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
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Archive for the ‘Violence’

The Tulsa Riot: Violence and Erasure

July 23, 2014 By: Mel Category: Violence

Downtown Tulsa 2006A while back I came across this article about freeway removals. My first thought was – cool. My next thought was – I wonder what was there before the freeways. That got me thinking about Tulsa, Oklahoma.

For the Creeks, the trail of tears ended in what is now Tulsa.  That tragedy of displacement is how Tulsa became part of Indian Territory. Some of those “Indians” who were driven to Oklahoma brought African descended slaves with them. Other black people came post reconstruction, trying to get a little land out from under the violence of the South. Some of those black immigrants were exodusters who set up entirely black communities in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Colorado. Mexican immigrants also arrived in larger numbers as the pre-civil war situation in Mexico became more dire.

The thing about small places with few riches and loose rules is that they tend to open up space for the kinds of relations that are forbidden and erased later. Our popular cultural narratives whiten everything so thoroughly. We think we are looking at the white supremacy of the past. And we are. But we are looking at it through the white supremacy of the present. When you actually read honest sources about “frontier towns” and early contact, you almost inevitably find that things were much more complicated and diverse than we are led to believe.

All of which is to say that early Tulsa wasn’t segregated. Several of the downtown businesses were owned by black people. But by the time Oklahoma got statehood in 1907, six years after oil was discovered and after an influx of white immigrants, Tulsa was on its way to becoming the most segregated city in America. Miscegenation was a felony. Blacks were required to take literacy tests before voting. Lynchings like that of Laura Nelson, who was gang raped before being hung with her young son, were photographed and advertised to terrify black people.

(Amazing what starts happening when somebody discovers oil and all the greedy shitbags in the world start descending on a place. I believe we are now referring to this as the “resource curse.”)

Two black men had purchased a bunch of Tulsa property at the turn of the century and sold parcels of it to other black people. The idea was to set up a black community that could provide some security and mutual support. That community became the Greenwood District. People referred to Greenwood as “The Black Wall Street.” But most people were far from rich. Many were dependent on the white families they worked for as domestics. Much like in poor, urban, black neighborhoods today; city services were nonexistent.

(If you want to see who a city cares about, see which neighborhoods get their trash picked up.)

In 1921 Tulsa, the Drexel Building had one of the only bathrooms that black people could use in the downtown area. The elevator of the building was operated by a white girl named Sarah Page. A shoe-shine boy named Dick Rowland got into the elevator. Stories differ on what happened next. But Rowland was accused of assaulting Page. And that is when all hell broke loose. Rowland was arrested and the Tulsa Tribune front page announced “Negro assaults a white girl!”

I won’t go into how often the black rapist lie has been used to justify atrocities. I’ve written about it before and probably will again. But I genuinely wonder if anyone has ever tried to compile a list of all the horrors that start out with some supposed violation of a white woman. That is never the real story, of course.

The real story is that Tulsa was a cesspool of racism. Also, by 1921, there was an active labor movement that was striking all over the place and powerful people were antsy. Black people who had served in WWI were coming home and expecting to be treated human. They were also armed and trained. In short, people were standing up for their rights.

So when rumors of a lynching started and a crowd of white people gathered in front of the courthouse and refused to disperse, the black community was not going to just hide. Black people in Greenwood, including veterans, got together to talk about how they could prevent a lynching. At 7:30, 30 armed black people went to the courthouse but were sent off by the black deputy. A couple hours later, 25 armed black people returned and demanded Rowland. By this time, Rowland’s innocence was confirmed by the accuser, but he supposedly couldn’t be released until a judge was available in the morning.

Later that night, white people started arming themselves and tried to break into an armory. Armed blacks followed. There was a struggle when a white man tried to get a black man’s gun from him. Black Tulsans retreated to the Greenwood District. There was fighting in the streets. The national guard was called in. “Deputized” white men roamed all over the city robbing stores and taking the law into their own hands. Greenwood was invaded. Homes were looted and set on fire. Airplanes few overhead.  Many black witnesses say that those airplanes were dropping bombs on the city. Officials deny it to this day. Pictures of the aftermath speak for themselves.

Nobody has an accurate death toll from the riot. Some estimates go into the hundreds. But black Tulsans were not allowed to bury their dead. People don’t even know what happened to the bodies, though archeaologists have been trying to find out. Nobody faced consequences for the destruction. Donations were rejected by the city, which provided no help to those who tried to rebuild. Instead the city passed ordinances to make rebuilding difficult, worked on rezoning the area, and gave land away to whatever industry came along.

The history of the riots was completely erased by white Tulsa. School children knew nothing about it. No mention was made by officials. Then in the 1950s, as with so many other communities that the power structure found inconvenient, Greenwood was wiped out for an expressway.

Back when I was going to Tulsa quite often, I learned about the riots and decided to go see the area. That is how I found myself standing under a desolate highway overpass wondering how Oklahoma’s version of a pogrom could warrant so little attention. And that is why, when I hear about all these groovy projects for green spaces and bike lanes and farmers markets, I wonder what stood there before and how it was chased off.

Places change. People move on. Others move in. Buildings need to be replaced. Priorities change. But nobody should proceed as if the past never happened, much less actively work to erase it. All over, for as long as we have records and right up to the present, this violence and erasure keeps happening. Maybe you call it colonialism or gentrification or urban renewal or land grabbing. It’s all the same shit. People are killed. They are forced out. They are erased and their culture, history, and struggle is erased with them.

We always need to be asking what and who was there before. There is no hope of acting justly without understanding where we are now and how we got here.

___________________

Much of the info for this article came from James Hirsch’s book Riot and Remembrance: The Tulsa Race War and Its Legacy. Bit of the background came from Danney Goble’s book Tulsa: Biography of the American City.

Identity, Decolonization, and Justice

April 15, 2014 By: Mel Category: Anarchism, Change, Violence

Anti-Colonial Anarchism or Decolonization

A friend of mine posted this to facebook. One of the commenters asked how far back we are supposed to go.

The thing about colonization, land grabs, genocide, slavery, gentrification – whatever manifestation of deciding you want something from people and just taking it – is that erasure is a key component. Which means the people that can go the farthest back are the people who are writing the wrong history.

A few years ago there was a post on Womanist Musings about how she could not trace her family history because she is the descendant of slaves. I also cannot trace my history. I am adopted and information about my biological relations is not available to me. My adopted family has a trail that ends in the holocaust or the pogrom. Who knows where all those wandering Jews wandered/were exiled from.

Getting to the origin of things is impossible. But we should still try. Because if you think about how hard oppressors have worked to destroy the histories of people, then you know just how important it is to protect and resurrect as much of it as you can. There is a reason why the Spanish destroyed the codices.

But when it comes to seeking justice, it is the present that is the most important thing.

The thing about this graphic, and the post that went with it, is that it is so easy to interpret it as referring to family history rather than current power imbalances. The history of one Spanish descended person in South America is not the important thing. The important thing is the unequal power of that descendant in the here and now. The important thing is the wealth that was extracted and continues to be extracted. They are injustices that have roots in history, but would still be problematic if they were new.

I agree that roots are important. I agree that we should be undoing our collective mindfuck – whether that is reclaiming indigenous beliefs or coming up with new ones. But identity and history are incredibly complicated. How do the principles outlined in this graphic get applied when the Cherokee nation decides to expel the descendants of black slaves who took the trail of tears with them?

For me the question is always about what is happening right now. What is most important to address right now? Who is suffering right now? What is the history that got us here, in all of its complexity, and how do we stop the bleeding?

Some Thoughts on Violence, Self Defense, and Consent

March 11, 2014 By: Mel Category: Violence

Nikita TV Show trainingYou can’t be amongst radicals for more than 9 seconds without getting into a discussion about whether or not people should use violence or whether or not property destruction is violence.

As I’ve said before, I think people who are very good at violence and cruelty are usually not so great at building a new and just society. As for property destruction being violent, the answer is…sometimes. Is it violence when the army comes and burns down an entire village leaving people homeless and hungry? Fuck yes. Is it violence when there is a controlled explosion of a building so that something new can take its place? Of course not.

I have been against war since I was old enough to understand what it was. As a kid, I thought pacifist only meant being against war (which is still how some people define it).  And let me tell you, of all the things I have identified as over the years, that seems to be the one that pisses the most people off. Naturally, it makes me want to continue using it.

But as much as I love pissing people off, it makes me crazy when people equate pacifism with offering yourself up as a sacrificial lamb. If I had a nickel for every time someone responded by suggesting that I thought the person getting attacked in an alley should just sit there and die, I could take that bag of nickels and beat the crap out of them with it.

People have the right to defend themselves. The fact that so many people, especially women, end up in prison for defending themselves is unconscionable. But the tricky thing is that people are not usually attacked in an alley by a stranger. They are hurt by people they know. They are hurt by people they love. They are hurt by the people who they are often hesitant to hurt back. The kind of self-defense people usually refer to when talking about gun ownership or critiquing a wrong-headed view of pacifism does nothing to address the majority of rapes, assaults, child abuse…

When people are attacked by strangers, those attacks don’t always result in bloody noses or the need for a rape kit. The trail from perpetrator to victim is often murky. When a multinational company poisons the water, it may eventually end in deaths. But how do we self defend against that kind of thing? Self defense usually means imminent danger. (Unless of course you are a U.S. president. Then you get to define self-defense as a preemptive invasion.)

So the really clear cases of immediate violence are often perpetrated by people close to us and who we may not be inclined to punish severely because we see them as human beings.  In contrast, some of the most destructive kinds of violence are difficult to defend against because of distance – between perpetrator/victim and often between the act and its result. It is easy for some company who poisons the water to claim they didn’t know what they were doing. It is much more difficult to make an imminent danger defense when the crime is bureaucratic instead of in your face violent.

One of the many books I have been reading while on jury duty is Matt Hern’s One Game at a Time. (I’ll write more about it later. It’s fantastic). In it, Hern pushes back against the idea that sports – even fighting – are violent, saying that “violence is coercive by definition.” He also says:

The key pivot in identifying violence is agreement. Not unlike various forms of sexual activity (say BDSM, for example), physical contact, collisions, and even bodily damage is not violence if consent is present. There are any number of physical, aggressive, damaging, risky, and painful activities that we willingly and happily participate in that are not violence.

Seeing violence as coercion clarifies things a lot. It explains why that village being burned down is violent and the building destruction is not. It may even get at that multinational that poisoned the water. If the people didn’t want them there to begin with, then it is violence from the start. Of course it may be that the company arrived with promises of benefits. And that is where things get complicated. Because then we really have to start talking about consent.

What if a community consents to the destruction of their environment because of economic realities outside of their control? Can a person ever consent to working in a sweatshop given the sociopolitical circumstances in which any decisions happen? How does a community give consent if there is no consensus? How old does a person have to be to give consent? How neurologically typical does a person have to be to give consent? Do we err on the side of agency even if it means people may die?

These are some of the things one thinks about as you sit in a grand jury hearing about murders, rapes, child abuse… Horrific acts where the victimized go on to victimize others. A massive criminal injustice institution built for bureaucratic and sanitized violence. Very little questioning or thinking by the participants or those judging them. Holding some individuals solely responsible for acts that their social situation pushed them towards. Holding other individuals as helpless victims without agency.

 

Thanks NRA

December 24, 2012 By: Mel Category: Inequality, Violence

On Friday, Wayne LaPierre of the NRA held a press conference about the school shooting in Sandy Hook. Naturally, his suggestion was to put armed guards or police in every school. The liberal internets were immediately abuzz slamming one of their favorite bad guys. But nobody seemed to be mentioning the fact that this “crazy” idea from the “far right” NRA isn’t an idea at all. It’s already here.

“In 2009, according to the National Center for Education Statistics and the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 68 percent of American students reported the presence of security guards or police officers, or both, in their schools,” says the NYT. But those students aren’t being protected by the “good guys” with guns. They are being abused.

A Houston cop broke a kids jaw on the school bus. Another Texas 12-year-old was arrested for spraying perfume. In Connecticut, a kid was tased for allegedly trying to steal a Jamaican patty in the lunchroom. A California 5-year-old was arrested and charged with battery on a police officer. (Yes. You read that correctly. A 5-year-old.) Another California child, this time 7, was pepper sprayed for climbing on a bookshelf. A New York 12-year-old was arrested for the terrible crime of doodling about loving her friends.

These are not isolated incidents. During a three month period in 2011, an average of 5 students per day were arrested in New York. The Southern Poverty Law Center is suing Birmingham schools for their consistent use of pepper spray on students. Civil rights attorneys are suing Meridian, Mississippi for abusing their students’ civil rights so egregiously that even our sad justice department had to intervene. And then, of course, there are all the students and parents who end up in truancy court.

I could spend the rest of my year finding and posting stories like this, despite that fact that most of the incidents don’t get media attention and juvenile cases are sealed for their “protection”. Not that getting rid of school police and security would make all the abuses go away. The Government Accountability Office found hundreds of cases of kids being abused or killed by school staff.

Some students are far more frequently targets for school cops and administrators. More than 90 percent of arrests in New York in the 2011-12 school year were of black and Latino students. All over the country, students of color and students with disabilities are arrested and disciplined at higher rates“Gay and transgender youth, particularly gender nonconforming girls, are up to three times more likely to experience harsh disciplinary treatment by school administrators than their heterosexual counterparts.” 

And if those kids are unlucky enough to end up in juvenile detention, the abuse will only get worse. 12 percent of youth in juvenile facilities say they have been sexually abused, most often by staff. They are also beaten up, denied access to medical care, denied education, put in restraints, locked in solitary for days or weeks at a time, and sometimes killed. This state by state summary is just the tip of the iceberg.

After everyone started commenting on the NRA press conference, I tweeted that New York Times article and said, “Hey buttheads: 68% of students already have sec guards or police in their schools and it is a fucking disaster”. It got more retweets than anything I’ve ever put out there – by a landslide. I followed that up with some of those incidents above and people even tweeted those.

The thing is, I tweet and blog about these things all the time. In fact, almost everything in this post I have put out before. Nobody pays any attention. It seems people only care about this stuff if the NRA says it is a good idea. So thanks, NRA. Perhaps if you had a press conference every day to suggest that we inundate schools with police, arrest all the students of color, and torture kids for not being perfectly socialized automatons then people would notice. Maybe they’d even want to do something about it.

Really, Laura, Really?!

December 19, 2012 By: Mel Category: Politics, Violence

I had no intention of writing anything about the school shooting in Connecticut. Maybe Pablo Neruda could have found words to talk about something like that, but it is beyond my capacity.

I understand the desire for people to ask how it could happen and how we can prevent it from happening again. But there is a fine line between asking why and using a tragedy to push your pet policy positions or promote your philosophy. It isn’t a line I want to walk.

But then I read this piece on Jezebel and I just can’t let it go.

Some incredibly brave woman wrote about being the mother of a child with serious mental health problems. If you haven’t read I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother yet, do it now.

Try to imagine what it would be like to be that mother. Imagine trying to cope with your kid’s behavior. Imagine the terror every time you hear about a serial killer or mass murderer. Imagine having to wonder – Will I have to put him in prison? Will my kid kill himself? Will he kill me? Will he kill somebody else? What if my only option to stop him from killing me or someone else is to kill him? You know that thought has to have gone through her mind.

If that child ever does anything horrible, the first thing anyone will ask is where the parents were. No. Scratch that. They will ask where the mother was. They will want to assess blame. They will want to dissect every action that woman has taken. They will want to know why nobody was warned.

Well, we have been warned. And we have been pleaded with. That mother put all her anguish out for the world to see. But instead of thinking about how hard that was, how hard it must be to live like that, some compassion-challenged asshat at Jezebel called the woman’s torment a distraction.

A fucking distraction.

According to Laura Beck, we are supposed to leave mental health diagnosis to the experts. But someone whose last posts included World’s Best Airport Pianist and Alison Brie Loves to Rap, Danny Pudi Loves to Beat Box is fully qualified to declare that mental health care needs to take a back seat to gun control. And if that means using someone else’s tragedy and shitting all over a woman’s cry for help. Fuck em.

No. Laura. Fuck you.

I rarely blog anything truly personal, at least not the details. It is so difficult to dig up the most painful things that happen to you and lay them out for the world. And there are too many Lauras out there who can’t even see what it is that they are shitting on.

So when I read something like I am Adam Lanza’s Mother, the only thing I am thinking about is what it would be like to experience that. I’m thinking how fucking hard it would be to share it and how hard it would be to not share it. And I’m thinking – Whatever you do, lady, don’t read the comments!

So, Laura Beck, how about this. How about you take the most awful thing that has ever happened to you in your life and write about it. How about you dredge up all the pain and splay it out for the internets to use and to tear apart and to tell you how your pain is completely besides the point. Maybe then you might find some tiny bit of compassion in there somewhere?

No? Well then stick to writing about airport pianists.

Shut Up, Be Perfect

December 18, 2012 By: Mel Category: Inequality, Violence

This weekend I got into an argument about music. The person I was arguing with was blasting gangsta rap for glorifying behavior that was ruining their own communities. He even went so far as to say that the music, and everything it stood for, was causing racism.

I went a little apoplectic.

I may not be a huge fan of music that is often violent, materialistic, and misogynist. But I’m not going to blame a musician for white flight, urban decay, omnipresent policing, mass incarceration, the drug war, shitty schools, racist employers… I’m not going to hold a musician responsible for racism because a white supremacist uses them as an excuse. And I am sure as hell not going to accept that kind of blaming coming from someone at the top of the privilege food chain – which he was.

I thought of writing about how racist and classist that shit is. I thought of writing about how difficult it is to balance individual responsibility with structural oppression. But what I really want to write about is having an outlet.

We live in a world that is completely fucked up and filled with pain. Yet we aren’t allowed to express how fucked up it is. We have no strategies for coping with pain. We don’t even want to hear about people’s pain, much less help them deal with it. We don’t want to know what goes on in people’s homes and neighborhoods if it isn’t shiny, happy, and uplifting. And if you have thoughts that fall outside the spectrum of what is socially acceptable, you better hide them or else.

I was filled with rage when I was a teen. And I had a lot less to be raging about than some people. There were times when I had incredibly violent thoughts. There were times when the targets of my anger were wildly off the mark. The only coping mechanisms I ever learned were denial, sarcasm, booze, and flight. I learned to internalize the rage. I drank it, smoked it, snorted it, and walled it off. And I walled off a lot of other emotions with that rage too.

And that’s the way a lot of people like it.

People don’t want to know about your anger, righteous or not. Just take a Xanax and numb it so nobody has to see it. Don’t say anything inappropriate. Don’t wear your heart on your sleeve  Don’t cry in public. Don’t yell. Don’t make a scene. Don’t be destructive. Don’t be embarrassing. Don’t be perverted. Don’t admit that some things might not be fixable. Don’t show people things that they don’t want to see.

And whatever you do, make sure whatever coping mechanisms you have don’t get in the way of you being a good worker bee. Cause if you can’t manage to find and put up with a degrading 9 – 5 that pays your rent and rehab bills, we don’t want to know you.

I may hate violence, but I understand rage. I may hate materialism, but I understand the desire to have things when you’ve had to struggle. I understand that it is hard to live in a society where you gain status through violence and money without internalizing it. And I really understand how difficult it is to even acknowledge a maelstrom of emotions, much less channel them into something constructive. I understand that sometimes you just need to scream some shit out and have some person somewhere acknowledge that what you see is real and it is fucked up.

I’m not saying that cultural products don’t matter. They influence the way we look at the world. We should criticize them. But we can’t blame them for our social ills. Sometimes the most offensive things can start useful discussions. Sometimes a person just needs an outlet to express their emotions, horrible as they may be. If singing about something keeps you from doing it, that’s a good thing. If singing about something makes someone else think they should do it, the problem isn’t the song but the fact that the other person didn’t have an outlet themselves.

We are never going to have a world where nobody thinks terrible thoughts, hates irrationally,  or is just unable to deal with their pain. I don’t think any of us will be alive to see a world without poverty, violence, and oppression. Maybe if we gave people a little more space to express their fuckedupedness, instead of pretending like people pop out of the womb with all the answers and have perfect understanding at age 18, we could minimize the harm we do to ourselves and others.

But instead of trying to understand where the rage comes from and why so many people identify with it, we just tell people to shut up.

Thoughts on Societal Mental Illness

September 21, 2012 By: Mel Category: Drugs, Sex, Violence

Make a claim that one snort of cocaine makes you irredeemably insane and people will line up behind laws that lock cocaine users up for life. But read that 73% of incarcerated women have mental health issues and many of those same people will find it a compelling argument against mass incarceration. (Private prison companies, of course, just see it as another opportunity to make money.)

Why?

There is a really interesting article about pedophiles on Wandervogel Diary. The thing that struck me the most was this.

Studies have consistently shown that pedophilia is associated with anomic states (war, famine, epidemics) and with major life crises (failure, relocation, infidelity of spouse, separation, divorce, unemployment, bankruptcy, illness, death of the offender’s nearest and dearest).

Few things cause a social panic quite like pedophilia. I don’t think most people ask where it comes from. It is seen as some individual aberration. If anyone wonders what went wrong, they probably blame it on porn or a lack of religious morality.  Which is ironic given that porn may actually prevent sex offenses and religiosity increase them.

If war is associated with pedophilia, then pedophilia is not an individual aberration. It is a societal disease. We are creating pedophiles in the same way we are creating self-medicating soldiers. And when we put people in prison for doing cocaine, especially if they end up in solitary, we may actually end up creating someone who won’t be able to function in society.

Perhaps at some level we realize that these are all monsters of our own making, that the things we do out of fear end up creating exactly what we are afraid of.

There is more I want to say about this. But I’m cutting myself off because I really want you to read this post on the scapegoating of “crazy”.  Love to hear your thoughts.

 

Victims, Villains, and Heroes

September 14, 2012 By: Mel Category: Inequality, Violence

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.

Beware of Strange Men on Airplanes

August 26, 2012 By: Mel Category: Inequality, Sex, Violence

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.

Tosh and the Problem with “Rape Culture”

July 16, 2012 By: Mel Category: Inequality, Violence

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.