Archive for the ‘Race in America’ Category

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Best of 2013

2013.December.31

I am by no means an exhaustive consumer of media, but this year had some gems that I feel compelled share. Simply put, this list comprises things I experienced that helped me grow & love better in 2013. No rank or order is implied; “Honorable Mentions” are older but were new to me in 2013.

Favorite Concept: “self-othering”
To self-other is to claim narratives of the powerless for oneself with little or no authentic claim to such levels of powerlessness. Examples might include the concept of “reverse racism”, equating being “broke” with actual poverty, exoticism, framing “language police” as equally oppressive to the use of offensive terminology, borrowing from an unfinished struggle to promote a contemporary one (e.g., “gay is the new black”), and the claim that polyamory is a queer and/or oppressed status — but most instances are actually far more subtle. By its privileged nature, self-othering is far more pernicious in educated, hetero, white, cismen [friendly wave]; it is not usually a conscious co-option, which makes it difficult to recognize in oneself, but I suspect anyone who examines zir own social power will struggle with it at some point. Perhaps even those with very little social privilege could benefit from remembering that actual physical and societal oppression feels different for every person and every circumstance. This concept needs to be contemplated and discussed widely, so we might all better catch ourselves exercising the power of naming and the privilege of inclusion; try not to water it down too fast, Internet.
Honorable Mention: Intersectionality
The Grand Unified Theory of social activism, where those deconstructing sexism, racism, classism, and countless other systemic power disparities compare notes. In a few more years, the Internet may relegate it just another dialectal buzzword, but for now it has teeth as a thoughtful and dynamic post-social-justice outlook.

Favorite Discussion Piece: Orange Is the New Black
I cannot say I exactly love this show, but I absolutely love to watch and participation in its deconstruction. I dare anyone to read White Chick Behind Bars and not feel personally challenged somewhere. Some friends have begun to shy away from discussing OITNB publicly because the critiques made them feel like bad (white) people, but to let call-out critiques of such a complicated, try-hard show brand it irredeemable would be just as short-sighted as to review it purely for cinematographic and storytelling qualities. In these discussions, there is the opportunity to examine where poetic license and politics collide, to ask which is making us feel uncomfortable this week (and whether it was the show’s intent), and to celebrate the heretofore overlooked perspectives now receiving thoughtful screen time. Until perfect art comes along, let us continue to be motivated by imperfect art that keeps us talking, introduces us to new situations, and makes us check our assumptions about what a titty-shot really conveys.

Favorite Blogger: Ferrett Steinmetz
I discovered Ferrett shortly before his earth-shaking Dear Daughter: I Hope You Have Some Fucking Awesome Sex went viral, but he’s been posting all over for a while. In Ferrett, I found a rare straight guy who could not only educate but inspire me: atypically male, relatable, passionately self-aware, sex-positive, polyamorous (but kind of relaxed about it), thoughtful about the creative process, AND prolific. Every time I approached one of his posts expecting a mere oasis from the kind of entitlement narratives that poison me against my fellow white guys, Ferrett transports me levels beyond by finishing thoughts I hadn’t even started yet. His approach is to excise common misperception from reality with quick, deft text grounded in everyday experience — and he owns it when he messes up! The man writes about anything without wasting a word; I can trust that if I don’t find a particular post profound, SOMEONE ELSE WILL. Not that I’m saying you should idolize him (or anyone else).

Favorite Music: Janelle Monáe, The Electric Lady
A late arrival in my year; I was slow to pick up this album because I was afraid it couldn’t live up to my first impressions of the hottest android-impersonator in music, but I was wrong. So very wrong. I’m just starting to dig into the mythos she’s created and the funked out fusion she’s worked into the tracks, but I know this album will be getting a lot of play in 2014.
Honorable Mention (album): Black Snake Moan Soundtrack
I could spend the rest of my life debating where the movie sits on the line between “problematic” and “irredeemable”, but its highest point was the filmmakers’ engrossing love letter to Delta blues.
Honorable Mention (song): Lupe Fiasco (with Guy Sebastian), “Battle Scars
The conscious rapper dropped this crossover hit — questioning the battle-like nature of relationship discord — and went platinum. Yes. This.

Favorite Movie: Gravity
Another item I feared couldn’t possibly live up to the hype. I was left breathless the first time I saw the two-minute trailer, and the movie theater experience was basically 90 minutes of the same. I won’t say it’s the best story ever (and I really think I would have liked Robert Downey, Jr., to have kept the part that eventually went to George Clooney), but its telling is gripping and its visual achievements should do to space what Jurassic Park did to dinosaurs: raise the bar to impossible heights and dare every movie that follows to choose between pitiful homage or pointless improvisation. Along the way, it instilled for me a dread of what happens down here on Earth should our skies ever receive such a disaster.
Honorable Mention: Beasts of the Southern Wild
Another visual spectacle, Beasts is carried by a six-year-old thriving in Southern myth-making — and yet I can’t watch it without cross-referencing myth-like places and people I’ve known. The stories from behind the scenes are just as breathtaking.

Favorite Parody: Pretty much anything riffing on Blurred Lines
The horror of the original song/video/message isn’t the kind of thing you can rectify with academic deconstruction or even conscious indignation — you need a good genderfucking parody or two.

Favorite Reads: Parenting on the Internet
Perhaps even more than Ferrett’s piece above, this piece showed how parenting can provoke individuals to look within for change. The RenegadeMama sees the greatness in her son’s gentle nature and, going against her won inclinations, decides to let it stand. It’s impossible to encapsulate its brilliance without lifting swaths of text (which you should go read for yourself), but I can say this: it made me appreciate parents and parenting a little more, and it even fostered forgiveness for the ways my own family had tried to socialize me against my gentler inclinations. That’s powerful wordsmithing right there.
Honorable Mention: Cat’s Cradle
My lover put this book in my hands and told me to read it; she is wise, and there will be celebratory tattoos. The legacy of a dead scientist draws a listless writer to a banana republic with an outlaw religion and a captivating woman. Sardonic wisdom and global change ensue.

Favorite Introspection: Defining Allies and Their Role
I should note that this conversation is far from over, so rather than trying to encapsulate it how about I share a tiny sample and you go join the conversation yourself?
Growing Up Online: Why & How I Care About the Comments
8 Ways Not To Be An Ally — A Non-Comprehensive List
For Whites (Like Me): On White Kids
Holy Gender Politics, Batman! How a D.C. Punk’s Music Video Sparked an Identity Controversy
Honorable Mention: Call-Out Culture
Another unfinished debate, is “calling out” the Internet’s greatest act of justice, a stalled strategy that’s keeping allies from necessary reflection, or flat-out liberal bullying? Is anger and vitriol on another person’s behalf ever justified, even helpful? What are our assumptions about people who call out? about people who don’t? Is there something better they could be doing? Reply hazy, try again.

Favorite Polyamory Topic: All Good Right?
Alan from Poly in the Media shares a few thoughts from himself and several other long-time poly writers on the assumptions that can slip into nonmonogamy and how rapid growth of the identity has made it harder to check such foundational misunderstandings.

Favorite Cracked Article: 5 Mind-blowing Facts Nobody Told You About Guns
Just read it; you won’t be disappointed.

There! You get ten. But here’s one to grow on, my favorite piece that I’ve written this year. Feel free to add it to your Best of list!

How Dyadism Ruind the Best Moment at SexTalk

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I Beg of You

2013.November.2

Ganked with permission@Anti_Intellect was talking to his people, so with his permission I decided to translate his message to people who share my identifiers:

Dear White folks: Stop undervaluing Black folks, whether it is thinking they are uniquely evil or uniquely good.

Dear men: Stop undervaluing women, whether it is thinking they are uniquely evil or uniquely fragile.

Dear hetero people: Stop undervaluing LGBT* people, whether it is thinking they are uniquely evil or uniquely good at decorating.

Dear cis people: Stop undervaluing trans* people, whether it is thinking they are uniquely evil or uniquely rare.

Dear liberals: Stop overvaluing Republicans/conservatives/Tea Partiers, whether it is thinking they are uniquely evil or uniquely powerful.

Dear Southern people: Stop undervaluing the complicated nature of history and science. Just stop.

Dear polyamorous people: Stop overvaluing monogamous people, whether it is thinking they are uniquely evil or uniquely calm.

Dear people raised working class: Stop overvaluing rich people, whether it is thinking they are uniquely evil or uniquely good. And stop planning and voting as if you’ll be one any day now.

Dear people who are financially stable: Stop overvaluing poor people, whether it is thinking they are uniquely evil or uniquely poignant in fiction. Their lives are real and it could happen to anyone.

Dear educated people: Stop undervaluing people without degrees, whether it is that they are uniquely evil or uniquely in control of their circumstances.

Dear non-religious people: Stop overvaluing religious people, whether it is thinking they are uniquely hateful, uniquely hypocritical, or uniquely unified.

Dear human people: Stop mis-valuing everyone who seems different from you, whether it is that they are uniquely evil, uniquely good, uniquely enlightened, or any more bizarre than yourself. We’ve all got too much work to do on ourselves to be worrying about everybody else.

Oh yeah, and stop mis-valuing yourself too. A small change will accomplish more than any big guilt-trip.

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Challenges to Slutwalk

2012.April.22

[I am currently consulting the organizers of Dallas Slutwalk 2012; the following is began as a response to a question about the challenges Slutwalks have faced.]

At our first organizer’s meeting, I shared some articles on criticisms from last year. I’d be happy to share links (I posted a few on the page), but they can be summarized thusly:

  1. Language: the choice to embrace “slut” is dividing feminists as to whether the Slutwalks subvert or reinforce sexist language. Moreover, it has conflated participants who (sometimes unknowingly) represent two purposes: denouncing victim-blaming through satire and proclaiming sexual autonomy in earnest.
  2. Race: the Slutwalks have largely been seen as an enterprise by white women; efforts at outreach to communities of color have frequently ignored the history of sexualized marginalization against women of color, who, accordingly, have a different relationship with the word “slut”.
  3. Message: owing in no small part to the idiosyncrasies above, the media has largely failed to convey an accurate or clear message of the Slutwalks, instead choosing to focus on these controversies or simply the spectacle of the events.

My personal goal for this year’s walk is to make sure more attention is paid to these challenges before and during the walk, as well as to encourage and help organize follow-up events that will allow supporters to dig deeper into all issues raised.

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Recommended Reading for January 17

2011.January.17

I know it’s too late to catch a parade or join a movement or anything too strenuous, but please take a moment to at least THINK about why today is a holiday, what it celebrates and signifies, and how we remember it. I found some of the most profound readings on Colorlines.com, of course:

Civil Rights historian Barbara Ransby on the legacy of compartmentalizing the message of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

White anti-racist Tim Wise reflects on the parts of King’s legacy that is often left behind

And if Michelle Chen’s reflections on peace activism are too long or liberal for your tastes, take instead fifteen minutes to review President Eisenhower’s farewell speech, which — fifty years ago today — encouraged balance between the federal and private economies, cautioned the nation against overindulgence, and birthed the prophetic phrase “military industrial complex”.

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Ranty McRantenstein

2010.August.23

[Contributor Post by johncleonard]

Politics has been particularly upsetting lately. It’s gotten to the point that I don’t really want to write about it. Well, nothing particularly useful, anyway. So, in that vein…

I’ve had it with social conservatives. If they don’t appreciate what freedom of religion in this country gives them and they can’t share with everyone else, the motherfuckers can all try and practice their religion in Iran. It’ll be cheaper for the rest of us to evict them and pay for their relocation than it will be to continue to fight their senseless wars. And Hell, even the Supreme Court of MEXICO has upheld same-sex marriage as a right. Fucking MEXICO, people! One of the most Catholic nations on the planet understands separation of church and state better than Americans do.

I’m sick of Libertarians, too. The Market is not some magical force that can fix everything. In fact, left to their own devices, markets have been responsible for and/or supported some of the worst things that people do to one another (let’s start with slavery and go from there). Also, you stupid motherfucking twats, just because you were born with enough privilege to pull yourselves up from nothing (And your idea of “nothing”? Not even close.) doesn’t mean that everyone else in this country is. On paper the opportunities may be equal, but it’s far past time to take off your blinders and see what things look like in practice.

I’m sick of the Republican party pandering to the social conservatives and other various nutjobs (yes, I’m looking at you, Teabaggers). How the fuck hard is it for you to grasp the idea that you’re supposed to be helping the country, not wanking over bikini/rifle pictures of Sarah Palin?  Keep trying to hold back progress and progress is going to squash you like the insects you are.

I’m sick of the Democrats and other liberals being such cowards. Why is the US (supposedly the greatest nation on Earth) always the last to take care of its own people? Where’s our version of universal health care? Where are you on getting all of us equal rights and privileges? Quit cock-gobbling the lobbyists and do what’s right for the people for a change. Oh. That’s right. That won’t get you re-elected. I just have to ask, “If it’s the right thing, who the FUCK cares?” If you can’t grasp the gravity of that, go simper somewhere else. Like Nevada. Prostitution is legal there, so you should have no trouble at all earning a living.

Oh, and all this illegal immigration crap is beyond disgusting. It’s a bunch of white people trying to protect their privileged status as the majority. You know what? Every last person who thinks that illegal immigration is the problem should be doused in napalm and set on fire.  It’s not the problem, you puss-dripping cocks, it’s a symptom. It’s a symptom of the economy in Mexico (and other places) being even  shittier than ours. It’s a symptom of businesses who think they’re above minimum wage and worker safety law.  It’s also a symptom of a legal immigration path that can take in excess of 20 years to process a simple application. We could build Fortress America, and people would still figure out how to get in if the problems that lead to the symptom of illegal immigration aren’t fixed.

You know what else pisses me off? Our schools. Yeah. Exactly what this country needs is more mindless automatons. This is one of the many things that’s led to our economy being crap, our government being dysfunctional (at best), and has supported the gradual loss of individual liberty. But they’re doing their job right now, I’ll give ‘em that. We’ve got a huge workforce of complacent and compliant workers.  So many we don’t know what the fuck to do with them all.  It’s our just deserts for not encouraging innovation and imagination and for allowing politics to determine curriculum.

But wait! There’s more!

The whole WTC/Mosque flap is another great big steaming pile of racism. Something like 84% [editor's note: Gallup polled 68% nationwide] of the population oppose the location. Well, you shining nuggets of shit, the site is a full two NYC-sized blocks from the (16-square-block) WTC complex. It’s being built on private property with private funds. It’s not just a Mosque, but also a community center. Some of the higher-ups involved with the project have even openly cooperated with the FBI’s counter-terrorism efforts. Yep. Let’s demonize and dehumanize the enemy and then pretend we didn’t know better when average people start taking matters into their own hands.

Then again, maybe we should just start rounding up all the Muslims and Mexicans and putting them into camps like we did with the Japanese immigrants in WWII. Oh. Wait. We already tried that (with the Muslims, anyway). Shrub/Chimpy (the guy who spent 8 years with Cheney’s arm up his ass running him like a puppet) didn’t get all that far on that one, did he? Maybe there’s still some hope for the masses, after all…

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Dr. Laura: Read the Constitution

2010.August.20

Dear Esteemed Doctor:

How fares your research into the effects of insulin on 3-0-methylglucose transport? Well, I hope. I understand if you haven’t had a lot of time to dedicate to it since you’ve been busy the last few decades taking radio by storm, but I am not so cynical as to figure someone of your stature would ever advertise her PhD without maintaining some connection to her thesis. (Plus, as I understand it, the California Board of Behavioral Science Examiners frowns on counselors using the title without a degree in psychology.) I look forward to reading more, whenever you can get around to it.

I hear you’re having a rough time of it right now, what with every politically correct, language-policing liberal in the country denouncing your recent use of the “n-word”. Well, I’m not here to do denounce your show — I always enjoy a good laugh. In fact, this situation reminds me of a cartoon I saw in a magazine once (I’m pretty sure it was one of my step-dad’s Playboys from years ago; don’t hold it against me, I was so young and curious!): two men are talking at a dinner party, and the guy speaking is casually holding a drink and pointing his finger while saying, “The way I see it, the Bill of Rights cuts both ways. The First Amendment gives you the right to say whatever you want, but the Second Amendment gives me the right to shoot you for it.” Hilarious! Oh man, I still laugh every time I think about it.

I want you to know that, like such luminaries as Voltaire and his friends, the Supreme Court of the United States, Charlton Heston, and that guy in the Playboy comic, I stand 100% behind your right to express yourself openly. I applaud your candor and your willingness to “say the wrong thing”, which is — truly — a tenet of my life. Unlike many other couch-commentators, I have actually listened to the show in question (available here on video and transcript) and noted that you never once used the n-word against anyone, but instead only quoted what you have heard from some rather explicit comics on HBO. (And isn’t HBO the standard to which we should hold society’s greater good? I mean, it’s not just television.)

So far as I can tell, you were — in your own, special way — trying to approach the painful and epic history of racism in America from a place of heartfelt reason. You were trying to ask a highly charged question that deserved careful, thoughtful consideration and long, contemplative discourse, wherein we spend more time listening to the experiences of those different from us than we do talking about our own, and that takes courage. Sure, you asked the question point-blank, with a raised, accusatory voice and a finger on the “drop-call” button, and without one of the nuances I above endorse, but you did raise them and I thank you for that. You went on to apologize for hurting people with the utterance and for not offering the caller help with her problem, and I congratulate you for recognizing how the conversation could have been handled better, albeit after the fact.

But despite your resoundingly adequate handling of the matter up to that point, I simply cannot stand by the follow-up appearance on Larry King, wherein you announced that you will soon end your radio program. I must protest the devastating impact this announcement is having on our country and our culture.

Don’t get me wrong; I have no strong opinion about whether you continue your radio show (it is, after all, a free country). However, I must protest because in your reasons, you perpetuated a common myth in our American culture that needs to be corrected. Sadly, someone must serve as an example to others.

See, check this out:

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Now, the rest of that stuff is pretty controversial itself, so let’s just focus on the parts about free speech:

    Congress shall make no law [...] abridging the freedom of speech [...].

Fucking A! That’s a good rule! Man, I love that rule. Thanks to that rule, I can get away with saying anything from “Fucking A!” to “George W. Bush Loves Dick!” to “Obama is a gingerbread man destined to be consumed by the nation he would save!” no matter HOW profane they seem. Ergo…

Under the First Amendment, any American (and most any visitor) has the right to:

  • Have any opinion about anything.
  • Express any opinion publicly.
  • Present a falsehood or misconception as fact (think misleading advertising… doesn’t it just make you sick, Doctor of Physiology Laura?).

Of course, this amendment only explicitly applies to Congress (not the Executive or the Judicial Branch, which regulate the notable exceptions for public safety, sworn oaths and testimonies, obscenity where there might be children around, etc.); an eroding distinction has been made between personal speech and commercial speech, but you’d have to go back for a J.D. to navigate those waters. Also, and this should be obvious but isn’t, don’t just assume you can invoke your First Amendment rights in another country…

But, here’s where it becomes relevant to you, Doc…

What the First Amendment doesn’t guarantee Americans:

  • That anyone will listen to you.
  • That you can make money by virtue of having or stating an opinion.
  • That someone else won’t exercise their free speech to disagree with you.
  • That you won’t say anything stupid.
  • That forces outside the government (such as public opinion, cultural progress, scientific evidence, advertiser dollars, your own guilty conscience, or the bigwigs overseeing your contract) will back you up if you say something stupid.
  • That you can say something stupid and avoid facing any consequences (e.g., social, political, or financial — you’re still covered for legislative, though!).
  • That your perfect PR apology for the stupid thing you said will be accepted and the whole matter forgotten by the offended party/parties.
  • That — outside of Congressional abridgement — some person or persons won’t take issue with the stupid thing you said and publicize / denounce / protest / boycott / demote / reschedule / fire / otherwise embarrass your dumb ass for saying it.

So, you see, when you said you were leaving radio to “regain [your] First Amendment rights”, you were doing a rather unpatriotic disservice — to yourself, to our Constitution, and to the civic understanding of the thousands of American children whose parents force them to listen to you — by encouraging bad information.

By invoking the First Amendment, you have placed the blame for your present predicament on Congress. Instead, I think you will find our polarized political culture offers you two ready-made scapegoats: the dehumanization of corporate Capitalism or oversensitive Black People. Just remember to choose one, stick with it, and don’t get them confused; we certainly wouldn’t want you to accidentally denounce the dehumanization of Black People! Boy, that would be embarrassing!

Now, I probably sound like I’m being a little harsh, but I need you to know that you are not alone in this misunderstanding. Liberals who denounced Bush, conservatives who denounce Obama, the poor over-moderated members of Internet community boards across the country, and plenty of Hollywood visionaries have made the same mistake. Maybe they’re using the Constitution as a metaphor, but I suspect most of them are just plain wrong.

The uproar over your comments, while unpleasant, was no more a violation of your First Amendment rights than your repeated interruption of the caller, ranting, and abrupt hang-up were a violation of hers. You yourself have decried the quality of education in this country; set an example and read up about from whom the constitution protects us. Maybe if more people understood our Constitution better (I’m pretty sure we all learned it in high school, but sadly we live in a culture where it is all too easy for facts to be overwritten by beliefs), we could get back around to meaningful conversations about the roots of such controversies.

Why is the n-word standard applied unevenly? Is the U.S. generally insensitive or overreactive about race? Is it possible to be both? Is the media’s coverage of racism just a little too much like wind applied to fire: whether blowing it out, spreading it around, or just making things miserable with a lot of hot air?

It could have been a good conversation.

Instead, what we heard was you and the caller getting defensive as soon as the n-word was out there (quite a Pandora’s Box, isn’t it?) and legitimate questions from both sides being buried in the most common reflexes to these situations: anger and self-righteous vitriol. At that point, no one can go on to win the argument, but those of us who’d like to see a thoughtful discussion definitely lose. Congratulations, you are now the proud host of every other political call-in show on the air! May your conversations be just as successful and productive as the legendary Crossfire!

Whatever you do next, I hope you will never hold back your earnest thoughts, so the dialogues can always be honest, the reactions passionate, and the deserts just.

Good luck in your future endeavors!

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Our Political Atmosphere: How Bad Is It?

2010.July.28

So bad that fear of one’s opponents is a faster motivator than those opponents themselves.

The short version is that a Black nonpartisan federal employee was caught on video saying something that sounded racist against Whites and was fired almost immediately, only for word to later come out that the video had been edited to place her comments in antithetical context to their personal-triumph-over-racism origin. Partisan officials from the top scrambled to apologize and offer the woman her job (or better) back.

So what role did partisanship play in the whole fiasco? Ironically, only the partisans are really talking about this, and you’re not going to get much of a straight answer out of either side.

Of course, liberals are pointing fingers at conservative media (e.g., Fox News). The NAACP (not staunchly liberal, but let’s say sympathetic; they were implicated because it was at their event that the video was shot) declared “we have come to the conclusion we were snookered by Fox News and Tea Party Activist Andrew Breitbart into believing she had harmed white farmers because of racial bias … we now believe the organization that edited the documents did so with the intention of deceiving millions of Americans.”

Conservatives rebut this by pointing out that Fox barely had time to mention the video before the woman was forced into resignation. The Tea Party activist who first posted the edited video has refused to apologize, swearing up and down that the video was already edited when he received it (source unknown).

Media sources that attempt to be nonpartisan are just shaking their heads going, “WTF?” because those who bought the story gave it legs and those who didn’t only avoided doing so because they weren’t fast enough. The old UPI motto “Get it first, but get it right” is clear in its structure about which half is the priority and which is the caveat.

Ugh. This is our politics. Just makes you want to burst into patriotic song, doesn’t it?

I watched a little of the ensuing tennis match between Rachel Maddow and Bill O’Reilly earlier tonight. I laughed with Rachel and cringed at Bill like I was supposed to (grouse though I might about partisanship, I do tend to sympathize with those who tout social justice over corporate interests), but it felt rather distant from reality. There was one very meta moment wherein Rachel was speaking alongside a monitor displaying Bill, who in turn was shown alongside footage of Rachel… it was like looking at a reflection of a reflection of a reflection (AKA an “infinity mirror”)…

I was left feeling a little empty. I didn’t gain anything from watching this display, and I doubt Rachel or Bill or anyone on either of their staffs learned during those 5… 10… 30… however many minutes this volley will go on. The whole story seems to be showing us an ugly underbelly of politics and media, even as it is exploiting it, without offering any solutions or hope for improvement.

There have been some oblique references to how journalists should check their sources, but aren’t we at least past the point of confusing “commentators” with “journalists”? Just clarifying the difference between news for the sake of news and opinion posing as news for the sake of entertainment posing as political involvement would go a long way toward a calmer, more rational political climate for all sides. There are commentators trying to be journalists and journalists trying to be commentators, but a real newsperson isn’t going to have his or her name ahead of the word “News” in the title of a program. Instead of everyone saying, “Those journalists should have checked their sources!” how about we ask how and why journalists, commentators, the NAACP, and the freaking federal government could get so invested in a story without checking their sources?

How about the liberal commentators and officials check their sources, even now, and recognize that while, yes, Fox News and their allies have created an intimidating news environment, in this case they were behind the curve. Just because officials feared their backlash doesn’t mean the backlash had actually begun. While their at it, liberal and non-partisan officials need to grow a spine and not jump to defend themselves against every little attack. And liberal commentators who nightly denounce ideologues like Bill O’Reilly for being caustic blowhards need to not get involved in tit-for-tat, self-referential reporting, lest you become blowhards yourselves! (Oops, too late.)

And conservatives, who are more or less faultless in this one incident (congratulations, your seeds of self-destruction have been sewn quite well in the opposition), need to recognize that playing the frothy underdog for ten years has only made them bitter and lightning rods of fear (both felt and inspired). If they want to defend this country so well, they need to let go of the most extreme rhetoric and sit down and have a conversation with their enemies once in a while. Maybe then they can see we’re human beings, too, we’re Americans, too, and that somewhere between us is the path to a successful America.

Or that, at the very least, people look very different when not viewed through a reflection of a reflection of a reflection…

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The National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change

2010.February.3

Why am I going to Creating Change?

  • To see one of my mentors from D.C., and hopefully other contacts from my time working there.
  • To get in on the first real activist development opportunity that has presented itself in the Metroplex since I left D.C.
  • To develop better awareness and skills around gender and sexuality at a time when DFW seems primed for thoughtful action.
  • To recognize that after blurring the lines for years, I have now clearly stepped outside simple heterosexuality and to own this deliberate process.
  • To celebrate sexual diversity very close to my home turf and strengthen local ties between the LGBT and poly communities.
  • To learn how to be a better ally to friends and colleagues and, in turn, to take these lessons back to other allies who don’t always know how to express their support.
  • To see some really hot activists talking about “really lascivious things, like communication“.
  • To identify lessons and opportunities on the periphery of queer activism that may be useful to my book and my campaign work.

…and because hetero people don’t generally talk about sexuality as candidly–whether it’s related to love, pleasure, or politics–and I simply need more.

What will I be doing  at Creating Change?

Wednesday
DAY-LONG INSTITUTE 1: Challenging and Transforming White Supremacy in Our Work: Our Vision, Our Roles (anti-racist workshop specifically for Whites)

Thursday
DAY-LONG INSTITUTE 2: Sexual Liberation Institute (topics of sexual freedom discussed by the afore-mentioned mentor, her partner, and Tristan Taormino, author of my favorite poly manual)
OPENING PLENARY (followed by a Poly speed-greeting)

Friday
WORKSHOP SESSION 1: Class Matters (identifying issues that cross communities, featuring story circles!) or The Art of the Schmooze (because I need it)
WORKSHOP SESSION 2: Integrating New Media into Your Organizing Strategy (to enhance my existing communications skills) or What Your Parents Never Taught You About Sex  (including discussions of demographics, risk, and practices, because I’m due for a refresher)
PLENARY
WORKSHOP SESSION 3: Strengthening the Connection: Racial Justice and LGBT Rights (presenters include Rinku Sen, a personal hero) or Storytelling for Social Change: Gathering LGBTQ Stories (because personal storytelling is pivotal to my approach to nonfiction)
WORKSHOP SESSION 4: Reaching Out to the Blogosphere (a strong need if my writing is to gain traction)
CAUCUS 1: Young and Poly (if 29 is not too old… definitions vary greatly, so I’ll be asking in advance) or Transitioning Beyond the Boxes (on expanding gender identities beyond male/female)
RECEPTIONS

Saturday:
WORKSHOP SESSION 5: You Lie! Right-Wing Race Backlash: What It Means for Queers (because anti-racist and interdisciplinary discussions make me happy)
WORKSHOP SESSION 6: Mapping Your Desire (very timely for me)
PLENARY
WORKSHOP SESSION 7: Kink, Race and Class (the presenter’s definition of kink includes multi-partner relationships, so all I can say is Hell yes!)
WORKSHOP SESSION 8: Talkin’ Bout My Generation: Intergenerational Storytelling and Dialogue (more relevant to my book) or The Future of Sexual Orientation (expanding beyond gender and gender preference, and also featuring Tristan Taormino)
CAUCUS 2: Designing Useable Research (this is also pivotal to my book) or Polyamory/Nonmonogamy Caucus (if I am, indeed, too old for the Friday Caucus)
ENTERTAINMENT
Sunday:
BRUNCH PLENARY
CONFERENCE FEEDBACK

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Who Is Savannah?

2009.March.31

[I thought I posted this yesterday... anyway, it's here at last!]

The pertinent reason for my Birmingham disclosure was that my traveling companion had a similar moment of self-discovery in Savannah. Without going too far into telling someone else’s story, I will share that she is another White Southerner (though from a different part of the South as me), for whom Savannah highlighted a personal conflict: ambivalence in one’s personal heritage, taking pride in some-but-not-all elements (both traditional and subversive) and shame in others.

The Savannah I saw in 2009 was very different from the one I had seen in 2005. This year, I saw little-to-no evidence of conspicuous segregation between White and Black – quite the contrary in fact. Many shops (and even our motel) were surprisingly integrated, with customers and staff inclusively White, Black, and even occasionally Latino. Only River Street, Savannah’s most densely tourist district, matched what I had seen before; the color line there was almost literal, with the waterfront populated almost entirely by Black buskers and the cityfront lapped by waves of White tourists meandering in and out of shops and restaurants. I was, as before, engrossed by the atmosphere and attitude of SCAD, even as its urban sprawl reminded me of NYU in The Village and its funky White eclecticism belied the rest of downtown’s pleasant integration. Generally, there was a lack of visible tension or ominousness like in just about any other downtown, so much so that it seemed the economic downturn had not hit Savannah very hard (yet).

Downtown Savannah seemed less mysterious than the Spanish moss might lead one to believe, but then we took the time to watch “The Movie”, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The film and its source crime narrative are largely responsible for tourism in Savannah since the 90′s. I was once told that the fascination with ghost tours and gothic statues did not really exist before The Movie’s 1997 release, but seeing the film raised a lot of questions about its prominence, especially since the film’s supernatural aspects are more ambient than relevant, and there is rarely in downtown any open reference to any of the story’s character or events.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is a lightly fictionalized account of an actual murder that happened in Savannah in 1981, when a wealthy, middle-aged antiques dealer killed his gay lover in the historic home of Johnny Mercer while the victim was high and possibly threatening. The story unfolds from the perspective of a visiting magazine writer from New York City, who has befriended the dealer just before the slaying. The New Yorker is sympathetic, but suspicious; he turns his personality profile into a murder investigation, relying heavily on a mischievous transsexual performer and a sexy blond neighbor to navigate his way through the lifestyles of the Rich and Southern. Wackiness ensues, but under dark and foreboding cinematography.

The Movie was interesting, but more as a cultural phenomenon than as art or entertainment. As I said above, Savannah has wrapped a not-small segment of its tourism around this film, yet signs and solicitations never make direct reference to the movie’s subject matter. The scenery is all Savannah (that city looks like no place else!), but the story as told could have been set with different accents in just about any city in the U.S. (or many others around the world). Local celebrities living semi-closeted lives, having to explain to some out-of-stater the way things are done ’round here (and how can a writer from New York City be so naïve about drag queens anyway?), mutual suspicion and derision between the out-of-stater and his smug, amused hosts…

There seemed to be many swaths of rich material, but no hems to fit it all together; more to the point of this blog, where were the race and class issues? The accused makes a point of explaining that he is nouveau-riche, and his lover was clearly working class, but these tidbits don’t seem terribly relevant to the course of the story. Similarly, the two Black characters are vaudevillian for their entertainment value and receive much critical camera time, but neither exerts much direct impact on plot. Perhaps their roles could have been expanded, to redirect the film toward a study not of a murder investigation but of the quirky community around it – but then it would lose what little was credibly left of the Southern Gothic motif. Conversely, the superfluous parts could have been trimmed (I daresay cut) to allow for a more straightforward narrative, but then it would have lost pretty much all entertainment value (Lady Chablis, who convincingly played herself fifteen years after the actual murder, was the best part of the film). I hope The Book was better.

But even if The Book and The Movie are great works (and I’m no expert, plenty of others seem to think so), it still surprised us that Savannah has so wholly embraced them. Sure, Midnight conveyed Savannah’s haunting beauty, but what did it say about the city and its people that can be such a source of pride and draw to Savannah? Uppity and aloof people of wealth gossiping impersonally over alcohol? Nothing unusual there. Thriving but underground gay culture? Not your usual source of pride (well, not in the lower-case, non-parade variety). A place where Black Americans are not defined by their race, but by their skills as drag performers and Voodoo priestesses? Entire classes could be taught on what’s wrong with that… Was it the notion that eccentric Southerners can charm any Northerner into relocating without really trying?

Actually, let’s think about that. Because the trial, the denouement that follows… those were anticlimactic. They’re kind of benchmarks to let you know the story’s almost over. Really, they’re just props, no emotional reaction. And all those lovely, eccentric, one-and-a-half-dimensional characters who stretch the film out well past two hours… most of them are kind of props, too. The mistrust, the culture-clash, the anticipation of twists and turns that never quite materialize… these are the most powerful elements, and the film isn’t over until the narrator tells his new love interest that he’s not going back to New York. But he’s still little more than a prop. That plot I was kind of ragging on? Prop. The gay community and its thin closet, the Black characters (and lack thereof), the rich and the poor – they’re all just props.

The real protagonist of the story is the city of Savannah. Between dialogues, the city calls out to viewers and lures their eyes away from the foreground with beautiful townhouses and creeping Spanish Moss and says, “Look at these crazy people. Only a real city could produce a story like this. Someplace with history and beauty and tragedy behind tired eyes that you’ll never see because I am too gorgeous to let you in on the baggage. I can’t change who I am. I can’t change my history and I’m not sure I would if I could, so I’m just going to put it out there: the eccentric, the ostentatious, the best and the worst of myself, and I dare you to assume that’s all there is to me.” This city puts on a fabulous show of everything it is and everything it wants to be but can’t and celebrates that which it cannot hide with undulating flair.

Savannah is a drag queen.

But not just any drag queen; Savannah is THE drag queen of The Old South. In a good economy, you can’t even tell black from white, happy from sad, any part of any dichotomy from its opposite, because all the polarities are just jumbled up around you and inviting you to savor the blend. As the economic shifts catch up, well, we’ll see who gets invited into the next, more meager concoction, but for now Savannah bears whatever scars it must without trying to hide them, neither flaunting nor obscuring, just getting by on personality and hotness and hoping they will keep you from asking another one of those questions it’s already tired of answering.

On the drive to our next destination, we stopped at a 24-hour Starbucks near Auburn University for warm beverages and people-watching. We couldn’t decide how to feel about the strange blend of gymnasts and debutantes, hipsters and hicks; was it all too illogical or simply our own lives flashing before our eyes? At least it seemed integrated. There’s a lot to be said for how easily it comes to people my age and younger, even here in the South.

Any other day, we would have been talking about that Starbucks for hours, but Savannah had already stolen the show. We would talk about those two days for weeks to come…

Sights: Bamboo Farm and Coastal Gardens, E. Shaver, Bookseller, River Street, Savannah’s Candy Kitchen

Topics: Speculating on the political leanings of employees and clientele at E. Shaver, cheap toilet paper at expensive hotels, how great it would be to live in Savannah for a month while writing a book, gender, race, class, acceptance vs. tolerance.

Soundtrack: Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Martha Wainwright, Placebo, Simon and Garfunkel

We were a bit late heading out of town, but it was okay. There was very little to see in Montgomery.

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Did I Bury the Lead?

2009.February.28

In my earlier entry about Birmingham, I skimmed over an important detail that I would like to revisit: the moment I cried.

It was in the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, in the second room after the film introduction. There were tall glass panels, free-standing like a small crowd in a wide room with high ceilings. Each panel had been laser-etched with full-bodied portraits: people of various ages and races in uniforms for several vocations or lifestyles. It was very idealistic, with everyone smiling and comfortable with his or her panel standing alongside another panel with someone of another color and background – probably bordering on cheesy, but I responded well, I was all smiles, just like the etching of the little black girl carrying her lunchbox and dressed for school.

After meandering through the twenty or so panels, I emerged on the other side of the room to see a large wood and glass cabinet set in stark contrast to the rest of the room. Inside hung a full set of Klan robes, alongside a small, rope-bound cross, ready for burning.

How could they include this? I asked myself. How could they put this on display? How dare they?

Instantly, the answer poured from my face – hot, painful tears that shamed me and shamed my passivity through the earlier exhibits. I had to walk away, lean against a wall, so that my uncontrollable sobs would not disrupt the experience of others. I have never shied away from crying except when there was an audience, and an audience of strangers who were likely having a very different experience only made me more ashamed, simultaneously of my tears and of their lack of them. I didn’t even know why I was crying!

A young Black man came up to me and put a hand on my shoulder. He reminded me that we had come a long way and offered me a hug. My companion came over and stood with me until I was ready to move on. We went at separate paces, and I’m afraid I wasn’t there when her composure was later lost over the choice parents faced between getting their children a better education and saving their lives. The rest of the exhibits were very vivid, very informative, but I worked through them, taking notes and scuttling closer to the gift shop.

It wasn’t until after we had left that I was able to piece together the thoughts that had set me off. There were plenty of violent events covered in the museum, there were artifacts and scenes painted all-too vividly, and there were moving biographies and tributes to heroes of the Civil Rights Movement, but none of these had stirred the guttural sadness that the robes had. What had overcome my jaded, learned, untouchable stance of observation? My reflections led me to think about context. Perhaps it’s a sign that I’m too liberal, but I can understand (though not justify) the actions of an individual. Every individual has stories, and relationships, and complicating factors that can lead to a single instance of bad judgment or even divert them permanently toward a life of violence and antipathy.

What bothered me about the robes was their power of community. Such power does not come overnight, and it doesn’t come without permission. The acts of the Ku Klux Klan were accepted and congratulated by Whites throughout the South as a backlash against those events we now celebrate as “progress”. Then there’s all the half-assers… for every community that actively embraced the Klan, how many more were there who passively supported it, tolerated it, or kept their discomfort to themselves? Yes, I can wrap my brain around just about any action committed by an individual in a particular circumstance, but I have no ability (or desire) to comprehend broad, successful movements of hatred and violence.

Believe it or not, it is just such communities whom I wish to describe in my upcoming book. But I’m not ready to say too much about that here.

Why did I not tell this story when I first blogged about my day in Birmingham? Well, for one thing, I was blogging closer to real-time then, and I was not yet ready to write about the incident or to share it with an audience. But for another, I was not yet sure at that time of the tone I wanted for this blog. That tone has come to me in subsequent entries, as I have decided to focus this journal on my politics through travels and my travels through politics. I cannot write the political without writing the personal, and vice-versa. They resonnate, and it’s these points of resonnance that always interest me most.

Thanks for reading.

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