I just got back from Meet Me at the Race Riot: People of Color in Zines from 1990-Today, a free form panel event at Barnard with women of color zinesters talking about their experiences in d.i.y. culture and sharing their zines. Needless to say, it was awesome. I am now at home reviewing my bounty, which includes a mixtape of international lady punk bands, We are Destroyers of the Status Quo, and the zine International Girl Gang Underground. Needless to say, both are awesome.
The event was organized by the Barnard Zine Library, the People of Color Zine Project and feminist collective For the Birds. All of the groups, in their own way, do work that shows D.I.Y. is not dead and riot grrls will live forever. The continued dedication and vibrancy of radical feminists was again reflected in the speakers they brought to the event.
These included a Barnard junior Jordan, a graduate student/zinester Jamie, Mariam a writer for MaximumRocknRoll, Osa also a writer for Max and creator of Shotgun Seamstress and Mimi Thi Nguyen, who created the compilation zine Evolution of a Race Riot and is possibly the closest to rock-star a zinester can be. Each one had something unique and powerful to say about why zines were important to them and what they used zines to accomplish.
Jordan’s zines came out of a project where she talked incessantly into a recorder and then transcribed and illustrated her thoughts. Her zines dealt a lot with issues of always feeling in between identities and places, as an adopted Bangladeshi, growing up in Seattle and going to school in NY. Her pen drawn comics were simple but clever and her descriptions of feeling unsure of yourself and unstable in your identities were immediately easy to relate to.
The next speaker Jamie began by talking about the emotional abuse she had suffered in her first romantic relationship with another girl. This girl had introduced her to zines and then tried to make her feel she wasn’t cool enough to actually be involved in the zine community. I was glad she addressed the issues of “not being cool enough” and abuse within within D.I.Y./punk communities. While these movements claim to be totally inclusive and places for the otherwise dispossessed, it can often feel like the cultural capital requirements exceed the account balance of those who do not look or act “radical” enough. Then Jordan talked about how taking and later teaching a Puerto Rican History class shaped her views on colonialism and emotional abuse, namely how the metropole and assholes in general create feelings of inferiority in the people they colonize or abuse.
The night then turned over to women zinesters who came to zines through a love of punk/hardcore and who ended up framing their critiques of racism and patriarchy through critiques of the punk scene.
Mariam, from the (in)famous punk zine MaximumRocknRoll, described herself as belonging to two of the most hated groups in America, as her father is Iranian and her mother Mexican. She began by talking about how zines can open opportunities to construct alternative representations that mixed up kids, like herself, can actually relate to. She then read a biting, sometimes sarcastic, response to white punks who resent the term “people of color” for being too exclusive. First, she claimed my linguistics major heart by saying “Language is really important”. Then it was time to call out white punks who feel threatened when marginalized peoples find a banner of unity to stand under, a banner not defined in relation to “white” (as in non-white peoples) but defined in their own terms. In this way, she believes the term “people of color”totally inverts traditional categories of inclusive/exclusive creating a profound space for people to share common stories of oppressions and build radical responses.
Mariam was followed by fellow Max writer Osa who is more well known for her zine Shotgun Seamstress, written for and about black punks, especially queer, feminist black punks. She said that while her zine is open to everybody, it is definitely geared towards building a home for black punks and in order to bring the anti-capitalist, D.I.Y. movement to other blacks. If you haven’t noticed this is a common theme: using zines to construct alternative communities and representations not provided by mainstream culture. Osa went on to read a hilarious piece by a writer named Vaginal Davis about discovering her mother was a bank robbing bad-ass raising funds for a feminist separatist liberation project.
After a bit of group discussion and some talk of how zines are cropping up around the OWS movement, Mimi Thi Nguyen took the mic. Mimi, you might recall, I mentioned briefly in my post on White Riot. As an aside, I would just like to say I am so happy this event existed to counteract many of White Riot’s and my own failings: ample discussion of women of color and what they built in the punk scene. Anyway, as usual Mimi threw down some serious punk rock post-colonial feminist theory, and my pen could hardly write down her brilliance fast enough. A lot of her critique had to do with how feminism and riot girl in particular is historicized as a series of waves or bursts and how women of color are portrayed within these movements as being “big bummers” for disrupting the white feminist narrative. The periodization of certain critiques and the corralling of interventions into singular movements creates an anxiety over “lessons that should have been learned but were not.” Moral: riot girl is not dead, women of color still have to battle a lot of bullshit.
Once again the floor was turned over to the audience to ask question and engage with the speakers. I am cursing myself now for not taking better notes during this time, but I think I was too captivated to look down at my notebook. Let me just say: shit got real and I’m not naming names, but there were some teary eyes. People from all manner of marginalized positions laid their heart out, to a room full of strangers and friends, about how important zines and punk were for making them feel a part of something and giving them a space to share stories on their own terms. The last person to speak was a woman who introduced herself as “project from the projects” of Brownsville. This event was her crash course introduction to radical zines and as she held up an issue of Shotgun Seamstress, she said she had finally found a way to express the stories and ideas she wanted to share with the world. It might seem crazy, but when women of color come together to share their xeroxed pieces of paper, it can actually change your life.
In Part 2 I’ll be looking at how those xeroxed pieces of paper changed my own life and talk about my continuing relationship with zines! Stay tuned!