Saturday, January 24, 2015

Due to family obligations, this week's post has been postponed til next.

In the meantime, you can check out some of the links on the new Additional Resources page.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Definitions (& The Dictionary Defense)

Racism
Privilege
Prejudice
Discrimination
Sexism & Misogyny
Heterosexism/Homophobia
Transphobia/Transmisogyny/Cissexism

These are just a few of the most basic names for the systems I'd like to talk about on this blog. Take a moment to look at each word and think about how you personally define each one and how you learned that definition. Over the next few weeks I will be breaking each topic down further. Let's get started.

"But the dictionary says..." And Why That Doesn't Matter.

The dictionary definitions of most words we use to talk about these things are either wrong or extremely oversimplified to the point where they're not actually useful. All of the nuance and real-world applications of the terms are lost, either for the sake of brevity or because of social structures and political agendas.

We refer to these topics as systemic they are built into the very fabric of society. They're the default -- no matter how much you want to think of yourself as above them or unrelated to them, you're not. No one is. And the only way to address that is to know what it is you're supposed to be looking for and examine what role you play.

Everything has a political agenda.

There is nothing in any society that isn't in some way affected by these structures and politics, and that includes everything we "know" to be true or false. It's why we speak the way we do, why we dress the way we do, why we act the way we do. Why certain trends become popular.

You may have heard "History is always written by the winners." (I believe that particular phrasing is attributed to Dan Brown. The Napoleon Bonaparte version is "What is history, but a fable agreed upon?") Everything we know about the world, everything that gets written in textbooks and magazines, etc, is written by those who have social and political power. There are people who decide what goes into textbooks and what children should learn about the world. They are not neutral or infallible; they are human just like the rest of us. Everything we know is both created and carefully controlled. There is no neutrality in knowledge. (For example, scientifically speaking, a tomato is a fruit, not a vegetable. Well, did you know in 1893 the Supreme Court decided it was a vegetable so that tomatoes could be taxed, as there was no tax on fruit? [Source, US Supreme Court Nix v. Hedden.] Guess which definition made it into the dictionary?)

I'm sure by now you catch my meaning - the dictionary is only a rudimentary source at best, especially for subjects as complex as race and oppression, and language changes with the times. Dictionaries get updated at an excruciatingly slow pace. Definitions invented in the 1800s are no longer relevant. The dictionary is not an authority on language but a resource.

So, with all of that in mind:

Let's get to the root of where we need to get going.

I don't always work or think within this framework (because sometimes it's a little too simple for intragroup issues), but almost all of these definitions can be addressed via the same basic formula -
Power + Privilege. 
Almost all of them have the same basic components - prejudice, discrimination, privilege. There is a class of people who are subjugated and left out of that privilege (oppressed/marginalized) and, in most cases, a class of people (generally everyone who does not belong to that group) who reinforce the oppression, whether intentionally or passively. While we may say people are equal, it's not exactly true.

Power - the ability to influence or control people's behavior. Society as a whole can grant power to groups of individuals as a means of elevating them above another group. We call that power (and the perks that come with being a part of that powerful group):

Privilege - unearned power and advantages one group has, generally at the expense of another.

Stereotype - a widely held and oversimplified generalization of a group.

Prejudice - a feeling of dislike towards a person or group of persons, typically based in stereotypes.

Discrimination - acting on prejudice, whether on an individual level, or a group level (which requires power)

A phrase you may see me say often is "generalization of the minority hurts the minority. Generalization of the majority protects the minority." Stereotypes are not equal. When a member of privileged group engages in stereotyping someone of a marginalized group, they are using their collective group power against that person. It is always hurtful and always contributing to the history of oppression. When a member of that marginalized group generalizes the group with power, it is a defensive reaction designed to protect themselves from the powerful group. They do not have the power to hurt more than feelings - they cannot contribute to a system of oppression that never existed. (This is why there is no such thing as a reverse oppression. Power doesn't go both ways.)

Marginalized people can definitely have prejudice against a privileged group, can definitely discriminate against that group, but again, often these are for their own protection and do not constitute oppression because the group lacks the institutional power to dominate.

For example, there is a stereotype that black people aren't smart or aren't as smart as white people. Aside from the obvious hurtful implications of such a comment, they're also based in a long history of anti-black oppression. Black people in America were not allowed to be educated, were systematically excluded from educational establishments, were punished for learning how to read and write, and continue to be further pushed aside because of it. (As a note, yes, this is why affirmative action was created. To attempt to correct this history by giving "minorities" a boost to bIt doesn't work the way

There is also a stereotype that white people like expensive coffee. Aside from hurt feelings.... There's not much else to it.

Take any other racial stereotypes (and various practices) and I guarantee you they can be broken down exactly like this.

Oppression - the patterns of prejudice and discrimination that are normalized throughout a society, socially and politically. An entire population using collective power to code discrimination into law and behavior in a way that makes it nearly impossible not to discriminate (often by punishing or ostracizing those who dissent)

Again, discrimination is not in and of itself oppression.

When we're talking about race, this is racism (the systematic marginalization and oppression of people of color), also known as white supremacy. There is no such thing as reverse racism or white oppression. Any negatives you face as a white person are a result of white supremacy.

When we're talking about gender, this is sexism, misogyny, cissexism (the idea that people who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth are better than those who do not; the oppression of transgender and intersex people), transphobia (another name for cissexism and the fear/dislike of people who are transgender) and transmisogyny (transphobia, cissexism and misogyny directed at transgender women). There is no such thing as misandry or male oppression, or cis oppression. Any negatives you face as a man are a result of the systems sexism and misogyny. Any negatives you face as a cisgender person are typically also a result of sexism, misogyny, cissexism.

When we're talking about sexual orientation, this is heterosexism, homophobia, biphobia, etc. There is not such thing as heterophobia or straight oppression. Any negatives you face as a straight person are a result of heterosexism.

You can have privilege under one system and not others, and all of these systems overlap. There are hierarchies created under each one, even within marginalized groups.

This is the basis of everything. I'll leave it at this today. Over the next few days I'll share some links to more information. Next topic is likely to be privilege.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Nothing to Lose, Everything to Gain. An Introduction.

"Look closely at the present you are constructing. It should look like the future you are dreaming." -- Alice Walker

After the experience I had the other night and over the past 6 months in regards to racism and completely oblivious people (to put it gently), I decided I need a more public archive and outlet. It's difficult to bring attention to current events and why they're happening when your audience isn't aware of the underlying causes and how everything fits together or isn't interested in seeing it past an isolated incident instead of the epidemic or symptom it is. It's downright impossible to cram several decades' worth of information into a short message or tweet when you're just trying to make a simple statement of fact that you forget not everyone knows.

I realized again early yesterday morning just how insular "activist"-type communities can be - we log in and everyone around us is at the same or similar levels of awareness of social issues. Our beliefs are ingrained in our every thought and action. We're always immersed in actively practicing and revising what we preach, so sometimes it feels like a culture shock everywhere else.  And as much as I love those communities and prefer to be around others like me, I think it may be intimidating to those who aren't a part of that world. It's a lot to take in, often the language used isn't the most accessible, and you're expected to know the basics even when they're being further explained. When you've been in that world for years, it's hard to start back at the beginning when you've already moved far beyond the basics.

Unlearning oppressive behaviors is a never-ending process, something everyone must continue to work through for our entire lives. It's not easy either, and yes, sometimes it may seem extreme in comparison to the status quo - because every bit of this is designed to deconstruct the status quo and make the world a better place for everyone instead of just a select few.

I would much rather be thought of as an "extremist" than not do what is within my abilities to make this world and global society the best it can be for all. I want us and future generations to live in a world free from systemic oppression and inequity. Call it idealism but I want to believe that could be a possibility. I refuse to settle for anything less. And I cannot in good conscience watch as people continue think the things they say and do are never affected by institutionalized systems (to oversimplify, prejudice intentionally set up and reinforced, explicitly and covertly, in a society, on a grand scale) - even when they don't realize what they're saying/doing is harmful. (And frankly, it's depressing that "treating people like the human beings they are and making the world a safer place for all" is considered extreme. But if "extremism" worked for MLK and Jesus in their times simply for being just and speaking out, I suppose it's worth it. I may never be as prolific and well known, nor do I aspire to be, but it's the attempt that counts. I will not be silent. I've gained more real friends in this fight than lost them. I live my truth. It's worth it.)

In the words of Assata Shakur, "Theory without practice is just as incomplete as practice without theory." 

I have spent so much of my post-college years learning and teaching about anti-racism and dismantling systems of oppression. I fully intend to become a social worker someday and continue this work professionally. (It's with that intention that I promise here and now to make an attempt to curb my language. But if the occasional "fuck" slips in, I can give you an entire list of reasons why it doesn't make a difference. Trust me, I do know my shit.) I left college and delayed my grad school applications because, aside from the financial impossibility, I wanted to gain more real world knowledge before being locked away in the Ivory Tower for another 4 or 5 years. This is not just my academic background; it's literally my life.

This is not just textbook theory and academic jargon, it is the lived experiences of millions of people throughout all of history, and the legacy we leave behind for future generations.

So why this brand new blog, when I have several long-established public blogs already?

I have dealt with many people over the years demanding I educate them for free, even when I pointed them the resources to find the answers themselves, as though they were somehow entitled to my time, energy, and patience. I've had people demand to know every detail of what I'm doing to make a difference, as though my life-long work, even when I didn't know a fraction of what I do now, wasn't obvious enough on it's own. I've had people assert that nothing online could possibly make a difference in the world -- and far more others telling me how much I've helped them become better people.

So I thought, if I could offhand teach random strangers on the internet how to be better about racism and other systems of oppression, using the knowledge others have taught me, why can't I set up a new way to share this information with "friends" in an accessible way? The information to start this process is out there if you're willing to look for it. Hundreds of thousands of articles, blog posts, tweets, artwork, even Vines.

But I'll make it a little simpler. I'll start from the top, at the most basic of information. I'm hoping to offer a clearer perspective of the practical side of sociology, social theory, and social justice in our everyday lives. Think of it as the online, interactive, most comprehensive 101 level class we deserved in school but never had. I will be focusing on the US and Western systems and their role in the world, as that is what I know and can speak on.

But before we begin, let's get one thing straight - No one is entitled to demand anything of me, nothing more than I offer. 

I'm not required to do this. I am choosing to. I'm working on this in my spare time, partially to clear up some misconceptions people have about why any of us do this work and what our goals are. I may add some affiliate links to books (as well as a wish list, should anyone care to gift books to further my studies), but I'm not being paid to do this. All of the work that I do is just as much for my benefit as it is for all other marginalized people, and I'm learning from it as well. I typically do not make the extra effort to reason with people I don't think have the potential and the willingness to listen. I have been in that position myself and I know how difficult it is to accept that you may be wrong (and not even know it). If you're not willing to try to understand, I can't and won't try to convince you otherwise -- and that is entirely for the sake of my mental health and well being. I've tried to argue it far too many times and it was not worth the time or effort. If I feel the need to disengage and reclaim this as a safe space, I will. Again, I'm choosing to do this as a free service for those who are willing to listen and learn.

What I say and share will without a doubt make you uncomfortable - that is the point. You should be uncomfortable, because that is how we learn and change and grow. You may be angry, you may be disbelieving, but remember that I'm not saying this to hurt you but to make you aware, make you question what you believe and why you believe it, and to show you that even the best of intentions are not always as pure and unprejudiced as we may believe them to be. It is not about you as an individual person but about you as a part of a larger social structure.


And with that in mind, I do want to be clear that comments on this blog will be moderated.
I encourage people to ask questions and ask for clarification when needed, suggest topics or blog improvements and even ask personal questions within reason (I reserve the right to answer at my own discretion). But this isn't a forum for debate. My humanity is not up for debate. Don't abuse the comment system, and don't abuse me.

So here we go. First topic will be the most basic definitions, "rules," and why all of this matters. I'm expecting to do a big post every Friday, with sporadic articles, readings, activities, and quotes throughout the week -- but I will try to keep the bolding and blocks of text to a minimum next time.

"It is our duty to fight for our freedom.
It is our duty to win.
We must love each other and support each other.
We have nothing to lose but our chains." 

-- Assata Shakur