Monday, May 19, 2008

Being Seen

This is something I wrote not too long ago, and with Wiscon coming up, and at the gentle urging of a dear friend, I'm sharing this and the artcile that went with it (coming in a few days).

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I’ve had a great number of interesting conversations lately as the panel suggestions closed for Wiscon this year and we spoke about needing a place at the convention for PoC to gather. This got me thinking about my experiences at Wiscon and other places like it over the past decade or so.

Now, to begin with, I identify as a woman of color. I acknowledge that because of my pale skin there are elements of white privilege I benefit from, whether or not I want to. To the untrained eye my Cherokee features do nothing but simply confuse them. I’ve spent my life on the edge of a blade, someplace between the world of my white father and the heritage of my Cherokee mother. Raised in nearly all white neighborhoods in West Virginia, I was brought up in a family where acting white was an element of survival. In the end I still stood on the outside as the girl that was “just not like the rest of us.”

The assumption that I’m white comes more often than not from women and men of color, while many folks who identify as white look at me and seem to know that whatever I am, I’m certainly not like them. These truths have led into a lifetime of tears, and frustration. This fact, however, is not exactly what I want to speak of today, though it does play its part. The reason I mention any of this is that rarely are these experiences more painfully true for me than in a small setting like a woman’s event or a fannish convention like Wiscon.

Being a feminist at Wiscon is a given. It’s assumed that everyone coming to Wiscon is a fan of specific and a feminist, but for some people the feeling standing on the outside looking in goes much further. When issues of race and self-identity come to play, often they are treated as minor issues in the face of feminist topics, as if the hardships we face as women somehow trumps those we’ve experiences as PoC. That is why I’m so vocal about the need to find a place for PoC to gather together, to share our concerns and frustrations. I often times wonder how many others there are like me at place like Wiscon and even around the world. People of mixed heritage walking in a sea of faces, and knowing the ones that look most like them would never understand who they are inside, or what they’ve suffered in being true to who they are.

I’m so tired of explaining and educating when so often the facts do nothing but fall on deaf ears. There’s often assumption that I will stand with the white feminists on all feminist issues, or applaud the liberal who stand there publicly patting themselves on the back for being so racially enlightened and proactive. I’m weary from having whites look at me to back them up when they are unknowingly doing the waltz of racism, complaining about how the PoC is just being touchy or unreasonable. At least now when they are shocked when I stand against their ignorance they are simply angry, as apposed to the violence I faced growing up when I made these same stands.

My own dance is to the heartbeat of my ancestors as it pulses in the earth beneath me, not to the demanding whine of unspoken expectations that so often fills my ears. It took until my late teens to find my way to my first Wiscon, and though I enjoyed the panels and the new things I learned, it wasn’t until the past few years I really felt a shifting presence at the convention where people of color came together to talk about what was important to them. It was then, in the moment of change and awareness, that I opened my spirit and began to write the stories of strong women of color I believe have been inside me all that time.

But as the years pass, there are more places like Wiscon where people of color come together in fandom to speak, to tell their stories, to be heard. Stories they’ve never had space to tell before. This means that each time I step into a place where I may be seen, it’s at a risk. Each time I reveal who I am rather than hide within assumptions and solitude, I’m rolling the dice. Win or lose, without the wholeness of the truths and standing in the light I cannot stand as an advocate of my children, of my people, or even of myself.

I cannot say I walk into the light without fear. Each time I open my mouth in a panel and speak as a woman of color, as a Cherokee woman, there is fear. Years of facing violence and ridicule because I wasn’t Indian enough, because I wasn’t white enough, do not fade even in the span of a lifetime. Each year I will return to Wiscon, and each year I will stand within my fear to take my place among other people of color. Hurts must be healed, stories told, tears cried, if we are ever to be able to stand together in strength and determination.
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