Skip navigation

So I have a confession to make.

I’m a C+ student.

Sorta. I’ve been making a lot of A’s and B’s for the past year, but it is hard as shit to raise a GPA.

See Mama always told me that college would kick my butt. I breezed through K-12 without having to try. Then I got into Vassar; “a highly selective, residential, coeducational liberal arts college” according to the website.  Well I spent my freshmen year  still not trying: partying, hooking up with white women that exoticized me, and all around enjoying being 18 years old. And I still part, hook up with the occasional exoticizing woman, and enjoying being a young adult.

See, not to toot my own horn, but I like to think I’m pretty smart. And its not like I haven’t learned anything– in fact I’ve learned a shit ton ( a very relative unit of measurement to be sure). I take the hardest, most interesting classes I can, and so my GPA barely budges, but I’ve come to terms with that.

My sub-par (or is a C average, grade inflation makes it difficult to decipher) grade average reflects my laziness, my love of partying till 5am during the week, and my inability to do things that I’m not interested in.

But… I continually feel like I should try harder. I like to think of this as the POC burden. I’m one of I believe 6 or 7 Black American men students at Vassar in my year. That is out of over 600 members of the class of 2010, only 1% are of my demographic. I can see the White eyes from my peers, faculty, and administrators that I am a representative of a huge diverse group of people. So suddenly I feel like I should give up my passions that don’t involve course work, so that I don’t reflect poorly on every Black American male in the world. Of course many don’t expect me to do well, but that is a given.

But I’m not really one to conduct myself based on what Whiteness thinks. I am after all myself, laziness and all. Besides I just need to get my GPA up enough to get into grad school.

WTF.

Maybe some people don’t see what is wrong with this commercial, but I, and my friends who saw it the other day, could only laugh at the ridiculousness, and then just wonder why anyone thought this was a good idea.

For those of you who this may not jump out at– look at how babies (and mothers) in need are signified in the commercial. Very colorful I think. And then there is this whole thing with privileged American being signified as White.

As if there are no women of color in the US who could by the pampers, and as if there are no White people around the world who could use some assistance.

In fact– just in case you didn’t get that these were women and children of color from the Global South, they are wearing clothing that easily signifiers their position.

The comments on youtube in response to people that bring up similar things as I just have are responded to with the usual: “You notice race, therefore you are a racist. Followed by: don’t you want to help these children?” Which assumes: a) a critique of a commercial means you don’t want to help, and b) buying pampers is the only way to help. These comments also act like these babies of color were just randomly chosen– which obviously is not true–some serious thought went into how to portray babies in need.

WTF.

Edit: As some have pointed out there is also the deterministic motherhood thing going on in this commercial.

I originally posted this over at Vegans of Color.

Growing up I was an anomaly in my family: I was an extremely picky eater. By age 8 I refused to eat pork, and I never did like the vegetables that my mother cooked for family functions (might have been the smell of animal stock in them– they sure didn’t smell like normal vegetables, and when fried chicken was put in front of me I would pick at the skin (grease is good). My very anti-soul food diet blossomed when I became a vegetarian in the 7th grade. That was the point when I think my family decided I was sorta whitewashed.

I began to understand pretty early on that food is pretty important shit. Food isn’t just caloric and nutritional input, its a social construct loaded with meanings. And for a lot of my folks, my being veg*n was a white thing; it was a bougie thing. Those that tried to understand assumed it was for health reasons, or that I was trying to lose weight (I was a pretty big kid). Though I have never been veg*n for health reasons, I knew they were there. And health reasons were what I used to try and convince my family (but really, who listens to a 12 year old for health advice).

My school life wasn’t too different– being one of a handful of veg*ns in Middle and High School was difficult. With my family I learned that my veg*nisms made it more difficult to have those familial bonds one builds while eating and sharing culturally-loaded foods. At school was when I learned that White folks viewed Black veg*ns as trying to assimilate (or some such crap). When I told White folks that I was vegan or vegetarian soon after came some question about soul food, fried chicken, or chitlins (chitterlings to some). And soon after this question the person would reassess me– look at my Propagandhi cd, my tight jeans, my copy of Manifesta under my arm, and decide that either a) I was an uppity little negro, b) an oreo to be made fun of (in fact only White folks have ever called me an oreo), or c) one of the good ones (not really Black in their eyes is what they would say). These reactions came from both White veg*ns (usually option c) and White non-veg*ns (options a, b, and c).

And even now I get these reactions, just with grown folks. I realized that everyone thinks they know what a White vegan looks like– but no one seems to have a clue about what a Black (or Latin@, or Asian, or Native American, or any other racial/ethnic group that isn’t white) vegan looks like. The only times I had even seen vegans of color mentioned outside of blogs, was PETA’s celebrity list.

But I’ve gotten used to being either invisible or a neon sign towards White folks. What bothers me is being invisible to other folks of color. Sunday I watched several several hours of BET. See they have their Black Buster movies (their cleverness continues to astound me) and I watched The Salon, Baby Boy, and Medea’s Family Reunion all in one sitting. The one thing I noticed, besides all of these movies sucking a lot, was that food was important. Especially fried chicken– there were so many freaking references (as if it was some in joke between the Black movie and its presumed Black audience). My only question is why are there no veg*n folks of color in movies, even as an in-joke like all the other non-normative Black folks became in movies like The Salon.

And this brings me to the fried chik’n in the title. See KFC Canada has started offering a vegan chik’n option (why PETA thinks this is some added bonus for animals is beyond me ). And though I don’t know if this option will be available here in the US, I don’t actually really care (I figure it will help animals as much as the BK Veggie Burger, which is to say very little).

The only thing I know is little Royce, back in 7th grade, would have been overjoyed at vegan options at restaurants where his family ate at (which would have been far more than KFC). I imagine that those veg*n options at meaty restaurants are good for something. They would have made it easier for this vegan Oreo to bond with my family over a meal.

The NY Times had a piece about the Olympics in Beijing having a testing lab to see which “suspect women” are “actually” women.

What?

The Olympics has a long history of these sorts of tests, nudity tests and chromosomal tests. Which were useful for revealing which women were men– which has never happened (the only man to have ever entered as a woman revealed himself 20 years after he came in 4th place for the women’s high jump– some advantage, huh). Instead it revealed which women, according to the NY Times, were born with defects, meaning not XX chromosomes.

This gender binary shit is getting a little old, and in fact one plastic surgeon interviewed said:

“It’s very difficult to define what is a man and what is a woman at this point,” said Christine McGinn, a plastic surgeon who specializes in transgender medicine.

Because of a range of genetic conditions, people who look like women may have a Y chromosome, while people who look like men may not, she said. Many times, the people do not learn of the defects until they reach adulthood. “It gets really complicated very quickly,” McGinn said.

No duh. Why this isn’t taken as evidence of the ridiculousness of a binary sex/gender system is beyond me.

Also, It can only be sexist thinking would assume a male athlete is automatically given an advantage because he has a penis.

My current job allows me to watch a lot of movies. So I just found one nestled in between some French films called Black Hair: The Korean Takeover. This movie pisses me off for a lot of reasons: I think one of the reasons is definitely that it sucks. Like cinematically it sucks. A Lot. I can’t believe that people pay money for this– I can’t believe Vassar College paid money for it.

You can watch it here btw.

And one quick note– the film totally ignores the fact that some people could be both Black and Korean.

To give a quick overview:

White dude (Aron Ranen) with a camera makes a documentary about Black Hair products being sold by Korean/American (though truthfully he not once calls them Korean Americans, but more on that in a bit). He then details how BOBSA was formed (giving himself much credit for its formation), and in fact the film seems to be BOBSA propaganda. He makes some weak connection that this supposed Korean Takeover of Black America was started in the 60s by the S. Korean and US governments, because Korea banned the export of raw Korean hair, and the US banned the import of Chinese hair a year or so later (I personally don’t think that the jingoistic trading practices of nations results directly in the issues too ethnic groups have in one country, but whatever). Then he travels around, filming black and Korean people, and being all around that white dude who’s down with black causes.

So one major issue I have with the film is the pervasive white gaze. This is a white dude who goes into black neighborhoods filming Black folks and Korean/Americans. White people aren’t even mentioned in this film. Which is odd, since we live in a very white nation. Hey, its nice for them not be the center, but when we’re viewing this through a white lens somethings off. The film is full of images of Black people blaming all the problems in the Black Community on Korean immigrants opening businesses. Their analyses is missing the effects of structural racism, which has to include analyses of Whiteness and its effects on economics (Korean immigrants sure as hell didn’t cause the majority of Black people to be at the lower rung of the class ladder).

This film, is xenophobic to the core. Between Ranen never referring to Korean Americans as Korean Americans, but only as Koreans, and Ranen often calling Black folks African-Americans (which strengthens their Americaness), the Korean/Americans are constructed as Other. In fact the discourses of invasion are rampant. Just look at the subtitle– the Korean Takeover.

So the film blames Korean/American store owners for taking over the Black Hair supply industry, and positions ownership of Black Hair stores by Black folks as our only salvation as a people (I really don’t trust bougie black folks and a white filmmaker to detail; the only hope for Black folks– ignoring the fact that black hair stores were owned almost exclusively by black people at one point and the fact that the whole idea ignores class). Ranen also never seriously interviews Korean/Americans– how hard is it to come to a new country, where one is marked as perpetually alien, and try to make a living.

I really dislike this film in the way that positions Black folks and Korean/American folks as competitors instead of as mutual victims of a white supremacist society.

And my views on black hair as a whole are going to need a post of their own, but since Ranen interviewed one person to see their views as far as what Malcolm X said about hair. I wasn’t pleased with the person’s answer (that we’re beyond the point where black people dislike their black features… that isn’t completely true at all), and I wasn’t pleased with the way Ranen did the scene.

So needless to say– I won’t suggest anyone watch this film because I agree with what it says, but rather because I think it is an example of xenophobic film, and an example of how far Black and Korean/American communities in our cities need to work on things together.

Picky is a word I get called a lot. My mom thinks my veganism is a by-product of pickiness (I was however a picky eater as a child). People call my musical taste picky (or sometimes elitist). I’m said to be very picky about my clothing (which is true).

So I wasn’t surprised when one of my best friends said I was too picky in my preference of romantic partners. See she and I have both been on a de-facto POC only kick as far as sexual and romantic partners. But when I told her that a person I had been into didn’t make the cut, she asked why– after all my former interest is a POC, My explanation that they weren’t radical enough in their thinking for me resulted in me being too picky.

I don’t feel like someone being a POC makes or breaks it for me. Is it too much for me to want to date an anti-racist, anarchist, feminist, vegan who fights systems of oppression who will smoke cigarettes with me and who is willing to listen to punk, hip hop, and electroclash? Maybe it is picky. But I can’t sacrifice my politics for romance.

So I’m out getting some udon at the sushi resturaunt near by, and I see this “Black in America” shit on CNN. My WTFs are answered by my more informed friend, and she tells me its this speial CNN has been doing. Well I meant to watch the special at 8 last night, but missed it because I had more fun things to be doing. Whatever.

Now I’m wondering– who the fuck is watching this? I’m pretty sure I and most other Black people in America already know what its like to be “Black in America.” I’m also pretty sure that anyone who really wanted to know could have read a motherfuckin’ book by now. But thats me assuming that it’s descriptive. Maybe it’s supposed to be prescriptive? But still– I don’t want CNN telling me how to improve Black America. Especially not when they are asking conservative fools like Janks Morton for his advice. But Kiese has that covered already.

So the semester ended for me here at Vassar, and as all the seniors moved out of their on-campus apartments they threw out a lot food. So my friends and I did the reasonable thing for a bunch of broke students who are working on campus during the summer– we grabbed our backpacks and hit the dumpsters.

This isn’t the first time I’ve dumpstered food, I lived off of it last summer. And I run into a lot of freegans on my dives, especially when in big cities. But the one thing I never run into are freegans of color besides myself, and occasionally a close friend of  mine. So my question is– where are these freegans of color?

Freeganism is a largely white middle-class movement (that seems to forget that poor folks have been eating garbage forever). And when I’m dumpster-diving I seem to have a few more issues to deal with, as a Black male, than my white comrades. They aren’t nearly as afraid of the police (or security), or threats of calling the police (or security), nor do they get harassed by law enforcement while diving to the degree that I do. I got harassed by security several times while diving on my own campus, until my white friends pop their heads out of the dumpsters. I’m also extremely embarassed for people to see me diving, because I can tell that I’m not just me, I’m also a representation of Black people in general.

So other than that I was wondering if any freegans of color can shed light on experiences.

So this post is mostly about semantics. I’m spending a lot of time thinking about semantics and power. And one word I’m thinking of in particular is the word Black.

I am Black.

And please don’t say I’m a black.

It upsets me to hear “blacks.” It dehumanizes, it forces me to just be black. The thing is I am Black, and I’m more than that, but Black is a proper adjective.

Also, I’m not African-American. I mean technically I am, but really I’m a child of the Diaspora. My connection to Africa is severed, and is now largely a creation of imagination.

So if you want to describe me, you can call me Black, or just call me Royce.

I’m going to explore this idea in greater detail later.

That is a quote from my “conversation” with a white-haired Leftist yesterday. It represents the main thing I learned from my Spring Break of conferences– first NCOR in DC, and then Left Forum in NYC. I had been disappointed at NCOR and pissed as hell at Left Forum.

My disappointments with NCOR can I think be attributed mostly to my hopes with the APOC folks. There are certain older individuals within the network that pushed me away– they felt this need to say everything they thought. At a rate worse than even the worst younger activists I interact with. They criticized elements of my generation of activists for strategies that taking into consideration emotions, or even just camaraderie. I can’t help but detect a corporate mentality.

Left Forum was much worse. NCOR is full of young leftists, the Forum is full of old folks. I was excited to maybe learn some new perspectives– but I wasn’t impressed after a few sessions. Everyone was reciting the same shit, that I have read people saying for years. Their theory and praxis is is so much older than I am. It hasn’t evolved, and it hasn’t changed. If it didn’t bring the Revolution in the 60s, how is it going to be any better now.

But it wasn’t their theoretics that upset me the most– oh no, it was their reactions to me. The stares, the constant reminders that I was one of the few people of color, and even fewer young people of color around. The worst was this old man when I was smoking a cigarette:

Me: Blah blah– laughing with friends. Cigarette in hand. 

Him: “Excuse me. Did you attend Left Forum today?”

Me: “Yeah”

Him: “You know tobacco was directly tied to the slave trade.”

wtf?

Me: “Yeah”

Him: “Doesn’t that bother you. Don’t you want to get free?”

“What the fuck? He did not just say that.”

Me: Everything we consume is linked to systems of oppression and violence.

Him: “But cigarettes take ten years off your life.”

And on it went. I was much too polite. I let him exert some white privilege on me, and I was pissed.

I am always afraid of being ageist in my interactions, but I think my conditioning to respect what my elders have to say has made me worry to much about being ageist. I have learned in the past week or so, to truly critically listen to my elders, because often they are full of more outdated and/or offensive ideas than wisdom, at least when it comes to politics.