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

What’s Different with Trayvon?

March 29, 2012 By: Mel Category: Conflict, Stratification

Last week I wrote about how I think that the Rush Limbaugh shit storm was in large part because of who the target was, how people perceived her, and what they thought their role towards her should be.  Now I’m thinking about how much attention the Trayvon Martin murder has gotten and why.

Black kids are killed all the time. They are killed on the streets. They are killed by cops. They are killed by prison guards. Why did this one cause such an uproar while the others end in silence?

There is this idea that racism is only personal prejudice – extreme personal prejudice. George Zimmerman confirms that view of racism for us. Racists are those southern, white, redneck, low-class, militia, KKK types. And in this case, we even have a German name for added umph. You can practically see the Hollywood script being written.

When some southern vigilante kills a black kid, everyone can be up in arms without questioning our society and all the institutions in it. Not so when it is a cop or a prison guard. When an “authority” does it, we either have to accept it or question authority. Not so when racism is not personal prejudice but systemic, institutionalized, economic and social subjugation. Then the fault is not some redneck. Then the fault is ours.

It is true that some people are making the connections, but how many? How long will that last? And why does it have to take a kid murdered by a stereotype to make people pay attention? Weren’t all those other dead kids human too?

Probably not. At least not in the minds of a lot of people.

Not surprisingly, the dehumanization of Trayvon has begun. Somewhere along the line we have accepted that a person who smoked pot once or did one stupid thing in their life deserves to suffer for all eternity, or even die for their arguable imperfections. Only in a truly sick society would any of the accusations – true or not – matter at all.

Be upset that some kid was shot down in the street. But be more upset that so many people accept a society that glosses over its racism by focusing only on people like Zimmerman. Be more upset about the millions of people who languish or die in prisons because we have accepted dehumanization as a way of life.

Using Prejudice

March 22, 2012 By: Mel Category: Seeking, Stratification

I’ve been watching the fall of Rush Limbaugh with a certain amount of glee, but also with some ambivalence. I’m perfectly happy for him to get shit for calling Sandra Fluke a slut after testifying about contraceptives. But I am wondering why all his other equally offensive comments didn’t come with the same amount of backlash. Why did he go too far this time?

He went too far because he directed his comments toward someone who is put on a pedestal. I don’t mean her as an individual. I mean a young, white, college student who fits the idea of what is pure and good and needs to be protected. If Fluke was a prostitute,  if she lived in a trailer, if she wasn’t white, if the news media had been able to traipse out a parade of guys she had slept with, if she was trans, if she was a guy – then things would have played out very differently.

I was thinking about this the other day when someone was telling me how Occupy received good press in the beginning and then it turned, at least in the mainstream media. But that isn’t really true. Occupy wasn’t receiving much press until some white women in New York were kettled and maced by cops. The police had crossed a cultural line.

When a Hollywood movie wants to show us that the character is a bad guy, what do they do? They have him hurt a woman. If they want to show that he is a good guy, what do they do? They have the dude rescue some woman in distress. So when somebody attacks a woman who fits the mold of who is supposed to be rescued, all hell breaks loose.

There are some times when using sexism is about the only available option. The Madres de la Plaza de Mayo were able to protest when nobody else could. Not even the dirty war government of Argentina could mow down a bunch of mothers and grandmothers. But in protesting, they also reinforced the idea of  our role as mothers, of women as non-threatening.

So I have been thinking about whether or not it is possible to use stereotypes and prejudices without reinforcing them.

The only example I can think of so far is Budrus. (If you have not seen the movie about one of the towns in Palestine that is fighting that Israeli wall, you should.) Women were not involved at first. But the daughter of one of the leaders convinced her father to let the women protest.  Faced with the Israeli bulldozers she thought, correctly, that they would be more hesitant to run over women. It worked.

In the case of Budrus, they were both challenging their role in their community and using sexism at the same time. But that seems to me to be pretty rare. And it is such a difficult line to walk.

It isn’t just reserved for gender roles and stereotypes either. Dave Chappelle has an amazing ability to use stereotypes to deflate them. I love the skit he did on whether or not white people can dance. But Chappelle has said that one of the reasons he quit the show was because of “the realization that his racially charged comedy was too often lost on an audience a little too enthusiastic about repeating the N-word.” In other words, he was afraid he was just reinforcing the stereotypes and prejudices he was trying to challenge.

Can people use prejudice to fight for justice? Or is it always destined to backfire in the long run?


Women and Politics

November 18, 2009 By: Mel Category: Politics

Amazingly, there are still people out there who claim that women just aren’t interested in politics.  I discovered this when I started nosing around on Libertarian blogs where they wondered why there weren’t more women in their midst.

Allison Brown says “I personally know no other female libertarians, and when I discuss the topic with other women they’re generally apathetic on the topic of politics in general, and libertarianism in particular.”  Rather than actually looking for information on women and political interest, Allison just proceeds into some drivel about women being emotional and less independent (more on that in upcoming posts).

Terje, a commenter at Thoughts on Freedom, also wonders about our interest in political debate, saying:

The extent to which women are involved in political debate at all (libertarian or otherwise) is a relevant consideration. Maybe men are more prone biologically to expend energy scaning the horizon for signs of trouble/opportunity whilst women are more interested in more immediate concerns.

Let’s break this down a bit shall we?

First of all, we have to define “political”.  You don’t get to define political as only that which entails a theoretical circle jerk between privileged people with way too much free time.  Politics isn’t only that which has no immediate application to reality.  “Immediate concerns” like being able to feed your family are political.  It isn’t that women aren’t interested in politics.  It is that some people define politics so narrowly that it only applies to pseudo philosophers.

Access to water is an immediate need and a dilemma often left up to poor women to grapple with.  Who has access to water sources, whether or not water is privatized or a public utility, whether or not water sources are protected from pollution – these are all very political issues connected with a very immediate need.

So lets look at a few proxies for women’s political interest.  Do women:

  1. vote?
  2. participate in public protest?
  3. follow the news?
  4. study political science?
  5. run for public office?

Women vote.  In fact, in the United States, women vote in higher numbers and in higher proportions than men do.  Even in Afghanistan, 40 – 55% of women braved the polls this year, despite Taliban threats.  And in 2004, when things seemed somewhat safer, 70% of Afghani women voted.

Public protests are filled with women.  Perhaps the most famous protester in the United States is Medea Benjamin of Code Pink.  And it was s a woman, Neda Agha-Soltan, whose death became the symbol of Iranian protest.  Even in the most repressive regimes, women like the Madres de Plaza de Mayo continued stand up when nobody else was.

Women follow the news.  Women are more likely to follow network news (morning shows, nightly news, and news magazines).  They are almost as likely to watch cable news.  What women are somewhat less likely to do is read newspapers, listen to talk radio or get their news online.

News sources by gender

News sources by gender

Perhaps women don’t read newspapers like the Washington Post because 90% of the Post’s opinion pieces are written by men.  Perhaps they don’t want to listen to vile shmucks like Rush Limbaugh on the radio.  Perhaps women don’t spend as much time online because they are actually working at their desks (not me, obviously, but some women).  Whatever the reasons for the differences in news sources between men and women, it is clear that women are following the news.

As for political science, according to the American Political Science Association, 42% of all PhDs in political science go to women.  It is true the number of women who complete the tenure track to become full professors is only a fraction of the number of men.  As the APSA report shows, that isn’t due to lack of interest, but to less support and more responsibilities.

Obviously, there are far less women in public office than there are men.*  There are people who would like to claim this is due to lack of interest.  There are people who would like to claim that women are less ruthless and power hungry. I would like to believe it is because all those women are secret anarchists, but I think we all know it is much more likely a result of the barriers to women being elected to office.

So no, my Libertarian friends, a lack of political interest is not the reason there aren’t more women in your midst.


*Only Rwanda has near parity in male/female political representation.

Ignoring Elites is so Elitist

November 06, 2009 By: Mel Category: Core, Politics, Seeking, Stratification

Jim Vandehei and Mike Allen at Politico wrote a story about how Obama’s White House is “working systematically to marginalize the most powerful forces behind the Republican Party.”

The Heritage Foundation quoted that story and then did a fascinating little maneuver where they tried to turn “the most powerful forces behind the Republican Party” into the “average Americans” that progressives have “contempt” for.

The argument goes like this.  Obama’s people are shutting out the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Rush Limbaugh, Wall Street executives, and Fox News.  This shutout shows that Obama is targeting those organizations, just like Saul Alinsky advises people to target their enemy in his book Rules for Radicals.

Alinsky said that the middle class was “materialistic, decadent, bourgeois, degenerate, imperialistic, war-mongering, brutalized, and corrupt.”  Ergo, Obama, who is using Alinsky’s tactics, has contempt for the middle class.  Since all Americans are, of course, middle class; Obama hates you and wants his elite friends to make all your decisions for you.

Let’s break that down a little.  Wall Street executives, whose bonuses are being paid with the tax money Obama gave them, are feeling shut out?  Even better – Wall Street, Rush Limbaugh and Fox News are “average Americans?”

And, goodness me, aside from Saul Alinsky, no one on earth has ever attacked (by ignoring) another person – not ever.  So this must be an Alinsky thing, cause the world of politics was all civility and roses aside from that.

Oh, I could go on and on.

What should we take from this (aside from the fact that Heritage is full of shit)?

Republicans have done a very good job of painting Democrats as elitist.  That isn’t particularly difficult.  Democrats are elitist.  So are Republicans.  This whole town is elitist and everybody is working to get their elites as much as they can.

The good news is that many (most?) Americans, while still widely accepting of all the hierarchies that prop those elitists up, have a little voice in their head that responds negatively to the idea that ivy league Wall Street schmucks should get bonuses for screwing us or that you need alphabet soup at the end of your name in order to be capable of making a decision.

That’s why people respond to messaging like that.  And that’s a good thing. Or, at least, it could be if people besides The Heritage Foundation were tapping into it.