merielle: purple passiflora on a barbed wire fence (Default)
Hey smart folks reading this -

I sit on NOW's Combating Racism Committee. I developed this handout for white allies; my goal is to get it up on the website before the holidays so people can use it as a resource when they encounter That One Relative, that kind of thing. I would really appreciate feedback. Thanks! Big long thing behind the cut )
merielle: purple passiflora on a barbed wire fence (Default)
I kind of hate fandom.

I am a big geeky nerd. I read, watch, love, and like discussing a lot of speculative fiction. I play video games. I've watched the David Lynch Dune more than five times on purpose. Yep, I'm a nerd.

But I'm also a anti-racist queer feminist. And I fucking detest about 80% of all the fanboys I've ever met. Seriously, I live in Texas and I do politics and policy. I deal with enough smug, self-absorbed, privilege-denying assholes in my professional life. I have zero desire to spend my leisure time around them, too.

A dear friend is spending the weekend selling his wares at ArmadilloCon. I had a brief moment of, perhaps I was wrong! Perhaps this could be fun! But then I spent five minutes looking at the website.

Top three reasons the website reminded me why I hate cons:

3) There is a panel on how awesome the new episodes of Futurama are. Really? Just, really? Boring, sexist, badly written... AWESOME, indeed.

2) Fucking W*ll Sh#tterly is a special guest.

1) The following panel description about MoonFail:
Sa2000T Wiscon and Elizabeth Moon: What Happened and What Can We Learn from It?
Sat 8:00 PM-9:00 PM Trinity
E. Bull*, S. Leicht, S. Lynch, L. Person, C. Rambo, L. Thomas

Elizabeth Moon was invited and announced as Guest of Honor for the 2011 Wiscon, but the invitation was withdrawn following a noteworthy blog post she wrote. What were the issues, and was the situation handled appropriately? How do we avoid similar situations?

WHAT IS THIS I DON'T EVEN. How many things could they possibly get wrong in three sentences? What is the goddamn point of the last question? Moon was an asshole. She could have not been an asshole or chosen to stop being an asshole. That's how the situation could have been avoided. For fuck's sake. Part of me wants to go to this panel just to point out how completely misleading, wrongheaded, and stupid is this entire description.

So that's why Wiscon is pretty much the only con I want to go to. Because I want to actually enjoy things I do for fun, and I don't find it fun to watch while people systematically dehumanize others.
merielle: purple passiflora on a barbed wire fence (Default)

(Note: I spent most of tonight writing a Very Serious Post for the Austin NOW blog, talking about why Social Security cuts are a feminist issue, so now I will relax by writing about fluffy pop culture.)

I detest most ‘reality’ television. But one of the few such shows I totally dig is So You Think You Can Dance. I resisted it for a few seasons, because I thought it would irritate me solely on the basis of being reality TV. But then the gay male roommate with whom I shared a flat in San Francisco while I was there for a summer seminar a few years ago introduced me to it, and I was hooked after one episode of sitting on the couch with him, eating ice cream, jovially bickering about our favorites, and forgetting to breathe as I watched all these incredible performers blend athleticism and art to create such ephemeral beauty. (I tell you what, that was some seriously fun fag hagging; we were both aware of the cliche and amused by it.)

A few reasons why SYTYCD is a fixture in my DVR:

  • I love dance. I own not just a DVD of Center Stage, but the soundtrack. For real, I am a dork for dance. SYTYCD is a delicious weekly buffet of all kinds of dancing. Woot!
  • The lighting, costuming, and makeup are freaking amazing! That’s got to be a hard job - so much to do every week, and very little time in which to do it. On rare occasions I’ll have a “…. seriously?” moment with the costumes, but overall I think they do an outstanding job.
  • There are tons of people of color on it - dancers and choreographers, sometimes judges - but it’s not relegated to the second-class status of a “black show” that advertisers think white (read: middle and upper class) people won’t watch.
  • The random drawing of partners results in many multiracial pairs, and I think it’s awesome that we’re visually normalizing that a little bit more. I still have such vivid memories of season 4 competitors Ade and Melissa’s incredibly moving contemporary piece inspired by breast cancer survivors. Yeah, that’s a big black dude and a teeny white ballerina, nobody found it strange, they both got to play complicated characters, and all the judges were crying at the end because the performance was so gorgeous and amazing. And from the same season, Joshua and Katee, a black man and a Japanese-Irish-American woman, rocking a Bollywood routine was, for me, a multiculturalism I can totally get behind: learning, sharing, beauty, and joy without cultural appropriation and with respect. Rad.
  • I think it’s so kickass that all kinds of dance are treated equally. “High culture” (read: rich people like and fund it) contemporary dance, “middlebrow” (read: commercial and hobby dancing) forms like Broadway and ballroom, and “lowbrow” (read: stuff poor people do) styles like hip-hop and Bollywood that are strongly associated with people of color, are set side-by-side. We watch them one after the other, and they’re just positioned as different styles rather than having icky race and class bullshit attached. That’s a big deal.
  • They make such a point of saying that dance is for everyone and (not wholly, but to a large extent) backing that up for real. A few episodes ago, they featured a performance by a couple from Axis Dance Company made up of a guy in a wheelchair and an able-bodied woman, and it was amazing. A loosely affiliated nonprofit, the horribly named Dizzy Feet Foundation, offers scholarships to increase access to dance education regardless of ability to pay. And this season, they have beginning, intermediate, and master-level routines for National Dance Day so more people can join in. And the beginning routine demo video has a person in a wheelchair doing it! That’s awesome.

The show is not unproblematic. The panel of judges does tend to be majority white. So even though Lil’ C annoys me, I would like to see him and Debbie Allen up there a lot more.

Also, there’s a ton of tangled-up gendered and homophobic bullshit. There is a lot of annoying rhetoric about what sort of movement is “masculine” or “feminine.” It is heteronormative; the dancers are sorted into male-female couples and an irritatingly large percentage of the dances have love story plots. Head judge Nigel Lythgoe said some dumbass things about same-sex ballroom couples a while back; GLAAD did some outreach and this got better, but still, that was crap.

And boy, do they deal weirdly with body size. The dance world is notorious for this, and SYTYCD is no exception. This season, sisters Sasha and Natalia Mallory both made it through Vegas, but thin Sasha was selected for the top 20 and bigger Natalia (she doesn’t even read as fat to me, she’s just considerably larger than all the other teeny tiny dancers) was not - and no real reason was given. It’s true that Natalia got diagnosed with diabetes in Vegas and of course that needs dealing with - but then why didn’t they just say that? It totally feels to me like the partnering issue she had in Vegas, when she was paired with a very small guy for a routine with serious lifts and, what a surprise, they had trouble, is the undiscussed elephant in the room here. This is also crap. Put her with a guy with enough leverage and strength to swing her around, and she’s lovely. I get that there are practical concerns here - several of the guys in the top 20 are quite small, and they’re randomly paired, so the partnering issue would come up again in unpredictable ways - but I just feel like they were first patronizing (“Awww, it’s so cute that you’re SO GIGANTIC but you’re still a good dancer”) and then silent because they didn’t know what to say. FEH.

So it’s not perfect. But it does have a lot of awesome subversive qualities, plus so much gorgeous dancing. My revolution totally has dancing in it.

merielle: purple passiflora on a barbed wire fence (Default)
These are nothing resembling complete; they're just things that struck me, so I wrote them down.

From the Feminist Intersectionality panel:
- Ian Hagemann: "Ally" is not an identity you get to keep all the time. You not even have a say in whether you get it.
- Ian on how to be an ally but not speak for others: You can start with an I statement - "I have a different opinion" or "Please don't use that language around me." Or step up and make space - "I'd like to hear what (x) has to say about that" - and then step back.
- Isabel - No outgroup is a monolith. [My reaction to this: one of the concepts I recall most vividly from my social psych courses is outgroup homogeneity bias. So probably this is something we all have to work very, very hard to remember. :( ]
- Betsy - Disability accommodation != accommodation for wheelchairs. If you ask Jesse the K, who's in a chair, and Betsy, who has arthritis, about what they need, you'll get really different answers.

From the Feminist Coalition-building panel:
- Culturally relevant approaches matter. Seriously. All the time. If you ask an Inuit child, "If I have 3 apples and you have 4, how many apples are there," that child will probably not answer, "7." Community values about sharing mean that zie is probably going to say something like, "We can all have some apples." Interesting!
- How to have productive disagreement - Acknowledge that disagreement/discord is inevitable; re-acknowledge basic commonalities; start with agreement/set boundaries on what we won't argue about; commit to having a moderator
- Debbie Notkin - Often what makes us angry is feeling like the other side has all the power and we have no power to speak.
- Argue in the present, not the past.

From the Self-Reflective Revolutionary Panel:
- "Buddha, you are acting out your shit right now." Heh! Read: no one is exempt from the possibility that zie's being an asshole.
- If you get calm, the level of calmness in the universe has gone up.
- Ian - Revolution is a state change which could not have been predicted beforehand - not a logical extension, but a new thing.

From the Slacktivism panel
- Online activism != slacktivism. Online stuff can be impactful and real, and for some folks, it's all they can do. So be wary of judging.
- Offline activism can be sucky and unhelpful, too!

I wrote down many, many things that Ian Hagemann and Debbie Notkin said. Wow, they are smart and I am so grateful to be able to learn from them. I'm SUPER excited that Ms. Notkin is one of the guests of honor for next year, and I'm eagerly anticipating her GoH speech.
merielle: purple passiflora on a barbed wire fence (Default)
I am LOVING Eureka. A police procedural set in a town full of supernerds! Plenty of women and people of color who are portrayed as smart, capable, and complicated! It's smart and well-plotted, the time travel plot lines did not piss me off, and it has banter! Win.

Environmental racism: a long, shameful 'Merkin tradition!

Steven Tyler was an impressively arrogant, self-centered, exploitative asswipe in the '70s and he should have gone to jail at some point. Ye holy stars, that poor girl. Part of my reaction is feminist outrage, part of it is pure Southern affrontedness - she could have ruined his life by speaking up and she didn't, and then he digs up all this garbage when she's married and many times a mother and dumps it into a memoir which hits the NYT bestseller list. Yeesh. I had hoped getting sober made him less of an asswipe, but this was a continuation of his previous exploitation of her, and he still votes Republican and plays at their fundraisers, so that hope is gone.

I have serious issues with Michelle Obama's Let's Move campaign, but sometimes she does awesome stuff, like have her picture taken hugging a young Muslim girl and give great queer-inclusive relationship advice. Well played, madame!

This piece on white privilege in feminist organizations made me feel ill in that way that true and painful things make my stomach clench up. Ouch. Y'all, if I'm an asshole in this particular way, will you please call me out on it? Thanks.

So this story about a couple who choose not to disclose their child's sex/gender has made several appearances in my Facebook feed. I really like this story and am pleasantly surprised by how sympathetically it was written.I have things to say about this, and it gets long )
merielle: purple passiflora on a barbed wire fence (Default)
I don't know what the fuck that mess was on Sunday night, but it damn sure wasn't anything like the Song of Ice and Fire I know.

grump and spoilers behind the cut )
merielle: purple passiflora on a barbed wire fence (Default)
So my Facebook feed is full of appalling jubilation right now. So many people I know are expressing joy that Osama bin Laden is dead. CNN is showing crowds of people gathering in front of the White House and at the site of the Two Towers, cheering, waving the US flag, chanting, "USA, USA." I was particularly nauseated to read that some of those crowds were singing, "na na na na, na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye," like the death of another human being is like a goddamn hockey game. The president I voted for made a rather stiff speech in which he said some good stuff (reiterating that we are not at war with Islam, acknowledging the losses suffered by the families of those who died on 9/11) and some distressing stuff (the laughable assertion that 'we know the costs of war' when it's been more than 60 years since any war has touched US soil, talking the same bullshit about national unity that totally glosses over the post-9/11 rash of racist vandalism and violence against brown-skinned people in the US, reiteration of US exceptionalism, etc).

The thing that turns my stomach the most is the assertion that this was justice. This was not justice. bin Laden was not arrested and taken into custody. He will never be tried. He was shot and killed. A team of Navy Seals and special ops personnel stormed his home and shot him. According to ABC's reporting of US officials' statements, here's what happened:

According to U.S. officials, two U.S. helicopters swept into the compound at 1:30 and 2:00 a.m. Sunday morning. Twenty to 25 U.S. Navy Seals under the command of the Joint Special Operations Command in cooperation with the CIA stormed the compound and engaged Bin Laden and his men in a firefight, killed Bin Laden and all those with him.

Two Bin Laden couriers were killed, as was one of Osama Bin Laden's son, as was a woman reportedly used as a shield by one of the men. Other women and children were present in the compound, according to Pakistani officials, but were not harmed. U.S. officials said that Bin Laden himself did fire his weapon during the fight.

That's not justice. It's vengeance.

I spent most of 9/11 at work at a state agency, with a colleague whose brother was working at the Pentagon that day. I sat with her while we watched the towers burning and collapsing, the smoke rising from the plane crash in Pennsylvania, and the wreckage at the Pentagon. I held her hand while she waited to find out if her brother was alive. She was lucky; he was fine. I felt sick and scared just like everyone else in the US. It was a horrifying, heartbreaking day.

So I'm not sorry to hear that the man responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent people is dead. But I will not call it just. And I'm not celebrating. I'm not singing.

I keep thinking about the footage that several networks ran, just after 9/11, of a crowd of jubilant brown-skinned men, women, and children in a dusty street in Palestine, supposedly celebrating the attacks. I remember feeling so horrified by those images - and then infuriated by them. Of course I found out later that there were also candlelight vigils all over the world and that everyone from Hezbollah to the Taliban condemned the attacks. And then I was ashamed of falling for the blatantly jingoistic and racist visual rhetoric being deployed there.

And now tonight's accurate footage of crowds singing and waving the flag will run all over the world. I don't think it's any more okay to cheer violent death now than I did then. Who was that woman who died, used as a human shield? Who mourns her? Who will see those images of (mostly white) USians and feel hatred because of them? How does any of this make anything better?

I feel sick. I'm saddened and disgusted. I don't really know what else to say or what to do. So I'll just pray. Tonight I pray for peace and justice for all people of goodwill everywhere on this planet. And I hope and pray that we as a species are, however slowly, getting smarter and kinder.
merielle: purple passiflora on a barbed wire fence (Default)
So about an hour ago, we were hanging out playing video games when we heard a loud banging on our front door. Normally we don't answer our door unless we're expecting someone because we get a lot of solicitors in our neighborhood, so at first we ignored it. The banging got louder and I went downstairs, feeling grumpy.

It was a guy who lives down the street, who was knocking to tell us that someone had crashed a car into our fence. Yikes! He also said, "Look, she's afraid," which confused me, but I got my phone and went outside.

When I saw her, I got it. Saira, the woman in the accident, is visibly Other - she is dark-skinned and she wears hijab. It turns out that she lives down the street from us. She was very shaken up - she's been driving 20 years and this is the first accident she's ever had. She was heading out to do some errands before a big trip - she and her husband are leaving tomorrow to make their pilgrimage to Mecca and then visit family in India. What happened was, she was stressed and distracted, her bag fell off the front seat, she reached to right it, she accidentally jerked the wheel, and bam, she jumped the curb and crashed into our fence.

I don't give a crap about our fence. It'll cost a pittance to repair, and it's old and should be replaced soon, anyway. Whatever. This is why we have insurance, right? Accidents happen. No big deal. We took pictures, exchanged information, all the standard stuff.

What upsets me is this: She was scared and shaken up by the car accident, but she was almost as frightened of me. Me. To a white person, I'm practically a fluffy bunny - blonde, blue-eyed, sweet-faced, smiling, open. Seriously, I get asked for directions in cities I'm just visiting. But to Saira, I was a potential abuser whose property she had damaged. Her hands were shaking and her voice unsteady when she told me that she wanted to be clear that she and her husband were leaving tomorrow and asked uncertainly, "Do you know what a pilgrimage is?"

I was calm, smiling, kept my voice low. I said one of my dearest friends from high school is Muslim, that I understood what a big deal it was to be making this journey, that I was glad for her that she was doing so. I joked with her about being the white girl at my friend's house, how her mom would give me the least spicy portion of unfamiliar foods and carefully explain what they were, amused at my game enthusiasm and happy to be sharing something important with her daughter's friend. I said that one of my sorority sisters from college is Muslim; we worked closely together on several big projects, and I'm happy that we remain friends. And while I related all this, I swear Saira's shoulders went down an inch and a half. Finally, she relaxed enough to smile.

That's what's making me want to weep. Because it's understandable that she was afraid. She had never met me, we live in a neighborhood where many people are kind and accepting but some are terrifying when angered (most notably this guy), and I had reason to be angry. She was right to fear for her safety until given reason to do otherwise. I've been in a few wrecks, and in car accidents involving white folks on both sides, there was rarely anger, yelling, and bad behavior; mostly there was contrition, businesslike conduct, annoyance at all the red tape, and maybe some joking about how much we all hate insurance companies. This is the first time I can recall in my entire life that someone has been afraid of me in such a situation. Right now, it's the only time I can recall someone being afraid of me, period. What if I hadn't had a story to tell about my Muslim friends? Would Saira's hands have stopped shaking?

Imagine that you've just crashed your car, you're standing in someone's front yard embarrassed and shaken, you have a to-do list a mile long before a five-week international trip and it just got longer because of this mess, you're worried about the money, and even though you're lucky and grateful to have escaped physical harm in the accident, on top of all that, you are also standing there afraid that what would be a civil interaction with someone who looks like you could escalate into violence because you look different from the so-called norm.

That's why the shit people talk about Muslims and immigrants matters. That's why I wasn't going to go to Wiscon unless MoonFail was resolved and Elizabeth Moon's GoH status was rescinded. It matters in the everyday lives of real human beings. Civil society depends on the general presumption of goodwill, which means first we have to see each other as human. And when people talk about Muslims and immigrants as though they're all the same and all suspect, when they stick their noses in the air and talk about how grateful Muslims should be for the forbearance offered them by Real Americans (tm), what they're saying is that when they encounter a Muslim person, an immigrant, they don't see a complicated individual with many important characteristics; they just see a Muslim, an immigrant, an Other, one of Those People, someone Not Like Us. I will say it flat-out: that attitude is un-American. And what I mean by that is, it is contrary to the country I was raised to believe in, that I went into public policy and politics to serve, the one where everyone's freedom, equality, and humanity are genuine, protected, and precious.

I'm aware of this today because this happened, literally, in my front yard. What's happening in your front yard, in your neighborhood, in your city, in your country, today that your privilege lets you ignore?
merielle: purple passiflora on a barbed wire fence (Default)
- i'm totally brain-crushing on liss at shakesville today. this piece on the myths about female friendship gets a big amen from me. she breaks it down beautifully and eloquently, as always.

- tim wise at alternet offers a stunning thought experiment showing how white privilege functions in the cultural conversation about the tea party protests. highly recommended.

- chloe at feministing talks here about michael kimmel, a great male ally. for those of us who struggle to understand and talk to some of the dudes in our lives, this has some useful bits. and i'm really curious to read his book now. (as an aside, i want to find and deprogram the asshole mentioned briefly here who wouldn't let shelby knox into a UT frat party because she was "too fat." fucking seriously?)

- i have mixed feelings about stephanie herold's piece about how young feminists are awesome and mostly online. many of the young feminists she interviewed are doing some badass stuff, and that's awesome. but i kind of feel like she's saying that online feminism is What We Do nowadays, that this is the official third/fourth/wtf-ever wave way to do feminism, and i think that's reductive and short-sighted. you know i loves me some interwebs. email is great. blogging is great. twitter... is okay. online tools that allow you to email your representatives in one click are fine. but these days, it's necessary but not sufficient. for example, unless you have a compelling personal story to go with it, sending a boilerplate email to your state rep or member of congress is not very effective anymore precisely because it's trivially easy; they know that, and they value it accordingly. they've got to get an avalanche of such emails for it to make a difference, and for that to happen, you've got to be hooked in with an interest group, at least to the extent that you're on their mailing list.

saying brilliant things online is wonderful, but it's just one part of a larger struggle. it's not a substitute for voting, running for office, donating to or volunteering for pro-woman candidates, donating to or volunteering with pro-woman organizations, writing op-eds or letters to the editor, offering workshops, calling people out at your workplace or holiday dinner table, or any of the other million ways to do feminism. i don't think it is true that we're "mostly" online, but if that were the case, then frankly, i don't think we would be doing our share.

i'm sympathetic to her irritation at older feminists for clinging to their power and excluding younger women from leadership positions talking smack about how younger feminists are lazy or nonexistent or don't get it. it's really damn annoying. i have been tempted many times to write to certain big national feminist groups (hell, most of them) something like:

"hi there! i worked for your organization for free! a lot! i do a whole helluva lot of feminist work! i weave it into my everyday life, and i also do a nontrivial amount of all that formal stuff you talk about. now that i have money, i give it - to women candidates and feminist nonprofits. i go to lobby days, i track bills, i harass my friends and family to call/write/vote... i play the game exactly how you say it should be played, and you know what you haven't done? you're so busy thinking about *your movement*, you can't see that it's *ours* now, and you haven't asked me what i think or care about. if you have asked, you haven't listened or incorporated what i say, because i'm just a kid and what do i know? you haven't offered me a spot on a committee where i can make a difference, because, hey, we've already got one feminist under 40, do we need more? and while you're happy for the organization to take credit for what i accomplish, you don't listen when i say here's how we can do more and better. and on and on and on.

so hey, feminist leader who's all 'i'm kind of a big deal,' get the fuck over yourself. have you ever thought that maybe there are things YOU don't get? work on your intersectionality. listen to your younger colleagues. i have about a million more suggestions, and am available to discuss them. <3 me."

whew, check the pent-up anger there. see? i really do get why she's frustrated. but it's not okay to just be like, "i took my toys and went to the internet, so EFF YOU, ellie smeal/kim gandy/gloria feldt/dolores huerta/whomever! we younger babes will just do feminism in our little online sandbox!" that's no way to effect change. it's hard, and it sucks to feel like you're fighting your own organization/movement at the same time you're fighting everyone else. heaven knows i'm aware of this. but if we want big, structural things to change, like health care infrastructure, pay inequity, laws about violence against women, etc, we've got to use every tool at our disposal.

note that i'm not saying every feminist must take part in every kind of activism. i'm addressing this article in this way specifically because it explicitly purports to be a state-of-the-movement update. the internet is one tool in the box. but it isn't the whole box, and it can't and shouldn't be. i grant you it's kind of a swiss army knife - it works for conversations, fundraising, keeping people informed, linking up members of small groups spread over large areas (trans* folk in particular have used it to great effect), all kinds of things. but have you ever tried to use your swiss army knife screwdriver to put in or take out more than one screw? it kind of sucks, doesn't it? i bet you went and got your regular screwdriver or even a fancy battery-powered one, because you know what? there are other tools made specifically for that purpose that work better for that job. and if you're trying to dismantle the master's house, there's a big damn lot of things that need doing, and they cannot all be done with a single tool.


merielle: purple passiflora on a barbed wire fence (Default)

February 2016

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