This past Friday, I had the good fortune to attend UCLA's Queer Studies Conference (NOTE: Over time, this link may not point to the schedule of the 2012 conference). This year's theme, "Queer of Color Genealogies," brought a range of speakers to offer the conference a sense of the past, present, and future of queer of color critique - really, the past, present, and future of queer studies itself. As usual, the event was free and open to the public, with plenty of food for attendees, and capped off with a community-building event - in this case, a reception and dance party hosted by Claudette Sexy DJ, a staple of LA's Black queer community for decades. Fun for the whole queer family!
(Full disclosure: I drove down from Santa Barbara and had a big deadline the night before, so I missed the 9:30 panel on "Addressing the Community Needs of LGBT Youth of Color" and Sandra K. Soto's morning keynote, "For Those Who Were Never Meant to Survive: Queering Attrition in Arizona." My impressions are of the conference past that point.)
This year's schedule was more symposium than conference, with only one panel per session. I found this disappointing at first, since I've grown so accustomed to being able to cherry-pick the sessions most interesting to me or relevant to my work. It certainly meant that fewer voices got heard that day, though the audience for each panel was quite large. I won't lie: as a DH choose-your-own-adventure conference goer, I was frustrated.
But it turns out that the format was a crucial part of what this year's Queer Studies was trying to teach us, at least from my perspective as a member of the audience. So many of the queer of color genealogies, methodologies, and futures shared that day are exactly the things that white academia passes over in favor of other panels at a conference. Professor Jafari Sinclaire Allen's evening keynote reminded us of the politics of citation - we want to cite what everyone else wants to cite because in academia, that's a big part of how you look smart. But this is a vicious cycle that buries some of the most important voices and histories in a struggle to create change in the world - those who have had to labor the most under its oppressions.
How are our canonical scholars indebted to or ignorant of the traditions of these undercited voices? This year, I learned from Dr. Alice Y. Hom about lesbian of color coalitions in the 1970's that get buried under the narrative that there were lesbian groups that turned out to be white lesbian groups that lesbians of color had to splinter off from to meet their own unique needs. Turns out these women could organize together just fine without an original whiteness from which to be abjected. Professors Qwo-Li Driskill and Jodi A. Byrd talked about white queer homogenization and cooptation of the indigenous two-spirit ethos. Allen pointed out that we can trace affect theory, such a hot topic in the academy right now, back to Black intellectuals that have been grappling with the concept for well over a hundred years.
If I write about the face in my dissertation (which I am), I have to talk about Levinas and Deleuze and Guattari and Agamben and maybe even Barthes, but will people get my connections to Anzaldúa's haciendo caras or the violence of Blackface minstrelsy or other critical moments outside of the white canon? What other histories are we missing because of the closed loops of citation perpetuated by our academic economy of name-dropping?
At the end of the day, the shared experience created by a non-optional conference program strengthened the sense of community of the conference goers and deepened my education in profound ways - ways that I might not have chosen for myself given the freedom to follow my whimsy across the conference program. It was an inspiring, invigorating event, and it gave me the jolt of inspiration I needed just as the quarter is starting to bog me down. Allen's keynote was particularly helpful: Do your work where you are. Nurture each other. Legitimate the struggles of those outside the academy. Teach. Know (or learn) the histories that most people don't.
But I couldn't help but notice that those of us who attended the conference were part of the choir, so to speak, that the non-optional conference program did have one clear option: to opt out. Don't get me wrong: the event was well attended and it was an inspiring thing to be part of a group that was mostly queers of color, but many of the visibly white people at the conference, myself as well as several of the presenters included, identified themselves as members of the communities of color whose genealogies were being explored that day. Where were the "uninterested parties"? Where was the (non-colonizing) white interest in nonwhite genealogy? How do we break the cycle of citation if we can't get certain bodies in certain chairs?
This doesn't, for the record, mean that as white allies we should barge into such spaces and offer our opinions and ask our questions and perform our ethnographic research in the service of multiculturalism. If it's a designated closed space, don't enter. If it's open, don't take up too much space. The white woman with whom I attended the conference, for example, saved her questions for the informal networking moments in between sessions in recognition of the fact that the conference was clearly a space by and for people of color even if it was open to the public; her interests were not the focus of the meeting. If you want a prominent academic's words, I'll cite Sharon Bridgforth, but there are also plenty of ally guides on the Internet that will tell you the number one skill to learn is listening.
I hope more scholars will begin to read the political economy of citation as another place to intervene against colorblind racism, that perpetuation of white supremacy that occurs under our noses in the guise of "Oh, but that's not really about race."
My sincere thanks to the organizers of this year's UCLA Queer Studies program, and to the presenters who told their stories, offered their theories, and performed scholarship for us in new and exciting ways. I wish I had time to reflect on each of the papers individually, but these conversations will have to continue in conversations on Twitter or in the comments.
Here is a copy of the program for the 2012 UCLA Queer Studies Conference, "Queer of Color Genealogies," flagrantly preserved from the UCLA LGBT Studies website:
|UCLA Queer Studies Conference 2012
QUEER OF COLOR GENEALOGIES
Friday, October 19, 2012
|9:30-10:45||Addressing the Community Needs of LGBT Youth of Color
Organized by the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy at UCLA School of Law
Moderator: Bianca D. M. Wilson, Senior Scholar of Public Policy, The Williams InstituteLaura E. Durso, Public Policy Fellow, The Williams Institute
Project Access: Addressing the Community Needs of Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Male Youth of Color in Los Angeles
Angeliki Kastanis, Public Policy Fellow, The Williams Institute
Lisa Powell, Attorney at Law and Co-Founder, Black Lesbians United (BLU)
Sandra K. Soto, University of Arizona
|11:45-1:00||Queer Indigeneities Unsettling Settler Colonialism
Moderator: Mishuana Goeman, UCLA
Jodi A. Byrd, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Qwo-Li Driskill, Oregon State University
Dan Taulapappa McMullin, Claremont Graduate University
|2:00-3:35||The Other Archive of Desire: Remapping LGBT Histories
Moderator: Maylei Blackwell, UCLAKai M. Green, University of Southern California
Towards a Black Queer Geography: The Struggle Over the Uses of Erotic in a Time of Crisis
Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind
Horacio N. Roque Ramírez, University of California, Santa Barbara
Alice Y. Hom, Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy
Moderator: Uri McMillan, UCLAVanessa Agard-Jones, New York University
A Serial Killer in the Family
Chitra Ganesh, Visual Artist
Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Roy Pérez, Willamette University
|5:15-6:15||Keynote AddressJafari Sinclaire Allen, Yale University
All the Things We Are Now: A Meditation on Black Queer Genealogies
The conference is free and open to the public. No pre-registration is required.
Royce Hall is located on the UCLA campus.
Parking is available in UCLA Parking Structure 4 at a cost of $11 per day. From Sunset Boulevard, enter campus by turning south onto Westwood Plaza, then proceed straight ahead to Structure 4. There is an information booth as you enter where you can purchase a parking ticket. Please let them know you are attending the LA Queer Studies Conference in Royce Hall. Since Structure 4 can get quite busy, we recommend that you leave extra time for parking
The UCLA Queer Studies Conference 2012 has been organized by Maylei Blackwell and Uri McMillan for the UCLA Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies Program with generous support from
the David Bohnett Foundation
the UCLA Division of Humanities, Division of Social Sciences, Graduate Division, Office of Faculty Diversity and Development, Institute for Society and Genetics, Williams Institute for Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy
the Bunche Center for African American Studies, Asian American Studies Center, Chicano Studies Research Center, Center for Jewish Studies, Center for the Study of Women
the Interdepartmental Program in Afro-American Studies, and the UCLA departments of Anthropolopgy, Art History, Asian American Studies, Asian Languages and Cultures, Chicana/o Studies, Comparative Literature, English, Film Television and Digital Media, French and Francophone Studies, Gender Studies, Germanic Languages, History, Information Studies, Musicology, Psychology, Sociology, and Theater