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That dress! RT @goldenglobes: From @12ye

12 Jan

That dress! RT @goldenglobes: From @12yearsaslave @Lupita_Nyongo! http://t.co/deC81EZK4f

A Theory of Violence: In Honor of Kasandra, CeCe, Victoria, Savita and Anonymous

4 Jan

**trigger warning**

A few weeks ago, a young Indian woman went to the movies. On her way home she took a bus on which she was raped and brutally assaulted by six men. We don’t know the name of this 23-year-old student.  We do know that  she was tortured so badly that she lost her intestines and needed numerous operations. Six people – including the bus driver – have been arrested. On Friday, December 28 she died.

I don’t know her name. I don’t have an adequate response, but I feel I should say something. Because I was born in the city where she were assaulted. Because so many, too many, experience such violence. Because I spend most of my waking hours thinking about how we can create a world where women are safe. Because she wanted to live.

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This is both about and not about men. Here are some statistical knowables, true across most societies (just take a look at the extant research at both the global and national levels).

  • Violence against women and girls occurs primarily at the hands of men and boys.
  • Violence against men and boys occurs primarily at the hands of other men and boys.
  • Nations, statistically speaking, commit far and away, the most of the world’s violence via war and conflict. This involves military forces comprised largely of men and boys, who are both perpetrators and victims of this violence.

Gender, then, rises up as an undeniably important variable in regards to understanding violence. And though we might not have a shared understanding of this fact, sex and gender are different and there are more genders than two. Further, people who are gender-non-coforming, genderqueer, trans and/or those who complicate the gender binary experience violence at disproportionate rates.

In my work at Men Stopping Violence, our focus is on ending male violence against women. Far and away the most common first response to my explanation of our work goes something like this: “Yes, violence against women is a problem but, don’t women ALSO commit violence?”

Let me answer that question now: Sure, yes. Women are also perpetrators of violence. As are people of all genders, sexes and sexual orientations. But to refocus the question on women’s violence is to obfuscate the real problem. And that problem is violent masculinity. If all the above data has not convinced you yet, please note: According to the National Academy of Sciences, in the US, “Male criminal participation in serious crimes at any age greatly exceeds that of females, regardless of source of data, crime type, level of involvement, or measure of participation.” I say this not to pathologize masculinity as inherently violent, I certainly don’t believe it is. I say this to move us away from wringing in our hands in despair about a seemingly intractable problem (male violence against women) and move us toward naming the fact that this problem is deeply structural, rooted in patriarchy and colonialism.

The point here is this: violence in general and sexual violence in particular, like all social ills, is best approached with a multi-faceted and intersectional perspective.

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“Power corresponds to the human ability not just to act but to act in concert. Power is never the property of the individual: it belongs to a group and remains in existence only so long as the group keeps together. When we say someone is “in power” we actually refer to his being empowered by a certain number of people to act in their name.” —  Hannah Arendt, from On Violence

What is the function of violence?

Resisting essentialist notions about sex and turning to think about gender, there is something in pervasive understandings of masculinity or masculine identity that accepts if not encourages violence.  This begs the questions: Is masculinity itself violent? Is there a way to be a man/masculine without being violent? What causes violence? What sustains it? These are questions that I think about daily and with my colleagues around the country. At MSV we work with many different men who join in this conversation with us. For us, that involves honing in on the problem of men’s violence against women.

Let me be very clear here, because this is the bulk of my point: we fail at answering these questions if we think of violence as merely a symptom of something else. If you listened to the NRA press conference last week in response to the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, you might be lead to believe that the perpetration of violence is some elusive phenomenon, committed by the criminally insane, or at the behest of video games and violent movies. If you watched some of the Indian coverage of the Delhi gang rape story you’d hear lots of speculation that the young men who perpetrated this gruesome act, must have been intoxicated by drugs. I wholeheartedly disagree with this assessment of violence. It’s not merely a tragic happenstance. It is not something only done by those who have ‘lost their right minds.’ Violence is functional.

It is a means of asserting and securing power. When violence targets women in the dark of night it ensures, among many other things, that women stay out of the streets. When violence against trans women goes largely unreported in studies of violence against women, it is tacitly legitimated. When violence against white school children raises a national furor and violence against an innocent black teenager wearing a hoodie doesn’t provoke a national conversation about legislating guns, we can see the fault lines.  When a football player kills his partner and then himself and we find ourselves knowing his name but not hers, we see which victims matter.

Violence is functional and our response to that violence is also functional. Violence is functions by silencing those whom it targets. Let us not forget that most cases of rape and sexual assault go unreported. Let us not forget the stigma that survivors face. In the US only 24% of rape allegations result in arrest, never mind conviction. Whether it is perpetrated by an individual or made invisible by our social, cultural and political institutions, violence has an aim – to remove power and instill fear.

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The numbers can tell us most of what we need to know. But not all. What is lost in the statistical knowables, is the lived reality of women, LGBTQ people and others of us whose stories don’t make it to the headlines. Women’s lives bear out patterns, and patterns tell a story. If we ask intentional questions about trends – we can learn something about our social orchestration. Looking to recent stories, we might learn something about this functionality.

Kasandra Perkins was killed by her partner, a professional athlete, who had threatened to shoot her weeks before he did. No one was able to protect her despite the fact of his threat.

CeCe McDonald, a trans woman, faced violence in the form of a hate crime and for her retaliation was sentenced to serve her time in a men’s prison, denied the right to name a very basic fact of her existence.

Victoria Soto was a school teacher with her students in the classroom one day when she was killed in a massacre by a lone gunman with easy access to assault weapons.

Savita Halappanavar sought refuge from the horror of a wanted pregnancy gone awry at an Irish hospital which (legally) refused to save her life.

And then a few weeks ago a young woman in New Delhi took the bus home one night after watching a movie with a friend and was brutally raped and died, 12 days later, from her wounds.

When something horrific happens, near or far from home, we tend to ask the same questions: Why? How? So, what, then, are the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ in these cases and in inumerable others? There are few actual similarities in these cases, but there are many potential points of convergence: laws that do not protect, credibility that is denied, legislation that is missing, stories that are made invisible. If we are to change things, our belief systems, social structures, and institutional practices must come under the spotlight. And that is because these stories complicate the statistical knowables.

Interpersonal violence usually belies a whole host of social conditions that are hard to qualify and quantify (i.e. privilege, race, poverty, gender, oppression, resistance, wealth, cultural norms, etc.). In this, as in most things, historical context is key. The US has a long history of state sanctioned violence. Consider the genocide of Native and First Nations people, the ever-present legacy of slavery, the internment, without due-process, of those considered a threat, be they Japanese immigrants or detained in Guantanamo via the War on Terror.  These factors complicate our understanding of who perpetrates violence and against whom and why. Knowing the statistics is important. Knowing the stories, unearthing the legacies, speaking aloud the names of the victims and the survivors is just as important.

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Women’s bodies serve as battlegrounds: metaphorically and practically. “Western” feminists look toward the “East” and see beleaguered women facing oppression at the hands of savage (read:black and brown) men. Never mind that staggering and horrific violence happens in the “West.”  Never mind that the US has never taken a stand to ratify the global Convention on the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Never mind international conventions, the US is not able to muster the political will to pass the Violence Against Women Act, or gun control legislation. Never mind that we all have remained  unable to effectively address the phenomenon of rape as a tool of war, so as to prevent women’s bodies from serving as the actual sites of war and conflict.

Despite all these facts, in the wake of this story, outrage began seeping out from the US, the UK and Europe (which I am loosely defining as the “West” – the demarcations of and within these places could be a topic of a separate blog post) at the problem of patriarchal “Eastern” cultures. The narrative looks something like this: Those poor women suffering at the hands of those horrible men. We must loudly proclaim our empathy for those people, who either know no better or are unable to live by our enlightened social standards.

This narrative is racist, homophobic, sexist, heteronormative and imperialist.

And to step away from all that politicalese: it is quite simply just wrong.

Violence is global. It pervades all cultures and communities. Yesterday, in a brilliant conversation, Kavita Krishnan, Secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association and one of the main organizers of protests against sexual violence in India and Elora Chowdhary, associate professor of women’s studies at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, joined Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez on Democracy Now to talk about the case and the way it’s being discussed here in the US as well as in India. Chaowdhary says,

So, on the one hand, we see in the Western media some reporters taking this moral high ground and pointing fingers and demonizing Indian culture, as though sexual violence against women is pervasive in only certain parts of the world and that it’s somehow reflective of deeply inherent cultural traditions of that part of the world. Of course, what that obscures is that both rape and domestic violence are pervasive in the United States, and domestic violence being one of the leading causes of injury to women, and exceedingly high numbers of rapes that, in fact, mostly go unreported in the United States. So, I think embedded in these kinds of reporting is a certain colonial mindset, of course, there’s a long history of that. And this kind of mindset that women are the measure of the progress of a society emerges from colonial practices, that these ideas were used to legitimize both colonization and also imperialism.

I don’t say all this to discourage global dialogue. Very much the opposite, in fact. We have much to learn from each other, by sharing our struggles and our victories. Such exchange is key to our success. What we cannot abide however is the reductive and disempowering narrative that allows some folks to offer no local, national or global context. What will not help is an essentialist narrative that paints all (or even most) Indian women as victims and all (or even most) Indian men as perpetrators, by virtue of their culture. We must banish these spectres of our colonial legacy if we aim to build an intersectional, transnational and transformative movement to end violence in our communities.

As I’ve said, violence, here in the US and abroad, is functional. Violence against women, is rooted in colonialism and patriarchy, in their varied and sundry iterations.  We’d do well to keep our eyes on that, and work like hell to dismantle the belief systems, social structures, and institutional practices that support it.

Beat to Quarters*: An argument to register

5 Oct

Guest Post by Pat Hussain

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The 2012 elections will culminate with President Obama being reelected or replaced as President.  Some people have decided to vote in this election; others not to vote.  Whatever your decision I urge everyone who is eligible to register to vote by the October 9th deadline.

Every citizenship right we have has come after a protracted struggle: Pressure created by direct action and mass movement organizing provided the momentum for a successful vote in the halls of Congress, state legislatures, or polling places across the country. Not registering to vote feels like speaking passionately on the issues at hand; but on Election Day, placing our hands over our mouths.

After the Civil War the struggle for equality moved from the battlefield to the ballot box, as centuries old violence and intimidation tactics against Black people continued.  During Reconstruction, in 1866, the Radical Republicans took control of Congress.  Before the War ended, Rev. George F. Noyes had expressed his support of them, and restraint of former Confederates, during a sermon to the Union Army in 1862:

“When a man puts a knife at my throat, and I succeed in conquering and hand-cuffing him, shall I be so foolish as at once to restore him to his former position, knife and all? Let every man’s own common sense answer this question. The idea with some even at the North is that the South is to be acknowledged as an equal nation if triumphant, while, if she is subdued after the great and fearful struggle, she is at once to be invited into a front seat, and at once admitted to all her old privileges.”

In 1867, Congress replaced Southern civilian government with military districts, and enforced the enfranchisement of Freedmen.  Of the 22 Black members of Congress, elected during Reconstruction, 13 were Freedmen; all were Republican.  Of the 1st 20 elected as Congressmen, five were denied their seats.  Others had their terms interrupted or delayed.

At the 1888 Republican Convention, a new faction emerged within their party. Norris Wright Cuney named this group, the Lily-White Movement: An anti-civil rights response to African-American political and economic gains.  Their goal was to eliminate Black progress and get white voters back from the Democrats.  As it grew to an organized nationwide effort, most Blacks were prevented from seeking office.  Democrats and Republicans erected legislative barriers for Black voters: In the form of poll taxes, literacy tests, and grandfather clauses.  George White was the last African-American in Congress for 28 years when he delivered his final speech in the House on January 29, 1901:

“This is perhaps the Negroes’ temporary farewell to the American Congress, but let me say, Phoenix-like he will rise up some day and come again. These parting words are in behalf of an outraged, heart-broken, bruised and bleeding, but God-fearing people; faithful, industrious, loyal, rising people – full of potential force.”

That drought was ended with the election of Oscar De Priest: the first African-American of the modern era and the last Black Republican representative for 56 years.

The 20th Century civil rights movement built on work begun during Reconstruction. Direct action changed and engaged our national conscience as we the people gathered and shone a light on unjust laws, rogue municipalities, and flaws in our Union. Our votes sent those we elected to represent us into the rooms where laws are made and changed.

African-American voting strength blossomed across the South from 1960-1966: in Mississippi – from 22,000 registered Blacks to 175,000, in South Carolina – from 58,000 to 191,000; and in Alabama – from 66,000 to 250,000. The number of Blacks in Congress doubled from five to ten as the 1960s drew to a close. The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) emerged from that fertile ground in 1971, followed by the 1976 arrival of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. For the first time in this century, a presidential veto on foreign policy was overridden. When the CBC joined others in opposition to President Reagan, they helped bring about the extinction of South African Apartheid.

History reveals that laws enacted to create justice do not make justice happen. And that political party support, at best, is transient. Further struggle is required to make existing laws function – for example: penalties, criminal charges, and sanctions for noncompliance or violations. The thunder of feet marching and ballots dropping on Election Day; oars pulling together as our boat presses forward. Knowing that our need for justice is immediate, it is frustrating that our progress tends to be incremental. That is why I urge you to register to vote. We need you.

The nautical term is, “All hands on deck.” Something that you say when everyone’s help is needed, especially to do a lot of work in a short amount of time. If you have ever changed your mind, reconsidered a decision, or just like to keep your options open; consider registering. If you do register, you can still decide not to vote.  The decision of whether to vote or not just moves to 7:00 pm, November 6th when the polls close. But if you don’t register, that option, that oar, is left behind.

Rough waters and big waves have kept us from the shores of full equality and have tried to swamp our boat, relentlessly. It has required every tactic at our disposal, some created on the journey, to keep us afloat. Pack both oars: Direct action and the vote. Those who never had the right and those who lost it have needed us to pull that oar for them.

Election Day will mark our progress, lull, or decline; but not the end of our journey. Tsunamis of regressive, racist, mean-spirited political candidates and policies have raised the call for, “all hands on deck.” We need all who are able to give a two-fisted pull toward equality and our own visions of a just world. In the tradition of our struggle, join us.

*Prepare for battle (beat = beat the drum to signal the need for battle preparation).

Pat Hussain is a part of the We All Count campaign and participated in the Southern Movement Assembly two weeks ago in Lowndes County, Alabama. The Assembly brought together 25 delegations from over 40 organizations around the South. Pat is a beloved movement elder and one of six founders of SONG, Southerners On New Ground, an LGBTQ organization working for racial and economic justice. In 1996, Pat co-founded Olympics Out of Cobb County to bring attention to a resolution the city passed in 1993 condemning LGBTQ people. The successful organizing forced the Olympic Committee to remove all officially sanctioned events from the county.

Lady Gaga, Beauty, Ugliness and the Call for a Real Body Revolution

27 Sep

Earlier this week, Lady Gaga launched a campaign, via her website, called Body Revolution 2013. An attempt to reclaim the conversation from the folks in the media who were writing about Gaga’s body as seen in a few recent photos, wherein she looks a little larger than she usually does. (I’m not linking to those photos and articles, Google if you must.) Essentially, these (assuredly svelte) members of the media were calling Lady Gaga fat. Gaga, in a missive in which she’s both vulnerable and angry, spoke out about the fact that she’s been dealing with anorexia and bulimia since the age of 15. And as only a global susperstar can, she’s re-energized a conversation about the challenges that young people, young women and girls in particular, are facing as they struggle to accept their bodies in a world that is hateful and cruel. These struggles are both external (how do others perceive me?) and internal (what do I see when I look in the mirror?) and they are nothing new. But a dose of celebrity adds another dimension to this already pressing issue.

Several have written about the potential impacts of a celebrity naming their struggles with eating disorders – some think it’s helpful, others don’t and others find it complicated. There’s something both valuable and limiting about a celebrity like Lady Gaga coming forth. On the one hand she embodies a relatively conventional ideal of beauty, being young, thin and white. On the other hand, it’s notable that these extremely narrow conventions of beauty are insufferable by almost ALL people, Lady Gaga included. I won’t (re)litigate the conversation about the value of her admission here. Generally, I find that anything that breaks into the mythology of celebrity is at least minimally useful, because it allows us to disrupt the damaging messages that come from and through our obsession with fame and fortune as measures of worth. (Here, I mean “worth” the existential sense, as well in the context of capitalism. Lady Gaga is very well compensated for her art, which is entangled with her “image.”) So, yes, a “body revolution” in which we flaunt and expose our “perceived flaws” and  “make our flaws famous, and thus redefine the heinous” in order reclaim our sense of self from the media machine is a good thing.  But there’s something else going on here.

In this charged context, what does it mean to be beautiful? And what does it mean to be ugly? And another question, to complicate the binary between beauty and ugliness, because binaries never serve us well: what does it mean to be invisible entirely? Or hyper-visible?

We, as the social creatures we are, long to see and be seen. And to be seen as valuable, worthy of love, and affection, and deserving of care, personal, interpersonal, social and political. There are many measures of value, and they all depend upon being “seen.”  So, this question, of what it means to see and be seen, is rooted in understanding the pain and agony of people around the world who struggle to see themselves and to be seen by others as valuable. This is about those little girls, who look at themselves in horror and anguish, feeling worthless if nobody calls them beautiful. And in the cases of young girls and women of color, seeing themselves as inherently less valuable. In this context, answering the question “what kind of body revolution do we need?” is urgent. A lot is at stake.

Jessica Valenti’s argument in favor of embracing “ugly” comes from the notion that we must confound traditional notions of beauty and the social value that comes with them. In light of the emergent trend in which young girls get plastic surgery so as to avoid bullying and shame, Valenti argues that there are virtues cultivated from resisting these notions, and embracing the anger and dispossession they engender. We fashion the world in our own image, then, and refused to succumb. I find this argument compelling, to be sure. I am routinely pissed off about the way beauty is defined and described so as to exclude me, and so, so many others. And I certainly derive strength from that rage.

But then, I also have to pause. I notice my discomfort begin in earnest whenever we have conversations about beauty and body image that do not include in intentional analysis of beauty as something that lives right at the intersection of race, age, ability, gender and sex. It’s not an expendable luxury here, to name these things. For women of color, the notion of embracing and seeking the upside of ugliness is a complicated task in the fight against invisibility on one hand and hyper-visibility on the other. Think of how transgender bodies are erased by the various industrial complexes in which we are mired. CeCe McDonald’s very identity is rendered irrelevant when she, a trans woman, is incarcerated and placed in a men’s detention facility. Think about the double-sided scourge of Islamophobia and misogyny that Middle-Eastern and South Asian women face daily. Think about the legacy of slavery in which black women’s bodies were treated as commodities with categorically dehumanized desirability, worth and beauty. Think about the research telling us that women with disabilities are more likely to suffer domestic violence and sexual assault than women without disabilities. Think about the incessant slut-shaming and victim-blaming that characterizes our national conversations about violence against women.

In these contexts, what is the upside of ugly? Or as Lady Gaga beseeches us to, how do we “redefine heinous?” When “ugliness” carries the threat of violence and disenfranchisement, what does it mean to embrace  “ugly?” For a person whose body is dehumanized and positioned as the very definition of undesirable, is it possible to “redefine heinous?” Perhaps, but its not neat. To do so we have a lot to dismantle. To do so we have to dwell in the intersections. Beauty and ugliness are not two sides of a coin, they are the same side of the same coin.

To dismantle them involves thinking through what the other side of that coin is. What does is mean for us to see each other as fully human? And as singularly and collectively valuable?

This project is different than the project of asserting that we are all beautiful in our own way (like those Dove “Campaign for Real Beauty” campaigns implore of us). It is different than embracing the character building elements of being seen as “ugly.” It involves conversation about what makes us human and valuable. And it must also include a re-definition of both “beauty” and “ugliness” alike.

Maybe THAT is the body revolution we need.

Pic via.

What violence does

13 Aug

A Sikh woman and her young child walk toward a temple flagpole to remember shooting victims from the Oak Creek Gurdwara in Wisconsin during a vigil at the Sikh Temple in Yuba City, Calif. on Friday, Aug. 10, 2012.
Nate Chute, ASSOCIATED PRESS – AP

These things are hard to think about. They are painful to feel. They engender confusion and rage.  After the shooting at the Gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin two weeks ago, I have found it so difficult to think about the incident and the aftermath. I can’t seem to intellectualize the story without thinking about what it felt like for those inside.

Immediately, I think of all the mandirs and gurdwaras I’ve sat in. I know what they feel like, what they look like, what they smell like and sound like. I know how loud and boisterous prayer there can be – the clanging of symbols and the women singing, and how soft and silent – the hushed humming of hymns by elders. Immediately, I’m transported to those moments.  When I think of violence in that scene, my brain experiences a moment of cognitive dissonance.  And then, a wash of sadness, pain, confusion and rage.

These are the hallmarks of terrorism, though. These feelings of confusion and emotional dissonance. This is what terrorism intends. This is what violence does.

This violence, though, is of a kind. It was fueled by bigoted hatred. It was fueled by a racialized rage. It was targeted.

It was not, as it has been called, “senseless.” Nor was it the same as the Colorado movie theater shooting; it was not random. These incidents occurred within days of each other so they are coloring and colored by each other. The things they have in common are apparently only two: these acts of violence were committed by white men, who purchased their guns legally. Many have written about the need for stronger gun laws, and some have written about the racial dynamics herein. Some have even written about the unnamed racism and Islamophobia in the impulse to educate the country about Sikhism (as it is different from Islam) in an effort to clear up any misunderstanding. And then there is the deep beauty of the Sikh faith.

All these points are vital. Race is playing a role in the way we talk about James Holmes, and Michael Page. It is playing a role in the way we talk about their motives: are they “crazy?” It is playing a role in the extraordinary search through our collective consciousness to find a rationale for their actions. And failing to find something, the age-old question: Are they “mentally stable?” Compare and contrast this with the incident in which NYPD shot and  killed Darrius Kennedy, a man reported to be “mentally ill.”  Darrius was black. Darrius was shot 12 times. As NYC officials are scrambling to justify that use of deadly force by appealing to the fact that Mr. Kennedy had a history of mental instability, we see the raced and classed treatment of these men, and these incidents.

These nuances, and political framings are helpful, actually. What has made this process so tenuous, I realize, is what is being asked of me.  Of us all. We seek explanation. We seek understanding. These things do exist, of course. These men had motives. But these are the wrong questions.

We don’t need to ONLY understand their motives and their lives. We need to understand what violence does. We need to understand what racially motivated violence does, in particular. It seeps into our consciousness, it redraws boundaries of safety (movie theaters and temples are no longer “safe”), it makes it seem as though we are not safe anywhere.

This feeling is all too familiar to many of us, black, brown, immigrant, poor, female-bodied, gender non-conforming, non-white, differently-abled, queer, trans etc. This feeling is fear, terror, even. That we are not safe. That is country is not for us. That our difference makes us targets.

It removes our belonging. That is what violence does.

Health care reform, politics and power: Is the Supreme Court Crunk?

28 Jun

MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)

At 10:07am Eastern Standard Time the Supreme Court of the US (SCOTUS) released its long-awaited decision on whether the Affordable Care Act (ACA), President Obama’s major policy achievement during his first term, was constitutional. The ACA was Congress’ first major effort at reforming our health care system in many years, with many Presidents trying and failing to make it happen.

Given the balance of the Supreme Court, there was lots of speculation in the hours before the decision that the ACA would be found unconstitutional and struck down. That did not happen, Chief Justice Roberts, a staunch conservative, broke the tie by joining with the 4 more liberal members of the court to uphold the law.

Here’s the breakdown (and here’s a news round-up):

  1. The Individual Mandate: The ACA’s key provision is known as the “individual mandate” which requires virtually all citizens to buy health insurance meeting minimum federal standards or to pay a fine if they refuse. Supporters of the mandate said it was necessary to ensure that not only sick people but also healthy folks would sign up for coverage, which is how we keep health insurance premiums affordable. (Note: the ACA offers subsidies to poorer and middle-class households, varying with their incomes. It also provides subsidies to some businesses for insuring their workers.) Twenty-six states opposing the law challenged the individual mandate and the Supreme Court was asked to rule on whether the mandate was constitutional. They found that it is indeed constitutional, but in the form of a tax – click here to understand what that means.
  2. Medicaid expansion: The ACA requires states to expand Medicaid coverage for poor and nearly-poor households. About 30 million people are expected to gain insurance from the law, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Medicaid expansion is one path to making sure that everyone has health insurance coverage. The Supreme Court was tasked in determining whether it’s constitutional for the law to make states expand their Medicaid eligibility, or risk losing funding for Medicaid from the government. On that question, the Court held that the provision is constitutional as long as states would only lose new funds if they didn’t comply with the new requirements, rather than all of their funding. Here’s more about what that means.

There’s much more in the ruling itself, to read it click here. But these two issues were the major pivot points for the law’s survival.

So, what’s does all this mean? The real impact and significance of this ruling will shake out in the coming days and weeks, but here are some important things to keep in mind:

1. The opponents of the ACA were fighting against the law as an unconstitutional use of the government’s power, not to mention the horribly racialized imagery that accompanied the messaging around “Obamacare.” Much of the opposition was yollering that the ACA was socialized medicine and a scourge that would best be eliminated. That is expressly not true: the ACA is anything but socialized medicine. In fact, some would argue (me included) that the ACA is a love letter to insurance companies, who stand to gain millions of new customers with the implementation of the law.

Also, please note this comment from SCOTUS Blog: “The rejection of the Commerce Clause and Nec. and Proper Clause should be understood as a major blow to Congress’s authority to pass social welfare laws. Using the tax code — especially in the current political environment — to promote social welfare is going to be a very chancy proposition.”

The only mitigating factor here is that the ACA has many new, and rather strong, consumer protections, like making sure that insurance companies use almost all of the money they get from us on actually giving us health care, eliminating lifetime caps on the amount of health care they will cover, making sure they can’t deny folks health care if they have a pre-existing condition, making sure all kids are insured and making sure that insurance companies can’t just charge women more than men just because they’re women. The bottom line is that this law is not socialized medicine (would that it were), but that it’s also got some accountability measures to protect us from insurance companies. There were many passionate and dedicated advocates that fought for these protections during the passing of the law, and I’m proud to have stood with them to make sure they made it into the final law.

2. The narrow reading of the Medicaid provision is, in a word, unjust. By not requiring states to expand their Medicaid coverage, so many poor folks will have no recourse for getting health care, aside from buying it from insurance companies. How will states ensure that it will be affordable? That remains unclear. States are going to have to do a lot more work to make sure that the poorest and most vulnerable get health care coverage, and given that many states are facing extreme budget crunches, I have very little faith that the most marginalized amongst us will get what they need. There is a legitimate fear that many Southern states will opt out of the Medicaid expansion, and given that many of those states have disproportionately high poverty rates, it’s a recipe for exclusion and further marginalization. The Medicaid expansion was my favorite part of the law, and it’s just been significantly weakened.

3. The ACA was NEVER a perfect bill. It was never really even close to that. The big problems that were there, still remain. It’s not a bill that gives us Medicare for all, which is the only real way that we can get equity across the board.  Access to abortion and health care coverage for immigrants were thrown under the bus in an effort to get the law passed.  It’s unclear, based on budget projections whether and how the law will save the country money. And finally, the principle of using corporations as the way to help us achieve human rights is historically proven to be a hot mess. We still need to repeal the Hyde Amendment. We still need to challenge capitalism. And we still need grassroots organizing. Therein, lies our hope for getting real, affordable, accessible, health care for all.

So, is the Supreme Court crunk, you ask? Today, maybe a little.

I’ll share more in the comments as I learn more about the bill since this is a really speedy assessment, and I’ll also share any amendments and clarifications. Please feel free to crowd source info in the comments as well.

Making Movement Mistakes: What to do when you f@*k up

23 Apr

mistakes-homer-simpson-mistakeThat moment: when some words have escaped your lips, and you realize they were wrong/insensitive/politically incorrect/hurtful. Or the moment when you have made a decision in a coalition that has broken the “do no harm” principle of coalition work. When your actions have undermined someone’s agenda. These moments can be big or small. These moments can consist of an interpersonal slight, or they can be damaging to an entire political agenda. We all know these moments; we have witnessed them, experienced them and committed them.

I am a professional activist. I’ve done work organizing and advocating for policy change at the local, state, national and international level. And every single project I’ve ever worked on has had an element of coalition building and collaboration involved. That’s how you know you’re doing it right, in my opinion. If there are multiple stakeholders, with multiple goals involved. If we all, with our intersectional analyses and intersecting interests can find a way to move our agendas forward, together. That also poses many challenges, as you who do this work inevitably understand. Intersectional work is hard, but of course, it’s the only way.

I say all this because there are few constants in this kind of work, but if we do it right, if we work across our comfort zones and reach out to unlikely partners, and those with different goals but with a shared vision of the future, we will undoubtedly make mistakes. Here, I’m talking about mistakes made in good faith. Not malicious, calculated ones. I’m talking about the moments where we think we’re doing right, but we mess up.

Why does this happen? Why is it inevitable? We make mistakes because we do not know better. We make mistakes because we don’t understand another’s truth, another’s lived experience. Because we operate from some un-interrogated position of privilege, perhaps. We make mistakes because we don’t think before we speak, or just aren’t sensitive to someone else’s perspective. We make mistakes because we are human.

So today, I’d like to crowd-source the question of what to do when this happens. I’d like to hear from you, darling crunk feminists, about how you go about dealing with these moments both when you are the committer of the mistake, and also when it’s been committed against you. Here are some of my own strategies, things I’ve done myself, and things that others have done, that I’ve found useful (of course, all this depends on the offense, these are generalizations):

If you realize you’ve made a mistake.

  1. Apologize. Sincerely. When doing this, think carefully about the best approach. It might not be in person, or it might be. It might need to be public. It might need to be done one-on-one. This depends on the nature of the mistake. But nothing else can happen unless you acknowledge your mistake.
  2. Don’t conflate the mistake and your apology with anything else. The apology is not the time to try and fix the coalition, or your relationship. It’s not the time to make your broader political statement. It’s a time to do just one thing. Recognize your mistake and apologize for it.
  3. Ask what amends might be made, if that applies. Ask the person/team/group what might help. Ask without proscribing the answer. Wait. Listen. And then decide whether this is something you can or cannot do. Be honest about that.
  4. Realize that trust is easier to break that rebuild. Your relationship/s might not ever be the same. And of course it might get even stronger. But you can’t know that. You can’t have an endgame in your apology, you have to say it, do what you can to fix it and not expect more than that.
  5. Keep doing the work as best as you can. Learn from it, and don’t make the same mistake again.

If you’re on the receiving end of a mistake all I can say is: remember all the mistakes you’ve made. When I think of all the mistakes I’ve made, it’s easier for me to identify with someone who’s done something hurtful to me. I try not to hold it too close to my heart, and if at all possible, assume good faith. Sometimes things are fixed, sometimes they are not, but regardless I try not to carry around anger and resentment. That is, of course, easier said than done, but worth the effort.

Anyhow, your turn CFC readers. I’d love for you to share your thoughts/strategies/ideas in the comments.

 

Don Cornelius, Indelible Soul

2 Feb

Don Cornelius, creator of the television show Soul Train, changed the media entertainment landscape forever. Yesterday,  the Los Angeles County Coroner confirmed that Cornelius had died from a self-inflicted gun shot wound to the head. He was 75.

Soul Train is one of the longest-running syndicated shows in television history. Created by Cornelius after he returned from Marine service in Korea and studied broadcasting, the show aimed to serve as a national platform for Black artists. Through it, Cornelius brought us exposure to musicians like James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye and Michael Jackson and left a bright and brilliant mark on the 70s and ’80s.

Soul Train created an outlet for black artists that never would have been if it hadn’t been for Cornelius,” said Kenny Gamble, who with his partner, Leon Huff, created the Philly soul sound and wrote the theme song for the show. “It was a tremendous export from America to the world, that showed African-American life and the joy of music and dance, and it brought people together.”

Patterned on the show “American Bandstand” hosted by Dick Clark,  Soul Train centered on black music, fashion and dance, Cornelius explained in 2006, “There was not programming that targeted any particular ethnicity. I’m trying to use euphemisms here, trying to avoid saying there was no television for black folks, which they knew was for them.” And when Dick Clark tried to co-opt the show’s success with his own attempt called Soul Unlimited, Cornelius wouldn’t have it.

In this way, just  a few years after Dr. King’s assasination, Don Cornelius made a deep, intentional and indelible contribution to the civil rights movement. He unapologetically celebrated black culture and art. He even financed the show himself and was determined to hire black artists both on and off camera. For those who might want to make a pilgrimage, as of last year, the set and memorabilia of Soul Train is housed at the Smithsonian’s Museum of African-American History and Culture.

The latter years of his life were occasionally fraught with conflict, including a difficult divorce from his second wife, Viktoria. In 2009, during his divorce proceedings, he mentioned having “significant health problems” but did not explain further.

Now, as the tributes from civil rights leaders, musicians, academics, actors, and loving fans pour in, many of us are thinking about our childhood weekend mornings with Don Cornelius and how they shaped us. And while I do not understand the pain that brought him to his final moments, I do know that we owe him a great debt. In honor of this legacy of “love, peace and soul,” if you (or anyone you know) needs support dealing with depression, click here for resources.

Now, it’s time make our way down the Soul Train Line! Share your favorite memories and videos in the comments – the line, will always and forever, be mine.

Tonight! Join a conversation on the State of the Union!

24 Jan

CF Eesha here, y’all.

 Tonight is the President’s State of the Union address to Congress. If the election season so far is any indication, we know that amidst the politicians and the pundits there’s very little time for real talk.

This is one of the most important elections in recent history : there is a war on poor people; we need a deep investigation of the way corporations reign with impugnity; and  we need to call out the racism and sexism that permeate our society. So…

TONIGHT,  live at 7:30 p.m. ET,  Jan. 24th at www.baracktalk.com.

 

You can submit questions to panelists from twitter, for people who tweet @TheLeague99 or use the hashtag #BarackTalk. Join the conversation, we want to ensure some real crunk representation!

The esteemed panelists include (you’ll get to ask them questions during the live tweet!):

  • Goldie Taylor, MSNBC, CNN, The Grio
  • Rhymefest, hip-hop artist & former political candidate
  • Andreas Hale, founder of TheWellVersed
  • Shaheem Reid, MTV News, XXL Mag
  • Michael Skolnik, GlobalGrind
  • Chuck Creekmur, CEO, AllHipHop.com
  •  Sabrina Hunter, author of *Skeletons in the Closet*
  •  Jamira Burley, anti-violence activist from Philadelphia
  •  Davey D, influential blogger/ activist
  •  Dee-1, hip-hop artist
  •  Phil Ade, hip-hop artist
  •  Janee Bolden, Bossip.com writer
  •  Jasiri X, hip-hop artist, co-founder of 1HoodMedia
  •  Paradise Gray, hip-hop artist, co-founder of 1HoodMedia

Join the convo. Represent crunk feminism. Speak up. Speak out. We need your voices!

The Power of Words: Racially Coded Political Rhetoric

9 Jan

1.

New Gingrich has repeatedly referred to President Obama as “The Food Stamp” President while contrasting that with his own aims to become “The Paycheck” President.

Ron Paul, in an attempt to beat unruly logic into submission, has tried to convince us that “entitlements” are not “rights.”  In an effort to dispute affirmative action and minority rights he equates such “entitlements” with the “entitlements” that big businesses get from big government, thus causing the word itself to lose any precision it might have had. This of course is in addition to his refusal to clearly address his connection to several blatantly racist comments on publications bearing his name.

Rick Santorum, descendant of Ronald Reagan’s “Welfare Queen” rhetoric, told a room of mostly white voters in Iowa that he doesn’t want to “make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money.”

Mitt Romney holds as one of his campaign slogans that he vows to, “Keep America American.”

Rick Perry, in a stunning move of political originality, asserts that our President is a socialist. With the word “socialist” serving as a catch-all for a whole host of undesirable traits and policies, including, but not limited to, disrespect for the 10th Amendment’s protection of states’ rights.

With one primary down and another coming up in New Hampshire tomorrow, it has become difficult to avoid the spectacle that is the quest for a Republican candidate for President. A spectacle made such by a cohort of candidates that stubbornly refuses to winnow, casting us all into the Party’s frantic search for a standard-bearer.

And so it begins in earnest: the contest within the Republican Party to dig up its next contender. Let’s start at the beginning, though. Elections are about politics. They are condensed, hyper-charged and frantic attempts to remove people from positions of power, or by other to hold on to those positions or newly acquire them. To do this they need to convince us that they deserve these positions of leadership.

2.

If politics is about communication, then it is also inherently about language. And language is a complicated medium, especially in the context of rhetoric and persuasion as in the case of politics.

“For a large class of cases—though not for all—in which we employ the word ‘meaning’ it can be defined thus: the meaning of a word is its use in the language.”[i]

This assertion was made by philosopher of language and logic, Ludwig Wittgenstein.  Later in his philosophical career Wittgenstein proffered an uncommonly held belief that the meaning of a word or phrase can best be found by understanding the way that word or phrase is used. By way of explanation: traditional theories of meaning in the history of philosophy often looked to something outside the word or phrase to give it meaning. Something objective and/or representational. Wittgenstein challenged this idea intensely and argued that, “if we had to name anything which is the life of the sign, we should have to say that it was its use.[ii]

Now, this detour through Wittgenstein’s (latter years’) philosophy of language is to draw our attention to language and its power. A point also made, albeit in a completely different context, by another attuned to the power of language, Audre Lorde:

“For in order to survive, those of us for whom oppression is as American as apple pie have always had to be watchers, to become familiar with the language and manners of the op pressor, even sometimes adopting them for some illusion of protection.”[iii]

With this contest, as in all past election years, we are subject to contortions of history and murky poetics of politically coded language, per Lorde’s caution. I say “coded” because contrary to what the candidates are saying, we have to look to the way these words, words like “food-stamp president,” “socialist,” “entitlement” and many others are doing some heavy lifting in regards to race. They are imbued with meaning. If you don’t believe me just consider for a moment their “use.”

Consider the potential complicity with our racist legacies. Lorde and Wittgenstien, in each their own manner, asked us to assume responsibility for the act of listening to words for intent, for difference, and for the way they are used. Our competing parties and politicians give us competing aspirational narratives. Narratives that tell us a story about our history, and narratives that offer a vision of the future. So, we have to ask: What are the Republican candidates (and the Democratic ones, too, who deserve their own article about race) offering to us as a vision?

3.

Gingrich, Paul, Santorum, Romney and Perry’s comments make the perfect case for the power of words. They demonstrate racially coded rhetoric in an almost symphonic manner. (Sexist rhetoric too, worthy of it’s own full analysis, since there are similarities but also important differences.) Let’s look at the responses that these candidates are offering when confronted with charges of using coded and racist rhetoric.

Currently, former Speaker of the House, Gingrich is irritated with the response to his remarks calling President Obama the “Food Stamp” President. Despite having offered the NAACP his services to come and explain himself, they remain uninterested in hearing Gingrich’s explanations.  Perhaps they consider it futile to give Speaker Gingrich the opportunity to explain how his comments are not simply about race. Something that would be hard to back up with his policy platform.  Gingrich’s thinly veiled and deeply charged language is clearly deploying the racist belief that there are certain Americans (black and brown ones) who would rather not work and that our President is allied with such people and caters exclusively to their interests.

Congressman Ron Paul, is dancing along a thin and meandering line between coveting the votes of racists while disavowing racist statements in newsletters bearing his name. In fact, he rather clearly disowned without disavowal when stating, “ If they want to endorse me, they’re endorsing what I do or say — it has nothing to do with endorsing what they say.” Given his broad and deep connections with people who say and do racist things, this is quite a non-apology and head fake toward contrition, but barely even that.

Former Senator Rick Santorum, has indeed disavowed racist intent, going so far as to claim that he doesn’t recall making those comments and that he “condemns all forms of racism.” This hasn’t of course gotten him so far as to condemn his votes against affirmative action programs, immigration reform and wage increases for this country’s working poor.

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, the Party’s frontrunner, when vowing to “Keep America American,” is positioning himself in opposition to President Obama, undoubtedly. While some have apologized for claiming that this phrase is a 1920’s slogan from the KKK, it is still worth investigating. When Romney positions himself as the keeper of American identity, he is implying that others are un-American. What does he mean by implying that our first black President might be un-American? Is it to question his values, his beliefs, his policies? Perhaps it is all of those things, but to deny that this is racially coded-language is naive at best and willfully ignorant at worst.

And Texas Governor Rick Perry, perhaps in a league of his own, carries on using the term “socialist” with imprecision, and has defended the highly offensive (and rather obviously racist) name of his family lodge, by saying it had been painted over ever since he can remember seeing it: an assertion that has come into question.

Racists, and those who stand by when racist things are said, or actively exploit racism themselves, do not do so with blatant pride (for the most part). Such are the victories of the civil/human/womens rights movements, of which we are proud and for which we are grateful. Open declarations of racism are out of vogue. Which means we must look closely for the deployment of coded language and its aims.

When candidates talk about race without actually talking about race they are acting in a subtle, yet powerful, way to make the discussion about policy and politics into one that is charged with race and racism. Language is power. It comes from history and walks through to the future. It creates and sustains meaning. It holds the past and forges the present. It matters, and its importance cannot be understated.

As Wittgenstein asserted, when investigating meaning, the philosopher must “look and see” the variety of uses to which the word is put. He said, in no uncertain terms, “Don’t think but look!”[iv] So when we look at this unyeilding use of clearly coded language, what do we see?


[i] Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations , 1953, G.E.M. Anscombe and R. Rhees (eds.), G.E.M. Anscombe (trans.), Oxford: Blackwell. P. 4.

[ii] Ludwig Wittgenstein, The Blue and Brown Books, 1958, Oxford: Blackwell.. P.4.

[iii] Audre Lorde, “Age, Race, Class and Sex: Women Redefining Difference.” Paper delivered at the Copeland Colloquium, Amerst College, April 198O

[iv] Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, P. 88.

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