Monday, November 25, 2013

A Deeper Look: Overcoming the Biases of Power to Go Beyond the Superficial

Almost every day I see someone say that they’re not racist or sexist. Sometimes they literally say, “I’m not racist, but…” Sometimes it’s more subtle than that. Sometimes it’s terribly blatant, but only to those who are awake to much more subtle and pervasive forms of racism and misogyny. And it seems that many white people and men believe that if they simply say that they believe in some very basic rights for people of color and women and don’t even see color, they can then speak with impunity.

This is why I don’t really think it’s helpful for us to freak out when blatantly racist and sexist people say blatantly racist and sexist things. It’s the micro-aggressions that do far more damage to actual lives and are far harder to weed out, especially when micro-aggressors can point to the flagrant and obvious aggressions and compare themselves to those with positive results.

You can be white and buy into white supremacy and have no problems with interracial marriage. The fact that we as a society still appear to believe that we can point to a few overt strides in civil rights and tell ourselves that we live in a post-racial society actually stands in the way of our doing real work to overcome discrimination in our society. The same holds true with strides made by the feminist movement. I’ve had male acquaintances claim they’re “totally feminist” because they believe women should be free to speak their minds, when that is but the bare minimum and they continue to spew misogynist thinking all over the place (that I am then, I suppose, free to call them out on – oh goody).

The other day I watched a panel discussion between civil rights leaders in 1963 that originally aired in 1963. At some point, one of the men says that they will know that civil rights have become a reality when black unemployment isn’t twice that of white unemployment. My heart sank. Last year I looked up unemployment statistics by race, and black unemployment was…twice that of white unemployment. It was as if nothing had changed. Employment opportunity is at the center of people’s ability to live free, equitable lives. If we’re not fighting for employment opportunities for all people, then we are not fighting for civil rights. And yet we defend ourselves and white supremacy when we say that we’re past racism now. Surely, we may feel we’re past the use of racial epithets as white progressives. But we still question people when they interrogate what we’ve actually done to dismantle white supremacy. We say, “We don’t say certain words anymore and interracial marriage is legal! What more do you want from us?” I mean, it is ridiculous, and yet even most white progressives I know refuse to interrogate their own racism because they don’t use slurs (except when it’s funny!) and they aren’t the ones not hiring black people (therefore they’re not involved in systemic racial injustice at all), so they can’t possibly be racist!

I remember the moment I realized I was an alcoholic. I literally could not see it a single second before that point, but after that moment is was as clear as day. And it became clear that it should’ve been obvious months before. I’d been seeking help for deep depression and suicidal ideation, but if anyone pointed out that I might have a problem with alcohol, I simply stopped talking to them. I believed they were wrong because I wanted to believe they were wrong. I wasn’t mentally ready to give up my alcohol yet, so I COULD NOT SEE IT. And I’ve had the experience, too, of not seeing white supremacy. I’ve defended my own problematic behavior, claiming that I didn’t like the way I was being called out on it. It takes pretty constant exposure to ideas that cause you to interrogate your own beliefs and every corner of your thinking before you can see what everyone is talking about. It took a lot of people pointing out the ways alcoholism manifested in my life, and then it took me actually seeing those things happening and recognizing them as alcoholism. It was a process, but the process was invisible until that moment that it clicked into place.

My declaring myself not an alcoholic didn’t make it so. I was always an alcoholic. And declaring oneself not racist or sexist doesn’t make it so, either. I feel like I shouldn’t have to say these things. I feel like I’m probably saying something that other people have said before. I feel like this shouldn’t even be revolutionary thought. But considering the number of times in a single day that I see people in both my real life and the media shoot down claims of racism and sexism with a very quick defense without any consideration of systemic injustice, I figure it does indeed need to be said.

Nothing really changes when we only focus on superficial markers of what white supremacist patriarchal capitalism (i.e. “mainstream American culture”) calls racist and sexist.  

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Cowboys and Children

Last weekend I took a trip on an airplane. The craft was only about a third full, so us travelers spread out; I got a whole row to myself. We were heading to Midland, a small town on the west Texas plains, and the man across the aisle from me was a cowboy: fancy western-style belt, jeans, boots, tanned and sun-worn skin, and a twang. He looked to be about 60, and with him was a little girl, probably 5 or 6.

While boarding was still in process, he sat with the little girl and patiently read to her from her little kid books. He was gentle, and he spoke to the little girl in the voice that people use when talking to small children. I started thinking about dearly-held ideas about natural talents. Men aren't nurturing. Women are more caring and responsive to the needs of children.

I know it's just a story about one man on a plane, but I see this regularly. I see men at the grocery store with their small children and no woman. I see men in restaurants helping their child make his way to the bathroom. I see dads post pictures of themselves playing with their kids on Facebook. And then there it is again; people saying with their words that men and women are different on this count while the world clearly shows me a different story.

I'd argue the difference may be there, all right, but it's lessening because it was never natural; it was always socially constructed. Men aren't naturally less nurturing. They just didn't want to bother with childcare. When you care for children, it's a constant negotiation of your needs against theirs. It's a give and take, and it's very other-centered. If you've got the choice to feign being terrible at that job, allowing you to essentially then focus completely on yourself and avoid the "trap" of sharing your time with another, why would you not take it? If you can simply say, "I'm not good with kids -- you do it!" leaving the woman in your life to then take care of the sometimes boring and sometimes maddening minutiae of life, why would you not? I see women and men every day who buck the stereotype. Of course, one of these women is myself. I feel no special affinity for children. My uterus doesn't lead me toward them as if magnetized to their cuteness. I try to avoid them as much as possible, partially because they make me feel even more awkward than I usually do. And that man on the plane clearly had no trouble being nurturing to that little girl.

Midland is a tiny airport of only five gates, and not many flights go in and out. The man was on my return flight, minus the little girl. This isn't an extraordinary story. It's not even particularly original to talk about whether or not these traits are nature, nurture, or unquestioned societal beliefs. But I'm regularly confronted by people parroting all kinds of beliefs about the world, repeating to me statements that so many take for granted like, "Women are more compassionate," or, "There's a little bit of truth in every stereotype. That's why they exist." We make so many assumptions. We skim the surface of ideas that have given us a sense of security, a way of approaching the world, and it would be nice to just put down our assumptions for a minute and pay attention.

Part of me wants to assume that I don't even have to say any of this, but a larger part of me knows better.

Monday, September 30, 2013

A Review of Dan Paul Roberts' The Make Up

Full disclosure: I know Dan Paul Roberts, the artist behind the new album The Make Up, and I love him to pieces. I first met Dan Paul when I got a job working on some websites he designed, and over the years that we worked together we became great friends. Dan Paul is always talking about magick, and a few years ago he moved to New York City to explore all the magick one man can handle.

When we first met, we both lived in Dallas, and even then Dan Paul declared that his ultimate dream was to become a pop star. With this new album, The Make Up, I can see that Dan Paul's sound is maturing while maintaining the fresh inventiveness that was his signature even way back then. One of the things that I've always loved about Dan Paul's songwriting is his ability to play with lyrics, even in the middle of seemingly serious songs about loss and heartache. You never know when Dan Paul will slyly arrange the words in such a way as to sound like he's referring to the "dirty" kind of "come..." right before finishing off the line with the word "clean" as he does on the opening track of The Make Up. You gotta listen to every line of this album to really get the playful nature of Dan Paul's inner child, a moniker that is usually kind of cheesy but in this case illustrates perfectly his general world view. Dan Paul likes to have fun, and you can feel that in his sound and his words.

The Make Up is a very pretty album. Beautiful undulating pianos move over drum machine beats and various sounds, holding the album together with a common thread of smooth pop sound. It's got dancey elements without being dance music, which just adds to the feeling of lightness that imbues even deep tracks about heavy feelings with a sense of peace. Knowing Dan Paul like I do, it is this juxtaposition of so many different feelings -- a smooth and beautiful piano line married with lyrics about having lied about loving someone, for instance -- that really is at the heart of Dan Paul's magick (with a "k," always). If you like to explore every nook and cranny of your own emotions, Dan Paul's The Make Up is definitely for you.

To learn more about Dan Paul Roberts and how to get your hands on The Make Up, visit his blog, Wonderful Mess

Saturday, September 14, 2013

False Equivalencies: How Anti-Choicers Manipulate By Bending the Truth

On September 8th, the Dallas Morning News published an opinion piece by local pastor Robert Jeffress. In this piece, Jeffress draws a comparison between the situation in Syria and what he calls the “infanticide” occurring in the United States, which is a reference to legal abortion. Despite his efforts to convince readers that legal abortions are the same thing as the killing of children in acts of aggression, he’s drawing a false equivalency and blatantly disregarding actual facts in order to make his case. These are common tricks amongst the anti-choice brigade – using emotional language to bend the truth and illicit responses while ignoring reality.

I’m not trying to make a statement about Syria with this piece. I am instead addressing the problems inherent in Mr. Jeffress’s arguments about abortion.

First of all, abortion is not infanticide. This word sounds terrifying, and I’m sure it plays well upon people’s fears, but it doesn’t properly illustrate what abortion in this country actually looks like. In fact, if you want to get technical, the definition of infanticide requires that the child have been born prior to being killed. But later in the essay, we see what Jeffress thinks abortion in this country looks like: “But if we laid side by side the remains of the millions of children who have been aborted in the last 40 years — many during the second and third trimesters with discernible features — I imagine there would be an even greater outcry from the American people.” And here we have the previously mentioned blatant disregard for facts. Eighty-eight percent of abortions occur in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, according to statistics from the Guttmacher Institute. That’s the first trimester, and that’s the vast majority of abortions. And only about 1.5% of abortions happen after the 21 week mark, with a number of these being medically necessitated abortions performed to protect the mother’s health or because of dramatic complications with the health of the fetus. This line alone pretty much blows Jeffress’s argument right out of the water. But he’s obviously interested in scare tactics, telling people these aborted fetuses have “discernible features” because only then can he make the connection between them and the children dying in Syria.

He then goes on to attack President Obama’s voting record on abortion by bringing up a vote on a partial-birth abortion ban in the Illinois State Senate in 1997, when Obama was a state senator. Here is Obama on his vote: "On an issue like partial-birth abortion, I strongly believe that the state can properly restrict late-term abortions. I have said so repeatedly. All I’ve said is we should have a provision to protect the health of the mother, and many of the bills that came before me didn’t have that." Obama is a pro-choice president, and there is no denying that. But the attempt here to use his voting record on a single piece of legislation with a scary name as a reason to paint him as a monster is clearly misguided, and Mr. Jeffress has to again keep certain facts to himself in order to make the reader gasp in horror.

Perhaps the most audacious statement comes next: “Many progressives would counter that while they are not “pro-abortion,” they see “choice” as a fundamental human right. But why are they not willing to extend that same freedom of choice to Assad to exterminate the children of his nation?” This is the crux of the argument, and it’s also an indefensible argument. One has to make quite a leap in logic to liken the legal abortion of a 10 week fetus with the killing of a 10 month old child. And in this argument we see what Mr. Jeffress and other anti-choice activists think of the women involved in the unintended pregnancies or experiencing health complications: they’re non-existent. In fact, nowhere in the essay do you see him mention women at all.

Unfortunately, scary language works. But we can counter scary language with facts. Mr. Jeffress ends his essay by saying that the only support available for a moral code of any kind is God’s law, but that’s not even true for many who believe in God. When a case can only be made by lying and using manipulative language, what does that tell you? 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Men in Crisis? It's Not Even a Bad Hair Day.

Today I read yet another piece about men in crisis. This time, it was David Brooks with the New York Times. He started out with a story about men who've been on the wrong side of history in times of transition, just like John Wayne's character in the movie The Searchers. He then used this interesting intro to take me right into the tired old argument that society has somehow come to favor girls and is leaving boys behind.

While I do understand the argument that the definition of masculinity is changing (or, some might say, the role of concepts like "masculinity" is diminishing), I trust no one who promotes this as a symbol of men in crisis. However, there are certain arguments that I see repeatedly that I simply don't understand.

Boys are seemingly doing worse in school, and so something must be very different and wrong about our schools now. We regularly hear about how the classroom environment is bad for boys. Boys are ACTIVE! They're RAMBUNCTIOUS! They like to MOVE and RUN and DESKS AND SITTING ARE DESTROYING THEM IN SCHOOL! I'm sorry for the all caps, but that's how these alarmist pieces about the "crisis" men are facing read to me. But I'd like to know when schools were giant playgrounds where kids just ran around playing all the time and never had to sit in desks? When was this golden age of the boy-oriented school house, where teachers didn't demand silence, stillness, and attention? I'd think that the average classroom today is a freer environment in many places than it ever was in, oh, 1950, when boys supposedly (and certainly did) have it so good. When I see pictures of the ideal classroom of that time, I see...rows of desks. Where children sit. Still. And face a chalkboard and get in trouble for making noise or getting up from their desks without permission. And while some point to the diminishing role of recess in school, as of 2011 only 7% of American schools had cut our recess -- but that doesn't mean they'd cut out physical education. And that also doesn't take into account higher grades in which students still have access to sports programs.

I'm not sure this constitutes some major shift in the level of physical activity children are getting when compared with decades past. And 7% is definitely not a "crisis." School of today looks an awful lot like...the schools of always?

That argument was merely hinted at in the David Brooks piece. The main thing that caught my attention was:

In 1954, 96 percent of American men between 25 and 54 years old worked. Today, 80 percent do. One-fifth of men in their prime working ages are out of the labor force.
As Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute has put it, “The situation here is basically a disaster, a crisis far worse than most commentators and policy makers seem to recognize, and with no clear prospects for appreciable improvement over the near-term horizon.”

A CRISIS?! A while back, I was discussing my PIE theory. Resources are not infinite. So imagine there's a pie. And imagine that white men for a very long time had, oh, 95% of the pie. That leaves 5% of the pie for everyone else to split. So when those who are sharing 5% start to get more of the pie, those getting 95% start to get...less. It's simple math. A white man who listened to the podcast on which I shared my theory said he was intrigued by my ideas. He'd always been taught in school that if you worked hard enough, you could have anything you wanted! It's an interesting concept that resources are finite? I'm embarrassed for American education that someone was so able to believe some elementary school clap trap for so long in the face of sheer physical reality, but it's also because he's a white man that he was able to believe this without question well into adulthood.

In 1954, only 23% of the overall workforce was made up of women. Today it is nearly half. Assuming there are only so many jobs to go around, this would obviously precipitate a dip in the number of jobs held by men -- and I don't see anything remotely crisis-like about that. So the employment rates between men and women have simply become more even. And I would assume that some of that 80% of men not participating in employment today are supported by those working women. We don't see it as a crisis when men support women -- why would we see it as so in the reverse?

But if you want to talk about a crisis, let's look at this: the latest employment numbers (June, 2013) show an unemployment rate of 6.6 percent for whites, and 13.7 for blacks. Blacks are unemployed at more than double the rate of whites. THAT'S a crisis. Also, it calls the numbers David Brooks brings to the conversation into question. The unemployment rate for adult men in June 2013? Seven percent.


I am very over these men in crisis pieces. They're derailing for dummies 101 level bullshit. Men are not in crisis (at least not the kinds of men these pieces are talking about). Heck, they haven't even given up enough of the pie yet.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Feelings, Facts, and Faith

Last night, as I listened to the testimony of Texans who showed up to speak both for and against HB2, the abortion legislation of which by now I’m sure you’ve heard, I noticed a pattern. Those who argued against the restrictions brought up scientific and medical facts and information. Meanwhile, those in favor of the legislation mostly shared very personal stories and overwhelming emotions about their own choices.

The fact that they were talking about their own choices seemed to be lost on them.

One theme that continuously surfaced was that of the woman who regrets her abortion. When a woman shares that she regrets her abortion, I feel genuine compassion for her. Who among us doesn’t know the sting of regret? I know what it is to regret a decision, and that pain can be intense. I don’t want to mock her testimony or her feelings. However, her regrets over her own life choices have nothing to do with whether or not a piece of legislation should pass. If the government exists to protect me from regret, then we need laws against my saying certain kinds of things because it’s my mouth that most often leaves me feeling regret. I’m sure we can all see the problem with the logic behind such laws, and that same logic applies to the regret standard that some try to apply to abortion legislation. Your regrets are not the governments business.

This argument in particular stuck out to me because I used to kind of believe it. I’ve never been opposed to abortion because of strong religious conviction. While I’m a Christian, I don’t feel that my spiritual beliefs have much to do with this type of legislation. No. I used to say that “abortion isn’t even necessarily good for women” because “most women don’t feel good about having abortions.” We all have things we said in our youth that cause us to shake our own heads in shame years later, and I can’t believe I ever thought that women needed to be protected from their own choices by their government. Put that way, it makes me shudder.

Luckily, I’ve learned from my own experiences.

I’ve learned that a woman can have an abortion and experience no regrets – and that this doesn’t make her a “bad person.” I’ve learned that a woman can have an abortion, feel regrets, but still believe she ultimately made the right choice. I’ve learned that people’s lessons are myriad and complicated and we’re here to learn, not to experience pain-free lives. In fact, I’ve learned that “pain is the touchstone of spiritual growth,” and I’ve learned to be grateful for my own pain because it’s my greatest teacher. And I’ve learned that I don’t get to rob others of the chance to make their own choices because it is those choices that lead them to their own ultimate destinies.

There’s a lot of God in all of that for me.

If a woman who regrets her abortion wants me to sit and weep with her, I will gladly do so. I’m not blind or deaf to her pain. But I also cannot support the idea that her pain is proof that women need to be “protected” from their own choices.  

In the end, I have enough faith in both women and my God to know believe that they don't need me or anyone else to be in charge. 

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Under the Issue

Earlier on Facebook, I saw a comment posted by a young woman on a picture of Leticia Van de Putte, Wendy Davis, Senfronia Thompson, and Jessica Farrar. The comment said, "I have sex willingly and I don't need abortions. It's called responsibility." I sighed. You see a lot of this kind of commentary in these kinds of conversations, and while part of me just wants to write it off as trolling, I have no doubt that she really believes that to be a logical argument against the need for safe, legal abortions.

I kinda wanted to comment simply, "...yet," but I find it's best not to get into it with people who post glib comments about complex political issues. That's an instance in which someone could justifiably accuse me of asking for it.

When you're talking about politics -- when you're considering your political stance -- you're talking about the governance of a group of people, not just yourself. I have sex willingly, too. My husband and I are really, really diligent in our condom use. I'm hopeful that I won't ever again need an abortion. But even if I never do, other women might, and that's why I oppose the abortion legislation that's about to be reconsidered in a second special session in Texas. Because it's not all about me.

It's very easy to take a position of looking down on people you do not feel are like yourself. A friend was recently telling me about someone she knows who posted some disparaging remarks about LGBT people in the wake of the DOMA and Prop 8 decisions -- a person who lives in a different kind of glass house and should probably not be throwing stones. But she's not gay, and so it simply feels good to look down on "those people." It's always easier to do what feels good than it is to do what's right -- and it's very easy to convince oneself that looking down on others is right. It's so sneaky, and sometimes, even when we're doing what's right, we're only doing in wherein it might directly effect us.

I just read another quote from a white gay man who said, "Now that we have gay marriage there is nothing else to fight for." At an event for gay undocumented immigrants. There's a little bit of this stuff inside all of us, not just the Rick Perrys of the world. 

I have very strong views on the abortion issue and what's happening in Texas. I'm speaking up and out and showing up and calling my Senator. I'm not here to say, "OMG GUYS CAN'T WE ALL JUST GET ALONG?!" Mostly I'm just thinking about the instinct to base beliefs only on one's own experiences and how dangerous this kind of thing can be. Throughout the course of the special session, I'm likely to run into more comments like the one at the beginning of this post -- comments that don't bring any compassion, factual information, or consideration to an issue that is extremely complex and even emotional.

I just hope I can refrain from driving myself crazy arguing with them.