Saturday, April 22, 2017

If the world only knew

is a phrase that is uttered by a woman who escaped being murdered by the racist regime of Hitler era Germany. She believed (erroneously) that if peoples in other nations knew what was being done in Germany, they would act to interrupt and/or prevent it. My presumption is that when she says "the world" she means humans outside of the control of the German state.

(Note: for those of you who are vegan and have tried to tell others in the "world" about the horror inflicted on our sister/brother Earthlings, unnecessarily, by we know all about about the futility of telling about what is happening. If you realize that, then you must consider that other kinds of horrors are ongoing and that humans (maybe including you) do not want to know about them either. The rule seems to be...for every 'terrible awful' that persists there is are powerful and persistent dynamics that promote indifference and invisibility. Think about it and let me know if you discover a persistent 'terrible awful' that humans do that doesn't also have accompanying processes that promote indifference and invisibility...especially in those not targeted by the 'terrible awful'.) 

She says this in a relatively brief video (~17 minutes) which focuses on the coverage of the genocide that took place between 1939 and 1945. The video looks at the New York Times and notes the fact that of over 23,000 front page articles published in that newspaper from 1939 to 1945, only 26 were about the holocaust. (that's about 0.00113 percent)

The horror that was happening in Europe was just wasn't talked about or publicized. There's that process of invisibling again, notice how it has an affinity for horror and atrocity? 

A central part of the video elaborates about the strong anti-Jewish racism that characterized American society during that time and the fears/concerns that the decision makers at the NY Times had about arousing push-back from those who ascribed to this variant of racism and their concern about losing their readers if they focused coverage on the racial atrocities in Europe.

A question asked in the video is "how could such horror not be questioned?".

Two years ago I would have asked myself the same I grasp that for white men, maybe the most upsetting thing about the Hitlerite genocide was that Hitler did it in Europe. The dismay was driven more by being aghast at where what was done than by being aghast at what was done. (there's a reason prisons and death camps and slaughter houses are tucked away where they're not easily seen by the public, such hiding helps with invisibling)

White people (men) had been doing very much the same sorts of things in other parts of the world for centuries. Hitler had the audacity to do that stuff in the very part of the world where it all started and it couldn't be hidden.

That "stuff" was called "colonization". An example...the town where I live in Oklahoma has a parade every year that "celebrates" some of the activities of "settlers" (which is a term used here in the U.S. to refer to colonists). Most of us white people have yet to clearly and accurately look at what "colonization" meant or what it continues to mean.

One way to think about Hitler was that he treated the Romany people and the Jewish people (and other marginalized groups) as if they were being colonized by Germans...but he did it where avoiding knowledge and awareness of it was impossible (especially after he screwed around and lost the war). Do you really think we would have the same awareness of the holocaust that we do if Germany had won the war?

Here in Norman, a local parade celebrates a "land run" which is a nice sounding way of referring to giving land to white people (men) which was stolen (taken by force or threat of force) from Native Americans. Colonization. Think about the parades or other "celebrations" that might be going on in Germany now if the Hitler regime had won the war. Do you really think we're "different"?

Oklahomans are quasi-educated about the "Trail of Tears", which was a death march where native people were 'removed' (again by force or threat of force) from their homelands (where they had lived for centuries) and were made to go to lands that white people didn't want (right then anyway, later white men would decided they wanted much of that "unwanted" land). That land white men initially didn't want is now what is called Oklahoma.

Most Oklahomans are oblivious to the fact that the supreme court had ruled that the Native Americans could not be forced from their lands in Georgia and the president (Andrew Jackson) decided to do it anyway. Here in the U.S. we're big on the law, unless it gets in the way of what white men want. (notice what's going on with the new president)

Be who are reading this will henceforth be unable to truthfully say that you've never encountered the idea before that a big part of the horror of the holocaust was because colonial practices were carried out too openly and too close to "home".

And, to make it even more dismaying, it was directed at peoples that were/are often considered to be "white" or at least "honorary whites". (Cori Wong points out that most Americans don't "get it" that being perturbed and upset over the Hitlerite holocaust and ignoring of or minimizing toward other genocides is, in part, driven by racism stemming from the fact that the majority of the victims in Europe were "honorary whites" and victims of genocides elsewhere were people of color. There are other factors involved too, but she most certainly makes a very significant point.)

It was a manifestation of the real and sobering reality that what is done to "others" who "aren't like you" might also be done to those who are "like" you, that what is done "there" might be done "here".

Understand; such horrors happened before 1939 -1945, they just happened in lands away from Europe and they happened to people who were considered to be People of Color. You can read about Belgium's genocide in Africa in the 1880s here and you can read about the centuries long (beginning in 1492) genocidal campaign against Native Americans here. There have been multiple other instances of such "civilizing" horrors. Do some studying and you'll find that numerous efforts to terrorize and murder people by the colonizing European nations had occurred prior to the Hitlerite atrocities. 

Many of the problems we white men have are involved with our efforts to deny the realization that it's not "who" you do awful things to that's the crux of the problem.

Our efforts to dismantle these practices must struggle with the thinking that makes the doing of these kinds of awful things even possible. The "who" is variable and will change according to circumstances. The problem isn't "who" is designated inferior or superior...the problem is the error of the inferior/superior trap itself.

One way to help counter the conditioning to be unknowing about this stuff is to focus on impact and be very leery of intent. We've been taught excellent skills to assist us in fooling ourselves, but gearing our attention to impact and not intent can assist in subverting such self-deceptive practices. 

Farting around and believing you can do awful things if you only do them to the "right" beings or that if your intent is good or benign then you're "innocent" is a part of what's allowed this centuries long debacle of racism to continue.

Applying hierarchies of value, including the "superior/inferior" binary to living beings almost always leads to debacle, whether such practices are applied to "race" or "gender" or "species". 

That illusion or fantasy of "superior"/"inferior" seems to be an profound attraction for we humans (white men especially) and it may well prove to be fatal to all of us unless we're wise enough and brave enough to recognize it for what it is and reject it. 

An acceptable singular moment to think of as the beginning of the era of modern colonization would be the when Christopher Columbus "discovered" the "new world" (the western hemisphere).

In the centuries after 1492, Europeans (white men) developed and elaborated the methods of exploitation used to enrich themselves and their nations at the expense of the indigenous peoples of the western hemisphere and of Africa and of Asia. Land theft and displacement and/or murder of the original inhabitants of the land and human enslavement characterized these "explorations" which affected most of the peoples of the world outside of Europe.

Native peoples in North America were eventually (after attempts to enslave them proved to be too difficult and it was found to be easier to kidnap peoples from Africa and bring them to the "new world" to work as slave labor) deemed to be not useful.

Thereafter the main white people's societal response to them was to eradicate them as living beings and to also attempt to eradicate their culture (boarding schools) from the consciousness of those who were not exterminated. All in the name of the "good" of "civilizing" them.

Here in the U.S., I was taught that "settlers" and "pioneers" were good and brave people who were only striving to make a "new life" for themselves. That's the story all colonizing societies tell themselves to make them feel all warm and fuzzy about themselves and their ancestors. Here in the U.S., "settlers" and "pioneers" were the folks who benefited from land theft and "removal" and murder and and kidnapping and human enslavement. I wasn't told much of anything about that part or what I was told was framed in such a way that it seemed to be tragic or sad, but "necessary" and that it's all better now. No need to worry myself about all that stuff that's in the past and is "ancient history".

Spoiler alert...reading this paragraph might be upsetting. If you're white and you live in North America and you're not an overt and blatant racist, then, like me, you're sort of the moral equivalent of those "settlers" and "pioneers". We're just trying to live our lives, we don't want to hurt anyone or take what's not ours...but...we participate in a system created by taking from others and we participate in a system (from which we benefit) that engages in ongoing taking from and depriving others. Remember my example about pay differentials? That's just one example of numerous practices of harm that are made invisible to us (that's so we can motor along feeling good about ourselves as we uphold and support a system of harm to those with less social power)

White men developed the ideologies and worldviews used to justify these practices. The ideology of "race" served to render their murder and theft acceptable, natural and "normal" and it also served to allow white men to think of themselves as 'innocent' and/or 'good' and/or 'well-intentioned' (although such innocence and goodness is false and untrue, nevertheless it was strongly held and continues to be strongly held by we who are influenced by (implicit or explicit) racial biases).

Being able to behave like a monster while simultaneously believing ones self to be 'good' and 'innocent' is a variant of the notion of having ones cake and eating it too. It's an impossibility...but if reality is ignored and/or denied it can seem as if it is "real".

Back to the video and the New York Times. Think about the dominant culture in the U.S. between 1939 and 1945. Antisemitism was openly acceptable and on display, anti-black racism was openly acceptable and on display, anti-Native American racism (and racism targeting other people of color) was blatant and "normal" here in the "land of the free". It was socially acceptable, legally enforced and...well..."natural" and just "common sense". (just writing that scares the pee out of me and makes me cringe...and it should you too...what horrors now are considered "common sense"?)

When laws that enforced these racist ideologies were not thought severe enough, mob lynchings of African Americans occurred. This website lists lynchings by year and indicates more than 20 African Americans were murdered by non-state sanctioned groups of white men during that time span.

If we think about what the U.S. was like during the time the holocaust was underway in Europe then it becomes less remarkable that the New York Times devoted so very little prominent coverage to what was being done to subordinated groups in Europe.

In the video you will see a clip of Father Charles Coughlin saying that what Americans would do to Jews would be worse than what the Germans were doing to Jews.

Here's a photo of Coughlin, a Catholic priest.

He was the 1930s version of the haters like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly and various Fox news puppets who are all over the broadcast airways today. (and now they're in control of our executive branch of government) 

It's an "American tradition" to lend credence to those who advocate for hatred and violence (often in the name of "self-defense" or "safety" or "national security"). The person who is the newly installed U.S. president fits in well with this very common "American tradition" of racist white men. None of this stuff is new, none of these ways of thinking are new...they are the "norm" for European white men, especially white men here in the U.S. 

We white people (mainly men) may seem to change but that's misleading...we've been doing the same things and thinking the same ways for centuries, only the characters have changed and some of their words have changed...but the core ideas and practices haven't.

What often makes this difficult to comprehend is the insidious excellence with which racism and the hierarchical valuing of different groups of humans disguises and invisibles itself. It morphs to fit the times and to render it difficult to recognize.

Here's an excellent quote from an Ava DuVernay documentary titled "13th".
“History is not just stuff that happens by accident. We are the products of history that our ancestors choose, if we’re white. If we are black, we are the products of the history that our ancestors mostly likely did not choose. Yet here we are all together, the products of that set of choices. And we have to understand that in order to escape from it." Kevin Gannon; Professor of History at Grandview University
History is one of most powerful guides we have available to render comprehensible or visible that which is hidden from ourselves. It's often easier to 'see'/grasp/comprehend things/events once they are in the past rather than when we're right in the middle of them happening.

If we study history, we can then use that increased comprehension to apply to "now" and make the features of our lived reality more understandable. But...we have to do the work of learning and studying and thinking...otherwise..."now" is likely to remain wrapped in a veil of confusion and incomprehension and invisibility. 

If we don't do the work, then, we're at risk not only of being the product of a history chosen by our ancestors (if we're white)...we will not have the ability to comprehend the choices that were made that created our understandings and position in the world.

We will lack the necessary tools we need to make our own choices, instead we will be doomed to play out the choices made by those who lived before us. We will believe those choices are ours, but they're not. (Unless we're just a murderous asshole no matter what...but...that's actually not most of us. The majority have to hide truth and reality from themselves in order to behave monstrously...that's part of why invisibling is so necessary to keeping this crap going.)

It's impossible to be "free", if by free we mean making our own, carefully considered and with a minimization of coercion/deception, choices unless and until we become knowing and understanding of that history which produced us and created our perceived framework of choosings. (I'm tempted to write "either you master your history or it will master you", but that's a bit trite...even though there's truth in it)

Watch the video, ask yourself whether the people talking (especially the white men) really comprehend the horrors of colonization. I suspect they don't. They grasp that horror occurred and that the NY Times didn't devote extensive reporting to that horror while it was happening...but they seem oblivious to the lesson that the thinking that led to the horror is where change must be made. 

(As always, I'm floundering around trying to figure this stuff out and...I'm limited by my being socially positioned as a white comprehension/understanding is necessarily constrained by that positioning. So, any omissions, errors or screw-ups you might detect in this post and that you're willing to let me know about will be respectfully appreciated. Thank you.) 

Friday, April 14, 2017

Rebecca Solnit

is a white woman who writes books and essays and sometimes writes about feminist issues. 

One quote from an essay titled: "Men Explain Things To Me" knocked me out.

"I like incidents of that sort, when forces that are usually so sneaky and hard to point out slither out of the grass and are as obvious as, say, an anaconda that’s eaten a cow or an elephant turd on the carpet."

I've written a number of posts about invisibilty and its profound effects on us and on our ways of perceiving and behaving and that quote above is one of the better ways I've seen yet of describing something invisible becoming visible. (I'm presuming the anaconda didn't eat a actual cow but a cow's turd...if she meant an actual cow then it would have been a much better sentence without evoking violence being done to an Earthling.)

That essay, among others, is in a collection of writings in a book by the same title as the essay: Men Explain Things To Me. It's a very enjoyable read and yet while I was reading and enjoying the superlative writing I was bothered...and I really didn't know why but eventually it came to me that the author seems, well, her writing and in her ways of conceiving society and such.

I enjoy the heck out of her feminist stances...yet...they often feel pretty white. I know that sounds weird coming from a white guy...but there it is. I could be wrong, probably am...but hey...that's my feeling right now.

(What I'm  meaning by "white" here is that her perceptions of sexism and feminism seem to arise from some universalized position of "femaleness" instead of being cognizant of and addressing of the fact that sexism as it is enacted toward women of color is different in many ways than how sexism is enacted toward white women...there are overlaps...but they are seriously different too. Rebecca Solnit seems sort of oblivious to that. It's really not possible to de-couple racism and sexism, each of those practices influence/inform the other one. Pretending that they don't influence each other or being oblivious to that is generally something that white women do. It's a manifestation of white supremacy.)

By the way, the essay called Men Explain Things To Me is often credited with being the inspiration for the invention of the word "mansplaining". Pretty nifty, eh?

You might enjoy the book, give it a read. She's a very talented writer.

Let me know if you too sort of sniff the whiteness. I'm absolutely tentative about my ability to detect it, especially where it is ambiguous, but my current stance is always to opt to err in the direction of calling/thinking something white instead of not. Heck, centuries of the denial of whiteness has to be countered in some way or other, ya know?     

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Not all white men are racists...

Not all white people are racist, not all men are misogynists, not fill in the blank.

Some variant of this kind of thinking/talking is one of the maneuvers that members of oppressor groups are taught (socially conditioned to believe to be true) to implement in order to avoid acknowledging or recognizing complicity. Members of targeted groups are taught the same stuff, but they often recognize the erroneousness of such flimflam.

I recently ran across this photo that was discovered in an album belonging to one of the staff who was stationed at Auschwitz. It was taken at a "resort" that was used by Auschwitz personnel.

On the hosting website, in his trial for war crimes the man who had this photo is quoted as saying:

“I had no possibility in any way to influence the events and I neither wanted them to happen nor took part in them. I didn’t harm anyone and no one died at Auschwitz because of me.”

No one is complicit, almost everyone is innocent, except for those few terrible awful baddies, right? (one term used to describe this sort of "thinking" is called mystification, here are some synonyms)

It's rather amazing to think about the incredible horror that has occurred (and continues to occur) over the centuries that is done by so few monsters...and all that goes on while so many of us are "innocent".

Maybe the problem isn't just the monsters, maybe the problem is all of us who aren't the targets of awfulness but are members of the same group as the monsters. You know...all of us who aren't "monsters" but share group membership with them.

What about the families of these "innocent" folks, are they "innocent" too? What about the folks who worked in the factories that made the SS uniforms, are they "innocent" too? Where does complicity begin and innocence end?

What if it is, that should we belong to a group that upholds/supports/allows/condones awfulness, then there is no innocence for anyone belonging to that group?

What if awfulness is like a turd and the smell emanating from that turd is strongest for those closest to it...but it also can be smelled by even those some distance away...even if they had their back turned to the turd.

Maybe the only way to even get within hailing distance of innocence (or to avoid the smell), in such a situation, is to be engaged in actively working to stop the awfulness.

What if? 

Monday, April 3, 2017

For many years

it's been my habit to stick a gum wrapper or a sticky note or some other marker into a book whenever I'm reading and run across a quote or idea that interests me.

If the book is a library book, I'll either copy down the quote somewhere, or if it's lengthy or the idea covers a number of pages I'll make a copy of the pages that interest me. Then...sometimes...I'll study or think more about what piqued my interest. Sometimes though, I write the quote down or copy some pages and then forget about them.

Many of the books I own have odd pieces of paper stuck in them at various places and probably so do some of the books I return to the library...if I forget to remove the marker. So, if you get a library book that has some bit of paper stuck somewhere in it, it may be that it was a book I read and forgot to tidy up before I returned it. Sorry.

Some people mark in library books...I think that's rude and it always dismays me when I run across stuff like that. I sometimes mark books I own...but not those that don't belong to me. Jeez.

I recently read a couple of books by Elizabeth Strout and I found some lines in her writings that resonated with me. I was, in fact, alerted to the quote from Black Hawk that was in my last post by something that Elizabeth Strout had written in a book titled: The Burgess Boys.

There's a quote from that same book, on page 311, that contains some truth I think. She wrote:

"In case you haven't noticed, people get hard-hearted against the people they hurt. Because we can't stand it. Literally. To think we did that to someone. I did that. So we think of all the reasons why it's ok we did whatever we did."

I read another book by her titled: My Name is Lucy Barton and in it, on page 95, there was this quote: 

"It interests me how we find ways to feel superior to another person, another group of people. It happens everywhere, and all the time. Whatever we call it. I think it is the lowest part of who we are, this need to find someone else to put down."

I suspect those two observations are related, maybe they're aspects of the same thing...and...I wonder if they don't have something to do with how and why we go about justifying the violence and harm we inflict on others that's referenced by the "isms" of oppression (e.g., racism, sexism, and so on).

Indeed, I wonder if they don't also have to do with our trying to justify harm to those Earthlings who aren't humans and maybe even harm to mother Earth herself.

Isn't it curious that we have a desire to make terrible awful things we do seem ok? It's intriguing to me that we often seem to work at trying to "feel superior"?

Why do we do that? Why do we flounder around and try to make terrible awfuls seem warranted?  What pushes us to try to "feel superior"?

It's intriguing to realize that built in to any struggle to "feel superior" is a rejection of the notion of being ok with "equality". Hmmm...

In that first quote she writes that we literally can't tolerate thinking we hurt someone...why can't we? What is it about ourselves that makes us uncomfortable if we feel we've hurt someone else? I wonder.

Is a struggle to "feel superior" just a manifestation of some unspoken and unacknowledged feeling of that's so painful and disorienting that we can only conceive of "less than" and "more than" and the awfulness of that feeling of "less than" drives out any consideration of being equal? I wonder.

By the way, the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears maybe has some elements in it that have to do with the "less than" and "more than" and "just right" dynamic. (where "just right" suggests equality)

(Note: folks who are a lot smarter than me have wondered about this inferiority/superiority stuff too...Alfred Adler for instance)