On Safe Sex and Stigma: Where Morality Skews the message

This was a twitter thread that I posted on my personal Twitter account. Thought I share it here too.


I guess this whole conversation on #SafeSex and #Stigma is timely given the announcement of the antibiotic resistance of gonorrhoea. I saw a twitter thread that made me uneasy because it suggested that the safe sex ‘narrative’ stigmatizes testing and those with STIs. I was in agreement with the first part which was that it is ridiculous that stigma exists in the first place, given that you can get infected even from your monogamous partner. There is a reason why there are ads in DC Metro encouraging people to get tested, even if the are in relationships.

STIs are transmitted regardless of your relationship status. However, the thread was arguing for getting rid of the safe sex narrative, since the safe sex narrative stigmatizes testing for STIs, and this is where I disagree. That argument is like saying advocating for the HPV vaccine stigmatizes testing for HPV, or using Prep stigmatizes testing for HIV. The framework of safe “safer” sex acknowledges that people engage in risky behaviors all the time. The purpose of the safe sex framework and its prevention strategies are aimed at risk reduction. All the prevention strategies and interventions are focused on reducing risk. They bring agency and place the onus of prevention on all the partners involved, but it also allows for particular circumstances that people might be involved in: can’t negotiate condom use, social/cultural beliefs regarding sexual behaviours, etc.

The framework itself is not inherently stigmatizing: it does not dictate which behaviors are “better” or more socially acceptable. Safer sex does not penalize you if you did get an STI, it just points out what behaviors will (statistically) put you at less risk, and how to minimise the risk of passing that STI to current and future partners. Same way that advocating and educating you to avoid a diet high in red meats is not stigmatising/blaming those with heart problems since health is multifaceted. The interventions are telling you how to minimize that risk. Where is the stigma here? Your auntie/uncle who is spouting some respectability politics BS? How is that the fault of the safe sex framework? Google “Just World Hypothesis”. Why throw away the framework when people are just reaching for their own morality regarding sexual behaviors?

One last example: social and reproductive health scientists who work in family planning still advocate for abortion as part of reproductive justice and reproductive choice, even in places where people don’t think abortion should be legal or acceptable, e.g. many states in the US, and many other countries. We don’t care that you think abortion is wrong or right, we are advocating for it regardless as part of reproductive health. If people choose to stigmatise those who choose to abort, that is another issue related to what is socially acceptable. Those social/cultural/moral beliefs mean that we have to tailor the interventions, not abandon the education and advocacy efforts regarding abortion. Same goes to Safe Sex.

Decolonizing the Canon Pt. 2 : Resources

A couple of years ago, I read Lynn Bolles article Telling the Story Straight: Black Feminist Intellectual Thought in AnthropologyMy main take away from Bolles’ article is that not only are minority scholars being faced with structural barriers in academia, but we also are less likely to be cited and referenced by other scholars—even more so for women of color. So for my introductory course with a decolonized reading list, I made an effort to seek out literature written by women, people of color, and from underrepresented minorities.

I stumbled on some really interesting readings (both in the traditional sense and in the new mediatic sense), and I’m sharing them here. The list includes articles, book chapters, Ted Talks, YouTube Videos, podcasts, and online resources like The Sociological Cinema (which actually was started in my graduate alma mater, The University of Maryland, College Park, and to which several colleagues and friends of mine contributed).

Here are some readings that I used for my class based on the thematic components of the discussion:


  • Understanding the Contemporary World (Augé and Colleyn 2006:7-20)
  • The Behavioral Inheritance Systems (Jablonka and Lam b 2005:155-180)
  • Anthropologists and Other Friends (Deloria Jr. 1969)
  • The Puzzle (Handwerker 2009:15-35)
  • Body Ritual Among the Nacirema (Miner 1956)
  • Introduction: Partial Truths (Clifford 1986:1-26)
  • Why Indians Aren’t Celebrating The Bicentennial (Deloria Jr. 1999:199-205)
  • Another Look at Centuries-Long Hegemonic Practices (Williams 2010)
  • Brackette Williams, professor at the University of Arizona
  • Introduction: Out of Exile (Behar 1995:1- 29)
  • Ethnography as Politics (Harrison 1997:88-109)
    • Faye V. Harrison is a Professor of African American Studies and Anthropology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
  • Seeing Kali’s City As “Insiders”: Religious Diversity, Gender, Class, And Culture As “Textured” Learning For American Students (Samanta 2014)
  • The Centrality of Ethnography in the Study of Transnational Migration: Seeing the Wetland Instead of Swamp (Schiller 2003)
  • Living and Working in a War Zone: An Applied Anthropologist in Afghanistan (Omidian 2009)
  • The Circle and the Field (Agar 1994a:49-60)
  • Culture Blends (Agar 1994b:15-30)
  • Slippery Semantics (Godreau 2008)
    • Isar Godreau, Puerto Rican Anthropologist at the University of Puerto Rico
  • Migration, Return, and Development: an Institutional Perspective (Olesen 2002)
  • Gender Roles in Sociocultural and Historical Context (Schweitzer 2006:41-56)
  • Linguistic Anthropology in 2008: An Election-Cycle Guide (Faudree 2009)
  • Mass Media and Transnational Subjectivity in Shanghai: Notes on (Re)Cosmopolitanism in a Chinese Metropolis (Yang 2007:325-349)
    • Mayfair Yang 楊美惠教授 is an Anthropologist by training and professor at University of California Berkeley’s  Department of Religious Studies and Department of East Asian Languages & Cultural Studies.
  •  1-4 (Sontag 2001:5-37)
    • Susan Sontag was a writer, filmmaker, teacher and political activist.

Videos and Other Media


Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi
2013 We Should All Be Feminists – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie at Tedxeuston. http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/We-should-all-be-feminists-Chim, Accessed: August 8, 2014.

Agar, Michael
1994a Culture Blends. In Language Shock: Understanding the Culture of Conversation. Pp. 15-30: HarperCollins.—

1994b The Circle and the Field. In Language Shock: Understanding the Culture of Conversation. Pp. 49-60: HarperCollins.

Augé, Marc, and Colleyn, Jean-Paul
2006 The World of an Anthropologist. Howe, John, transl. Oxford, UK; New York, USA: Berg, Oxford International Publishers Ltd.

Behar, Ruth

1995 Introduction: Out of Exile. In Women Writing Culture. Behar, Ruth and Gordon, Deborah A., eds. Pp. 1-29: University of California Press.

Case, Amber
2010 We Are All Cyborgs Now. Ted.Com. http://www.ted.com/talks/amber_case_we_are_all_cyborgs_now?language=en, accessed October 1, 2014.

Clifford, J.
1986Introduction: Partial Truths. In Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of  Ethnography. Clifford, J. and Marcus, G.E., eds. Pp. 1-26: University of California Press.

Climate Reality
2012 Doubt. Video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YhDacrl1aSA, Accessed: 8/30/2014.

Brooks, Iris and Davis, Jon H.,
2011 Languages Lost and Found: Speaking & Whistling the Mamma Tongue. http://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/1785489, Accessed: 9/1/2014.

Deloria Jr., Vine
1969 Anthropologists and Other Friends. In Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto. University of Oklahoma Press.
1999 A Flock of Anthros. In Spirit & Reason: The Vine Deloria, Jr., Reader. Deloria Jr., Vine, Deloria, B., Foehner, K., and Scinta, S., eds. Pp. 123-126: Fulcrum Pub.—
1999 Why Indians Aren’t Celebrating the Bicentennial. In Spirit & Reason: The Vine Deloria, Jr., Reader. Deloria Jr., Vine, Deloria, B., Foehner, K., and Scinta, S., eds. Pp. 199-205: Fulcrum Pub.

Faudree, Paja
2009 Linguistic Anthropology in 2008: An Election-Cycle Guide. American Anthropologist 111(2):153-161.

Glass, Ira
2004 Fake Science: Stories of People Trying to Drag Science Where It Doesn’t Belong. http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/265/fake-science, Accessed: 8/30/2014.

Godreau, Isar

2008 Slippery Semantics: Race Talk and Everyday Uses of Racial Terminology in Puerto Rico. Centro Journal XX(2):5-33.

Han, Sang-Ho
2005 The Birth of Writing. http://search.alexanderstreet.com/anthropology/view/work/1779548, Accessed: 9/01/2014.

Handwerker, W. Penn
2009 The Puzzle. In The Origin of Cultures: How Individual Choices Make Cultures Change. Pp. 15-35. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, Inc.

Harrison, Faye Venetia
1997 Ethnography as Politics. In Decolonizing Anthropology: Moving Further Toward an Anthropology of Liberation. Harrison, Faye Venetia, ed. Pp. 88-109: Association of Black Anthropologists, American Anthropological Association.

Jablonka, Eva, and Lamb, Marion J.

2005 The Behavioral Inheritance Systems. In Evolution in Four Dimensions: Genetic, Epigenetic, Behavioral, and Symbolic Variation in the History of Life. Pp. 155-191. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.

Lan, Yang
2011 The Generation That’s Remaking China. http://www.ted.com/talks/yang_lan, Accessed: 8/14/14.

Lysicott, Jamila
2014 3 Ways to Speak English. http://www.ted.com/talks/jamila_lyiscott_3_ways_to_speak_english, Accessed: 9/2/2014.

Miner, Horace
1956 Body Ritual among the Nacirema. American Anthropologist 58(3):503-507.

National Congress of American Indians
2014 Proud to Be. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mR-tbOxlhvE, Accessed: 08/26/2014.

Omidian, Patricia
2009 Living and Working in a War Zone: An Aplied Anthropologist in Afghanistan. Practicing Anthropology: Spring 2009, Vol. 31, No. 2, pp. 4-11.

Pagel, Mark

2011 Mark Pagel: How Language Transformed Humanity. http://www.ted.com/talks/mark_pagel_how_language_transformed_humanity#t-536675, Accessed: 8/31/2014.

Richards, Sam
2014 A Radical Experiment In Empathy. Ted.Com. http://www.ted.com/talks/ sam_richards_a_radical_experiment_in_empathy, accessed September 7 , 2014.

Samanta, Suchitra
2014 Seeing Kali’s City As “Insiders”: Religious Diversity, Gender, Class, And Culture As “Textured” Learning For American Students. Practicing Anthropology 35(3): 23-27.

Schweitzer, Marjorie M.
2006 Gender Roles in Sociocultural and Historical Context. In Women in Anthropology: Autobiographical Narratives and Social History. Cattell, Maria G. and Scheweitzer, Marjorie M., eds. Pp. 41-56. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, Inc.

Wesch, Michael
2007 A Vision of Students Today. Online Video, http://mediatedcultures.net/videos/a-vision-of-students-today/, Accessed: July 30, 2014.

Williams, Brackette F.
2010 Forty Years Ago: Another Look at Centuries‐Long Hegemonic Practices. Transforming Anthropology 18(2):111-113.

Yang, Mayfair Mei-Hui
2007 Mass Media and Transnational Subjectivity in Shanghai: Notes on (Re)Cosmopolitanism in a Chinese Metropolis. In The Anthropology of Globalization: A Reader. Inda, Jonathan Xavier and Rosaldo, Renato, eds. Pp. 325-349: Wiley.


No quiero desacreditar la discusión que los proponentes de esta campaña han comenzado. Sólo quiero añadir a la conversación y ver que hay más allá de la campaña mediática y las camisas. Porque, aunque no conozco mucho del movimiento, tampoco he podido encontrar mucho en la red. Conociendo muy poco lo que es #YoNoMeQuito, me pregunto, ¿Cuál es el próposito de este movimiento? ¿Cuál es su constitutición, sus objetivos, sus metas a corto y a largo plazo?

Al principio lo tomé como un afronte a la decisión de muchos que se han ido, porque el lenguaje dice mucho; el decir yo no me quito en Puerto Rico denota contraste de algo o alguien que sí se quitó. Pero imaginé que el propósito era otro, y le di el beneficio de la duda.

Pero aun así, me pregunto: ¿De dónde salió esta campaña y dónde está el diálogo para transformar esta campaña y hacerla nuestra? Porque si ven, Adreline Group está promocionándose a sí mismo por cada #Yonomequito como ven en el gif arriba.

Y creo que el diálogo es importante debido a que hay que articular el nivel de envolvimiento con el trabajador puertorriqueño más allá de un hashtag. De nuevo, ¿A quién está dirigido este mensaje? ¿A quién está esta campaña convenciendo? ¿Cuál es el fin? Estoy bien confundido y un poco molesto, porque la gente ha seguido trabajando mientras sigue sufriendo las consecuencias de la crisis; ¿Quién se está quitando entonces?

Me pregunto porque #YoNoMeQuito me suena a distracción. Distracción que aunque bien intencionada no resuelve mucho. Pero tampoco no es criticar por criticar, porque hay ejemplos de movimientos que sí están movilizando a la gente y tratando de hacer cambio. Un buen ejemplo es #BlackLivesMatter. #BlackLivesMatter no sólo tiene un presencia mediática, si no que tienen metas a corto y a largo plazo. Incluso hay gente nominándose para puestos políticos como DeRay McKesson en Baltimore, mientras que otros están obligando a los candidatos a presidente a articular su política pública respecto a la inequidad racial que está resultando en la muerte de Afroamericanos en manos de la policía.

Quisiera ver más, porque si usted como votante no se quita, tampoco se van a quitar los políticos haciendo y deshaciendo a cuesta del pueblo. Los políticos nos llevaron a este hoyo que es la crisis, y es bien triste que muchos los vayan a re-elegir por sus intransigentes ataduras políticas.

Quisiera ver más, porque si usted como votante no se quita, tampoco se van a quitar los políticos haciendo y deshaciendo a cuesta del pueblo. Los políticos nos llevaron a este hoyo que es la crisis, y es bien triste que muchos los vayan a re-elegir por sus intransigentes ataduras políticas.

The #OscarsSoWhite Problem Is Very Personal To Me

Representation in the media means a lot to me for selfish reasons. Being a trigueño (a word that has euphemistic connotations of anti-blackness) Puerto Rican man, I just didn’t see myself represented often in the media. In Puerto Rico anti-blackness can be very subtle, but to bring the topic up in public contexts is to invoke spirited (and misguided) 19th century discourses of mestizaje (racial miscegenation) and post-racial soceities.

When I was young I could easily count the number of Black and dark skinned people in local Puerto Rican media. Then, they slowly disappeared altogether, with the advent of multinational (American) television companies that bought the local networks and supplanted local programming with shows from the US. Watching local programming dwindle, while US film and TV came in large droves, had a profound impact on the creation of my ‘self’.

As an adolescent, I rejected many elements that I thought of as “Puerto Rican” and felt alien to me; I adopted an ‘alternative’ identity with elements that were foreign (American) to boost that identity. I can now tell that the elements I rejected were mainly gendered roles I felt uncomfortable with. I just saw myself as an outsider anyway, since others would easily throw around pato or maricón (a faggot). How was I, as a queer dark skinned nerd from the hood supposed to form any parallels with what I was seeing around me, and even less so in film and media that rendered not only me, but my whole Puerto Ricanness, invisible?

That empowered me for a bit, until I came to the US and realized those elements that I had adopted were up to be questioned, given my skin color. Because whiteness works that way. I remember an acquaintance asking me what Star Wars character I would like to be.

Him: So would you be Lando?
Me: …I always thought of myself as more of a Jedi.
Him: Oh, Mace Windu then?
Me: … no. More like Obi-Wan. He’s my favorite.

This was just months after having arrived in the US. My racialization had started, and at the same time, Whiteness was reclaiming back the elements that I had borrowed. Those cultural touchstones were not mine. I wasn’t allowed to be anyone I wanted in Star Wars, I had to be one of the only two Black characters in the six movies.

One thing is to be underrepresented, and another is to be ignored completely. Invisibility renders you below the treshhold of attention. So when one of the most respected film awards fails to nominate (or, presumably, even consider) media that reflects diverse topics, characters, and stories, then that invisibility is reinforced by power. That’s why it is important to note the issue with #OscarssoWhite.

Others have asked “why should we even care about the Oscars?” To me it matters because of the inherent economic and social power that Hollywood and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences wield. The Oscars have a place in US and the global landscape; movies that are Oscar nominees and/or winners go on to be released to wider audiences, the filmmakers are more likely to receive attention from investors in the future, and the actors attract more promotion (reputation) and accolades.


When I came to mainland US from Puerto Rico for grad school, I realized that I carried a lot of biases and prejudices against African-American/Black people. Moving to the Maryland suburbs of Washington DC forced me to reflect on these biases and re-evaluate them. All that I knew about African-American/Black people was based on what I had watched on TV and movies (much like the example from the tumblr link above). I honestly did not have another frame of reference outside of visual media. This was pre-Twitter and pre-Tumblr. I was only exposed to very particular and narrow narratives involving Black people and that definitely shaped my thinking.

Media exposure is important in itself to showcase different and diverse perspectives. Those of us who are inclined towards studying culture can’t keep silent about the individual and social dangers that cultural supremacy can have in erasing differences and diversity. There is also the argument that the Oscars can’t justly be considered the top accolade in the film industry, when they are only considering a fraction of movies being made. If the same films with the same stories are being made and awarded year after year, where is the space for more diverse stories beyond Black pain and slavery?

PS. Please also read this post by Dr. Waren from Texas A&M University. He draws parallels between the issue of Oscar nominations with a similarly pervasive case of institutional practices in higher education.



Books of 2015

I read so many great books this year. It truly paid off to seek out books and works outside the US and people of color.I truly enjoy reading more diverse stories that better reflect the world we live in both in the stories, and their authors. 

So this is a short post, and as such here are my list of books. The stories include People of Color, stories of past-migrations and speculative future ones, real queer stories of fitting in, queer people once again in speculative contexts, stories of love set in revolutions, aliens, and the nuance of what it means to be human. 

Books I read in 2015

  1. Ōoku: The inner Chambers, vol 1 by Fumi Yoshinaga
  2. For Colored Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Still Not Enough: Coming Of Age, Coming Out, and Coming Home by Keith Boykin
  3. The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin
  4. On Race and Medicine: Insider Perspectives by Richard García
  5. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
  6. Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics by bell hooks
  7. All You Need is Kill (graphic novel) by Hiroshi Sakurazaka
  8. The Stars Change by Mary Anne Mohanraj
  9. Como Agua Para Chocolate (like water for chocolate) by Laura Esquivel
  10. The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor
  11. Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
  12. The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
  13. Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan
  14. Ink by Sabrina Vourvoulias
  15. Bloodchild and Other Stories by Octavia Butler



The other day a renowned anthropologist told me I was not her colleague. Her reply came moments after I had told her that I defended my dissertation less than a month ago.

(Let that sink in)

This happened during a lunch where anthropology graduate students were sharing their feedback about our department with visiting faculty. The three anthropologists were there as reviewers of the program. A routine department evaluation apparently happens every couple of years. During the lunch, I shared concerns on the career and professional development of our department. I expressed regret given that aside from a few professors/advisors, the department as whole, is not preparing PhD students to be the faculty’s colleagues. As I sat on a faculty search committee last year, I didn’t see myself as competitive with the candidates we interviewed. The department replicates many structural barriers that privilege some students above others. To which she said “But you are not my colleague”.

In the past, I have expressed reticence about my future involvement in an academic setting. This incident served as the last drop in a serious of microagressions in the last seven years.

I got fed up. I’m not here for a white medical anthropologist to tell me that I am not her colleague; that I am not part of her club. Because this has happened one too many times and is too frequent for me to let it go. Like last year’s SfAA (Society for Applied Anthropology annual conference) where a White Anthropologist (badge from the conference and all) asked me if i was his taxi driver, despite me not being remotely in the vicinity of a yellow vehicle. I was merely existing in the lobby of the hotel.

I knew I wasn’t trained for the club. But this future colleague broke the fourth wall of academic double-speak that ‘encourages’ minorities to be part of the faculty’s ranks. Especially for a person of color like me who is a member of an underrepresented minority in higher education. A study last year showed that prospective graduate students–applying to graduate school–who were women and/or belonged to racial minorities received fewer email responses from faculty than White men in most disciplines. How discouraging is this?

What does it take to be a colleague then? My clue is that it lies in being a tenure track professor. Every other career path–although similar in nature in regards to research–is not the same. Even adjuncts, with similar work loads, are as liminal as some graduate students in the academic culture. I resist such rankism; it reeks of eurocentrism in western institutions.

So how do I keep decolonizing my experiences as a PhD recipient from a Research I university of the US? Because I still go back to the experience that spurred this post, and I think… what else? What else could an academic want from me? I jumped all the necessary hoops to receive the highest attainable degree in my discipline.

Still, my work should lie on important issues. I hope that my future career demonstrates a commitment to decolonize anthropology as well as to conduct applied research that matters.