The Silence of Our Friends

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

RWOC At WAM!

I was excited to go to WAM! to meet all these women I have grown to love, and was not disappointed.

I warned Sydette/BlackAmazon that I would hug the stuffin' outta her when we meet, and she turned the tables on me! My hands were full so she hugged the stuffin' outta me! Then I met Sudy, Nadia, Wifey, Lex, BfP, and Adele. During lunch everyone was discussing their thoughts about the conference so far, and I was thinking, we need to have a video camera on Sudy at all times. She has the most expressions of any person, so you could see her going from joy, to surprise, to concern, to laughter, etc all in the space of a few minutes. And with the discussion going on, it would have made a great Femwatch video! Not only that, but Sudy wasn't saying very much but when she did say something it was always something humorous.

There had already been a few upsetting moments, like another older white feminist telling women to vote with their vagina, and that in the oppression olympics, sexism wins the gold compared to racism's silver. Yeah, Helen Thomas went there.

There was a completely fucked up thing that happened and I wish it was my story to tell, but suffice it to say, a WOC worked hard on a project only to show it to someone and have that person treat her badly. This isn't a matter of opinion, where this white woman just didn't like the project, she did like it, but let the WOC know that her work isn't as important or valued as the work of white women with which she is familiar. Hearing that story is the moment BA threw a chair and went looking for that woman. (At this moment Sudy is busy eating but looks up alarmed and says, "I hope she doesn't crush too many white women.")

As I said in my last post, I got something to say about Stata Center being the main building. Well...on Saturday afternoon Sudy scheduled a lunch caucus for the RWOC and surprise, surprise, the room that we were supposed to be in was double booked. They were showing a movie in the room we should have been caucusing in, so who do you think got first dibs on the room? OF COURSE it's the radical women of color who got shunted off to the side, and we were put in a completely different building. Not only that, but when Sudy went to ask the organizers what was going on, they argued with her, instead of checking on what she was telling them, they told her that it was impossible for the room to be double booked. Like she was lying to give them a hard time! By the time we got our room they had wasted 30 minutes of our 1 hour time limit to caucus, and because it was not only moved to a different room but a different building, any women who weren't already with us and wanted to caucus couldn't find it. After lunch we find out that We B(e)lo(n)g is in that same building, not the Stata Center. I'm surprised they didn't just stick us in a closet, except it wouldn't look good in their "diversity" pictures for their website. Yeah they sent in photographers and videographers to show the happy brown people. BlackAmazon said she could hardly bear it, every time she looked around there seemed to be someone with the hostile stare, or the curious stare, or the incredulous stare. She felt like she was on display and wasn't welcome as a human being but more like a specimen to study. But their hostility didn't stop them from taking their "diversity" pictures of her.

We B(e)lo(n)g was a room full of love and laughter and triumph over the pain and bitterness. It was meant to be interactive with all of us introducing ourselves and telling our wishes. There was some powerful, beautiful, and fabulous wishes. One young woman was from Boston and while I don't remember what she said verbatim her wish was something like, "I wish you could all stay here and we could do this all the time." I know what she means. Finally we are the majority, finally we are with women who understand us, and feel like we do.

In the final days before WAM!, Lex, Nadia, Sudy, and BA all got nervous about their session. Their fear was that white women would be there to disrupt and challenge, but it didn't happen. That was a huge relief. But there was also disappointment mixed with that. Of course white women were welcome as respectful observers and participants, but very few came. It meant alot to us that Octogalore of Astarte's Circus, and Jill of Feministe were there.

Later we decided we needed to decompress and just be, so we all crowded into my mom-mobile (I drive a minivan) and Sudy was the chauffeur. (I'd already gotten lost twice in Cambridge and I wasn't going to drive those crazy streets if I didn't have to!) We went back to Sudy's place and she and Adonis know how to make a person feel welcome. They took care of the bunch of us and made sure we were comfortable and fed.

While there I found out a little more about everyone. Nadia is beautiful and kind hearted, and comes alive when we're plotting and scheming. Really what I mean is if we were talking about planning projects and sharing ideas that was when she would light right up. Lex is intimidating and scary *snicker*, or so someone thought, but really if you look up love in the dictionary you'll find her picture there for the definition. BfP will talk forever if you let her. I mean this in a good way, there are no awkward silences when she is around, and she is knowledgeable about everything. It sounds like I'm saying she won't let anyone else get a word in edgewise, and that is NOT what I mean. If there was a lull in the conversation she knew how to fill it and always had interesting ideas and observations to share. Every one of us was joyous to be together, but I thought that Adele radiated happiness to be there with so many of us WOC bloggers in one spot. Wifey reminds me of a brilliant version of Drew Barrymore, she is even bubbly like her. There were no surprises with Sydette, she really is like the person you know from her blog. She can be bouncing with glee or furious when someone she loves is hurt and she is all brains! I've already described Sudy earlier, she is the actress from her videos, only it's not an act.

This has gotten way longer than I expected. So it looks like I will be writing another WAM! Report linking to all the bloggers I am talking about here and their posts on WAM! so check back later.

8 comment(s):

yeah I was reading about the room mix up and wasn't surprised that it happened to the WOC panel either.

I wish I could have gone just for all the mujeres that were there!

By Blogger Maegan la Mala, at 4/03/2008 8:44 AM  

Interesting discussion -- thanks for all the detail. I am dying to learn more of the deep background about the chair-throwing.

By Blogger Octogalore, at 4/03/2008 8:49 PM  

i'm so...grrr...disappointed I missed this event :(

By Blogger Renegade Evolution, at 4/04/2008 9:19 AM  

Donna thank you for writing about your time at WAM. Goddamn I love hearing about everybody. So many bloggers are doing such an amazing job to let readers hear all about this event. And by this event, I mean more the bunches of people whose writing I love getting to meet up in person, more so than technically "WAM" itself.

By Anonymous Joan Kelly, at 4/04/2008 5:49 PM  

Hello! I read your post on WAM!2008 and wanted to let you know that those of us who worked to put the conference together are hearing you and want to engage with you on how we can make the conference a more inclusive and safe space for women of color. I’m hoping that this post will be welcome and will open some dialogue on how we can work much harder next year to resolve these issues.

There’s a lot of work to be done (especially in the feminist movement at large) to engage, support and build more alliances between communities of color and white communities. As a WOC, I strongly agree that it must not only be women of color who work to bridge these alliances, and that we must hold everyone (our allies included) to high standards of how we want our communities to be.

I’m incredibly saddened when I read about the incident you spoke of where the work of a WOC was devalued. This is not the kind of engagement I (or anyone else who works to put WAM! together) encourage or condone in any way and I deeply regret that it happened. I’m not sure what I can offer besides support, though I do hope if there is anything I can do, the person concerned will feel free and safe to contact me with it.

If I may, I’d like to respond to the logistics of the unfortunate lunch-caucus mix-up. First, I’d like to sincerely apologize that this happened. This was true, unintentional, human error. We are a very small organization and this year was the largest WAM! ever. We were very understaffed leading up to and during the conference and the proofreading that should have caught that error just didn’t happen. It was our fault but it was in no way intentional. (Also, I had no idea that the session monitors were in any way argumentative or unhelpful towards anyone who questioned this but it is not something that we will take lightly.)

I also want to offer a bit of my perspective, if I may, regarding the spaces that the lunch caucus and the We B(e)lo(n)g: Womyn of Color and Online Feminism took place in. The lunch caucus took place in Room 56-114 (in the building next door to the Stata Center). I’m hearing you when you say that it was jarring to have to move to a new space (and time draining as well) and again, I’m sorry that happened and can tell you we will work much harder next year to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.
The WOC lunch caucus and We B(e)lo(n)g: Womyn of Color and Online Feminism were given very nice rooms (as were all the sessions) in a building where half (45+) of ALL the conference sessions took place, not in a space completely away from all the action or the other sessions. In fact, sessions that that explicitly concerned WOC took place in both buildings (for example, the Immigration in U.S. session, and the Can Blogging Help End Racism session took place in the Stata Center).

(And just for the record, the photographer took photos of every single session and event at the conference, not just yours—I am sorry if you felt impinged upon in any way, you were completely free to ask the photographer not to take pictures.)

Despite the challenges and errors, it seems as if you were able to make meaningful connections at the conference and create a safe space (I know the We B(e)lo(n)g session was powerful for many!). I would be open to dialoguing with you about how I can help make that space grow.

Very best,
KL Pereira
Events Coordinator
Center for New Words

By Anonymous KL Pereira, at 4/04/2008 11:02 PM  

Donna, thanks for this post. Somehow I imagined all these awesome women coming together would be wonderful and you've let me peek over your shoulder to know that it did, indeed, happen.

I am thoroughly enjoying the virtual contact high!

By Blogger Ravenmn, at 4/04/2008 11:47 PM  

WAIT! You were there on Saturday and I missed you? Are you F*&^%ing serious?!?!?

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAUGH!

How could that have happened!

:(

By Blogger liza, at 4/05/2008 10:16 PM  

I have wanted to go to a WAM! conference for a few years now. I haven't been able to yet, but here's hoping. I am quite disappointed, though, to hear the horror stories of some of the ignorant people who were there and how they showed their ignorance to probably many. However, you can't get any better than meeting up with some blogging friends and taking in and sharing the conference. I really need to get to one of those. Maybe next year!

By Anonymous Holly, at 4/22/2008 7:19 AM  

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