gaudior: (be the change)
I was talking to B about foreign policy, and had an insight about one way of viewing world politics. It's the view I've held more-or-less unconsciously for many years, and I don't know how relevant it feels to other people, but I thought I'd share.

Namely: As a white American, I would talk about how we (whites and Americans) oppress everyone else in the world-- how our actions (currently and historically) are responsible for the vast amount of misery out there, and how other people's hatred of whites and/or Americans is completely justified because of what we've done.

Leaving aside for the moment the truth of this, I am struck by the fact that as a worldview, it can be tremendously reassuring. Because it suggests that whites and/or Americans are so powerful that we can cause all the pain in the world.

In my opinion, most worldviews are designed to perform the unconscious functions of making us feel both Good and Safe. The universe is huge, full of overwhelming amounts of information, and innately dangerous (we're all gonna die, sooner or later). We rely on our worldviews to make sense of it and our place in it, in a way that lets us feel secure enough to function. And if we need to distort or ignore some facts to feel that security, we'll generally do so for as long as we possibly can.

The worldview "whites and/or Americans are evil oppressors" fills these needs neatly. It would let me feel that I was Good because I, as a liberal, saw that racism/imperialism is bad, and so I felt virtuous about wanting to work against them. But it also, without my realizing it, let me feel Safe because no matter what I could do, I was still part of this immensely powerful group. If our group is so strong that it can do all this damage-- well, then it's also strong enough to protect me, keep me safe from all the bad things out here. I might disagree with other whites and/or Americans, but doing so could not remove from me the power they/we hold.

Now, all worldviews may be flawed in this way (certainly, the view, "Americans are good, everyone else is bad, and we're the strongest and can beat them up!" also makes us feel both Good and Safe, but has definite drawbacks). But I am troubled by this particular flaw because I believe it works directly against the goal it claims to be attempting.

Namely: if I felt safe because our group is powerful enough to cause all the ills of the world-- then I could not feel safe if other groups gained power. My conscious desire for people of color and/or developing countries to become empowered went directly against my unconscious desire to feel safe.

This has many manifestations. One, as B pointed out, was my tendency to assume that, for example, the terrorist attack on September 11th was caused solely by response to American oppression-- not by, for example, the influence by the Saudi Arabian monarchy on the rest of the region-- or, indeed, anything else being done by the people living in the Middle East. I assumed that terrorists were "misguided" or angry about American injustices toward them-- because that is so much less frightening than the idea that people might have a real ideology opposed to ours, and the willingness to act on it to defeat us.

Another manifestation (one which I don't think I did so much, but which I recognize in other people) is one of white allies in anti-racism work basically trying to take over the movement-- because they believe that they need to rescue the poor people of color from their horrible plight. This leads to white allies not listening to POC, putting forth solutions to non-existent problems while ignoring the real ones, complaining about how POC would make more progress if they would just change their "tone," etc. (I also notice this particularly in disability activism, where disabled people saying they want the kinds of help they want, not the kinds that non-disabled people assume they need, are often met with considerable resistance and accusations of ingratitude.)

Now, it is very important to note that this does not mean that white and American people don't have a lot of power and the responsibility for tremendous misery, both historically and currently. We do, and I think it is incredibly important to work to dismantle that abusive power.

My point is that if we do not look at our unconscious motivations for doing that work, we may find ourselves accidentally working against our stated goals. If we cling to White Guilt, it can keep us from hearing the voices of the people of color who have the best grasp of what is actually happening. That guilt is a marvelous unconscious compromise; it lets us imagine our group to be all-powerful, but absolves us of the possibility of doing anything real about the harm we do. We can both be all-powerful (Evil White Americans oppress the WHOLE WORLD!), and powerless (we can never make up for all the Evil our group has done, so there's no point in trying-- and anyway, it's not our fault, because we are good liberals!).

The better position, I think, is one of having an awareness of exactly how much power we do and don't have. As a white American, I do have a great deal of privilege, and can use it to make the world a little better or a little worse. But people from other countries, and people of color, also have power. They look at their own situations and make their own decisions about the best route to take. And on the other hand, America is not immune from others' actions and beliefs-- September 11th was not our idea, it was genuinely people wanting to hurt us because they hated us. Everyone has some power-- not all, not none-- and a realistic worldview must realize and accept that.

I am not Safe because I am a white American. Nor am I Good for thinking that racism and imperialism are bad. I am a vulnerable, imperfect person, like everyone else. And it is only together, as a united group of vulnerable, imperfect people, that we can change the world.

gaudior: (utena/anthy)
Please answer "yes" only if this is a genuine preference-- you like it better than any of the options offered in the previous poll.

[Poll #1453077]
gaudior: (utena/anthy)
I was talking to a (moderate, politics-wise) friend this evening about gay marriage. He advanced the idea that everyone, straight and gay, should have civil unions, which include all the legal rights and responsibilities of marriage, but don't use the word. Instead, the word "marriage" should be reserved for religious institutions, which can then decide for themselves whether they will perform same-sex marriages.

This is not a new idea. This is, in fact, an idea which I myself advanced early in the debate, and someone told me, "No, that's a bad idea-- no-one will vote for it."

But it just keeps coming up. I've heard the idea proposed half-a-dozen times over the last few years, always by relatively moderate people, all of whom seem to think that they've come up with it on their own.

And I do know a number of arguments as to why people want to insist on actual legalized gay marriage (not the least of which is that it seems entirely likely to happen, and soon)(and all the difficulties involved in things like, say, Catholic hospitals not wanting to allow unionized queer couples visitation and adoption on their premises). But I find myself curious about the numbers.

So, o my (admittedly biased) sample:

[Poll #1452891]

And this raises the question-- if it turned out that a majority did favor this plan, should same-sex marriage advocates change tactics? Or not?



(Upon request, I have added the following questions, for people who like the status quo in New Jersey, here. That's, civil unions for queers, legal marriages for straight people. Unfortunately, lj will not allow me to revise a poll, or add another poll to a pre-existing entry-- otherwise, I would edit this into the original.)

ETA: Okay, so, on further reflection, I clearly did not think this entry through very thoroughly at all. It is, as many people have pointed out, a bad poll, poorly worded, and unlikely to get results which are in any way representative of the general population. If I were being a real social scientist, this would have been my test-run, in which I found out all the things wrong with the poll before revising it, running it by another test pool, and then taking it to a large, anonymous, randomized sample, preferably with multiple methods of reaching participants of a good range of demographics.

Which was clearly not my intent. Honestly, I just wanted an ideas-check-- "Hey, I've heard this idea from a bunch of people, but I don't see any moves towards it-- howcome? Is it a bad idea, and if so, why, so that the next half-dozen times someone proposes it to me, I'll have ideas about what to say?" Or it might have been possible that it was a good idea, which for some reason no-one had proposed, in which case, I might have wanted to take more action. But I didn't have a real agenda besides finding out what people thought, and looking for more ideas.

So, my apologies for taking so long to respond to people's interesting and insightful comments-- I was somewhat overwhelmed by just how many responses I got! But. Onwards.

gaudior: (Utena fight)
Went to worldcon! It was awesome! Hopefully I shall post more details presently!

At the moment, though, inspired by a recent post by a friend (friends-locked, or I'd link), I'd like to post the results of an experiment. See, my mother raised me feminist, and did a damn fine job of it-- I think I'm more comfortable with being female, and yet confident to do what I want with my life, than most other women I know. A large part of this was my unconscious construction of blinders that keep me from noticing and reacting to the tremendous number of signals I receive, all the time, telling me that:

1) because I'm female, I should act in certain ways
2) because I'm female, I should not act in certain ways, and in fact would not be physically/mentally/emotionally able to do so
3) because I'm female, I have certain qualities (usually negative, but also positive)
4) because I'm female, my purpose is to serve, care for, and please others, especially males
5) all other females and males should also act accordingly.

So I decided to try taking the blinders off. For exactly one twenty-four hour period last week, I would make a note of every single thing I noticed which reminded me of these messages.

Results below. )

Note that this is just things that jumped out at me. I didn't analyze clothing and hairstyle, or the fact that I was doing the laundry, or anything else under the surface. That's 1200 words of nothing but in-your-face gender-role reinscriptions.

And I try to ignore these, most of the time. Try to say that I am simply myself, try to be guided by my own beliefs, opinions and desires on this subject, not those which are all around me, constantly, insisting that I am something else. And I'm amazed at how often I succeed.

But doing this experiment makes me wonder. If I didn't have to spend all this effort insisting against all odds on being myself-- if I could just live in a world where people like me were the norm, or at very least widely accepted-- what could I do with all that energy? What could I be?


Reading: C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength. Elizabeth Enright, Thimble Summer. Rumer Godden, In this House of Brede.
gaudior: (Utena fight)
And so much of me should-be-writing-a-paper. But I wanted to repost a few things, mostly in reaction to the Open-Source Boob Project kerfluffle. For those who don't know about it, this all started when a guy named [ profile] theferrett and a few of his friends had one of those cool moments that happen among friends sometimes, where you all let down your boundaries around physical intimacy and engage in a whole lot of mutual groping without any real sexual intent, just to enjoy each other's bodies. Which is, in my opinion, fine. The problem was that, being fans at a con, they said, "This is awesome! Let's get lots of other people to join in!" So they propositioned some random passers-by, who didn't object very loudly, and they decided they should make it a meme. They started wearing buttons announcing their participation in this "project," which basically said that anyone passing by could ask a person wearing the button whether the passerby could grope the button-wearer, without insult. There was a focus on breasts (see the name), but when asked, the people involved said that many types of touch were permitted, including grabbing guys' asses and chests (though not balls), by people of both sexes toward people of both sexes.

The major difficulty with this, in my opinion, is that it would have worked nicely in a culture which does not have a long tradition of violence against women, women's bodies being seen as property for the taking, women being pressured through a variety of means to see their bodies as property for the taking, and women's sole route to power of any kind being through the use and sale of their bodies. However, we don't live in a culture like that. And a lot of the discourse in the (1300 comment long!) thread was around [ profile] theferrett and his friends saying, "No, I don't want to live in this kind of culture. So we don't! And you're all just being silly," and a lot of people saying "..." Only with lots more eloquence.

I recommend the comment thread, as it has a lot of interesting discussion, and only a few trolls.

Here, though, I'm posting two things. One is my comment, which is also up on [ profile] theferrett's journal, but buried on the fifth page of comments, and I liked it, so I'm reproducing it here:

So, on the one hand, I'd disagree with people who are seeing [ profile] theferrett and his friends as having done a Very Bad Thing. Everyone's descriptions make it sound like this was a genuine attempt, by a bunch of friends, to try for a moment to live in a world in which touch and sexuality don't have the baggage of fear and patriarchy that they carry in the rest of our lives. And that's a cool idea.

But there's something I've noticed in the entry and these comments which puts me firmly in the "the way this is being discussed is pretty damn objectifying" camp.

So, I don't know about anyone else, but my breasts are erogenous zones, chock-full of nerve endings. If someone is touching my breasts, one of two things is happening. Either a) I'm turned on, or b) I'm dissociating, trying hard not to be present and aware of the sensation and its impact on me. I don't have a trauma history, but I do have times (at the doctor, say) when I'm trying to be as unaware as possible of what's going on in my body, because it feels emotionally uncomfortable.

Now, a number of women have talked about being involved in this event, and, in the comments I've read so far, none of them have talked about feeling aroused. Instead, they say things like what [ profile] zoethe said several threads upstream: "I felt empowered by the ability to say, 'Yes, I can choose to share my bounty with others.'" The focus is not on the women's physical sexual pleasure. It's on their pleasure at being able to have their bodies appreciated by someone else. [ profile] ewin said it even more clearly: "I really dig on the idea of letting as many folks as possible appreciate these boobs before they droop, you know? They have a lot of pep left in them, and they're just SITTING there right now, doing nothing. It's a shame." That statement makes it sound like [ profile] ewin doesn't see her breasts as being there for her pleasure except as someone else might enjoy them.

Now, I can see two possible reasons for this. One is that the women were sexually aroused by all of this, and didn't want to say so-- because that is embarrassing, intimate, and/or forbidden by the traditional view of women which forbids us from seeking sexual satisfaction for our own sake, not someone else's. But the other possible reason is that people actually weren't aroused, because they were dissociated from what they were experiencing physically, because they really were doing this only as breasts to be appreciated.

I wasn't there, so I don't know what it felt like from the inside. But I know that I'd feel a lot more comfortable with this idea if the women involved were saying "I enjoyed this because free petting feels really good!" rather than "I enjoyed this because it's nice to have my assets appreciated."

The other thing I want to re-post is, yes, a meme, but also a vow I'm taking seriously. And want it to spread. Because this is the point where talking on the internet turns into real action, that can cause real change.

The Open-Source Women-Backing-Each-Other-Up Campaign

Here's my pledge: if I see somebody groping you in public, and you're not moaning Yes! Yes! Yes!, I will break through your Somebody Else's Problem invisibility field and come over and ask if you're okay. If your situation looks dangerous enough I can't help on my own, I will call over friends or, if it's a situation in which I think the cops would be on your side, I will call the cops. If you're being harassed by a guy*, you can say so to me, even if you don't know me. I pledge I will distract him so you can get away, or I will tell him that he needs to leave, or whatever I can do to the best of my ability. I pledge that yes, actually, because you are a woman I will give you the benefit of the doubt. If you tell me that a guy just did something shitty to you I will not refuse to look at any evidence and tell you that I know him and he's a great guy and you must have been imagining things. I have great loyalty to my male friends but I will not allow that to blind me to the fact that none of us are saints and even my best friends can screw up and may need to be called on it. I pledge that I will walk you to your car if you don't feel safe walking alone at night, and then you can drive me to mine.

Yes, even at Wiscon. I pledge that even if I don't know you, if there is a creepy guy following you around, you can say so, and I will not say to you go hide in your room; I will say to him go find another party, or if necessary, go home. I will come with you if you need to talk to the con organizers. I will not make you feel like your right to control over your own body is not a big deal.

And I will do this whether or not I like you, or even know you. It's not about liking you. It's about the fact that we need to back each other up, and I will need you to do this for me some day.


*Or a girl. Despite the statistics, men do not have a monopoly on sexual aggression.
gaudior: (Default)
Happy International Blog Against Racism Week!

So, I’m starting this with a caveat: the below is not meant to suggest that I don’t think it’s a good idea to talk about race, try to educate, confront racism, etc. On the contrary—I’m incredibly glad people do, because it’s made a major change in my life. My first year of graduate school, one of my professors showed us some very unsettling films and had us read several assumption-questioning papers ("Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack," etc.) It made me start to really question a lot of my beliefs about race, and it sent me to the internet, where I joined [ profile] ap_racism and read and wrote a lot of essays (yay [ profile] rachelmanija, [ profile] oyceter, [ profile] coffeeandink, and [ profile] yhlee), and generally spent about two years thinking. The result of which is that I’m much clearer about my views, much more comfortable addressing and working with race in my fiction and my practice (very good thing when you work with clients of color), feel much less guilty and more empowered, and am enthusiastically working for equality.

All of which is why I was a little taken aback by what happened when, at a dinner party yesterday, the question of race came up. I mentioned the idea of differentiating between “prejudice” and “racism,” where racism = prejudice + power. What interested me was that while many people had interesting things to say, one of the reactions was not to react to the idea itself, but, “That sounds a lot like the kind of internet-wankery that people get into on livejournal.” I replied that yeah, I and a lot of my friends on livejournal do talk about race a lot, and someone else said that this was all well and good, but that often, it seemed to fall into the “gotcha-game”—where discussions of racism became, not discussions of racism, but people trying to catch each other doing something wrong.

Which is frustrating. Because yeah, many white people do feel very guilty and defensive about our privilege, our attitudes about race, etc, so there is a fair amount of defensiveness\. But on the other hand, it’s totally true. Some discussions about race really do feel like the discussants are just trying to “win” by proving the other person stupid.

The problem with this, and the way to prevent it, seems to be one of clarifying goals before starting the conversation. I can see five different reasons why people discuss race online, and I think they’re all worthwhile… but when they get conflated, things go downhill fast. )
gaudior: (be the change)
So, on Friday, I made a post about a thought I'd had about cultural appropriation*. Unfortunately, I got it all down really quickly and ran out the door, so it came out sort of half-baked. (And then I went down to see my wife and my friends for the weekend (yay!), and spent no time online to fix it). And people came and made interesting comments on it, so I don't want to delete that entry, or massively revise it, because then their thoughtful and interesting comments won't make any sense. On the other hand, I think the idea was interesting, and I want to work on it more. So I'm going to leave the original entry there (and respond to the comments presently), and post the revised version here. Cuz it's my lj, and I can re-post if I want to.

So, sparked by [ profile] coffeeandink's useful post on last year's WisCon panel, I've had a thought. I haven't, I'm afraid, read enough to know whether anyone else has had this thought, but I think it's a good one.

Last year, I wrote a post on cultural appropriation trying to answer the question that many White people have upon first hearing the concept-- "Why is this such a big deal?" But what I'm thinking about now is: why, for White people, is it so hard to understand that it is a big deal? A lot of people give the answer of "entitlement," and that may well be true, but I think it's only a partial answer-- and that there are more interesting cultural reasons behind it. )

*cultural appropriation: the use of other cultures' creations and ideas for one's own purposes, sometimes without much understanding of their meaning in the original context
gaudior: (profound)
With the caveat that I have only (as of yesterday) been involved in two flame-flinging incidents (which probably says something about the circles I move in, and how prone they are to flame wars). But they went so well that I want to brag.

1) Be polite. Incredibly, scrupulously polite, not only in wording but in intention-- you're going into this to make things less heated, not more.

2) Explain clearly how what the person did hurt you.

3) Sincerely wish the person well, and perhaps express interest in further dialogue. (I mean it about the sincere-- don't wish him/her a wonderful, happy life full of puppies if the most good will you can muster is that s/he learn something about being nice to people. But find something.)

As I've said, I've only done this twice. But both times, the person apologized, thoroughly, with some explanation of his/her actions (and usually much more grammatically than in the original flame). I think this is muchly because flamers are seeing the internet as sort of fiction, a place to express aggression and stir up trouble without any real consequences. If you remind them that no, there are real people on the other side of the screen, they often begin to act more as they would if they were looking you in the face. (Which I suppose means it wouldn't always work-- there are plenty of people who have no problem with being rude to your face.) The really tough part is not doing the same thing-- seeing them as people on whom you are totally justified in unleashing your aggression-- because hey, they started it. But getting an apology is really satisfying, where flame-wars I've seen look like they often just keep going until they peter out or someone gets banned, and are more aggravation than they're worth.

gaudior: (be the change)
In a comment to a recent post of mine, [ profile] homasse described "White Woman Syndrome," or WWS, a phenomenon discussed on a lot of the minority-focused forums on lj. She said that the usual explanation people there come up with for why White women sometimes act like complete, entitled twits is that "White women, being considered the ideal for beauty and such, fully expect the world to love them and make everything perfect for them because they were the Perfect Little Princesses, and when it's *not*, they can't deal." She says she's not sure she buys this completely, but she can't deny the phenomenon.

Neither do I, and neither can I. But I think I have some ideas about where it comes from. )

On pain

Jun. 9th, 2006 05:51 pm
gaudior: (profound)
The people from Teen Empowerment (a program in the high school where I work which hires high school students to do projects to "improve their school climate") came up with what seemed like a fairly daring project this year. They had an English class of students from our high school, E High (urban, almost all students of color and/or recent immigrants, many of them living in housing projects, and all of them dealing with gangs, drugs, shootings, poverty, racism, and a fuckload of other badness on a regular basis), do an exchange program with a class from W High School (almost all White, upper-middle-class, suburban). They exchanged emails for several months, had classroom discussions about social inequality, and then, finally, went to visit each other's schools.

It seems to have gone well-- better than I expected. The W High kids talked about being happily surprised to see "people, not stereotypes," being shocked/impressed with the sorts of things our kids deal with all the time and how they're able to handle it, as well as enjoying the "colorfulness" of the school. I didn't get a sense of whether they learned much that they hadn't been expecting to learn from the experience. But I was more struck with the reactions of our kids. One thing that was something of a relief was that while they did get a clear sense of the unfairness of the situation, they also found things that they appreciated about their school-- the diversity, the energy, and the teachers who care very deeply about them and support them*.

But the other thing that struck me was how struck our kids were by the problems of the kids of W High. They had, they said, assumed that since the W kids were rich and White, they wouldn't have many problems. And indeed, the kids at W don't have to deal with watching their friends get shot, or watching their parents work three jobs to put food on the table, or trying desperately to learn English on the fly quickly enough to pass their classes. But they have problems, our kids said. Problems with parental expectations, and grades-- problems so bad that they do things like pour vodka into water bottles to drink in class to get through the day. One of our teachers said that when the two classes were talking together, some of the W kids were talking about binge drinking, and our teacher realized, looking around the room, that her students had no idea what this meant. She explained it, and they stared at her in confusion, then said, "That's just stupid."

All of which leads me back to a question I had when I, too, was a White, suburban, upper-middle-class kid-- and I looked around and saw how terribly, self-destructively miserable my friends were-- and I didn't understand. How, I wondered, does it hurt so much when life is just not that bad? Of course, I was young and naive and quite emotionally stunted (didn't let myself feel sadness until college, didn't understand depression until after I graduated, I'm only just now learning about anger, and I haven't touched fear yet)... but it's still a question for me. Why is pain like this? Why is it that outside circumstances don't seem to make a damn bit of difference to how much it hurts?

I don't know, but I have a guess. )
gaudior: (profound)
So I know I'm days late to this topic, but it's finals time (they're going well-- one class completely finished, three more with only small bits of work left to do, one with only an optional class, yay!). But this post appeared a few weeks ago in the blog Reappropriate, "a political, current events, and personal blog written from the perspective of a loud and proud Asian American woman": "Fuck you Asiaphile": I'm Mad As Hell And I'm Not Going to Take It Anymore. Followed by tremendous discussion, both in her comments thread and in [ profile] debunkingwhite and [ profile] sex_and_race. (I got the link from [ profile] homasse. Thank you, J.) Basically, Jenn is pointing out how annoyed she is, as an Asian-American, at White Americans who profess love for all things Japanese, or all things Asian.

Now, as an undeniable otaku (looking up, I can see eight pieces of anime merchandising without having to turn my head), I was quite bothered. I could see myself as definitely being one of the people she was talking about, and I felt dismayed and unhappy to hear that my taste in art could upset anyone that much. I could see myself pretty easily in many of the commenters to her thread who objected, and I didn't see what the deal was.

So I sat down to think it over. And, twenty minutes later, I think I understand. I think I've hit on the thing which was so obvious to Jenn that she didn't bother to say it, and the thing which all the objectors to her post had never thought of. I think it's about choice, and power. )
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