We were left

with nothing more than audio

I can’t

Breathe

Don’t

Shoot

[Repeat]

We were left

with nothing more than slience

“rest”

‘rest”

“rest”

“rest”

[Repeat]

Notes on Thug Kitchen

The recent disclosure that the creators behind Thug Kitchen were a white couple from the west side of Los Angeles requires a certain intervention in Veganism with a big “V”. There has been a lot of commentary around cultural appropriation and what Thug Kitchen represents in a post-racial United States of America. (see 1, 2, 3,) I want to further the conversation by offering some general thoughts on Thug Kitchen, vegan politics, and the politics of being vegan.

In my opinion, vegan politics are nothing more than human folk trying to stop the murder, torture, and experimentation of animals. There are a multiple number reasons why people turn to veganism but in general it is assumed most vegans are motivated by health or animal right concerns. Regardless of why a person chooses to be vegan, I believe vegan politics carries an informed lifestyle practice that centers living a life of intent to protect animals. Unfortunately, living a life of intent creates an inherent barrier between what is meaningful and non-meaningful. For vegans a line is drawn between themselves and non-vegans. If vegan politics are informed by a lifestyle of intent based on healthy eating or stopping the exploitation of animals, then the purveyors of the violence against animals are essentially non-vegans. A boundary is placed between vegans and non-vegan as a measure of what a vegan lifestyle is.

As a vegan of color, the binary between vegans and non-vegans means that the marginalized communities where I come from are on the other side of veganism.  Non-vegans, which comprise the majority of the communities I come from, are living a lifestyle that harms animals. This basic binary between vegans and non-vegans is where veganism fails.  If a group of people are in opposition to your lifestyle then how can you see their connection to other forms of structural oppression? There is something wrong with the fact there were animal rights organizations before child-welfare organizations in the United States. There is an assumption that animals don’t have the ability to speak for themselves and that oppressed humans have the ability to change there particular circumstances. Under this formulation, Vegan politics centers around humans having the ability to speak for animals by assuming that the activist is able to fully speak for themselves. This leads to a form of activism that I believe informs thug kitchen, PETA, and a larger portion of vegan politics.

It is  offensive to see animal rights (AR) activists (not all) equating animal torture with universal human values. This stems from a larger problem within social justice activism that centers on the rights and representation of marginalized groups as the measure of change. To break it down, activism around rights and representation seeks to enact change through creating a compromise with the institutions that produce harms against folks. The danger of a rights and representation framework is that it normalizes the values of the people who benefit from oppression as the standard that we need to reach in order to be safe from harm. How activists materialize the values, characteristics, and standards of the institutions in power is by applying humanistic qualities to oppressed people/animals in hopes of appealing to the empathy of the people with power and privilege. This logic assumes that human characteristics and empathy are what stand between the freedom and death of oppressed things. Yet, as we see with communities of color, women, and queer folks, the category of human, or subhuman, isn’t enough to ward off oppression. The tactic of equating animal suffering to a set of human values that communities of color, poor people, queer folks and women don’t have is oppressive. This naturalizes humans (Cis-white men) as the exception to harm and that everything (animals, plants, black people, women, queer folks, and trans folks) needs to reach their status in order to be safe from harm. For example, personifying Orcas in Blackfish with human characteristics when marginalized communities are pleading to be seen as human means that well intended animal activists are continuing to dehumanized groups of people who never will achieve the status of human. If Jackie in South Minneapolis can’t be extend the basic right of being seen as a human, how can we fight to get people to empathize with animals based on characteristics potential AR activists (POC, Womyn, Queer folk) will never have? Vegan politics should be centered on the abolition and emancipation of all species. This shouldn’t be based on the human qualities that we all share but on the fact that nothing in this world should ever be caged or oppressed.

If vegan politics centers itself on abolition then the politics of being vegan needs to follow in a more radical/critical manner. The politics of being vegan needs to center around a critical engagement of the day to day personal experience of vegans. When the creators of thug kitchen identify with “Thug,”a word that has stigmatized and continues to dehumanize people, they are appropriating a term that they have never materially experienced. The creators of Thug Kitchen maybe criminals for appropriating “hood” vernacular but as explained brilliantly by Lisa Cacho, they will never be criminalized or “prevented from being law-abiding.” The term thug has little consequence for the creators of Thug Kitchen outside of a potential run-in with the criminal justice system in the form of a portly cop busting a party in Venice. I believe the majority of vegans, including the white couple culture appropriators, at a minimum, are trying to do something good for themselves, the earth, and/or animals. Unfortunately, the politics of being vegan is largely based on solitary consumer decisions that don’t necessarily lend itself to collective struggle. Whether cooking at home, buying vegan Saucony shoes, or being a vegan foodie, the politics of being vegan is inherently individualist for most people. The individual nature of veganism makes it more susceptible to fetishization, commodification or neoliberal restructuring. For example, when cities undergo gentrification, and other forms of topographical socioeconomic restructuring, we find institutions accommodating vegans or a “vegan lifestyle” at the forefront. As vegans, we never ask what our encroachment into communities mean for the residents who live there. Nor do we ask how a vegan-friendly restaurant in Highland Park(See 1 and 2) stops the torture of animals? If anything, we are allowing veganism to be commodified into the circuits of capitalism.

What are the politics of being vegan in a world where veganism is becoming more mainstream? I don’t have an answer for this question. What I do know is that vegans need to engage with other forms of oppression by connecting large systems of domination . Thug Kitchen stands as a reminder of the grotesque disembodied nature of what veganism could stand for. They are nothing more than an opportunistic lifestyle oriented heteronormative couple who were looking to do something creative and unique within veganism. It’s important to remember that the politics of being vegan aren’t found in a cookbook but in trying to change a culture that assumes it is okay to dominate living things. Veganism is political and needs engage all forms of oppression. There are fabulous people doing great work ( see 1 and 2) and who are living in a way that the UN believes can reduce the harms that privileged nations are inflicting on the earth. Thug Kitchen doesn’t speak for me as a vegan and they sure as hell doesn’t speak for the communities where the label “thug” can literally mean the end of life. Also, they don’t speak for animals.

 

 


Cacho, L. M. (2012). Social death : Racialized rightlessness and the criminalization of the unprotected. New York: New York : New York University Press.

Also, these are general thoughts.

 

Robin, Ferguson, and Renisha

Robin Williams did his thing, Ferguson popped off, and Renisha is never coming back. In the midst of watching masculine-identified bodies sway with the histories of struggle, followed by the pain of millions who adored a heartfull brilliant White man, I can’t help but feel that masculine aggression or a masculine way of knowing still means Renisha is dead on the porch at the hands of another white man. The police show force, and people counter with whatever force they have at their disposal, and Renisha is never coming back. The story that plays out with Robin and Ferguson can’t happen unless Renisha is dead. The connection I am trying to make is that dominant forms of masculinities, in order for them to be on full display, need women identified, gender non-conforming, lesser masculinities and trans folk to die.

Don’t get me wrong: its important to stand up for Black men, Black people and against the police. But the tragedy is that Renisha has to die in this scenario. We don’t pop off for Black women, Black trans folks, or Black gender nonconforming the same way we do for the Black men we lose. A function of this society is Black death. The brutal display of force that murders Black men, along with the silent death of non masculine-identified Black people, keeps the people who benefit from oppression in power. We know that Mike Brown, Sean Bell, and Oscar Grant are part of this cycle. Equal important are the silent deaths of Black trans folks, woman-identified, and Queers. Renisha, Crystal Jackson and Britney Cosby, Shelley “Treasure” Hilliard.

In all of the heart wrenching confusion of the past weeks, we as a Black community had a real victory. Regardless of the fact that the criminal punishment system is bogus, Ted Wafer will forever have a Wikipedia entry signifying him as a murderer. When we search for the word “murder” in a thesaurus Ted Wafer’s name will be there on paper. That has to account for something positive. Rarely are white men in the service of hetero patriarchy white supremacy labeled as murderers. Roosevelt, Jackson, Grant, Truman, Washington, Nixon, Johnson, Kennedy: (Not) Murderers.

This victory was brought to us by a strong community of women-identified and queer folks coming together to make sure Ted Wafer was known as a murder. Like Harriet liberating souls, or Ida speaking up about lynchings, there is something long-term and soul-affirming within the woman identified and queer Black radical tradition. It’s the hidden labor of women and queer folks behind the scenes in Ferguson who are making sure that people have what they need to resist another day. Yet, I can’t help but feel that the cycle of masculine power is incomplete unless queer and women identified folks die.

The news media is going to try to spin the character of Mike Brown inferring that his death was the only possible outcome for his Black body. Robin will become immortalized as a brilliantly flawed person with a brass statue at rehab and treatment facilities (when the truth is that he was a grown person who made the best decision for himself in that moment), more money will go into police departments to fund paramilitary forces, and queer women of color will speak to the fact that Renisha has died.

This is what I hope for, though:

Ferguson’s schools, police, county board, and local news will be put on blast for the injustices they keep perpetuating that create conditions where Mike Brown and others are gunned down.

Robin Williams will be given kudos for making a decision he thought was best for himself.

Renisha McBride’s family would be given a formal apology from the state, a lump sum of money, and some kind of no strings attached community development fund so other black and brown women/queer folk in the area have a fighting chance.

 

Sexual Assault

I was sexually assaulted on the bus. After repeatedly saying I wasn’t interested in his advances, the perpetrator touched my penis without my consent. I was reading Roderick Ferguson’s Abbreviations in Blackness.

As a frequent bus rider, the two most coveted seats on the bus are located in the rear corners. Aside from the deafening sound of the air conditioning, these seat offer able legroom and an uninhibited airflow on hot days. Usually, there is a mad dash among passengers to occupy the corner seats but on that day I was lucky enough to find an empty corner seat. Earlier in the day, I had received news that I was awarded a competitive fellowship that I had applied for. As I took my seat, I looked forward to the 45-minute ride to UCLA.

Halfway through the trip, I repeatedly heard a voice saying, in the seat across from me, that I had a “big dick.” Not wanting to cause a scene nor disrupt my emotional high, I engaged the perpetrator in a respectful manner expressing that I didn’t appreciate being objectified. I went back to reading my book but I felt his eyes watching me.

As the ride continued, the perpetrator repeatedly tried to compliment me on my penis. I ignored him and turned my body to show that I wasn’t interested in his advances. When I found a new potion to read, the perpetrator reached over his seat and touched my penis.

Shocked, I immediately crossed my legs, held up my hand, and verbally told him that he violated my space. He responded that he was sorry and only wanted to admire my body. Luckily, my stop was coming up and I was able to exit the bus.

Aside from knowing that the physical trauma I experienced was wrong, I kept asking myself if I had done something to warrant the actions of the perpetrator? I had repeatedly said “No.” Yet, “No” wasn’t enough to spurn the perpetrator’s advances. Working with Queer youth, I would address hypersexuality within queer communities pointing out that it was imperative to challenge people who would often equate who you slept with, how many people you slept with, and how you had sex, as a measure of your queerness. Claiming a queer identity and praxis meant interrogating the heteronormativity within yourself. No one can define being queer for you. The assault had me questioning if I was living by the standards that I laid out in front of my youth? As I lay down to sleep that night, my conscious started to speak to me and I found myself interrogating my gender expression, identity, and queerness.

For as long as I can remember, I had suppressed my gender expression/identity/queerness in favor of what thought would protect me from harm. I remembered being traumatized by how people treated different genders and identities, often with physical violence. Knowing that my crushes and gender expression weren’t normal, I choose to suppress my own wants and needs. As I grew older, I understood that my ability to choose my gender expression and identity was a privilege. The vast majority of folks don’t have the ability to choose.. Yet, there was a contradiction in my actions. Even though I had been conscious of my privilege and played it safe, did I respect the people who literally fought and died so I could have the ability to choose/not choose? Was I committed to a revolutionary praxis that involved challenging my power and privilege along with a commitment to queer love? Being assaulted reminded me that I had neglected revolutionary queer praxis and my own queerness.

My mind went to Assata and Audre Lorde as I lay in bed unable to sleep the night of my assault. Both revolutionaries believed that being able to access and express your authentic self was a revolutionary act. For Assata, living authentically meant never allowing systemic forms of oppression to deter the life you want for yourself. As long as I had faith and hope in a world based on revolutionary queer praxis then I would always have the ability to fight. Audre Lorde believed revolutionary praxis could be found in living authentically through the erotic energy within us that had been distorted in favor of a hetero patriarchal white supremacist society. That night, I took their messages to heart and knew I needed to find the strength to be brave for my own queerness.

If I want to shake the effects of hetero patriarchy, I need to commit to understand, explore, and mature the queerness within myself. To me, embodying queerness means a committing to a radical praxis that works to break down the borders of heteronormativity that surround our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual self. This means loving others and myself in a way that transcends systems of power and domination.

In touch with the erotic, I become less willing to accept powerlessness, or those supplied states of being which are not native to me, such as resignation, despair, self-effacement, depression, self-denial. – Audre Lorde 

 

 

The Killer in Me is the Killer in You: Masculinity, Desire, and Entitlement

Originally, I was working on a post about my evolving relationship to masculinity but given the recent misogynistic murders on the West Coast, I need to speak to masculinity, desire, entitlement, and how no self-identified man is free from their power and privilege.

The killer, who took the lives of 6 women behind the false rational that being lonely and sexless should warrant murder, should serve as a reminder to self-identified men that we must continuously interrogate our relationship to masculinity, desire, and entitlement. desire should continuously be interrogated. Unfortunately, the media will portray the killer’s actions as an isolated incident of an abnormal deranged lost young man. The media’s failure to adequately address the situation destroys the connection between the killer’s actions and the emotional, physical and spiritual abuse that is rampant by men in our society. Although murder is viewed at the end of the spectrum of violence against women though the killer’s actions on the spectrum of misogyny are horrific, we need to point out that the killer’s actions and sentiments can be found in all men.

It shouldn’t matter if self-identified men choose not to use their privilege. The reality is that living in a patriarchal society men are given unearned privileges by the fact they identify as men. It’s crucial that men practice as style of self-criticism that interrogates their power and privilege as a lifelong praxis. With this introspection, it’s crucial to understand that our desires are laced with power and privilege. We only have to look the number of songs talking about how nice guys are treated badly by women. In each of these songs, the male protagonist has an irrational assumption that their sense of entitlement is related to their desire for a woman. This entitlement is not only false but it creates a dangerous situation were men are validated for thinking being nice is all that’s required to have what they desire.

Misogyny is validated and reproduced socially within masculinity, as boys learn to harbor the sentiments that lead to violence against queer folks, women, and lesser masculine folks. What needs to be accounted for is how our contemporary visions of masculinity are found in the same genealogy that informed settler colonialism centuries before. Much like the killer’s need to express his desire and entitlement through violence, colonization was predicated on the belief that men, with the backing of nation states, had an inherent right to land and people. The killer’s claim of rejection and loneliness as the pretext for his actions is no different from the wealth, trade routes, and fame colonizers sought in the name social and national progress. In both cases, men with power and privilege felt they were entitled to have what they desired. Desire laced with entitlement is a core tenet of our current settler colonial hetero patriarchal white supremacist society. Its destruction can be traced from the genocide committed by Europeans to the actions of a misogynist on the West Coast. Columbus, manifest destiny, slavery, and boarding schools along with Columbine, Newtown, and now Isla Vista, are horrific reminders that masculinity is complicit in the reproduction of settler colonialism, white supremacy, hetero normativity, and patriarchy.

Any self-identified man, who claims to be a feminist, ally, or in solidarity with oppressed peoples, needs to consider how the very essence of themselves is complicit in the reproduction of systemic oppression. As men, we need to interrogate our relationships to masculinity, male privilege, and misogyny within our day-to-day interactions. I believe that self-identified men will never be able to rid themselves of the privilege we have. But, we can unlearn the social triggers that make us into undercover agents for misogyny. We have to do more. The killer in me is the killer in you.

 

 

Aside

Tonight was the first night, in a long time, that I hung out with hetero cis-men. After 30 minutes of hanging, I remembered why I choose not to interact with hetero cis-men. I do believe these guys are decent people, but under a system of white supremacy hetero patriarchy they are under-cover agents infused with rape, violence, and misogyny.  The conversations evolved around women, music, and food which served to create a form of regulation that benefited white supremacy and hetero patriarchy. The rapport being built served to validate certain oppressive viewpoints and forced people who may not have agreed to partake for the shake of “brotherhood.”

After sometime, I  interjected myself into the conversation by questioning a person’s authority of give or take away someone’s identity as a “feminist.” I explained that as a cis-man it shouldn’t be a concern whether someone labels themselves as a feminist. The reply I received from the storyteller was that the women in question did things he felt contradicted what a feminist is in his view. In what was a 10 second exchange, my interjection broke the flow of the conversation and everyone in the circle went silent focusing on me. It wasn’t til I laughed, a very awkward laugh, that the story resumed laced with oppression. What I learned through this interaction was that the normativity within the space was validated through a silent consensus that was synonymous with people’s laughter. It was difficult to tell if people were upset by what was being said. I had to negotiate my blackness, queerness, and ability to challenge false assumptions.

The emotional and physical labor I used to negotiate pieces of myself in the space made it difficult to challenge the oppression being reproduced through the story telling and “brotherhood” among the other men. When I interjected and all eyes were on me, I found myself searching for words to address the topic but in a way that didn’t alienate the people around me. Not wanting to destroy the conversation, I held back and allowed the conversation to continue. In that moment, I rendered myself complicit and found myself caught in the flows of a white supremacist hetero patriarchal regulatory system. Most importantly, I saw how friendship and “brotherhood” had been co-opted for the goals of hetero patriarchy.

Historically, “brotherhood” and the pursuit of brotherhood as been a prominent fixture in society. From country clubs to Al Bundy’s “No Ma’ma Club,” male-only groups have served to reenforce patriarchy and misogyny in the name of comradery.

How do self-identified men connect with one another in a way that doesn’t serve the goals of a white supremacist hetero patriarchal society?

Until till then:

Lessons From My Father

My relationship with my father is my primary mode of inspiration and the source that fuels my own exploration into patriarchy, sexism, and male privilege. My opposition to gender discrimination stems from witnessing how my father treated the people around me. I wasn’t present for much of the violence but the scars of my father’s territorial approach lingers in my DNA.

Patriarchs aren’t made from the same mold and are surrounded by complex systems of oppression to legitimize their position. In the case of my father, his background being a white skinned African American self-made man with anger problems created a unique set of constraints. I learned early in life that the objective of patriarchs is to occupy space through constraining the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual parts of the people close to them. As we have seen in settler colonial examples, patriarchs are legitimized and validated in their actions by the acquisition of space. Yet, power doesn’t occupy space absolutely. There are places unscathed and free from influence.

I want to spend the next month reflecting on how my politicization came from watching my father’s relationship to the people around me. In doing so, I want to work through my own relationship to patriarchy and my refusal to buy into the standard definitions of what it means to be a man and how this is rooted to my relationship with my father. In what will be know as lessons from my father, I hope to bring myself closer to my father and depart from the legacy he created.

Part 1: How do you keep someone accountable if they have no history? #lessonsfrommyfather