This is a long response to controversy surrounding a proposed #BlackLivesMatter panel at the Brooklyn Zine Fest. Executive summary:
- I'm glad a #BlackLivesMatter panel will happen at BZF
- I think Matt & Kseniya owe Jordan an apology
- White people need to speak up and self-educate
As a Brooklyn Zine Fest tabler and previous panelist, and as a zine maker, librarian, activist and white person, I want to respond to former BZF panel coordinator Jordan Alam's statement, "White Out: Erasure of the Black Lives Matter Panel and People of Color from the Brooklyn Zine Fest." I should disclose that I consider Jordan a friend. She worked with me in the Barnard Zine Library for four years, and we have been co-organizers of the NYC Feminist Zine Fest for two years. I consider Brooklyn Zine Fest organizers Matt Carman and Kseniya Yarosh to be friendquaintances--people I'm friends with on Facebook, who I like, and whose work I have long admired. I also have a deep love for the zine community--and a hatred for systemic oppression and how white privilege manifests in zine and punk cultures. Other things I hate are conflict and anger, so if this response doesn't seem as outraged as many people feel, that's how I am.
When I wrote the first draft of my response, the only thing Matt & Kseniya had said is
They've now expanded on that Tweet with a longer "Statement Regarding Panel Talks at BZF 2015" expressing their take on the exchanges with Jordan, instating a Black Lives Matter discussion and calling for "participants who are interested in discussing race, politics, and zines, including the visibility of POC at zine fests and other art and writing events, as well as other topics driven by participants’ experiences and audience questions."
I am gratified that Matt & Kseniya have seen the need for this discussion, and that they've explained their rationale. I know how hard it is to be called out, but I'm disappointed that Matt & Kseniya's statement didn't contain an acknowledgment of or apology for Jordan feeling shut down as a person of color.
My understanding of a conversation I had with Jordan close to the time of her initial frustration over the panel selection, is that it's true that the #BlackLivesMatter panel was not dropped. Rather the suggestion was rejected. I further understand that the suggestion was not deemed viable because panels are to be comprised of BZF tablers, and all of the tables were already reserved, and among those accepted, there were not enough Black tablers to mount such a panel. Jordan conveys in her statement that Matt and Kseniya expressed concern about what such a panel might attract and communicate--undercover cops, violence, and overt politicism. Matt and Kseniya have since clarified that their concerns were not about violence or undercover cops, but about seeming to take/promote an anti-police stance.
The #BlackLivesMatter movement is arguably the most important thing that happened in the US in 2014. I am very interested in what zine makers, particularly Black zine makers will have to say on the topic. I wish Jordan had thought to suggest we do something on that theme at the NYC Feminist Zine Fest in March! People involved in zine culture infrastructural projects like zine fests, zine libraries, distros, etc. have a responsibility to reflect, nurture and celebrate the ethos of our communities, including antiracism.
As a person with white and many other privileges, I am perhaps the most bothered by the idea that a zine fest could or should be apolitical. To be honest, I don't think anything is apolitical. You can never get away from the questions of the who, what, why, and where of any event, publication, curriculum, holiday card, or vacuum cleaner, and these questions are all loaded. To me, zine ethos are not just political because everything is though; being grounded in anarchopunk and DIY cultures makes them deliberately and overtly political. We have riot grrrl to thank for turning pop culture fanzines into "the personal is political" zines! Zines culture, or at least the zine culture I want to be part of, is one where people try to work out their differences. (To that end, I shared my draft of this post with Jordan, as well as Matt and Kseniya before publishing it.) I'm disappointed that Matt and Kseniya didn't respond to Jordan's "I quit" message. I also hate that this event has given POC activists another reason to Tweet things like
I don't think Matt and Kseniya identify as radicals, but they need to be aware that they've taken a leading role in a culture where many members do. If, as Jordan suggests, they've been told in the past that the zine fest isn't strong on racial diversity, it would have been great if Matt and Kseniya would have made attracting tablers of color a priority. The NYC Feminist Zine Fest, with its 45, rather than BZF's 150 tablers, had enough Black tablers that we could have hosted a panel on the topic. In NYC, there's really no excuse not to have a racially diverse roster of tablers.
Getting back to hating conflict, I want to point out that last year's zine fest included a panel "Zines from the Borderlands: Storytelling about Mixed-Heritage" co-sponsored by the Brooklyn Historical Society. I know because I was on it, along with two women of color, and the panel was moderated by another white woman. Jordan shares that Matt and Kseniya considered "Black Zines Matter" as an alternative to #BlackLivesMatter. I can see how that may have seemed like a good compromise to them. I don't think they're jerks. I don't think it was on Jordan to explain the difference and why the watered down version was unacceptable. I think those of us who aren't emotionally involved need to do some explaining. I think a lot of us righteous white folks love to pile on to accusations of racism. It makes us feel good, and we get to show off what excellent allies we are.
If I interrogate my own racism, I have to acknowledge that I have done and said things that are ignorant, insensitive, and outright offensive. I've improved, though not perfected, my thinking and behavior in no small part by reading thousands of zines. And so to Matt and Kseniya I want to reach out and say you have your opinions and feelings, and I think you're guided by your consciences and the (racist) forces that formed you, as we all are. I also want to say that it's important to prioritize, rather than fear discussions of race in our divided country. We need to be clear that wanting police officers to stop killing Black people with impunity is not anti-cop. In fact equating Black power with anti-cop--"cop" as a stand-in for the group with the actual power--like calling feminism anti-man makes the problem all about the dominant vs. the oppressed group.
There's no reason Matt and Kseniya could not have organized a #BlackLivesMatter panel, even without Jordan's help. As I wrote earlier, I'm glad that such a discussion will take place at the Brooklyn Zine Fest, but I hope there will be other learning, as well. My fellow white people, including Matt and Kseniya, need to do some self-educating, sharing what we learn through reading zines, interacting with people of color, participating in anti-oppression training, and making mistakes.
Here are some zines from the Barnard Zine Library that I personally recommend for discussions of race and racism. They are currently available for purchase or download or other zines by the same author are. Alphabetical by author's last name. Summaries by Barnard student workers unless otherwise indicated.
Shotgun Seamstress Zine Collection by Osa Atoe, available for purchase from Mend My Dress Press
Shotgun Seamstress is a celebration of black punk identity. Based on the experience of isolation in being one of the only black kids in the punk scene, the zine exists for those who exist in the margins of subculture. Shotgun Seamstress proves that punk isn't a "white thing" through countless examples of intersecting identities and black creativity mostly within the realm of punk rock. The zine includes tons of interviews with the likes of James Spooner ("Afro-Punk" director), Brontez Purnell, Mick Collins of The Gories, Kali Boyce of Nasty Facts, Trash Kit (UK), DJ Soul Sister, Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex and more. The first six issues were compiled in a book published in 2012 by Mend My Dress Press. (summary provided by the author)
Skinned Heart numero dos by Nyky Gomez other issues available from Brown Recluse zine distro
This zine contains a copy of online correspondence between Nyky and an unnamed writer. They argue about the nature of racism, white privilege, punk culture, and intersections between oppressions. Nyky becomes frustrated when the respondent describes her behavior as "reverse racism." They clash about the nature of the Flagstaff punk scene, specifically the presence and definition of "PC crusties" and "housies." Nyky identifies as a Mexican woman and a survivor of sexual assault, and eventually requests that communication be stopped.
Think About the Bubbles #9 by Joyce Hatton, available for purchase from Joyce's shop
This handwritten zine consists of "stories and thoughts from the race riot tour." Joyce, a childhood sexual abuse survivor, writes about mental health and learning when to say no, empowerment, and the racist trope of "scary black ladies." She includes tweets and illustrations.
Electric Voyager. Volume #1 (Jedna), Prague : a Fucked-Up Travelogue by Marya Errin Jones, buy others of Marya's zines from her shop
Marya, travelling with a theater troupe to Prague, encounters intense racism and prejudice against Americans. She isn't allowed into certain apartment buildings because she is black and describes the difficulty of navigating a city when you don't speak the language very well. The zine is illustrated with photographs and collages.
The Women of Color series, edited by Tonya Jones, buy from Portland Button Works
This compilation zine features perspectives of women of color about race in Portland, Oregon. Their stories discuss passive-aggressive racism," hipster racism," or how alternative culture breeds racism, the lack of appropriately colored clothing for women of color, and the gentrification of Portland. The zine also includes multicultural resources for the Portland area.
Angry black-white girl : Reflections on my mixed race identity by Nia King. You can buy others of Nia's zines from her or from Brown Recluse
Nia King, an art school dropout of African-American, Hungarian Jewish, and Lebanese ancestry writes about living, working, and activism as a mixed race queer in a wealthy Boston suburb. In a stark, cut and paste format, she debunks stereotypes with short essays about her family and her personal history.
Whose Feminism Is It Anyway? by Emi Koyama. Download the text from Emi's website
Koyama, a Japanese-American lesbian transwoman living and going to college in Portland, writes about the ways in which racism and classism enter into debates about trans inclusion in feminist circles. She specifically mentions the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival as a focal point of this debate. There are also flyers for the women of color caucus at Portland State University as well as discussions of a conference on domestic violence.
Evolution of a race riot edited by Mimi Thi Nguyen, which you can read/download online
Nguyen's huge compilation zine features writers of color who are affiliated with the punk and riot grrrl scenes. The essays, comics, art works, and poems analyze racism, and privilege in the largely white populations of activist, feminist, punk and zine communities, and discuss isolation and homogeneity. There are contributions by American Indians, Asian Americans, African Americans, Filipinos, and Latinos.
LIS Microaggressions edited by Cynthia Mari Orozco and Simone Fujita.
Librarians were invited to "...write down or draw out your microaggression on a Post-it (or plain paper) no larger than 3x3."
This zine is not yet available, but the editors have promised to publish a pdf version. Keep an eye on the LIS Microagressions Tumblr.
Sat, 04/18/2015 - 3:58pm
From Matt & Kseniya, via
From Matt & Kseniya, via email:
"There are more black writers and artists tabling at this year's zine fest than any past BZF. Scarcity of POC voices at the fest was not the issue in developing the panels -- rather, the original pitch for the panel had no names attached and, aside from the title and a note about police resistance, we had very little sense of what shape the panel would take and who would be a part of it. Since the lineup at this year's fest is also largely first-time exhibitors, there are many whose work we are not yet familiar with. We look forward to discovering their voices next weekend.
"When we were left to form the panels on our own, we went with the ones we had the best sense of. We realize now that this was an easy route and not the most constructive. It was a mistake on our part; we should have taken the time at that moment to develop the Black Lives Matter panel from the ground up.
"Thanks to the frank and direct discussions we've had with exhibitors and attendees though, we have a mission statement for the Black Lives Matter panel and have confirmed three out of four panelists (including a moderator), all of whom are BZF 2015 exhibitors. The moderator's description is on our website, and the panelists will be announced when the fourth is confirmed. We are open to panelists from outside the fest, but generally give panel preference to those who are exhibitors, so they can continue the conversation with attendees at their tables after the panel has ended, and exhibit their work for the people they met in the panels."
Sun, 04/19/2015 - 6:45pm
They add, "when we said, 'we
They add, "when we said, 'we had very little sense of what shape the panel would take,' we should have said, 'we had very little sense of how the panel would relate to zines.'"
Sun, 04/19/2015 - 8:34pm
And here's Jordan's
And here's Jordan's suggestions for responses: http://thecowation.blogspot.com/2015/04/suggestions-for-response-to-brooklyn.html