Tuesday, October 18
You visited me in my dream last night. Remember, Scholar, that it's not all pain. Remember that sometimes humor is the way to the heart. You told me to listen to people. To continue practicing my listening. You told me to laugh again. Laugh from inside. Laugh for real.
I'm trying too hard. I'm trying too hard to win you over because the need for change is urgent. Lives are at stake. Unless we redefine the ways in which we use the objects and spaces around us, exploitation and oppression will continue. Unless we begin to practice use rather than self-interest, we will carry on just the same. And we're not okay now. We feel it. We see it on the streets. We are hungry for revolution. We can not sleep with our stomachs so empty. We stay up and dream instead.
I'd dearly love a laugh.
Tuesday, September 20
These days I don't come into knowing anymore. I hold it to the side of my tongue; pull out the arguments of dead white men when I forget how to speak my own words. I'm forgetting the stories my dad would whisper me to sleep.
Thursday, September 8
The problem is, frankly, that I can't deal with privileged white people anymore. My tolerance level for willful colorblindness has reached its peak. I can't handle the pseudo-progressives and the liberal white feminists who complain about there being a lack of involvement from people of color in their organizations, when the structure and function of said organizations don't meet the needs of a more inclusive community. And I'm not just sitting here bitching about power dynamics that I've learned about only through theory and other people's experiences. I have been there--too many times. I have put my blood, sweat and fucking tears into organizations that refuse to support my projects and instead chose to humor me like a child or simply dismiss my concerns. I have held that hurt in my chest. I have walked away a little less hopeful every time.
So, I sit in the corner licking my wounds, praying to the universe that I heal fast enough to sit through another women studies course without bursting into tears.
We've been talking about how to fix this for decades. We've been talking until our lungs have run out of air, until we've forgotten what our voices sounded like when we still had all of our dignity.
I don't mean to imply that all white feminists are racist. Not the case at all. But if you're not actively engaging in anti-racism, then yeah, you are. And I don't have time for you. I can't educate you. That's not my responsibility. You will come into knowledge when you are ready to seek it and to allow it to change you. Until then, there is no conversation to be had. I've spent too much of my time and energy waiting. But I have met good people who have taken the responsibility of educating themselves seriously. We are moving. I'll leave the address to our new home in the dresser you've always loved. Find us when you're ready.
It's not only about the other seizing power from the privileged. It is about those in positions of power relinquishing their authority as well.
Thursday, August 25
First, I would like to thank everyone for the support! It means so very much to me-- so much so that I've lost my words, as ridiculous as that sounds.
For those of you who are curious, this is a copy of the letter I mailed into Southwest headquarters. Feel free to send a little note of your own. :)
I wonder to myself what will come of this. Legacies like Southwest are never apt to adjust their policies no matter how many people they crush in their wake. I'm not expecting to change the world--hell, I'm not expecting to change most people in my town. But I want to be a part of the conversation and the doing that's been happening all along. Progress is not easy. It is slow and painful and I'm afraid there's much more hurt to be had before we can rejoice in any kind of victory.
It has taken me some time to understand the passengers on the plane. They didn't see me--despite my mass. They didn't see any real part of me; that I like jasmine blossoms and poetry, nerd jokes and old books. They didn't see me as Athia, as a person who was once a child that held all the magic in the universe in her palms. They didn't see me as having belonged to a family, as having felt joy and loss, finite and invincible. They reduced me to one long look of disapproval before blocking me off into their imagination as something hideous and unkind. Well, I guess that's their fucking loss because this fattie is fabulous. ;)
Be well, always,
P.O. Box 36647-1CR
Dallas, Texas 75235
RE: Flight 740 Philadelphia to Orlando MCO; August 18th, 2011, 6:55 am
To Whom It May Concern:
It is with great pain that I write this letter today. I experienced one of the most insulting, humiliating, and distressing events of my adult life last Thursday. Due to the incompetence and insensitivity of your staff, coupled with the inconsistent and subjective enforcement of a policy requiring passengers who appear “too large” to purchase a second seat, I was publicly humiliated
On August 18, 2011, I flew Southwest Airlines for the second time this summer. I was making my way home to Orlando from a trip to visit potential graduate schools in the Northeast and was traveling back with my aunt and uncle. We left their New Jersey home at 3:55 AM and reached the Philadelphia airport at 4:50 AM. By 5:30 a.m., we had gone through security, received our boarding passes (group C, numbers 18, 19, and 20), and settled into the waiting area.
After more than a week of travel, I was ready to go home--to see my family and friends, to prepare for my final fall semester as an undergraduate, and to feel the sunshine and humidity on my skin once more.
I heard the employee at the boarding gate announce twice that they had overbooked the flight and if anyone had a flexible schedule, that they should consider boarding a later flight. Although my aunt and uncle were interested in the offer, I told them that I had appointments and errands in the afternoon on campus that I could not miss.
At about 6:30 AM, there was a call for group A passengers and parents with small children to begin boarding the plane. I gathered my things and while we were waiting for the agent to call our group, an employee came up to me and asked if she could speak to me at the desk. The man beside her (who had previously made the announcement about overbooking the flight) was handling another passenger who did not have a seat on the plane despite booking a ticket. At the desk, I asked the employee if anything was the matter.
Her eyes were barely lifted from her computer screen as she said, “It's for your safety and comfort that I'm going to recommend you buy a second seat. You will have two seats on the plane saved for you.”
“May I ask why it is that I need to purchase a second seat?”
“It is for your safety and comfort that I have to recommend a second seat.”
“But I flew Southwest here and there weren't any problems with having to purchase a second seat.”
“It's our policy, ma'am.”
At this point, I begin to panic. I'm a university student on scholarship and I come from a working class family barely making it on the income from the small restaurant we own and operate. The only reason I was able to travel this summer was due to the generosity of my cousin who had spent her summer bonus so that I could visit prospective schools. I didn't have money on me to buy another ticket, but I needed to go home.
“I can't afford another ticket.”
“What I can do for you is honor your original ticket price and charge you $100.”
By now, my aunt was circling the front desk and beginning to fume--she was not to be the typical quiet, subdued Asian-woman. She told the agent that it was unfair of them to force me to purchase a second seat when I didn't have to on the very same airline on my way here, and that they shouldn't have come to us four minutes before boarding. She also noted that there were passengers on the plane boarding who were just as large as I but who happened to be in group A boarding. We had offered that either my aunt or uncle would sit next to me as to not cause discomfort to any other passenger, but they said that would not be possible. As the conversation got heated, the agent stated that he would not speak with my aunt and pointed at me saying “We're talking to her only.” Upset and speaking barely above a whisper, my aunt stated that she did not want to speak with them either, and requested that we speak to the supervisor.
We waited for the supervisor and my aunt was livid. She could not understand why we were singled out and at such short notice. I, however, understood that I was being targeted based on my weight. I also saw that the agents were attempting to force me off the flight to make room for another, more valued customer. The plane was overbooked and they had a passenger without a seat.
When the supervisor arrived, she repeated the same rhetoric that her employees did. I said, “From my understanding, you're attempting to push me off this flight because you're overbooked.” She became visibly upset by this and said that wasn't the case, that what they wanted was to ensure my safety and comfort. My aunt then asked her if her daughter was in this situation, how she would feel. She would not answer. After a few more minutes of arguing, the supervisor asked us what we wanted to do because we were beginning to hold up the plane. I didn't want to hold up the plane--there were families with small children who had gotten up so very early, ready to embark on their vacations. I resigned myself to purchasing a second ticket. My uncle gave me the money and we handed the supervisor five twenty-dollar bills.
The walk down the aisle of the plane is a moment I will never forget. Every single passenger on board was looking at me--some were shaking their heads, others were sneering. As I got halfway down the aisle, I passed one passenger--a middle-aged white man-- and saw him make rude hand gestures signaling a 'big ass.' I heard him say, “People like them are like those people who cry race discrimination.” I could not hold back my tears.
They saved four seats in the back of the plane and I quickly took my seat by the window, hoping that the murmurs would stop. My aunt took the outer seat and my uncle went to the last available seat on the plane on the other side of us. This was not the end of our ordeal, or even the most problematic aspect of it. There was a man with his wife and child who did not have a seat. The flight attendant went up and down the aisles looking for a seat. She saw the empty one beside me and spoke loudly as she pointed to the empty space asking, “Did you purchase that?” I nodded, yes.
As the flight attendant went up and down the aisle again, telling all parents to make sure that 'lap babies' were seated on their laps, I heard the passenger sitting behind me explain to her neighbor that “she took that gentlemen's seat.” After a few more minutes of this, the airline realized that they had miscalculated the number of people and seats on the plane. An employee walked to the back of the plane, handed my aunt folded $20 bills and told my uncle to sit next to us.
I had a long while to think over how power relations in this space had defined the series of events that followed. In an attempt to make the maximum profit, Southwest Airlines trampled over my safety, comfort and emotional well-being, all under the guise of being for my safety and comfort. I am not only demanding a formal apology from your company, but also 'recommend' (read: the same way your employees recommended I buy a second seat) that you reform your current policies. I want recognition that you did not do what was in the best interest of your passengers and that you caused me unnecessary emotional distress.
I didn't have to accept the money. I could have made a scene and delayed the flight even further. I could have disregarded the man without a seat and his family. But I didn't. Despite the hurt that I felt in that moment, I was still sensitive enough to show the kind of compassion that your airlines failed to offer me--as human being to human being.
This may make little difference to your company, but I will never fly Southwest again and neither will my family.
I await a response and can only hope that the proper action is taken. But you must be aware that although I was powerless in that moment, I will not rest until my recommendations are taken seriously.
Sunday, August 21
I want to talk about something that typically makes me uncomfortable and that’s my weight and size. I’m usually able to disengage with this issue, but it came up while I was traveling southwest airlines yesterday. Going to Philadelphia, there were no problems. However back home, there was a huge issue. I was back with my aunt and uncle and we arrived at the boarding gate and checked in and got our que an hour before our departure. Throughout the waiting period, the employee at the counter is making various announcements that they’ve overbooked their flight and that they’re looking for passengers who have flexible schedules and would like to take a later flight. We’re not interested in that because I’ve got errands to run and a crap load of things to do before classes start on Monday.
And, it’s four minutes before our group is supposed to board and a woman from the counter comes up to me and says, “Would you come to the counter for a minute? I’d like to talk to you.” I don’t really know what’s going on and I’m thinking it’s because probably because they saw my passport picture where I was wearing a hijab and they wanted to put me through addition security checks or something. When I get to the counter I ask her if anything is wrong. She doesn’t even look me in the eye and she has this blank expression on her face.
She says that: “It’s for your safety and comfort that I’m going to recommend you buy a second seat.“
In the meantime, I see the employee next her handling a woman who purchased a ticket but doesn’t have a seat on the plane. And I’m thinking why the fuck would they have me buy two seats when this woman doesn’t even have one? Anyway, I explain to her that I flew Southwest to this very airport and had no problems with purchasing a second seat. But she’s adamant that I have to do this for my safety and comfort. They keep repeating the phrase “safety and comfort.”
My uncle suggests that he sit next to me so we don’t cause discomfort to any of the other passengers, but they say that’s not possible. And then my aunt gets involved and it’s a little crazy so we demand to speak to the supervisor. The supervisor is spitting out the exact same rhetoric as her employees. It clicks with me that they’re attempting to push me off of the flight so that the seat will open up for the woman who is stranded. They’d rather have me pay $100 for another seat than have to reimburse her for her ticket which she paid $300+ for which is more than I paid for mine. I tell this to the supervisor and she becomes visibly upset with me and says that that it is not the case at all and that it is for my safety and comfort—once again repeating that phrase. Then she says, “You all better make a decision right now because you’re going to delay the plane.”
I’m thinking there are a bunch of cranky kids on there who probably got up at 3 am and they just want to go to Disney world, so I give them the hundred dollars and we go to board the plane.
Boarding the plane is a moment I will never forget. It was the most humiliating experience I’ve ever had in my adult life. Everyone—every single person on that plane was looking at me. Some people were shaking their heads, other people were sneering; some people were chuckling. They saved us three seats at the back of the plane and I didn’t want to look at anyone and I tried to make my way back there as fast as I could. I see this man—a middle-aged white man—making rude hand gestures, the “big ass” hand gesture and then he sees that I’m crying and says to the person next to him that, “people like that, those people are like the people who cry race discrimination.”
I couldn’t say anything to him. I was so powerless in that moment that I could not say anything to him. So I’m shrinking into oblivion and I’m sitting in my seat. I’m sitting by the window and there’s an empty seat beside me and my aunt is sitting in the outer seat. My uncle is sitting at the last available seat on the other side of the plane. That’s not even the end of it. It’s not even the most fucked up and problematic part of this whole ordeal. There’s a man and his wife and kid and they don’t have a seat for him. His wife and son have a seat, but he doesn’t. And so the flight attendant walks up and down the aisle and sees the empty space between my aunt and I and says very loudly, “Did you purchase that?” I could only nod my head, yes.
She said “Oh, okay” and continued walking up and down the aisle.
Then I heard the woman sitting behind me say, “that girl took that gentleman’s seat.”
The most shady thing that happened was when another employee came up to my aunt, handed her back the money and told my uncle to sit next to us. That was the shittiest things to ever happen to me..I guess, so far? And it was completely unnecessary because that’s what we had suggested to them before boarding the plane. So, clearly purchasing a second seat was not for my safety and comfort. They were using the socially acceptable “fat-hating” norms to reinforce their institutional policies in order to maximize their profits and gains. That’s it.
This, ultimately, isn’t an issue of weight discrimination. It is a perfect example of how institutional policy and the public ritual of shaming combine together to form this oppressive process that disempowers an individual to the point where they can’t stand up in the face of injustice despite knowing what’s happening is wrong. It just shows the multi-faceted/multilayered functions of power within our society. So, what I’m demanding from Southwest in a letter of complaint I’m filing is a formal letter of apology as well as recognition that they were not working in the best interest of their passengers (or for my safety and comfort) and caused me unnecessary emotional distress.
Needless to say, I’m never flying Southwest again and neither is anyone else in my family. I hope that this story has more of an impact on you than, “Oh wow, that’s a really shitty thing to have happened, but there’s nothing we can do about it.” I believe that moments like these open up the possibility for policy reform—it opens up the possibility for us to critically look at the way our society is treating other people and to change that. So, I dunno. Give me your thoughts on the situation or whatever. I’m late for work. Bye!
Thursday, August 4
What I find most difficult about theorizing is getting to the bone. Past the fleshy bits, the appendages and organs, past veins and muscles that keep me together, sewn shut beneath your gaze. The funny thing is I don’t even have all of my body. I’ve got a few toes and fingers, an eyeball and a nose, a torso propped up on quivering thighs—half a nipple and no heart. It takes time and care to come into a body. I’ve given myself neither of those things.
Instead, I’m imagining a better way of living and it isn’t away from you. Isolation could never suit me. I learn from my relationship with your palms. They tell me the secrets of my grandfather. They tell me about what the world was like before either of us could talk.
I’m not an academic but I wear her skin well. I’ve pinned her to my body to look like a grown-up, but her feet are much bigger than mine. Her steps are too wide. I could never cover that much ground.
How can I prove to you that my words are genuine when I wonder where they come from? The words we come to know have been passed down to us—have been given to us for a reason. What is the reason for my words? Each I-me-my arrived from your chest the way you hold in breathes to stay alive a little longer. Every book I’ve ever read, every article I’ve ever seen, every piece of pop culture I’ve ever analyzed—this is what it means to be human. My body was directed towards those words for a reason. I was pulled towards you for a reason.
I just can’t figure out why yet.
Thursday, July 7
The only thing they can’t take away from you is your education.
I believe in the power of the aesthetic education, of reinvention of the imaginative. I begin to think of Asian Americans and the sorts of subjects they study, the storylines they’re pressed into. ‘Hard’ sciences make up the core curriculum. ‘Soft’ sciences are frowned upon. We may be programming the computers, but we’re not writing the manuals.
I think of South Asians in sweat factories. I think of the rickshaw driver with a master’s degree. What does all of this mean? What does education mean to the Asian community?
With all the English words I’ve learned, I still can’t give back my parent’s their dignity—the dignity they lost as immigrants to this country, working in kitchens and cleaning houses, from being treated like subhuman by an unkind, discriminating, racist, prejudiced America. What is the meaning of this education, an education of silence? They’ve kept their heads down and elbows tucked in; they went from being politically active and alive in their home countries to recommending silence to their children— obedience, anything to keep the status of the model minority. We shouldn’t start something. There’s no need to start something. We’re okay now. Think of your family back home. Think of the sort of lives they live—how people are truly in poverty and despair. Appreciate your opportunities. Work hard, take their crap and we’ll be okay.
My struggles are minimized, are called petty and insincere. There’s a greater global discourse in the making and if I don’t involve myself in that, then I’m acting selfishly.
Monday, June 13
I think I'm not well, friends. I am not well.
Sunday, May 22
I listen to my parents talk politics in the car. They talk about gas prices and tax returns. I can't bother to care, because it's all a part of a system I don't believe in. But that's a lie---the caring bit, at least.
They buy a lottery ticket at the gas station across the street from the restaurant. I wonder how many children went hungry tonight. I can't even fault them, though. They're tired. Fourteen straight hours of work, six days a week, all so that we can tread above water. They just want some peace. I would like to give them peace, but the only kind I have to offer won't satisfy them conventionally. You cannot force someone into a state of peacefulness of mindfulness or lovingness.
We sit down at the dining table and my skin is crawling. Though the cool air presses against my skin, I feel prickles through my pores. We talk about global trade. We talk about relatives who are dying. We talk about the porcelain tea sets my grandmother adored when she was alive. It's hard to digest my food. I wonder how many children will starve to death tonight.
My sobs eat up my entire body.
Saturday, May 21
I just want to tell a story. Your story. About the bricks in the empty television box you carried for twelve blocks to your apartment in the Bronx. I want to tell your story because it wasn't all pain, it has never been all pain.
I realize that I'm not ready to talk to people. Not in the way that we're expected to, anyway. I have nothing to say. Everything has a muted taste. We run through all the same lines of dialogue. I just want to know you--I want to know you beyond academic discourse, beyond pop culture. I want to know all of you, with all of those things, but more. I want to know what your eyes look like right before you laugh, I want to know where's your favorite place to hide.
Sunday, April 24
It was four months before your smell faded from the sweater. I'd wear it everywhere, all the time, always---even in the summer--- because it felt like I was carrying you with me. It felt like you would be back and I was just keeping it warm for you, like we'd pick up at sacred kisses and hand holding, picnics and poetry.
We all make our choices and yours were decided long before you had met me. I'm not bitter for them. But nights like these, when I'm tired enough and worn enough, I wonder how our lives would have been different if you had chosen to stay.
Saturday, April 16
So. Dear universe, it's totes not a big deal if I don't get this internship. Just that I'll wait tables for the whole summer---possible for the whole of my life. And yeah, I'm being fatalistic. So what? My body is exhausted, finally catching up with all the shitty things I've done to/with/in it lately. But what a beautiful idea it is to entertain, getting away from this place for three months.
Wow. What a beautiful idea.
Tuesday, April 12
I'm trying to negotiate my spaces. I'm trying to figure out what the fuck it means to have loving relationships with people while still maintaining my autonomy, my independence, my sense of self departed from others--as a woman, as a woman of color, as a woman of color writer, as a queer theorist, as an etc, etc, etc kinda person.
But maybe that's not possible. Maybe it's another one of those myths made up by bourgeois white people (i.e. white supremacist capitalist patriarch recolonizers/white liberal feminists??) who think themselves to have sprung up out of the earth without a clue, without a history to their arrival. Perhaps it's part of this American identity I use to dream of as a little girl--the dainty lunch sandwich made with Wonder Bread was sure to come packed with some kind of ideology to stand behind. Rabid individualism is the American way, no? And the American way is the way of fucking champions, right? And I've always wanted to be a champion, yeah??
Okay, there's no fucking way...
Because I am, as you have been, as we will continue to be, a progression of combined life-forces. We're sort of imprinted bodies inhabiting spaces in certain ways, and we eventually create community. Part of me believes that I exist through the relationships that I have with people/objects/places. That's not to say I'm not tangibly here. I am. At least, I'm learning to be present and all that jazz. But as real as these string of limbs may be, there's still something to be said about how relationships shape, define and direct you. I use to think that the skin you inhabit determines your experiences in the world, but I'm just now learning that the skin that inhabits you is just as important.
And that's what makes it so hard to create community/coalition space--in the women's studies department, in the interpersonal relationships I have, in/across/through/around transnational/global/intraregional discourses. You have to count the personal and the private as a real phenomenon. You have to combat racism/sexism/classism/heterosexism/ablelism/etc simultaneously, even within groups dedicated to pro-women or pro-feminist causes.
But I'm saying things people have been saying for centuries. I'm wanting things people have wanted all along. And all I hear is Jeremy (the voice inside my head) saying: "Shut the fuck up, kid. Tuck your first world problems back into the pocket of your overpriced jeans, 'cos real shit is happening real fast and I'm not going to deal with any whinny bitches today." (FYI, for those of you who don't know him, Jeremy is pretty much a jerk)
Sometimes I get so carried away with theory. Like my lungs become this hot air balloon and my insides go so light, I'm lifted. Up and up and up as one idea leads to the next. And I want to ground myself. Bring it back to the ground, they say. Bring it back to where it matters. And I want to, because I want to feel the dirt under my fingernails. I think that's why I make such pained expressions in class. I'm trying to bring myself back down. But my lungs have expanded so much by then, that it's hard to breath.
Have patience with me. I'm trying to find my center.
P.S. You'll have to forgive any of my over-generalizations/lack of development at certain points. This isn't a legit scholarly work. Obviously. I'd use waaaay more curse words if it were.
Monday, April 11
Lines. Directions. I’m standing on a plane, where vertical and horizontal axis of directionality cut off my limbs. I attempt to extent into non-normative spaces. I sense a greater pull towards certain orientations, towards certain ways of being that are acceptable in the family sphere. These ways of being clash with my own object/desire/orientations. Ahmed explains how we are conditioned through constant repetition towards certain directions for our desires where “to be ‘in line’ is to direct one’s desires toward marriage and reproduction; to direct one’s desires toward the production of the family line” (74). This is what is expected—follow the pattern of heteronormative life cycles, to become what it is you came from. That, in itself, evolved and arrived through the same type of history until it is invisible entirely. I concentrate. Suck in my breath to hold my shape and hold my color. This life I am given is a gift, a gift from my parents, an arrivant I’ve (un)happened upon that demands a return. Because the gift of life is a gift that requires some form of gratification---that: “there is a demand that we return to them by embracing them as embodiments of our own history, as the gift of life” (90).
My mother approaches me. She is stern, tired. Yet she will not yield until my limbs are wrapped in a bridal sari. You’re of that age now, she tells me. Meet with a few suitors. You’ll continue to study, but this is something you need to take seriously. My skin boils. I am out of place. She begins to shame me—thoughts of hell. Good Muslim girls marry good Muslim boys and produce strong, bouncing children. It is the Sunnah of the prophet. It is the tradition which has come to be for the past thousands of years. Marital bliss. Ceremony. These are all the things she has envisioned from her past to mark the direction of my future. Patterns. Practice. You’ll learn to love it. You’ll learn to be happy just like the rest of us. She hands me her al-Quran. It feels heavy in my hands; something that was so familiar to touch has lost its meaning, has lost its matter. For me, it is no longer a holy scripture, no longer whispered love poems from god. Dead pages of a text shrivel beneath my fingertips. She tells me to read. Read from it the way god made the prophet read from inside himself. Read from it the way my father would as I sat on his lap as a child. Read from it the way I should know how.
But I can’t.
And I don’t know how to bring myself back because I don’t want to straighten my act. I’m unwilling to negotiate my personal orientations even though they seem to queer up her spaces. Because I could be happy if not for her sorrow. I am in pain, as she is in pain, for “it is the intimacy of this pain and grief, as the ‘point’ at which bad feelings meet…such lines are also the accumulation of points of attachment” (75). She thinks me some kind of blemish to our family’s name—a name which matters as much as bodily form because it is transcendent across generational gaps. She believes that as a girl I should desire a marriage, I should desire a good husband, a strong family, a safe space of domesticity. She can’t fathom where the will to defy convention comes from. Such strange, unhealthy behavior, she tells me.
Referencing Queer Phenomenology by Sara Ahmed