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.) 

 

Friday, April 1, 2016

Silence and justice...

I recently heard a question that is staying with me. During a discussion of instances wherein something hurtful, based on derogatory stereotypes, was said or done...the question was asked: "Can silence ever be just?" (I'm equating silence here to mean both not saying anything and/or not doing anything when witnessing injustice)
Can this be just?
One definition of just is: "consistent with with what is morally right...". I admit that get a little nervous around the word "moral" since I grew up being indoctrinated with the southern baptist brand of religion and "moral" tended to be wielded like a battle axe...it was used mostly to wound or shame or control...way more often than it was used to soothe or elevate or inspire. And...most of the people who got all excited about being "morally upright" were folks I didn't much care for. Usually they were uptight and judgmental types who were just itching to point a finger at somebody and invoke the fires of hell and such.

I tend to equate the word just with fairness or absence of harm rather than "morally right". I like those notions because they usually compel me to think more extensively about a situation rather than jumping into a right/wrong binary and, in the process, accidentally activating southern baptist scripts from the bad old days.
 
Sometimes, speaking out against injustice (unfairness) or acting to interrupt injustice is complicated...perhaps by numerous factors. But...if we fail to speak out...or to interrupt hurtful or negative instances...can that failure to speak or act ever be just?

Someone I know recently talked about a family gathering for a funeral where many family members were experiencing grief and loss and during that time a derogatory statement (heteronormative stereotyping), was made by a family member regarding the minister who was conducting the funeral service. This wasn't said where the minister could hear it...but...it was said.

The person telling this story noted that she was conflicted about speaking out because of the event (a funeral) and because of the emotional state of the person who made the statement (a grieving family member). So, she said nothing. Yet...her silence has haunted her ever since. Maybe in that haunting there is a message.

Can silence ever be just?

That question resonated with me and still does.

Thinking about that leads me to wonder whether silence is the same thing as complicity? If I don't object or say anything...is that agreeing with something?

That's not the messaging I heard when I was growing up. Keeping your mouth shut was presented as staying uninvolved...of being neutral...of minding your own business if what was said or done had nothing to do with you. As I wrote that last sentence about minding your own business, it occurred to me that those notions of "minding your own business" are part of how individualism is promoted to us as we learn the ways of U.S. society. And, there are serious problems with this individualism stuff, but that's a topic for another post. Also...when I think about it...maybe this "mind your own business" stuff is part of how invisibling occurs.

I'm making a distinction here between stuff that isn't harmful or derogatory or demeaning or reality denying toward others and that which is.

If there's nothing negative or harmful or hurtful...then hey...being quiet...even if it means you're complicit is no biggee. But...if there is bad stuff being said or done...that's a different thing. I think maybe "minding your own business" in those instances puts you in a situation where you're (whether inadvertently or undesirably or not) effectively on the side of harm. Jeez...it's complicated.

But...opting out of being complicit by speaking...often carries a price.

"Free" speech is a little misleading because all that means is that there theoretically aren't any governmental or official restrictions on speech...that doesn't mean there aren't social or personal costs for speaking. Maybe that's where the notion of sacrifice comes in. Interrupting injustice or unfairness by speaking out (or doing something) rarely can be done without some sort of price or cost.

If you want to "stand up for justice" or "speak out against harm" (whatever form that harm takes) it might be new to you to realize that it rarely is easy and it rarely is without negative consequences. Everyone reading this knows that, you might not have thought much about it...but you know it. Because, just like me, every one of you (I betcha) have been in a situation where something harmful or derogatory was done or said...and you didn't interrupt it or speak out against it. Just like I've failed to do...way too often. 

But...and this is the part where I have much more work on me to do...not speaking also carries a price. Remember before when I wrote that the woman who didn't speak has been haunted by it ever since? That's the price she's paying for not speaking up. She felt uncomfortable and bothered by the derogatory remark and then she added to that discomfort by failing to speak.

Maybe a good way to think about it is that there's no free ride...we'll pay one way or the other.

When I think about it like that it sort of gets clarified...hey...when I'm in the presence of harmful sayings or doings...I'm going to pay a price. I don't have a choice...my only choice is about which price I want to pay and what am I getting for my cost.

Do I want to speak out or interrupt the harm...and get the satisfaction of knowing I made an effort (and pay a price...but I did get the benefit of trying) or do I keep quiet or still and get nothing (and pay the price of being haunted or bothered by my not trying).

Either they're going to get me or I'm going to get me...and since I have to be with me all the time...probably...it's less of a cost for them to get me than it is for me to get me. If I don't speak out or interrupt the harmful stuff...I'll feel bad about my failure. If I do speak out, I might feel scared or uncomfortable about speaking out and...I might experience rejection or retaliation by those who originated the harmful words or deeds.

Maybe I can think about this as a sharing experience. Someone says or does something derogatory or harmful that makes me uncomfortable...if I object or interrupt that stuff then I'm sharing my discomfort with others instead of keeping all to myself. Sharing is good, right?

Maybe I'm actually helping the perpetrator...for them to be willing to say or do harmful things...maybe they don't perceive the hurtfulness of their speech or actions and my sharing my discomfort is my way of increasing their awareness. That sounds sort of nifty...except...I know and you know that people usually don't pass out cookies when someone points out that they're harming others. 

Hmmm...it's interesting to think of silence and justice in these ways.

I'll end this post with an image of MLK and a saying attributed to him that grows in power for me as I go along life's journey. It's becoming one of my favorite sayings as I continue to struggle to extract myself from the awful lies that my culture, with a smiling and kindly and cheerful face, taught me. 

Friday, March 25, 2016

Discombobulate...

is defined here as an "Americanism" that originated sometime in the early 1800s. It is a word described as a; "fanciful alteration of discompose or discomfort."

Note...I'm writing this entry mainly directed at readers who are raced as white. I've become painfully aware that most of us white people are woefully in need of consciousness raising when it comes to racial matters. White people who haven't spent quite a bit of time and study are only superficially acquainted with race. Hence, this post might seem pretty elementary and obvious to anyone who has a fair degree of racial literacy...which...because of lived experience would probably include most people of color. Also, I'm white and grappling with all this so my degree of comprehension about race and racial matters is limited and flawed.

For those who seek to make sense of our world and society through vegan comprehendings...you may have ongoing instances of being discombobulated as you encounter the routinized "normal" destructive absurdities served up to you by we humans and our treatment of our sister/brother Earthlings. Situations where someone tells you they "love" animals while they are eating a hamburger made from the flesh of a dead cow. And...these absurd juxtapositions of contradictory behaviors and/or thinkings are accepted as both "normal"...as "common sense".

It 'discombobulates' me to consider just how much horrible suffering and harm we routinely can engage in, be complicit in, unknowingly support with our consumption habits, with our everyday patterns of living and at the same time firmly believe we are "good" people doing little or no harm. Even when we know everything we need to know to comprehend what we're really doing. It's way too easy and convenient to be unknowing and oblivious.



The ease and the automaticity of complicity scares me. I spent many years as a non-vegan and believing all the while that I was behaving kindly and even compassionately toward beings not identified as human. When I first began to comprehend these contradictions I was (and still am to some degree) having experiences like those depicted in the image above.

That vegan discombobulation began some years ago, I've lived with it for some time now so it's not new...it's not any less unsettling...but it is familiar.

Here's the thing though...if I can be lulled into thinking I'm a "good" person in terms of my behavior toward animals...while actually engaging in harmful practices and upholding a system that exploits them...if I can be oblivious there...then I have to wonder whether there are other aspects of how I live and think and comprehend that promotes and upholds harm to other victims. I have to wonder about that, don't I? What if I'm being an "accidental a**hole" elsewhere?

Fast forward to now...once again...a feeling of disorientation is scrambling my being. This time it isn't associated with human dealings with Earthlings who aren't identified as human...it's associated with that strange and bizarre stuff called race (which isn't unconnected to how we think about and behave toward animals). And...race, racism, racial literacy...these things are quite complex and difficult to comprehend. Partially because our system of socialization culture devotes much energy and ingenuity to keeping this stuff hidden or invisible.

One of the difficulties (among many) with getting some measure of comprehension has to do with the fact that the white dominated cultural conditioning that we're all influenced by encourages us to believe that race isn't a problem. Or...if it is a problem it's just because of a few "bad" white people...you know...those goobers who might wear sheets and pointy hats. All you have to have is "good" intentions and you're good to go if you're white. Right? Nope...sorry...it's much much trickier than that.

An example, I recently visited a website wherein a young person (African-American) had written something to the effect that the current racist and anti-immigration stances being openly promoted by presidential candidates weren't something new in these United States but were rather exemplifications of what has been a core organizing principle for this nation from its beginning.

One response to this, by a man raced as white, was something to the effect that the person writing this piece obviously had a fundamental misunderstanding of racism and that the problem had to do with economic class. I read that response...and then read it again...and my head started to feel as if it might disintegrate or something. I had to go away from the computer and later come back to see if maybe I had hallucinated the response. I hadn't.


The way this young woman above looks approximates how I felt when I read that response. Hell, I still feel that way. I'm off balance and can't seem to find any place to stand mentally that doesn't feel distorted or unsteady. This happened several weeks ago and I'm still struggling with it.

Part of what contributed to my befuddlement is that I was reading a book by the historian David Roediger titled Black on White. The book is a compilation of writings by black authors on the nature and manifestations of white consciousness and white behaviors about race. Some of these authors are still alive and working, others are from earlier periods dating as far back as 1830.

One of the repeated themes that occurs is that white people often like to "explain" race and racism to black people. As if black people...who are the targets of racism and racist actions perpetrated by white people just don't "understand" the nature of racism or what race is or what are racist behaviors.

This is very much similar (not identical, I know, but similar) to a man explaining to a woman that she doesn't know what sexism is nor does she understand what is meant by the concept or nature of sexist behaviors. Can the perpetrator of harm (or a member of the perpetrating group) explain the "fundamental nature" of that harm to the victim? Even the idea of such a thing points to a bizarre disconnect from reality. 

I have no idea of how to express...in words...my experience of astonishment and discombobulation. I don't. I'm flailing around here but I'm in no way able to express this in words that even approach how unsettling this was...and is.

Chris Rock is quoted in this piece of writing as saying that white people are maybe a little less "crazy" now than before. By his use of that ableist term "crazy", I think he is meaning that white people are absent strong contact with actual lived experience or are lacking adequate comprehension of reality...and maybe now they're a little less disconnected. I suspect that, in many ways, we white people are still just as disconnected and clueless...but we're not as overt and obvious about it. The social messaging that maintains our disconnectedness has morphed and evolved to fit current society.

I fumbled around for a few days after seeing the comment about "misunderstanding" racism and then I couldn't help myself...i replied by saying something to the effect that maybe his perspective as a white man sort of disqualified or precluded or at the very least made it problematic for him to make an assertion that the author "misunderstood" racism...given that the author would have had a lived experience of being targeted by racism and he, the commenter, since he was a white man, would not have had such an experience...indeed...he would have been the recipient of privileges because of his race. 

Predictably (duh)...he was offended and incensed and allowed as to how his "personhood" had nothing to do with it (see the paragraph about a man explaining sexism to a woman) and that I was just being condescending and immature and I should shut up. I generally avoid further engagement with people who opt for anger and belligerence when they're challenged. I haven't had much luck with such undertakings so I took his advice and didn't respond.

During this time I also saw something written on the Addicting Info website that noted that the creator of the Dilbert cartoon strip (a white man) had written something to the effect that it was wrong (and racist, for god's sake) to compare Trump to Hitler. And he said...that Hitler wasn't such a bad guy and that Hitler could accurately be compared to Gandhi or Nelson Mandela. Holy smoke!

It is painful and disturbing (and depressing) to acknowledge that many/most or maybe all of us who are raced as white (and we are all exposed to these teachings of ignorance since they permeate our media and public discourse and education) are lacking some fundamental grounding in reality. As a result of this, when we do attempt to write or talk about race or racial issues we sound buffoonish or we're unintentionally offensive or we otherwise generally make fools of ourselves. (and who knows how else these distortions preclude our being able to think and feel and comprehend accurately and fully...about various aspects of ourselves and others and mother Earth...about everything really)

We've been socialized to be racially illiterate and and that learning is deeply embedded in most white folks. But...remarkably...in the depths of that illiteracy we all seem to have developed strong opinions about race. That's a potent (and dangerous) combination...being ignorant but having strong opinions about those areas of ignorance. 

I referenced a conceptualization by Charles Mills in another post that he termed the "epistemology of ignorance". In that he notes that this sort of operation of comprehension (or absence of comprehension) includes "patterns of localized and global patterns of cognitive dysfunctions" regarding race.

The statement by the commenter I noted above and the notions expressed by the creator of the Dilbert comic strip very well exemplify "cognitive dysfunction" from what I can comprehend. Differing forms of it maybe...I think the Dilbert creator's statements are more easily seen as absurd by most humans...but the notion that a white man is going to "explain" racism to a black person who has a lived life experience of being targeted by racism is also devoid of reality or accurate meaning.

This all scares the hell out of me and is troubling, for many reasons, but one of the primary ones is that I'm just as susceptible to such deranged stuff and as influenced by it as any other white person when it comes to race. (and who knows what else?)

One thing I know is true right now...2 or 3 years ago I might have seen the comment explaining racism to an African-American person by a white man and not been struck by the distorted quality of it (I'm not sure what i would have thought then...I don't think it would have struck me as absurd though)...now it stuns me with its arrogance and patent ridiculousness.

I think that's an improvement...I hope that suggests that I'm successfully interrupting some of my cognitive dysfunctions. But...it also leaves me terribly sad and upset...not only at my own distortings and failings of comprehension...but also at what passes for "normal" in terms of most white people's 'thinking' about race.

I've reached a place where I realize that most humans hold contradictory beliefs and comprehensions toward animals. Not many of us have taken the unsettling step of realizing how horribly we behave toward them. That realization makes me a little uneasy about humans...especially in anything having to do with animals.

Now...I find I'm moving into a place where I glimpse that most (me included) white people are seriously and deeply confused and ignorant about race and racism...while concurrently thinking that we aren't. White people are starting to make me nervous (and yes, I make myself nervous sometimes). I've begun to notice that I feel more comfortable around groups that don't have many white people in them.

All living white people in the U.S. were stuck into a system that teaches (and it often will punish us for not "learning" this obliviousness) us to be racially illiterate. We had no choice about that. But...we have a choice about whether we remain ignorant and unknowing. We have a choice about whether we continue to live and behave as "accidental a**holes".  I'm not going to kid you though...grappling with this stuff is hard...really hard. It is probably the most difficult thing I've ever struggled with. And it just goes on and on. But...there are benefits, not the least of which is that you'll be working toward decreasing your participation in a culturally sanctioned and maintained horror story. And that's a good thing, a desirable thing.


Chris Rock may think white people are a little less deranged than previously...I hope so. As my perspective shifts...I'm just beginning to glimpse just how profoundly deranged we white people have been and are...and it is...well...discombobulating.

Note: any omissions or errors or "accidental a**holiness" in this post is a function of my own lack of comprehension and/or my inadequate ability to clearly express myself. I apologize for them and ask anyone noting such stuff to please let me know and I will endeavor both to listen and and to understand and to modify/correct this post, if needed. Thank you. 

   
 

Friday, March 18, 2016

"Reverse" racism?

Just a little tip for my readers who are racialized as being 'white'. Or...anyone who wants to divest themselves of a fantasy that's often presented as if it were reality. That fantasy is called "reverse" racism.



See...racism cannot be enacted by a group that isn't dominant in the society where they live. Folks who are positioned in subordinated groups can be prejudiced, they can not like people in other groups, they can avoid people in other groups, they can be angry toward individuals not in their group...but...they cannot enact racism toward others because they don't have access to the social power that goes along with being a member of a dominant group.

"Ism" refers to an ideology and ideologies are systems implemented by groups and/or institutions...not individuals.

There's no such thing as "reverse" racism anymore than there's such a thing as "reverse" sexism or "reverse" ableism. The oppressive ideologies represented by the "isms" reference a dominant group targeting a subordinate group and hence...they can't be reversed unless you also reverse the dominant and subordinate groups.

While it might be an interesting sociological experiment if, for instance, every other month people of color controlled all the major institutions in the country or if every other month people not gendered as male controlled all the major institutions in the country...that doesn't happen. Actually, I sort of wish it did...it would make for a very stimulating and fascinating society.

Racism = race prejudice + social power. Sexism = gender prejudice + social power. Got it? You can be prejudiced without social power...but you can't "do" racism or sexism without social power.

Mr. Rahman explains very clearly what would have to occur for "reverse" racism to be possible.

Why write about this here? Well...you can go over to the excellent Aphro-ism blog and read this post that grapples with theorizing about structures of oppression. There Aph Ko writes that: "...animal liberation can't happen until we change the way we understand animal oppression."

I firmly believe that to be true.

And...to grapple with changing that understanding requires being able to somewhat clearly conceptualize and comprehend race and racism as it is enacted in this Eurocentric society. To grapple with understanding race and racism demands some degree of racial literacy...and...whoops...we (white people especially...but everyone is subjected to inaccurate and inadequate information) are socialized to be racially illiterate.

Dr. Breeze Harper very accurately writes: "We are all racialized subjects with racialized consciousnesses that have been born out of a white supremacist racial caste system;...". There's no escaping this...to believe you escape it means you believe you aren't influenced by the society/culture that you were born into and live in. And that's not possible.

We are carefully taught to think and behave in certain ways but we are also taught to be ignorant and illiterate in terms of being able to think about and talk about racial issues. That's why someone can utter the phrase "reverse racism" and believe they are saying something that makes sense. 

That ignorance or illiteracy is one of the principle ways in which the oppressive system known as racism maintains its power. If you can't somewhat accurately conceptualize it and coherently talk about it...it's unlikely that you're going to be able to effectively challenge it, or interrupt it or change it.

No one here in the U.S. had a choice about the teachings of racial illiteracy and ignorance they received from this culture. But...each of us does have a choice about whether we do the work necessary to attempt to overcome that systemic ignorance. We've all been given a mishmash of ignorance and distortions and outright lies about race and racism...and we were told that such was all we needed to understand what was going on around us. Nope...what we were given were tools designed to keep white supremacy and racial illiteracy in place.

So next time you encounter someone who uses the phrase "reverse racism" seriously...realize you're dealing with someone who is evincing racial illiteracy. Maybe you will want to share this video with them.

Here's another resource that provides some good information about "reverse racism". (Note: if you spot any errors or important omissions in this post, let me know please.)