By Nia King, POCZP Contributor
There are a lot of things I hate about punk culture. You can read about most of them in The First 7-Inch Was Better: How I Became an Ex-Punk. But one of the positive things I took away from punk was the knowledge that I could do things myself (whether it was publishing a zine, putting a show together, or cooking a meal for a big crowd at Food Not Bombs with little help and little culinary training).
I’m not saying the zines, shows, or meals were exceptionally well-produced, but as a pink-haired 16 year old, I knew they were all things I could do myself. I didn’t need to ask permission.
[DESCRIPTION: Nia King assembles some of her zines at home (2013). Photo credit: Nia King]
As I got older, being a punk became less important to me, and identities like “queer” and “woman of color” began to play a bigger role in my life. I took my passion for social justice out of the VFW kitchen, and poured it into campus organizing in college, and after graduation, an entry level job at a terrible non-profit. There I learned that doing things well required years of training, lots of money, and often outside consultants. Little emphasis was put into helping us build the skills we’d need to do things ourselves. A lot of emphasis was put into making sure I didn’t forget to use oxford commas.
Three years outside of college (and one year outside the uber-dysfunctional non-profit), I am thankful for my punk roots. Though I dropped out of art school and still draw at, what I feel, is a high school level, I started a webcomic, which is currently being featured in the Lady Drawers exhibition in Chicago. With very little audio editing experience, I started a podcast. (I record all the interviews on my phone.) And without ever having taken a journalism class, I started writing for magazines. The verdict is still out on how that’s going.
None of the things I made are award-winning, all of them are a little rough around the edges. But I’ve overcome that deep-seated fear of imperfection that comes from the knowledge that as a queer woman of color I have to be a super-overachiever to be given even half the credit I’m due. I’m amplifying the voices of people from marginalized communities (whether it be myself or other queer and trans artists of color) in a way that I wouldn’t have been able to if I’d continue to believe I needed more training and better equipment before I put my foot in the water. Growing up in punk culture and zine culture taught me, “It doesn’t have to be perfect, you just have to do it.”
I’m sure my privileges as a light-skinned, middle-class, cisgender woman had everything to do with the doors that have been opened for me. Doors were also opened for me by the incredible mentors I had at Mills College and Colorlines Magazine (which is not where I developed my fear of forgetting oxford commas, and was actually an amazingly supportive work environment.)
But punk is where I learned the DIY ethic that taught me I don’t need a ton of schooling or a ton of money to call myself an artist. I just need to make art, self-publish, and hustle to get my work to the audience that matters most to me: other folks from marginalized communities struggling to figure out if they can do it themselves.
“Let’s Talk About” is an experimental series by POCZP created to share communal knowledge, resources and reflections on a wide range of topics affecting communities of color.
If you are a person of color—or a white person with a history of supporting POC Zine Project— who wants to contribute to “Let’s Talk About,” submit to email@example.com with “Let’s Talk About” in the subject line.
All submissions to “Let’s Talk About” will be compiled into a zine (print & digital) that will be released by POCZP in December of 2013.
SUPPORT POC ZINE PROJECT
If everyone in our community gave $10, we would more than meet our fundraising goal for 2013. If you have it to spare, we appreciate your support. All funds go to our 2013 tour, the Legacy Series and the poverty zine series.
DONATE link via PayPal: http://bit.ly/SHdmyh
Thank you for your interest. There are MANY poc zines with an LGBTQ perspective out there.
To start, if you haven’t already, check out MUSE ZINE #9: State of the Heart, which is by and for teens, the Dari Project, GREENZINE by Cristy C. Road (order from her website), search the amazing QZAP.org for POC topics, check out zines by the MOONROOT collective, scan our Tumblr to find zines from an LGBTQ perspective, and contact Jenna Freedman at the Barnard Zine Library for suggestions and search strategies: firstname.lastname@example.org.
We don’t like to make assumptions about POC identity through avis and a few blog posts, so we hope you find this helpful. If you’re not a person of color, please read our White Ally FAQ. Thanks!
Community: If you know of zines by and for POC teens with an LGBTQ perspective, please reblog and add your notes. Thanks!
Thanks for writing. No, we are not an online distro. Our focus is on being an advocacy platform and publishing original zine series that are developed to affect change within specific communities by partnering with individuals and organizations already doing great work.
We (among other things) spotlight zines and zine distros by people of color on our digital platforms and through zine partnerships during events, such as our recent 12-city tour.
During the Race Riot! tour, we had a Race Riot! Mall (long table/s) filled with zines by people of color available to all attendees for purchase, with many of them for free.
If you are looking to purchase zines by people of color, let us know where you’re located so we can recommend IRL sources as well as online ones.
Browse our archive tag for recommendations. This tag reflects some of the zines we purchased and/or received as donations for our archive.
Para liberar nuestras fronteras: Seeing, Feeling, and Finding Community ‘at the Race Riot’
I remember, in fine detail, the exact moment during Meet Me at the Race Riot (editor’s note: read this rad report back) when I finally managed to relax.
I tend to be a nervous public speaker. I’ve gotten compliments on how ‘natural’ and comfortable I seem at readings, and I think that I’ve managed to accept them gracefully. But whatever confidence I seem to project is a mere illusion, and I didn’t even seem to have that on this particular evening. I went to ‘the race riot’ with more than my usual portion of anxiety, carried it right up to the front of the room when I sat down with the other readers, and clung to it for over an hour.
(Jamie’s portion begins at 19:49 into this video.)
Before the last presentation, moderator Daniela Capistrano opened up a general Q&A session by asking if anyone in attendance knew of or was working on zines about the Occupy Movement. Someone in the audience shared that they had been involved in documenting the feminist and queer experience at Occupy Wall Street, and also that they had somehow managed to scam photocopies of this from a major corporation. This was met with murmurs of approval and appreciation, including fellow reader Mariam Bastani’s quiet, but affirmative, “Haaaaii…!”
It was small, but that was the moment. I turned to look at her, and I cracked up. I thought that her response was entirely valid, as I too support any and all conning of corporate entities out of paper and ink. But it was also funny, so I laughed. For the first time that day my shoulders loosened up, I took a deep breath, and I forgot about my anxiety. I stopped wondering what I, who have done ‘basically nothing’ for zine culture, was doing up there with a panel of ‘legit’ readers and started to enjoy being there.
If only I’d let myself enjoy more of it. Jordan Alam, Osa Atoe, and Mariam told us how they had come to zine culture and also how they had become conscious of issues of race, class, gender, and identity, and Mariam and Osa spoke at length about their experiences with punk and hardcore. All three were genuine, thoughtful, and entertaining. Jordan spoke with candor about the therapeutic value of talking to herself, and using those conversations to write zines. Mariam read to us from a piece that addresses the issue of white punks’ aversion to the “expression” ‘people/persons of color’, and explains “what’s really up” with punk and race with her uniquely goofy, yet tough voice. Osa read an unpublished zine contribution from artist and veteran punk Vaginal Creme Davis about her mother’s involvement with a criminal lesbian separatist organization.
But I listened to all of this as if from just outside the classroom’s door, and watched as if through a window: straining to hear and see all of it, and distracted by my longing to be in the room with everyone. I sat there wanting to be and feel present, wanting to forget the personal problems I had tried to leave at home when I frantically ran out the door and to the train station earlier that day. But it isn’t always so easy to do that.
My anxiety about this event began before I even agreed to participate. Co-organizer and respected colleague Kate Wadkins e-mailed me a month in advance to ask I’d like to read at an event about zinesters of color, with the likes of Osa Atoe and Mimi Thi Nguyen. Fully aware of their work and their impact, I almost declined. I didn’t feel like I belonged on the bill. The idea of reading with them scared me.
So I told Kate that I would be happy to read. If something scares you, that means you should do it, right? And if someone offers you this type of opportunity, you should take it as a compliment, and trust her judgment, right? I accepted Kate’s invitation, and decided that this would be just the motivation I needed to help me finish the zine that I’d been planning all summer. I spent the next month hard at work on writing, layout, and ultimately unsuccessful ‘anxiety management’.
I’m pretty sure that I utterly failed to manage my anxiety because I didn’t know its source, and didn’t recognize its until the night of the reading. When the event began, I looked out into the audience and realized that none of the friends I’d asked to be there had arrived. I saw about 100 attentive, engaged faces (…as well as some great hair and really cute tops), but few of them were familiar. I’d struggled to think of people to invite to the event, and then struggled some more with feeling guilty for asking them to take time out of their lives to support me. When the few people I did ask didn’t show, it made me feel incredibly alone.
To fully understand this, you need to know that my parents, who were very supportive of everything I did, are both dead. One of them died less than 18 months ago. I have no siblings, and no family nearby, and I’ve been busy with grief and being the executor of an estate, and I’ve felt distant and removed from most of my friends. I’ve needed them and their help, but some have made it clear that they can’t or don’t want to, and it’s made it hard for me to trust everyone around me. Feeling ‘really alone’, and afraid that I will always feel that way, has been my central issue for the past year. Wishing I could talk to my parents, and missing their reassurances, is something that I have to deal with regularly.
Grief is isolating. It draws borders around you, and it can make you feel like you aren’t capable of moving forward or liberating yourself. It can colonize you, and convinced you of your inferiority. Isolated, and occupied by those intense, miserable emotions, is how I felt when the reading started.
Fortunately, it’s not how I felt afterwards. Some of my friends did make it in time to hear me read, and I will forever be grateful to them for it. I read about my misadventures in teaching, and what I’d learned from trying to incorporate my post-colonial politics into my interactions with my students. I managed to get through my reading without fainting, and I couldn’t help but feel grateful for that, as well.
It clicked into place during that fateful Q&A, though. The people who had come to listen to us asked questions about the work we do, the identities we perform, and the obstacles we’ve faced, and told us their stories about their experiences with punk, zine culture, oppression and resistance. Listening and watching as these dialogues opened up and progressed around me made the zine community feel tangible. The consistent use of conscientiously feminist, anti-racist, anti-classist language made the space feel positive and safe. Being able to listen to this, and feeling free to laugh with Mariam in the middle of all of this made me feel safe.
Mimi Thi Nguyen’s final presentation closed the evening, appropriately enough, with her ideas on people of color and their place within punk, zining, and activist communities. She read from a critique of recent Riot Grrrl nostalgia and inquiry, which notes how women of color are framed as a “big downer” within these narratives. Women of color are so often reduced to just that — they are asked to provide a sort of ‘women of color’ commentary, and rarely treated as full participants and creators. Women of color are an ‘intervention,’ rather than a legitimate part of the thing itself.
Which might not sound terribly uplifting, but I know that it inspired me to take more control of my own narrative. It reminded me that in both my shaky personal life and my uneven life as a zinester of color, I am more than an intervention or a ‘downer’, that I’m an active contributor to something bigger, to a culture and community that matters to me.
Participating at Meet Me at the Race Riot: People of Color in Zines from 1990 — Today didn’t solve my problems or fix my life. I won’t pretend that ‘community’ is a substitute for family, friends, or other close relationships, because it isn’t. Community’s value is distinct and not easily quantified. It has a unique way of assuaging feelings of loneliness — if you seek it out, and if you let it.
Editor’s note: Jamie Varriale Vélez was on the first “Meet Me At The Race Riot: People of Color in zines from 1990-Today" panel held in collaboration with POC Zine Project, Barnard Zine Library and For the Birds Collective in November of 2011.