Staceyann and Zuri Chin’s Living Room Protests: A conversation with Staceyann

staceyann zuriby Sachi Feris

Performance artist Staceyann Chin and her four-year-old daughter, Zuri, have been modeling powerful conversations about positive racial identity, gender identity, children’s rights, human rights, and many other important topics over the past year. These conversations are child-centric, tangible, and use many of Raising Race Conscious Children’s strategies.

In this Living Room Protest related to racial identity, Staceyann and Zuri discuss Zuri’s hair:

Staceyann: Why do you love your hair?

Zuri: Because it’s so nice and beautiful!

Staceyann: And I love the strength of it, and I love how it curls…before we say good bye, we should tell every little girl, ‘you have to love your hair!’

In this Living Room Protest related to issues of gender identity, Staceyann and Zuri discuss how “girls can do everything!”:

Staceyann: Today we are protesting…

Zuri: …boys that say girls can’t have big muscles…and that’s not true!

Staceyann: …I have spent my entire life protesting boys and men who says girls can’t do stuff! So how does that make you feel Zuri?

Zuri: It really hurts my feelings!

and later on in the clip…

Staceyann: And boys can wear princess clothes, too!

The other night, I spoke with Staceyann about how the Living Room Protests began…and what has come up for her as a parent during these conversations:

How did the Living Room Protests begin?

The Living Room Protests started during the Trayvon Martin trial because we were physically protesting out in the streets quite a bit and one day it was sleeting and Zuri (who was almost three at the time) had a cold but kept saying:

“I want to go protest.” so I said, “we can’t go outside because you have a really bad cold.”

Well, then Zuri said, “we can do a protest in the living room!”

“We could,” I told her, “but in protest you want people to see your point …” so Zuri said, “why don’t we put it on a video and send it to people?”

So we did!

How do you decide to do a Living Room Protest?

This all comes from Zuri. Even the pace is her idea…sometimes you will see we do a few close together and then we don’t do one for a month. We do them sporadically when she wants to do them.

What has the impact of the Living Room Protests impact been on Zuri?

Zuri is very aware that protest is a way to articulate a problem, even one that makes you feel powerless. So she is aware that we can’t stop Trump from saying things that she does not like about immigrants but feels power in writing a song and telling people to get out and vote even if it doesn’t immediately feel as if it changes anything.

Zuri: Today we’re doing a protest about Donald Trump…’cause he is not doing something right.

Staceyann: What is doing that’s wrong?

Zuri: He is not a nice man and he just wants everyone to leave their home and go to another place…

and later on in the clip…

Zuri: And we believe immigrants but not Donald Trump because we don’t believe him and we don’t love him!

Staceyann: Absolutely not, I can say definitively that I don’t love him.

Zuri: Not with that behavior!

And, for example, in the protest about Bodies/Autonomy/Permission and Children…Zuri is so deeply embedded in the ideology that her body is her own and her own autonomy.

Staceyann: What are we protesting today Zuri Chin?

Zuri: For picking up.

Staceyann: For picking up…as in you don’t like when people pick you up? …OK, what about when they have your permission?

Zuri: No…my permission is no.

Staceyann: OK, so no picking up kids without their permission!

She has very clear boundaries and the warrior feminist inside of me is very proud of my child and how clear she is about this. Sometimes I will hug her (without permission) and Zuri will say,

“We even did protest about this. Remember you need my permission!!”

But what I want other people to understand is that the conversations we have in the Living Room Protests are regular conversations in our life so the Living Room Protests are like intense versions of conversations we have all the time. The philosophies of the Living Room Protests are ones that we are trying to live by.

What is your/Zuri’s hope for their impact on others (especially other children)?

Zuri is just beginning to understand just how many other people watch them. She knows other children watch them, too, and if someone comments on a Living Room Protest, she says, “Thanks for watching them!”

I think she feels a responsibility to speak up about things that aren’t right:

Zuri: Today we’re talking about medicine…

Staceyann: …and everyone should have what they need. What are some of things that people should have?

Zuri: Food…And tea…Milk…Eggs…Fruit.

Staceyann: Yes, those are very good things for people to have. And everyone should have what they need…and there are people in the world who don’t have these things or they don’t have enough of it…like if Zuri has a lot and Mama has none, what should Zuri do?

Zuri: Zuri should help her!

But I want the practice of protest to be something that we do whether two people watch or 1,000 people watch.

What has come up for you that has been hard/challenging during these conversations with Zuri?

Nuance is always hard with a toddler. For example, Donald Trump. We have had an ongoing conversation where she thinks Trump is a bad man and I keep trying to push back and say he isn’t a bad man, but that I just think he will be a bad president. So you don’t get into the habit of creating villians.

Same thing with regard to the police: “If you are in trouble you can pick up the phone and call police…but I am also protesting police.”

In watching the Living Room Protests, I want people watching to understand how much conversation goes on before getting to point where she can articulate her politics and how much conversation follows up the protests so we don’t leave things at the black and white level.

Recently, Zuri said something to me about people not kissing her. And I said, “maybe we can do a protest about that.”

Zuri said, “Without permission! We already did a protest about that already.”

“Well, there is more work to do,” I said.

Consent is multilayered…if you say “yes” one day, that doesn’t mean tomorrow you have permission so it’s multilayered. Doesn’t just end with ‘no one touches without your permission, ever” because of context… if she steps into road, I will I grab her if she is in danger.

So it’s an ongoing conversation.


Staceyann Chin is the recipient of the 2007 Power of the Voice Award from The Human Rights Campaign, the 2008 Safe Haven Award from Immigration Equality, the 2008 Honors from the Lesbian AIDS Project, the 2009 New York State Senate Award, the 2013 American Heritage Award from American Immigration Council, and the Callen Lorde 2015 Award for being an advocate for Women’s Health. She unapologetically identifies as Caribbean and Black, Asian and lesbian, woman and resident of New York City.

A proud Jamaican National, Staceyann’s voice was featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show, where she spoke candidly about her experiences of growing up on the island and the dire consequences of her coming-out there.

Widely known as co-writer and original performer in the Tony award winning, Russell Simmons Def Poetry Jam on Broadway, her poetry has seen the rousing cheers of the Nuyorican Poets’ Café, one-woman shows Off-Broadway, writing-workshops in Sweden, South Africa, and Australia. Chin’s three one-woman shows, HANDS AFIRE, UNSPEAKABLE THINGS, and BORDER/CLASH all opened to rave reviews at the Culture Project in New York City.

Staceyann is the author of the memoir, The Other Side of Paradise, and is currently touring MotherStruck, her critically acclaimed solo theater piece, directed by Cynthia Nixon, and produced by Rosie O’Donnell, chronicling her incredible experiences about motherhood, which opened in New York, in December, of 2015, and opens in Chicago in June, 2016

Be it on “60 Minutes,” in the New York Times, or The UK guardian, Staceyann has a reputation for telling it exactly like it is.

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