BrownTown shares space with Benji Hart, author, artist, and educator to discuss language, movement-building, and artistry created by and for queer, trans, and gender non-binary folks. The gang analyzes the relationships between Pride celebrations and police, media and political representations of LGBTQ+ folks, and the nuanced, complicated ways in which we subvert and reimagine oppressive systems while simultaneously navigating, operating, and living within them. Originally recorded June 2019.
Benji Hart is an author, artist, and educator from Amherst, Massachusetts, living in Chicago. The writer behind the blog Radical Faggot, their essays have been anthologized in Rebellious Mourning: The Collective Work of Grief (2017) and Taking Sides: Radical Solidarity and the Poverty of Liberalism (2015), both from AK Press. Their commentary has been published at Teen Vogue, The Advocate, The Chicago Reader, and others. They have led political education workshops on subjects ranging from prison abolition to trans liberation for organizations across the Midwest, and been a guest lecturer in classrooms at the University of Chicago and Kalamazoo College. They have facilitated retreats, focused on organizational development and community building, for grassroots collectives such as Love & Protect and For the People Artists Collective.
As representation for LGBTQ+ folks (especially queer, trans, and non-binary) slowly expands in mainstream media, policy, and other facets of socialized life, BrownTown and Benji chop it up about what this means in terms of grassroots activism, emerging frameworks, and media making on the path to liberation and equity. Benji discusses his work in educational and activist spaces with queer, Black, and trans folks at the forefront of movements (Benji: “queer people run shit.”). The gang dive deep into the history and colonization of our very language in discussing ourselves and the world around us as well as its parallel to Chi DNA and drill rap as a (at times problematic yet) misunderstood form of communication. We get an update in Chicago and national politics regarding the effect of identity politics on actual policy and march towards equity (see: Benji’s article on Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot). Recorded in June, BrownTown brings up the role of Pride month, particularly with the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, and the renewed conversation of police presence in celebrations of trans and non-binary lives (see: NYPD’s says, “my bad” for Stonewall). This begs the question, who is Pride for now? The team pivots to media representation from 1990’s Paris is Burning documentary to FX’s current TV show Pose (which has the largest cast of transgender actors to be starring as series regulars in a scripted show), both about ball culture in New York City. How does a traditionally colonized industry successfully employ, consult, and bring real identities to a mainstream light without cheapening the story? What power dynamics lie in documentary and fictional filmmaking behind-the-scenes and in front of the camera? As in ballroom categories and in everyday life, how do we send up, alter, and abolish violent systems politically and culturally while using their tools and internalizing navigating within them in complex ways to survive and thrive on the way to liberation? Here’s BrownTown’s take.
Follow Benji on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Peep their work on their website BenjiHart.com.
CREDITS: Intro/outro song Rose in Harlem by Teyana Taylor. Audio engineered by Genta Tamashiro.
EPISODE CORRECTION: The 2019 US military budget was around $700 billion while the 2020 budget is proposed at $720 billion, likely to exceed to $750 billion by most estimates, not $600 billion as was stated. All numbers are still a fraction of the overall defense spending, not including individual war budgets, homeland security, etc.
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