Scratch a racist statement, get a dose of ignorance

This morning I went on a bit of a tear of a Mitt Romney advisor who said this:

In remarks that may prompt accusations of racial insensitivity, one suggested that Mr Romney was better placed to understand the depth of ties between the two countries than Mr Obama, whose father was from Africa.

“We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage, and he feels that the special relationship is special,” the adviser said of Mr Romney, adding: “The White House didn’t fully appreciate the shared history we have”.

And I paused from finding new and creative ways to call Mr. Romney ‘boring’ to point out how insanely and overtly racist it was to say that being white made you more qualified to be President (actually, technically speaking, how being non-white made you less qualified, if you’re willing to split hairs). Having had a bit of time to think the situation over, I’ve reconsidered my opinion a bit. Not about the racism of the statement, but the intent of the speaker.

Back in 2009, a newly-elected President Barack Obama nominated Sonya Sotomayor to the Supreme Court of the United States. During her vetting process, she was taken to task (by idiots) for a comment she had made in a speech a few years earlier: [Read more...]

A shooting, many questions, no answers

Shortly after midnight on Friday, July 20th, a heavily-armed man burst into a movie theatre and opened fire on the crowd, killing twelve people and wounding nearly 60. This latest act of mass violence in the United States sparked yet another national conversation about the need for gun control, and questions about what could prompt a person with an otherwise-bright future to commit such an atrocity. I lack the necessary knowledge (and the energy) to comment much further about this particular shooting other than to say that I obviously wish it hadn’t happened, and that something must be done to make such events more rare. I do not believe that more guns are the answer to the problem, but that idea appears to have some serious currency in the United States, so I guess take that for what it’s worth.

Such acts are incredibly rare here in Canada (especially compared to our southern neighbour), and yet Toronto has recently been visited by a pair of public shootings that have sparked our own national conversation. The first shooting occurred at the beginning of last month in the food court of the city’s largest shopping mall. Two people, the apparent targets of the shooter, were killed. The motivation appears to be related to gang activity. At the beginning of last week, Toronto was once again visited by the spectre of violence at the hands of armed gunmen: [Read more...]

The one-way mirror of racial privilege

One of the most powerful tools we have when trying to parse an argument is the analogy. We can take the elements of a position, plug them in to a different context, and then press ‘play’ to see whether or not the argument still logically follows. So when a religious apologist talks about the perfect love and perfect mercy of YahwAlladdha, we can ask if it would still be considered ‘loving’ to lock your children in the basement and torture them (for any amount of time, let alone eternity) if they disobeyed your rules. We can point out the absurdity of demanding that atheists ‘play nice’ or ‘leave well enough alone’ by pointing to the similarities between ours and other civil rights movements, and show how active engagement in the public sphere is vital to progress.

Accustomed as we are to the incredible usefulness of this tool, there are cases where it goes horribly awry – namely, those cases in which privilege plays a significant role. At once, argument by analogy becomes completely derailed, and to the person drawing the (flawed) analogy, it seems as though the “privilege card” is being pulled out of nowhere. The argument seems to be, to them, that one is wrong simply because ze is white, or male, or cisgendered, or whatever dominant group identity is germane to the conversation – that the mere fact of being in the majority immediately disqualifies your arguments. Then out come the waterworks: “you’re just as bad as those you criticize – my opinion is being dismissed as you complain about people dismissing yours!”

Animated .gif of a Decepticon laughing and shooting lasers

Let’s just jump ahead a few paragraphs to the end of the argument and state unequivocally that your argument is bad, and you should feel bad.

Now that everyone who needs to learn this lesson has stopped reading, let’s forge ahead, shall we? [Read more...]

But what about Teh Menz!?!1!

Part of the problem with starting a new blog (or joining an already stellar one) is hitting on the right tone for the first post. Come on too strong and the writing appears forced (“ALRIGHT EVERYONE! HERE ARE MY WORDS AND YOU WILL LIKE THEM ALL AND YOU WILL KNOW HOW AWESOMEANDWITTYIAMBYTHETHIRDSENTANCEBLAKJSRSR!!!”), but exercise too much restraint and the blog post may read more like a detailed analysis of proper moisture content for haylage (yes, it’s a real word, and it’s 30-50%, by the way). I had originally written a fairly lengthy article about the current state of research on masculinities in the social sciences is but, you know, haylage. So here’s the plan: I’ve scrapped the post and written a new one, and done my best to lighten the tone a bit while keeping the core argument intact. I probably won’t have too many links contained in the body of the post, but I will absolutely put a small bibliography at the end (complete with Amazon.com links) for some of the more important works in the field.

The study of men and masculinities in the social sciences has been taking place since the very birth of the social sciences. Of course, back in the day just about everything that could be talked about with regards to society and social institutions was about men, by men, and for men. It wasn’t until the arrival on the scene of those uppity wimmenz with their ‘rooms of one’s own’ and their radical demands to be allowed to vote – or even be considered ‘persons’ under the law in the first place – that the analytical lenses of sociology, anthropology, political science, psychology, etc. began to swivel to scrutinize women and women’s lives. And what they found was that women had it pretty bad. Horribly bad, in fact and perhaps it would be wise if some small amount of time was devoted to trying to understand why they had it so bad, don’tcherknow? [Read more...]

The unbearable whiteness of TVing

There have been few times in my life where I have had a single-race group of friends. Living when and where I have, there have even been few examples where I was the only person of colour (PoC) in my immediate social circle. Part of it came, to be sure, from the fact that my high school was ludicrously multicultural, and I went to university for the next 6 years of my life before moving to Vancouver, a city with a huge PoC population. Simple probability theory dictates that you can’t really put together a monoracial group without more than a little bit of intentionality behind your friend selection.

Which is why shows like Seinfeld, Friends, and How I Met Your Mother annoy the living shit out of me. Well, to be fair to HIMYM, they eventually cast Kal Penn, so now the only thing that annoys me is the terrible writing. Anyway, these shows somehow manage to be about a group of white people living in one of the most multicultural cities in the world who only have ny kind of meaningful contact with other white people. Sure, PoCs occasionally pop into existence on these shows, but it’s almost always as either one-off characters or as “hilarious” jokes based on stereotype.

Last week I invited you to think about privilege as a pair of coloured goggles that prevented you from being able to see certain parts of the spectrum. Of course, if it were simply the case that privilege caused you to ‘miss out’ on things, it wouldn’t be much of a privilege, would it? Here’s the thing – that kind of selective blindness has consequences: [Read more...]

Blowing the dust off our language

I am not an entomologist. If I was, I’d know that the word I wanted to use there was ‘etymologist’. Also I’d be covered in ants or something.

At any rate, I have not made a careful study of language, and by no means am I up on the origins of the various aphorisms and slang phrases that we use in our day-to-day life. I do, however, remember quite well a scene in the movie Malcolm X where Red (the name that Malik el Shabazz had before he was called Malcolm X) was instructed to look up the words ‘white’ and ‘black’ in the dictionary:

[Read more...]

We’ll tread that fine line…

I hope nobody mistakes my approach to racism and cultural tolerance as ‘the right way’. People a lot more well-versed than I am in the vagaries of anthropology, history, sociology, and psychology (just to name a few relevant fields that I am utterly clueless in) have time and again failed to find the surefire path forward to diplomacy and harmony. I can barely sweet-talk women at the bar. If there is a ‘right way’, and I don’t believe that there is one, I’m an unlikely candidate to be the one who comes across it.

That being said, I know that some methods are better than others. There may be few things that we know to be surefire correct, but there are a hell of a lot that we know to be just plain wrong. There are, like logical fallacies or lousy apologetics arguments or privileged whines, arguments that are uttered pre-refuted. We know colour blindness doesn’t work, we know that ‘reverse discrimination’ isn’t what people say it is, we know that dividing the world into ‘racists’ and ‘non-racists’ is a house built on the sand of bad psychology. We can dispose of these arguments just like we can the “well then why are there still monkeys” ‘proof’ that evolution is a liberal conspiracy from the Muslim atheist devil.

Some situations, however, are quite a bit more tricky: [Read more...]

A Wildrose by any other name…

DISCLAIMER: I am going to do my absolute best not to make fun of Alberta in this post.

Those of you who do not follow Canadian politics news closely may be unaware that the province of Alberta recently had a provincial election. Alberta has often been (somewhat unfairly, but not entirely) characterized as the Texas of Canada. It is rich in oil wealth, and has long held itself out as the victim of a campaign of neglect by central Canada. At least partially as a result of this, and the entrenched conservatism that seems to accompany life on a frontier, Alberta has long been to the political ‘right’ of most Canadian issues. Of course, now that we have a Prime Minister from Alberta who is to the political ‘right’ of most Canadian issues, it’s a confusing time to be Albertan. What does it mean to your long-standing identity as the middle child of the Canadian family when one of your own is calling the shots?

In the wake of this confusion sprung the Wildrose Party, a provincial party that is even further to the right than the Progressive Conservative Party that has run Alberta for the past 40 years. Yes, you read that right – Alberta has been represented by a single party for 40 years, and it is called the “Progressive Conservative” party – Americans, sorry for blowing your minds with our weirdo Canuck ways. The Wildrose Party, branding itself as the populist conservative alternative to the staid, Tory leanings of the PC party, made a strong bid to unseat the reigning PCs in this latest election. Up until recently, political observers (plus everyone with a sense of civic duty) were gnawing their fingernails at the prospect of the right flank of the right wing seizing control – it was a real possibility.

Then… the wheels kind of came off: [Read more...]

Racism? Let them eat cake!

Sometimes stuff comes up in the news and I just don’t bother going after it. There are low-hanging news stories that are so silly or frivolous that I can’t think of anything worthwhile to say about them. Sometimes I file them away for a rainy day when I don’t have a lot of time or energy, or on the off chance that I’ll be able to link to it later in a more substantive piece. So when I read about Sweden’s “racist cake” incident, I figured it was worth taking a pass:

Sweden’s culture minister is facing calls to step down after she was photographed cutting a cake shaped in the form of a naked black woman. The incident involving Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth happened at the Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm. According to Radio Sweden, the museum said the cake was supposed to highlight the issue of female circumcision. But the Association for African Swedes said it was a crude racist caricature and called for Ms Liljeroth to resign.

A few people asked me to respond, but I thought it was a waste of time. After all, it’s a very silly story about an art installation that, as is often the case, was provocative and not in the greatest ‘taste’ (sorry for the pun). Avant garde art is, by definition, ahead of public opinion and designed to shock to prove a point. The involvement of the Swedish culture minister was a regrettable move on her part, but what would you do if asked to cut into a living cake at an art gallery? Staunchly refuse and launch into a tirade against the artist? It was the result of really shitty staff work and a questionable piece of art.

But damn if that confection didn’t have staying power. I guess it’s true – chocolate just doesn’t come out! So here’s a brief issue-by-issue breakdown of my thoughts. [Read more...]

Islam is dangerous

The extent to which I object to any religious belief is more or less commensurate with the level to which it informs one’s daily life. If you privately believe that the universe is 20 minutes away from being devoured in a ball of flame, but you still do a good job filing my tax returns, it’s really not my place to get all hot and bothered by your delusion. This isn’t to say that, if given the opportunity, I won’t say something about how ridiculous your beliefs are. After all, the truth is important. However, it simply doesn’t interest me to put my shoulders into exposing the irrationality of your particular faith. After all, provided you make no (or comparatively few) life decisions based on it, it’s a bit arch of me to go after it.

Islam, at least insofar as I understand it (and have seen it practiced) is one of those faiths wherein daily observance and connection to day-to-day life is much more persistent. Christianity, by comparison, has fewer daily rituals and practices that mark someone as “a Christian”. There is no dress code, there are no dietary restrictions, few necessary public observances. It is far easier to be a “stealth Christian” than it is to be a “stealth Muslim”. Couple that with daily prayers and the phrase “inshallah” (which one of the guys I work with uses – to be sure, one branch of my family doesn’t talk about the future without saying “God willing”, so that kind of obeisance is not exclusively Muslim), and you get a religion that is very much a ‘live in’ one.

Perhaps the most visible signifier of Muslim belief is the head covering that many Muslim women wear (either by choice or by coercion). I’ve known sisters, both who would describe themselves as ‘observant’ – one wore the head scarf, the other did not. It was very much a choice for them, and I have no quarrel with that. The only thing that weirds me out about the whole practice is the fact that it is an open, visible sign to everyone around you that you subscribe to the belief that women ought to cover their hair for ‘modesty’ purposes. I would be, I imagine, similarly put off by a Catholic woman who wore a wimple or a Hindu woman displaying a bindi (although the bindi is often cosmetic rather than religious).

But one cannot escape the fact that, at least here in North America, there is a lot of danger associated with women who wear hijabs. Danger to the women themselves, at least: [Read more...]