#FeesMustFall – on the importance of diasporic solidarity

When #MikeBrown was murdered in Ferguson by a white pig by the name of Darren Wilson, I was studying abroad at the University of Cape Town, South Africa.

The news broke and I didn’t what to do with myself. I considered organizing with fellow students because I felt so alone, so hopeless. But even though the students around me weren’t discussing it, if I had gone to twitter I would have seen over a million tweets from all over the world, including South Africa. But there was little to no international footage on the few channels I got in my apartment.

I was a Black American living in a country with some of the worst white people you will meet, attending a prestigious, historically white university, and I just wanted to march in the streets with my friends and family. What was going on in Ferguson was disgusting. And then seeing the photos of how the police brutalized folks in Berkeley and Oakland broke my heart in a very personal way. I knew that being out there meant potential arrest, teargas, and fractured bones in this Black body of mine. I knew that even if I was home in Oakland, I might not have marched for fear that my mom might get a call in the middle of the night saying that something had happened to her son. But even if I didn’t march, I just wanted to be home. So I was there. In Cape Town. Isolated. I had a twitter account but I wasn’t active during that time and even my Black American friends at the university weren’t talking much about Ferguson. I had this burning desire to be back in the country where my blackness was so reviled just so I could be with my people. All the while living in a country where my blackness was equally reviled, but at least I was surrounded by people who looked like me.

Needless to say, I needed to talk. But I also knew that talking wouldn’t bring Mike Brown or anyone else back. Even the notion of organizing a march or protest in South Africa felt useless.

Looking back, I don’t know if I would have done anything different now, except for go onto Twitter. It took days for Ferguson to truly reach the news and even Facebook, but twitter covered it as it happened.

What I do know, though, is that I’m happy to stand with the #NationalShutdown, to stand with #FeesMustFall, to stand with #EndOutsourcing. Not just because I felt so alone during Ferguson—felt is key here, as I definitely wasn’t alone, I just didn’t know the proper channels at the time—, but because white South Africa has deprived Black South Africans of food, shelter, and education for too long. The ANC devolved from a revolutionary organization to a money-hungry political party that has aided in the deprivation of Black South Africa. All Black lives matter, not just those who have been murdered, not just those in Western countries, and definitely not just those with the rand or dollars who can afford a formal education.

Education is a right, not a privilege.

Educational opportunities should not be decided by the color line.

Educational opportunities should be be decided by class.

Educational opportunities and white surpemacy should be go hand in hand.

If white South Africa truly wants transformation (spoiler alert: they don’t), then they need to listen to the voices of those who have been historically marginalized: Poor. Black. People. Poor. Colored. People. Poor Indian people. Poor immigrants. Does the white devil and the Black ruling party think xenophobia sprung up out of nowhere? No, it’s the result of capitalistic white supremacy that the ANC once fought against.

Europeans created artificial borders, competition for low-paying jobs, and conditions that drive people out of their homes into a new unwelcoming country due to globalization and capitalism. Why do Black folks themselves now uphold and extend these systems?

I write all this to say that the women leading #FeesMustFall are right: we must strive for free education for all. A 6% cap in fees is not enough of a “compromise.” To create a more equitable South Africa, a South Africa that adheres more closely to the Freedom Charter, access to quality educational opportunities is one of the best ways paths.

Moving from personal to political–although these are intertwined–I’d like to speak to those on the ground. To those who are at home for fear of deportation, out in the streets fending off rubber bullets and tear gas, and to the mothers who worry about their children: thank you for everything you are doing. Even if these are just words I type that only one person sees, I’ve helped somebody. I’ve made somebody feel less alone. During Ferguson I clung to the articles I read, the Facebook posts that brought tears to my eyes, the firsthand accounts of my friends. If their words helped me–and I say this with the utmost spirit of service and humbleness–I hope my words can help you. Thank you, South Africa, for your support of Black America. I hope we can help you further.

Amandla!

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#MoreThanMarriage – Why same-sex marriage legalization represents privilege

Fact #1: The supreme court ruled same-sex marriage legal in all 50 U.S. states.

Fact #2: Less than 50% of our 50 states have employer non-discrimination laws based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Fact #3: At least 80% of Black gay men have experiences with racism in the gay community.

The Human Rights Campaign and other advocates fighting for marriage equality needs to realize that “equal rights” are about #MoreThanMarriage. We should celebrate the wins when and where we can, but, as a 25-year-old cisgender* Black gay man living in the Bay Area, marriage “equality” is not my top priority. My queerness comes second in both my eyes and the eyes of society. Sure, who I sleep with can get me into trouble, but this beautiful, Black skin of mine presents a higher and more visible risk, and therefore a higher priority.

Marriage benefits include as tax breaks, hospital visitation, and child custody laws, but let’s not forget that people can still be fired for their non-hetero sexuality(ies). There are currently 28 states without laws to protect LGBT folks from employment discrimination based on their gender and/or sexual identity. These states give employers the authority to legally fire a person on the basis of their sexual orientation alone. This does not automatically affect some men because we have the privilege of “passing.” We can pass as heterosexual because we present in traditionally “masculine” ways through our speech patterns, mannerisms, and overall appearance. This a privilege that many–like men with “effeminate” traits–do not have. Passing is also a choice, the alternative is to disclose their sexual orientation despite the fact that it is nobody’s business.

The conversation shifts when the circle of human concern is expanded to consider the lived experiences of trans folks. More so than discrimination on sexual orientation, trans folks are even more heavily discriminated against at work, home, and even within the supposedly inclusive gay community. Keep in mind that a person can be both trans and non-heterosexual, and therefore the marginalization intersects and the risk multiplies.

Take, for example,  the recent “White House heckler” whose comments didn’t make it to many mainstream media narratives. This transgender activist, Jennicet Gutiérrez, spoke up at an LGBTQ event at the White House and received criticism about her methods. Her message was obscured, but let’s be clear: immigrants who identify as trans are misgendered in detention centers and face physical and sexual abuse as a result. As a man marginalized for my Blackness and my queerness, I personally stand with Jennicet in saying #Not1More.

The case of trans detainees highlight the fact that same-sex marriage does not destroy homophobia, transphobia, racism, or racism within the gay community. The notion of marriage itself resides in a very privileged space. While there are many queer people of color who are patiently waiting to marry, this Supreme Court ruling benefits middle-class white gay men in ways that it may never benefit someone like me. I dislike comparing struggles, but I have never heard of anyone dying from not having the right to marry who they wish.

On the other hand we, as Black people, are being systematically targeted and killed daily for merely being Black. This racial targeting is nothing new, because Black people have never been seen as human to the institution of whiteness (read: by many / most white people). But since the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, mobilization took a new form through the #BlackLivesMatter movement. The movement–started by three womxn, two of them queer–is maintained by those same womxn and a Black queer man.

Don’t let silence hide the queer people who led movements for Black freedom. Don’t forget that the fight is not about Black liberation before LGBTQ liberation, but instead liberation for all people of African descent, including those who do not identify in the same ways as ourselves. Think about much further would we be in these intersectional struggles if we abandoned our collective tunnel vision earlier in the battle for liberation?

When the police are killing more of us–primarily Black folks–in a few days than other countries kill in an entire year, it is hard for me to focus on the potential bragging rights of marriage. In fact, this wave of state-sanctioned police brutality keeps me up at night and has many Black people too angry, scared and questioning to even consider marriage. So while I am happy to see colorful Facebook flags, my most pressing question boils down to:

What are you doing to get them to stop fucking killing us?
*meaning that my gender identity matches my biological sex and the gender I was assigned at birth. In practice this means I was assigned male based on my male genitalia and I identify as a man.

note: this article was written by me for the Afrikan Black Coalition and is crossposted here on my personal blog. Photo source: https://twitter.com/ykhong/status/614959735654232064