I have seen and heard some disgusting shit in my nearly half-decade as an NYC stripper. You name it: guys who wished to wear soiled diapers during a lapdance for the purpose of being humiliated. Guys who paid me to walk barefoot in the club bathroom so that they could lick the sole of my foot afterward. Dudes who had secret fantasies about having sex with pregnant dogs. The guy who jerked off into his own mouth during a session in the champagne room (that one a coworker's story, not mine). But today, by far, exposed me to the sickest, most vile, corrupt, immoral, unethical, nausea-inducing crapfest I have ever witnessed in my years as an NYC stripper.
I told a dressing room full of girls that my feet were tired after marching all across Manhattan and eventually sitting down, along with thousands of allies, in Times Square the night before to protest the disgusting outcome of the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case. I was greeted by a barrage of colorblind, post-racial, STUPID ignorant bullshit that would offend even the horniest dog-fucker.
"I hate how Americans make everything about race," said one African American stripper who was raised in the South Bronx.
"Tons of white people are killed every day and don't make the news. Why didn't people protest with the Casey Anthony case?" chimed in an older white dancer.
"That kid was walking in the rain, in the dark. You want to tell me that doesn't look sketchy?" the sole East Asian in the room offered.
"Let's just take the race card off the table. I'm so sick of seeing it played. And you know, I'm not a racist. My kids are half black."
Everyone - black, white, Puerto Rican, and Haitian - had something to say in defense of George Zimmerman. It was like the United Nations of post-racial colorblindness. One African American girl (perhaps an incarnation of Bill Cosby?) had the ovaries to say that black men who wear sagging pants and act like thugs "clearly have no respect for themselves," so why should anyone else have any respect for them?
"You know, I'm sick of hearing about slavery," one woman said. "Slavery has nothing to do with you acting like a thug right now in 2013."
Everyone assured me that race wasn't a factor in the case given Zimmerman's own "Hispanic" identity. Everyone. I was the dissenting opinion in a room of almost 10 women. No wonder those 6 jurors unanimously reached their baffling conclusion.
(So first of all, fuck all y'all who say we should boycott Florida, or that the South is messed up. This is a bunch of "Yankees" I'm talking about. This is Amerikkka.)
They were all quick to addendumize, adding that "none of that means that Trayvon should have been shot." But the consensus in the dressing room was both that the case had nothing to do with race, and that the thug-ish persona of Trayvon made him less than an upstanding citizen. It was clear that what was on trial was not George Zimmerman, but Trayvon's young black manhood. And in spite of their addendum, it's clear that Martin received a guilty verdict.
I know. Naive me. These are things that the general public has been saying throughout and after the trial (a trial that wouldn't have even happened if it weren't for public outrage - how long after shooting someone dead did Zimmerman even get arrested?). I live in a deliberately selective world of activists, artists, anti-racist scholars, and genuinely thoughtful people who have some sort of well-thought-out critique of the disproportionate policing of neighborhoods of color. People who understand that our jails are being privatized, open for corporations and shareholders to control for profit-making purposes. That our jails are filled with inmates who are almost ALL poor, and mostly people of color (including Latinos, Native Americans, and African Americans). That law enforcement, vigilantes, and the government gets away with killing approximately one black man every 28 hours. That voting rights are denied to convicted felons routinely across the country. People who know that not ONE PERSON was held accountable in a court of law for the sub-prime mortgage fraud that shattered our economy just a few years back. People who know intimately - and continue to be infuriated by - the stories of Troy Davis, Amadou Diallo, Kenneth Chamberlain Sr., Oscar Grant, Rodney King, Emmitt Till, Ramarley Graham, Kimani Grey, Sean Bell, Aaron Campbell, Wendell Allen. People who see those names not as coincidences or proof of black criminality, but as crystal clear evidence of a deeply flawed system.
I guess I just didn't expect it in a strip club dressing room in fucking Queens, from a group of working class girls - mostly women of color. Women of color, working class women, poor white girls. Women, many of whose boyfriends, baby daddys, fathers, or brothers have become enmeshed in a criminal "justice" system and carry a criminal record that brands them for life, barring them from jury service, or the polls, or subsidized housing, or a gazillion jobs (are there still jobs, by the way?). Women who are sex workers, who themselves are targeted by public stigma, media shaming, and unjust law enforcement action. Women who, more than my fucking middle class 'model minority'* ass, would be served by raging against a system in which courts, cops, and laws protect an entrenched structure of class difference and stratification.
I shut my mouth after a few weak attempts at (I now shudder at the phrase) self-defense. I was all at once outnumbered, paralyzed, saddened, and unsure of my own right to speak in this space. I regretfully heard a terrible inner arrogant voice, one that wanted to yell "Yeah, you probably do think that - what was the last thing you read? 50 Shades of Grey?" A terrible academic haughtiness in the face of anger, insult, and shock. Shock at how entrenched our 'colorblind' rhetoric is. Shock at how even people of color and poor folks take up arms in the fight to protect a white supremacist system. Shock at just how systemic our ignorance is. Who was I to speak, when faced with the effects of a system that has (through education, safety, and - at times - racial privilege) served me, and disadvantaged so many others?
This heartbroken post is dedicated to all children whose lives are devalued and lost through the ravages of US empire, whether at the hands of a vigilante gunman, a suspicious cop, a drone strike, or a sanctions program. But it is also dedicated to good people in the world whose opinions and knowledge are shaped by a corporate media, a flawed education system, and deeply restricted social discourse. Right now, I struggle to believe another world is possible.
Read this, and this, and this, and this.
*used with an understanding of how the term is a myth/misnomer!