Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Who's got the power?

I remember a song that had a chorus wherein the line "Who's got the power?" was repeated several times. When I searched...hmmm....multiple songs use the word power in their title. There's "Who's Got the Power" (here) and there's also "You've Got the Power" (here) and "The Power Lyrics" (here). I think the song I remember is the one associated with that first link. I don't recognize anything about the song lyrics from that last link...but...they seem to be associated with how I've been writing about social power.

Have Gone Vegan wrote a comment on the previous post about power that almost made smoke come out of my ears because it tripped off so much associating and so much cohering of pieces of information I had which were/are floating around in my head that it left me sort of reeling. And, I trust the sense of excitement I felt because that coherence sort of dissipated but when I focus on it again then some of that sense of excitement about some things beginning to make sense that didn't previously (make sense) begins to return. I've learned to trust that sort of experience because it sometimes suggests I'm onto something that's both powerful and meaningful.

HGV's comment included a quote from Professor Marilyn Frye's book: The Politics of Reality. If you don't have this book of essays and are struggling to understand aspects of the dynamics of oppression then...get it. You can find it for 99 cents plus the cost of shipping online.

In May of this year I wrote a post about narratives that referenced parts of this book. One essays works to explain how our position or positionality (our lived life experiences) profoundly determines that which we're able to comprehend or grasp. She uses the analogy of vision to elaborate about this by writing about our "seeing" (understandings, comprehensions) being influenced strongly by our particular positions (viewpoints, social locations, "identities").

HGV's comment included this quote from the book:

"One of the privileges of being normal and ordinary is a certain unconsciousness. When one is that which is taken as the norm in one's social environment, one does not have to think about it. Often, in discussions about prejudice and discrimination I hear statements like these: 'I don't think of myself as heterosexual'; 'I don't think of myself as white; 'I don't think of myself as a man'; 'I'm just a person, I just think of myself as a person.' If one is the norm, one does not have to know what one is. If one is marginal, one does not have the privilege of not noticing what one is." p147
In this passage, Dr. Frye points out to us that in addition to our knowing and comprehending being influenced by our social position (what we can "see") it also happens that if we are members of the dominant group then part of what we "know" are actually knowings/understandings that are transmitted to us (by our culture/society) but are out of our awareness (unconscious).

This means these "knowings" influence our comprehending/thinking/acting...but...we can't examine them or check them for accuracy or truthfulness or desirability.

It's critical to remember that what our culture presents to us as ways of thinking and/or understanding comes from people who lived before us and who decided (for various reasons, including self-interested ones) that this is how the "world" is or that such ways of thinking or understanding are just "common sense". Hmmm...

We "know" these things (meaning that they influence our behavior and understanding) but we don't consciously (or within our awareness) "know" that we know them. And that comes in seriously handy when we engage in or enact harmful/dominating behaviors toward subordinated group members but all the while simultaneously needing/wanting to cling to and experiencing ourselves as being "innocent".

Remember, in 1962, while the racist practices and laws of Jim Crow were in full effect in the U.S., 82% of white people believed educational opportunities were equal for everyone. An telling illustration of behaving horribly but maintaining innocence.

Being unconsciously influenced in how we behave and think is sort of magical really...because it can result in our doing shitty and hurtful things to our sister/brother humans (or sister/brother Earthlings) and simultaneously being unaware of the awfulness of what we're doing and thereby maintaining that very desirable sense of being "innocent".

It's often (not always, but often) suggestive of unconscious stuff going on when someone does something harmful to someone else and they are called out on it and their response includes howls of outrage and wounded innocence and denial of doing any such terrible thing or denial of harmful intent.

(I say often but not always because this is not a hard and fast formulaic thing, one way to try to confirm such goings on is to look for a pattern of repeated instances of harmful behavior and outraged denial. That's often a useful clue that unconscious factors are in play (either that or the person is just consciously lying). This sort of stuff is part of what makes learning to be an effective psychotherapist fairly demanding. Also this is why the average person usually isn't very skilled at being a competent psychotherapist. It's damned tricky to learn to recognize when unconscious factors are involved and you'll screw up often before you get to be half-way skilled. In other words, kids...don't try this at home...or if you do be prepared to screw up royally...and often.)

It's the outrage and wounded stuff that can serve as a clue that some "knowing" while not "knowing" (unconscious) process is in play because the outrage and woundedness is (usually, but not always) out of proportion to the situation and also sort of weird.

Think about it...if I accidentally or inadvertently harm another and they point it out to me...and I genuinely (no unconscious stuff going on) made a mistake...then I can take in the feedback I get, feel regret and remorse or whatever, and learn to avoid making that same mistake in the future. No need for wounded outrage. I mistakenly did a hurtful thing...I did not desire to cause hurt...I feel bad for doing the harm and...I'm responsible for learning more about what causes hurt so I can modify my behavior to avoid such harming in the future.

All well and good. Uncomfortable, heck yeah, but not some occasion for explosions of outrage and wounded innocence.

Or...maybe I did mean to cause harm...and I got caught...time to fess up and take my lumps. Either way...not an occasion for some sort of outrage type stuff.

But...if I harm another and that harming was based on unconscious stuff and I get feedback that I hurt someone...oops...my unconscious stuff got outed...I got caught doing a shitty thing that i (unconsciously) intended to do. How to keep unconscious the fact that somewhere I wanted to do what I did? In other words...how to do something harmful but also to influence others (and myself) to see myself as innocent? (and...to complicate it further...all this maneuvering is going on out of my awareness...it's unconscious)

Pitching a fit about my lack of culpability, accompanied by shrieks of outrage and expressions of wounded innocence is one way to (clumsily) cover up the bad stuff going on with me.  (stuff that I'm unaware of...know that that which is unconscious resists...powerfully...being brought into consciousness).

Notice that suddenly...even though I harmed someone else...I magically become the victim, all pristine and shiny and draped in wounded innocence. I get to act shitty without taking any responsibility for acting shitty and if anyone calls me out on my shitty behavior...zip zoop...they're the shitty one because I'm innocent and pure and devoid of bad intent and they've insulted me and called into dispute my my "good intentions" and innocence. It's sort of childish appearing when written out like this (and it is pretty crude and unsophisticated) but when it happens in real life it often discombobulates anyone witnessing it or that it is directed toward.

If you want to observe a human being who often screeches outrage about his innocence and exhibits defensive attacking anger and woundedness...go watch the Bill O'Reilly show on television. He's either seriously influenced by unconscious processes or he's a really scary and malevolent liar...either way he most excellently illustrates the kind of stuff we're grappling with. Denial accompanied by attempts to intimidate and bully others scripts many of his interactions with others. 

You might recognize this psychic maneuver by a phrase that's come into rather common usage. It's called: "Blaming the victim". You might remember it from your own childhood if you or someone else ever trotted on the phrase "she (or he or they) made me do it".

One historical example (there are tons of them)...think about how the Nazi regime viewed people they identified as Jewish. The Nazis maintained that their murderous campaign against millions of innocent victims was...here's the magic of the unconscious...an act of "self-defense". The Nazis maintained that the Jewish people were evil and bad and and and (even though there was zero evidence of this assertion)...and the atrocities that were carried out in death camps were because the victims were threatening the very survival of Germany. In other words the Nazis maintained their sense of "innocence" all the while engaging in unjustified and unprovoked harm to a subordinated group of people. Blame the victim....see how it works?

Some examples closer to home if you're an American? Think about the "savage" Indians your history books referenced, think about the notion of a "happy" enslaved African American. Think about "reverse racism". Unconscious processes offer human beings a distorted and terrible way to justify enacting atrocities while simultaneously retaining a sense of innocence. It's deeply seductive and insidious and destructive stuff.

We often see these kinds of contortions (wounded innocence suggestive of unconscious stuff) when members of dominant groups are engaging in harmful/dominating behaviors toward subordinated group members. That way dominant group members can enact horrid behaviors and maintain their sense of virtue. 

If you want to see it in action in person and you're white, pay attention to other white people and when you hear them say something that's racist in nature or do some racist act...call them out on it (do it in a way that's gentle because they're likely to focus on how you pointed out their bad behavior: "the tone argument") and pay attention to how they react.

If they made a mistake without unconscious harmful intent being in play, they may struggle with comprehending but...there's not likely to be wounded outrage.

If the unconscious factors are present...you might get to see quite a show...and you're also quite likely to be attacked for being a mean person for daring to impugn their incredible innocence (think Bill O'Reilly). Welcome to the world of the unconscious influencing of behavior. By the way, it's usually not fun when you encounter it.

Now, go reread the quote from Marilyn Frye above.

What a wonderful thing being "the norm" offers. If we are members of a dominant group, we get to be harmful toward members of a subordinated group and...and...we get to retain our sense of being innocent all through the magic of the unconscious.

Go (re) read my post on power (the one with the thoughtful comment from HGV) and notice the examples of all the "good" (innocent) people enacting heinous atrocities in various societies and...all the while...maintaining (to themselves anyway) their sense of pristine innocence.

Struggling to comprehend aspects of the "isms" of oppression is complex. Especially when you're a member of a dominant group...part of how this stuff just keeps rolling on is that one of the components (usually, but not always) of being a dominant group member is being unconscious (unaware) of behaving monstrously.

That ability to behave harmfully while believing oneself to be "innocent" may be why a woman (who's postioned as  a person of color) that I have great esteem and respect for said that until she was 20 years old or so she just thought white people were "crazy".  She had never met, or even read about, any white person who had any sense of the horridness of their behavior toward people of color or even that white people had the ability to comprehend that their behavior and attitudes were disgusting and deplorable and that there was something terribly wrong with them (white people) for having such attitudes/behaviors.

Robin DiAngelo writes about aspects of this sort of innocence that's based on the operation of unconscious processes masking attitudes of negativity when she wrote about what often occurs when trying to engage white people in talk about race and racism: "Our socialization renders us racially illiterate. When you add a lack of humility to that illiteracy (because we don’t know what we don’t know), you get the break-down we so often see when trying to engage white people in meaningful conversations about race."

She's not using the term unconscious...but it is in the very stuff she's referencing when she writes about racial illiteracy and an absence of humility and our not knowing what we don't know. What she calls a "breakdown" is what I've referred to as explosions of outrage and wounded innocence in this post.

And...what's really tough about all this is that it's even more complex than I've touched on here. Sigmund Freud spent a professional lifetime thinking and writing about the operations of the unconscious...as have many other humans.

In summary...what we know is strongly influenced by what we can comprehend ("see") because of our social positioning (whether we're situated in dominant groups or subordinated groups...or both) and also what we can comprehend ("see") is complicated by the operating of unconscious processes that usually (almost always) go along with being members of a dominant group.

Look...if you're a member of a targeted group (subordinated) then you damn well know that members of the dominating group are doing shitty things to you (usually...but not always) whereas if you're a member of a dominating group you may be doing shitty things to subordinated group members but...you're often hiding that from yourself (you're unconscious of it) and hence you feel all innocent and such. When you exhibit that false innocence to a member (who's aware of what's going on) of the subordinated or targeted group...they may see you as being either deranged or lying.

And...to make it even more convoluted, since positionality influences (determines) what we're able to comprehend ("see"), if I belong to one group (dominant or subordinate) I have to really work hard at trying to grasp what the other group members are comprehending and/or experiencing because I don't have their lived life experiences. But...if I belong to a targeted group and I'm being harmed by the actions of dominant group members and structures of society that they control...it's often not difficult to be aware of my being injured.

Dominant group members have two strong factors that interfere with their being coherent. One is that their positionality limits what they're able to comprehend or "see" and the second is the likely operation of unconscious processes...which means they're not in good contact with reality (they don't "know" what they know).

Whereas subordinate group members often only have one factor against their coherence and that's that their positionality limits what they're able to comprehend or "see". (this may be complicated by their unwitting acceptance of the dominant ideology and viewing themselves as "inferior" and deserving of the harms directed at them...that if only they "tried harder" all this bad stuff wouldn't happen to them)

Those last two paragraphs maybe explain why there's so much truth to the notion that members of subordinate groups generally have better or more accurate knowledge about what's going on in the operation of dominant/subordinate group interactions than do members of dominating groups. And...subordinated group members tend to understand and know more about dominant group members than vice versa.

(Note: there is, in no way, any comparison between being targeted for harmful behaviors and enacting harmful behaviors, do not confuse these two very different experiences...getting hit in the face is not comparable to hitting someone in the face...ok? In this post I'm just trying to tease out some of the factors that influence comprehension of this stuff. )


Want more? Well, my understandings are evolving which means I have to spend more time reading and thinking, in the meantime you can read some really good writing about this over on Dr. David Shih's blog.

And you thought resisting oppression was easy peasy, right?

Think about it this way, if oppressive actions and behaviors were fully transparent and comprehensible to us...do you really think they would be as persistent and widespread as they are?

Most human beings aren't shitheels (I don't think) and if it was easy to identify and recognize oppressive behaviors and social structures (don't get me wrong...in many ways it is easy...but in other ways it is extremely difficult and complex to comprehend) then the crap would probably have stopped a long time ago.

We (by "we" I'm primarily referencing those of us who are positioned as dominant group members...in the U.S. that means white or male or both. Also remember that humans are the dominant group in regard to other Earthlings) have much work to do.

Any comments and/or criticisms about this post you might offer will be appreciated. (No howls of outrage or wounded innocence, I promise. I'm getting a lot of practice at grappling with gaps and deficiencies in my comprehension.)

 

Friday, November 25, 2016

The "isms" won the election or did they?

I've been thinking...which is probably not something I do very well at times...but...I'm wondering if all the reading and working at bringing what I've been taught by history and culture into greater clarity isn't resulting in my comprehending something we've all been taught to comprehend as if it were "sensible" when in fact it's not.

Here's a bit of a blog post I started on within a few days after the presidential election:
....and now it's apparent to anyone who can comprehend that the U.S. is much much worse off than most thought. By that I mean that white people in the U.S. are deeply disturbed emotionally and cognitively. They're genuinely dangerous, to others, to the planet and to themselves.

The depth and breadth of this ugliness of white supremacy that is embraced by we white people has become so malignant and huge that those infected with it are now out in the open and celebrating a debacle.


And those of us who struggle to resist...obviously didn't struggle enough.

Will we now learn? Will we? And...even if we do...and embark on the painful and ugly business of accepting and working thorough our horribleness and effectively resisting white supremacy...what price will the vulnerable have to pay for our lassitude and laziness and embrace of obliviousness?

I was old enough to finally begin to glimpse how deeply deficient we white people in the USA were when Ronald Reagan was elected. We've been in something akin to a death spiral ever since. We white people have made this...and we must change it. It is up to us and no one else.

The innocent and vulnerable should not have to pay for our failure...but I fear they will.

By the way...if you hear a white person say "but I'm not racist"...know that you are in the presence of an enabler/practitioner of racist ideology. If you say it...then go read this and get to work on yourself.

As you can see from the above...I was piling on to the "voters"...and from what's occurred in the writings of many since I wrote that...I wasn't alone. See here, here and here.

But...it's untrue.

In fact, a relatively large majority of the voters for the president rejected the overt "isms" in the person of the president and opted for the theoretically less bigoted candidate. By a margin of around 1,700,000 (or more) voters. The "official" count is still underway so there isn't a final total yet. Here's an early story about this when the margin was just over 1 million.

Hmmm...what's going on here?

I was sitting in a class last week when it occurred to me that maybe...just maybe...we're being offered an opportunity to see an irrational aspect of our society's history (decisions made be people from the past) coming out of it's invisibility (becoming apparent because it is getting ready to operate) but we've been deeply and thoroughly taught to not think about it or notice it but rather to accept it as "normal" when...in fact...it's actually bizarre and operates to scuttle "democracy".

That "normalized" absurdity is that thing called the electoral college.

On December 19th the "real" voting for the presidency occurs. There are 538 "electors" and it is their vote that decides who is president. The big election where all the eligible voters get their say doesn't actually decide who's president...the people who vote in the electoral college decide that...and they can vote for anyone they want.

Contact your state's electors and tell them you want a democracy...you want their voting to reflect the voting of the majority of the voters...there's still time to stop an oncoming disaster that rejects what the majority of voting Americans want.

All the hoopla re Trump's "victory" is because in theory he won the "majority" of the electoral college voters. That...if it occurs the way everyone is writing and talking about it...will be Trump even though he was clearly rejected by the majority of American citizens who voted on who they wanted for their president.

Clinton
won the popular vote...by a margin greater than the margin in past elections that put people into the white house. In other words, in just a few weeks (December 19th) the United States is gearing up to put someone into the office of the presidency in opposition to who the majority of the voters supported.

The "will of the people", the "decision of the voters" is apparently going to be reversed and the candidate who lost the election is going to be crowned as president. That's a "democracy"?

What is going on here? How can a "democracy" result in someone becoming the president in clear opposition to the majority of the voters? A system like that is something other than a "democracy" wherein the vote of a citizen counts to show who they want in a particular office. It's a system...yes...but it's not a "democracy".

The citizens of the United States have a narrow window of opportunity here to demand that their "democracy" operate like a democracy. Trump is not the president yet...the vote by the electors on December 19th will decide who occupies the white house. That's when we'll see who is president. The citizen's vote does not decide that...the 538 people who are electors decide that.

Lambasting the voters for opting for bigotry and racism and sexism is erroneous. A considerable majority of the voters selected Clinton and rejected Trump. (I totally believe any vote for Trump is a travesty and wrong...but that's not the point I'm addressing here...the fact is that he lost the popular vote...strongly.)

And yet...most of the "analyzing" I'm seeing online is all about the horridness of (mostly white) Americans and their support for racism and sexism. When...in fact...the majority of all voters rejected such awful and odious "isms" in favor of a candidate who (theoretically) also opposes such ugliness.

See what I mean about "invisibility"? Much of the writing and talking is writing and talking about an untruth. We do not have a democracy (in regard to who becomes president)...we have a system where 538 people decide...for millions and millions of citizens and the popular vote of all those citizens is only vaguely and only in theory influential on how those 538 electors vote. The electors decide (and they can vote for anyone they want)...not the citizens who voted in the national election.

But...we (me included, see partial blog post above) mostly talk and think and write as if we have a system where the majority of the voters decide who is president. They (we) do not. The electors decide.

How can it be that we think of this as a "democracy" where the majority of the voters decide on a candidate...and zip zoop...suddenly it is the rejected candidate who becomes the president?

Something weird is going on here and the weirdness is being accepted as "normal" and not weird. I suspect that "normalizing" of the absurd (the defeated candidate becoming president) is a manifestation of invisibling.

And...the American voting public is being lambasted and depicted as supporting racism and sexism when in fact the majority of the voters rejected those awful things.

But...we're not noticing that...we're motoring on as if that didn't happen...when it did. I think that's part of how to make invisible or not seen a truth that's right in front of you and it is, in fact, clearly visible if you just look and think about it.

I'm still thinking about this...and if you see a hole in my thinking...tell me. Please.

Another part of this that's amazing to me is that I've expressed this absurdity on Facebook and people...some anyway...just gloss right over it.

I'm saying...look...and think.

We're bamboozling ourselves if we don't dig deeply into the absurdity of the majority of the voters (a big majority) rejecting Trump and yet...the electors are getting ready to put him into office even when he was rejected by the voters. What in hell is going on? That's not how a "democracy" is supposed to work.

I'm not ignoring or denying that it is horrendous that millions voted for Trump...but...it is a denial of truth if we also do not realize that more (apparently millions more) voted against him than did for him. It's untruthful and erroneous to accuse the majority of voters of supporting racism and sexism when if fact they did not.

Here's a social experiment you can try on your own. If you follow what I'm trying to convey in this blog post...go on some social media platform and point this out and watch what happens. I suspect you will find that what you say will be denied or ignored or ridiculed or in some other way minimized or rejected.

If that happens...and I suspect that it will...then you will (I think) be seeing an example of how some of the processes of invisibling operate in the consciousness of people.

We've been conditioned to believe/pretend that voting for the presidency is "democracy" when in fact it is not. I've brought this point up in person in two group settings and in both instances people just ignored it and went on deploring and decrying the awfulness of the voters for embracing the ugliness of oppression.

Let me know what you think...and...if you try the experiment...let me know what happened. I gotta tell you, this is one of the damnedest things I've ever seen in my life.

I'm not excluding me...I started wondering about this crap way back in 2000 when that creep Bush was put into the white house...even though he lost the popular vote by over 500,000. Up until then I had always gone along with the pretense of a "democratically" elected President. But something started stinking to me then. This time there's no doubt...something reeks. And everyone is pretending/believing/thinking that it doesn't. 

We do not "democratically" elect the president. And...we're on the cusp of once again sticking somebody in the white house who was clearly and strongly rejected by a majority of the voters. All the while, pretending that "the people have spoken".

And...many/most are pointing fingers at the "voters" and condemning them for something they did not do. In fact, if it happens this time, that will be the 5th time it has occurred in 54 presidential elections.

Almost 10% of the time the loser of the popular vote...the one who was rejected by the "will of the people"...becomes the president. I don't know what you would call such a system...but democracy it is not. Wakey wakey.

This is surreal...and I think maybe...when the invisible  becomes visible...that's exactly how it feels...surreal.











Saturday, November 19, 2016

Power...


Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
grew up in Nigeria. Some time ago I stumbled across a speech given by her and was electrified. There are, indeed, wondrous humans on this planet. In that speech she related the following:
....how to create a single story, show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become.

It is impossible to talk about the single story without talking about power. There is a word, an Igbo word, that I think about whenever I think about the power structures of the world, and it is "nkali." It's a noun that loosely translates to "to be greater than another." Like our economic and political worlds, stories too are defined by the principle of nkali. How they are told, who tells them, when they're told, how many stories are told, are really dependent on power.

Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person. The Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti writes that if you want to dispossess a people, the simplest way to do it is to tell their story, and to start with, "secondly." Start the story with the arrows of the Native Americans, and not with the arrival of the British, and you have and entirely different story. Start the story with the failure of the African state, and not with the colonial creation of the African state, and you have an entirely different story.

Start with "secondly", but don't mention that's where you're starting.

I'm fairly certain that's one of the devices that is employed to implement that insidious and ubiquitous thing that is called invisibling.

I'm quite interested in that stuff called invisibling because it seems to be a core feature in the operation of oppression. And oppression is all about power and power...as Chimamanda Ngoze Adichie references it is about hierarchy...and hierarchy is about 'superior' and 'inferior' and those two are all about domination and subordination.

And.

Domination and subordination is a core component of every "ism" of oppression I can think of. I believe that's accurate...let me know if you think differently or more or or or. Each manifestation of oppression is unique in the form it takes and in the ramifications for those targeted...but common elements also seem to be present in each unique implementation of that awful stuff.

And...remember...none are free unless all are free.

None are free unless all are free is a statement of intersectionality (I think) and I recently heard the observation that all liberation movements up until now have failed precisely because they were not intersectional. I suspect that is true.

You also might notice how that stuff of starting a story with "secondly" (but not saying so) fits nicely with the the post I wrote about stripping away history and context and how that can make you totally mis-comprehend what's going on.

Remember, it was "good" (white) people who supported the monsters who did the Holocaust in Europe. It was "good" (white) people who "settled" the United States, it was "good" (white) people who implemented and allowed human enslavement in the United States, it was "good" (white) people who implemented and allowed Jim Crow in the United States and the current awfuls inflicted on people of color here, it is "good" people who are complicit in every horror enacted by humans in the whole history of humans.

Remember...identifying the awfuls of someone else doesn't make you a better person. Your job is to work on yourself...while resisting the awfuls of others. 

For you vegans, remember, it is "good" people who are complicit in and who participate in the killing of billions of our sister/brother Earthlings. You all know a bunch of them and the better you know how you were able to be complicit in that will mean you can maybe be more effective at transforming them. Study your own transformation to understand so that you can carry it to others. 

And I'm coming to believe that part (maybe the main part) of how these "good" people maintain the fantasy of their "goodness" (I'm fully culpable here too) is via these processes of invisibling.

If I keep on reading and thinking and listening, I just might get to a place of semi-coherent comprehension about how we humans go about implementing inequalities and horror and how we keep them in place...all the while seeing ourselves as "good" people.

Maybe I'll get there. With your assistance...maybe we all can get there because the better we comprehend oppression and how it works...the better we can resist it.

Go listen/watch her. She's a treasure...and she's my gift to you. You're welcome.

P.S....I didn't come up with this observation...Cicero did...and I'll share it with you because it is a gem.

Not to know what happened before you were born is to remain forever a child (and not a child in a good way).

We are all shaped and created by our histories and it is our job to learn those histories so that we can make our own choices instead of being controlled by the choices of those who came before us. If we fail to do that...then we will simply contribute to enacting and creating the world of their choices...not those of our own.

(and remember, a lot of a**holes made many of those choices and our enacting their choices means we're behaving like a**holes)
 

P.P.S. So far, as far as I can tell, ...the one grouping of humans that seems to hold the greatest amount of wisdom about liberation and oppression is...African American women. That's another gift for you. If you aren't hanging around some of these wonderful humans...you're genuinely missing out. (Keep in mind, I'm painting in broad strokes here, exceptions will occur but we're talking/thinking in general or on average...ok?) 



 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Ignorance...It's very "American"


I saw the graphic above on Facebook and it first struck me as true then I began to be bothered by it. (Caveat: Any people of color reading this may encounter instances of my white obliviousness. If you choose to let me know about what you spot I would be grateful and remedy it/them asap. Thank you.)

I genuinely wish things were so simple to comprehend. Truth, probably two years ago I would have hit "like" and been cheered at being on the side of the good guys and also I actually would have believed that it was all just that clear and simple to grasp.

Wait though...if we want to end the doing of racist behaviors by ourselves and others...then it is demanded of us to be more precise and sophisticated in our thinking and understanding.

There is a sizable segment of (mostly white but some people of color too) people (and I plead guilty to sometimes being among them) who are easily drawn into grabbing onto simple (inaccurate...but seemingly clear) understandings which actually lead us to a dead end but one where we can feel good about ourselves for not being "baddies". "End of Story"? Nope, not at all.

That graphic is akin to 2nd grade thinking. It implies that complex phenomena are easily understood. What's scary is that various cultural programming and institutional practices encourage just that kind of erroneous and misleading and inadequate thinking. Please educate yourself...just a little...go read this article and see if you don't learn something new.

After having a lengthy dialogue with a Trump supporter yesterday, I came away very disturbed by the serious absence of their interest in or their willingness or maybe even ability to grapple with the confusing and/or distressing topic of race/racism. Or, for that matter, many other confusing and/or complex things.

One of the factors I saw in operation repeatedly (and powerfully) was denial. What was seriously surreal about dialoguing with her was her avowed liking for the movie "The Help" and her repugnance and dismay over the behavior of the racist white people depicted in that movie. All the while she was maintaining the absence of racism from Trump and herself. She really likes the movie and has watched it several times. She seemed to be unable to recognize that Trump would have fit perfectly into a part as one of the white racists depicted in the movie. It was a bit scary.

(p.s. the movie itself has some problematical issues and should be viewed with some skepticism...that said...it also has strengths too. It is, in many ways a prototypical "white savior" movie so keep that in mind. If you want to read more about racist movies that white people often adore, here's a good source.)


The phrase: "all of them decided that racism isn't a deal breaker" is misleading in that it presumes all Trump supporters are/were able to accurately identify "racism". Oh come on, you might say, everybody knows he's a racist. No. They. Don't.

I will repeat that. No. They. Don't.

(Of course they "should" be able to, I'm not excusing them, I'm describing them. I'm not giving them an out or a pass, they're fully responsible but I promise you their thinkers are shitty and they do not recognize racism...unless it's blatant...and sometimes not even then...when they encounter it. They're not innocent, none of us white people are innocent...no matter how "good" our intentions are...in the racist nightmare we support and uphold. Their flawed perceptual abilities are in place with them because they hold onto them and do not struggle against them...hence...it's on them...just as it is on me or you...this stuff takes work to resist...no excuses.)

My bet is that if you polled a number of Trump supporters most all of them would deny racist intent/attitude/behavior either on their part or on Trump's part. Dr. Bonilla-Silva's phrase "racism without racists" is very accurate in naming the weird way in which many people (mostly white) that would condemn racism are at the same time able to be participate in supporting racist politicians and/or policies.

The cultural factors that have permeated U.S. culture/society for centuries that distort accurate comprehension of race/racism have been ferociously effective and they reside in and influence the thinking of almost everyone in this society. Including me. Which really pisses me off.

Consider this. One article I read by Tim Wise made reference to a Gallup poll conducted in 1962 (Jim Crow laws were in place nationwide) that some 85% of white people believed African American children had just as good a chance to get a quality education as white children. This is while schools were legally segregated in many locations. In 1962...this was apparently what most white people believed.

A poll in 1963 showed that about 66% of whites believed that blacks were treated equally in their communities...again...legal segregation was in place at that time.

If the reality comprehension abilities of the majority of white people (re racism) was that deficient during the Jim Crow era (when blatant and overt racism was in full blossom) it seems sort of absurd and simplistic and magical to think their (our) comprehending skills somehow "smartened up" since then.

Do you really believe passing some laws forbidding discrimination somehow also made white people smarter?

Aaarrrggghhh! And hey, I'm upset with myself too...I'm not just railing at you...ok? I have and do engage in crappy thinking...but...I'm working like hell on thinking better and if you aren't...well...sorry to say this...but...you're part of the problem.

There has never been any concerted effort by white people to struggle with identifying and fixing their (our) deficient perceptual/comprehending practices. Oh sure, most of us white people can identify overt and blatant racist acts...some sick bastard yelling racial slurs or wearing sheets and a pointy hat and burning a cross elicits almost universal condemnation. We're good to go, right?

Sorry...it's not that easy...take a look at who is the new President.

It is my belief that "most" white people are "well-intentioned" however if you couple good intentions with deficiencies in accurate perceptions and comprehension of race/racism...you end up with "good" people supporting and advocating for awful practices. Sound familiar?

By mis-perceiving reality, (we) they're able to maintain their self-perceptions of being "good" people because they also are unable to identify or comprehend racist practices by engaging in denial and/or other reality distorting mental maneuvers. If it isn't comprehended or recognized...then...it ain't me. Right?

We white people (again mostly white people although cultural programming influences everyone) have severe reality comprehending problems and I wish it were so easy as to segment ourselves into the glib and simple slots that are implied by that graphic.

How nice that would be...but...I fear it is much more difficult than that. I bet if you talked to a bunch of Trump supporters you would find that most totally dismiss any suggestion that either Trump or themselves have any racist intents and/or thinkings.

As far as that goes, most "good white liberals" would dismiss any suggestion that they are complicit in supporting racist practices or policies or thinking. But...guess what...most good white liberals (probably most of the readers of this blog) also have deep and persistent distortions operating when it comes to recognizing more "normalized" manifestations of racist ugliness.

And yet...heck...go read this.

As I've struggled to take wrestle with my own "epistemology of ignorance" it has become painfully clear that, for instance, the media and the entertainment offerings in this culture present deplorably racist ideations and depictions as "normal" and routine...as "common sense", if you will,...and very rarely (if ever) do other white people challenge and/or effective resist or counter these absurd and destructive offerings.

Worse, many...if not most...white people, whether Trump supporters or not are unable to even identify racist notions when they are served up to them. It's not just Trump supporters who are ensnared in the insidious aspects of white supremacy.

I desperately wish these problems were so easily addressed as to simply go with the notion expressed by the graphic (note...I agree with the accuracy of the graphic that alliance with Trump is alliance with racism) but the problem is that most (some are just despicable humans...but most aren't) of the Trump supporters are white people who were served up with cultural learnings that systematically distort their perceptions and who experience that distorting as "normal" and hence do not perceive themselves and/or Trump as racist. And they do not fight against these cultural learnings.

And...what's really sneaky the culture presents us with notions of thinking/perceiving that serve to decrease the likelihood of our detecting and dismantling our lousy thinking. Like being "colorblind"...that's one of the mainstream ways culture teaches you to not discern crappy perceiving/thinking.

Jeez. Sinclair Lewis wrote a disturbing and scary book way back in 1935 titled "It Can't Happen Here" about the rise of fascism in Europe. Based on my struggles to comprehend race/racism over the past couple of years I would have to say it has already happened here...in fact it was never any other way here...we've just been a little slicker (sometimes) at obfuscating the reality of its having happened here than were the white peoples in Europe.

I'm coming to think that race/racism and fascism aren't different phenomena but rather they are different aspects of a particular approach to comprehending and perceiving all living beings and subsequent social/cultural practices and arrangements. It's uncanny how many core components are almost identical between racist thinkings and fascist thinkings.

I don't think it was by accident that a omnipresent feature of the various authoritarian dictatorships that arose in Europe and Japan was a deep and closely held commitment to racist thinkings. Indeed...the authoritarian dictatorship that gripped Russia for so many decades had a deep and persistent strain of antisemitism (and other racist notions) that characterized it (even though such were "officially" disavowed). Such stuff was nevertheless believed in and practiced even if not openly embraced.

One way of thinking about the graphic is that it is itself a manifestation of the easy (and erroneous) maneuver of sorting people into “good/bad” binaries….which is a core aspect of racist thinking and of fascist thinking. It is just silly to think that racism and racist practices have persisted for centuries here in the U.S. because of "bad" white people. "Good" white people have supported and upheld it in the past and they (we) continue to do so even now.

The Trump supporter I dialogued with is a family member that I've known all my life and is a "good intentioned" person...and she is also a lost and bewildered person (who can sometimes voice her confusion) who feels like much is desperately wrong in this nation but misidentifies (at almost every turn) what those wrongs are. Subsequently...she grotesquely clings to Trump as being almost some sort of "white savior" figure. I suspect every white person who might read this has friends and/or family members that think/believe much the same way she does.

This is a hell of a situation we white folks have created and/or sat around with our thumbs up our a**es and allowed to persist. I feel both profoundly responsible and deeply sad and disturbed about this whole debacle.

Like you (probably) I was suckered into thinking that if I didn't have any conscious racist thinking, if I didn't do racist doings then hey...I was one of the good guys...right? Of course anyone who enacts stuff like that or thinks that way (consciously) is deplorable and to be condemned strongly. But...that's actually a relatively small percentage of the population.

White enacted racist policies and racist white institutions aren't controlled by those "bad" folks...it's us, the "good" white people that keep this crap rolling on. Our thinkers are busted. Our comprehendings are deficient, our recognizers suck. We've substituted the word for the deed. We are the problem...not "them" out there.

Pogo said it decades ago: We have met the enemy, and s/he is us.

I desperately wish it were so easy as to just say "they're a**holes" and "I'm not". I really do...but I’m concerned that trying to conceptualize humans and their behaviors this way is, while certainly enticing, not at all useful if our goal is to convert and/or transform folks into genuine believers and practitioners of equality and equity.

We've been doing it that way for a long time...it doesn't work. If just naming the bad guys made the bad guys disappear and/or have no power, heck, we would have achieved nirvana long ago. It's a lot tougher than that.

I'll end with this graphic that has a scarily prescient quote from a seriously important American that most of you white people are totally unfamiliar with (and your unfamiliarity is part and parcel of what keeps racism rolling along here in the U.S.A.). His statement is profoundly and deeply true and if we get destroyed...it will be our own fault for not doing our work.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Things fall apart...

The title of this post is taken from a Yeats poem called The Second Coming. Here's the first part of that poem, it has always sort of haunted me:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.


The last lines of that poem are also shivery and scary:

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?


I've been grieving and thinking about the unprecedented fit of ugly self-destructiveness that is (to me anyway) manifested by the 2016 presidential election outcome.

The U.S. has put into power a white man who has never held elected office nor has ever held any appointed government position or served in any military position or rank.

He's outed himself as a racist misogynist who is likely also a pedophile or child raper. Anyone who has even a moderate amount of judgement can detect that he is afflicted with serious emotional and cognitive problems but...that doesn't seem to matter to those who voted for him.

This is who those voters selected to represent them as their leader...this is who they have turned over control of all the nuclear weapons to. This is what has happened...and I am frightened.

In case you didn't know...that's never happened in the history of this place called the U.S.A. I will repeat...it has never happened before that a man elected president has never had any position in the military or government. Never.

You can, if you want, read more about that here.

If I consider what's happened during my lifetime, it sort of appears to me that the nation seems to let the destroyers and harmers nibble away at the economy and the planet and the people until the harm gets so great and so profound...to enough white people...that there's a big flurry and push for helping the economy and (white) people.

This nation mostly doesn't much care about harming people who aren't white men. If you disagree, I invite you to examine the history of the U.S. and please let me know where you find something different. (Realize that I'm speaking in generalities, broad swaths or trends not unconnected instances. As far as I can see...every instance of help to the less powerful was in some way or another connected with helping white men either in substance or prompted by shaming and worries about how white people here might appear to the rest of the world.)  You might learn something by looking at history from the viewpoint of such harming/helping and if you find something that means I need to revise my thinking...then I learn too. Ok?

Before I was born that's what seemed to lead to the election of FDR and the subsequent reforms and guarantees for average people (white) that came into place under him. I'm looking at the civil rights movement and subsequent legislation that came from it as being essentially a continuation and completing of that supporting of the less powerful citizens in the U.S.

Let's say FDR started changing things in 1935 and this period of assisting the less powerful ended in 1965 with the voting rights act. I'm skipping over lots of stuff, I know...but stay with me here. Since 1965 the power group (white wealthy men and their cohorts and hangers on) have been working to dismantle those helpings and to increase their harming/destroying of the planet and the people and the economy. They were doing it all along but I'm using 1965 as a marker date for the onslaught of harming and the essential end of the repairing.

What led to FDR and the national sentiment to help the less powerful and take away power from the wealthy white men was an economic devastation so profound that at one time the unemployment rate was about 25%. Now understand that the 25% who were unemployed were non-wealthy white men. Note that now whenever the unemployment rate for that group gets to 6 or 7% or more everyone gets excited (I'm glossing over, my apologies, how marginalized group folks always always have higher unemployment rates than white men).

So FDR comes in with a large majority pushing for fixing and helping that begins in 1935 and all that pretty much ends in 1965. We've essentially been in a period of harming ever since then...that's for over 50 years. Power has been generally been being taken from those with less power and being gathered by those with power (I'm painting in large strokes here).

And here we are...we've elected to the presidency the most egregiously unfit person I've ever seen...and we've had some really bad and awful men there before. He is openly aligned almost totally with the harmers and abusers and with wealthy white men.

And right now, I think one of the biggest factors that led to his election was that Barack Obama was black and was the president and that absolutely terrified and unhinged white men...and white women. Even though, in large and small ways, Barack Obama's policies were on the side of the harmers.

It was his blackness that terrified them and in their derangement they've put a white man in power who is the epitome of someone who has no regard for any marginalized group. He cares not one whit for people of color, for women, for poor people, for disabled people, for LBGTQIA people...no grouping of humans with little or no social power has any significance to him at all. They are prey.

I suspect we might be entering the end phase, the crescendo of the 51 years of harming that's been working to tear up the fixing that began with FDR.

And...if all this broad picture looking is true...it's likely to result in some disaster (like 25% unemployment rates for white men) to provide enough ooch for those who oppose harm to come together enough to start fixing again.

I don't know what form the coming disaster might take...but I strongly suspect one is coming. And many are going to be harmed...and it will mostly be those with little or no power but it will eventually harm white men too.

I fear that we all (except wealthy white men) are going to be damaged...maybe severely...maybe even unprecedentedly disastrously before this is all over. Maybe fatally...I don't know...I do know it's going to be awful. And it's going to be totally unnecessary. We (white people) could have done better than this long ago...but we didn't and it seems we won't until it gets so horrid that we have to do better. That happens...but we don't seem to learn...we get forced to do better but our thinking doesn't seem to change much.

As I wrote that last sentence it struck me that there is one group that (I'm speaking on average) that never gets hurt is...guess who...wealthy folks. Come what may, the wealthy (mostly white men) might get dinged, but they don't get hurt. They don't end up starving or out of work or lynched or enslaved or beaten up or imprisoned.

That's true...why don't we understand that then they should never ever have power because they don't have to deal with the consequences of awful?

Hmmm...I'd never thought of that in quite the way I'm thinking of it now. Consider...if you wanted a human society that did the most positive stuff for the greatest number...you would always put in power those who were most interested in helping the least powerful and who would be most impacted by harm to the least powerful. Hmmm. Think about that for a minute.

That would be the way to go if you wanted to do the greatest good for the largest number of folks because...helping the least would automatically result in either neutral or good for those more powerful than the least powerful. If you lift the floor...it raises everyone...right?

Well...if that's true, and I suspect it is, then we've done the exact opposite. We've put into power one of the most powerful who is an abuser and a harmer and is intent on helping those with all the power. He wants to raise up those already high and screw those who are lower or less powerful.

I don't think this is going to end well and I'm unwilling to rule out a devastation that makes WWII look like a birthday party. When harmers are supported by a large swath of the population (by that I mean those who put this man in power) then the likelihood of awfulness for every human without much power...for all living beings without much power, is almost a certainty. I suspect he may end up harming everyone...even those who think they are insulated from harm.

I hope that isn't true...but I fear that it is.

I'll continue to think about this and also to think about ways to maybe counter it however I can. You think about it too and let me know what occurs to you. Hey...people who are much better writers and thinkers than I am are writing about all this too. One of those writer's articles is here.

I'm pretty sure no wealthy white men read this blog...so you who do read it are among those who are at risk of being hurt by what's probably coming and your thoughts about stopping it or decreasing it or preventing it are welcome. I'm really saddened about this and I''m profoundly ashamed of us white people. This did not have to be.

I've been writing about and thinking much about race and racism here in the U.S. for quite some time...now you know why...it permeates this society...and it is destroying all of us.