Last night, one of my dearest friends called me with some of her thoughts on Trayvon Martin. I asked her to turn it into a blog post; you can find it here. It was sometime later in the conversation that she said, “What can I do? I am one person in the Bay Area. What can I do? Write a blog post?”
I said, “Yeah, write a blog post. And you have to help raise Alex in this world.”
She was quiet for a long time.
Alex is her beautiful 2.5-year-old nephew. He’s lovely, he’s smart, he’s inquisitive. He’s Black. He’s Black in a world where a dead teenager can be put on trial for his own murder because he was a Black kid in a hoodie.
He’s Black in a world where racism is rampant (whatever the old white people on Drunk!SCOTUS seem to think), where people can be killed, imprisoned, pulled over, and denied employment or even so much as the benefit of the doubt upon walking into a store because of the color of their skin. He’s a Black boy being raised by a White mother who is acutely aware of what the outcome of the Zimmerman trial means for her son. [Note: the link is not about her and her family specifically.]
In fact, we live in a world where a man who grabbed a gun, stalked a Black kid, and then killed him was able to claim self defense. Because Black people are so scary that apparently we are always defending ourselves against them, even if all they have to fight with is a package of Skittles and a soft drink.
I am a queer Jewish person of color (with a largely invisible physical disability, because I needed a complete set). I grew up being told that the world didn’t want me here for just about every part of who and what I am. My mother apologized more than once for the fight I didn’t fully realize, as a kid, that I had ahead of me. My girlfriend and I plan to adopt and/or foster one day, and there is a very real possibility that some of our kids will be PoC. I turned to her last night and said, “What will we do?”
She said, in typical White-person-who-has-never-dealt-with-race-issues fashion, “We will just have to make the world better.” And I felt so powerless. Powerless to explain how two people in the Bay Area and their friends will not be able to “fix” racism for our kids. Powerless to even begin to explain the history of racism and how scores of people, organizations, campaigns, politicians, religious figures, celebrities, etc. have been trying to fight racism for so long. About how we still need laws and explicitly stated policies to protect people of color. About how privilege is still rampant and a major issue of contention, especially for those who have it.
Later, she told me she was glad I would be there to help our kids with the “race stuff”, which I found heartbreaking. Because in that moment I became the token go-to. Thank DOG she has a brown person to explain brown things (this is also a major issue wrt the discussion of race and racism–white people still seem to need brown people to explain the issues when the issues, the resources, the information is all right there for the reading [see re: Google searches]). And yet I loved the fact that she recognized that there would be “race stuff”, and that our children would need resources. I love the fact that she wants them to have those resources.
And that’s true whether our kids are female, queer, trans, and/or people of color. These kids have to learn about how they can best navigate in a world that is still unfriendly and dangerous to them. We (as a planet full of people) aren’t teaching boys not to rape*, we are still teaching women and girls not to get raped. We aren’t teaching people not to be racist, we are teaching people not to dress threateningly on top of being Black. We aren’t teaching people not to be homophobic, we focus on places where queers should worry about coming out. We need to teach our children to navigate through that and come out stronger, to support each other even when it is scary, to know when they need help.
What did Trayvon know that night when he left the house to get some candy? Did he know that the world was a dangerous place for him? Did he know what image he needed to present as a visual apology for the color of his skin? Did he know that some deeply racist vigilante nutjob might shoot him to death because of a general distrust of Black people, a distrust that is neither limited to Zimmerman, nor Florida? Would knowing that have saved his life? Where do we find the balance between wishing desperately that Trayvon had been wearing khakis and a preppy button-down shirt and indulging in victim blaming?
What are you teaching your kids? What pieces of wisdom do you have to offer your female, queer, alternative, PoC children? Did you even know that you needed to? If your children are straight, White, and male, what do you tell them about racism, misogyny, rape, homophobia? Do you see a need to discuss these things with them? Are you letting them learn about these things on Facebook?
If so, WHY?
*I don’t mean that boys are born rapists and must be taught otherwise. I mean that boys are not given the skills they need to handle sexual situations appropriately. In fact, society puts a level of pressure on boys and men to be sexually active and dominant that can be pretty unbearable (and ensures that instances of male rape go woefully underreported).
Well, SCOTUS is drunk.
No, really. Obviously drunk.
Those of us who are not just keeping track of the Prop 8 decisions may have noticed the gutting of the Voting Rights Act and the funny idea that racism just isn’t an issue anymore. I guess nobody has stopped and frisked Clarence Thomas recently.
So, folks are dismayed and disappointed all over the internet, in my office, and probably in Dolores Park, too. But that’s probably because it’s raining, and Dolores Park in the rain is dismaying and disappointing. And of course everybody is worried about Prop 8–regardless of what the preferred outcome might be.
So, to everybody who is bummed out about bad SCOTUS decisions, look at this fucking cat.
This fucking cat is the cutest. He just wants to take his fucking giant, fluffy, polydactyl paw and rub it all over his fucking adorable face for you. This fucking cat is working it so hard to make you feel better about today. And today’s a fucking bummer. I mean, the fucking VRA isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. Seriously, go fucking print that shit out. THERE. You just wasted some fucking paper.
So check it out. This cat’s name is fucking Thumper. He has a fucking RABBIT’S name. How fucking cute is that? He has fucking thumbs on his great big mitteny fuckng paws. His feet are practially fucking snowshoes. I have a fucking SNOWCAT. Thumper just wants to love you. When he rolls over and shows you his fluffy white belly, he wants you to fucking pet it. That fucking belly is not a fucking trap, and it’s so fucking soft you won’t be able to stop petting it. You would feel so much fucking better right now if you just cuddled up and listened to his fucking amazing purr, which gets louder and louder the more you pet him.
This fucking video has music, so if you are at work, wear some fucking headphones. And when you are feeling all pissed off about SCOTUS? Look at this fucking cat.
Since I posted “Privilege“, I’ve had a number of discussions with clueless folk about the privilege they do not believe they have or would like to discard because they are tired of being called out on it.
First, I am going to go over some basics in a list that is not comprehensive (please note, I am offering examples of experiences on a systemic level. Just because you, personally, have experienced something different doesn’t actually negate what I am saying below):
Congratulations! You have privilege.
White people: You have privilege. You aren’t immediately flagged as potential trouble in stores and airports. You are more likely to get a job than the more melanin-enabled. People don’t assume you will be lazy, or late, or trouble on the streets. You don’t get extra targeted by cops. There is no such thing as Driving While White. You get to wonder why the brown people are upset about racism in movies and tv, because it’s just entertainment.
Men: You have privilege. You don’t worry about being sexually assaulted if you go out alone. You don’t have to automatically wonder if that guy in the elevator with you is a creep. You get paid more than women. Nobody assumes that you don’t know what you are talking about professionally just based on your gender. You don’t have to sue companies for promotions, universities for tenure, newspapers to be allowed to get out of the researcher/secretary pool. You get to wonder why women get so upset when you approach them on the street.
Rich folk: You have privilege, and everybody knows it. You get to wonder how families can possibly live on only $250,000/year.
Straight people: You have privilege. You don’t have to constantly fight for the legitimacy of your intimate relationships. Your right to marry is not up for a vote. Nobody says things like, “I’m not heterophobic, but…”. You don’t have to wonder if your state will let you adopt a kid, or if you will have any parental rights over the kids you are helping to raise. You don’t get bullied, beat up, maimed, or killed for being openly straight. You get to wonder why the queer folk want to deal with the misery and complications of marriage.
Cisgendered people: You have privilege. You haven’t had to go through an extensive (and expensive) medical, psychological, and emotional process just to feel like your body is your own. You haven’t faced bigotry from every single community around you because your outsides don’t match your insides and you need to do something about it. You don’t get bullied, beat up, maimed, or killed for identifying as a gender that does not match the one on your birth certificate. You get to say stupid shit like, “That’s so weird. I would never put myself through that.”
Educated people: You have privilege. You have never had to have somebody read a document to you because you cannot. You have never faced the embarrassment and shame that our culture heaps on the uneducated. You aren’t stuck in jobs that nobody else wants because you never had the opportunity to finish grade school, let alone high school and college. You have never been without a voice. You get to wonder about and mock all the godawful grammar on the internet. (Approximately one in seven people in the US can’t even read this post I am writing.)
Able-bodied people: You have privilege. The world is basically designed for you. You don’t have to worry about elevators being out, people getting bitchy because you take up more space and time on public transit, or aisles being too narrow. You aren’t limited to specific jobs, specific forms of entertainment, or even specific locations. You get to complain about your inability to use handicapped parking spots.
Tall people: You have privilege. Just kidding! I know it sucks to be able to reach everything.
Second, I am going to make a point I seem to have to make repeatedly, but never seems to get taken to heart:
The lack of one kind of privilege does not cancel out all other forms of privilege.
Grew up poor as shit, but still straight, white, cisgendered male? Guess what? You still have privilege. Grew up poor, brown, gay, and male? Guess what? You still have privilege. Poor, brown, queer, female with an amazing education? You still have privilege.
I can keep going with the combinations until this looks like an LSAT question, but I won’t, because the LSAT sucks. (I get to make that shitty joke because I get to claim educational privilege.)
Third, I am going to expand on what I discussed in “Privilege”:
It’s just something you have.
No, you didn’t ask for privilege. You aren’t necessarily looking for the special treatment you receive because of it. You may not even be conscious of it. That’s all well and good, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have it.
The thing about privilege is that the benefits are automatic and not always visible to the privileged. Which is another way of saying, you don’t notice you aren’t being discriminated against. Men don’t notice that they aren’t on constant alert against being sexually assaulted on the street. Straight people don’t notice that they aren’t being treated differently when with their partners.
When you get called out on your privilege, nobody is telling you to change it. Nobody is telling you that you are a bad person because of it. Nobody is saying that it’s your fault. What you are being told is, people who do not field specific kinds of discrimination have a very different perspective on the world than people who do. What you are being told is, what is an intellectual exercise for you may not be for somebody else.
What you are being told is, take yourself out of your privileged shoes and put them in somebody else’s (let me guess—they don’t fit. Kinda uncomfortable, right? You’d like to take them right back off, right? Yeah. That’s what people are talking about when they call you out on privilege). This goes back to my initial post. Because ultimately you need to recognize that you have it. You should acknowledge it. And while acknowledging it doesn’t change the fact that you have it, it does go a long way toward helping you understand where people are coming from when they say, “Dude. You realize you just spilled a bunch of cold unpleasant privilege into my lap.”
Don’t be afraid of those uncomfortable shoes. Seek them out. Walk in them for a minute, if you can. Marvel at the blisters and bruises. So that when you put yours back on, you can appreciate how well they fit, and how comfortable they are. That, metaphorically, is what you should be doing when your privilege is pointed out to you.
ETA: Since enough people have the need to make this argument, I feel it ought to be addressed. There seems to be a new “solution” to the use of the word “privilege” that seems to have been created by people who are deeply afraid of the word. I have tried to unpack it in this post, but I guess I can’t stop people just reacting to it instead of seeing that. So please let me state: calling discrimination “human rights violations” instead of using the word “privilege” changes absolutely nothing about the above post. All it does is try to shift focus and say, “I don’t have privilege, these people are simply being wronged.” Not only is the use of “human rights violations” a bit overwrought, it doesn’t work that way. People are being wronged, it’s true. But it is on a systemic level, and thus it is what actually creates privilege. The fact that people are suffering from various kinds of discrimination and lack of safety on a systemic level is the very reason that people who do not suffer—on that same systemic level—experience privilege. Taking the focus off of the privileged for these discussions does nothing to change that, it just makes those who are uncomfortable with it and think people who are using it are calling them bad people feel a little better in the moment. My suggestion is that you stop reacting to the word and start really considering what it means in this context.
My dear friend Sasha pointed out that my blog composition has settled into a sort of triangle of topics. And I’m cool with that. It’s just not the topics I thought they would be. Witness:
Once again, the cats have won the internet. Resistance was futile. We’ve all been assimilated. And with that in mind, prepare yourselves for the most recent conversation with Otto, a guest blog from the abovementioned Sasha.
This is for the hordes of underage would-be drinkers who seem to think that:
- They have the best, most winning argument for why I should let them into the bar;
- They are the most trustworthy underage drinkers I will ever meet;
- I am just blindly following an unfair law;
- I’m just being an unsympathetic hardass who doesn’t want them to have a good time.
SOPA and PIPA and NDAA (Oh, my).
So, while we know they will be back in some form or another, we have, for the moment, defeated SOPA and PIPA. The President signed the NDAA, which was adjusted so that American citizens could not be indefinitely detained, but now we have HR 3166/S. 1698, also known as the Enemy Expatriation Act (EEA), which allows the government to strip Americans of their citizenship if they are suspected of being hostile to the United States—without conviction. I’ve seen virtually nothing about EEA, anywhere, and the only people who seem to be fighting it are Anonymous (and people who follow Anonymous) and, God help us all, everybody’s favorite racist, homophobic, fundamentalists-are-too-liberal, pro-integration-of-church-and-state libertarian Ron Paul.
I have learned a couple of lessons from this whole experience in the fight against such legislation.
1. We have to work a lot harder at getting the word out about dangerous and damaging legislation.
I mean, a lot. A LOT. We internet denizens have got to stop bemoaning the fact that important news is no longer being featured in the news, stop trying to augment what isn’t there, and simply do our damnedest to replace it. Lots of people know this and have already acted on it, but we need more. It seems like a great number of people know this on at least a subconscious level right now. It’s time to make it conscious.
- Educating our friends, families, kids.
My friend Rachel noticed a trend on the 18th, where informed adults trolled kids for not knowing what SOPA was. Give me a break, folks. They didn’t know what SOPA was because they are kids, and the adults around them were either uninformed or didn’t bother to inform them. Conversely, I heard of an entire class of 11-yr-olds that was deeply concerned. But it’s not just about letting them know that they need to be concerned. We need to make it clear to the people around us that the news being reported by the big news corporations is incomplete, that just because it isn’t being reported DOES NOT MEAN that it isn’t important, and that it’s time to pay some real attention to the other voices around them. And you may be reading this and thinking, “Well, I knew that.” Great! But what in the world makes you think the people around you, and the people around them also know it?
- Following up.
Posting links on Facebook is a great way of getting news out to the masses, but you don’t know who is reading, sharing, really paying attention. Follow up. I had to post about SOPA many, many times before I was able to galvanize even a handful of my friends into acting. Don’t confuse posting the occasional link with actually getting the information out there.
- Making it personal, if you can.
People were galvanized into action over SOPA/PIPA because the internet is precious to them. Because everybody, with the possible exception of the people making rulings and laws about it, uses the internet. Getting people to take action over an issue that doesn’t directly concern them is nearly impossible; when it comes to such political issues, people are happy to be lazy. “Don’t worry,” I have heard said far too many times, “If it’s really bad the Supreme Court will take care of it.” Right. Because SCOTUS just waves its nine wands and makes everything constitutional again. Yeah, well SCOTUS just ruled that creative works in the public domain can now be copyrighted again. Reminder: this is your SCOTUS right now.
I get that people are, politically, narcissists. If it isn’t obviously our fight, we don’t want to fight it. Hell, even if it is, we’d rather play video games and watch reality television than work to improve the world around us. I get that; honestly most days so would I. But a lot of what I am seeing is obviously our fight. And so…
2. We can’t stop fighting.
Yeah, we are all exhausted. We thought we’d have a break from all of this desperate fighting for our rights, and for legislation that is not based in fear and corporate interests when George W. Bush was replaced with Barack Obama. We thought we had won the battle, that we could rest on our laurels for a while. But much in the way soldiers who ought to have been allowed to come safely home from Iraq were sent back again and again to fight for their country, we don’t get a break. (And now that I have written that sentence I feel I should apologize; Occupy aside, most of us are fighting from the comforts of our homes. No less for the safety and sanctity of what we believe and for our country, but with—even in Oakland—fewer bullets, bombs, and breaking of bodies, spirits, and hearts.)
We are weary. I get it. Every time I see some new piece of legislation that scares the piss out of me, all I want to do is run to my bed and bury myself in the covers and pillows and never come out. But I don’t, because I love my country. I don’t love the way it is governed. I don’t love the all choices it makes. But I love my country, and I’m not ready to run from the challenge of trying to keep it from falling totally into fascist, corporate, or scary fundamentalist hands.
3. We can’t lose our sense of humor.
When times are dark, and we feel like our leadership is letting us down hard, and we are wondering what is going to become of this country, we cannot lose the light of humor. The more dour and unhappy we become, the more we need to laugh (and the less we will be heard, because nobody will want to listen). Quinn Norton pointed this out with regard to the protest against SOPA/PIPA. Humor is a fantastic tool in hooking interest and concern.
The thing is, taking action isn’t the most difficult thing any of you will ever do in this world, which is why I am so fascinated by people who refuse to do anything at all and let others do their fighting for them. In fact, it’s one of the easiest. It’s a phone call, an email, hitting “Share” on Facebook. It’s talking to your friends, informing your kids (so that they can inform their friends). Information has never stopped being power, and the internet is the most powerful tool we have to spread information right now. Since we have, for the time being, saved it from being broken, let’s enjoy it and remember, between videos of cats in boxes and porn o’clock, to hit the “Share” button.
The very first thing I did in 2011 was wake up, shower, and go to the grocery store to buy the ingredients to make Raspberry Crack† for Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman.
At the time, I thought: holy crap. I am leaving a year filled with pain, anxiety, emotional abuse, misery and more pain. And I am leaping into a year that begins with one of my favorite authors and one of my most beloved musical artists, as well as some of my best friends in the world (Hi Whitney and Alexei!). Around a kitchen table. At which I will be sitting. Wow.
What could possibly go wrong?
Ultimately, very little. Very little had to go wrong. 2011 was a year of trying to convince myself that I could survive the status quo. Little secret between me, you, and the rest of the internet? Almost didn’t happen. Survival, I mean. 2011 brought me the closest to suicide I have been in a decade.
Sounds dramatic, right? I guess suicide is dramatic, but I don’t intend to make a splash with the idea.
I mostly mention it to give you some context, Gentle Reader, for my mindset coming into 2012. I have spent 2011 trying to put my head and my heart back together. I have been questioning and trying to come to terms with who I am and the choices I have made. I have been wondering what my place is in this world, and if I even have one. I have been lost, personally and professionally. And with regard to 2012, I am not as optimistic as I might like to be. I see SOPA and NDAA and the economy. I see my empty bed and my empty wallet. I see my grad school loans only overshadowed by my law school loans. I see an election year that is terrifying in its lack of viable candidates and a surplus of terrifying candidates. I see rage waxing and worry that my strength is waning.
I have found strength in myself that I didn’t know I had. I have friends who are so phenomenal that it’s a little overwhelming. This blog has a nonzero number of readers (that nonzero? That’s you. You are not zero—not The Zeppo [that's Xander]. Mazel tov). I have things to work toward in 2012 that aren’t just about trying to find reasons to keep living. I’m still funny. My cat remains adorable.
So my resolutions for 2012 are:
- To remember that I am loved by amazing people.
- To come to terms with the decisions I have made to this point.
- To consciously and carefully let go of as much of the baggage I’ve been lugging around with me as I can.
- To stop carrying the world on my shoulders.
- To practice guitar more often.
- To try at least five Scotches I have never tried before.
- To find a hottie or two to hang out with/hook up with.
What, you thought they would all be emotionally intense and interesting?
My biggest resolution, and one I hope to keep more than anything is this, though: I want to live. 2011 was about survival and subsistence—emotional, physical, and economical. It’s time to find ways to live. I wish that were as easy as it sounds, but it’s without a doubt worth working and fighting for. So I guess 2012 is going to be less about just trying to hang on, and more about climbing.
Happy new year, Gentle Reader. I hope your resolutions are wonderfully easy (or nonexistent). I hope 2011 has been amazing for you, and that 2012 will be even better. I hope there is no climb for you. I hope when you look around at the world in the new year, that it’s either a world you know you can live with, or a world you know you can change for the better (or both). I don’t yet know what the world has in store for me. I guess…let’s all hope for the best.
†Raspberry Crack is something I make, that my friends named, and that appears to be fairly addictive. The look on Neil Gaiman’s face when he first tasted it will be something I hope to use to get some incredibly nerdy and hot girl into bed some day.