Thursday, July 24, 2008

COLTAN: The Other "Blood Diamond"

If you don't know what Coltan is, you really need to find out. Unfortunately, it was something I barely found out about just a couple years ago in college.

I was pleased to randomly come across a little Yahoo article about Coltan, a very unique metal that is essential to all electronic devices. Yes, it is in your phone, your computer, and a lot of other stuff close to us, including our Play Stations.

Unfortunately, the atrocious reality of Coltan is not nearly publicized enough, even though it is essential to the Western world.

From Yahoo:
According to a report by activist site Toward Freedom, for the past decade the search for a rare metal necessary in the manufacturing of Sony's Playstation 2 game console has fueled a brutal conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

...the demand for coltan prompted Rwandan military groups and western mining companies to plunder hundreds of millions of dollars worth of the rare metal, often by forcing prisoners-of-war and even children to work in the country's coltan mines.

Every day millions of children are forced to crawl into underground mines on their hands and knees to dig for the essential raw material, coltan, to make electronic gadgets like cell phones, iPods, laptop computers, play stations, wireless systems, DVD players, blackberries and pagers possible.

These technologically advanced toys are given life from capacitors, which are made from coltan, dug up from dangerous mines by children, under age 10.

The illegal trafficking of coltan in the Congo, has made thousands of children labourers. They work from sunrise to after dark digging with their calloused little hands into the earth to remove the raw material to be traded on the black market for US $400 a pound.

This is a really complicated issue--we got race, class, globalization, human rights issues, capitalism, and a whole lot of other stuff implicated in this Coltan business. As controversial as Marx is, right now his Fetishism of Commodities is first on my mind. We really need to know the history that is hidden within our commodified products.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Late Night Thoughts

What does it mean to be "of color?"

I call myself a person "of color" but it is such a vague and complicated way of describing myself. I mean, I'm light skinned, but I am Latina. I've got "dark" features (thick dark hair, eyebrows, etc). Yet that is not a defining feature because there are light-colored hair people "of color."

Oh yeah, and I also "practice" my "ethnic" culture. (I know, I know, the quotation marks are getting annoying, but I use them for a reason). I speak spanish, drink yerba mate, and occasionally wear hooped earrings--the last of which aren't exclusively "ethnic" of course.

We all have the right to define ourselves, and I find myself defining myself to new people all the time. I usually default on "I'm Latina," or "my parents are immigrants from Argentina."

But I can't help but find it funny that I always get asked about my strange accent and my undefinable racial features. I feel like because I am a bit more of a vague person "of color," I get asked what the hell I am more often than others. Funny enough, all my life I have had people tell me they think I'm Indian/Middle Eastern.

Such as this one time when I was on the bus, a sweet black woman was staring at me, so I looked out the window thinking, oookaay. Then she said, smiling, you make me think of India. I smiled and accepted her remark, but then she insisted on asking me about my race. So I just said, "I'm South American." I didn't feel like saying Argentine-American--nor did I want to get into the rest of my ethnic description routine--because I was about to get off. She kept on though, full of questions, but I missed my stop so I had to get off. When I finally got off, I thought to myself, well that was kind of out of the blue. I laughed my way home.

I find it funny because I myself will ask these ethnic questions of others when I can't immediately guess what they are. But when I meet people who "look the part," I don't ask them about their race because I just go with my assumption that they are white, black, or even Mexican often times.

I don't know what to think of it, but that's my two cents.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

NO. You Do Not Have The Right To Grab My Ass

I am fucking tired of walking through the streets of Oakland and being judged as racist for avoiding groups of black men*. I'm avoiding men of all races throughout the day. Every fucking time I have to walk anywhere, there's always got to be a creepy guy who gives me one of those looks that just forces me to either skip a bus stop or walk on the curb of the street next to the cars whizzing by. I have even taken out of the way detours walking to some of my destinations because I am afraid of being cornered by a man.

So I come out of work today and then I see a group of three black men, at least six feet tall, loitering in a *four foot wide* space between a building and the bus stop bench. If I walk through, I would be forced to squeeze my way through three men. So when I decide instead to make a really obvious detour in front of the bus stop, walking like a damn ballerina on the cub of the street, I hear:

"HEY. Why you walkin' all the way over there?" It was accusatory. It was me being light skinned and supposedly *afraid* of black people. It was obvious by the way he said it, and I get it a lot. I was thinking, fuck, are you kidding me?

Man, fuck you. Fuck you so much because of that. What, being black is the only possible element in my decision? Man screw you. You act like you don't know what you are doing. Three fucking penises in a four foot wide space. I don't care about the color of your penises, I care that you *have* them!

This is something I've gone through, not something I just imagined in my supposedly racist mind. I was talking on my damn cell phone outside...during lunch, mind you. Pure daylight, but distracted. And then all of a sudden...boom. Full on ass grabbing. His hand slowly sliding back off. eeehhhhh. I was frozen. The guy, yes he was black, but he was a man. A man who was more than six feet tall and took advantage of me. "Ohh I just had to grab that." NO YOU DO NOT HAVE THE RIGHT TO GRAB MY ASS. No, you do not have the right to come closer to me right now. Get the fuck away, I am calling the police. God.

It took me two months to get over that shit (and I know that it was nothing compared to what too many other women go through). Nevertheless, I went through two months of complete self disgust. It took me half a year to ever wear those jeans again. Now I panic if I forget my pepper spray at pepper spray was the only consolation I could find after that.

I work at a place where I hear the most intense stories of criminal acts of violence against immigrant women. Rape. Sexual assault. Child abuse. Abusive men who use rape to *prove* that the woman hasn't been with another man. Or who take advantage of undocumented teenage children because the mother is busy working two jobs. No matter how long the staff have been working there, we all have the same disgusted reactions when we get new clients. "How can anyone abuse a child like that?" "How could anyone even think of doing something like that to a woman?" Etc.

So this is my final two cents:

All men need to be conscious of their sex 24/7. Just as much as white men need to realize that they are both racialized and sexualized men need to realize they are not just racialized. They are also sexualized. Hey, I'm not saying some don't, but from what I keep experiencing, many don't even realize it. Guys, have you ever heard of that little dating tip about never taking a girl on a first date in an isolate/desolate/closed space? The translation of that tip is: "Realize that you have the penis and that a girl doesn't want to fear being raped. She doesn't know you, so how does she know if you're gonna keep it in your damn pants or not?"

It's not fair. We women are under constant awareness of our sex and our environment. I had to learn to no longer talk on my cell phone or be distracted in any other way when walking in the city. I also learned to take detours. I have even walked right past my own home when there is any man behind me. In fact just yesterday I did this and it was some white guy in a suit and a briefcase. I trust no strange men.


*[EDIT: I removed "because they are black," since it came out of my incoherent ranting at the time of writing the piece. On a side note, if my rant was not clear, this should sum it up--I am not avoiding black men more than white or any other race when I feel that I suspect an unsafe situation]


Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Obama's Half Indonesian Sister Appeals To Asians

Obama's campaign is feeling more and more like a movie, and now all of a sudden we've been thrown a plot twist halfway through. Obama has a younger half sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, who is half Indonesian, and who has now come out to campaign for Asians to back him. I guess there are those who might of already known about her, but I sure didn't.

This is perfect timing by the Obama campaign. Maya has come out to speak on Obama's behalf at a time when his opponents are framing him as non-American. Well after finding out about his sister, I'm thinking Obama is more American than McCain could ever be. Obama represents diversity; a broad spectrum of races. McCain represents isolated whiteness. Sure Obama doesn't represent every race, but come on, he is a lot closer to the experiences of non-white men and women in the U.S. than McCain.

Juliana Barbassa at AOL,
Soetoro-Ng's appearances give voters a chance to get to know Obama as a person, not just an elected official. Her stories illustrate the development of his character, from his days as a teenager who loved basketball and bodysurfing and didn't always get the strongest grades, to his growing sense of civic duty in the summers she spent with him in Chicago.

But she also has a political role to play. She plans to spend her summer vacation - she is a teacher at an all-girls' school in Hawaii - introducing her brother to crowds such as this one.

"We are ready for a more complex construction of identity as a country," she said, dismissing the possibility some voters might find it hard to relate to Obama's multiethnic background and foreign experience.