Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Invited to the Table

As a queer woman of color, I have been called to break bread at multiple tables. Activist circles, nonprofit structures, social gatherings, creative projects-- and alongside of noted artists and thinkers. I am aware of these spaces being gifts. It is fortunate that most of these gatherings or "meals" are shared spaces full of like minded souls with similar backgrounds, cultures, and belief systems. However, the the flip side is the "invited space". This is where I am considered an outsider. My label must be worn because it played a part in how I got there. And at times, the troubling acceptance that these are invited spaces is usually hindsight.

I bite down hard on my womanist courage as I enter these spaces, asserting my existence and advocating for my community. Allies are crucial to every movement - just as much as the importance in “assuming best intentions”. I have been to the White House, but certainly on the shoulders of the folks in front of me.

In other instances, I have been the perceived “woman of color” or been labeled as “the black lesbian” in multiple instances and have received community flack and have been treated as a martyr. I was regarded as the one that overlooked my sisters. This is a circumstance of being invited and still being viewed as faulty and irresponsible. The power in the “smoking gun”. Our experiences are emotion filled and deserve real listening, compassion, and a genuine acknowledgement of black and brown women identified folks. We are complicated and evolving across gender and race lines...thus causing us to not engage sisterhood and to truly miss each other. One can only screw on their own head, let alone everyone else's.

But I want more. How do we invite ourselves to the table?

I find this to be even more complicated in my workplace. I inhabit the usual sentiment of the black woman in predominantly white space of power, hustling that “dance to make her dance” in order to use my steps to get some funds. Without actually being considered a part of the collaborative quotient. As the silent black woman, whose work is used, and back is broken, and needs are negated. A white or male perspective is valued in every community, even from the queerest standpoints and most feminist spaces. When I am asked to contribute, I am treated as a representative and never as a collaborator. It is difficult to be heard amongst my white counterparts and queer brothers who inadvertently may repeat what I have already said and find themselves being touted as the owner of my thoughts, opinions, beliefs, and philosophies. Male bodies get listened to. And the formula becomes even more tangled when gender politics surpass race. When the societal oppression that sexuality carries, is set aside and you are still just some black lady at the end of the day. Again, when men of color get served first and white bodies are allowed to enjoy the actual feast. Therefore, I was never actually invited or meant to be invited in the first place.

Who's table is it? And when can it be mine?

One of my artist sisters, has been hitting the ground tirelessly for years as a well known photographer of homeless and transient LGBTQ youth of color, but was quickly overlooked for a highly earmarked magazine portrait of a young woman who is living on the streets, chronicled by a white woman. I could see her digesting this emotional slap for weeks to follow this occurrence. The disregard for our work is REAL and deeply racist. We are silent and it hurts.

And earlier this year, it became a complicated honor to embark on a highly publicized brainstorming session for an anti-violence campaign. I sat as one of the few queer women of color on this board. It was a stark contrast to my previous experiences because I was actually being heard. I have done much work to not hate myself in these spaces. It informs my previous experiences of “being the only” and I “out” myself on a consistent make my point. Perhaps this is a choice, but in these circumstances I don't know how else to live. I have put myself out there for my unheard sisters and deeply want to push for spaces of inclusion and access for folks that will never get to recognize their personal ability to “rise”.

In order to live, women of color adjust our perspectives. We see the way things are, move towards acceptance, and eventually make the changes and enter the roads that perpetuate our truth. Our stories, our innovation. But on these roads, how do we heal?

I will have the opportunity to speak with community and to air my thoughts at a conversation on November 13th. I hope that you will be there. Information to follow.