Sunday, 30 March 2014

The humanity of activists:

Recently Suey_park has come under fire on twitter due to #CancelColbert hashtag, this is because while Colbert's "satire" was legitimately racist, awful and hurtful to Asian People of Color, the greater part of the attention and conversation has been spent on it and the fact that it was directed at Snyder's racist Mascot justifying has pretty much being absent from the conversation entirely.

Much has been made of how Native American folks complaining is supposedly "throwing Suey_park under the bus" and how "she's done all this for you, how can you criticise her". Reality is?

Firstly Native American's have a right to be criticizing how criticism of the racist "satire" has completely eclipsed the issue of racist offensive NA mascots. The issue has been eclipsed, Colbert's racism matters, but the original issue of racist mascots also matters and is pretty much being sidelined by the #CancelColbert hashtag conversation. Activists like Suey are focusing on the racism in the "satire" to the exclusion of Snyder's racism whether or not they mean to doesn't matter, the fact is it's happening. Pointing this out is not "slandering" anyone, it is not "throwing them under the bus" it is talking about them excluding the original issue.

We should be able to talk about how problematic it is to "satirize" racism with more racism without excluding one type of racism. It's as simple as that. It doesn't cost us anything to acknowledge the original racism as well as the racist response to it.

Secondly? No matter how much good you think someone has done for another group? It is that group that gets to decide if it's enough not you. Fact is if you're erasing someone right now, they still have a right to be pissed at you for right now even if you spent the last week being amazingly inclusive. Being for social justice is a constant effort, we don't get to sit on our laurels, there's no amount of "good" that gives you a free pass in future. Suey's actions and focus on Colbert above all else have erased Native American people. Her prior actions do not exempt her from their anger.

I'm going to make this clear, we as social justice advocates really have to start treating even big names like Suey_park as human beings instead of as perfect SJ robots who can never ever screw up. Suey has incredibly valuable things to say on racism (especially racism that impacts her racial group) that are worth listening to, but she is just as capable of screwing the hell up as anyone else.

We don't get born perfect social justice activists and even with immense effort, we ALL do get it wrong sometimes. When we protect and defend people from their screw ups, we enable them in those screw ups. We also send the message to the minority hurt by them that they don't matter to us, that we literally value them less than this one person.

This problem is a toxic value system hierarchy we've imported from the mainstream. It's the same value system that causes communities to stand by rapist football players because their value to the community is seen as more than the value of their victim. In the same way, social justice as a whole views celebrity activists as having sufficient 'value' to excuse them anything and to defend them against all valid criticism. This is a problem.

It's not only hard on the folks harmed when a social justice activist proves to be merely human, it's hard on the activists because it puts them on a pedestal and pedestals are cold, lonely, narrow places which people tend to fall off. We need to be able to face the reality that people we respect and look up to are also human, with all the flaws and problems that come with that.

It also represents another toxic viewpoint we've imported from the mainstream. The toxic idea that the world is split into good or worthy people and bad people. Therefore any criticism is the same as saying so and so is a bad person. There is no such thing as a good or bad person. There is only their actions at that moment which are good or bad, and even then, those actions are not always necessarily that black and white. We can and need to respect the good people do without shying back from confronting and talking about the harmful things they do.

We also need to respect people's right to criticise those we respect without resorting to demonising them just because we don't like to hear ill spoken of those we respect.

Social justice is about our humanity and that includes the humanity of those who are seen as leaders, and that of those who criticise them.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Cultural appropriation and colonialism:

TW: discussion of colonialism.

One of the curious things about when we talk about appropriation and colonialism by white people is we don't talk about the history that could explain much.

Long before the British Empire arose, many of my ancestors were being raided, enslaved, conquered, our rightful leaders murdered, our culture deemed barbaric and suppressed. Who did we worship before the people like the Roman's conquered us? No-one is entirely sure, only fragments of our original cultural gleaned by archaeologists remain.

In short, the history of the British Isles includes the people being colonized, enslaved and having our culture destroyed. In a very real sense we became orphans without a storied culture to call our own, merely a shattered hodgepodge of a few fragments of our own plus large amounts of culture left by various invaders who ruled over us. Same for our language, it's a hodgepodge primarily because of all the groups who conquered us. It consists not just of things we stole but also of things that were brought to our shores by invaders and conquerors.

This I suspect is one of the driving reasons behind why white people tend to appropriate culture. It's hard to have a grasp of the cultural meaning things can have when yours was ripped away so thoroughly, that it's gone beyond recalling. We're used to patching together a culture out of others to replace the one or ones we lost. There are no people in other countries who follow our heritage because it was stamped out in our home country as well.

Religion wise? We have ended up worshiping a middle eastern religion imported to our shores. That was after we had the Roman pantheon forced on us first, what came before is vague and we still know little about our historical religion, and like the parent to asserts that spanking never did them any harm, we think nothing about imposing it on others in the same way.

This I suspect is also why we also became colonial and conquered most of the known world, a case of "we need to get them before they get us" after being invaded so many times. It may also explain why we fear that PoC will repeat the same behaviour, we as a culture went through it and our response was to repeat it, it's not outside of understandable that we fear others might also do so.

Not that any of this excuses appropriation or colonisation, but I can't help but wonder what my country would be like if it hadn't been invaded, conquered and colonised repeatedly. My ancestors were both slaves and conquerors, the brutalized and the brutalizers.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

No, you don't get to decide when we've gone too far:

 TW: Discussion of disabilism/Celiac, assault and trigger warnings.

Recently Jill Filipovic wrote this piece for the Guardian.  We've gone too far with 'trigger warnings'

Proving once again that relatively privileged people are going to splash said privilege all over the place if given a media platform.

Jill is soooooooooo concerned about students with PTSD, she's going to save us all from the awful terrible trigger warnings, just like she wanted to save people with Celiac by legitimising demanding our medical details just in case we had an Eating Disorder instead of actual Celiac.

The entire thing is purely patronizing, based around the idea that if Students with PTSD aren't randomly slapped in the face with horrible triggering shit, then we won't learn to cope with it. It's utter drivel since trigger warnings are actually directly responsible for helping people learn to cope

The thing is in a very real way a trigger is like a phobia, it's a fear reaction prompted by something that perhaps cannot harm us, ie a description of an assault. We do not randomly and without permission force exposure to phobia inducing items on phobic people because we know that makes the phobia worse, instead we use controlled exposure to tackle it. The function of a trigger warning is roughly the same, it works to allow a person who may be triggered to choose when, and how to engage with triggering material, it also allows people to brace themselves for a trigger rather than be surprised.

One of Jill's comments is that college is different, ie not a safe space. No, Jill, it is not. There is no real reason why a college cannot be an inclusive safe space based on consideration and social care for others. There is no real reason why the wider world cannot be that either. I'm going to quote some of the most ridiculous portions and respond to them.

"There is real harm in utilizing general trigger warnings in the classroom. Oberlin College recommends that its faculty "remove triggering material when it does not contribute directly to the course learning goals". When material is simply too important to take out entirely, the college recommends trigger warnings. For example, Oberlin says, Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart is a great and important book, but:
… it may trigger readers who have experienced racism, colonialism, religious persecution, violence, suicide, and more.
Students should be duly warned by the professor writing, for example, "Trigger warning: This book contains a scene of suicide."
On its face, that sounds fine (except for students who hate literary spoilers). But a trigger warning for what Oberlin identified as the book's common triggers – racism, colonialism, religious persecution, violence, suicide (and more!) – sets the tone for reading and understanding the book. It skews students' perceptions. It highlights particular issues as necessarily more upsetting than others, and directs students to focus on particular themes that have been singled out by the professor as traumatic"

No, there is no real harm in trigger warnings, except for the self righteous crusades of the world Jill's against consideration for people. Racism, colonialism and the other examples given here are traumatic and it's important that we talk about them as trauma, it's important for the shaping of a world that tackles the inequalities created by isms and other oppressions. We need our next generations to understand that these are ugly hurtful things, to engage with texts not just as texts but also with sensitivity to what those texts say to other people. In short we need our students to have a depth of social understanding beyond their own group especially if they're privileged and the subject being warned for is the oppression of another group. There is nothing restrictive about awareness of issues.

"Students should be pushed to defend their ideas and to see the world from a variety of perspectives. Trigger warnings don't just warn students of potentially triggering material; they effectively shut down particular lines of discussion with "that's triggering". Students should – and do – have the right to walk out of any classroom. But students should also accept the challenge of exploring their own beliefs and responding to disagreement. Trigger warnings, of course, don't always shut down that kind of interrogation, but if feminist blogs are any example, they quickly become a way to short-circuit uncomfortable, unpopular or offensive arguments"

This particular paragraph is just utter nonsense. Yes, students should be pushed to defend their ideas, but nothing about trigger warnings prevents that. Jill is basically arguing here for the right of folks to push harmful ideas without being confronted with the fact that the idea is harmful to others, which is the exact opposite of being able to see the world from a variety of perspectives. Also it dangerously conflates being triggered with mere disagreement, as if a trigger was merely as minor a thing as not liking Marmite.

"That should concern those of us who love literature, but it should particularly trouble the feminist and anti-racist bookworms among us. Trigger warnings are largely perceived as protecting young women and, to a lesser extent, other marginalized groups – people of color, LGBT people, people with mental illnesses. That the warnings hinge on topics that are more likely to affect the lives of marginalized groups contributes to the general perception of members of those groups as weak, vulnerable and "other"."

The implication here is that those of us who support trigger warnings being used don't really love literature, it is followed by yet another patronising nonsensical argument that trigger warnings portray us as weak for wanting or needing them. Jill's paternalistic belief that people with PTSD are weak and in need of rescue has basically resulted in her generalising from self, she thinks we're weak for using them, so she believes others believe we're weak.

Fact is? Trigger warnings are a symbol of strength, the use of them is a symbol of social understanding and caring about one's fellow people. There's nothing weak about anyone needing social support, after all Jill herself would be hard pressed to live without a home, money or shops, those are also needs and nobody presumes she is weak for needing them.

"Traumas that impact women, people of color, LGBT people, the mentally ill and other groups whose collective lives far outnumber those most often canonized in the American or European classroom are set apart as different, as particularly traumatizing. Trigger warnings imply that our experiences are so unusual the pages detailing our lives can only be turned while wearing kid gloves."

Jill really needs to stop counting herself in with folks she repeatedly throws under the bus whenever it suits her. There is no "our" experiences, especially when it comes to a relatively privileged white cis feminist patronising the fuck out of other minorities on a regular basis.

In short, this is some patronising bullshit and I invite Jill to roll up the Guardian, sit on it and swivel until such time as she has exorcised that patronising bullshit and stopped being such a prime example of a clueless white feminist.