mere personal project.

2. How is Wilde different from other art and literary magazines which also focus on the queer experience?

3. Your website says that Wilde Magazine fosters discussion on the queer experience. Could you elaborate on that some more?

My answer for both of these questions is basically the same. The initial concept of Wilde was that it would feature a podcast, as well as have a forum where artists and writers could come and discuss their work, lives, and opinions. We wanted people to be able to workshop prior to submitting to the magazine so they could publish what they felt was made polished and perfect. Furthermore, earlier on we used to send back comments and critique to every person who submitted, whether we accepted or rejected them.

However, it took some time to find a stable group of staff members who had the time to stick with the magazine, so early on it was not possible to get the time or resources to keep the forum active (and clear out all of the spam we got there) and run the podcast. It also proved very difficult to give critique and comments to everyone who submitted, especially as the magazine got more popular.

However, all of these plans, the forum, the podcast, the critique, are simply on hiatus, and we ultimately plan to bring them back into the picture at some point in 2014.

4. What is Wilde’s take on allies writing about the queer experience and how it fits into the overall goal of the magazine?

I don’t want to say that we discourage straight people from submitting, because we don’t. However, Wilde is meant to be an extension of a queer space, and so in terms of having allies contribute or be on the staff of the magazine, we try to be very careful. In a queer space, allies should not try and overpower the opinion of queer people. It’s similar to when men enter feminist spaces – it’s important to insure that their voice will not overpower the group we’re trying to give a voice to. Rather, it is our hope that our straight allies who support the magazine would use it as inspiration to create more queer awareness in primarily heterosexual spaces and magazines.

We have published submissions from allies, and we have allies on our staff, but we try to make sure their voices and input are supported and backed by our queer contributors, supporters, and staff, as their voices are the most relevant in our mission. Therefore, we will always prioritize queer submissions over those from our straight allies.

5. Could you describe what you’re looking for in submissions? What best fits Wilde’s focus? Do you have any tips or advice for writers hoping to get published in Wilde?

Some people wonder if we are seeking submissions only related to queer issues, but as any queer person knows, being queer is only a part of our identity, and we have lives, and therefore art, that are just as varied as any other. We accept pieces explicitly related to the queer experience, we accept pieces where being queer is just an added spice to the piece, and we accept pieces that have nothing to do with queer issues.

It’s hard to say what we’re looking for exactly, because we are always blown away by the things we didn’t even know to look for. The totally unique characters, revolutionary story lines, art and writing we’d never seen before.

For those wanting to get published in Wilde, I would advise them to read previous issues of the magazine, to get a feel for our content.

Also, I would really advise them, as I would with any other publication, please read all of the guidelines, and please don’t disregard them. So many people submit incorrectly, so if you can show an editor and staff that you read and understood their directions, you’re already ahead half of the pack. If you can write a good cover letter as well, you’re ahead ¾ of everyone else.

6. What is the atmosphere like working for a magazine? Could you describe your staff and what a typical day is like?

That’s hard to say, as the staff and I don’t meet in person. I know a lot of them personally, and a good deal of us are from Colorado. We primarily work on the magazine individually and then correspond over Facebook, Skype, and e-mail. And the process we go through for submissions can span days, maybe weeks.

When a submission comes in, the advisory readers often look over it first. They leave comments for the editors and I to go off of. Then the editors and I look over it. Then, once we’ve sorted all of our submissions, I lay the magazine out, first on paper, then on InDesign. I send a rough copy to everyone on the staff and they point out errors and help polish it up.

I really admire the staff for all the work they put into the magazine, and their passion for art and writing. I get to work with a really dedicated group of people. I hope that one day I can meet them in person, like a big Wilde Staff reunion. That would be great.

7. In the upcoming years, where do you see Wilde Magazine heading? What are the future goals of the magazine?

We have big plans for the magazine.

We hope that in the near future, we can bring back the forum and start up the podcast next year.

We also hope to bring back critique and comments for those who specifically ask for it.

We want to eventually stop using HP Magcloud so we can print in bulk and offer the magazine for a much lower price, and make it available for sale at book stores, coffee shops, and any businesses willing to sell our publication.

However, after trying to manage these things early on when the magazine began, I’ve realized that it’s necessary to take small steps to reach these goals and expand. So, it may take time, but we’ll do our best to get there, so Wilde can be an affordable multimedia publication that serves, not only to exhibit the work of the queer community, but to create a discussion within it.

Thank you so much Nicole Wilkinson for sharing your work with this magazine! I know I am not the only one who values your input and the work you have done to make Wilde Magazine a growing success. Once again, thank you very much for your time.

If you have any more questions about Wilde Magazine, their submission guidelines or anything to do with this publication visit their website here. And just another reminder, issue #3 is available and can be purchased either in digital form or a print copy here.