Friday, June 24, 2016

Strange things can happen..

...when you decide to go poking around into notions of socially constructed phenomena such as identities. This can get really weird really fast because these areas deal with thinking about how we build our notions of who we are and how we are.

What you say? I'm just me and that's who I am.

Not so fast...you being you didn't just "happen"...nor did me being me...or anyone else for that matter. Who I am or who I believe myself to be came about as a result of a negotiation (an ongoing negotiation that continues throughout the lifespan) between our inner experiential world and that big bad outer world that we all swim in. How we think we are versus how the world out there tells us we have to be (in order to be considered acceptable or ok or "normal"). You didn't think all that stuff just "happened" did you?

By negotiation I mean stuff inside us encountering stuff outside of us and our figuring out how to navigate and exist and balance our inner desires and preferences and conceptualizations with the outer pressures and conceptualizations that we're all subjected to.

For instance, a couple of the clusters of stuff we all encounter in U.S. culture comes to us via those ways of being that have to do with which racial identity we're assigned and which gender identity we're assigned. Those are pretty much handed to us and we (generally) don't have much choice in the matter. What we have to figure out is how to reconcile them (somehow) with how we feel or perceive ourselves to be and with how to operate in the world in such a way that we can, sort of, be ourselves within those gender and racial roles that we're stuck with.

I'm mostly wrestling with gender identity here...not that other aspects of being (race, for instance) aren't powerful and always present...but here I'm sort of ignoring (because I'm not smart enough to try to think about all of it all at the same time, but all of it at the same time is how it happens) other elements and focusing on gender role or identity.

If you don't think you're handed a gender role and pretty much forced (by forced I mean that if you try to ignore that role or violate that role you will face some fearsome consequences) to adhere to it then...if you're gendered as a male...try this experiment. Go buy yourself some dresses and/or skirts and...changing nothing else about yourself...start trying to wear those articles of clothing and go through your daily routines out there in the world...like going to work and such. Watch what happens...I betcha you'll find all kinds of pressures being applied to you to knock it off. Folks will probably start behaving very differently around you and they are also likely to dramatically change their perceptions of you...mostly not for the better either. You might lose your job, your friends...heck...you might have physical violence directed toward you. People get really really excited about this stuff...some to the point of being willing to harm you if you make them too nervous or upset their expectations. 

We all get messages about how to "perform" our gender identity/role from birth onward...all the time and in all kinds of ways. And...often (probably always in some way or other) there is a mixture of race and gender messages directed towards us. Here's one graphic I found that theoretically is "universal" in terms of a message about being a "real" man but it actually is racial too. Why is it racial...well...some groups of folks don't generally have as much body hair (Native Americans for instance) as others but this graphic implies being a "real" man means having lots of facial hair.


See what I mean? The fact is I have little facial hair and absolutely no chest hair...which means I'm not a "real" man...right? According to the message in the graphic I'm not a "real" man. To me, that's silly. But...silly or not...stuff like this is astonishingly powerful and consequential. If you don't believe me, and your gender role is male...go ahead and try the experiment I mentioned before and see what happens. Actually...don't...because you might get hurt and I wouldn't want that to happen. Do a thought experiment instead...imagine wearing a skirt and imagine the reactions you might get. That's safer.

I've been thinking about all this stuff for some time now...actually I've been thinking about the gender stuff for a long time. Partially because of what I did professionally...back when I was doing professional stuff. I did psychotherapy for a long time and I quickly realized that you really can't do psychotherapy very well if you buy into the "real" man crap very strongly because "real" men are expected to be rather stupid about emotions and feelings and such. And...you are not going to be very skilled at psychotherapy if you're ignorant about feelings.

One of my first encounters with this awareness was having it pointed out to me that men have a much harder time learning the skills of psychotherapy than do women...because...women are much more familiar with and much more practiced at dealing with feelings than are men.

Guys have much more to learn...initially anyway...than do women. It isn't that guys can't learn the necessary skills...it's just that they have to make much bigger and more encompassing changes than do women mainly because of the messages they've gotten about what/how to be a "real" man. Men often have to learn to adjust/modify their notions about gender identity in addition to learning new skills in order to become a half-way competent psychotherapist...women much less often have to adjust their gender identity notions when learning these skills.

What's become much more apparent to me about this "man" stuff over the past couple of years as I've wrestled with living vegan and with struggling with the implicit racial biases that my culture has taught me is that...much akin to how "whiteness" has mostly to do with being oppressive so does "man" stuff have to do mostly with being oppressive. What a bunch of crap...jeez.

Consider this graphic. Agree with that?


Sounds pretty snazzy, eh? Five years ago I probably would have seen this and thought...hey...good stuff. Now...not so much. Think about it...It's all very well if you're a member of a dominant or powerful group and there's little risk associated with your being honest and straightforward...but...what if you're not a member of a dominant group. What if, for example, you were Jewish and living in Germany in 1943...would you run out and tell the Gestapo that you were Jewish? Because you're being a "real" man and you are being honest and you don't want to be a "coward"?

I really had never connected all this "honesty" stuff with oppression but it actually has a tremendous amount to do with who has power and who doesn't. It seems to be that the more social power you possess then the fewer negatives there potentially are for being "honest". Maybe it has almost nothing to do with being a "man" but has much more to do with power. Hmmm.

That statement in the graphic...which is presenting itself as a universal sort of thing is actually profoundly influenced by context...by identity...by assignment to a  racial group and by what's going on in the context of the society that someone lives in than it has to do with a "universal" truth. 

If a situation is that you will be killed if you're honest but you might live if you are deceitful...and (let's say) your deceit harms no one...then you're a "coward" if you lie? Gimme a break...that's deplorably simple minded and shallow...and seriously misleading. 

Don't misunderstand...I suspect honesty is probably a good thing...I value it...but...the consequences for engaging in honesty are thoroughly intertwined with your social identity and with your society and what is going on in that society at a particular time. Any thoughts about "honesty" that ignores those factors and just holds out "honesty" as a universal sort of value that applies to everyone (or "real" men) the same way, in all circumstances and at all times, is sort of goofy. It's much more complex and convoluted than the graphic suggests.

What does being a "real" man have to do with being vegan? Based on my own experience both personally and online...it's my impression that women who live vegan far outnumber men who are vegan. By a big amount...my guess would be at least 5 women are vegan for every 1 man who is vegan. Presuming that ratio is semi-accurate...why the big difference? Think about some of the messages that we get about how to be a "real" man...you're supposed to be tough, strong, stupid about feelings, willing to ignore others in order to get what you want and on and on and on.

Read Carol Adams book to learn more about the weird mixing that our culture engages in regarding being vegan and sexual identity.

Being vegan is very much intertwined with many of the messages that we get about how to be a "real" man...and most of those messages about being "real" men ooch us in the direction of not living vegan.

This social construction stuff is a heck of a lot more complex than you might think. I'm glimpsing, somewhat, that maybe most, if not all, of these socially constructed positions and identities have much more to do with power than they have to do with any "difference".

I've just touched on a few aspects of it here...you can think about your own experiences of how you've navigated your sexual identity and I suspect you'll quickly see that there's very little of it that's straight forward and uncomplicated...and you might notice that it has much more to do with power than you've previously thought.

Note: I've written as if there are only two sexual identities...that's what our culture tells us anyway...I'm quite aware that's false...the gender binary stuff is part of the wacky way oppressive cultures work. I know it's much more complicated than the way I've presented it here so please excuse my omissions and/or failures at being accurate. This stuff is very very complex.  

Friday, June 17, 2016

I will miss him.

He was unfailingly pleasant and polite...always welcoming to humans and also courteous and gentle with his bond mate and brother Speckles.

Walter J. was one of the first bunnies I became acquainted with when I started visiting Heartland Rabbit Rescue on a regular basis...that's been around 7 years now...so I'd known Walter for a long time.

He died some days back and I miss him. He was a very special bunny (as they all are) and he was one of those kind of Earthlings that just made you smile when you saw him.

Baby Walter J.

Jeannie, the director of Heartland, posted this picture of a young Walter J. on her facebook page and it shows a little of (as well as a photo can) the essence of this beautiful and special bunny.  Mother Earth is lessened by his loss...bye Walter J.

I miss you and thank you for having been here and for being you.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Voting with women of color...

is a modest change that I can and will make. It is so simple and so obvious that I'm still rather flummoxed at my failure to consider it before now.

Maybe the obviousness of it exemplifies the way invisibility works because it certainly...now anyway...seems incredibly apparent to me. I've never seen it presented anywhere else...maybe it was and I missed it...but it seems incredibly important...and easy...and way under publicized as a path for white men who are anti-racist and anti-misogynist. 

This little graphic I saw perfectly illustrates a fact that has been obvious to me for a long long time and that I've struggled with and worried over how to counter it.

Yup...the figure on the far right drives most of the human caused harm and horror that afflicts mother Earth. And...I'm one of the group represented by that figure.

What can I do to counter some of this awful truth?

Well...I can do the work necessary to determine who or what women of color support in any election and make sure I cast my vote in accordance with their wishes.

Zip zoop...in one act I opt out of using my vote to support white privilege and male privilege.

I realize this is a small thing...and I realize that at times it might be problematic (for instance the preferences of women of color might run counter to what I perceive to be the best stance for Earthings who aren't human beings) but...all in all...this seems to me to be an obvious...and just...thing to do. It sure beats the heck out of not doing this.

Why didn't I think of this before now? Jeez.

One sad and almost funny thing happened when I shared this notion in a facebook group I belong to that's ostensibly devoted to countering racism. A male (I think he's racialized as white...but I'm not certain) saw my suggestion and told me that if I really understood white supremacy and misogyny then I wouldn't need any poll to tell me what women of color preferred...I would just "know" and that polls were oppressive and misleading anyway.

Look...one thing I've become thoroughly convinced of over the past couple of years is that we're all subjected to relentless social conditioning that supports both white supremacy and male supremacy (as well as human supremacy) and that stuff is incredibly effective at screwing up perceptions and understandings and comprehensions. At least it has played hell with mine. So...I don't trust my own judgement in many situations...especially those involving race and sex...hence my desire to look at some external reference like a poll or something.

His assertion that polls are flawed is likely true in many instances...but...my judgement is just as suspect and also and probably more so. I've seen many polls where the preferences of women of color have run counter to the preferences of the majority...especially they have often run counter to the preferences of white people...therefore...I will use them (because I don't have anything better) as a proxy for my judgement.

I refuse to fall into the trap of thinking I "know" what women of color prefer.

I fear that the man who pooh poohed my idea of using polls is way over estimating the excellence of his judgement if he thinks he "knows" what women of color prefer in an election (notwithstanding his racial uniform). I fear he is obliviously asserting male privilege that's he's been relentlessly socialized to support. 

He's not a woman of color nor am I and it seems really really dubious that a man "knowing" what women of color prefer where that knowing runs counter to what a (reputable) poll suggests is (to me anyway) an exercise of male privilege via the absurd meme of "I know what women want" of "I know what's best for women". I don't have that kind of perceptiveness and I am fairly sure he doesn't either. Maybe he does...if so more power to him but I definitely do not so I will look to informational sources outside of myself.

Obviously aligning my vote with women of color is only one thing I can do to counter or resist oppression...there's lots more for me to do...but...it's a step in the direction of lending support to those who are oppressed...and...as far as I can see it does not recreate oppression elsewhere. Good stuff.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Recreating oppression

I've become aware that one of the major factors that perpetuates the operation of oppression in societies is how incredibly often well intentioned people who believe they are advocating for an oppressed group...will...inadvertently or carelessly or obliviously (or un somethingly)  engage in activities that are harmful or oppressive to some other group. The various campaigns that PETA has engaged in over the years is an obvious example of this narrow obliviousness of caring or of comprehension.


I've been guilty (and probably will be again in the future, sigh) of this sort of warped lack of comprehension...it almost appears as if we believe that if our intentions and/or goals are good or desirable or "pure" then somehow whatever path we take to move toward those ends is automatically exempt from being harmful or dubious or undesirable.

If my intentions or goals are pure or good...then I can do no wrong in pursuit of them. When I write it out...it looks goofy as hell...but...all you have to do is look around and see instances of this type flawed detachment driving behavior occurring all over the place both currently and historically

Come to think of it...that sort of disconnect between saying and doing may be a core foundational organizing principle of this nation. We are taught to go into a reverential swoon at the words "All men are created equal" while ignoring that these words were written and promoted by white men who were diligently engaged in murdering and stealing land from the original human inhabitants of the North American continent and also engaging in the practices of human enslavement. While their words were inspiring...their behavior was appalling.

They seemed to have good intentions and goals...so...let's just ignore their actual behavior.

Here's one source that documents that 41 of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence enslaved human beings...not to mention their support of and participation in an ongoing war of conquest and theft against the original human inhabitants of this continent. 

That's almost 75% of those who avowed that "all men are created equal" were saying this while enslaving human beings. And yet...we're taught to almost deify these white men...these "founding fathers"...we're taught to revere people based on what they say....not what they do. That's our "heritage". 

I've written in various posts in this blog about my adventures in trying to advocate for veganism without being disrespectful or oppressive toward other beings. I've personally experienced the blowback that can occur when triggering white anxieties about "goodness". Instead of struggling to comprehend what was happening, some "good" white vegans summarily dismissed me from a vegan group.

White fragility is a very real and powerful dynamic that pervades U.S. culture. And...when it's triggered...really ugly things can happen. (A philosophy professor, Cori Wong, suggested that maybe there's an epistemology of ignorance associated with each system (or "ism") of oppression. I think she might be right and I suspect there is also a "fragility" syndrome associated with each system of oppression. Much more work needs to be done in enhancing understanding about these sorts of phenomena.)


It almost seems like we sort of believe that pursuing "good" in one area means it's impossible for us to behave horridly in pursuit of that "good". And...any suggestion that our pursuit of a "good" might be being done badly or poorly is occasion for outrage and indignation instead of a signal for time to do lots of thinking and contemplating. Here in the U.S. we seem (white people anyway) to be firmly committed to talking one way and behaving in another way.

This whole weirdness of recreating oppression while endeavoring to interrupt it deeply perplexes me. Not that I think there's some mythical place or way of being wherein someone can exist in pure "innocence" or anything...but...jeez. Way way too often efforts to prevent or interrupt or reduce oppression magically morphs into recreating oppression in some other form or fashion. Ought not our goal to be stop or resist oppression without engaging in oppression against other victims?

Maybe we have big problems doing that not by accident but rather because we're carefully taught to be unaware of this sort of process?

So very often the recreation of oppression is absolutely unnecessary and avoidable...with some (sometimes easy but sometimes difficult) thought and consideration. But...that fact seems invisible to us. 

For those of us who've been immersed in the 'white' viewpoint and have benefited from that set of systemic operations...struggling to opt out of it can be difficult and challenging...but...it is also true that clarity of comprehension often entails much effort and difficulty no matter what the task or goal might be.

Here's one set of observations that seem very important if I'm interested in opposing harm without recreating harm. I have some thoughts about the main principle involved here (those with power not having the standing to indicate what's not oppressive) that I'll elaborate more on in another post.
These observations seem pretty straight forward...but...they reference a way of understanding oppression that I had never thought seriously and deeply about. In retrospect...and...part of the reason I had never thought about it was because my culture absolutely doesn't encourage me to pay attention to these factors.

In fact, my culture tends to punish anyone who tries to implement these sorts of ways of comprehending and behaving. Demonizing and/or blaming the victim(s) of oppression seems to be a core feature of American society...especially if interrupting and/or ameliorating that oppression entails a re-evaluation of what's considered to be "normal". Wikipedia's entry on victim blaming contains this assertion:  "Victim blaming is common around the world, especially in cultures where it is socially acceptable and advised to treat certain groups of people as lesser."

Note that "socially acceptable and advised" is just another way of saying "normal". Victim blaming is common in cultures where some groups are viewed as "lesser"...and...where other groups are viewed as dominant or "superior".

If I slap your face...I'm not the one who get's to decide whether the slap hurt you or not...that's your call...not mine. Jeez. That's not hard to understand but I have to admit...depressingly...that looking at things from that viewpoint simply eluded me way way too often. The breadth of my obliviousness staggers me at times. 

When I look at the kind of messaging that goes on in U.S. society...I realize that we are definitely not taught to think that way...at all. Indeed...we are encouraged to believe if we say the right words...and/or belong to a dominant group...then if our behavior is deplorable or atrocious it should be ignored and/or defended.

What kind of bizarre crap is that?  

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Narratives and power...

I've seen some interesting graphics online over the past few months...some that mesh well with some of the thoughts I've expressed here.

The statement above touches on something...power...that is complex and important. The story of another person is just another way of saying the narrative about another person and the last post on this blog was about narratives.

Ms. Adichie references power and power tends to be a factor that is often entangled with narratives or stories that we are familiar with. Often the narratives...or stories...that become seen as "normal" or "true" or as "common sense" achieved that status not because of some intrinsic excellence or profound truth in that narrative/story but because whomever (a group, etc) was promoting or believed that narrative had the power to impose it on others and to impose the labeling of it as "truth" or "normal" and also had the power to suppress or deny other perspectives or narratives.

Conceivably, stories or narratives could come to be accepted as "true" or "normal" or whatever because groups or those with differing stories shared those stories and examined the differences or variances between narrative versions and either came to a consensus story that all agreed upon or came to see differences that were valid or accurate and agreed that various versions of a story had different truths or accuracies depending on which group was telling a story or being identified or referred to by a story or narrative.

In other words...it is conceivable for a society to employ narratives that are not imposed by power but rather are shared and mutually agreed upon by all groups in a society.

That's not difficult to understand, I don't think. In my last post I referenced the idea of someone looking at a statue from the front and someone else looking at a statue from the rear. Each have different stories or narratives about how the statue looks. Each have some truth in their stories or narratives.

A more well known variant of this notion is the story of the encountering of an elephant and the various comprehendings based on what aspect of the elephant that is encountered.


It's a very different thing though whether the "accepted" or "normal" or "common sense" story about what the statue...or elephant...is like is one where the differences between the various viewpoints (stories or narratives about the statue or elephant) were noted and examined and melded into a story that took all perspectives into account or...if the viewers of the statue/elephant differed greatly in power and the viewer with the power simply imposed their view and defined it as "normal" or "common sense" and rejected and demeaned any other view or experience of the statue/elephant.

We all swim in a sea of historically created meanings...and many...if not most...of those meanings are partial and incomplete but...often those who originated these meanings had the power to override all other perspectives and presented their limited viewpoints as complete and as "reality" or "normal" or "common sense"...and to label differing viewpoints as "deviant" or "untrue" or as "pushing an agenda". We can struggle to comprehend things as fully as possible or we can opt to ignore and/or deny aspects of reality in order to bolster or cling to our stories or narratives.

Is it not better to risk confusion and disorientation (for a time, anyway) in order to more fully grasp or apprehend truths or reality than it is to wipe out or deny or destroy viewpoints or perspectives that differ from what we thought was true?

Grappling with all this is confusing and difficult (for me)...yet...at the same time it is also exciting and exhilarating. For an instance of a situation where competing narratives clashed with one another you can go read this post I recently wrote.

Often the temptation is powerful to simply squelch or ignore a narrative that doesn't fit with the dominant one...but...doing so means risking wiping out or ignoring part of the truths or facts of reality. That seems exceedingly dangerous and harmful to me. And...incredibly disrespectful of those who might have a different experience of the "elephant of reality" than I might have or that I have been told was complete and true.

It seems to come down to deciding whether to deny aspects of reality...and try to cope with the results of that denial or to struggle to comprehend and accept all of reality that you can...and try to cope with the results of that comprehending and accepting. Hmmm....

 


Saturday, May 21, 2016

Thinking about narratives...

The last piece posted here had to do with "pushing agendas". The "aha" experience elaborated on in that writing continues to come into my awareness again and again....and again.

One of the links I furnished went to a page that provided some information about something called the "master" narrative. In part, that page reads:
The Master Narrative is generally described as the colonially-derived story of events, emphasizing European perspectives. In contrast, the Counter Narrative offers accounts of history from diverse perspectives, with a critical examination of the widely accepted, colonially-derived story. Reading or writing counter-narratives is part of a process of de-colonizing, or dismantling and questioning the histories that are regularly read, repeated, and studied in mainstream education.
Sometimes this "master" narrative is also called the dominant narrative or discourse.

In other words...stories (narratives) that we tell ourselves to "explain" the U.S. (and pretty much everything else) are derived, in part, from mainstream (public school) education. Another take on this idea of master narratives can be found in this interview that Bill Moyers conducted with Toni Morrison a few years ago. Ms. Morrison says, in response to a question about what constitutes the master narrative:

....It’s white male life. The Master Narrative is whatever ideological script that is being imposed by the people in authority on everybody else: The Master Fiction . . . history. It has a certain point of view. So when those little girls see that the most prized gift they can receive at Christmas time is this little white doll, that’s the Master Narrative speaking: ...
The master narrative(s) here in the U.S. is/are told (almost exclusively) from the viewpoint of a white male (although that's never ever made explicit or overt) but that viewpoint is presented as though that is (or should be) everyone's viewpoint or perspective. What is implied is that the viewpoint of the master narrative should be your viewpoint too...or at least it should be if you're a right thinking and sensible and 'normal' person...unless you're "pushing an agenda".

A white guy...his experience is universal...right?
Above is a photo of a white man...he's well dressed, friendly appearing, what the heck...his viewpoint is everyone's viewpoint...right? His experience of society and school and work and and and...that's the way it is for everyone...or so we're subtly and persistently encouraged to believe.

But...we're never told outright that his way of seeing things and experiencing life is what we're being ooched toward believing or accepting as universal. And...we're encouraged to believe that if our experience isn't like his...well...that's because there's something wrong with us. Maybe we're not trying hard enough or we're not smart enough or we're deficient or warped in some way or other.

I'm still struggling to get a good feel or comprehension for what is meant when folks talk or write about narratives...there are master narratives and counter narratives...and various terms are used by different folks that refer to aspects or features of these narratives. Therefore, I'm working to stay open about what is meant by all this. Right now I'm tentatively operating off the definition that narratives are stories people in a society use to explain events and history and identities (e.g. what it means to be a "man" and such) to themselves.

For example, Joe Feagin...a sociologist who writes about these notions regarding race...uses a term he calls a racial-frame to describe narratives that 'explain' race and factors associated with race. He references a white racial frame and a black counter frame...he also writes about counter frames associated with different racial groups. My presumption is that he's meaning something like a master narrative when he writes about the white racial frame and counter narrative when he refers to, for example, the Native American counter frame and other counter frames. I especially liked his writing about how the liberty and justice frame is distorted by white people. 

It has been transforming for me to move to a way of thinking that takes into account the unspoken fact that most all originators of widely disseminated stories about the U.S. are created by white men. And...those stories...purposely or not...pretty much tend to uphold the notions that the experiences of white men are the experiences everyone has...or should have...and the ways of experiencing or understanding things should be from the viewpoint...or position of...a white guy.

When I write all that out it seems ludicrous...and yet...frighteningly enough...that's pretty much the way I wandered through my life. What's more terrifying...that's the way most people I've known perceive things. It's really rather embarrassing. I owe everyone and myself an apology for being so clueless. Good grief. 

The links in the paragraph about the racial frames go to different posts on the personal blog of Julian Abagond. One of the steps I took to work at breaking out of the fog of whiteness that the U.S. zeitgeist encourages is to find writers who have different lived life experiences than that of a white guy. I find most of Mr. Abagond's writing to be cogent and understandable and seriously informative. I also pay very close attention to the writings of Breeze Harper and Aph Ko and Syl Ko. There are a number of other online authors I follow but these folks probably are definitely among my main ones right now.

I've read a multitude of articles by academics and non-academics, I've also read a large number of books by authors of who aren't raced as white and who occupy various positions on the spectrum of sexual identities and behaviors. The social world of human beings is much much much more complex and different than that which is encompassed by the main or master narratives here in the U.S.

If you are/were like me...I'm reluctant to say it...but say it I must...then you are probably (like me) pretty clueless and oblivious about many, if not most, things to do with the social aspects of human beings...and lots of things really. We're much more often taught how to not think than how to think. That's one of the prime tools those in power use to hold onto their power.

It's almost as if there's a 200 piece orchestra playing a composition but when I was a child I was carefully taught to listen only to the woodwinds and told that the complete experience of the composition being played could be understood and appreciated by listening only to those instruments and...even worse...the rest of the orchestra was superfluous and inferior to the woodwinds and if any part of the orchestra sounded different than those woodwinds...well...those other instruments were just "pushing an agenda" and probably didn't know what in hell they were doing. I bought into these absurdities...mostly...not quite all the way...but way too much.

I was re-reading Marylyn Frye's excellent little book titled: The Politics of Reality: Essays in Feminist Theory. In one of the essays she offered the story of two people, one looking at a statue from in front of it and one looking at that same statue from the back. Their positions are different, hence what they see is different even though they are looking at the same statue. It's a nice reminder that position impacts what you're able to see. You can find this little book for a very low price from a used book dealer and I highly recommend it.


The idea of dominant narratives or discourses is pointing out that the story of what the statue is like is often determined not by what's actually there (the statue) but by which viewer of the statue has the most power and can thereby squelch or disregard what might be seen by different viewers who are not in the same position as the viewer with the power.

That's why it is critical to become familiar with information and viewpoints from folks who don't have social identities or positions (race, gender, age, sexual orientation, social class, etc.) that are the same as those who have power. Like Toni Morrison noted...if you don't do some work...you'll simply end up believing that everything is as it seems from the perspective of a white male. And that will make you rather ignorant and oblivious to much of what's real in a society and in the world itself. And...as you can easily see...that sort of narrow perspective doesn't work out too well for most of us...or for mother Earth.

 

 

Friday, May 13, 2016

Cuteness updated..

In an earlier post I wrote a bit about how an unexpected jump in the population of a rescue can create problems in care. The jump I wrote about was a rescued mother bunny giving birth to a bunch of babies.

It is amazing to experience the strength of the feelings that babies...in this instance baby bunnies can evoke in we human animals.

In the first picture from that post, right in front, you can see a little baby, covered with light grey fur, sleeping peacefully.

Here's that baby, just a few weeks older:


She (we think her sex is female but it is difficult to be certain because she's so young) is simply exquisite. As are all of the babies. Most of them are delighted to see a human because that means head rubs and food and oohs and aahs.

I said to the director of Heartland Rabbit Rescue recently that it really is almost impossible to stay in a down mood around bunnies. Especially baby bunnies...their excellence can simply overwhelm sadness or depression. If you want to elevate your mood...go volunteer and spend time around Earthlings who aren't human. That experience will likely cause a bad mood to evaporate. Helping is usually much more fun than medication.

Support your local sanctuaries and rescues. Please.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Pushing an agenda?

Recently I had one of those smile making experiences that are unexpected and rare...and greatly appreciated. They're like gifts and I've learned to take them as such and just enjoy them.

I was reading someone's post over on a site called Medium. I have been poking around there recently and have happened onto a number of writings that were thought provoking...and sometimes more than that.

While reading that particular essay...not too attentively I have to admit because the topic just didn't grab me, I ran across the phrase "pushing an agenda" and bang...I've seen that phrase numerous times elsewhere but…for some reason this time when I read it an ‘aha' moment occurred with me. After savoring my 'aha" a little I gave thanks to the author.
For the first time, I wholly grasped that whatever is thrown out as “normal” or usual or natural is “pushing an agenda” too…it just doesn't make it clear that it is doing so. This notion that something is “just normal” often invisiblizes the agenda being pushed (and thereby enhances its influence by insulating itself against objection). Pretty sneaky.

I say realized for the first time...it isn't that I didn't have all the elements of grasping this nor that I had never understood this previously...it is, though, that for the first time I fully comprehended the insidious misdirection involved in anything being presented as "normal" that is socially constructed. "Normal" or "just natural" or "that's the way it is"  is "pushing an agenda" too but without acknowledging that's what it's doing.

Look at the image below...notice the unwritten message that indicates a "pro-gun agenda" is the norm (a socially constructed one) and that it isn't being "pushed". It just is...or it's just "common sense" or it's just...well...normal and anything that resists it is "pushing an agenda". Often the most effective messages are the unspoken or unwritten ones...the ones we fill in with our minds and because they are created, by us virtually out of our conscious awareness, they thereby often escape being interrogated or examined by our critical thinking.  

Socially constructed? What's that, you ask? Here's a brief definition taken from the wikipedia entry about social constructionism:
A social construct or construction concerns the meaning, notion, or connotation placed on an object or event by a society, and adopted by the inhabitants of that society with respect to how they view or deal with the object or event. In that respect, a social construct as an idea would be widely accepted as natural by the society, but may or may not represent a reality shared by those outside the society, and would be an "invention or artifice of that society".

You can read the wikipedia article, or you can read something even more verbose here or you can read a fairly accessible article by Ta-Nehisi Coates about this sort of thing regarding race here. There's also a very easily digested bit of writing...with helpful images...about the social construction of race here.

You can think about it this way...if the meaning of something is socially constructed...then it is stuff that people make up. Things that are socially constructed as "normal" generally are notions that are made up by and serve the interests or the agenda of the dominant group(s) in a society.

Or...as Mr. Coates might put it...stuff people make up as "normal" only requires folks with guns needing a reason (often unspoken or unwritten) for how they think or act. In other words..."normal" is mostly defined by the group with power...that "normal" is structured to serve the interests of that group and if you have little power...tough noogies for you. Saying we live in a capitalistic, patriarchal, white supremacist society means that wealthy white men have most of the power and generally define what is considered to be "normal" for the rest of us. (note too that power, ultimately, in a white supremacist structure usually is enforced by violence)

It may be that the “just normal” conceptualization of something is in place because of unconscious or out of awareness factors (socialization) but that doesn't mean that some agenda isn't being pushed…it just means (or suggests) that if someone didn't consciously know the origin of why they were saying or doing something, or the impact of it, then somehow they aren't responsible for it and/or subject to being called out about it. It's sort of that intent vs. impact thingee.

In essence…when someone or something gets characterized as objectionable or invalid because of “pushing an agenda”…it's usually because what is being said or written isn't hiding behind the cloak of invisibility. It isn't pretending to be "just normal" and therefore viewpoint and/or agenda free and it's usually countering the dominant group's agenda.

Objecting to obliviousness that's in place because of out of awareness socialization often elicits the “pushing an agenda” attempt at squelching it.
So...anytime you want to engage your thinker...and not be an unwitting supporter of the status quo (i.e., the interests of the dominant group) then whenever you hear or see written some accusation that someone or some group is "pushing an agenda"...make sure you take a look at who's making the accusation and examine just what their agenda is...because they will undoubtedly have one. But...they'll often not be openly and clearly admitting that they do so especially if they're invoking the "normal" trope. And...sadly...they may be oblivious to it themselves. (see the white guy in the image above)

Alarm bells should automatically ring for you whenever you hear the phrase "pushing an agenda". It's almost invariably a notification that someone is trying to negatively paint a narrative (think of narrative as a story) because it is in opposition to some other narrative (that first story or narrative is usually what is known as the 'master' narrative).

There's a powerful proverb attributed to various peoples in Africa that beautifully sums up much about the theme of this post.

One version of the African proverb goes something like this: "Until lions have their own historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter."

"Pushing an agenda" is a signal that there are at least two stories (narratives) being told and those narratives (stories) differ from one another. "Pushing an agenda" is an excellent indicator that it is time to figure out what each of those stories are because you can't evaluate them until you know them.

Don't be suckered into automatically dismissing some narrative that is described as "pushing an agenda". Instead realize that it is time to do some work toward comprehending and understanding what the first story is and then clarify the story that is disputing or differing from that first story.

It could be that the "pushing an agenda" phrase is a manifestation of what is called the Semmelweis reflex. Ignatz Semmelweis was a fellow that I accidentally learned about years ago and the tragedy of his life stuck with me.

It is amazing to me that…for some reason...these perspectives regarding "pushing an agenda" hadn't snapped into clarity before. It just goes to show that the phrase "live and learn" often references truth. I'm still churning all this around so any thoughts would be welcome.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Cuteness...

is sometimes problematic.

Babies are cute. But cuteness is just one of the words that are applicable to situations wherein a sanctuary or rescue steps in to provide a safe haven for a refugee from human cruelty or neglect...and...the "saved" animal is pregnant. Troubling is another word that applies too.

Especially (but not only) in those instances where the usual outcome of reproduction for an Earthling is giving birth to (or hatching) multiple babies at one time.


Is that not a picture that elicits "ooohs" and "aaaaws"? Sure it is. Babies do that, doesn't much matter which species...babies are cuties. Big heads, helpless, you name the factor...they all seem to pull strong and caring feelings out of us when we see, hear, touch and smell them.

Notice though...that's not just one baby...that's a bunch of babies...11 in all to be exact. Two shown in the photo above were unable to survive so...from an original birthing of 14 babies (3 of whom were deceased at birth) there are now 9 surviving and thriving baby bunnies at Heartland Rabbit Rescue.

That's about a 10% increase in the population at the rescue...just from one birthing event. There are now (or soon will be) needs for living areas for 9 more bunnies, medical needs (including costs for spaying or neutering), social needs (head rubs from humans, opportunities to explore outside, etc), exercise needs...and on and on.

Heartland took in a pregnant bunny who was facing death at a local municipal facility...often though...rescue one pregnant bunny and poof...a population explosion happens.

Suddenly more of everything is required of the humans who work to care for the bunnies. And...there's a decreased capacity to step in and rescue a bunny who's in a precarious situation out there away from the sanctuary...because...there's no room or ability to care new residents.

Please do your part to help out your local rescue or sanctuary. Every one of them faces situations, at times, like this. Volunteer, spay or neuter the animal who lives with you, donate your time or your money to those organizations who try to help the abandoned or the neglected.

Because those rescues never know when they're going to find themselves having a massive increase in the demands placed on them...just because of cuteness events like that group shown in the photos. If you can, contact Heartland and send them a donation...please do so...or help out your local sanctuaries/rescues. Because cuteness happens...and cuteness also means care is needed...and care can be expensive. 

Live vegan...and...do your part to help out your fellow Earthlings by supporting rescue/sanctuary organizations. And...please please spay or neuter any Earthlings you live with and help your local organizations with their costs for preventing pregnancies in their residents.


Friday, April 22, 2016

John Hope Franklin..

is a name that is probably unfamiliar to you. He was not someone I had heard of until 18 months or so ago. Even though he was born and grew up in Oklahoma. Dr. Franklin was an African American historian who was well known and respected both nationally and internationally. One of the several books he wrote was an important and influential work about American history which was titled From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans. This book, first published in 1947, is now in its 9th edition and has sold over 3 million copies.

I promise you that no other historian from Oklahoma has a book that's sold over 3 million copies...and I also bet you that 97% of white people (more probably) who live in Oklahoma have never heard of John Hope Franklin.

The white bubble tends to invisiblize and/or overlook the prominence and accomplishments of people of color especially if such accomplishments challenge white supremacy. Dr. Franklin has several formal "honors" from the State of Oklahoma but he's virtually unknown to the white citizens here.

In that regard he joins another historian, a white woman named Angie Debo, who wrote an accurate, but very unflattering history of white people's dealings with Native Americans here. In her book, And Still the Waters Run, she detailed the swindling and violence that was inflicted on Native Americans and she named the names of some wealthy Oklahoma folks who acquired their riches in this manner.

The University of Oklahoma refused to publish her book but eventually it was published by Princeton University press. Like Dr. Franklin she has some formal recognition but is virtually unknown to Oklahoma citizens. We'll do the obligatory honorings...but we'll do them quietly and with no fuss...because what we really want is to completely ignore anything that points out the turds in the kiddy pool of "liberty and justice for all".


Dr. Franklin's books are well researched and well regarded academically. They're not polemical or distorting, but...white people don't come off looking too well in them. The facts of U.S. history don't support white folks looking like a terrific group and that's just not ok, for the most part, with the white supremacist ideology that operates as the most significant influence on the media and the thinking and the "common sense" of U.S. society. Violate those strictures and you'll probably find yourself becoming either demonized or minimized or ignored.


In his autobiography called "Mirror to America", published when he was 90 years old, he notes how the writing of the first edition of this history book impacted him:
In planning and writing of my work, I had witnessed more than five hundred years of human history pass before my eyes. I had seen one slave ship and another from Portugal, Spain, France, Holland, England and the United states pile black human cargo into its bowels as it would coal or even gold had either been more available and profitable at the time. I had seen them dump my ancestors at New World ports as they would a load of cattle and wait smugly for their pay for capture and transport. I had seen them beat black men until they themselves became weary and rape black women until their ecstasy was spent leaving their brutish savagery exposed. I had heard them shout, "Give us liberty or give us death," and not mean one word of it. I had seen them measure out medication or education for a sick or ignorant white child and ignore a black child similarly situated. I had seen them lynch black men and distribute their ears, fingers, and other parts as souvenirs to the ghoulish witnesses. I had seen it all, and in the seeing I had become bewildered and yet in the process lost my own innocence. (p. 127-128)
When I read this passage I thought of my recent post where I quoted the white female historian writing: "Come on...don't you get tired of the genocide crap?" in reference to her exposure to factual information about how Native Americans were harmed by white people who came to the "New World".

Her writing perfectly exemplifies one manner in which information that doesn't fit the maintenance of a white supremacist viewpoint is demeaned and/or diminished and targeted for disregarding and/or ignoring. It presents one way in which invisibling operates.

In case you might not be clear about what is meant by white supremacy, here is an article that might help. In part, the article notes:
White supremacy is comprised of habits, actions and beliefs. It is not necessarily reliant on the specific intentions of its actors, practitioners or beneficiaries. Of course, there are “active” racists whose intentions, words, and deeds are meant to advance a racist agenda. However, implicit and subconscious bias, as well as taken for granted stereotypes and “common sense,” can also serve a white supremacist order. Ultimately, intent is secondary to the unequal outcomes across the colorline that individuals benefit from and perpetuate.

Got it? You don't have to wear a white sheet and pointy hat to uphold or benefit from white supremacy. The idea that there is a good/bad binary about this stuff is one of the ways it keeps perpetuating itself. If I don't have bad intentions, if I don't do bad things...well...then I'm a "good person" and don't participate in or uphold white supremacy.

Wrong. The status quo is white supremacy, it's the water we swim in, it's the air we breathe. For instance, the U.S. capitol building and the white house (among many government buildings) were constructed, in part, using the labor and skills of enslaved human beings on land taken from Native Americans. We are surrounded by things that were created by or taken from peoples who were racialized as "the other" but we (white folks especially) ignore and/or deny this and work hard at staying oblivious to these truths.

I didn't ask to be stuck into this mess nor do I like it. I suspect you don't like it either. Given that the status quo is unnoticed white supremacy doesn't mean there aren't folks who openly embrace such an oppressive viewpoint. There are white people who either actually or in their thinking wear white sheets and pointy hats. But they're relatively small in number and they aren't the reason that everyday and "normalized" white supremacy keeps on keeping on. The biggest supporters of this ongoing horror story are the "good" people...and...that's where the power to change it lies.

It is you and I who believe that if we think good thoughts, if our intentions are pure and we don't do bad things then we're ok...it's that way of operating that keeps white supremacy in place.

The commenter is offering us some insight into the way good intentioned (I'm giving her the benefit of the doubt and presuming she is well meaning) folks support white supremacy all the while thinking they are being "benign" and "reasonable" and "objective" or whatever.

She doesn't deny the fact of genocide (which others sometimes do)...instead she casts this fact as "crap" and asks if we aren't "tired" of it by which I presume she means being made aware of it is debilitating or exhausting. She's saying this truth is bad or repulsive ("crap") and being exposed to it makes her weary and doesn't it make us weary too? (note too that she's implying constant bombardment with information about genocide...which is patently untrue...unless she lives in an very different environment from most white people) 

Consider her statement. Isn't she saying that some truths are demanding and hard and...such a stance implies that...untruth or fantasy is much easier and not tiring? But...she doesn't come right out and say that openly and clearly (she likely doesn't comprehend that she is saying this...she's deceiving herself as well as her audience). Grappling with and acknowledging and coming to know reality, at least in this instance, is difficult hence why not ignore it or deny it by not hearing about it? Let's move it out of our awareness...by not being exposed to it...then we can be not tired.

I've mentioned Dr. Robin DiAngelo in previous posts. She's an excellent resource for anyone wrestling with understanding whiteness and how it distorts thinking. On her website she has a page of downloadable resources. One of them is a paper called "Common Patterns of Whites". I would strongly urge you to read that paper and see if much there isn't familiar. Download all of the resources she offers and study them...they help make sense of the contortions we've all been socialized to either not grasp at all or to comprehend as "normal".

If the author of a history book that has sold over 3 million copies describes himself as "bewildered" after intensive study of the history of the U.S....is there any doubt that we who aren't historians are likely to be beyond "bewildered"?

Each of us faces the option of characterizing that which challenges our externally imposed worldview (but one that we experience as being our own) as "crap" and as "tiring" or engaging in the difficult and painful work of struggling toward a more factually grounded comprehension of our society and of the behaviors of humans in that society. Each of us has the choice of turning away and thereby supporting the status quo or we can begin the journey, hard though it is, toward some clarity of comprehension and interruption of this awfulness called "normal". 

I've previously mentioned Charles W. Mills and his writings about an epistemology of ignorance that is carefully cultivated in members of U.S. society (essentially anywhere western colonialism has imposed itself) regarding race. There is a video by Cori Wong who is a philosophy professor and she suggests that maybe there is an epistemology of ignorance that is associated with each of the "isms" (systems) of oppression...for instance sexism has its own epistemology of ignorance that helps keep it unrecognized and in place and unknowingly supported and enforced by "good" people...not just openly sexist jerks.

I think she's onto something with that. It's an intriguing way to make sense of a human society wherein the majority are presumably well-intentioned people but in that same society marginalized groups are exploited and harmed and then often blamed for the harm that's inflicted on them. And...these well-intentioned people seem helpless or inept when it comes to stopping this stuff or often even in recognizing it.

What a system! You're taught to exploit and harm marginalized group members and you're also taught to not recognize or understand how you're harming them as well as being taught that any difficulty marginalized group members are having is their own fault. You're good to go! Clean conscience...you're a "good" person while all around you folks in less powerful groups are struggling and trying to cope but since you're good well then...their problems must be their own fault, right?

It's all sort of stunning...or...as Dr. Franklin wrote...bewildering.



   

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Because I saw this article...

I wanted to put up a quick post.

Melissa Harris-Perry interviewed Anita Hill recently because of the release of a film on HBO called Confirmation about the hearings that happened 25 years ago.
Anita Hill
Back then, while these hearing were being televised, I had a conversation with a woman at my workplace and I maintained that the allegations of Anita Hill must be carefully heard and evaluated. The woman (who was white) became indignant and accused me of being "racist" because of my stance.

At the time I thought it was one of the more surreal experiences I had ever had...and...25 years later that still holds true. Solidarity (I did not know the meaning of this word at the time) among women was not very much more evident then than it is now.

When I read the interview I was transported back to the moment when that woman became angry at me for supporting Anita Hill. It was almost as bizarre and outre as what I wrote about in my previous post.

We white people are pretty whacky and if we weren't so incredibly dangerous and destructive...we could provide much hilarity for everyone.

Anita Hill asks something that is deep and profound in the interview when she says: "What if the Senate had actually taken me seriously? What if they decided that they were going to use this as an opportunity to reflect best practices in the workplace?"

What if?

Instead...watching the group of white men make fools of themselves during the hearings was an exercise in demonstrating obliviousness and destructive absurdity...all the while looking serious and pompous and concerned.

It was a sad and pitiful debacle for everyone and I still think Anita Hill exhibited tremendous courage and poise in her testimony. She offered all men and all women a chance to think deeply about how women are minimized and degraded in this society and instead it turned into a ridiculous circus...and it still amazes me...resulting in that white woman accusing me of being "racist".

That was one of the top ten "what in hell is going on?" moments in my life.

Friday, April 15, 2016

I have no words...

My last post was about the "greatest nation" rhetoric/propaganda that pretty much everyone who grows up in the U.S. is subjected to on a 24/7 basis. These sorts of notions come from the media, the institutions (schools, etc), political leaders and everyday conversations/interactions.

Everyone who lives here is subjected to them and...they're generally most influential on children (and adults) who are raced as white. The reason they influence white folks more effectively is because they (white folks)...as opposed to people of color...have few experiences or receive little information that counters this version of reality. It makes you feel taller when you're standing on the backs of others...especially when you pretend that the bodies aren't under your feet.

People of color who grow up here (and/or live here) are exposed to these same influences but they live lives wherein their day to day experiences provide them with evidence that the "liberty and justice for all" story is more hype than it is reality. Most learn quickly that the "greatest nation" fantasy often doesn't apply to them because they aren't raced as white.

The exchanges I excerpt here (below) occurred just a few days after I put up that last post. They took place on a facebook page that's associated with my local city council district (they call them "wards" here). The person identified as the original poster is a Native American woman who, along with some friends, had presented their objections at a committee that plans an annual celebratory parade that occurs here. It commemorates the "land run" that resulted in the formation of the city of Norman.


I was present at that meeting and those objecting to the parade's non-inclusivity and its insensitivity were respectful and polite and at no time did they tell anyone to not be "proud" of their ancestors (and the video that was posted also showed no indication of such talk).

Yet...notice how the commenter (assigned the number 2 on each of her comments) first claimed those who took land from the Native Americans "needed" that land and therefore they were honorable and brave, then she asserted that those objecting to the parade had no right to "tell non-indigenous people that we cannot be proud of our ancestors and our history", even though such a claim had never been made.   

1. Original post on facebook
(accompanied by a brief video not included here):
This is only a brief snippet of footage from the meeting we attended with the 89er Day Parade Committee. The Norman City Council will potentially fund this "celebration" of indigenous genocide and displacement using $5,000 of YOUR tax payer monies. The incumbent for Ward 6, Jerry Lang, stated that he "loves the covered wagons and horses" (not in this video, but at an oversight meeting). As a woman of color & especially as a native woman, it is terrifying to know that a person who promotes this degree of racial violence might be elected to represent me. We need this parade stopped, we need to make sure we don't support/elect folks like Jerry, & we definitely need to spend that $5k on something that promotes inclusivity and community. This parade certainly doesn't and we've been shouting it out for a decade so the time to listen and act is now!
2. Someone commenting wrote this: (name xed out)
xxx xxxxx: ….it is something to celebrate. This land was poor and many of the people who came here did so because they were desperately looking for a better home for their families. Those poor desperate people were not pathetic, they were brave and made what Norman is today.
1a. The person originally posting replied:
You do realize there were actual living breathing human beings here before the land runs, right? Just curious.
2.a First commenter responded:
xxx xxxxx: Yes, I'm familiar with the history, I have a PhD. in western history. A dissertation on the Montana tribes. All your points are well taken. My point is that you are not the only one who has a history. And, you do not have a right to tell non-indigenous people that we can not be proud of our ancestors and our history.
3. I commented with this:
Jeez...a Ph.D. in western history and you don't believe the victims of invasion and dispossession have a right to point out the behavior of non-indigenous people and their history? Wow xxx xxxxx...that's quite a viewpoint you've got going there. Being "proud" of folks who did such stuff and/or profited from heinous actions is a very very strange and sad position. Good grief.
2b. First commenter replied to my comment with this:
Come on...don't you get tired of the genocide crap? Did your people do this? Mine didn't. What do you think should happen next? Give all the land back? Bring back 1000s of Buffalo? Send the horse back to Mexico? take back the guns, the pots and pans? Send the invaders back to England?
Each time I revisit the writings of this white woman I'm stunned anew. "Come on...don't you get tired of the genocide crap?"...this coming from someone who claims to have studied history...suggesting that since this aspect of the past is unpleasant then it should be ignored. 

The callousness and the denial of suffering implicit in what she wrote staggers me...and I'm not a member of the targeted group. She's denying the horror of what was done by white people to a descendant of the victims. I can't to begin to fathom how crushing and painful that must feel for the relatives of those who were dispossessed and/or harmed.

If you're having difficulty comprehending the magnitude of how unfeeling this is...imagine that Germans were planning a parade to celebrate the anniversary of the stealing of homes and land and lives from Jewish people and relatives of the victimized Jewish folks voiced their concerns and oppositions to this. And...a German citizen responded with: "Come on...don't you get tired of the genocide crap?"

If you think that's not a good way of getting another perspective on what we white people did to Native Americans then I'll offer you the opportunity of becoming better informed. Here you can read about how Hitler was inspired in his approaches to genocide by the ways the white Americans had exterminated Native Americans and taken their land.
Wounded Knee victims and murderers, 1890

The "land run" in question occurred in April of 1889...the very next year...some 500 U.S. military soldiers slaughtered (by one estimate, other estimates place the number of dead at 300) some 150 children, women and men belonging to the Lakota Tribe at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. Native Americans did not "give" the land to white people. It was taken from them by violence or threat of violence. And this white woman's response to these events is: "don't you get tired of the genocide crap?"

Two very common reactions to being faced with complicity in awful behavior...whether at the individual level or group level is to either deny its occurrence or to plead ignorance.

This woman is offering some additional reactions...she's not denying the atrocities or the theft nor pleading ignorance...indeed...she touts her extensive education regarding Native Americans. Instead she first says that some people benefited from the theft/atrocities: "Those poor desperate people were not pathetic, they were brave and made what Norman is today." Implying somehow that since someone gained that ameliorates or counters the horror of what was done to obtain those benefits.

Then secondly she signals her exhaustion over being reminded of the horrors by writing: "don't you get tired of the genocide crap?". She knows what happened, she is aware...but she's implying she's tired of hearing about it and asks whether others aren't tired too . Her 'people' aren't responsible (however she fails to identify who is responsible) and then she offers some extreme examples of remediation with the implication that attempts at atonement are too far fetched or impossible to even be considered.

Each time I revisit her statements I'm flabbergasted and at a loss as to how to think about them. Often when i return to trying to write this post I find that I don't know what to say because I can't wrap my comprehension around it. And that's just me...to even try to consider what her statements might feel like to Native Americans who are objecting to this "celebration" is beyond me. I cannot know what that might feel like...I do not comprehend...it is too much.

I'll have to sit with this longer and maybe then some greater clarity will be available. There's something about such brazenness that squelches my being able to even meagerly cope with it or coherently grapple with it in some fashion or form. I do know that her reactions frighten and sadden me terribly. 

Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Greatest Nation?

I grew up in the United States. I heard, all those years of growing, how I lived in the greatest Nation ever. I heard how we were "special", how we were dedicated to "liberty and justice for all". I heard all that...over and over and over. How the "settlers" came and built a "great" nation. How we were the "envy of the world" and on and on. I saluted the flag, I even teared up sometimes when the national anthem was played. It's both terrific and simultaneously sad how children will believe, with all their hearts, most anything adults tell them.
This is the version I was taught as a child.
I've been reading a book by Lee Mun Wah titled: "Let's Get Real: What People of Color Can't Say and What Whites Won't Ask About Racism." You can read a brief synopsis about the book here.

The first three words of the book title are exquisitely appropriate to write immediately after the title of this post. The Greatest Nation? Let's Get Real.

I read something recently that sort of smacked me in the face. The content of book which I was reading pointed out that...of all the current "first world" nations, countries like England or Denmark or France and so on, the only one of them which was founded on and had human slavery written into its constitution (although the word "slavery" itself was avoided) was the United States.

Ever notice that it is rarely pointed out that the iconic "Declaration of Independence" described Native Americans as "merciless Indian savages". Nope...nobody mentioned that.

The "savages" thing is written in this declaration.
In all those years of my youth (or even later) never did anyone point these things out when they were telling me what a great nation the United States was. Not once. Hmmm...

I did hear hints though that maybe things weren't as rosy as they were presented. When I was in high school I discovered Bob Dylan and his music. One song that had lyrics that suggested some problems with the "greatest nation" meme was one called "With God on Our Side". You can read the lyrics here. That song stuck with me and it still does.

Lee Mun Wah's book consists of observations and thoughts about racism from various people. One of them is Indigo Violet, a feminist thinker.

In response to the question of why she thinks it is so hard for whites to hear the truth about racism, she wrote:

Hearing the truth exposes so many of the lies of U.S. history, that the nation is good, that the process of making it was righteous, that the blood and brutality were not all that bad, that for the most part America is good. As part of white supremacy, whites have internalized a powerful idea that they are good people, nice people, generous people, well-intentioned people. While there definitely good-hearted white folks out there, the attachment to the idea of goodness is profound. It is profound partly because it is linked to the historical ideas (both overt and covert) that Africans, American Indians, Asians, Mexican, etc., were/are bad, problematic, inferior. Goodness - in the present implicit/embedded racist system - is not simply a neutral idea; it is attached to the long-standing ideas of white supremacy. The idea of white goodness constructed in contrast to the Other.

So, to tell a modern-day, liberal-minded, do-good white person that all of people of color don't think white people are very good people, that white people have not always been good, that in fact they've been really horrid and that even when they are nice and well-intentioned the impact of their power, privilege, and oblivion is not good - this upsets a very deep construct and psychological anchor for whites.

That response by Indigo Violet really resonates with me, partially because of the incredible disorientation I felt as a result of the revision of my conception of the U.S. that was prompted by struggling to look at it from differing perspectives.

The version that was presented to me as "objective" truth was all the good stuff...old glory and "liberty and justice for all" and and and. When...in truth...that version was crafted by and for wealthy white men. Yeah...it's all wonderful for them (yes, I'm a white man, but wealthy I'm not, nor do I think that if life is terrific for one group but awful for other groups that that is a good thing).

It was not such a terrific thing for the groups outside of wealthy white men...and...I don't really think it is such a good thing for wealthy white men. I think it deeply erodes and harms our humanity to exist in environments where there are big power differences between groups...especially when compounded by being untruthful about it. I suspect that's how you can create mental illness and hallucinations and incredible distortions and awful behavior.

(for this post I'm deliberately ignoring sex...but...do not forget that white women could not vote until 1920 and women of color were not protected in their ability to vote until the 1960s...and all women suffer from the patriarchal ideology that has always dominated the U.S.)

If you think about the U.S. from the perspective of Native Americans...then it becomes a totally different thing. The U.S. means death and dispossession of your home and concentration camps called "reservations".



If you think about it from the perspective of the enslaved African Americans, then the U.S. means kidnapping from your home and losing your family and your freedom.

It's really pretty powerful to try to stand in a different position and work at wrapping your mind/feelings around a comprehension of the U.S. that way.

It looks very very different than that which was presented to me when I was a child. It looks very different than the way most white citizens here think about or conceptualize the U.S. What I was taught...and what I thought was "good" sort of evaporates.

James Loewen is a history teacher. If you would like to start moving toward a viewpoint of U.S. history that is more grounded in truth...his book titled Lies My Teacher Told Me is a good place to start. He begins the book by writing about his survey of a whole bunch of U.S. history books that are used in public schools. Just that first part of his book is astonishing because of the inaccuracies and untruths that he points out which are routinely taught to children here in the U.S. We know much much more truth that we teach our children.

Asking the question good for whom? is required in order to move to a position where the idea of "good" can be more accurately comprehended. Jeez.

For those of you who live vegan...just remember that probably at one time you maybe thought you "loved" animals and wouldn't harm them. Oops. If you were eating their dead bodies...then...you were complicit in harm. Maybe we don't clearly comprehend things...even when we think we do. Maybe we have to work really hard at shifting perspectives to better understand things.

At least I do.

And it is hard and painful. It's a pain in the a**. But...if I want to let go of soothing (and erroneous) illusions...I have to work at it. It would have been a lot easier to not have been immersed in fantasy...but I wasn't...and it is likely (especially if you are white) that you were immersed in fantasy about the U.S. too.

We white people are much more at risk of being captured by the fantasy because that fantasy benefits us. People of color may benefit sometimes...but...people of color are also victimized by that fantasy and those instances of victimization signal that something bad is going on. And...those signals can offer the opportunity for a different take on the fantasy of "USA number 1".

It is hard to struggle to get out of fantasyville...but...I must always remember that the "hardness" of the struggle of getting out of the fantasy viewpoint is minimal compared to the "hardness" of the horror of being victimized by the fantasy. It is akin to the difference between feeling bad about realizing you harmed someone versus being harmed by someone. Both might feel bad...but they're very very different in really really important ways.

(note: additional marginalized groups have been and are treated terribly by the white version of the U.S. too, I'm aware of that but didn't touch on those realities and histories deliberately for brevity...not because I think they are unimportant.)