Min Jin Lee on Justice for Asian Americans

By Samhita Mukhopadhyay

Min Jin Lee has been sounding the alarm on the startling rise of anti-Asian violence for the last few years. And the award-winning author has been unapologetically “extra Asian” lately. In March of this year, on the one-year anniversary of the tragic shooting at a spa in Atlanta where eight people (six of them Asian women) were killed, Lee helped organize a nationwide #BreaktheSilence action demanding justice for Asian women. Through tears, she addressed the rally in Times Square: ”We have read the data, but I want to know how you are doing in light of such dismal and terrifying hate?” 

The data paints a grim picture: the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism found that anti-Asian hate crimes were up 339% in 2021. In light of these startling statistics, actor, writer, activist, and Meteor founding member Amber Tamblyn wanted to hear from Lee—and understand how non-Asians can be allies. They sat down to talk about anti-Asian violence, movement-building, and what it means to create a culture of “grace.”


Amber: I've seen [the work] you’re doing to expose racism and violence—which is permeating both our culture and literally our streets, against Asian American elders. And I wonder if you would just talk a little bit about that and your experience fighting to bring more awareness to the violence that is happening in your community right now?

Min Jin: I think that is one of the reasons why I am speaking so consistently about the insult and the assault and the murders of Asians and Asian Americans in this country right now. There's been an upsurge of such violence in the past several years, especially in light of the Trump administration. However, this kind of discrimination and exclusion has been happening, even by the state, ever since Asians and Asian Americans have been in this country. 

Amber: I’ve read that the Asian American community in the US is one of the lowest communities to report violence and to report these assaults. And I was shocked by that statistic, but I [realize] it's not so simple, [because] of the complicated relationship our country has with its police force.

Min Jin: There are so many, many poor immigrants in this country who are terrified of speaking up for fear of affecting their immigration status, for fear of affecting their jobs. And [many] even think that they don't have the right to complain. They come from countries in which political persecution is so commonplace. [So] very often the victims won't come forward for fear of persecution—and the persecution may not exist, but in their minds, it's quite present. 

So one of the things that I'm just trying to do is to bring greater awareness, to talk about it when I can. I'm asking the media to please pay attention to this situation. Part of it is representation, and part of it is telling the truth about how the economic disparity in our community is so, so wide. We have the poorest people in America, and we have some of the wealthiest people in America. So the idea [that] all Asian Americans are wealthy and educated is so completely, statistically, factually untrue. And if I could bring that to bear, then maybe I've done a little bit of truth-telling.

(Photo by Megan Varner/Getty Images)

Amber: Watching the work that you have created in the last couple of years—both as a writer and a researcher, at the nexus of thrilling storytelling and unearthing these really hard truths—has been pretty profound. This is where, in my mind, for women, it’s not really a luxury to write about these things: This is not a hobby; this is an act of survival. How do you feel about that statement? 

Min Jin: I think the word “survival” is so important because right now we are seeing girls and women under threat—especially poor girls and poor women, and that cuts across race, and it cuts across boundaries, and regions. We're seeing political actors trying so hard to destroy the lives of girls and women. And I guess that's the reason why I feel rather impassioned to make sure that our alliances get stronger, not [made] weaker by minor differences that we can definitely talk out.

Amber: I love that so much. And I needed to hear that because it has been a hard couple of years, as it has been for everybody. Obviously, I've dealt with my own feelings about the movement-building process and activist spaces that feel like we're just ripping each other apart without the context of nuance and how difficult this work is. There is a world out there that just wants us not to exist and not to thrive. And also on a deeper, sadder level, not to love each other.

What you just said reminded me of this episode [of the On Being podcast] I just listened to [featuring] my friends Tarana Burke and Ai-Jen Poo. And there's a thing that Tarana said: "I don't think we can have movements that have liberation politics that don't have a politic of grace."

Min Jin: Amen. It should be exactly as Tarana Burke said, a “liberation ethic,” because it's not just me getting whatever men get. It's actually for all of us to be free to be who we're supposed to be. And that's a very revolutionary point of view.

(Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

Amber Tamblyn: What I've learned is, in any [movement] work, there's a very delicate balance between honoring the wisdom and experience of your elders, and also breaking free of that to find what is important and needed in the current culture and climate.

Min Jin: Well, it's funny, I'm 53 years old. I'm the middle girl of three girls in my family. My mother always worked and she earned money for our family, which was important. But then also I felt that our father really supported our full capacity as young women. So very often people talk about the patriarchy of East Asian Confucian cultures, and obviously, true. But my father— because he has three girls—I think he ended up feeling like, yes, I want you to be able to cook well. Which is obviously sexist. And yet, he also felt like you should be able to do whatever you want to do because my girls are the best.

He used to say, "Oh if a boy doesn't want to marry you or date you because you're smart and you're educated, know this: He will have dumb children." 

Amber: Oh shit. That's amazing.

Min Jin: Right? But my dad said that! I grew up in a very feminist household. So I'm always surprised when people say things about Asians and Asian Americans being sexist, because I'm like, "Well, that wasn't my experience."

Amber: That brings me to my [last] question that I wanted to ask you personally, but also for anyone reading this interview who's also upset and outraged by [the rise of anti-Asian violence]. What is a very simple way to be more involved, to be more engaged? 

Min Jin: The Alliance is an organization that supports victims [of anti-Asian violence] who wish to come forward. If they don't have money for a lawyer, they have all these pro bono lawyers who are willing to do it. But very often the victims will not come forward. I think that you understand this very well as somebody who cares about the Me Too movement, [but] very often Asians and Asian-Americans are not believed. So, first of all, can you believe it when someone tells you, I'm afraid to take the subway, I'm afraid to walk down the street because somebody might attack me in a poor neighborhood? Secondly, find the [political] candidates who care about the core of your community.

The third thing is really simple: Sometimes, if you feel like it, you could offer to walk your friend somewhere. Sometimes it is a matter of reaching out, talking to the person who feels deeply ignored, [and] making him, or her, or them visible in your life. There are moments in recognition that we can give to each other, which can build a world and counteract all that cruelty. 

Amber: I love that. What gives you hope about the future? 

Min Jin: Well, I'm a mother and I'm a professor of young people, so the next generation obviously gives me hope. And what also gives me hope is that I come from a long history of women who are fighting for good things. And it's so important to understand that we're not alone in this. For me, I keep thinking about how many beautiful friendships I have found in the movement, [and] how many people I really adore, whose laughter I speak to when I'm having a hard time. Having a shared, common purpose is a wonderful way to build friendships. So that gives me a lot of hope.

 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. 


The Rest of the Story Behind America's Labor Movement

By Esther Wang

Labor journalist Kim Kelly’s new book, Fight Like Hell: The Untold History of American Labor, comes at the perfect time, as enthusiasm for labor unions is at the highest point in decades, and workers from Amazon warehouses to Starbucks stores are demanding more—better pay, dignity on the job, and a say in their workplace. Her book goes beyond the simplified history we’re exposed to in textbooks (and that’s if we’re lucky) to tell a fuller, and therefore more true, story of the labor movement, as well as our country. Her message? “This is your history, too,” Kelly said. “And it’s also our future.”

Esther Wang: You started off your book by acknowledging the enormous debt the labor movement owes to women—immigrant women from countries all over the world, Black women, and queer and trans women. Why did it feel necessary and important to tell those stories?

Kim Kelly: I wanted to focus specifically on women just because we're so often left out of the equation when it comes to writing about labor and labor history and the idea of the working class and what a worker looks like in this country. There's this enduring avatar of the working class in this country that is the straight white guy and a hard hat. And he belongs here, he's done a lot of great work, too. My dad is that guy. But if you look at the actual composition of the labor movement, the most common face of a union member in this country is a Black woman who probably works in home health care or domestic work. It's not even a shift—it's kind of always been like that.

You include the stories of labor activists like Dorothy Bolden, Rosa Flores, and Ella May Wiggins. What would it mean for all of us if we looked to those women as labor leaders from the past? 

I think it would reframe a lot of the perceptions of what organized labor and collective power look like. Dorothy Lee Bolden started working as a domestic worker when she was nine years old. She's visually impaired. She grew up in the forties and fifties in the South as a Black woman. So she had every possible disadvantage, but she managed to overcome those obstacles that were unfairly thrown her way. She made history in a way that was so incredible, the way that she organized and worked and advocated for domestic workers [as the founder of the National Domestic Workers Union of America].  At its height, it had about 10,000 members. They organized to win fair wages and to professionalize household work. They were people that were seen as unorganizable. And they're like, well, we'll just organize ourselves.

Ella May Wiggins, who died on the picket line, who was this balladeer who was the heart and soul of a strike down in Gastonia, she's another Joe Hill. She's another Billy Bragg. Rosa Flores was this 18-year-old woman who ended up being the face of an entire massive strike for being this militant presence, for seeing what the world offered her as a young Chicana woman and was like, well, that's not good enough.

That is the kind of energy that we need to be bringing to the labor movement. That's the kind of energy that it always had, but it's been buried under white patriarchal bullshit.

You make it so clear and so apparent that labor issues, workers’ rights, and the fight for a union are intertwined with so many other issues—Black liberation, immigrant rights, feminist battles, disability rights. They’re not silos. 

One of the greatest truths that we have found to be evident over and over and over again throughout the history of labor and work in this country is that solidarity between workers is the greatest weapon that we have. And solidarity means obviously standing up for people that are on your side, but also people that maybe don't look like you or talk like you or come from the same background, but are also dealing with the ravages of capital, dealing with bad bosses, dealing with mistreatment.

I think every story is a labor story because wherever you're coming from, wherever you're going, whoever you are, you've probably either had a job or you have a job now, or you're going to have a job. And that common ground really is a uniting force.

There’s so much momentum and energy in labor right now, stemming from the successful Amazon unionization drive, the workers organizing Starbucks, the mining families on strike that you've been following for more than a year in Alabama at Warrior Met Coal. How are you thinking about what's happening?

History is being made right now, from Amazon to Starbucks, to Appalachian coal mines, and in North Hollywood strip clubs. There's momentum. And I think it's just been very inspiring for folks that maybe for a long time thought there wasn't any hope, or maybe thought that there wasn't any room for them in the labor movement. To go back to Amazon and Starbucks, those movements have been led predominantly by Black workers and workers of color, young queer workers, a lot of women, nonbinary people—the exact workers that common wisdom or whatever has told us are not organizable. They are organizing, and they're winning.


Esther Wang is a New York City-based writer who covers social movements, immigrant communities, and the intersection of culture and politics.


On turning women's pain into entertainment

By Tracy Clark-Flory

This week brought the finale of Hulu’s Pam & Tommy, a limited-series dramedy about the leak of a private sex tape that none of us should know anything about. We’re talking eight whole episodes reenacting the '90s-era theft and viral spread of an explicit home movie starring celebrities Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee. That’s more than five hours of television devoted to replaying a privacy violation.

The tape’s leak in 1995 was paradigm-shifting and emblematic of a cultural moment, so it’s possible to imagine a worthwhile critical retrospective. Instead, Pam & Tommy is less a reconsideration of the leak than a nostalgic reliving of it. It’s less about the tape than of the tape, which ushered in an ongoing era of stolen moments treated as entertainment.

Anderson and Lee's video was historic as the first celebrity sex tape, spawning dozens of direct imitations, but also setting the stage for whole new privacy violations, like the 2014 hack targeting famous women’s nudes (a.k.a “The Fappening”). The tape’s leak teed up an explosion of nonconsensual entertainment online—and not just starring celebrities. Soon, everyday women had to reckon with the public humiliation of everything from “upskirting” videos to “revenge porn.” Fast forward over two decades and the majority of states have had to legally address nonconsensual pornography (or nonconsensual image abuse, as some experts now call it). The next challenging legal frontier: “deepfake porn”, where a person’s face is seamlessly swapped onto pornographic material

But let's be clear: leaked sex tapes aren’t really about sex. The most famous ones—as with Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian—are defined by entitlement, trespass, violation, and embarrassment, vis-à-vis a woman. This is a fundamental part of the attraction: these videos provide forbidden access. Kevin Blatt, a self-described celebrity sex tape broker, says the appeal is seeing something you “weren't supposed to see.” Even when there are questions about a sex tape being leaked for fame and publicity, there's still the suspension of disbelief that allows viewers the fantasy of crossing boundaries, of getting what is not freely given. The entire meaning of the tape changes if a woman intentionally and openly participates in its creation and release. 

We’re living in a cultural moment of re-evaluation around the sexism of the ‘90s and ‘00s, which no doubt helped greenlight Pam & Tommy, but the show’s true impulse is to laugh and wax nostalgic

Pam & Tommy itself adds another layer of non-consent to the original violation of the tape’s leak: Anderson wanted nothing to do with the series. (While Lee has voiced support for Pam and Tommy, Anderson reportedly finds its release “very painful.”) The show was made anyway—and then promoted as “feminist” for being sympathetic to her experience. 

In reality, the show identifies at the start with Rand Gauthier (Seth Rogen), the contractor who stole the tape after remodeling the couple’s mansion. We’re given a comedic, rollicking justification for the theft: Tommy Lee (Sebastian Stan) is an over-the-top asshole clad in a banana hammock who barks unreasonable orders at Rand. These early episodes are driven by laughs—take the scene where Tommy has a conversation with his own penis, which talks back via cringey animation. 

Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee (Photo by S. Granitz/WireImage)

We’re living in a cultural moment of re-evaluation around the sexism of the ‘90s and ‘00s, which no doubt helped greenlight Pam & Tommy, but the show’s true impulse is to laugh and wax nostalgic.  

The series does eventually get around to inviting identification with Pam (Lily James), instead of literal and figurative dicks. It depicts Pam’s struggle to be taken seriously as an actor as her Baywatch lines are cut to prioritize zoomed-in shots of her butt. After the sex tape is leaked, Pam & Tommy spotlights her pain, portraying Pam as having a devastating miscarriage amid the stress of the violation. 

In many of the moments of Pam’s emotional fallout, the show and the tape uncomfortably converge. Pam & Tommy feels like an unintentional meta-commentary on the many ways we are entitled to, and entertained by, women’s pain—not just with leaked sex tapes but also with limited-run TV series dramatizing leaked sex tapes. 

Pam & Tommy is less a reconsideration of the leak than a nostalgic reliving of it. It’s less about the tape than of the tape, which ushered in an ongoing era of stolen moments treated as entertainment

Eventually, Anderson is shown in a brutal and shaming deposition for her lawsuit against Penthouse’s Bob Guccione, as she tries to stop the magazine from publishing stills from the tape. She is cross-examined about her sex life and even forced to watch parts of the tape in a room packed with men. We’re meant to feel outraged, but that outrage arrives after Pam & Tommy has already had its giddy fun. 

The tone-deafness of the first half of the series is only matched by the inappropriateness of its handling of partner violence. Though it’s not depicted in the series, Lee was sentenced in 1998 to six months in jail for felony spousal abuse following an incident in which Anderson accused him of kicking her while she held her 7-week-old son; she had “a broken fingernail and red marks on her back,” according to police

The series portrays several early red flags in the relationship—like Tommy calling Pam non-stop and following her uninvited on a trip to Mexico—but treats them as fun material. Pam & Tommy leaves Lee’s arrest, and their divorce, as a literal postscript at the end of the series. It’s a sanitized version of events, referring only to “a physical fight in the couple’s kitchen.” Hulu has cheekily promoted the show as “the greatest love story ever sold.”

All these years later, it’s tempting to believe that we have enough perspective to critically revisit this long-ago sex tape leak and other misogynies of yore. Instead, the last two decades have created a convenient new cover for exploitation: Pam & Tommy delights in replaying the violation, only to abruptly pivot toward superficial wokeness. It makes claims of a redemptive narrative while risking retraumatizing one of its subjects. Ultimately, the show is an accidental testament to the many ways women’s suffering is consumed as entertainment.

You can call it “reflection,” but we’re not nearly as far away from these events as we might like to think.

 


Tracy Clark-Flory is the author of the coming-of-age memoir Want Me: A Sex Writer's Journey into the Heart of Desire (Penguin, 2021), a New York Times “notable” book and NPR best book of the year. For over 15 years, Clark-Flory has reported on feminism, gender, pop culture, and sex.


What does a Black agenda look like?

“The glaring omission of Black experts is so commonplace across Western society that it has become normalized,” writes Anna Gifty Opoku-Agyeman in the opening pages of The Black Agenda: Bold Solutions for a Broken System. A graduate student at the Harvard Kennedy School, Gifty Opoku-Agyeman, wants to raise her hand and ask one monumental question: “why public discourse about a global pandemic, which disproportionately impacted Black communities, was largely absent of Black perspectives.” The collection of essays she compiles explores the "convergence of at least three pandemics: Covid-19, racism, and state-sanctioned police violence," and how each of those things affects sectors like climate change, tech, and healthcare in Black communities. (In one expansive section about the climate crisis, Dr. Marshall Shepherd writes, "Ultimately, however, the weather-climate gap will not disappear until racial wealth inequality disappears.”) 

So what does a Black agenda look like? Let's talk to the editor!

Shannon Melero: The Black Agenda kicks off by noting that historically, Black experts are only ever called upon for things specifically about the Black community—or when someone is trying to get their DEI initiative up and running. There was a slight shift in this during the summer of 2020, which you write about. Have you noticed any change in the academic or research community moving toward no longer pigeonholing Black experts two years into the pandemic?

Anna Gifty Opoku-Agyeman: No. No. (Laughing) And it’s really because at the end of the day, as Doctor Tressie McMillan Cottom said recently, institutions can’t love you. Right? They’re things. And it’s no surprise. What I always tell people to keep in mind, with academic institutions, in particular, is that they were never built with Black and Brown people in mind. Harvard was founded in the 1600s. Where were Black people in the 1600s? So the way I really look at it is that, yes, institutions can’t love me. They won’t serve me. But that being said, I’m still going to push these institutions to at least see me, to hear me. Because at the end of the day, even if they aren’t hearing me, someone is listening, right? 

One thing I noticed as a thread joining all of the essays was the argument for reparations. But what would you say is that one thing that brings all these experts’ concepts together? 

Oh, reparations. I hadn’t even thought about it from that perspective, but you’re right, it does come up a lot. But I actually think the more salient or more obvious trend between the essays is criminal justice. 

Just to be clear, nobody talked to each other before writing their essay. But as you see, criminal justice comes up again and again and again. Because at the end of the day, that is the root of a lot of the problems. If you already don’t see Black life as life, we have a problem. We can’t talk about voting rights. We can’t talk about health care reparations; we can’t talk about diversity in the workforce; we can’t talk about the future of work in the U.S. if you don’t think Black people are people. 

And so the way that manifests is criminalizing Black people for existing. I can’t just be Black and exist because that is illegal. As I talk about this, I’m just thinking about what happened with Kim Potter recently. She basically got a slap on the wrist and the judge cried! 

The statistic that shook me, and it still shocks me, is that out of 17,500 police killings between 2005 and 2021, only 140 officers were indicted in murder or manslaughter charges. That’s less than one percent! That’s actually 0.8 percent, to be precise. And the question becomes, well, when it’s fundamentally criminal to be Black in America, how does that spill over into every other sector of society? It’s illegal to be Black in America, and for some reason, that’s not top of mind for everybody. 

So I guess the next logical question is, what’s the plan? It feels like this has been an ongoing battle for hundreds of years. How can we change this perspective, and is it even something that’s going to be accomplished in our lifetime? 

I think it can. And I think it will be led by young people, I think we are going to be the ones to push against this idea in a very real way. That’s why you’re seeing such a visceral reaction. There are a lot of people who are trying to get rid of Black voting rights—I mean, it’s a coordinated effort that is giving Battleship precision, right?

There are entire generations of people who are sick of it. You’re seeing this [anger] in millennials, Gen Z, Gen X, and all of the people coming up after them. This is why you have this entire fight around what’s going to be taught in schools, however, because people [in power] understand that once young people find the truth, it changes everything. We saw that with Gen Z. 

And what does implementing that level of change look like according to The Black Agenda?

It looks like putting Black people at the helm of conversation and having them lead the way. And that’s not at the expense of any other group. I think a lot of times people argue that if you’re centering one group of people, it means you don’t like anybody else. But who said that? What we’re saying is, what groups have it worse off? The group that is worse off should probably be leading the conversation around solutions because if a solution works for them, it’ll probably work for everyone else. 

I can't just be Black and exist because that is illegal.

Now when we talk about agenda items in the book, what we’re saying is that with the way that things are going, Black lives have to be fully realized first and foremost. The fact that Black lives do matter is not something that should be up for debate, but right now it is up for debate. It doesn’t make any sense to me. Like, what do you mean? This isn’t debatable. The Black Agenda basically feeds off of the idea that if we know that Black life matters, we can address how the climate crisis is affecting Black lives, we can address health inequities, we can address how climate crises are affecting Black lives. 

But you have to agree that Black life matters first. If you can’t agree with that fact then all of the other solutions proposed in the book are moot. The first step is you agreeing that Black people are people.


Shannon Melero is a Bronx-born writer on a mission to establish borough supremacy. She covers pop culture, religion, and sports as one of feminism's final frontiers.


"I didn't want to be curated into whiteness"

One year after Rebecca Carroll's memoir, the white gaze lingers

A year ago, I published the work I am more proud of than anything I’ve ever written—Surviving the White Gaze, my memoir about growing up as a Black child adopted into a white family, and raised in an all white, rural New Hampshire town. Every memoir writer knows that mining the truth can be a fraught and risky endeavor, and I certainly anticipated some fallout, hurt feelings, differences in remembrance. I could not have imagined, though, how keenly the response from my family would reflect not merely the truth in the book’s pages, but also the truth of America. 

My mom called it a gift, until my dad called it an injustice, and then she agreed with him that they should consider hiring a lawyer to sue me. Their accusation: defamation of character. Their issues were not with me writing about the racism I endured during my youth, which went almost entirely unacknowledged within my family, but rather, with how I wrote about them; their unconventional marriage, my father’s ego. (He was upset that I’d included the fact that earlier in my life, I had misguidedly suggested there had been some blurred lines between us; I was wrong and said so in the book, but he still felt it was damaging to his reputation.)

I had invited my dad to read the book when it was still in manuscript form, when changes could still be made, but he had declined, which I can’t deny hurt my feelings deeply. We were very close when I was growing up—made countless mixtapes for each other, stayed up watching Late Night with David Letterman together, and shared a love for gallows humor, Swiss-German expressionist artist Paul Klee, the swoony crooning of Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music, romance languages, and romance in general. I absolutely worshiped him. 

When I left for college, we maintained a fiercely dedicated written correspondence, dad’s letters characteristically endless in page count, handwritten in his tiny, exquisite penmanship, detailing his findings in the local swamps and wetlands, his sanctuary, where he still spends hours finding and tracking painted and spotted turtles. But as I got older and grew more into myself as a Black woman, the more it became clear that I no longer fit within the narrative he had created for our relationship, and more broadly speaking, for our entire family. 

Like many white male artists with outsized egos, my dad affected a microcosm wherein he, the infallible genius and hopeless romantic, existed at its center, buoyed by the near constant presence and adoration of women. It was a racially segregated space, into which I had been placed through careful, well-intentioned curation. But I didn’t want to be curated into whiteness, idyllic as it may have seemed to my parents and siblings. I wanted to be Black among Blackness. How was this never made available to me? I stopped worshiping and started questioning. And then I started to get angry. Why hadn’t my father tried to connect me with my community? 

And, of course, it wasn’t just my dad. My mom sewed me a Black doll and found me a Black dance teacher. But still—my dance teacher was the first Black person I had ever seen in real life. I was six years old. I didn’t go to a Black hair salon until I was 12 years old. My first real Black friend wasn’t until college. My book grappled with those realities—it expressed my love for my parents, but also my anger. It expressed my reality, as lived and experienced by me. And they were outraged. 

Twitter was making it clear: White parents get to decide how a family is made

It’s an outrage I’ve come to know too well. In December 2021, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments from state attorneys seeking to uphold Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban. In her remarks, Justice Amy Coney Barrett, herself the white mother of two Black adopted children from Haiti, suggested that abortion isn’t really even necessary when adoption is right there. I found her remarks hideously cavalier, a callous trivialization of the complexities surrounding adoption, particularly transracial adoption, and the responsibility white parents take when they adopt Black children. I launched a thread on Twitter (as one does) saying so. The thread outlined the ways in which I believe transracial adoption can be seen as representative of the foundational dynamic between Black people and white people in America, which is inherently traumatic. It was retweeted thousands of times, but the backlash was swift.

My comments were full of endless fury. One (based on her avi) white woman tweeted: “TRAUMA???? What would the trauma had been if you were still with your birth mother? How the fuck UNGRATEFUL can one person be. Disgusting.” A white guy whose Twitter bio includes “just a dude” wrote: “So the argument is... it's better for black children to be aborted than adopted by white people? I'm not sure a lot of black children would agree, but, I'm no expert.” 

Perhaps the most egregious responses came from right-wing commentator Dinesh D’Souza, who tweeted: “If it’s ‘enduring trauma’ for you to be adopted by a white family, you might consider that 1. The black patents [sic] that gave birth to you didn’t want you 2. There were evidently no black couples that chose to adopt you. Aren’t you grateful someone did?” 

Twitter was making it clear: White parents get to decide how a family is made. It’s the very essence of America, where white parents, both figurative (the forefathers) and literal (adoptive parents), have set the standard of everything. And if you are a Black child who is lucky enough to be part of that construct—taken in either from foster care or, in my case, by a handshake agreement between your parents and the white teenage girl who was pregnant with you—well, you had better feel grateful. 

Imagine presenting what you consider to be your career-best work, an impassioned plea to be seen, only to have your parents condemn it because of bruised egos. 

Now try to think of one moment throughout history when this same dynamic hasn’t played out similarly, if not exactly, between Black and white America.    

My parents did not sue me—there were no grounds—but ironically, their threat made me feel more Black than I’d ever felt before. It felt like a reminder that in America, if you are white, you can arbitrarily decide what constitutes an injustice, while threatening to bring law and order down upon anyone who says otherwise—in this case, a Black woman who wrote her story into existence. 

If not for the support of the family I made and chose, generous reviews, and the overwhelmingly positive response from readers—of all different backgrounds, but in particular Black and biracial transracial adoptees, and other transracial adoptees of color—I might have thought it was all for naught. But they wrote me, in droves.

“I feel a little taller, less broken, less angry and grateful to be in this black skin,” wrote one of the adoptee DMs and emails I received. “Thank you for this book...from the whole entireness of my heart. I have to go cry now.”

Hard same.

 


 

Rebecca Carroll is a writer, cultural critic, and podcast creator/host. She is the author of several books, including her recent memoir, Surviving the White Gaze. Rebecca is Editor at Large for The Meteor.


Six months of the Taliban

Two Afghan journalists on what life is like for women there now, as told to Mariane Pearl

Six months ago next Tuesday, Kabul fell to the Taliban, plunging Afghanistan’s citizens, but especially girls and women, into panic and despair. Rukhshana Media is one of the very few woman-run media outlets in the country; its two founders, Zahra Joya (shown above) and Zahra Nader, now live in exile, working 18 hours a day to ensure coverage of the systematic oppression of women at the hands of the Taliban. I spoke with these extraordinary journalists in late January over Zoom.

MP: Rukhshana Media, the news agency you created, is named after a victim of Taliban oppression. Can you tell us about her, and why you started the agency? 

Zahra Joya: For nine years, prior to creating Rukhshana, I sat in newsrooms, most often the only female to be seen, and saw how much women and girls’ lives were ignored by the media. We had no space, no opportunities to show our worth. Men genuinely believed we couldn’t do the job. So, I founded Rukhshana in 2020 with my own savings to tell our stories, drive change and foster a national dialogue about and with all women in Afghanistan, regardless of ethnicity or religious beliefs. Rukhshana herself was a 19-year-old girl from central Afghanistan who, in 2015, tried to flee an arranged marriage to be with the boy she loved. The Taliban accused her of adultery, dug a hole in the ground, leaving her upper body out, and stoned her to death. I chose her name so that each time we pronounce it we honor her—and fight against the risk of oblivion.

Zahra Nader: My biggest fear is that young women who are taught history in the future will say, “I can’t believe there were once female journalists in our country.”

There are only 100 female journalists left in Afghanistan (out of 700 before last August). You have reporters working inside Afghanistan and rely on volunteers. Can you explain how people bring stories to you? And are they in danger?

ZN: They are not quite volunteers because we insist on paying our collaborators. Women have lost their jobs [since the Taliban took over], so this is also a way of encouraging them to join us and speak out. Some of the women now working with us are not journalists; they were students or teachers, so we train them on the job.

ZJ: Right now, we have four female journalists and two men inside Afghanistan. We are looking for someone to cover the Eastern region, but the situation there is beyond control. Despite the danger, our reporters are doing remarkable work. In February alone, they wrote about two abducted women’s rights activists, the ban on women’s voices and music, and how former security forces fear being hunted down when applying for passports, among other critical reporting. We are constantly tracking our collaborators, making sure they are okay, but we don’t want them to take risks. Journalists themselves need to decide. No story is worth a human life, but the cost of an untold story is also very high.

ZN:  If we need to contact Taliban officials for comment, we do it exclusively from abroad. One time, I made such a call, and the next day, two women contacted me, pretending they needed help; these calls came from the Taliban trying to measure my vulnerabilities.

“No story is worth a human life, but the cost of an untold story is also very high.”

Afghanistan has one of the youngest populations on earth, with 63% of its people under the age of 25, meaning most Afghans don’t remember what life was like under the Taliban, which held power over roughly three-quarters of the country from 1986 to 2001. Do you have any memories of life under Taliban rule?

ZJ: I was nine when the Taliban left. In order to go to school, I had been dressing up as a boy and called myself Mohammad. The ’90s were particularly harrowing for women. Now at least we have platforms, social media, and networks. They didn’t have any of that then. My mother told me there was no bread on the table. They didn’t even know that there were doctors and clinics that could save their lives.

ZN:  When the Taliban came the first time around, I moved to Iran, where I wasn’t allowed to go to school [because I was a refugee]. The concept of home became a very big deal. The day my parents told me we were going back was the best of my life. I went to school and held my head high. To me, school meant change—the Taliban were in history books, a mere nightmare from the past. We were a generation that was going to change this country for the best.

Where were you last August, when the Taliban took Kabul? 

ZJ: That first day, I went to the office as usual, but my colleagues told me to leave immediately, so I went back home. The only thing I was able to grab was my diary. I was evacuated to London three days after the takeover. I lost everything.

ZN: I was working on a story about women’s reactions to the Taliban. Suddenly on television, I saw one entering the presidential palace in Kabul. I knew they were coming, but that image brought it home. I didn’t think it would happen so fast. I sat there just crying. It wasn’t only the fall of a country I was witnessing; it was the death of the hopes of my generation.

The Hazara community to which you both belong is being specifically persecuted by the Taliban. What do we know about Hazara women and what is happening to them?

ZJ: We have always been discriminated against. Many Afghans believe that we don’t belong there as we are mostly Shia Muslims, and the majority [of Afghans are] from the Sunni sect of Islam. And if you are a Hazara woman, you are buried under several more layers of discrimination between your ethnicity and your gender. 

Yet, as journalists, we are very conscious about not letting labels and nationalism prevent us from representing all women.

A WOMAN AND HER CHILD ON THE ROAD IN KABUL, JANUARY 2022. (PHOTO BY SCOTT PETERSON VIA GETTY IMAGES)

The Taliban promised to respect women’s rights “according to Islam.” But “according to Islam” is a vague, and in this case threatening, formulation, as the interpretation of the Quran is complex and varies widely depending on the individual. 

 ZN: In May 2021, I asked the Taliban to define what they considered women’s rights. Every Muslim country has its own interpretation of how women should live. Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran—they are all different. The Taliban never answered the question or defined anything. But they are slowly pursuing their agenda and imposing a very narrow interpretation of Islam.

The word “misogyny” lacks the power to represent their ideology towards women. One of the first Taliban decrees stated that “women are human beings.” They actually had to wonder about that.

How at-risk are the women who were most visible during the last 20 years? Journalists, of course, but also women working in the armed forces, as lawyers or activists?

ZN: Rukhshana is doing everything we can to answer that question. We hear about so many stories of women being killed but often we can’t run them because we can’t reach anybody to confirm the facts. When we can talk to the family, friends or relatives, we reach out to the Taliban and they simply deny responsibility: They say these women have died because of family feuds. How is it possible that so many public, visible women are suddenly all dying from family feuds? It’s so easy for Talibans to find and execute these targeted women. All the public data, fingerprints, census and personal information are in their hands now.

“The word 'misogyny' lacks the power to represent [the Taliban's] ideology towards women.”

In January 2022, a delegation of Taliban was hosted in Oslo to speak with world representatives. Officially, the meeting was to address the economic crisis, but activists see that meeting as a first step towards legitimizing the Taliban government. What do you think?

ZN: When we challenge the fact that the Taliban should not be invited to the world table, we are told that Afghanistan has too many problems. That we should resolve the economic crisis first, then we can talk about women. But how do you resolve starvation if half of the country is under house arrest? I was saddened by the lack of protests from the Norwegian people, who ultimately paid for the expenses of that meeting.

How can the international community help Afghan women?

ZJ: The best way is to put pressure on your governments, to tell the world that you disagree with what is happening. Ultimately, this is about all women and the way we can be treated when men are at their worst. Show what you stand for, challenge inertia. Another way is to support Afghan women who are now outside the country. You can help them help us.

Read Rukhshana Media here, and follow them on Twitter here.

Mariane Pearl is an award-winning journalist and writer who works in English, French, and Spanish. She is the author of the books A Mighty Heart and In Search of Hope.


The Great Unionization

Strike! Say it, it feels good. ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌


Sara Nelson is the labor leader we need

Journalist Esther Wang speaks to the Flight Attendants Union President about the future of the labor movement

Sara Nelson, the charismatic head of the nation’s largest flight attendants’ union, loves the word “strike.” During our 50-minute conversation recently, Nelson, who’s often described as America’s “most prominent labor leader,” used the term no less than a dozen times. It’s fitting, as it was her invocation of a general strike, uttered in January 2019 during a speech that subsequently went viral, that helped to end Donald Trump’s government shutdown. “Strike, strike, strike, strike, strike, strike, strike. Say it—it feels good,” she once proclaimed in the New York Times. A strike is a reminder of the ultimate power that workers possess—the power to withhold their labor and their time. In embracing it, Nelson is a bit of a throwback, and maybe also a figurehead that the U.S. labor movement needs in this particular moment.

Her industry needs her too. Flight attendants have been on the frontlines of the pandemic, and subject to shocking levels of abuse and at times physical violence from irate passengers. Last year saw a 500 percent increase in the number of violent incidents on airplanes, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. In May 2021, to cite just one example, a Southwest Airlines flight attendant was punched by a woman after she asked her to put on her mask and follow other safety procedures. And airline executives have only made the lives of flight attendants more miserable, furloughing and laying off staff disproportionately, and pushing to reinstitute alcohol sales on planes.

The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA began a union drive at Delta shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic, but it picked up steam in December 2021 after the airline publicly pushed the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to reduce its recommended quarantine period for people with breakthrough infections—a move that Nelson described as “brazenly choosing the economy over workers’ lives.”

She and the AFA-CWA immediately went on a media blitz. “This wasn’t just about being critical of the CDC and Delta,” which had pressed the CDC for the change, Nelson said. “This was about being as loud as we could” to “spread the word to workers everywhere and get it into everyone’s consciousness—do not force people to come back to work.” As for Delta, the company eventually budged, amending its original policy in response to the union’s criticism. “They didn’t give us credit for that, but they changed their policy,” Nelson said, more than a hint of satisfaction in her voice.

NELSON AND MEMBERS OF THE ASSOCIATION OF FLIGHT ATTENDANTS FIGHTING FOR COVID RELIEF PACKAGES IN 2020. (PHOTO BY BILL CLARK VIA GETTY IMAGES)

Flight attendants aren’t alone in their demands for the safer workplaces and fairer pay that they—and all of us—deserve. Workers across industries are increasingly fed up, fueled by the indignity of being pandered to as “essential workers” even as they were being thrown to the wolves. During the pandemic, “what we saw was a consistent view of workers being disposable,” Nelson said. “And so now workers are like, listen, it’s not just that there’s all this inequality,” she said. “You don’t even give a damn about our lives. You don't care if we live or die.” To Nelson, there is “a recognition that nothing is going to change if we don't change it collectively.” This, she says, explains why support for unions is at its highest point in decades, and the flurry of unionization drives at Starbucks stores and Amazon warehouses. “Workers are saying, ‘Wow, the only way to take on someone who could be a trillionaire—and who leaves the rest of us with a burning Earth as he shoots off to Mars—is to organize in our workplace,’” Nelson said.

That’s the hope, at least. What has been dubbed the “Great Resignation”—a turn of phrase that neatly captures the mood of millions of Americans—is less a mass movement than a whole lot of individuals fed up and finding better jobs. But while workers may have a little more negotiating power now, that can change quickly. (Better pay and benefits, as anyone who has been sexually harassed on the job knows, are not the only markers of a decent workplace.) “The only way these gains are lasting is if we organize in the millions,” Nelson told me.

"And so now workers are like, listen, it's not just that there's all this inequality. You don't even give a damn about our lives. You don't care if we live or die."

I asked Nelson what she would tell someone who wanted to bring that Norma Rae spirit to her own job—a working mom, for example—but was unsure where to begin. “Join unions, run unions. It’s that simple,” she said. If your workplace isn’t unionized? “Figure out how to organize one.” Easier said than done, but Nelson, who began her career as a flight attendant in 1996 before becoming the president of her union in 2014, is keenly aware of how unions can transform the lives of women. She recalled going to the White House in 2012 for a forum on women and the economy, where much of the discussion centered on closing the gender wage gap. At one point, she raised her hand to speak. “And I said, ‘You know, we’ve talked about the wage gap all morning. But why have we not talked about the one thing that would immediately close the wage gap and give women power in their workplace and give women power to actually collectively bargain, and bargain for their worth together? Why have we not talked about making it easier for women to join unions?’” According to Nelson, silence ensued. “And the moderator waited a minute, and then just called on someone else. And that was it.”

A lot has changed in the decade since. Fast-food workers are organizing for a union not just to raise their wages, but to combat pervasive sexual harassment. In June, Nelson may challenge current AFL-CIO president Liz Shuler for the federation’s top job. (“That's something that feels like a real calling and a duty,” she told me when I asked, declining to give a definitive answer.)

And in the meantime, she says she loves the work. “I just have to share with you that my day started off right today, because the first thing that I got was a picture of Delta flight attendants over at the Starbucks in Atlanta, where they’re organizing,” Nelson told me, her voice cracking with emotion. The name one of the flight attendants gave the barista for her order? “Solidarity.”

Esther Wang is a New York City-based writer who covers social movements, immigrant communities, and the intersection of culture and politics.


Who is Black History Month actually for?

January 29, 2022

Uncategorized

Cheers to the (first) freakin’ weekend edition of this newsletter. January is coming to a close and with it, the end of all conversation surrounding Dry January or Veganuary, depending on which version of the month your respective social media influencers are paid to celebrate.

In a few short days, corporations will realize it’s February and start rolling out their Black History Month celebrations in an effort to turn a profit by quite literally commercializing a history that certain government officials don’t want taught in grade schools. In anticipation of this onslaught of questionable allyship, Meteor editor-at-large Rebecca Carroll spoke with author and historian Imani Perry about the origins of Black History Month and its current role in American culture. We’ve also got a quick hit on the latest episode of Brittany Packnett Cunningham’s UNDISTRACTED, featuring extremely fashionable guest Elaine Welteroth.

Also, we’re new here and would love to hear from you, so drop us a line over at [email protected] and let us know what you’re absolutely dying to read. – Shannon Melero


WRITING OURSELVES INTO HISTORY

“This Changes Everything”

What Imani Perry taught me about Black History Month

BY REBECCA CARROLL

Years ago, when I was working at a mainstream media corporation, I was called into a marketing meeting for my ideas on how to best package Black History Month in ways that would boost ad sales and sponsorship on the site. I suggested, in all seriousness, because I genuinely believed what I was saying: “What if we didn’t package Black History Month at all? What if we took a break from selling this idea that Black History is something we should only think about for a month every February?” Well, you can imagine. The marketing folks were shooketh, and I was promptly dismissed from the meeting.

The thing is, I was coming from a place of profound (and uneducated) cynicism, based on the belief that Black History Month was created by white folks. And I know I’m not alone in thinking this. Thank heavens for historian and author Imani Perry, whose new book, South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation, was published this week, and who went ahead and set the record straight for me—because honestly, I simply did not know.

RC: Given that I was adopted into a white family, raised in a white town, and then went on to spend the bulk of my career in white media spaces, Black History Month has always seemed exploitative and commercialized to me—but I was so curious to learn from you that Black History Month actually has its origins in Black culture. Can you explain?

IP: Black History Month was an outgrowth of Negro History Week. In the early 20th century, Black history programs and curricula were organized in segregated Southern Schools. They happened in February because that was the month of Abraham Lincoln’s birth and Frederick Douglass’s chosen birthday (he didn’t know his exact birthdate, having been born in slavery). In 1926, historian and organizer Carter G. Woodson formalized these practices and established Negro History Week.

Negro History Week was an extension of a very deliberate effort that began immediately post-emancipation to document Black history, both domestically and internationally, and resist the false claim that people of African descent had contributed nothing meaningful to human history or civilization. Negro History Week, which became Black History Month in the early 1970s, was focused on young people…and became a robust tradition. There were Negro History Week curricula—books on Black U.S., Caribbean, and African histories and historic figures; essays, documents, plays, pageants, and academic exercises along with the ritual singing of “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Often these school-based programs invited the entire community to participate and so these were collective celebrations, as well as opportunities for people to learn.

It wasn’t really until the late 1970s that white Americans even began to have any significant awareness of Black History Month, and much of that came through consumer culture. So, like Kwanzaa, a ritual that was developed primarily within Black communities made its way to the larger public through advertising strategies intended to compel Black buyers rather than substantive political transformation. So we get fast food companies celebrating Black History Month in ways that mean close to nothing or at times are even offensive. But despite that, there continue to be institutions in which Black History Month is rooted in a tradition of Black people writing themselves into history in ways that reject the logic of white supremacy and give a more expansive reach to the story of Black life both in this country and globally.

And so what does Black History Month mean to you, both personally and professionally?

IP: Personally, Black History Month is one of those traditions, like Emancipation Day or Juneteenth or Watch Night, that I cherish because it anchors me in tradition and ritual. Professionally…because I’m very invested in ensuring that my students know the history of Black institutional life, I teach the ritual as an outgrowth of one of the most important periods of intellectual development in African American history.

“Black History Month is rooted in a tradition of Black people writing themselves into history in ways that reject the logic of white supremacy.”

Traditionally, historians describe the Jim Crow era as the “nadir” of American race relations, the phrase used by historian Rayford Logan. And by that, he meant the lowest point, that horrifying period when the promises of Reconstruction had been completely denied. What is remarkable about that time is that Black people got to work despite the devastation. There was exceptional growth in African American civic life in this period. People were building organizations and networks, writing books and developing social theory, building schools, and churches at every turn. And so, even when society shut the door to opportunity and treated Black people with horrible brutality, they kept dreaming, doing, and creating. For me, that is not just a key point for understanding African American history but it is an incredible daily inspiration for my own work.

Do you think it’s ever more necessary in this current cultural climate to uphold BHM, and if so, to what end?

IP: I don’t think of Black History Month as more or less important based upon the political moment. I guess I would say it will be important indefinitely because we live in a white supremacist country and world, and counter-narratives that value freedom and dignity and resilience will always be necessary as long as stratifying people on the basis of identity is the norm.

Surely you’ve had experiences where (almost always white) people will say something that is just all kinds of wrong regarding BHM (I’m sorry to say I have had several)—or there is this unspoken sense of “We’re giving you this whole month, can you just be grateful?” Can you recall such an experience, and how you responded/flipped the script for your own sense of sanity?

IP: Thank goodness I’ve never had a white person say to me that they’ve given Black people Black History Month. It would frankly be something that I’d laugh at, for a long time. Nothing could be further from the truth. Black people created it for Black people, and particularly for Black young people, and have been gracious enough to invite others to participate. They should feel fortunate.

Rebecca Carroll is a writer, cultural critic, and podcast creator/host. She is the author of several books, including her recent memoir Surviving the White Gaze. Rebecca is editor at large for The Meteor.


WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING

  • The move to ban “controversial” books from schools and libraries is quickly gaining steam. This week a school board in Tennessee banned the use of the graphic novel Maus, supposedly because it included profanity and nudity. The nudity in question, which is a lot tamer than what kids are watching on Euphoria, is a cartoon rendering of naked mice meant to illustrate the indignities forced upon Jewish people during the Holocaust.
  • Speaking of oversized rodents, Florida governor Ron DeSantis is pushing a so-called “parents’ rights” agenda, which includes fast-tracking a bill that will bar discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in grade schools. Slate reporter Christina Carterucci highlights the intentional vagueness of the bill’s language and points out that it’s part of a larger legislative effort to minimize the existence of LGBTQ+ people, which is being referred to in Republican circles as the “Don’t Say Gay” laws.

  AND:


UNDISTRACTED

Why So Many Women of Color Are Leaving Their Jobs

BY JULIANNE ESCOBEDO SHEPHERD
PHOTO COURTESY OF MASTERCLASS

This week, The New York Times published an article about the so-called Great Resignation, the phenomenon in which workers appear to be resigning from their jobs in droves. It identified “turnover contagion,” the idea that if one person leaves, their coworkers will be inclined to reassess their positions as well, and some of the reasons that make workers want to leave, including low pay and lack of work-life balance. (To quote the title of Sarah Jaffe’s excellent book about labor exploitation, “Work won’t love you back.” Say it louder!)

But the Times piece did not directly address one of the more prevailing cultural reasons people are leaving their jobs, and one that’s probably top of mind for a whole lot of us, especially since the summer of 2020: the fact that a lot of work environments are toxic for people of color, women and other marginalized genders, and LGBTQIA+ folks.

“The mindset has shifted to, I’m not fighting to sit at your table anymore.”

Elaine Welteroth identified this factor in the latest edition of Brittany Packnett Cunningham’s UNDISTRACTED podcast. “In the end, if corporations were not really ready to practice what they preach in their press releases or on social media, Black folks and people of color and folks who really were about that change and that progress decided to seek opportunities elsewhere,” said the award-winning journalist, author, TV host and former editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue. “I think that for so long the mantra has been fighting for your seat at the table, and I think that mindset has shifted to, I’m not fighting to sit at your table anymore.

Of course, not everybody is just up and “resigning.” Packnett Cunningham pointed out the fact that many women, particularly women of color, have been “pushed out of the workforce involuntarily, due to childcare and other duties, as well as “refusing to put up with the total bullshit of hostile, racist work environments.” In December, the Center for Public Integrity reported that 181,000 Black women left the workplace between September and December 2021 alone, partly because daycare centers were disproportionately likely to close in Black and Latinx neighborhoods. But the research also suggests that Black women are “refusing to return to certain low-paying jobs, which put them and their families at risk of contracting COVID-19, while not offering any paid sick days or health insurance.” (Time to unionize!)

Bottom line: As Welteroth says, public-facing DEI efforts are simply not enough when women of color and other marginalized folks are being regarded as disposable behind the scenes—even in environments where one would expect better treatment, such as women’s publications and nonprofits. What many employees are responding to is the fact that no matter how many “diverse candidates” a company employs and trots out for clout, the likelihood that white management is treating those workers with the respect they deserve—let alone offering them opportunities for advancement—is criminally slim. No wonder so many workers are simply saying, “I’m out.”

Anyway, it’s a great interview. And she also talks about André Leon Talley, may he rest in fabulousness. Listen to this week’s edition of UNDISTRACTED here.

 


UNDISTRACTED
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The start of something new

January 26, 2022

Uncategorized

When I think of my inbox—an abundant wasteland of algorithm-generated ads I didn’t sign up for and celebrity gossip alerts I definitely did—it stresses me out. This is, apparently, a feeling endemic to email at this point—there are studies—and if you imagine your inbox in Second Life terms, it’s like inviting your best friends, your boss, maybe your landlord, advertisers, rando spam dudes, and utility companies (I already paid my gas bill, National Grid!), all to the same 24-7 party, which happens to be inside your brain. I don’t know about you but I’m not really trying to do that!

So with The Meteor newsletter, we are hoping to edify and surprise you and your inbox with engaging, urgent writing that illuminates something about the state of the world and all its dreadful and delightful vagaries.

You can read more about that in our debut essay below, in which Jennifer Finney Boylan writes beautifully about transformation, birth, and rebirth. And after that, Shannon Melero‘s interview with the activist and Columbia student Deja Foxx, who helped organize a dance protest on the 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Also, a few of the things we’re thinking about and need to share with the group chat. Settle in, we brought snacks. —Julianne Escobedo Shepherd, Editor at Large


YOU NEED TO SEE THIS

Something New Is Waiting to Be Born

BY JENNIFER FINNEY BOYLAN

Wake up, I said to my wife.  You have to see this.

It was the middle of the night, but she hauled her giant, nine-months pregnant self out of bed and followed me to the front porch.

There in the skies was Comet Hyakutake, with a tail as big as a kite.

It was a frozen night in Maine.  Icicles hung down from the gutters; our breath came out in clouds.

Nine years earlier, I had courted Deedie in Washington D.C., where she worked for the Studio Theatre.  I was passing my days then as the dumbest professor ever on the faculty of Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, and that, my friends, is saying a lot.  During the drive down the Gladys Noon Spellman parkway,  from my city to hers, I sometimes listened to a then-popular song called “Crazy Fingers.” It contained the line, “Something new is waiting to be born.”

She had been orphaned two years earlier and my own dad had died the year after that.  There we were, in our mid-twenties, bearing all this grief.  I had an additional and private sorrow, too, the burden of being trans and having no language to describe the thing I felt.  It was a hard time.

There are times, even, when I cannot wait for my generation to die off so the young people can finally take over.

But during the year that we found each other, and (eventually) married, our lives were transformed. In a very short span of time, we had gone from two broken souls to what we were now: a couple standing on a porch on a cold, silent night, watching a comet illuminate the skies.

When our son was born—just a few days later—we heard the cries fill the operating room. Deedie, light radiating from her face, tears streaming down her cheeks, looked at me and said, That’s amazing!

Later that night, home again, I walked alone beneath that starry sky and looked up at the comet. From the woods came the clear sound of water rushing over rocks beneath snow.

You hold in your hands (or, more likely, behold in pixels) the debut issue of The Meteor’s newsletter, spearheaded by editors Julianne Escobedo Shepherd and Shannon Melero and sustained by The Meteor, a group of feminist-minded writers, artists, and activists. For the last year, we have been gathering together in hopes of creating something new.

We believe in something as impossible as the power of love to heal grieving souls, or—who knows?—as glorious as the sight of a wild comet in a cold sky. We believe, in short, in the power of words, images, and stories to advance gender and racial justice and equity to transform the world.

We are inspired by the idea of the meteor, of its force and impact. And by Audre Lorde, who wrote, “I am going to write fire until it comes out of my ears, my eyes, my nose holes—everywhere. Until it’s every breath I breathe. I’m going to go out like a fucking meteor!”

It was a meteor, of course, that killed the dinosaurs. We know that the writers and artists we admire are killing a few dinosaurs, too: the dinosaur of racism. The dinosaur of homophobia. The dinosaur of injustice. The dinosaur of transphobia.

There are times I think of myself as a dinosaur, too: since I came out as trans 20 years ago, the discourse around trans lives has become more nuanced and complex and inclusive, just as the discourse around feminism itself has changed and matured since I first started calling myself one in the 1970s. All of that change is good. Transforming what has come before is exactly what each new generation is supposed to do. There are times, even, when I cannot wait for my generation to die off so the young people can finally take over.

In the meantime, something new is waiting to be born.

There we were, my loved one and me, on a cold night, watching Comet Hyakutake. I stood behind her, my arms resting on her giant belly. Something—someone, in fact—stirred within. I felt that. A few days later, I looked into his eyes for the first time. I said, Hello, Sean.

I hope you’ll enjoy The Meteor Newsletter, and that you’ll find in these pages signs of hope, signs that the hard days we are all living through are not without their joys. I am hoping we can all write fire together and find a way of living in this new world with love.

Wake up. You have to see this.

Jennifer Finney Boylan is the Anna Quindlen Writer in Residence and Professor of English at Barnard College.  She is a Trustee of PEN America and a Contributing Opinion Writer for the New York Times.


WIN SOME

Ain’t No Party Like an Act for Abortion Party

BY SHANNON MELERO

On January 22, a group of activists, dancers, and abortion providers convened on the steps of the Supreme Court to commemorate the 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. What might have been a mournful gathering over the current state of abortion access was actually… a great, if very cold, party. “There are doom headlines almost every day, so the energy that we brought was singing, dancing, prayer, and sermon,” says organizer Deja Foxx, a 21-year-old activist, content creator, Columbia student, and founder of  Gen Z Girl Gang.

This week, I spoke with Foxx about The Act for Abortion protest and her dedication to the abortion movement. I also tried my best not to say “back in my day,” but as a geriatric millennial, it was almost impossible to avoid.

PHOTO BY LEIGH VOGEL VIA GETTY IMAGES

SM: Something I’ve seen with the current movement is that there is an urgency to use the word abortion versus “pro-choice,” whereas–and not to date myself, but I’m a little older than you–when I was first getting involved, we called it “shmashmortion” because “abortion” was just one of those words you didn’t use so freely. Why do you think it matters so much to call it what it is?

DF: Some of that progress has come because of bold storytelling. People have found and built community around their experiences and used that to create change. I think we’ve come to a point where there is no sidestepping the issue because the other side isn’t sidestepping; they’re going directly at it. So some of this is a direct response to the pressure being put on this movement and on abortion in particular.

SM: The next evolution of the abortion movement will be dictated by young people like yourself. What’s the next step?

DF: We are at an inflection point. As we sit here today, it seems likely that Roe will be overturned, and I think in this moment, a lot of young people have come to be, rightfully so, distrustful of institutions—whether that be the government or news—and we’re striving to find alternatives. When our government, our elected officials, let us down, when they don’t show up for us, when they target us, when they restrict us, it is on us to be there for one another. Some of the action steps that we can take today are donating to abortion funds, supporting indie clinics, sharing information about the abortion pill, or calling our elected officials and holding them to account, especially around the Women’s Health Protection Act.

SM: How do you think people can overcome the fear that comes with discussing the topic? Because I know some fully grown adults who will not even think the word abortion in front of their family members.

DF: My advice to any storyteller is to do what is uncomfortable but not what is unsafe. There is a difference. But share what is uncomfortable. See what you can excavate from yourself because having those uncomfortable conversations is important. I think if you’re having it with the right person, someone who cares about you, or someone powerful who can create change, that’s really the one-to-one work that makes a difference. Know that abortion is normal, birth control is normal, sex is normal—and if you bring your personal story, you are an expert in it. You are an expert in your experience and you don’t need to do a ton of research or have a fancy degree—your experience is enough.

SM: I would imagine that in the years you’ve been doing this, people have told you that you’re too young to speak with authority on these issues. How do you respond to that?

DF: I have gotten that many times. I question then if I’m too young, what makes someone else not too male or too white or too rich or too privileged or too distant, right? I refuse to be told that I’m not qualified when I’ve lived my experiences. A lot of the work that I do is about shifting the culture around what we mean when we say people are “qualified” or “experienced.” That means inviting young people.

PHOTO COURTESY OF GINNY SUSS


WHAT'S GOING ON

  AND:

  • Xintian Wang on the culture war in China being waged against so-called “sissy” men and boys
  • Remember that time, girl, at the baaahr in Belgium?” If you missed it: Gabrielle Union and Kaavia James are simply delightful
  • Over in our corner, The Meteor has released a series of videos in which seven people share their abortion stories, making the ever-relevant point that abortion is a) NOT a scary ritual performed by ogres in the dead of night as antis would have you believe, but instead b) a routine medical procedure that betters the lives of those who choose it—patients *and* their families—in ways not commonly reported. As Sriya Sarkar says in her video, “I’m really grateful for that boring-as-hell abortion I got.” Watch them all here.