BroadSnark

Thoughts on politics, religion, violence, inequality, social control, change, and random other things from an autonomous, analytical, adopted, abolitionist, anarchist who likes the letter A
Subscribe

Archive for the ‘Stratification’

Work Less. We Need You.

May 23, 2017 By: Mel Category: Seeking, Stratification, Work

It seems like everyone I know is in one of two situations. Either they are un(der)employed and trying to figure out how to get some hours/money to survive or they are working far too many hours and trying to figure out how to fit any kind of a life into a workday.

I used to work appallingly long hours. It started because I was severely underpaid and had little choice. But it continued because I had internalized the idea of a “hard worker” being a good thing. I succumbed to the expectation that people are supposed to fit their life around their work, rather than the other way around. I also wanted independence. Work seemed like a better route to independence than housewife, the only other option on offer.

There were some rewards for all that “hard work” and long hours. It might almost make you believe in the pull yourself up by your bootstraps nonsense. Of course, not everyone can do it. While I was getting raises and promotions for being “indispensable,” my coworker was struggling just to get to the office on time. She was a single mother who lived in a part of Liberty City where the buses, when they were working at all, only ran Monday through Friday during rush hour. Ostensibly my raises and promotion were a result of all those long hours. But the reality is that requiring long hours to “get ahead” is a way of privileging certain people without seeming to.

Even a forty hour week is too much. It worked o.k. for my father, when I was small.  He was able to work full time, still have a social life, and participate in his community. But that is because he had a stay at home wife, a support staff in his office, a periodic housekeeper, and various babysitters for us kids. In other words, he had a cadre of women doing much of the work for him. Once his business was crushed by the big box stores, life changed. No more stay at home wife. No more support staff. The community participation stopped. He had a stroke and was never really able to work full time again.

So if you are feeling like you are somehow failing, if you think you need some self-help bullshit about how to manage your time better, you don’t. There is nothing wrong with you. The reason we have so many exhausted, sick people hanging by one last nerve is not that we are all inadequate. It is that the grind is killing us.

When I entered the nonprofit world things got even trickier. Suddenly, it isn’t that you are giving all your life hours to make an owner even richer. It is that you are dedicated to a cause. When the people you are ostensibly helping seem even worse off than you, how can you justify cutting them off?

Ironically, one of the first nonprofits I worked for was an organization in California that helped people who were caring for someone with a brain impairment. I worked long hours. I was tired, stressed, and cranky. I spent zero time trying to be a part of the community. I didn’t treat people the way they should be treated. While I was supposedly helping caregivers, I had a life which would not have allowed me to do any caregiving. So how was that really helping anyone?

What I have come to see is that the more we work at our jobs, the worse off we are as a society. Our work structure is designed to provide cover for continuing discrimination and inequality. It is designed to prevent us from being able to participate in the life of our communities. It relies on a cadre of women – disproportionately poor women of color – whose struggles are mostly invisible. It is exploitation that we are all complicit in, whether you hire someone to clean your house or are so busy that you need to rely on the poverty wage workers who make your fast food. I began to understand what Nancy Fraser refers to as a “crisis of care.”

Between the need for increased working hours and the cutback in public services, the financialized capitalist regime is systematically depleting our capacities for sustaining social bonds. This form of capitalism is stretching our “caring” energies to the breaking point. This “crisis of care” should be understood structurally. By no means contingent or accidental, it is the expression, under current conditions, of a tendency to social-reproductive crisis that is inherent in capitalist society, but that takes an especially acute form in the present regime of financialized capitalism.

In short, Capitalism cares only about production and marginalizes the relationship building and care that our lives actually depend on. If our communities are falling apart, it is because the time we need to nurture the relationships that make communities strong is being stolen from us. I don’t see how we will resolve any other problem unless we can tackle this one.

Clearly, this is a systemic issue that will require collective action. But one of the first steps has to be reprogramming our own thinking and pushing back on the theft of our time and well-being.

It is not easy to break the cycle. It might even be a little terrifying. We have been programmed our whole lives to believe that one false move will land us on the streets. The reality is that some people really are in such a precarious position that they have little room to push. But that isn’t true for all of us. And the more collective hours we can recover, the more time we will have to do things to open space for the people who don’t have it now.

A good start is to push back against all the voices, including the ones in the back of our heads, which tell us to judge people for not being hard working enough. Push back when people start every conversation by asking what a person does for a living. Don’t work overtime if you can afford not to. Find ways to decrease your material needs or alternate ways to meet those needs. Refuse to get on emails outside of work hours. Take every minute of your vacation (if you are lucky enough to have it).

Thank people who actually take off when they are sick. Support paid sick days for everyone. Applaud publicly those who prioritize their family and community in actions and not just words. Call out anyone who criticizes people who actually have their priorities straight. Build a support system that makes risking your job a little less scary. Be there for others so that they can take risks too. Be the one who helps those trying to live without wage labor, not the Petty Crocker who resents anyone that isn’t working as much as they are.

When you have a moment of guilt or fear, think about how this system is designed to make it impossible to have a reasonable life. Think about all the people who could benefit from a drastic shift in culture and expectations. Ask why, if you leave work early or get on Facebook at your desk, employers say that you are stealing time. Yet it is totally accepted that an employer expects you to be on email 24/7, schedules meetings during lunch hour, or takes advantage of lax overtime exemption laws to make people work late for free.  Get pissed. Remember that you aren’t just pushing back for yourself. Remember that time is not money, time is life. They are stealing your life.

No matter how you earn your living, you aren’t doing anyone any favors by abandoning your loved ones, community, and health to the organization. No person can work 40 hours a week or more, support their loved ones in the way they deserve, be an active member of a community, be aware of what is going on in the world, be conscious about the systems they support, take care of themselves, create beautiful things, and find time for the joy that makes life worth living. Too many of us are sacrificing all the most important things on the altar of work. We need to look at our lives differently. Or as Fraser puts it

“The idea that you could build a society that assumes every adult is a person with primary care responsibilities, community engagements, and social commitments. That’s not utopian. It’s a vision based on what human life is really like.”

You can (and should) read the whole interview here.

Victims, Villains, and Heroes

September 14, 2012 By: Mel Category: Conflict, Core, Seeking, Stratification

Clint EastwoodWhen I first started delving into the drug war and criminal injustice system, I saw it as a process of dehumanization that I couldn’t ignore. While I had friends who were caught up in the system, as one of the least targeted people, the only connection I saw to my personal life was what I had learned as the grandkid of holocaust refugees.

People ask how atrocities could happen and a whole society be blind to them. While I don’t want to make comparisons between concentration camps and prisons, it isn’t hard for me to see how a whole country could have shut their eyes. People are tortured, raped, and murdered behind bars in this country now and most of us don’t even notice.

But the more I learned about how this particular dehumanization works, the more I realized the special role that I play in it. I’m the victim that excuses the violence.

If you have never read Ida B. Wells on lynchings, you need to. Despite the fact that the majority of black men who were lynched were not even accused of rape, the defenders of lynchings always used the rape of white women as their cover for murder – or as one Southern newspaper put it “the barbarism which preys upon weak and defenseless women.”

How ironic that white men used the rape of white women as their excuse. How many of us in the colonized world are a product of the rape of black and indigenous women by white men – what the Mexicans like to refer to as La Gran Chingada (the great rape)? But women of color are not generally the victims of our national narrative. They are mostly invisible.

As a white woman it is my job to be a victim to excuse the bloodthirst. The boxes people have tried to cram  me into my whole life – weakness, dependency, purity – are really just about playing that role. If you refuse to be defenseless. If you refuse to be appropriately dependent. If you refuse to be fallen. Then there is hell to pay. It isn’t just about control of women and their sexuality. It is that our role as victims is key in a narrative that holds up the authoritarian system.

If there are no victims and no villains then what need do we have for heroes? Our heroes are, of course, violent. Usually, they wear a uniform. Sometimes they might take it off for a night to do their lynchings undercover. But whether it is a cop or a soldier or a vigilante, we accept the armed and violent hero only because we believe in the helpless victim.

The racialized and genderized victim/villain/hero narrative undergirds everything. It is part of the lynchings of 100 years ago. It was there when we were accusing Chinese men of defiling white women to get opium laws passed. It is built into the criminal injustice system that targets men of color. It is part of every war that we fight, the way we use women as an excuse to bomb countries.

And what does it do to the people who are trying to live up to their role as hero by picking up those guns? In order to fit into that hero/man box you have to become a killer. You have to be broken down until whatever it is in you that recognizes another person’s humanity is gone. There is no coming back from that, certainly not for the thousands of soldiers who come back and kill themselves. Not likely for the prison guards either.

I’m not trying to infer equivalency between the experiences of someone sitting in solitary confinement and what is going through the head of the person who put them there. I’m not saying that a white woman’s fight to get out of the victim box can be compared to being lynched. The full weight of the system does not hit us all evenly.

Nor am I saying that people are never victimized, that some of the people in prison have not done horrible things. But most of those people have also been victims. We can all be victimized, villainous, or heroic. The system needs to wedge us into narrow categories in order to feed itself. It needs to provide a narrative that makes it seem like the armed thug’s job is something besides protecting the power and privilege of a handful of people.

We need to understand the connections. If we don’t, we will inevitably end up fighting against one part of the narrative while upholding another.

White women who fight the violence against them in a way that supports, rather than challenges, the racist criminal injustice system will never make life better for women. Black men who fight the criminal injustice system but hold a view that tries to put black women on the same purity pedestal that white women are chained to will never make life better for black people. Anti-authoritarians who don’t understand the role that racism and sexism play in upholding the state will never see it smashed.

For me, understanding the connections means being a really terrible victim. It means refusing the accept the villainization of men – especially men of color. It means refusing to accept the heroization of people with guns – even the ones I may have some sympathy for. It means focusing on the criminal injustice system and the war machine and any other victim/villain/hero narrative that keeps this state alive.

Because if we break those narratives we all get out of our boxes, real and metaphorical. We break the fear. We stop so much of the torture and violence and suffering.

No more victims. No more villains. No more heroes.

Obey or Pay…Unless

August 26, 2012 By: Mel Category: Core, Stratification

Ed Rooney from Ferris Bueller's Day OffI came across this truancy scare video the other day. The video talks about how truancy leads to dropping out and how dropping out leads to a “lifelong inability to find gainful employment (and) make a meaningful life.” It has kids talking about how they were rebellious (the horror). They talk about abusing drugs, about violent boyfriends, about being homeless.

And then there is this asshat. She’s a clinical psychologist who is trying to scare twenty-somethings into getting serious about their lives. Apparently, if you don’t get your shit together by the time you are 25, you will be playing catch-up forever. And by playing catch-up she means that your career, house, spouse, children, dog, and picket fence will be a few pottery barn items short of perfect.

Did you get the message everyone? Are you clear on what success looks like? Are you fully convinced that education overcomes everything, as the woman in the truancy video claims? Oh, and about that 50% of recent grads who are unemployed or underemployed. No need to worry about that, says the asshat, you just focus on getting yourself into that other 50%. Fuck those other people.

We are inundated with messages every day about how we as individuals can end up on top (or at least not on the bottom) of this big, hot mess we are in. We are told that, if you do the right thing, you will be rewarded. Maybe, as in the case of that video, some people with their hearts in generally the right place will acknowledge that there are social circumstances that lead people to “end up” in the criminal (in)justice system.

People don’t just end up in prison. They are targeted. You will not be rewarded for doing the right thing. In fact, you will generally suffer for it. You might be rewarded for obeying the rules, depending on who you are. Or maybe, if you just stay in your place and don’t raise too much hell, people won’t actively go after you. You might be congratulated if you define success as some formerly truant kid going back to school with a desire to join the Coast Guard. (Hey, now instead of going to jail, that kid can spend his life putting drug runners and immigrants in prison. Success!)

As someone who made truancy into something of an art form, when I first watched the video I just wanted to write a post telling people how much bullshit school is and to fuck up all they want. I did not skip school because I was suffering outside of school. I skipped school because I was suffering in it. It was boring and authoritarian and I was not going to waste any more precious minutes of my life in that place. I don’t regret for one minute any day that I ditched for the beach. If I had to do it all over again, I would have been absent all 45 days that one quarter instead of just 43.

Despite skipping school, getting kicked out, and generally doing my best to fuck up as much as possible, I’m not in prison. I’ve managed to support myself since I was seventeen. I haven’t killed anybody or overdosed on heroin.

Do you know why I am not in prison? I’m not in prison because, when I was caught stealing or drinking or smoking or… (well let me keep some secrets), the police were usually not called. Even when they were called, I never saw the inside of a police station. At worst, they called my parents. Usually, they didn’t even do that.

These kids are not “ending up” in prison because they have a bad home life and are not staying in school. They are ending up in prison because the criminal (in)justice system targets them in ways that it never targeted me. Our schools are filled with cops just itching to get more fodder for the prisons/work camps/torture chambers. They are arresting kids for throwing paper airplanes and six-year-olds for tantrums.

Some of us can fuck up quite a bit and still make a reasonably comfortable life. Some of us can spend a few decades with whiskey and cocaine and still go to an ivy league school and become president. And some of us can get busted one time with a few joints and have the rest of our lives ruined for it.

The grand trick is that we pretend like there are rules that apply to everyone. But they don’t. Uber-privileged people ignore the rules and are fine. Marginalized people get fucked even when they obey them. The rest of us are impregnated with fear of fucking up and misdirected into pursuing some illusory goal of personal achievement instead of focusing on the obedience training system that funnels us into our proper place.

I can’t in good conscience tell people to just go forth and fuck up. Some of us don’t have the luxury. But don’t respond to the unemployability of dropouts with criminal records by making some half-assed attempt to get some of them back into the funnel. Question what the hell is going on with our criminal (in)justice system. Ask why people without alphabet soup at the end of their names can’t make a living. Get pissed that half the people with alphabet soup at the end of their names can’t even get work.

Disobey as much as you possibly can.  The rules were not made for your benefit.

Beware of Strange Men on Airplanes

August 26, 2012 By: Mel Category: Conflict, Core, Sex, Stratification

It seems that Virgin airlines has a policy that unaccompanied children cannot sit next to men on their airplanes. An Australian man, who was assigned a seat next to two boys he did not know, was asked to switch seats with a woman. Pissed off about being treated like a presumed predator, he blogged about it and complained to the airline that their policy was sexist.

Francois Tremblay thinks this guy is being an entitled douche and that is ridiculous to call this sexism. Meghan Murphy compares this man’s one moment of discomfort with the daily bullshit that women have to go through to avoid being harassed or worse. I get what they are saying, but the policy is still wrong. And the privilege that this guy is showing isn’t the one they think it is.

Gender essentialism is our enemy. It is not o.k. to base policies on gender essentialist notions, regardless of who is negatively affected. I know what you are thinking. But Mel, men are the ones who commit most violence. As Murphy cites in her article, 90% of child sex offenders are men. Ok. But do you know what else that very same article states? 70 – 90% of child sex offenders are known to the child.

In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, most child abusers are parents. And about half of the perpetrators of abuse and neglect are women. Granted, women are more often caregivers. And there is no telling what bullshit some states are calling neglect. But the fact remains that it would be more logical for the airline to separate kids from their parents if they really wanted to stop abuse.

But we would never do such a thing. Because one of the things that perpetuates child abuse is the idea that parents can do whatever they want to their children. “I brought you into this world. I can take you out of it.” It seems we are more likely to have irrational policies on airplanes than to intervene when we see a parent abusing their child – verbally or physically.

And do you know what else perpetuates rape and sexual abuse? The idea that rapists are strangers who crawl into your window and hold a gun to your head does. It is the reason why so many rapists think they are not rapists – despite the fact that they have no concept of consent and no problem using coercion, violence, drugs… Cause I mean hey, it was a girl I was on a date with so it can’t be rape.

This Australian guy is showing his privilege. But the privilege that he is showing isn’t that he is not in constant fear of being harassed. It is that he is a white guy, an emergency service worker no less, and accustomed to being cast in the role of hero. If he were black or Arab then being cast as the evil predator wouldn’t have come as much of a shock. It is standard operating procedure.

What if he had been black? What if he was Arab or Muslim? What if he was trans? How would those kids (and the rest of the people on that airplane) have processed that move? And how did two boys, who will soon grow up to be men, process the idea that in a few years they will be too scary to sit next to children?

We can’t end sexism by being gender essentialist. We can’t end racism by ignoring how race affects the way people are perceived. We aren’t going to raise healthy men by demonstrating to boys that they must be avoided when they grow up. We aren’t going to end abuse – sexual or otherwise – by focusing on the few incidents that are perpetrated by strangers and allowing people to operate under the convenient illusion that abusing the people that you know, and maybe even love, doesn’t really count.

Big Tents, Little Bridges, Vested Interests

August 24, 2012 By: Mel Category: Core, Seeking, Stratification

Bridge in the Japanese Garden in San FranciscoThis piece over at Cubik’s Rube reminded me of something I have been wanting to write about for a while. James is worried that the atheism+ idea that Blag Hag wrote about, and that I linked to on Wed, will be just one more divide in a movement that already has plenty of “splits, schisms, and dichotomies.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about big tents and factions since the group I was working with disintegrated. I think one of our core problems was that we tried to be too much of a big tent, or at least we went about it the wrong way. We knew that people in the group had different political views, theories of change, and ways of working. We had different backgrounds and life experiences – age, gender, race, class, religion. And rather than tackling those differences head on, we avoided talking about them. It was a huge mistake. And we ended up bleeding people anyway.

If you spend any time studying social justice movements from the past, you will soon learn how many of them fell apart or were co-opted because different groups sold each other out. White workers threw black workers under the bus with the unions. Black men threw women under the bus with voting. White women threw women of color under the bus with the feminist movement. Trans people got thrown under the bus by the GLB community. And on and on.

And in the end, while there may be a few beneficiaries here and there, we all lost. We find ourselves fighting the same battles all over again. Clearly, we can’t just all break off into little affinity groups that only think about ourselves. Our liberation is tied together in a very real way.

At the same time, whenever you get people together that have wildly different backgrounds, privileges, interests, communication styles… you are going to spend a huge amount of your time just keeping the group together. If you don’t spend the time, you will lose people. But if you spend all your time dealing with those things then people will feel like you aren’t moving toward your goal. And you will lose people that way too. Not to mention that the most marginalized people will be FUCKING EXHAUSTED trying to beat their heads against everyone else’s blindnesses.

And let us throw in another conundrum while we are at it. In that atheism+ post, she inserts a long quote about how many of the people who have gotten involved in the atheist movement are people who are not affected by any other type of prejudice/oppression. Being an atheist is the one little speed-bump on the otherwise smooth road of their lives. And they are wholly uninterested in having their other privileges questioned.

It is pretty much impossible for me to work with anyone who can only see their little corner of the universe and stay willfully blind about everything else. That doesn’t mean I won’t talk to them. I just can’t work with them. But as infuriating as it is for me to deal with people who can only see the one thing that affects them, it would be so much worse if they were coming in to white knight on some issue that they have not experienced and do not understand.

As (I believe it was) @manowax said at the Words, Beats & Life teach-in, “You have to have a vested interest to make change.” If atheist prejudice is the only thing that those people can see that they have a vested interest in, then that is what they should focus on. It is when something isn’t just an “issue” but your everyday life that you will see it through to the end. What choice do you have?

It reminds me of the beginning of this civil rights roundtable when they ask the participants to talk about why they are there. James Baldwin talks about being “born a negro.” Poitier says, “I became interested in civil rights struggle out of a necessity, to survive.” Belafonte talks about inheriting the struggle from his parents and grandparents. But Brando talks about Rosa Parks and Heston about talking to people at cocktail parties. Baldwin, Poitier, and Belafonte spent their lives struggling for their rights as human beings. Heston went back to cocktail parties and shilling for the NRA.

So there is nothing wrong with spending your time on the things that affect you, but somehow we also have to find ways to help people see how all the different struggles are connected. At the very least, we need to figure out how to stop throwing each other under the bus.

I should say here that I don’t think there is anything wrong with getting involved in a struggle where you are not the most affected. But I do think we need to understand how that struggle is connected to our own. We should be very careful about how we get involved and realistic about how dedicated we are to the issue, to the people, to the community. We can’t just drop in for a year and then skip out to a masters program, patting ourselves on the back the whole way.

So where does that leave us?

I think we should stop trying to have big tents. We need to focus on understanding our interests and how they connect. We should be building small, close-knit groups and a lot of little bridges.

In other words, stop seeing different experiences, backgrounds, and struggles as divisive and start seeing them as connective. Blag Hag is a bridge between feminists and atheists. Not all atheists are going to examine their other privileges. Not all feminists are going to examine theirs. But many will understand. That bridge is the beginning of how we are going to stop throwing each other under the bus.

We don’t need to worry that our movements will be divided. Large organizations only erase differences that shouldn’t be erased and grow hierarchies that shouldn’t be seeded. Successful social movements of the past have usually been made up of small, tight-knit communities and groups. They have been made up of people with long relationships and a lot of earned trust and respect. It wasn’t a thousand people who started the freedom rides. It was a handful. But that handful sparked something and others followed.

I think it is o.k. if we work on the issues that most affect us and with people that we like, understand, and respect. But we all have to take on the work of pushing to understand how the struggles are connected. And we have to make sure that we aren’t taking the easy way out by avoiding the uncomfortableness that comes from working with people whose cultures, experiences, marginalizations, etc. are difficult for us. We need to constantly be confronting ourselves.

The good news is that most of us are a part of many communities and struggles. So we can all be bridges. We can all work on the things that most affect us. We can all help each other to understand how those struggles are connected. We can work towards the same thing from different angles. Our work will be stronger for it.

Die Chivalry Die

August 10, 2012 By: Mel Category: Stratification

Maidens that I rescued on the InternetYou know that whole “women and children first” thing, where ship captains are supposed to stoically go down with the boat? Someone actually did a study of shipwrecks. Turns out – not so much.

In examining 18 shipping disasters dating to the 1850s, the economists found little evidence that men were inclined to surrender their survival advantage. Overall, the survival rate was 61% for crew members, 44% for captains, 37% for male passengers, 27% for women and 15% for children…For the most part, the Swedish study found that women faced worse survival rates aboard British vessels than those flagged by other nations. Female passengers aboard doomed English ships saw their survival rates drop almost 10%

So much for that British stoicism. Ouch.

The study was “based on the premise that crew members and male passengers stood the greatest chance of survival in a free-for-all ship evacuation, owing to greater strength and knowledge of the vessel.” So we can assume that, if women were actually captains or crew, their survival rate would have been much higher.

Chivalry is about who has access to knowledge, skills, resources, and power. No need for us women to know how to take care of ourselves. We’ll just let the men decide who gets to survive and who doesn’t. How’s that working out for you, 73% of women who died in those shipwrecks?

Ladies, if you are going to get on a boat, learn how to operate it yourself. You better at least know where the damn lifeboats are.

That story got me thinking about a Chappelle bit that has always really chapped my ass.

Let’s recap shall we? All women are materialistic. They just want fancy cars and shit. The only thing men want out of life is women – more specifically, someone to fuck and make them a sandwich. And women killed chivalry by forgetting how beautiful we are, cause clearly our role is to look purdy in the hopes that some dick with a fancy car will come and take care of us be so kind as to let us suck his dick and make him sandwiches.

Oh Dave. I love you, but sometimes you are a real ass. You should stick with social observations about racism cause you suck on sexism.

For the record. I hate cars. I don’t give a rats ass how nice yours is or if you have one at all. In fact, if you tell me you drive a ridiculously expensive car, my first thought is going to be, “wonder who was swindled, killed, raped, or tortured for that.” I do not need anyone to pay my bills. I’m quite capable of opening jars without fainting from exhaustion or walking through puddles without melting.

Perhaps some of the women who like nice cars are really just acting on the knowledge that, for too many women, a man with resources is the best opportunity they have in this fucked up world. Perhaps some of those men who buy nice cars to impress women think they have nothing to offer but a wallet and a dick. Or maybe some men really like knowing that their woman literally cannot survive without them.

Dependency makes for fucked up relationships.

I wish Chappelle was right. I wish women had killed chivalry. Sadly, we have not. But we should. We should bury it at sea with all those dead women and children.

All that said, I reserve the right to try and get dudes to kill bugs for me. In fact, I have one of these nasty fuckers in my apartment right now.  Ewwwwww. A little help?

Some Thoughts on the GA Prisoner Strike

July 30, 2012 By: Mel Category: Criminalization, Seeking, Stratification

Sadly, most people don’t seem to be paying much attention to all the prisoner strikes that have been happening across the country. In Georgia, two prisoners went without food for more than 47 days. You really need to watch this video.

One of the things that struck me about that interview was the part at the end where Bruce Dixon talks about how it is not just race but also class that increases a person’s chances of being in prison.

African Americans, who are one eighth of the nation’s population, make up over forty percent of this nation’s prisoners. Latinos, who are another one eighth, make up an additional thirty percent and their numbers are climbing. So that means that between blacks and Latinos, who make up one fourth of the nations population, are three fourths of its prisoners…

Back in the days of Jim Crow, Jim Crow was inflicted on all black people regardless of class.  The enormous numbers of African Americans who are in prison now are not your African Americans who have been to college. A college educated black man now stands perhaps one third the chance of going to prison than he did 25 or 30 years ago. Whereas a young black man who is a high school dropout has six times the likelihood of going to prison than he did 30 years ago. So the prison state visits its afflictions upon us not just based on race but by a combination of race and class. The prison state targets lower economic class blacks and Latinos.

In The South it is a little different too. I should say. I’m from Chicago, from The North. When you go to the criminal courts building in Cook County in Chicago you hardly see a white face. In The South they actually do

lock up white people – poor white people – but there is a significant percentage of whites in the prisons in Georgia. Lastly I should say too that there are white prisoners among the leaders of this prison strike and the hunger strike. The prisoners standing up for their rights are black, brown and white –  something which is the opposite of what we hear or think of when we think of prisons in the United States. Prisoners are standing together across those lines.

At one of the events I was at about mass incarceration, someone asked how to get white people to care. Of course, by white people, they meant a certain kind of white person. Michelle Alexander responds to a similar question during this talk as well.

As an advocate, I had thought of my job as how do you persuade kind of those mainstream white voters to think differently. And much of advocacy has been geared towards (civil rights advocacy I mean) has been geared towards how do we make that group of people think differently and care about our issues, our concerns, and our needs. Well I think at this stage of movement building, my own view, is that the first order of business is how can we get our communities to care about each other. That the first order of business is consciousness raising and developing a sense of care, compassion, and concern within the communities most affected by it before we really even begin to address kind of those mainstream white swing voters that we are ultimately going to have to persuade through our advocacy work. And I say this in part because one of the things that I have been really struck by in my own work on these issues is that, with Jim Crow, African Americans were stigmatized, but they had their own businesses. They had their own churches, theaters, workplaces. There was a sense of solidarity within the community. There was a degree of racial solidarity and community. Well mass incarceration has turned the black community against itself, has turned communities of color against itself. And I think we first need to begin to build unity and a common understanding of the nature of this system and kind of an agreement of what must be done about it.

She goes on to talk about lessening the stigma in communities and working with former prisoners and their families. I agree with her for the most part. But I’m not sure that Alexander focuses enough on class when she is thinking about what needs to be done. What I mean is, she does not say that there is a class divide that needs to be bridged when you are talking about getting communities of color to care.

She also completely misses talking about what people in prison can do, are doing, and have historically done. And just like in that Attica uprising in 1971, the Georgia prisoner strike cuts across racial divides. All white people are not middle/professional/managerial class swing voters. There are a lot of “poor white trash” out there that are directly affected by the system. When people talk about how to get white people to care, they seem to write those people off. We’ve been so convinced that poor white people are hopeless.

We should be paying attention to these prison strikes. They are a very important part of how we are going to end the prison state. We also need to be careful when we talk about the most affected. We need to consider that those people are going to look different in different places, that class is a major factor in incarceration, and that classism is a major obstacle to ending it. We shouldn’t just write off the poor white people who are targets. And we sure as hell shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that those liberal, white voters are going to be more likely to tip scales in the right direction. I think they are – for the most part – going to be dragged kicking and screaming.

___________

More info on the Black Agenda Report

Tosh and the Problem with “Rape Culture”

July 16, 2012 By: Mel Category: Conflict, Stratification

Daniel ToshBy now you have no doubt heard that Daniel Tosh suggested it would be funny if a woman in his audience was gang raped and the internets are ablaze with talk of rape culture. I wasn’t planning on weighing in on this. Frankly, I just wasn’t that interested in the controversy. But since a friend of mine asked for my thoughts, here they are.

If Dave Chappelle can make slavery funny and Mel Brooks can make The Holocaust funny, then anything can be funny – even rape. In fact, since rape was a huge part of both, they kinda did. Comedians can be, not just the most incisive social critics, but true artists. An artist is someone who is able to turn something painful and ugly into something beautiful, thought provoking or challenging.

Tosh is no artist.

The problem isn’t so much the subject matter, but the fact that so much of our popular culture is designed for people who do not want to think and who have enough privilege not to have to. Sometimes it is asshats who entertain people by trying to be as offensive as possible. Sometimes it is What Not to Wear. We all need a little escapism, but that shouldn’t mean a constant stream of distractions to feed willful ignorance.

But to be honest, I am not much more impressed with the backlash against Tosh. Something always gnaws at me when I read articles about rape culture. It is that they so rarely make any connections between the rape of women by men and other forms of violence.

We live in a violent, authoritarian culture. The lower you are on the hierarchy, the more likely you are to experience violence. And if you want to gain status in our society, you do it by perpetrating violence. If you are a woman, black, brown, gay, trans, poor…abusing you is the means by which other people climb the ladder.

Every person who supports war, prisons, policing, and violent bonding rituals contributes to a culture of violence. Every person who admires someone because of their ability to perpetrate violence – whether it is a cop, a soldier, a street thug, or a movie hero – is contributing to the culture of violence that enforces our social hierarchies.

I am not saying that people should not talk about the specific ways that oppression manifests itself. It is a huge mistake to try to gloss over those differences in order to come together. When people say that we should just focus on how we are all oppressed as “the working class” or some other supposedly all-encompassing label, I always cringe a little. Efforts for unity without specificity always serve to do the opposite of what is intended. They erase people’s experiences and so end up dividing us more.

But neither can we speak about the specifics without making the connections. Rape won’t end if we speak about rape culture without connecting it to all the other manifestations of violence and subjugation. If we can learn to speak about how the systems affect us (making sure that the most targeted and erased people are front and center) and with an understanding of how things are connected, then we might start to get somewhere.

Encouraging (in)Visibility

July 13, 2012 By: Mel Category: Core, Seeking, Stratification

I am one of those people who would rather be in the coffin than delivering the eulogy.  I am also one of those people who takes a while to get to know someone, especially when I’m thrown into a whole group of new people. The result of those two things is that I am often “encouraged” to speak more in groups or on panels…

While I sometimes kinda sorta appreciate the sentiment behind it, mostly I get pretty fucking irritated.

Much of this “encouragement” comes in the form of “we need more women’s voices,” as was suggested to me in the context of the criminal (in)justice committee. That’s true.  But women aren’t interchangeable. We don’t need just any woman’s voice. We need the women who are most affected by the issues we are talking about.

There are women out there who have been in prison. There are women out there who have been taking care of their kids, their brother’s kids, and their neighbor’s kids while everybody else is in prison. And they have been doing it making poverty wages, living in low intensity conflict zones, and completely erased from the public eye – unless it is to vilify them as crack whores or welfare queens.  Those are the women who need to be heard and who probably have a damn good idea of what needs to be done.

And even when people are seeking out the women who can actually speak to the issue in question, their participation is just a diversity box that people are checking off.  It is infuriating when someone suggests that “gender balance” has been addressed by having one woman on a panel full of dudes, as someone I was working with recently claimed.

Admittedly, even under circumstances where I should speak more, I don’t do it. I realize that is a problem. And while there are plenty of men out there who also hate being the center of attention, it seems to be something that the women I know struggle with more.

We are socialized in a way that encourages men to  expect to be center stage and women to expect to be invisible. There are a lot of women who are brought up to be housewives and secretaries, to do invisible work, to be “the woman behind the man.” Not to mention how often visibility means a whole lot of unpleasant attention.

And all of us are brought up to believe that the only people that count are the dudes that make pretty speeches. That’s why everybody knows who MLK was and almost nobody knows who Ella Baker was, much less Diane Nash or any of the other women of that era. What I would really like to know is – Who typed MLKs speeches? Who kept track of all the vehicles that drove people around during the bus boycotts? Who brought the food to the nightly church meetings so that entire families could come out and plan direct actions?

Speeches are inspiring. But speaking is not doing.

The challenge for a lot of us women is that the expectation of being invisible often leads to wanting to be invisible.  That’s a problem. But I think the challenge is even more difficult for those people who not only expect to be center stage, but don’t even seem to see all the invisible work that the charismatic male leader is just a symbol of.

We don’t need to be checking gender boxes. We shouldn’t be falling into the trap of thinking that center stage means more important.  And we damn well shouldn’t be “encouraging” people to play symbolic roles.  What we should be doing is thinking about what our role should be in a given context and then stepping up or stepping back accordingly.

Book Review – Sex at the Margins

May 14, 2012 By: Mel Category: Book, Sex, Stratification

Sex at the Margins: Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue IndustrySex at the Margins: Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry by Laura Maria Agustin My rating: 4 of 5 stars Laura Agustin has a remarkable ability to turn things on their head.If you read her blog, you’ll be familiar with the narratives that she contests. But the book really brings it all together. The narrative is that all women who do sex work are victims. Nobody would ever chose to do that work. They have been coerced or duped. They need to be rescued. Triple that for migrants. But who is a migrant? Why are some people called migrants while others are called travelers, tourists, expats? A privileged person might go to another country to work a bit and have an adventure. But a poor person is only seen to be pushed out because of conflict or pulled in to earn money and nothing else – as though a worker is the only thing they are. Never do you hear that a poor woman wants to migrate in order to get new experiences or find herself. That’s just reserved for the wealthy. Why is sex work treated so differently from other work? Why is it assumed to be worse than housekeeping, nannying, working in a factory, or investment banking at Goldman Sachs? Domestics are exempted from even the most basic employment laws. They are at the beck and call of the family they work for, often 24/7. Most people say that freedom and flexibility are the things they most want from their jobs. Yet we are all blind to that desire when it comes to women who are choosing between sex work and domestic service. It is difficult to find a rational reason for people to look at sex work as so much more exploitative than all the other types of work out there. Why is it so clear to people that sex work is problematic, but so difficult for people to see how dehumanizing other work is? Even more problematically, many of the women who work in the rescue industries are more than happy to use poor women as domestics while they pursue their careers. One of the most interesting parts of the book for me is the history of how the helping industry came to be, how middle class women with few options made careers out of charity work. But charity work requires victims to be saved, whether or not those people want the “help”. It is always difficult to find the balance between considering the social circumstances and systemic injustices that limit people’s choices while still respecting people. All people, regardless of their constraints, should be seen as full human beings with the ability to make decisions. Too often we see problems as statistics and certain people as acted upon only. This book tips the scales back in the direction of full human being. View all my reviews