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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Planned Parenthood Is About to Get Slammed

July 16, 2014 By: Mel Category: Sex

Fifty Shades of Grey Party GameYou might know by now that I stay on the Heritage Foundation email list for my daily dose of bullshit induced rage. Today’s rage comes courtesy of secret videos filmed in Planned Parenthood offices. They are very similar to the ones that took down Acorn. This time they are sending young women in to pose as underage girls who ask for advice about BDSM.

You can read the article and watch the video here.

These are some really slimy tactics. And the anti BDSM scaremongering is repugnant. The people who work at PP are clearly trying to be non-judgmental to their patients. But they are also clearly not giving good advice. Nobody in their right mind should tell anyone of any age to read Fifty Shades of Grey for sex ideas. If you want to know why, feel free to check out the serial review of that monstrous book on The Pervocracy or this shorter (and hilarious) Goodreads review by Katrina Passick Lumsden.

As slimy as these tactics are, they are not wrong that these people are giving bad advice. Of course, I have very different ideas about what good sex advice would be.

This is going to go very badly for Planned Parenthood.

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Am I The Only One Who Wants to Slap Michael Pollan?

June 04, 2014 By: Mel Category: Inequality

string beansApparently, Michael Pollan has another book out and this time he is preaching about home cooking.

My mother did the vast majority of the cooking when I was growing up. Shopping and cooking seemed to take up the bulk of her week. And she got little pleasure from it. It was an obligation and a chore. So when Michael Pollan says that “we have dropped the amount of time we spend on cooking by about a half an hour since 1965,” I want to know whose hours those were. And who do you need to be for a half hour to seem like nothing?

I used to work with a woman who had a full-time job, full-time school, and two children. The only moments she had to herself were the ones she stole to smoke a cigarette in the bathroom of her apartment, usually with two little boys knocking on the door. But Pollan says “it’s important to look at what you’re doing with that half-hour and whether it’s more valuable to you.” Because clearly anyone who is not cooking for their kids is just flitting away their time on nonsense.

A couple hours after reading that Pollan interview I read a piece in the Post about how people are actually more stressed at home than at work. Sadly, it doesn’t break down the study by single/coupled and parent/childfree. But it does make clear that women are much more stressed at home than men are. Because the expectation is that you come home from work and then need to worry about cleaning, cooking, carpooling, planning…

I know how much time my mother spent shopping and cooking every week. And I know how many weeks have gone by where I have spent zero time shopping and cooking. So I think Pollan’s 30 minutes per day stat is horseshit. But lets say for a moment that I buy into that. Here is a small sample of things I would rather do than cook.

  • eat
  • drink
  • read
  • write
  • sleep
  • have sex
  • paint
  • sail
  • travel
  • volunteer
  • research
  • raise hell

Not necessarily in that order.

Does Pollan know about the people who live on a few hours sleep per night because they cannot squeeze work, laundry, and child rearing into a day? Has he never known a new mother who hasn’t taken a shower in 3 days because there was no opportunity? Does he know the guilt bombs that are lobbed at women who dare to take a moment for themselves?

Pollan is just adding to that little voice that tells people, especially mothers, that they are selfish shits if every moment isn’t dedicated to being a Stepford wife.  He is that person who makes a woman feel bad for hitting the McDonalds drive through and taking a 30 minute bath – the only time she will have to herself that day. But really, what are the chances that the Berkeley-educated, white boy, son of a financial consultant and a writer , who was born in the 50′s would have any clue what life would be like for a Haitian immigrant woman with three housekeeping jobs and a gaggle of kids to take care of?

I know that the food system is fucked up. I know that the majority of the working poor work in food services. I know that the processed foods we eat are deadly. I actually do agree with the general goals of Pollan’s work. But you cannot talk about cooking without any mention of how gendered a task it has been. And you cannot talk about taking time to cook without any understanding of how little extra time some people have.

He deserves to have a dozen poor, overworked mothers take one of his books and smack him over the head with it. Luckily for him, they don’t have the time.

Why Are There No Mom Jokes?

March 07, 2014 By: Mel Category: Culture

Ad for Home Improvement TV ShowI’m working on ten bazillion posts that will not be ready for a bit. But in the meantime a possibly irrelevant, but possibly not, question has occurred to me.

If I say a “dad joke,” most of you know exactly what I mean. Many of us had fathers who told really corny jokes and thought they were hilarious. I feel like a disproportionate amount of them were puns. There are even tumblrs for dad jokes. But when I googled mom jokes, all I got were Yo Mamma jokes. Particularly popular seem to be the “yo momma so fat” jokes. So we get to hate on mothers/women and fat people.  Always good to multitask. Ahem.

I started thinking about television shows. Granted, I am hardly an expert. I barely watch t.v. One of my friends has actually been known to apologize to me when group conversations inevitably turn to television talk. But from those shows I do remember, or have caught a piece of, the mom is always the serious one – sometimes even a curmudgeon.

The Cosby Show. Home Improvement. Everybody Loves Raymond.

What’s up with that? How come being a mom has to mean being humorless – or at least less humorous. Except for I Love Lucy, I can’t actually recall a show with a different dynamic. So all you television watchers out there need to help me out. Is there a whole bunch of t.v. that I am not picking up on or are we culturally trained by birth to think dads get to be goofy and moms have to rein in all the fun?

Harassment is About Power

August 22, 2013 By: Mel Category: Inequality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Stuff Dudes Do

June 04, 2013 By: Mel Category: Inequality

Mild rant warning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Problem With Gifted

May 14, 2013 By: Mel Category: Inequality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Schools Teach Shame and Bullying

January 23, 2013 By: Mel Category: Inequality, Sex

I came across this news story yesterday. Some school official told a girl’s mother that, if her daughter wanted to end the harassment she was subjected to, she should get a breast reduction. Because, you know, how dare you have a body that might make people think of sex.

And then there is the video posted up at Womanist Musings a little while back.  Teens were shown the story of Amanda Todd – the girl who was harassed, stalked, slut-shamed, abandoned by her friends, and eventually killed herself. Because god forbid you show your tits or have sex. And if you don’t have anything to show, you will get shamed for that too, as one of the girls in that video tearfully describes.

The school official that suggested a breast reduction isn’t some anomaly. @Pliny_theElder put it perfectly.

@ "shouldn't have dressed that way" reaches its logical conclusion: "shouldn't have been born that way"
@Pliny_theElder
Eugene V. Dubstep

School is all about control and shaming. And the kids learn to shame and bully just like the adults. Look at some of the tweets that went out yesterday with the tag #IGoToASchoolWhere

#igotoaschoolwhere the dress code is more important than the education. DON'T SHOW YOUR SHOULDER IT DISTURBS OTHER CHILDREN TRYIN TO LEARN
@TheDummiee
MarioPerez Jr
#IGoToASchoolWhere the teachers care more about what trousers/skirt you're wearing, than what grades you get.
@DaniChivers
Daniellee
#igotoaschoolwhere the uniform being worn properly is more important then the education
@kristenshepley
Kristen Shepley

Is it really a shock that, when a school spends all their time monitoring how much skin you are showing, you end up with comments like:

#igotoaschoolwhere some girls walk around half naked but demand respect from guys. #no
@sami_bourjas
sami bourjas

(92 retweets last I looked. The number of girls who retweeted that makes me want to vomit.)

People hear about Amanda Todd and ask what we should do about bullies in school. Administrators need to crack down. Parents need to get involved.  We better do away with free speech because of bullies. We should put students in jail for filming a fight, because that is cyberbullying. Kids are so mean and out of control. How can we better control them?

Kids are mean. They are mean precisely because parents, administrators, teachers, and every other adult they grow up around teaches them shame, shaming, and bullying every day of their lives. They are mean precisely because people are constantly trying to control them – their sexuality, their thoughts, their appearance, their dreams.

And the tinier the box we push kids into, the more nasty they will be in trying to keep other kids smashed into those same boxes. You want to know how adults can stop bullying? Stop being bullies.

P.S. That pic is from a story by Dick Gregory about how he learned shame in school.  Read it.

Book Review – The Occupy Handbook

October 16, 2012 By: Mel Category: Book

The Occupy HandbookThe Occupy Handbook by Janet Byrne

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I hate this book.

I really tried to give it a chance. But I knew going in that any book about occupy that was compiled by someone described as “an editor who has worked with Nobel Prize-winning economists, Pulitzer Prize-winning writers, and leading political figures, financial journalists, academics, and bestselling authors” was going to be a shit show. And a shit show it was.

It isn’t that all the essays are crap. Some of them are quite good. The first section breaks down the financial crisis and brings in some history of previous people’s movements. The second section talks about occupy itself. The third section, the part that really sealed my hatred, is about what we should do now.

What are the proposed solutions? Campaign finance reform. Corporate regulations. Environmental regulations. Progressive taxation. Elect a different congress. Smart loans…Are you still awake? The only reason I haven’t passed out from boredom is that I want shake these people until their heads pop off.

Dear asshats who think everything will be solved if we just all rally around one magic, conservative/liberal bullet like ending corporate personhood. Please take your brilliant idea to someone sitting in prison for twenty years on a weed charge, with all the fabulous opportunities they have to look forward to when they get out, and tell them they need to set aside their pet issues (aka their life) and lobby for some bullshit bill. And if you wouldn’t mind filming that for me.

But the contributors to this book weren’t thinking about people in prison. They weren’t thinking about anything that doesn’t affect them. And who are they? There are 66 contributors to this book. Fifteen of them are women. One of those women is just an interviewer. Eight of them are co-authors with some dude. One of those women is Asian. There is one black man who contributed an essay. Three Indians (by which I mean grew up in India) are contributors. 61 of the 66 authors are white (though eight of those people are from Argentina, Chile, Cuba, Spain, or Turkey). 52 out of 66 authors have grad degrees. At least 35 of them went to school or taught at Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Columbia, MIT, Georgetown, or Oxford.

This book is the antithesis of what occupy was supposed to be about. The book oozes status, hierarchy, academic circle jerks, and conservative/liberal “solutions” that nip around the edges of the system, but have no interest in actually changing it – much less getting rid of it. This book is the worst kind of racism, sexism, and classism. It is the kind that just erases anyone outside of their tiny, elite circle. It is the kind that wraps itself up in a pretty package of intellectualism.

The reason occupy has been so damn difficult is that the people involved had to confront head on all of the issues that this book ignores – often failing spectacularly. But at least there was some space for people who didn’t have the kind of pedigrees that the contributors to this book have. The reason occupy took off is precisely because it created a space for people to be heard, to negotiate directly with other people, to come up with ideas outside the usual bullshit that kept most of us at home drinking ourselves into stupors and yelling at our televisions.

The last thing we need is a bunch of essays compiled by some woman who creams her pants every time she meets a white dude with a PhD from an Ivy League school.

View all my reviews

Drug War History – And So It Begins

September 17, 2012 By: Mel Category: Drugs

Reefer MadnessWhile I was pulling up articles for my last post, I re-read the infamous New York Times piece Negro Cocaine “Fiends” Are a New Southern Menace. The article is a very convoluted argument against prohibition. And it is made by trying to scare the crap out of  ignorant people.

The doctor who wrote the article claimed that cocaine “may produce the wildest form of insane exaltation, accompanied by the fantastic hallucinations and delusions that characterize acute mania.” (They didn’t have very strict standards for doctors back then did they?)

Also, when on cocaine, a person “imagines that he hears people taunting or abusing him, and this often incites homicidal attacks upon innocent and unsuspecting victims.” (Given that this is 1914 in the South, I’m guessing those black men were not imagining the taunts and abuses.)

Did I mention that cocaine makes you impervious to bullets? No really. That’s what the good doctor said. Do a few bumps and your skin turns to kevlar or something.  So those poor cops in the South had to get bigger guns.

Oh and then there is this.

When we consider that even a single ounce – a quantity that does not fill an ordinary watch pocket – will keep fifty “fiends” well “doped” for a week or more, we can readily understand why every effort to suppress the traffic utterly fails.

OK now. You might have convinced me that there is some really good shit out there that gives you awesome hallucinations. I might have even gone for the bulletproof thing. But a single ounce wouldn’t have lasted me one night at Warsaw.* I’m gonna have to call bullshit.

Naturally, there is no solution to this insanity. “Once the negro has formed the habit he is irreclaimable. The only method to keep him from taking the drug is imprisoning him.”

It’s easy to make fun of this article and movies like Reefer Madness. They are so incredibly ridiculous. But what’s even more ridiculous is how much of it is still part of the public narrative. The crack cocaine reports I grew up with in the 80s weren’t a whole lot different from that 1914 article. One taste and a person is ruined for life. They are going to lose their mind. They will be violent.

There will be no social control!

And by social control we actually mean control of black men and women and “locoed” Mexicans - people like that. We can’t have bulletproof black guys just walking around. And what about those women who smoke weed and become all lusty and whatnot. The only legitimate response is to lock em all up, or at least tuck them away in a suburban kitchen making hamburger helper.

And that is the beginnings of the drug war. The only thing that changed is that it just kept getting worse.

_______________

*I cannot believe Warsaw is now a deli, that MSNBC’s Morning Joe broadcasted out of no less. South Beach has gone to shit.

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.