Movie Monday: The Camelunist Hammerfesto

Last week I sat down with Daniel Fincke from the FTBlog Camels with Hammers to chat about race and race-related subject matters. We were trying out the Google+ hangout environment that we used for last week’s FTB + Skepchick group conversation. I imagine that I’ll be finding more ways to use this tool and be releasing more videos.


We got cut off by a dropped connection, so there’s two parts:

We talked about a number of fun topics, including

  • Affirmative Action
  • Diversity
  • Colour blindness
  • Implicit racial processing
  • Feeling safe about having ‘the race conversation’
  • Liberal racism
  • Humour
  • “The black community”

It was a fun and productive conversation, and I enjoyed myself a great deal! Hope you enjoy it too.

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*I feel it necessary to apologize for the inconsistent posting recently. Up until now I have prided myself on keeping a regular schedule; however, some recent (positive) changes in my day-to-day schedule have made blogging consistently a bit more difficult. I am trying to make adjustments, but those will take some time.

We’ve got a job to do

I remember my first job interview. I had applied for a position as a stock boy at a bulk food store, and the owner called me on the phone the day after I dropped off my resume. My interview was one question, three words: “are you big?” I replied that I was, indeed, big. “Come in and start tomorrow,” was the reply. I was there for nearly 3 years. Since that time I’ve taught violin, I’ve packed boxes onto trucks, I’ve managed an amusement park cleaning crew (easily the worst job I’ve ever had), I’ve been a doorman, a karaoke host (easily the best job I’ve ever had), and spent two mortifying shifts serving tables in a tapas restaurant. None of those jobs were particularly hard to get – in fact, when I was offered my current job I could scarcely believe it and spent the first year dreading the day when my boss would realized they hired the wrong guy.

At no point in my various job searches did I really actively stress over race. Like most people I’ve been rejected from more jobs than I’ve been given – even then, it never occurred to me to wonder whether or not race played a role. Why would it? After all, I live in the 21st century, and certainly nobody ever said to me “we don’t hire your kind” or anything so overt as that. I will likely never know the role, positive or negative, that race played in me getting my various jobs. However, I know too much to think that racism isn’t still very much a part of the hiring process: [Read more…]

The darkness before dawn

It is more or less inevitable that, in any discussion of turmoil within a social movement, there will be those who archly perch atop some combination of a high horse and a fence, raining down tongue-clucking pronouncements about how the mere existence of dissent is the reason why they will never get involved. I suppose if one was being charitable, one could interpret this as an impulse to avoid conflict. After all, not everyone wants to jump into the midst of a fight, and I can certainly sympathize with that impulse. Some people simply want to exist and be at peace without having to ‘pick a side’ between factions that should be united in purpose.

Of course, the question becomes why those who wish to avoid conflict so ostentatiously announce themselves to be above it rather than just butting out the way they claim to want to do. Standing up on a soapbox and doing the whole ‘plague on both your houses’ lecture is not a statement of non-involvement; it’s a statement of philosophical purity and superiority. “I would never lower myself to so crass a level as to care about something and fight for it. How vulgar!” It is the same spirit of false equivalence we are so often ‘treated’ to from faitheists who would hush Gnu atheists for being ‘too strident’ and ‘attacking’ religious folks instead of engaging in a sort of faux-ecumenical hand-holding exercise where we hold our noses and pretend each other’s shit doesn’t stink. [Read more…]

The paradox of science and conservatism

I expend a great deal of time and effort in the disparagement of conservative ideologies. They oversimplify complex issues to the point where the ‘solutions’ that arise from such ideologies are often more harmful than the problems they purport to ‘fix’. Reality is a multifaceted state of affairs with a lot of moving parts that defy the panacaea of upper-class tax cuts and ‘common sense’, and yet those who hold conservative ideologies are often openly contemptuous of the nuanced view of the world that is required to make any headway or improvement.

Despite my irritation, I must confess a certain sympathy for conservatism. Not a sympathy borne of pity (considering the way in which conservative policies are decimating not only my own country but others around the world, there is no room left for pity), but one borne of understanding. The conservative impulse, in its essence, is the human tendency to grind to a halt when new challenges face us. To put that another way, it is to address new problems with the solutions that have worked before – tradition and ‘common sense’ (which, in light of this view of conservatism, is simply what we call those things which used to confound us but we have answers for now). [Read more…]

Movie Friday: Jay Smooth on Trayvon

Because I will never NOT share something by radio host and vlogger Jay Smooth, here’s his take on an aspect of the Trayvon Martin case that hasn’t been fully explored:

It’s weird for me to hear my beliefs coming out of someone else’s mouth, but there you go.

Jay is making the same point that I tried to make with my posts about Occupy – that we have to be active participants in our system, whether that be political or judicial. No, we may not be the ones running for office or sitting on the bench, but we have to be actively engaged. Should we fail to remain vigilant, the system is allowed to run on its laurels, which inevitably serves only those at the top. In the case of Trayvon Martin, no justice was even pursued until people stood up and started paying attention. A man murdered a 17 year-old kid, and the police let him walk free, right up to the point where the cries of a small number of people who were acquainted with the case were heard by other people who believed that a just solution must be, and could be pursued.

This week I’ve been throwing examples at you in support of the basic tenet that we have to keep our brains switched on and our eyes open, because the system we live in is seriously flawed and unjust. We can and should expect more, and in order to achieve it we have to be asking the tough questions and demanding more than pat answers.

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Certainly uncertain

I’ve been using Twitter a lot recently. I was deeply cynical about the platform when I first learned about it. To be certain, some of my cynicism was justified: there are a lot of people who do seriously just post whatever pops into their heads. I am sad to say that I am quickly becoming one of ‘those people’ in a sense, especially when I spend my Sundays on quiet introspection and wandering around. The funny thing is, whether by coincidence or as a function of how people use social media, my number of subscribers has increased since I have become a more frequent Tweeter

If you look at my description, I describe myself as (among other things) an “anti-racist”. I came across that term rather recently. Before I began seriously delving into issues of race and trying to engage with other people, I didn’t bother with trying to classify what was going on inside my head. Racism was, like history and psychology and philosophy and any number of other things, something that I was interested in thinking about. Of course, it had the added component about being relevant to my own day-to-day experiences.

It wasn’t until I started talking about racism that I began to cast about for useful ways of cementing my scattered thoughts on race into relatable, recognizable forms. Such forms required terminology, and the people who I found whose viewpoints were close to my own called themselves “anti-racist”, so I decided to run with it. Due to the diversity of approaches I’ve seen with this label, I have given little thought to what that term “actually” means beyond a very superficial definition. Generally, it is a critical stance on race and racism… and it doesn’t approve. [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…]

Learned helplessness

I got hit by a ‘double whammy’ this weekend. First, I watched The Trotsky on the plane to Kelowna (well, part of it – it’s a 30-minute flight). The premise of the movie seems a bit silly – a teenager who believes that he is the reincarnation of Leon Trotsky stages a coup in his high school in an attempt to organize the students into a union. It’s ostensibly a comedy, and is definitely a really funny film – the scenes where he woos a lawyer 10 years older than he are absolutely priceless. At the same time, the climactic scene (where the students charge up to the school with protest signs and righteous fury) fucks me every time I watch it, and my eyes start welling up like I’m a 6 year-old with a skinned knee.

Add to that a long conversation I had with Edwin Hodge about the heights of ridiculousness of post-modern thought (I more or less took Natalie Reed’s position – that post-modern thought can function alongside skepticism to help us critique the ways in which our own experiences and perspective affect truth claims), and whether or not political movements were undermined by the way in which postmodern perspectives can splinter populations that, from the outside, should share a single goal. The point I made to Edwin was that one doesn’t blame a CT scan for discovering problems we weren’t looking for. Postmodern ‘splintering’ is oftentimes simply the exposition of real divisions that exist, and provides a method by which groups who are not commonly represented in the majority group’s interests can keep their needs from being overlooked.

The problem of course is that the infighting that seems to happen – feminist atheists against anti-feminist; anti-racists against those who wish to ignore racism; trans skeptics against gender essentialists – all stem from a common route: the idea that the issues of the minority are not the real problem. Again, this is certainly an idea with easy appeal. After all, if we are a movement of atheists (for example), then our fight is with religion, not an esoteric crusade against systemic misogyny. The problem of course is that one cannot examine problems in isolation, and some issues cannot be extricated from larger, more diffuse problems. What ends up happening is that once the movement solves the “real” problem, the minority goes back to being ignored, having lost those who were allies of convenience. [Read more…]

But black people had slaves too!

Those of you who read this blog regularly will be familiar with its central thesis: slavery is the only thing that matters when discussing racism, because it allows me to demonize white people. After all, even though slavery ended a thousand years ago, exploiting that part of European/American history (which, when you think about it, wasn’t really all that bad) allows me to make white people feel guilty enough to give me what I want, whether that be reparations or reverse-racism jobs. It’s the reason that I never stop bringing up the Atlantic slave trade, and why all of my posts on the topic of anti-black racism explicitly reference the fact that black people used to be slaves, and therefore white people are evil.

Of course, anyone who’s actually read this blog knows that all of the above statements are complete blinkered bullshit. Slavery is a topic that very rarely makes it into any of my discussions of racism, except when it is relevant to explaining a historical (or, in much rarer cases, contemporary) phenomenon.  A quick review of my history reveals that less than 5% of my posts even use the word slavery – that number climbs to 16% if I restrict to only those stories tagged as ‘race’. The fact is that while an honest and comprehensive understanding of slavery is helpful in understanding contemporary race relations, it is most certainly not sufficient.

Which is why I am continually baffled by people who talk about the complicity of African leaders in the trafficking of slaves. One doesn’t have to dig too deeply in the muck of a comments thread before one finds someone protesting that black people weren’t completely innocent, and therefore… I dunno, anti-black racism is their (our) fault too? I sincerely do not understand the purpose that this taking point is meant to serve. Regardless of its uselessness as a counter to anything, it manages to worm its way into the conversation over and over again, like a dandelion of stupidity bursting through the asphalt of sensibility. [Read more…]

Movie Friday: The Mysterious Mysteries of Paranormality

It is interesting (to me, anyway) to note the similarities between different kinds of non-rational belief, and the way in which they seem to hang together. After all, if you’re willing to suspend skepticism long enough to accept a Palestinian carpenter walking on water (at least when he’s not turning it into wine for some reason), why would you suddenly throw up the logic shields when someone talks to you about the big evolution “hoax” being perpetrated by a nefarious cadre of high school biology teachers?

In the same way, if you’re going to take the word of medical expert Joe Mercola when it comes to vaccines, then why would you think that psychics and tarot cards are nothing but silly superstition? After all, they both have the same amount of evidence supporting them.

Mr. Sharp knows what’s up:

At times like these I think that laughter might not necessarily be the best medicine, but it sure is a handy innoculation.

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