Black Women at the Oscars, Indigenous Women at Standing Rock, and Trans Children at School

February 27, 2017

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Here’s our pick of news, writing, and research this week that investigates political questions at the intersections of gender, race, and region.

1. Telling Black Women’s Real-Life Stories Could be Oscar Gold
Anna Julia Cooper Center Postdoctoral Fellow Sherri Williams for NBC News: “Little known stories of black women’s resilience and resistance in tough historical times are taking center stage at the Oscars this year with two actresses earning top acting nominations for their portrayals of black women historical figures. […] These nonfictional accounts of black women’s lives in film may be resonating with the Academy because such stories humanize black women without leaning on stereotypes the way that fictional portrayals of black women do, said Robin Boylorn, PhD, associate professor in the Communication Studies Department at the University of Alabama. ‘When we look at a lived live and we don’t manipulate it to suit stereotypical mythic expectations of black women as impenetrable or super women or super stereotypes then we’re able to get to the heart of the matter which is essentially humanizing us,’ said Boylorn, author of ‘Sweetwater: Black Women and Narratives of Resilience.’ ‘But when we’re humanized we’re seen as a person who other people recognize themselves in even if they’re not black women.’ […] It is no surprise that black women’s real-life stories strike a chord with the Academy because black women are ‘powerful, resilient, full of personality, just the normal things that we know black women have in abundance,’ said Gil Roberston IV, co-founder of the African American Film Critics Association.”

2. The Rise of Roxane Gay
Molly McArdle for Brooklyn Magazine: “[Roxane] Gay is the first black woman to write for Marvel, and her series, World of Wakanda, spins off from Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Black Panther, tackling romantic love between queer black women in a way that is both literally groundbreaking and utterly natural. […] Gay has been persistent and precise when so many others have not: she believes in a substantial variety of writers and writing that includes not only race and gender and sexuality but also class, ability, geography. She also takes as long and hard a look at herself as she does anyone else. When considering, in her 2010 HTMLGiant essay “A Profound Sense of Absence,” whether or not she read diversely, Gay concludes: ‘I don’t, nor do I know how to.’ At The Rumpus in 2012, she applied the VIDA Count’s methodology to race and a single year’s worth of New York Times book reviews. (The results were not pretty.) A few months later, she published a list of writers of color as a straightforward public editorial resource, a precursor to Durga Chew-Bose, Jazmine Hughes, Vijith Assar, and Buster Bylander’s ongoing Writers of Color project. These are neat strategic moves—born from Gay’s Scrabble champion brain—that presuppose common arguments for inaction: misdirection, or we can’t be racist because we just published this one exception, is made hollow by data; misinformation, or we can’t be racist because we can’t find anyone to write for us, is gutted by names.”

3. What 4 Indigenous Women Have to Say About Standing Rock’s Ongoing Fight
Yessenia Funes, on one of four indigenous women activists she profiled for Colorlines: “[Kandi] Mossett [was] not at the camp [in the days nearing the Army Corp’s deadline for protesters evacuation]. She didn’t want to risk anything happening to her three-year-old, she says. She’s been at Standing Rock at various points over last year, but she continues the fight at home at the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota. This is where the fracking of the Bakken Shale Formation will provide the crude oil set to run through the 1,172-mile long Dakota Access Pipeline. ‘The fight doesn’t end with the symptom,’ Mossett says. ‘It continues where the problem exists.’ The physical camp doesn’t define this fight, she believes. ‘The spirituality and the ceremony and the reality around climate change continues,’ Mossett says. ‘We’re not naïve in saying, ‘Stop one pipeline,’ and we’re done. This is one fight in the struggle to just transition.’ Mossett invites water protectors and allies to join her and other Native peoples in Washington, D.C., at the Native Nations March and Camp from March 7-10.”

4. Janet Mock: Young People Get Trans Rights. It’s Adults Who Don’t.
Janet Mock for the New York Times: “I was that eager student who could often be seen running through the halls — from a student council meeting to a newspaper brainstorming session and then to the gym for practice. But things began to shift after that administrator blocked me from going into the restroom with my girlfriends. I was pulled out of class my sophomore year whenever I wore a skirt, a blouse or a dress — anything that didn’t fit the school’s binary constructions. I was sent home to change a dozen times that year. I was repeatedly called out of my name and by the wrong gender pronoun by school bullies — but most often by the adults charged with creating a safe, welcoming and affirming space for students. I was a black and Native Hawaiian trans girl from a single-parent home. I was not naïve. I knew that struggle was part of my coming of age, so I wore a smile every day as part of my armor. I didn’t want anyone to see that I was in pain, that I felt like I did not belong and that my body, my clothing, my being was wrong. […] When trans students are told that they cannot use public facilities, it doesn’t only block them from the toilet — it also blocks them from public life. It tells them with every sneer, every blocked door, that we do not want to see them, that they should go hide and that ultimately they do not belong. When schools become hostile environments, students cannot turn to them. Instead they are pushed out. And without an education, it makes it that much more difficult to find a job, support themselves and survive.”

5. What It’s Like to Have Your Parents Deported
Paola Benefo, a Ghanian-American college student, for the New York Times: “In December 2015, I was heading to the library here at Berea College to study for finals when I got a call from my mother’s lawyer. He said Ma was fighting deportation to Ghana, and I would need to write an affidavit explaining why she should be allowed to stay in the United States. […] Back in my dorm after the lawyer’s call, I tried to detail the advantages of keeping my mother in the country. But how was I supposed to explain the importance of a mother? Should I write about how my father was the one who pushed me in my studies, while my mother brought life to everything else in my world? That she infused the lives of my sisters and me with Ghanaian culture and taught us how to cook traditional dishes? Her Ghanaian doughnuts — bofrot — were so popular with our neighbors and our friends at church that she sold them for extra cash. Did this make her more worthy of staying? […] Still, a few months later, my sisters and I found ourselves packing up our home to send Ma on her way. […] Now I am becoming increasingly afraid for my own future in this country. I, too, am undocumented, and I don’t want to leave the only country I’ve ever really known.”