Civic Ignorance or Civic Engagement?

I have things I should be doing tonight. Lots of things.

A staff presentation to finish for tomorrow, laundry to fold, T-shirts to deconstruct*. Pay a couple more bills, balance my checkbook, start looking at frames on Warby Parker to get those long-anticipated bifocals. And, of course, a post here on JALC—especially since I skipped last night.**

Instead, I’m sitting here at the computer, fidgeting and clicking around FB and other tabs on Chrome. One or two small things are productive actions (I did need to renew those library books today, for instance), but the vast majority of it is avoidance and procrastination. Cos underneath all the surface swirl is one internal question: “Do I watch tonight or not?

Continue reading “Civic Ignorance or Civic Engagement?”

While Rome Burns

Quick hit tonight: a gloomy YAWP inspired by current events.

Two nights ago, friend put up a Facebook post alerting folks to the alternative programming option of watching The Breakfast Club at 9 PM on AMC. I commented that I was already in bed with a book. Yes, the big biography I’d been posting about earlier that evening.

Then I added a hashtag: #Escapism

Continue reading “While Rome Burns”

Self-Care as an Expression of Privilege

On some axis of consideration or other, I had a more productive weekend than last. Less TV time, a bit more in-the-house puttering (laundry!) and out-of-the-house errand-running (haircut!).

There was even a bit of time carved for self-care. Not through using Mr. Mezzo’s birthday present — the time for that will come soon enough (at least, one hopes it will) — but through a appointment Mr. and I already had on the books to try out one of the local massage studios. From our comparing of notes, it seems as if both practitioners had a good energy and level of expertise, and we like the ambience of the place. In the spirit of being a little bit more regular in the practice of self-care, I’m wondering if I can budget my time and dollars so that I can go back every 3 or 4 weeks for regular sessions.

Continue reading “Self-Care as an Expression of Privilege”

A Little of that Human Touch

Ain’t no mercy on the streets of this town
Ain’t no bread from heavenly skies
Ain’t nobody drawin’ wine from this blood
It’s just you and me tonight

Tell me in a world without pity
Do you think what I’m askin’s too much ?
I just want something to hold on to
And a little of that human touch
Just a little of that human touch

~ Bruce Springsteen, Human Touch

While I’ve been under the weather* having a very individual-sort of challenging week, the rest of the country has been having its own sort of shitty week, what with the floods and the plagues and human decency going all to shit in Ferguson Missouri.

Because I’m still a bit ailing, I’m going to make this more of a link-fest than a work of original commentary — for the most part. Here’s a basic timeline that takes events up to President Obama’s statement Thursday afternoon.

And now a few scattered threads of what’s caught my attention since.

First, some basic pointers from Kate Harding on understanding these events from a lens of racial-cultural privilege.

2. Recognize that Michael Brown’s death was not an isolated incident.

In 2012, more than 300 black people were executed by police, security guards, or vigilantes. In the last month, three other unarmed African-American men—Eric Garner in New York, John Crawford III in Beavercreek, Ohio, and Ezell Ford in Los Angeles—have been killed by police. Those are the ones we know about.

3. Stop saying “This can’t be happening in America.”

I understand the impulse, I really do. But that impulse only comes to those who are insulated and isolated from how America treats poor people and people of color every day. Langston Hughes wrote “America never was America to me” in 1935. If you didn’t quite understand that poem in your junior high or high-school lit classes, read it again, while you think about what’s happening in Ferguson. Let it sink in.

Then, two articles pondering the, um, “selective” ways that many mainstream media outlets choose to portray black victims of violent crime: one from NPR and one from HuffPo. The HuffPo piece particularly illustrates the discomfiting tension that exists between the portrayal of black victims of crime as compared to white (alleged) perpetrators of crimes. Yes, Virginia, race privilege is so fucked up that white criminals still get treated better than black crime victims:

This is by no means standard media protocol, but it happens frequently, deliberately or not. News reports often headline claims from police or other officials that appear unsympathetic or dismissive of black victims. Other times, the headlines seem to suggest that black victims are to blame for their own deaths, engaging in what critics sometimes allege is a form of character assassination. When contrasted with media portrayal of white suspects and accused murderers, the differences are more striking. News outlets often choose to run headlines that exhibit an air of disbelief at an alleged white killer’s supposed actions. Sometimes, they appear to go out of their way to boost the suspect’s character, carrying quotes from relatives or acquaintances that often paint even alleged murderers in a positive light.

Amidst the outrage and indignation over Mike Brown’s death, Feministing calls attention to an equally discomfiting tension — one around the way that black male victims of crime receive more media attention, public support, societal outrage/sympathy than do black female crime victims.

How are the deaths and beatings of women — cis and trans — at the hands of the police or with their complicity so much less compelling? I think the obvious answer here is misogyny and transmisogyny, not on one specific occasion or by one specific person, but at the systemic level: what tweets get tweeted and retweeted, what events seem newsworthy, and what bodies are deemed to hold value.

I want to mourn the deaths of Mike Brown and Eric Garner and Trayvon Martin, and I want to question why the deaths of Renisha McBride and Islan Nettles and Kathryn Johnston haven’t gotten similar traction. Why the beating of Marlene Pinnock isn’t on all of our lips. Why the nation is not familiar with the names of Stephanie Maldonado, or of Ersula Ore. And how many women’s names do we not know because they don’t dare come forward? Because the violence they experience at the hands of the police is sexual, and the shame and stigma around sexual violence silences them?

The truth is that, in the predominantly male-led civil rights organizations who lead efforts to respond to police brutality, in the male-dominated media that covers them, and in the hearts and minds of many people in this country, women who are of color, who are sex workers, undocumented immigrants, transgender (or, god forbid, more than one of those at once) are rarely candidates for “innocence,” and are often blamed for their own deaths, forgotten, or hardly counted at all.

But finally, the piece that gives me small glimmer of hope is the contrast between Wednesday’s protest — and the militarized police response to them (text and images from Slate), and last night.

The man at the front of the march, was Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ronald S. Johnson, a Ferguson native.

“I’m not afraid to be in this crowd,” Johnson declared to reporters.

Johnson, a towering African American man who wiped sweat from his brow as he pointed out neighborhood hangouts and restaurants he used to frequent, was put in charge of crowd control earlier in the day, replacing the St. Louis County police who had been overseeing the police response to the protests. . . .

Protesters said they were still angry, demanding justice for Brown and answers from local police about why he was shot and who the offending officer was.

But, they said, Johnson’s willingness to physically interact with them, rid the streets of heavy police equipment, and help them coordinate protests was a welcome change in tone.

“Thank you so much for being here,” said Karen Wood, who fought back tears as she held both of Johnson’s hands imploring him to bring answers to residents and maintain calm in the streets.

“This is about human rights, about human beings,” she cried. (Washington Post)

It’s about human rights. Human beings. Meeting one another in an open-hearted way, with that human touch.

ari-hug-it-outAnd no, it’s not a magic wand to make all the troubles and tensions magically go away. There’s still hard work to be done, hard conversations to be had.

But ain’t it something to see how that human touch at least makes the hard work possible?

* It’s been a lovely stomach bug/depression cocktail — I don’t recommend it.

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Image credit: http://giphy.com/gifs/pzl20V6IWOjK

Exposing the Vein of Hatred

(Trigger warning: rape, murder, talking about violent images though not using them.)

see no evil-PM-800x413One of the things so powerful to me about the #YesAllWomen conversation that has been taking place in the weeks since the Isla Vista killings, is the ways that there seems to be a wider acknowledgement growing about the layers and levels of misogyny that are operating in US culture, as well as around the world.

The international nature of the problem has been very much on my mind since I saw the shocking image of two Dalit girls, aged 14 and 16, hanging from nooses, after having been (allegedly) gang-raped and (definitively) murdered.

You won’t be seeing that image here, nor will I be knowingly linking to any articles that use it. Manasi Gopalakrishnan reports:

The girls’ family alleged that the two teenagers were raped and tortured before finally being hanged from a mango tree in a nearby orchard. Incensed by alleged police inaction, the families refused to take down the bodies from the tree for several hours. Finally the local police registered a case of rape only after several members of the girls’ community protested in front of the police station. [Emphasis added.]

In that sense, the parents’ initial gesture reminds me very much of Mamie Till’s choice to have an open-casket funeral for her son, Emmet, and her subsequent decision to allow funereal photos of her son to be published in Jet magazine. “I wanted the world to see what they did to my baby,” Mrs. Till is reported to have said. And yet in this day and age when images can travel the globe so quickly, I am not at all clear as to whether these parents in Uttar Pradesh would want their daughters’ postmortem image propagated in so widespread a fashion, and so I will not be aiding in that process. (Quite frankly, I even wonder if Mamie Till might have made a different choice in the Internet age. Or maybe her courage would have found identical expression. I simply don’t know.)

As with Eliot Rodger’s actions and their intersections with US issues such as (definitely) gun control and (allegedly) mental illness, there are multiple factors at stake in this horrifying crime. The caste system. Lack of toilets in poverty-affected regions. There’s even a new report that a state official investigating the case has stated one of the two murder victims may not have been raped.

(I don’t know enough yet to suss out if I think this last one is the first step of a government cover-up — at least two of the arrested suspects are policemen — or the first step at bringing careful investigative work to uncover the truth what the official has suggested might have been an honor killing or one motivated by a property dispute.)

Even with those other factors, it is undeniable that misogyny is a huge part of the cultural foundation for these crimes to occur. Mallika Dutt reports in Time that “In the context of past rapes, Mulayam Singh Yadav, head of Uttar Pradesh’s governing party, the Samajwadi Party, has said, ‘Boys will be boys. They make mistakes.’” A different Indian State Minister, Babulal Gaur, has recently said “Sometimes [rape] is right, sometimes it is wrong.”

All of which is to remind us that “#YesAllWoman isn’t just an American thing.”

As we continue to examine the negative effects of misogyny and cultures that impose toxic definitions of masculinity, it’s important not to be blind to privileges of race, sexual orientation, gender identity, classism, or cultural myopia. A lot of feminist discourse I see on the web is very stuck in these blinders, and in the same way that cultural evolution will require men to become aware to the privileges they carry in a misogynist society, it also requires those of us carrying privilege on other nexuses to wake up to that.

As Shannon Barber writes in luna luna,

Hear in your head every mansplaining nice guy or even every well intentioned usually great dude you know starting a statement with these words-
“but not all men…”
Now stop.
Okay White ladies let me explain you a thing. I’m gonna blow your mind.
That anger and frustration giving you bubble guts right now is how I feel when White women won’t listen to me.
Sit with that for a minute. Understand that how you feel when the response to your pain, your words, your experiences in regard to sexism and misogyny is not all men, but I’m a nice guy etc is the same feeling I have when White women run to interrupt, or otherwise stomp over my experiences, pain and words.
It’s an important reminder — and considering that the Facebook page where I first saw this essay then erupted into an argument about the “unnecessary hosility” of the essay saying something as cruel and abusive as “shut up for five minutes” (gasp!) — it’s a reminder we really need to be hearing.
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