b. binaohan

Batok and Filipinx Appropriation

I would’ve reblogged this post by ‘this is not pilipinx’ on non-Kalinga ppl getting Kalinga tattoos. Their basic answer was:

if you are of F/Pilipinx descent and thinking of getting tattooed in [the Kalinga] style, I feel that there’s no harm in it

I have to disagree… there can be a great deal of harm in non-Kalinga ppl getting Kalinga tattoos.

The first is appropriation. And this is something that applies to pilipin@s who aren’t Kalinga, as well as any non-pilipin@. The Kalinga are, currently, one of the Indigenous groups in the PH. While, yes, one can make the argument that all pilipinx ethnicities are indigenous and you’d be correct, to a degree, you’d also be wrong in other important ways.

The current construction of ‘Indigenous’ (yes, notice the capitalization) as identity/distinction is rather new and is somewhat race neutral. Overall, the way that most people use it is to refer to minority (in the numerical and the socio-political sense) ethnic groups who still practice many of their traditional (in most cases pre-colonial) cultural practices. It is also usually defined in relation to specific land bases, but doesn’t exclude those living in diaspora communities.

I’ve talked about these issues before. As a tagalog, I think it would be hugely disrespectful and awful of me to identify myself as capital ‘I’ Indigenous. Given the closeness of traditional tagalog territory to the capital of the colonizers and that the capital still is still firmly within our territory and the ways that tagalogs try to pass off our language (and cultural aspects) as the default, universalized ‘filipin@’ culture, it seems a step too far for me to also say, “hey, I’m Indigenous too, so I can get all the Kalinga tattoos I want!”. I’m not Kalinga. And. Acting entitled to their culture is colonizer shit.

That said, this is also me borderline speaking for Kalinga people which is shitty in its own way. Like, I’m analyzing this shit from my own perspective and feelings, but I know that when I went to a talk about Kalinga Batok and someone asked a similar question about appropriation and such, the presenter (who has had talks with Apo Whang-ud), said that she is happy to see the revival. And, certainly, she makes her living from giving these tattoos to ppl (including white ppl). And this interest and revival also helps support other people in the village and areas. Like. I def. don’t want to sit here and say “don’t get any of these tattoos” only to end up making Apo Whang-ud poor in her old age. If she is happy and willing to do this, then that is her (and other Kalinga ppl’s) perogative.

So, part of my answer is: I think if you get a specific Kalinga tattoo, you should probably get it from a Kalinga person and no one else. This way, you are supporting the people who have get this tradition alive directly. It also gives them the opportunity to decide which motifs are okay for outsiders and which are not. Like, the patterns aren’t free-for-alls. You shouldn’t be getting warrior tattoos, if you aren’t a warrior (and like, I think that Apo Whang-ud doesn’t do whatever people ask and that their are secrets and motifs that aren’t shared with just anyone). But this allows them to set the boundaries for engagement while you support them directly.

But how does this help those of us in the diaspora who want tattoos and can’t afford to return to the PH and make the trip into the mountains?

For me, since I’m currently working on a traditional inspired tattoo, this is what I do: get a traditional inspired tattoo from a filipina artist. Don’t get a traditional (inspired) tattoo from anyone who isn’t filipin@. I think the Four Waves ppl have non-filipin@ ppl as approved artists on their list. I don’t agree with this. If you’re getting a traditional motif, keep it within the community. Support our own artists.

I also, when discussing the tattoo design with my artist, really emphasized that I wanted an ‘inspired’ tattoo, rather than a recreation. So there are some traditional elements fused with other stuff. I also told her that I wanted only motifs (often Kalinga, since it is the best preserved tradition) that are ok for outsiders to have. Because, while they all have meaning, some are more general and, yeah, some are aesthetic too. I’m fine with getting that stuff from non-Kalinga artists. Also, people can look into shared Pacific Islander motifs, since if you have Lane Wilkins’ book, there is a section doing Pacific comparisons and noting stuff that is common to the various islands. This stuff seems to be not-ethnically bounded but rather geographically. Thus, reducing the chances that you are appropriating motifs that you shouldn’t have.

One of the things I notice that seems to be troubling to me about filipin@s wanting ~traditional~ tattoos is that a lot of us forget that culture is a living thing. Just because something has been used by the Kalinga for hundreds of years, it doesn’t make it more authentically filipin@ than anything else. We can revive our tattooing tradition by also creating new traditions. An example is all of the ppl who get the sun from the flag tattooed. This isn’t a ‘traditional’ tattoo, but it is becoming a modern tradition and a way to mark ingroup membership and ethnicity. This is just as authentic as Kalinga motifs. But, like, when working with a Filipin@ artist, you can also consider the location of the tattoo as being how you mark authenticiy. Example: I started on mt left arm as a way to mark my coming of age as a woman, since arm tattoos are traditionally something that women get when they come of age as a way to mark fertility (rather than men).

Or you can get modern representations of traditional motifs. Like. Snakes and centipedes are a big deal in Kalinga tattooing. So instead of getting a traditional Kalinga one, why not get a ‘modern’ version of a snake as interpreted by your specific artist? Like, literally let them make the art they want and get that. It is ‘traditional’ without being appropriative.

Essentially, what I’m saying is: be creative and don’t act entitled to get whatever you want just because you want it.

One the Importance of @janetmock and @lavernecox

In the wake of gallingly ignorant critiques of trans celebrity1 and some comments I made on twitter about #GirlsLikeUs News about the juxtaposition of news I see while curating articles for that news feed… It feels like, to me, a great moment to write about why Laverne Cox and Janet Mock are so important. But also the other twoc featured on the Candy cover: Geena Rocero, Juliana Huxtable, Gisele Alecia, Carmen Xtravaganza, Carmen Carrera, Isis King, Leyna Ramous, Dina Marie, Nina Poon, Peche Di, Yasmine Petty. But especially Ms. Cox and Ms. Mock, since they are (arguably) the most ‘mainstream celebrities’ of the group.2

Before I dig in, I just want to direct people to two important posts written to counter the claims in that ignorant ‘critique.’ L’lerret Jazelle Ailith has a long, thoughtful post that breaks down all the reasons why that Advocate OP-ED is shit and Monica Roberts (which admittedly quotes the previous posts) also has her usual inciteful commentary on the OP-ED.

Onwards!

So, I curate #GirlsLikeUs News. Which means that I read a LOT of trans related news. And I see the headlines of a lot of articles too (that I don’t read because I don’t have time to read every single news story that comes my way). My remarks earlier today were spurned by the juxtaposition on reading about Ty Underwood’s murder and on a trans woman getting a six figure book deal. Can you tell which one of these women is Black and which is white?

And this is a depressingly common pattern. I can read about a trans woman being appointed as surgeon general only to read a day later about Lamia Beard’s murder.

From this alone, you should be able to get a clear understanding why having two relatively famous Black trans women like Laverne Cox and Janet Mock matters so much. And it isn’t just about representation, although this is far from a trivial matter. But, referring to the earlier note about their visibility (which is related to issues of representation and why they — and other twoc — were singled out for bringing about a glamourous, but superficial, trans revolution), part of their visibility in the media is due to the _hyper_visibility of Black women. Visibility which is envied and decried by people like Elle Boatman. But it is a visibility that comes with the same burden that afflicts all Black women: the expectation that these two Black trans women be the mules of every single trans issue.

An example? In the #nbrightsnow tag, you see (white) nonbinary trans people wondering if either Janet Mock or Laverne Cox have ever spoken up/for nonbinary trans people. Which is… Obviously a problem. Both in terms of the assumptions made about their genders — beyond the misapplication of the non/binary dichotomy to people of colour, we don’t actually know whether or not either woman identifies as non/binary. As a person who, for reasons of expediency and convenience, often presents a public binary gender, people need to stop assuming that because both women are in the public eye, that we know everything about them. We don’t. Stop making assumptions. But it is also a problem for how… it presents a deep unwillingness, at least for Janet Mock, for a lot of people to actually engage her history (as she tells it to us). Almost no one really engages her story and personhood from an Indigenous lens, despite her being Native Hawaiian. I’ve had actual conversations with her (on twitter) about indigenous genders and nonbinary stuff. Nonetheless, both women are expected — because of their hyper/visibility — to cater to the demands of white nonbinary people.

Anyway, that is off topic (and something that really irks me).

The point is, is that without these two women, pretty much all positive news about Black trans women essentially disappears. This is why (at least for the purposes of this post) they are so important. They serve as constant, visceral reminders that Black trans women are living, breathing human beings that we ought to care about while they live. They give voice to a group of people whose bodies are consummed after they die and used, in anti-violence stats, as a way for white trans people to push their agendas. But it becomes more difficult to do this when we have these constant reminders that they exist and that they are human. They matter because neither of them de-emphasizes their Blackness when discussing trans stuff.

But also? In terms of media. These two women are doing so much to fundamentally and radically change how mainstream media interacts with trans women. Remember what happened between Janet Mock and Piers Morgan or between Lavern Cox, Carmen Carrera, and Katie Couric? They are literally changing the terms for how the mainstream engages trans women. I can see the difference from when I started #GirlsLikeUs News a few years ago and now.


  1. ‘Critique’ meaning, in this case, barely disguised racism.

  2. Certainly highly visible, but we’ll get back to that.

My Experience Being Hospitalized for Depression

i finally have enough distance and the abilify they gave me has stopped clouding my brain, that i think i can write/process my experience of being involuntarily committed to a psych ward.

now. the ‘involuntary’ part isn’t quite as bad as it sounded. my family doctor (who filled in the form) let my partner come and get me instead of calling the cops, which was a big blessing. bc cops… yeah. do not want.1

the entire experience was generally dehumanizing and degrading, especially from the perspective of a trans woman. why? bc literally everyone (except most of the nurses in the psych ward) misgendered me. or used my dead name. like… for some mysterious reason, in the emergency room, when i gave them my health card which has both my new name AND the gender marker ‘f’, they managed to dredge up my deadname and call me that. which sort of set the tone for my stay.

i think the thing i struggled with most, the first day especially once i realized i wouldn’t be allowed any electronics with a camera, was the isolation and boredom. like…. wow. it is also super bizarre because a lot of the literature around depression and mental health will stress the importance of having a social support network… but being in the psych ward basically isolates you with strangers. and if u have a certain amount of social/agoraphobia like i do… this basically amounts to solitary confinement. i spent most of the first day (before my bf was able to visit and bring my gameboy and paper books) sleeping or just… idk. wallowing in my depression and truly wishing i had just never said anything to my doctor at all.

when i did see the psychiatrist he… also misgendered me. and then was SUPER INTERESTED in my gender despite me repeatedly saying that it didn’t really bother. and it doesn’t. what bothers me about my gender is the way that ppl like HIM can’t seem to respect it and treat my like some inhuman monster bc of it. like… sorry, buddy, that i didn’t have some tragic trans woman story to titillate ur prurient interest in my genitals, but can we focus on the issue at hand?

also fun was the way he dismissed certain things happening in my life which have been so stressful and anxiety inducing that i’m having panic attacks (again) for the first time in years. he kept saying “these things are just stressors, they won’t last” and i’m like…

(unless it is chronic)

SO IS DEPRESSION.

i’ve been depressed before. i know, intellectually, that it doesn’t last forever.

HOW DOES THIS STUNNING INSIGHT HELP ME THIS EXACT SECOND WHEN I WANT TO DIE AND AM THINKING ABOUT ACTUALLY MAKING THAT HAPPEN?

why is psychiatry fundamentally based on a principle of ‘it gets better’.

fuck u.

as far as i’ve been able to tell from my life experience, it doesn’t ever get better. yes. things will cycle so that for a few blessed months, i’ll feel great and outgoing and engaged in the world only to crash into another major depression

(sound like bipolar II to you? me too…. but apparently the psychiatrist i was talking to considers bipolar I to be the only bipolar)

day two, of being in the hospital, the daytime nurse kept asking me if i was leaving… like every other hour it seemed. which made me feel guilty for taking up space/time/resources that might be better allocated to ppl in more dire situations than mine. oh. the psych ALSO triggered my excessive guilt by saying he’d be mad/disappointed if i left early…

i eventually decided to leave when my bf was late to visit and i was feeling unloved and unimportant and disposed of. when i finally managed to get ahold of him, he agreed (independently) that being in the hospital was worse for me than staying.

i think i finally have given up hope that there’ll be any help from the medical system.

i don’t care anymore.

here are the things that i know:

  • no one cares about me. not really. i have ppl who love me and are invested in my well-being, but most of them are really far away. and that’s cool. but i’m realizing that this… distance poses certain problems for support and, even more importantly, pretty much everyone i know is disabled themselves and… i honestly want them to take care of themselves before caring about me. so this isn’t a ‘fuck u, u don’t care about me, i blame u for everything’. i get it. i approve of it. but there has never been anyone who took care of me (who was in a position to do so). no one wants to or is able to. and… i think i really need to make my peace with this. i thought things would be different after i got into a relationship, but i’m realizing that i was… idk. hoping for too much. i’m not important or lovealbe enough to actually be the sort of person ppl support or care about. and. once upon a time i understood this and was ok with it. and so i will be again.
  • bc no one cares about me, i’m not sure why i thought that random strangers in the health care system with two fucking bachelors degrees (doctors) would actually give a shit about me. they don’t. and they never will unless i’m paying them directly, out of my own pocket, which might be somethng i need to do.
  • i’m giving up on the medical system. i was thinking about trying to get an ‘official’ dx for autism, but what is the point? i’ve reached a point, esp. after talking with the first psych two weeks ago, where i realize that no one is going to help me re: disability. bc… like, the only thing i was ever really good at was school and this means that having obtained success in that one, specialized environment, no one is willing to concede that i could struggle in a different, less artificial, environment.
  • i’m human garbage and… soon enough everyone will dispose or abandon me.
  • and when this happens, that will be when i kill myself.

  1. also confirmed something that i already knew, which is that my partner is kind of… not really all that great in a crisis. which sucks bc it is one other way that i know i can’t really rely on him. in so many important ways, i’m truly alone in the world.

What Happened to the Blogger Formerly Known as Biyuti?

biyuti is me. lol.

nothing happened to biyuti… i just changed my tumblr url (and my blog url) as ppl do…

of course, there was a reason for this. and a good one!

knowing that there are still some people who followed the old tumblr, but didn’t migrate with me to the new tumblr and so don’t know that i’m still around…

here is some explanations for ‘why’

first. biyuti publishing. i started bp as a vanity press to publish and try to make money from all the content i produce on the web (for free). i have zero interest in mainstream publishing for a lot of reasons that i won’t get into.

but. as soon as I started bp, something amazing happened…. a bunch of twoc i know contacted me and wanted to publish their work. and it has sort of snowballed from there.

out of a desire to be pretentious (yes, this really was my intention when i did it bc i find myself funny like that), i decided that my official pen name would be ‘b. binaohan’. the ‘b’ = biyuti. that is what the initial is for.

this turned out to be a smart and good thing when i realized that if bp was going be something OTHER THAN a vanity press, the ‘brand’ needed to be less about me as a person. now. there were really only two ways to move forward: change the name of the press or change my own name/brand.1 i opted for option two, since my own pen name already ellided the ‘biyut’ and it’d be easy enough for me to change my own social media URLs to ‘b. binaohan’ (or some variation). which is what i did…

i did this bc i want ppl to see ‘biyuti publishing’ as a distinct entity from me. so that the other people who publish there aren’t tainted by association with me (insofar as this is a thing). while i’m def. not the most ‘hated’ blogger out there, i do have my share of haters. but hate is transitive and i didn’t want this harming the other ppl who publish at bp.

but why didn’t i just change my tumblr url instead of deleting the tumblr and making another?

well… in part bc i got called out for anti-Blackness and i felt that one way to be accountable was to walk away from the ‘platform’ i’d built for myself, in large part bc of my relationship to many Black ppl. i did this not bc anyone asked me to, but bc i felt it was important for me to remain committed to the notion that people are more important than platforms. if my blogging is quality, then ppl will find and follow me again. or not.

but also bc i had ‘biyuti’ as my main account and really want to make it a secondary account to put some distance between me and the notifications, something i can get obsessive and anxious about. it was becoming really unhealthy for me.

so yeah.


  1. yes, talking about ppl as ‘brands’ or even talking about marketing in general makes me gag a little but, sadly, in capitalism these sorts of things are important.

Omg Julia Serano Responded to One of My Excerpts

holy shitballs. julia serano blogged a response to what she calls a ‘meme’ (but never identifies, what, exactly the meme is) and links to this excerpt from my critical commentary as the possible source for it….

Oh. sorry. i’m looking at her post again and this is the meme:

However, in the last two weeks, I have stumbled across numerous instances where people have accused me of claiming that two-spirit and other indigenous non-binary-identified people “reinforce the gender binary.”

unsurprinsingly, she totally and utterly misses the point. her attachment to the notion that ‘reinforcing’ necessarily fits into a model of ‘radicalness’ within the community is part of the problem. one of the few points, as it happens, where i agree with her is that demarcating certain identities within teh trans community as transgressive/radical vs conservative/reactionary.1

and u can see she utterly misses the point with the title of her post “nobody reinforces the gender binary & nobody subverts it either” which is a flat out misrepresentation of what the binary is. but this isn’t a surprise since one of the things she doesn’t dispute about my critique is that she things the binary is a real and natural part of the world. thus, being natural, it isn’t actually influenced (on way or another) by human actions.2

just so that she can stop being confused about the language, notice how i never use ‘enforce’ or ‘reinforce’ in that excerpt?

i’m not really talking about that. the thrust of the critique is that she frames iaopoc genders as reifying the binary, which is a different matter altogether.

so. whatever. i’m still super amused that she responded to something i wrote.

i wonder if i’ll get another blog post after i publish my critical commentary…


  1. of late, the problem appears to be that lesbian trans women are being framed as naturally more radical/transgressive than straight ones (or those of us who date men).

  2. her notion of the ‘natural binary’ is grounded in biology since she is, in case anyone has forgotten, a biological essentialist.

Patreon Post 2: On My High-tech Twitter Setup

One of my patrons asked about my ‘high-tech’ twitter setup which is kind of interesting to me, since this actually would qualify as a low-tech setup since it is a command line program (written in Python). My main twitter client is turses. Which is a commandline client that actually has a ncurses UI, which is sort of graphic? Idk. Here is what it looks like:

I think I remember implementing some personal changes to the colors and stuff, but I can’t remember anymore. It has a column type system that will be familiar to anyone whose ever used tweetdeck, which is a ‘power user’ web client run by twitter and is really the web interface ppl ought to use (over the default twitter.com one, which I find confusing and irritating, but YMMV).

You navigate the interface using classic vim commands (‘j’ to scroll down, ‘k’ to scroll up, etc.).

Why do I like this better than other commandline twitter clients? Well… because it actually lets you browse your timeline. Most other CLI twitter clients tend to have commands to pull the most recent n tweets from your timeline. Which… doesn’t really work well if this is your primary twitter client (I think many CLI clients are written as supplementary clients for some GUI).

But… then this gets into a whole other question: why the fuck am I even using a CLI client for twitter in the first place????

Well. I like the commandline better. Not necessarily because I think it is more ~powerful~ or whatever. While this is true to an extent there are many things where using a GUI is just easier. It really depends on the task. However, given how my neurology doesn’t really process visual images all that readily or well, I have a strong preference for text environments. They make sense to me and they allow me to interface with the computer in a way that actually works, rather than confuses.

Which really means that I’m unlikely to ever stop being a avid linux user, since doing CLI type stuff on linux is much better than either OSX or Windows.1

Er… I also like the turses (or other CLI twitter clients) because posting is FAST. I mean. I’m sure people have noticed how quickly I can do my updates. This is really enabled by being able to just post using a few easy keyboards commands.

Um… I think this is it? Not sure if this’ll be satisfying but I hope that it is.


  1. Yes, I get that OSX is a posix variant and it should be the same but I can’t fucking stand how expensive their computers are and I really REALLY fucking hate the graphic environment now. Anything past 10.6 is shit and I don’t like it, lol. I’m poor and using linux works well for me, even if some things in my life would be easier with a mac (like not having to dual boot, even though the last time I did have a mac, I put linux on it, which is what finally conviced me to make the switch to linux as my primary OS).

The State Assigns Sex at Birth

My brain is still thinking about this ask I got yesterday about asab beyond whiteness and I realize that I want to develop or more fully articulate that point about asab (assigning sex at birth) as a mechanism for state population control.

At this point, I’m assuming that most people will have accepted the proposition that sex and gender are both social constructions. I’m not going to get into that debate. One of the reasons a lot of people still think that sex has some real ontological force behind it is this notion that it is grounded in biology and, thus, grounded in our embodied selves. As in, sex is real insofar as our bodies are real. And since most (but not all) people are willing to admit that our bodies do, in actual fact, exist so too must sex. And since sex is a real thing, then it can be understood and known. But it is also stable and, for the most part, unchanging.

So goes the folk understanding of sex and biology and the ontology therein.

Of course, the problem, for me, is that getting into the biology or even the sociology of this is somewhat besides the point. Because for all that, yes it is doctors who assign people a sex a birth, the purpose behind these assignations aren’t medical but political. And as a political artifact birth certificates are a fairly new and modern invention that cannot be and should not be generalized to all peoples everywhere in an ahistorical fashion. Not when it serves a specific, political purpose.

If you want to know how recent an invention birth certificates are, you only need to look at the current attempt to disenfranchise Black voters in the US with identification laws. There are living Black elders who have become disenfranchised voters because they weren’t issued birth certificates and, thus, have a great deal of trouble properly identifying themselves to the state.

Think about what birth certificates are: they are documents that every person — born within states that have them (which, by this point is most of them) — must have for the purposes of identification. This is, afterall, your first piece of state identification. It is often one of the most important, as it is generally needed (at least in Canada and the US) to prove your citizenship which grants you access to a passport and other important things.

Birth certificates are all about population control because they are one way for the government to know whenever any new baby appears within their jurisdiction. And once you are identified by the state, you are already immediately subject to its control.

But the thing about this, is that these documents need to contain enough information so as to uniquely identify every single living person within the government’s jurisdiction. There can be no room for ambiguity. And so your birth certificate is intended to capture certain unchanging facts about you that can allow the state to uniquely identify you. Facts like your name, place of birth, date of birth, and your sex.

And while you can change your name, the process is quite labourious and requires that you get a new birth certificate because, again, this document records unchanging facts. You can usually only change the other parts if you want to correct an error (spelling mistakes with names and whatever). For quite some time and still in many places, it is impossible to change your sex marker. Literally impossible. Doesn’t matter what doctors you’ve seen, what surgeries you’ve had, this is understood as an unchangeable biological fact1.

All of this? Is a really new and modern convention. It isn’t even a hundred years old for fuck’s sake.

So the question about how indigenous gender systems handled ‘asab’ is… off the mark. We can look into how they handled gender. How they might’ve sorted people into certain expected gender roles. All of this, but we can’t really ask about how they assigned a sex at birth without really invoking this modern context of biology and state policy, which provides a framework where assigning as sex at birth is coherent in the first place. Essentially, it is an incoherent question to ask about indigenous gender systems and asab without any clear prior exposition of the contect of the systems themselves.


  1. One of the tactics some trans activists are taking re: birth certificates and sex markers is to get the thing removed entirely, since it is actually needed for the purposes of identification anymore. Not when everything is computerized and we all have a constilation of numerical identifiers that are unique to us alone.

The Context of Race

As I continue on my re-reading of Orientalism by Said, as well as further studies on the history of racism, the more and more it strikes me how much modern discourse on race has… ellided the historical context of racism — as system — for reasons of expediency and economy. And, when talking about the ‘discourse of racism’ I really mean anti-racist discourse, not popular discourse. Popular discourse mainly serves to erase nuance and context in the aims of white liberal notions of ‘equality’ and other such bullshit. Anti-racist discourse has aspirations towards a nuanced, contextualized discourse directed towards liberation. And yet… really digging into the history of racism reveals certain compromises and ellisions in these claims to nuance.

The main one is this general lack of the history from a white perspective. Anti-racist discourse is at its most successful when it focuses on the oppression of the people subjugated and harmed by racism. This is an important step, since we are in the age of teh Dictionary Definition of Racism, used by many a white person as an authority about what racism is and how it functions. And, yes, centering the experiences of people harmed by racism matters a great deal for resisting racism and working towards dismantling it.

One surprising thing I’ve experienced, whenever I discuss the history of racism, is an amazing amount of pushback from people who are committed to anti-racist liberation. It is actually this pushback that led me to start reading primary sources on scientific racism because, in general, people have largely claimed that I’m making this stuff up (or misrepresenting the situation). So, I figured I’d play into academic-normative standards of discourse and begin doing ‘real’ research so that I can reference this material as ‘evidence’ that racism is a historically bounded ideology. An ideology created to serve certain material and historical purposes and an ideology that became institutionalized into the system we have today.

And so I began to talk about this sort of stuff on twitter, my tumblr, and this blog.

And immediately I receive pushback of an interesting kind.

The first one was both a question and an observation that netted me this anon on tumblr. Which, while true — since I don’t get an opinon on how Indigenous ppls in the Americas talk about their oppression — seems a bit strange to me. At the basis of my observation is two things: first, that the contemporary discourse on settler-colonialism I’ve seen focuses heavily on Indigenous genocide as an almost by-product of the need to acquire land and that settler-colonialism/Indigeneity ought not to be reduced to simply ‘racism’ (with some explicity claims that anti-racist discourse erases Indigenous American struggles by making Indigenous American ppls just another marginalized ‘race’ when their historical and geographic struggle is more than just race); second, that scientific racism does, indeed, assign both a race and colour to the Indigenous ppls of the Americas (both North and South). Moreover, we can see from history and the way that scientific racism formed the justification for colonialism (settler and otherwise) and also quickly became entrenched in legal and political institutions, it seems odd to me that the suggestion that Indigenous peoples in the Americas were, historically, targetted because of race would engender such a reaction.

Like, if we look at one of the most harmful (if more subtle) instantiations of scientific racism in governance, eugenics, we quickly see that the Indigenous peoples of America were targetted as physical, material human beings. Their bodies, as much as their lands, were the focus of the settler government. It feels like, to me, the notion that the Indigenous peoples of America being oppressed and targetted for genocide as people rather than as (perceived) by-product of a need for land shouldn’t really be… a dire imposition on current discourse, especially since I’m mainly making an historical claim.

The other example, which came as no surprise to me, is mentioning the scientific classification of Jewish people as white in the post. Literally as soon as I articulated this, I had people jumping on me to say “There are Jewish people of colour!”. Which, of course, is not really relevant when discussing the bounded, historical creation of scientific racism. Part of this, I suppose, is my fault for failing to mention that Jewish people — in scientific racism — do not belong to their own racial category. Rather, they are often lumped in with Arabs — the so-called ‘Semitic’ race. And, despite repeatedly mentioning that race — as science and ideology — is reductive, people still seem to think that discussing claims made by crusty, white Germen men in the 1800s is that same as me asserting their truth. Literally the whole point of racism is that it reduces a vast diversity of people (the entire GLOBE) into three-to-five races and into stereotypical and distorted essential characteristics.

This is one of the principle functions of race. And this function exists because reducing the vast plurality of peoples makes them easier to govern/control/subjugate. It makes developing ‘foreign’ policy really easy. Rather than trying to understand the difference between, say Persians and Arabs, white people can just say they are white Orientals and work from there. Race is how the vast French, English, Spanish, and Portuguese empires were able to govern so many different kinds of people without too much effort on their part. They didn’t have to learn about each individual ethnicity and culture they were trying to subjugate, they simply had to refer to a white-created system of classification that they could use as short-hand for ‘understanding’ the people they controlled. And so they only need one kind of policy or attitude towards colonies in the Americas, one kind of attitude towards colonies in Africa, one kind of attitude towards colonies in Asia.

‘Reductionism’ is erasure. Pure and simple. Race is a reductionist ideology that requires the erasure of nuance and context for individual cultures and peoples. It is literally the entire purpose of the thing.

And, one thing that this research into the history of racism is making clear to me is that this reductionism tends to work at the ideological level as well, not just amongst people.

This is, I believe, why racism/anti-racism has been rejected by some contemporary Indigenous American thinkers. Because the criticism that framing Indigenous peoples as just another ‘marginalized race’ erases the specificity of their struggle against settler colonialism is entirely apt and appropriate. It does do this by virtue of the reductionist function of the discourse.

It also, I believe, explains some of the claims I see from Jewish people about anti-Semitism. I occassionally see claims that appear to reduce anti-Semitism to just another kind of racism, something that strikes me as odd and ahistorical. From every indication I can see, anti-Semitism predates racism as a discourse. This means that it exists independently from racism, rather than as a sub-discourse within it. Thus, claims made by Jewish people that anti-Semitism is a unique articulation of oppression that must be resisted as a distinct axis of oppression is entirely true.

I’m bringing out these two examples because they seem to be on opposite poles. One appears to disavow or diminish the relevance of racism to their experience of oppression and the other appears to over-endow the importance of racism to their experience of oppression. However, both appear to have lost track of the fact that racism, as ideology, is itself a bounded, historical occurrence — rather than a stable domain of reference.

Scientific Racism, Eugenics, and Modern Race Discourse

Recently I’ve been delving into the history of scientific racism and eugenics. This includes not only reading critical historical accounts but also reading some primary sources (note: mega trigger warning for the links to primary sources. This is pure, undiluted white supremacy). Sources like johann blumenbach’s on the natural varieties of mankind or Francis Galton’s inquiries into human faculty and its development.

Blumenbach is one of the central figures in scientific racism (also one of the ‘fathers’ of anthropology) as he is generally credited with putting forward the ‘Caucasian’ race that, obviously, became so popular that it remains a common way to refer to white people today. He also also noteworthy for advancing a five race theory: Caucasian/white, Yellow, Red (Indigenous american — both south and north), Brown/Malay, and Black. Interestingly, he supported a monogenisis theory where all people descended from a white Adam and Eve. And from this white source, the race degenerated into two extremes: Black and Yellow. The intermediary stages between white and Black is the Brown/Malay race and between white and Yellow is the Red/American race. While, yes, historically, there have been other race theories and pretty much no one is really agreed on the number (some have three, four, five, six, or seven).

Galton is actually the person who made ‘eugenics’ into a word and science. Literally. Eugenics was his proposal for a ‘kinder’ genocide that direct violence (this is something he more or less says outright. In many ways, eugenics is a natural consequence of scientific racism. But the way eugenics played out in the real world does heavily rely on the work of people like Blumenbach.

One of the interesting aspects of scientific racism as created by Blumenbach is seeing the actual scope of ‘caucasian’. The scope of caucasian/white is Europe (minus the Saami), the Middle East, North Africa, the Meditteranian, and West Asia. However, within white there are sub-races who were not considered equal. This is what gave rise to ‘Nordicism’, which is the idea that the europeans of west and north are the pinaccle of whiteness with the other white sub-races like Southern Europeans or Jewish people being ‘degenerate’ or ‘inferior’ white people.

One of the interesting conclusions we can draw from this is that, contrary to what is an axiom of anti-racist of today, white people can experience racism and certainly did historically. This is if we use the common definition of racism as ‘power + prejudice’. Since one only needs to look at the history of anti-Semitism to see that there was prejudice and institutional power enforcing this prejudice.

However, as is also common these days, you’ll see white ethnics disavow whiteness because of their historical and current experiences of racism. Except that this is also an error based on the science of racism. White ethnics are white. They are inferior whites, which is why they experience discrimination but this doesn’t actually mean that the were or are ‘not-white’ as many claim. This is often the argument put forward by that irritating book how the irish became white, which relies on an ahistorical conception of race to claim that at some past point the irish weren’t white and then became so… even as they were always considered white by other white people. Inferior white is still white.

One of the things that becomes clear when you look at this, is that white supremacy cannot be reduced to racism. They are intimately and closely connected, but they are not the same thing. And, if you’ve been listening to Black people (and/or Indigenous people), this notion shouldn’t be a surprise. Anti-Blackness, as theory, consistently makes the claim that whiteness (and white supremacy) is grounded in the unhumanity of Black people1. Rather, we can see that racism, as a tool for justifying and rationalising colonialism, is also a tool of white supremacy, but it is not identical.

White supremacy explains how and why ethnic whites still are privileged by white supremacy even as they can be oppressed racially. This structural privileging can be seen when european scientific racism finds institutional and legal form in US foreign policy.

All those people labelled as Caucasian (with the exception of the visually Others, like South Asians) were able to voluntarily immigrate to the US as ‘free white people’. They were able to be naturalized as citizens of the US (pretty much right away with some exceptions with early Sephardic Jewish settlers). They could vote. They could marry the ‘superior’ Nordic whites — even if it was frowned upon. They could own (stolen) land. They could own enslaved Africans (and descendents).

These last two ‘privileges’ of white supremacy are pretty key and essential for truly understanding who was and is white. Because white supremacy, as noted earlier, is defined by the fungible Black body, as well as the ability to settle on stolen land.

If you look at the history of every non-white group, these privileges were not granted immediately and without contestation. Yes, some Indigenous nations owned slaves but they also could not become citizens for a very long time (and were/are the targets of genocide and land theft). Asian settlers likewise couldn’t vote or become citizens (and there doesn’t seem to be any easily found evidence that Asians in the US ever owned enslaved Black people).

Of course, at this point, I imagine that white europeans (esp. ethnic whites) are starting to complain about the US-centrism of this analysis of white supremacy. But this is a mistake. Understanding how the US implemented European scientific racism is actually super important for understanding the history of eugenics. But also because the way that the US distilled certain aspects of race, when it came to settlement, impacted race relations back in Europe.

Significantly the way that race, today, has become (as I said on twitter twice yesterday) more reductionist and less complex.

One of the interesting things about reading primary sources on scientific racism is seeing the way that colour really was just one generalized trait of races. But it was not the defining or essential quality. We can see this quite clearly in the formulation of the caucasian race since it encompassed South Asians who can get quite dark skinned. Today, however, we’ve actually essentialized skin colour far more than it was when racism was being formulized into a science. Certainly, we don’t rely on skin colour alone for racial classification, but it we weigh it far more importantly than at any earlier point in history2. This is what I mean that race has become even more reductionist. Similarly, we can see that the Yellow and Brown races have been collapsed into one category, Asian.

I don’t really have much…. specific purpose in writing this. I mean. I have thoughts and feelings about the implications of all of this but I probably need more time to really get them together into something I can coherently articulate.

I really don’t expect that this post or explorations will have much of an impact on current discourse on race and white supremacy (but more race). This is largely due to the difficulty of having really nuanced discussions about this sort of thing. Because… I have no doubts that some shitty white people will see the earlier claim that, yes, some white people do experience racism as a clear sign that any given white person can claim to experience it. Or to remove the historical and geographical context for this articulation and apply it everywhere and everywhen. All as ways to derail productive conversations about resisting racism. Also as a way to dodge accountability.

Likewise, amongst iaopoc this insight about the non-identity of white supremacy and racism means having truly honest, involved discussions about anti-Blackness (for those of us who aren’t Black) and settler colonialism (if we are settlers). Since the insight that white supremacy is a structuring force that uses but is not equivalent to racism requires truly grappling with the notion that anti-racism is not enough to dismantle white supremacy.


  1. ‘Unhumanity’ isn’t a typo. Many people will write ‘inhumanity’ but this erases the specificity of the ontological condition of Black people and Blackness. Non-Black people of colour are regularly considered inhuman, but this still structurally privileges us over Black people who are unhuman — as in their humanity was and is never possible in white supremacy.

  2. Also interesting to note is how only two colours really remain as common referents to race: Black and white. I have ideas as to why this might be… but I’m not sharing them at this point.

Patreon Post 1: On My Writing Process

So the first topic requested for my weekly Patreon post (as in the posts I’ll write on topics suggested by my patrons since I met my first funding goal) was about my writing process and my thoughts on writing as a creative activity (or aspect of creativity).

Which is kind of an interesting/difficult question for me for various reasons.

First. My writing process depends on what I’m writing (to an extent). One thing that is indendent of the form of writing is that I need to be inspired. Or that I need inspiration (this, I suppose also begins to answer the notion of creativity). One of the things that I do is read a fair bit of stuff online. Stuff I read from tumblr, twitter, RSS news feeds, and whatever else. Pretty much all of my various incidental blog posts, tumblr posts, and twitter updates are usually inspired by reactions I have to things that I read. This also holds somewhat true for my books and stuff. You’ll note that decolonizing trans/gender 101 refers constantly back to Teich’s book. This is also true for the critical commentary on whipping girl.

For whatever reason, I seem to work best in reaction to stuff.

That said… I react to a lot of stuff I don’t write about. So the next step is deciding whether or not a certain thing is worth writing about. Medium has an impact here since it is easy to fire off a few tweets about something (or a short tumblr post) but I usually try ot post more substantive posts here (on my main blog). A substantive post for me is anything more than about 500 words.

The first thing I try and decide about is whether or not I’ve already written about a topic. Sadly, the longer you spend involved in various discourses the more you see just how slowly some of the ideas can change. How entrenched certain conceptions are. And so if you have a four year old blog with over 700 (substantive) posts (like this one), it becomes pretty easy to repeat yourself over and over again. And I fucking hate repeating myself. So, often, if I’ve written on a topic before and my ideas haven’t substantively changed since the last time I wrote about it, I usually don’t bother to write another post.

However, this really depends on how irritated (or passionate) I am about a certain thing. Like, yesterday (for example) I wrote another post about how the irish were always white, despite already writing a post on this about a year ago. On a topic like this, it is hard for me to pass it by without comment because these sorts of ideas are really harmful but they also tend to be circulated widely. And it is also ideas like this that are actually impositions from white people into critical race. Some white guy writes a book full of lies about how irish people became white, this enters general racial theory and leads people to actually think it is possible to become white when this isn’t actually true.

Often what ends up happening, though, because I tend to be at my most creative in the mornings, is that I’ll be reading and drinking coffee. And then I’ll get up and take a shower. While in the shower, usually certain ideas/reactions I had to something I read won’t leave me alone and so I’ll sit down, after I’m done, to write about it.

Second. How I see writing as creativity…. or an aspect of creativity.

Like. Speaking very generally, yes, writing is a creative activity. It doesn’t quite feel that way to me? Writing has always been difficult for me and not my best communication skill (which, imo, is oration). Writing certainly got much MUCH easier for me in school once computers were more common and I had regular access to one since writing shit out by hand was one of the reasons why my english marks in school always trailed everything else (until I got a computer to use at home — in high school btw).

It always feels like, for me, that writing as creative activity is something OTHER people do, not me. Rather, writing feels like this thing I have to do in order to communicate my thoughts. A necessary evil. And not something I’m particularly talented at, even as my skills have increased by the sheer fact of how much practice I have at this point and how much writing I do on a regular basis (I think I write like, 4000+ words a week spread out amongst my various blogs, twitter, tumblr, books, etc).

So, um, it looks like my short answer for this is that writing, for me, really isn’t a creative activity. Part of this can be grounded in my (perhaps irrational) belief that I’m not a creative person… And in a lot of ways, looking at my writing process described above, I don’t think I’m very creative. I mean, so much of what I write is — as noted — based on reactions to stuff, rather than just me sitting around and thinking about things.

Idk.