Friday, June 26, 2015

These were the facts of their lives...

Here are some paragraphs written in a 2010 book by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson. The book is titled The Warmth of Other Suns. It documents the great migration that occurred in the United States between 1915 and 1970. During this period it is estimated that some six million black southerners left the south and fanned out over the country. Historians have come to call it the great migration. It transformed the United States and yet it is mostly unknown and may be the most under-reported story of the twentieth century.

She wrote these paragraphs about segregation, which was perfectly “legal” in U.S. America until the civil rights laws were passed in the 1960s. It’s worth considering that the kind of thinking and the kind of attitudes that produced these laws and expectations were totally untouched by the passage of the civil rights legislation. The ideology that resulted in these strange and sad “laws” and “customs” did not evaporate after the civil rights legislation…only what was legally allowed changed…the mindsets and viewpoints were virtually untouched.

It became unacceptable to openly express such awfulness, but that mostly meant that this crap went underground instead of disappearing. If you haven't noticed it by now...destructive disconnects from reality usually don't just evaporate when they're confronted and exposed. They either just continue (if the opposition isn't strong enough to counter them) or they morph and metastasize into a form or configuration that isn't immediately recognizable. Often they will latch onto a challenging idea or phrase and distort it enough to use it in service of destructiveness. Racists fastened onto the "colorblind" meme and zip-zoop...now it's primarily used as code to further racist ideology.


It’s absurd to think that such thinking, which was powerful enough to produce these bizarre and demeaning ordinances and laws, simply dried up and blew away as a result of the civil rights acts. We would like to pretend that’s the case….but…it isn’t. If you don’t think that’s so…go read about the Charleston massacre.

Ms. Wilkerson wrote:

These were the facts of their lives.

There were days when whites could go to the amusement park and a day when blacks could go, if they were permitted at all. There were white elevators and colored elevators (meaning the freight elevators in back); white train platforms and colored train platforms. There were white ambulances and colored ambulances to ferry the sick, and white hearses and colored hearses for those who didn’t survive whatever was wrong with them.

There were white waiting rooms and colored waiting rooms in any conceivable place where a person might have to wait for something, from the bus depot to the doctor’s office. A total of four restrooms had to be constructed and maintained at significant expense in any public establishment that bothered to provide any for colored people: one for white men, one for white women, one for colored men, and one for colored women. In 1958, a new bus station went up in Jacksonville, Florida, with two of everything, including two segregated cocktail lounges, “lest the races brush elbows over a martini,” The Wall Street Journal reported. The president of Southeastern Greyhound told the Journal, “It frequently costs fifty percent more to build a terminal with segregated facilities.” But most southern businessmen didn’t dare complain about the extra cost. “That question is dynamite,” the president of a southern theater chain told the Journal. “Don’t even say what state I’m in.”

There was a colored window at the post office in Pensacola, Florida, and there were white and colored telephone booths in Oklahoma. White and colored went to separate windows to get their license plate in Indianola, Mississippi, and to separate tellers to make their deposits at the First National Bank of Atlanta. There were taxicabs for colored people and taxicabs for white people in Jacksonville, Birmingham, Atlanta, and the entire state of Mississippi. Colored people had to be off the streets and our of the city limits by 8 p.m. in Palm Beach and Miami Beach.

Throughout the South, the conventional rules of the road did not apply when a colored motorist was behind the wheel. If he reached an intersection first, he had to let the white motorist go ahead of him. He could not pass a white motorist on the road no matter how slowly the white motorist was going and had to take extreme caution to avoid an accident because he would likely be blamed no matter who was at fault. In everyday interactions, a black person could not contradict a white person or speak unless spoken to first. A black person could not be the first to offer to shake a white person’s hand. A handshake could occur only if a white person so gestured, leaving many people having never shaken hands with a person of the other race. The consequences for the slightest misstep were swift and brutal. Two whites beat a black tenant farmer in Louise, Mississippi, in 1948, wrote the historian James C. Cobb, because the man “asked for a receipt after paying his water bill.”

 It was against the law for a colored person and a white person to play checkers together in Birmingham. White and colored gamblers had to place their bets at separate windows and set in separate aisles at racetracks in Arkansas. At saloons in Atlanta, the bars were segregated: Whites drank on stools at one end of the bar and blacks on stools at the other end, until the city outlawed even that, resulting in white-only and colored-only saloons. There were white parking spaces and colored spaces in the town square in Calhoun City, Mississippi. In one North Carolina courthouse, there was a white bible and a black bible to swear to tell the truth on.” P 44-45
That's all in the past, you say? We fixed that, you say? Nope...we didn't fix it nor is it 'all in the past'.

I've been reading a memoir by Melba Pattillo Beals who was one of the children who volunteered to be among the first black students to attend Little Rock's Central High School in 1957. It's a humbling and dismaying book to read. These were 15 year old children who were subjected to unspeakable and disgusting demonstrations and pressures and violence from white U.S. Americans simply because they wanted to attend school with white children.

Look at the white people harassing and shouting at this adolescent.

The young black girl, Elizabeth Eckford, hadn't been notified to meet the other black students at a prearranged place because her family didn't have a telephone. She was alone...and the white people surrounding her are screaming racial slurs and insults at her. She's 15 years old. If you think that the attitudes and mentalities that produced this behavior by white people is over...or in the past...you're deluded.

Go watch this video that shows the behavior of a white police officer toward black teenagers at a McKinney, Texas swimming pool. The video was taken in June of 2015...watching his behavior, especially his assault on a 14 year old girl, makes clear that the thoughts and beliefs that motivated the white people in the photo above are still powerful and prevalent in white people in U.S. America. It's not just a few "bad apples" who harbor these delusions...if this is news to you...go take the implicit bias test and find out for yourself.

Melba Pattillo Beals wrote these words in her book that serve to remind us that children are smacked in the face with racism...and then spend their lives being smacked over and over and over again.

"Black folks aren't born expecting segregation, prepared from day one to follow its confining rules. Nobody presents you with a handbook when your teething and says, "Here's how you must behave as a second-class citizen." Instead, the humiliating expectations and traditions of segregation creep over you, slowly stealing a teaspoonful of your self-esteem each day." p. 3

Instead of the word segregation (although segregation continues, albeit not legally) simply substitute the word racism and that paragraph describes the current milieu for people of color here in U.S. America.

If we can't wrap our minds around the fact that all humans are equally deserving of respect and freedom even though they may have a different shading of skin than we have...what chance do we have of according respect toward beings who look and behave very differently than we do? My god, if we can't recognize that someone is the same as ourselves who looks just like us and speaks our language...how on earth are we going to get to a place where we acknowledge that all Earthlings have just as much right to their lives as we do even when they look dramatically different than we do?

Most who read this blog are vegan...they "get it". I would guess that most who read this blog think they understand racism and don't harbor racist notions or ideology (whether consciously or unconsciously). That's unlikely. If you disagree, put it to the test...go take the IAT and let me know your results. Mine showed that I've been infected by the propaganda against people of color and even though I abhor and reject conscious notions of racist ideology...that ugliness has influenced my out of awareness associations. We swim in a sea of racism...and to think we can do so without getting wet is both naive and dangerous.

I don't know of an IAT regarding speciesism...I do know that I struggle daily against the propaganda I've been subjected to all my life...the propaganda characterized by the phrase: "I am not an animal", by the propaganda that says "animals" are...stupid, dirty, violent...you plug in the derogatory idea. I will have to fight against that poison for the rest of my days. Let me assure you that the poison of racism is just as prevalent and just as ubiquitous. No matter what you think. And...it is poison...it is spirit and soul corrosive...for everyone.

We humans who live in the western hemisphere, excepting those who are Native Americans...are all immigrants. We are (except perhaps recent immigrants and other small numbers brought here for their near enslaved labor like Asian-Americans) the children of "conquerors" or we are the children of those who were enslaved. If we are the children of the harmers...what we have...in some measure or other...came at the expense of Native Americans and of enslaved African Americans or other peoples of color. We have no other history than that. And it is staggeringly large and all encompassing. For some enlightenment, take a look at this horrifying animated graphic.

We white people have an obligation to fully understand this, we have an obligation to begin...and I mean begin because we haven't done so...to incorporate this into our everyday consciousness and to begin to figure out ways to deal with this in truthful and respectful and genuine and non-harmful ways. The mentality that drove this horror still drives us. We've never come to grips with it. People of color understand this much more clearly than we do...even though many of them suffer from internalized oppression...many do not.

None of us had a choice about what went on before us...but we have the responsibility and the power to change what goes on now and in the future...and we can't do that unless we come to awareness about the ideological forces and their consequences that shaped the society we live in....that we swim in...that shape us and our weltanschauung.



Monday, June 22, 2015

I didn't do a post on father's day...

because, aside from the donation of genetic material, human "fatherhood" is profoundly associated with social construction...and socially constructed stuff makes me nervous.

I was also vaguely aware of this bit of information taken from the wikipedia entry:

In the 1930s, Dodd returned to Spokane and started promoting the celebration again, raising awareness at a national level.[11] She had the help of those trade groups that would benefit most from the holiday, for example the manufacturers of ties, tobacco pipes, and any traditional present to fathers.[12] By 1938 she had the help of the Father's Day Council, founded by the New York Associated Men's Wear Retailers to consolidate and systematize the commercial promotion.[13] Americans resisted the holiday for its first few decades, viewing it as nothing more than an attempt by merchants to replicate the commercial success of Mother's Day, and newspapers frequently featured cynical and sarcastic attacks and jokes.[14] However, said merchants remained resilient and even incorporated these attacks into their advertisements.[15] By the mid-1980s, the Father's Council wrote that "(...) [Father's Day] has become a Second Christmas for all the men's gift-oriented industries.

I really don't care for anything having to do with "consuming".

But...I ran across this excellent post over on the Vine Sanctuary blog and wanted to refer everyone to this wonderful and informative writing.

In patriarchal cultures, “father” is king, the owner or at least ruler of women, children, and animals. The whole system crumbles if fatherless families are allowed to flourish. Many of the cultures steamrolled in the process of European imperialism and colonialism structured their communities and families differently than the patriarchal coupling prescribed by Christianity. Oftentimes, these differences in parenting practices were cited as justification for dispossession and genocide.
So, while Father’s Day is a fine time to laud the care-giving of folks like little Mighty Mouse — a rooster at the sanctuary who, for many years, adopted and parented motherless chicks who often grew to be many times his size — I persistently wish that those of us who question everything else might seize this day to challenge what, exactly, we mean by “father” and why we think that social role is so important.

Knowing more is generally a good thing...although the learning can be discomforting. I hope you'll read the whole blog post quoted above...it is thought provoking. In the meantime...if you're a male human...live vegan, oppose all systems of oppression and help all beings...that's good enough "fathering".

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Exposing wrong.

Last week I wrote about the notion that those who are oppressed and/or dominated are going to have a more comprehensive viewpoint from which to perceive what's actually going on.

It should be remembered that, usually, those who have the most comprehensive viewpoint also are also those who are most denigrated and the least likely to be listened to. Penalties are often enacted against them if they speak out...penalties can also be implemented for those who witness wrongdoing against the oppressed.

I ran across this post over on the blog called Green is the New Red that gives some details about a new law recently enacted by the North Carolina legislature that makes an employee liable for being sued by a business if that employee exposes what happens on the job...even if what is exposed is illegal.

In this bit of writing the author says: "In short, this ag-gag bill isn’t just about agriculture. It’s a sweeping attack on any whistleblower who speaks up for the most vulnerable."

Apparently there's enough public resistance to targeting groups or individuals who are attempting to interrupt animal cruelty that anti-whistleblower legislation is now being written to which doesn't mention agriculture specifically...hence it applies to all businesses.

I haven't read the bill itself and am relying on the blogger who is writing about the bill.

One aspect that's rather amazing about this bit of legislation is the proviso that risk is incurred by the employee even if what is reported by them is illegal. That seems to say that what is done at a business is "protected", including illegal activities. That's a pretty stunning concept when you think about it...it lends weight to the notion that what's important is "business activity", not legality or illegality.

Wow.

Businesses...which can be seen as activities devoted to making money...appear to be gaining enough power to trump legality. That seems make a very clear...and scary...statement about our values. The ugliness that underlies much of what we do for profit is gaining enough strength that it doesn't seem to be too worried anymore about disguising itself. One "positive" about this law is that it makes it difficult to deny that the goal of commercial activity is to make a profit...and it really doesn't matter how. The fiction of "ethical" as applicable to business is withering away...at least in North Carolina.



Friday, June 5, 2015

Life from below.

I recently read a fictional account of the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, described on the jacket of the book as a "German theologian and Nazi resistor". The book, Saints and Villains, was written by Denise Giardina. I enjoyed the book, especially the parts which addressed his time spent studying at the Union Theological Seminary in New York, where he studied under Reinhold Niebuhr.

Union Theological Seminary was familiar because of Dr. Niebuhr and two notable figures who studied there, Carl Rogers and Paul Tillich. Dr. Rogers was a very influential psychologist whose works on client-centered counseling had great impact on me when I was in graduate school and throughout my professional career. Paul Tillich was an influential existential philosopher.

Dr. Rogers promoted an approach to counseling/therapy that was seemingly very simple yet if it was implemented as he indicated...it was also seriously radical. His client-centered approach demanded authenticity on the part of the counselor/therapist...he also wrote that the therapist must possess "unconditional positive regard" toward the client. In other words, if you can't really really like someone...you shouldn't be doing therapy with them. I can assure you that these two factors can be very demanding for a therapist to follow.

Often his approach was glommed onto by beginning therapists and only vaguely implemented because some of the techniques he suggested are both fairly easy to learn and very unlikely to cause harm to those receiving counseling. And yet...if the practitioner goes deeply enough into his approach...it can be transformative both for the therapist as well as the client both because of the requirement for authenticity and because of the unconditional positive regard. No phoniness or falseness or manipulation allowed.

Roger's approach was (and still is) an incredibly difficult way of being a therapist and one that, more often than not, resulted in therapists who borrowed some of his techniques but left out the core requirements of practitioner authenticity and unconditional positive regard toward the client.

It's important to note that we can never "arrive" at authenticity, it is always only partial, it is a striving...not a state of being. Authenticity is just a fancy way of saying that we must always and ever be honest...we must only express what we genuinely feel...not that which is expected of us or is considered "appropriate" at the moment. Authenticity is tough...as each of you know from your own experience.

One side effect of striving for this way of being is that you become a quieter person...because often what you genuinely feel would...if expressed...result in lots of upset and dismay from those exposed to it. Instead of saying meaningless platitudes...you...if you chose not to express what you genuinely feel...stay quiet. And...keeping your mouth shut is usually (not always...but usually) a good thing to do for a therapist.

Dr. Bonhoeffer was imprisoned by the Nazi Regime in 1943 and was hanged by them shortly before the end of WWII. His "crime" was resisting and objecting to the totalitarianism and the antisemitism of the Hitler era. Take a look at this passage attributed to him from Giardina's book:
We have learned to view life from below, from the perspective of the outcast, the transgressors, the mistreated, the defenseless, the persecuted, the reviled. It is important that we are not bitter or envious. For we have learned that personal suffering unlocks more of the world than does personal good fortune. p. 356-357
This idea was expressed in a letter written while in a concentration camp. The Wikipedia entry quotes him this way:

There remains an experience of incomparable value. We have for once learned to see the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of the outcasts, the suspects, the maltreated — in short, from the perspective of those who suffer.
This seems to be an earlier version of one of the axioms of analysis I referenced earlier. In writing a post about Ruth Frankenberg, her three principles of analysis, were given and the third one was expressed this way:
Axiom Three: Those who are being harmed and/or oppressed by a system of domination are going to have the best location for detecting, apprehending and comprehending those domination activities. In other words, those who are being hurt by domination/oppression are going have the most comprehensive viewpoint. If you want to know what is going on...listen to the victims of oppression...they know more than you.
It's always exciting and interesting to see similar insights pop up in the thinking of different individuals and systems of thought. Here we see virtually the identical notion coming from a theologian who was executed by the Nazis and from a feminist theoretician who may have never encountered the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

What's even more interesting to consider is that this idea can be thought of as one of the principle comprehensions I remember from my involuntary immersion into christian dogma when I was growing up. The passage in the christian bible that's relevant here is from the book of Matthew, 18:3 which says:
"Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven..."
Many look at that bit of the bible and interpret it as referencing some sort of state of innocence...note that it can also be seen as advocating a return to a position of powerlessness or helplessness and that position can perhaps expand and transform our perspective. Maybe returning to that time of being without power offers an enhanced perspective both for understanding and comprehending domination activities but also offers a guide for how to behave toward others.

Position profoundly influences power and perspective. According to this passage the position necessary to achieve the 'kingdom of heaven' is one where we have little power...which means we don't/can't dominate/harm others and that lack of domination/harm additionally ensures our innocence as well as positions us to see domination/harm activities with more clarity and comprehension. Positioning ourselves in the location of the oppressed allows us to perceive and comprehend "from below".

Consider that one of the common experiences that every living Earthling has is that of the relative powerlessness of childhood. It is the fact that we all (and by all, I include rabbits and donkeys and and and) have a time in the beginning of our lives where we are relatively powerless and helpless, especially in comparison to more mature and grown-up beings. We all know what it is like to be at the mercy of others (dominated) because we all share that same experience.

To be subject to the whim of those who are bigger than we are, who are stronger than we are, who can help or hurt us is a common and shared state. Every one alive has lived the experience of being "like little children".

Most can well remember those with more power who treated us with kindness and acceptance and care just as we can remember those who weren't so kind or behaved cruelly toward us. You, me and every other living being has had the experience of being helped or harmed by those who were more powerful. That's part and parcel of being a child...of being an Earthling.

Maybe I can't know what it's like to be reviled or ignored or demeaned because of having a skin color different from the group in power, but I can know what it's like to be powerless and/or to be dominated/harmed by those with more power. Maybe I can't know what it's like to be reviled or ignored or demeaned because of being a female, but I can know what it's like to be powerless and/or to be dominated/harmed by those with more power. Maybe I can't know what it's like to be reviled or ignored or demeaned because of not being heterosexual, but I can know what it's like to be powerless and/or to be dominated/harmed by those with more power. Maybe I can't know what it's like to be reviled or ignored or demeaned because of belonging to the wrong species, but I can know what it is like to be powerless and/or to be dominated/harmed by those with more power.

Important and critical specifics and details will be unavailable to me...but...the experience and accompanying perceptions of being dominated/harmed by those with more power than me is available if...and only if...I allow myself to revisit and remember and relive being a little child.

That path, reliving being relatively weak/powerless (like a small child), is available to each of us, if we're willing to take it. And...that reliving...offers us the opportunity to perceive life "from below" and there we might use our enhanced perceiving and comprehending as a guide to figure out how to behave.

Becoming 'like a small child' offers us the opportunity to escape the obliviousness induced by power and position. We can partake of the perceptions of the powerless because we all have some experience of that...if...we're willing to do it.

Maybe that's not easy...but if the alternative is to be oblivious and to oppress others...well...hey...nobody said being a grown-up was going to be without struggle.

It's interesting to consider that maybe the way to be a decent grown-up is to never forget what it was like to be a small and helpless child and to use that knowledge and perspective to guide grown-up behavior. How cool is that?

In that earlier post I noted that power...or being positioned to dominate...creates obliviousness (I called it being stupid) and that weakness...or being positioned to be oppressed offers awareness or enhanced perception. Dr. Bonhoeffer observed that being able to comprehend "life from below" means we must view life from the perspective of those who suffer...which is being equated here to those who are oppressed...which is being equated here to those who belong to the groups targeted by the oppressions exemplified by speciesism, racism, sexism and so on.

While I was working on this post I came across something called Standpoint Theory. These two sentences in the writing on this theory caught my eye:
Emphasis on the relationship between power and knowledge is crucial in defining the terms the standpoint theory sets forth. Perspectives of the less powerful provide a more objective view than the perspectives of the more powerful in society.
Sound familiar?

One thing in that quote that makes me a little nervous is the use of the term "objective". It's important to remember that objectivity is like authenticity...it's not an end state...there's no such thing as pure objectivity anymore than there is pure authenticity. It's a more or less thing, not an either/or thing. It may even be totally bogus...objectivity, I mean...I'm not sure about it as a concept because it implies some sort of position that is outside of all social/human influence and that's problematical...especially if it is in reference to the activities of living beings. All that's another whole bunch of thinking and writing though. Just remember to be a little bit cautious when you hear the term "objective". 

This post has become rather lengthy, I'll stop now but there's much here to think about and I'm still churning all this around. There's a lot to this power and position and perspective stuff. It's really rich and dense and I have to do a lot of wallowing around with it to gain some semblance of comprehension.