How To Combat Racism

I’m going to start by saying I don’t have the answer. I’d love to have it but people being how they are, I don’t think there is one way to combat racism that will work for everyone. Like everyone who doesn’t live under a rock, I’ve been following the story of Treyvon Martin’s shooting in Florida. The Crommunist has a few great posts about the story with some really interesting insights. He also has a really interesting post about racism he put up as a warm-up to the two about Treyvon. In it he mentions that he thinks we all have racist biases, no matter how much we think we don’t. This kind of stuck with me and has made me think about it for the past couple of days. I don’t consider myself racist so I really wanted to spend some time considering that statement.

I’m a white woman living in Montreal so it goes without saying that I never experienced racism directly. I grew up in a relatively liberal family but in conversations with my parents as I was growing up, I detected some racist undertones (with my father much more than my mother). I want to clarify here, I don’t believe my parents to be racist in an open and extreme manner. They don’t think that a black person is somehow inferior to a white person. Having said that, I think it would bother them if I brought home a black boyfriend. I also think my father would be much more bothered by it than my mother. I actually had this conversation up front and out in the open with my mother when I was a teenager: what would she think if I brought home a black boyfriend? She gave me the answer that everyone should give: it wouldn’t matter as long as he treated me well. I remember feeling that her answer seemed to have come a little too quickly and automatically. I pressed her and asked again if it really wouldn’t bother her. She responded again that it wouldn’t but then hesitated and said something along the lines of “I would always worry that the cultural differences would affect how he might treat you.” That took me off guard. What cultural difference? All of my black friends at school had grown up in Montreal just like I did and it bothered me that my mother assumed that because their skin was a different colour that they somehow had different values. Thinking back on this, I realize that Crommunist is right: we all have racial biases.

Having grown up in a metropolitan city, I think I have less biases than some people. I know some people who do a double-take when they see an interracial couple and that kind of thing doesn’t even cause a blip on my radar. I am a woman so I get tense walking around at night and having a man follow me (much in the line of thinking of Schrödinger’s Rapist), but I’m not any more nervous if the man following me happens to be black (or hispanic, arab, etc). I think my bias comes more from the fact that I don’t notice injustices as much as I should. As I was looking around my office today, I noticed that out of about forty of us, I could only see one visible minority (hispanic). That’s pretty sad given the fact that my classrooms were much more racially varied but until I actually consciously made myself look at it, I had never noticed. That’s where I am biased (there may be more ways I’m biased but that’s the one I found that jumped out at me). I don’t notice these injustices. And you can’t fix what you don’t realize is broken. So I think that raising awareness is probably one of the most important things we can do. I also think that it’s important to realize what our own biases are. That way, we can actively try to work to correct them. For example, if I’m ever hiring, I will make an effort to correct the lack of visible minorities in my office.

I am saddened and quite frankly disgusted about what happened to Treyvon Martin. I’m not an idiot and I know there is still blatant racism still present in our society. It doesn’t make it anymore sad when things like this happen. That Treyvon got shot and killed merely for being black in what some asshole decided was a white neighbourhood is tragic. That the asshole in question didn’t get arrested is abhorrent. I am so angry because it’s looking like this guy is going to get away with this without even so much as a slap on the wrist when we all know that if the positions had been reversed and Treyvon had been the one with the gun, he would have gotten charged in twenty seconds flat. That’s not acceptable. We should not stop bringing these injustices to light until they don’t happen anymore.

That can’t be soon enough.

Writing Isn’t Easy

I’ve always enjoyed writing because there’s something about writing down (or typing down) your thoughts that’s therapeutic. At least, it is for me. My problem comes at the point where I read my words back to myself. I feel compelled to correct them and try to improve every turn of phrase. I wonder if something could be said or expressed in a better way or if it could be delivered more directly or eloquently. I’m kind of a perfectionist and in my job, that serves me well. I think to a certain degree, wanting to improve something is also a good thing but it can sometimes get to a point where it becomes more of a handicap than anything else. Sometimes, you just have to let go. That’s difficult for me. I do well with structure and rules. I’m a rational person and I don’t really consider myself to be that creative. I actually wish I had more artistic talent but what can you do? You work with what you have. This is part of the reason I started this blog. I don’t have any writing training except for college english classes. It’s not like I’m in this expecting to get “discovered” and strike it rich. I read a lot so I know there are people who are much better at this than I am. But again, I find writing to be therapeutic and I keep reading that the best way to get better at writing is to do it. A lot. So this blog is an experiment of sorts. I hope to see improvement in my writing skills but I also hope that putting my thoughts down in pixels will help organize and define them. Let’s see how this goes.

Much against my instincts, I am posting this without having spent any time reviewing, correcting, adjusting. I just want this one to end up the way it came out of my head.

International Women’s Day

I wasn’t going to write anything about this but I overheard someone today complaining about men not getting a day. Really? Are you kidding me? We have an International Women’s Day because it is supposed to raise awareness about inequalities women face just because they have a vagina.

I actually wish for a time when we don’t have an International Women’s Day. You want to know why men don’t get a day? Here’s why:

This is in North America. I haven’t even linked to all the countries who don’t allow women to drive, have conversation with men they are not related or married to, etc. I never used to be a feminist. All these things still happening to women have made me one. I hope that in my lifetime, there is no need for feminism or an International Women’s Day.

Is Kony 2012 Worth Your Time?

 

I heard about the Kony 2012 video campaign launched by Invisible Children yesterday through Twitter. A significant number of the people I follow were tweeting links to this video and urging people to take notice. I didn’t get a chance to watch the 30-minute video until today and in a sense, I’m glad I waited.

As a skeptic, I always try to approach everything with a certain amount of caution. As an emotional person, sometimes that caution goes out the window without my noticing it. It’s difficult to remain rational when faced with atrocities committed against children. It tugs at the heart-strings and sometimes skepticism takes a back seat. It’s in moments like these that it’s important to remain skeptical and rational nonetheless.

I watched Invisible Children’s video today after seeing some of the criticism of it. It’s a testament to the filmmaker’s talent that I was moved by it, even knowing the problems with it. The video has resonated with people because it makes the problem and solution seem simple. Joseph Kony is a bad man and he’s hurting people and we should stop him. Simple right? Unfortunately, it hardly ever is that simple. It’s naive to think that you could explain a complicated situation as well as a solution for it in a 30-minute video. You can’t. If this could be solved in 30 minutes, it would have been solved by now. It’s hardly ever as simple as just removing one man, because that man doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Other social, economic, and political issues all have an effect on the situation in Uganda and it’s not simple. Just ask the Egyptians. It wasn’t as simple as just removing Mubarak.

At this point, I think it’s important to mention that I do think that Joseph Kony is despicable pond scum. That might actually be an insult to pond scum. I agree he should be stopped. I just think that Invisible Children might be conveniently ignoring realities that don’t fit their narrative. There are many problems with the way the information is presented in the video and also all the information they ignore. There also seems to be a problem with Invisible Children themselves.

I will put links to some great posts about these issues below. For the tl;dr crowd, here are the highlights:

  • Invisible Children spends only about 32% of their money on direct services.
  • They fail to mention the political climate, and people, that have allowed Kony to go on for about 25 years.
  • The fail to talk about the Ugandans that are working and making progress on the ground.
  • The seem to think military intervention is the only way to go.

I’m hardly an expert on Africa. I had never heard of Joseph Kony until yesterday. Hopefully, these posts will help shed some light if you feel inclined to learn more about this.

Musa Okwonga brings an important Uganda perspective on the issue as well as sheds light on why the Ugandan leadership is also a problem.

Mark Kersten has an insightful post on all this as does Daniel Solomon at Securing Rights.

There’s also a Tumblr about some of the issues surrounding Invisible Children.

You should read them all. They were an education about the importance of critical thinking in situations where we might be tempted to lead blindly with our hearts. The reality is complicated. We need to treat it as such.

On Rush Limbaugh

I won’t spend too much time and energy on Rush Limbaugh because I am pretty sure he doesn’t deserve my time or energy. If you don’t live under a huge rock, you will have heard about Rush Limbaugh calling a woman a slut for making the case for health insurance to cover contraceptives for women (I’m not linking to anything because I’m too lazy to find the link… just Google it, I’m sure it shouldn’t be too hard to find). What I find interesting is how much trouble this is attracting in Rush’s direction. The man has always been a closed-minded, backwards-thinking misogynist so I’m a little perplexed by the outrage. This is right up his alley. Why are people surprised he would say something like this? Why are they outraged? Is this really any worse than some of the insulting things he’s said in the past? I claim ignorance on this subject since I don’t listen to Rush Limbaugh and the only time I’m exposed to something he says is when Jon Stewart or Rachel Maddow bring it up on their shows. But from the limited exposure I’ve had to the things he says, this hardly seems like it’s out of character for him. So why is this instance the one that’s getting him into trouble? I’m actually really curious about this. Is this just the drop that’s made the glass overflow? Is it because the insult was directed at a private citizen as opposed to a politician or other public figure? Is it because Obama got involved by calling the student in question and that’s what made this somehow more media-worthy?

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great he’s getting in shit for saying what he did. It was a terrible thing to say and from what I understand, he’s not really apologizing and still throwing insults. I’m all for him losing his advertisers and if it costs him his job, I won’t be sad. I’m just wondering what it is about this particular instance that made it the one that brought on such backlash. All hypotheses are welcome.