On Mental Health Metalanguages: From New York to Newtown

Names of the Newtown Shooting Victims

 

 

I just wrote about violence. And I don’t want to add to any of the media hype surrounding recent events.

I only want to say this:

We need to get clear about what we call for when we call for mental health reform.

We need to be careful.  Because it sounds like we are putting it in the same category as gun control and school security.  And that is a dangerous correlation to make.  Putting those three things together constructs a symbology of state violence we are not being proactive about deconstructing.

Reforming mental health services–what does this mean to you?  Does it mean we see someone walking down the street, talking to themselves, and we call the police who lock them up–just this time in a facility and not a jail?  Does it mean we target the young, white boy wearing a black trench coat or the hyperactive black boy running around the room or the too skinny girl sitting in the corner gazing out the window?  Does it mean we create holistic, community-centered alternatives to institutionalization and overmedication?  Does it mean we build higher, thicker walls around our schools, workplaces, and homes to keep out “the crazies” but forget to deal with the fact that mental illness is, as Rha Goddess once said, literally in the damn water.  What is treatment, recovery, and rehabilitation in a world where we tie mental health reform to jail and the police aren’t always friendly to those of us who are black, brown, queer, poor, homeless?  We want to feel safe but how do we create safe spaces and community acountability without setting up new and even more dangerous stigmas?

I don’t believe my son belongs in jail. The chaotic environment exacerbates Michael’s sensitivity to sensory stimuli and doesn’t deal with the underlying pathology. But it seems like the United States is using prison as the solution of choice for mentally ill people. According to Human Rights Watch, the number of mentally ill inmates in U.S. prisons quadrupled from 2000 to 2006, and it continues to rise—in fact, the rate of inmate mental illness is five times greater (56 percent) than in the non-incarcerated population.

We had better get really critical, really quickly, because we are not all speaking the same language.

We don’t want another drug war.  We know who will suffer–is already suffering–first.

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#ASA2012

Who Want War?

 

Headed to Puerto Rico tomorrow to attend the American Studies Association’s annual conference.  The #AntiJemimas will be present and we are discussing social justice, radical womyn of color blogging, and alter ego identity.  Me and my co-panelists, Treva Lindsey and Uri McMillan, are going to set it OFF.

I couldn’t make the paper format work for the media I wanted to present so I created a Tumblr instead.  The better to share with the people back at home.  Check it out here:  Alter Egos and Infinite Literacies II.

Still, this is going to be a strange trip.  Puerto Rico is a homeland and a colonized space where (a fraction of the) residents voted to join the United States as the 51st state.  Contradictions upon contradictions and complications abound.  And while this is a conference I generally enjoy, the event is bound to host some really inappropriate and problematic behavior.  You know I’ll keep you posted.

If you are in PR, whether at home or visiting for #ASA2012, give me a shout.  My Twitter is open for business: @KismetNunez.

On Violence (From Denver to New York)

There is a suburb outside of Chicago named Aurora.  This is the closest I will probably ever get to the community near Denver that was hit by violence early this morning.

As someone suspended between fandom and archive, this incident is terrifying.  I can’t imagine the unreality of watching one of the darkest superhero movies of our generation, at midnight, and seeing a true villain come through the doors in full combat regalia with three guns and multiple tear gas projectiles.  It would have been traumatizing.  If this had been a practical joke gone wrong, if he’d done nothing but stand there and wave his guns around, it still would have made the news, he still would have been detained, and a psychiatric evaluation would still have been issued.  More than likely, he would have been charged with some misdemeanor for the awful shock he gave moviegoers young and old.  As Alisha Gaines noted on twitter, “it matters that many witnesses first thought is was ‘part of the movie.'”

But for this man to then open fire…in a theatre filled to capacity…in the dark….

I have nightmares around scenarios like this.

And when I heard this was happening in New York, I didn’t feel better.  I felt worse.

There is no question that all of my thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims, the survivors, their kin, and with the city itself.  But there is also no question that in a city where the mayor and police department are under fire for using ‘Stop and Frisk’ to harass, beat, and kill young black and Latin@ residents, increasing the police presence doesn’t make me feel safe.

It makes me feel terrorized.

Who do we think they will target first if they (think they) see something amiss at the movies this weekend?  How many young people will be killed and how many more will be frisked, placed in handcuffs, or publicly intimidated and made to feel violated and shamed in the name of public safety?

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The LatiNegr@s Project: A Response In Solidarity

In light of the recent Letter to the Editor of Latina Magazine from Alicia Anabel Santos, we, The LatiNegr@s Project/@BeingAfroLatino, stand in agreement that Latina Magazine is misrepresenting Afr@Latin@s through their recent list of “Happy Black History Month: The 50 Most Beautiful Afro-Latinos In Hollywood.” We also believe that the term Afr@Latin@ is not a fad in which to be used to sell magazines or advertisements.

However, we disagree in terms of who and what defines Afr@Latin@s.  Here is why.

Black Latinidad, Afr@Latin@s, LatiNegr@s and other panethnic terms are young in both U.S. and diasporic history. While it may seem easiest to define Afr@Latin@s as “descended of” any one particular thing, doing so only falls in line with codes that have been used to divide us (people of African-descent in the Americas) from much needed resources and divide nosotros (people of African-descent who are also Latin@ or Latin American) from creating coalitions with Anglo-identified or identifying Blacks in the Americas.  Policing culture, bloodlines, and birthplace is behavior very familiar to imperialist and colonialist regimes the world over—and it has worked for generations on generations.  None of it has ever gotten at the root of exorcising racist systems of oppression, classist modes of resources distribution or sexual violence within our communities.

The struggle against racist systems of oppression is about Blackness, as it relates to Afr@latinidad, being acknowledged as its own entity.

Afr@Latin@s are not Black in the same way African-Americans are Black.  Some are Afr@Latin@ because they have African ancestors connected to a particular land with its own particular culture that is not the U.S.  Others are Afr@Latin@s because their experiences, culture, lineage, and personal histories are both of Latin@ or Latin American-descent and of Black descent, whether that be U.S. or diasporic.  This is particularly true of the fast growing population of Afr@Latin@s in the United States—those of Latin@ and Anglo-identifying Black descent.  Still others are Afr@Latin@ because they self-identify as both marked by Blackness and as part of a global struggle against racist oppression enacted against Latin@s and Latin Americans of African-descent.

There have been generations of Afr@Latin@s born on U.S. soil. We cannot ignore or dismiss this history. As early as the fifteenth century and into the last decades of the nineteenth, Africans moved through the slave holding societies of North, Central and South America.  Most often as slaves, though sometimes as free people of Color, they crossed false boundaries created by colonial regimes.  Over the course of a lifetime, a Black person might find themselves enslaved in Cuba, fomenting slave revolt in Haiti, and freed in New York City.

Moreover, and especially in Latin America, Blackness existed and exists along a spectrum created at the intersection of two things.  On the one hand, state-sanctioned racial codes policed and police the line between Black and white.  In Latin America, gradations of morena, quarterona and other castas further divided people of African-descent, even determining access to freedom, occupations, and education.  As a result, Black identity was never any one thing but was always stigmatized in relation to whites.  On the other hand, Blackness itself was and is deep and varied, as Africans hailing from Dahomey created families with those of Congo or Segu, and a myriad other societies and cultures over time, including those here in the Americas.  The combination created and creates conflicting racial identities.  This is why there are even Latin@s of African-descent who do not identify as ‘Afr@Latino@.’  And yet their agency is important too.

This is our history.  ‘Afr@latinidad’ is not linear.  But our struggle creates commonalities.  Because Afr@Latin@s usually don’t match a specific “Latin@” image, we are forced to negotiate our identity and are discursively or personally positioned as outsiders in ‘Latin@’ spaces.  The struggle for inclusion, rights, and resources is also about our children, grandchildren, and kin.  And while relations between Afro@Latin@s and African-Americans, or Caribbean and Latin American folk who identify as indigenous or white, have never been perfect, bonds existed and continue to be formed.  We cannot dismiss or police individuals for how they have structured their families, and we must not think we can dictate individuals racial identities to them.  Self-identification is key.

We are concerned with the definition presented in the Letter to Latina Magazine because there is a difference between denying and accepting African-roots.  We gain nothing by using mainstream constructions of race to define our politics or our struggle.  Coalitions and acceptance are political imperatives as we work on behalf of ourselves and our communities.

To be clear: we will always stand strong when it comes to the exploitation and colonization of our people. We will not stand for commercialization and corporate colonization of Black and Latin@ people anywhere in the world. In Latina Magazine’s blatant disregard of the term and identity Afr@Latin@, they have allowed us to have a dialogue that makes our community stronger.

We always support dialogue that promotes Afr@Latin@s and African Descendants.  Discussion of Latin@s of African-descent needs to happen; often. Acknowledging, honoring, and raising awareness of Black people in Latin America and the Spanish-speaking Caribbean is critical, necessary, and not up for debate.  And people of Color producing and sharing knowledge is powerful.  Remembering our historical legacy and the long struggle behind and ahead will only make us stronger.

In Solidarity,
The LatiNegr@s Project/@BeingAfroLatino Team

X-Posted at The LatiNegr@s Project

Empathy (The #Rihanna Post)

Rihanna – You Da One Video Screenshot (:13)

I’m going to make this short and quick. And angry.

Every time you tell someone Rihanna deserves what she gets because [insert misogynistic and ignorant reason here], you are wrong.

Every time you tell someone, Rihanna is “publicly accepting her abuser–nothing more, nothing less” or “it’s so black and white,” you are wrong.

Every time you tell someone Rihanna should or should not have done whatever, whenever, wherever, and how dare she and (my favorite) how COULD she–Congratulations.

You’ve just silenced someone around you who is being abused.

And I’m not talking about Rihanna. This post isn’t about Rihanna.

This post is about the woman in the office next to you who says grace over her food. This post is about your personal trainer and his fantastic thighs. This post is about your best friend from college who you are meeting for drinks later. This post is about your professor. Or your student. Or the kid you babysit for.

This post is about your play cousin and your godchild and your niece.

This post is about your sister and your mother and the pastor’s wife.

Every time you decide to pass some abstract and sanctimonious judgement on Rihanna and her relationship with Chris Brown–man she loved, a man who beat her, a man who she is now collaborating with again–

Every time you do ANYTHING LESS THAN WALK WITH EMPATHY AND UNDERSTANDING WITH HER, you’ve just let someone in your life know that everything that happens to them–abuse, rape, psychological warfare–it is all their fault. If they go back, they are to blame. If s/he hits them next time, they are to blame. If s/he kills them when they leave, they are to blame.

You’ve let them know that there is no reason for them to come to YOU for help, should they decide that this time is too much and it is time to go. Worse, you’ve let them know that even if they are leaving, they can’t come to you because you are no longer–if you ever were–a safe space. A space where they don’t have to deal with the recriminations, the guilt, the pressure and fear and anger that is swimming around them because the society we live in is COMPLETELY UNFORGIVING of survivors of abuse and is especially unforgiving of “sassy,” “spicy,” “ratchet” women of color (I mean, don’t we all deserve what we get?).

Because you’ve let your judgement, your agenda, your own internalized misogyny erase safety from the picture, you’ve let someone you love know that they will not be able to rely on you in THEIR time of need.

Everytime you decide that it is fun or funny or provocative to recirculate pictures of Rihanna’s beaten face, you’ve just closed yourself off as a resource to someone who needs you. Not because you aren’t willing to help. I’m sure you are. But your actions have now shown someone around you, SOMEONE YOU LOVE, that asking you for help is also asking for ridicule. And in a situation that is already frightening and dangerous, you’ve confirmed what they already feared was true–that no one will believe them, that they are crazy, that it is all their fault and their problem, and that there is no support out there for someone like them.

Every time you decide to judge Rihanna in the Saturday Morning sitcom binary of leave/success or stay/fail, you are LETTING SOMEONE IN YOUR LIFE KNOW THAT YOUR LOVE HAS CONDITIONS, THAT YOUR AID COMES WITH STIPULATIONS AND CRITERIA THEY NEED TO MEET BEFORE THEY CAN BE DEEMED WORTHY

If not Rihanna, who is worthy? Sad faced white women? Puppies? Chris Brown who “apologized?”

The funniest part of this? Three years ago, half of y’all couldn’t even be bothered. She deserved it then too, so I guess I should be surprised that she deserves it now.

But I am.

Because, again, this isn’t about Rihanna.

But someone in your life who thought they could rely on you is hearing you. And they just unpacked their bags. Because you just closed the door in their face.

Shame on you.

(This post is dedicated to my boo, @dopegirlfresh)

DC/MD/VA! The Latinegr@s Project is Coming Your Way!!!

Photo Credit: Chester Higgins via The LatiNegr@s Project (http://lati-negros.tumblr.com)

March 29-31 is the Southeastern Women’s Studies Association Conference at George Mason University.

The LatiNegr@s Project will be holding a roundtable for the People of Color caucus entitled:

How Did We Get Here?: Being AfroLatin@ in the Ivory Tower, in Activism and Online

on Friday March 30 at 3:15pm.

Come see us and support us too!

Also, LatiNegr@s Team Member Bianca Laureano will be discussing her experiences surviving the academy and beyond on the same day at 9:00 am as part of ANOTHER panel for the People of Color Caucus: Litanies of Survival from the Ivory Tower and Beyond. She will discuss continuing to have her work and herself survive after being pushed out of a women’s studies Ph.D. program.

Register here. [But if you drop in all guerilla machete style just to come say hi, I promise I won’t tell]

Full schedule here.

Come!  Meet us!  Play!  Touch our hair!  Actually…please don’t.  But do come hang out!

 

 

The Universe is Speaking

The universe has been throwing a lot at me the last few weeks.  Personal, professional, economic–you name it.  My stamina is running low.  My batteries have no time to recharge.  I’ve had moments that made me question my worth as a scholar, global citizen, net-izen, and friend.  At this point, all I can do is show up–and only because I hear someone’s voice telling me I’d damn well better.

Days like today, I wonder if the #gawds are even listening.

Lo and behold, the universe is speaking.

Happy Birthday Alice Walker!

Kima posting homage on Twitter reminded me that I was about to miss the birthday of the visionary whose words head this blog, who is the namesake of one half of my politico alter-ego, and who has helped me through more hard times than I can count.

Just seeing her presence everywhere reminded me I am more than I am.  I’ve been inspired, calmed, and pummeled by Alice Walker’s words, and by the example she sets as a writer, pacifist, and social justice conjurer.  Gawd bless her.  A world with Alice Walker in it can never be damned.  It’s just a world waiting to be saved.

Speaking of saving, today the always loving Alexis Pauline Gumbs reminded me that I also need to be saving myself.  Introducing Brilliance Remastered:

Calling all community accountable scholars and visionary under-represented grad students!

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Winter Has Come #CapricornSeason

Norma Wood. 17mm, f16, 20 ", ISO 200 Image Credit: Akos Kiss

To some, December means the end of the year, the end of the warmth and the return of caramel macchiato and pumpkin spice latte addictions.

For me, December means the end of stress, other people’s labor and the beginning of beautiful snowy landscapes, family gatherings and time I can call my own.  I have time to dive into ideas I dreamed up during the summer months and tackle fall’s loose ends.  I’ve always done my best writing and thinking over winter breaks.  Something about the cool air just clears my brain of all the clutter.

Winter is here.  Capricorn season is upon us.

And so is 2012.  Sooooooo much happened….

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