Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Phrase "People of Color" & Why It Promotes Erasure

The term "People" or "Person of Color" is a dangerous trap for several reasons that I will outline in this post.  In my opinion, the first reason that this phrase is problematic, is that it is used out of context on a regular basis. When it is important to say the specific race of a group or individual, folks say POC instead of saying Black or (insert race here) and that is problematic. A great example is last year during the endorsement meeting for The Caucus in Houston, a question was posed with the intention to ask if any Black folks were on the screening committee for the Mayor's race. The well intentioned response from one of the Black board members is that "there were no POC" that screened in that race, we knew they meant Black, but it may have been better if that was stated instead of POC.

Person of color: (plural: people of color, persons of color, sometimes abbreviated POC) is a term used primarily in the United States to describe any person who is not white. The term encompasses all non-white groups, emphasizing common experiences of racism.

When us Black folk refer to ourselves as a POC in a Predominantly White space, it contributes to the
erasure that we fight so hard to rid ourselves of. Might I suggest that when we are talking about issues specific to us as Black folk, we say Black or African American. Think of it on the same
premise of using "I" statements. This erasure is also very real as it pertains to predominantly White spaces like conferences, organizations and even campuses. Netroots' conference last year is a great example of what erasure looks like. Literally, almost every session pertaining to race had the label POC and it came off as, "we know you want issues of race addressed, but we will put you all together in one space and let you hash the issues out on your own." When these scenarios take place, there is a tendency for a group or person to feel oppressed because everyone is clamoring to talk about issues specific to their race, someone gets left out.

I wonder if predominantly White organizations, institutions and etc are doing this on purpose in hopes that we will fight amongst ourselves. Especially when the example of Netroots brings back the memory of having to leave the main space to go to Blackroots during lunch, which was held at a local Phoenix community center and organized by great people like Tia Oso and so many other great friends that I made. The who thing about Blackroots is that Netroots rejected any proposals with the specific intention to center Black voices in a designated space. In doing so, the issues of immigration as it pertains to Black bodies had to be discussed of site, we were erased. How much, and how often is this happening at these events and campuses that portray themselves to be progressive and liberal, which somehow falsely exempts them from being called on their White privilege and racism. Anyway, I ran across a video on Youtube that speaks to this issue, it was posted by this great person who goes by QueerAsCatt in the final days of 2015:

"i’ve long since had issues with how some people, specifically white people, repeatedly misuse the term “People of Color” (aka “POC”). at long last i’m finally putting my frustrations into words in the hope of bringing awareness to these issues.

in the interest of being as brief as possible, in this video i've summarize my issues regarding white people’s usage of this term into two points: 

1. treating POC as if they are a homogeneous group of people. ( @00:29 ~ ) 

2. treating whiteness as if it is the default not only in one's own country, but internationally. ( @4:12 ~ ) 

obviously when people who consider themselves to be allies to POC make such mistakes the mistakes are honest ones with no ill intent behind them. however, that does not change the fact that mistakes are being made and that these mistakes should be corrected. 

if you consider yourself to be an ally to people of color, please watch this video and be open to rethinking your usage of “people of color.

Let me put it another way, in 2013 Janani wrote a piece for Black Girl Dangerous entitled "What’s Wrong With the Term ‘Person of Color’." In this snippet from the piece, she addresses being non Black, non Indigenous & Non White:

"...As an identifier, ‘person of color’ can be slippery for a lot of politicized, non-Black, non-indigenous, non-White people in the US, for 2 reasons:

1) US/Western imperialism is so widespread that it even imposes its ways of doing racism on the rest of the world, and on people of color. For example, my family is upper caste, and that caste position is partly what enabled our immigration to the US. It also means that we’re lighter-skinned South Asians (read: closer to Aryan British colonizers). Using the term ‘POC’ as my identifier rather than ‘South Asian’ or ‘Desi’ means I never unpack these non-Western racial systems that are also at play.

2) Many of our communities have benefited variously from racism. South Asian communities I’ve been involved in use antiblack racism as one strategy of assimilation. Because as White people have established, the easiest way to shore up your racial supremacy is to be antiblack, displayed in everything from microaggressions to employment discrimination to violence. We know that people of color can be racist towards each other. What I’m saying is that many of us also reap systematic advantages from the racist attitudes and structures that are held by our entire communities.

How do we, as politicized people of color, acknowledge the very limits of the term ‘people of color’ and the way it can mask our actual racial situations? For example, why do we keep using the phrase ‘communities of color’ as targets of police and state violence when we primarily mean Black and Latino folks? What races are we trying to contain in the word ‘brown’? Why are we afraid to point to the specificities of racism? Do we think it will divide us? Do we think we are really not capable of understanding and working from the different ways we experience racism?"

We all should use the term in context and make sure it is relevant to the conversations and settings involved, or you will be contributing to your own erasure. We should also check people when they are using it to silence us, disrupt it, take over the spaces...

Creating Change 2016: A response from #CancelPinkwashing

Post Creating Change — A response from #CancelPinkwashing

image credit Micah Bazant

"In the days since the #CancelPinkwashing action at the reception hosted by A Wider Bridge at this year’s Creating Change conference, media has been abuzz with claims about the alleged violence of the protestors, supposed anti-Semitism at the conference, and more. We are issuing this statement, as the collective at the heart of #CancelPinkwashing, to dispel myths and refocus on our central demands and goals moving forward.
Our evening began with a queer, anti-Zionist Shabbat service organized by Jewish Voice for Peace — Chicago, Committee for a Just Peace in Israel-Palestine (CJPIP), and other campaign partners in response to a real need for spiritual space that did not conflate Judaism with Zionism. Other groups, in coordination with A Wider Bridge, held their own Shabbat service elsewhere at the hotel. Contrary to Zionist media framing, both Shabbat services completed without interruption.
Once our Shabbat service had ended we invited the community in the room to prepare for the protest and several hundred of us began marching through the Hilton from our space on the lobby level to the third floor just outside where the A Wider Bridge reception was taking place. We chanted various pro-Palestine, anti-Zionist, anti-racist and anti-pinkwashing critiques. One that has received a lot of attention is “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”
Amongst our demands we also included that The Task Force publicly endorse the Palestinian Right To Return, that is that Palestinian refugees and their descendants have a right to return, and a right to the property they themselves or their forebears left behind or were forced to leave in what is now Israel and the Palestinian territories. For those that are unsure of geography, that is from the river to the sea. Our other demands, including our call for the Task Force to endorse BDS, the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement, can be found here.
During the course of the action, four protesters rushed the stage at the reception and shared our core messages while the remaining others occupied the hallway outside. During this time, Zionists exited the reception, shouted at the protestors and pushed and physically intimidated several. Police were called by the Hilton hotel and towards the end of the action, they escorted members of A Wider Bridge outside the reception room and down the back stairs, effectively shutting down the reception. We, the protesters, then made our way back down to our original location. To our knowledge there were no arrests made during the action, and some of our protesters sustained injuries due to the action of Zionist agitators and security staff.
A few of our goals were accomplished, namely that we shut down the pinkwashing reception and raised the national visibility of pinkwashing as a Zionist tactic. We also actively pushed back on the overall complicity of Creating Change and the Task Force. We should note that this is not the first time that the Task Force has been criticized for marginalizing people of color or cultivating racism at Creating Change. In fact, these criticisms and protests are commonplace at the Conference. Whether this year or in the past, the Task Force has invited both police and ICE — with blatant disregard for many, many queer/trans activist communities of color. We call on the Task Force to take a firm stand against colonialism, racism and apartheid and refuse to host pinkwashing events by Israel advocacy organizations, ICE or the police.
At this point, the Task Force has not apologized for or addressed any of the concerns raised by activists around pinkwashing at the conference. Instead, they issued a statement to “condemn anti-Semitism”, saying “Hate speech of any kind is unacceptable whether it’s directed at Jewish or Muslim people,” with no reference as to why that is a relevant concern in this situation (except, of course, as a response to Zionist agitators and media). In doing so, The Task Force continues to accept and endorse the false narrative that the Israeli occupation of Palestine is a “religious conflict” rather than a political and economic colonial project. We also believe that by releasing the statement, the Task Force conflates anti-Zionism and indeed all criticism of Israeli policy with anti-Semitism, which trivializes the very meaning of anti-Semitism, and exploits the term in order to silence political debate and distract from occupation and colonialism, which are at the heart of this issue. We are extremely disappointed by the unaccountable, racist actions of the Task Force as an institution. We will continue to press them on our demands and move forward in our work to confront pinkwashing and push LGBT organizations to name and reject their complicity in colonial occupation."

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Why Sit At Their Table, When We Can Build Our Own?

Yesterday I made a statement to the Houston Black SGL-LGBT community and the Black community at large:

"Statement: Last night I had some things to say about Houston Unites and how they excluded, ignored, SGL-BT community members and whole communities at large. I spoke angrily in what was supposed to be a safe space and rightfully so. I am moving on from that as of today, we will have HERO 2.0 for sure. What I will continue doing is creating spaces for people who look like me and building tables that we cant be excluded from. These days it takes more than a seat at a table that was not intended for us, It takes our own table in our own community. We can sit at theirs too, but remember we will be mainstreaming and "taking over" while playing by their rules. Lets build a table to have discussions that will mend things at home and strengthen our community, the Black community. So that way, when we demand something, we will get it...

Ashton P. Woods
Strength In Numbers Project

The crux of the message is that we are trying too hard to play by rules intended to subjugate our Black bodies for crumbs. We want a piece of a pie from a system that arose on the sweat and blood of our ancestors through colonization, enslavement, and financial oppression. We clamor for respect, and equality or the acknowledgment of said equality. The truth is, in theory we are equal because we have the tools to build our own table where we make decisions for ourselves without seeking approval from the dominant group. In reality we are not equal, not if we have to avoid calling White folks out on their privilege at the risk of no longer being invited to the party or their table. When will we wake up to that fact that so - call opportunities from people who claim to be allies come with a price, with rules and challenge your very integrity. The moment you stop being the friend that they claim when they are called out on their White privilege by someone unafraid to be shut out; you get shunned too. 

This is not to question one's Blackness, but I have to wonder, ask, and repeatedly go over in my mind why my Black people can't see that if we rise up against the mainstream collectively, from our own lanes that we wouldn't have to worry about "keeping White people happy to get what we want." Today I ran across a post on Facebook linked back to a story published by Diva Magazine in the UK. It was an interview with Phyll Opoku-Gyimah who happens to be the founder of UK Black Pride, Rainbow List judge, Stonewall trustee and why she declined an MBE in the Queen's New Year Honours List. Here is What she had to say:

"As a trade unionist, a working class girl, and an out black African lesbian, I want to stand by my principles and values.

"If you're a member of a minority - or multiple minorities - it's important to be visible as a role model for others [and] for your successes to be seen.

"An honour is a very public statement that the establishment has decided that you, and what you do, are valued by the wider society. You've worked hard, and they've actually noticed. Maybe you've fought for workers' rights, or LGBTQI rights, in defiance of those in power, and yet here they are, offering you an award, letting you in. It may help you raise the profile of future work you do. All of these are good reasons for accepting one, and yet, Member of the British Empire?"

She went on: "I don't believe in empire. I don't believe in, and actively resist, colonialism and its toxic and enduring legacy in the Commonwealth, where - among many other injustices - LGBTQI people are still being persecuted, tortured and even killed because of sodomy laws, including in Ghana, where I am from, that were put in place by British imperialists.

"I'm honoured and grateful, but I have to say no thank you.

After reading her statement I had to include it in this post, because she basically stated the exact sentiments I have. While we are not in the UK, we are under a system with roots in colonialism under the British Empire. Our oppression still exists through structural and institutional racism, not the more over hate of the past. We must take care of ourselves as individuals and collectively as a community in a way that recognizes intersectionality and respects the identities that our community members have. There is little room for error, erasure or foolishness in this movement for Black Lives to Matter. You have to know that we are reaching for more than just an end to the criminalization of our Black bodies and that our words, chants, songs; our inflected voices are not loud without purpose.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

#BlackLivesMatter: Open Letter to South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley #SOTU

Gov. Haley,

I couldn't help but to notice that during your vitriolic Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union address tonight that you decided to disrespect a movement, the Black Lives Matter movement. Our movement, just so you know, at the most basic level fights against police brutality and racial discrimination. So, to my dismay you had this to say:

Your statements come from a place of White privilege and fear of people who you have demonized. When you make statements like “chaotic unrest in many of our cities," as an indicator that you see young Black and Brown folk standing up against police violence on our bodies as a danger, you are the true danger. What was even more disrespectful? You decide to evoke the tragedy in Charleston by stating that “What happened after the tragedy is worth pausing to think about,” and that “Our state was struck with shock, pain, and fear. But our people would not allow hate to win. We didn’t have violence, we had vigils. We didn’t have riots, we had hugs.” Let's get one thing straight White lady (that is clearly who you think you are, are you kin to Bobby Jindal?) you didn't pause (only when you could gain politically), you may have been shocked, but I have it on high authority that you didn't and don't fear for your life with all that White privilege that helps you to survive. I am not sure you fit into the category of being shocked or in pain either, yeah hugs were cute but your record on the matter aint.

According to sources like Think Progress YOU only gave consideration to removing the confederate flag and other actions for (as stated earlier) political gain and theatrics. Here is what they had to say about the issue:

"... she “has created this public television persona that completely contradicts her governance.

Last June, five days after Dylann Roof murdered nine African American worshipers in Charleston, Haley called for the removal of the Confederate flag that — by law — flew on State House grounds. It was hailed by some as a “profile in courage.”

But just months before, during her 2014 reelection campaign, she dismissed calls from her opponent, state Sen. Sheheen, to remove the flag. “What I can tell you is over the last three-and-a-half years, I spent a lot of my days on the phones with CEOs and recruiting jobs to this state,” she said during an October debate. “I can honestly say I have not had one conversation with a single CEO about the Confederate flag.”

Haley suggested that the state’s historical image as a racist place was over, arguing South Carolina “really kind of fixed all that” by electing her, “the first Indian-American female governor,” and through her appointment of Tim Scott (R), an African American, to a vacant Senate seat.

And even in the immediate aftermath of the Charleston shootings, Haley’s initial response did not advocate removing the flag from the State House grounds. Two days after the shooting, she told CBS anchor Gayle King that while the “conversation” about the flag would “probably come back up again,” it was too early “to start having policy conversations with the people of South Carolina.”

“I understand that’s what y’all want,” she scolded, “[but] my job is to heal the people of this state.” Only after a groundswell of national outrage over the flag did she change her tune in the days that followed.

I say this with disdain and total disregard for respect when it comes to you Governor, you are full of crap and we see through you. Since you will never know what it is like to be Black in America let me help you out...The movement for Black lives is about deconstructing and dismantling a system of racism and White supremacy. We start with the police violence on Blackness, and work into other areas that have been very problematic in terms of criminalizing Blackness, perpetuating misogyny, limiting access to quality education, financial stability, access to proper health care and a host of other issues. IF we had an equal playing field and there was no White privilege to be concerned with, we would not have to have peaceful demonstrations or loudly raise our voices to be heard! We, the Black people get a bad rap because society is socialized to see Blackness as impure, bad & putrid; that's what your statement tonight insinuated.

You gets no love...

Ashton P. Woods

Monday, January 11, 2016

#HIV: The Black AIDS Institute 2015 Report on The State of HIV/AIDS Science and Treatment Literacy in the HIV/AIDS Workforce

Nearly one year ago the Black AIDS Institute released its findings from a survey given to conducted of non-medical personnel working in HIV/AIDS in regard to HIV/AIDS science and treatment literacy. There have been multiple times where I openly spoke out about the effectiveness of HIV prevention practices in the Houston area, this time is no different, as this post will focus on the specific findings for Texas. The overall findings released by the Black AIDS Institute have confirmed my assertions that many who we trust to have the knowledge required to do the work of reducing the rates of HIV infection, especially in the Black community are not up to par when it comes to scientific and treatment literacy. Recently the institute released a statement about its findings:

"When We Know Better, We Do Better: The State of HIV/AIDS Science and Treatment Literacy in the HIV/AIDS Workforce," presents results from the U.S. HIV Workforce Knowledge, Attitudes, and Beliefs (KAB) Survey, the largest survey ever conducted of non-medical personnel working in HIV/AIDS in the United States. (The link goes live on Friday, February 6, 2015 at 12:01 a.m.) On Friday, the Institute will launch the #KnowBetterDoBetter Tour, a series of town hall meetings to help the public and media understand survey results for 10 major American cities.
Overall, HIV/AIDS health care service providers at health departments and AIDS-service and community based organizations answered only 63 percent of questions correctly—essentially earning a D grade in their knowledge of HIV science and treatment.
Participants were more likely to answer questions about basic science correctly, scoring a 76, or a C. But the average score on treatment-related questions was a 56, or an F.
Respondents appear particularly ill-prepared to assist HIV-negative people in using antiretroviral-based biomedical prevention tools, such as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), or to help HIV-positive people in understanding treatment as prevention—tools essential to ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Participants answered 46 percent of biomedical questions accurately, an F.
Given the goal of achieving an AIDS-free generation, participants' lack of knowledge is shocking.
"All the tools in the world will not end HIV/AIDS unless those responsible
for using these tools understand them, believe in them, and know how to use them," says Phill Wilson, President and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute..." CONTINUE READING
The report was scathing and had very valid points, but what stuck out to me the most is one of the findings:
Race Matters: Highest Risk, Lowest HIV Science and Treatment Knowledge Among Communities of Color
- "Black and Latino people account for 14% and 16% of the U.S. population, respectively, but they make up 44% and 21% of new HIV infections.3 With Black and Latino communities facing disproportionate risks for HIV infection, they need biomedical treatment and prevention technologies the most. By extension, they need an HIV workforce that is fully prepared to seize new opportunities to lay the foundation to end the epidemic. However, Black and Latino workers in the AIDS field were significantly less likely than white respondents or those from other races/ethnicities to exhibit robust HIV science and treatment knowledge. Importantly, these differences remained statistically significant after controlling for education, region of residence, time working in the AIDS field, or any other variable taken into account in the survey. On average, Black respondents scored about six points lower than white survey participants, while Latino workers scored eight points lower. By contrast, LGBT and HIV positive survey participants scored about three points higher than other survey participants. Unlike Black and Latino communities, where treatment education programs have traditionally been weak or non-existent, LGBT staff belong to a community that has prioritized grassroots treatment education since the epidemic’s early years. People living with HIV obviously have a personal interest in learning about HIV-related science and treatment issues. In addition, a host of resources (e.g., magazines, websites, blogs) are available for people living with HIV to learn about treatment issues, but these have not always been targeted to Blacks and Latinos living with HIV. Other demographic patterns emerge from the findings. The mean score for male respondents is significantly higher than for women, although women who participated in the survey were more likely than their male counterparts to score in the top quartile. Women were also more likely than men to score in the bottom quartile. As a general rule, age did not directly correlate with HIV knowledge. However, the youngest respondents (ages 18-24) scored by far the lowest of all age groups."
Here are some parts of the report that you should take note of, these screengrabs are centrally focused on the state of Texas.


Dallas - Fort Worth


Saturday, January 9, 2016

#HIV: The Ethics of Opt-Out testing

*Note: Today the Strength In Numbers blog started a year ago today. Over 150 posts later and thousands of readers, Thank you from the bottom of my heart. There is more to come, even though we not all agree on some of the subject matter, you continue to support and that means the world.

XOXO - Ashton*

My concerns, specifically for adults and adolescents are borne from the fact that locally in the city of Houston and Harris County there is a movement to implement opt-out screening among the homeless population. This population is mainly within the confines of the city of Houston, where the homeless are typically SGL/LGBT youth, mentally ill adults and other groups. First, if one is homeless and encounters a health care provider via arrest and other methods they are not thinking about HIV screenings or may not even have the capacity to understand what opt in or out means. Conversely, one could argue that many in the homeless population do understand and would wonder why those in HIV testing & prevention would take their choice away. WHY would I want you to screen me and then ask me for consent after the fact?

While one could argue that HIV screenings should be a normal part of a health screening, the stigma of HIV and lack of education still persists. In a sense, it forces one to know their results without taking into consideration that yes it will get them into care, but still facing the prospect of homelessness. What I mean is that, IF I were homeless and SGL/LGBT, got screened, tested positive & got prescribed meds; where would I live? Where would I store my meds? The question of survival in many cases would override the need to stay compliant with medication. To be honest, there are a myriad of services available to those living with HIV and AIDS that have housing issues. Many of the community based organizations that exist in the Houston area are at the whim of funding and tend to run out of money depending on what time of year it is.

*For assistance in Houston you, check out the Bluebook -HOUSTON RESOURCE GUIDE:*

Whatever the case, affordable housing and consistent access to shelter are extremely important if we are to go along with opt-out screenings the homeless population. Access to employment, a steady supply of food and other needs that contribute to the stabilization of one's health, it takes more than one pill before bedtime. The idea for opt - out came in 2006 the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released the Revised Recommendations for HIV Testing of Adults, Adolescents, and Pregnant Women in Health Care Settings which advises providers in healthcare settings to:
  • Adopt a policy of routine HIV testing for everyone between the ages of 13-64 and all pregnant women
  • Use opt-out screening for HIV—meaning that HIV tests will be done routinely unless a patient explicitly refuses to take an HIV test
  • Eliminate the requirements for pretest counseling, informed consent, and post-test counseling“Opt-out testing” does not mean that you MUST take an HIV test. In general, you have the right to refuse an HIV test. (Exceptions include blood and organ donors, military applicants and active duty personnel, Federal and state prison inmates under certain circumstances, newborns in some states, and immigrants.)"
Part of the rationale behind this recommendation according to The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force made a recommendation "that clinicians screen for HIV all adults and adolescents at increased risk for HIV, on the basis that when HIV is diagnosed early, appropriately timed interventions, particularly HAART, can lead to improved health outcomes, including slower clinical progression and reduced mortality (24). The Task Force also recommended screening all pregnant women, regardless of risk, but made no recommendation for or against routinely screening asymptomatic adults and adolescents with no identifiable risk factors for HIV. The Task Force concluded that such screening would detect additional patients with HIV, but the overall number would be limited, and the potential benefits did not clearly outweigh the burden on primary care practices or the potential harms of a general HIV screening program (24,83)..."

While the report made it clear under their "Consent and Pretest Information for Adults & Adolescents:

  • Screening should be voluntary and undertaken only with the patient's knowledge and understanding that HIV testing is planned.
  • Patients should be informed orally or in writing that HIV testing will be performed unless they decline (opt-out screening). Oral or written information should include an explanation of HIV infection and the meanings of positive and negative test results, and the patient should be offered an opportunity to ask questions and to decline testing. With such notification, consent for HIV screening should be incorporated into the patient's general informed consent for medical care on the same basis as are other screening or diagnostic tests; a separate consent form for HIV testing is not recommended.
  • Easily understood informational materials should be made available in the languages of the commonly encountered populations within the service area. The competence of interpreters and bilingual staff to provide language assistance to patients with limited English proficiency must be ensured.
  • If a patient declines an HIV test, this decision should be documented in the medical record."

& "HIV Screening for Pregnant Women and Their Infants

Universal Opt-Out Screening
  • All pregnant women in the United States should be screened for HIV infection.
  • Screening should occur after a woman is notified that HIV screening is recommended for all pregnant patients and that she will receive an HIV test as part of the routine panel of prenatal tests unless she declines (opt-out screening).
  • HIV testing must be voluntary and free from coercion. No woman should be tested without her knowledge.
  • Pregnant women should receive oral or written information that includes an explanation of HIV infection, a description of interventions that can reduce HIV transmission from mother to infant, and the meanings of positive and negative test results and should be offered an opportunity to ask questions and to decline testing.
  • No additional process or written documentation of informed consent beyond what is required for other routine prenatal tests should be required for HIV testing.
  • If a patient declines an HIV test, this decision should be documented in the medical record."
For more info:

Friday, January 8, 2016

Gov. Greg Abbott & His Crusade to Roll Back Civil Rights

Greg Abbott unveiled a The Texas Plan to amend the U.S. Constitution, the result of which could lead to the rollback of Civil Rights laws that protect millions of racial minorities, allow bans for same-sex marriage bans, even end of LGBT protections. This latest action falls in line with past positions where he has made in clear that He is anti-LGBT, anti-women, anti-voting rights, anti-immigration, anti-Obamacare, and anti-separation of church and state. He is a Tea Party Republican and he is on a warpath, This should serve as a reminder that we should all be ready and active to prevent the erosion of our rights. The good news is that this proposal would be very hard to implement, although it is allowed under the U.S. Constitution. 34 states including Texas (through legislative action) would have to approve of the convention. If a convention took place and changes to the Constitution were accepted, the amendments would require ratification by 38 states.

Here is the full 92 page document:

"...The Texas Plan is not so much a vision to alter the Constitution as it is a call to restore the rule of our current one. The problem is that we have forgotten what our Constitution means, and with that amnesia, we also have forgotten what it means to be governed by laws instead of men. The solution is to restore the rule of law by ensuring that our government abides by the Constitution’s limits. Our courts are supposed to play that role, but today, we have judges who actively subvert the Constitution’s original design rather than uphold it. Yet even though we can no longer rely on our Nation’s leaders to enforce the Constitution that “We the People” agreed to, the Constitution provides another way forward. Acting through the States, the people can amend their Constitution to force their leaders in all three branches of government to recognize renewed limits on federal power. Without the consent of any politicians in Washington, D.C., “We the People” can reign in the federal government and restore the balance of power between the States and the United States.

The Texas Plan accomplishes this by offering nine constitutional amendments:

I. Prohibit Congress from regulating activity that occurs wholly within one State.

II. Require Congress to balance its budget.

III. Prohibit administrative agencies—and the unelected bureaucrats that staff them—from creating federal law.

IV. Prohibit administrative agencies—and the unelected bureaucrats that staff them—from preempting state law.

V. Allow a two-thirds majority of the States to override a U.S. Supreme Court decision.

VI. Require a seven-justice super-majority vote for U.S. Supreme Court decisions that invalidate a democratically enacted law.

VII. Restore the balance of power between the federal and state governments by limiting the former to the powers expressly delegated to it in the Constitution.

VIII. Give state officials the power to sue in federal court when federal officials overstep their bounds.

IX. Allow a two-thirds majority of the States to override a federal law or regulation.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

An Open Letter to the Houston SGL/LGBT Community

Here is the thing that I have been marinating on for quite some time: There are those in the SGL/LGBT community of all races who have felt from the very beginning that my ideas and lens of inclusion did not fit into their respectable negro templates or that I am a direct threat to their White privilege. Because of this they have tried to block me, look over me and etc, But here is the thing.... My activism reaches far beyond Houston and Texas and I could leave and be ok...THE DIFFERENCE IS that I care about Houston!

I continued to do what I have always done! Which is work with the people they ignore and helped to elevate voices that Gay inc, the HIV industrial complex and other machines have and continue to deem unimportant. Of course, this epitomizes marginalization and the need to be in power for the sake of power. Tonight I was nominated to run for seat on the board of the LGBT Political Caucus and with hesitation said yes. Truth be told, I have a healthy distrust for folks who don't uplifts the needs of all in the SGL/LGBT community and Black community of Houston at large. It really seems to be a race to shorten one's name in hopes to be part of the organizational revolving door and/or run for a seat in various races just to be elected and ineffectual at best.

One thing that I have learned supporting Sylvester Turner as a volunteer and on staff is that from the very beginning White folks felt they had proxy in determining who the next Minority leading Houston would be. This came into being without consideration that people of different races can pick who they want to lead from elected positions just fine. Big gay inc did not support Candidate, now Mayor Turner because they knew he would serve the needs of all Houstonians. He did not and does not serve the interests of the few who have slandered him with lies of corruption and even questioned his support of the LGBT community at large, ALL while he supported the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance and as a state rep blocked the anti LGBT establishment.

Should I win a seat on the board of the Caucus, I will not sacrifice my integrity to get along and go along. I will try my best to push issues that reflect the diversity of All SGL/LGBT Houstonians through Caucus actions, including but not limited to re - evaluating screening forms for candidates who wish to seek the endorsement of the Caucus. In general, I feel that the reigns need new hands to take them in the organizational structure of politics in Houston. In a way that does not discard our elders, but also respects that the time has come to pass the torches to well qualified millennials. I don't mean just anyone, I mean people who will do the work that needs to get done. Not people who purport to know the needs of the communities that they come from but only show up to said communities for a photo op while hiding behind dresses, suits and respectability politics to oust people from organizations only to continue a legacy of laziness and ineffective works they claim their predecessors were guilty of.

I specifically encourage Black SGL/LGBT identifying folks to become part of a process that can improve the lives of ALL Houstonians, and especially Black Houstonians. Be independent thinkers, don't let religion and organizations guide your thoughts. True leaders go against the grain and can still work with others who may not agree with them, they don't go along to get along, and they damn sure don't live to appease those with privilege


Ashton P. Woods

Friday, January 1, 2016

#BlackPerspectivesMatter - Who Loses, Who Thrives When White Creatives Tell Black Stories? By: Tonya Pinkins

Who Loses, Who Thrives When White Creatives Tell Black Stories?

The year 2015, saw the rise of BlackLivesMatter and #BlackGirlsMatter, both movements helmed
by powerful, fearless Black women. In 2016 I'm starting #BlackPerspectivesMatter.

Twice this year (but too many times in my career) my perspective as a Black woman was dismissed in favor of portraying the Black woman, through the filter of the White gaze. Regrettably, I must exit Classic Stage Company's Mother Courage.

When Black bodies are on the stage, Black perspectives must be reflected. This is not simply a matter of "artistic interpretation"; race and sex play a pivotal role in determining who holds the power to shape representation. A Black female should have a say in the presentation of a Black female on stage.

CSC's truncated version (an hour has been cut) eliminates Mother Courage and her children's backstory, the use of her cart, and much of Brecht's brilliant commentary on war. Mother Courage is the King Lear in the classical cannon of female roles. Not since Caroline, or Change, ten years ago, have I had a role of this caliber. How do I walk away from what could be one of the greatest roles in my career? I couldn't, until all my research, arguing and pleading for my character's full realization fell on deaf ears. And then I had to.

Brecht's drama follows Mother Courage, a women who supports herself and her children by selling goods to warring armies from a cart she drags through the battle zones. Along the way, all three of her children are killed because of the war. Mother Courage is the epitome of every poor, undocumented, battered, trafficked and immigrant women hustling to provide for her family however she must.

It's been a decade since my talent has matched the material - I thought. However, it was not relayed to me until the final tech rehearsal that the vision for this Mother Courage (the Black Mother Courage in an African war) was of a delusional woman trying to do the impossible. She would not be an icon of feminine tenacity and strength, nor of a Black female's fearless capabilities.
Why must the Black Mother Courage be delusional?

The #CSCMotherCourage poster finds my face plastered on an image of the African Continent, the Democratic Republic of the Congo highlighted. The inspiration: Lynn Nottage's impulse to create a Black Mother Courage, which culminated in her Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Ruined.

What an opportunity to connect Brecht's anti-World War II play to the war in modern day Congo, Africa's first World War. My art meeting my activism. The chance to highlight the Chaplain's line, "If you want to sup with the devil you need a long spoon," as analogous to America's participation in the war in the Congo through our appetites for electronic devices which require Coltan, which is raped and pillaged along with the bodies of Black women and children.

This production does not include a single vestige of the specific war in the Congo. For me, the cultural misappropriation is unconscionable. Why must Africa, why must blackness itself, be general, a decorative motif, instead of being as specific and infinitely diverse as its reality?

This spring, in Rasheeda Speaking, I was the only Black American woman in the room. Does this matter when portraying a Black perspective? Absolutely! The play purported to be about a Black woman's struggles working in a White medical office. But for the joy of performing nightly with Dianne Wiest, Patricia Connolly and Darren Goldstein, and the talk-backs I orchestrated with Michael Eric Dyson, Dr. Kimberle Crenshaw, Professor James Peterson and many others, it was a soul-murdering experience. It is debilitating, explaining to non-Black people, day in and out, that their conceptions of Black people are not only inaccurate but dehumanizing and offensive.

I won an award for playing Jaclyn in Rasheeda Speaking. Months later, people still call out "Rasheeda" when complimenting me on my performance. What they innocently forget, but I am reminded of with each acknowledgement, is that "Rasheeda" was elucidated, in Jaclyn's climactic monologue in the play, as the new word for "Nigger." So who is speaking?

Despite Brecht's title, Mother Courage was not the star of this production. My subordinate position was most clearly communicated to me when I attempted to perform a task Brecht specifically wrote for Mother Courage: snatching a fur coat off an armed soldier's back. The actor playing the soldier argued, "I'm a man. This is a war. She gotta RESPECT that; I'd have to kill her!" I fired back, "Brecht wrote it. Mother Courage CAN snatch the fur coat and not get killed. Brecht is illustrating her as an 'Hyena of the war.'" I told the actor I was going to snatch the fur coat, and if he "had to kill me," the play would have to end seven scenes earlier than Brecht had intended.

I snatched the fur coat at the performance. The actor found a way to continue the play. However, the director said that in future, I couldn't do it, because, "the actor said he would kill you." WHAT?!

Mother Courage coddled and reprimanded into submission to patriarchy?

Brecht did not write a delusional woman. He wrote a woman who seizes power at every turn, who forces her way through Hell, and who continues in spite of every opposing force. My Mother Courage was left speechless, powerless, history-less and even cart-less. Why must images of Black women be held hostage in cages of White and/or patriarchal consciousness?

I and many other artists of color have benefitted from having honorary White status bestowed upon us for our work. This status allows us to work alongside the best in the business and to be treated as equals. It is a daily struggle to partake of this status while straining to maintain integrity and authenticity to our own culture. Yet this status is often stripped when we are asked to portray our own people.

I am grateful to Olympia Dukakis, who has played Mother Courage seven times, for attending an early preview and giving me the permission to put my ferocity back into the role. I had not realized that the shame I was feeling was the result of having my "creative c—k," my "virtuostic vagina" chopped up every day. The backlash from my appropriate creative turn was immediate. One crew member complained "I just can't control her."

Am I a dog or a slave to be misled so as to be controlled in my artistic expression?

I was even told that the cuts related to Brecht estate rights and permissions associated with our transposition to the Congo. So I contacted the attorney to the Brecht estate to fight for the integrity of the text that Brecht wrote. The attorney assured me that changing the Thirty Years War references to Congo War references was acceptable to the estate, and that all such matters were artistic decisions between artist and director. Well, not this artist.

My Mother Courage was neutered, leaving the unbridled Mother Courage wasting away inside me. My Mother Courage is too big for CSC's definition. So it is best that they find someone to "fit in," because I cannot.

I recall reading, Tony Kushner's translation of Mother Courage, which was sent to entice me to accept the role. The pinnacle of my career has been Caroline, or Change. Caroline's power reigned on every page. So I know what that power feels like, and this is not it. CSC's "Mcdraft" was not even from the Kushner translation.

Why, in 2015, in the arts, is there a need to control the creative expression of a Black woman?

As we begin the new year, I wish for White theater creatives to have the humility to recognize that their perspectives alone are insufficient when portraying Black women and all "others"; that their manufactured fears put false Black images on the stage. I believe this allows real Black people to be destroyed, in the world.

As we enter 2016, the collective White creative community has a responsibility to bring as many "others" into the room, both onstage and offstage, before, during and after decisions are made. Only then will the beauty of global humanity be heard, seen, and finally understood, so that the truth wipes away the misconceptions and misappropriations that cause the fear which foments violence around the globe.

The world can no longer afford to have artistic visions of all White worlds because they simply do not exist. I want the theater to look like the city streets I walk on. That is the theater I aspire to participate in, one where #OtherPerspectivesMatter and are respected and reflected.

I am contractually obligated to perform in #CSCMotherCourage through January 3, 2016.