BroadSnark

Thoughts on politics, religion, violence, inequality, social control, change, and random other things from an autonomous, analytical, adopted, anarchist, atheist who likes the letter A
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Archive for the ‘Inequality’

Airbnb – Profiles of Gentrification

April 21, 2014 By: Mel Category: Change, Culture, Inequality

Sign for New DC construction "Meet you at the top"I’m going to an event in New York this June and I was thinking about using Airbnb. But then I saw this article.

As many as 7,500 San Francisco housing units are kept off of the rental market and are instead set aside for users of Airbnb and services like VRBO.com, KALW reported.

Activists with the San Francisco Tenants Union identified 1937 Mason Street, a three-unit building, as apartment housing set aside entirely for vacation rentals, the radio station reported. To make matters worse, the former renters there were ousted with the Ellis Act

The Ellis Act allows San Francisco landlords to “go out of business” and kick everybody in the building out. Sometimes the units become condos. Sometimes the landlord kicks everybody out to make room for Airbnb.

7,500 units is only about 2% of the 376,942 total San Francisco housing units counted in the last census. Maybe that doesn’t seem like a lot. But when you look at it in the context of the massive displacement in the Bay Area, the situation becomes clearer. Colorlines reported that

Between 1990 and 2011, median rental housing prices in San Francisco neighborhoods in the late stages of gentrification increased 40 percent. What’s more, the rental price increases and housing crisis have fueled the displacement of blacks and Latinos from both cities.

Between 1990 and 2011 the proportion of black residents in all Oakland neighborhoods fell by nearly 40 percent. Perhaps more stunning, black homeowners were about half of north Oakland’s homeowners in 1990. By 2011 they were just 25 percent of the neighborhood’s homeowners.

Washington DC, where I live, has been getting whiter, more expensive, and more unequal as well. We have “the fourth-highest gap between richest and poorest residents of large U.S. cities. While the poorest 20 percent of D.C. residents make on average under $10,000 per year, the top five percent make over $530,000 per year.” This income inequality is playing out in the housing market in a huge way.

According to the most recent data compiled by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in DC is $1,412 a month, the second highest in the nation. To afford rent in DC without spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing, a renter would need to earn $27.15 an hour, over three times DC’s $8.25 hourly minimum wage. In other words, a minimum wage earner would need to work 132 hours a week to pay rent in the district. Since 2000, DC has demolished at least nine public housing properties, which coincides with the city losing more than half its low-cost housing units in the past decade. Meanwhile, DC’s homeless population has quadrupled since 2008.

So I started thinking about who exactly is benefiting from Airbnb in my town.

Airbnb Profile Airbnb Profile Airbnb Profile Airbnb Profile Airbnb Profile Airbnb Profile Airbnb Profile Airbnb Profile Airbnb Profile

Best I can tell, of all the profiles I randomly clicked, not one of them seemed to be from this city. Only one of them might not be white. It seems likely that they own their properties, especially that real estate agent. They travel all over the world. They surely make way more than $10,000 per year. And they live in neighborhoods that are newly infested with bougie bars and luxury condo projects with slogans like “meet you at the top.”

I’m not putting those profiles up so that you can hate on those people. The truth is that they aren’t all that different from me. I am not from DC. I have a college degree. I’ve been able to travel some. I work for the anti-poverty wing of the non-profit industrial complex in an office full of people who aren’t from this city and have never been poor in their lives, people who look a lot like those profiles. If I had decided to climb the ladder or if my parents had a little money, I’d probably be them.

I talk about privilege blindness a lot and this is one of those moments when my own smacks me in the face. It never occurred to me to think about who Airbnb was marketing to, how much privilege is required to participate, or how it is contributing to the disasters that are happening in cities all over the country. In fact, I thought it was a great thing to avoid staying at the big evil chain hotels. But if the Best Western is hiring locals at union wages and your Airbnb is run by a landlord who kicked out a bunch of residents to make more money, that chain hotel starts to look a lot better.

We cannot end oppression with consumer choice. Some decisions may cause a little less suffering than others and that is reason enough to try to make ethical life choices. But the system is designed for the benefit of a few people and most of those people will probably not even see the havoc they are causing. They will, in fact, think they are doing something great.

Check out this letter from Airbnb’s cofounder and CEO. Do you think when he tells his employees not to “fuck up the culture” he is referring to the culture of those people who are getting pushed out of DC/San Francisco/New York to make room for the young white professionals who like to rent out their $300,000 condos for extra cash when they travel around the world?

When those of us who have the privilege of choices think about making those choices ethical, we need to realize that we are going to be blind to many (maybe most) of the effects of our actions. We need to realize that having the space to think about the ethics is a privilege. Maybe, if we shut up and pay very close attention to the most marginalized people, we can start to see how much the world is designed for people like us at others expense. Maybe we will all learn that the most ethical travel decision would be to decide to do it a lot less and to spend that time and money in our communities working toward smashing the systems that make ethical choices impossible.

I needed a reminder. Maybe some of you all did too.

 

The Classism and Ignorance of Liberals

March 17, 2014 By: Mel Category: Inequality, Politics

This photo came from “Being Liberal” on Facebook. My friend posted it with some comments about how problematic it is for liberals to denigrate the rural poor who are then scooped up by the republican party. But I am going to be waaaay more harsh.

I am so tired of liberal/democratic/progressive classism.

What is your evidence that the democratic party is so great for poor people? You know who are in prison right now? Poor people. You know who put a whole lot of them there? Democrats like Bill Clinton, “the incarceration president.” When one of the political parties suggests dismantling the prison industrial complex and the military industrial complex, you let me know.

All this voting “against your economic interest” is a load of crap.

Poor people vote in far fewer numbers than rich people. And it so happens that Kentucky, the state being bashed here, has some of the lowest voter turnout in the nation. Sometimes people don’t vote because they have been permanently disenfranchised due to their incarceration. (Kentucky has the 6th highest rate of disenfranchisement in the country.) Sometimes they don’t vote because they cannot get to the poll. Sometimes they don’t vote because they don’t have ID. Sometimes they don’t vote because they know it won’t make a damn bit of difference in their everyday lives.

Anyone who wants to point out that the poorest states are republican should be slapped in the face with a list of the states that have the largest income inequality. My home, the resolutely democratic DC, is at the top of the inequality list. It is followed by New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. And the inequality is only getting worse. Where’s that voting against your economic interest nonsense now? Or are you proud that the rich people in your state/city earn so much that average income figures hide the hideous poverty of the people who clean the houses and mow the lawns of the elite?

If the only thing that you are considering when you vote is your own economic interest then you are a complete asshole. When I make decisions in my life, I make them based on my values and conscience. I don’t make them based on how much money will be in my bank account. (If you need proof, look no farther than my bank balance.) For a whole lot of you, voting your “economic interest” really means protecting your privilege.

In my experience, the people who post pictures like this have almost never been to the “fly over” states or bothered to speak to the people who live there. Their ideas of the rural, white poor come from media coverage – which is apparently oh so accurate when it comes to this one group of society. Or maybe they are just watching bad television that uses “hicks” as the villains because it is a socially acceptable meme.

If you haven’t seen or experienced something for yourself, you should really hold your judgement. Reading a study about a community does not make you knowledgeable. It is not o.k. to dismiss people as ignorant because they don’t have a degree or because they go to church. It is not o.k. if we are talking about poor, indigenous people in Bolivia. It is not o.k if we are talking about poor, white people in Kentucky.

The truth is that liberal, “educated” people need the low-class, ignorant hick meme. So long as they exist to denigrate, nobody has to acknowledge that racism, classism, and sexism are systemic and will require a complete upheaval of the systems that give so many liberals the privileges they currently enjoy. As was pointed out so well in the comments of this post, when a lot of white liberals say “racist,” what they usually mean is low-class.

Our problems are not going to be resolved through party politics. They sure as hell aren’t going to be resolved by shitting all over people you have never met. In fact, I would think a prerequisite to democracy would be actually speaking to the other people involved.

Perhaps, if people stopped being such ignorant snobs, they would find out that there is a whole lot of knowledge, mutual aid, and radical thinking that they are totally missing out on. Maybe the people who want to save themselves from mountaintop removal use Christian langauge in West Virginia. Maybe some of the biggest cooperatives serve the needs of (oh my gosh) republicans in the south. Does that make those efforts worthless?

Maybe we all have a lot to learn.

/end rant

Oh Hey. There Are People in the Food System.

February 20, 2014 By: Mel Category: Inequality

Painting of FarmworkerMonday night I listened to a presentation about the Our Harvest Union Co-op in Cincinnati. They are modelling themselves after Mondragon, but with a union twist. The goal is to put a little more justice in the food system and they are going to do it by growing and distributing food on a large scale. The hope is to be able to certify food from the ground to the market as union – living wages, benefits, not dying of heat stroke

Once upon a time I lived in Santa Cruz and worked for the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS). My coworkers at CASFS studied what people cared about in the food system. It turned out that they cared more about how animals were treated than how people were treated.

I can’t say that I was surprised. Santa Cruz was the first time I was exposed to people for whom food was a religion, a way to exert moral superiority. It wasn’t everyone, of course. But there were many people who thought they were better than everyone else because of their vegan, free-range, probiotic, cruelty free food choices. Self righteousness is always annoying. But to be so self-righteous about food choices and not give a shit that workers on organic farms are treated as poorly as their conventional counterparts. Infuriating.

We shouldn’t have to choose between cruelty to animals and cruelty to people. And a lot of the time there is an overlap. No pesticides on organic produce means no pesticides on the people picking that produce. But when it comes down to it, if I have to chose, people come first. Sorry.

And just so you know, I will not be responding to any comments about speciesism. We are different. The fact that anyone is asking me to make a moral choice about my food is confirmation of their belief that I am different. I respect the people who make that moral choice. But nobody is asking a lion to make a moral choice about eating a gazelle.

But I digress. The point of the post is that there are people in the food system and they are often treated like crap. In fact, most of the lowest paid workers in the country work in food – from migrant farm workers to fast food cooks. And sometimes the food choices we make affect workers in ways we haven’t thought of. For instance, on Monday I learned that the poultry industry is the least unionized. So if you are buying more chicken thinking it is healthier than beef, you just upped your chances of exploiting some workers.

Minor consumer choices here and there aren’t going to bring down the whole system. And we sure as shit should not get too proud of ourselves for slightly better food choices. There is no way to extract yourself from the system completely. But if a whole lot of worker-managed, co-op, union companies started taking off…you never know.

P.S. Painting by Cynthia Vidal

When Feminism Gets it Almost Right…But Not Quite

February 19, 2014 By: Mel Category: Inequality

Meryl Streep in DoubtEarlier this month twenty cities hosted an Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon. Most Wikipedia contributors are men. The result being that entries on women are sparse. So these women are trying to fix that. Which is great.

There are all kinds of theories about why women contribute less to Wikipedia. One being that they have less spare time. Another being that Wikipedia can be a hostile and argumentative place. But Jacqueline Mabey thinks it is also socially formed self perception.

“We don’t raise young women to consider themselves authorities on anything…We raise them to doubt, constantly, their work and themselves.” Librarians are seen as the only female-dominated group that overall is a fan of Wikipedia, but Mabey says even they are cautious about editing. “These are women with double masters degrees,” she said. “I’m like, yes, you can edit it! The 18-year-old boy who doesn’t know anything is editing it, and he doesn’t even question it!”

You will get no argument from me that there are a lot of women who are hesitant to speak because they doubt themselves and a lot of young men who think they know everything. But the inference seems to be that we should get women to think they are authorities. And that is exactly the wrong thing.

Wikipedia is, at least in theory, anti-authority. You don’t need alphabet soup at the end of your name to contribute. You don’t need to have spent 20 years in an ivy tower collecting credentials. All you need is interest. The idea of Wikipedia is that our collectively imperfect knowledge makes something better than any one person – no matter how “authoritative” – could make alone. We don’t need more people who think they know everything, or pretend that they do. We need less of that.

But that is all too often how it goes. A gender gap or injustice is presented and then I am told that I should act more like an archetypal dude in order to right that wrong or get some socially acceptable level of success – authority, money, power. I mean, if I have to read another article about how I am not ambitious enough, I am going to lose my shit.

We don’t need more ambition or more authorities. We need more humility and doubt. Don’t encourage women to act like the worst kind of cocksure men. Encourage them to participate in things like Wikipedia precisely in so far as it undermines the whole system of authorities and status.

 

Harassment is About Power

August 22, 2013 By: Mel Category: Inequality

Yesterday it came out that San Diego Mayor Bob Filner is resigning in the midst of a sexual harassment scandal. Apparently he enjoys groping his employees. Also a groper is  Kentucky state representative John A. Arnold Jr. Just the latest in what is pretty much everyday news.

Earlier this week, Rolling Stone blasted Bloomberg for claiming to care about the safety of New York City children when 21% of the 145,652 NYPD street stops were of children. You might not think these things have much to do with one another. But they do.

I actually used to work for a law firm that represented plaintiffs in sexual harassment cases. There were bosses that busted into locker rooms while employees were changing. Bosses who liked to grope their employees. Bosses who conditioned promotions on getting their dicks sucked. Some all around charming dudes. (And yes. All of the defendants sued by the law firm were dudes. And all of the people who ever called for sexual harassment related consultations were women.)

Sexual harassment cases in the U.S., even the ones that should properly be called assault, are handled in civil court. If you get sued for sexual harassment, you may just have to pay a couple million dollars in damages. And I have to admit that winning those cases felt good. It was rare that someone actually lost their job for assaulting their employees. But watching some douchebag have to fork over millions of dollars does bring a certain satisfaction.

In theory, the law firm I worked for also did employment discrimination cases. But we never took any because they were so impossible to win. Even when some guy called us because n$%%@r was spray painted on his door, we didn’t take it. That kind of harassment wasn’t a winning case.

Mind you, at the law firm where I worked, we regularly put in 15 hour days. We worked weekends. We got yelled at. We were expected to do personal errands for our bosses. We got calls at 3 o’clock in the morning to be asked about files (at least until my phone got cut off and I let it stay cut off). In other words, we were subject to the kind of harassment that a lot of people have to deal with on their jobs. Most of us have to eat a certain amount of shit to earn a living.

I don’t say that to make light of sexual harassment or shrug off our collective shit eating. I say it because it shouldn’t be this way. For anybody. For any reason.

Public discussions about sexual harassment frustrate the hell out of me. First you have to deal with those people who deny that it exists at all. Then you have to deal with the ones who say that it exists, but women should get over it. Or the ones that hear any report of employer abuse and say people should just get a new job – as though someone who had been unemployed for years and has kids to feed can walk away so easily.

But sometimes I am even more frustrated by the people who agree it is a problem. Because invariably the response is to turn to the criminal injustice system, to become like France where you can (theoretically) be sent to prison for a couple years. Or they just want to continue suing people for money. Always, they ignore the fundamental issue.

Harassment is about power. People who have power feel they are entitled to whatever they want. People who don’t have power, or at least have less of it, will suffer consequences for sticking up for themselves against the powerful. The way to end sexual harassment, or any kind of workplace harassment, isn’t to transfer a little power from a boss to the injustice system. The answer is in getting rid of the power imbalance to begin with. That isn’t to say that, with no bosses, there would never be conflict. But confronting someone with equal power doesn’t carry the same kinds of consequences and risks. And the sense of entitlement bread by power will be, if not gone, severely diminished.

Now lets bring this out of the workplace. Because harassment doesn’t just come from bosses.

There has also been a lot of news about street harassment lately. That isn’t just people saying obnoxious shit to you on the streets. For instance, my friend Mandie recently had some guy grab her waist while she was waiting in line at 7-Eleven. My most frequently experienced harassment comes from douchebags who think it is o.k. to touch my hair. And then there was that fucker a few months back who thought it would be cool to slap my ass. I share Mandie’s homicidal thoughts when things like that happen.

Some people have an overinflated sense of entitlement. And while it may be less obvious than workplace harassment, street harassment is also an assertion of power.  You wouldn’t slap your boss’s ass, grab the waist of some MMA fighter, or go up and rub a cops hair. There would be consequences. When you do things like that to someone, what you are saying is, “I am entitled to whatever I want. And what are you gonna do about it anyway?”

And really. What are your options? Retaliation will likely end with harsher consequences for the person standing up for themselves (worth it as those charges may be). Like the woman in DC who was being accosted late at night and, after she pepper sprayed the dude, had assault charges brought against her. The law isn’t made for everybody.

Which brings us back to that Bloomberg article. Because it isn’t only random dudes on the street that are harassing people. Police harass people, especially young men of color, every day. They can stop you, grope you, and say horrible shit to you on a daily basis. Not a damn thing happens to them.

There are women who are recording street harassment of women. And there are men recording street harassment by cops. But how many of them are out recording both? The fact that Hollaback is actually sharing information about street harassment with a govenrment agency doesn’t give me much hope that those women are making the connection.

Harassment – bosses of employees, men of women, cops of anybody they can get away with – is all about power. To try to use those very same systems of power to deal with the abuses is futile. It doesn’t help to “hold accountable” those in power. We need to be removing those positions of power and the sense of entitlement that goes with them. And we need to be making connections (though not equivalencies) between all the different power structures and hierarchies that create the conditions for abuse.

We won’t see an end to sexual harassment without getting rid of bosses. We won’t see an end to police abuse without smashing the injustice system. We won’t see an end to street harassment without ending the hierarchy that mets out power, privilege and entitlement based on an accident of birth.

 

Tobacco, Taxes, and Thuggery

August 21, 2013 By: Mel Category: Inequality, Politics

Back when I started smoking I could get a pack of cigarettes for around $1.35.  Ah, the good old days when I could kill my lungs on the cheap. When the mega taxing of cigs started, I could just hop over to the Seminole reservation and get a carton for $18 or so. No more it seems. Monumental, greedy douchebags like New York State Senator Carl Kruger (who should still be serving his sentence on corruption charges) couldn’t stand missing out on a little revenue from the reservations.

Reservations are supposed to be sovereign. “States have no authority over tribal governments unless expressly authorized by Congress.” Of course, nothing stops people like me from hopping over to a reservation and taking advantage of tax free cigs. State governments, especially New York, sent themselves into a tizzy about it. They argued that non-native people shouldn’t escape the tax. (Never mind that, if I go to another country and buy the shit out of some cheap cigarettes, I am totally allowed to bring them back.)

I’ve been following this story for a while, as I am

1. Addicted to cigarettes

2. Think it is about damn time we stop screwing with indigenous people

3. Like any story that makes unquestioning, liberal tax love inconvenient

4. Love the DIY FU response from the Oneida

5. Think the drug legalization movement needs to pay attention to people being prosecuted for smuggling legal things

Of course, people are getting around the taxes in all sorts of ways. And, of course, the government is getting thuggish about it – like confiscating truckloads of cigarettes made on one reservation and bound for another. In March, a few Indian smokeshops were ordered to pay more than $10 million for selling untaxed cigarettes.

Then today I come across this AP article that conveniently leaves out any context when telling about a couple from Independence, Kansas that is under a 43 count indictment for smuggling cigs to be sold on reservations. (Side note: I’ve been to Independence, Kansas. Not a lot going on there job wise.)

I haven’t seen a whole lot of people paying attention to this. And I’m wondering why. Is it because the normal small government and anti-tax crew don’t give a shit about what happens on reservations? Is it because the gooey liberals who claim to care about indigenous people love taxes and forcing “healthy behavior” on people? Is it because conservatives like state government and liberals like federal government and almost nobody really cares about preserving any kind of freedom from both? Or am I being to complicated. Is it just that most people don’t even know indigenous people exist anymore?

I’ll leave you to decide.  I’ll also leave you with this Dave Chappelle snippet. Enjoy.

 

 

What About the Hunger Strikes?

July 23, 2013 By: Mel Category: Change, Inequality

Over the last several years there have been prison hunger strikes all over the country - North Carolina, Ohio, Georgia, California… What has been going on in California is just incredible.

Inmates in two-thirds of the state’s 33 prisons, and at all four out-of-state private prisons, refused both breakfast and lunch on Monday, said corrections spokeswoman Terry Thornton. In addition, 2,300 prisoners failed to go to work or attend their prison classes, either refusing or in some cases saying they were sick.

Think about that for a minute. Think about the amount of coordination it took to organize 30,000 prisoners. Think about the obstacles for people trying to organize, not just within a prison, but between prisons. And many of the organizers are in solitary confinement.

The organizing crossed racial lines and gang affiliations. The collective that organized the strikes put out a statement committing to end all racial hostilities, recognizing that the prison system uses those conflicts and prejudices to keep the incarcerated divided and disempowered.

In conclusion, we must all hold strong to our mutual agreement from this point on and focus our time, attention, and energy on mutual causes beneficial to all of us [i.e., prisoners], and our best interests. We can no longer allow CDCR to use us against each other for their benefit!!

I’ve written about these strikes a few times and linked to stories about them. And I’ve been continually frustrated that few people seem to be paying any attention. People’s lives are at stake. Prisoners died after the last actions. Several of the current strikers have required medical attention. And the California Department of Corrections is retaliating against the spokespeople. Our attention could actually save someone, or at least make retaliation a little more difficult.

I’m going to be honest with you. And I’m probably going to piss people off here. But I don’t understand why my inbox is filled with announcements of protests and actions for Trayvon Martin and absolutely nothing about the hunger strike.

Not. One. Thing.

I’ve been trying to figure out why that is. Is what George Zimmerman did to Trayvon Martin more tragic than when a cop shot an unarmed 14-year-old hiding in a shed? Is it more racist than the school to prison pipeline where 90% of New York school arrests are children of color? Is it more infuriating than the rapes and murders that regularly occur in juvenile detention centers?

For a whole lot of people it seems to be. And I really don’t understand it. But I saw something on Facebook this weekend that gave me pause. It said something like “calling Trayvon a thug is like calling JonBenet Ramsey a whore”.

I get it. Trayvon wasn’t doing anything wrong. But what if he was? What if he had gotten into a fight or stole a car or sold drugs? Would we be talking about him? What if George Zimmerman had a badge and a gun? Would we still be talking about it? As of 2011, there were 63 police shootings in Miami-Dade county alone that were under perpetual “investigation.” Twenty-five of those involved fatalities. Who is talking about them?

Sometimes people need a symbol to get them motivated. And the temptation is to chose one that is pure and innocent. Rosa Parks wasn’t the first person to refuse to give up her seat for a white person. But some leaders of the civil rights movement didn’t want a pregnant teenager who was too low class and too dark to be their rallying cry.

But this isn’t 1955. Our injustice systems depend upon criminalization. They depend upon us accepting that “thugs” deserve what they get. Or at least some people don’t merit a public outcry when they are shot in the street, or executed by the state, or tortured and raped in prison. It isn’t o.k. to only rally around the pure and innocent any longer. We have so many laws that nobody can even count them anymore.

The whole game is to make sure that they can discredit people to keep us in check.

I really hesitated to write this post. I was hoping somebody else would do it. I try to write mostly about things I have some experience with. And I have absolutely no way to wrap my head around what it must be like to have a child, much less one that has to face so many risks. But getting shot in the street by a vigilante is a lot less likely than ending up behind bars being tortured by the state.

I know that many of the people organizing Trayvon Martin protests are focused on the bigger picture. They are connecting this shooting to systemic issues of policing, racial profiling, the school to prison pipeline… I love those kids who occupied the Florida governors office.

But not everyone is making those connections. And too many of the emails I am getting are from people who have their necks permanently stuck looking up at power. Lobbying to overturn stand your ground laws or protesting ALEC or getting those few people who have disposable income to stop buying things is not going to smash this system. But a movement led by the people who have been most pummeled by the system just might. These people have signed do not resuscitate documents. They are ready to die for their rights and we are ignoring them.

Not to mention that, while they have managed to coordinate 30,000 people across prisons, we (who are in relative freedom) can’t even manage to coordinate amongst ourselves enough not to have competing Trayvon protests.

I really don’t want to shit all over the organizing that is going on right now. I hope that this case starts something huge. I hope all the actions are successful. But I can’t bring myself to focus on them and ignore the hunger strikes. So I’ll be spending my free time contacting prison officials and prisoners. I hope some of you will make some time to do the same. The addresses and phone numbers are here.

The Power of Denial

June 10, 2013 By: Mel Category: Change, Inequality

My relationship with my parents started a downhill slide when I reached my teen years and never recovered. My father was the type of person who never wanted to talk about anything. He would blow up once in a while. But mostly he handled the hurt – the hurt that he felt or that he dished out – by having a couple scotch and sodas and some cigarettes and refusing to talk about it. He was over it, or so he claimed, and you should be too.

(Hmmm. Wonder where I got my coping mechanisms from?)

My mother, on the other hand, would entertain the conversation. But she is unable to grapple with the fact that she is human and imperfect. So, when faced with something hurtful she has done, she will just deny it happened. Or she will deny that it hurt you. Or she will move the conversation to some hurt she is feeling, or some sacrifice she thinks she has made, so that she can deflect you.

I don’t expect people to be perfect. Maybe I expected it from my father when I was a child. I certainly don’t expect it from anyone now. But when the things that have caused you enormous pain are denied, when you can’t even speak of them, there is no way to move on. You can suppress them until you implode. You can let them build up until you explode. You can jump up and down screaming about them in the hopes that they will be acknowledged. But you can’t really let it go. You can’t repair the relationship, tear down the walls, work on building something better.

That blindness that my parents had wasn’t one-sided. I was blind to their pain too. It wasn’t only that they wouldn’t, or couldn’t, talk about it. I didn’t have the experience to understand it. There are some things that I will never experience and will never understand. And my reactions and rebellion, while perhaps understandable, were not always productive for any of us.

But the difference between me and my parents is that they had all the power. My father could determine what was and was not going to be spoken about. The only power that I had was to hold onto my anger and to refuse to speak at all. So that is the power that I took. And when I say that I refused to speak, I mean not one syllable. And when I say that I held on to my anger, I mean that I was one pissed off kid.

This doesn’t just happen in personal relationships. It happens in communities too. Like when you express the frustration of dealing with certain types of behavior and the response is to deny or deflect. It doesn’t have to be the individual that actually did the thing in question. It is equally frustrating to get that from people who refuse to believe what they haven’t seen, don’t want to see, are incapable of seeing. Or maybe they just don’t want to be honest with themselves about whether they, as imperfect people, have done some of those things themselves.

We all do shitty things sometimes. We make mistakes. But we should never forget that some people have the power to determine what gets heard, what is deemed important. Parents have the power to shut kids down. Teachers have the power to shut students down. Governments, media, and academia have the power to shut everybody down. Since all of those institutions have been mostly in the control of people who have a very narrow range of experience, some people have been shut down much more than others.

Not only does that just suck, we all suffer for it. Because, the thing is, power and privilege are blind. Or as Junot Díaz put is so perfectly in his keynote (below), “The funny thing about our privilege is that we all have a blind spot around our privilege, shaped exactly like us.”

More privilege. More blindness. The more you are similar to the people with the power, the more likely you are to see your life and your story reflected. And the more you will be blind to the fact that those stories do not reflect other people’s experiences. The more you have been conditioned to assume that the world will listen to you, the easier it is to talk. The more you have been shut down, the harder it is. The less power and privilege you have, the more you are forced to understand and hear the stories of those few people who do have the power and privilege. Which is why Sherman Alexie can very accurately say to Bill Moyers, “I know a lot more about being white than you know about being Indian.”

Nobody can really understand another person’s experience. The older I get, the less I think people can even really understand their own privilege. But perhaps we can all get to the point where we understand that we have privilege and blindness. Maybe we can recognize where the holes are, whose stories are not being told. Maybe we can stop denying other people’s experiences when they do tell their stories.

I really hope so. Because if we can’t manage to start listening to people, especially the people who are heard the least, then we are fucked. People need their truth/frustration/pain to be acknowledged so that they can move on. We need to understand who has more power in every state/community/group/relationship/situation and act accordingly. We all need to see the truths that power hides from us, sometimes intentionally and sometimes unconsciously, if we are to build something better. We need to stop getting stuck somewhere between privilege and pain.

P.S. If you have yet to watch that keynote by Junot Díaz, it is definitely worthwhile.

Stuff Dudes Do

June 04, 2013 By: Mel Category: Inequality

Mild rant warning.

I’m an anarchist. I used to be in a punk collective. I worked on criminal injustice issues. Sadly, all of these things mean that I end up in spaces that are largely dudes. Maybe those things attract more men than women. Or maybe a whole lot of us women have been chased out of those spaces by the stuff you dudes do. I can tell you that one of the reasons I backed off from things this last year is that I just didn’t have it in me to deal with certain types of behavior, behavior that tends to be very gendered.

Why are there always those one or two dudes in every space who will take up half a meeting with long-ass soliloquies?   Do they really think that what they have to say is that much more important/intelligent/fascinating than anyone else? Are they trying to prove how great they are? Shutting everyone else down by talking the whole time doesn’t show you are great. It shows you have no consideration for other people.

You know how else dudes shut people down? They talk down to people. How many times, like this weekend in fact, have I seen a woman say some real shit only to have a dude respond to her in the most condescending way? My friend was right and speaking from experience. Some asshat dude responded by demonstrating that he wasn’t listening to a word she said and telling her to read Frantz Fanon.

Which brings me to another way dudes shut things down. Why are so many of you incapable of speaking from experience or to experience? Why do you have to speak in quotes? I am not impressed by your ability to quote paragraphs from Marx or Kropotkin. Are you trying to intimidate people who haven’t read as many dead white guys as you have? Are you trying to demonstrate that you have never had an original thought? Or maybe just that you have so little life experience that you have nothing else to say?

And no, dude, I will not let you turn a discussion about lived experience and human suffering into a pissing match about some pseudo-intellectual point where you think you can outwit me.

And then there is that damned certainty, certainty that so often leads to bullying. In a way it is impressive how dudes who are talking out their ass can do so with such certainty. And then I watch women who know so much more than they do put things out as questions for discussion.

And somehow this certainty born of ignorance and hubris and disrespect wins out. Opening things for discussion allows people to find the holes in an idea, to use our combined experience and knowledge to come up with things that are better than one of us would come up with alone. Certainty just demolishes anything in its path. Certainty leads to antagonism and a debate where one person has to come out the winner – no matter how many flaws they ignore. And then you know what happens? We fuck up.

I’m so tired of bullies. Of certainty. Of a total blindness to the different ways issues affect women.  Of women doing all the invisible work. FYI – I’m not your fucking secretary or your maid.

But do you know what the absolute worst thing of all is? The absolute worst of all are the dudes who do all of those things in the name of feminism. Or women’s rights. Or being an ally. Or whatever the fuck they want to call it. Can there possibly be anything more sexist and condescending and egotistical than telling me, a woman, what to think in the name of my oppression? You don’t have my experience and, since we can only be experts on our own experience, you don’t know shit.

I would not have the audacity to walk into the NAACP and tell them their polices are racist. I wouldn’t be so clueless as to take a position on whether or not black people should use the n word. I’ll certainly listen to the discussions about those issues. But my job is to work on myself and my own behavior so as not to contribute to other people’s suffering. It isn’t to think that what I read and hear trumps what they live.

I used to give the benefit of the doubt, thinking people should get some credit for trying. But that isn’t trying. It shouldn’t be that I get treated with more respect by people who don’t even think about these things than by the ones who claim to be allies. You aren’t being allies. You know what you are being? Heroes. You have made it all about you. You have bought into the victim, villain, hero narrative and you can’t break out of wanting to be a fucking hero. I don’t need a hero. Me and my girlfriends can take care of ourselves. Thank you very much.

I know I am painting a lot of people with a broad brush. But if you exhibit any of these behaviors, please stop. We need to be able to work together. Chasing us away isn’t helping.

The Problem With Gifted

May 14, 2013 By: Mel Category: Inequality

I’ve been catching up on some of my blog reading and came across this report about how Latino children are underrepresented in New York City public school gifted programs.

Data obtained by The Wall Street Journal shows that Latino children are dramatically underrepresented in the program, making up just 12% of the city’s 14,266 gifted elementary school students this school year. Yet Latino children make up about 41% of the 489,911 elementary students.

This controversy, about the homogeneity of gifted programs, has been going on since I was a kid. I distinctly remember a report (60 minutes maybe) where parents tried to get their children of color tested and the school system would not even test them. I’m fairly certain it was this controversy that was responsible for me being put in the gifted program in my elementary school.

I need to put a small caveat here. This is all my memory from more than 30 years ago. So I am not going to guarantee 100% detail.

When I was in first or second grade, and around the time our principal changed from a white dude to a black woman, the administration started asking teachers to submit students for gifted testing – particularly students who were not white boys. Because ALL of the students in the gifted program were white boys. That’s when I got IQ tested.

Here I could go into the controversies about IQ – the historic racism, the cultural bias…all that jazz. Perhaps someday I will. But even if you think that IQ measures more than privilege and socialization (I don’t), it doesn’t really impact my criticism of the gifted program.

I spent one day a week in gifted classes. While my other classmates were sitting in rows doing busy work, I was wandering around a trailer doing creative stuff. As a gifted student, I had access to the only two computers in my school. I got to make cool graphics using Apple computers that had pixels the size of your head. I made stop motion animated films and ceramic animals. There were plays and, if memory serves, a kooky report about the Bermuda Triangle.

In other words, I had the freedom to be creative and access to the tools that would let me do it. The gifted program was just a way to met out privileges to the already privileged.

As I got older, I dropped out of gifted and even honors classes. In part, I really wanted to coast through and smoke weed and be lazy. But I was also sick to death of seeing the same people in every class that I had. I went to a diverse middle and high school. But my classes were filled with the same disproportionately white, disproportionately Jewish, and disproportionately well-off people.

Once I started going to “regular” classes, the horrors of school really hit me. No matter how creative or curious you are. No matter how much potential you have. If you sit in a box doing mind-numbing worksheets while some babysitter socializes you to be a Walmart cashier, it is going to make you stupid. At least I felt like I got stupider every minute that I was in school.

My point, after all of that, is this. We do not need to make gifted classes more diverse. It does not, in the end, really help us to have a more gender balanced and multicolored group of privileged people. It is true that a person in a position of power may change the rules a little for a few people – like the new principal of my school. And it is true that there is value in diversity – particularly in having relationships that cross all the barriers of gender, race, class…

But in the end, all kids need the freedom and resources to pursue their interests and to do the kinds of creative and mind-expanding things that gifted kids are allowed to do. Asking for more Latinos in gifted is the same as asking for more Latino CEOs or black generals or women senators. We don’t need a more diverse hierarchy or a less obviously racist and sexist way to met out privileges. We need to get rid of the hierarchy and the privileges.