Chatting Up University Classes
By Jorge Antonio Vallejos
I’ve got another speaking gig in 3 hours. It’s my second speaking gig in two days.
Tonight is the Black Feminist Theory course at OISE (Ontario Institute for Studies in Education) at University of Toronto taught by Black Professor Erica Neegan.
Yesterday was the Sociology of Gender course at UofT Scarborough taught by Professor Vannina Sztainbok.
Blackcoffeepoet.com has done a lot for me. You could say I’ve done a lot for myself.
But, it’s not about me. And it is about me.
I started this site because I didn’t get into an MFA in Creative Writing program. I tend not to wait around for shit. So, instead of waiting to re-apply I started my own program:
read, review, interview, videotape; monday, wednesday, friday; and do it all over again.
One great year has passed.
But blackcoffeepoet.com is more that just poetry. It’s my activism via writing. And that’s why I’m read and re-posted in various parts of the globe as well as being asked to speak and do workshops.
Yesterday was half interview and half talk. Professor Vannina Sztainbok introduced me to her students, followed by asking me several questions in front of her 50+ person class consisting mainly of women of colour:
1. Last week we read an article by R.W. Connell on masculinity. Connell argues that all men benefit from gender violence, even if they are not personally violent. What do you think of that?
2. In your blog, you write that men – as a group – don’t speak out enough against violence against women. At least not in enough numbers. What is it that caused you to speak out against gender violence? Was it your upbringing, your schooling, a particular influence?
3. Can you go over the specific things men can do on an everyday basis to take a stand against violence?
4. There is a sign that you’re holding up in your blog? I can’t quite make out what it says. Can you tell us what it says?
5. Last week we have been reading about masculinity and the idea that there is a hegemonic or dominant masculinity – white, middle-class – and that there are other masculinities – gay, black masculinity, working-class masculinity, for instance. This suggests that while men – as a group – hold a certain degree of power in certain situations, not all men benefit equal from patriarchy. Is this something that you can relate to as a young man.
6. We have been talking a lot about violence against women, but men are often the victims of male violence as well. This is epitomized with the phenomena of youth violence – particularly gang violence, but also violence against gay men, or gaybashing. Can you comment on this?
Every question took sometime to answer.
Vannina stood beside me at the front of the class. I shared my history as a troubled teen, my journey from being a violent and angry hyper masculine male to the ally to women and several other oppressed groups I am today.
I shared a poem, personal stories, and info about important cases people should know about like the murders of South Asian teen Reen Virk, sex worker Stephine Beck, and the 800+ Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women in Canada.
The class was quiet and attentive; I was scanning the room as I chatted so as to see if people were actually listening to me or chatting on Face Book; I believe it’s the former as I received many questions at the end of the class.
Although I’m brought in as a speaker, guest lecturer, workshop leader, motivational speaker, I’m just as much a student as are the members of my audience.
I’m no expert.
I don’t believe in experts.
If you look into it, the experts are usually wrong or frauds!
I’m a comfortable public speaker. I’m confident. I know what I bring and I know that I’m not the only one that can bring that. And I enjoy being on stage, always have.
Public speaking was something I looked forward to in school. My journalistic side would come out at a young age. I remember coming up with catchy titles, The Running Boy, and interviewing people. When I was 16 I drove down to Jarvis St. and Carleton St. in a stolen car full of my buddies and I interviewed a 21 year old sex worker for my English class. She answered questions for 45 minutes, showed us the knife in her boot, and ignored my friends stupid and disrespectful jokes via request: “Freebee?”
I blew my teacher, guidance counselor, and class away with that speech.
“That was so interesting,” said one of my classmates who gave everyone a hard time. She’d be called a bully today.
Still, I have so much to learn after giving talks for so many years.
Yesterday was one such learning experience.
One of Professor Sztainbok’s students asked about my going to the December 6th Vigil with the sign you see at the top of this page. I used an incorrect word when describing my attending the vigil. I said, “I go with my sign to disrupt the vigil.”
I go to bring awareness to the fact that women of colour are being killed everyday in Canada and no government or police agency really gives a shit.
I’m there to challenge whiteness and raise awareness via my sign.
I don’t yell, block people, give cut eye (I actually get cut eye from white women), or disrupt.
The young student, a woman of colour, challenged my disruption. Really, my improper use of a word which had her see something that does not happen; my bad.
“Why not start your own rally and make it bigger instead of disrupting the December 6th Vigil?” she said.
I mentioned the February 14th rally for Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women that happens across the country. And I said by me going to December 6th with my sign I bring awareness to other women and causes.
We agreed to disagree and moved on.
While on a 3 hour walk home yesterday I thought about my use of the word “disrupt” and her use of the word “bigger”.
I believe both are inaccurate.
This is not about competition between white women and women of other races or classes, nor is it about being disrespectful to the memories of the 14 white women killed in Montreal 21 years ago.
There shouldn’t have to be all these rallies and vigils because no one should be the victims or survivors of violence.
To me it’s about bringing attention to people who are left out of the discourse. And it’s about questioning why white women are remembered and brought justice while Aboriginal women, immigrant women, women of colour, sex workers, and trans women are forgotten.
I used an improper word, was challenged, and learned.
The talk went well.
People emailed me questions and shared some of their story, some asked to be my friend on Face Book, and one, a man of colour, one of 7 men in the class, emailed me a great message:
I was in the class you lectured in today. I felt I could relate to you regarding the “scaring women” case. There are times when I walk home at night and women seem scared so I cross the street to relieve them of their fears. I felt I was overreacting at times by doing so, but it was nice to know I’m not the only one who does so. Overall, you gave a very inspiring lecture today, just wanted to thank you for your inspirational speech.
Edwin E. Joeng
To me, that’s amazing. I reached another person, in this case a man (which is great and unusual), who could relate, and who learned from me as I from him.
Tonight’s talk will be different but I hope the same circle of sharing and learning happens.
That’s what it’s about.
Big thanks to the kind woman of colour student who took the photo above.
Please keep Black Coffee Poet in mind for writing workshops, motivational talks, and guest lecturing on topics such as STOPPING violence against women + male allyship + activist journalism + Indigenous Solidarity.
I need to know more about “cut eye”? And, I know what Edwin E. Joeng is talking about too. I’ve been on sidewalks late at night when I can sense/see how hard the guy approaching is trying to not be intimidating to me. I may be rightfully (?) slightly afraid of being interfered with – we all grow up with some act of violence (do we?) but I am also thankful, that there are sensitive, aware, caring men who realize that encounters on dark streets can be safe, courteous, normal. Wow, if everyone was as safe as this. thanks, black coffee poet and everyone who joins in this discourse and actions.
What I really appreciated about Jorge’s talk is that he managed to convey a complex analysis of social relations – interlocking systems, masculinity, colonialism, violence – all the things we’ve been talking about, through examples from his own life. This is a difficult thing to do on both a personal and intellectual level. I am humbled. Some specific examples that come to mind are the connections Jorge made between being a young male, homophobia, and violence; being aware of his male privilege in public situations and in personal settings; and how we can think of anti-oppression as “standing beside,” rather than “saving” the oppressed.