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INTERVIEW: Jordan Alam — A Zinester of Colour Combating Erasure

June 5, 2015
Photo Credit: Heather Hoppe

Photo Credit: Heather Hoppe

When I went to the NYC Feminist Zine Fest back in March I was lucky to meet one of the dope organizers Jordan Alam. She’s a fierce zinester with origins in Bangladesh who has been based in New York for over 6 years. She now lives in Seattle. We swapped zines and I snagged a copy of her zine, “Loving Ghosts” and “Black Elephant” both of which I gobbled up on my bus read back to Toronto. Even though our encounter was brief, she definitely had good vibes.

Months later I got an email from Jordan expressing that she wanted to bring a Black Lives Matter Panel to the Brooklyn Zine Fair. I think it was Jordan who was encouraging me to come back to NYC for the BZF. However she continued to explain in her email that her idea for a Black Lives Matter Panel was completely shut down by the organizers and despite meetings and attempts at open dialogue, Jordan had little choice but to resign.

Immediately I messaged her to check in. Many times here in Canada I’ve been told my ideas are “too racey” or to tone down the “identity politics” and those violent statements have had an emotional toll on me. After a couple of emails back and forth, I asked Jordan if she was comfortable with me interviewing her. I skyped her back in April and here’s the interview!

For a more detailed account of what went down in Jordan’s own words, please check out her blog post here: http://thecowation.blogspot.ca/2015/04/white-out-at-brooklyn-zine-fest.html

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Whitney French: My first reaction to hearing your story is that it’s sadly familiar. What were your initial feelings towards the oppression you faced?

Jordan Alam: Weirdly I felt like I was watching myself from a bird’s eye view. This is textbook racism. I’m shocked that it was this explicit. It was as if the organizers were saying, “we just don’t want to hear your voices”.

WF: In reading your email and then your blog post, I noticed that your claim to have a Black Live Matter panel was challenged but you persisted and tried to compromise to keep it on the agenda. How do you feel about compromise when it comes to talking about racial politics?

JA: Compromise, yeah. My feeling was that I’m gonna take this and subvert them as hard as I can. I really wanted to bring people out who can talk just as intelligently about Black Lives Matter even if it’s called Black Brilliance, Black Zines Matter or some other title. I thought I still had the power to choose who is going to talk. When they cut the idea from the program all together, clearly they don’t want to do things with folks of colour. And that was the point of madness.

WF: Sharing your story online is an act of courage in and of itself. I immediately felt a call to action:

JA: I’m glad that you felt that call to action. It took a long time to write this version of it. That was just my personal experience, not like an ask of demands. In some ways the first drafts were more emotional, they were more like stories. This one is more of a manifesto, it keeps the heart tame, in my opinion.

WF: And that’s you tame?

JA: Yeah. Woo, I’m a loud mouth. But yeah, putting it out there was soooo nerve wrecking. Call-out culture is intense. There’s always a sense of not knowing what that response is going to be, I was so vulnerable that I had go offline for like 12 hours. Folks are gonna say this and that. It’s disturbing when people don’t make me credible to my own experience.

WF: It must have been a difficult decision.

JA: It was. But I really did receive support. That’s the invisible bit. Before the public statement, I contacted zinesters and they responded beautifully. POC Zine Project helped, folks did some Twitter fighting for me, others helped prepared drafts etc.

WF: It’s beautiful to see solidarity and support. This leads into my next question.

In your opinion is it possible for inclusive organizing when those who are organizing are non-coloured (white) folks?

JA: My hope is that they [non-coloured folks] bring on POC as organizers. It’s awful when they never consider that. They can be better allies than they have been. But on the flipside, people have been supportive of me, they have made my statement into a zine format, they are getting into conversations, doing on the ground activist work. So I thank you for your labour.

Spaces like Barnard Zine Library. Chicago Zine Fest are organized by white folks but they are careful and good at asking about people’s needs and accessibility. They CART transcribers, consider mental health care, those things can happen but it takes a lot of self-awareness on the side of the organizing and the organizers.

WF: What are your thoughts on POC activists creating their own spaces?

JA: I really appreciate folks who do separatist stuff. I lean more towards spaces that folks feel comfortable with. People are fighting on both fronts. It depends on what your energy is about. Some people are good at cheering and being present at white events. Other folks are more comfortable being around their own people. NYC Feminist Zine Fest is trying to unite people who have a willingness to learn. We have guidelines and build framework around it. I’m really torn. I want all spaces to be intentional (like FZF) where they can admit when we’re not good at things. I think it good to have both.

jordan_quote

WF: How do you use zines to be political?

JA: Maybe because I worked at Barnard, and FZF I sometimes forget that men do zines. Everything is about identity because I mostly do perzines. I write my experience. Why are you talking to me if those things bother you?

I talk about stuff that isn’t easy. My most recent zine talks about sexual assault and being a doula and taking care of yourself. There are so many ZOC going hard on that. ‘Here’s an article, here’s a radical tip’, that is political knowledge. It interacts with a society that tells us to do things in one way. Zines gives us a space for alternative being.

WF: That’s how I feel. Zines are much more than just the alternative media, they can be political and powerful. I wanted to talk a bit about the resignation letter to the Brooklyn Zine Fair. Do you care to share your feelings around writing the letter?

JA: The only thing I want to say about that is that originally I wanted to engage with them in a conversation. An opener for dialogue. But then they didn’t respond at all. That’s the only reason I went public. Even if someone is resigning from Dunkin Donuts, you don’t just leave them hanging. It disrespected me but also disrespected the opportunity to have the dialogue as a whole. If we talked in private, maybe something could have happened.

Also, does call out equal shut down? I’m not sure. Now it’s tense and those people think I’m terrifying but at the same time hopefully it gets them to consider their position, even if it’s a little bit.

WF: So now that you’ve shared your story online, what do you wish to see? What are some next steps?

JA: Yeah, we did planning around getting money for organizations doing on the ground Black Lives Matter work. If this never happened, if there was a no problem or a racist incident, there wouldn’t be as much money for those initiatives. Money has been allocated to the Audre Lorde Project. Two allies are supporting organizational open forums about what it means to be accountable to ZOC in anarchist book fairs and the like. I hope that goes well. I hope people come up with strong ideas. I’m nervous because I want to be a fly on the wall. But I look forward to people’s commitment.

I’d also like to say that when I put out this statement, I was afraid of push-back from black activists. I am a non-black person of colour and I’m being presented as the offended person. It shouldn’t be about me but about black folks and their voices were shared. People sent me offers for Black Lives Matter events but I’ve said, “Nope! Not best person for the job. Talk to important black organizers.”

WF: That’s so important to state and I’m glad your shared that. It’s heartwarming to feel true solidarity from an activist of colour who opens up spaces for black people to tell their story. And thank you Jordan for taking the time for this interview. Before we wrap up, how can people get a hold of you?

JA: I have a few things going on. There’s Project As I am. The last big event we had was a teleconference about Asian Americans in solidarity with Black Lives Matter work. Always looking for volunteers and folks that want to support that.

I’m always supporting the Audre Lorde Project: I suggest folks choose that place to donate. They work from an intersectional place, combating police violence, uplifting LGBT POC, prioritized marginalized, trans women etc.

I can be found on: http://thecowation.blogspot.ca/

and Twitter: https://twitter.com/thecowation

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