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What Feminists of Color Taught Me In the Wake of the Michael Brown Shooting

What Feminists of Color Taught Me In the Wake of the Michael Brown Shooting
Like many others, I’ve been following the aftermath of the recent shooting death of an 18-year old black teenager by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri with a mixture of shock and horror. Mainstream news coverage and my Facebook newsfeed have been appropriately flooded with commentary about systemic racism, racial profiling, civil unrest, and the militarization of the police. As several African American thought leaders have noted, Brown’s death was not an aberration but “just the most recent example of police officers killing unarmed black men.” I probably would have only continued to think about these horrific black-male-deaths-by-white-police accounts through these familiar lenses of racism, police brutality, parental grief, and communal protest had I not stumbled upon several reflections explicitly identifying Michael Brown’s shooting as a feminist issue. Xochitl Alvizo, for one, analogized between the “everyday existence of young black men, of boys in this country, and that of women” (viz., “the lack of safety in public places; the need to always be aware of one’s surroundings; the lack of trust in the intentions of another; living with the knowledge that people like you experience violence at much higher rates than others”). While any astute observer could have made this comparison, I’m not surprised that it was a queer feminist of color (Latina) who did so in this case.   Other feminists of color, including Dani McClain of The Nation, senior legal analyst Imani Gandy as quoted in Feminist Newswire, and Emma Akpan of RH Reality Check, explicitly named police violence against black and brown male youth as a “reproductive justice” concern in a way that I had not heretofore considered.   According to Loretta Ross, co-founder and National Coordinator of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective from 2005-2012, the term “reproductive justice” was coined by African American women in 1994 after the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, Egypt. While widely adopted and used by activists, academics, funders and others alike, the term is “not merely a substitute for the terms ‘pro-choice,’ ‘reproductive rights,’ or even ‘sexual rights.’” Instead, the framework is at once intersectional and holistic in seeking to go beyond the narrow “it’s my body, it’s my choice” language in attending to the harsh realities that disproportionately block underprivileged women of color from self-determination in crucial aspects of their lives. As black feminist activist Jasmine Burnett explains, “We look at the right to have a child, to not have a child, and to parent your child in a safe and sustainable community free from violence….If you aren’t safe in your community because you’re racially profiled by the police, and you can’t walk from your home to a clinic or to a hospital to access the services you need, then that’s not really a full articulation of reproductive justice.”   More specifically, the shooting death of Michael Brown (and others) violates the third of the three core reproductive justice principles for which SisterSong has stood since their founding in 1997: Decide if and when she will have a baby and the conditions under which she will give birth Decide if she will not have a baby and her options for preventing or ending a pregnancy Parent the children she already has with the necessary social supports in safe environments and healthy communities, and without fear of violence from individuals or the government This lesser emphasized third principle among those committed to reproductive rights seems entirely appropriate to me—a helpful corrective to the mistaken view that all that is needed on this front is legal, safe, and affordable access to reproductive healthcare for women. It both angers and saddens me to read of accounts from black feminists like Akpan that they “grew up listening...
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It Was a Rainbow Graduation

It Was a Rainbow Graduation
I have the privilege of serving as Co-director of the Center for Sexuality, Gender, and Religion at Claremont School of Theology. I am ecstatic that we just hosted our version of a “rainbow graduation” at this year’s Commencement. The day before graduation, all CST graduates received a rainbow tassel as a free gift from the CSGR, with the following accompanying letter: May 20, 2013 Dear CST Graduate, This tassel is a gift from the Center for Sexuality, Gender and Religion (CSGR). It carries with it our congratulations as you receive your diploma from Claremont School of Theology. Well done! We invite you to wear this rainbow tassel at Commencement and to display it after graduation in a place where you and others will see it on a regular basis. The colors of the rainbow carry significance in many spiritual traditions; in the Abrahamic traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the rainbow signifies God’s covenant with the earth. The rainbow can also signify the diversities of human love, identity, and experience. A unique part of theological education at CST is a public commitment to the flourishing of, and justice for, persons of all genders and sexualities. On October 11, 2010, National Coming Out Day, the CST faculty unanimously approved the following statement: Claremont School of Theology affirms its longstanding welcome to LGBTQI students, faculty, and staff. This commitment is in harmony with the specific call of the United Methodist Church toward inclusiveness. It reflects our hope and expectation that welcome and inclusiveness will become the accepted norm throughout the world. Since 2011, the CSGR has been one of the sponsoring institutions of the Human Rights Campaign’s LGBT Summer Institute in Religious and Theological Study. CST was also selected in 2012 by the Religious Institute as one of the twenty most sexually healthy and responsible seminaries in the nation. Given that CST is a nationally recognized leader in these areas, we hope you will proudly reflect our values in the world as a CST alumnus. Wherever you serve after graduation, remember that this tassel communicates our best wishes and confidence in you. You are equipped to lead diverse religious, racial-ethnic and social communities, and we look forward to hearing great things from and about you.   With best wishes, Grace Kao                                            Duane Bidwell                                   Carleen Mandolfo Co-Director, CSGR                           Co-Director, CSGR                           Co-Director, CSGR  —- [All Claremont Lincoln University graduates also received the same gift, with a slightly modified corresponding letter.] I was ecstatic to see the vast majority of graduates, as well as the faculty, staff, and other luminaries participating in Commencement eagerly don their rainbow tassels (n.b., when I told the president of CST of our plan one month beforehand, he said with a smile “I want one, too!” which then prompted us to purchase enough tassels for other non-students participating in regalia to wear one at graduation at their discretion as well). The tradition of hosting a “rainbow” or “lavender” graduation began at the University of Michigan in 1995 and honors the achievements, hopes, and struggles of graduates whose identities span across the spectrum of gender identity, gender expression and/or sexual orientation. These ceremonies usually take place at a separate time from the formal graduation ceremony and can include awards to outstanding individuals, a guest speaker’s exhortation, some reflections by the graduating students, and a commemorative gift (e.g., tassel, cord, stole, pin) that the graduates are encouraged to wear with pride during the formal graduation ceremony. As HuffPost...
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Speaking Up for Animals

Speaking Up for Animals
“I hope that readers will rethink their consumer choices, monies that have long been offered at the expense of nonhuman animals–overwhelmingly female and exploited because of their female biology. We choose where our money goes, and in the process, we choose whether to boycott cruelty and support change, or melt ambiguously back into the masses.”   This passage nearly concludes Lisa Kemmerer’s Introduction to her Speaking Up for Animals: An Anthology of Women’s Lives (Paradigm Publishers, 2012). Her book is divided into three parts: (1) Pondering what I put into my mouth, (2) Working for wildlife, (3) Potpourri: From dancing bears to undercover investigation. We find in this anthology 18 powerful stories of women animal advocates: women who have founded sanctuaries, volunteered in rescue and rehabilitation organizations, protested the inhumane treatment of animals in various industries, taken in stray or abandoned “pets,” gone vegan, and/or engaged in other forms of animal activism. I was deeply moved by this book. All the contributors report working as animal advocates out of some combination of pity or compassion for animal suffering and outrage at the injustice of their exploitation by fellow human beings. But each does so in a way that is deeply personal and narratively powerful. As readers, we are not simply introduced to an abstract concept of “animal cruelty,” we are told about Hilda, a still-live sheep that was literally discarded as trash on a stockyard “dead pile”–and then we learn how that shocking discovery led Lorri Houston to cofound Farm Sanctuary, the first shelter in the country for farmed animals. We read about Tua Rohd, a severely injured and “bare recognizable” gibbon who was captured from the wild in Thailand for the exotic pet trade. While recounting this story, Amy Corrigan, Director of Research and Education for the Animal Concerns Reserach and Education Society (ACRES) in Singapore, shares that she was “emotionally crushed” when this gentle creature died in her arms after only surviving a few days post-rescue. These chapters reveal real wisdom. One contributor, scholar-activist Dana Medoro, notes the importance of being “dexterous” when advocating for animals because “it’s difficult for people to absorb the shock of the information about all of the hateful ways in which humans treat and use animals.” Many others speak freely about the anguish, guilt, and grief they regularly experience in the work they do, knowing that they cannot save them all, or even most, and that they regularly face real “Sophie’s Choices” (on which animals to save and which to leave behind). What might be of particular interest to readers of this blog is the women who cite their religious commitments as motivating forces in their activist work: Anuradha Sawheny notes how her Hindu commitment to ahimsa grounds her compassionate approach to animals and accordingly her work for the Indian chapter of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Linda Elin McDaniel, an ordained United Methodist Church minister and board member of the Christian Vegetarian Association describes her turn to vegetarianism as both a blessing and an enactment of her commitments to be peaceful, just, and compassionate like Jesus. For Sue Pemberton, it is her internalization of the Budddhist teachings on compassion and karma that lead her to help rehabilitate pinnipeds (seals, sea lions, walruses) at The Marine Mammal Center of Sausalito, California. Kris “Risa” Candour, an African American woman, operates a Reiki natural healing practice for humans and their animal companions in Vancouver, Canada. To be clear, the book is not simply about women “saving” animals, but in several cases of animals “rescuing” them. Lynette Shanley, the founder of two Australian organizations (one for wildcats and one for primates), writes beautifully about how her own companion animals and her...
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Ringing In the Lunar New Year with LGBT Activism

Ringing In the Lunar New Year with LGBT Activism
On Sunday, February 10, the Tet parade in Little Saigon, Westminster (CA) went on as planned. Several thousand people turned up to celebrate the Vietnamese New Year, or what Khanh Ho, Assistant Professor of English at Grinnell College, has likened to “Mardi Gras, New Years, and Christmas all rolled into one.” Deliberately excluded this year from marching, however, were LGBT groups. I was saddened to have read that they were being denied the right to march because of their perceived incompatibility with Vietnamese values. I had become sadder still when I learned that it had been an Interfaith Council that had first pushed for their exclusion. I work at a progressive institution that takes seriously the value of interreligious partnership and cooperation; I also serve as one of the co-directors of our Center for Sexuality, Gender, and Religion. So let me reproduce below the letter that we co-directors, under the principal authorship of my colleague Duane Bidwell, sent to the parade organizers in response to their planned exclusion of LGBT participants on cultural grounds. —- To Mr. Neil Nguyen and the Little Saigon 2013 Tet Parade Committee: We are grateful for the opportunity to appeal to you as leaders and elders of the Little Saigon community. We ask you please to welcome the Partnership of Viet Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Organizations by permitting its members to march in the 2013 Tet Parade, as they have done since 2010 with much community support. We write as a Christian pastor who studied with the late Ven. Buddhapalo, sponsored a Buddhist monk granted asylum by the U.S. government, and adopted a Vietnamese child; a second-generation Taiwanese American who has written a book on international human rights; and a lesbian bible scholar who has taught many Vietnamese students. The Lunar New Year, Tết Nguyên Đán, is a special and sacred holiday in Vietnamese culture and tradition. It emphasizes the unity and cohesiveness of family, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are a part of Vietnamese families. LGBT people worship and provide leadership at Little Saigon temples and churches. Many are deeply spiritual, recognized as devout practitioners of their religious traditions. We acknowledge the concerns of the Vietnamese American Interfaith Council in Southern California, and we are aware of the complex social, political and cultural issues that surround the full inclusion of the Partnership in the Tet parade. Yet there is great diversity among Vietnamese Americans and among their religious communities. As a whole, Vietnamese Americans understand the pain of exclusion and living “in between” cultures. The ability to live with this ambiguity is a gift of courage—a gift that Vietnamese Americans offer to the nation as a whole. Perhaps one of the community’s challenges is living with that ambiguity in ways that honor emerging experiences and voices without imposing restrictions similar to those that have hurt Vietnamese and Vietnamese Americans in the past? You remain in our prayers as you reconsider your choice about including the Partnership in the parade. It is a decision to be made with imagination, concern for harmony, and respect for tradition; it must be linked to the past but work to secure a future of unity and cohesiveness for the community as a whole. If we as religious scholars can be helpful to you in this process, please do not hesitate to contact us. We hope to see GLBT people marching proudly in the Tet parade, promoting love, support, good will, prosperity and justice for everyone. With respect and gratitude, Rev. Duane Bidwell, Ph.D.       Grace Yia-Hei Kao, Ph.D.        Carleen Mandolfo, Ph.D. —- To reiterate, we (and the many other LGBT supporters who had engaged in letter...
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What I Learned (and Found) Dumpster Diving, Part II

What I Learned (and Found) Dumpster Diving, Part II
“I had known that dumpster diving is subversive….What I hadn’t considered previously is its arguable feminist and biblical precedents.”   The following is a continuation of a two-part blog. Read part I for what prompted me to go dumpster diving, what freeganism is, and what three things surprised me the most about dumpstering beyond the sad and shocking reality of tremendous waste.  My Dumpster Dive Haul After sorting through several trash bags of edible food in the approximately 10 minutes that we spent at one site in my first ever urban scavenging trip, this is what I ultimately brought home.   (Reminder: As explained in part I, I have intentionally photoshopped out the store’s name and the use-by/best by dates). (1)  Five ears of unhusked corn: it wasn’t obvious to us why these were discarded (they are pictured here husked only because I forgot to take the photo before shucking them) (2)  Microwavable baby broccoli: while not expired, a few of the tips were starting to yellow and the “use by” date was the next day (3)  Grilled eggplant wrap with tahini sauce: the “use by” date was the next day (it’s pictured empty here because I ate it for lunch before I snapped the photo) (4)  Nature’s Path Organic Raisin Bran: its cardboard packaging was damaged, but the (unexpired) cereal inside of the plastic bag remained intact and uncrushed (5)  One dozen eggs: my companions graciously let me have the cleanest carton. The unexpired eggs were still cold when we found them, although two of them had minor exterior blemishes. (6)  Avocado’s Number Guacamole: we could not determine what was wrong with this—it had not past its expiration date and the packaging was fine (7)  6 clementines: I opened a package and just took what my family could reasonably consume in the next few days (8)  Vanilla and Blueberry Yogurt: the expiration date wasn’t for three weeks, but the cardboard packaging was dented and one yogurt cup was missing To be sure, there’s an increased risk in taking animal products. In this case, the top of each yogurt cup was slightly raised, suggesting that the yogurt had thinned and expanded from warmth. But because I have occasionally fed my children the exact same kind of yogurt under comparable conditions (e.g., yogurt that had warmed to room temperature—a consequence of neglecting to refrigerate their unopened lunchbox yogurt until 4-5 hours later upon discovery), they became part of my haul. (9)  Apples: I took one of the many bags and made a plan to cut off the bruised parts before baking with them. Within a week’s time, my family and I had consumed without incident about 2/3 of this haul (including the yogurt and eggs, the latter only after they passed the egg test). Everything was delicious! I should add that my two dumpstering companions were returning to a horde of eager housemates and accordingly took larger quantities of some of the things shown previously. They also scored major finds like a few packages of heirloom tomatoes, packaged cashews, packaged pomegranate seeds, and individual Chobani yogurts. Nonetheless, it’s sobering to know that our collective total was only a fraction of all the good food that remained in those dumpsters. Unless other scavengers came later, the rest would eventually end up rotting in already-clogged landfills, only to produce methane—a major source of greenhouse gases. Concluding Thoughts I had known that dumpster diving is subversive—it often violates laws about private property and trespassing or, in contexts where urban scavenging is not prohibited (as per Supreme Court case California v. Greenwood (1987), at least deeply ingrained socio-cultural beliefs about where food should come from and what is proper to eat. What...
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What I Learned (and Found) Dumpster Diving

What I Learned (and Found) Dumpster Diving
“I get that consumers generally prefer to buy produce that looks a certain way, but can the routine act of trashing whole bags of clementines, apples, or tomatoes because of a few imperfections be justified in a world that is full of hungry and malnourished people?” Renowned climate change activist and author Bill McKibben spoke at our graduation earlier this year. Among the charges he gave to all of us in attendance (i.e., not just the graduates) was for us older folks to be willing to bear more of the possible “costs” of political activism. His reasoning was that being a 20-something with an arrest record was not a particularly good thing for young job-seekers today. I was inspired. I thought to myself, “I have tenure, I work with colleagues who champion prophetic civil disobedience, and my class privilege would allow me to post bail if arrested.” When chatting with a graduate that afternoon, I told him that I’d like to make good on something we once discussed in class during a session on the ethics of consumption—I’d like to go dumpster diving with him. Mind you, I don’t fit the stereotypical urban scavenger profile (although middle class dumpster diving is on the rise). I grew up in a gated community, once brought my portable curling iron on a junior high church group camping trip, and today am more bourgeois than Bohemian. So what interest did I have in electively digging through garbage? Dumpster diving as political protest Some forage through trash because they are indigent and must do what they can to survive. Others do so not because of dire financial need, but for the thrill, resale value, or enhanced quality of life that can result from obtaining useful things for free (e.g., they see an attractive piece of furniture poking out of a dumpster and salvage it to furnish their living space or to sell it on ebay/Craigslist, they can only afford to eat organic or other specialty goods this way). A third group, freegans (a compound of the words “free” and “vegan”) does so out of an ideological commitment to social change. Freegans intentionally limit their participation in the conventional economy and thus their negative impact on the environment by consuming only what society throws away or what they can forage elsewhere (e.g., in the wild or in the commons). When they reclaim edible food and other usuable materials through dumpster diving, they are simultaneously living out a radical alternative to the conventional industrialized economy and exposing the shame of capitalist excess (n.b., dumpster divers love to post videos on youtube of their hauls to make these points). In Preparation For My First Dive My “dive master” recommended that I watch Jeremy Seifert’s 2010 documentary, Dive!. I was appalled to see just how much edible food is deliberately thrown away everyday, not donated to charity. I also learned from it three unofficial rules for dumpstering: (1)  Never take more than you need, unless you can give it away to others (2)  The first person at the dumpster has first dibs, but everyone should share (3)  Always leave the site cleaner than when you found it Other do’s and don’ts that I gleaned from other sources include the following: “don’t spoil sites for others,” “never get into a compactor,” and “always use your common sense when determining what to scavenge and what to leave behind.” While we discussed in advance what I should bring (a headlamp and several reusable grocery bags), what I should wear (not my Sunday best), the time we would meet and where we would go (one site only), we didn’t go over much else. So I...
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(Non-Human) Animals on the Agenda

(Non-Human) Animals on the Agenda
“[E]thical interest in nonhuman animals is flourishing.” To my delight, the New York Times recently chronicled the growing scholarly interest in human/non-human animal interactions in a story entitled “Animal Studies Cross Campus to Lecture Hall.” There are now more than 100 courses in colleges and universities in the burgeoning field of animal studies. At least 40 U.S. law schools now routinely offer courses in animal law. A growing number of formal academic programs, book series, journals, conferences, institutes, and fellowships are also dedicated to (re)examining human-animal relations from a variety of disciplinary perspectives—“art, literature, sociology, anthropology, film, theater, philosophy, [and] religion,” to name a few. Indeed, in my academic field of specialization, philosophical and religious ethics, the total bracketing of “the animal question” is now untenable, as our human use and consumption of animals have long become serious and respectable topics of analysis.   Case in point: Peter Singer’s seminal Animal Liberation (1975), a book widely recognized as having spearheaded the contemporary animal movement, regularly appears in applied ethics anthologies and in philosophy Ph.D qualifying exam reading lists. Admittedly, Singer’s view that the interests of nonhuman animals should be counted equally alongside of those of humans remains a minority position—even among scholars and activists devoted to improving animal welfare. Nevertheless, most ethicists today, regardless of their personal proclivities toward encompassing nonhuman animals in their sphere of moral concern, are being pressed to give reasoned responses to the claims or platforms of animal protectionists. On the day that this blog is to be published, approximately 600 Christian, Jewish, and Muslim ethicists will be convening in Washington, D.C. for the annual meetings of the Society of Christian Ethics (SCE), Society of Jewish Ethics (SJE), and Society for the Study of Muslim Ethics (SSME). A glance at the joint program book alone will reveal that ethical interest in nonhuman animals is flourishing: Rabbi Julia Watts Belser will be presenting a SCE paper entitled “”Suffering Rabbis and Other Animals: Theorizing the Connections between Animal Ethics, Jewish Feminist Animal Ethics in Conversation with Passage from Babylonian Talmud, Baba Metsia 83b-85a.” Haley Rose Glaholt will be presenting a SJE paper entitled “Illuminated by the Inner Light: Victorian Quakers Negotiate Species Hierarchy and Moral Significance.” The SSME will be hosting a session entitled “The Use and Abuse of Creation: Animas and Sustainability in Islamic Ethics.”  Panelists and papers include – Kecia Ali, “Muslims and Meat-Eating: Vegetarianism, Ethics, and Identity” – Irene Oh, “An Islamic Ethic of Eating for the 21st Century: Balancing Food Choice, Piety, and Sustainability” – Robert Tappan, “Islamic Bioethics and Animal Research: The Case of Iran” I will also be presenting the central findings of my book in two separate sessions at the SCE.  While the word “animal” doesn’t appear in my book’s title (and thus, not in the program book notes either), I discuss therein the ways in which claims of human rights bear upon those of animal rights and vice versa. I should add that animals were also definitely on the agenda at the recently concluded 2011 annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion as well. In addition to numerous sessions, panels, and solo papers that could be categorized under the heading of animal studies, there was also one well-attended preconference workshop that was jointly sponsored by the Sustainability Task Force and the Animals and Religion Consultation entitled “Teaching About Religion and Sustainability: The Animal Question.” In future blogs I will discuss how and why my Christian and ecofeminist commitments led me to change some of my beliefs, practices, and patterns of relating to nonhuman animals. For now, however, I am curious to know what those of you who are feminist and religious think about the following...
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