Photo by sarah-ji / CC BY
Eight days after the election I sent the following email to a group of friends, asking if they’d be interested in taking part of a roundtable discussion for Poems & Numbers.
I am sick in a frozen state of perpetual thought of what the future looks like for my family, my community, my parents, so many friends. I’m just thinking of ways to get OUR voices out there. We have been talking about accessibility, what we are afraid of, racism for so long and it seems like now moreso, our thoughts and voices are being drowned out. I have this space and I want to make use of it. And I wonder, well what can I do?
I’m off Facebook for now. I couldn’t handle the suffocating white noise. I struggle with wanting to be part of a community but community never wanting me to be part of it, you know? But there I am again, necia.
hugs (real hugs)
Following is the discussion and how it unraveled and how we came to understand the struggle we were in for. Thanks to Aaminah Shakur, Erin Hawley, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha and Alice Wong.
Noemi: How is everyone doing? It’s been a little more than a week and for myself, I’m still in this post election mode of feeling so many things at once-despair, disillusionment, sucker punched and uncertainty, but mostly fear.
How are you family and communities doing?
Aaminah: I’m struggling, honestly. I’m swamped with schoolwork because it is also the end of the semester, and there were other school mandated things going on election day and the day after. And then freaking Veteran’s Day… I was out at an art show that night and then there was a big parade of white people waving flags and military barking orders and cops on bullhorns and it totally freaked me out. After that (Friday night) I didn’t leave the house again until Wednesday afternoon. I called into classes Monday and Tuesday because I was no good.
Erin: Don’t know how much I’ll get through today, but I’ll start.
I’m in a very weird place, mentally. I go from this surreal terror and anxiety of impending doom, to feeling like it’s any other day (mostly when I disengage from social media and don’t leave the house). Note that “any other day” is still rife with anxiety and whatnot, but at least I can enjoy my cup of tea and a book for a while. Physically, I have been dealing with some health issues, which is making me tired and cranky. I’m trying to get excited about things coming up, like going to my annual Mariah concert and getting my Master’s degree. It helps, briefly.
Noemi: I’m still at this stage of disillusionment. But it’s my own fault really. In a sense, even though I felt that while white feminism was an entity that only looked out for it’s own interests, they would ultimately decide on something that would also as an aside, be slightly in our favor. I’m slowly coming out of being amber and truly distrustful more than ever. The past few years I have been part of a rather large community of writers and I was vocal about how racism often played a part in well, every aspect from how stories were handled, support was offered, pitches were accepted. It was pretty evident that the women of color who kicked up dirt were trouble makers *yet* we were the ones warning others of the bias of stories and all the micro and macro aggressions. It became a toxic environment for many women of color because talking about racism and marginalized identities was causing a stir. Yet the racist writers are still there and we are not. I was also squeezed out of spaces for some identities that didn’t want to honor my other identities. But I’ve gotten sidetracked, the spaces and communities that were supposed to be there to hold space for me wouldn’t hold it down for me then and sure didn’t hold it down for me now.
Leah: Right now, I feel weirdly ok. When the election first started rolling out as it did, I went right to the place of crisis mode calm. I kept thinking, this is very bad, but they just can’t kill us all. They can’t kill our organizing, our community building, our disability justice web building, Black Lives Matter, Idle No More, undocumented organizing, all of it. We’re not going back, and our care and community webs are vulnerable but also resilient. My therapist just published a blog post called “your entire life has prepared you for this moment” and I kind of agree. The election also brought me back to being a South Asian person right after 9/11. I was 26 then, and I stayed frozen in the collective PTSD and terror for months.
I’m 41 now and I feel different. It’s not that I haven’t been terrified. I have been. But I can see how the work I’ve been able to put in to heal has given me some different strengths and strategies to approach this. I can feel more now how the enemy wants us to panic and freeze. I am working on remembering grounding practices- squeezing my thighs, lying on the earth, tapping into my sense of the grand unpredictability of life, all we don’t know and can’t predict- as sources of strength. I am remembering how elders taught me when I was 21 and 22 that you focus on where the enemy is weak and you are strong, in a guerilla warfare situation.
And the enemy is weak in heart, common sense, community. We are strong in that. And in defiance, laughter, refusal.
We *can* be strong in figuring out ways to survive without the state. This is something disability justice has been talking about for a while, for those of us who state systems aren’t there for- who don’t have money to sue over inaccessibility due to the ADA, or whose disabilities the state doesn’t find “real” enough to provide support for. Now we really gotta do it. And the abled have to get on board this boat too, right now.
Ironically, or something, I went to Toronto the Friday after the election. I have the great privilege of dual citizenship, and I would be able to marry my partner and move back there if we needed to. I love Toronto. It’s been home off and on for twenty years. And I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I didn’t wake up on Day 3 and go, we have to get married and move immediately before they close the border. One of my biggest bone ancestor stories is that my appamma (my grandmother) got out of Malaysia on the last boat out when the Japanese invaded during WW2. I have so much brown survival in my bones that tells me to keep multiple passports and always have an out.
Yet, walking around my neighborhood and staying with my sister, I felt strongly that I didn’t want to leave. I didn’t want to leave everyone who can’t leave behind. This was the apocalypse story I’d been preparing for my whole life- but I wanted to stay and fight. I have some privileges that help in that- citizenship, living in a city with a liberal/progressive leadership (the Seattle Mayor, city council, head of police and county manager have all pledged to refuse Trump policies even if they mean we lose federal funding.) And I’m also vulnerable, as a queer person partnered with a trans person who can be coded as Muslim/ mud person/ other, as a disabled person.
Alice: It’s been hard–no joke. Still working through the emotions and trying not to grow more disillusioned by the day as I hear the latest news about the transition team and the appointments of the new administration…I am over the finger-pointing and wondering about why this happened. I’m less clear about how we’re all going to survive ahead because it’s about more than 4 years–this is a culture shift that’s regressive and hate-filled.
Noemi: -How have we been going through this process? How long do we give ourselves to grieve?
Aaminah: I don’t know but I feel like we can’t rush the grieving and maybe we will never stop having some of that. I know I am still grieving actual deaths from almost 7 years ago, so…
Alice: People process stuff at different paces. Finding community and having folks to talk to really helps. The grieving might slow down or go on the backburner later on, but I suspect it will always be there for a while.
Erin: I’m taking it day by day. My therapist says I think too much in the future rather than concentrating on the present – which is true, but how can we not worry? But that’s what I’m trying to do – continue on my course of justice, see what I can do every day, but give myself that space to back away from social media for a bit. I don’t think we will ever stop grieving, nor should we, when people like us are dying, suffering, will die, and will suffer. Grief can be used to propel us into action, to do what we can for ourselves and each other. Would I rather not have grief? Sure, of course. But we don’t have that privilege, so we do what we can.
Noemi: How have we been going through this process ? How long do we give ourselves to grieve?
I don’t think there is a point where we stop this grieving process. I keep going back to how our parents and grandparents and ancestors made it through what we now call historical trauma. Today was a beautiful day in the valley. The sun was out. But we also have mealy bugs in the cabinets. We’re again stretching our last few dollars for food. I sorta invited ourselves over for the holidays to some relatives but they didn’t bite. Some things are going to be the same. I don’t know what will come for us, my kids, and I worry, I do but I will continue to do what I’ve been doing, trying to make it.
Noemi: I’m tired of reading pieces where white folks say they have to start having convos with people of color. For many reasons, but mostly because we *have* been speaking these ugly truths that they happened to just notice. I also have a sneaking feeling that this sudden interest to start convos with people of color will not produce any change that benefits us. Rather, these attempts at one sided convos (where are the convos?) are a way for white people to say they are building bridges (on our backs) and then think it’s enough to pull them through the next four or eight years. How are y’all dealing with this exhaustive public display of dialogue building?
Aaminah: I’m done with white people. Geez… it’s been SO exhausting. Constantly. Lots of white tears. A professor asked me how I’m doing, I said “well… not so good, but… how are you?” and then had to listen to how stressful it all is for him (as a cis, straight white man) and coming home to his wife crying (a cis, straight white woman who is kinda important and overpaid in this city) and I just thought “do white people even care for an answer when they ask how we are? or is it just an opening for them to tell us how they are, and they aren’t even considering that their fears and tears are not really that big of a deal in comparison?” Also, lots of white people responding to critiques of safety pins, solidarity hijabs, and registering as Muslim by saying they are going to do it regardless of those of us affected saying “please don’t do that, please do this instead.” And lots of friends of friends directly asking me questions and “what should we do” but then completely ignoring any of my suggestions and just repeating the question. I have instituted (quite seriously) a policy that any messages that have any hint of demanding labor from me that is not in some fashion reciprocal, I am going to respond with no words, simply my Paypal link. IF they send me money then I will respond to their message and say “Thank you for your $x payment, which purchases you this much answer: ___. If you need further labor, please deposit more cash.”
Alice: I’m rolled my eyes SO HARD about the safety pin stuff. Some find it meaningful and I simply don’t. It’s sad that disabled, queer, multiply-marginalized disabled folks have been calling out these issues forever and only now some folks are getting it since their lives are suddenly at stake too.
Erin: I am disturbed, greatly, by the way white folks readily share graphic pictures and videos of violence against people of color on social media. I am disturbed by their “activism” continually decentering marginalized voices and ignoring us/getting defensive when we point it out. The whole “but I have [insert marginalized identity] friends, and they agree with me!” is just gross. I can’t fucking stand it. I deal with it by challenging these behaviors when I see it, when I can. This is nothing new, though, right? It just seems extra exhausting lately.
Leah: I ignore white people. One of my biggest survival strategies as a crip femme of color is, I ignore a lot of shit. I focus my spoons on the people I am willing to give energy to. I don’t care about bridge building with whitey. I am more concerned with POC communities fucking getting it about ableism, now. Sick and disabled and Mad folks of color are very vulnerable to police and state murder right now- it’s way overdue for abled POC movements to GET IT and not throw us under the bus or in the gas chamber. And, I own that I live in a city where that is possible.
Noemi: I think what we need is this-our own convos. White folks can spin their wheels and try to reinvent what we have been saying for decades. Asking questions-they whys and hows-and they can go on and try to build these bridges that are practically paved already for them and I’m saying-I won’t have it. I’m gonna survive and we are gonna survive but it’s not gonna be a picnic and they are not gonna be invited to it.
Yes, I’m still pretty mad.
Noemi: What do we need right now to survive?
Aaminah: I need money, frankly. And better food (like, veggies and fruit). And better sleep. And to not feel so isolated – I have great online community, but not so much locally.
Alice: We need to plan and prepare. We need to collaborate and care for one another. We need to tell our stories and speak our truth.
Erin: I think we need each other – our family, our friends, our communities. Beyond that, we need stability, health care, various supports to live in a safe environment. So we keep fighting for these things, because we have to.
Leah: I think, as Miss Major recently said, we need to come together. She said, “We don’t give up, we don’t lay down, and we don’t say “die.” And I thought about [saying], “Well, let me just pack my shit, get my passport, and leave [the country],” but that doesn’t help the girls and the fellows and the people who deserve to be here and can’t leave. We have to organize, and in doing that, we can prevent this wave of bullshit that is coming from carrying all of us out to sea.” We need to keep building survival and resistance networks- making sure folks have food, herbs, medicine, company, self-defense. And we need to build our strategies to hold ourselves and each other when we are suicidal or despairing- to keep building our spiritual and emotional resiliency practices, because this shit is terrifiying! We need to buy the sacks of beans and dig the wells and link with each other on and offline, and we need to keep practicing grounding in the face of this. I think prayer and calling on ancestors and spirit to help guide us and bolster us is just as important as traditional protests right now.
Noemi: what do we need to survive? I think we each need different things. Our own communities need to step up. We need to find our communities and our fam and chosen fam need to fill the gaps. But also, and I’m making a statement, I will not entertainment white noise nonsense. I know that there are POC who do bridge building, and that’s fine for them, and they are seen as the likable POC, but I won’t be mistaken for those folks.
I am in no position to hold any white persons hand or let them know in the ways they are hurting me or how society is hurting the people I love. Like no. I’m tired. I’m tired.
Noemi: I wanted to respond to what you [Leah] said-that you were 41 and that you feel different than you did after 9/11. I’m close to 41 right now. I will be 41 in a few months. And the terrifying feeling is not only for me, because as some of y’all know I often deal with depression and suicidal ideas. but what terrifies me is knowing that I can die from my multi-illnesses/from the state/from no access to healthcare/because of hate and I’ll have left my kids in vulnerable positions in communities that don’t have anything to offer them (I’m presently trying to move to a different area because I can see how desperately I need to find that for them) -for they are not straight and neurodivergent and disabled-and that battle, that’s the battle that has got me frozen.
Aaminah: Building also off some of what I hear you all saying of how we have always resisted and will keep resisting… It brings to mind the critiques currently going around of the “I am not my grandparents, sincerely, these hands.” I understand what the sentiment was attempting express – the very literal and visceral “I will beat your ass down, I got nothing left to lose” frustration of a generation who has watched HUNDREDS (thousands?) of Black, Indigenous, Trans, and Crip people being killed this last couple of years, and as Erin points out, often watching it on autoplay across our social media. At the same time, yeah, I came to radicalness via people like BlackAmazon writing about their ancestors who carried machetes. I was taught (by white adoptive parents, at that) about how our (my, your) ancestors fought back with rifles, with drum, with dance, with story quilts and symbolic beadwork, with hands, with feet, with machetes. I remember an elder Mexicanx migrant woman telling me about how she and a group of wives went after a rapist overseer with their sons’ baseball bats.
These hands we have are because of our grandparents. We *are* our grandparents reincarnated. And also, still, I need to be honest about what my body cannot do anymore at 42, what my heart cannot carry, that suicide is always in the back of my mind, and that just living another day is not easy. I feel very much that responsibility I have to others, that work I have not yet completed that I hope lays a groundwork for future generations, but I also have to be able to say I need help to do this, and my work isn’t going to look exactly like some other people’s work. I can’t march in the street anymore. But I can and will put my broken body in the path of an abuser. I am trying to remind myself that what I can do is through poems and art, and that art is what describes and brings into reality our “culture” and that is what I can do to shape our future.
Leah: Sorry if I came off as, I’m old now and I’m not scared! I’m scared shitless. I am worried I hurt you with my words, and that they came out sideways. And all the fears you have about dying bc this asshole cuts you and all of us crips from health care are so real. I guess the thing I’m tapping into is some kinda, shit, survivors survive despite all the incredible bullshit sometimes- in ways we shouldn’t have to, in ways we don’t know how we did. AND at the same time, beloved will die. All of them are true. I feel like what is keeping me in some kind of good mind , for me, is just focusing on all the ways we have survived shit in ways no one could’ve predicted. Because I’m not sure what else I could have faith in. it’s not enough, it’s not a cure all.
But it’s what I have for now.
Aaminah Shakur is a Multi-Ethnic/Multi-Cultural Queer Crip Artist, Poet & Culture Critic. Their website is aaminahshakur.com
Alice Wong is a San Francisco-based degenerate television watcher, cat lover, and coffee drinker. Currently, she is the Founder and Project Coordinator for the Disability Visibility Project™ (DVP), a community partnership with StoryCorps and an online community dedicated to recording, amplifying, and sharing disability stories and culture. Partnering with Andrew Pulrang and Gregg Beratan, Alice is an organizer of an online campaign called #CripTheVote encouraging conversations about disability issues during the 2016 Presidential election.
Erin Hawley is a disabled latina feminist, digital content producer, and activist. You can find her work at geekygimp.com, where she blogs about the intersection of disability and nerdy media. She loves reading, Star Trek, tabletop/video gaming, and Mariah Carey.
Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinhawriter: cultural worker, healing justice worker/ bio coming soon.
Noemi Martinez is a queer crip chronically ill magical poet-curandera mixed media artist, writer, historian and cultural worker with Mexican and Caribbean roots.