Tag Archives: Racism

Pray For [Blank]: Climate Disasters & The Narrative of Place

I can hear the water trickling back up through the pipes. It’s been off all day, probably ‘cause it rained like a motherfucker last night. They don’t call it a rain forest for nothing. We generally don’t realize how precious water is until our access to it gets interrupted, which brings me to today’s topic. My essay, A Country Within A Country: Climate Change, Privilege, and Disaster Survival was published in Bitch Magazine last year but I’m only now just getting around to sharing it with y’all, and, unfortunately, it’s relevance hasn’t waned in the slightest.  This Sunday will mark the one year anniversary of the major earthquake that devastated Ecuador last year, the event that sparked this series in the first place. It brought me to write this:

The disastrous effects of Hurricane Katrina and its mismanagement were broadcast across international media for all to see, and while the hurricane took many lives and will impact the Gulf region for generations to come, the media spectacle showing the hurricane’s effects didn’t translate into solidarity. New Orleanians were abandoned, almost as an example for what we, the underprivileged in the most privileged place on the planet, have to look forward to.

With #45 and a bunch of dudes who get rich off of shit like this in office, I think it’s safe to say that we’ve got a lot more Katrinas on the way. But the focus of this piece is how the narrative of climate disasters (and tragedies in general) shift based on where they happen and who they happen to, and particularly how this plays out on social and mainstream media. For example:

“If you turned down the sound on your television, if you didn’t know where you were, you might think it was Haiti or maybe one of those African countries.” – Soledad O’Brien’s reaction to Katrina on CNN. Then there’s Nancy Gibbs in Time magazine: “These things happened in Haiti, but not here.”

If Katrina taught us anything, it’s that those things do, in fact, happen here. They continue to happen and they will not stop. So can we retire this awful tendency of comparing tragedies on US soil to ones in “those African countries”? And what do they reveal to us about the myth of American exceptionalism? I turned to author Edwidge Danticat’s incredible essay, Another Country, to try to answer this. From her work:

“It’s hard for those of us from places like Freetown or Port-au-Prince, and those of us who are immigrants who still have relatives living in places like Freetown or Port-au-Prince, not to wonder why the so-called developed world needs so desperately to distance itself from us, especially at times when an unimaginable disaster shows us exactly how much alike we are.” Let’s be real: This kind of rhetoric is a coded way of saying, “We deserve better. They don’t.”

Nope, the US isn’t disaster-proof, and being shocked that it isn’t operates from a flawed understanding of how shit works here. Because those folks in New Orleans probably have more in common with people in “those African countries” than they might with the wealthy hotel owners downtown in the French Quarter. Did we really believe that the resources the US has looted from the rest of the world, a primary driver of climate change, were equally distributed among the people of the US? That Tio Samuel is really gonna have our backs when disaster strikes?

I don’t think people like O’Brien or Gibbs consciously believe this, though. I think this is the message the United States sends to the rest of the world on a daily basis, from the events and ideals at its foundation, to its current foreign policies, to the way it treats migrants of all kinds right here in the god-blessed U.S. of A. I think people like O’Brien and Gibbs represent so many in the American public who feel the need to help craft a revisionist fairy tale about their country to boost its self-esteem and to swallow the reality that one in eight households here live in hunger (or “food insecurity”) according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They treat the Story of America like a child crying home to his parents because the kids at school called him racist. The revisionist consoles the child, saying, “Now now, son, tell them you aren’t racist, you’re alt-right.”

Nothing will bring you back to your senses like a climate disaster. They lay bare the ugly reality of how things work here, and since we’re going to be seeing a lot more of these, we have to be real about who’s going to be hit the hardest, and why. (Hint: it’s race.) We’ll need more than Facebook filters that are usually reserved for majority-white victims of tragedies, more than a fake story about a shitty dream to unite us; more than a flag. Because what use is all of that when you don’t even have water?

Read the full essay here.

April POC Travel Book Club

Hey people, I moved the POC Travel Book Club over to TinyLetter so sign up here if you wanna join! April’s book club pick is Carolyn Finney’s Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors, available on both Kindle and in print at the link above, and we’ll be discussing it on Sunday, April 30th at 3pm EST via Google Hangout. For those of you who’ve been unable to join us, here’s a list of the books we’ve read in the past:

  • Migritude by Shailja Patel
  • A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid
  • Belonging: A Culture of Place by bell hooks
  • Meeting Faith: The Forest Journals of a Black Buddhist Nun by Faith Adiele
  • Deer Hunting in Paris: A Memoir of God, Guns, and Game Meat by Paula Young Lee

More on Black Faces, White Spaces:

Why are African Americans so underrepresented when it comes to interest in nature, outdoor recreation, and environmentalism? In this thought-provoking study, Carolyn Finney looks beyond the discourse of the environmental justice movement to examine how the natural environment has been understood, commodified, and represented by both white and black Americans. Bridging the fields of environmental history, cultural studies, critical race studies, and geography, Finney argues that the legacies of slavery, Jim Crow, and racial violence have shaped cultural understandings of the “great outdoors” and determined who should and can have access to natural spaces. Drawing on a variety of sources from film, literature, and popular culture, and analyzing different historical moments, including the establishment of the Wilderness Act in 1964 and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Finney reveals the perceived and real ways in which nature and the environment are racialized in America. Looking toward the future, she also highlights the work of African Americans who are opening doors to greater participation in environmental and conservation concerns.

Happy reading!

LISTEN: Traveling (and Eating) Better with Bani Amor

Hey people.

If you’ve yet to be blessed with the opportunity to hear my mousy voice chase an idea in circles in search of a point to make, then you’re in luck, ’cause the good folks of the Racist Sandwich podcast recently had me on their show to talk food, travel and power. For the uninitiated, the Racist Sandwich podcast is the best podcast, according to me (and many others). Hosted by journalist Zahir Janmohammed and chef Soleil Ho, both Portland-based POC, they tackle food, race, gender and class with guests doing dope shit in the food world, all while being cute, witty and smart. Listen to my episode here and if you’re down, back their Patreon here.

In other news, I’m officially one year older and am spending ~ me ~ time in Ecuador playing with kids and dogs, chillin’ with friends, cooking, and writing like a motherfucker. For those of you anxious about missing my birthday and scrambling to send me a belated fruit basket, step away from Amazon and put some change in my piggy bank instead. ‘Preesh!

I’ll check in with y’all next week with some more updates. In the meantime, make yourselves useful and punch some Nazis while I’m away.

 

Come See Me at NYC Comic Con!

Hey kids, I’ve been in my writing den for a minute but will emerge with more interviews, articles and projects soon. For now, if you’re in the NYC area, you can come see me speak on the We Need Diverse Books panel on working as writers of color in digital media at Comic Con next Thursday, October 6th! Deets here and Facebook event heredigital-media-nycc-file

If you come through make sure to say hi! I’ll also be at the opening party for the anthology Outside the XY: Queer Black and Brown Masculinity, in which I have an essay on #travelingwhiletrans, on October 10th. I’ll post about that next week. In the meantimes, just wanna shout out to all the new people reading this blog after this salty white dude wrote a whole essay calling me anti-fun, anti-sun, and, gasp, anti-colonialism, all while misgendering me the entire time. I’m officially a tourism killjoy. #StayMad

[Featured photo by Neha Gautam Photography]

Outside the XY: Queer Black and Brown Masculinity

hey people, I have an essay on traveling through place and gender in bklyn boihood’s long-awaited anthology Outside the XY: Queer Black and Brown Masculinity! Published by Riverdale Ave Books, edited by Morgan Mo Willis (of bklyn boihood) with an intro by Toshi Reagon + cover art by Mickalene Thomas, OTXY is filled with stories, confessions, essays, poetry and letters from QTPOCs around the world for whom masculinity has played a role in shaping their lived identities.

My story, called Low Visibility, starts out like this:

In the morning, our plane began to curl downward like a rebellious strand of hair gone straight. I looked out over the cloudscape, a heavy swell of shadows that had been sucked up into the sky, swirling with the corals and blues of the sunrise, and wondered about the other side of turbulence. Having passed through the dysphoria of landing, where your belly’s lost in some buoyant limbo, what would touchdown finally feel like? I wanted to skip alla that. I wanted to be someone, somewhere –clearly defined.

Yes, traveling as a non-cisgender person is some shit. Purchase the book here and support QTPOC writers!

LISTEN: What Does It Mean to Decolonize Travel Culture?

hey people. I hope you’re enjoying your summers as much as possible because #2k16Problems are real as fuck. I especially hope that, if you’re non-Black like me, you’re working on ensuring that #BlackLivesMatter in terms of your actions, projects, organizing, art, community engagement, interpersonal relationships, volunteer work, putting your money where your mouth is, etc. Let’s get our shit together.

With regards to that, I’m working on some BLM-related projects in Ecuador, so stay tooned. But for now, I’m sharing this talk I had* with the ever-dope Amy of Bitch Magazine on their Popaganda podcast about issues around tourism and power, the colonial tradition of travel writing and my feature essay Spend and Save: The Narrative of Fair Trade and White Saviorism that’s in their latest issue. Your engagement here and elsewhere on social media is always welcome (unless it’s a racist diatribe, of course) as are your shares and donations. Don’t forget, I’m running a crowdfunding campaign to help meet my survival needs while I work on multimedia community projects over the summer. Check out the teaser for a documentary about how traveling as a QTPOC writer led me to ask the questions I do in my work, then donate!

*My gender pronouns have changed since the podcast, where I’m referred to as she/her instead of they/them