Only a few hours ago, I just completed another Undoing Racism workshop by The People's Institute for Survival and Beyond that was geared toward religious communities (I am proud to say that my synagogue showed out to represent the Jews!). I love the Undoing Racism workshop because every time I go I learn something new, and I gain a deeper understanding of the things I already knew.
What I appreciated about this latest workshop was how it clarified a few things that have been stewing in my head for a while. There are two things that I took from this workshop that is going to shape how I work from now on.
1. Racism is the biggest obstacle to organizing movements for justice and social change.
Pay close attention to what this is saying -- and, more importantly, what it isn't. This does not mean that racism is the worst kind of oppression, nor is it saying that racism is the only oppression that matters. It means that racism shoots us in the foot every time we try to move toward change.
You can't say, "Feminism is about achieving justice and equity for all women" and work toward that in a way that primarily (and often exclusively) benefits middle-class White women. You can't advocate for justice and equity for LGBTQ people while ignoring how LGBTQ people of color bear the brunt of anti-LGBTQ policies and violence. You can't save the earth and ignore the impact of imperialism and colonialism on the process of industrialization. When it comes to class, you can actually make an argument that racism was deliberately set up in order to prevent European indentured servants, African slaves, and Native Americans from joining together and organizing to resist economic exploitation and domination by the ruling class.
2. Anti-racism is about transforming institutions and systems.
Racism is the Matrix; to get out of that programming, to see it for what it is, we have to take the red pill. Otherwise, everything you do is still operating within that system. If the work we do reinforces that system, it won't matter how many people of color are on the stage, on the board of directors, or even in the audience.
Anti-racism strikes at the core of an institution or system: how it structures itself and functions in the community as a reflection of its values, beliefs, and mission. This is where the code that keeps us in the Matrix comes from. This is where our energy and effort needs to go.
There's a lot more that happened in that workshop, but this is my starting point.
July 15, 2012
Dear Mama Regal:
Baruch Ata Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha'olam, shech kakah lo ba'olamo.
(Literal translation: “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who has such as this in His universe.”)
I say this blessing every time I turn on my laptop and see the screencap of the Evil Queen I have saved there. Unfortunately, my knowledge of Hebrew is limited, so I cannot create a blessing that is more tailored to great artists or their work. I do this because, believe it or not, your work as the Evil Queen has been a blessing in many ways. I would now like to share a few of them with you.
Your performance as the Evil Queen in Once Upon A Time has connected me to a community of intelligent, engaged citizens of the world. It has been a real treat to have in-depth discussions about issues Regina brings up simply by being who she is. Through this character that you have so brilliantly brought to life, we are able to talk about race, gender, sexuality, class, mental illness, trauma, abuse, and other things that affect us here and now.
This would not have been possible were it not for you.
Another blessing that your portrayal of Regina has bestowed upon me is a growing awareness of my own capacity for compassion. It's amazing to me that I can look at this person who has done such horrible things and still see what is wonderful and beautiful about them. Through you, I feel in my gut the suffering at the root of all the evil that she does. If I had the power, I would not punish her; I would heal her. In a roundabout way, by simply doing what you do, you have made me a wiser and more compassionate human being.
For that, I thank you.
In appreciation for your life and your work (and the fact that you are a fellow English major), here is an annotated list of books about fairy tales that I believe you would really enjoy. If you get your hands on any of these, I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
- Joan Gould, Spinning Straw into Gold: What Fairy Tales Reveal about the Transformations in a Woman's Life. Examines fairy tales as stories about the changes that women undergo at different phases of life. One of my favorites.
- Emma Donoghue, Kissing the Witch. Haunting retellings of familiar stories that subtly reveals the interwoven and cyclical way that fairy tales are born and reborn over and over again.
- Angela Carter, The Bloody Chamber. A classic. Visceral new versions of old fairy tales. Neil Jordan's The Company of Wolves was based on one of the stories.
- Susanna Clarke, The Ladies of Grace Adeiu and Other Stories. Short story collection that has all the wonder and whimsy and terror of traditional fairy tales.
Wishing you a very happy birthday and may more to follow.