Friday, March 24, 2017

Words so smooth...

I've been reading a book titled: Birth of a Nation'hood: Gaze, Script and Spectacle in the O. J. Simpson Case which was co-edited by Toni Morrison. I remember the amazing brouhaha that went on in the media during that trial and I very well remember how African Americans (especially the jury members) were demonized and demeaned by the media (and the majority of white people) after the event.

Realize that the Simpson trial occurred only about 3 years after the debacle of the Rodney King trial where several white policemen were acquitted of beating Mr. King...even though their unwarranted and illegal assault was captured on video. 

The book was published about 20 years ago and the various articles and essays in it are sad making.

Part of their power to depress me comes from the fact that the words we've used and the ways in which we white people have been avoiding accurately looking at ourselves and our behavior haven't much changed...and...they are (with updates to reflect contemporary vocabulary and linguistic expression) pretty much the same as they've been for over 500 years.

I've been looking at us...hard...for over two years now. Understand, when I say we white people, I'm meaning the majority of white people...there are exceptions (thank goodness) but they are few and they are thoroughly marginalized and/or ignored.

I fully accept we white people here in the U.S. are thoroughly committed to the strange belief that somehow if we can find just the right way to say or express something, then we can make horror and/or harm be a good and acceptable and right thing.

We may deny that we believe this and we may sincerely believe that we do not think this way...but we do....and somewhere we vaguely know this to be true or at least suspect that it might be true. We white people may not "know" what's wrong with this country and ourselves...but we suspect something not good is going on. And we have no right to not know because the evidence is everywhere. I write this knowing full well that I avoided comprehending all this for decades...but I damn well knew something was wrong.

It's almost as if we have the belief that if we just want something to be a certain way hard enough...then the hard wanting/wishing will make it be that way. We couldn't be that detached from reality, could we? (you can insert your own examples here, there are plenty of them)

Do you remember thinking like that way when you were a little kid? I do. It is a potent desire. It took some repeated efforts for me accept the untruth of that enticing notion.

But...something like that...which is a task that is confusing and difficult for a child really shouldn't be an issue for an adult, should it?

People of color have been telling us (we white people) this for centuries. Again and again and again they tell us...and we ignore them, or attack them.

Towards the end of the 18th century or the beginning of the 19th century, a band leader of the Sauk Tribe (his name in English was Black Hawk) was quoted as saying:

"How smooth must be the language of the whites, when they can make right look like wrong, and wrong like right."

How smooth must be the language of we whites.

How powerful we must believe it (and ourselves) to be for us to embrace the notion that words change reality.

If you want, you can watch this brief video of Dr Charles Mills explaining white people's version of the history of North America.

If it sounds silly and childish to you...well...then go take a look at the American history book your elementary or high school aged child is using in her or his school and see if it isn't full of smooth words that mislead and deny. We lie to ourselves and we lie to our children. Smooth words intended to deceive others end up deceiving us too.

And we harm every living being (including ourselves) and mother Earth too.

Words so smooth are doing us all in. (except they aren't really smooth except to those who embrace them)




Saturday, March 11, 2017

Get Out...

is the name of a just released movie. It is excellent. Go see it.

Below are a couple of images from the movie (the captions were created by unknown folks and they are spot on).


If you're raced as white and this movie doesn't sometimes make you uncomfortable then maybe you're not "getting it".

This movie is terrific throughout, the excellence of the performances, the story content, the cinematography...the whole dang thing. Wow.

Melding comedy, horror and social commentary has never been done with more skill and deftness.


The writer/director, Jordan Peele, described the movie in an interview as being strongly influenced by the Stepford Wives and Scream. (note: he didn't specify which version of Stepford Wives (1975 or 2004) so I linked to the 1975 version)

Go see it. 

Monday, March 6, 2017

Complicit

has one definition which (in part) reads: "choosing to be involved in an illegal or questionable act, especially with others...".


This photo comes from a story about a soccer game between teams from Rome and Torino in Italy. The story says a small child didn't want to stand next to the Black player.

If the child's behavior is driven by racist beliefs then what about the teammates of the shunned player? How do you adjudge their actions...or inactions?

Are they being complicit in racist behaviors via their proceeding in taking part in the photograph? What about the photographer, is she or he resisting or upholding racist behaviors by creating and publishing the photograph?

What about the child's parents or coach? What about the behaviors of all the adults that we can reasonably guess are close by, both those depicted in the photograph and those who aren't? Who is being complicit?

Children can't be held to the same standards of behavior or comprehension as adults because of their immaturity and diminished understandings. However, adults around a child can either accept or condone behavior or interrupt and reject it. What are the adults doing (or failing to do) here?.

Yes, the child is apparently behaving badly...but...the photograph contains much more information than just that which immediately grabs our eye.  The child's behavior is actually only a small part of the information/meaning that is available to us in this image but extracting that meaning requires more effort than a glance.

I have come to understand that It is incumbent upon us, if we are to struggle against injustice, to work toward disrupting our own obliviousness and to consider factors that aren't immediately apparent or comprehended or visible. We must, if we are to uphold justice, develop the skills to add context and history and invisibled meanings and understandings to depictions like this. 

This photo exemplifies is what Howard Zinn's meant when he said:
 “You can’t be neutral on a moving train,” I would tell them. Some were baffled by the metaphor, especially if they took it literally and tried to dissect its meaning. Others immediately saw what I meant: that events are already moving in certain deadly directions, and to be neutral means to accept that.”
Whenever injustice occurs in our presence and we fail to work toward interrupting or disrupting it, then we're not being "neutral", we are...whether we wish to or not...assenting to or agreeing with or upholding what is going on. We're being complicit. When the status quo is upholding/enacting oppression and we aren't struggling against that status quo...we're being complicit.

Thinking good thoughts and having good intentions but failing to engage in action means we're assisting in maintaining the status quo. We're encouraged to be oblivious and ignorant, that doesn't mean we have to assent to it or go along with it. We have the power to struggle against that socially encouraged obliviousness...and if we fail to do so...well...we are complicit.

In situations where action is possible, that doesn't mean we can't or don't pick and choose our battles, nor does it mean we'll always know exactly what to do but it does mean there's no refuge of innocence in obliviousness...most assuredly when it is within our power to resist being oblivious or unaware.

It also means that the status of being "uninvolved" is much more fiction than reality. And further...the status quo very much encourages and relies on folks to be oblivious or unaware or ignorant and to perceive themselves as "uninvolved".

Note: this is a very complex image and it is likely that much more meaning can be extracted from it than I've done here. It is important for us to realize that images like this potentially contain much more information than is apparent at first glance. But...our culture encourages us to glance and then move on, but we do not have to go along with that encouragement of superficiality.

(p.s., please be aware that I've been unable to confirm the veracity/validity of the story associated with the photo, hence the suppositions. The image itself is a good example of something that can be worked with in an effort to attach meaningful connections to context and history and to practice skills allowing movement beyond "face value" understandings.)

 (As always, I'm floundering around trying to figure this stuff out and...I'm limited by my being socially positioned as a white male...therefore...my comprehension/understanding is influenced and shaped 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.)