Racism is not an “Accident”

Oh my.

A friend of mine told me on Facebook that people have been eager to see me respond to the new Brad Paisley/LL Cool J mash-up, sorry I mean, hodgepodge, sorry I mean country/hip-hop duet, no wait, sorry, I mean the new white man lead-black man sidekick musical impersonation of a Mel Gibson-Danny Glover Lethal Weapon buddy-flick.

So, begrudgingly, I consented. Fortunately, my friend, Dr. Natasha Croom, an assistant professor of higher education at Iowa State University, directed me to a link that spared me the trouble of having to actually listen to the song: Accidental Racist: Read the Lyrics So You Dont Have to Hear Them | TheWrap TV.

SMH takes on new meaning after reading these lyrics.

Old heads like me know that LL Cool J stands for “Ladies love cool James.” Well, this (not)lady isn’t loving James and he ain’t cool. Which is a real shame because I love his character Sam on NCIS:LA. Brad Paisley I don’t know; never heard of him before this. I have no expectations of who he is or should be. And quite frankly, what I know of LL doesn’t predispose me to expect socially conscious activism from him either. His forthcoming tour with Public Enemy notwithstanding, LL isn’t my go-to for conscious rap.

Yet, despite that, I’m disappointed but not really surprised. The lyrics to this song (stop now and click the link from The Wrap above to read them for yourself) display some pretty common attitudes about race relations, racism, and the Civil War (aka, The War Between the States, Northern aggression, etc.).

Let’s start with the song’s title: “Accidential Racist.” Let’s be clear on one thing before we go any further. Racism is not an accident and people are not “accidentally” racist. They may be unconsciously or dysconsciously racist (ala Joyce King), but even that is not accidental. Racism is the intentional byproduct of social systems and institutional structures that were intentionally designed to value one group of human beings as more worthy than others based on the slippery biological fiction, yet social reality, of race as displayed through phenotypical features such as skin complexion, the width of nose and lips, hair texture, and mythological yet longstanding presuppositions about differences in genitalia. This country was founded on many things, one of them being white supremacy, as evidenced through the slave trade, the Constitution, the economic fact that without race-based chattel slavery, this country’s prosperity would have likely never materialized and the U.S. probably wouldn’t have effectively liberated itself from Great Britain. In order to maintain this system of White supremacy, White people socialized each other, their children, AND anyone else who could be forced to listen (Africans, Native Americans, Mexicans, and immigrants from all over Europe and Asia) that racial pedigree was 1) real, 2) White was on top, 3) Black/African was on bottom, and 4) that to practice systematic discrimination, bias, and economic, psychic, and physical terror against Black people was an act of compliance with a divine, cosmic, yea, even natural order that would be disrupted only at one’s own peril and the downfall of this country first and global humanity next.

So, no, Brad and LL, there is no such thing as an “accidental racist.” Racism is the blood that runs through the veins of this country and makes its heart beat. Oh well, I just lost 1/3 of you reading this. Keep reading, I’ll tick the rest of you off too.

Everyone, regardless of one’s racial status, in this country is introduced to racist socialization (the philosophy that White people are supposed to be in charge and other people are supposed to serve White people) through schools, churches, media, and sometimes, the home. Sometimes it happens at home first. What this means is that White people are introduced to racial dominance and people of color, including multiracial people, are introduced to racial oppression.

Now, after that introduction, whether or not this socialization is internalized and the degree to which it is internalized as real, right, and relevant for oneself and one’s relationships with others is a matter of what other socialization one is also exposed to at home, school, church, the media, etc. One does not internalized racist attitudes and exhibit racist behaviors “on accident;” it happens systemically, intentionally, albeit usually unconsciously. I know, it’s a paradox.

To title the song “Accidental Racist” is to adopt a philosophy that denies personal responsibility for the ways that racism is STILL practiced and CONTINUES to be manifested in the systems and structures of this country (and throughout the world thanks to colonization).

So, relatedly, the song goes on to have both Brad and LL talk about how we need to let the past be the past (LL) and refuse to accept responsibility for past injustices. Sorry, guys, as my good friend the Rev. Dr. Jamie Washington says in his Diverse Community Foundations, it may not have been our fault but it is our responsibility. And, for the record, a beer and a conversation is not going to rectify 400 years of racial oppression, notwithstanding President Obama for the “Beer Summit.” (If I rolled my eyes any harder, they just might actually get stuck like that.)

Further, do-rags and the confederate flag are not equally innocuous, nor are they equally terrorizing symbols. The only reason that some white folks are scared of black men in do-rags is because of their own racist fears of black rage and propensity toward violence. The reason a lot of Black folks (they are of course some who aren’t – one who even put it up in his residence hall room – look it up on YouTube), actually a good number of White folks, and folks of other races and mixed race are suspicious, afraid, resentful, bitter, and downright bothered by the Confederate flag is because it literally was the symbol of the Confederacy’s refusal to give up slavery. The whole states’ rights argument centers and is founded on states’ rights TO KEEP SLAVES and refusal to enact emancipation and abolition of slavery. Slavery was the foundation of Southern wealth and it was at the center of Southern social norms and codes. “A proud rebel son” sounds pretty innocuous until you consider what the rebellion was all about – keeping Black people in iron chains.

So, no, LL, I will NOT forget those iron chains, and neither should you. White resentment of Black entertainers’ wealth displayed by gold chains (usually hocked, debt-ridden, and owned by a music company) is really displaced anger over the fact that their economic supremacy has not manifested for them as individuals and a transference of anger that is more rightly placed at the feet of the .1% (even less than a full 1% according to one FB meme recently) who happen to be almost exclusively White by the way.

One last point, we will not, cannot, and should not move on until we fully and honestly deal with the issues of race, racism, and the role of racism in this country’s origins. It’s the lack of historical awareness that produces a song like “Accidental Racist.” Those who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it.

Where do I get my perspectives and information from? Read the following folks just to get you started:
John Hope Franklin
Molefi Kete Asante
Patricia Hill Collins
Angela Davis
Marimba Ani
Tim Wise
Allan G. Johnson
Any critical race theorist

As another friend of mine said, Dr. Claire Robbins, superficial interracial friendships don’t help to deconstruct racism and undo racist attitudes. It takes more than contact with diverse others to understand racism and learn how to competently engage it and moreover to disrupt it. That is work that must be done deliberately by EVERYONE regardless of race.

 

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Death Rattle? Naw, Just Clearing Its Throat

This post begins on last Tuesday night, about 11:12pm EST, when MSNBC called Ohio for Obama putting him over the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the election. It begins when four states broke the 32 straight losses handed to marriage equality proponents. Throughout the course of the night Maryland, Maine, Washington, and Minnesota added to the number of states where any two consenting, unrelated adults can get married, regardless of their sex or gender. This post begins when on that same night 19 women were elected or re-elected to the Senate, the largest number in history. This post begins when a record number of Asian Americans, queer people, and people with disabilities were elected to legislative office on the national and state level. This post begins on that night when people who straddle the intersections of multiple oppressed identities, like Tammy Duckworth (woman, double-amputee, and Asian American) and Mary Gonzalez (woman, pansexual, and Latina) were elected to represent districts on both the national (Duckworth) and state (Gonzalez) levels that were supposed to reject them and their complicated multiplicity, but didn’t. This post begins when Florida was finally called for Obama, bringing the final Electoral College tally to 332-206 and Obama winning 50.6% of the popular vote, while Romney carried a karmic 47.8%.

This post begins with a dance party, ushered in by none other than DJ Kool’s iconic song surely “to get the people going” (nod to JayZ and Kanye), “Let Me Clear My Throat”:

If you’re like me, you couldn’t help but dance in your chair a little, just now. Indeed, over the past week, the victory of the marginalized has been heralded and people have been literally dancing in the streets, in their chairs, and anywhere else. Obama’s Democratic Party has been cited for its ability to build a diverse coalition of voices who recognized that we really were all in this together. Meanwhile, the GOP has been mocked, hammered, and castigated for allowing itself to become the handmaiden of (religious) extremists, out of touch with the modern world – “a ‘Mad Men’ party in a ‘Modern Family’ world,” as Maureen Dowd quotes some Republicans admitting. Liberal commentators are announcing the “death throes” of the GOP, and of white, male (read, Republican) privilege to boot.

That’s an appealing narrative, heady and very seductive, and completely delusional. I refer back to DJ Kool and assert that White, male, heterosexual, able-bodied, economically-secure privilege has merely taken a moment to “clear its throat.” Let me explain by means of an historical analogy.

Fifty-six years ago, on this day in 1956, the Supreme Court struck down segregation on public buses. Mostly affecting the South, no longer would White people be able to unseat a Black passenger. Black people could ride anywhere on the bus they wanted, front, back, didn’t matter. Folks celebrated and although there was no DJ Kool yet, I would imagine that the sonorous tones of “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now” stridently proclaimed victory in church basements and house parties. Wait, that song hadn’t come out yet either, so maybe it was a really bumping rendition of “We Shall Overcome” instead.

It was not just a matter of racial animus that made the idea of Whites riding the bus with Blacks side-by-side repugnant. Social class was also at work, most of the Black riders were domestics, cooks, day laborers – men and women who shared a social class status that put them beneath Whites whose own blue collar jobs afforded them the protection of unions, higher pay, and the illusion of class mobility into the upper income strata during an era where cars were still a luxury purchase.

The creation of the suburbs, which led to urban decline, the disappearance of walk-able neighborhoods in the inner-cities, and the exodus of property tax dollars from the city-center to the suburbs, allowed the racism and classism that birthed segregation on public buses to turn its death rattle into a throat-clearing reinvention of itself.

I couldn’t see how this operated until I left my small hometown of New York City for the Midwest,  ostensibly just for college. When I was growing up, it seemed like everybody rode the public transit system. From people who worked on Wall Street to people who worked Wall Street, social class did not appear to distinguish who rode the buses and subways and who didn’t.

But when I went away to college in Michigan and have since continued to live in Ohio, I noticed a very different dynamic. When I first moved to Columbus in 1996 to begin grad school, for example, I found an apartment on a main bus line, excited that I could leave my car at home and take the bus to campus, probably about a 40 minute ride on two different buses. When I shared that plan with others, people looked at me like I had ten heads and was dumber than a rock. Why would you ride the bus when you have a car? People explained that the buses were “dangerous,” “dirty,” and that they really were the enclave of the unhoused and the mentally unstable, as much as those who were simply poor. I rode the bus a couple of times anyway, just to see for myself, and what I noticed more than the filthiness and the unreliability of the service schedules was how few middle-class, White people I ever saw on the bus, especially beyond the downtown limits. I’ve seen this same dynamic play out in other cities in Michigan and Ohio and have heard the same bus narrative retold in other places around the country. The racial and class privilege that birthed segregation just found a new way to assert itself, cloaked in a narrative of convenience and independence.

So even as residents across more than 30 states file secession petitions and D. L. Hughley insightfully comments on the cognitive disconnect produced by the phrase “we, the people” for some U.S. citizens, what we are witnessing is hardly the death of anything. Privilege is just pausing to clear its throat.

An election victory, or even several in one night, is not enough to dethrone the notion that certain people want Bill O’Reilly’s “stuff” and “things” (i.e., the benefits of privilege), as they join O’Reilly in bemoaning the new minority called the White establishment (by the way, Bill, white men still control most of the seats in Congress). As Jesse Hagopian argues, and I agree with him, the current budget negotiations do absolutely nothing to reverse the flow of wealth from those who already have it to those who don’t have enough. Compromise inevitably preserves the status quo. As Frederick Douglass said over a century ago, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.” Compromise is not a demand.

November 6, 2012 will go down in history for many reasons, but it was hardly the demand strong enough, loud enough, persistent enough to force the hand of power. Not unless it’s followed by continued momentum. As President Obama said himself in the wee hours of November 7th, our work was not completed at the polls on November 6 and it can’t wait until November 2014, either.

“Power concedes nothing without a demand.” So, what are we, those who want to sound the death knell of privilege, demanding? Are we really satisfied with women occupying 19% of the Senate when we are 55% of the population? Are we really placated merely by electoral victories? Political parties don’t reallocate power and privilege. Such reallocation requires the dismantling and rebuilding of the structural systems that award privilege. Tweaks and compromises won’t get us there.

 

Note: This post was originally going to be about the Republican Party and where it needs to go from here, but the anniversary of the end of public bus segregation took me on a whole different path.

 

Hope for the Future

This is a political post. But it’s not about either of the candidates or their respective parties. It’s about the next generation of voters and how hopeful I am that they will be anything but apathetic.

Yesterday, I volunteered with the group Organizing for America to get out the vote (GOTV) in the town in which I live. I’m not new to this kind of community organizing effort. In 2008, I canvassed on a couple of evenings, in mostly Republican neighborhoods, trying to convince people to vote for Obama. Then in 2010, my town had to decide on whether protection from discrimination in housing, employment, public education, and public accommodations should be extended to more people, including the LGBT community. To get those ordinances passed, I became what was known at the time as a “super volunteer,” devoting dozens of hours on the phone and on the street, but mostly on the streets canvassing voters and training other volunteers. But for this election, I had been mostly absent. My research travels kept me gone for most of August and September. I kept putting off the patient but persistent volunteer who kept calling me. I told him I would help in October. When he called back and I answered the phone, it was the last week of the month and there were 10 days before the election. I finally got on board. So, yesterday was my first canvass for this election cycle.

When I arrived, the place was all abuzz with volunteers. The folks coming to walk the streets, clipboards and literature in hand, were a cross-section of our local community. Young people, middle-aged folks, senior citizens, men and women, racial diversity, you name it, it was out (believe it or not for my small town). The staff organizers were mostly young people, traditional college age and maybe a bit older. Young adults are still heavily involved in this election, don’t let anyone fool you.

But the person who most impressed me was my canvassing partner for the afternoon. There were an odd number of volunteers who showed up for this particular shift and I was the odd one out. One of the volunteers called over her son to partner up with me. I was surprised to see that the person who came forward was a young boy, 12 years old, just a year younger than my daughter. I’ll call him “T.” T is in the seventh grade, plays soccer, and has older brothers. This is an activist family, from mom on down to her sons. T had been volunteering after school and giving up his weekends since soccer season ended doing everything from phone banking to door-to-door neighborhood canvassing.

Let me repeat myself: T is 12 years old.

We got our materials together, grabbed a couple hand warmers and a bottle of water, and headed out. I had to chuckle to myself when he asked if I had a car – clearly he wasn’t able to. And then I was just very impressed that a young person who couldn’t even vote, let alone drive, was volunteering so much of his time to this election.

As we walked together, knocking on doors, talking to a person here and there about the importance of their vote (and yes, encouraging their support of President Obama), T and I also talked. We criticized whoever “cut” our walk route, how much we both hated having to go into apartments, and how cold we were. We went together into hideaway apartment buildings downtown that he termed as “scary” and I agreed with him. We talked about strategy for talking to undecided voters.

As we returned to the staging office, he told me he was going to call one of his friends to see if he would come out for the next canvassing shift. He had been there all day and was ready to go out again for another 3 hours of walking, knocking, and talking. In this whole campaign cycle, I’ve given a total of 4.5 hours (1.5 hours last Tuesday calling folks and the 3 hours yesterday). I looked at T and immediately felt incriminated.

I signed up for a shift on Election Day because I wanted to follow T’s good example. And here I thought I was supposed to be the role model. I am reminded of Sweet Honey ‘n the Rock’s song, “Ella’s Song.” They sing about freedom and not resting until it comes, but they also remind us that it’s the youth that will lead the way and whose strength and energy will help us to keep going.

With young people like T on board, I feel confident that I will see a future in which freedom comes. With T and others his age leading the way, the future looks bright. I have hope.

Thanks T.

The Mirage of Common Ground

The Mirage of Common Ground*

It’s Monday, October 29, 2012. Next week Tuesday, November 6, 2012 is Election Day (voter suppression efforts now targeting Spanish-speaking voters be damned). In the next 8 days, our televisions, radios, and Internet ads will bombard us with more vitriol and political attacks sponsored by both the Democrat and Republican candidates, their party’s national committees, and various super-PACs (Political Action Committees, aka big-money fundraisers).

Sidebar: The U.S. democratic-republic was never meant to be a partisan, two-party system and actually the Democrats and Republicans used to be one joint party that rejected the Federalist party’s assertion of national government authority. For more info on the development of political parties in the U.S., click here. But since we have become a two-party system and would rather ignore the presence of third party candidates that are out there (bolstered by the structure of the Electoral College), I’m going to speak in terms of the now-split, Democrat and Republican parties.

In the midst of all this distasteful rancor (not at all new, but still distasteful to many), I am hearing calls to find “common ground,” to meet in the middle, to dare to find what’s admirable in the other candidate’s platform and loathsome in the platform of your preferred candidate. This call to walk toward each other instead of away from each other is admirable, necessary, and even desperately needed in many facets of life. I, for one, will be the first to recommend this course of action when the topic is convictional belief (a.k.a., religion, spirituality, faith, existentialism) and even for those ever so serious, fundamental athletic loyalties that many, including myself claim (snark intended). As Eboo Patel’s organization the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) proclaims in one of its youth-targeted campaigns, “we are better together.”

However (you were expecting a “but” weren’t you?), as laudable as the call to seek what is admirable in your opponent may be, I dare to argue its applicability in this present moment. Far from being an oasis in a storm of bile and vitriol, the call to find common ground is really a mirage, a siren song that lulls us to sleep and causes us to ignore real, fundamental differences in how to implement this country’s promise of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Give me your attention for a little while longer while I attempt to explain where I’m coming from.

This all started swirling in my mind the day after the last presidential debate between President Obama and former Governor Romney when I saw a challenge posted on a friend’s Facebook feed to comment with one, just one, element of the platform that you agree with for whichever candidate you oppose. This friend is himself a Democrat and intends to vote the Obama-Biden ticket and had become dismayed by the name-calling he was seeing on his newsfeed as Democrats and Republicans squared off in verbal duels that were leaving blood all over the Internet floor. His call was issued to both Democrats and Republicans among his Facebook social network. I haven’t seen this level of vitriol in my own newsfeed (seems most of my Facebook friends and the folks in my Twitter feed are all peace-makers), but I consider this person an actual friend, not just a Facebook “friend” so I took his challenge seriously. I thought for a moment about Romney-Ryan’s proposed policies regarding taxes, job creation, social security programs (as broadly conceived, including but not limited to the government retirement program), health care, civil rights (including but not limited to the rights of women, LGBT folks, and racially-minoritized groups), immigration, foreign policy, and the role of the federal government particularly vis-à-vis the states. I thought for a moment, commented that I hadn’t come up with anything but would continue to ponder, and went away to another friend’s post. I did keep thinking and returned to my friend’s wall and still hadn’t come up with anything.

It seems to me, from all that I’ve read while writing this post, that this idea of seeking the good in your opponent’s position stems, at least in part, from Jesus’ command to love our enemies. In the sermon “Loving Your Enemies” delivered by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., he makes this connection explicitly:

A second thing that an individual must do in seeking to love his enemy is to discover the element of good in his enemy, and everytime you begin to hate that person and think of hating that person, realize that there is some good there and look at those good points which will over-balance the bad points. (MLK, Loving Your Enemies, 17 Nov 1957)

King had learned that looking within oneself was the first step and while doing so, one might discover that the reason such hate might be generated for someone else was really about something internal. It followed naturally then that King would recommend seeking the good in the other person. In the context of encouraging mostly Black folks in his congregation who were fighting segregation while being on the receiving end of hate-filled taunts and mob violence at the hands of mostly White folks in the South, this makes sense. The movement would have been crippled (and eventually was in my opinion) had the people victimized by hate allowed themselves to hate in response. King’s message though was about hating people; he was not teaching us that we should not hate ideas nor that we needed to find common ground with ideas and philosophies that opposed us (imagine finding common ground on segregationists’ principles!).

If my friend had asked us to name one thing about our opposing candidate as a person, I would have had an easier time. There are things about Governor Romney and Representative Ryan as people that I can appreciate. No, I won’t name them here because that’s not my point. My point is that this isn’t about people, it’s about policies and ideas and philosophies. I do not hate the former Governor Willard Milton (Mitt) Romney, nor do I hate his running mate, Representative Paul Ryan. I also do not hate people who intend to vote for Romney-Ryan. I do hate their policies, I find them odious and rooted in injustice, arrogance, and downright meanness, and although I have tried – really I have – I cannot find one good thing about their vision for the U.S. that I find appealing, laudable, or “good” (nay, what is good; there is none good but God). And I’m okay with that.

There are issues on which these two candidates agree, on which they share common ground. We heard a lot of it during the second debate that was focused on foreign policy (or at least it was supposed to be anyway). Here’s just one agreement, a plot of common ground, that I find the most disturbing: They agree on the use of drones in military strikes. Although using drone strikes may save the lives of more U.S. troops, it puts at greater risk the lives of civilians in target zones and distances the drone operator from the ethical responsibility of murder in the context of war. Drone strikes make actual warfare akin to the manipulation of joystick controls on a video game. This is a connection I find to be immoral and unethical, and which jeopardizes the pursuit of freedom across the globe.

We can find common ground. My question is should we always stand on it.**

This song that we sang at my church yesterday as we moved forward to receive Communion is the ground on which I choose to stand:

(From the song, “These Three are the Treasures” words by Colin Hodgetts)

These three are the treasures to strive for and prize:

be gentle, live simply and have the humility

to shy from the struggle to put oneself first,

these are the pearls.

 

If mercy’s abandoned by those who’d be brave;

economy squandered by those who’d be generous;

humility slighted by those who would lead,

this is sure death.

 

Be gentle and you can afford to be bold,

be frugal and so have enough to be liberal,

be humble and thus be a leader of all,

this is the way.

 

Through gentleness those who attack win the fight,

and those who defend have their safety in gentleness;

this gentleness rests in the children of God,

this is their sign.

President Obama and Vice-President Biden’s vision of the U.S. may not have all of these components, but they have most of them and have more than what I see across the aisle in this current iteration of the Republican Party (it hasn’t always been like this, really it hasn’t). So, I’m casting my vote and standing up for this UN-common ground in this election, rejecting the mirage that common ground offers that would blind me to the real differences I see between these two choices.

*Today features my return to the blogosphere after an unintended lengthy absence. Although I meant to be gone for a bit to focus on my research travels, I didn’t mean for my absence to last this long. After all, my research trips were completed at the end of September. Oy vey. After being gone so long, I began to consider what would be a topic worthy of my re-introduction. The impending presidential election was an obvious choice, but I didn’t want to be just another partisan voice extolling the virtues of either Obama or Romney and, reflexively, harping on the faults of the other candidate. So, I offer this because it’s been forming in my mind since the third presidential debate between the incumbent and his challenger. Hopefully, it will add something novel to the discussion – not claiming these to be new ideas, in fact, many of them are not, but this seems to be the road less travelled thus far this election cycle. And, although hoping not be “just another partisan voice,” I am not claiming to be a NON-partisan voice. In fact, I’m very clear about my choice in this election and I know for whom I will cast my ballot (whether early or next Tuesday I haven’t decided yet).

 

**Even as I write this, I am afraid of how it will be used. This seems to be the essence of the “love the sinner, hate the sin” theology that I find so odious, ostracizing, and oppressive as a queer person in the Christian church. It seems to be the same as that, but I honestly don’t believe it to be the same thing. One key difference is that I’m not talking about labeling anything that is a product of creation, human biodiversity as “sin.” Facts supported by personal narrative, rigorous science, and historical evidence need to be distinguished from dogmatic belief that rejects the three-legged stool of reason, tradition, and scripture in favor of a twisted, errant, and abusive use of just one leg – scripture – around which then tradition is molded and to which reason is subjected.

#higheredWed: Election Season

This post covers both yesterday’s #higheredWed and tomorrow’s regular Friday post, so it’s coming on Thursday.

Anyway, it’s election season (in case the countless political ads and convention coverage evaded you and you’ve turned off your Facebook friends’ notifications about politics) and we’re going to be in this space for another couple of months (the debates begin next month; here’s the schedule). Those of us who work in higher education are likely planning or thinking about ways to make this a learning moment for our students, particularly undergraduate students. At the same time though, election season can be frustrating and seemingly useful only for hardening people’s opinions, not for facilitating constructive dialogue. Yet, I am a firm believer that education can come out of this madness we call politics in this country and that college and university educators can create the space to make it happen.

1. Remember the cognitive development and maturity required to engage in debates in a reasonable, sensible way. Notice I didn’t say “logical” or “unemotional.” Cognitive development theorists such as Marcia Baxter Magolda, Pat King with Karen Kitchener, and the authors of Women’s Ways of Knowing (Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger, and Tarule) all acknowledge that emotion and subjectivity play important and necessary roles in developing cognitive maturity. Often, once people abandon the “because my parents told me so” rationale for their beliefs, the next step is to connect on a personal level through their own experiences or those of someone close to them. Later comes the ability to take those personal experiences and place them in a broader context and use evidence to determine what is more or less likely or probable. Crafting programs that engage students on a personal-level is an important aspect of building bridges for more advanced (read “more complex”) cognitive thinking.

2. Dialogue, dialogue, dialogue. You may have scheduled a panel of speakers, a debate, or a lecture that deals with one or more of the salient issues on the table in this election. That’s great, but it’s full value will be lost if it’s not paired with time for attendees to talk about what they’ve heard with each other in conversations that are facilitated by adults invested in helping them think better, not come to whatever conclusion they prefer. I often hear people complain that debates and the convention speeches are useless because nobody ever changes their minds; they just look for justification for their own beliefs in what they’ve heard. The only way to change that is to allow students to directly engage the issues and talk with each other, not just be talked at. Probing questions that get students to explore how what they’ve heard affects them help bridge the gap to the next level of cognitive development, not just sitting listening to someone else talk for an hour.

3. Heart, soul, AND mind. There’s been a lot of talk about values in this year’s presidential election and that is a good thing. Values, what people believe about the life they want to live, what’s important to them, and how they define key concepts like success, freedom, and responsibility are fundamental to how people will make decisions and sort through the issues this fall. Getting students to answer these questions for themselves AND getting them to listen to how their peers answer these questions will help overcome the knee-jerk demonizing of opposing views that typically characterizes more simplistic cognitive maturity. For educators who are facilitating these discussions, being transparent about how your values play a role in your political action is really beneficial, especially for traditional-age students who are still crafting their own voice (what Baxter Magolda calls the development of self-authorship).

4. Panoramic views please. There’s so much talk about “the” Republican Party and “the” Democratic Party that not only makes it seem like each party is a monolith, but also portrays them as consistent over time. I bet many students would be surprised – no matter their political allegiances – to learn that it was Republicans who more ardently and consistently supported civil rights for African Americans and other racial minorities in the 1940s and 1950s, not Democrats. Helping students to see the complexity of political history and present-day discussions will also help students who may agree with one aspect of their party’s platform but disagree with others. I recently saw on Facebook someone decry the possibility of being fiscally conservative but socially liberal when in fact it is entirely possible to hold those two perspectives at the same time. Showing historical examples, or getting students to find them for themselves, shuts down myths like this.

5. Translate talk into action. Inspiring civic engagement begins with constructive dialogue, in my opinion, but it doesn’t end there. Getting our students to the polls – regardless of who they intend to vote for – is the ultimate objective in my mind for this election (and any election). Part of this is helping students see how local, state, and federal politics are interconnected and why it’s important for them to remain engaged in the issues beyond the presidential election.
Unfortunately, I see much of our political conversations happening on very simplistic, lower levels of cognitive development. I believe it is our duty as educators not to cooperate with that. We can elevate the tone of the conversations with our students. When we do, not only will our students benefit, but our whole nation.

Deadline to register to vote is October 9th. Election Day is November 6th: http://www.sos.ga.gov/elections/election_dates.htm

Labor and Labor Day

Today is Labor Day in the United States. A national holiday meant to celebrate the effective activism of workers, blue-collar workers, and labor unions who advocated for reasonable working conditions (5 day work week and weekends, the concept of shifts and 8 hour work days, restrictions on child labor, worker safety and protection laws, etc.). It’s come to be the unofficial end of summer, the end of wearing white shoes, pants, skirts, shorts (if you care about such things), and in some parts of the country Labor Day signals the beginning of another school year.

As I reflect on this Labor Day – on which I’ve done quite a little bit of work so far – I’d like to return to the original meaning and honoring those who stood picket lines, voted, went on strike, and in countless other ways brought me the opportunities that I and many other workers in the U.S. now enjoy. No, I didn’t build this. I didn’t make possible the existence of the career I have, nor did I create the infrastructures that will provide for my economic security once I retire. I am grateful for those whose blood, sweat, and tears (and that’s no hyperbole) did build it. To those who made it possible for me to grieve the loss of a weekend to work, who put the idea in my head that there’s something amiss when I’ve worked through vacation periods and holidays, who have taught me to aspire to working more effectively within a reasonable timeframe during the day – to all of my ancestors and elders who did build this, I say thank you.

All of these accomplishments are good and worth sustaining and protecting. They are also worth extending to the millions of workers in this country who do not have the privilege of these rights and gains. There are countless “pink”-collar workers (mostly service and retail industry employees) who are working on this Labor Day and who work almost every holiday and weekend throughout the year, so that the rest of us can “rest” and have “leisure” time. And then there are those who comprise our emergency workers (police, fire, hospital staff) whose hours are long, unpredictable, and sometimes full of danger to themselves and others. Utility workers who race to climb above the trees to make sure we don’t miss “the big game” but have schedules that blow their Circadian rhythms out of the water and may be jeopardizing their long-term health. There are millions who work without health insurance, who are hired with hours that are just below the cut-off for employers to provide mandatory insurance coverage. Most of those same millions are also working without any retirement benefits, who are solely hoping that politicians will figure out how to protect Social Security.

Side Note: You should listen to my mom talk about Social Security. She’s adamant that it’s not an “entitlement” program, but an earned benefit wrought through her decades of employment. I’m inclined to think she’s right – and not just because she’s my mom and she has an amazing way of usually being right about most things.

We have continued to have an entire labor sector that is “off-the-books,” folks who are working in dangerous, dirty, exhausting, and/or thankless jobs in our nation’s agriculture, construction, and textile industries who are invisible to the worker safety protocols offered by OSHA. Yes, many of those laborers are undocumented immigrants, but a whole lot of them are not. In my opinion, capitalism’s engines run based on the “invisible” work of these millions who work without protections, without holidays, without a consistent shift (12 hours might be nice, let alone 8).

We have legions of unemployed workers who don’t show up in the official stats because they’ve stopped looking for work – one can only take so much rejection for so long – or because they’re back in school trying to retool their skills so that they can qualify for a job. These aren’t people who are looking just to get a paycheck off the government dole, not mostly. These are folks who want to work – Americans who have been socialized to be autonomous, independent, and fiercely proud of remaining so. They would work if they could. And the full picture of our nation’s unemployment isn’t revealed until we break it down by industry and race and gender and then see that unemployment hits certain communities harder than others, including those who are transgendered, racially minoritized, and had previously worked in low-tech/high-labor industries.

Yes, let’s remember and honor those workers who brought us the leisure time we call Labor Day. And let’s remember and honor those workers who supply the means of our leisure, whose work remains unprotected, who fall outside the bounds of visible labor. We honor and remember them best by making sure that the workers’ rights won in the 20th century don’t become obsolete or another means of differentiating the haves from the have-nots in the 21st.

I Wish

This post was triggered by my Facebook newsfeed. It’s Facebook’s fault that I’m writing this because without Facebook I wouldn’t even know this idiocy existed. Really, I wouldn’t, especially not today because I’m writing this from a room with no TV. Unfortunately the room has free wifi, so I blame my Facebook newsfeed. You can blame Facebook too if you want. Too bad we’d all be wrong for blaming Facebook, when the reality is that people really don’t think very long before they talk – or maybe the problem is that they really did think about what they were going to say and didn’t realize how problematic it was.

What I’m talking about is Paul Slansky’s blog post in the Huffington Post that publicized (because he said no one had yet) a recent interview that Paul Ryan gave in which he describes rape as a “method of conception.” Here’s the post and it includes the video so you can hear it for yourself.

I posted a comment about it on my Facebook page and a friend commented “he did NOT say that.” A couple of other friends, including me, also responded with various versions of “Oh yes he did!” I went out for dinner and thought about it some (again because I was in a place with no TV) and came back to my TV-less room, listened to the clip again, and responded to my post with two really LONG comments that were just too long for Facebook. I liked what I said (hey, if I don’t like it why on earth would you and why would I bother sharing it??), so I decided to make it my blog post for today. It’s not what I was going to blog about today, but that’s okay. Sometimes you just have to go with the flow.

I listened to Paul Ryan again because my friend who contended that he hadn’t said that really actually is a friend and I like her, so I wanted to try to connect with where she was coming from (I’m what Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger,  Tarule call a “connected knower” in their book Women’s Ways of Knowing). So, I listened again and tried to hear Paul Ryan through my friend’s ears (a friend who identifies herself as “NOT pro-choice” but she’s not necessarily a Paul Ryan fan I don’t think but she doesn’t like people’s words to be twisted – I get that; I don’t like that either).

Here’s what I posted after listening to it again:

“Just listened to it again. In response to a question specifically asking about his stance on whether abortions should be legal in cases of rape, he said, “I’m very proud of my pro-life record and I agree that [no matter what or maybe it was regardless of] the method of conception, the [definition of life] is the same.” So, yes, his comment was directed explicitly to explain that he believes, as a pro-lifer, that life begins at conception regardless of how the fetus was conceived. However, the statement also makes rape pregnancy morally or ethically equivalent to consensual sex pregnancy by focusing on the ends and not distinguishing the means. In Ryan’s world, the ends (a life is created) justify the means (“regardless of method of conception”). This is what I and others find so odious about his comments and the stance of this segment of the pro-life movement (I recognize that not all “pro-lifers” have such extreme views).”

The quote isn’t exact because my memory misses stuff and I refused to put myself through listening to it yet again. I can only tolerate so much foolishness and my mom told me that foolishness is contagious. Anyway, I let my comment get posted and then thought of something else to say. I’ve got that below with some additions for clarity in brackets:

“In other words, no, Ryan didn’t actually say that rape was an acceptable method of conception [he wasn’t talking about rape as much as he was talking about how he defined when life begins]. But by refusing to condemn rape AND ALL ITS [POTENTIONAL] OUTCOMES, his comment can be read in that way. And I don’t think that reading is unfair either to him or to what he said. Maybe I’m wrong for that, but that’s where I am with this right now. [I am pro-choice but] I wish abortion didn’t exist. [But far more than I wish abortion didn’t have to exist, I wish] that women’s access to birth control was not eroded, esp for poor women. I wish far more that our protections and safety net for babies put up for adoption and placed in foster care were as strong and deep as some want them to be for fetuses who have just been conceived. I wish far more that the quality of women’s lives mattered enough to allow women the room to make decisions for their own bodies. I wish far more that ppl who call themselves pro-life fought as hard for lives already here who are hungry, unhoused, terrorized by poverty, unemployment, gun violence, police brutality, and the prison-industrial complex as they do for the lives they want to bring here [and some do]. I wish far more for a world where rape and all of its consequences were recognized as the horrific breaches of human dignity, worth, and self-determination that they are. I wish far more for the world my mother’s generation thought they had already [given] to us and now I see slowly being destroyed.”

This is what I wish for today.

I appreciate my friend’s challenge because it made me go back and think more deeply about why I was so angry by what Paul Ryan, Todd Akins, and others have said over the past week. I think some deeper thinking is necessary all around this issue, quite frankly. I guess that’s another wish.

Rape, Pregnancy, and Non Sequitors

*WARNING: You’ll likely be ticked off by the end of reading this by something I’ve said. If you are deeply wedded to life-begins-at-conception beliefs, you really won’t like this. So, if you don’t like having your beliefs and the ways you’ve always read your Bible challenged, then you should probably stop reading now. And if you are going to be annoyed because they are not a bunch of links to allow you to verify what I’m saying, then you might want to stop reading now also. I figure it’s late, I’m tired, and you are fully capable of Googling all this if you doubt its veracity. I don’t mean to sound mean or hostile, I just want you to be prepared. Smile.*

Rep. Todd Akin, who is running for a Senate seat in Minnesota Missouri and sits on the House Science committee, went on record last week saying that in cases of “legitimate rape” the female body has ways of shutting down to prevent pregnancy – ergo there’s no need for a rape or incest exemption from more restrictive abortion laws. While the Republican Party is fighting like hell to get Akin to drop out of his Senate race and is distancing the party from Akin faster than Usain Bolt from his competition on the track, the reality is that Akin’s ideas are not that different than the Republican Party platform. Congressman Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney’s vice presidential pick, co-sponsored a bill with Todd Akin that would drastically redefine rape to be limited only to “forcible rape.” Moreover, the Republican Party platform will announce abortion policy that would make abortion much more difficult to access while NOT exempting rape and incest.

My outrage over this has been building since Akin’s comments went viral over the weekend, but what provoked me to write this post was Mike Huckabee’s, former candidate for president, response to Akin. He has claimed that since there are people who’ve done great things that were the product of a rape, there shouldn’t be a rape/incest exemption because we don’t know what “God” might do with that life to redeem the horrible circumstances under which they were created. Sigh. I’ve got 4 issues with this that I’ll run down right quick. These four issues are in addition to the idiocy and ignorance that led to Akin’s comment in the first place. Basically, I find these comments to be about as ludicrous as the DirecTV commercials but not nearly as comical.

Issue 1: I take issue with the ideology that every conception is a blessing because God is present at every conception. Okay, I know I just lost about half of you. Hear me out, please. In the Bible, it is written that when 2 or 3 are gathered together in my Name [God’s], there am I [God] in the midst. Well, I simply do not believe that rape –any kind of rape, stranger, date, forcible, deception, manipulation, incest, incapable of consenting – sets up the conditions that meet the criteria for God’s abiding presence. Just saying. Therefore, every conception isn’t necessarily a blessing. Besides, blessings don’t just exist inherently. To name an experience, event, circumstance, or situation is a blessing or not is to engage in constructive meaning-making of that experience, event, circumstance, or situation. Basically, what may be a blessing in my eyes, may not be a blessing in yours and I can’t push my interpretation on to you.

Issue 2: I take issue with the ideology that says that the ends justify the means. To make it sound religious, I’ll use a phrase I grew up hearing: “God writes straight with crooked lines.” Now, I just lost about a quarter of the rest of you still reading this. If you’ll bear with me, I think you’ll see what I’m saying. I do believe that good can come out of evil, however, that is not a justification for abetting the evil. You do not use what *might* happen that could be positive as justification for continuing to victimize the woman who’s been raped. She did not consent to the sexual act, she therefore did not consent to the pregnancy, and therefore she should not be forced to consent to give birth. Period.

Issue 3: Now for the other half of what’s wrong with this idea that if you abort the fetus that is the result of rape, you might be depriving the world of its next great thinker, scientist, freedom fighter, etc. I have three words for you: Get. Over. Yourself. Let me expound. As much as I have grown to love the movie, I blame “It’s a Wonderful Life” for this narcissistic belief that the world would be irreparably damaged if you (or anybody else) weren’t born. One thing I do know is that God will find someone else to fulfill your role in His divine plan (if there is such a thing – personally I just think that the grand plan is to get us to treat each other with justice and equity and we experience things that we can choose to allow us to push toward greater equity and justice or push us away from it). Besides, in the movie “The Butterfly Effect,” it’s eliminating someone from Ashton Kutcher’s character’s life that finally sets everything right.

Issue 4: I take issue with this ideology that a woman shouldn’t have the right to choose what happens with her own body and more so that she should not elevate her needs over that of the fetus inside her. In the words of moral development theorist Carol Gilligan, higher levels of moral development centered around an ethic of care, involve women seeing themselves as morally equivalent to others instead of continually sacrificing themselves for others when doing so results in self-harm. What I see in the Republican Party’s anti-choice platform (because let’s be real, they’re not pro-life), is a denial of women’s moral equivalency. And that is just oppressive.

P.S. – I know I’m missing a #higheredWed post, but that will have to come tomorrow. I’m still trying to get the hang of keeping to my writing schedule while I’m doing my archival research. :/

My Last Word on Chic-fil-A Belongs to Wayne

Yes, this will be my last, well really it’s my first and only blog post about Chic-fil-A. These aren’t even my words; however, this author, Wayne Self, says this SO beautifully that I can just step inside his personal pronouns and hear myself. So, I’m copying his post below in its entirety unedited. It’s the smartest thing I’ve read yet about the situation and I hope you’ll take the time to fully read and completely consider Wayne’s words.

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Here’s the link to the original page, in case you want to go there directly: http://www.owldolatrous.com/?p=288

The Chick Fellatio: stuck in the craw

This post is all I have to say about the Chick-Fil-A controversy. It sums up various posts on the issue and various points made by my friends and I. From now own, rather than spend time debating this issue person by person, I’m going to point people here.

My hope here is to find common ground with those who have disagreed with me on the issue, and maybe to persuade. It’s not to ridicule or to best.

So, in the interest of common ground, let’s start here:  I acknowledge the absurdity of all this debate.

It’s definitely strange to have days-long Facebook debates flare up everywhere over a chicken sandwich. The anger, sarcasm, and hurt feelings on display seem strange or even laughable because most people have seen Chick-Fil-A as just a restaurant with a funny ad campaign. I’ll get into some of the whys and wherefores of that later. But, for now, let’s just say that, yes. It can seem ridiculous to get all worked up over fast-food chicken.

Let’s also agree that this isn’t about curtailing anyone’s rights under First Amendment. The Constitution is a legal document. This is not a legal argument. No one is arguing that Chik-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy should be put in prison, or silenced, or censored by the government. This has nothing to do with government censorship or government abridgment of Freedom of Speech. So don’t worry: the ability of this millionaire to legally spend his millions as he sees fit is not in jeopardy. You need not defend it.

Now, let’s get to the nitty-gritty of things. Please read carefully. These things have been said before, but not by me, and not all in one place. Please read with an open mind. If you can’t read with an open mind, please leave, take a minute, come back, and try again. If you can’t do that, then please don’t bother. Please read all of the words here, rather than just reading half of the argument and assuming you know what I’m saying. Read these words as they are written. Again, if you don’t want to read my words, then don’t continue.

So here goes:

1. This isn’t simply about marriage. Shocker, right? It’s extremely frustrating that same-sex marriage is the great continental divide. People are judged according to how they stand on this issue, as if no other issue matters. Did you know that a person can be for same-sex marriage and still be homophobic? Did you know that a person can be against same-sex marriage and be gay? We all get categorized very quickly based on the marriage issue and maybe that’s not fair. But here’s what you should know:

– In 29 states in America today, my partner of 18 years, Cody, or I could be fired for being gay. Period. No questions asked. One of those states is Louisiana, our home state. We live in self-imposed exile from beloved homeland, family, and friends, in part, because of this legal restriction on our ability to live our lives together.

– In 75 countries in the world, being gay is illegal. In many, the penalty is life in prison. These are countries we can’t openly visit. In 9 countries, being gay is punishable by death. In many others, violence against gays is tacitly accepted by the authorities. These are countries where we would be killed. Killed.

– Two organizations that work very hard to maintain this status quo and roll back any protections that we may have are the Family Research Council and the Marriage & Family Foundation. For example, the Family Research council leadership has officially stated that same-gender-loving behavior should be criminalized in this country. They draw their pay, in part, from the donations of companies like Chick-Fil-A. Both groups have also done “missionary” work abroad that served to strengthen and promote criminalization of same-sex relations.

– Chick-Fil-A has given roughly $5M to these organizations to support their work.

– Chick-Fil-A’s money comes from the profits they make when you purchase their products.

2. This isn’t about mutual tolerance because there’s nothing mutual about it. If we agree to disagree on this issue, you walk away a full member of this society and I don’t. There is no “live and let live” on this issue because Dan Cathy is spending millions to very specifically NOT let me live. I’m not trying to do that to him.

Asking for “mutual tolerance” on this like running up to a bully beating a kid to death on the playground and scolding them both for not getting along. I’m not trying to dissolve Mr. Cathy’s marriage or make his sex illegal. I’m not trying to make him a second-class citizen, or get him killed. He’s doing that to me, folks; I’m just fighting back.

All your life, you’re told to stand up to bullies, but when WE do it, we’re told WE are the ones being intolerant? Well, okay. Yes. I refuse to tolerate getting my ass kicked. “Guilty as charged.”

But what are you guilty of? When you see a bully beating up a smaller kid and you don’t take a side, then you ARE taking a side. You’re siding with the bully. And when you cheer him on, you’re revealing something about your own character that really is a shame.

3. This isn’t about Jesus. I have a lot of Christian friends. Most of them are of the liberal variety, it’s true, but even this concept seems lost on some of you. Most of them are pro-LGBT rights. Pro-gay and Pro-Christ are NOT mutually exclusive. They never have been, in the history of Christianity, though it’s been difficult at times. It’s not impossible to be both.

If someone is telling you it is, then maybe you should wonder why they’d do that. I see divorced Christians, remarried Christians, drug addict Christians. I see people with WWJD bracelets bumping and grinding on TV and raking in millions to do it. I see greedy, rapacious, vengeful people who are Christians. And these people are accepted in the Church, and the Church does very little to combat them. Sometimes it seems like being gay is the ONLY thing certain modern Christian movements won’t allow. Why’s that, I wonder?

Jesus had almost nothing to say about sexual behavior of any kind. He was too busy teaching more important things. Empathy is at the heart of his teachings. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Remember that? It’s in red. So let’s examine that:

4. If things were reversed, I’d stand up for you.

Please think about this: How would you feel if KFC came out tomorrow and said they were spending money against equality for Asian Americans, or African Americans, or religious people? Really. Think about it. What would you do? How would you feel? How would you feel if, after their announcement, there was a big increase in KFC sales and I was all over Facebook supporting KFC. Please stop reading right now and imagine this. I’m serious.

You can stop now because it’s ludicrous. It would never happen.

Oh, I don’t mean the part about KFC being against some group. That COULD happen. I mean the part about me supporting them. Let me tell you something, and you can damn well believe it: I’d sign on for the boycott IMMEDIATELY.

Why? Well, because I believe in equality for all people, that’s why. But also, personally, from the bottom of my heart: because you are my friend, and I don’t willingly support people who harm you for just being you. How could I? How could I, really? But, more importantly for our purposes, how could you?

Seriously, how could you? What has Chick-Fil-A ever done for you? Sold you some fatty chicken at a ridiculous mark-up? Made you chuckle at semi-literate cartoon cows? You mean more to me than KFC possibly could. If I, in turn, don’t mean more to you than a chicken sandwich from Chik-Fil-A–if my life, my quality of life, and my dignity are such afterthoughts to you that you’d not only refuse the boycott, but go out of your way to support someone who was hurting me? if I let this stand, if I don’t stand up to the bullies and if I let my friends egg the bullies on, what does that make me?

Well, it makes me a Chikin.

Yeah, so suddenly it is cause for anger, ridiculous or not.

But I’m not going to stop being Facebook friends with anyone over this issue.

Instead, I will remain. And, when you see my face with my partner’s in my profile, maybe you will examine not simply what your opinions are about gay people, or gay marriage, or the first amendment, even; maybe you’ll  examine not merely your opinions but your values. What is friendship to you? What is loyalty? How important are human life and dignity to you? Are they more important than fitting in with your social group? Are they more important than loyalty to a corporate brand, or a political party, or some misguided church teaching?

That’s why we’re so angry. This is personal for us. There are times in your life when you have the opportunity to stand up for your friends. When you let that opportunity pass, your friends notice. It doesn’t mean we can’t be friends, but it diminishes you, and it diminishes the friendship. That’s how it is, no matter what the issue or what the venue.

So stand up. Stand up for us. Do the right thing. You don’t have to agree with us on everything, but repudiate Chick-Fil-A. Unlike them on Facebook. Withdraw your support for them. Join us in the boycott. If you can’t do that, then please ask yourself whether I’m your friend. In fact, ask yourself whether anyone is.

This is all I have to say. If you’d like to debate the issue further, I’ll do it, but I’m not going to go around and around on the same points. If you’re just going to repeat yourself, save us both some time. If you haven’t taken the time to actually read this carefully and actually consider carefully what I’ve said, then I see no reason to waste further words.

The ball is in your court. Again, I urge you to do the right thing.

– Wayne Self
Twitter: @owldolatrous
Facebook: facebook.com/owldolatrous

Wayne Self is a playwright and composer whose current project is a musical tribute to the 32 LGBT and allied victims of the 1973 arson fire at the Upstairs Lounge in New Orleans, LA. Considered by many to be the largest hate crime against LGBT people in U.S. history, the fire is sometimes seen as a lesson in the perils of silence. ”Upstairs” will give voice to the victims of the fire–many of whom self-identified as Christian–and is scheduled to premier next year, in time for the 40th anniversary of the tragedy. For more information about the Upstairs fire, please visit http://www.bilerico.com/2012/02/new_orleans_inferno_the_upstairs_lounge_fire.phpFor booking or production information, contact ewayneself@owldolatrous.com.

Don’t Forget Me

Sorry for the late post; Sunday and Monday really got away from me. However, it’s important to me to be consistent and reliable with my blog posts, so I figured it would be better to get this one in tonight, than to wait to post it tomorrow.

Anyway, before I left on vacation last week, I read my issue of Equality magazine, published by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). I’m a member and monthly partner of HRC so I make sure I take the time to read each quarter’s publication. This Spring’s issue included an interview with Elizabeth Warren who is running for a U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts. I have been interested in her campaign for several reasons but mostly because my fiancé lives in Massachusetts and because of the questions and challenges about her claim to Native American ancestry by her Republican opponent Scott Brown.

Warren has been a long-time proponent of equal rights for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community (one of the many reasons I like her and hope she wins the Senate seat in MA). Equality asked Warren to speak about what marriage equality in Massachusetts means to her and what its impact is. This was Warren’s response:

“It means we have some great families on our block. … It means that it’s both the profound statement and the simple statement. I love our block, and that’s how it should be. That’s what true marriage equality is about. I forget that some of the families in our neighborhood have two mommies and some have two daddies. And some have a mommy and a daddy and some have only one. … [emphasis added].” (p. 23)

Now, this is a great statement in many ways. Like I said earlier, I like Elizabeth Warren. I think her stances on consumer rights, LGBT equality, and many other issues are pretty much right in line with my own thinking. She’s someone I want to have in elected office in this country. I have faith in what she brings to the table; I think we need her voice. However, when I read this, I was immediately struck by the sentence that begins with the phrase “I forget.” She forgets that some of the families in her neighborhood are headed by same-gender couples? She forgets that some of them are gay fathers co-parenting and some are lesbian mother co-parents? She forgets this. Perhaps she means that it’s become so “normal,” such a part of her everyday life that she no longer notices it as odd or different or aberrant or even special. And that’s great if it’s true and I hope that one day, it’s such a part of everyday life, that LGBT people are so visible and so socially integrated, that it no longer resonates as special. Perhaps that’s what she was trying to say.

“I forget…” – that phrase is still problematic for me though. It reminds me of the many times that I have had White people tell me that they “forget” that I’m Black, that they no longer take notice of my racial identity, because I’m really just a person, a human being, just like them, so they can put my race aside and focus on what really matters – my humanity, the thing that makes us more alike than we are different. Often this forgetting is equated with fulfilling Martin Luther King’s dream that his four children would be judged by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin. We might put this saying in the context of LGBT people by saying that we should judge people by the content of their character, not the nature of their sexual attractions and desires.

I’m all for not using race, sexuality, gender, faith, disability, or any other social identity as a means to judge someone’s worth, ability, value, or character. I am also in full support of the need to get know people as people by their character and integrity, beliefs, habits, dreams, goals, and potential. However, I refuse to believe that doing so means forgetting what may be defining aspects of someone’s identity as a member of a certain social group.

I don’t want my race to be forgotten and I don’t want my sexuality forgotten either. Who I am is tied in important ways to my social identities as African American and lesbian. As a Black lesbian, my experiences and beliefs and the way I move in the world, how the world perceives me, are very much about those social identities and several others. So you don’t do me any favors by forgetting that I am Black or by forgetting that I am a lesbian. You don’t fulfill King’s dream of judging me by the content of my character by forgetting that my character has been shaped by my experiences as a person with a race, gender, and sexuality that are marginalized in this society. Love doesn’t forget something that is so core to my existence in this world.

I don’t want Elizabeth Warren to forget that there are families on her block headed by same-gender couples. I want her to remember that and to remember what that means for how those families have to operate in their daily lives in ways that the heterosexual couples on her families don’t have to think about. The minute that Warren or anybody else forgets about other people’s sexuality or their race (or any other marginalized identity), their ability to effectively challenge heterosexual or racial privilege is compromised. Especially as a representative of the people in the U.S. Senate, I don’t just want Warren to remember those gay and lesbian couples and their families on her block and throughout the great commonwealth of Massachusetts; I need her to remember them. I need her to remember that the legislation she votes on will affect real people, people she knows and sees every day at the grocery store, as she walks her dogs, and on her way to the mailbox. I believe Warren is that kind of person, but saying that she forgets the sexuality of the people heading households on her block doesn’t inspire confidence in me.

Warren says toward the end of her interview with Equality magazine that the main lesson she learned growing up was “That we all had value and that when we recognize the humanity in others, we give voice to the humanity in ourselves” (p. 23). Agreed. Part of recognizing my humanity is remembering my sexuality and any other identity that shapes my experiences in this world. Re-membering, in the Hebrew sense of the word that one puts something back together again, doesn’t just recognize my whole humanity, it also allows those with privilege to re-member – to put back together again – how they have come to be who they are and how their social identities have shaped their experiences in the world. Whiteness and heterosexuality (and other privileged social identities) have gone unmarked in our society, allowing them to exist as the default option, as the norm, making it nearly impossible for people who carry those privileged identities to see the ways that their privilege has shaped their experiences. If you remember how that has happened for me on the wrong side of privilege, perhaps it will help you remember how that may have also happened for you as a beneficiary of privilege.

Maybe you think it shouldn’t be like that. Maybe you think we’d all be better off if we stopped noticing race, sexuality, gender, religion, or any other marker of difference. I would argue that it’s not the noticing that gives us grief, it’s the forgetting. Forgetting what has been put in the center, normalized, optimized, and privileged; forgetting what has been put on the margins, condemned, made aberrant, and undermined; forgetting, not noticing, has made diversity an ugly word instead of the beautiful gift that it is. So, do me a favor: When you see me, really see me, and remember all of what makes me who I am.