Writing at the intersection of motherhood, feminism and my Latinidad

01 April 2008

WAM! - The Day After After :The Bad

I wanted to take a few days to mull over the negative aspects of WAM! before posting about it. I didn't want this post to seem too reactionary or for me to write it pissed off. That said, I'm still a tad ticked at what I thought was far too many cliques and too much separation between WOC bloggers and white bloggers.

It was awesome to see a few allies in the Radical WOC bloggers session and even more so that an A-lister like Jill was there. There has been criticism of some of the A-list feminist blogs not having enough WOC in the past, so it was nice to see her there. I won't repeat how she introduced herself, but it was very sweet and from the heart. She also wrote a great summary of what it was to be a WOC at this conference:

It was the one place in the conference where it felt like a collective blood-letting, and where most of the women really seemed comfortable and in their element. It made me think quite a bit about the value of creating those kinds of safe spaces, and the reality that while a feminist conference feels like a safe space for me, that isn’t the case for a lot of women (and for women of color in particular). The presenters were able to establish such a space, and they were generous enough to allow me — someone who has not always been the greatest ally in the past — to sit in it.

Yes, the safe space was awesome. It felt more comfortable than I had anticipated not just because of my Latinaness issue, but I'm far from a radical WOC. Even BFP remarked to me that she knows that I'm not radical, but I defend my position as a liberal feminist of color pretty darn well. haha! We totally laughed at that. She's right, I'm not a radical and I hem and haw about working for The Woman versus wanting to always take to the streets.

Now my big issue was the racial divide. This was my first WAM! and I'm usually blind to such things too. So Saturday at 7 pm was the WOC & allies reception sponsored by a queer WOC group in Boston. It was off campus, not too far, but I guess far enough for some WOC and others. I got there and quickly made friendly with some women who didn't even attend WAM! They were on the listserv for the sponsoring group. It was pretty funny. But by 7:30 many of the WOC bloggers had arrived, including I think half of the WOC blogger session attendees. So I hung with them, chatted, danced a little, and showed off my one bar trick. Yes, the cherry stem thing.

But it was clear that us WOC had only a handful of allies there.

Now I wasn't expecting all the WAMers to show up, but I was greatly disappointed at how many didn't. And I left that party a tad early (at 10 pm) to hit the after party that was supposed to be in our room. Instead it was in another WAMers room. Hey! There are the white bloggers. OK, I jest...a bit. They couldn't all fit in the one bed room.

There was also an issue of language...In the program the WOC reception was listed as 8 pm. BUT the ad with the directions said 7 pm. On the WAM! info board it was written that due to a MISPRINT, the WOC reception was at 7 pm. BUT during announcements in the rooms, we were told that the WOC reception was CHANGED to 7pm. Oh, yes...there were grumbles that the WOC reception had to be moved.

I don't think this grumbling would have big as big of a deal if there wasn't already something there. There are other stories that I won't blog about as they aren't mine to blog.

As I rode to the airport with a fellow WOC, we mused how it still shocks us when we face "racism" within the feminist community. I put racism in quotes as I'm not sure if it's all racism - Some incidents were, some weren't quite.

Should we be shocked that the feminist community still has a race issue? Especially at what seems to be a more progressive conference? Does the fact that this is a professional meeting mean that power players will hang with power players? This isn't coming from my personal feeling of being snubbed, so don't get that idea. 95% of the time, I felt quite comfortable. When I didn't, I just got up and found a new place to hang.

I know at least one blogger who has said she might not come next year because what she saw. As usual, I'll take the moderate stance. Despite the race issue, I still had a great time. Mostly because I partied with the WOC bloggers on Saturday night and had enough friends at the conference. As of now, I'll be back next year.

I'll be back because I had fun, there are some awesome women there, and this is a professional conference and I do plan on doing more writing. Hopefully for many of the women there.

Technorati tags: WAM!, WAM! 2008

11 comments:

Ok. I'm going out on a limb here. Why? 1. I'm white. 2. i'm not a "radical" by any means...

You know, I know you from way back....and I actually didn't recognize you at first as a WOC. Now don't hate me for that...I was born in Maine and up until a few years ago...we had barely ANY diversity in culture here (other than French Canadians - who had their own share of problems in our WASP community back when my parents were growing up).....but I guess I don't see people for the color/race/culture that they are. I see them as individuals. Now, I don't think I could hold a conversation with half of the women you talked about at this conference. I'm not very up to date with feminist issues and other than getting my hair a little ruffled on my neck when guys are sexist jerks....I am ok with that....right now isn't the time in my life to be active and I'm ok with that. I guess I have questions? What was the most bothersome...that not a lot of people came to the WOC thing? Or that the non-WOC all got together? Forgive me...I've had a very long day and a head that aches. Is there ever going to be a time when there isn't a divide between WOC and white women? I know that culture is important...but isn't a French Canadian woman (like I am) who is grouped as a "white woman" just as able to get pissed off for not being recognized as a Latina? Am I overstepping bounds? Am I being annoying? These are real questions for me....maybe I just dont' get it. Please don't hate me.

thanks so much for posting on this, roni. as a white woman at the conference who noticed the informal segregation (is that too strong a word?) and was uncomfortable with it, i was really struggling internally with how to proceed without crashing a space that was clearly not meant for me.

i wish i had thought to do what jill did--go to the we b(e)lo(n)g session and ask if it was ok to sit in and listen. it's so obvious in retrospect! but when i read the session description it seemed to me that i would be more of an ally by staying out of the room, recognizing that there are some conversations i'm not supposed to be part of.

i felt the same way (though less so b/c it was a social occasion) about the qwoc reception.

reading your post and those on other WOC blogs will help me make better decisions as an ally (something i'm always [imperfectly] striving for).

(and, just fwiw as a practical note, i know from conference organizers that listing the reception at 8 pm in the program was a typo [albeit a really, *really* bad one]--it was always scheduled at 7 to encourage folks to go to both that and the later party.)

Roni-

I really appreciate your comments and I deeply regret the way it all went down. I don't know if you'll believe me, but the constellation of events you describe really were a bad series of bad errors and coincidences, and not related. I hope it's OK if I take a minute to shed light on what happened behind the scenes to bring us to what happened at the Conference.

The WOC reception was planned in collaboration with QWOC+ Boston, an awesome local org. for queer women of color & friends. Adora Asala from QWOC+ came to me early and proposed a reception where the WAM!mers get to meet and mix with the local QWOC+ community, which I'm a part of. Naturally, I loved this idea. Now, parts of the schedule were already set by the time we were discussing this, so really the only times we could find to consider were Friday at 10 (post-keynote) and Saturday at 7. Adora prefered Saturday, so that's where we went, with the understanding that we'd both encourage folks to go to both the reception and the WAM!Party.

It was actually Adora's idea to have the party off-site, so that we could have it a locale where the local folks would be likely to go. There's nothing appropriate right near the Conference location, so we picked a site just one T stop away.

As for the typo, it really was that. I had the flu when I was producing the program book, so I missed a few things in my fevered state and that was unfortunately one of them (as was double-booking the lunch caucus room with the film). I had no idea that the session monitors were announcing it as a "change" -- I asked them to announce it as a correction. I'm very sorry that it got lost in translation (and that it happened in the first place).

Of course I see how all of these things came together in practice, and what it must have felt like. I, too, was disappointed how few white WAM!mers were at the WOC reception, and how segregated everything wound up in general. We obviously need to do things differently (that is, better) next year, and I can't say how sorry I am that they turned out this way this year.

(I should also say that I don't mean to explain away anyone's experience, or suggest that these were the only race-related issues at the Conference. We do, as a movement and as an event, have work to do on this, and I for one intend to keep doing it, which is why all the feedback we've received on race issues at WAM! has been so valuable.)

wow...ok, one at a time:

@amy - You aren't dumb, perhaps just out of practice. ;) I was using the receptions/parties on Saturday night as kinda a physical example of what vibe I was getting from the whole weekend.

@lisa & jaclyn - after looking at the program and seeing the time on the ad, I knew then that it was truly a typo. So I totally believe you. cross my heart.

and thanks for coming over & explaining.

If you read BFPs comments on this post at her site, you'll see that she picked up on a homophobic vibe. Of course with my broken/never installed gaydar, I can't say yeah or nay.

And Jaclyn...I really do chalk up the whole reception & party 'conflict' to miscommunication. But as I said, I don't think it would had risen so much if there wasn't already something there. The comments & groans I heard sounded like a straw that broke the camel's back thing than the start of anything. Hope you get that..it's so hard to explain.

@lisa...As I said elsewhere, I almost didn't go to the B(e)lo(n)g session because I'm not radical, but I figured it would be a good place to find some WOC.

If I may interject: respectfully, the divide will continue to exist until you step out of your comfort zone and allow yourself to be in an uncomfortable space, a space you don't know, with issues you can't speak to on a regular basis.

WOC have consistently put themselves in uncomfortable positions and been in spaces where their issues are practically invisible. It's time for white feminists to make the same effort.

It's not enough to say I support women of color, to comment on their blogs, link to their sites and every once in a while write about their issues/communities/movement.

If you are not engaging the community, making them leaders of your conferences/workshops/companies rather than just allowing their participation, then we'll never be rid of the divide.

Adele
www.abookwithoutacover.wordpress.com

I do get it, Roni. Most definitely.

And the homophobia thing is interesting... I'm going to have to think on it. The Conference is run by mostly queer women, it's possible that our queer-friendliness, as it were, is so obvious to us that we haven't made enough effort to convey it publicly...

hi roni! katie ("wifey") here. you invited me in the comments on ba's blog and here i am:)

i came to wam with the soul purpose of seeing and supporting the women presenting the "we b(e)lo(n)g" session. i spent my entire weekend with them. i am white.

i could not tell you how often we were openly watched. nor can i tell you how many white women stared me straight in the face like "wait, huh?" when i was with my friends, but didn't say anything to any of us. many of these same women then RUSHED me during the few times i wandered off to the bathroom or to get coffee by myself. in these instances, i was literally quizzed from within my personal space (ie, these women got within six inches of my face) about what i thought of the conference, why i was carrying a pro-obama bag, why i was there, what sessions i was going to, etc, etc.

i have never before felt so acutely viewed as part of a spectacle one moment, and then entirely approachable for interrogation the next.

these are some of the thoughts i'm working through, and your mention of the racial divide at wam brought me right back to my experiences, so that's where all this came from. i'm going to be writing another piece on my wam experience over at sydette's and i'm sure i'll grapple more with this there. as you mentioned, there were some great moments and experiences that came out of wam. but i honestly felt i could have had those experiences elsewhere, so long as i was with the same group of women. which is why i am going to the allied media conference, and will definitely consider going to other conferences, but will not be returning to wam.

Katie: wow. That sounds...wow. gah.

The more I hear, the more I think I'm not sorry I missed this, on the whole, although the WoC panel and the QWOC party + meeting so many people I wanted to meet might've been worth the price of admission. but yeah, that's kind of what I was afraid of. yech. "Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion," anyone?

Jill is sweet, yes, I've always thought.

Amy, I don't think you're out of line, I just think you've lacked long exposure to people from the wide variety of races, ethnicities, religions, sexualities in person. And I say that out of love since I grew up in a very homogenous, rural, white area of Ohio. I think if you had more exposure, you'd have a better understanding.

And like LisaJ, I've often wondered if some POC or WOC spaces are for members only because a safe and comfortable space is needed, or if people who are friendly to the cause are welcome as well. I often air on the side of caution and know that if I had gone to WAM I might have had these same thoughts. There have been so many dust-ups that I think letting WOC bond with each other to gain strength for the next year is a valuable opportunity.

And I firmly agree with Adele that this divide will continue until white women are willing and able to cross that invisible line and work alongside POC and WOC in fighting racism. I've learned a lot in the last few years, and have the internet to thank for it, but I feel that I have more in person work to do. What and when is my question, not why.

Cinnamon,

I hope to meet you soon!

I'd like to take my comment one step further, for clarity. You're absolutely right, some spaces are for members only and are created as a safe space. But some have gotten very comfortable assuming that all of them are. Its almost become an escape route. I'm not saying that's your case, just an observation after seeing it happen time and time again.

The only way to know for sure is to simply ask. If it's a WOC/POC space only it usually says it in the description, if it doesn't, there is no harm in speaking to each other.

Most of these spaces are very loving and open spaces, and are welcoming to everyone. Is it fear of the unknown that keeps people away or an arrogance that "I don't need to deal with them?" I'm open to the dialogue.

Amy,

Thank you for going out on a limb, but you can start by recognizing people's color/race/culture.

I love to be seen as unique, special, with my own distinctive talents, but if you don't recognize me as Latina then you've missed a very big part of me. My culture is deeply ingrained in who I am and I want it to be recognized - always! Therefore, to eliminate it as a substitute for individuality is erasing part of the whole person.


Thanks,
Adele