Transcending QTPOC activist burnout

transcending

With the knowledge that I’m repeating what others have said countless times, I want to first reiterate the need for self-care.  Our bodies are connected to our minds and hearts and we have to remind ourselves that we truly are what we eat.  The process of decolonization must include the ways in which our food histories were colonized and how we’ve forgotten the ways in which our ancestors ate.  You can visit my blog* for more writing and thoughts I have on food and race, but I’d like to focus on another facet of our movements today.

That is, in order to avoid burning out, we need to be willing to embrace our intersectionality and let it manifest into the ways we build our movements.  On the surface, it may seem like we’re embracing our intersectionality if we hang out with people who are both queer and people of color, but in my opinion, that approach limits us from exploring all of our intersections. The minute we demarcate ourselves as being uniquely different because of x, y and z, and needing to fight for a cause that is unique to us, we’ve just pushed away allies that might be more effective in getting the message out.  We’ve also inadvertently boxed ourselves in.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s a real problem when organizations like the HRC try to win votes by creating a false facade of white male homonormativity, and I’m more than aware of a need and importance for safe spaces.  And yet I want to challenge our communities to be fluid. I want to push myself to hold hands with someone I thought could never understand me and realize that we will both be liberated when there is true equality.

As a mixed race person who usually passes as solely Asian, it’s not surprising that I’ve gravitated towards people of color (POC) spaces. But recently I’ve come to question the hatred that has been bred in me for my European heritage because of my time in these POC spaces. How can I love myself fully if I view whiteness as evil? And if I’m feeling this way, then how are queer and POC communities limiting the scope of the movement by promoting anything other than self-love?

Many of us need all POC spaces to escape the daily barrage of unwanted attention and prejudices. I’m not critiquing these spaces. Rather, I’m trying to challenge people to not stop there or to expand the role of these spaces. I want to challenge us to remember that the way to heal our colonized bodies and minds isn’t to stay in these spaces with no plan to ever leave. Our healing will not happen if we continue to breed hatred either. It is tempting to reciprocate the same negativity that was directed at us in the past.  But I urge people to step back and realize the repercussions of this approach. Do we want to be happy and feel fulfilled in life? If so, I’d say it’s near impossible to achieve that without learning to sever our ties with negativity and to instead find creative ways of changing tracks.

A concrete example might be more useful here. When I was in Amsterdam’s autonomous space Vrankrijk, some QTPOCs explained that in the past, the space was hardly diverse and to be a queer woman was hard enough, let alone trans and/or a person of color. And yet, the time I spent there demonstrated to me how solidarity between all kinds of people can look.  Of course, it didn’t happen overnight and there were a deliberate set of actions that brought Vrankrijk to where it is today. My friend–we’ll call him J–a trans person of color and immigrant who is working on his PhD in The Netherlands explained one of the approaches to me.  He emphasized the need to work the doors early at parties and that this simple act created an infinitely safer space for other QTPOCs. He and a white Dutch trans woman often work the doors when a party is just starting, and make sure that they greet the party attendees with a warm welcome and a brief rundown of the rules of the space. Now, I’m sure you’ve all gone to parties where the gatekeepers were unexcited or downright rude. The simple act of making genuine eye contact with every participant while warmly welcoming to this safe space sets up an accountability that makes it much more difficult for people who enter to commit acts of physical or verbal violence. Not only that but the presence of active and friendly QTPOC folks at the doors lets it be known to passerbys that this is a space which celebrates diversity in its party attendees. Compare this to the big and burly imposing cis-gendered men of color who are often employed to be bouncers in front of predominantly white spaces.

Dutch zine excerpt

^Excerpt from my Dutch zine

What I wanted to demonstrate with that example was that it doesn’t take much to create a space that is safe (although no space is truly safe, even so-called safe, closed spaces for QTPOCs) for everyone. Inculcating accountability using creative methods from the get go can raise the sense of solidarity and a natural diversity. This can create a healthy foundation from QTPOCs and allies to build even more positive change in our communities.

On a similar note of building stronger ties with our allies, I want to share a story about a few activists (S, S, K and G) I met in Bangalore, India. They were all queer or trans identified and were active in queer activist communities, but most of their time was spent organizing the fight against casteism and slum evictions.  They never hid their queer and trans identities when they were in the slums (as some might do when they work with people from lower socio-economic backgrounds, with the excuse that they are more homo/transphobic) and explained to me that actually, people in the so-called “queer activist spaces,” made more repeated mistakes with their preferred gender pronouns than in the slums.  They aligned themselves with residents in the slums who were equally (obviously) of varied sexual orientations and gender identities by continuing to show up day after day.  Unlike those who were constantly swooping in from out of state or out of the country claiming to be helping the fight against slum eviction, S, S, K and G were all from nearby neighborhoods and just kept showing up in solidarity and friendship.

India Zinesm excerpt

^excerpt from my India zine

To me, their activism brings home the idea that words and surface actions of support and solidarity will only go so far. We have to come together as friends and families of our universal struggle for respect (acceptance, not just tolerance) and equality with our actions** and bodies, not just our impressive but empty words. We should challenge ourselves to put our actions (in addition to our money) where our mouths are.  Too often we excuse ourselves from building true solidarity with other causes because we have already donated money or we have perhaps already liked a group’s facebook page.  Yes, these groups often require financial and internet support, but I think we can do better! I think we can show up. I think we can have potlucks. I think we can get to know each other and learn from each other beyond the internet.

I’m all about staying radical and critiquing our society, but if the only way to be a “real” QTPOC activist is to criticize from QTPOC-only spaces, then we’re leading a lot of folks to burn out and encouraging them to leave parts of their identity at the door.

What do you think?  Have you ever felt burned out or like you weren’t a good enough activist because you didn’t seem radical or separatist enough? If you have any thoughts or comments, I’d love to hear them. And if you’re interested in learning more about yoga, meditation, self-care and ayurveda, head over to my shop to get a copy of my zine on the topic.

+You can read all eight zines I put together on international queer art and activism here: queerscribe.com or support me by purchasing them here: etsy.com/shop/MiyukiBaker

Thanks!

xxMiyuki

*Subscribe to my blog where I post illustrated articles on food, race, gender, and travel weekly here at heymiyuki.wordpress.com

**It isn’t my intention to use the word “action” in a way that excludes differently abled folks. It also isn’t to prioritize one form of activism over another. I myself have always felt like my activist work (making zines, talking to people etc.) wasn’t as valued as going to protests and rallies. Rather, it is to differentiate the act of making genuine efforts to bridge gaps and form solidarity with each other beyond just paying lip service to a cause or group of people.

wearelosinginertia

^Originally written for We Are Losing Inertia edited by Bing Hao

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About Miyuki Baker

Miyuki is a resident of the place where circles overlap. As a queer, nomadic, multi-racial/lingual female mixed-media artist activist and healer, she uses common or discarded objects, personal anecdotes, public spaces and performance to make accessible art that brings non-mainstream identities and ideas into maximum visibility. After graduating from Swarthmore College in 2012, she traveled for 14 months as a Watson Fellow to fifteen countries documenting the intersections of art and activism in queer/trans communities in blog posts and self-published magazines while making performance art. The eight magazines Miyuki created on this trip (queerscribe.com) and their strong media following exemplify her illustration/graphic design, storytelling and people skills. Her work has been featured in several magazines such as Hyphen, Broken Pencil and Knik, blogs and radio shows, well-known for their interactive and eye-catching mixed media approach to activism that utilizes both online media and on-site performance and workshops. This fall she will begin the PhD program at UC Berkeley in Performance Studies. You can follow her travels at heymiyuki.wordpress.com and email her at heymiyuki@gmail.com

4 comments

  1. Shinen

    Love your work, Miyuki! Thank you for writing this. Definitely resonates with me, with where I find myself in my own solidarity journey. Much gratitude and love to you here from Melbourne.

  2. Excellently written and inspiring (as usual), Miyuki!

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