Political Flavors


Feminist Coffee Hour Episode 11: Rev Hope Johnson, Juneteenth, The Living Legacy Project

Posted in Podcast Episodes on June 16th, 2016
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Episode Eleven: Rev Hope Johnson, Juneteenth, The Living Legacy Project

Subscribe to the podcast in iTunes

Listen to episode in browser/Right click to download file

Discussed in this episode:

Make Juneteenth A National Holiday

NYT: Housing Bias Outlasts Ruling in a Long Island Village

The Living Legacy Project

“Lessons from Selma” (Video) Rob Eller-Isaacs and Rev Hope Johnson

The Divided Methodist Church

‘Black Lives Matter’ signs stolen off church lawn in Hartford

How the Children Feel When Their Church is Wounded

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Our theme song is composed by Bridget Ellsworth, check out her sound cloud page!

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On Having Conditional White Privilege During The Trump Campaign

Posted in Editorials on June 13th, 2016
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Last week Ralph Nader said in an interview about the popularity of Donald Trump:

There were Negro-joke books, Jewish-joke books, Polish-joke books, Italian-joke books. They used ethnic jokes to reduce tension in the 1930s, ’40s, ’50s. And they’d laugh at each other’s jokes and hurl another one. But it still flows through ethnic America, you know. There are hundreds of things that people would like to say. So here’s this guy — he doubles down on them, he blows their minds. So that’s the first way he got their attention.

And I wanted to ask him, “Don’t you know white privilege is conditional?” Nader is Lebanese and in the United States many people would not consider him white if they knew that.

I have personal experience with this, I have discussed my mixed ethnicity on this blog. Many people who have conditional white privilege – Jews, light skinned Latinos, Arabs and other POC who pass as white – will have a moment in a conversation with a white person where some detail about their heritage is made known and something shifts in the white person’s tone or body language and you know they’ve just recategorized you in their head. I know Ralph Nader has had this moment, and it’s why I find his statement inexcusable.

Recently I got called out for something I did with my white privilege. In my post about why there is no progressive case for Donald Trump, I said:

For Latinos, Muslims, and many other Americans, Donald Trump is that bear trap and the vote for Hillary Clinton is the gnawing off of one’s leg.

Nezua and I had the following exchange:

I think it’s true that white people should not speak over or for people of color. There is a fine line between being an ally and taking up space that should be reserved for someone else. I also think that if you have privilege you should call out oppression and hatred where you see it, not to talk over or for other people but because it’s the morally right thing to do.

I don’t expect Nezua to intuit my heritage, and even if he knew that my father is a Colombian immigrant, his point would still stand as I do benefit from white privilege and I am not Mexican.

The reasons that I feel the need to call out Trump’s racism are both moral and personal.

I believe strongly that I should consider how my vote impacts everyone, not just myself.

I think that Trump’s comments, while specifically anti-Mexican encourage hatred against all Latinos including my family and possibly myself.

Finally, there is an ugly strain of “they’re coming for our women” underlying Trump’s remarks. Through a series of inadvisable clicks I spent a good portion of a recent afternoon reading through an infamous misogynist blog which has become a pro-Trump White Nationalist hellhole. And I read a lot of comments. Many Trump supporters are insecure men obsessed with their fear white women having sex with and bearing children with men of color. As the daughter of a white American mother and a Latino immigrant father, it was deeply unsettling to read these comments. I am a person who, in their mind should not exist. I am a mistake, an abomination, the worst outcome their fevered imaginations can muster. I am “White Genocide.” My mother is a ruined woman and my father is pure evil depravity. These are the people who filled the rallies for Donald Trump, the people who voted for him in Republican primaries, and who will vote for him in November. This is what they think of me.

I do not ever want to speak over or for groups I do not belong to. I only want to speak for myself. In my words and actions, believe I am morally obligated to consider how I impact other people from other groups.

Some thoughts on the UUA Common Read: Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Posted in Book Reviews, Editorials on May 23rd, 2016
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Last week, I co-led a service at my UU Congregation about this year’s UUA Common Read, Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. Here’s what I had to say:

In 2005, the UU General Assembly passed a Statement of conscience, which reads in part:

As Unitarian Universalists, we are committed to affirming the inherent goodness and worth of each of us. As Americans, we take pride in our constitutional promise of liberty, equality, and justice for all, including those who have violated the law. Yet the incarceration rate in the United States is five- to tenfold that of other nations, even those without such a constitutional promise. Our corrections system is increasingly rife with inequitable sentencing, longer terms of detention, racial and ethnic profiling, and deplorable jail and prison conditions and treatment. The magnitude of injustice and inequity in this system stands in stark contrast to the values that our nation—and our faith—proclaim. We are compelled to witness this dissonance between what America proclaims for criminal justice and what America practices. We offer an alternative moral vision of a justice system that operates in harmonious accord with our values as a community of faith. This vision includes the presumption of innocence, fair judicial proceedings, the merciful restoration of those who have broken the law, the renunciation of torture and other abusive practices, and a fundamental commitment to the dignity and humane treatment of everyone in our society, including prisoners.

Although Americans take great pride in the freedoms we espouse, the American prison system violates basic human rights in many ways. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the United States endorsed in 1948, states in Article 5, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” American correctional practice often subjects inmates to abusive treatment, such as torture and rape, and neglects basic human needs such as health care and nutrition. Some suspects are detained without charge, legal counsel, or access to family. While indigent defendants have exactly the same rights to competent counsel as non-indigent defendants, in many states indigent defendants are not provided equality of representation.

The American penchant for retribution squanders opportunities for redemption, rehabilitation, and restoration of the individual offender. Failures in the criminal justice system have created a disenfranchised, stigmatized class who are predominantly from lower-income backgrounds, poorly educated, or from racial and ethnic minorities. The punishment for crime is often simply separation from society, and the sentence one serves is the punishment. In our penal system, punishment often continues even after those convicted have completed their sentence. They are often stripped of voting rights, denied social services, and barred from many professions. If convicted of a drug crime, they become ineligible for federal student loans to attend college. Our criminal justice system makes it exceedingly difficult for anyone to reintegrate into society. People returning to their communities find that they lack opportunity, skills, and social services to fully function in society and hold down jobs, maintain families, or participate in their communities. Therefore, an unacceptable percentage of those released from our prisons and jails recidivate.

Not all prisoners who enter the system leave. One of the most shameful aspects of our current criminal justice system is the death penalty. Many countries have abandoned the practice of capital punishment. Studies fail to demonstrate that the death penalty actually deters crime. While the United States Supreme Court has ruled against the execution of juvenile offenders, the death penalty is still legal in the United States. Experience shows that judges and juries wrongly convict defendants. Given the number of death row inmates released on account of innocence, it is highly likely that we have executed innocent people and will do so again in the future unless we abolish the death penalty.

The first two Principles of Unitarian Universalism address the inherent worth and dignity of every person and justice, equity, and compassion in human relations. Consistent with these fundamental principles, a new corrections policy must place a primary emphasis on community alternatives.

Appalled by the gross injustices in our current criminal justice system, we the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association commit ourselves to working in our communities to reform the criminal justice and correctional systems and effect justice for both victims and violators. We act in the spirit that we are indeed our sisters’ and our brothers’ keepers. Love is our governing principle in all human relationships. Therefore, that we may speak with one voice in unity, though not uniformity, we commit ourselves, our congregations to make good on our Unitarian Universalist heritage and our American promise to be both compassionate and just to all in our society. Through our diligence and perseverance in realizing this promise, we can live the core values of our country and extend the values of our faith to the benefit of others.

And so with this in mind, it is easy to understand why the UUA chose “Just Mercy” as the common read for this congregational year. The book, by Bryan Stevenson chronicles his career as an attorney working to for people on death row, mostly in Georgia and Alabama who have no other access to representation. He built the Equal Justice Initiative which litigates on behalf of condemned prisoners, juvenile offenders, people wrongly convicted or charged with violent crimes, poor people denied effective representation, and others whose trials are marked by racial bias or prosecutorial misconduct. EJI works with communities that have been marginalized by poverty and discouraged by unequal treatment.

Just Mercy’s main thread follows the story of Walter McMillian, a man wrongly convicted of murder and sentenced to death on scant evidence, false testimony and racist rumors. And while his story is compelling, Stevenson puts it in context of the criminal justice system we have today. It’s clear that his work isn’t just about one person. It’s to address the ongoing crisis of our broken criminal justice system.

I was left in awe and amazement at the tenacity and patience of Bryan Stevenson. I am so astounded by people who can spend their whole lives fighting an uphill battle. The book is not about him and gives few details about his personal life. He is very modest about his many great accomplishments in fact. And this perspective of humility and hope frame the book.

Something I keep coming back to when I think about the death penalty is that I, like everyone else, am a fallible human being subject to amoral impulses. There is an anecdote in the book about about a man who was the victim of abuse as a child and was suffering from PTSD after serving in Vietnam. After returning to the United States, he tried to win back an ex girlfriend by PUTTING A BOMB on her porch. In his distorted mind, he would save her from the bomb, and win back her love. But that didn’t happen. It went off, killed a young girl and maimed another in the process. It was and is very hard for me to feel sorry for him. But I think that’s exactly why we need to be careful in how we adjudicate these crimes. Our emotions cloud our judgement. In my outrage over his crime I do not care about the mitigating circumstances of this man’s victimization as a small, helpless child or the mental illness he could not avoid after his country drafted him and sent him to fight in a war. But Stevenson included this story in the book to show how brutal the death penalty is. The chapter details the visceral horror of the electric chair, which this man was put to death in. And even though somewhere in my heart I want vengeance for his victims, I know that his execution did nothing to help them. In fact, the surviving girl’s family approached Stevenson and asked him for help. They told him that putting someone else to death would not heal her. And I do feel some dissonance that we, to quote and old slogan kill people who kill people to show that killing people is wrong.

Although I know this book was meant to expose the injustice of our current system, I was also left with the gladness that people like Bryan Stevenson exist. His optimism and his accomplishments are an inspiration.

In Which We Fight Ignorance About Microaggressions

Posted in Podcast Episodes on November 10th, 2015
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Are you on the edge of your seat waiting for episode three of Feminist Coffee Hour? (Coming very soon, on Thursday!) Listen to Karen and Elizabeth on “In Which We Reveal Our Ignorance” where we discuss microaggressions with Stephen, Sam and Mike.

American Politics Is Eating Itself

Posted in Editorials on November 9th, 2015
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Last week, Deport Racism PAC offered a $5,000 prize to anyone who would interrupt Saturday Night Live and call Donald Trump a racist. And so the show got out in front of it. Sonia Saraiya wrote in a review of Donald Trump hosting SNL:

This was most on display in the opening monologue, when a man heckled Trump, yelling “You’re a racist!” It was a plant—Larry David, who had been in the cold open, reprising his role as Bernie Sanders—but the punchline, if there was one, went nowhere. Trump was unflappable, because he knew the heckle was coming, and David’s “character” immediately admitted he’d taken cash to yell at Trump. In a few moments of adroit comic shuffling, the show introduced racism, let Trump defuse it, and then revealed it as insincere. That’s a set of actions with profound commentary for what it means to allege racism in this media climate; naturally, then, no performers of color were on stage. To include them would have meant underscoring how messed-up the bit was, and “Saturday Night Live” was not interested in critical thinking last night.

Rumors are circulating that Deport Racism PAC is linked to the Hillary Clinton campaign, but as the Daily Dot explains, all we really know is that the PAC was founded by a Clinton supporter.

But the PAC’s link to Clinton is irrelevant when you consider Saraiya’s critique. Larry David legitimized Donald Trump. His “joke” was that we all know Trump isn’t really a racist. C’mon you guys it’s just internet crazies and angry Latin@s saying that.

And in response, Deport Racism PAC has said that they’re giving the money to Larry David.

Irony is dead.

In declaring Larry David the “winner” they either don’t get the “joke,” are pretending not to, or don’t care. I’m leaning towards the latter. Which should make it very hard for anyone to take them seriously as a legitimate anti-racist organization in the future. So in this weekend’s showdown between a xenophobic megalomaniac and a nominally anti-racist PAC, the winner was Lorne Michaels. He played this whole thing expertly, as he should, having been in television for so long.

But in not using satire to speak truth to power, Michaels and David reveal that the game is rigged. Trump looks good, SNL has some of the best ratings in years and Deport Racism PAC insists that they also won somehow. What’s left is a meaningless discourse that’s more about getting attention than making a coherent point or changing anything. “Both sides” are feeding off of one another like a snake eating it’s tail (an example of the tagline for my podcast about the “political ouroboros.”) And the end result is that Trump improved his reputation. After all, that liberal Larry David didn’t think he was a racist!

I truly believe that the totality of American politics is a lot more than Donald Trump. But from conversations with friends and family who aren’t glued to Twitter, cable news and alternative media the way I am most people aren’t thinking about what Paul Ryan will do as Speaker, the climate conference in Paris or the TPP. When most Americans hear “politics” they think “Donald Trump.”

I am #WhiteGenocide

Posted in Editorials on October 22nd, 2015
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I am becoming increasingly alarmed by the presence of white supremacists on social media and the internet in general. While structural racism has always been a part of the United States, it feels like we are going backwards if people feel comfortable expressing these viewpoints openly. Cracked recently had a podcast about this, and after inadvertently responding to a white supremacist on Twitter, and seeing #BoycottStarWarsVII trend on Twitter it seems like these people are everywhere. So I’m going to take Amanda Marcotte’s advice, and I’m going to feed the trolls.

I have written before about how dog whistle rhetoric Republicans use about “taking their country back” feels strangely isolating to me. In general I pass as a white person but every once in a while I am reminded that my status as the daughter of a Latino immigrant means my privilege is conditional on the whims of other white people. And the whole idea that there is a “white genocide” going on is just such a reminder.

The slogans and propaganda of white supremacists are becoming more and more commonplace online. “Antiracist = antiwhite” and “#WhiteGenocide” pop up when you’d least expect to see them. Like in the responses to this tweet about the governor of Minnesota congratulating the Lynx for the WNBA championship.

The entire concept of “White Genocide” is preposterous and offensive. Immigration is the foundation of the United States, and I believe that we are better equipped to deal with it socially and culturally than much of Western Europe, simply because we have been doing it on a larger scale for longer. But they will figure it out eventually. Underneath alarmist rhetoric about immigration is a fear of white women having children with non white men. That’s at the core of the obscenity “cuckservative” – a conservative who doesn’t oppose immigration (or doesn’t oppose it strongly enough) is therefore assumed to be sexually aroused by the idea of their white wife having sex with a man of color. Underneath the racism is misogyny and natalism.

And this is where it gets personal. As an American with a white mother and a Latino father, I can’t help but feel unsettled by these attacks. That there was something nefarious about their marriage or something wrong with my existence and my heritage. On another level, I can take some sardonic pleasure in knowing that such terrible people consider me to be “wrong.” But it’s unsettling.

There is no wrong way to have an ethnicity or a nationality. The existence of immigrants and people of color is not genocide, and to say so is both bigoted and contrary to the founding principles of this country. So many great Americans were immigrants or the children of immigrants. And we are better and stronger and richer for their contributions. Anti racist does NOT equal anti white. But to be anti-immigrant is anti-American.

Image Credit: Shane. Released under a creative commons license.

Building A New Way – Black Lives Matter at UU General Assembly

Posted in Editorials on August 24th, 2015
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This blog post is modified from a service I co-led at my UU Congregation on August 23, 2015. The theme of the service was “Building A New Way” – the same as this years UU General Assembly. I and others who attended reported back to the congregation on our experiences. Although the events described happened almost two months ago, they still weigh heavily on my mind and my heart.

This past June I attended my second Unitarian Universalist General Assembly. It was a rewarding experience. I got to see Portland, Oregon, a place I had wanted to visit for years. The Rose City charmed me with it’s magnificent gardens, strong coffee, and hipster bohemian vibe.

I proudly carried the banner for my congregation in the banner parade, and I said hello to friends I had not seen in years.

I watched UUA President Peter Morales call up all of the same sex couples in attendance to the stage to celebrate the Supreme Court ruling which struck down bans on same sex marriage throughout our country. People sang and danced with joy.

I attended an event where members of the Lumi nation told us of the destruction that coal mining was threatening to do to their land, and I got to see Civil Rights hero John Lewis accept an award from the UU Service Committee.

I participated in my second General Assembly Sunday morning worship service, where Rev Alison Miller brought me to tears with her eloquence and I got a taste, just for a minute of what a UU megachurch might be like.

But what stayed with me the most, what I know will stay with me the longest, is something that happened hours before the convention drew to a close. Every year at General Assembly, the delegates vote on three actions of immediate witness or AIW. During the first few days, anyone can propose an AIW and collect signatures for them. Later a vote is taken on the AIWs that meet the criteria and the three with the most votes are brought up again on Sunday afternoon for final approval. The first AIW passed quickly – End Immigrant Child and Family Detention Now. The second had a few minor amendments “Support a Strong, Compassionate Global Climate Agreement in 2015: Act for a Livable Climate.” The third one though, “Support the Black Lives Matter Movement” That took a while.

Our statement on Immigration was approved in 90 seconds. Climate change? Six minutes.
But the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association took one hour and forty five minutes to affirm that Black Lives Matter.

The main controversy was over the portion of the action which stated that it “encourages member congregations and all Unitarian Universalists to work toward police reform and prison abolition.”

Prison abolition can sound like a scary concept if you’ve never heard of it. Perhaps it conjures visions of the horror film “The Purge” where society suspends all laws for 24 hours. Murderers and rapists would rampage about destroying society. That’s not what prison abolition is.

I like to say that my motto is “Word have meanings, context matters.” And context in this case is everything.

The prison abolition movement is a movement that seeks to reduce or eliminate prisons and the prison system, and replace them with more humane and effective systems. Delegates in favor of the statement tried to explain this, but it was very difficult for them to be heard. People were so caught up in what they thought prison abolition meant, they were risking the passage of the AIW at all.

When I returned home, I educated myself further – I read “Are Prisons Obsolete?” and “Abolition Democracy” by Angela Davis. And what I begun to understand is that the prison abolition movement is about moving away from a punitive system which seeks to punish those who have done wrong to a rehabilitative, restorative system where the outcomes look more like justice than vengeance.

During the debate at General Assembly, Elandra Williams, a Black Lives Matter activist from Tennessee spoke powerfully when she said “Jails aren’t a solution. If you pass something weak, you’ve passed nothing at all. If you pass it to make yourself feel good, you didn’t do it. It means nothing. Fight for what we asked for, not for what you want.”

Another speaker said “To be good allies, we should not try to lead when we ought to follow.” And that was the heart of the matter. Were we making a statement of support and solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement? Or were we telling the Black Lives matter movement what we wanted them to do?

The Youth Caucus started to tell people that if the prison abolition language was removed, they would be withdrawing the AIW altogether.

There were votes and recounts and procedural mayhem. The tension in the room was palpable. Being a religious organization, there were breaks so that people might cool down. Moments of silence, prayers for guidance. Someone ran out to find Matt Meyer. He took the stage and led us all in meditative singing.

I wanted to do what was right, even if it seemed hard. I tweeted, “I want a faith that challenges me. The idea of prison abolition pushes me out of my comfort zone but I want to get there so I’ll vote for it.”

Eventually, eventually, there was a compromise. Through some parliamentary jujitsu we left in the words “prison abolition” and added after them in parenthesis “which seeks to replace the current prison system with a system that is more just and equitable.”

The motion passed, and I know I was not the only one who felt exhausted.

I’ve been attending my UU Congregation since 2008, I signed the book in 2009. But I know my history. This is not the first time that Black UUs have told our denomination that they are not being heard. And sadly, I don’t think it will be the last.

Some UU Congregations have posted “Black Lives Matter” signs in front of their congregations. Some of those signs, like the one in River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Bethesda Maryland have been vandalized. Members of the congregation were shocked but undeterred. According to a local ABC news affiliate, “In a couple of days, the church said the damaged banner will be replaced with another one with the very same message. If vandalism happens again, congregants said they will only put up another sign.” That article was published on July 30. True to their word, RRUUC put up another sign. On Tuesday, August 11, it was vandalized again. They put up a third sign. On Tuesday August 18th, that third sign was reported stolen. RRUUC plans to put up a fourth sign.

Building a new way means supporting emerging social and civil rights movements that are in accordance with our values.

At the Starr King’s Annual President’s Lecture at this year’s General Assembly, Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt suggested Robin DiAngelo’s essay “White Fragility” for allies who don’t know where to start. It’s available free online and I encourage everyone to read it.

New York City based writer, social worker and activist Feminista Jones organized the “National Moment of Silence” last year – a vigil for victims of police brutality. Last week she started the hashtag #NoMoreSilence encouraging people to speak out. She wrote “You can tweet that Black Lives Matter but imagine the impact when you add a councilwoman’s name? A state senator? What if you emailed your local representative every single week demanding action re: police brutality? When was the last time you talked to your councilperson? The person you elected? Do you know their names?

This month’s edition of UU World, contains an article “Five ways UUs can support the black lives matter movement” by Kenny Wiley. He writes “It is imperative, whatever our level of education or our privileges, that none of us looks away. If we are to live up to our First Principle, and truly honor the inherent worth and dignity of every person, then we must proclaim, with words and deeds, that black lives matter.”

A question about Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback apologists…

Posted in Editorials on December 9th, 2014
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There’s a line of rationalization I’ve been hearing from (white) people in the wake of police killing of 12 year old Tamir Rice in Cleveland Ohio this past November 22. Tamir was playing with a toy gun in a public park. Police, responding to complaints of a juvenile with a gun that was “probably fake” arrived and shot him dead in seconds.

What did he expect? He was playing with a gun in a park! He was waving around a gun! The orange tip was off!

I wonder how many of these same people will sit down on the 25th an watch “A Christmas Story” and root for Ralphie, a nine year old white boy to get a gun for Christmas and then go outside and play with it, even fire it Christmas morning. How many of them will spend money on or already own merchandise from the film? How many will go to see the touring production of “A Christmas Story: The Musical”?

And how many of them will see no contradiction?

What I Didn’t Say To The (White) Dude Who Told Me Nicki Minaj Should “Shut Up And Get Naked”

Posted in Personal Essays on January 6th, 2014
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Fade in on me among a group of merry makers. “Starships” begans to play. Although it might have been “Pound the Alarm.” Bright eyed with beer and enthusiasm I say, “I’m 31 now so it’s time for my Nicki Minaj phase!”

It’s true. I’ve recently discovered that something about her music really resonates with me. I think Amanda Marcotte explains it here in her post about Beyoncé.

“Single Ladies”… is clearly for the women in the audience to sing along to… the idea is to boost yourself up and say that you deserve to have standards.

When Diana Ross sings, “I’m coming out, I want the world to know,” it is taken by the audience as a call to say fuck you to other people’s perceptions and just be yourself. It’s not just about Diana Ross. When Pink claims the party isn’t started until she gets there, she isn’t actually trying to make the people at your party feel bad because Pink is never going to show up. The listener is supposed to project herself into the song and borrow the confidence from it. The listener says to herself, “The party starts when I get there.” If Pink didn’t expect you to relate to the song, then it would just seem assholey. Now it seems fun.

Commenter Stuart Underwood pointed out the double standard:

Mick Jagger was no shrinking violet when expressing his appraisal of his own prowess, at least in the character of Jagger the rock star. In an uncharitable and overly literal interpretation, one could label the lead singer of damn near any 1960s-1980s “rock” band as a strutting egomaniac.

Was the braggadocio what these singers really thought about themselves or was it a vehicle to reach out to the audience to put them in a certain frame of mind?

Why should Beyonce be held to a different standard than Jagger or Plant or Presley?

I’ve told people that what I love about Nicki Minaj is her bravado. I think it’s powerful. Minaj’s music makes me feel more awesome about myself. She’s also one of many modern women artists who really own their sexuality. One of my feminist lightbulb moments was listening to the “Oh What A Night” remix when I was in middle school and realizing that if a woman had a song about joyfully and wrecklessly losing her virginity…the universe might explode. I’m glad it’s not 1994 anymore.

My pleasantly buzzed head bobbing was interrupted when a dude said to me, “No. She’s so annoying. She’s terrible, she should just shut up and get naked.”

This was more than a cheesy record scratch moment. It wasn’t a personal insult as in “The bands you like suck.”

No matter the topic, an argument I often find myself making is that words have meanings and context matters. “Shut up and get naked” in another context might be playful and fun. But when dripping with contempt it’s repugnant. Add in the racial and gender dynamic of this specific situation, and it’s even uglier. He said Nicki Minaj needs to stop talking and show more of her body. Her words, no matter how much acclaim they have garnered, mean nothing compared to the feelings he gets by looking at her. “A (black) woman’s confidence and pride threatens me. Quickly! Reduce her to a sex object!”

I ain’t gotta get a plaque, I ain’t gotta get awards
I just walk up out the door all the girls will applaud.
All the girls will come in as long as they understand
That I’m fighting for the girls that never thought they could win.
Cause before they could begin you told them it was the end
But I am here to reverse the curse that they live in.
-Nicki Minaj, “I’m The Best”

So Threatening. Such Girl Power. So Man Tears. Wow.

There were many things I could have said and many ways I could have said them.

Earnestness. “When you say things like that, it makes me think less of you as a human being.”

Sarcastic. “Who knew you were a man of such refined taste and erudition?” or “I know you’re a straight guy and all but you don’t have to flaunt it.” or “Wow, I didn’t know you’re a misogynist. How did I miss that?”

You got that hot shit, boy ya blessed
Let me feel up on your chest
Flex it, you the man
You the man 100 grand
This same poll, game goal
Yes I play it very well
Come baby lay down, let me stay down
Lemme show you how I run take you to my playground
Come and get this va va voom, voom
-Nicki Minaj, “Va Va Voom”

What kind of man finds this threatening? Oh, wait.

Later a few things came to mind that misogynists call “feminist shaming tactics” but most other people would probably call being a smart ass. There’s the classic “Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?” Or just a condescending “Oh, I’m sorry. Are you feeling insecure in your masculinity today?”

What I did say, as cheerfully as possible, was, “You know she’s the best selling female rapper of all time, right?”

He didn’t have much of a response. I think he said “So what?” or “I don’t care.” Sure he doesn’t. Fade out on me swallowing everything else I wanted to say with another sip of my drink.

I’ve written before about embracing my inner smartass. But sometimes it’s difficult to know the right tactic to take. Tone, word choice and delivery interact to make you either a loveable troublemaker or a mean spirited jerk. You may win over the crowd with your wit, but if you come on too strong people will roll their eyes and think you’re a killjoy. Even in this situation, my response didn’t explain why I objected to what was said, though I doubt that would have helped. Knowing when to blurt out the first thing that pops into your head, when to give a more measured response, and when it’s best to respond with only a raised eyebrow takes practice. In the meantime, jam to Super Bass.

Disingenuous Racism Should Fool No One

Posted in Editorials on December 23rd, 2013
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As noted by Amanda Marcotte, Dan Savage, and others, Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson not only made homophobic comments that lead to his suspension from A&E, he also made racist remarks.

“I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field…. They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!… Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”

Some have speculated that perhaps the reason that the anti-gay comments got more attention in the press is that they were more blatant and more easily quotable. And by quotable, I think it means some people will no doubt be titillated or exaggeratedly scandalized by Robertson’s inane remarks about bodily orifices.

But another reason why the anti-gay remarks have gotten more attention than the anti-black ones is that conservatives in America have a history and a tradition of using “dog whistles” or coded language to express racist sentiment. I have no doubt that there are or will be ways to convey homophobic messages but we have not yet reached a point where when a Republican talks about “traditional marriage” we pretend he’s talking about the bride wearing white rather than opposing same sex marriage. But for some reason the press plays along with racists when they are even slightly ambiguous about their obvious meaning.

Steven Pinker’s explanation as to why people use euphemism and innuendo is that language both conveys meaning and negotiates relationships. He explains the concept of mutual knowledge – you and another might know a fact but you don’t know if the other person is aware of it.

But I think that dog whistle racism is not like asking someone if they want to come up for coffee and to listen to a new album you just got after a date. In a dating relationship people are trying to make a good impression on each other and being too forward might end things prematurely.

Who are the racists trying to impress? Other racists? People of color? White people who are anti-racist?

It doesn’t quite make sense to me. Everyone knows what Phil Robertson was getting at. No one can pretend otherwise without sounding foolish. Did anyone really think that Rick Santorum regularly used the expression “blah people?” If anything it’s an outright display of contempt. Dog whistles and euphemistically racist remarks aren’t about trying to be polite, they are an outright show of hostility toward both their intended targets and anyone who would disagree.

An experience many people who are oppressed in some way have in common is being on the receiving end of a rude comment or behavior and not knowing if that person directed their behavior at you because of their identity or for some other reason. Although I pass for white I do have a common Latin@ last name. One day at my job I received an email correspondence from someone I had not met complaining about a bit of bureaucratic wording and exclaiming that “Your organization needs to hire someone who speaks English as their first language!” I had no idea if this person was raging against the jungle of acronyms and jargon that are present in my industry or if they had a complaint about my work and were attributing my deficiencies to my ethnicity. In this way, euphemistic language is a one-two punch for racists. First, degrade your target. Then gaslight them and claim your “plausible deniability.”

But most of the time, there is no explanation that is remotely plausible. Everyone knew what Trent Lott meant when he said that if Strom Thurmond would have been elected president, we “wouldn’t have had all of these problems.” Similarly, we know exactly what Robertson means. He is explicitly praising the way he thinks black people thought and acted before they had even their rights enshrined into the law. We are meant to infer that he disapproves of black people today and that he blames the social safety net and perhaps the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act for the fact that they are more active in voicing their concerns and participating in society. There is no other way to interpret his remarks. Anyone who says differently holds you in contempt and is insulting your intelligence.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the rhetorical tactic of forcing someone to defend their own indefensible position. If you have a question you think the other side can’t answer, ask it anyway. This is pretty much what A&E did here. Their suspension forced not just Robertson, but many on the right to defend his remarks, and they are failing spectacularly. The best the can come up with is that Robertson has the First Amendment right to freedom of speech. But no one is arguing that he does not. No one can defend the content of what he said, so they are changing the topic. In a round of debate, this is known as dropping the argument. And it means that you have lost.