Summer Slow Down

I have plans to run a half marathon in September. I had an elaborate 12-week training plan set up, because I don’t have a history of adding mileage slowly or safely and that’s how you knock yourself out with unnecessary injuries.

The training plan is in the can and I’m down with an unnecessary injury. I broke my toe. It wasn’t a running injury; I caught it on an old cedar chest and felt the bone crumple. I had no idea such a little bone could hurt so much.

There’s not much to do for a broken toe other than to RICE it– rest, ice, compression, elevation. I’ve been propping my foot up under my desk, with an ice pack balanced on my foot. But walking hurts. I have to go slow and hobble around like a brand new duckling.

Slowing down, especially against my will, has made me reflect on the great privilege and gift of my ability. I’m so lucky to have a body that lets me run, to live without chronic pain, illness, or disease. I am able-bodied and I don’t spend enough time thinking about how much that informs my life experiences.

I’m thinking about it now, and about the ways my prescribed and adopted identities align me with a population I’ve resisted. The county I live in was recently named the least diverse in my state. As I watch housing prices soar, see interesting construction and business changes, and observe various political shifts, it’s clear that my city caters toward wealthy white liberals.

And increasingly, I’m realizing that I’m one of them. There’s nothing wrong with being affluent, or white, or liberal. But there is something wrong when one such privileged group eclipses all others. To help stabilize my toe, my doctor told me to buy a pair of hard-soled sandals. She gave me a list of brands, all expensive and very popular where I live. I didn’t own any, and I hadn’t wanted to. I’ve resisted buying into (literally, monetarily) the dominant culture of this place. I worry about who gets erased as the Wealthy White Liberals take charge.

I bought the shoes, and they’re helping a lot. But it’s not lost on me that I could buy that pricey pair because I now have a graduate degree that helped me find a job with a stable income. I can pay my bills, work on my student loans, and save enough to have a Shoes for Broken Toes fund. I had to buy a new (used) car this year, and I chose a zippy little hybrid. I work in a nice office, in a tech job that provides me fancy gadgets and expensive software. When I’m not injured, I’m out running on trails and visiting microbreweries. All these external indicators place me solidly in this yuppie bubble culture. I worry that I’ll get sucked in and lose sight of the world.

Even now, I feel like all I’ve just done is write a Poor Little Rich Girl story. And what purpose does that serve? Now, more than a year out of school, I find myself still struggling to bridge the gap between student activist and autonomous, isolated, workforce citizen. I didn’t expect the change to be so dramatic, and for the most part, I’m infinitely happier now than I was as a student.

But there are aspects I miss so much. Like the community of bright, and diverse people who challenged this city and me. And even that feels complicated because I’m the one responsible for doing my personal work, not my peers. I need to consider my feminism and how it’s evolving within me, and how and to whom I’m engaging in this new life phase.

As I slow down this month, I hope to think more, challenge my innate and chosen identities more, and to find a way to validate my space without encroaching upon and erasing the people and cultures and communities we so very badly need.

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Am I a Misandrist?

A side effect of writing this blog is having to constantly clarify that I don’t hate men. I think that’s true. I think that I don’t hate men. That’s a strange thing to be uncertain about, and I’m not even sure about the veracity of the claim anymore. When someone says, “I’m not a racist, but” you can be sure that what they’re about to say is definitely racist. Here I am, always saying, “I’m not a misandrist, but” and I’m wondering if I do kind of hate men, and what to do with these feelings.

Before I get ten thousand angry comments, you should know that even I think I’m wrong more than I’m right. I’m painting with broad strokes here. I started to write that you should think about what I say here on an institutional level and not be personally offended as or on behalf of men. But the reason I’m realizing that I might hate men is personal. And I don’t really know what to do with that.

Here’s the thing: even men who are intelligent and deeply thoughtful will inevitably say or do something that makes me wonder what they really think about women. A little comment will slip out and make me wonder if they see me as an equal or if they even see me as human. And then I wonder what might happen if I keep spending time with them.

I’m not sure I can trust men because one thing will trigger another and then I’m remembering that one time when I was a teenager, the terrifying feeling of being overpowered by a man, being held down, crying and trying to get away. Or my mind goes back a year or two ago, to the time a man slipped his hand around my throat and casually said, “I could kill you so easily right now.” Those are just drops in the giant bucket of bad experiences with men. And yes, there are abusive women who do terrible things and should be held accountable for them. But in my personal experience, there have been a small handful of bad women and an even smaller handful of good men. I don’t believe that all men do these terrible things, but I do believe that all or almost all women have had these experiences with men.

There are too many of these stories. We can call these events to mind and discuss them with too much detachment; it happens so often that it’s stopped being shocking to us. I think about how we’ve been told that we’re the ones overreacting, that it wasn’t such a big deal. We’ve been put in situations with the men who’ve harmed us and been told to be nice, to smile and be polite and let the past be the past.

I don’t want to do that anymore. I got tired of making concessions, of letting abusive people maintain avenues into my life. So I stopped. I stopped having close emotional relationships with men. Over the past few years, I’ve surrounded myself with strong, loud, unbreakable women… and no men. And that gave me the space I needed to grow and recover and build a healthy sense of self. It was definitely the right choice at the time, but now I’m not sure if it’s the right path to continue down.

I have to acknowledge that I probably overcorrected. There were too many abusive men in my life and now there are no men in my life. I do extremes: polarized all or nothings. I know that’s not right and I’m trying to do better, but grace is not a word that’s often used to describe me. I’m not good at forgiveness or wiggle room. I’m a terrible educator. When someone does or says something without realizing that they’re implicitly or explicitly promoting rape culture and perpetuating an environment of violence against women… I tend to leave the table.

I don’t always want or feel able to engage in a dialogue about gender and violence. I know that’s not productive. I know that my silence won’t change anybody’s mind, and in fact will be read as compliance or tacit support, but some days it feels impossible. Some days, I want to be petulant, to call myself a misandrist and swear to never ever speak to a man again. I don’t want to sit in the discomfort and pain and try to figure it out. I want to have a tantrum and leave the hard work to somebody else.

But even as I feel this tension so fully, I have to acknowledge that I am complicit in so many oppressive systems. Every time a man says something that makes me swear that I absolutely definitely hate men, I have to remember that my privileged identities constantly contribute to those same feelings for another person. My ignorance and insensitivity around my whiteness, my straightness, my cis-genderedness hurt people just as much, probably more, than men’s general inability to understand how their privilege and power is marginalizing to me.

And that brings me right back to my own lack of grace. Engaging in social justice, trying to challenge and change the harmful aspects of our society, takes a lot of grace. It’s hard, it hurts, and all of us have valid feelings about it—even when those feelings are in opposition. We have to give each other space to figure it out, and we have to give ourselves some grace too. It’s okay to let someone know that they’re responsible for educating themselves. It’s okay to take a break.

But if we don’t join in again, nothing will ever get better. When I think about all the girls growing up now, I don’t want them to have casual conversations with their friends about the ways they’ve been abused by men. I want their lives to be better, safer, and happier than ours have been. So I have to learn how to balance my legitimate mistrust and wariness with productive and human conversations. I’m still trying to figure out how.

All About That Bass

It’s time for another fun round of my friends and I critically analyzing music videos via email!! As with “Hard Out Here” Sam sent us Meghan Trainor’s All About That Bass with this message,

yeah so issues with 1. skinny bashing, maybe? 2. basing appearance on what guys want to grab at night 3. jesus with the pastels 4. are the black back up dancers being used as props? is she being inclusive of all big booties or capitalizing on black booties? why can’t my white booty stop bouncing to this song?

I started to respond, but then I wrote an essay (why can I never shut up??) so I’m posting it here and maybe we can all talk about it together!

The message I took from this video is, “I’m not a size 2; I’m a REAL WOMAN.” Oh, ever so sorry, I didn’t realize I’m not a real woman. Turns out I’ve been a velociraptor this whole time.

I don’t understand how this song can simultaneously call for an end to unrealistic body images and harmful photoshopping while having lyrics like, “Go ahead and tell them skinny bitches that– no I’m just playing, I know you think you’re fat.” Haha, oh my god, that’s so funny, what a total laugh, women have been taught to hate themselves!! A real knee-slapper there. But then it goes on to say, “Every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top.” I’m so confused; didn’t you just say that the only good body is the one that has “that boom boom that all the boys chase” and that “boys like a little more booty to hold at night”?

We absolutely have body image problems in our society. We demonize fatness; “fat” is an insult. Our whole society needs intense therapy. We need to fix that stuff. Let’s all pause and listen to Beyonce.

Thin privilege is real. I could go to 7/11 right now and get the biggest size slushy possible and people would probably chuckle and think I was doing something endearing. Kind of like when I was out with Megan and Whitney and our server thought it was ever so precious when I ordered a cookie. He chuckled and gave me a look that said, “Aren’t you adorable?” But if my body were different, people wouldn’t think that. They would have nasty thoughts and they might even vocalize them. I don’t have to experience that, and I can only speak from my position as someone who benefits from having a body that’s considered worthy by the people who send certain sizes of clothes to Target.

I’ve noticed this demonization of fatness more and more as my sister’s gone through a weight loss journey. She’s lost nearly 100 pounds over the past year and people treat her differently now. I notice people responding to her differently. We talk a lot about how it’s been for her to transition, both bodily and in the eyes of society. People are nice to her now and they weren’t before. 100 pounds ago, people treated her like she wasn’t a human. That’s unreal.

With all of that in mind, this song seems like it should be great. We should be changing our cultural perceptions of bodies and worth. We need to stop equating skinniness to worthiness and fat to trash. But trying to replace one ideal with another isn’t the way to do that.

Sam, I read your comments before watching the video and I thought it must involve some kind of Jesus swathed in pastels. I think I would have preferred that, but you’re right, there’s no way to address that mess other than, “jesus with the pastels.” The video uses the pastels to play up classic femininity—sugar and spice and everything nice, now with big butts! But what all of this is really doing is saying that there’s one right way to be a woman. We’re still going to be pastel Stepford Wives, now we’ll just be curvy pastel Stepford Wives.

Swapping out one oppressive ideal for another won’t get us anywhere, ESPECIALLY if it’s done through the lens of pleasing men. Ugh. Ugh. Ew. I can’t. As the resident outspoken (ironic) misandrist of our friend group, allow me to loudly state that I don’t care what men think about women’s bodies. I don’t care and neither should anyone else. As kids, we’re taught that we should avoid peer pressure by being True To Ourselves and Not Doing Things Because Our Friends Are and Don’t Jump Off That Bridge Because Your Friends Say To, but none of those lessons seem to apply when it comes to heteronormative relationships. Then, throw all of that self-actualization out the window and do everything you can to make a dude happy.

The song reinforces that message- that we should craft ourselves around the aesthetic ideals of men. There’s nothing more important than being wanted by a boy! And boys want big butts! And nobody likes skinny bitches!

Putting down women hurts all women. Why doesn’t anyone seem to understand this?? Love your body; it’s awesome. Be all about the bass. Just don’t vilify the treble while you’re at it. (Aside: I really can’t get over bass/treble being used as a stand in for fat/thin.)

I want to meet with every person who’s been hurt by this toxic thinking and clutch their cheeks while staring into their eyes and whisper, “All bodies are good bodies.” over and over until they believe it. And I want everyone to stop pitting women against each other. Nobody signed up for this fight, but we keep being thrown into the ring.

I didn’t even get to the race stuff going on in the video, but I think Sam’s right about the appropriation/capitalization. And, as always, a thousand thanks to Riot Grrl Whitney for popping in with some of her musical preferences. Here’s her selection: Half Girl’s Lemmy, I’m a Feminist. I’m going to slink back into my cave and listen to The National.

Don’t Be Racist this Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo has been driving a lot of traffic to the post I made last year, about casual racism and cultural appropriation. Thanks to everyone who linked to that post and to everyone who kept me busy by leaving idiotic comments for me to delete! The comments are so close to being permanently disabled here, which is unfortunate, but I don’t know how many more times I can point to the Rules of Effective Discourse before I just give up.

Last year, I remember trying to be very gracious in undertaking a dialogue around how and why Cinco de Mayo generally does more harm than good. But since I’m still getting messages about how moronic I am for thinking so, I’ve decided to be more direct this year.

When I was growing up, there was a “Multiculturalism and Diversity!” push in public schools. Well-intentioned as this may have been, it resulted in a seriously off-base cultural education for my generation. When you have folks outside of a culture try to teach cultural traditions and practices to other folks who are also outside of that culture, what you get is a lot of stereotypes, simplifications, and flat out misinformation. For instance: how many people do you know who think Cinco de Mayo is the Mexican Independence Day? When did you figure out that Cinco de Mayo isn’t Mexico’s Independence Day?

There’s nothing wrong with being invited into a culture and celebrating in a way that is both responsible to the culture and personally meaningful. There is a problem with celebrating Cinco de Mayo by enacting a racist caricature that involves being wasted on tequila, donning a poncho and sombrero, and talking about swimming across rivers. And if you still think I’m a moron for telling you as much, there’s just nothing else I can (or want to) do for you.

But here are some fun things you can do instead of being racist today!!

  • Check out Feministing’s awesome 8 Feminist Ways to Celebrate Cinco de Mayo
  • Read this cool post that compiles one brave soul’s attempt to respond to Cinco de Mayo ignorance
  • Think about all the ways white people have already embarrassed themselves (ourselves) in the past few days… May 3rd’s Free Comic Book Day, May 4th’s Star Wars Day… I mean, just look at this. Don’t be an embarrassing white person today.
  • Don’t send me hate mail for pointing out that white people do dumb and embarrassing things.

Hard Out Here

Back in November, internet feminists had a heyday with the release of Lily Allen’s video “Hard Out Here.” My friend Sam sent a link to the video and a group of the grad students in our department tried to unpack our concerns with it over an email thread. With their permission, I’m going to reprint that conversation here. Even though this is (certainly by internet time) outdated, I think it’s interesting to consider how we collectively form our opinions and challenge each other’s ideas.

Originally, we all thought the use of black women’s bodies in the video was a parody of Miley Cyrus’s recent (and continued) fetishization of black women’s bodies. In the course of our discussion, Lily Allen released a statement making it clear that no such parody was intended. That essentially ended the conversation and any hesitant defense of the video. Ultimately, it’s a good attempt but the violence and privilege of White Feminism are all over the video.

Sam: It’s hard out here for a bitch.

Lydia: I have been thinking about this ALL day. On the one hand, I love it. On the other, the use of WOC feels super problematic. I think it’s supposed to be a further satirization, but there’s really no explicit discussion of it. None of the lyrics reference race or the way white artists use WOC’s bodies in music videos, it just reconstructs that stereotype. So while I feel like Lily Allen is making a comment on it, it’s not explicit and is in a way further silencing/objectifying/disempowering. UGH HELP ME UNDERSTAND, WHAT DO YOU THINK???

Sam: That’s exactly what I was just saying to Jesse!!!…she is still coming from this place of power…her appropriation, even if satirical, is privileged. I tried to think that perhaps she was trying to mock Miley’s “black women as prop” thing, but now we have it in another form because, like you say, there is no explicit discussion of it.

Mocking the appropriation by appropriating it without acknowledging the “it” really just furthers it.

Lydia: It’s so frustrating because that’s such a glaring, harmful piece of the video but I feel like the rest of it is important for a wide audience to experience. But creating an army of White Feminists is not going to help anyone. ughhhhh. My hope is that teenagers see this, feel inspired, get into a Women’s/Gender Studies class and learn about intersectionality.

Megan: Y’all…..
#1 Sam, thanks for sending this! I love this vid. New fave….Pentatonix get lost!

#2…..the satire was blatant to me, and so I’m wondering if a discussion about the appropriation is necessary? I mean, I don’t think we (the ppl on this thread) need that explanation because we get it…so I think she doesn’t need to provide an explanation to an audience like us. Her satirical appropriation speaks for itself, even if it comes from a place of privilege. She can’t help that she’s privileged…in fact, I’m reminded of an Audre Lorde quote. Can’t remember it verbatim, but it’s something like “people should use their privileges for the benefit of others (to help stop oppression).” I think that’s exactly what Lily Allen is doing here, but Sam and Lydia are quite right in saying that she doesn’t explicitly say that she’s doing this. She expects the audience to figure it out. And perhaps that’s presumptuous on her part, but I think it’s also a sign of respect for the audience, since she’s basically saying “you’re smart enough to figure out what I’m doing here. So figure it out!” However, on the other hand, maybe the general public might need an explanation. I could see a lack of discussion being particularly problematic for people who don’t understand satire and/or privilege. Okay, so maybe the inclusion of a discussion is contingent upon different audiences. I dunno.

#3 Hope y’all are having a good night. I’m eating a salad and reading Foucault….talk about the BEST NIGHT EVER!!

Just found this comment on YouTube….this user agrees with you, Sam and Lydia…

“The thing with satire is that it DOESN’T WORK IF YOU CELEBRATE THE SUBJECT MATTER! e.g. the objectification of black women. Use a bunch of white women twerking to get your satirical idea across Lily!”

Vani: I love you all for having this debate in a mass email. PLEASE STILL DO THIS AFTER WE GRADUATE. YOU MAKE ME FEEL LESS INSANE.

Sam: WE ARE MASS DEBATERS. SOMEONE HAD TO, SORRY GUYS.

Lydia: MASS DEBATING ALL OVER YOUR EMAIL RIGHT NOW.

Someone once said (lol, like I know who, what are citations???) that satire goes up, that satire is meant to critique those with the power, who create the oppression. That’s why most rape jokes are the absolute worst, but this Wanda Sykes one is SPOT ON because she’s making fun of rapists and the idea of rape, etc, etc.

So I feel that in this instance, the character of the white man directing the video should have been a more prominent figure, because HE’S the one who needed to be satirized. In this delivery, it feels too much like it’s falling back on the WOC… and I honestly think the whitewashed masses are too bought in to realize what’s happening. BLEH.

Amanda: I’ve been thinking a lot about this, because I generally like what Lily Allen does. I think that her critiques of pop culture are smart and subtle. I understand what you guys are saying. I think that it’s probably true that her use of satire will be lost on some. One of the things that we’ve talked about in my classes is the idea of intentions vs. consequences.

It might be that an author’s intention was to make a certain point, but if they’re too subtle or ambiguous, what are the consequences of their text? Ultimately, the consequences are important. For me, the satire is blatant. For those that are just looking for entertainment, this may not be the case.
I guess the question is: to what extent can we hold an author accountable for their audience’s ignorance? To what extent does she need to blatantly show that she is commenting on this behavior and not promoting it? I dunnnotheanswer!

Here’s one of the better ones, I think: The Fear.

Sam: Jezebel. [This article includes Lily Allen’s response to criticisms.]

Whitney [resident punk rocker and musical aficionado]: NOT TO MENTION THAT IT’S THE WORST SONG I’VE HEARD ALL YEAR!!!

DAY TWO: After Lily Allen’s response, now we all know it wasn’t any kind of parody.

Megan: Thanks for sharing the Jezebel article, Sam! Lydia and I were talking about it yesterday….I was under the impression that Lily Allen’s video was an obvious parody of Miley Cyrus, but sadly I was wrong :/ It’s shocking that she’s like completely oblivious to what’s going on….makes me think about the video very differently now.

On a related note, you all might be interested in checking out this game….it’s “A Day in the Life with Female Experience Simulator

HAPPY FRIDAY EVERYONE!!!!!!

ICWA, Revisited

Hi, everyone. I have some housekeeping notes before we jump back into the world of feminist blogging. I’m interested in dialogue. I really like to know why we form our beliefs and convictions. I would like to hear about opposing opinions. But throughout the duration of this blog, there has only been one comment that successfully conveyed an opposing viewpoint while following the rules of the blog. I won’t post comments that are vitriolic or accusatory in nature. I know the cloak of internet anonymity brings out the worst in people, but I truly believe we are better than that. Please review the rules before you comment. The comment feature will be suspended if these rules aren’t followed. I think that would be unfortunate, but I’m not willing to continue subjecting myself to thoughtless, violent attacks.

Now, let’s follow-up on the last post. I can’t believe how many white people were severely offended by that. Once again, I’d just like to mention that acknowledging privilege doesn’t erase it. I will never understand why so many people fly off the handle when they’re told about the ways they’re advantaged. When we start feeling self-righteous about our position in the world, when we feel accomplished even though we were born on top of the mountain and didn’t have to do any climbing, I think it’s important to seek out information from folks without the same privileges. After the last post, Jacqueline Keeler shared her wonderful piece on ICWA with me. I hope all of you read it- suspend the privilege rage fits and really read it.

Finally, here’s my response to a Facebook commenter who was very displeased with my post. Most of the comments I received (none of which were posted due to their reliance on inappropriate threats and violence) echoed the sentiments this commenter expressed.

And clearly the color of the skin shows that a person is responsible for a complete history of wrong. And clearly a white person could never, ever ever seek out resources to help a child of a different culture connect to their past. Incredibly over simplified account of a not simple situation, in any aspect. This isn’t about race, this case is about stupid legal red tape. It’s horrible and sad that this is going on, but the fact of the matter is that these events are happening because some individuals are taking advantage of legal loop holes. “I hate white people. I really do.” That is not an attitude that will further any kind of progress. It is just sad, spite and narrow-minded.

As a result of generations of Native children being removed from their communities, against the wishes of the community, ICWA was passed to bring stability and security to tribal families. Under ICWA, when a child is being placed, priority lies with the family. If the child cannot be placed with a member of their extended family, then a member of the same tribe is sought. If no member of their tribe can take the child, then the child is placed with any American Indian. Finally, if there are no Native families to take the child, then and only then should the child be placed outside of their culture. If this procedure is followed and the child does end up with a non-Native family, okay. I’m sure that family will love and care for the child. The problem is that the procedure laid out by ICWA is very rarely followed. We see that Native children are often immediately placed outside of tribal governance. This is such a huge problem that the tribes of South Dakota organized a summit with the US government to address the lack of ICWA compliance. The US Government failed to attend. (http://www.npr.org/2013/02/06/171310945/south-dakota-tribes-accuse-state-of-violating-indian-welfare-act) When Veronica’s mother moved for adoption and her father expressed a desire to raise the child, that’s where the story should have ended. Instead, the father, extended family, and tribal members were completely disregarded and the child was immediately placed with a non-Native family. The SCOTUS acknowledges this was wrong, but voted in favor of the non-Native family simply because they don’t like ICWA. This sets a precedent that justifies and encourages the removal of Native children from the families who want to raise them, which hearkens directly back to the American Indian Boarding Schools.

When I say I hate white people, I don’t mean that I actively hate every single white person no more than I hate every banker or lawyer when I say I hate bankers and lawyers. I hate the idea of bankers, lawyers, and white people. I am a white person, and I’m not much for self-loathing. What I hate is that we, collectively, use our privilege to continue the marginalization and oppression of people we have only ever marginalized and oppressed. Acknowledging that my whiteness gives me privileges won’t take those privileges away. Recognizing that we historically and currently, if sometimes unintentionally, harm people by the very nature of our whiteness is the very least we can do to begin righting these wrongs. When I see a campaign called “Save Veronica”, a campaign that has hundreds of thousands of backers, I know that we’re, as a collective group of white people, acting in a racist manner. Implying that Veronica needs to be “saved” from the father who loves her and wants to raise her is wrong. While I personally don’t support this campaign, as a white person, I am complicit in this collective racism.

——-

That’s it for now, everyone. What I hope we can think about is just why it is that we’re so quick to say, “It’s not about race!!” What would it mean for us, especially as white people, to acknowledge that a lot of things ARE about race. What would it look like if we tried to recognize the ways we’re advantaged and tried to dismantle some of this country’s systemic white dominance?

ICWA, Baby Veronica, and White People Being the Worst

It is hot. I am miserable and sweaty and the rampant racism rearing its nasty head around the country this week has not been improving my mood.

Let’s talk about the Indian Child Welfare Act and the Supreme Court’s wrongheaded ruling on the Baby Veronica case. One of the best courses I took as an undergrad was called Native Women, Children, and Tribes. That class taught me more about my white privilege and the innumerable ways we continue to oppress, marginalize, and enact violence against Native populations than I ever would have had the wherewithal to learn on my own.  People in positions of privilege often don’t realize they have it until someone else, usually someone without that same privilege, points it out.

When we learned about ICWA in my course, I didn’t totally understand it because I wasn’t acknowledging my privilege and the storied history of white violence against Native children and their families. This is embarrassing now, but I remember feeling a bit offended for a second. I thought, “I could give a kid a great home. What do you mean I couldn’t ever adopt just because I’m white?” And then the heavens opened and I was punched in the face by the mighty fist of, “Hey, there white person, you’re the worst!”

The Indian Child Welfare Act is meant to ensure that Native children remain with their families and their culture. White people are the very last people who should be considered when a Native child is being adopted. And that’s totally valid. The conversations happening online around this issue are disgusting- much like my initial reaction to learning about ICWA. “Why can’t we adopt them? We could give them more opportunities and a better life!” Here’s the thing, white people: there are plenty of non-Native children who need homes. You can’t adopt Native children, because they are not toy poodles for you to parade around. Removing a Native child from their culture is a blatant act of violence. Remember the American Indian Boarding Schools?

But that was a long time ago, right? We don’t do that anymore! Well. It wasn’t that long ago. When white people remove a child from their culture, especially when that culture has been historically, systemically, and continually obliterated by those same white people, violence is continued.  The Indian Child Welfare Act tries to stop that violence. I don’t see how anyone can argue with that. And then the Supreme Court did. Of course they did.

Following the Baby Veronica case has been akin to watching the quick dissolution of common sense, which is how this entire week in United States politics has felt, really.  The National Indian Child Welfare Association has an awesome fact sheet on the case. Here’s the short version, if you’re not caught up: a native child, Baby Veronica, was placed for adoption with a non-Native couple. Veronica’s father, Dusten Brown an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, never agreed to the adoption and never waived his parental rights. The adoption of Veronica was never finalized. When Brown became aware of the adoption, he immediately sought legal counsel to stay the process and assert his parental rights. This was a little difficult for him because he was in Iraq. That’s right. When Brown returned from Iraq, a South Carolina district court and Supreme Court ruled ICWA valid and custody of Veronica was transferred to him. But the prospective adopters, the Capobiancos, kept appealing and the case went to the US Supreme Court.

Earlier this week, SCOTUS ruled in favor of the Capobiancos, contesting the validity of ICWA. Because apparently white people still can’t kick the habit of ignoring the laws made to protect Natives from white violence. Because white people are the worst people. The SCOTUS majority objects to ICWA, because they just don’t like the way it dissuades white people from adopting Native children. Which is the entire point of ICWA. To prevent the continuation of racist violence. The SCOTUS objects to preventing that. In further SCOTUS stupidity, they literally suggested that Brown surrender his parental rights and then try to adopt Veronica himself. Because that makes perfect sense!

Now, the case is getting kicked back to a district court, and there’s a chance that Brown might lose custody of his daughter. Hopefully common sense will kick back in at some point and Veronica will be allowed to stay with the biological father who wants to raise her. I really hope that happens, but you just can’t trust white people to do the right thing.

I sometimes think about going to law school, just because of situations like this one. I’m so frustrated by the whole thing. What really kills me is that you know if a white serviceman was in this situation, there’s no question that the child would be returned to his custody. If a white dude went to Iraq all while fighting for custody of his child, the media would be completely in his favor. But Dusten Brown isn’t a white man, so he’s not afforded that same respect. Or any respect, really.

Another thing that just kills me about this case is the website that’s up in support of the Capobiancos. It’s called Save Veronica. Save Veronica? Are you fucking kidding me? She’s not in danger! This child is living with her biological father who has been fighting tirelessly for his legal rights. Save Veronica? From what exactly? A loving home with her family? I can’t even. I hate white people. I really do.

Casual Racism and Cinco de Mayo

I hate when we refer to the US as a “melting pot”. The Schoolhouse Rock song Great American Melting Pot sounds horribly racist as an adult. That phrase is meant to illustrate how accepting and diverse this nation is but what it’s really saying is, “Assimilate! Melt into our dominant white culture!” Mainstream United States culture is white.  There are cultural centers and ethnic grocery stores, little outposts of culture that are erased in the mainstream. We try to make up for this a few times a year by wildly celebrating “cultural” holidays.

Do Irish people appreciate American St. Patrick’s Day? Do any Mexican people appreciate American Cinco de Mayo? Has anyone ever felt honored by being worn as a Halloween costume? Probably not. Gustavo Arellano, who writes the awesome Ask a Mexican column, shared his views on Cinco de Mayo or “Gringo de Mayo” on CNN’s In America blog. Spoiler alert: he thinks it’s pointless.

Pointless? But we’re so excited to celebrate cultural diversity! Our good intentions are thwarted by a history of racism and ignorance, both of which are exacerbated by white privilege. We don’t even know we’re being ignorant and racist. This is because privilege is invisible to those who have it. White people generally can’t see whiteness, or how it constantly advantages us in society. I try to be aware of my privilege. I still mess up all the time. I make hurtful mistakes and throw around my white privilege, even when I’m trying to be conscious of it.

Just the other day, I referred to my friend as Mexican when she is, in fact, Hispanic. Those are not the same! I immediately followed this moment of racial misidentification by asking where her family was from. I was generally curious. I would like to know more about her family, about who taught her Spanish, what her experiences have been. But asking, “Where are you from?” is not the same as asking those questions. Asking, “Where are you from?” implies an inherent Otherness. My friend said, “My family is from the same state I am from, and we always have been. It was your idiot white ancestors who showed up, enacted horrific genocides, and still have the audacity to assume that any culture that isn’t your own must have come from somewhere else. Get out of my face!” …okay, she didn’t say any of that and was very kind about unpacking my moment of white privilege.

I had a moment of casual racism. It wasn’t overt or explicit- I wasn’t directly stating that I view Whiteness as superior. But that is what I was unintentionally implying. It’s hard to explain racism to white people, because we don’t recognize when we’re exerting our cultural dominance. We think that if we treat everyone the same and view everyone as a human not a race, we can’t possibly be racist. This results in a lot of really uncomfortable moments of casual racism. Those moments reinforce the dominant white narrative, and further marginalize and oppress every non-white person.

That’s why we need to be especially aware of our actions on cultural holidays. Today, Cinco de Mayo, will probably involve a lot of white people getting drunk on “Mexican” beer and eating “Mexican” food, and wearing sombreros and ponchos, never minding that most of the beer, food, and clothing are American bastardizations of an entire culture.

We need to pause when we think we’re honoring a culture, because most of the time we’re actually engaging in more of that harmful casual racism. Who gets hurt by our inaccurate and insensitive (though very enthusiastic) representations? At the end of the day, white people get to take the costume off. The sombrero and poncho get thrown in the closet, and we go on with our lives. Meanwhile, we’ve just reinforced a lot of stereotypes and historical and cultural inaccuracies that have real ramifications. Really, when was the last time you saw a Mexican wearing a sombrero or a poncho? This is the difference between talking about race (“I’m not racist!”) and acting race. For most white people, our actions and representations, which we don’t mean to be racist, show our ignorance about race.

The fact is: nobody ever dresses up like white people. There isn’t a holiday where we celebrate and embody stereotypes about white folks. This is because we don’t view whiteness as Other. In our minds, white is the de facto universal race. We see things through a lens of whiteness, which problematizes our attempts to ‘honor’ and ‘celebrate’ different cultures.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go ask my neighbors to kindly stop celebrating Cinco de Mayo by drinking Coronas and eating Taco Bell while making immigration jokes in bad Spanish accents.

Condescending Gold Star Award: Love Is All You Need

Last night I watched a short film called “Love Is All You Need?”. That link will take you to the film if you feel like spending 20 minutes acquainting yourself, but this needs to run with a massive trigger warning: the film is full of slurs and shows graphic images of bullying, violence, and suicide. If those might trigger you, I think it’s better to sit this one out than to have a seriously day-ruining experience because of a mediocre movie.

The basic premise of the film is to flip the societal script. Our current world is heteronormative and full of homophobia. The world of the film is homonormative (I guess? Is that a word?) and full of heterophobia. In the film, heterosexual individuals are the targets of hatred and bullying which emerge from society’s systematic othering. The film is attempting to show hetero people how it feels to live with the kind of violence that is inflicted on queer people every day. It’s been received positively and has won lots of awards. Unfortunately, this movie is a problematic disaster hiding under a façade of good intentions. Congratulations, “Love Is All You Need?”, you’ve just been awarded a Condescending Gold Star!

You Tried Gold Star

First and most glaringly, this film features a blatant erasure of identity.  The film gives no space, voice, visibility, or even acknowledgement of anyone other than cisgender gay people and cisgender straight people. The entire community of trans* folks, as well as people who identify as bi, pan, or asexual are completely absent. This erasure of identity is a form of violence, and is extremely problematic in a film that is allegedly advocating for social justice. On top of all of that, there are no people of color in this film. (Help! I’m drowning in a sea of white people!) Oh, wait! There is one person of color… a black man who beats up a white girl. Your star is being amended.

No You Didn't Star

One of Ashley’s moms is aggressive and disinterested while the other is passive and compassionate. These obvious male/female role assignments are clearly a heteronormative representation. I don’t know what the filmmakers were trying to do there but it was disappointing to see queer parenting presented in such a heteronormative manner. Emphasizing our sameness is not equivalent to celebrating our difference. Just like the idea of being colorblind, this approach ignores very real struggles. It results in more identity erasure.

This was further emphasized by another of the film’s galling missteps: the bizarre portrayal of gender role reversal. In the film’s world, acting is for boys and playing football is for girls. Of course I support boys in the arts and girls in sports, but the film showed a reversal not a mingling. That is completely inappropriate in a film about sexual orientation. It seems like these filmmakers don’t understand that sexual orientation and gender identity operate independently of each other. This film effectively reinforced the harmful and idiotic stereotype that all lesbian women are butch and all gay men are femme. The film’s website argues “this film is not about ‘genderizing’ or ‘stereotyping’ but I really can’t see how perpetuating the masculinization of lesbian women and the feminization of gay men is helpful in any way.

In fact, very little in this film is helpful. It speaks to a group of hetero folks who probably already vaguely identify as allies. These hetero ‘allies’ should be learning about microaggressions and legal inequities, and how they can use their privilege to change those things. I have a feeling that were a violent homophobe to watch this film, they would leave feeling more justified in their hatred. Because homophobic individuals are already operating in an illogical framework, they’re going to use the film as a justification for eradicating homosexuality in order to prevent the perceived end result of the gay rights movement- heterophobia. I can already hear the deranged chorus, “If we don’t stop the gays, look at what they’ll do to us!”

The real kicker comes at the very end of the film when a slide appears saying, “This film is dedicated to every child who has ever felt such darkness due to others’ hatred and misunderstanding. Always know that love is meant to be within and you should never feel wrong or alone by being who you are…Unique” which is a seriously minimalizing and hurtful message. They may as well have said, “Oh, you precious gay kids. Sure, you live in a violent world where people literally try to kill you because of who you are, but it doesn’t even matter if you just love yourself!!”

Tried and Failed Star

“Love Is All You Need?” is an unfortunate example of the problematic ally relationship. Too often, allies come into a movement and silence the group they’re allegedly advocating for. I don’t agree with the rhetorical approach of this film; I think it’s a blatant straight appropriation of a queer movement. Straight people should not gain sympathy or decide to become an activist as a result of the issues being made all about them. Everything is already about straight people!

I do think this film could work. But it needs to be made by queer folks. If we’re really going to be allies, we need to stop taking control of movements that are not ours. We need to have more public discussions, and I appreciate this film’s attempt to do that. I think the filmmakers’ hearts were in the right place… but there reaches a point when love is not all you need. As allies, what we need to do is to shut up and stop trying to take control of movements that do not belong to us.