Writers: Retire These Clichés (Version: LADYPARTS)

I know, I know: I write about overused tropes often. (Who said irony is dead?) Maybe one day I’ll compile them all into a self-published e-screed entitled “Melissa Reads Too Many Plays,” but for now, the blog will have to do.

Sometimes a cliché works. You’re engaging with the trope in an interesting way, or you’re commenting on the trope’s ubiquitousness. But most of the time, it’s just lazy writing. You plonk a clichéd trope into the scene because you haven’t given the moment much thought, and a well-worn piece of cultural narrative fits neatly into the scene with little effort. Sometimes the clichéd trope is a cultural narrative about race, gender, or religion that you take as given without examining your unconscious biases. Sometimes you’re more focused on other aspects of the scene. Sometimes you’re just . . . lazy. AS ARE WE ALL.

Feel the wrath of Ytar!

Feel the wrath of Ytar!

I don’t mean you don’t care about your work. I just mean, sometimes we take the easiest way out because the issue doesn’t interest us as much as other things at that moment. Sometimes we don’t even realize that’s what we’re doing.

Today’s edition of “Melissa Reads Too Many Plays” is centered around LADYPARTS. There are approximately eleventy gynillion inaccurate, irritating tropes about women and our MYSTERIOUS LADYBITS.  Here are a few of the most preposterous.


Artist’s rendition of a description provided by a male playwright

Nausea and/or vomiting as the first sign a character is pregnant. I AM CALLING A MORATORIUM ON THIS. This trope is so bad it drags down the quality of the rest of the work. First of all, it’s inaccurate. While 75% of pregnant women experience nausea, only 50% will have to endure vomiting. Most importantly, it’s nowhere near the first sign of pregnancy. (For most of us, that honor belongs to sore boobs.) Vomiting is, however, the first outward sign of pregnancy that men have historically noticed because it’s the first outward sign of pregnancy that women cannot hide. In the 20th century, when this trope was popularized in TV and film written almost exclusively by men, few women paraded around the office telling male coworkers about their sore boobs. However, no one can avoid noticing the stenographer rushing out of a meeting to vomit in the trashcan in the hall. Presumably some of those male writers were fathers who knew better (depending on the level of disclosure they were willing to tolerate from their wives about their ladybusiness), but they were never going to get “Ow, my boobs” past the network censors. I’m not saying we should replace the nausea trope with a sore boob trope. I’m saying: Think about the ways you’re hinting at pregnancy. The second a female character of child-bearing age discusses nausea, your entire audience knows she’s pregnant. Is that how you wanted your reveal to go? Every other hint and lead-in after that is a boring time-waster. Your reveal happened the moment she threw up.

Pregnant woman laughing alone with salad. It's like someone left a box of inane tropes in the car and they all melted together.

Pregnant woman laughing alone with salad. It’s like someone left a box of tropes in the car and they all melted together.

Random Unexpected Pregnancy. Why is your character pregnant? Is it because you have a specific reason for her to carry a child? Or is it because you’re out of ideas and you need to create some conflict for the male lead? Are you already calculating how to make this pregnancy magically disappear as soon as the male lead resolves the conflict? If you’re not writing about pregnancy– if the pregnant woman is just an event in your male lead’s life– think about what you’re trying to accomplish with this unexpected pregnancy, and see if you can accomplish it in a more interesting way. Also, once this trope gets started, it often opens up a can of worms of sexist (and boring) tropes– Women can’t tell what’s important and what isn’t (important = male lead’s central narrative, most of which he hides from her; unimportant = helping her install the carseat, a prenatal appointment); women are killjoys (pregnant girlfriend = the death of fun); women are dreamcrushers (pregnant girlfriend demands he stop being an artist and get a job even though he’s on the verge of a breakthrough because women just don’t understand).

Childbirth Starts with Water Breaking and Ends Within Five Minutes. Honestly, just have her give birth off stage. When your water breaks, it generally trickles out, and it NEVER STOPS. Your body keeps replenishing it. Trust the woman who sat on a towel for hours. Only 10% of women start labor with their water breaking, and for those who do, it can be as much as 24-48 hours before labor begins in earnest. If your character’s water breaks, and all hell breaks loose because THE BABY IS COMING!!11!, you’re manufacturing conflict. Average length of labor for a first-rime mother is 6 – 18 hours, not one scene. Why do you want to show the actual childbirth? What narrative motion are you hoping to achieve? Is there a way to accomplish that without using an unrealistic, clichéd trope?

(source: wrathofzombie.wordpress.com)

(source: wrathofzombie.wordpress.com)

Menstruation Turns Women Into Insane Blood Monsters. “I can’t talk to you when you’re like this.” Just . . . no. Extreme mood swings occur in 3-8% of menstruating women. Chocolate cravings are not universal. I’m just going to set your play aside if your male lead comes home with chocolate for his bleeding wife who then screams at him for no discernible reason other than that you wanted to motivate his affair later in the play. This trope is both boring and misogynistic.

 Don't look at me; I just got here

Don’t look at me; I just got here

Fish Jokes. This is exactly the way to get me to delete your play, take a shower, and try to pretend it never happened. I’m honestly astonished that men are still making these jokes in 2015, but evidently, they are. If you’re seeking a way to make a male character seem like an obnoxious idiot trying to hide the fact that he’s a virgin, I can see using this trope, but I still hate it, and I am not alone. Begone, trope.

Women’s Sexuality is Mysterious and Confusing. WHAT DO WOMEN WANT?!? I know this sounds crazy, but hear me out: ASK HER. When a male character is flopping around haphazardly trying to please a woman who has almost no lines but who, presumably, just sits there with a vaguely disapproving look on her face, most of the people in your audience are going to get very frustrated very fast. She can communicate, can’t she? Using her as a prop to establish your male character’s adorable awkwardness, sincere cluelessness, or comic lack of skillz is a trope I never want to see again. Women’s sexuality is not a puzzle for men to solve. Women’s sexuality is not a comment on male sexuality. Women are, believe it or not, people.

If the playwright would give me some lines, I could tell Roger there's no need to go to all that . . . oh, no, not the full body latex. JUST ONE LINE, I BEG YOU (source: times.co.uk)

If the playwright would give me some lines, I could tell Roger there’s no need to go to all that . . . oh, no, not the full body latex. JUST ONE LINE, I BEG YOU (source: times.co.uk)

The advice is the same for all of these: Think about what, specifically, you’re trying to achieve with these tropes and then work to achieve them in a more interesting way.


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“Peeple,” the Yelp-style app that rates people, is the worst idea ever, even if it’s a hoax. Especially if it’s a hoax.

“Peeple”? No idea. Maude, cancel my 10:30 so I can read this post.

What is “Peeple”?

Perhaps you’ve already heard about this proposed new app, “Peeple,” that’s designed to be a sort of Yelp for people. The premise is that anyone with your cell phone number can create your profile and post a review of you. Yes, you personally. You’re alerted via text message. If you do nothing, Peeple only posts “positive” reviews, meaning reviews of 3 – 5 stars, regardless of written content. If you claim your profile, you receive your negative reviews (2 stars or fewer) via your Peeple inbox. You have 48 hours to try to “work it out with the person” and convince them to “turn a negative to a positive.” If you can’t, the review goes live, and your only recourse is to defend yourself publicly. The founders of Peeple, Julia Cordray and Nicole McCullough, have repeatedly said that there will be no opt-out feature, meaning anyone who has– or who can find– your cell phone number can create a permanent profile for you without your consent, inviting others to post reviews of you, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.

I don't know . . . sounds like a harassment engine . . .

I don’t know . . . sounds like a harassment engine . . .

Cordray and McCullough have given vague assurances that they will have structures in place to minimize harassment and enable people to contest reviews with misleading or incorrect information. They claim they will personally review all negative reviews (again, not in content, just in star count), and that anyone violating the terms of service, which bans, according to their website, “profanity, bullying, health references, disability references, confidential information, mentioning other people in a rating that you are not currently writing a rating for, name calling, degrading comments, abuse, derogatory comments, sexual references, mention of confidential information, racism, legal references, hateful content, sexism, and other parameters in our terms and conditions” will be booted.

In case you were wondering, these are the people making decisions about what constitutes

In case you were wondering, these are the people making decisions about what constitutes “racism” on Peeple. (Source: forthepeeple.com)

This Can’t Possibly Be Real, Can It?

Peeple is such a spectacularly bad idea that, in addition to the massive online outpouring of WTF, some people began looking a little closer at Cordray and McCullough (pictured above), among them Snopes, and started to float the idea that Peeple is likely “vaporware” (a nonexistent product announced but never produced), a hoax created to underpin a reality show Cordray and McCullough were creating about the development of an app. Peeple’s site features no less than ten “webisodes” entitled “Peeple Watching Documentary– 2 Best Friends Building an App in Silicon Valley in 90 Days.”

Another clue is the app’s website. As a writer who has done some professional copywriting for tech companies in the past, it’s immediately obvious to me that the copy in all sections has been written by an amateur. It’s rife with writing errors. Suspiciously so. Check out the first quote above– it mentions “confidential information” twice in the same list. The site also includes a note entitled “An Ode to Courage” that’s so self-serving and poorly written, it makes me wonder if the entire enterprise is a satire of app developers: “Innovators are often put down because people are scared and they don’t understand. We are bold innovators and sending big waves into motion and we will not apologize for that because we love you enough to give you this gift.”

While bad writing alone doesn’t point to a hoax, it certainly adds to the enormous lack of professionalism that is underpinning much of what’s creating suspicions.

Hmmmm. I was going to pose for this picture, but now that you mention it, that DOES sounds suspicious. Do go on.

Hmmmm. I was going to pose for this picture, but now that you mention it, that DOES sounds suspicious. Do go on.

Their failure to address basic, obvious concerns about privacy, consent, and intrusion demonstrates they have suspiciously low interest in probable legal complications.

They seem to have no understanding of social media harassment, which would be shocking for people creating a social media app. They appear (pretend?) to believe that possessing a cell phone number is proof of personal knowledge, when everyone online knows that to be laughably inaccurate. Their report and review policies are suspiciously weak, as if no one with expertise in the matter was consulted.

Finally, they have no legal right to the name “Peeple,” which belongs to a company that makes smart peepholes for your door (which actually look super-rad; you should check them out). Cordray and McCullough didn’t even bother to check the availability of the brand name before diving in. (Cordray appears to have belatedly– just last night, in fact– created a new twitter handle, @peeplereviewapp, and is offering $1000 for the “best new name.”)

Now that IS suspicious. Archibald, bring the coach around. We're leaving.

Now that IS suspicious. Archibald, bring the coach around. We’re leaving.

If It’s Just a Hoax, What’s the Big Deal?

Whether the app is vaporware or not, Peeple is a Very Bad Thing.

Remember: Cordray and McCullough are clear that reviews with 3 – 5 stars will automatically post, regardless of content, and without your consent. Harassers and stalkers know precisely how to game systems, and it doesn’t take a genius to sort out that a damaging, harassing, or abusive review, carefully worded so it doesn’t violate the ToS, will automatically post if you attach a 5 star rating. There are millions of people out there who understand all too well the potential dangers that Cordray and McCullough have been callously brushing off.

Apart from the ongoing struggle with online harassment of women, there are specific vulnerable populations that are terrified of this app, and for good reason. There are places in this country where a person would be fired if their place of employment discovers they are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. There are places in this country where transgender people have no legal protections. There are transgender people whose lives are at risk if their identities are discovered, particularly low-income people and people of color. Gay and transgender teenagers have astronomically high suicide rates as it is, exacerbated by bullying. Just asking people to click through a “yes, I am 21” screen does exactly nothing to protect a kid. How long will Peeple’s review process take? Two days? A week? While a profile outing or bullying a teenager remains up?

There are tens of thousands of people hiding from abusive exes or stalkers, and Peeple presents an enormous danger to them, even from well-meaning people. All it takes is a 5 star review from a customer or co-worker detailing the excellent service Name O’Person provides in Specific City, and boom. The damage has been done. Peeple won’t allow the profile to be taken down, and the review can’t be contested because it’s positive. Even if the profile could be taken down, there’s no way for it to be taken down quickly enough to protect people adequately. The internet is forever. There are people who barely escaped murder hiding in cities far from their abusive exes, keeping as low a profile as possible. Peeple has announced, essentially, that it plans to out them all, but LOL, “turn a negative into a positive!” Peeple is “a positivity app!”


People all across the country are terrified about what Peeple’s scorn for consent might mean for them and their families. Will I lose my job? Will I lose my children? Will I have to race into hiding, desperately seeking housing and a new job, because the man who swore to murder me will discover where I work? What if I can’t afford to move when I’m outed? Will my transgender college student, away from home for the first time, be bullied into suicide? Will my transgender daughter be killed on the street on her way to work? Will my stalker be able to trace where my children go to school if our location is posted?

And sure, there’s nothing stopping people from outing each other now– and they do– but Peeple is built specifically to aggregate and disclose information about individuals without their consent. Peeple’s sole function is to judge others without their consent, and deny them the right to opt out.


Unlike other social media sites, Peeple enables others to create a profile for you without your consent, and denies you the right to delete comments on that profile, block harassers, or delete your profile entirely. Cordray and McCullough have decided that they, not you, are the appropriate judges of what constitutes your “confidential information,” as well as what constitutes “harassment.”

Peeple would be one-stop shopping for harassers and abusers, and that is terrifying millions of people while Cordray and McCullough brush off their concerns with casual cruelty.


If Peeple launches, there will be attendant invasion of privacy lawsuits launching, one hopes, in time to shut it down before it can get anyone killed. But the damage it’s doing right now– the terror it’s spreading among vulnerable populations, real people whose lives are on the line– is unconscionable.

I can almost understand wanting to launch a real app, and just lacking the expertise and intelligence to understand that your app is the worst idea ever, and why, and how to address those issues before you destroy your brand, someone else’s brand, several thousand lives, and your professional reputations.

But I CANNOT understand people who would persist in a hoax after being told, repeatedly, that they are scaring the living shit out of millions of people whose lives they would be putting at risk.

A Note To Julia Cordray and Nicole McCullough

Julia Cordray and Nicole McCullough, if this is vaporware, a hoax, and/or a fake premise upon which to launch your web series, you are truly despicable. You have repeatedly demonstrated no concern whatsoever for the personal safety or emotional and psychological well-being of our nation’s most vulnerable people. You’re terrifying people because you desperately want to be rich and famous. Well, you got the famous part all right– I hope infamous is close enough. If your app is real, and if you have one decent cell in your body– either of you– you will make this app opt-in, or you will allow people to pre-emptively opt out and/or delete profiles created for them before they go live.


I think the best and/or most frustrating part about all of this is how upset Cordray’s been over the criticism, and how ludicrous she looks trying to silence it while denying that right to others. It’s been a banner couple of years centuries for clueless, self-serving, arrogant, basic white girls, (here you go; with my compliments; help yourself; just one more; treat yourself), but this takes the cake.

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“They Never Thought He Had a Bomb”: Racist Narratives


The above meme (click to embiggen) has been burning up my feed, and I think the sentiment behind it is spot on. The motivation behind the arrest of 14-year-old engineering whiz Ahmed Mohamed for bringing a homemade clock to his Irving, Texas high school was racism, no question. But I’ve been thinking about this for hours, and I think the above conversation misses the point entirely.

I’m sure it took about .0007 seconds for people– even people like the faculty, staff, and police of Irving, TX, who clearly aren’t the sharpest tools in the shed (and your fellow educators thank you for making us all look like asshats, btw)– to understand that a bomb must be attached to something that can actually explode, and that Ahmed hadn’t built a bomb out of circuit boards and Muslim Magic. What they were accusing him of is building a hoax bomb. This is why no one acted like there was a real bomb on site. They were accusing him of creating a performance meant to frighten and intimidate– they were accusing him of performing the role of “terrorist.”


Ahmed Mohamed, 14, being led away in handcuffs in a NASA T-shirt. The look on his face breaks my heart.

The police asked him repeatedly to explain why he had built the device, and to provide a “larger context.” When he couldn’t, they arrested him. The above picture of him went viral, along with the story, and the public outcry has, of course, caused Irving officials to begin to backpedal furiously, saying that he “wasn’t forthcoming” during questioning, never gave any more information than explaining that the device was a clock (probably because the device was a clock) and that they would have done the same for any student of any race.



I think that’s not even within walking distance of the truth. If the truth were Mordor, Irving PD are still in The Shire having second breakfast. Look at what they said about the arrest:

Irving Police spokesman Officer James McLellan told the station, “We attempted to question the juvenile about what it was and he would simply only tell us that it was a clock.”

The teenager did that because, well, it was a clock, he said. […] McLellan told the Dallas Morning News that Ahmed insisted the device was a clock, and that police have no reason to think it was dangerous and “no information that he claimed it was a bomb.”

Still, police wanted “a broader explanation” from the teen, McLellan said.

“We have no information that he claimed it was a bomb,” McLellan said. “He kept maintaining it was a clock, but there was no broader explanation.”

Asked what broader explanation the boy could have given, the spokesman explained:

“It could reasonably be mistaken as a device if left in a bathroom or under a car. The concern was, what was this thing built for? Do we take him into custody?”

They created a narrative (“Muslim creates hoax bomb”) and framed it as his fault when he wouldn’t perform that narrative– they claimed he was uncooperative when he wouldn’t perform the role they had invented for him based solely on his ethnicity. Irving officials imagined Ahmed was a hoax bomber, and could therefore provide context– a reason he would build a hoax bomb and bring it to school. But he couldn’t provide context that didn’t exist. When he “refused” to give a “reason” he had created this “hoax bomb,” they grew MORE suspicious because they had already decided he was performing a narrative about Muslim terrorists.

They were looking for an explanation like, “I planned to plant it under the principal’s chair so everyone would think it was a bomb,” or “I planned to show it to some kids who were bullying me to scare them,” or “My cousin Sayeed is turning me into Junior Jihadist.” Instead they got, “It’s a clock.” And they blamed him for not being “forthcoming” or “providing context.”

They literally could not understand the obvious context right in front of their faces– nerdy kid builds nerdy device– because they didn’t see him as “nerdy kid.” They saw him as “Muslim.” They could not put “nerdy kid who hangs out at Radio Shack and builds things” together with “Muslim.” Literally every single American went to high school with at least one awesome Radio Shack nerd. This is not some far-fetched, unusual, outlying teen identity. These kids are all over the country, and have been for decades.

Too bad Ahmed didn't look like Val Kilmer.

If Ahmed looked like Val Kilmer, this all would have gone down differently.

The problem is more complex than just “they wanted to humiliate a Muslim.” That may very well be true, but we need to pay careful attention to the specifics here. America has created narratives for the millions of Muslims who live here, and we are unable and unwilling to understand when real people do not conform to those narratives, to understand that Muslims are people, as varied as any other group of people. We’ve created multiple narratives that see people of color as DANGEROUS, and we’re skeptical and mistrustful when people of color say they do not conform to those narratives. We imagine they’re just hiding something. People of color must prove again, and again, and again that they’re not something we invented about them.

We’ve created a narrative that Latinos are illegal, drug-pushing rapists who are here to take our jobs. We’ve created a narrative that Black people, especially Black men (and boys) are essentially weapons lying in wait to attack innocent white people. And we’ve created a narrative that Muslims are all America-hating, bomb-wielding terrorists.

NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 26: Participants wait for the start of the American Muslim Day Parade on September 26, 2010 in New York, New York. The annual parade celebrates the presence and contributions of Muslims in New York City and surrounding areas. The parade, which attracts hundreds of participants, concludes with a bazaar selling food, clothing, and books from various Muslim nations. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

And we BELIEVE in these narratives, despite demonstrable evidence to the contrary, despite the fact that anyone with four working neural synapses and 90 free seconds can sort out that those narratives cannot possibly be true. We BELIEVE in these narratives, and this is the result. Brilliant kids are arrested for nerding while Muslim. Sikhs are murdered, sometimes mistaken for Muslims. Muslims are murdered. A Muslim man was murdered in March just 12 miles away from Irving TX, part of a pattern of death threats and hatred inflicted on the local Muslim population. Let that sink in. Ahmed Mohamed lives in an area with an established pattern of anti-Muslim sentiment. If they had thought he had a real bomb, police would have killed him.

Black people are gunned down in the street because an armed white police officer “felt threatened.” Latinos are beaten and leading presidential candidates say about the attackers: “They love this country and they want this country to be great again. They are passionate.” These narratives we’ve created for people of color are deadly, and we can’t just step away and dismiss them as someone else’s racism.

It is of crucial importance that we understand that Ahmed’s arrest is one example of specific, carefully created narratives playing out everywhere, all the time. They accused Ahmed of building a hoax bomb because that’s what the narrative says Muslims do. When you blame unfocused, random Southern conservative bigotry for an evil act like this, you are effectively washing your hands of it, stepping away, and saying, “That’s not me,” instead of productively working to deconstruct the racist narratives in which we all participate to some degree.

Source: First Dog on the Moon for theguardian.com

Source: First Dog on the Moon for theguardian.com

We’ve created narratives for people of color that cast them as “danger to America” and we must actively work to dismantle them, because people are dying, children are abused, evil is being committed in our names.

I sure as hell am looking hard at what I’ve done over the years and wondering where, and how often, I may have contributed to this.

You want to “make America great”? Work to dismantle these narratives and understand that most of what people talk about as “American exceptionalism” comes from the strength of diversity– bringing different people together to generate ideas and innovations they would not have otherwise come to alone. You want to “make America great”? Stop arresting nerds, stop killing people of color, stop pretending that America lost something when it became clear our white majority was quickly evaporating. Diversity is our strength.

A NOTE ABOUT COMMENTS (9/21/15): This is my blog, not a news site. This blog reflects my personal opinion and analysis. I approve all respectful and worthwhile comments whether they agree with my opinion or not. I do not approve comments that use disrespectful language, that mock, belittle, or attack, or that otherwise engage in trolling. As this is my personal blog, I am the sole arbiter of how those terms are defined. If you wish to engage in respectful dialogue about the issues being discussed, whether you agree or disagree with my opinion or analysis, I invite you to leave a comment, and I will approve it as soon as possible.



With last year’s massive national controversy about The Mikado in Seattle, it’s difficult to believe that anyone, anywhere, would be doing The Mikado in yellowface, right? I mean, Rick Shiomi at Skylark Opera in collaboration with Mu Performing Arts in Minneapolis showed us all how it’s done back in 2013: Since the work is actually meant to lampoon British Victorians, why not actually dress them as British Victorians? A few very small, non-invasive line changes and voila. Now you get to have Mikado sans racism. That’s what we all want, right?

As it turns out, no. The New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players is doing a production of The Mikado this upcoming holiday season, with most of the characters in yellowface. Playwright Leah Nanako Winkler wrote a fantastic piece about it on her blog that was picked up by Angry Asian Man, in which she expresses her shock and calls for people to speak out in solidarity with the Asian American theatremakers (and audience members) who are fighting for better representation of Asian people on American stages. If you want to contact the Skirball, she lists all the contact information you need.

Several of the usual (awesome) suspects in the theatre blogging community are writing about this production as well (Howard Sherman, Erin Quill). With all these articles burning up my feed, I’m seeing the inevitable backlash comments as well, defending The Mikado in particular and racism in art in general. I’ve covered this issue before. We’ve all covered it before. And yet the apologia for racist content never stops.

So, I’m thinking it’s time to play Racist Art Apologia Bingo! EVERYONE PULL UP YOUR FACEBOOK FEED. Find the first article about this set to “public” and open the comments. Get ready to check those comments for these well-known racist apologia statements as Millie calls them! Ready? GO.

I'm ready!

I’m ready!

(Tumbles wheel full of racist apologist statements) OK, I’ll just reach in here and pull these out one by one. See if you can find them in your feed!

Source: bossip.com

Millie draws the first one! (Source: bossip.com)

B17: “The one who points out racism is the REAL racist.” Quote from my feed:  “[The Mikado] is only racist in the eyes of a racist.”

Analysis: ILLOGICAL. I get that you’re going for the time-honored “I’m not the nerd; YOU’RE the nerd” you picked up in grade school, but it doesn’t fly in grown-up discussions. Let’s think about this for a second. The primary voices speaking out against yellowface are Asian American. So Asian Americans who say The Mikado is racist are the real racists? Because . . . ?


Here comes the next one!

N44: “Why should we pander to political correctness/SJWs/liberal demands?” Quote from my feed: “A work of art shouldn’t pander down to ignorance but insist that an audience rise to its challenge.”

Analysis: BELITTLING. Treating people of color with respect is never “pandering.” You only “pander” to demands when those demands are unworthy of consideration. Making this argument is tantamount to saying that racist portrayals of people of color on our stages, including yellowface, are so perfectly acceptable that the protest against them is worthless, and any consideration of that worthless protest is pandering. This quote is even worse, as it assumes that people who protest the racism in The Mikado are just “ignorant” and unable to “rise to the challenge” of art.


Did you get both? Get ready for the next one:

I29: “It’s actually anti-racist if you think about it.” Quote from my feed: “What always matters in the question of whether something is racist is intent. It is actually making fun of an Englishman’s condescending attitude towards other cultures…or specifically, the Japanese.”

Analysis: WISHFUL THINKING. So let me get this straight: The cartoonishly stereotypical characters in The Mikado are actually fighting racism because they’re mocking Victorian racism through modern white people performing cartoonishly racist Asian characters. This is like claiming you punched someone to show other people that punching is bad. MY INTENT WAS CLEAR. I am anti-punching. Therefore, I get to punch whoever I want. QED.


Ooh, I bet you guys are getting close! Just a couple more spaces to fill……

042: “You just don’t understand.” Quote from my feed: “[The claim that The Mikado in yellowface is racist] is an astonishingly simple and one-dimensional understanding of this lighthearted but really profound and many layered work of comic art.”

Analysis: NONSENSE. We understand; we just disagree. We see all the layers that you do, sweetheart, we just don’t agree that the “profound” message that Victorians were racist and Orientalist (lol, “profound”) does not earn the right to perform yellowface in 2015.


One more . . . Come on, Millie! I’m so close!

G8: “This is ART.” Quote from my feed: “There’s a very good reason these works have endured…why they are admired.”

Analysis: IRRELEVANT. This is an apologia favorite. “Art needs to be protected; art should be pushing boundaries and making people uncomfortable; pieces like The Mikado have have endured and long been admired; we should never censor art.” No one is claiming these works should be demolished. We should continue to study them. Pretending our history of racism never existed is a dangerous idea. But what we’re choosing to perform as “light-hearted” comic performances, what we choose to put on our stages, and how we choose to present work, are all completely different considerations. The work didn’t endure because of the racism in it, and often, as Rick Shiomi demonstrated, there’s a wonderful workaround that makes the piece relevant to an audience for whom racism is no longer acceptable.

The main problem with the “preserving ART” argument is that racism and racist caricatures had one cultural context in the Victorian (or Elizabethan, or Classical, or what you will) era, and have completely different contexts now. Fighting to preserve a racist work as written most often vandalizes that work’s original intent. The racist symbol was created to convey a meaning it can no longer convey. Yellowface can no longer convey the meaning Gilbert originally intended when writing The Mikado because that meaning has been superceded by a modern understanding of yellowface’s inherent racism. Even if you believe the yellowface in The Mikado means “Victorians are racist; isn’t that funny?” it can never mean that to an audience in 2015 because yellowface is read as racist in and of itself, and stomping your feet and insisting that Gilbert’s intent was completely different does exactly nothing to change that.

But purism is a smokescreen to hide the real issue at hand. If people are fighting so hard to perform classic works as originally performed, where are the castrati? The boy actresses? The act intervals? The on-stage audience seating? These people have no interest in purism as such. They’re upset because they feel entitled to the right to be able to decide what is acceptable and what is not. White people have always had that right, and the idea that people of color might have the cultural power to contradict them and be heard galls them. An issue these white people find acceptable– racism in performance– is being challenged, and they will fight as hard as they can to retain the cultural supremacy that entitles them to continue to define racist performance as “acceptable.” They’re fighting more and more furiously because they know they are losing.

I, however have WON!


Suck it, Marlene, Esther, and Florence! See you at the next Hadassah meeting in my NEW HAT.

Suck it, Marlene, Esther, and Florence! See you at the next Hadassah meeting in my NEW HAT.

P.S. Shana Tova to my fellow tribespeople and Jew-ish affiliates! I hope you all have a wonderful 5776.

UPDATE 9/18/15: NYGASP has announced the production will be cancelled and replaced with Pirates of Penzance. I still think a better solution would have been to update the work like Rick Shiomi did, but I understand why they felt they should just shut the whole thing down. I hope this opens a conversation at NYGASP (and elsewhere) about representation and diversity on our stages.

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“Too Street”: Hypocrisy in Policing the Speech of our Actors

Idris Elba, the living embodiment of

Idris Elba, the living embodiment of “suave,” was labeled “too street” to play James Bond by Bond author Andrew Horowitz.

I just had an interesting conversation with someone whose white teens are using the slang words “finna,” “aight,” “brah,” etc. She characterized it as “shortening words to sound hip.” I’m almost certain she just didn’t know where the terms came from; I don’t think she was trying to be erasive. But it brought to mind how poorly we’re handling political issues around language, especially in the theatre.
Those slang words aren’t about being hip and cool– they’re about being Black. I’m not trying to stop Black people from influencing the language as a whole. Black slang is, and has always historically been, one of the most important influences on the way English is spoken in America. But understand the context here. When a Black person uses the slang they create, they’re slammed for not being “professional,” not being “articulate,” but when that slang finally makes it to white mouths, it becomes “hip” and “cool.” Usage changes language, and language is political. Our culture constantly appropriates Black invention as “hip” and “cool” while deriding and marginalizing Black people for using their own inventions. Language is an enormous part of that. If it’s become “hip” for white kids to say “finna,” how are we approaching Black people who use their own slang? Because right now, I see a hallway full of shut doors for Black people who aren’t speaking perfect English at all times.
I corrected a girl for saying “ax” in my class last year, and I’m deeply ashamed of that now. I read up on that usage, and I came to understand how wrong I was. Language is political. We have to understand what we’re enforcing, and why we’re enforcing it, when we police usage.
I know a Black actor who was told by a Black professor at the university where I used to teach that he would never be cast in Shakespeare because his speech was “too Black,” and that he needed to amend his speech in order to be cast. The actor told me this after I had cast him in several Shakespeare plays at my company (as well as several new plays– this actor is phenomenal). As a white director whose approach to classic work deliberately eschews stiffness and formality, I’ve always had an eyeroll for “American Standard,” which we still teach actors to this day. Even actors completely untrained in it will often fall into its faux-British, formal tones when doing Shakespeare. A couple of years ago at my company’s general auditions, I had a very diverse bunch of college actors, all from the same university (perhaps not coincidentally, where I used to teach), and every single one came in with a cookie cutter, faux-British, semi-Standard American accent. I actually considered contacting the chair with a “What are you teaching these kids?” email, but I knew exactly what they were doing: prepping them to perform in a world that rejects anything that doesn’t reek of privilege.

When we cast Shakespeare, when we cast new plays, when we teach actors, when we go to the theatre, when we choose our seasons, what choices are we making that reinforce privilege? How often have Black actors heard they were “too urban” or “not urban enough” for a certain role? How often have Asian and Latino actors been asked to “do the accent”? How often are we shutting people out because their speech– or their writing– does not conform to the expectations of white privilege?

The evidence is everywhere. Critics who slam plays because they don’t conform to the values and expectations of white privilege. Actors are told by white directors and casting directors in auditions to be “more urban” or “less urban,” meaning, “perform Blackness in the way I expect you to.” Black comedians Sasheer Zamata and Nicole Byer wrote a fantastic sketch, performed by Byer, called “Be Blacker,” mocking the many auditions in which Black actors are told to “be more urban.”

What does it mean to ask an actor to perform Blackness in a way white people expect or want? How often are we encoding the enforcement of privilege in our casting? How often are we encoding the enforcement of privilege when we say we’re teaching actors “speech and diction”? How much policing of speech is enforcing privilege?
American culture– and that includes American theatre– needs to take a long, hard look at the multitude of ways we police speech, especially the speech of people of color and people without class privilege. I’m including both spoken speech and written speech in that. If we’re making commitments to diversity, then we need to think about the multitude of ways in which we’re reinforcing the idea that diversity must be performed only in ways that are acceptable to white privilege. White people are measuring the acceptability of people of color by how closely they resemble whiteness off stage, and how accurately they can portray Blackness to white specifications in various situations on stage. I’m not claiming this is limited to Black people– cis people measure the acceptability of trans people by how closely they resemble cis people, and so on. But the topic at hand is how we believe Black speech is acceptable coming out of white mouths, but reject it coming out of Black mouths unless we can directly profit from it.
 In other words, if white America is talking about how hip and cool it is that white kids today are saying “finna,” then we need to look long and hard at the actors we’re rejecting because their speech isn’t “ready,” is “too urban,” or who “aren’t articulate.” We need to look long and hard about how we teach our students. We need to look long and hard at the people we’re not hiring at all levels because we perceive their speech– or their presence– as performing a kind of Blackness (or Asianness, or any other kind of identity that differs from straight, white, cis, class privileged) with which white people are uncomfortable.
I’m not excepting myself from this. Quite the opposite. I’m saying: This is a place wherein we’re falling down, and dragging far too many people down with us. Let’s examine what we’re doing more closely, and find a better way forward together.
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Labor Day


Labor Day celebrates the labor movement and labor unions in the US, whose gains are always being challenged by the far right. The 5 day/40 hour work week, overtime pay, worker safety protections and worker’s comp, sick leave, military leave, minimum wage, and guaranteed breaks are all thanks to the labor movement. One of the labor movement’s most spectacular gains was the enactment of national child labor laws.

A little boy selling newspapers, 1921.

A little boy selling newspapers, 1921.

While there were activists fighting for child labor protections for many years, and even some serious Congressional efforts to enact such legislation nationally, there were few child labor protections until 1938, when FDR signed the Fair Labor Standards Act, which outlawed child labor under the age of 14, and limited the kind of work and the hours of work for people 15-17, in addition to many other gains the labor movement had been fighting for. Conservatives have been seeking to erode or even destroy the FLSA since its inception. For decades, those conservatives who sought to undo basic labor protections like child labor laws and the minimum wage were considered the fringe far right. Even Reagan championed unions and collective bargaining, calling them crucial to freedom. Now, anti-labor and anti-union sentiment is at the center of the party, including a push to roll back child labor laws, complete with a romanticization of child labor instilling “values” and “work ethic.”

Oyster shuckers in Port Royal, SC, 1921.

Oyster shuckers in Port Royal, SC, 1921.

Republicans across the country are working hard to eliminate child labor laws, succeeding in four states thus far. GOP presidential candidate Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin, abolished all restrictions on the hours kids between the ages of 16 and 17 can work in his state. In Idaho, child labor laws were changed to allow children as young as 12 to be employed by their schools for up to 10 hours a week. The conservative legislatures of Maine and Michigan both increased the number of hours minors are allowed to work in their states. While these four states are the only ones whose conservative politicians have succeeded in rolling back child labor protections, Republicans in Ohio, Utah, Missouri, and Minnesota are fighting hard to roll back child labor protections in their states as well. Some seek to ease restrictions on the number of hours children can work, some seek to ease restrictions on the type of work they can do (teens are currently restricted from performing dangerous work), some seek to create a sub-minimum wage for people under 20, and some are seeking to eliminate child labor laws completely. While Republicans have continuously fought hard against child labor laws beginning the moment the ink was drying on FDR’s signature, the most recent push to end child labor protections arguably stems from former GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich’s call to repeal child labor laws entirely, calling them “truly stupid,” in 2011. Current GOP politicians, including the current crop of presidential candidates, deeply romanticize child labor, pretending it’s all character-forming summer jobs, all-American paper routes, and light shifts after school at the local fast food place.

A five-year-old shrimp picker in Biloxi, Mississippi, 1919.

A five-year-old shrimp picker in Biloxi, Mississippi, 1919.

Child labor laws in America have always contained special exemptions for agricultural workers, who are legally allowed to work as young as 12 years old in the general season, 10 for hand-picked short-season crops. Even with exemptions, child labor laws are constantly violated in the agricultural industry, and I don’t mean kids helping out on family farms. I mean children working on commercial farms up to 60 hours a week in the blazing sun under brutal conditions. While it’s a problem industry-wide, it’s a particular problem on tobacco farms, where Human Rights Watch found children as young as 7 working, 2/3 of them suffering from symptoms of nicotine poisoning, such as vomiting, nausea, and headaches. Conservatives have fiercely protected agriculture’s right to hire children, and blocked efforts to improve their working conditions.

Child tobacco workers, Hazardville, CT, 1919

Child tobacco workers, Hazardville, CT, 1919

This Labor Day, let’s honor the spirit of the day by pledging to stand firm against conservative lawmakers fighting to destroy our hard-won child labor protections. Let’s seek further protections for children working in our fields. Let’s push back against the romanticization of unregulated, unrestricted child labor, and remember it for what it was: exploitation.

Workers at a glass factory in Alexandria, VA, 1911

Workers at a glass factory in Alexandria, VA, 1911

Celebrating Thin White Women

Sometimes it seems like our whole entire culture is one huge celebration of thin white women. Ogling them, collecting them, advertising products to help other women become more like them, giving them all the awards for everything ever. It’s not just that the pinnacle of American womanhood is seen as thin and white (and cis, and able-bodied). It’s that thin white women are framed as “normal,” “neutral,” and every other woman is measured by her distance from that “norm.” “Black woman,” “transwoman,” “plus-size woman.”

Maybe this is changing, maybe not. Like you, I live on the internet, where one can find pictures of all types of women, from professional shots to vacation snaps, and plus-size (I know, I know, bear with me) women are everywhere. There are plus-size models (both professional and indie, some with huge followings), fashion bloggers (also with huge followings), sex bloggerssingers in various genres, photographers who specialize in gorgeous shots of plus-size people, and, of course, a handful of famous plus-size actors cast in film and television roles. The body positivity movement is extremely popular, and has a significant presence on every social media platform and the internet in general, where it promotes self-acceptance and stands against the shaming, bullying, and body policing with which women (and some men) are victimized every day, as well as the tsunami of relentless backlash the movement itself faces.

Model Tess Holliday (Source: Vogue Italia, vogue.it)

Model Tess Holliday (Source: Vogue Italia, vogue.it)

Nothing brings out the angry, outraged commenters faster than a picture of a woman who’s not rail-thin.

Humans LOVE bigotry. We LOVE grouping together in “us” vs. “them” to shame, disparage, and belittle “them,” shoring up our “us” identity and placating our own insecurities and self-doubts. This makes us feel like we’re part of something larger, something strong, something, above all, superior. This is an intense human impulse that is expressed in things as damaging as racism and as benign as choosing a sports team. When we claim membership to a group, along with that comes shaming, disparaging, and belittling people who are not in that group, either good-naturedly when we have no real power over “them” (“Dodgers suck”) or with devastating consequences when we do. Every single group that ever existed has a list of “known,” “true,” or even “scientifically proven” reasons that people outside their group deserve disparagement. Science has been used to confirm literally every racial bias the west has ever had.

Science only gets answers to the questions it asks. The cultural biases of researchers very often generate results that confirm those biases. Biases lead researchers to create studies or aggregate data in ways that are designed to produce results that confirm their biases. Science understands this and attempts to correct for it with things like double-blind studies and peer review, which are all, of course, still deeply influenced by the culture.

Don’t get me wrong– I’m very pro-science. But I’m also realistic. The well-known cultural trope of “overweight = unhealthy” is being problematized in study after study (after study), while other studies confirm it (as relentlessly reported in every corner of the media). Which studies are “true”? The ones that confirm your pre-existing biases, of course. The rest are “junk science.”

Marie Denee, founder and editor of The Curvy Fashionista-- curvyfashionista.com. (source: Glamour.com)

Marie Denee, founder and editor of The Curvy Fashionista– curvyfashionista.com. (source: Glamour.com)

There’s an enormous amount of conflicting information about what an “ideal” weight is (the ranges were ratcheted lower several times in the 20th century), how people become overweight, lose weight, or maintain weight loss, yet our culture “knows” that overweight people are that way through choice, laziness, gluttony, lack of self-control, or even a lack of moral fiber, thereby excusing and even lauding the bigotry against fat people.

When an image of a woman who is not rail-thin is publicly displayed in any context other than one specifically discussing her weight in a negative light, even if the context has nothing whatsoever to do with weight, people go out of their way to make disparaging comments. The comments fall into two main categories: insults/slurs, and some version of “I’m just concerned about [this total stranger’s] health”/”this promotes an unhealthy lifestyle.”

You can’t determine the health of an individual by looking at a picture. If you look at a picture of a fat person and think, “they’re unhealthy,” you’re engaged in an act of bigotry stemming from cultural bias, not making a medically sound diagnosis. And if you’re not posting similar comments on images of high heels, MMA and boxingbacon, or other well-known public health concerns, then you are a concern troll: someone who uses “concern” as a cover for shaming, belittling, and bullying.

Actress Gabourey Sidibe at the Golden Globes in 2014. ( Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

Actress Gabourey Sidibe at the Golden Globes in 2014. ( Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

Someone cannot “promote” any kind of lifestyle simply by existing. Yet I’ve seen– we’ve all seen– “this is promoting an unhealthy lifestyle” comments on shampoo ads, fashion photography, celebrity profiles, and even photos of fat women working out.

The August 2015 cover of Women's Running featured model and runner Erica Schenk, drawing both widespread praise and criticism. (James Farrell, WomensRunning.com)

The August 2015 cover of Women’s Running featured model and runner Erica Schenk, drawing both widespread praise and criticism. (James Farrell, WomensRunning.com)

And let’s pause for a moment and remember that this issue is intersectional, and that larger women of color are the targets of unfathomable bigotry and hostility. Most people don’t even bother to cover their bigotry with “concern” like they do for white women.

We’re in a cultural moment where people are pushing back against thin privilege, and are being met with culturally-approved, flat-out HATRED. As content creators in the entertainment industry, who impact culture more than any other single source, we need to work against this hatred.

Indie model Sydney Sparkles, from her Instagram account, @aussieplussizebarbie

Indie model Sydney Sparkles, from her Instagram account, @aussieplussizebarbie

We stand up for gender parity, yet the only women our industry feels are worthy of inclusion are thin ones, or women like Robyn Lawley, whose “plus size” (at 6’2″) is 12. We need to stand up for the inclusion of ALL women, which includes stepping away from the constant, constant focus on women who only fit a certain body type unless the script explicitly calls for it. The adamant defense of thin privilege throughout our industries has got to stop, and the only way to get there is to make a conscious decision to stop it. This is our choice to make, and we must make it.

Robyn Lawley is considered a

Robyn Lawley is considered a “plus size model,” the first to be featured in Sports Illustrated. Photo: James Macari/si.com

We need to be realistic about the ways our current fight for gender parity often ignores intersectionality. Here in the Bay Area, there’s been some discussion about adding a marker to theatre listings that indicates which shows have gender parity (cast, crew, and playwright) so people can support them.  This ignores a raft of crucial issues. A show about four thin, white, wealthy women would be starred and therefore recommended and publicly congratulated, yet a show devised and performed by four young Black men speaking the truths about their lives would not.

Of course many (perhaps most) people fighting for gender parity are also fighting for greater racial diversity, but I’ve personally seen industry professionals say things like, “Gender is a more important issue than race, which is basically just a look.” I’ve seen multiple times: “We have to cast beautiful women because actors have to be desirable objects for the audience,” which begs the question: What is “beautiful?” Because I will bet the farm that means thin, white, able-bodied, and cis.

Yet WE CONTROL what “beautiful” is. We change the definition of beauty by creating cultural content. We’ve done it over and over and over, from Gibson Girls to Clara Bow to Marilyn Monroe to Farrah Fawcett to Scarlett Johansson. This is our choice to make.

Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot.

Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot.

There’s no reason we can’t open our definition of “beautiful” to include more diversity– more intersectional diversity that better reflects the women in this country– the people who are buying most of the film and theatre tickets. But first we must open our definition of “woman” to include more intersectional diversity, and cast women who aren’t thin, white, cis, AND able-bodied, because right now, you need all four to be considered “right” for the role of “woman.” If you’re missing even just one of those, you’re only “right” for “Black woman,” “overweight woman,” or “disabled woman.” This is our responsibility to change.

Fashion blogger Stacey from Hantise de L'oubli. Photo: hantisedeloubli.com

Fashion blogger Stacey from Hantise de L’oubli. One of my personal favorites. Her instagram is @hantisedeloubli. Photo: hantisedeloubli.com

If we’re going to push theatre and film companies for gender parity, let’s make sure we don’t enable yet another cultural space that celebrates thin, white, cis, able-bodied women and ignores (at best) everyone else.

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Please Stop Asking if Shows Are Appropriate for Children


Unless your show is called “Seven BJs for Seven Brothers,” (someone get on that), or unless you’re specifically doing TYA, people will contact your theatre and ask questions like this on the regular:

“I’d like to bring my nine-year-old to see your show. Is it appropriate for kids?”


No one likes this question. This question can strike deep anxiety into the heart of the most stalwart producer. Why?

We have no way of knowing what that means to you. All you’re really asking is, “Will I, a person you’ve never met, be uncomfortable seeing this play with my kid, who already knows much more about the topic than I am ready to confront, plunging me into a parental and emotional crisis, all of which I will blame on you for failing to psychically pinpoint my particular issue?”

I have kids, and my personal boundaries around what was or was not appropriate for them at any given age were just as arbitrary as anyone else’s, so believe me, I’m not faulting you. I just need you to recognize that your boundaries are unknowable to me unless you tell me what they are. People almost never do, and then they get angry if we don’t guess correctly.

Don’t make the hungover 23-year-old intern who answers emails going to ask@LORTtheatre.org guess what your boundaries are.

He doesn't know. Source: http://www.independent.co.uk

He doesn’t know.
Source: http://www.independent.co.uk

Instead, ask us specific questions, like:

“I’m hoping to bring my 10-year-old, but I’m not comfortable with taking her to see a play with:

graphic sex

graphic violence

any violence

onstage drug use

any drug use

adult language

adult language apart from “damn” or “hell”

full nudity

partial nudity and/or underwear

discussions of [something]

depictions of [something]

or any combination of the above,

Do you have anything like that in your play? If so, how graphically/realistically depicted is it?”

Now THAT’S a question I can answer, and it will result in information you can use.


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Maybe we should pretend black people are lions



I was sad for the killing of Cecil the lion. I really was. I’m softhearted about animals and haven’t eaten meat in over 20 years because of it. But with the nonstop public outrage, and now the support for extradition, I have reached my limit.

Are we seriously going to create an internet outrage machine to extradite that dentist fuckwit for shooting a single lion? Let’s put this into perspective.

People who eat meat every single day are screaming for this man’s head. And no, it’s NOT “different.” The difference between that lion and the cow you ate for dinner is imaginary, created in your head and in our culture to make you feel better. I’ve seen literally hundreds of posts about how disgusting it is to shoot a “defenseless animal,” and the hypocrisy is wearing me down. I’m seeing post after post about how disgusting hunters are. I saw post after post outraged over that dog meat festival, written by people who eat cows and pigs without a second thought. The difference is cultural, imaginary, artificial. And I would be a lot less irritated with that hypocrisy, and probably even laugh it off, if it weren’t part of a performance I’m tired of seeing.

Yes, I’m going to be one of those people bringing up #BlackLivesMatter, because this extradition thing has pushed me over the edge. The entire country is screaming for extradition, but a 12-year-old boy was gunned down in the street for playing with a toy gun– something I am willing to wager 95% of the men, and a large chunk of the women, in this country have done at similar ages– and white people charged onto social media to explain why it was OK for a police officer to shoot this CHILD within literally 2 seconds of rolling up, let him bleed while he cried for his mother, and not even bother to call an ambulance himself. This case is ongoing. And people are calling for the EXTRADITION of this idiot who shot a lion.


Tamir Rice? I chose him at random, because I’m a mom, and my heart aches and I tear up every time I think about him. But I could have put any one of HUNDREDS of names here of unarmed Black Americans killed by police just in the past few years.

Here’s what’s going on.

People love to play out scenes from “The Lottery” when they believe someone has done something wrong, but only when it’s something to which they can feel morally superior. They’re not calling for the head of this dentist (in some cases, literally) because they care so much about a lion they had never heard of a week ago. They’re calling for his head because it makes them feel like Crusaders for Justice. It’s a performance: I AM OUTRAGED OVER WRONGS COMMITTED AGAINST THE INNOCENT. I am GOOD. I am a good person. We will hunt down and eradicate evil together.

I am just as susceptible to this as anyone else.

But white people aren’t fighting anywhere near as hard, or in anywhere near the numbers, for Black lives. The movement for Black lives is different than Cecil. White people can’t participate in hunting down and scapegoating evil against Black people, because we’re the ones who are fucking up. White people are terrified of being called “racist,” seriously. And to be an effective ally, hell, to be an ally AT ALL, step one is to realize that we live in a white supremacist society that puts racism into our hearts and minds, and that being an ally means acknowledging that racism, and fighting it in ourselves and in the culture every day, forever. You don’t get a “Not Racist” trophy for hiring a Black guy as shift manager. It’s a process, and it requires honest self-examination, and white people do not get to be the hero.


But with Cecil the lion, they do get to pretend they’re the hero, and they create little performances about it, little LOOK AT HOW DISGUSTED I AM BY VIOLENCE AGAINST INNOCENT ANIMALS performances they use to play Good Guy. While eating a different animal they don’t give two fucks about because reasons.

And I am angry enough to delete any comments that try to “prove” how it’s OK to kill cows but not lions, because we EAT cows, and we need to eat, and lions are different. First of all, you have choices about what you eat, and you no more needed to kill that cow than that dentist needed to kill that lion. Secondly, focus your outrage on Black lives, not on creating a performance about how you eat meat but you still get to be the Good Guy.


Yes, I am angry. I was sad for the lion. I really was. And I still am. But the ongoing firestorm of outrage over that while your brothers and sisters get killed in the street and my fellow white people ARGUE with me, tell me they “hate” Black Lives Matter because they don’t want to have to tell their children about racism, or because it doesn’t include them (the ridiculous “All Lives Matter”), or because they might have to, for one second, not believe they’re the GOOD GUY all the time. They’re charging after this dentist because doing so makes them feel better, makes them feel like champions for justice, protectors of the innocent. And they fight against Black Lives Matter because they don’t get to be the Good Guy, because the fight requires that we admit our place in this oppressive system.

It’s time to step up, white America. You desperately want to be the Good Guys. Well, here’s your chance. Allow someone else to take center stage for one freaking minute, and focus your attention on the hundreds of unarmed Black men, women AND CHILDREN killed in this country each year. You can be mad about the lion, too, although I still have an eyeroll for you if you’re mad about this one creature and you ate 7 creatures last week. Just please remember that being a Good Guy takes more than being upset about a hunter.

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Time to Retire the Word “Offended”

Julian Bleach as Ariel and Patrick Stewart as Prospero in The Tempest at the Novello Theatre in London, 2007. Photo by Alastair Muir. The Tempest has come under fire in certain circles for its implied criticisms of colonialism and racism.

Julian Bleach as Ariel and Patrick Stewart as Prospero in The Tempest at the Novello Theatre in London, 2007. Photo by Alastair Muir. The Tempest has come under fire in certain circles for its implied criticisms of colonialism and racism.

There’s almost constant talk online about what’s “offensive,” or who’s “offended,” and it’s high time we retired this word.

“Offend” means “to annoy, upset, or anger.”  Usually people use it to mean, “This has made me personally uncomfortable.” People use “offended” when they hear someone say “Jesus Timberlake Christ,” see part of a boob on TV, or find out their kids read The Tempest or Harry Potter. In other words, they’re complaining that something they’ve encountered opposes their personal tastes and beliefs. They are having a personal experience that they find upsetting. “Offended” does not extend beyond that– it’s entirely personal. It’s an emotional opinion that doesn’t differ in the slightest from any other emotional opinion, like, “Picard is the best captain,” or “I hate Nickelback.”


Where the term becomes insidious, however, is when it’s used to belittle the concerns of people fighting bigotry. When someone is objecting to bigotry in, for example, a news item, they are speaking out against injustice. A racist news article hurts real people. It contributes to the very real oppression people of color face every day. It perpetuates an aspect of our cultural mythology that literally kills people. And then someone in the thick of white fragility comes along and says, “I’m sorry you’re offended,” or “you get offended too easily,” or any number of variations. “I know this will offend some people but [racist comment supporting the article].”


Black people “loot”; white people “find.”

Resisting bigotry is not the same as being “offended.” Resisting bigotry is to resist injustice against groups of people. It’s far bigger and more important than someone’s personal comfort level, and the people who use that word as a weapon against the fight for social justice understand that completely.

People who are resisting bigotry are often dismissed with the belittling idea that they’re “offended,” as if fighting cultural oppression and the tools with which it creates, disseminates, and preserves that oppression are equivalent to an imaginary schoolmarm shocked at finding the word “fuck” carved into a desk. No, we are not “offended.” We’re fighting bigotry, and it’s belittling to pretend it’s just about offending our personal, delicate sensibilities.

When someone points out an example of racism, misogyny, fat hatred, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, ageism, antisemitism, Islamophobia, or any other kind of bigotry, people with privilege often reduce that act– a call for equality that’s at its core a challenge to privilege– to a matter of someone being personally “offended.” People who are white, male, thin, straight, cis, able-bodied, young, and/or who have Christian heritage (not the same as being a practicing Christian, as you experience all the privilege of your group regardless) will sometimes seek to preserve that privilege by characterizing resistance to bigotry as nothing but “taking offense”– having an easily-dismissable, personal opinion based in emotion. We must call this out whenever we see it.

When we’re talking about a casting practice, a review, or a play, that’s bigoted and perpetuating dangerous, oppressive cultural mythologies that have real-world consequences, we must call out and resist that belittling when it happens, and refuse to be lumped into the same category as people who are upset because they heard the word “fuck.”

We need to watch our own usage of this word as well. Do we really think the most important aspect of a racist play is that the racism is “offensive”– that someone would be upset by it? Shouldn’t we be calling attention to the larger fight– that perpetuating racism in our cultural mythology is dangerous and literally killing people of color? Do we really think the most important aspect of a misogynistic article is that it’s “offensive”– that someone would be upset by it? Continue to extrapolate this– Is the most important aspect of the preponderance of transphobia in our cultural mythology just “offensive”– upsetting individuals? Do we really believe the most important aspect of fat hatred, homophobia, ableism, etc, etc in our cultural mythology is their ability to upset people? Then why are we using that language? Why are we using the language of personal discomfort to describe our resistance to artifacts of our cultural mythology that oppress and even kill people? Why are we using language that makes us easy to dismiss– language people use specifically to belittle resistance?

I don’t mean to imply that people don’t experience personal discomfort with bigotry. But let’s not make the mistake of confusing personal discomfort with the way bigotry makes its targets feel unsafe; or, rather, be reminded of their existing lack of safety in our culture. That’s part and parcel of cultural oppression. When you (for example) target people of color with racial slurs, or otherwise use dehumanizing language about them, you’re not “offending” them– you’re terrorizing them. You’re invoking a cultural mythology that has real, material power at its back. You’re flexing a muscle that you know can harm or even kill. A person of color objecting to a racial slur is a human being resisting real, ongoing, culturally enforced oppression. That’s not personal discomfort caused by offense; it’s a visceral reaction to living through the kind of violence and oppression that lends bigoted speech and cultural artifacts their power. This is why jokes about people in power (“punching up”) are funny, but jokes about oppressed people (“punching down”) are furthering that oppression. You’re not “offending” people of color, women, trans* people, disabled people, fat people, or Muslims. You’re reminding them that our culture dehumanizes them, sees them as lacking worth, and continually devalues and violates their bodies, rights, and property. You’re reminding them that you belong to a group with power over them.

When you see someone using the word “offend” to belittle resistance against bigotry, call it out. Recognize what they’re doing and call it out. Don’t let them equate fighting for justice with primetime side boob ever again.

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