Interview: Queer People of Colour, Racism and Dating

A Black man hugs a White man from the back with another man hugging them from the side

I was interviewed on Triple J ‘s ‘The Hook Up‘ program (listen from 1:12:49) about sexual racism in queer communities.

Nat Tencic: We’re talking about racism and the experiences of queer people of colour in dating. And to answer some of those more big picture questions, like why are we seeing this internal minority struggle, we’re joined right now by sociologist, Dr Zuleyka Zevallos. She specialises in issues of gender and sexuality, culture, discrimination and diversity. Dr Zevallos, welcome and thank you for joining us.

Zuleyka: Hi. Thanks for having me.

Nat: I think that first big picture question is something that really interests me: why do we see this happening in the queer community? Why when you’re already discriminated against do you see that next level of discrimination come through so loudly?

Zuleyka: I think for some people it seems counterintuitive because, obviously, queer communitites are facing discrimination along sexual lines. But at the same time, all of us live in the same society that is dominated by whiteness. We have a long history of discrimation against Indigenous communities and against migrant people, especially migrant people of colour. When we look at it in a social context, LGBTQIA communities are surrounded by the same social influences when it comes to race, [same] as straight people.

Continue reading Interview: Queer People of Colour, Racism and Dating

Racism in Research and Academia

Racism is not an interpersonal phenomenon. It is not simply about something one person said to another; it is more than a slur about skin colour. Racism operates through institutions and policies, that are reinforced in everyday words and actions. Racism is not comprehending that things you say and do – as well as the things you fail to say and do – contribute to the alienation of people of colour. Well-meaning White people contribute towards racism – through their silence. Whether intentional or not, racism has material consequences on the life chances of racial minorities. Below are some examples of racism at work in research contexts. I examine what it means to be an “ally,” and I discuss ways to proactively respond to racial discrimination in the workplace and online.

Continue reading Racism in Research and Academia

Spaces of Black Modernism: London 1929-1939

This exhibition considers how Black artists were influenced by a cosmopolitan network of Black and Asian artists, models and activists as well as well as their influence on multicultural politics of the city.

Source: Instagram @OtherSociology.

The Walking Dead: Gender, Race & Sexuality

The Walking Dead has pushed many narrative boundaries in bringing horror to popular TV. Yet one glaring area where it maintains a familiar storyline is in the dominance of White heterosexual men. Women are not represented as leaders, there are a pitiful number of gay and lesbian characters (but no other sexual minorities) and people of colour are disposable. In a show that asks its loyal audience to suspend disbelief to imagine an improbable zombie apocalypse, why are gender, race and sexual inequalities taken for granted?

It is no accident that in a show about the end of the world as we know it — strong, independent women, irrepressible people of colour and other minorities, are rare. The Walking Dead story was conceived of by Robert Kirkman, a White male heterosexual graphic novel artist and developed for TV by Frank Darabont, a White heterosexual man. In imagining the end of the world, White straight dudes think they’ll be the last ones standing, and that White women, people of colour and other minorities will simply go along with the prevailing social order that led to the apocalypse in the first place. For all its strong points, The Walking Dead fails to conceive of a new vision for civilisation that breaks the dominance of Whiteness and patriarchy.

Read more of my article on Medium.


  1. [Michonne grabs her katana off the mantelpiece.] The Walking Dead: Gender, Race & Sexuality
  2. [Rick and Michonne sit and chat] “Rick — what are you doing?” — Michonne
  3. “I know what you’re doing.” — Sasha
  4. “We’re going to work it out” — Maggie, with Glenn 
  5. [Rosita and Tara smiling in the woods]
  6. “You’re a small, weak, nothing” — Carol

  7. [Rick and Morgan stare at one another with shock] Inequality is immune to the zombie apocalypse. 

Images: Screen grabs from AMC’s The Walking Dead. Gifs by Zuleyka Zevallos.

Rethinking the Narrative of Mars “Colonisation”
Biologist Dr D. N. Lee has been doing an amazing job educating on how enthusiastic narratives of “colonising” Mars are problematic. On her Twitter, Lee notes that the dominant ways of talking about colonisation add to the marginalisation of under-represented minorities in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). If we want to make science more inclusive, we need to better understand how the stories we tell about STEM may exclude and damage under-represented groups we are trying to support.

Not Just Semantics
Lee notes that talking about Mars in terms of colonisation is not simply an issue of semantics – for example using “settlement” instead of colonising. Rather, media narratives unquestioningly champion rich White men’s ideas about what Mars travel should mean: “we don’t have to be stuck on Earth!” The narrative is being framed around “saving” humanity. (See a Storify of Lee’s discussion for further context.)

Lee asks: saving from what, whom, and why? And in this re-imagining of humanity’s salvation, who is left behind? Who does the dangerous, under-paid work of building new colonised spaces? In short, what have we learned from history about colonisation? It is rooted in exploitation and inequality. On Twitter, Lee writes:

“When I hear scientists discuss "for the good of humanity” I check who is talking and if they listen to “others.” History AND Contemporary events have demonstrated how often people will exploit and harm ‘others’ when diverse ppl cant inform policy… If Mars will be better place (where the wealthy are clamoring to) & earth is the place to be “stuck”, then WHO is stuck & w/ what resources… In human history there’s a profound diff in exploration, recon, even trading with other peoples vs Imperialism, conquering & colonization…Thing is, when Some of us hear Colonization, Enterprise Expansion, New wealth acquisition, we have a VERY different Movie trailer playing"

Lee is clear that space exploration is not the problem; she is questioning the context of talking about Mars as a place to colonise, as a way to escape problems on Earth, which have arisen as a result of colonial practices in the first place.

White Male Privilege in STEM Narratives
Lee demonstrates that White male entrepreneurs encourage the public to give up on our responsibilities on Earth, both environmentally and socially. They do so in ways that mirror the colonisation of Indigenous cultures.

White male space enthusiasts had been arguing back at Lee on Twitter, saying that Mars represents an opportunity to start over; to get social justice right. They tell her that if she continues to be “negative,” she will miss out on the opportunity to engage with the future of space science, because the public will turn off her. 

Former NASA engineer Homer Hickam was one of the men who dismissed Lee’s conversation as “silly.” Lee discussed colonialism and White male privilege. For example, his views as a White man dominate STEM, but her views as woman of colour are dismissed.

Hickam responded that he is proud that his ancestors had social privilege because that means they were successful and earned their place in colonised spaces. He applauds manifest destiny more than once. He evoked a Native American ancestor to justify his racist comments (whilst celebrating the tenacity of his White ancestors to colonise). Hickam derided Lee’s concerns as a fellow scientist because she is a woman of colour. He then blocked her, effectively shutting down the conversation about inclusion. As a senior figure in STEM with greater social power, Hickam proves Lee’s argument, that only White men’s views are allowed respect in STEM.

Lee notes that if we can’t get the conversation about diversity and inclusion right, here and now – then how can we ever hope to restart afresh elsewhere?

Why Understanding Colonialism Matters in STEM
Exploration can happen in many ways, and these do not necessarily have to involve exploitation, enslavement, dispossession, rape, genocide, removal of children from their communities, being forced into missionary settlements, forced to convert religion and violently made to assimilate. Colonialism only happens through violence – including all the methods mentioned, which have happened to Indigenous groups around the world. This colonial violence continues in the present day.

Right now, the Australian Government is forcing 150 Indigenous communities off their ancestral lands in Western Australia. 

Imagine you are a young Indigenous child intrigued about space. Indigenous groups, including in Australia, already have many sacred stories about the stars that have influenced science. Indigenous Australians may be “the world’s oldest astronomers.” What a great way to connect Indigenous youth with STEM careers! But now imagine they see these media stories, where White men conceive of space travel in colonial terms, while at the same time they are living through their communities being pushed off their lands. They also see only a few brave people of colour, like Lee, standing up to big-name White men in STEM, while these leaders and other so-called “allies” are calling this Black scientist “silly.”

We have so few Indigenous groups in STEM as it is; the numbers in astronomy can be counted in one hand when we look at gender breakdowns in different locations.* So why would these minorities want to join a STEM profession if White scientists want to assert their right to ignore historical violence? STEM pushes out minorities in many ways; this is just one example.

Language is not benign. Language matters for diversity and inclusion, as do the ideas informing our choice of words, and the stories we choose to weave, and those we ignore. Language influences how we teach and learn science; it’s how existing policies are maintained; it’s how some voices continue to shout down Others.

Learn more on my blog.


  • Image: [White woman showing a story that reads “Mission to Mars.” She says: “Yay! Mars. Let’s go!” Group gathered around her frowns. Man of colour thinks “This is some bull.” Another woman of colour thinks “I don’t see it. Do you see it? You got to be rich to see it.”] Source: via Lee.
  • *I’ll soon publish data on minority astronomers in the USA (including Indigenous men and women) on the Women in Astronomy blog.                

In addition to her Oscar speech, which called for gender equality in pay, actress Patricia Arquette showed her lack of understanding of intersectional issues backstage. She demanded that gay and people of colour pay “women” back for all the work “women” do to advocate for equality. The problem is, of course, that not only was a privileged White woman asking oppressed groups to fight for her rights, but Arquette’s remarks also show her lack of awareness that women of colour, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex women are all women too. 

When Arquette was crying for wage equality, she meant for White women, not all women. When she demands that gay and people of colour fight for White women, she does not understand how sexism, homophobia, transphobia, class and other issues impact on the wage gap.

Professor Brittney Cooper notes that on top of wage inequality and systemic racism and sexism, women of colour also do other forms of unpaid labour – by continually being forced to educate White women about social justice.

“Some of my academic colleagues of colour call this ‘the Black or people of colour tax’ — the extra, and often unacknowledged labour, time and resources we give to institutions, that our white colleagues don’t have to do and for which we are uncompensated, in order to help struggling students of colour navigate our institutions and insure diversity at the levels of faculty and administration.” [My emphasis]

Unfortunately, Arquette still hasn’t apologised for her comments nor has she adequately addressed the critique. Immediately after the backlash, she took to Twitter to acknowledge that women of colour are the most disadvantaged group. But then she promptly went back and kept tweeting about equal pay as if all women have it equally bad, thus erasing racial and other inequalities that she had evoked in the first place. 

Most problematic of all, she is denying she has privilege because she says she lived “below the poverty line” as a child and because she was a single mother at age 20.

This still misses the point that no matter how tough she had it, women of colour have it much worse, with racism and other discrimination on top of gender inequity. Women of colour are twice as likely to be poor as White women. It is possible to use one’s privilege to shine a light on the pay gap, and still acknowledge intersectional inequalities without denying privilege. Arquette is simply ignoring power dynamics and racism, by lumping all the criticism she received as being unsupportive of equal pay.

Whatever good she thinks she’s doing, she’s also perpetuating other inequalities.



A Brazilian crayon brand created a set of crayons for Uniafro, a program  of the Ministry of Education of Brazil which establishes criteria for financial assistance to higher education institutions in order to promote actions for the initial and continuous training of teachers of basic education and for the development of specific teaching materials under the Affirmative Action Program for the Black Population in Federal Institutions and State Higher Education.

The set of crayons represents 12 real skin tones.

The  courses, as well as teaching materials, aimed at the implementation of Article 26a of the Law of Guidelines and Bases of National Education (LDB) and the promotion of the study of African History and Afro-Brazilian Culture. The intention is to contribute to overcoming the prejudices and discriminatory attitudes of racism through the application of qualified teaching practices in these subjects in basic education schools in Brazil.

h/t to mborgomani!

Love thisssss ugh

An Apology to Black Folks


My piece on the Hyphen Blog today.

White supremacy is successful in part because the nature of the beast is such that some have more to gain from its perpetuation than others. For Asian Americans, it has been a double-edged sword with a large swath of Asian Americans gaining more from participating than not, even though it also harmed the most vulnerable in Asian America. Many of us participated vigorously, collecting social and economic capital in the process. Will we continue to participate freely or will we start to push back against a system that makes us complicit in racist, murderous oppression of Black, Latin@, and Native peoples? –  Kai-Ming Ko.

Excellent post. Read the whole thing!

An Apology to Black Folks

Aversion to Writing Black Characters


Anonymous asked: Hi lovelies, thanks so much for the work you do to make the writing world a better place. =) Quick question: is it problematic to give people of color supernatural features like neon hair or pink eyes, for example? I’m trying to add some diversity into a collaborative work and I’m struggling to convince my colleagues to create a totally true-to-nature black race. This partly because the setting is a medieval/fantasy world. I remember someone saying that as long as there’s backstory, it can work?

You should ask them why when it comes to diversity, they would rather create supernatural characters rather than authentic black ones. 

This is closely related to the dehumanization of characters of color. In fantasy/sci-fi worlds, the white characters are usually human while the aliens/humanoids have blatant similarities to people of color. 

Black characters should be able to exist in a medieval world just as much as the white ones can. 

~ Mod Brei

Interviewing POC for Research


Anonymous asked: I know I have to talk to people for research, but I’m not sure how to go about it or when to do it. Before starting? After finishing a rough draft? I’m an amateur writer and I feel like I don’t have the authority to organize an interview or something.

Don’t feel like you’re too amateur to organize an interview. If you’re serious about writing something or someone accurately and respectfully, an interview is the way to go. Also, there’s several different mediums if you’re too nervous for a face-to-face interview or the person(s) you’d like to interview is far away. There’s always phone, email, chat, Skype, and so on.

Hopefully these tips will be of use:

  • Prepare and Research: Try not to come into the interview totally ignorant on the subject matter you’re interviewing the person about. Read up from accurate and first-hand sources on the topics you’ll interview on. It should also give you material for the interview and open up the interviewee’s personal thoughts on the subject. For example, “I’ve read a lot about Black Americans having to have “the talk” about racism and how the world perceives them and what they have to do to stay safe. If there was such conversations in your family, what was the nature of it?”
  • Stay Focused: This relates to the first suggestion. Come in with focused material and if possible, like-wise topics near each other so one subject bleeds into the next. This will also help follow the interviewee’s natural thought progression.
  • Ask Specific, yet open-ended questions: Yes or no questions will give you a yes or no answer. Which, in the long run, probably isn’t much info and may require a series of follow-up questions. Unless you have those planned out already, if possible, ask focused questions that invite more thought. It’s the difference between “Do you like x?” and “Please tell me how you feel about x.” 
  • Don’t push: If someone is clearly uncomfortable answering one or more of your questions or don’t provide a confident answer, apologize then move onto something else. You can make a note on the question to evaluate what exactly might’ve made that person uncomfortable or unable to answer. Was it just a personal thing? Was it just too personal in general? A touchy subject matter? Tough subjects are hard to talk about sometimes and almost always feel personal (such as racism) but reconsider if you’ll ask such a question in a future or how important the information is.
  • Don’t overwhelm: Bring a list rolling to the floor of questions and inquiries and the interviewee may begin to feel exhausted and dissected. Remember that they’re not just an info machine but that you’re talking with a human taking the time to help you, so respect their and your time. That means consider the tips above (being concise, not pushing for answers, and doing your research prior) and while not rushing through the interviewing, not being long-winded either.

If you do have a lot you wish to ask that research by other means hasn’t provided, consider if you’re able to interview more than one person. This loosens the load from one person’s shoulders and also can provide some other perspectives on the subject matter.

Now, when you do the interviewing is up to you; just remember to have done as much research as you could dependent of the interview before making arrangements.

So there’s my suggestions. I hope these are helpful to you or anyone else who may be interviewing people, particularly People of Color, about their life and experiences.

~Mod Colette