Tag Archives: Janani Balasubramanian

Strategies in White Anti-Racism

by Elizabeth S. Q. Goodman, PhD student

Women of today are still being called upon to stretch across the gap of male ignorance and to educate men as to our existence and our needs. This is an old and primary tool of all oppressors to keep the oppressed occupied with the master’s concerns. Now we hear that it is the task of women of Color to educate white women — in the face of tremendous resistance — as to our existence, our differences, our relative roles in our joint survival…
–Audre Lorde, “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House”

Hello everyone. This is my first writing about anti-racism from a white, American perspective. I’m writing it in response to calls from people of color for white folks to educate each other about how racism continues to operate, and for committed white anti-racists to support each other in our learning and unlearning. Many calls to the general public, and one from a friend who made a semi-serious remark, “you should write a book on white anti-racism”.

The people I am addressing here are other white people (mostly Americans) who seek to resist racism, and who understand that while people who have directly experienced racism are experts on how it works, we can still learn from each other if we cast aside our egos and our fears of being seen as “not good enough allies”. I welcome critiques from anti-racist people of color who decide to read. If on the other hand you’re someone who doesn’t like to talk about race, then unless you’re willing to learn that historical racism has resounding effects and the status quo is still racist, this post is not for you. In particular if you’re a white person and you don’t like thinking about race because you are worried about feeling like a bad person, then please go instead to this comprehensive resource for all the good white people.

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On the Merit of Blurred Lines

by Surabhi Nirkhe, ’13

I am tired of discourse that divides brown from white, the oppressed from the oppressors, students of color from white students, and the underprivileged from the privileged. Tracing and retracing these lines prevents us from creating identities that are much more complex, often in the spaces where these lines blur.

In her recent STATIC article, Holly Fetter ended with a powerful statement that resonated with me: “unless we confront our fears and make active changes to educate ourselves about the perspectives and experiences of those in other communities, we’ll never be able to see past the illusion of isolation”. To me, the recent mixer held between Sanskriti, the South Asian student organization, and the Stanford Israel Alliance represents just that. I did not attend the mixer, but I have been a part of similar events at Stanford, and I can honestly say that experiences which have pushed me to interact with individuals from outside my community have been some of the most valuable.

I do not mean to say that I don’t hold opinions; I do and I hold on to them very strongly. Continue reading

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Stanford Students on Marriage Memes

by Holly Fetter, ’13

You’ve undoubtedly seen an onslaught of red squares in your newsfeed this week as the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), a national LGBT rights organization, has encouraged supporters of marriage equality to display their politics via their profile photos. A red and pink version of the ubiquitous HRC logo has been consuming Facebook alongside many creative reinterpretations, including my personal favorite — the Tilda Swinton one. (Is it a political commentary? Is it a meta meme? We may never know).

But what do all these symbols mean? And what’s the difference between = and > and Paula Deen? I asked several Stanford students to share their thoughts on what these images mean to them.

>I have the ‘greater than’ symbol, as a symbol of solidarity with all those whose relationships and models of community and care are excluded from the state’s recognition of marriages, and a statement that our queerness neither begins nor ends at assimilation.  Marriage is not a ‘first step’ that has the potential to launch more conversation; it is, right now, an eclipsing step, that has overdetermined LGB politics in the US and erased much of the history of queer resistance pioneered by people of color, low-income queers, and trans* people.
—Alok Vaid-Menon, ’13

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White Fetish

by Janani Balasubramanian, ’12


A failing of the word ‘activism’ is its designation of certain activities as political engagement and the rest of our lives as some other floaty and apolitical space.  In reality, we are always enacting and interacting with the structures of power and social positions each of us inhabit.  My friend Alok and I were at a queer conference this weekend in Atlanta to facilitate the same workshop that we’re presenting tonight: ‘Because You’re Brown Honey Gurl!: A Dialogue about Race and Desire’.  Our intention was to bring to bear a conversation on spaces where desire, sex, and romance circulate as political spaces.  The project of queer liberation isn’t limited to our policy engagements or our organizing work — it is also about considering how we desire and are desired in white supremacist realities.

We use the term ‘sexual racism’ to describe the ways that racism and racist traumas inflect our romantic and sexual relations. Continue reading

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Queer Rage

by Janani Balasubramanian, ’12, Alok Vaid-Menon, ’13,
and Cam Awkward-Rich, graduate student in Modern Thought & Literature

This poem, “Marriage”, also known as “Queer Rage”, is a critique of gay marriage politics as a strategy of liberation.  Obama’s endorsement of same-sex marriage (or anyone else’s) is not where the struggle ends, or even begins, really.  In the piece we call for a consideration of race, class, and other systems of control that complicate and intersect with queerness.  We also point to the increasing corporatization and overwhelming whiteness of gay marriage politics.  Overall, we point to a more critical consideration of violence and material oppression that is linked to queerness, and how insufficient marriage equality is in this regard. This piece was performed by the Stanford Slam Poetry team at the 2012 College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational.   Video and transcript below.

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A Guide to Hipster Anti-Racism

by Janani Balasubramanian, ’12

There have been quite a few articles floating around the net recently about hipster racism – that is, racist attitudes that are passed of as ironic and therefore excusable.  This can include anything from Urban Outfitters making “Native print” underwear to blackface to the colonialist attitudes presented in period dramas.  Racialicious presented a particularly great history of hipster racism and anti-racist responses to it. Here I want to delve into what I’m calling hipster anti-racism. It’s a term I’m using to describe those moments when (usually) white folks perform anti-racist/liberatory attitudes about a racialized issue in an attempt to appear subversive and often “hip.”  Unlike hipster racism, it is not a performance of ironic racism but actually a performance of anti-racist attitude as a signifier of hipness.  It is important to understand that hipster anti-racism can be performed by anyone, not just those we characteristically label as hipsters.  Hipster anti-racism is defined by by being 1) insincere, 2) momentary, 3) subversive for the sake of being hip, and not for a deeper dismantling of systems of power and oppression, and 4) present in rhetoric almost exclusively, with little indication of substantive shifts towards anti-racist behavior or action.

In other words, hipster anti-racism, like much of hipsterdom, is defined by its appropriation and lack of historicity. Continue reading

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Out of the Margins, Into the Streets

by Janani Balasubramanian, ’12

“This might be a faulty assumption, I can’t help but wonder: where are all of Stanford’s lesbians (and bisexual and questioning women)? I have some theories, but I have no way to tell if any of these are actually true. It’s hard to track down a hidden or missing population.”

The quotation above is from a Stanford Daily article printed last week in which Jamie Solomon asked Stanford where all our lesbians are “hidden.” Her op-ed is frustrating to me on multiple levels. Some of my issues with the piece are easy fixes. We can replace “lesbians” with “queer women” (the latter term including women who are bisexual, pansexual, etc). We can also remove unfortunate stereotyping of gay men (whom she purports to know well because of her involvement with theater and a capella). It’s not Solomon’s lack of appropriate vocabulary or inexperience with the queer community that bothers me; it’s the fact that she was unwilling to look around just a little bit before determining that queer women are invisible on this campus. (And to note, a Google search for “Stanford lesbians” would have led her to the LGBT Community Resources Center.) Continue reading

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3 Books for Change

by Janani Balasubramanian, ’12 + Alex Kindel, ’14

Both  of us were involved in the campaign against bringing a discriminatory ROTC program back to Stanford last year.  Many of the incoming students  will remember the demonstration we helped to coordinate the day after the faculty senate vote on ROTC, coinciding with Admit Weekend.  Soon after the decision, we learned of the selection by the Three Books program this year, chosen by Political Science professor and ad-hoc ROTC  committee member Scott Sagan.  We were concerned primarily with the exclusive and normative representation these three books bring to incoming freshmen and transfers, and felt alienated as queer students and anti-racist organizers ourselves.  We tried on the idea of hosting our own Three Books in response, by selecting our own three texts.  We quickly realized, however, that the spirit we were trying to capture was one of community discussion and critical engagement, rather than antagonism.  We decided to work with the ASSU Community Board and residence staff to develop a broad network to spread our core questions.

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