Safety Pin Movement Point-Counterpoint: Painfully (Pun Intended) Complicated

safetypinOk, I admit it. I’m a straight, white male and I’ve been wearing a safety pin, not just on my shirt, but I have another one on my coat, so that when I have my coat on, which covers up the safety pin on my shirt, a safety pin can still be seen by women, people of color, people with disabilities, Muslims, members of the LGBTQ community, and my fellow Jews, namely all who have been threatened by Trumpism, a signal to my brothers and sisters and transters that I am on their side, that I am safe.

If you are unfamiliar with the safety pin movement, read this.

Ironically, my wearing of pins angers some of the very people to whom I’m pledging my support, and I TOTALLY understand their justifiable anger, distrust, skepticism, and the demand for more than just fucking safety pins.

For now, I’m keeping my safety pins on, but let’s take a look at some of the voices for and against.

Here’s Ijeoma Oluo, writing at The Establishment:

I took a little bit of hope in the thought that maybe now more people were paying attention to the racist, sexist, Islamophobic, ableist society that we live in. Maybe we could mobilize this grief, anger, and fear into action.

But what I got were safety pins. Suddenly everywhere I looked, (mostly) white people were talking about safety pins. What a great idea! Something we can all do! I couldn’t tell people on social media apart anymore as their pictures were all replaced with pins. All that energy that I had hoped would go toward real-life action in support of marginalized populations who have been fighting this system alone for far too long was diverted to a symbol that most people wouldn’t even notice.

Fair points indeed, and it was disturbing reading, further in her post, how she was attacked by readers who disagreed with her about the safety pins:

Within hours, hundreds of white people had flooded my Facebook page and Twitter feed in defense of their safety pins. I was told that I was part of the problem. I was told that I was being divisive. I was told that my skepticism was making people sad. None of the commenters seemed to be aware that telling a black woman that she was wrong to question white people is kind of the opposite of racial solidarity in a country where the majority of white voters just elected Trump.

Then, I was called racist. A few times. I was called an asshole. I was called an idiot. I was told I had no brain. Multiple people vomited all their “social justice credentials” on my page and demanded that I acknowledge that they were good white people. Some accused me of censoring them with my critique. Others accused me of shaming them. One white woman demanded an apology and then told me that she deserved respect because her ancestors fought for the North in the civil war.

Then, a white woman emailed a radio show that I frequently appear on, demanding that they cancel my appearances. I know this, because she then wrote a post bragging that she had done this. This woman was trying to take away a source of my income. All because I questioned her safety pins.

My friend Syreeta also questioned the effectiveness of the pins and a white woman demanded that she prove she’s actually a citizen who could vote.

That’s textbook white privilege and microaggression, right there, people!

at Vox, in a post titled The backlash over safety pins and allies, explained, included this nugget:

Wearing a safety pin began as a gesture of kindness. But some people also see it as a performative, bullshit type of “slacktivism,” arguing that it allows people to pat themselves on the back without actually trying to fix the problems they say are important…

“We don’t get to make ourselves feel better by putting on safety pins and self-designating ourselves as allies,” Christopher Keelty wrote for the Huffington Post. “And make no mistake, that’s what the safety pins are for. Making White people feel better.”

The claims of “slacktivism” resonate with me, because it only took one day on Facebook after the election to convince me that, while social media and the internet can be tools for raising awareness, opposing Trumpism and building a grassroots movement to rescue the country from the madness that accompanies the Trump presidency will take WAY more than posting and sharing things online. It will take boots on the ground.

And yet, where did I get my first safety pin?

It was handed to me while I was participating in boots-on-the-ground action, by a fellow protester at a demonstration that I wrote about on Monday. Present were members of a number of groups threatened by Trumpism, there were two menacing Trump supporters weaving through the crowd, waving a giant Trump: Make America Great Again flag in a provocative manner, and I was totally committed and ready to help protect someone if need be.

While it might seem like semantic nitpicking, I guess I respectfully disagree with Ijeoma Oluo that wearing a safety pin isn’t “real-life action in support of marginalized populations”, but I say this with a MAJOR qualification.

The best expression I’ve read of that qualification comes courtesy of Isobel DeBrujah, author of the blog What a Witch, in a post titled So You Want To Wear a Safety Pin, and here are some highlights:

Know What The Pin Means

It is a sign that you are a safe person. A marginalized person who is being harassed will look to you to help keep them safe. By wearing the safety pin you make a public pledge to be a walking, talking safe space for the marginalized. All of the marginalized. You don’t get to pick and choose. You can’t protect GSM people but ignore the Muslim woman who needs help. You can’t stand for Black people who are dealing with racial slurs but ignore the disabled person who is dealing with a physical attack.

This is all or nothing. If you aren’t willing or able to stand up for everyone, don’t wear the pin…

How Much Are You Willing to Risk?

This is the most important question. Before you get involved, you have to decide how much you are willing to risk in the interaction. Depending on how privileged and/or sheltered you are, you may be unaware that these kind of interactions can get violent and they can get that way fast.

Are you willing to have violence in your life? Are you willing to be violent in defense of the marginalized? If you’re not willing, that’s fine. Not everyone is. But you need to be realistic. If you wear the safety pin, you are telling people you are willing to confront violence on their behalf. And if you’re not willing to do that, don’t wear the pin…

DeBrujah goes on to provide some excellent guidance on intervention tactics and de-escalation that I highly recommend for consumption, whether or not you choose to wear a safety pin.

On the humorous, pro-safety-pin side of things, John Trowbridge writes at Huffington Post:

Grab some hot cocoa and sit on your Grampy’s lap, children! I want to tell you about the year 2016. It seems like a long time ago, as this is 2075, but I remember it like it was yesterday.

Do you whippersnappers know Donald Trump? Why, he was the Daddy of our current emperor, Barron Trump!

I tell ya, I was furious when he was elected. He posed a serious threat to every freedom we held dear. I knew it was going to take everybody in our great country working together to defeat him. So I took to the internet and attacked my fellow liberals for wearing safety pins on their clothes.

While I got a chuckle from this, I felt he overly simplified the matter, and I hope he takes the time to listen to the voices of the marginalized people who aren’t so sure about the safety pins, starting with Ijeoma Oluo.

So, for now, I’ve decided to continue wearing my safety pin, with the MAJOR qualification mentioned above, because at the very least there’s a chance that it might facilitate badly-needed discussion on this topic, that I might be able to share my thinking about what being an ally to marginalized people REALLY involves, discussions that could be contentious, that could make me and others VERY uncomfortable.

For, as I wrote in a post from December 2015, after a disturbing racist incident happened at my place of employment, Western Washington University, spawning a series campus events:

Of the very first of these sessions, a town hall, the Bellingham Herald wrote:

In response to the question about the hopes for the university, panelist and graduate student Alex Ng advised that these conversations should make people feel uncomfortable.

“As we go forward as an entire community and as individuals, what we’re asking people to do is choose to be uncomfortable, which is kind of crazy, but it’s so important that we do that and we have to have the courage to do that together,” Ng said.

So, here I am, feeling gloomy but still writing, trying to make sense of the senseless, trying to be honest, even at the risk of being morose, choosing to be uncomfortable so that denial doesn’t inadvertently perpetuate that which I could choose to deny.

 

 

 

The War On (Dominant) White Culture: Revisited

Anti-White-Racism-530px1Back in December, I wrote a post titled The War On (Dominant) White Culture that was selected by WordPress for their curated Discover feed of supposedly best posts of the day, which was flattering for sure.

But what’s much more satisfying to me is something I discovered myself today.

One of my favorite political bloggers, for many years, has been the editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com (TPM), Josh Marshall.

And while I was rather annoyed by the fact that Josh had the gall (tongue firmly in cheek) to support Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders during the primaries, I’ve never stopped reading TPM, his posts in particular, because he is consistently on top of the latest stories and his writing is penetrating and insightful.

So, it was with a degree of pride that I read his post from yesterday, titled Trumpism is a Politics of Loss and Revenge, and noticed that it dovetails nicely with my post from December mentioned above. It draws some of the same conclusions, while providing Josh’s characteristic deeper, more thorough exploration of the topic.

I can’t recommend reading his post enough, but here are just two quotes, one from my post, one from his, that illustrate the overlap of our respective takes on the subject.

…white people have no constitutional or moral right to be the dominant culture, to force their culture on non-white people or demand that non-whites assimilate and adopt white culture.

The only way to remain the dominant culture is through asserting superiority, or some kind of privilege to remain dominant, without regard for the majority, by doing so aggressively and oppressively — think South Africa, where whites were only 20% of the population and yet owned 80% of the land and an even greater percentage of wealth, and resorted to Apartheid to keep it that way.

There is no War on White Culture, but…

…white people do need to let go of being the dominant culture.

–Fish & Bicycles

You don’t need to hate non-whites to be attached to the dominant position whites have historically had in American life. But if you identify with your whiteness, simple majorities mean security. Losing that dominance, if you don’t feel able or ready or willing to relinquish it almost inevitably generates hatred and a desire for revenge.

–Josh Marshall

A Dream Deferred: Thoughts On Dallas In Two Quotes

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Langston Hughes

Awareness vs. Self-Preservation

burying-ones-head-in-the-sand

“It’s good to be exposed to politics and what’s going down here, but it does damage to me. Too much of it can cripple me. And if I really let myself think about it — –the violence, the sickness, all of it — –I think I’d flip out.”

–Joni Mitchell, from Rolling Stone Magazine, 1969

I think about this ALL the time!

A couple of weeks ago I wrote that I was choosing to face some gloom, because not doing so would be contributing to the problem rather than the solution, and the toll it took on me was considerable, I just about flipped out.

See, I feel like, if I’m going to be helpful I need to be well-informed. But man, getting informed, reading as much as I can on issues, reading more than one source, reading competing ideas, it all adds up to a lot of exposure to ugly details, terrible injustices, radically horrible attitudes and ignorant ideologies.

And yet, even if you bury your head in the sand, your ass is still sticking up in the air and vulnerable to getting mightily kicked.

I do believe that spirituality can help, I keep doing my meditation and yoga in hopes that being more firmly grounded in the present moment and less susceptible to regret and fear will help, but I still can’t avoid becoming overwhelmed by the unforgiving harshness in the world.

So, what’s the solution?

How do people like career activists and humanitarian aid providers do it, day in and day out in some of the most desperate situations?

Any ideas?

 

The War On (Dominant) White Culture

Anti-White-Racism-530px1As I mentioned last week, and the week before, there was an incident at my place of employment, Western Washington University (WWU, Western) that has stirred up racial tensions, an incident that made national news, an incident not all that dissimilar to the national news coming from Yale University and the University of Missouri and other institutions of higher education.

Consequently, I’ve been having a LOT of discussions on this topic with people — co-workers, friends, family, casual acquaintances — and while I might share a considerable amount of perspective, opinion, values, beliefs, etc. with these people on a wide variety of topics, some comments coming from them diverged sharply from how I see things, and they helped me zero in on what I see as a key element in the current racial conflict dynamic.

One friend said:

I don’t see an Anglo Christian culture surviving in the USA in the 21st century. It already is in the past.

We are all human but keep in mind humans are clannish, and that’s why all groups tend to take sides on race and religion. People will consciously or subconsciously fight to preserve their clan. Our human nature guarantees it.

In June 2013, the U.S. Census Bureau projected that white people will be outnumbered in this country by all non-white people combined by 2043.

This fact terrifies a lot of white people. My friend says its human nature, I disagree, but that’s a whole other Pandora’s Box that I don’t have time to open now.

We used to take pride in our Statue of Liberty, and the message inscribed upon it:

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Now? Not so much. Not if it means that white people will be outnumbered!

Of course, most white people will not come right out and say that America was founded by whites and therefore it is a white culture, with an inherent right to remain the dominant culture in the country.

But, some people will.

At my alma mater, Rutgers University, a White Student Union Facebook page has recently been set up by some students with anonymous Facebook accounts, something that has happened at 30+ other universities across the country.

What’s SO telling in the article is the statement from the anonymous students who set up the page, which can easily be divided into reasonable statements and paranoid delusional statements.

I’ve put the reasonable part in bold:

“Everyday our culture is taken from us under names such as ‘diversity’ or ‘privilege,'” they said in an email.”… We wish to provide an intellectual environment from which white students and allies may learn about their rich and beautiful culture, history and society. This too is slowly being taken from us.”

Listen…

NO ONE IS TAKING WHITE CULTURE AWAY FROM WHITE PEOPLE.

White people are totally free to hold onto and celebrate their culture.

However, white people have no constitutional or moral right to be the dominant culture, to force their culture on non-white people or demand that non-whites assimilate and adopt white culture.

The only way to remain the dominant culture is through asserting superiority, or some kind of privilege to remain dominant, without regard for the majority, by doing so aggressively and oppressively — think South Africa, where whites were only 20% of the population and yet owned 80% of the land and an even greater percentage of wealth, and resorted to Apartheid to keep it that way.

There is no War on White Culture, but…

…white people do need to let go of being the dominant culture.

White people are totally free to hold onto and celebrate their culture, like, let’s say, the men dancing in this video.

It’s Not About The Mascot

vikingWhen I began writing this post Monday, it was a VERY different post.

I’d read the news that some students and a professor at Western Washington University (WWU, Western), my place of employment for the past 15 years, were calling for a change of the university’s mascot, the Vikings, claiming it conflicts with Western’s commitment to diversity.

And so, I was going to write a casual exploration of the topic, reflecting on the fact that the mascot at the junior high school I attended was also the Vikings, half joking about how the current graphic of the Viking, included here, whether or not you believe it a barrier to creating an inclusive community for people of color on campus, is so freaking scary he looks like he very badly wants to pillage my village, rape my women, and impale me on his horns, and then, maybe, I’d lightly touch on the topic of political correctness vs. free speech.

But Tuesday morning, before having any time to complete this post, an email was sent to the entire Western Washington University community by WWU President Bruce Shepard, announcing that classes had been cancelled for the day in response to hate speech on social media, directed at students of color at Western because of their opposition of the mascot.

So, I needed to take a break from writing and regroup, I needed to read the coverage in the media, and I even masochistically subjected myself to reading the reader comments on the article in the Bellingham Herald and on Western’s Facebook Page.

Then, shortly thereafter, I read the news that five Black Lives Matter protesters were shot in Minneapolis.

And what became abundantly clear to me was:

It’s not about the mascot.

It’s about racism.

What kind of country do we live in where this happens?

  • A handful of students of color state publicly that they oppose a university mascot because they feel alienated by it, and they are met with hate speech and threats, AND…
  • This same handful are told, with derision and anger, that they shouldn’t be offended and scared, that they are “cry babies” and “pussies”, and that this is just political correctness run amok, AND…
  • The president of the university is attacked for cancelling classes, which he did because he understands that students of color might be scared, given that racism and violence on college campuses is a national epidemic, and that the whole university needs time to process the awareness that racist threats were made to our students.

In April 2014, President Shepard, in a convocation speech, said:

“ … if in decades ahead, we are as white as we are today, we will have failed as a university.”

…and he swiftly came under fire for those comments.

I suspect that many who found fault with what he said then are likely the same people angrily criticizing the opposition to the mascot and the decision to cancel classes.

Racists have a glaringly obvious tell: Even hint about taking away a symbol of white power — a maniacal Viking, or, let’s say, the Confederate flag — and they doth protest too much.

Listen, I’ll take a politically correct overreaction over a racist overreaction any frickin’ day!

Video Fridays: Nina Simone

nina simoneIf you, dear readers, have not yet seen the wonderful documentary, What Happened, Miss Simone?, available on Netflix, I encourage you to check it out.

You must be prepared, however, as Nina Simone‘s story is a very, very sad tale. Even if you already know her story, the film will still be gut wrenching.

And yet, it’s the least we can do, to be witness to how racism and sexism pounded Nina, for despite those horrendous forces, she blessed us with the gift of her music, generations to come get to enjoy her music, all thanks to her monumental courage and perseverance.

Nina was not a perfect person, she was not a perfect mother, but she was a phenomenally talented musician and she pushed the boundaries of music and of what it means to be a musician, what it means to be a female musician, what it means to be a black female musician, and pushing the boundaries is rarely easy.

For today’s installment of Video Fridays, then, here’s a performance I’d not seen until I saw What Happened, Miss Simone?, and it completely blew me away. Nina’s Ain’t Got No, I Got Life, a medley of two songs from the musical Hair, is a powerful expression of the adversity Nina faced and the longing for freedom from that adversity.

Happy Weekend, everyone!