We Need to Talk About Whiteness

Lots of white people want that identity to be boring, lifeless, and almost hidden. Lots of white people want to not talk about whiteness because they think that white privilege isn’t worth talking about. They think that focusing on other races – the ones suffering from this privilege – are the real place to effect change.

We can’t make a change unless we change whiteness too. Whiteness may be the privileged position, but that means it has more history, more substance than we’re talking about.

Race means a whole hell of a lot in America. We might not want it to mean so much, but it does.

Whiteness isn’t nothing. Whiteness dominates our societal “norms” and our visions of America. For too long, being white has been the default. We need to challenge this. We need to challenge the language of whiteness. We need to use “white” as a real, meaningful term instead of a default.

What does it mean?

Too many white people think they can describe someone without race when they’re white, but fail to do the same for Black, Asian, Hispanic, or any perceived “other.” Too many times, I’ve heard a story where the person’s appearance includes a whispered, “Black” or a strangely, almost mimed “Asian.” I’ve never heard someone whisper that so-and-so was … white. But a lot of so-and-sos are white.

What does it mean? Why are white people scared of saying that someone was black, and unaware of marking whiteness?

Racial-profiling is real. It is pervasive. It is often subconscious. It is ruining and ending lives.

I am white. I am a woman. I am short and rarely, if ever, a perceived threat.

If I lock myself out of my car, strangers will assist me, police will believe me – no one will accuse me of anything.

If a member of my neighborhood watch saw me walking alone at night, hoodie or no hoodie, heavy bags or empty arms, smile or menacing glare, that person would likely ask if I needed anything. They wouldn’t ask me what in the hell I was doing there?

If I walked up to a stranger’s home and knocked on the door, they would not fear me. They might offer me a phone, assistance with a flat tire, or even give me directions. At worst, they would think I might want to sell them something or talk about Jesus. They would not shoot me.

I am the perceived victim of all altercations. I’ve been in bar fights and street scuffles. I have always, always been the person others offer to help. The men involved has always been assumed guilty. (In these situations, I perceive the men I fought or argued with to be at fault too, but the strangers around us never questioned me.) When I have felt threatened in public and private, all outsiders involved have sided with me and offered me help.

I am not Trayvon Martin. I will never be murdered for looking suspicious.

What does it mean, I ask? What can we learn?

What can we CHANGE?

No one is surprised when I speak with eloquence. No one is surprised by my successes.

If you are white and reading this, I challenge you. I challenge you to not see this as something from which you are free. You are part of this. Even if you have never said, “Wow. You speak so well.” Even if you think you would never profile someone, assume someone’s intent, or suspect someone based on their race. I challenge you to examine your privilege. You are privileged. You cannot deny that. I challenge you to watch yourself. I challenge you to watch others. I challenge you to challenge racism – even when it’s subtle, unclear, or seemingly “harmless.” I challenge you to challenge your friends – of all colors. I challenge you to challenge your parents and elders when they use language, terms, or stereotypes. Yes, it’s nice to think that they just inherited language or don’t know that certain things are problematic. But, it’s not okay. Challenge them. Challenge them and educate them. I challenge you to make a real change in this society. I challenge you to expect more.

We all – all people – need to do better. We need to challenge every slur, every little joke, every tiny detail of our understandings of race. Racism is real. Racism is killing – literally killing – our children.

Being white isn’t meaningless. That privilege is so much more than history. That privilege walks with me into job interviews, down streets at night, in the aisle of every supermarket, convenience store, and department store. That privilege drives with me, walks with me, talks with me.

We have to change something.

What does it mean? How do we change it?

Let’s start with words.

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More to consider:

I feel like we need to start thinking about race across a spectrum. The black/white divide we always get totally obscures other people and groups (Latino/as, Asians, Native Americans and other indigenous folks, etc.). It is truly problematic to me that white is the default for so many; we should also investigate how deeply that runs.

Also, asking people to think about whiteness as a category of privilege and taxonomy seems only part of the issue. I feel like we hear a lot about white privilege. We know we have it, but what do we do about it? This is what has always stumped me. How do you actively acknowledge your privilege and, at the same time, avoid being complacent without socially or economically shooting yourself in the foot (which seems to help no one)?

Furthermore, what does it mean to further taxonomize oneself (‘I’m Polish,’ for example) when you’re already white?

Wasted: Government Conferences with Big, Huge, Scary Bills

A few months back, the nation was outraged to hear about the money spent on a conference for the GSA (the Federal General Services Administration).  They put on a conference that managed to spend almost a million dollars – on party favors, trinkets, psychics, and other such baloney.  Somehow, through all the bureaucracy required in this government agency, a whole heck of a lot of unnecessary, insultingly wasteful activities and things were authorized and enjoyed.  It’s really quite shameful.

For more information on the absurdity of the GSA Conference Scandal, visit the Huffington Post.

Because this was such a massive scandal and because it was grotesquely wasteful, I hoped it was an isolated incident.  It was not.  Not even close.

I was sad to hear that the VA is now under investigation for a similar scandal, though this seems even worse.  The alleged number I keep hearing is … $5 Million Dollars.  As in, $1,000,000 times FIVE.  As in, $5,000,000.00.

Not only is this number shocking, the fact that it was approved in such a bureaucratically controlled system is also shocking.  Think about all the different people who had to authorize that.  Think of all the different people who emailed each other about.  In my experience, bureaucracy, through its inefficient back-and-forth, prevents a lot of big waste.  Sure, it wastes a lot of time because people are going back and forth, and it can be incredibly frustrating.  Yet, it does somehow manage to keep wasteful spending away a good amount of the time.  I mean, the last time I had to buy bubbles for work, I had to prove in three different ways that it had a business purpose.  How does this happen?  How could enough people have thought this was okay?  How could anyone spend $5,000,000 on two conferences?

Ahh!  Shouldn’t this be stealing?  Am I just crotchety?

They somehow spent $5 million on two conferences.  This is so much money.  This is money that could have created jobs, facilities for patients, or supplies for staff members.  These could have been research dollars.  That money could have funded so many good things that would have impacted VA patients, staff, and students.  Instead, that money went towards two internal conferences.

These weren’t even national conferences where information, best practices, and cutting-edge research could be shared. These were internal staff conferences about procedures, policies, and other easily emailed stuff.  Team building should not cost millions of dollars.  You can build a team with talking.  You can build a team by going hiking.  You should never waste that much money just to have a giant meeting.  It is absurdly irresponsible.  It is disrespectful.  It is shocking.  It is sad.

Maybe you are asking yourself, “How much does a normal conference cost?”  As someone who has planned both state and national conferences, I can confidently say, “A hell of a lot less than $2,500,000.”  To get specific, I believe a national conference with 500 attendees can easily be planned for under $100,000 a day – that would cover food, facilities, materials, even some “splash” items, honorariums (payment to speakers), and lodging for some of the guests.  That’s $200 per person.  That’s reasonable.  That’s possible.

I strongly believe that frugality is next to cleanliness (I won’t get into godliness). I also strongly believe that government agencies should be frugal, very frugal.  Now, government employees should be paid fairly, should receive benefits, and should be happy and comfortable; I do not believe we should expect people to sacrifice their paychecks to work for the government.  That said, I don’t think the government should approve stupid conferences that cost so much they will eventually cost someone their salary.  The money wasted on frivolous things at a conference is money that will never go to an employee.  In a time of major lay-offs, controversy over programs that help people, and massive deficits, I expect government agencies to spend smartly.

I would rather see money go towards any number of social programs that benefit people’s lives.  I highly doubt that those employees’ lives were deeply affected by these conferences.  I would wager that the employees could have learned all the same information for a lot less money.

Money should be going to schools, medicine, research, food, welfare, police, teachers, benefits, and many, many other programs – not conferences.

More on Mr. Akin’s Bullshit (“Legitimate Rape,” etc.)

First, he begs for Forgiveness….

It makes me so mad that he is saying that his issue is “the words” but not his “heart.”  Yes, the issue is about words.  When politicians, when men use words like this to discuss rape, they put it on women.  In our culture we tell women to not get raped, instead of telling men not to rape.

When women are forced to jump through hoops and relive their traumas to prove they were raped, they are being forced and traumatized again.  Abortion is legal and it’s staying that way.  Maybe we should focus on educating men that sexuality is about choice, agency, and mutual desire.  Men should be taught respect and self-control.  Women should be allowed to be sexual and men should be better than raping.  Let’s expect more of the men in our culture.

Let’s stigmatize raping, not being raped.  Victims are victims and they should not be ashamed.  Rapers are evil and they should never be excused.  All rapes are real and legitimate.

For Todd Akin to use these words makes me so angry.  For him to go on and “explain” that women who are raped cannot get pregnant… What the hell?  Who is this guy?  How can someone be that stupid?  Sorry, but pretty much anytime sperm goes into a lady’s vaginal crevasses she has a chance of getting pregnant.  That’s kind of how it works. Ugh.

Todd Akin is one of many politicians making shit up about women’s rights and bodies.  I’m sick and tired of men pretending like they understand rape and abortion.  Actually, a whole heck of a lot of men understand a lot about women – some even understand that there are things they can’t understand.  Many Republican politicians seem to be confused about vaginas, babies, rape, abortion, pregnancy, periods, and other such issues.  I would love to throw some tampons (new, don’t worry) at all the Republican senators… That would be amazing.

Leave our vaginas alone.  Unless you are invited, stay away.  Stay away.

Then, some really amazing grannies take him down.  I love when old ladies swear…

 

This girl also wrote an amazing song about it…

A Happy Thought for Sunday

After hearing that Chad Johnson head-butted his wife the other day, this makes me feel a little bit better.

A slippery slope, and by that I mean a mountain covered in chicken grease

Not that anyone is (or should be) all that surprised, but evangelical Chick-Fil-A hates the gays. Okay, maybe that’s a bit strong–they hate the gays getting married. But, you know. Close enough.

In an article by the L.A. Times, Chick-Fil-A says it is “guilty as charged” and supports “the biblical definition of the family unit.”

Corporations need to stick to what they do best: making money and exploiting menial, part-time labor. Can all of them please get off the social issues bandwagon? Quite frankly, I don’t want to have to think about politics every time I bite into a burger or pop a french fry in my mouth. But you guys are making it goddamn impossible for me to enjoy something as pure and simple as a chickenFUCKINGsandwich.

Two years ago, you had Target and Best Buy giving money to candidates who adamantly opposed gay rights. In the wake of a public backlash, Target has done some pretty cool, pro-gay stuff, like carry greeting cards for same-sex couples. (YAY!)

I guess what I’m trying to say is that everybody, especially fast food joints, need to STFU and just let people be. I really don’t need a heaping serving of self-righteous bigotry with my chicken sandwich.

At the same time, I tend to disagree with Boston’s mayor, who, also according the the L.A. Times, plans to make it extremely difficult for Chick-Fil-A to set up shop there. Now, I’m all about individuals refusing to eat there for political reasons, but I think when you target specific companies for their political leanings (not that I think they should have any in the first place, but let’s take this for a given in today’s reality) and essentially ban them from your city, you’re on a slippery–greasy, if you will–slope. Dissenting opinions are part of democracy. There are going to be opinions out there that you don’t like, that are bigoted and insensitive, and that are just plain stupid. But that’s a risk you run when you enjoy a little right called freedom of speech. Don’t like Chick-Fil-A’s anti-gay agenda? Good, don’t buy their (in my opinion not all that fantastically tasty anyway) chicken. Run them out of town due to a lack of patrons. Don’t stretch existing laws because you disagree with their politics. That makes for a dangerous environment for anyone with a dissenting opinion, even leftist ones. I would much rather see a Chick-Fil-A open its doors in Boston and stand utterly empty. That would be a far more powerful message, coming directly from citizens, that we don’t like their homophobic bullshit. Actions by the city government could easily be dismissed as playing politics, etc. etc., but actions by the people themselves? That might just be something.

Hoodies don’t kill people. People kill people.

This morning I caught wind of comments Geraldo Rivera made on the recent shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Florida. For those who aren’t familiar, the teen was walking in a Florida neighborhood toward his step-mother’s home with a box of candy in his hand when a neighborhood watch member called 911 to report a “suspicious” person in the neighborhood and proceded to follow Martin. He shot the teen (the 911 tapes present a case that appears as if he held Martin screaming for his life at gunpoint before shooting him) in the chest and claimed “self-defense.” Because of the gun laws currently in place in Florida, the shooter has not been charged or arrested for murdering this young man.

This has spurred some discussion nationally about gun laws, vigilantism, and race/racial relations (Martin was black. The shooter was, I believe, white or Latino). Geraldo Rivera weighed in on this event on Fox and Friends recently:

“I am urging the parents of black and Latino youngsters particularly not to let their children go out wearing hoodies. I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin‘s death as much as George Zimmerman was […] Trayvon Martin, God bless him, an innocent kid, a wonderful kid, a box of Skittles in his hands. He didn’t deserve to die. But I bet you money, if he didn’t have that hoodie on, that nutty neighborhood watch guy wouldn’t have responded in that violent and aggressive way.”

In other words, in Rivera’s opinion, hoodies kill people. Yes, because some guy apparently decided to make the connection between an item of clothing that the majority of people across the nation have worn at some point–the hooded sweatshirt–and  crime, black and Latino kids shouldn’t wear them. What??!

Rivera’s logic is akin to saying women shouldn’t wear short skirts because they’re “asking” to be raped. Clothes don’t cause crimes. They don’t. People commit crimes. People act in violent ways. People make the decision to kill, to rape. Not clothing. Blaming the victim gets us nowhere when the conversation should be focused on whether or not Florida’s laws protect its citizens from harm, or whether the way the laws are written prevent guilty parties from being held responsible for their actions. In this case, they seem to be preventing a man who stalked an innocent young man down a public street because he felt that the young man looked “suspicious” fro being held responsible for what he has done. Suspicion should not warrant cause to shoot and kill someone–ESPECIALLY a child–in cold blood.

Furthermore, why just “black and Latino youngsters”? If Rivera hasn’t cued us all in that race played a huge role in the relative “suspicion” of Trayvon Martin walking around a relatively upscale Florida neighborhood, then I don’t know what will. But why is he blaming minority youth for a problem that obviously lies in the perception of black and Latino youth by white America? It’s NOT okay for people to jump to conclusions based on race! Haven’t we had this conversation over and over? Do we really need to have it again because Rivera is giving racism a free pass by blaming hoodie-wearing black kids for being shot in broad daylight carrying candy and nothing else? Why are we blaming Trayvon Martin for his clothes when we should be charging a racist murderer for a heinous, disgusting, and deplorable crime?

Lessons in Being Illogical, or How to Make a Worthless and Stupid Argument

Although I now live about 500 miles from my hometown, I try to keep up on somewhat-local news there. I follow the local paper on Twitter as part of this effort. On my bus ride today, I ran across a tweet of a letter to the editor, and it read as follows:

If gas prices keep going up the way they are, and are supposed to hit a projected $5 by summer, how are people going to afford to even leave their house?

I have a cabin on Secord Lake, by Gladwin, and my parents are already talking about selling their boat. Hauling the boat back and forth from our house to the cabin will be way too costly, and leaving it at the cabin and paying for the gas on the water will be insane.

I don’t think the government realizes how much gas prices affect the middle and lower class people of this country. Something needs to be done about it very soon.

In the past two years at Secord Lake, the houses/cabins for sale have been rising drastically. It is very sad to go up there and see all these places for sale when in reality it is mostly due to the high gas prices and people not being able to afford it.

Doesn’t the government want us to spend money and get the economy going again? Well, lower the gas prices and let us live a little.

I will try to avoid the politics of this by focusing on the stupidity of this argument. Essentially, this dude is saying that the government should lower gas prices so he can take his parents’ boat up to his cabin on a lake in the middle of Michigan. Pursuing a career in academia makes me a hawk for poorly presented arguments (I deal with crappy arguments in student papers and try to get them to think in more sophisticated ways than you see presented above. Sadly, no one did this for our friend up there.), and thus, I give you flaws on two levels: logic and audience.

First, logic. Since when does the government magically control gas prices? This letter makes it appear as if some entity called the U.S. Government can wave a wand and lower gas prices, rather than taking into account the complicated environmental and geopolitical factors that affect the price of gas (e.g. threats to the Suez Canal, dealing with Iran, general fear about unrest in the middle east that drives oil speculation through the roof, etc. etc.). I was talking with my boyfriend about this, and I think he put it most eloquently: “The U.S. Government doesn’t control the world.” Furthermore, because I assume this is the kind of guy who whines about how the Democrats have ballooned the government in the past four years (I will save my disagreement for another time), this assumes that the government is so big, so powerful, that it can (and should!) control other countries’ behavior(s) and control the economy on this particular issue. Just not your behavior or economic issues you decide are not regulable.

My second gripe here is audience. This guy obviously self-identifies as “middle class” and lumps himself in with “lower class” folks within the bounds of his argument. I hate to point this out, but this guy has two homes. He has a regular house and a cabin that is obviously some distance away, since the crux of his gripe is that he has to pay too much for gas to get there. Additionally, he has a boat. Or at least his parents do. Really? If you’re going to make an argument about the dire situation of gas prices, I really don’t think it serves you well to base your complaint on the fact that you may need (want?) to sell your boat because it’s too expensive to use it and you can’t go to your second home as often as you’d ideally like. If he had, perhaps, expressed concern about people being able to afford gasoline for their cars to just get to work, then I think we’d be maybe on to something–except for the fact that gas prices were this high at the end of George Bush’s term in office, as well, and really has little to do with drilling, as we’ve increased domestic oil production in the last four years so much so that we export more gas than we import.

I suppose asking people to be logical when considering political issues could be too much, but considering the audience you’re playing to should be a pretty basic step in political discussions. This is why Mitt Romney sounds, as Rachel Maddow has put it, a bit like Thurston Howell when he forgets he’s talking to people who don’t make ass loads of money every year and don’t, for example, own NASCAR teams. Even Gingrich and Santorum are better at considering audience than Mitt.

I guess I’m just saying try not to sound like Thurston Howell III when you’re trying to complain about the price of gas, ’cause it makes you sound like a douchebag.

Never fear, Lovey, we'll not sell our boat!

SOPA / PIPA

As if you haven’t heard about this (but in case you didn’t)–go and sign the Google petition to stop SOPA / PIPA, the bills that are about to go to a vote in Congress that will enable the federal government to censor the internet.

Sign Google’s Petition Against SOPA / PIPA

And while you’re at it, visit Wikipedia’s blackout page to get easy access to your representatives’ contact information. Send them a quick email or a tweet!

Contact Your Representatives

Today’s rant: trying to censor the internet is stupid. And it makes us mad. We’re willing to bet it makes you mad, too.

But at least there’s something we can do about it!

“Ethnic”

I got an email from a clothing company in my inbox the other day, and upon my perusal of said email, saw the following:

What the hell does “ethnic-embroidered” mean, and why is it a compound word? Why is the term “ethnic,” which is vague and non-specific (but is basically code for any “non-Western” aesthetic), applied to clothes, art, etc.? Especially when that clothing and/or art is mass-manufactured and is anything but “ethnic,” as in being a product of a specific community of people that share ancestry, culture, language, etc.? Why is it okay to use it as a blanket term for brightly colored, zig-zag looking elements? There are plenty of terms to describe a bag like the one above. Zig-zag bag. Geometric bag. Red and black bag. What about just “embroidered handbag”? I just don’t understand the loose use of ethnic to describe something that has an aesthetic that is not at once apparently Western or modern. By calling it ethnic, it seems to mark it as othered, abnormal, and as such, sets up a hierarchy that places more value on a western, modern aesthetic. Yeah?