Thursday, October 22, 2015

Response to a friend on how he feels by the word feminism

Sometimes acknowledging that a thing is distracting is the best way to let it stop distracting you. The word is distracting to you, but you have a choice about whether it remains distracting.

I see these things as a pendulum. And as a sense of perspective.

On the pendulum front it is that in order for things to truly get to a place of equality that means the middle of the bell curve needs to be at 50/50. Which to me means that the easiest way to approximate that is that for every space that is purely patriarchal there needs to be a space that is purely matriarchal and similar proportions of spaces at levels of skew less intense but not 50/50. Until we get that the society is patriarchal. I think that when I've seen this achieved in micro scale it is when the pendulum of power at a local level shifts from one side to the other back and forth until it lands in the middle. We have a society that is so patriarchal that I don't think it will ever be allowed to swing far enough towards feminism that there can be a correction towards the middle. And so in that context I think that something that is "against patriarchy" being called "feminism" to mean the eventual goal of being equal makes sense.

This brings me to perspective. As a white person I've been working very hard to understand what it means to be white and how that has impacted my perspective. I only really see how toxic and skewed my perspective is on this front when I hang out with several people of color at the same time or with a person of color who feels safe enough to call me all my bullshit or call society on its bullshit in my presence. Many of their complaints can be felt on a few levels. On the first level a white person who is stuck in that perspective can either say "Of course but this should be true for everyone." or they can say "I don't see this as a big deal." When I am able to delve into the level of toxicity of how the power ascribed to whiteness has seeped down to the core of this society I can actually feel the harm that the latter seemingly minor things cause and I can understand how truly ridiculous it is the contradictions involved in the white discourse among the major things. Unfortunately I still find it incredibly difficult to express that understanding and even to hold onto it as I leave the presence of my friends of color. One training I went to called it the water we all swim in. And we swim in so much sludge and have for so long that we don't even see it.

Side joke so that makes sense: An old fish swims by some younger fish and says "how's the water today?" and the younger fish ask "what's water?" Sometimes things are so infused that we can't even see them without real effort. 

I feel the same thing about feminism. The patriarchy is the same way and it is very difficult to see it at the deeper level. The things you expressed for your views that make you a feminist could be at one of two levels. If they are at the obvious level it is likely that you can't understand how anyone feels differently and why this is even still a conversation we need to be having. If it were at a deeper level I think the word feminism would make more sense.

I believe there is a combat. Not between individuals but between ideologies. It happens along the gender line and it happens along the race line and it happens along the socio-economic line. The socio-economic one is the one that I feel has done the best job of stating the fight as I've seen it. "They only call it class warfare when we fight back." This can be applied to all the power structures. When we call it "race wars" it is when people of color get pushed by the bullshit to the point where they feel there is no other option. I think that feminism is the same way and why you feel somewhat attacked.

I also believe that it is not a dichotomy but a spectrum. I see the toxic water kinda being like those airport sidewalks. And the direction they go is the defaults of power. So in the absence of other actions we head towards patriarchy, white power, and a strong believe that the people with money all earned what they have and the poor are lazy. (among other things) When we start realizing that we are on a moving platform in society and that we are heading the wrong direction the first step is to turn around. The next step is to notice that we are moving away from the goal. And the final step is to start moving in the right direction.

Moving in the right direction though may not be enough if the rate of the moving sidewalk is faster than the rate of walking. Not only might we not get there or even stay put we might still be moving in the wrong direction. It can be super frustrating to be judged by your negative progress on this moving sidewalk, especially when you are actively moving in the opposite direction. But there will be people that do that because unless we get people to not just turn around and start moving and start putting in real movement nothing will change.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Personal Reflection on Racial Bias through the Book "The Ear, The Eye and The Arm"

Recently I read the book The Ear, The Eye, and the Arm by Nancy Farmer. It is children's literature but it holds up well for adults as well. There are children who go out for adventure, learn about the world, become stronger in the process, and it is just all in all awesome.

What I want to talk about, though, is my personal struggle and experience through the book. This book is set in Zimbabwe. It very clearly delineates the people of English descent, so it should be a trivial matter for me to conceptualize correctly the racial images of the characters of this book.

The truth is that it was not a trivial matter at all. I didn't even recognize the problem until I was half way done with the book. I was visualizing all of the characters as white. This is ridiculous, and illustrates how messed up the subconscious can be. In order to make the characters more understandable to me, I visualized them as white. I was horrified when I realized that that is what I had been doing.

I took some time away from reading, just sitting there, thinking about the characters. I tried to recontextualize them in my head. Meditate on more accurate pictures of who they really were. Interestingly as well, I did not have a hard time conceptualizing the characters with body deformities. I probably under estimated She Elephant's size, but the detectives were deformed, which is how they got their names. I had no problem thinking about Arm's long arms when his character came to the page. Part of that might have been the fact that the name gave me a clue but to have no problem at all with it and find race so paralyzing felt revealing to me.

As I continued through the book. I tried really hard to keep race in mind, just so that I would visualize the characters correctly. It was actually very difficult. I had to stop myself frequently to recontextualize the characters and the story. This isn't for lack of writing skill either. I knew the whole time that the story was in Africa. There are frequent reminders of the culture, climate, and other aspects of the area.

I guess for me this post is about coming clean and reflecting on this challenge. I don't really want or need to talk to others about this. To burden others with my story, especially when they have to deal with the realities of people of color not being taken seriously on a daily basis. What I walked away form the book with, among other things actually related to the story, was that if I am working this hard and struggling this much and still failing, our society is seriously messed up in this regard. Many have called me a social justice warrior. I go out of my way to try to understand different people's experiences, to try to check my privilege and stop being an asshat. I am already deeply disturbed by the racial disparities in society. I put a lot of energy into this and have for years. And I was defeated by the exercise of visualizing african protagonist children as black in a children's book. Reflecting on this I feel like I've been climbing down a cliff to understand the depths and I just got a glimpse of the distance down this cliff. Just enough of a glimpse to know that it is impossibly deeper than I can possibly imagine.

In other news, for this article I had to look up the author's name because I suck at that. And I ran across her blog and a blog post about the book and why it can't become a movie. I'm just going to put that here:

Anyway, this isn't the best writing I've ever done, but I'm sick and this has been bugging me for a while and I just wanted to put this out there and come clean about it. I am definitely adding this book to the list of books to come back to every few years. I'll probably seek out more work by this author as well.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Stop Bullying Elizabeth Warren

It seems everywhere I turn in the realm of progressive politics I am exhorted to join the mass of folks pressuring Elizabeth Warren, Senator from Massachusetts, to run for president in 2016. I have a lot of respect for Senator Warren and if she wanted to run I would likely support her. She has stated repeatedly however that she is not running. It is severely disrespectful to continue badgering her on this point for several reasons.

Bullying Senator Elizabeth Warren disrespects her current power and goals. A quick scan through her wikipedia page reveals she has always cared about policies that effect ordinary Americans, particularly policies around finances and financial reform. This focus makes her attractive to the average person as a candidate for president but the average person doesn't know what the president does or what Senator Warren does on a day-to-day basis.

Senator Warren is on the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs. Within that she is on the Subcommittee on Housing, Transportation, and Community Development, the Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Protection, and the Subcommittee on Securities, Insurance, and Investment. She knows what she cares about. She knows where her power lies. She has more power to change the things that she cares about where she's at than she would ever have as president. If you like her policy concerns, trust her to serve where she has the greatest power to fight for those concerns.

Bullying Senator Elizabeth Warren disrespects her judgement of her strengths and weaknesses. The office of the president is a very diverse job. Senator Warren, while very good at what she does, has not been a politician very long. During that time she has been very focused on the issues that she understands the best and that she is most passionate about. Do we know anything about how she would be in the other aspects of the presidency though. Do we have any idea what her foreign policy choices would be? She gets a lot of attention for her strengths but if she doesn't think she knows enough to take on the full responsibility of the presidency, I trust her judgment on that.

Bullying Senator Elizabeth Warren disrespects her choice on whether she wants to deal with the misogyny that will come from being the first female president. I don't know whether this concern is among the reasons why she doesn't want to run but I do know that racial tension has been on the rise under Obama. Part of this is because there are some folk who are angry there is a black man in the white house. Part of this is because there are some folk that think that because we have a black president that racism is dead and they don't need to worry about it any more. Part of it is because racism is still very much alive and Obama can't address these issues himself without losing political power he'd rather devote to other things. I don't see any reason why the same won't be true when we get our first female president. Issues affecting women will be things that either she would have to shy away from, or she would have to spend too much energy and political capital to make any headway on. As a woman, I'm not looking forward to this. Being president is hard enough. I will not bully someone with institutional disadvantage to put themselves in this position, though I will support them if they want to run and I believe they'll do a good job.

Bullying Senator Elizabeth Warren disrespects the power of the word "no." She is a grown woman who can make her own choices. I'm very uncomfortable with the fact that so many "progressives" are not taking "no" for an answer. This is coercive and disrespects her agency. Is this the message you want to tell your daughters. She may have ideas of what she wants to do but none of that really matters because people will pester her and pester her to do something else unceasingly.

With this I'm going to sign off. This issue has made me angry enough that I just needed to get my thoughts out in a place where I can just post a link whenever I see this bullying behavior and be done with it. Feel free to share your own thoughts about this in the comments.