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Archive for the ‘Assumptions’ Category

They’ll Come for You… Whether You Speak up or Not

May 17, 2012

During times of great social upheaval, it can often seem safer to say nothing. You get noticed less. You piss off fewer people. You go around making sure the trains run on time. You make your dollars and go home and stuff them in the mattress and keep your head down and hope they don’t come for you.

It’s a silly position, really, because they always come for you.

I think it’s easier to remain neutral on stuff like politics when you think that specific policies won’t affect you. If you aren’t a woman, or non-white, or gay, or disabled, or poor, or chronically ill, it’s really easy to just keep your head down and shut up. “It’s not my concern,” you say, while totally forgetting that we live in a world where our own quality of life is directly impacted by the quality of life of others (vaccinations are a really easy one to point to; so’s universal health care). We forget that our way of life – access to life saving drugs, clean water, abundance of food – is wholly contingent on the skills and abilities of many millions of others who support the systems that care for us. We also forget that for many of us, being a part of some of these groups harshly affected by social policies is just one accident or “bad luck” incident away. Poverty, chronic illness, and disability can happen gradually or suddenly, often when you’re paying the least attention.

I say all this as somebody who grew up upholding 80’s action movie masculinity as the pinnacle of cool. I always liked the idea that strong people were loners, they pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps, they had witty lines and impeccable health and virility and nobody messed with them. This was more about who I wanted to be than who I wanted to date, mind, and it really influenced how I viewed other people. Life sucks? Do something about it. Stop whining. Nobody keeps you down but yourself.

I’m still gung-ho about assertiveness, negotiating for yourself, standing up to injustice, and the like, but I’m far less likely to tell people that all they should be doing is looking out for themselves, and fuck everybody else. When you look at the way we’ve constructed our entire society, very few of us would thrive in a place where we had to be totally self-sufficient. Illness would kill a great many of us, and childbirth, accidents, starvation… we rely on other people to help us succeed, however invisible those millions of hands are as we pick up that orange at the grocery store or pop a pill to help prevent heart disease or drive a gas-powered car 40 miles to work.

I didn’t have a real appreciation for just how much we rely on other people until my pancreas blew out and just… stopped working when I was 26. Immune disorder, they told me. Sorry. Now you have to take 5-6 shots a day just to survive. The only reason I live is because there are people creating synthetic insulin in a lab.

That whole independent 80’s apocalypse hero I’d hoped to style myself after kind of imploded along with my pancreas, because even if I raided every pharmacy from here to the ocean after the End Times, it’s all got a one year expiration date. If modern society implodes, I do too, no matter how tough, smart, and savvy I am.

It gives you a lot of perspective, being at the edge of death all the time. I’ve gotten really touchy with doctors, health insurance providers, and pharmacies. I scream and yell at them a lot, because when you need something to survive, it makes you a tad nutty if it looks like you may not be able to get it.

It has humbled me a lot, and given me a great deal of empathy.

Being a woman certainly also has disadvantages in our society, but for much of my life, until I really entered the workforce, I could pretend I was a guy, you know, a “real person” and not one of those femmy women that everyone made fun of like they were useless. It wasn’t until I went out into the real world, among strangers far removed from my cozy hometown, that I realized there were people who looked at me as prey just for being a woman, and people who assumed I cared about things, or did things, or wanted things, completely based on my gender instead of what I could do. I got passed up for a raise at the movie theater I worked at because managers had to learn to run the projection booth, and the reels were 70lbs. Nobody ever asked me if I could lift 70lbs (of course I can). They just assumed I couldn’t. So I wasn’t even considered (I learned this later. Things changed, and some women marshaled through by being overly insistent, but it never occurred to me that I’d have to *fight* for something I was obviously qualified for. I still thought I was a white guy, after all).

That was the first time I realized that I was going to be at a disadvantage in the workplace, and that I was going to have to work just a little bit harder than everybody else to get noticed just as much. I had a lot of advantages, too, but I learned early that I had to telegraph them.

I’ll never forget the time my parents went to a swanky restaurant with us kids and received terrible service. We weren’t exactly dressed like royalty, and my mom told me that we’d likely been dissed because we looked poor, and the server assumed we’d leave a bad tip. Knowing that we would return the next night and it was likely we’d get the same server, my parents left a huge tip. I thought this bit of reverse psychology was a roiling pile of shit. But the next night, lo and behold, we got the same server, and boy whoa howdy was he nice to us.

“As long as people think you have money,” my parents told me, “they will treat you really well.”

“Having money” or klout, or any other type of invisible advantage will always be invisible in your first interaction unless you like to go everywhere dressed like a celebrity. So, like my parents did, you have to telegraph it quickly in every new interaction. Some of these you’ll never get to do. People will see you first as a woman, or non-white, or a poor person (based on dress),  or, if you go there holding hands with a same-sex date, as a gay person, and you’ll have to fight for every inch of respect you get from them.

I could pretend that legislation regarding women’s reproductive choices, or health care in general, don’t affect me. I could pretend that it doesn’t matter whether or not we think non-white people or queer people are, you know, actual people. When it comes to being queer, I’m invisible, being married to a guy, and when it comes to being non-white, well, I’m white, so who cares, right?

But all I have to do is think about what it’s like when people make assumptions about me based on shitty movies and crap TV shows and outrageous, ingrained cultural assumptions instead of pretending I’m a person they actually have to get to know.

And when people talk about why we shouldn’t have universal health care because poor people don’t deserve to be alive, I remind myself that the people who say that are just one health catastrophe away from changing their minds. But  it helps if some of us remind them of that.

It takes a good many people to keep me alive. I recognize that I need to take steps to support them, too, because we’re nothing without each other.  That’s a position I could shut up about, or tuck under a rug, for fear of, I don’t know, angry emails or lost book sales, but let’s be honest here – the people who think women and non-white people aren’t human are probably the least likely to pick up a book with first lines like mine anyway.

I spent a great deal of my life trying to be quiet and nice and not piss anyone off. I was miserable. It served no purpose. And they still came for me. It made me even easier to dismiss, to overlook, to assume I was just somebody else everybody could roll over and spout off ridiculously sexist, racist crap to without dissent. Nodding and smiling gets old. It makes it easier for people to box you up and ship you off.

I’m only really alive when I’m pissing people off anyway.

And  shooting up insulin.

 

Yes, you’re a racist. But it doesn’t mean you have to be a terrorist.

You’re a racist. Ok?

It’s OK. Take a deep breath. It doesn’t mean you have to be a horrible person. I promise.

Just… listen.

For the most part, I’m addressing white American folks in this particular message, because, you know, I’m white. And American. I get it. I grew up here too, in a white ghetto. But no matter what kind of sticky racist programming we’ve been given, I know we can be better people. We don’t have to be terrorists. We don’t have to fear and condemn and imprison our own people. Because the problem is not at all “the Other” we keep lamenting about.

The problem is “us.”

I’ve been listening to tales of “Homeland Security” (I *always* think “Orwell” every time I hear this term used) detaining innocent people for ten years now. I’ve heard of all sorts of people who’ve lost the ability to even *travel* to the U.S. because of our “Homeland Protection” policies (Ok, honestly, it has the ring of Nazi Germany about it, doesn’t it? There’s a reason for that. It comes from the same fear-and-terror place). We lost the bid on the Olympics because the whole world knew what we wouldn’t admit to ourselves – we would needlessly harass, detain, and terrorize anyone who spoke a non-American language, had a non-American accent, wore a “different” piece of clothing (those headscarves sure are scary!), or whose complexion looked like anything darker than what a white person would aquire at a tanning booth.

Knowing all of this for so fucking long, I’m not sure why this story of a woman traveling on September 11th who was detained for NO FUCKING REASON along with two passengers who shared her row angered me so damned much. I became absolutely livid. I couldn’t sleep. I went over the scenario in my head again and again.

I realized we, as Americans, had become everything we hated. We had become the monsters. The police state. Because when Homeland Security takes you into custody, let’s face it – you lose all rights as an American citizen. They can detain you as long as they like. Hours, weeks, months, years. You have no legal recourse. That’s what the Patriot Act did, and that’s what we refuse to acknowledge and take responsibility for. I did this, just as much as you did, because when it happened we were so fearful for our lives and our jobs and our health that we just let the government do whatever it wanted, because it didn’t pertain to “us,” because we blindly believed that, of course, only “guilty” people would have any trouble, right? I ranted about it, sure, but did I sign any petitions? Did I protest the dissolutions of our rights outside of some bloggy screed?

No. And that non-action is from someone who feels so betrayed by this bit of legislation that just thinking about it burns through spoons.

But what I found even worse about this bit of legislation was that there were, in fact, individuals who do actually support it, and whose actions in support of this legislation cause needless suffering in others. The fearmongering, the terror, the abject biases, and outright racism that leads somebody on a plane to point to a vaguely Arab-looking woman and two Indian men on a plane and say “They look suspicious to me” (because they went to the bathroom? Because they were playing on their phones?) digusts and sickens me. It has taken me a long time to acknowledge that the Patriot Act was not some weird anomalous thing done in a vacuum by bizzare leaders. The people who elected them, who put them there, and who sactioned those votes, are the same people pointing to non-white people on planes and saying “PUT THEM INTO PRISON THEY SCARE ME!”

If you’re a white person, you may chuckle along and be like, “Well, you know, folks are just sensitive, and non-white people should understand that it’s just SO SCARY TO BE WHITE” (after all, it’s not YOU who’s going to get pointed to and detained… right?). I would like to argue basic human decency here, but we’ve been so brainwashed into “othering” everybody who’s non-white and doesn’t speak American that I know that’s not going to fly with a lot of folks. Instead, I’ll remind you that in Nazi Germany, it started with the disabled, and the handicapped… then the gypsies, and the Jews, and then suddenly Nazis were invading foreign countries and declaring their populations Other and we were ALL destined for concentration camps.

This is how Othering works.

No one is “safe.” When you attack “other” people, you’re attacking yourself. When you make the world unsafe for others, you’re making it unsafe for yourself.

You’ve become the administrator of your own terror.

Listen, I’m in marketing. I understand we’ve all been brainwashed. When Obama was running for president, my mother admitted to thinking they were talking about Osama bin Laden all the time, because the only tall, thin, dark-skinned guy she was used to seeing on the news was… Osama bin Laden. We’re inundated with messages that Muslims and non-white people are the enemy. Are somehow not American. We live in a racist society, and we have an incredible history of Othering people so we can treat them like shit that goes way, way, back, from the enslavement of African Americans to the decimation of Native American, to the degrading of the Irish and Jews and Chinese and Japanese concentration camps to more modern-day hatred and fear of anybody who looks vaguely Hispanic (“Those lazy illegals are stealing our jobs!” Once again, if the only vaguely Hispanic people you ever see or know are those featured on TV [always “lazy illegals”!] then you’re just screwed. I get it).

I like to think I was doing OK right up until I moved to South Africa for a while. Why then? Well, because every time I turned on the news, or went to a party, I heard about all the horrible things that had happened to people, and I can tell you now that not once did I ever hear of a violent crime committed by a white person. Every single crime featured was somebody non-white. Now, considering 80% of the country was non-white and the vast majority of those were poor, and the old white government had worked very, very hard to promote black-on-black violence (divide and conquer, once again), this wasn’t *really* odd (though there were, of course, plenty of white folks committing crimes. They just got lost in the shuffle). That stuff just doesn’t go away in a generation. And all of a sudden, I noticed I was a lot more leery of groups of black kids walking down the street than I was of white kids. This was bullshit, and wrong, I knew, but it started to sink in, and I fucking hated it. I did spend a lot of time in areas where I was the *only* white person, and nothing terrible happened to me, so I did use these experiences to draw from when I tried to subvert the racism. “See, Kameron, you’re just racist!”

And, this is the thing, you guys. If you want to NOT be an asshole, the first step is to admit you think racist stuff. Just say it, “Yes, I am a racist! I freak out when a man in a turban sits down next to me on a plane or when somebody starts talking in a non-European language! It scares the crap out of me!”

OK? Cool!

But now what?

Now we start the “how not to be a racist asshole 101″ thing.

Because you don’t want to be a terrorist, right? You don’t want to cause fear and terror in others, right? And get innocent people detained for no reason? And throw innocent people in jail?

RIGHT?

Here’s how to combat that:

STOP ACTING ON YOUR RACIST BULLSHIT.

Find some positive examples of the very signifiers that scare the shit out of you. If you live in a neighborhood full of white people who all look and talk the same as you, you have a long uphill battle. If you’re scared to go places where there aren’t (or are very few) people who are “like” you, then it’s time to crack open a fucking book. Go learn all about Islam. Follow some actual Muslims and non-white people on Twitter (and LISTEN to them. Please, DO NOT talk to them at this point. If you’re at this point in your journey, you are just going to look like an ass). Find positive portrayals of non-white people. Go watch Bend it Like Beckham. Study the leaders of the Civil Rights movement. Come to terms with the fact that we have a non-white President, and get to know more about his family. Read books with non-white protagonists. Is it “the gays” who freak you out? While you’re at it, go read books with positive portrayals of gay characters, and non-white gay characters (and as you start to be more accepting and less judgmental, I guarantee you’ll discover that you do, in fact, already know a lot of gay people. If you were actively hostile in conversations about gay people, this is not a fact of life they’ll share with you. It’s the same with your racist bullshit. If people feel like you’re afraid of them, they’re going to be a lot less likely to approach you).

And this, of course, this re-conditioning process right here, is why we need to promote more positive portrayals of non-white  protagonists in our fiction. Because when we’re confronted with racist thoughts and images, there are whole swaths of people who have absolutely no counter examples that they can pull out to combat it.

If you’re convinced that all Muslim women are oppressed, go read some books by Muslim feminists (yes, they exist! I know!). If you’re convinced that all Hispanics are lazy, go read the actual stories from people who worked their fucking asses off to give their kids a good life and are just as American as your anglo-loving self. Go get to know people who are not “like” you, whether because they’re of a different social standing, from a different country, or whatever. Just… ANYTHING that is different from what you’re used to. Half the time people just freak out because they’ve never been exposed to anyone or anything outside their narrow little peer group. If you don’t want to be a racist jerk, you’re going to have to move outside your comfort zone. At some point, you may even be able to get on a plane and travel somewhere besides North America.

The alternative is to become a terrorist. And you don’t want that, right?

RIGHT?

So, push.

I know there’s such a thing as a white ghetto. I grew up in one. I know the media is racist. I know how marketing works. But goddammit, you don’t need to be a fucking asshole manipulated by the media. You have a goddamn brain. You can circumvent your conditioning. We can be conditioned to do any damn fucking thing, including not being racist. You just need to choose to fight it.

Know what I do when I sit down on a plane and a guy with a turban gets on? I take a deep breath, acknowledge any knee-jerk racist thoughts I might have (less and less these days). Because I don’t personally know any sikhs and the media is still all about Othering people who look “different”, I think instead of  the father in Bend it Like Beckham, and what a great guy he is, and how people discriminated against him, when all he wanted was  to get the best for his daughters and play in a cricket league. Is this simplistic? Absolutely. But does it work? Every time. And when I find myself making assumptions about the woman in the headscarf who sits down in a restaurant near me and starts speaking Arabic with her friend, I think of all the powerful voices of the Muslim feminists I’ve read and followed, and I remember that each of us is a complex individual, and assuming anything about her and her choices and her faith and who she is is not at all my place. I put the positive, individual stories ahead of the negative, racist ones I’ve internalized, and slowly but surely, bit by bit, I get fewer and fewer knee-jerk assumptions about people.

And, more importantly…

I don’t fucking call Homeland Security because a couple of non-white guys on a plane are using the goddamn bathroom.

Because I can tell you right now. WE ARE THE PROBLEM, YOU GUYS. Not “them.” Not “the other.” It’s all of our freaky scaremongering crazy that is turning our own country into a police state. We are doing it to ourselves. We are letting divide and conquer work YET AGAIN.

But we don’t have to. We can take positive steps to combat our conditioning. We can do better. We don’t have to be racist assholes who ruin people’s lives. Because whoever these folks were who freaked out on this woman and the men in her row and the 50 other people who were targeted by scared, freaked out people on September 11th just because they chose to GET ON AN AIRPLANE are the actual terrorists.

We are the terrorists, you guys.

And is that really who you want to be?

 

First They Came For…

They came first for the gays and the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t gay, or a Jew.

Then they came for the immigrants and the socialists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t an immigrant or a socialist.

Then they came for the Muslims,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Muslim.

Then they came for me
and by that time no one was left to speak up.

(re-imagined)

Seriously, you guys. Stop with the historical wheel of hate, OK? As somebody with a background in historical studies, it gets really depressing, and leaves me with very little hope for a future that doesn’t look like V for Vendetta.

Prince of Persia

Sooo…. let me get this straight. You had folks like this chick and this guy to carry this movie:


And YOU CHOSE this guy and this chick?


I’m sorry, what planet are you living on, Hollywood? Because it’s not the same planet I’m living on.

Also, it looks like a terrible movie.

Maine, Or, the Legacy of Why We Don’t Vote on Human Rights Issues

“Someone in power is finally going to state the obvious truth that gay marriage is absolutely necessary, and they’re not going to put it up for a vote, because that’s not what you do with basic human rights. You don’t let six wolves and four sheep vote on what to have for dinner (or in this case, what, fifty-two wolves and forty-eight sheep?).

The National Guard will stand outside the courthouses and force you to grow the hell up, and you will be remembered in history like those sad ugly white people yelling at the black kids coming to class.

And this isn’t the fifties. This is the twenty-first century. Your bisexual grandkids will still be able to Google your sorry ass and see that you were a spiteful hateful closeminded bigot. They’ll have your lying ads, annotated with footnotes showing how you knew you were lying at the time. They’ll have your ugly homophobic comments and your hate-filled fake news reports captured in crystal clarity on whatever magical Internet++ they’re using decades from now. And they’re going to be ashamed of you.

All you’ve done — all you’ve accomplished with your lies and hate and fearmongering — is to delay the inevitable. In the next few years, every widow who loses her home because she “wasn’t really married” to her life partner, and the life partner’s kids have a good lawyer? Every man who dies scared and alone because the man who should have been his husband wasn’t allowed to be at his bedside? Every not-spouse who dies because of not-health-coverage, coverage they would have gotten were they married? Every one of those things that happens between now and whenever the National Guard puts a little learnin’ on you? That’s on you.

That’s your legacy.

(read the rest)

This is Not My Beautiful Life…

I first noticed this phenomenon in the photos of folks I have on my Yahoo IM chat list. More often than not, women with young children would use the photo of their children as their avatar photo. The first couple times, you figure, hey, they’re just really proud of their kids. Then I saw my mom use a photo of my neice and nephew as her user pic on Facebook and I thought… huh?

On the one hand, as the author points out, it’s almost refreshing to see a focus other than me-me-me on traditionally me-centric social media sites. On the other hand… um? I’m proud of a good many things in my life, and no doubt if I ever have a child, I’ll be proud of them too, but why use the photo as a stand in for… me?

There are plenty of photos of folks with their best friends, mothers *with* their kids, fathers with their kids, and of course, whole families together that sit in as user pics. So it’s not like this is as huge a trend as the author points out. But it does come up often enough for me to go “hm,” too. I haven’t seen any fathers use pics of their children as their user photo, for instance. But I may just not be looking, or I don’t note them as much when I see them?

I wonder if it’s a mix of pride and guilt? Are you more likely to see working mothers using photos of their kids as avatars? I don’t buy that it’s about creating anonymity, as there are plenty of folks who just use objects/random scenery shots to hide behind. Is it really a flight from aging, like the author suggests? I don’t buy into that so much. I’d be interested to find the commonalities and differences among men and women alike (because there must be some guy, somewhere) who use their children’s photos for their social media pics.

I’d be interested, for instance, if it’s more likely working moms or stay at home moms who do it. Or is there a class distinction? Is it really an age difference? Do over-30s just view the web differently, and shy away from its me-centric nature more than 20-somethings? Or has our culture really shifted… now that we all have less children, we invest more in them… and more of ourselves in them, and carry them close the same way we would anything else we’d invested so much of our youth in?

Children have always been a source of pride. I just can’t ever see my grandmother posting a photo of her children as her user pic, if I could ever get her to join FB…

Pathfinder

This was not the movie I wanted to see. See, I wanted somebody to take the opportunity to tell the story about complex, fully developed Native American societies whoopin some Viking ass.

Instead, it’s just another cliched ramble about “noble savages” getting saved by The Great White Hope.

It was like watching 10,000 BC… in Saskatchewan.