It’s Friday, and we all know what that means! Interviews with your favorite badass feminists and activists. Whether social media queens and kings, creative artists, sex educators, or just kick-ass personalities, these people harness righteous anger, instigate movements and inspire cultural change. We’re here to honor them and their work, but more importantly, to higlight how e can all get up, plug in, and Just Start Doing.
Today’s fabulous activist is Andrea J. Plaid, who’s currently a blogger at Racialicious.co, where she wears the hat of sexuality correspondent. She has also written, among other blogs and newspapers, for Bitch magazine, Penthouse.com, AltnerNet and The Root. Additionally, she’s been quoted in the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune.
Let’s hear what she has to say!
You cover a variety of topics in your writing and activism – race, sex, gender, culture -. Can you explain to us where you see the interactions between all of these topics? Is there one that is particularly dear to your heart, or do you find them all inherently interconnected?
I wish I could say that there’s one that’s dear to my heart, but society won’t let me forget that they’re all intertwined! ::Shakes fist at sky:: Seriously though, I like to say I get to write about the lovely knot of race, sex, gender, and pop culture—and where that knot shows up in all of its ridiculous contours is in people’s sex lives. It’s the place where all that we may know about race, gender, sex, and culture connect, collide, meld, and separate. It’s both tiring—especially when people want to use “identity” (race and ethnicity, sexual identifcation, religion, you name it…and then some!) to police other people’s sexual lives–and fascinating.
How did you get started with the work you are doing now? Was this the path you wanted to take from the start, or did it develop over time?
It’s been a meandering journey and an underlying theme in my life. It really started, I think, when a neighbor raped me when I was five. That crystallized the dynamics of sex and power for me. Then I was always looking at my late father’s porn magazines when I went to visit him (he and my mom divorced when was 4 months old.) He’d buy Playboy, Penthouse, Players, Hustler, among the titles I distinctly remember. The couplings fascinated me, and those magazines developed my ideas around porn.
I was brought up in a rather moderate African American home, with my mom—who is and prides herself on being a “proper” Black woman—modeling a certain way that she believed that Black women should behave in this society: it’s cool to have sex (or as she would say, “I enjoy being a woman”) but in certain circumstances. Those circumstances: openly affectionate with your husband or fiancé (and behind a locked room for the actual sex) and more discreetly with men who weren’t your fiancé or spouse. Oh yes—and the sexual partner, my mom said in a variety of ways, should be Black. A Black Christian would be a plus, my mom implied.
So, my “rebellion”—I think my mom would call it that–was to be sexual and interracial in my dating options. Though I “lost my virginity” at 21, I did it as part of a neo-pagan ceremony. I didn’t have a partner at the time, and I felt I wanted to celebrate that act as a ritual. And my partner was white. And I told Mom. She didn’t speak to me for a week. (See what I mean by my mom’s thinking about this?) All of that crystallized the ideas of sex, community, identity, and race.
I was also pro-choice at a very early age. I remember watching a news report about abortion at the age of 10 (I’m 42 now), and I thought that, yes, a woman should not have to have a child because she has sex. (Another point my mom and I vehemently disagree on.) And if abortion is a method to prevent that, then I’m all for it. Add to this my believing feminism—which I formally called my own in my 20s–as a way for women to figure out and address the structures that are keeping them down. With that, I help start the first HIV/AIDS awareness group on my campus in my undergrad days (at the time we understood the condition to be a mainly an STI).
I’ve worked at abortion clinics (one of them being Planned Parenthood), marched in Washington for reproductive justice (by that point my ideas around “abortion rights” started morphing into reproductive justice). When I went to graduate school, my “thesis” (at my librarian school, we didn’t have the option to write theses as with other programs), was founding and operating a sex-positive library. Yes, my library would have subscriptions to Playboy, Penthouse, Players, and Hustler. ::laughs::
You are currently blogging for Racialicious.com, where you are the “sexual correspondent”. Can you tell us a little bit about what that entails? What sorts of stories catch your attention, and what do you want your readers to take away from your writing?
May I say that the SC gig was the brainchild of Latoya Peterson, the new owner of Racialicious? Yes, I’ll state that for the record. ::laughs:: That came about from my responding to an open submissions call from Latoya. My pitch: why aren’t there people of color with sex-advice columns on the levels of Dan Savage, Rachel Kramer Bussel, and Betty Dodson? Latoya and the former owner, Carmen Sognonvi, loved the idea. After the submission, Latoya, with a hint of mischievous glee, said, “I want you to be the Racialicious Sexual Correspondent.” I laughed and accepted.
What does it entail? My getting to untangle The Lovely Knot. I’ve written about interracial swinging cruises, images and realities of interracial BDSM—which lead to my interviewing the incredible “race play” expert Mollena Williams. I co-wrote a humor piece about White Male Celebrities that are approved by The Black Race™. I’ve written about White Female Privilege and the nexus of beauty and sexuality that undergirds it.
What I want readers to know is that sex is messy and sometimes that can be a point of exploration in light of fighting racism and other oppressions. But that doesn’t mean we should approach sex and race—and the power dynamics knotted into it–completely uncritically. Such as with what’s happening with Naffisatou Diallo’s case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn and how race plays into her credibility as an “acceptable rape victim” in the media and court.
While we’re on the subject, is there a recent event/new-story that particularly grabbed your attention? Anything that really got your blood boiling? Or, better yet, anything that you got really excited about?
My soul’s been absorbed with Diallo’s case. I’ve worked as at domestic worker—I cleaned houses as a job and as a start-up business–as have my aunts, one who has died and another who’s 82 now. So, the stories they and other Black women who’ve done that occupation over the decades told of white male homeowners and their wives stuck with me. Also, as someone who survived rape and have seen, experienced, and read how Black women have been stereotyped as “unrapeable”…this unfolding event just tears at me. What pushed my upset to outrage is the New York Post’s now-found-libelous story about Diallo working a as prostitute. So, I started an open letter at Change.org—with major support and guidance from Women’s Rights Director of Organizing Shelby Knox, Editor Alex DiBranco, and filmmaker Aishah Shahidah Simmons–demanding that NYP retract the story and apologize to Diallo in a full page ad. Both SisterSong NYC and Women’s Media Center—thanks to the advocacy of SSNYC’s leader Jasmine Burnett and WMC’s Jamia Wilson—support the letter. Individuals from SlutWalk NYC support it as well.
When I started the letter, I looked it as the mission statement of a coalition of people who, understanding the racial dynamics of NYP’s story, formed a coalition to support Diallo and any victim or surivor of sexual violence—thus the name Coalition to Support Sexual-Violence Victims and Survivors (CSSVVS)–and to stand against what the newspaper did and, to this day, refuses to apologizes for. When I posted it, I expected a couple of hundred signatures. We’re up to 1,251 people standing strong–and each letter drops in the editors’ inboxes. We—and they–can always use more!
I also took that energy and joined SlutWalk NYC, which is holding its event on October 1 as well as a rally in support for Diallo on August 23, when a hearing about Diallo’s case will happen. I volunteer as a speaker and a media contact.
We’ve been talking a lot about SlutWalk in the blogosphere, and what it means for feminism. There’s been some disagreement on whether we can or should reclaim the word “slut”, and on whether SlutWalk is a positive development or one that’s actually detrimental. What say you?
Honestly? I get the arguments and squeamishness about SlutWalk, especially in terms of it not speaking to women of color categorically—I was on the fence about it myself. However, I think that some people are allowing, to use the cliché, the perfect to get in the way of the good. Truth be told, quite a few of us women of color may not have been called a slut, but we have been called names intended to punish us for our being sexual and having a gender that’s not respected. For example, in my African American communities, folks use the words “’ho,” “fass” (meaning a woman who’s viewed as sexually “fast,” or promiscuous), “loose.” Latinas have and have had the word “puta” hurled at them. Those words mean the exact same thing as “slut” as far as connotation and intention! And, it is women of color, especially trans women of color, who have the highest numbers as sexual-violation victims and we are also the ones who underreport—and get underreported in stats—the most. And, as much as we don’t like to talk about this in fear of “airing dirty laundry in front of white folks,” our perpetrators are people of our own racial and ethnic groups. That’s real, and we need to have open—even public—conversations about that. So, if a woman of color sees SlutWalk as a way to help her have that conversation, then righ on! But I think we need to move away from who SlutWalk speaks to categorically. Apparently, it’s speaking to some people… and worldwide.
As far as the media perpetrated idea that it’s all about white women in lingerie strutting around and calling it feminism: feminism has utilized many methods to gain the attention to their messages. The women who do wear the lingerie and other sexy gear—and, mind you, not all of them are white, since SlutWalk have taken and are taking place around the world, including places with sizable populations of color—are using the gear as a form of street theater as a direct response to a police officer implying that women who “dress a certain way” can expect to get sexually assaulted and, more indirectly, to societies worldwide that faults victims for their violations. The media is being salacious in an attempt to dismiss the very real problems.
What SlutWalk NYC is saying it that it doesn’t matter who you are, where you work, how you flirt, how you identify, or what you wear, no one has the right to put their hands on you without your consent—not verbally, not physically, not legally, not journalistically. Full stop.
Do you have a project that you are working on currently, anything that you want to alert our readers to, or a cause that you want to drum up some support for?
Latoya, who also is my mentor, always tells me to use the forums you have the chance to speak in to give shout-outs. So, my first shout-out is a paying back: I encourage your readers to swing by Racialicious!
I also encourage the readers to be a part of SlutWalk NYC and help us end sexual and gender violence in all of its permutations. For more information, please check out our Tumblr, Facebook pages, and Twitter for updates and contact us at email@example.com.
Of course, I’d love to have more people stand with Diallo against the New York Post’s defiance about retracting their story about her: Please check out the letter here.
Thank you for your time and your wonderful answers, Andrea!