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Shame and Appropriation – the Cycle

The United States is a country that came into being at a critical juncture in human advance. Technology, popular politics, religious power, and a revolution in economics were combining to push the Western world into a new era, and this continent was rich with resources. But the claiming of them, and of the land surrounding them, involved the systematic destruction of the original inhabitants, the labor of hundreds of thousands of slaves, and the complicity of government and merchantmen to legalize both. This is the legacy of America, and as time went on the country found less blatant but no less exploitative ways to maintain it. In an effort to excuse its ruling class from its own history race, sex, and poverty have been othered, criminalized, and pathologized. Then as the cultural elite seek new methods to express, to explore, and to entertain themselves, those so dehumanized are mined for their experiences in often shameless appropriation. In Queer Testimonio, which I’ll be drawing many passages from in this essay, Cruz-Malavé describes the voyeuristic enjoyment as “that joyous sigh of relief, that jolt that may be experienced at reliving ‘lesser’ lives at a distance,” and that others have called, more succinctly, “poverty porn.”

It is in this context that queer activism—as defined by the struggle for identity, for recognition, and for space in a shared community narrative—has also arisen in the US. And so it is that even within the context of shared marginalization the shunning and exploitation of the Other is as thoroughly used. In Juanito Xtravaganza’s testimonio, and in Cruz-Malavé’s subsequent contextualizing of it through his not-unsympathetic exposé on Keith Haring, the rampant appropriation and exotification of queer men of color is described in some detail. But previous to that appropriation is the shaming, the powerful othering that insists on assimilation to a higher and higher degree of whiteness. It is the shaming that both pushes people of color to relinquish their rights to their own culture while also driving them to find new means of expression. As white society can continue to raise the bar for assimilation and acceptance indefinitely, the cycle of shame and subsequent appropriation can and has continued.

In E. Patrick Johnson’s “Quare” Studies he describes some of the shaming of people of color even (and perhaps, with greater assimilation pressure, especially) in academics. Accusations of “essentialism” and “anti-intellectualism” in an academic sphere boil down to “why do you insist on being different?” This point is brought home in his critique of John Champagne, in which he describes Champagne’s viewing a black man’s tearful reading of bodily autonomy as anti-intellectual and manipulative: “This seems to be an un-self-reflexive, if not unfair, assumption to make when, for the most part, white bodies are discursively and corporeally naturalized…In Champagne’s analysis of ‘blackness,’ bodily ‘whiteness’ goes uninterrogated.”

This shaming of experience and identity has driven many queer people of color to try and band together under either the umbrella of queer activism or racial activism, without being comfortable under either. In the meantime, queer rights leadership is happily adopting and co-opting civil rights leaders and their struggles for their own use. This mirrors work by queer artists, such as Keith Haring, who took the expression of young queer men of color and incorporated it into his own work. Puerto Ricans and black youth, thoroughly segregated from the white gay “disco” scene, were forced to funnel their energy and expression into their own, separate venues, like the Paradise Garage (Cruz-Malavé). There they made their own music, their own dance, their own atmosphere—and there it was that white men, bored with their own culture, came to partake of the other. As examined in both Cruz-Malavé’s book and also in the essay “The Slap of Love” by Michael Cunningham, the objectification of people of color made it possible to commodify their culture. Whether it was the graffiti-esque pop art of the white suburban Haring or the acquisition of “vogueing” by Madonna, places like the Paradise Garage were being mined for their cultural resources without any intention of sharing the profits.

This sort of oppression is compounded once again when one considers, not just people of color or even their queer compatriots but the women along that same intersection. An interesting interlude in Cruz-Malavé’s book is his discussion of the policing and criminalization of women’s sexuality, particularly that of poor women of color. From the baseless zero-sum dichotomy of “unbridled female sexuality, whose logical counterpart was an impotent masculinity” (emphasis mine) to the forced sterilization of poor women documented as recently as 2010 (Marcotte, 2013), women have been shamed and blamed and usually punished for being sexual in the US. Cruz-Malavé’s focus is, given the subject of the book, Puerto Rican women, but he consistently broadens that focus to include all poor women of color, particularly those living in the disenfranchised areas of New York.

This hasn’t been restricted to just queer women, of course. Audre Lorde in Sister Outsider she connects that sexuality—going beyond just ‘sex’ and ‘birth’ and the other biological necessities—to the sense of worth and connection women have with themselves and each other. The “erotic” as she calls it is a source of empowerment and strength, and as such is routinely and systematically attacked by an anti-woman society. The process of reclaiming and reinforcing that sense of self is as important to progress as a woman as it is to a healthy, balanced society. But that same reclamation makes it available to men as a salable resource in the themes of self-betterment, cosmetics, and pornography. Include race and one must consider the white feminist movements of twenty years ago and today, who seek—like Johnson’s description of queer activism—to umbrella all women under a homogenous term to move forward, and ignore the specific empowerment and struggle that different members experience. And then again, with trans-exclusionary feminists such as Cathy Brennan, or wealthy women blaming poor women for being “welfare queens,” the cycle of shaming provides more opportunity for appropriation.

Segregation, shame, infiltration, appropriation—this cycle of oppression drives whole economies forward on the backs of marginalized people. Recognizing this as a root for many of the products sold to the socially dominant is a critical step in attacking the foundations of much of the US’s structure of systemized stigmas such as racism and homophobia and their various intersections. Freedom and balance can only be attained when our experiences, while still different, can be compared evenly, when we all have the same choices and chances and opportunities to be happy and succeed in whatever we see as success. But while there is money in the process, it will continue to be difficult to fight the process that Ani diFranco described as “criminalizing the symptoms while [we] spread the disease.” And as long as people can be removed from society by popular vote, whether that is defined as cultural exclusion or a not-guilty decision in the murder of a black child, there’s still a long struggle ahead to find that balance.

Discussing the Wage Gap in the United States

The existence of a wage gap–that is, a disparity in wages for equivalent positions of equivalent experience or skill level–between various groups in the United States is both well-documented and highly disputed.  Many studies have quantified the exact disparity between such demographics as majority and minority race, men and women, and educational levels, and at least as many critics have arisen to disparage the statistics, some reflexively and others accurately.  But while the final dollar amounts may vary from interpretation to interpretation the final result has always been that, however large or small, there is a persistent difference and discrimination in the country.  

Legislation to correct the disparity of wage has been passed, then whittled down, then reinforced, then trimmed again over the decades.  Studies provide solid evidence of discrimination but then long rhetoric wears the solutions down.  It becomes increasingly difficult to shore up old legislation like the Equal Pay Act and Civil Rights Act when their foundations are constantly eroded out from under them with unanalyzed criticisms.  This paper’s purpose is to examine both some studies and their criticisms, and look at the bottom line of the wage gap for the US.  

The difference in wages between white employees and minorities has been extensively examined by labor economists. The wage gap narrowed significantly during the 1960s and 1970s, but since then the differences in wages has remained relatively constant. The convergence in wages that occurred during the 1960s and 1970s has been attributed to improvements in the levels and quality of schools attended by blacks as well as the enactment of anti-discrimination legislation.  The slowdown in convergence during the 1980s and 1990s has been attributed to racial differences in the levels and returns to observed and unobserved skill.  Years of schooling and years of labor market experience are often used as proxies for labor market skill.  However recent changes in gathering statistics have proven competent at controlling for these factors.  Campbell and Kaufman (2006) found that controlling for various facets of wage reduced certain disparities, such as education and age, but even these distinctions left notable gaps in average income, especially between blacks and whites.

Common criticisms of wage gap studies are differences in education, immigration status (often quoted as language barrier), and labor experience.  Lower education or different educational standards for international immigrants are proposed as a flaw in the wage gap discussion, as higher education is positively correlated with higher wage.  Communication issues are also held to be logical barriers to achieving both employment and subsequent promotion, interfering with day-to-day workability.  These critiques are not poorly founded, though they fail to address what institutions within society might lead to their outcome.  It is unconstructive to assume that an entire race, on average, chooses to forgo higher education, after all.  Or that there is some inherent lack of language training in immigrants immersed in an English-speaking majority.

But Campbell’s progressive modeling in her study shows the alarming trend that, even when these factors are controlled for, when age, educational and duration of employment are at parity, significant discrepancies still exist.  Her results showed that these socio-economic indicators have stronger benefits for Whites than for minorities.  She argued in her introduction for the potential importance of immigration in the wage gap when analyzing groups with sizeable immigrant sub-populations. Immigrant characteristics were in fact differentially influential across groups, having no effects for blacks (unsurprising, considering the vast majority of black families in the US are many generations old), only indirect effects for Mexican-Americans and Other Hispanics (mediated by household income), but having direct effects for Whites and especially for Asian-Americans. Similarly, from her analysis was found that even when groups were equivalently situated, the “processes of generating wealth still differ by race and ethnicity.”  Those of Asian descent, commonly excluded from blanket wage-gap assumptions, showed an actual decrease in returns from higher education.

 

These findings follow studies that look at a more small scale approach.  In 2003, Bertrand and Mullainathan teamed up to submit 1300 resumes to local (Chicago and Boston, respectively) positions.  The resumes were controlled for quality based on style, education and experience listed at different tiers, but were then given “white” names and “black” names as their prime differences.  The authors find that applicants with white-sounding names are 50 percent more likely to get called for an initial interview than applicants with African-American-sounding names. Applicants with white names received more callbacks-per-resumes-sent and, in addition, white job applicants with higher-quality resumes received 30 percent more callbacks than whites with lower-quality resumes. Having a higher-quality resume had a much smaller impact on black applicants, who experienced only 9 percent more callbacks for the same improvement in their credentials. This disparity suggests that in the current state of the labor market, black professionals may not have strong individual incentives to build better resumes.  Statistically, discrimination levels were consistent across all the occupations and industries covered in the experiment.  Even federal contractors (for whom affirmative action is better enforced) and companies that explicitly state that they are an “Equal Opportunity Employer” did not discriminate less.

The racial wage gap has significant implications for families, children and the state’s greater prosperity. As the differences in wages earned persist, so do differences in household income and poverty levels by race.  But race is not the only source of wage disparity in the country.  Much ado has been made recently of the difference in common wage between men and women, as well.  Recent federal legislation discussions over the, perceived or otherwise, significant difference in women’s wages in the US have brought up several studies and much ridicule, but not many answers.

An all-too-common response to workers and advocates concerned about the gender wage gap for full-time year-round workers across occupations is that it is just a byproduct of the choices women make.  Choices to work fewer hours, take on lower-paying jobs, or opt out of the workforce for longer periods of time than men are framed as inevitabilities much like education and language are with race. When framed in this way, it’s easy to dismiss equal-pay policies or legislation as superfluous.  Unfortunately, decades of evidence have revealed a far more complicated story, and it is clear that the gender wage gap is about more than just personal choice. It is a real and persistent problem, and it is a problem that calls for immediate and nimble policy solutions.

Among men and women employed full time, 60 percent of the wage gap can be attributed to known factors such as work experience at 10 percent, union status at 4 percent, and the aforementioned choice of occupation at 27 percent, among other measurable differences.  A woman’s work experience is abbreviated if she needs to take maternity leave or take time off from a job to care for a child, which she is more likely to do than her male counterpart. Another quarter of the wage gap is attributable to the differences in wages paid by industries that employ mostly men or mostly women. These include blue-collar industries such as mining, manufacturing, and construction, which generally employ men, and service-sector or clerical jobs, which generally pay less and employ more women.

These are all functional and measurable differences in the work force.  But it still leaves 40 percent of the entire wage gap–more than 10 cents on the dollar–completely unexplained.  This leaves only possible explanations that range from overt sexism to unintentional gender-based discrimination to reluctance among women to negotiate for higher pay.  The American Association of University Women tackled the pay gap question by looking at workers of the same educational attainment—same kind of college, same grades—holding the same kinds of jobs, and having made the same choices about marriage and number of kids. They found that college-educated women earn 5 percent less the first year out of school than their male peers. Ten years later, even if they keep working on par with those men, the women earn 12 percent less.And these results are only exacerbated when combined with the racial disparities mentioned earlier.

 

A study done in 2006 by Renzulli, Grant and Kathuria examined this intersection of race and gender by looking exclusively at college and university faculty positions.  White men made an average annual salary of $61,950 to black men’s $53,640, to white women’s $48,200 to black women’s $46,870.  These gaps held study from department to department and across tenure tracks.  Elsewhere in the labor market, the numbers are more grim: black men making 74.5, latinos 65.9, white women 80.5, black women 69.6 and latinas 59.8 percent of a white man’s salary.

Whether a person is making less money because of the color of their skin or because they’ve been unable–or actively discouraged–to pursue education or better opportunities, these trends are alarming and, currently, getting worse.  And these are not the only bases for discrimination.  Unfortunately, many gay and transgender workers also receive unequal pay for equal work in the United States today. What’s worse, these same workers lack the necessary legal protections currently afforded to other categories of individuals that would help combat and correct pay inequities that exist on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Although sexual orientation and gender identity have no relationship to workplace performance, during the past four decades a large body of research using a variety of methodologies has consistently documented high levels of discrimination against lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender (LGBT) people at work. Evidence of discrimination has been reviewed and summarized in two recent reports by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law: a 2009 report focused on discrimination in the public sector and a 2007 report focused on employment discrimination in the private sector.  These very recent studies have found a series of hard data where previous ones were only able to speculate.

Gay and bisexual men earned 10 percent to 32 percent lessthan similarly qualified heterosexual men, in a meta-analysis of 12 studies examining earnings and sexual orientation in the United States. This was true even when controlling for education, race, occupation, and years of work experience, with similar numbers for both the private and public sector.  For women it was a little less clear, in that some out lesbians reported slightly lower wages while others reported significantly higher wages.

A different study found that earnings for male-to-female transgender workers fell by nearly one-third after their gender transitions, but earnings for female-to-male transgender workers increased slightly.  Between this and the findings for lesbians, it is reasonable to assume some connection between the perception of masculinity and the wage discrepancy, especially when combined with the findings on gender gap above.  The intersection of sexuality with race and gender also drives the gap wider.

The trends in wage disparity can be closely tied to contemporary politics, but that makes the need for clear legislature very obvious.  Passage of legislation like affirmative action bring the ire of certain conservative rhetoric, but it is clear that their purpose of creating a level playing field for all citizens has not yet been reached.  Lawmakers in Congress should also consider targeted legislation aimed specifically at eliminating the wage gap for gay and transgender workers. Prior to the passage of the Civil Rights Act, which provided women with a large range of workplace protections, Congress enacted the Equal Pay Act of 1963 aimed at abolishing the gender wage gap. Congress can follow this pattern for gay and transgender workers.  There is currently the Employment Non-Discrimination Act on the table that seeks to include protection not just for race and gender but sexuality, as well.  Even without passing ENDA, Congress can pass legislation aimed at eliminating wage disparities based on sexual orientation and gender identity in a manner similar to the Equal Pay Act.

As a country we must also consider ourselves personally accountable for the propagation of these trends as well.  Every person finding themselves in the position to hire somebody into a company needs to consider what their own reactions are to a face, a name, or a marital status is.  Everybody confronted with the opportunity to push back against the current trend of discriminatory hiring and promoting needs to take that stand.  And then we all need to go and vote to make sure those who are representing us stand behind that decision.

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M.V. Lee Badgett, Brad Sears, Holning Lau, & Deborah Ho, Bias in the Workplace: Consistent Evidence of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Discrimination 1998-2008, 84CHI.-KENT L.REV. 559 (2009).

Lori Ann Campbell, Robert L. Kaufman, Racial differences in household wealth: Beyond Black and White. Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, Volume 24, Issue 2, 2nd Quarter 2006, Pages 131–152 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.rssm.2005.06.001

Race, Gender, and the Wage Gap: Comparing Faculty Salaries in Predominately White and Historically Black Colleges and Universities

Linda A. Renzulli, Linda Grant and Sheetija Kathuria, Gender and Society , Vol. 20, No. 4 (Aug., 2006), pp. 491-510 Published by: Sage Publications, Inc.

Article Stable URL: http://0-www.jstor.org.opac.sfsu.edu/stable/27640906

Christianne Corbett, Catherine Hill, Graduating to a Pay Gap: The Earnings of Women and Men One Year after College Graduation  October 2012 http://www.aauw.org/files/2013/02/graduating-to-a-pay-gap-the-earnings-of-women-and-men-one-year-after-college-graduation.pdf

 

Changes, and Ableism

This was a post that was difficult to write.  That’s not the exclusive reason that it took so long (a magical concoction of laziness, distraction, and a dash of actual preoccupation helped) but it definitely was an obstacle.  It may still turn out kind of rambly and tangential, apologies ahead of time.

So this blog was originally meant to be focused on racism and the perspectives of it from my own snow-white background.  I quickly learned two things from it.  First, that I really don’t know enough about racism to dedicate a blog to it, even as regards my own privilege.  Reading requireshate and angryblackwomen in between raging impotently at comment threads somehow wasn’t enough.  Second, that it is rightfully very difficult to speak exclusively about racism without recognizing the intersections between it and other means of prejudice and oppression.  This is perhaps especially true from my perspective of nearly overwhelming privilege regarding many of these institutions.

Consequently, even though it really only affects me, I’m not going to be restricting content according to that original model.  I will still be primarily concerned with dissecting the privileged perspective (regarding my own posts, not that of hypothetical commenters), and using that reflection to try and overcome my own hobbles in both thinking and writing.  I will also be endeavoring to, when I’m not sure how I feel about a thing or am stuck somewhere in my thinking, simply post a question.  I fully encourage any readers to answer, pontificate, deride, or even ask their own questions.  Moderation continues to be light, but not absent.

That all being said, onto the meat of the post.  Something I’ve been struggling with greatly is ableism.  Specifically, I have used and continue to use ableist language–even more specifically, I say “retarded” an awful lot.  Like…really a lot.  And each time I cringe and yet…not sticking.  I don’t know.  I’ve met fair success with excising several other common words from my daily vocabulary, some more than others, but this one I’ve somehow resisted.

Before I get too much further with this, my own background with ableism and why this is a somewhat challenging post for me to write.  I am able-bodied, my family is almost entirely able-bodied, and there is no particular genetic predisposition in my family towards defects (not sure how I feel about that word).  Mentally, early-onset dementia has increased significantly on my grandfather’s side of the family, but nobody that I’ve had great exposure to besides my great-grandmother, who was old before I even met her.  This position of normativity has presented us as a family–and me specifically, of course–with an unfortunate tendency to try and brush other, less “obvious” afflictions under the rug.  There is a certain predisposition to excuse, ignore, and dismiss such behaviors that might otherwise indicate chronic afflictions such as bipolar disorder, ADHD, and autism, often consigning them to flaws of personality or self-discipline instead.

This can of course be damaging, both to those who never receive treatment and those laboring under the onus of diagnosis.  When certain circumstances in my youth required that I be committed to a local mental hospital and, later, when a much more professionally apt psychiatrist finally diagnosed me with chronic clinical depression, there was a lot of pooh-poohing about medication and therapy.  There was also, it took me about 15 years to realize, a lot of internalizing of the language and perspectives of self-deprecation.

It’d be really easy to slide into a long story of my own personal struggles, etc, but while blogging is of course an inherently selfish medium I do want to eventually get to the point.  So, suffice to say that depression is quite a lot like Sisyphus’ boulder, except that the weight is oneself and the terrain is littered with reasons why you shouldn’t need help to stop being sad.  My background of low-income combined with this internalized litany has meant a lot of time not being on meds, including right now.  The point being that I should understand that language can have a devastating effect on even daily coping.

Other experiences (obviously second-hand) with disabilities include a friend and client from when I first decided to go back to school.  An older man, recently blind, I read for him and tutored him in math, through the local Department for Rehabilitation.  I learned a lot from him about depictions of sensory disability, including the both obvious and insidious damage from the common tropes of super-sense replacing lost sense.  He also knew his way around San Diego blind better than I did with a map in my lap.  Much more recently, I’ve fallen into the periphery of local Deaf culture.  I took an ASL class last summer for fun and really found a love for the language, and besides the class itself (which was as much about introducing hearing students to Deaf culture and community as the language) I also got on very well with the teacher, a Deaf-from-birth woman who’d grown up locally.  She suggested me to my teacher in fall, as I was transferring schools, and the latter took an interest in including me in more culture discussions and getting me involved in some of the local meetings.

So I have about as little excuse for being unsympathetically ableist as an abled man can have, if there are such things as excuses for it.  It’s not even a almost-kinda word like “idiot” or “dumb,” but something I know full-well is offensive.

I’ve discussed with other people the entitlement I have felt in the past to, in essence, being able to insult somebody.  To having words that I can use to belittle and deprecate.  I recognize that false entitlement, in myself and others.  The whole tantrum of “Well why don’t you just make a list of all the words I CAN say then?!” is a squall that I can at least say I haven’t fallen into, but it was a near thing.  Understanding that is what helped me pull away from other word use–I mean, it was only within the last five years that I understood what a “gendered slur” meant.

So I guess the point of this post is, does anybody have any good advice or shareable experience?  And, perhaps more importantly, this is also an apology to anybody who’s been stung by words what I know better than to use.  I promise I’m trying to get off your foot, as it were, but I respect that doesn’t do you much good right now.

Video

Cameron Russell on Image

I’m working on a post about myself to celebrate my triumphant return from my first semester at a grown-up university, but this popped up on my Tumblr and I thought it was worth drawing attention to, besides generating some much-needed content for all these folk pinging me from the illustrious requireshate.

Cameron Russell is a Victoria’s Secret model, and she stood up to give a talk about what being a model really means, how privilege (or as she calls it, “legacy”) functions for her in her job and life, and a little bit about her struggle to unpack that. I find it quite brave, and you can see the blank looks from a lot of the audience, and I salute her for standing there and laying it out in ten minutes.

And without taking away from that bravery, I’d like to contrast it with this: Meteorologist Fired for Responding to Racism. This woman, politely and professionally, responded to a Facebook comment shaming her for her short hair. Her network reprimanded her, fired her…and liked the comment.

Also, in a follow-up search on the article, I found more than one gem about how an angry black woman viciously lashed out at a disabled man with dementia online. Happily the writer neglected to carefully cherry-pick and doctor quotes from the actual post, and was pretty well lambasted in the comments, but…

The point is Rhonda Lee, for the crime of her image, was summarily fired for her politely standing up for herself. Cameron Russell can be safely applauded for outing her whole industry.

Re: On Things…

This is a teal deer response to this post here. I don’t feel I have much place discussing this sort of thing in the spaces of those so marginalized, but that’s why I went and made a blog of my own, amirite?

In short, there is a lot of misalignment of scrutiny and fallout within social-justice circles, where people tend to target POC and women of color far more than whites and men for “calling out” on issues and asshattery. I believe that there are two over-arching forces at work in this phenomenon: betrayal and bullying. Each of these has as many underlying facets and sub-sections as they have people who function under them, but the two forces are split up generally by whether the person in question is, in fact, interested in social justice or not.

For those that are, those people who are genuinely trying to explore privilege and denounce its manifestations, those (generally marginalized) who are often involved in actual activism besides dram_comms, it is a matter of finding amongst themselves, the army they have come to trust by necessity, somebody who has failed. It is the queer whose black friend votes against gay marriage, the latino/a whose girlfriend cracks a racist joke. It is the feeling of the knife in the back. It results in a reactionary anger based on broken trust, on the realization that it takes more than one common cause to find a safe space between people. And I think that it builds up–that these repeated breakdowns of intersectionality result in a habit of “policing the borders,” so to speak, of being more focused on making sure everybody on the front line with them is facing the same direction than finding targets across the divide.

I don’t think that this is an unreasonable reaction, though obviously it has its faults and, when more and more people give in to it, results in a lot more energy being focused on what may or may not be constructive whistle-blowing than stopping oppression from people who have the power. But it’s not easy fighting the rich and/or powerful, and it is doubly hard when you have to keep side-eyeing the people who have your back. It becomes a matter of trying to clear some safe space from which to work before you can focus outwards again, but this turns into an exhaustive full-time occupation (usually on top of actual full-time occupations) and then it’s all one can do to stay afloat, much less swim for shore. And what once was a stop-gap before you can finally focus on the fight again becomes your only contribution to a hopeful next generation–weeding out the problem children.

Or, sometimes, a person finds that it is much easier and almost as satisfying to attack other marginalized allies. Hence phenomenon two: bullying. Because white male institutions are dug in deep into the foundation of power and walled high with the rhetoric of privilege, and hapless refugees are merely hiding behind precarious sandbags of hope and effort while flanked by the wide open cavalry plains of internalized bigotry. And over-extended metaphor. If are going to put your precious effort into the attack of people spouting off on the internet, will it satisfy you to be a splash of water on those high white walls? Or is it more personally edifying to drown somebody already struggling for breath? Finding women and POC who have broken some covenant and dragging them down is something a small group of SJ warriors can conceivably do, and it has a clear result. And then you can pat yourself on the back for a job well done.

Conversely, if you’ve just always been an asshole and would like to continue to do so without that occasional pang of guilty conscience, there’s nothing better than learning the SJ language. Then you can be exactly the same person doing exactly the same thing and you’ll always find a home amongst like-assed brethren, enjoying the warm glow of community and vindication when you dogpile some poor fucker who made you feel guilty for being a dick five years ago and just let slip something that, considered carefully and slantwise, could almost be a privileged statement.

Clearly I have more patience for one of these, but I see the latter very often. Especially on anon sites, where there need not be any identification of marginalization (or otherwise, obviously) and people use these carefully chosen and defined terms like bludgeons in the hands of malicious playground bullies, laughing at how clever they are to have subverted all this nonsensical uprising against oppression and all this naming and shaming. Where better to associate with trolls and bugbears than in the fetid marsh of drama_comm, under the graffiti’d bridge of anonymity?

And the worst of this is: when encountering the latter, do you then become the former? Do you put the effort into weeding out the so-called social justice weekend warrior instead of focusing on the ivory tower? Can you fight those who say they’re on your side in good conscience while an open enemy stares down his NRA-endorsed sights, watching, waiting for his chance to take a report of how insipid and foolish these people rallying at his gates are? Because he watches, too, and he loves to place the blame of his comfort on the shoulders of the powerless, for if they could but work together, how could he resist?

Art imitates life

Got linked to this amazing piece by my partner: Native Tongue

Kent Monkman is a Cree artist in Canada, re-working/imagining primarily white and totally heteronormative depictions of native people and life. He tackles both the quiescent, passive role of the sublimation of native cultures portrayed by a media that keeps telling us they no longer exist AND the intersection of native culture and sexuality/gender.

Also, his work is really fucking gorgeous. (He ain’t hard on the eyes either.)

This is a power I wish I had, but am way glad that somebody else has it instead. Somebody who needs that power. And it illustrates (har) a clear example of how easy it is to speak well of a culture while simultaneously trying to stamp it out of existence.

Stereotype Threat

Growing up I was exposed to a lot of stereotyping. It came in all forms, from jokes and off-handed, overheard comments to in-your-face media. And when you’re young it’s hard to differentiate between what you’ve heard and what you know–they become the same. So deconstructing these ideas later in life can be very work-intensive, and sometimes harrowing, as I try to peel apart these old, congealed conceptions to expose the seed they germinated from. Sometimes it turns out to be strange half-heard moments in a school hallway, and those are easy; sometimes it’s lies and bigotry from people I’d trusted and loved and never thought to second-guess, and those can be hard.

But as I pick apart these gnarled old chestnuts I come to realize what stereotyping actually means. Yes, this is a privilege of mine, that I didn’t have to think about this until I chose to, and I don’t just mean what a stereotype is. I mean the purpose of the stereotype, why they are, and how they manifest. A stereotype is a method by which we label people for easy categorization, a means to think less, to process and dismiss. Each generalization doesn’t just label, however; because it is a person we are defining it necessarily confines, distorts, and dehumanizes. Furthermore, it causes assumptions based on assumptions, which are rarely flattering to begin with. For the purposes of this post I’m labeling these three facets the face, the focus, and the fallout, because I’m a nerd who likes alliteration.

I feel it is also important to note at this point that there is no such thing as a “positive” stereotype. Though we may use a label containing language we think of as complimentary, the net result is the same as a “negative” stereotype, plus the weaselly misdirection in an attempt to avoid guilt. To illustrate, I’ll use a couple so-called “positive” (and yes I will feel the need to pretentiously air-quote that word every time) stereotypes in my breakdown, starting with one recently discussed.

Note: These are common stereotypes propagated in the US, at least in the midwest/west where I’ve spent most of my life. Mileage may vary.

The face: “Black women are so strong.”
This is to say, black women are emotionally stalwart, activist-oriented, no-nonsense bullshit-free zones. They are immune to depression, to exploitation, and even their sadness manifests in glorious, stone-faced revenge.

The focus: Black women cannot be hurt.
This means that no matter what their life stories are, what attacks are made against them, what indignity they may suffer, they shouldn’t cry. I don’t have to feel bad for hurting their feelings–I may as well feel bad for riding a horse or disciplining a dog. They don’t feel pain like real people. This also explains their tendency to be too loud, too obnoxious, too large–it comes with the territory.

The fallout: Black women aren’t human.
A black woman cannot be treated like a normal person because there can be no empathy. A black woman who walks through fire is not an amazing person–all black women are strong. It’s just natural that she suffer, if at all, in silence. A black woman who cries is exceptionally weak, doesn’t realize who she is, or is lying. Corollary: a white person (especially a woman) who succeeds in emulating a black woman’s strength is exceptionally strong. (This seems to be true also for “black men are natural athletes,” allowing white men who compete to enjoy extra glory for accomplishments.)

The face: “Asians are good at math.”
This is to say, Asian-American students, particularly in the high school-to-collegiate ages, are mathematically inclined. All subjects relating to math are processed easily by Asian-Americans either because of genetic advantage or their family/culture/history has groomed them for this purpose.

The focus: Asians are manifest intellectuals.
This means that no matter what their home lives, their personal interests, their eighteen years of piano lessons, they will always be real-life Vulcans. They don’t process emotion, or art, or creativity like normal people. They are career-oriented and driven in a pathological, almost supernatural way to succeed in their chosen, undoubtedly math and/or money-related field. There is no shame in asking for help, cribbing their work, or stealing their identities because all they care about is sums and success.

The fallout: Asians aren’t human.
Be they fifth-gen pre-civil-war immigrants or fresh-off-the-boaters, Asians cannot be treated like real people. They don’t possess beauty or feelings or imagination for any other purpose than to emulate or titillate Westerners, because they don’t need it. Their accomplishments are degraded because there is no success in accomplishing what you are made for. This allows them to be both the objects of pity AND fear, like any good robot culture. Corollary: their women exist to be saved from the weight of their backwards heartless native lands. Feel no shame in fetishizing them since it’s probably the most real love they’ll ever get.

Does this seem extreme? Maybe we’re just not paying enough attention. I’m not even a scholar of these trends and I can extrapolate this far, and I can feel niggling in my brain that there’s more I could have worked out in just these two examples. And again, these are the “positive” kinds–it only gets exponentially worse when the language doesn’t even bother to pretend to be flattering.

The primary trait of stereotyping is defining the Other, so it is by necessity othering to adhere to stereotypes. There is no “reason” beyond that for stereotypes–the stereotype is not a cliche. A cliche is a linguistic tool that has found repeated, constructive use in order to portray an idea, while a stereotype is a shoddy patch over our gaping lack of knowledge, which we use rather than choosing to educate ourselves. There’s nothing to be gained from them other than more ignorance, and the crusty feeling of cheap adhesive.

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