What if the U.S.A. extended its holidays to include more than DWMs (dead white males)?

Sure, the US has a few days honoring those other than DWMs (Martin Luther King, Jr. day, for example). Yet, for the most part, the USA closes  schools, banks, post offices, etc to honor those of the dead white male persuasion.

Seeing that this year President’s Day and Susan B. Anthony Day fall on the same day, the strikingly un-diverse practice is put into sharp relief. How many people know it is SBA Day? How many kids study her work, and the work of other important women, as much or as often as that of all the dead white dudes?

I found a 3rd/4th grade lesson plan on SBA here. Thank Aphrodite for teachers that recognize SBA deserves as much (or more!) attention than former presidents.

As Miriam at Feministing notes in her “Today in Feminist History” blog column, most recorded history is about white men:

“In just the few months that I’ve been doing this series, I’ve encountered how difficult it can be to find important feminist historical moments, particularly organized by date. Especially when I’m doing most of my research online. So much of recorded history (particularly available on sites like Wikipedia, NY Times on this day) is about white men.”

This is why the 90th birthday of the league of women voters goes relatively unnoticed (except at feminist blogs, as here) and why I couldn’t find any mega big, mainstream blog covering SBA day. Seems like with all the coverage DWMs and AWMs (alive white males) get, we could pay a tad more attention to women’s history. (Yes, I know, it’s called HIStory for a reason…)

As noted by A Funny Feminist (who posted the someecard above), having this day off school “is a total wasted opportunity for kids to learn about presidents and other government whatnot.”

Just imagine if ONE day a year were devoted entirely to learning about women’s history? Yeah, we say there is a month, but my kids experience thus far reveals that Women’s History Month usually involves putting a few women’s pictures on the wall and maybe doing one report on an important woman. If I didn’t cajole some of the teachers into letting me talk in their classrooms during the month, there would be NO mention of feminism and no coverage other than the “rockstar women” that all the kids have already heard about…

If we really did honor these “Other” months, imagine the twist people like the white male studies peeps would get their boxers/briefs in!

Happy Susan B. Anthony Day everyone.

What if your white voice can(t?) help? (Ruminations on The Help, by Kathryn Stockett)

The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, has not escaped controversy of the “can a white person write about black experience” variety.  This “who can write what” question has plagued literary study as well as the popular imagination for a long time. I remember all the talk regarding the white female professor who specialized in African-American literature when I was doing my M.A.

As suggested here, I think it’s absurd to suggest writers can only write about their own experiences or from the point of their own social positioning. However, all this is complicated by the fact that white voices (especially white male voices) have been privileged in literary (and other) worlds. We must be wary that our privileged voices don’t drown out or silence those also trying to speak.

In the case of Stockett’s novel, I found it to be a beautifully written, page-turning narrative that, at its core, intends to break down the privilege/oppression web. Yes, she is a white woman, but does this mean she cannot write fiction aimed at eradicating racism and employ black characters to do so?

She has been criticized for the dialects she uses for some of her black characters. For example, Erin Aubry Kaplan, “Why must blacks speak dialect to be authentic? Why are Stockett’s white characters free of the linguistic quirks that white Southerners certainly have?” While the “linguistic quirks” of white characters didn’t play a huge role in the narrative, I felt the novel portrayed a number of “white quirks” that revealed how whiteness is constructed and maintained not only via language, but via dress codes, social activities, schooling, and storytelling.

This last one – storytelling – was one strand of the novel that I fell in love with, and that is particularly pertinent on this three-day  Martin Luther King, Jr weekend.  Aibileen, one of two black female protagonists who voices the narrative (the third narrator is a white female), tells stories to Mae Mobley in hopes she can inoculate this little white girl from growing up racist. As “She just loves hearing about peoples from outer space,” Aibileen tells her about he day “Martian Luther King” came to Earth and even though he “Looked like us, nose, mouth, hair up on his head” people treated him differently “Cause he was green” (296).

This story within a story speaks volumes about the intent at the heart of The Help – yes, it’s by a white woman, but can white women not use their voices to try and dismantle privilege and eradicate racism? As a white woman myself, I understand that how and when to speak/write is a very complicated matter – that just because one CAN speak/write, doesn’t always mean one should – that having a privileged voice can make it hard to quell the impetus to speak in order to make space for Othered voices. (And, as an opinionated POWP, I find it hard to keep my damn mouth shut!)

I hope, just once in awhile, I might say or write something that helps to eradicate injustice – I hope that I might be of help in the way I see Stockett’s novel helping the actively anti-racist cause.

What if Homophobia was Resisted Twilight style?

The following piece is cross-posted here. As it argues, Twilight is a rampantly heteronormative series. Yet, given its concurrent rampant popularity, why not seize the opportunity to consider the ways  the Twilight cultural phenomonon can be used to furtheer discussion about gender, sexuality, racism, classism, etc? This is the aim of my forthcomign book, Seduced by Twilght (which, by the way, I just secured an agent for yesterday — woo-hooo!)

Ah, more proof that the U.S. is still a homophobic nation. Just what we don’t need. Maine’s rejection of a same sex marriage law earlier this week means that  attempts to legalize gay marriage have now been shot down in 31 states. As such, I thought it fitting to post a few thoughts about heteronomativity, homophobia, and Twilight.

Poking around Google, I found almost no posts that consider the heteronormativity of the series. One exception is Emily Rutherford’s “Heteteronormativity, Again; or, the Experience of Reading Twilight.” As Rutherford writes, “…there is no homosexuality in Twilight. Despite the obvious ambiguity of Edward’s sexual appeal, there are no gay couples in Forks, WA. There are no explicitly gay vampires. Bella herself doesn’t experience same-sex attraction.” As she further argues, “For all that it confuses clear-cut sexualities; for all that it builds upon and complicates our traditional notion of the innocent love story, it is still profoundly and aggressively heteronormative.”

As for the widespread heteronormativity the book upholds, all characters are represented as heterosexual and hetero-monogamous marriage is presented as ideal. Amongst other types of diversity depicted in the series – race, class, age, (dis)ability – there is not one single non-hetero character nor even a nod to the fact that not everyone on the planet is hetero. Given that Meyer’s is Mormon, a belief system that is notoriously heteronormative, it is hardly surprising that heterosexuality is represented as the unquestioned norm.

In addition to the series’ seething heteronormativity, the practice of buying the books and related products results in profits for those institutions that want to bolster heterosexism. Profits from the series are funneled to the Mormon church through the practice of tithing – such funds are used in various ways, but one of them is to prevent same sex marriage laws from passing (as with California’s prop 8). Here are some relevant portions of a piece I wrote on this topic:

Meyer has on multiple occasions stated that, in accordance with her Mormon belief, 10% of all  her profits for all things Twilight go to the Mormon church. (See, for example, The Advocate).

While she has not made any public statement regarding Prop 8, her tithing to the church supports institutionalizing discrimination against those who are not heterosexual. By extension, a percentage of the multi-billion dollar Twilight industry went towards the Mormon Church, an institution that played a huge funding role in initially getting Prop 8 on the ballot, and then kept the funding in plentiful supply in order to grow support for the Yes on 8 camp. The success of this campaign, which relied on dollars and dogma, would not have been possible without the big money that came from the Mormon Church and other religious donors.

….

Meyer’s silence about the issue of homophobia in her church in general, and Prop 8 in particular, comes across as deafeningly loud –it speaks volumes, showing support for discrimination via economic buttressing of an institution that helped California, the state I live in, to etch inequality into law. So much for the sunshine state – so much for dazzling, sensitive vampires…Guess it’s ok for a lion to love a lamb, but not for a man to love another man.

Unfortunately,  such homophobia does not only exist in the USA, but plagues the globe. As evidenced by a Twi Crack Addict piece posted last week, Wales is one such place. The piece, “Wolfpack Poster Removed from South Wales Cinema for being Homoerotic,” reports that a theatre in Cwmbran, South Wales, removed the wolfpack poster because it was “too homoerotic.” Given the rampant heteronormativity of the series, this accusation seems a bit ironic, especially given that the wolf characters are the only ones to give voice to their homophobia in the texts.

For example, in Breaking Dawn when Quil says to Jacob “I don’t notice girls anymore,” Jacob jokes ““Put that together with the tiara and makeup, and maybe Claire will have a different kind of competition to worry about.” Here, Jacob insinuates that Quil’s tiara-wearing antics might lead to some non-hetero ‘competition.’ Quil laughs in response, making kissing noises at Jacob and asking, “You available this Friday, Jacob?” Ah yes, homosexuality is SO FUNNY – especially in a book that presents heterosexuality as the ONLY option with a message that screams “Be hetero! Get married and have babies!”

In Breaking Dawn Leah also teases Jacob about his heartfelt goodbye to Quil, snickering “Thought you were going to make out with him.” Yeah, cuz it’s so homo-esque for a male to care about his guy friends. Leah might as well have said, “Hey, wolf boy, grow some hetero balls and put your focus where it should be – on the ladies!”

The inclusion of various homophobic sentiments from the Native American characters seems to go above and beyond Meyer’s staying true to her Mormon roots into the territory of actually mocking and deriding homosexuality. Further, the fact that the Quileute characters are the only characters to voice their homophobia is ironic given that native culture is historically far more accepting of diverse expressions of gender and sexuality. Such sentiments would be far more realistic out of the mouths of Meyer’s demi-god Mormon-esque vampires.

I am wondering if the above poster would have been removed if it featured shirtless white men instead — if it depicted the Carlisle, Edward, Jasper, Emmett pack? (Who are of course not referred to as a pack – think about the racial implications of that!) I would venture a guess that the poster would be less likely to be accused of homoeroticism if those pictured were white – partly because hegemonic, normative masculinity is linked  to whiteness, and partly because (due to a global system of racism) it’s easier (and more common) to discriminate against non-white men.

The ubiquitous shirt-lessness of the “wolf pack” (written about in my earlier post here) is linked to this notion of hegemonic masculinity and whiteness. White males, more often associated with mental activities and acumen, are often less sexualized (as explored by scholars such as Jackson Katz). Raced, or non-white men, and working class men, are more associated with their bodies and bodily activities. The fact that the male Quileute, as both raced and working class, are often depicted without clothes accords to this sexualization of males who are deemed as “lesser” – either due to race or class. Yes, I know they “run hot” in the books because of their wolf identity, but this alone does not explain why all the actors portraying them are photographed shirtless far more often than their white actor counterparts…

Finally, the removal of this poster due to its “homoerotic” message is ridiculous and repugnant. It smacks not only of homophobia, but of sexism (if those pictured were half naked women, there would not be a problem) and racism (speaking to the fear of the “Other” and of women or men finding raced Others attractive). As you go about being repeatedly seduced by the series and its offshoots, I hope you will once in awhile pause and think about these more troubling aspects. By voicing our discontent about those aspects of the book, the fandom, and the franchise that trouble us, we can bring homophobia (and other discriminatory ideologies) out of the closet. And, by discussing such regulatory ideals often and vociferously we can bring some progressive sparkle to the Twilight table.

This is partly my intent with the parodies from Twi Kids Trio – many who wrote to me thus far about the first skit noted their favorite scene was Jacob sitting on Edward’s lap (and, by the way, if you watch the skit, please leave comments or feedback on You Tube!). Future parodies will continue to mock the cult of masculinity and nod to the latent homoeroticism that heteronormativity attempts to deny. As per the theories of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, homoerotic elements pervade the majority of literary texts. They may be deeply hidden and denied in Twilight, but often that which is most strenuously resisted is also ardently, if shamefully, desired. Don’t know about you, but I find it quite fascinating to ponder a queer version of Twilight… doing so makes the hand-holding abstinence and virginal purity message seem all the more antiquated, and, yes, discriminatory.

What if porn makes you gay?

As reported as Salon.com, the “Values Voter Summit” this past weekend (you know with a name like that this has got to be a scary meeting of ultra-right, ultra-white, hetero-loving nuts), a panel entitled “The New Masculinity” discussed how “feminism has wreaked havoc on marriage, women, children and men” in an attempt to get “the principles and ideals for a new ‘masculinism’ right.” Hmmm, sounds like this “new” masculinity is not all that new—rather, it’s the same old “blame women while keeping all our privileges” tactic. And, who deserves the most blame? Those nasty, evil, turning-your-kids-gay-and-away-from-god feminists of course!

But, there is a remedy—at least for sons. Tell them pornography will turn them gay!

With references to homosexuality as a “malady” that is “inflicted on people” Michael Schwartz, the chief of staff for Senator Tom Coburn (of Oklahoma), shared that “All pornography is homosexual pornography, because all pornography turns your sexual drive inwards.” Whoa, now there is some brilliance of the magnitude that if you touch yourself, your hands will fall off and you’ll be headed straight to the devil. Brilliance such as this harks from the Victorian age, that era of sexual repression that brought us circumcision as a “cure” for masturbation. It is also the era, of course, of thriving not-so-subculture porn and erotica. Surprisingly enough, with all that “smut” circulating in society, not all boys were “turned gay.”

That these conversations took place is not surprising given the right-wing homophobic bent of our nation, but it is still incredibly disturbing that leaders frame homosexuality as a disease, using tired ideas that you can be “infected” with gayness. Ah, if only the world could be “infected” with the idea that policing sexuality is not the answer to any of our problems. Rather, such rigid constructions of sexuality create a multitude of harmful practices and beliefs.

More generally, if we could “infect” the world with feminism, perhaps homophobic, misogynist leaders such as Schwartz would have to hide in the closet, masturbating to images of Dr. Laura or Rush Limbaugh.

Hmmm, how best to infect the world with feminism? We need some summits longer than a weekend to figure out our plan for transmission… Maybe we could sneak a dose of feminism into the swine flu vaccination?

What if we, as feminist bloggers, are governing our actions by the ethics of a lifeboat?

When I started this blog last May, I was a blog virgin. I had never blogged let alone read many blogs.

A woman near and dear to me had suggested I start a blog on a whim, noting that as I love to write so much, and academic writing is such a slow, cumbersome, rule-bound process, I should give blogging a try. With visions of pornified MySpace pages in my head, I was wary of the virtual style of communication. I wondered if my convictions that writing can serve as an important form of feminist activism and that theorizing (a la hooks) is a libratory practice could translate to the online universe.

I didn’t realize until diving into the blog waters how rich, vibrant, and diverse the blogosphere is. Being a feminist, I gravitated towards the deep pool of feminist blogs. However, I soon hit some rocks as I swam through the sometimes murky sometimes far too facile waters. I was variously buoyed up and drowned, wondering when and if feminism might serve as a floating device rather than an anchor. Among exhilarating surfs through intellectually critical prose, I was dismayed to find some serious pollution in the waters. White privilege clogged the atmosphere. Cisgender perspectives, transphobia, and heteronormanativty seeped into the discourse. Attacks and vehemence flowed, sometimes in a trickle, sometimes in torrents (and not only from foul trolls, but from feminist bloggers themselves).

As I kept writing and kept reading, I found myself variously exhilarated and depressed. The new ideas, the critical work being done in virtual spaces, the sense of community – all these were akin to a thrilling white water ride. But, the in-fighting, the ‘waves’ attacking one another, the highlighting of some voices and the silencing of others, these were like drowning yet again in all the problems that have plagued feminism for so long.

From the start, I had intended to invite both bloggers and non-bloggers to write at Professor, What if. Motivated both at a practical level and a theoretical one, I hoped to be able to keep my blog chugging along during the heat of the semester and full-time teaching AND to open up my little space to a diversity of voices. However, thanks to my communication with other feminist bloggers, I have come to see that the guest blogging paradigm can be exploitive. Further, it can serve to keep the ‘big fish’ firmly at the top of the food chain as the little minnows struggle not to be swallowed up.

I still have hope that sharing our virtual spaces and voices can be productive and transformative, but I realize now that these waters require very careful navigation if the intention is to keep everyone afloat. This concern brings the infamous essay “Lifeboat Ethics” to mind with its chilling premise there is not enough room in the boat for everyone. As its subtitle, “The Case against Helping the Poor,” indicates, the thesis purports we must govern our actions by the ethics of the lifeboat and realize there is not resources for everyone in the world to thrive.

As feminist bloggers, we must work against such a paradigm and endeavor to keep everyone afloat. Both those that request guest posts and those who agree to be guest bloggers should aim to keep everyone in feminist blog waters alive and well. Unlike that final sinking scene in the Titanic where those in the water are frantically pushing others down into the water to save themselves, I hope we can find a way to swim, rather than sink, together.

The first guest post will speak to some of these concerns, addressing the worrisome ways the feminist blogosphere functions as an empire, or lifeboat, rather than a flotation device. Do we want to be the colonizers, the colonized, or do away with the imperial process altogether? Do we want to launch a select few to safe land while letting others drown? While most feminists would immediately voice disdain for imperialist practices that exploit and oppress, I think we need to think very carefully about how our own actions sometimes further entrench, rather than erode, systems of power and privilege.

What if we made June white-male month?

In an earlier post about Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I included the fairly well known joke:

Question:

If February is Black History Month and March is Women’s History Month, what happens the rest of the year?

Answer:

Discrimination.

Renee, of Womanist Musings, expanded on the joke’s answer in the comment thread:

“…having those two months dedicated to women and blacks is discrimination. Deciding that we only need to talk about blacks in February and Women in March means that for the rest of the year it is okay talk about white males. If we truly meant to be inclusive these would be issues that we talked about 12 months a year. “Special Months” are not a sign of tolerance they are a sign of discrimination.”

I, along with Renee, take issue with “special months.” I think they set up a segregationist approach to learning that allows (and even celebrates) learning about “Others” only during appropriate months.

Come February, teachers break out the Martin Luther King Junior picture books or play his speeches for students. If they are really trying to be “multi-cultural” they might also include “extra” curriculum on Black History, ensuring their lesson plans pay homage to the month. The problem is that this type of inclusivity should not be done for a month, but throughout the year.

However, being the white-centric, male-centric society that we are, some claim we should be thankful for such months. I say what we should do is flip it around and make June “white-male history month.” The rest of the year could be all-inclusive curriculum. (Note: I picked June as it is the end of the school year and I think it is high time WM’s came last for once. I think it is also important to point out that I am referring to the normative conception of white-maleness here — or middle to upper-class, Christian, heterosexual, able-bodied, right leaning, “properly masculine” white males who must, of course, like sports)

It is not that I don’t like white males – in fact, there are quite a few I love. Those that I love don’t see this idea as problematic because they realize their privileges and want to work to dismantle them. They understand it’s time to share the reigns.

I am not saying we need to deny that WM’s have done great things, but we need to give everyone else an equal place in history (and school curriculum).

So, I say enough with the “special months” – let’s make the whole damn year reflect the true diversity of this planet and let’s stop making it ok to be racist, sexist, and homophobic year round. Let’s stop making it ok to only care about cancer in October or only be aware of transphobia on transgender remembrance day. How about instead if we tried to be human(e) every damn day? How about if we revamped our conception of history to include everybody – not just white male heterosexuals? And while I’m at it, how about we paid as much attention to social injustice and what we can do to make the world a better place as we do to friggin’ Super Bowl Commercials? That would truly be a time worth celebrating.

What if our silence indicates our life is ending? (In honor of Martin Luther King, Junior on the eve of Barak Obama’s inauguration)

A poster with the following quote hangs in my campus office:

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

When I consider this quote, I usually consider it in reverse as well, or via the concept that our lives BEGIN the day we become vocal and engaged with things that matter. Looked at in this way, the quote is one many of my students convey, albeit in different words, once they are awakened to feminism and/or working for social justice.

Coretta Scott King, whom I think should share this holiday along with Martin Luther King due to her lifelong commitment to social justice and to her many activist contributions, notes that “Dr. King knew that it wasn’t enough just to talk the talk, that he had to walk the walk for his words to be credible. And so we commemorate on this holiday the man of action, who put his life on the line for freedom and justice every day.”

MLK’s insistence on “walking the walk” led to 29 jail sentences and various violent attacks against his person, yet he refused to become silent. Moreover, in spite of the violence and hatred directed against him, he refused to use his voice as an instrument of hate. He believed, as Coretta Scott King summarizes, “that nonviolent action is the most powerful, revolutionary force for social change available to oppressed people in their struggles for liberation.”

Today, unfortunately, we have not taken this lesson to heart. Oppressed groups struggling for liberation often resort to violence in attempts to bring about change. Likewise, those in power use violence as a first choice rather than a last resort. The US, for example, continues to act as if violence is they way to bring about change, that “freedom is on the march” due to our imperialist actions in the Middle East and elsewhere around the globe.

If MLK was alive today, he would decry those pundits who claim that we have achieved the dream of a post-racist world, he would certainly be against the US occupation of Iraq, and he most definitely would speak about the enduring injustice of an anti-Palestine war/media machine that, through its lies, frames the oppressed as the oppressor.

MLK said that we must decide if we “will walk in the light of creative altruism or the darkness of destructive selfishness.” Well, the US, and Israel, and many other global centers of power, are certainly walking in the darkness of destructive selfishness. In so doing, they are marching the world closer to its death.

Further, on this, the eve of a historic inauguration, many are remaining silent about things that matter. Even more disturbing, many are voicing comparisons between MLK and Obama while failing to discuss the very important ways in which their differences matter. Glen Ford, of Black Agenda Report, wrote an excellent piece, “Who is Black America’s Moral Emissary to the World?” which analyzes these erroneous comparisons.

As Ford argues:

It is true that there could have been no Obama presidency had Dr. King and the movement he sprang from not existed, but that simple fact of history does not amount to a King benediction from the grave for Obama’s moral character and political policies. Indeed, Dr. King’s life and words are indelible evidence that he and Obama represent opposing moral and political camps.

Yet, rather than examining the ways in which they differ in their visions, what we are supposed to see is the similar color of their skin. This melanin based ‘sameness’ is supposed to comfort the progressives and social justice workers among us. Many have indeed latched onto this only skin deep hope for change.

However, Obama’s bailout record thus far, his choices for his administration (Bush’s defense guy, the head of the Fed running the treasury?!?), his pandering to bankers, his hawkish support of EXPANDED military intervention, his alliance to AIPAC and the Center for Foreign Relations, all of these are proof, that, as Ford argues, comparisons to MLK are misguided. As Ford notes, “the fact that one of these men fought his whole life against the forces of militarism and economic exploitation, while the other empowers, and is empowered by, bankers and militarists” should be raising serious alarm bells for “Obama-ites.”

Using the Vietnam War as an example of MLK’s refusal to become silent on things that matter, Ford further writes:

If the Obamites had more presence of mind, they would avoid comparisons with Dr. King, which can only redound to Obama’s great detriment. King’s break with his onetime ally, President Lyndon Johnson, set the standard for both political and moral behavior. When it became clear that the War on Poverty was doomed by the war in Vietnam, which acted “like some demonic destructive suction tube,” devouring all available resources, King publicly declared against the war. In doing so, he severed what had been the most productive relationship between an American president and a Black leader in U.S. history. But the war gave him no choice, since military expenditures made “rehabilitation” of the American poor impossible. Both morality and politics led to the same conclusion: the Movement could not coexist with war.

The lesson is directly applicable today, but Americans, Black and white, find it difficult to recognize the characters. Obama is Lyndon Johnson. National revitalization, including redress of historical African American grievances, is impossible unless military expenditures are dramatically reduced. But Obama is committed to putting 100,000 new pairs of Marine and Army “boots on the ground,” an expanded war in Afghanistan/Pakistan, a beefed up AFRICOM, and a generally bigger U.S. military footprint on the planet. This, in the midst of global economic collapse.

To compare Obama to MLK is insulting to the King legacy – yet, many remain silent when these comparisons (and other similar fawnings) occur. Obama does share some attributes with MLK – most obviously, both are excellent orators. Both are brilliant. Both have more understanding of racial injustice and white privilege in their little toe than G.W. has in his entire body. Yet, Obama IS not the champion for peace, non-violence, and equity that MLK was. Ironically, we are going against MLK’s call for a “color-blind” society when we act as if he is. What we are doing instead is acting as if his color makes him all the things so many of us hope he is. Further, the “touchy” issue of race is keeping many silent in fear a critical stance towards Obama would lead to accusations they are racist. Sadly, this fear is true.

We have become so wrapped up in the euphoria of Obama’s win and its symbolic meaning that we have forgot to take a harsh look at what really matters – NOT the win, but what he will do as president, NOT the color of his skin, but the character of his heart and mind. So far, I am troubled by what seems to be an extreme disconnect between his words and acts- he is charming, brilliant, passionate, and many other good things, but he is not the anti-empire progressive leader I crave. He is no MLK. He is no Coretta.

While I realize these assertions may anger many, I can’t remain silent about this. A colleague of mine shared that she is not critical of Obama in front of students as she fears she will be labeled racist, especially as a white woman. Yet, if progressive academics remain silent along with others working for social justice, our lives will continue to end at the hands of the imperialist corporatist war machine.

On this day, in honor of Martin Luther King, Junior and Coretta Scott King, I hope that you will find something that matters to NOT be silent about. I hope, more specifically, that people will speak their concerns about Obama’s worrying collusions with all those things that our marching the planet, and humanity, towards death.

What if Santa is gender-queer?

My fondness for Santa goes way back. In the days when I used to buy into the patriarchal God paradigm (touted at the Catholic school I attended), I thought of Santa as similar to God, or perhaps, maybe even God in disguise. After all, both were depicted as white bearded males…

After Catholic school put me off organized religion for life (which it achieved by the time I was in 4th grade), I didn’t give up my love for Santa even though I ultimately rejected the idea of the big white dude in the sky.

Santa has so many traits I love:

Santa wears red. My favorite color of all time.

Santa loves cookies. So do I.

Santa wants people to be good to each other, and Santa’s naughty list seems a lot more fair than that of god’s or GW Bush’s.

Santa lives by a Dionysian spirit – good food, good drink, celebration, and merriment are an important part of existence according to the Santa paradigm. I agree.

Notice that above I at no time refer to Santa as “he.” That is because I refuse to believe Santa is only male!

I think of Santa as a cross dresser, as transgender, or genderless. Like any deity worth their salt, I see Santa as beyond the gender binary – rather, Santa understands that we mortals view the world through tiny gendered boxes and would have a hard time accepting a gender-queer icon.

Well, Santa, I would like to inform you the time is ripe for you to reveal that the beard is false, that you sometimes wear a dress, that you have only been cross-dressing all these years so as not to freak out the parents (kids, or course, would accept a gender-queer Santa – it’s the closed minded parents that would need help accepting Santa’s ‘otherness.’)

On that note, you might as well admit that you have been passing as white all these years in fear your color would work against you. Heck, these past several years you have probably been afraid that your color might label you a terrorist or enemy combatant… You would come down the chimney to find ICE or FBI ready to haul your red-clad butt to Gitmo. (OK, so I know some out there will argue that as Santa comes from snow-zone, he would be white, but Eskimos are not white and they come from the land of snow. Plus, Santa’s whole give, give, give mantra is not in keeping with take, take, take white history…)

So, Santa, I can see why you might have deemed it necessary to PRETEND to be a “traditional male” of the white supremacist heteronormative patriarchy variety for all these years- but don’t you think it is high time to force society to realize that not all icons need be male or white or cis or heterosexual or able-bodied? And, what is up with the person known as “Mrs. Claus” – when does the s/he get to share the limelight?

Think of the mind expansion you could bring about by revealing that you (as well as “Mrs. C” and the elves) have been forced into normative boxes – that you, like god(s) have been limited by the small-mindedness of humans who refuse to see beyond gender/race/class binaries and INSIST on referring to deities in male terms (for a good post on this subject, go here).

Santa, if you came forward about your identity, perhaps people might begin to question the father/god set up of most religions and question why our belief systems are male-centric.  Perhaps they might begin to shed the blinders of gender essentialism, cis privilege, and the Heteronormativity/marriage/family matrix.

Come on Santa – you know it’s time to give up the patriarchal shtick. When you visit my house this year, I hope you come sans the white hetero male drag… But please, keep the belly! I do not want to see “Hunky Santa” with six pack abs anywhere near my stocking…

What if you’re “secretly” sexist, racist, and homophobic?

Sorry for the interruption in the “What if you could buy social justice?” series, but I have had this PostSecret post percolating in my head for awhile. After viewing this week’s “secrets,” I couldn’t wait any longer to brew my discontent into words. (All quotes are taken from the book Blogging Heroes by Michael A. Banks and exact pages numbers are footnoted below.)

PostSecret was born as a community art project in 2004. Frank Warren handed out blank postcards addressed to himself around D.C. and asked random strangers to anonymously post their secrets to him, decorating their cards however they wished.  This initial project was displayed in a DC art gallery for four weeks, but, as Warren kept receiving hundreds of postcards, the website PostSecret was born. In addition to garnering worldwide acclaim, Warren’s concept has spawned 4 real world books.[i]

An “online exhibit” of sorts, PostSecret “hangs” 20 new pieces of postcard art each Sunday, most of which function as “confessional secrets,” or, in other words, revelations people keep secret in the ‘real world.’ While there are many funny, heart-wrenching, erotic, and sentimental secrets, there are also a number of secrets that reveal the sexism, racism, homophobia, and anti-feminism of not only the sender, but the wider culture. While individual postcards might seem to be just that – individual – the fact that Warren admittedly tries to tap into zeitgeists, and the fact that the interactive PostSecret community comments on the secrets in droves, indicates that many of the cards represent cultural, rather than merely individual, ‘secrets.’

Warren, noting that “I really feel as though these new modes of communication, and these new kinds of conversations, can uncover hidden elements of our common humanity,” nods to this cultural narrative function of the secrets.[ii] Worryingly, but not surprisingly, many of the “hidden elements” reveal that our “common humanity” is rife with sexism, racism, and homophobia, not to mention ableism, ageism, anti-feminism and many, many other world views that not-so-secretly act as if only certain bodies matter.

Yet, while Warren argues that, “When I put secrets on the blog, they are living secrets. When you visit the blog and read a secret, you know that somebody is carrying that burden or dealing with that issue in real time,” I think many of the postcards don’t deal with carrying burdens so much as unloading them.[iii] The notion of “carrying a burden” indicates one has some sense of remorse, or some intention to try and change. However, I would argue many of the “secrets” function as confessionals that “erase” or “forgive” the burden once it is confessed.

Taking this analogy further, how fitting that the posts renew each Sunday and offer a weekly clearinghouse of confessions, allowing the site to function as a quasi-Sunday confessional where “sins” can be forgiven. Just at the priest will assign so many Hail Mary’s as penance so that one’s slate can be wiped clean of sin, so to does the cite allow “sinners” the be absolved each Sunday. The penance (that functions more like a reward) is online recognition of their “sin.”

Further, many postcards don’t indicate “dealing” with issues so much as offloading them so they don’t have to be dealt with. Using an “airing dirty laundry” schema, the site allows “secrets” to be purged, making it “ok” to be racist, unfaithful, uncaring, mean, or whatever, as long as one has “dealt” with it via crafty postcard confessional.

While I find the site and the concept fascinating, many recent postcards have led me to question some of the wider messages that the site is sending. In particular, a number of recent postcards indicate that it’s NO SECRET we live in  a society mired in sexism and racism – and, problematically, that this ‘secret’ is part of out “common humanity.”

This postcard, from 12/13/2008,  promotes the idea that females can “makes up for” supposed “abnormal sexual acts” via scrubbing their roomies dishes (and also by being “hot”). In so doing, I would say it doesn’t so much “offload burdens” as perpetuate the idea that only certain sexual behaviors are normal.

In addition to perpetuating sexist stereotypes and objectifying the female body, many post-cards trade in racism. One from this week’s selection links racism to losing one’s virginity, suggesting that virginity is to big a prize to squander away on ‘racial others':

A similar postcard from last week’s selection, frames women as racialized commodities to “choose” from:

Many postcards deal with the control of the female body, especially via secrets about nude pictures. The following postcard, “Pussy Galore,” reads “I have naked images of my ex-girlfriend and am getting more tempted to make them public.”

Other postcards deal with rape and sexual assault, sometimes in though-provoking, critical ways. Others, though, subtly send homophobic messages of the “No Entry” variety.

Here, the choice of image and the copy “No Entry” does not so much serve to condemn rape as to condemn certain types of sexual activity as abnormal. As anal sex is coded as gay and wrong, the postcard thus purports to be about rape but nevertheless sends a homophobic message. That the message is not overt in effect makes it all the worse – the viewer is encouraged to condemn rape but NOT encouraged to question the homophobic message of the card itself.

I am certainly not the only one who has noticed that the “common humanity” PostSecret often reflects (and, in doing so, condones) involved a humanity defined by sexism, racism, homophobia, etc. A while back Angry Asian Man alerted readers to this postcard:

Similarly, as this postcard flagged at Racialicious, indicates, it’s ok to “resent black people”:

Or, from another card flagged at Racialicious, we see that one can be a loving racist parent:

And, we wouldn’t want to leave out the anti-feminist messages. With this card, flagged at Feministing, all the MRA’s and feminist haters out there had their dreams fulfilled:

Warren, referring to the thousands of postcards he receives, notes “some are funny, some are haunting, and some are inspirational.”[iv] He does not, I notice, say, “some are sexist, some are hateful, and some are downright horrifically racist.”

Moreover, as he reveals, the postcards to not come out of a vacuum but build upon one another each week, touching into a sort of cultural groupthink…

As Warren reveals, “The secrets I post every Sunday influence the secrets that I receive the next week. For example, if I posted all pornographic secrets, that’s what I’d be getting.” [v] With this quote Warren indicates his publication choices influence what he will have to choose from to publish in the next week in a sort of revolving door fashion. I am wondering what some of these recent choices indicate about what he would like to be getting… Do these postcards not scream “Send me more sexist, racist, homophobic and anti-feminist secrets!”? I think it is no secret that they do.

(The buying social justice series will continue in a day or two…)


[i] Banks, Michael A. Blogging Heroes. Wiley Publishing, Indianapolis, 2008. 63-4

[ii]I 66-7

[iii] 67

[iv] 67

[v] 70

What if you’re not sure whether you’re sexist and racist or just prejudiced and bigoted?

This post was inspired by a comment I received on my “What if you were Obama? What Cabinet would you build?” post.

In that post, I purposefully did not point out that my cabinet choices were all female, nor that they were racially and otherwise diverse, as I wanted to see how readers would react to this. As expected, one reader commented “wow such a racist and sexist post!! where are the men!?!??!?!?!”

Now, if someone had suggested an ALL MALE, ALL WHITE cabinet, would readers such as these react in a similar manner? NO WAY!!!!

All white male cabinets and supreme courts and juries and school boards and city councils and committees and etc, etc were the name of the game (without much dissent) until quite recently. Yet, when suggestions are made to make things all female, or all POC, people start screaming about racism and sexism. And, typically, it’s the same people who thought letting white males run the world was A-OK who cry “sexism!” or “racism!” when those in power begin to reflect the diversity of the world’s populace.

I have a real problem with these “reverse” ideas of -isms (such as reverse racism) as they discount the power dynamics and the institutionalized nature of socially sanctioned inequalities. In fact, I am of the camp that believes you cannot be “racist” against whites. You can be prejudice or discriminatory, but not racist. As explained so well in the following excerpt from Revealing Histories, racism is equal to prejudice plus power:

“An important alternative view is that, while anyone can have prejudices against anyone else and then discriminate against that person, such behaviour can only be racist if it comes from the ‘race’ which over the years has been placed as superior and use their power to strengthen and enforce their prejudices. Many have argued that racism, then, equals racial prejudice plus power. According to this definition, while a Black person might be prejudiced against a White person on the basis of race, perhaps violently and unjustly, but this may not strictly be racism because the Black person does not have the assumed support of institutions such as the police or the media behind them. This idea of racism says that there are many parts of society and the major organisations that run it which in either loud or subtle ways support racism, and these support what was declared to be the ‘superior’ race.”

Now, one of the most common counter arguments to this argument tends to run like this:

“Well, what about Jesse Jackson. He has power as a black man. Why can’t he be a racist?” (For a post that argues that ALL people can be racist with this analogy, see here.)

Obviously, individual members of oppressed groups can have power – in fact this works to keep the system in place. By granting a FEW blacks power, a FEW woman powers, a FEW Latinos power, etc, people are able to point to a black woman in power and claim “See, our society really is post-racist and post-sexist! Look at Condi! Look at Oprah!” Yet, even though there are individuals in power who are not white or male, the SYSTEM of white male privilege is still in place – and racism and sexism are about this system, not about individuals.

Eric Zorn distinguishes between such differences in his article “Prejudice, bigotry and racism: Is there a difference.” He defines prejudice as thought based, bigotry as action based, and racism as systematic and institutionalized:

“I think of racial prejudice as a private thought — a personal response to an individual or situation that is based, fairly or unfairly, on experience and observation. It’s usually but not always a negative response; an invidious pre-judgment.

I think of bigotry as an act that is motivated by a negative prejudice —  those thoughts turned into deeds.

And I think of racism as a systemic application of bigotry and prejudice — the use of such sentiments to deprive group members of opportunity, dignity, safety and certain other rights based on their membership in that group and an inner belief that this group is inferior.

  • It’s prejudice when Mr. Smith feels unhappy when Mr. Johnson moves in next door because he doesn’t like Mr. Johnson’s skin color or ethnic identity.
  • It’s bigotry when Mr. Smith refuses to invite Mr. Johnson into his home or offer him friendly waves of greeting.
  • It’s racism when Mr. Smith uses threats and intimidation to attempt to drive Mr. Johnson and his family out of the neighborhood.”

Using these definitions, Zorn elucidates why one can be prejudice against whites, or carry out bigoted acts against us, but CANNOT be racist against us:

“Politically, institutionally, culturally and historically, bigoted acts motivated by prejudice against white people  have not been and are not significant roadblocks to the advancement, dignity and quality of life of white people.”

Zorn further points out that “any discussion of the problem of how to alleviate the problem of racism gets off on the wrong foot when it tries to start from the trivializing premise that we’re all guilty of it.” I agree with this sentiment – in fact, only white people can be racist according to this argument. POC can be sexist, bigoted, discriminatory, and prejudiced, but NOT racist.

Analogously, women can be prejudiced, bigoted, discriminatory towards men (or other women), but they cannot be sexist. To be sexist, one must be a male. Sexism, just like racism, is prejudice plus power. In order to elucidate, I will alter the paragraph cited above from Revealing Histories in order to make it specific to sex/gender rather than to race:

While anyone can have prejudices against anyone else and then discriminate against that person, such behaviour can only be sexist if it comes from the ‘sex‘ which over the years has been placed as superior and uses their power to strengthen and enforce their prejudices…While a female person might be prejudiced against a male person on the basis of sex/gender, perhaps violently and unjustly, this may not strictly be sexism because the female person does not have the assumed support of institutions such as the police or the media behind them. This idea of sexism says that there are many parts of society and the major organisations that run it which in either loud or subtle ways support sexism, and these support what was declared to be the ‘superior’ sex/gender.

And, you can accuse me of splitting hairs, but I believe the difference between terms such as prejudice, racism, sexism, and bigotry is important. When we act as if ANYONE can be racist or sexist, we deny the systematic, institutionalized arrangement of our society and act as if these attitudes and inequalities are coming out of a vacuum. In sum, anyone can be a bigot, or prejudiced, but racism and sexism are the PRIVILEGES (and, yes, they are privileges, although very horrible, insidious, damaging ones) of the white and the male.

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