Author Archives: melissahillman

Back to School: Creating an Equitable Workplace

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Only 2% of K-12 teachers nationwide are Black men, and just 4.5% are Black women. Black teachers are 50% more likely to leave the profession than white teachers. Just 4% of university faculty are Black. (Photo: teacher.org)

This piece is the second in a three-part series about education in the US. The first is Back to School: How to Be a White Teacher, As Taught to Me By Students of Color.

A few years ago, when I was the senior lecturer at [name redacted] university, the only time my “senior lecturer status” was ever mentioned was when the department chair offered me a class in Black theatre because they “had to” due to my “status.” I told them to hire a Black colleague instead. My “status” as “senior lecturer” had never come up before and never came up again. In fact, that same year I was roundly scolded for “assuming” I had a particular class just because it had been offered to me. They suddenly announced at the last minute they were hiring a white man, lecturing there for the first time, and when I brought up the fact that the job had already been offered to me, I was sternly rebuked. So much for my “senior lecturer” status. I was scolded again by senior staff for later refusing to assist the new hire without pay.

My story is not unique. It’s not even particularly unique in my own academic career. White educators, especially white male educators, experience enormous privilege in the workplace, whether they know it or not.

White men are over-represented in all academic leadership roles. In public high schools, 70% of principals are male, almost all white. Independent schools fare no better; 90% of school heads are white and 64% are male. Over 86% of public school superintendents are men and 92% are white.

White men also enjoy a host of privileges as teachers. In an era when student test scores have become a (mystifyingly) critical marker of teacher performance, white men are assigned high-performing classes more often than women and people of color. Men are given better evaluations than their female colleagues and colleagues of color, even when teaching online classes with literally identical, copy-and-paste content. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in non-union independent schools, men are paid a full 32% more than women. Even in unionized public schools, men are paid 12% more than women. This may sound impossible given the codification of pay scales in teaching positions, but schools have a great deal of flexibility in determining which step on the pay scale a teacher begins when hired and what kinds of classes, certifications, and degrees they will accept for pay-raising post-graduate education. Educators of color are less likely to be retained, and Black teachers’ expertise in both subject matter and pedagogy is routinely downplayed or overlooked.

In short, discrimination is rampant in academia, and, although this piece focuses primarily on race, it’s not limited to race alone. Teachers with disabilities are routinely refused accommodations, and in most areas of the country, transgender, non-binary and gender-nonconforming teachers are deeply discriminated against. Shockingly, half of transgender teachers report being harassed by colleagues and administrators.

White educators, we can create a more equitable workplace for educators of color. Male educators, you can create a more equitable workplace for women. Cis educators, we can create a more equitable workplace for transgender, non-binary, and gender-nonconforming educators. Able-bodied educators, you can create a more equitable workplace for educators with disabilities. While this piece focuses on race, there is much work to be done in all areas of inequity, and the techniques described below can be used to create diversity, inclusion, and equity for all.

EXAMINE RETENTION RATES. A site’s retention rates are key to understanding the experiences of those who work there. Is your site able to retain white people, but struggles to retain people of color? Are men retained longer than women? Has your site lost a number of women of color all within a short time frame? Examining your retention rates will provide valuable insight into whether your site is truly welcoming and equitable. If your site utilizes exit interviews, perhaps compiling the answers of the people of color who have left your site within the past few years will prove enlightening. Believe what people of color tell you about working at your site, and pay careful attention to trends in the compiled exit interview data.

ENCOURAGE DIVERSE HIRING AT YOUR SITE. Diversity in the workplace, both in teaching staff and in leadership, has numerous benefits. Although our student population is now “majority minority,” US teaching staff is 80% white, with many sites lacking even a single Black or Latinx classroom teacher, even in diverse areas, while evidence continues to mount that students of color have better outcomes when they have teachers of color. A 2015 Stanford University study showed that Black students are disciplined more harshly for the same infractions than white students. The odds of being assigned to a “gifted” or advanced program are 66% lower for Black students and 47% lower for Latinx students than they are for white students, even with high placement test scores. Non-Black teachers have lower expectations for Black students than Black teachers do, even when evaluating the same students. Non-Latinx teachers have negative perceptions of Latinx students, especially when they’re EL students. A more diverse teaching staff is the first step in creating a more equitable education for students of color. White staff will also benefit from working alongside educators with diverse perspectives and experiences.

Is your site hiring? Spread the word to colleagues of color. Post on social media and ask your friends to keep an eye out for candidates of color. Mention to administrators the critical importance of a diverse staff. Advocate for candidates of color when they apply. When you have the opportunity to invite guest speakers to your classroom, look for people of color regardless of the topic. Both students of color and white students need diverse role models.

SUPPORT YOUR COLLEAGUES OF COLOR. It’s not going to do much good if you hire educators of color and then dismiss, minimize, or contest everything they have to say. This is diversity without equity—hiring people of color and then relegating them to a voiceless underclass. Practical ways you can support your colleagues of color (and remember that all of these can be extrapolated to colleagues with disabilities, LGBTQ colleagues, etc):

  1. Educate yourself. Read writers of color and believe what they have to say about whiteness. If you’re uncomfortable with their critiques, work to change the impact of whiteness on their lives rather than fault writers of color for telling the truth of their lived experiences. A better understanding of the experiences of your colleagues of color will increase your effectiveness as an ally.
  2. Listen and believe your colleagues of color. Do not argue with people of color about their lived experiences of racism, especially if your argument is about intent (“I didn’t mean it that way!”). Impact is much more important than intent. If a colleague of color trusts you enough to educate you about something racially problematic happening at your site, or something racially problematic that you’ve done or said, listen to them. Your colleague of color is taking an enormous risk by discussing this with you. Honor that by listening sincerely. Then support your colleague if further steps need to be taken, such as bringing a proposed policy change to administration, or requesting administration reverse a racially charged decision.
  3. Work with administration to get diversity and equity training for the whole staff, and approach the work sincerely by educating the staff about white fragility beforehand. I’ve been through many diversity trainings, and I honestly think most white people imagine diversity training will just be a lengthy affirmation of our cherished belief that we are “not racist.” We imagine that we will sit for a few hours shaking our heads in dismay about “those racists over there” while congratulating ourselves for being “not that.” White people in diversity trainings become enormously fragile, defensive, and even angry the moment they realize that diversity training is actually about combating our own implicit racism and the ways in which we support systemic racism. White people will angrily or tearfully insist we’re “not racist” and “a good person,” insist we “don’t see color,” insist the trainer is incompetent, crow about our resistance to the training (such as boasting about “stumping” the trainer with whataboutism or examples of “reverse racism”), state that we feel “attacked,” dismiss accounts of racism by people of color as “exaggerated,” and more. Staff-wide education around white fragility could provide some tools to mitigate those all-too-common negative reactions to the work. Until white staff are past fragility and defensiveness, little progress can be made.
  4. Work to create clear policies and procedures. When we leave decisions to “case-by-case bases,” more often than not, implicit biases create inequity. Clear policies and procedures, applied equitably, can insure that decisions are as untainted by implicit biases as possible. For example, it’s startlingly common for white male administrators to plan privately with white male educators, securing the most desirable classes and assignments for the white men and then offering the remainder to the women and people of color on staff. “We didn’t know you were interested!” is always the excuse, an excuse created by keeping initial planning secret so the question is never asked. Codifying equitable policies would avoid the resentment that such favoritism breeds, increasing retention.

DIVERSIFY LEADERSHIP. In the US, the vast majority of educational leadership is both white and male. Such homogeneity not only reduces effectiveness, but perpetuates itself in that white males are far more likely to hire and promote other white males, minimize or discount their errors and failures, and assume competence even with extraordinary evidence to the contrary. (We’ve all been in situations where a white man who failed spectacularly at another site is hired for a position of leadership at ours.) Homogeneity in leadership leads to the implicit biases common to that group running unchecked through the industry as a whole. Leadership– from department leadership all the way through the superintendent and school board or board of directors– must reflect the diversity of the surrounding community if it is to effectively serve that community.

Diversity without equity is not effective. Hiring women and people of color and then refusing to pay them equitably, promote them, or even listen sincerely to their input is not reflective of a true “commitment to diversity,” a phrase every school and university across the nation displays proudly on their websites. We have much work to do in our industry– and in our culture at large– to live up to that promise. Let’s get to work.

Next: Back to School: How to Fix the “Broken Education System”

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Back to School: How to be a White Teacher, As Taught to Me By Students of Color

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Image: JSTOR Daily (daily.jstor.org)

This is the first piece in a three-part series about education in the US.

I taught for many years as a lecturer at a state university in the Bay Area. Once, after the first day of class, a young Black student stopped me to ask a routine question. He was a freshman, at the start of his college journey. We walked together to my next class for a bit and chatted. I asked him what I asked many of my students when we had a chance to chat: What did he want to do with his life? What were his dreams and goals? He stopped in his tracks, turned to me, and said, “No white person has ever asked me that.”

This was very early in my teaching career, and was a formative moment for me. In one comment, this teenager had given me a master class in being a white teacher, and in whiteness in America. No white teacher– no white PERSON– had ever cared enough to ask this young man the ubiquitous, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” That broke my heart and changed my life as a teacher. I began to think hard about how white teachers serve– or do not serve– students of color. I began to think hard about the many ways in which living in a society flooded with racist messaging has influenced the way we teach, the expectations we have of our students, the material we teach, and our classroom cultures.

While many assume education is extremely diverse– I’ve had white people tell me they believe their whiteness is a liability on the academic job market– 80% of public school teachers are white, and 90% of full-time professors are white (but when you include underpaid lecturers, that number drops to 79%). A full 77% of K-12 teachers are women  (but of course just under a quarter of full-time professors are women). White men are given school leadership roles at all levels– K through grad school– at astonishingly higher rates than anyone else, even though they are underrepresented in K-12 education. The more prestigious the educational institution, the more likely white men are chosen for leadership roles.

Most American teachers are white, and most of us are teaching under some form of white male leadership, while the US student population is more diverse now than ever before. Yet we’re also confronted with the reality that white fragility around conversations about race and white resentment are both at a fever pitch, making support around these issues from parents, colleagues and, most importantly, administrators uncertain and often conditional.

How do we support all our students whether leadership is on board or not? How do we create a curriculum and a classroom culture that support the needs of all students using the tools available to us, with or without outside support?

EDUCATE YOURSELF. Read writers of color, and not just when they’re writing about race. Seek out writers whose lived experience differs from yours and learn what they have to say about a wide variety of topics. Believe what writers of color have to say about whiteness. If you begin to feel uncomfortable with a writer’s criticism of white people, lean into it. This is where the growth happens. Don’t allow yourself to pretend that your own resistance, defensiveness, or anger mean that the writer is “wrong.” Defensiveness, resistance, and anger are far more likely to mean that the writer is discussing an uncomfortable truth you do not want to confront. Do you want your students to give up the minute something gets difficult? If we’re asking for that kind of disciplined effort from 14-year-old students around algebra problems or essays, we can certainly give that disciplined effort ourselves about the systemic racism that has destroyed lives for generations. If you’re unhappy with the way writers of color critique whiteness, work to change the impact of whiteness in their lives rather than dismiss the writers for telling the truth.

BUILD A DIVERSE CURRICULUM. Don’t worry about being a white teacher teaching material by people of color. Just don’t present yourself as an expert in the race-related material. It’s enough to be the expert in, say, novel structure; you do not also need to be the expert in Black lives to teach a novel by a Black writer. Read the work of Black scholars when prepping Black material. Present the material to your students as something you are exploring together. Tell students why it’s important to read writers of many different perspectives. Model humility; model the desire to learn about people different than yourself, to learn from people different than yourself. Demonstrate to your students that material by people of color isn’t “Black history” or “Latinx literature” but “history” and “literature.” “History” and “literature” are not naturally white, requiring modifiers to demonstrate distance from the natural whiteness of the fields. All work comes from specific perspectives, including white-written work. We just pretend white-written work is “neutral” and “universal.” White work is heavily influenced by the writer’s whiteness, not “neutral,” but we read whiteness as “neutral” and everything else as defined by its distance from whiteness. All work is both specific in perspective and universal.

Scholars invented “the canon” and we can reinvent it to include writers of color. Writers of color are not temporary diversions from “important work,” existing solely to speak specifically about people of color for a moment before we return to work about more universal themes. Writers of color are firmly enmeshed in the same web of influences and references, and handle the same universal themes, as “canonical” writers. But because scholars privileged white work and relegated, for example, Black work to a “Black lit” or “Black history” sidebar, we’ve been taught to see it as an extra, a detour, a specialization. American writers of color are only considered “canonical” when writing about their identity, while we deem white writers the only people capable of writing work that speaks to the human experience as a whole. Does that seem exaggerated to you? Look for the American writers here, here, and here. Works by writers of color about identity are critically important, and of course do indeed contain universal themes, despite generations of white academics ignoring that. But works by writers of color about other topics are also important and also deserving of inclusion in curricula. Any list or syllabus that includes Orwell and Bradbury but not Butler is broken. Academics invented the broken canon, and we can repair it. Start with your syllabus.

If you’re a Humanities teacher, diversifying your curriculum is easy, especially if you’re already seeking out diverse writers and educating yourself about diverse perspectives. There are literally thousands of articles and lesson plans available online. There are social justice-focused lesson plans, lesson plans about writers of color, lesson plans based on primary source material written by people of color throughout history, and so much more. If you’re a STEM teacher, this might seem more complex. How do you “diversify” an Algebra 2 curriculum? The website Teaching Tolerance has sample lessons for all subjects and grade levels, and is a great place to start. They also published a useful article about diversity in STEM teaching called “Planting Seeds, Growing Diversity.”   There are many resources online for STEM teachers looking to create diverse curricula.

EXAMINE YOUR IMPLICIT BIASES. Implicit biases are unconscious responses to internalized cultural messaging. In a culture rife with systemic racism, we encounter racist messaging every day of our lives. (The same goes for misogyny, transphobia, ableism, etc.) Our implicit biases are not consciously racist, but rather a reaction to our understanding of our culture shaped by a lifetime of racist messaging. All humans have implicit biases and must work to uncover what they are before working to counteract them. I won’t lie to you; it’s difficult work and it’s never-ending, but the results are critically important for teachers. What are your expectations of your students? Do you unconsciously expect white boys to be “better” at some things? Do you allow a Black girl’s math errors to slide because “that’s the best she can do”? Do you see rowdiness from Black students as “inappropriate” and requiring consequences, but rowdiness from white boys as “high spirits”? Do you make up nicknames for students when their names are “too hard to pronounce”? All humans have implicit biases, and all Americans, especially white Americans, have a host of implicit biases about race that we must examine intentionally in order to overcome. Not sure where to start? Take a look at this article from the Yale Center for Teaching and Learning, “Awareness of Implicit Biases” and NEA Today’s “When Implicit Bias Shapes Teacher Expectations.”   This is a life-long project with no finish line, so don’t look for quick, easy answers or a bullet-pointed “to do” list for the classroom. This is about examining our own thoughts and behavior over time.

RESPECT STUDENTS’ CULTURES. One of the most frequent mistakes we make as white teachers is around the usage of English dialects such as AAVE (African American Vernacular English). What we call “correct” or “proper” English is just one style of communication students will need to use as a tool in a few, very limited settings. Even in the business world, most communication is done in a slang-y, jargon-y English that is nowhere near “correct.” While formal English skills can indeed open doors for you as the lingua franca of many aspects of our culture, it’s just one style of English communication. When I mark something on a paper as “incorrect” grammar or syntax, it is “incorrect” for formal English, not for all English communication. “Correct” grammar and syntax are always changing. Case in point: Americans insisted on using “momentarily” incorrectly so persistently dictionaries now include “in a moment” as an “alternate usage” along with the original “for a moment,” which quite frankly galls me, but language evolves despite my personal feelings about it. White people complain bitterly about various dialects but don’t know how to use “whom” properly and can’t tell the difference between “every day” and “everyday.” I see white people writing the utterly incorrect “I drink coffee everyday” while sneering at the usage of “ax” for “ask,” a pronunciation that goes back 1200 years. Learning to code switch from AAVE, Hawaiian pidgin, or Spanglish to formal English is a skill, and a deeply useful one. When teaching, emphasize that you’re using one style of English—formal English—in your classroom, not that you’re using “correct English.” No one dialect is always “correct” for every setting.

Think about when formal English is required in your classroom and when it isn’t, and be certain that you’re monitoring that equally. During class discussions, too many teachers allow white slang while “correcting” students who use AAVE (even though the vast majority of “white slang” was appropriated from AAVE). If you’re using “cool,” “hang out,” or the prepositional because (“because science”) but “correcting” students who use “finna,” “ax,” or “I got out the bed,” you’re creating a classroom culture where random white slang is acceptable but a longstanding dialect with its own grammar and syntax–AAVE– is not.  We need to teach formal English to our students, but we can (correctly) recognize that code switching is a complex and useful skill rather than denigrate one dialect while teaching another. You don’t need to denigrate other English dialects to teach students formal English any more than you need to denigrate English to teach Japanese.

LISTEN TO STUDENTS AND COLLEAGUES OF COLOR. Most of what I’ve ever learned about serving students of color as a white teacher came from listening to students and colleagues of color. But in order to listen to colleagues of color, you need to have colleagues of color– and you need to have colleagues of color who are able to speak out without consequences. In the next piece, I’ll examine our role as white allies in creating diversity and equity in the academic workplace.

Next: Back to School: Creating an Equitable Workplace.

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Your Nonprofit is “Committed to Diversity”? How Diverse Is Your Board?

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“People ask me sometimes, when do you think it will it be enough? When will there be enough women on the court? And my answer is when there are nine.” — Ruth Bader Ginsberg

Few consider it odd that almost all Supreme Court justices in the court’s 229 year history have been white men, but many considered Justice Ginsberg’s statement to be highly controversial. The idea of an all-female court seemed upsetting and threatening to many people, but an all-male court has always seemed unremarkable.

In nearly every nonprofit company in the US, the board of directors is overwhelmingly white and male. One or two white women or Black men on an otherwise white male board is considered “diverse.” And when they get a seat at the table, women and people of color struggle to be heard in white male-heavy environments, their voices discounted, their points of view ignored. Endless studies and articles discuss this problem. Entire industries have developed around corporate diversity consultants.

This has enormous repercussions on every aspect of our lives in the US. Health services, education, social services, legal services, civic and environmental advocacy, the arts, and international relations all have significant nonprofit presence. White men– usually white, able-bodied, cisgender, straight men with Christian heritage– control these industries, set their priorities, and determine how resources are distributed without significant input from other points of view.

Few people outside of the nonprofit world know how much power the board of directors has. Most of us know that the board hires the head of the organization, a decision that has enormous repercussions for the institution as a whole. The head is the gatekeeper for every aspect of the organization, and it has been an ongoing, pervasive problem that the people boards choose for the big chair are almost always white and male.

Just as importantly, boards approve annual budgets, and where the money goes– and where it does not– directs everything about a company. Is your building ADA compliant? Do your staff go through regular diversity and equity training? Do you do hiring outreach to communities that are under-represented in your staff? Is budgeting for any of those a priority or considered an “extra”? What we choose to fund has far-reaching effects on every aspect of our organizations.

You cannot be “committed to diversity” unless your Board is diverse. We need to ensure that our boards have an understanding of a multiplicity of experiences, have a wider range of contacts, and can speak with authority to a wider range of people. A diverse board has innumerable benefits while a homogeneous board has just as many drawbacks and limitations.

When boards hire a new company head, they see a white man with little experience as “a fresh new voice” but a woman or person of color with the same (or even more) experience as “not ready.” They see a white man who has failed in other places as “a risk-taker” or “a maverick” but see women or people of color who have failed in other places as just failures. White boards give white men the benefit of the doubt while judging women and people of color too harshly. They see white men as being able to speak to a “universal human experience” while seeing, for example, a Black woman as having a limited, specifically Black and female, perspective.

Our culture assumes that all positions of power are rightfully white and male, and any diversion from that is a deviation from the norm– a place made specially for difference. We assume that white men are “neutral,” able to make decisions unweighted by identity-related points of view, and that everyone else is irrevocably marked by their identity, their judgment skewed by their distance from white maleness. Yet it is a certainty that whiteness and maleness are very specific points of view that clearly impact judgment.

A white person will not have the experience to always recognize and understand racism when they see it. A cisgender man will not have the experience to always recognize and understand sexism or transphobia when they see it. When confronted with racism, many– perhaps the majority– of white people reject it, defend it, or make excuses for it. When confronted with sexism, the majority of men reject it, defend it, or make excuses for it. Men insist that stories about women can’t be universal, but automatically assume that stories about men are. White people insist that Black, Latinx, or Asian stories can’t be universal, but automatically assume that stories about white people are. A film with an all-Black cast is a “Black movie,” but a film with an all white cast is just “a movie.” We label any story that’s not white, male, cis, hetero, and able-bodied as a creation for a niche audience, but the truth is, there is universality in any story, because there is far more that binds us than separates us. White men have been trained to see themselves as “neutral” and everyone else as marked by their distance from that neutrality. This is all summed up by the images below. These are male:

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And these are female:

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Even in simplistic cartoon icons, something extra is needed to denote “female,” because neutral is read as “male.” Every position of privilege is “neutral” and everything else is measured by its distance from that privilege, requiring modifying adjectives or visual markers.

Of course this point of view is a direct result of living in a culture that bombards us with this messaging relentlessly. It’s a catch-22: If we want to change our cultural messaging to embrace the universality of all human experience, not just white male human experience, we need to create that messaging in our culture– through the art, the marketing, the writing, and all the other cultural artifacts currently produced by organizations that overwhelmingly favor the work of white men, hire white men, and promote white men to positions of leadership.

While the gatekeepers are mostly white and male, gatekeeping throughout our culture will have a necessarily limited perspective. When the gatekeepers are homogeneous, outside perspectives, outside needs, and outside trends will always be imperfectly understood or even missed entirely. Having a diversity of voices in the room so dramatically improves an organization’s ability to serve its community, one would think a diverse board of directors would be a requirement for obtaining and retaining the 501c3 nonprofit status. As nonprofits, we exist as “public benefit corporations.” Who are we benefiting if the gatekeepers in our organizations are all drawn from the most privileged demographic in our culture?

It all boils down to this:

There is no “commitment to diversity” without diversity. 

We need to diversify our boards or stop claiming we have a “commitment to diversity.”

 

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Jeff Sessions Does Not Know His Bible

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Jeff Sessions. (Source: Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

Today, speaking in Indiana, Jeff Sessions used Romans 13 to justify the Trump Administration’s brand new policy of stealing children from their parents at the border and locking them in detention centers. He said, “Persons who violate the law of our nation are subject to prosecution. I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order. Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful.”

Sessions does not understand Romans 13.

Time for Bitter Gertrude Bible Study!

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Photo by Josh Applegate on Unsplash

It appears that Sessions has not read the full chapter. For example, Romans 13:6 tells you to pay your taxes, yet the Trump Administration changed the law so wealthy people would not have to pay their fair share. Romans 13:9-10 states that all God’s laws boil down to “love your neighbor as yourself,” and that we should therefore “do no harm” to our neighbors. It says that love itself is the “fulfillment of the law.”

So I think it’s clear Sessions has not read Romans 13 in its entirety, or he would not have called attention to it.

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No, Sessions got no further in Romans 13 than Romans 13:1-5. I won’t quote the whole thing here. (The full chapter is linked above if you’re curious.) Romans 13:1 gives you the basics of the text and the basis for Session’s quote:

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.

Romans 13:1-5 tells us to obey the law. Using this to defend the brand-new policy of the Trump Administration is an egregious– and deliberate– misuse of the text.

“Obey the law” does not mean “the law should never be changed.” If it did, Sessions and Trump would be in a Biblical bind because they very recently changed the policy to order border agents to steal children from parents at the border. This policy change was ordered specifically for its cruelty, as Trump and Sessions believed that people considering coming here to seek work or asylum would reconsider if they knew their children would be stolen from them and locked in cages. The Trump Administration has  snatched infants at the breast. They’ve pulled screaming toddlers away from weeping mothers. These stories are being witnessed, recorded, and retold every single day. Those appalled by this horrific human rights violation are demanding the policy itself be changed, not that individuals disobey the law. It is not against Romans 13 to demand that an immoral law be changed. If anything, it’s required by 13:9.

“Obey the law” presents a serious Biblical problem for the Trump Administration, as border agents are stealing children from legal asylum seekers as well as from undocumented workers. It’s the law of our nation that people can come here, claim asylum, and live under US protection while their cases are being considered. The Trump Administration itself is in violation of US law by stealing the children of legal asylum seekers, in addition to being in violation of Romans 13:1-5.

“Obey the law” and “authorities have been established by God” do not give those authorities carte blanche to commit whatever cruelty they please as punishment for disobedience to the law. Undocumented people crossing into the US are breaking US law, but the Bible—and basic human decency—forbids us from torturing children simply because their parents brought them here. In fact, Romans 13:9 is very clear that cruelty is forbidden, and the Bible specifically forbids cruelty to strangers in our land repeatedly throughout the Old and New Testaments. In Matthew 25:37-46, Jesus himself damns those who did not “take in strangers.”

An infant cries as U.S. Border Patrol agents process a group of immigrants in Granjeno, Texas, outside of McCallen on June 25, 2014.

Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.” They also will answer, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?” He will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life. — Matthew 25:41-46        (Photo source: Jerry Lara/San Antonio Express-News/Zuma Press)

Romans 13 does not support what you’re doing, Jeff Sessions. The Bible is abundantly clear that what you are doing is wrong, which is likely why so many religious leaders– even (finally) conservative religious leaders – have spoken out against it and against the Trump Administration’s denial of asylum to victims of domestic abuse and gang violence. If Senate Democrats do not succeed against the Republican majority in their attempt to reverse this policy, it will not be long before the other world powers issue sanctions against us for it, as indeed we have done for similar human rights violations in other countries.

Jeff, as you pointed us to Romans 13, I point you to Isaiah 10:1-3. If Trump cared about the Bible in the slightest, I would ask you to read it aloud to him (since he won’t read it—or anything—himself):

Woe to those who make unjust laws,
to those who issue oppressive decrees,
to deprive the poor of their rights
and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,
making widows their prey
and robbing the fatherless.

I’m no Christian—I’m even a bad Jew– but I do know how to interpret text. Jeff Sessions, you lied about your own Bible to defend an unjust policy that breaks numerous Biblical precepts and US law. If you truly believe you will one day stand before your God on Judgment Day, you should repent—and quickly, before more people get hurt.

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Sending Love and Challah

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My challah begins its first rise. 

Baking bread is a labor of love. It takes hours to make, and you can go to any store and buy decent bread, especially here in the Bay Area. But nothing is as good as homebaked bread, I think, in part, because so much love has to go into it. So much time, care, and thoughtful attention.

This is challah, and not for my family. Someone I know has cancer, and this is one of my days to bring dinner for their family. This person is someone I have known a very long time. We knew each other when we were young and foolish and had no idea what we were doing apart from dreaming big. We watched each other grow up and influence our industry in different ways. I don’t see this person often. But, for two decades now, every single time I reached out my hand for them, they reached back. Not every answer can be yes– you don’t have every resource or solution every time– but every time there was an answer. Every time, there was “I see you. I hear you. I’m here.” I have tried to pay that forward over the years and I hope I have succeeded. Now this person is fighting a battle no one should have to fight. The family reached out a hand and I reached back with what little I have to give. I can’t cure cancer and I can’t make the pain go away. But there will be bread. I see you. I hear you. I’m here.

Sending love and challah.

Fuck cancer.

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Samantha Bee’s C*nt and the White House

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Samantha Bee. (Source: USA Today.)

By now, you’ve heard that Samantha Bee called Ivanka Trump a “feckless c*nt” on television for Ivanka’s unwillingness to do anything to stop her father’s administration from ripping children away from their parents at the border– a deliberate strategy the Trump Administration adopted in the past few weeks to discourage illegal immigration. As Special Advisor to the President, and as someone who has repeatedly said she “cares” about families, she seems to be the one of the few people in the nation who might be able to put a stop to this human rights violation. On the contrary, it appears Ivanka has instead openly mocked the pain of these families ripped apart by her father’s administration, posting a picture of herself cuddling with her safe, white child while the rest of the nation demands that she do something about the children made unsafe by her father. At best, the picture is remarkably tone deaf.

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Valerie Jarrett. (Source: Time Magazine)

A few days prior to Bee’s statement, Roseanne Barr, who has had a long history of racist, transphobic, and Islamophobic public statements, tweeted out that Valerie Jarret, former advisor to President Obama, was a “Muslim ape.” Although this was not the first time she called a Black woman an “ape” on twitter, this came in the midst of Barr’s career revival with a rebooted series that acted primarily as an apologia for her Trump support. Instead of the racism, transphobia, and Islamophobia that underpinned Roseanne’s actual Trump support, the character Roseanne was allowed to claim in all seriousness that she was motivated by the fact that “he talked about jobs.” After this latest racial slur, Barr’s show was cancelled, she was dropped by her agent, and it appears that her career will need to veer into right wing media if it is to survive at all.

Those on the Right are howling with indignation, pretending that Samantha Bee should be punished in exactly the same way Roseanne was. In a stunning, unconstitutional abuse of power, the White House itself has demanded that Bee’s parent company “must demonstrate” that “explicit profanity about female members of this administration will not be condoned.” 

We have two different problems here.

One, Samantha Bee calling Ivanka Trump a “feckless c*nt” is not the same as Roseanne calling Valerie Jarret a Muslim ape. One white woman calling another white woman a nasty name describing her behavior is not the same as a white person using a dehumanizing racial slur against a Black person AND using “Muslim” as a pejorative because the sociocultural power dynamic is different.

When a white woman calls another white woman a nasty word, she’s just being mean.
When a white woman uses a centuries-old racial slur that dehumanizes Black people, whom white people have oppressed for centuries, knowing full well that that very same type of dehumanization– “they are no better than apes”—has been used for generations as justification for their enslavement, brutalization, murder, and oppression, that is MUCH WORSE. When the same white woman adds to that dehumanizing racial slur the idea that we must hate and fear Americans who belong to one certain religion, that that religion is evil and bad and those people should be shunned, mocked, and reviled, that is EVEN WORSE. It is, in fact, horrific.

Samantha Bee’s middle school taunt is not in the same league as a white woman using a racial slur that was used to justify slavery.

Conservatives think liberals protect other liberals no matter what because that’s how they are with each other. Liberals instead turn on our own so predictably Republicans use it as a political strategy. If Samantha Bee had said what Roseanne tweeted, Bee’s career would be over.

But we all know they are not the same, just as Michelle Wolf’s comment that Sarah Huckabee Sanders uses the ashes of facts as eye shadow is nothing remotely like a racial slur. When conservatives send me emails calling me a “c*nt” for blog posts like this one, it is far less upsetting than when conservatives send me emails calling me a “filthy Jew.” “C*nt” is about behavior. “Filthy Jew” is about who I am intrinsically, and knowingly references centuries-long antisemitic persecution.

Now multiply “Filthy Jew” by 100,000,000 and you are starting to get somewhere near the onramp to the interstate to get to the airport that will take you within 500 miles of the horrific racism of “ape.” I would rather have 1000 conservatives call me a “c*nt” (and I might be close to that number by now) than ONE PERSON call any Black person on earth, even one I dislike (looking at you, Clarence Thomas) an “ape.”

The outrage about Bee’s use of the word “c*nt” is, of course, nonsense and best ignored. What makes this newsworthy is the second, much larger problem: the White House itself has violated the Constitution—again—to demand that Bee “must” be punished for a word she used to describe an administration official.

THE WHITE HOUSE DEMANDED A JOURNALIST FACE CONSEQUENCES FOR CRITICIZING AN ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL.

And conservatives applaud it.

This isn’t a violation of some obscure emolument clause. This is an OPEN violation of the first amendment.

You know why no one believes conservatives when they say they need guns outside of a “well-regulated militia” so they can use them against the potential tyranny of the government? Because that tyranny is happening, right now, and they applaud it. You know why no one believes conservatives when they say that they “love the constitution” more than liberals do? Because they’re thrilled to see its most cherished principles violated if it might have even a slight chance of hurting “libtards.”

Obviously armed rebellion is not the solution to the Trump Administration’s (many) constitutional violations. The solution is in Congress (in the form of impeachment proceedings), in the court of public opinion, and at the ballot box. We must use the tools of democracy to fight its enemies. When the White House itself demands that a journalist be punished for using profanity while criticizing a member of its administration, we’re in a fight for the most basic principles this nation holds dear. There are two sides here, and two sides only: The side fighting for democracy and the US Constitution, and the side defending the Trump Administration.

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When White People Say “I Don’t See Race,” We’re Lying

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“We don’t see color!” (Source: Honestly? I found this doing a google image search for “wypipo.” Public domain, according to google.)

“I don’t see color! WE ALL BLEED RED.”

People of color, you have almost certainly had white people say this to you, or some version of it, numerous times. It’s a lie. But you already knew that.

White people, of course we “see color.” We see that people are Black, or Asian, or Latinx. So what is our intent when we say “I don’t see color” to a person of color? What we’re trying to say is “We don’t care about your race! We’re judging you as a person.”

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(Source: stonecroft.org)

I know many white people have good intentions when we say this. Our intention is to advertise ourselves as “not racist.” But intent is meaningless. Impact is what’s important. Intent is unknowable, untouchable, and, let’s face facts, easily reverse engineered. Our words and actions have an impact on the people around us, regardless of our intentions.

So what are we really saying when we say “I don’t see color” or “I don’t see race”?

“I don’t see race” means “I am uncomfortable talking about racism.” When you claim that you don’t even see, for example, your friend’s Blackness, you’re refusing to recognize, understand, and accept that her experience of the world is fundamentally different than yours. “We all bleed red” would have more meaning if some of us weren’t bleeding far more than others. Until you can accept that as fact, you can’t be a good ally, let alone a good friend. Racism exists whether you “see” it or not, and it impacts the day-to-day experiences of people of color. It’s understandable that white people are uncomfortable talking about race, but remember that that discomfort is what people of color experience every day in the US. “I don’t see race” signals to people of color that they can’t be their whole, authentic selves with you.

“I don’t see race” means “Your non-white race is a liability, so I am generously ignoring it.” A racial and/or ethnic identity is a beautiful, meaningful part of a person’s identity. When we tell the people of color around us that we “don’t see race,” we’re saying that we are deliberately ignoring an enormous part of their identity. No one would take that as a compliment. We only claim to “not see” things that are liabilities.

“This whole time, I had spinach stuck in my tooth!”
“I didn’t even see it!”

“I dropped a line in that scene.”
“Did you? I didn’t even notice.”

American culture routinely frames European cultures as intrinsically superior to other cultures, a fact that is unexamined by many people who claim they “don’t see race.” They will proudly wear a kilt or celebrate their Viking ancestry, but see it as a praiseworthy act of generosity to “not see” the ethnic origins of non-white people, having never paused to consider how meaningful it is to be, for example, Black. Almost all Black Americans are descended from enslaved Africans, ripped from their cultures of origin, grouped with people from diverse African ethnicities, and forced to speak a new language and worship a new god while being treated like animals. The families they created here were often ripped apart; children sold away from mothers; husbands sold away from wives. No social or familial bond was safe from destruction. And yet out of that horror, they managed to create a unique American subculture that has been one of the most powerful influences on global culture in the history of humanity. Think about the enormity of that achievement for a moment. Telling a Black woman you do not see her race is like telling a queen you do not see her crown. All racial and ethnic identities have rich cultures and histories. “I don’t see race” is saying “I see an important and beautiful part of your identity as a liability.”

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Hiding from discussions of race does not mean you’re “not racist.”

 

“I don’t see race” means “I’m afraid of being called ‘a racist.'” You cannot hide from discussions of race to avoid racism– quite the opposite. Seeing race does not make you a racist. Stating that you refuse to acknowledge race brings you much closer to that line because you’re rejecting the reality of racism in our culture and its impact on people of color. We live in a racist culture. The culture relentlessly bombards us with racist messaging. Fighting that requires constant vigilance. It requires questioning everything you think about race, everything you read, everything you hear. It requires factchecking statements about race and believing the nonpartisan factchecker rather than the racism. In short, it requires that we see race. It requires active examination of race in both self-reflection and education. If you feel so at sea in these discussions that you avoid them for fear of screwing up and looking like a racist, educate yourself! Read about racism. Read writers of color, and not just when they write about racism. And remember: not every discussion requires your participation. Sometimes you can just listen and learn when people of color are discussing racism around you.

Never try to “play devil’s advocate.” Racism is not a game. It’s an extraordinarily disrespectful thing to say in discussions of race, in no small part because it’s one way people who are afraid of being called “racist” air their racist views. If you find yourself wanting to say, “I don’t see color, but let me just play devil’s advocate here,” stop and spend some time honestly reflecting on what you were about to say.

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(Source: KC Green, gunshowcomic.com)

“I don’t see race” means “The problem will go away if we ignore it.” Talking about racism does not cause racism. Despite the efforts of white people like Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA), you do not “make America great” by ignoring race-based discrimination. “We need to stop talking about discrimination and start talking about the nation,” Kelly said, revealing his belief that racism is best swept under the rug, and that people of color are not included when we say “our nation.” Kelly went on to shout at Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), “We’re coming together as a people despite what you say,” meaning America is “coming together” to shut out people of color. The bill for which he was arguing, SJ Res. 57, passed both the House and the Senate, and it is once again legal for auto lenders to discriminate on the basis of race. Fighting racism requires active involvement, and that begins by recognizing the people of color around you in all aspects of their humanity.

“I don’t see race” means “Please praise me as a ‘good white person.'” As a white person trying hard to interrogate my whiteness, be a good ally, and work to create equity in our culture, this is the one I most deeply understand. It’s a struggle to walk around in a body every day that symbolizes hatred and danger to others, and the desire to be recognized as “not that”– as a good person– is strong.

The irony, of course, is that our culture frames people of color, especially Black and Latinx men as violent and dangerous. Despite the generations of oppression and violence white people have inflicted on people of color, our culture gives white people the benefit of the doubt, sees us as individuals, and expects our goodness while assuming people of color, especially Black and Latinx men, are weapons waiting to be used against us. When popular right wing site Breitbart was run by former Trump advisor Steve Bannon, it featured an entire section labeled “Black Crime,” which was, after public scrutiny, demoted to a tag, then finally deleted. (The stories weren’t deleted– just the tag.) President Trump himself has called non-white nations “shithole countries,” and a man who made a recent failed bid for governor of Georgia toured the state in a “deportation bus” emblazoned with “Danger! Murderers, rapists, kidnappers, child molesters, and other criminals on board,” “Follow me to Mexico,” and “Fill this bus with illegals.” Immigrants, both documented and undocumented, commit fewer crimes than people born here, but racism is driving the inaccurate narrative that immigrants are dangerous. That kind of narrative, designed specifically to facilitate the oppression of people of color, cannot simply be ignored.

See race. If you want recognition as a good person, you must act like a good person and actively fight racism. Even then, being anti-racism is like being anti-murder or anti-theft. Don’t expect praise for that. Michelle Obama won’t come to your house with a trophy for being against racism any more than she would because you stopped stealing your co-workers’ lunches from the break room fridge.

Michelle-Obama.charles.dharapak.AP

Not coming to your house. (Photo: Charles Dharapak/AP)

Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching. Being a good person is its own reward. Fight racism because it’s the right thing to do.

 

 

 

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“Dress Like A Normal Person”: The Weapons of Fragile Masculinity

 

egg.barany.nandor

“Egyensúly” by Nándor Bárány, 1936

Krista Knight is a young playwright well-known and well-loved in the new plays community. She’s well-loved both for her work (her plays have been produced all over the country) and for her personality, which is supportive, generous, and kind. If you scroll through her Instagram (@playtrixx), you’ll see her promoting the work of other writers as often as her own. You’ll also see pictures of her unique, fabulous look– pink hair, flamboyant outfits, wide, happy grin. Everyone who knows Krista loves Krista.

So it shocked the many people who know her when she received this email from fellow playwright Tommy Smith:

krista.knight

 

Almost simultaneously, another man– this one an attorney– publicly berated two women at a deli in midtown Manhattan for speaking Spanish during a transaction because “this is America.” In addition to his obvious racism and his less-obvious wild hypocrisy (his own legal practice advertises Spanish language services), he ends his tirade against these two women with an attack on one’s looks, telling her, “Maybe you shouldn’t eat that sandwich today. Take a break from the food.” (See the transcript here.)

What does a playwright’s wardrobe have to do with her writing? What does a woman’s weight have to do with her language? Both these attacks are illogical. Why suddenly, out of all the many Spanish-speaking people in midtown Manhattan, does a man attack two women for both their language and their appearance? Why suddenly, out of the blue, does a man attack a women for both her writing and her appearance?

Short answer: because misogyny.

Slightly longer answer: Men with fragile masculinity assert their dominance in public spaces whenever they feel their masculinity is threatened. When they feel their masculinity is threatened by a woman– the ultimate threat– they attempt to use the tools of male supremacy to put women in their place. In our male supremacist culture, women are accorded value based on their appearances alone. A man who wants to assert his dominance over a woman and make her feel small while making himself feel big and important– feel the weight of cultural male supremacy– will weaponize a woman’s appearance against her. He believes disparaging her appearance lowers her cultural value while the act of passing judgment on her appearance increases his. Weaponizing a woman’s appearance against her is one of the hallmarks of fragile masculinity.

krista

Krista Knight. (source: kristaknight.com)

Tommy Smith reached out to Krista Knight not because he disliked her plays or her outfits. I’m sure he dislikes both, but few adults would send such a shocking letter to an industry peer based on that alone. Here’s what I believe is going on: Knight’s industry prominence is growing. She is taking up space in what is still today a male-dominated industry, space he clearly feels belongs to him, space he feels entitled to police (“Go fuck yourself. . . . Your plays are bad”). He stresses his belief that she lives on a “trust fund,” and that her life is supported by money she doesn’t deserve, which touches on another hallmark of fragile masculinity– money. Not only is she taking up space in his industry that he feels rightfully belongs to him, but he is angered by the belief that she has more money than he does (“If you lived on the salary of a playwright”).

Under male supremacy, men are judged by other men for their success and their money. It’s an affront to fragile masculinity for a woman– a lowly woman– to have more success and more money than a man. Tommy’s email reveals the belief that he deserves success and money much more than Knight does, yet he’s faced with her rising star and (please be true) her personal fortune. She’s taking up space in his industry and therefore draining attention and resources that he evidently believes rightfully belong to him. Envying the success and wealth of a woman threatens his masculinity, which proves to be so fragile he reaches out to attack her. And like men have done for generations, Tommy reached for the closest (and laziest) misogynistic weapon at hand– her appearance.

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Aaron Schlossberg (right) at a pro-alt right rally, May 2017. (Source: hornet.com)

Attorney Aaron Schlossberg was similarly threatened by the women who were speaking Spanish. In the past few days, his support of right-wing extremism has come to light, but just the transcript of the event alone reveals that he’s bought into the right-wing racist lie that Spanish-speaking = illegal immigrant = collecting welfare = drain on US taxpayers. Even a cursory look at the facts reveals how foolish and illogical that line of thought is, especially in New York, where there are thousands of US citizens who were born in the Spanish-speaking US territory Puerto Rico. But Aaron Schlossberg is not interested in logic. (If he were, he would not be having a public meltdown over women speaking Spanish in someone else’s business when he advertises speaking Spanish in his own.) As a right-wing extremist, he’s been carefully taught to see immigrants as a threat to him in general. But what sent him over the edge and into public hysterics at that moment was the sight of two women speaking Spanish during a deli transaction. The cell phone video one of the women shot shows Aaron spluttering in indignation to a heroically calm male employee who appears to deeply frustrate Aaron by failing to side with him. Just like Tommy Smith, Aaron Schlossberg sees these women as taking space that rightfully belongs to him, space he feels entitled to police (“my next call is to ICE to have each one of them kicked out of my country”). Just like Tommy, Aaron’s fragile masculinity is triggered by the idea that these Spanish-speaking women are draining financial resources from him (“they have the balls to come here and live off of my money. I pay for their welfare. I pay for their ability to be here”). And just like Tommy, just like men have done for generations, he attempts to assert his dominance by weaponizing a woman’s appearance against her.

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Tommy Smith. (Source: playscripts.com)

This is Trump’s America. Women and people of color have taken a few small steps towards equity, and white men (and women), who have always been comfortable in their position as the cultural and societal elite, panicked. Equity– even a few steps toward equity– looks like oppression to people who have always assumed the special treatment they historically received was “normal.” They elected a racist, sexist oaf to “get back at” the “coastal elite liberals” they believed were responsible for these modest social justice gains. Now, emboldened by the open racism and sexism of the President, emboldened by even the mainstream right’s approval of racism and sexism, they are lashing out, no longer seeing a need to hide racism and sexism, and desperate to reassert their societal and cultural dominance by putting everyone else “back in their places.” The increase in right-wing terrorism has been a major national problem for years. But there are also millions upon millions of smaller events that come from the same hateful impulse, the same anger at women, people of color, and LGBTQ people “taking over America”– taking space people with cultural privilege feel rightfully belong to them, space they feel entitled to police.

Masculinity can be as fragile as an egg perched on the edge of a wine glass. The tiniest whisper of a threat– real or imagined– is enough to send men like Tommy Smith and Aaron Schlossberg into hysterics. But we are continuing to push forward despite their desperate attacks. Despite the backlash.

This backlash was inevitable. We knew it was coming. And it is horrible– lives are lost, people are ruined, families are ripped apart. The pain is immense, made even worse by the gleeful celebration of the right. But it is a backlash. This isn’t a fight we’re going to win. We have already won. The toddlers are kicking and screaming, but eventually, they will be sitting in that car seat, riding along with the rest of the family, driving toward the future.

 

 

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A Memo to Gatekeepers Regarding Whiteness

Bitter Gertrude is thrilled to host our first guest blogger ever, the brilliant Ming Peiffer! 

 

Hand holding a metallic vintage key
Dear People In Positions Of Power,

When you decide to NOT produce a white artist’s work do NOT tell them it’s because they are white.

Using POC as scapegoats for why you can’t program a white artist’s work not only devalues the POC work you are (finally) giving a chance to see the light of day, BUT it also absolves you of your responsibility and complicity in creating an unfair media world that portrays the world as white and not how it actually is. You’re basically saying, “Normally this would be given to a white person but look where we are! We just can’t! Maybe the pendulum will swing back next season!” And you’re not paying attention to the fact that it “normally going to white person” is not normal at all. And is a prime example of systemic racism and systematic erasure of POC and “Other” voices. (It also signals to me that somewhere you believe this is a passing fad instead of real institutional change you are embedding.)

Moreover, it’s re-enforcing the false narrative that whites are not succeeding right now. C’mon. Look at the TV. Look at your seasons. Look at the rest of the country. Look at the president.

White people are doing fine.

It is certainly easier to blame a faceless POC than hurting the feelings of a white artist you have a relationship with but y’all need to pony up and take responsibility for the necessary and commendable changes you ARE making in your programming and explain to them that your definition of “worthy” work has expanded and that their work simply did not make the “worthy” list this year. And that your previous definition of “worthy” was racist. Was white.

DO NOT MAKE IT SEEM AS THOUGH DECISIONS WERE NOT RACE-BASED BEFORE.

They were race-based before, you just couldn’t see it.

Do the work people in power. You might have to have some hard conversations and disappoint some of your friends but it’s better than creating more animosity towards POC and spreading an abhorrently false narrative that their whiteness is what’s keeping them from success.

It’s hard to be honest but it will be worth it and everyone will make better work because of it.

 

mingpeiffer

Ming Peiffer is a playwright, screenwriter, and activist from Columbus, Ohio. Her play USUAL GIRLS will be produced at the Roundabout Underground as part of their 2018/19 Season. Her work has been developed and/or presented by New York Theatre Workshop, Roundabout Theatre Company, The Kennedy Center, Ensemble Studio Theater, HERE Arts Center, The Flea, The Wild Project, New Ohio, Soho Playhouse, The Gene Frankel Theater, C.O.W., Theater for the New City, FringeNYC, Horsetrade Theater, Yangtze Repertory, among others. Awards/Fellowships include: NYTW 2050 Fellowship, The Kennedy Center’s Paul Stephen Lim Playwriting Award Recipient (i wrote on ur wall and now i regret it), The Relentless Award Honorable Mention (USUAL GIRLS), The Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center NPC Finalist (USUAL GIRLS), Playwright’s Realm Fellowship Semi-Finalist, Princess Grace Award Semi-Finalist (i wrote on ur wall and now i regret it), Doric Wilson Independent Playwright Award Finalist. In TV/Film, Ming has been a staff writer at Netflix and Hulu, and is currently developing her own series with Color Force and F/X. Additionally, she is adapting Weike Wang’s “CHEMISTRY” into a film for Amazon and a comic book into a series for AMC.

More about Ming Peiffer here

(Top image courtesy of Creative Commons license CC.BY.3.0; bottom image provided by author)
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Mass Shooters: More MAGA Than Misunderstood

parlandmarch

March for Our Lives. March 24, Washington, DC. (Source: washingtonpost.com)

I’m deeply moved by the nationwide youth protests. The March for Our Lives was breathtaking for so many reasons, not the least of which was its diversity, seamlessly incorporating issues of gun violence from all over the nation.

But the adult backlash is an embarrassment. It’s a real-life Scooby-Doo episode, with unsavory adults shaking their fists at the heroic “meddling kids.” Adults have viciously disparaged, slandered, and even threatened the Parkland survivors. (Imagine what it must feel like to attack a teenager who survived an unspeakable tragedy and believe you’re the good guy.)

In addition to all these attacks, adults are placing the blame for these tragedies on the students themselves, claiming students could solve everything if they’d just be nicer to their fellow students. This is the core of the popular “walk up, not out” campaign, an adult backlash ideology that holds that students should not protest for better gun legislation but should instead be putting their energies into being nicer to their fellow students, since, the theory goes, oddball kids are all the next school shooter, and all they need is a smile!

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More powerful than sensible gun legislation, according to “walk up, not out” (image source: a jillion memes)

 

The idea that teenagers could solve mass shootings by just socializing with “social outcasts” is a dangerous fantasy. Mass shooters do not actually come from the ranks of bullied kids. Many mass shooters were bullies themselves, and a large percentage of them had abused girlfriends and/or wives prior to the shooting. “Walk up, not out” and the entire mythology around the “misunderstood loner” obscure a deeper, more troubling truth.

On February 5 (just days before the Parkland shooting), the Southern Poverty Law Center published an article called “The Alt-Right Is Killing People.” Almost a year prior, The Nation published a piece called “Why Does the Far Right Hold a Near-Monopoly on Political Violence?” There are numerous studies and articles covering the fact that, beginning in the mid-90s, most mass shootings and domestic terrorism have been carried out by white men aligned with the extreme right-wing.

Most white male mass shooters– and most mass shooters are white males– are not “misunderstood loners.” Instead, they’re coming specifically from a place of entitlement– the straight white male entitlement that is a core belief in current extreme right-wing ideology. 

There are, of course, instances of left-wing violence, but they are dwarfed by the much more numerous instances of right-wing violence. Elliot Rodger didn’t want a girl to “walk up” and talk to him– he had been convinced by the alt right “manosphere” that he was entitled to a sexually available girlfriend and that violence was a logical expression of the anger he felt at being “denied” that. There are alt right spaces dedicated to Rodger, calling him a “hero.” Dylann Roof believed he was entitled to an all-white nation. Jerad and Amanda Miller believed they were entitled to freedom from the “tyranny” of the Obama administration, seeing their murders as the start of a right wing “revolution,” as did Paul Ciancia. Even Chris Harper-Mercer, who was biracial and shot people who self-identified as “Christian,” was acting from a place of injured, unfulfilled entitlement, writing a manifesto that bemoaned the fact that he was a virgin alongside racist rants, while using the screen name “ironcross45” (a reference to Nazi Germany). He was identified a year before the shooting as a white supremacist by the US Government Accountability Office.

Much was made of Nikolas Cruz being mistakenly identified as a member of a white nationalist group, but whether he was a member or not, he posted selfies in a Trump MAGA hat, called white women who dated men of color “traitors,” and advocated for racist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic violence on social media.

The preponderance of evidence has shown that mass shooters have two things in common: they are “wound collectors” who obsess about the many ways the world has “wronged” them, and they have access to guns. These two combined are the reason most mass shooters now come from the ranks of the extreme right.

Since the founding of Fox News in the mid-90s, right-wing media has been spending billions of dollars and enormous effort to spread the idea that liberals, feminists, people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ people, “coastal elites,” and Muslims are the enemy, less than human. They stoke fear and hatred of these groups, falsely claiming fellow Americans are out to “destroy America,” “destroy our way of lives,” “destroy our values.” They foster wild conspiracy theories, even conspiracy theories they invented and thus know are wrong. They deliberately skew news coverage, reporting some stories and not others (here, here, here, here, here), and providing inaccurate commentary, all to foster fear and hatred of the left. Online and radio sources take this even further, outright defending– or even advocating for— violence against liberals.

This disinformation campaign has been alarmingly successful. Read the comments even on a relatively mainstream site like FoxNews and see for yourself. In fact, here’s one now, from the California math teacher I quoted in my last post:

costamesa.2_LI

Most extreme right wing thinkers won’t become mass shooters, of course. But all mass shooters dehumanize their victims like Marcus F dehumanizes Democrats above, and most mass shooters in the US now express that dehumanization in terms they learned in extreme right-wing circles.

Conservative media and the extremist right-wing online sphere it spawned consistently, incessantly, tell people they are entitled to something that has been stolen from them by evil, “satan-infested” liberals.

You are entitled to this, conservative media trumpet to millions of people, and these bad people are the reason you don’t have it. Respect. A better job. A gun. All the guns. A submissive girlfriend. A nation full of submissive women. A nation where Black people know their place. An all-white neighborhood. An all-white nation. A nation that speaks English and only English. A nation where gay people never mention being gay and gratefully accept their place as second-class citizens. A nation where transgender people do not exist, at all. A nation where “male” and “female” are the only gender options, and “male” always comes first. An all-Christian nation with an Evangelical government.

You’re entitled to a straight, Christian, white male utopia, they say. You deserve it. It’s your cultural heritage. It’s your American birthright. It’s the way things always were, and THEY took it away from you, those inhuman creatures, those “satan infested scum bags.”

Then they make semi-automatic weapons available by the handful to anyone who wants one. A gun is easier to obtain in most areas of the US than a roll of stamps.

These aren’t misunderstood outcasts who can be saved by eating lunch with a pretty girl. These are violent, angry men who commit murder to express their outrage at being unable to control the people and the world around them– unable to make people accord them higher status as white men, unable to create an all-white, straight, cisgender, Christian world, unable to make women submissive and sexually available. Unable to live in the MAGA utopia they are told repeatedly by the extreme right wing they’re entitled to, but wrongfully prevented from achieving by evil feminists, Black Lives Matter, immigrants, Jews, Muslims, LGBTQ people, and “libtards.”

It’s important to note that we only call white male criminals “misunderstood outcasts.” Everyone else is a “thug” or a “terrorist.” We have created this elaborate mythology about the poor, misunderstood white male as part of our larger mythology about the primary importance of white men that permeates the entire culture, left and right.

But while this is an issue on both the right and the left, since the mid-90s, the right has been directly focused on rhetoric that both creates wound collectors and prevents sensible gun legislation. This has proven to be a deadly combination, made even more deadly by the recent campaign to discredit the fact-based media that could mitigate both.

The ability of extremists to convince millions of people that the truth is “fake news” and that unbiased journalists are “liars” is without question a toxic and extremely dangerous development. And while that is, without question, far more common on the right, existing even in the conservative mainstream, it does also exist on the extreme left. We must be vigilant whether the toxic rhetoric comes from the right or the left.

We need to rein in the dangerous extremes of propagandistic right-wing media that have infected the discourse of the nation, turned us against each other, and given rise to a populist movement that put an open racist and cyberbully in the White House. We must also ensure that this kind of fear-mongering propaganda on the left is never allowed to make it to the mainstream as it has on the right.

And we must, we must, we must have more sensible gun legislation. The right has whipped its followers into a frenzy of fear that makes them terrified of any change to current gun laws. I’ve seen multiple gun owners call gun ownership a “God-given right,” as if the 2008 DC v. Heller SCOTUS decision is God. It wasn’t the second amendment that made it possible for private owners to have guns; it was Antonin Scalia. And since that decision, gun deaths have increased in the US 17%. We must have more sensible gun laws in this country that more accurately reflect the second amendment and Scalia’s own 2008 decision that allowed for sensible restrictions rather than reflect the NRA’s desire to protect the interests of gun manufacturers.

We’re not going to end mass shootings in a day. Shifting the culture takes time. But we must try.

And if we fail, I do know this: this next generation, this glorious generation of fierce feminists, of queer brilliance, this generation that is the most racially and ethnically diverse generation of any culture in human history, this generation of vision and ferocity and strength and fearlessness, is going to succeed where we failed.

About ten million people in the most diverse generation in human history will become old enough to vote before November 2020. Behold your future:

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(Source: Shawn Thew/EPA, abcnews.com)

I cannot fucking wait.

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