Saturday, January 23, 2016

"The PC Police are Coming" - Part 1: History

“Here come the PC Police.”

“Maybe there weren’t any good black movies.”

“Everything has got to be about race.”

“Here we go again pulling the race card and playing the victim.”

“If blacks aren’t happy then blacks should create their own movie industry[;] then they can dictate anything and everything involving their movies.”

“Perhaps the black actors did not deserve to be on the final list.”

“People are just so damn sensitive, looking for a reason to be offended.”

"Isn't there an awards show for black people? Oh, wait, there is-- the BET."

In January 2016, just after the Golden Globes Awards, the nominees for the Oscars were announced. Since then, the reactions have been fierce; many were dismayed to learn that despite efforts to diversify the Academy membership base in 2015, there wasn’t a single person of color amongst the nominees. 

Jada Pinkett-Smith’s denouncement of the Oscars’ selection of nominees unleashed a tidal wave of anger that was further directed to anyone who sided with her or attempted to comment in favor of her points. 

Of the few white actors who publicly supported Pinkett-Smith, the online community had an especially bitter attack: if you wanted diversity so badly, why didn’t you use your money and fame to organize better support for it?

Both sides of the debate waded in, and the debate has since grown heated. 

The topic joins a series of other issues that are being talked about and argued in political arenas, around dinner tables, across the water cooler, over wine glasses, with fists, with pens, with the Internet, with silence, with raised voices: gay marriage, the definition of rape and consent, feminism, meninism, religion, terrorists vs. militia vs. activists, should-we-build-a-wall-against-immigrants-or-shouldn’t-we, legalization or reclassification of weed….and many, many other hot topics. 

An underlying thread is visible to those who know how to look for it: that both sides have points, but neither side has their history correct, and neither side has enough cool heads with the willpower to refrain from making quick judgments without first inspecting not only all the information and all sides of the topic, but first checking their own backpack at the door and being willing to examine if they really have the balls to face the fact that they might be wrong—that they might have to get comfortable being REALLY uncomfortable.

Because here’s an inviolable truth: to get anywhere near a real place where you’re not only qualified to have an opinion, you need to be willing to strip your soul naked, sit it down on a grimy sofa, and get used to feeling dismayed and discouraged by the world around you. You need to become determined in your efforts to read even things that offend you, that portray the opposite of your own inclinations, that are disgusting, crude, and violating to your mind. You’ll have to face the truth that while you need to read what’s on Fox News, that it’s no more reliable than Buzzfeed News, or The Onion, for that matter. 

[Case in point, "Instead, agents from the ATF lost track of 1,400 of the 2,000 guns involved in the sting operation," from Fox News attempts to imply the Obama Administration sold the gun when in reality, it was never intended to fall into the hands of gun-runners but did anyway due to NRA blocking of laws that would have closed loopholes.]

To understand why prominent black celebrities are publicly denouncing the 2016 Oscar nominations and attempt to check your privilege, I’m going to share with you many of the resources I’ve found in my search to get uncomfortable and grimy, and learn some things that make me squirm. What I learned is, I SHOULD be squirmy and uncomfortable, because as a white woman, there are things that I’ve never had to pay attention to, and my very inattention and my silence has hurt other people. Who wants to face that truth when it means you have to do something about it? 

Let’s start with a broad view. 

Globally, we humans are a very diverse people. The very largest ethnic group in our world is known as the Han Chinese people, who number 1,300 MILLION people strong. Close behind are a huge ethnic group from India and Pakistan, the Hindustani, numbered between 420-1,200 million members strong. Arabs come in third, with approximately 400-420 million people. White people aren’t even in the top 5 largest ethnic groups, and in fact, when you distribute races using a pie chart, whites only make up 16% of the world’s population distribution, with blacks making up 15%. 

 Almost half of all human life is of either East or South Asian descent. 

In the United States, the story is quite different. Prior to colonization by white Europeans and subsequently people of other ethnicities, North America was believed to be populated by between 2 to 8 million Native Americans. Today, the number remains at roughly 2.4 million, despite the dramatic increase and dominance of white Americans (numbering approximately 195 million, for contrast). 

Between 1525 and 1866, it’s believed that around 12.5 million Africans were shipped to North America to become slaves, with around 10.7 million surviving the passage. Today, the black population in the United States is approximately 38 million, or 12% of the total population in the country. 

The United States enjoys a large Hispanic population, as well, which is growing and becoming one of the most powerful ethnic groups in the country, numbering around 55 million. Asians follow with 18.3 million members. 

The United States population is 38% minorities, or 115 million people. 

We’ve flipped the world script in the United States, and this matters because the United States, along with many Western European countries, enjoys a prominent status as a preeminent player in the world’s political game—and in many cases, is the ultimate leader at the world’s table. American citizens enjoy a certain privilege that comes with that world leader status, a privilege of not even knowing that our poorest are richer than most of the world.

At a broad level, the fact that every one of us reading and commenting on the Oscars is privileged and rich (even if saving for you means you can afford a Burger King meal rather than dinner out at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse), means that we live our lives on a level where we don’t even know that most people alive today don’t have running water. 

If we’re American, we’re privileged, flamboyant, arrogant, and ignorant— regardless of our skin color. 

But being an American doesn’t excuse us from understanding that as the world’s elite, we still have inequalities that are too uncomfortable to face, because we’ve been a country of mostly white people who took it for granted that people of other colors and races were inferior—just because they weren’t white. 

We still talk about the effects of World War I and II, both of which have been over for more than 70 years. Military training still uses strategy derived from the failures of WWII misfirings and missed aims, which led to theories and psychological training that enabled men and women to fight in the Vietnam War and other subsequent wars. Today’s military veterans are still struggling with the herculean task of unraveling the brainwashing from those early studies during WWII, which were meant to ensure they hit their targets. World War II is still relevant to today’s conversation. 

Segregation ended 52 years ago, with the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Sixty years ago, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat. Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech was only 52 years ago. Jim Crow law was in place in the South as little as 50 years ago, and in many ways, the mentality persists today. 

People in the South still fly Robert E. Lee’s Confederate flag, and today consider it a sign of their heritage, despite the fact that it would be truer to the heritage of the South to fly the “Stars and Bars”; the current iteration of the flag was brought out around 1948 when the Dixiecrats’ candidate Strom Thurmond ran for Presidency with a clear purpose of stating, “We stand for the segregation of the races.” 

Today, the flag can be seen flown from the backs of trucks, from houses, and most notoriously, in front of the South Carolina State House--defended by people who insist that it stands for a way of life, of home and of family, of rebellion, of "sticking it to the man," and to remember the "brave and crazy Rebels.

The point I’m trying to make is that we can’t simply say that black people should forget what happened in our past when it wasn’t that long ago and is STILL HAPPENING, yet we can talk about other things that still have a ripple effect into today. 

I focus heavily on black people’s issues, but I haven’t forgotten our history with the Chinese-Americans that built our railroads, the Japanese-Americans we herded into internment camps, the Native Americans we STILL can’t treat well. 

We need to know our history and have some perspective around the issues that are being discussed today, because as I turn to my next point, I’m asking you to remember all of this and take your place at the table as a member of the most highly-educated and wealthiest populace in the world—and BEHAVE LIKE ONE. I’m asking you to settle in, get uncomfortable, and open your mind. 

Look for part two soon. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Small Fry

An old post of mine right after my brother announced the upcoming birth of his son bewailed the inevitable Grinch-like heart expansion that I knew was going to happen. I smiled, because indeed, that kid has become one of my people, just like his sister. 

I haven't seen the kids in person in nearly a year and a half; they've grown huge and there're brains in their heads they've learned how to use, often to hilarious effect. It's unclear if Small Dude has deduced on his own that Justin Bieber is someone to--what's the opposite of "emulate"? Despise? Anyway, Small Dude drew a picture for his mom of an airplane with a person falling out of it. When asked for clarification, Justin Bieber was thrown off the plane and good riddance. I wanted to know if he really didn't like the Bieber (that's my little guy!) or if he picked up on my bro's dislike of the titbag, so I asked him over Skype about it. "POW POW!" he answered. Apparently, if Bieber were there in person, he'd be attacked with all the fury contained in a tiny four year old body. 

The duck face is a phenomenon I'm determined my niece and nephew will never participate in or encourage. To that effect, I've developed what my mom calls, "the horse's butt," which involves an unsightly over-extension of the lip flaps to the point that it begins to look like a sideways ass crack. At random times over Skype, I'll flash the horse's butt at the kids, which Small Dude takes as his cue to run away screaming, while his sister giggles because she remembers the pictures I showed her of "hot" chicks doing the duck face, only edited so you can understand they were really eating invisible spaghetti noodles. 

When my brother told me he and his wife were having another baby, I planned all the things I would teach the small fry. I didn't take into consideration my brother's foul mouth and the fact that the kids would be innately comfortable with "fuck" and "damn" touted about on a daily basis. So it was to my delight when, on one Skype chat, the kids sitting at their dining room table a few weeks before Christmas, I had the chance to get under my brother's skin. 

My bro was being a dick, talking to me from behind their laptop where I could only make out a few words, so in retaliation, I asked Small Dude to hold up his hand with his palm facing him, and to make a fist. Then I guided him into pointing his tiny fist at his dad, and then to ease up the middle finger. And just like that, I taught my nephew to flip his dad off for the first time in his life.

My Skype session for that day was over, but I think my brother realized that his kids and I have a special bond. Certainly I didn't expect they would take up so much of my thoughts. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Pondering Women Characters - Passive vs Aggressive

In recent years, it has become apparent to me that there is a disturbing trend in literature targeted at women, designed to lull their senses and deaden their brains. I'm the first to admit my severe under-qualification to comment on the anti-women sentiments I've noticed (for instance, although I am a woman, I have not ever attended a women's studies course), but I think it's a reasonable assumption that a, shall we say "discerning," woman may be just a tad offended at the themes in these books.

My best friend is a die-hard Twilight fan. I love her, so I read it. And then the next three terrible installments. She's also a 50 Shades of Grey fan. I love her, so I tried to read it. If it had been an actual book, it'd have had its spine torn off, the paper shredded, and then tossed into a glorious bonfire. It was inside my phone, which I also love, so I refrained, and instead complained. Loudly, and annoyingly. We don't really talk about books much anymore, except to suggest ones to each other that we'll never read.

Whenever these and other books are brought up to me, I begin to suspect it's more for entertainment value, because I inevitably begin to spit fire and lava at them, using bigger and bigger words to convey my indignation that these books made it past editors and were published. And then put onto my movie screen. Today, another good friend asked what I thought of 50 Shades of Grey, and I stopped myself from giving my customary response and decided to ponder why I respond that way. The answer was more complex than could be given due justice in a text, so I wanted to ponder more deeply here.

I read part of the first book, possibly halfway in, before I chucked it. I don't understand S&M, true, but that isn't what bothers me. What bothers me is that Anastasia is a "fluff" character. Having no backbone, no personality, only a vague description of her appearance, I was at a loss to explain why a business tycoon would not only notice her, but also go out of his way to essentially stalk her. His behavior from the start was decidedly unhealthy. Perhaps she was the personification of "innocence" that he was itching to mold into his own creation, yet we're listening to an immature young woman tell the story from her own perspective, so we know what an insipid creature she is. Like the bondage games she participates in, life happens to her, and she lies back to take it. She's like a drowning victim that does nothing to try to fight the current pulling her under.

Women who love these books explain that it's the fantasy they love; having a man dominate you, force you to submit to his will in specific settings, dictate every facet of your life, can be sexy. That may be a biological response to cavemen-like impulses to seek out life partners that are able to keep you alive, but when I'm analyzing the different reactions to the books, I noticed one thing. The books are intentionally written with a vague first-person view, in order to give women an escape wherein they insert themselves into the role of the main character and experience life as it happens to them.

The danger is that these women, by seeking out and consistently buying and reading these books set up this way, are training themselves to respond to their own surroundings in the same way, letting life happen to them without offering up healthy responses. Not being specially trained to understand psychological responses, I admit it is only a surmise, but I truly believe that women are breeding complacency in themselves wherein they have ridiculous expectations of their life partners without doing any internal work to focus on having a healthy life. The complacency involves minimal work (and who doesn't want that?), trains them to sit back and let life happen, and drains them of the energy to be powerful women.

Furthermore, it creates a market of more women who see the success of women like Stephenie Meyer, churning out more and more sub-quality books using the same gimmick--and we reward them for it by buying the books, reading them, absorbing the lessons to be found in them, and then churning out more. It's a vicious cycle, one that publishing companies would be loathe to stop if it meant cutting off a steady revenue stream.

My worry is that it is an understudied phenomenon, and when I look around me at the startling number of women incapable of reading anything more difficult, it's not hard to extrapolate the bigger picture. With so many women in America actively seeking out books like these in the name of "escape," is it any wonder that we are still fighting for sexual equity?

I love powerful women. It's no secret amongst my friends, that I gravitate toward the most opinionated women around me, those that aren't afraid to state what's on their minds. In literature, my favorite characters are the gutsy, ballsy women that flout conventions and proudly state what's on their mind. Some of them are manipulative, some of them are straight-talkers, some of them are straight-up bitches. Some are nice, kind-hearted women that are hard-and-fast sticklers for fairness. There's no "box" one could put them all into, because good authors take the time to know their characters and explore emotions in different settings.

One of my favorite characters is the controversial Cersei Lannister of the Game of Thrones series. If not for the brother-fucking, she would be the ultimate in powerful, yet flawed female characters. She is hated by her subjects and her court, as well as by her husband, whom she arranges to be killed. She fights like a lioness for her children, is cunning yet not brilliant, beautiful in her cruelty, sly in politics, and crafty in insults. She has a skewed sense of honor, reciting her house credo, "a Lannister pays her debts." She is hedonistic yet classy. She is one of the most powerful women in her world, while understanding innately the disappointments that come with being a woman and yet determined not to be limited.

If we women of today in modern America gave one-tenth the determined efforts toward feminine equity that Cersei Lannister put into crafting a path to the top for herself, would we still be where we are, arguing over the availability of basic family planning services and whether or not women should pay more than men for health care?

If we women are really more like Anastasia Steele than Cersei Lannister, willing to let life happen to us, do we deserve to have a voice in what happens to us? I propose that we start thinking about what we expose ourselves to, and being willing to let our "escapes" be books, music, and movies that challenge us, force us to become smarter and savvier, and understand that no magical man or woman is going to whisk us away, and if we waste our lives away waiting for it to happen, we don't deserve that magical ending.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The anniversaries that count

Sir and I haven't really been two for the ol' keepin' track of time; the day we got married, sure we mark it with a clinked glass (or four), but other'n that, we pretty much let the time go by. So as I'm watching the titillating panorama on my television of Comcast's lovely urgent message telling me I need to order yet another stupid cable box thingy add-on doo-bobber (I'm super tech-savvy, yo), I'm pondering those dates that I DO care about. Ok, so on some level, the day I met Sir is kind of special, and so is the day he proposed (with a Chiquita sticker on my forehead whilst I put away groceries), but how about the days I met some of my favorite people?

My old buddy from college and I met one steamy August afternoon the Saturday before school officially started in all its glorious glory (really, I can't say "fall" because it was still SUMMER, guys; that really traumatized me to have my beautiful freedom cut off so I could go back to wearing sweaters prematurely just because the back-to-school sales SAID that's what you WEAR when you go back to school. And they should know.). Her mom was there, a really superb lady that I am very fond of despite really only being around her a handful of times, but she is just such a charming and unique individual that I've just adopted her as someone I'm gonna keep around; she was very welcoming. And my roommate? Very poised but nervous. Reserved, I should say. She wasn't (still isn't) one for the small talk, which is slightly awkward these days because I am ALL ABOUT THE SMALL TALK. It's my job. Anyway, a few weeks went by where I'd go home on the weekends, and she and I'd do our own thing and be polite to each other and giggle a little because we're girls, but share our deepest, darkest secrets? No.

That all changed one day in the women's bathroom. I walked in, took a stall, started doing my thing, and I heard someone enter the bathroom. Shit, I remember thinking. I'm super shy about doing my business, and that was one of the biggest causes of constipation. You just cannot be shy about it when you've got about 20 other females using the same three stalls, but I hadn't learned that yet. Of course that was my roommate's feet under the stall. Of course she went to the stall right next to me. Of course I farted. Loud. In mortification, I stared at the wall separating us, and then I heard a snicker on the other side. I was so surprised, I snickered back. Then she snickered some more. Then I snickered again. Before we knew it, we were howling in laughter.

When we emerged from the stalls, our sides aching, we grinned at one another. A friendship for life had been forged from the smelly furnace of the bathroom stall.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Maritime Reds

Shiiiiiiiiiit. What up, mofos? Chiquita got drunk one night and remembered someone named Nanners and that led to "strangest banana of all," which made her remember once upon a time an email asking about meeting up for some meet up to end all meet ups. This is the wine sloshing around in her brain ship, so maybe her captains are drunk at the helm, and likely she was seeking friends where there haven't been in eons.

At least her fingers weren't too slap-happy on the keyboards to get into the ol' Blogger.

But she IS too drunk to figure out how to stop herself from posting, so good night y'all. Likely she'll see you in another three to four years.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

If only my work sanctioned naps

My work let me spend a half day volunteering in a local garden that produces fresh food for a lot of needy families in the area; they don't have any paid staff, so the head volunteer told me and a few coworkers we'd be harvesting food (I thought, "yay!"), and then had us engage in the yucky work of stomping around in compost and raking in another layer of rotting vegetables (I saw a rotting piece of fish skin somewhere in there--smelled just delightful) onto the heap (a plot about 25'x8').

Throwing on a top of rotting leaves, I was standing on an embankment trying to stay away from the stuff I'd just been stomping in, and when I threw leaves, my feet slid out from under me. My left foot landed in a puddle of compost juice up to my ankle before my body slid down into it, covering my left side up to the hips. I walked around smelling of anything from fish and veggies to manure.

After finishing with the compost, we finally started in with the promised harvesting...of stew celery! Apparently, you don't cut the stalks at the bottom; rather, you need to get below the bulbous portion where the stalks overlap, into the roots, and tap off excess dirt, with the idea of saving time washing up in minty green bathtubs set up as vegetable washtubs. My job was to hose them off, taking care not to leave any little spiders and their nests intact, then drop them in the washtub full of water, then into a box to be stacked into the back of a truck and shipped out to a warehouse, there to be cut up, frozen, and stored for the winter. Needless to say, by the time I got home, I was stinky, sweaty and drenched, with my sneakers squishing every time I walked.

I didn't know how to explain it to my client when I showed up for my appointment a little late due to my having to stop home for a shower, so my attempt was more like, "Mrs. Customer, I'm SO sorry, I spent this morning working in a garden and I would have been here on time if I hadn't fallen into a rather large puddle of compost juice."

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Rated R

I have been having dreams of people being hacked by machetes or samurai swords for the last month, perhaps as a side effect of watching a higher than normal number of bloody movies (one of which was Alien vs Predator). Last night's specialty involved a cabin that doubled as an old, unattended church and parsonage at the top of one of the mountains on the Olympic Peninsula. For some reason, I and my family go out there to check up on things, and realize that the caretaker's gone, pretty recently, as evidenced by some still-fresh bananas on the kitchen counter. Another car pulls up, and it's this other family that I don't recognize, but apparently my family does, and they're there to help us clean things up. Only, toward the end of the cleaning-up of the place, I realize all the lights are off and I'm in this maze-like basement with nobody in the house, so I go to a casement window and see a spray of blood on the side of my family's car, and over by the other car, that family's dad is just finishing up whacking something off on one of my family's I'm trying to sneak out of the house--at which point I wake up.

The frightening part was that the dream continued once I returned to bed from a middle-of-the-night bathroom break, beginning with my escape that involved trying to get out of there by way of the bloodied family vehicle, seque-ing into another version in which a floorboard in the basement lifts (for some inexplicable reason, the basement has hard-wood floors), and as I peer in, a flurry of hands reach out quickly, slapping over my mouth to prevent screaming, and they pull me in, shutting the floorboard behind me...and I'm not afraid of THEM; I'm afraid of any noise it might have made, as some giant scary man, the leader of the other family, is standing in the basement now, holding a bloody machete. What if he realizes there's another way out?

The dream never did resolve itself, and I never did fully escape, although the escape routes became weirder and weirder as the night wore on.