Surprised by Charlottesville? You Haven’t Been Paying Attention

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America is a funny place.

 

On the one hand, we’re one of the first modern Democracies, a product of Enlightenment thinking and unabashed pluralism and cultural diversity.

 

On the other, we’ve built our entire society on a cast system that is the basis of our economics, politics and cultural mores.

 

We’re the land of Benjamin Franklin, the Wright brothers, Duke Ellington, Toni Morrison, and Sandra Day O’Connor.

 

But we’re also the land of Andrew Jackson, Jefferson Davis, Charles Lindberg, Bull Connor, and David Duke.

 

Tolerance and love are as American as apple pie. But so are racism, sexism, prejudice and anti-Semitism.

 

“It is not as though the United States is the land of opportunity, or a hypocritical racist state,” says sociologist John Skrentny. “It is one or both, depending on context.”

 

 

So this week when people saw Nazis marching openly in Charlottesville, Virginia, the only thing that was really so surprising about it was how surprised so many people seem to be.

 

“That’s not my America!” they seem to be saying.

 

To which I reply, “Hell, yes, it is! Where have you been the last 241 years!?”

 

We base our salary scales on genitalia! You think we’re really so freaking advanced!?

 

The shade of your epidermis determines the likelihood of police arresting you, charging you, even killing you regardless of your having a weapon, whether you resist arrest or simply lay on the ground with your hands in the air.

 

Regardless of the evidence, if you’re convicted, the length and severity of the sentence are all partially determined by the amount of melanin in your skin. The cultural derivation of the name on your resume determines the likelihood of employers calling you back for an interview. In many places, your rights are legislated based on whom you love.

 

Our schools are segregated. Our taxes are levied most heavily on those with the least means to pay. Our prisons house more black people today than did slave plantations in the 1860s.

 

Yet a bunch of white dudes carrying Tiki torches shouting hate filled puns (“Jew will not replace us”? Seriously?) somehow doesn’t compute?

 

Come on.

 

This is America.

 

Racism and prejudice are not threats smuggled in past border security. They’ve always been here. At least since Europeans came offering trade and peace with one hand and guns and smallpox with the other.

 

The land of the free was stolen from the Native Americans. Our national wealth was built on the backs of slaves. Our laws and electoral system were built to empower one group at the expense of others.

 

Yet reformations in this process are rarely met with celebration. Instead of memorializing the end of slavery, we embrace the institution with fond remembrance.

 

Nor did prejudice and bigotry end when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, after Brown vs. Board, the Voting Rights Act, Freedom Rides, sit-ins or civil rights protests.

 

America has always been a place hostile to the under privileged, the second sex, religious dissenters, the brown skinned.

 

At most, we had become less confrontational in recent years, but we never really changed our core values, our social structures, who has power and who does not.

 

During my lifetime, people started to equate having a black President with the end of racism. Somehow they ignored the everyday reality for most black people.

 

They ignored the constant prejudice against the poor, the continued bigotry against LGBTs, the Islamophobia, the increase in hate crimes.

 

If there has been any change during the past eight months, it hasn’t been with the degree to which Americans are prejudiced. It’s the degree with which we’re willing to hide it.

 

Whereas before racists would claim to be colorblind, that their actions were completely devoid of racial bias, today they sigh and repeat the dusty slogans of Jim Crow Alabama or 1930s Berlin.

 

And somehow people are actually surprised about this.

 

It’s because too many of us have swallowed the lies about living in a post-racial society.

 

You thought we were beyond all that. It was a brave new world, morning in America, and we were finally treating everyone equally – unless you looked at what we were actually doing.

 

Mainly this is the reaction you get from white people. They rub their eyes and just can’t believe it.

 

You don’t see this too often from people of color, Muslims, LGBTs and some Jews. Why? Because they never had the luxury to ignore it.

 

That’s what we white folks have been doing since the beginning.

 

Whenever these issues come up, we have a knee jerk reaction to minimize it.

 

Things aren’t that bad. You’re just blowing it out of proportion.

 

But, no. I’m not.

 

That’s why you’re so damn shocked, son.

 

You haven’t been looking reality square in the face.

 

So when we’ve got undeniable video footage of angry white males (mostly) marching through Southern streets brandishing swastikas and assault rifles, it catches many white folks off guard.

 

They’re not prepared for it – because they haven’t been doing their homework.

 

We’ve been living in a bubble. Especially those living in major metropolitan areas.

 

That kind of thing never happens around here, right?

 

Of course it does!

 

Just because you live above the Mason Dixon Line doesn’t mean you’re safe.

 

You have a black friend, you like authentic Mexican food and you laugh while watching “Modern Family.”

 

But you haven’t opened your eyes to the reality outside your door.

 

You send your kids to private school or live in a mostly upper class white district. You have an exclusive gym membership that keeps out the riff-raff. You work in an office where that one token person of color makes you feel sophisticated and open-minded.

 

You’ve got to wake up.

 

You’ve got to educate yourself about race and class in America.

 

Because those people you saw in Charlottesville aren’t an anomaly.

 

They are an authentic part of this country, and if you don’t like it, you have to do something about it.

 

You can’t hide behind denial.

 

You have to take a stand, pick a side, and be counted.

 

Because one day soon, the torches will be outside your door.

 

You have to decide now – do you want to brandish or extinguish them?

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Dept of Ed Hires Anti-Civil Rights Crusader to Protect Student’s Nonexistent Civil Rights

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Candice Jackson is a victim of oppression.

When she was attending Stanford University in the mid-1990s, a minority calculus tutoring group refused to help her because she was white.

Sure she could probably afford to pay for private tutoring, but it was the point of the  thing.

She came from a family where both parents ran medical practices. Her dad, Dr. Rick Jackson, even unsuccessfully ran for Congress. You know – just like black families redlined into the ghetto and struggling to find work because of their African-sounding names.

Why shouldn’t the limited amount of tutoring spaces serve her as well as people from traditionally less privileged backgrounds? White lives matter, ya’ll.

“I am especially disappointed that the University encourages these and other discriminatory programs,” she wrote in the Stanford Review. “We need to allow each person to define his or her own achievements instead of assuming competence or incompetence based on race.”

With that kind of empathy and innate understanding of social justice, I – for one – am overjoyed that U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has hired Jackson to run the department’s Office for Civil Rights.

Well, she’s acting assistant secretary for the office. Technically she was hired as deputy assistant secretary, because that doesn’t require a confirmation hearing. A permanent assistant secretary will have to be approved by Congress – if DeVos ever gets around to nominating one.

I’m sure she’ll do that soon. There’s no way she’d sneak in someone who doesn’t believe in civil rights whose main job is to protect civil rights! That would be like hiring a Secretary of Education who doesn’t believe in the mission of public education tasked with protecting public schools!

That’s unpossible!

And Jackson is all about civil rights. The 39-year-old attorney is anti-women’s rights, anti-distributive justice and possibly even anti-compulsory education and anti-Civil Rights Act of 1964!

Just perfect!

I mean what does the Department of Education have to do with civil rights anyway?

According to the department’s own statistics, black students are at least six times more likely than white students to attend poor schools. These schools have smaller budgets, fewer resources, a crumbling infrastructure, larger classes and higher student needs based on the trauma of living in poverty – worse nutrition, lack of books in the home, exposure to violence and abuse, etc. Meanwhile, white students are three times more likely than blacks to attend rich schools overflowing with resources, pristine infrastructures, small class sizes, and fewer needs.

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Is that fair? Should the government do anything about ensuring all students receive the same opportunities?

Heck no!

That’s up to… I don’t know… somebody else. And what about all those poor white kids trapped in poor schools with a majority of students of color!? Who’s going to help the six percent of white kids in mostly black schools escape?

Betsy DeVos – that’s who! Donald Trump – who is really indistinguishable from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and her are proposing a school voucher program so that these white kids can go to a charter, private or religious school.

The black kids? Maybe the choice schools will accept some of them, I mean if the appointed boards and CEOs who run them want to take these kids, it’s really all up to them. We aren’t going to force them to do anything. We’re all libertarians here in Washington now. You wouldn’t want us to trample on the civil rights of charter and private school operators, would you?

Of course not!

And we’re certainly not going to do anything to help these impoverished public schools succeed. No additional funding. No preferential treatment! The free market will sort things out – it always does.

And people wonder why DeVos needs to be protected by U.S. Marshals at a cost of $1 million a month.

Her department is doing away with services the public has come to rely on: protecting special needs students, protecting college students from predatory loans, and now prosecuting civil rights violations.

The liberal snowflakes! Pull yourselves up by your bootstraps! Why are you demanding the government provide you with actual services in return for your tax dollars? You should be demanding tax cuts. That way you can just buy everything you need, yourselves, like the billionaire DeVos family and even the well to do Jacksons.

It’s a wonder why DeVos doesn’t pay for her own security detail – or why President Trump demands we pay for the extra security for all his trips to Mar-a-Lago.

But in any case, the extra security is clearly necessary for DeVos. Every other Education Secretary in history has been able to make due with protection from the Secret Service – from agents already on the payroll and in fact still on the payroll now. But when you’re striping the public of services and enacting programs like school vouchers that Americans angrily don’t want, you need the extra protections.

It’s like Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong Un. They didn’t and don’t have Royal Guards just because they love/loved pageantry. They need/needed protection from the people. That’s how you know you’re best serving the people. You need protected from them.

This is the conservative dream – federal employees appointed by bureaucrats instead of voted on by representatives, public servants who don’t believe in public service, and a military machine protecting them from the taxpayers.

This is the kind of administration that will finally ensure that never again will any white person ever be inconvenienced by people of color and all their needs! Never will the poor or minorities ever receive any federal help that could be perceived by white people as extra help – if we forget about all that we have helping us.

Finally we’ll all be equal. And some of us will be even more equal than others!

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If You’re Not a Feminist – What the Hell is Wrong with You!!?

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I am a male human being.

And you’d better believe I’m a feminist.

I wear that label proudly.

The other day a friend of mine heard one of my articles was published in Everyday Feminism. And he said, “Kind of a backhanded compliment. Isn’t it?”

Hell no!

What does that mean? Would someone suppose that a man being considered a feminist somehow made him less of a man?

On the contrary. I think it makes him more of one. It makes him a decent freakin’ person.

I just don’t understand this ridicule and fear of being called a feminist. I see it in both men and women.

The other day a co-worker said she’s all for the idea that men and women deserve equal pay for the same job, but she doesn’t consider herself a feminist.

Why the Hell not? That is a distinctly feminist point of view.

There seems to be this stigma about the term as if being a feminist was tantamount to being some sort of radical troublemaker. Some folks seem to think that feminists essentially hate men and seek them grievous harm.

It’s ridiculous.

A feminist is just someone who thinks men and women should have the same rights and opportunities.

That’s it. You can add more complicated terms, talk about economic, social and political rights, but it’s the same darn thing.

Being a feminist just means you’re not an asshole. That’s not a gender-specific value. Nor should it depend on your political affiliation, sexual preference or spirituality.

If you think all people, regardless of what they’ve got between their legs, deserve to be treated fairly, then SURPRISE! You’re feminist!

In the words of activist and academic Cheris Kramarae, feminism is “the radical notion that women are people.”

Some folks try to convince you otherwise. They play a card from the racist playbook. It goes like this:

Stop saying ‘Feminism.’ Women don’t deserve equal rights. All people do.

It’s the same passive aggressive trick of the closeted white supremacists who attack Black Lives Matter activists because “All Lives Matter!”

Listen, skeezicks, no one said “ONLY Black Lives Matter” just like no one said “ONLY women’s rights matter.” What you’re complaining about is pure baloney – a way to shut down the conversation and stop people from talking about inequalities that actually exist for women and people of color.

And don’t assume I’m excluding transgender people, either. LGBTs are just as deserving of fair treatment as cisgender folks, heterosexuals or anyone else.

Yes, feminism calls attention to the plight of women. It deserves that attention. We have a lot of work to do making that right. Why should I feel guilty about bringing that up?

I am perfectly comfortable being called a feminist. I have a mother, and I love her. I have two grandmothers, an aunt, a wife, a daughter. Most of us, whether we’re women or not, have important relationships with someone of the female persuasion. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to deny those loved ones equal treatment.

But you don’t have to know or care about a single woman. You could have sprung from the ground like a mushroom and lived in a dark corner without meeting anyone all your life. Why would you want to deny half of the human race fair treatment?

It’s a deep seated psychosis. Like so much else, the current Presidential election has brought it even more to the forefront.

For the first time in American history, a woman tops the ticket of a major political party. (She’s not even the only one. The Green Party has an impressive female candidate, too!) And just like in 2008 when Barack Obama became the our first President of color, the crazies are coming out of the woodwork.

I even had a female acquaintance tell me she couldn’t support Hillary Clinton because she didn’t feel comfortable with a woman in the Oval Office. She thought a woman would be too emotional to make those kinds of life-and-death decisions.

What a pile of crap!

It doesn’t matter if you support Clinton or not. Being a woman does not disqualify her from the Presidency. Women make life-and-death decisions every day. In fact, given that many women have the very machinery of life embedded in their own bodies, they may be MORE suited to these decisions than men. After all, they are empowered to decide whether new life comes into the world. They literally give birth to the future.

Men can be important parts of the process. But it’s not biologically required to the same degree.

Being the father of a daughter is the most important relationship in my life.

And I’ll admit it made me think about gender issues more deeply.

All parents see the world anew through their children’s eyes, and what I see from my little one’s point of view doesn’t fill me with confidence.

I see everywhere women have to prove themselves just to get in the door while men are assumed to be worthy of a shot just by virtue of their masculinity.

People listen to men more seriously than they do women. People expect men to take the lead. They expect women to follow. Men have much higher representation in almost all valued professions – doctors, lawyers, politicians.

It’s no wonder school teachers get no respect. They’re mostly women. As one of the few males in front of the classroom, I see this first hand on a daily basis.

So I try to do what I can to protect my daughter from ingesting these cultural stereotypes and sick ways of thinking.

Just the other day, we were listening to a Joan Jett song, and my little one asked if there were many good women rock stars. I responded by making her a playlist on my iPod filled with nothing but female fronted music groups. It’s full of artists like No Doubt, Cyndi Lauper, the Pretenders, Heart, Lauryn Hill, Patti LaBelle and Fiona Apple.

My daughter loves it. When we ride around in the car she invariably asks for “The Girl Album,” and I get it. She likes hearing people like her in that role. She likes seeing that it’s a possibility, that girls don’t have to take a backseat. They can lead. They’re just as important as boys any day.

That’s what being a feminist means.

It’s challenging your own patriarchal ways of thinking. It’s continually asking ‘Is this fair?” It’s having the courage to challenge the status quo and siding with the oppressed against the oppressor – even if the oppressor looks like you.

So Hell Yeah I’m a feminist. And if you’re not – really – what is wrong with you!!?

Beyoncé Upstaged by White Fragility at the Super Bowl

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SANTA CLARA, CA – FEBRUARY 07: Beyonce performs during the Pepsi Super Bowl 50 Halftime Show at Levi’s Stadium on February 7, 2016 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)


Black women’s bodies are scary.

 

That’s the lesson we learned this Super Bowl Sunday.

 

When Beyoncé and 30 backup dancers performed a brief rendition of her new song, “Formation” during the halftime show, talking heads all over the country exploded.

 

Oh my God! Are those pro-black lyrics!? Are they making an allusion to the Black Panthers!? Was the music video to this song critical of overzealous police murdering black folks!?

 

Turn off the TV! This is too political for family entertainment!

 

When did we become so squeamish in this country? Can’t we all just sit back and enjoy seductive women gyrating in unison anymore?

 

I guess not. Not if they’re black.

 

Sleek female bodies in tight leather outfits displaying every curve of their anatomy – if their skin is black and their hair is Afro-ed and their fists are briefly in the air, it’s way too scary for white male libidos.

 

And that’s really the problem here.

 

Who was this performance supposed to be for? Fifty years of Super Bowl logic would suggest the target demographic was light skinned, heterosexual and possessing a penis. But these women had something to say – maybe. They had a message beyond “Look at me! I’m hot!”

 

How am I – as a red-blooded American male – supposed to commodify and objectify these women’s bodies if their brains are trying to convey a message that goes beyond mere consumerism?

 

That’s what the Super Bowl is, really. Some people say they watch it only for the commercials, but that’s all there is. It’s all a big advertisement for the American way of life.

 

Sit back, drink beer, eat pizza, watch an essentially meaningless contest and – whatever you do – don’t think about the way things really are. Don’t think about the problems we have and how we might fix them. Stay asleep. Watch the game and stay fast asleep.

 

And please don’t tell me this has nothing to do with race. If they were white girls with a message about world hunger, the outrage would be demonstrably more muted. If there’d be any outrage at all.

 

No. This was a direct assault on our tacit consent to be colorblind in all things. As a society we’ve silently agreed to refrain from mentioning anything about race in public.

 

Why are you even bringing up the fact that those dancers were black, someone is bound to ask.

 

My answer: because I have eyes.

 

Denying the pigment of their skin does no one any favors. And talking about it doesn’t denigrate them in any way. In fact, it acknowledges a key component of their being.

 

But Beyoncé’s performance didn’t let us forget her skin color. She made it important, and our white male society doesn’t want to admit it.

Or at least that’s what the 24-hour news cycle has made of it. Did Queen B really intend her routine to be taken as such a revolutionary display of black power? It’s hard to say.

 

In the actual performance, there is nothing much that is overtly political. Vaguely martial outfits? Dancing in an X-formation? A raised fist? Maybe.

 

The only somewhat rebellious moment occurred after they had already left the field. A few dancers held a sign offstage asking for justice for Mario Woods – a black San Francisco man gunned down by police. If you blinked, you missed it.

 

But the same cannot be said of the recently released music video for the song. It contains many images of black oppression from police brutality to the slow response to Hurricane Katrina. However, if you never saw the video, would you make that connection?

 

I didn’t. It went right over my head.

 

To be fair, I’d had a few.

 

It wasn’t until the next day that I read about the media’s hyperventilating all over it. Viewers had to actively search out the video to find any revolutionary content. Maybe that was Bey’s intent. Maybe not.

 

 

Either way, I find it hard to believe that most people’s immediate reaction was the same as that of the pundits.

 

At first, it was only a vocal minority that made a big deal about it. Then it snowballed into the center of our public discourse. I’m not sure why it’s gained such purchase. Maybe it’s because the halftime show always elicits strong emotions. Maybe it’s because it’s an election year. But without a doubt, a lot of folks’ white fragility is showing.

 

People of color are often stereotyped as having a thin skin about these issues. If black or brown folks bring it up, they’re criticized as “playing the race card.” But this situation shows how reactionary we, white people, really are.

 

No one decried Coldplay for starting the show with “Viva la Vida” – a song featuring the lyric, “When I Ruled the World.” People of color aren’t theorizing that the song by the whiter-than-white Chris Martin is really a Caucasian lament about the loss of white power.

 

“I used to rule the world

Seas would rise when I gave the word

Now in the morning I sleep alone

Sweep the streets I used to own”

 

Why? Because it would be just as ridiculous! Black folks have more important things to worry about – like the very things that white people are mad at Beyoncé for bringing up!

You Can’t Solve Prejudice With a Cookie-Cutter: Celebrate Diversity

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If America was a cookie, it would probably be chocolate chip.

Sure it’s mostly dough, but the chips are what give it flavor!

I mean, come on! Who wants a plain sugar cookie!? Yuck!

Maybe that’s what they meant all those years ago when they described us as a melting pot. All these different races and nationalities blending together to form a delicious whole.

However, some flavors just don’t mix – or at very least are slow to come together.

In fact, since the very beginning, much of America has been obsessed with ensuring we DON’T mix! Chips and dough can’t melt together! We must preserve the purity of the batter. In fact, let’s send those chips back to Belgium!

But times have changed. We’ve tried to legislate our way to equality. Voting Rights Acts. Anti-Segregation Acts. Non-Discrimination Laws. But the legal system is far from perfect, and it can only do so much. If we’re really going to become one big tasty treat, we’ve got to do something about it – each and every one of us.

So how do we all come together? What should be our goal?

For some people, the answer is silence. We shouldn’t talk about this stuff at all.

There’s very little scientific justification for categorizing ourselves into different races, anyway. Just button your lip and it will all go away.

To which I say, yeah, many things such as race, nationality, even sexuality are to a large extent man-made. They’re the product of culture and society, but that doesn’t make them unreal. They’re totems, archetypes, symbols we use to navigate the social universe. If you think a social constraint is unreal, try violating it.

Moreover, ignoring inequality won’t solve it. That only ensures that the status quo continues to reproduce itself.

In short, if we don’t talk about prejudice, we’ll never get over it. Our biases will never go away.

Other folks – many with the best of intentions – think not that our differences are unreal, but that we should ignore them. Don’t talk about us and them. It’s all just us.

No more twitter campaigns proclaiming #AllChipsMatter. We should instead join hands and proclaim #AllIngredientsMatter.

And I do see your point. We are all important regardless of race, nationality, gender, religion, sexual orientation, etc. But is this really the best way to come together as a nation? If all of us taste the same, we’ll certainly be one – one bland and lousy confection sitting in the bakery that no one in their right mind would really want to eat.

Homogenization has its strengths. Look at white folks. We used to be very different. Czech, Slovak, German, Russian, etc. Now we’re one indistinguishable whole. Sometimes we venture outside of that label for a few hours to celebrate some ethnic festival, but most of the time we’re just white, White, WHITE. Having a beer and a Wiener Schnitzel during Oktoberfest doesn’t change how you usually identify and how you are identified in the world.

But something has been lost here. You can only be blind to the differences in people if you wipe away the rough edges. People become less distinct, more similar. That’s not the best way to be.

There’s another way.

Instead of ignoring the differences between people, we should embrace them. Don’t hide your nationality, your race, etc. Celebrate them!

I am the proud product of this culture! I am the son or daughter of this type of person! I love this! I believe that! I am not just anyone – I am ME!

There is a danger when anyone suggests conformity as a way to fight racism, sexism or any form of prejudice. It puts the responsibility on those who are different. If you don’t want to be discriminated against, YOU need to conform.

I think this is wrong. You have the right to be yourself. Instead it is the responsibility of those who would discriminate to STOP.

If you’re racist, YOU need to stop.

If you’re sexist, YOU need to stop.

If you’re homophobic, YOU need to stop.

And so on.

This isn’t as easy as it sounds. You can’t just walk it off. Prejudice is the result of years of enculturation, socialization and bigotry. It takes time. It takes a loving heart. But most of all it takes two very important things that few people in America have truly achieved:

1) Willingness to try.

2) Acknowledging that there is a problem in the first place.

That’s where we are today.

Very few people exist in the United States without some prejudice. People feel uncomfortable around those unlike themselves. We have preconceptions about how certain people will act. We think we know better how other people should live their lives.

These are all prejudices. And what’s worse, many of them are actually unconscious. I didn’t even recognize that I got nervous around black people – and now that I do, I don’t want to feel that way. I know it’s not justified, but I still can’t help the feeling!

So there is much to be done here in the USA to make us the best we could be. And it is our job to do that work.

Because the cookie of America has lots of cracks in it and more than a few nuts.