The Black Lives Matter protests are about systematic police brutality and racism. In the face of such weighty issues, it seems petty to talk about mere language, potentially even a drain on activist energy. Nonetheless, I personally find language to be a stimulating topic rather than a draining one, and it can be used as a lens to engage with larger issues.

The larger issue here, is the relationship between anti-racism, and Asian Americans. Anti-racism in the US has largely focused on anti-Black racism, and to a lesser extent anti-Latinx and anti-Indigenous racism. Asian Americans–as well as people of other ethnicities/races/nationalities–tend to throw in some nasty complications, mucking up the clean generalizations people would often like to make. For example, asking people to recognize their White privilege just falls flat when the audience is simply not White.

And you should know, I’m not deliberately trying to trip up anti-racist activists. It’s not a gotcha. It’s just a fact about me, that I’m mixed race Asian American, and my list of privileges is somewhat different. The differences are sometimes important, sometimes not.

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Legalistic fixation in atheism

Something I’ve observed among atheists, is a narrow legalistic stance informed by separation of church and state. For example, saying religion is 100% fine until you bring it into government policy. Or, religion is completely acceptable unless you’re forcing it upon other people. This stance does not seem at all consistent to me, and it was a perpetual annoyance back when I participated in the atheist movement.

And you know, who cares anymore, the atheist movement is dead.

Nonetheless, it’s a pet peeve of mine, especially when I see the same reasoning applied other realms. Say, statues memorializing racists. Can you imagine believing that racist statues are 100% fine unless they’re on public property?

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Riots and commemoration

As massive anti-racism protests erupted across the US (and the rest of the world as well) we had yet another public conversation about the value and significance of riotous actions within protests. My own social media environment is very progressive and supportive of the protests, but even there I saw some disagreement, as some folks argued that rioting was valuable and significant, and others argued that it was not a significant part of the mostly peaceful protests.

After about a week, the latter view seemed to win out, especially in light of the much more significant violence perpetrated by the police themselves. “The Police are Rioting. We Need to Talk About It” is an article title that about sums it up. At this point I feel like I’m addressing the topic too late. But there’s one argument that stuck in my head.

This one argument justified recent riots by comparing them to the Stonewall riots. In the US, June is Pride Month, which originated as a commemoration of the Stonewall riots. The Stonewall riots clearly demonstrate the potential value of violent protest. On the other hand, the history of Stonewall is heavily mythologized, and there is a danger of drawing the wrong conclusions based on fiction.

Today I’d like to discuss a scholarly article: “Movements and Memory: The Making of the Stonewall Myth” by Elizabeth A Armstrong and Suzanna M Crage (via belowdesire, who has many other informative articles). And I do recommend reading the entire article yourself if you have the time. By examining the history we can better understand the potential–and limitations–of riots.

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On panhandlers

Dear readers, what is your attitude towards panhandlers?

My husband and I have adopted different attitudes, with him preferring to completely ignore them, and me preferring to politely refuse them. I want to acknowledge their personhood, he is afraid of encouraging them to accost us further.

Maybe that doesn’t make a difference, as neither of us are offering money. I’ve given money to panhandlers a few times over… ten years, but this is an area where I reach moral satiation practically immediately. Giving money to panhandlers feels so bad, because I overthink it afterwards. My whole life I’ve been told that charity feels good but you know what it doesn’t so stop lying to me.

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People sure are judgmental about food

Some years ago, I read an article about how millennials are killing breakfast cereal or something, and I made the mistake of reading the comments. Surprisingly, it was less millennial bashing, and more older readers looking down on cereal. Something something nutrition, something obesity epidemic, something something overpriced processed foods. This article isn’t the one I remember but has comments along the same lines.

Disclosure: I eat cereal every day. It’s cheaper and easier than most options, there’s enough diversity in brands that I don’t get tired of it. Personally I don’t buy the sugary cereals, except to mix with less sugary cereals. I wouldn’t care if it was linked to obesity, and judging by the first meta-analysis I found, cereal is actually negatively correlated with being overweight.

To be fair, it’s a fine line between explaining your preference in foods, and moralizing your preference in foods. But I get the impression that these commenters don’t care a bit about walking that line.

My impression is that commenters, without realizing it, are basically complaining that cereal is too low class for them. Which seems misplaced on an article talking about how millennials (who are on average poorer) are eating less cereal.

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After atheism, I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop

In New Atheism: The Godlessness that Failed, Scott Alexander explains how New Atheism was a much bigger phenomenon than younger people realize, and theorizes about its demise.  Scott’s hypothesis is that New Atheism seamlessly transitioned into the social justice movement (while leaving the remaining atheist movement behind with all the anti-social-justice folks).  I don’t entirely agree, but I’ve advocated similar theories myself.

But as much as I enjoy theorizing about the demise of New Atheism, I’d like to highlight a point Scott makes in his conclusion:

I’ve lost the exact quote, but a famous historian once said that we learn history to keep us from taking the present too seriously. This isn’t to say the problems of the present aren’t serious. Just that history helps us avoid getting too dazzled by current trends, or too swept away by any particular narrative.

The “current trend”, the current paradigm of the culture wars, is social justice.  As a former atheist activist, and current social justice activist, I am perpetually concerned that social justice will crash and burn the same way atheism did.  I mean, isn’t it practically guaranteed?  Do you really think that 10-20 years down the road, people will be concerned about the same things?

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Paper: On the Racialization of Asexuality

Every month I repost an article from my archives.  Since this week is Ace Week, I thought it might be appropriate to repost one of my articles about asexuality.  This is a fairly recent article, from 2018, summarizing an academic paper from 2014.

I borrowed a copy of Asexualities: Feminist and Queer Perspectives, which is an anthology of scholarly articles published in 2014.  Sennkestra wanted to write summaries of each chapter, but ran out of time, so now I’m doing that.  For the first chapter, I selected “On the Racialization of Asexuality“, by Ianna Hawkins Owen.  You might remember the author from our interview with her several years ago.

In the introduction, Owen says,

Many authors have claimed, in one way or another, that “little or no” scholarly attention has been directed to asexuality in humans prior to the twenty-first century.  In response to such observations, I offer that asexuality as a concept has long been invoked in the study of race.

So what you can expect from this article, is the reinterpretation of historical images and ideas as “asexual”.  Now, this is something that ace activists commonly complain about in  academic approaches to asexuality: using overly broad definitions of asexuality in order to include historical examples that at best are irrelevant to the modern day, and at worst are basically stereotypes.

But this is different!  Owen writes about historical stereotypes and misunderstandings of asexuality, and explicitly describes them as such.  Then she shows evidence that these misunderstandings still influence reactions to asexuality today.

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