Tag Archives: civil rights

“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!”

EyeRollMaryPoppins

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.

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.

notrust

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.

Finally

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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Maybe we should pretend black people are lions

cecil

Cecil.

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.

BlackLivesMatter-AllLivesMatter

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.

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.

blacklives.matter

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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Adam Sandler, Charlie Hebdo, and “Freedom of Expression”

America has been exploding with issues surrounding the concept of “freedom of expression.” Like many freedoms, “freedom of expression” sounds great in the abstract. In the abstract, pretty much everyone outside of political and religious extremists are for “freedom of expression,” and the very fact that political and religious extremists are most decidedly not in favor of freedom of expression makes a certain kind of person even MORE in favor of it.

In the concrete, the issue of “freedom of expression,” like everything else in the world, is much more complex and nuanced, and if there’s one thing political and religious extremists– and the people who love to piss off political and religious extremists– hate, it’s complexity and nuance.

loren-anthony-adam-sandler-640x400

Adam Sandler on the set of The Ridiculous Six. Photo courtesy of actor Loren Anthony’s Instagram, which you can follow at @lorenanthony

 

When Native American actors walked off the set in protest over the racism in Adam Sandler’s latest film, the ensuing controversy was unsurprising. The internet exploded with the coverage, and the backlash was instantaneous and fierce. Those who supported the actors were accused of suppressing freedom of expression, and misunderstanding the boundary-crossing nature of comedy. When PEN announced that Charlie Hebdo would be receiving its Toni and James C Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award, the ensuing controversy was also unsurprising. When 145 PEN members formally protested (that number has now grown to over 200), they were met with another predictable backlash that included a wealth of BUT FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION scolding. A lesser-known, but equally important, controversy happened earlier this year when stand-up comic Ari Shaffir viciously attacked fellow, lesser-known stand-up Damienne Merlina both for her disability (Merlina lost an arm in a car accident) and her weight, in his Comedy Central special. When Merlina posted a YouTube video calling Shaffir out for the attack, she was met with a barrage of criticism– and even mockery– for daring to speak out against her own attacker. A major part of the backlash Merlina received was centered around the fact that comedy was meant to cross boundaries, and that those attacked should understand that, shut up, and take it.

Damienne Merlina, photographed by Jeff Forney.

Damienne Merlina, photographed by Jeff Forney.

“Freedom of expression” is an emotional issue. It’s difficult to have productive conversations about its complexities. People have knee-jerk emotional reactions around protecting it in the abstract that prevent them from considering its complexities in the concrete. But it’s well worth the effort to at least try.

You may have heard the expression “punching up” and/or “punching down.” It’s fairly easy to understand. “Punching up” means comedy that makes fun of people or groups in power. This is the kind of humor most often used throughout history by progressive political and social movements. Imagine a cartoon making fun of a political figure, or Christianity’s active oppression of LGBT rights. “Punching down” means comedy that makes fun of people or groups who are marginalized, oppressed, and targeted by bigotry. Imagine a film mocking Native Americans. Imagine a cartoon mocking the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram just to make an unrelated political point. Imagine a comedian with a national spotlight attacking a young woman by name– a woman who wasn’t even there and had nothing to do with the event– for her disability and weight.

Comedy that “punches up” has long been a tool for political and social change. Punching holes in the cultural and political power of dominant groups is what people do when they want to call that power and dominance into question, when they want the culture to begin considering how that power and dominance is wielded, and whether such consolidation of power and dominance is, actually, a good idea. “Punching up” requires extreme bravery. “Punching up” is more than speaking truth to power– it’s speaking truth to power while telling power its fly is open. Punching up is dangerous because it challenges power, and power retaliates brutally. Thousands of people have been jailed and executed for punching up. There are people sitting in jail right this moment in many areas of the world for punching up, and they will not be the last.

Bassem Yussef, an Egyptian satirist often compared to Jon Stewart, was arrested in March, 2013 for allegedly insulting President Mohammed Morsi and Islam. He was released on bail. In April 2013, he was named one of Time's 100 most influential people.

Bassem Yussef, an Egyptian satirist often compared to Jon Stewart, was arrested in March, 2013 for allegedly insulting President Mohammed Morsi and Islam. He was released on bail. In April 2013, he was named one of Time’s 100 most influential people.

Comedy that “punches down” has long been a tool for political and social oppression. Mocking groups that suffer bigotry and oppression is what people do when they want to solidify that bigotry and oppression, when they want to solidify their own cultural and political power and dominance over that marginalized group. Punching down requires no bravery whatsoever, because it’s done from a place of cultural primacy. Occasionally extremist members of a marginalized group will retaliate in reprehensible ways. Murder is never an acceptable response to comedy, period. But that kind of retaliation is rare. No one in their right mind believes that murdering people who work at Charlie Hebdo is an acceptable response to the content they publish, no matter what it may be. But no one in their right mind believes– or should believe– that Charlie Hebdo’s mockery of Islam in a nation where Muslims are common targets of bigotry puts it in the same position as a North Korean drawing cartoons mocking Kim Jung Un.

Many people are quick to point out that Adam Sandler, Charlie Hebdo, and Ari Shaffir punch both up and down. Charlie Hebdo, apologists are quick to point out, mocks Christianity as often as it mocks Judaism or Islam, and mocks right-wing politics even more. But that argument is the height of intellectual laziness. Punching up does not inoculate you from the effects of punching down. Mocking the powerful is one thing; mocking people who are daily victims of bigotry is entirely another. Despite France’s humanist bent, Christianity still holds enormous cultural power there, while Jews and Muslims suffer routine bigotry and discrimination. (Attacks against Muslims since the Charlie Hebdo attacks have focused primarily on women.) Despite Adam Sandler’s willingness to mock himself and other people in power, Native Americans suffer routine, institutionalized, daily bigotry in America. Despite Comedy Central’s willingness to air comedy that mocks people in power, the disabled suffer enormous daily bigotry in our culture. Punching up is a completely different activity– culturally, politically, and morally– than punching down.

Graves desecrated by vandals with Nazi swastikas and anti-semitic slogans in the Jewish cemetery of Brumath close to Strasbourg, October 31, 2004. Jewish cemeteries have been, and continue to be, targeted as antisemitism rises in France. (photo: Reuters)

Graves desecrated by vandals with Nazi swastikas and anti-semitic slogans in the Jewish cemetery of Brumath close to Strasbourg, October 31, 2004. Jewish cemeteries have been, and continue to be, targeted as antisemitism rises in France. (photo: Reuters)

 

Muslim cemeteries are similarly vandalized. Notre Dame de Lorette cemetery near Arras, northern France, April 7, 2008.  Photo: Reuters/Sadouki

Muslim cemeteries are similarly vandalized. Although anti-Muslim attacks have skyrocketed in France since the Charlie Hebdo shooting, anti-Muslim bigotry and attacks were well underway beforehand. Notre Dame de Lorette cemetery near Arras, northern France, was vandalized in April, 2008. (Photo: Reuters/Sadouki)

And yet, because power rewards power, PEN granted an award for courage to Charlie Hebdo. Because power rewards power, Netflix continues to give Adam Sandler millions of dollars to make his crappy movie. Because power rewards power, entertainment corporations continue to shower Ari Shaffir with money. And so it goes.

I believe in freedom of expression, both in the abstract and in the concrete. I don’t think we should be censoring bigotry. I am adamantly opposed to censorship. But I also think– because this issue is complex– that we need to be thinking hard about the difference between tolerating the expression of bigotry and rewarding it.

We need to stop pretending that speaking out against the expression of bigotry is “anti-freedom of expression,” when in fact it is the exact opposite– it’s exercising one’s own freedom of expression. Being told your opinion is nonsense is not the same as being denied the right to express your opinion. Being told that your employer is not interested in paying you for expressions of bigotry is not the same as being denied the right to express bigotry at all. And speaking out against giving an award for courage to a magazine that routinely mocks marginalized groups is not equivalent to speaking out against that magazine’s right to print whatever the hell it wants. Supporting your right to freedom of expression need not include rewarding you for that expression, nor need it include freedom from criticism.

I think Adam Sandler, Charlie Hebdo, Ari Shaffir, and anyone else should be allowed to punch down as often and as viciously as they like. And I think those with the power to dole out awards– whether literal awards or financial awards– should stop and think for a moment about whether they actually wish to reward punching down.

We spend millions of dollars on anti-bullying campaigns, initiatives, and education in schools. We’re fooling ourselves that kids can’t see through the hypocrisy of adults telling them bullying is always wrong and then turning right around and rewarding bullying done by adults. What’s the difference between a playground bully mocking a Muslim kid, a disabled kid, an overweight kid, or a Native American kid, and what Adam Sandler, Charlie Hebdo, and Ari Shaffir have done? If the bully says, “But I make fun of everyone,” does that excuse the rest of his bullying? Of course not. So why is that used to excuse adult behavior?

An anti-bullying poster from National Voices for Equality, Education, and Enlightenment. Learn more about them and their anti-bullying initiatives, at nveee.org.

An anti-bullying poster from National Voices for Equality, Education, and Enlightenment. Learn more about them and their anti-bullying initiatives at nveee.org.

And before you even bother posting comments defending any or all of the three I’ve discussed, the principle remains whether I’m right in my analysis of those particular three or not. We punch down in this culture all the time. We reward that kind of bullying with accolades, money, and power. We defend it with “it’s just a joke,” “you’re too sensitive,” and a barrage of like nonsense from privilege stomping its feet and throwing tantrums because their bigoted fun is being spoiled with our dissent. “It’s just a joke” is perhaps the most intellectually lazy argument of them all, as if the presence of humor evacuates its long history of keeping marginalized people “in their place.”

And while I will be the first one to defend your right to punch down– your right to freedom of expression– I’m appalled at the fact that we reward that behavior. It’s long past the time we stopped confusing tolerance with appreciation and reward.

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The White Guy Problem

Before you start limbering up your fingers to write NOT ALL WHITE GUYS before you even read the article, lemme just say this: I KNOW. The only reason I’m able to track the performative phenomenon I’m about to discuss is because it only occurs in a small subset of white guys. Since most white guys are NOT doing this, but a solid and vocal minority are, it’s been easy to spot, track, and wonder about.

Earlier this week a friend of mine posted Cera Byer’s Salon article, “To My White Male Facebook Friends.” The article, originally a facebook post that was reposted so many times Salon asked Byer for permission to publish, has a basic thesis: White guys, don’t immediately get defensive when women or people of color tell you about their experiences. Listen and believe them.

Like everything ever in the history of ever, the reaction to that article proved the need for it repeatedly, thoroughly, and with no room for doubt.

In one thread of which I was a part– a public post (I know, I know, I usually know better)– a young Latina grad student was commenting in support of the article and about her experiences with white men as a queer woman of color, and one man– let’s call him “Jake”– posted this in response to her:

“Ah yes, the fiery Latina, hot in the sack, but not much going on upstairs if you catch my drift, and that temper? Yikes. It’s cool if you’ve nothing substantial to contribute, I’m good at ignoring. Just let me know if you’re going to slap those bongos of yours, ’cause I’d like to watch. “

He was immediately called out for his racism and misogyny, of course, by a healthy percentage of the people still actively participating in the thread, many of whom were white guy allies. Shocked, and, quite frankly, exhausted by the public racism and misogyny we’ve seen so much of in recent weeks, I copied and pasted the above into a status of my own and told people where to find the public thread.

His response to the censure he received for such open racism and misogyny was enormously telling, and, as it dawned on me that I was seeing a predictable pattern, the impetus for this article.

For the past few decades, our cultural norm in cases where someone has been caught in public making a racist or sexist comment has been some kind of apologetic (or half-assedly apologetic) performance. “I never intended to offend anyone” is a popular (half-assed) performance in these cases. Think Mel Gibson. Think Michael Richards. Think Donald Sterling and Bruce Levenson. Think Paula Deen. Public racism, in particular, has been long considered the kind of activity that can ruin a business, get someone fired, destroy reputations. But something has changed, and quickly, spearheaded by a small but vocal minority of white men.

When “Jake’s” comment was first posted and subsequently called out, I fully expected, given the egregious nature of the comment and the fact that it was in a public thread (and thus viewable by his boss, clients, whoever), some kind of, “While I disagree with you and the article, I should not have said what I said. It was inappropriate and I apologize.” Standard American CYA behavior.

Instead, he opted for a new pattern of behavior I’ve since begun to think of (after Byer’s article) as “the Defensive White Guy performance.” While I realize this has always been happening *privately*, I’m seeing a new, widespread willingness to behave this way *publicly*.

This Defensive White Guy performance is particular and predictable the moment it begins. Of course I understand that a LOT of human behavior is predictable, for all types of people– I live in Berkeley and can predict a knee-jerk liberal reaction to the letter and the link– but this DWG phenomenon is representative of a widespread willingness to perform and then defend racism and misogyny publicly.

It’s a very particular performance I’m seeing more and more of, and it’s always the same: the Defensive White Guy makes a racist or misogynistic statement, is called out for it, then immediately begins claiming he’s the victim, either in the discussion, in American culture, or both. He claims that he is not racist or sexist. He labels any oppositional commentary, no matter how bland, as an attack, often conflating the commenter with entire groups, such as “liberals,” “feminists,” or “SJWs.” Often he will double down on the original racist/misogynistic statement by posting more of the same, even while claiming not to be racist or sexist. His attacks are filled with horrible insults. He claims perfect entitlement to the usage of those terms because he is being “attacked,” or because the people who disagree with him “deserve” it.

In this particular case, “Jake” responded with accusations of slander (playing the victim) and responses to women like, “Don’t you have dishes to do?” (doubling down), in addition to a wide variety of attacks of various types. While attacking me publicly, he came to me privately, begging me to take the status down, claiming he was receiving “threats” from my “friends.” I hid the status and then asked him for specifics, stating that, if that were true, it’s not OK, and I would speak with those friends and personally ask them to stop. In response, he accused me of being a (somehow anonymous) participant in these supposed “threats,” said he would give my name to “the authorities,” and blocked me, forcing me to conclude this was just another “playing the victim” performance. Despite the fact that he was almost certainly lying, I reopened the thread and posted a request for people to leave him alone, left it up for 24 hours, and then re-hid the thread.

So what’s happening here? Why would a guy be all bluster, racism, and misogyny in public, then come privately to me and ask me to protect him from the consequences of attacking me (and others) and expect me to comply? Why couldn’t he just man up and sincerely– or even somewhat sincerely– apologize to the woman he originally attacked, utilizing the same CYA performance that’s been the standard for the past several decades?

Again, just to head off the inevitable YOU’RE BEING RACIST AGAINST WHITE MEN reactions, most white guys are great. Most white guys are empathetic people trying to understand the lives of others. But the entire nation is currently being dragged down by a small group of people whose reaction to the pain of others is MY PAIN IS MORE IMPORTANT, whose reaction to racism and the role of their own privilege in that is LALALA I CAN’T HEAR YOU, or worse, PRIVILEGE IS MADE UP BECAUSE MY LIFE IS HARD.

Here’s what I think is happening:

We all see ourselves as the “good guy” in the narrative of our lives, and these Defensive White Guys are no different. They believe in their hearts that they understand racism, and believe they understand the experiences of others. They believe in their hearts they are not racist or sexist, and that assertion is almost always a loud component of the DWG performance. They BELIEVE it. They grew up with Free To Be You and Me and learned in school about the many laws and customs we once had that barred women from participating in public life– voting, higher education, certain kinds of employment. They learned about the income disparity. And they said to themselves, “I am not that.” And they believed it. In school they learned about lynchings and listened as their teacher played “Strange Fruit” or read to them about Emmett Till. They saw pictures in their grade school textbooks of drinking fountains marked “WHITES ONLY,” they learned about the 1963 Birmingham church bombing, they learned about brave little Ruby Bridges, they learned about racism and they said, “I am not that.” And they believed it.

As they grew up, they demonstrated this by talking about how little they cared that their co-workers were Black, or their boss was a woman. They voted for women or people of color. They didn’t see anything wrong with interracial marriage. They BELIEVED they were not sexist or racist, and for that, they believed they were one of the “good guys.”

As our culture progressed, however, and became more and more willing to study racism and misogyny, and how they both operate systemically within our culture, we articulated the concept of privilege, we studied it and created a mountain of statistics to show its existence, we began to examine the myriad ways in which racism and misogyny are encoded into our culture. We realized the problem was deeper and wider than we thought.

And the definition of “good guy” changed. It was no longer just a public declaration that you weren’t bigoted and a lack of active oppression of women and people of color. Being a “good guy” now meant engaging in a difficult and complex process of understanding privilege, including your own privilege, acknowledging that, and understanding how racism and misogyny are created and disseminated, how much of that we’ve internalized, and how we work to end that. Suddenly a stated belief in “equality” and a simple lack of active oppression– both relatively easy to understand and believe you can accomplish (despite the fact the we now know this is much more complex than originally thought)– were no longer enough. Many white people had the courage and/or resources to meet these new challenges head on. Many had to slowly come to understanding. Most of us are still struggling with these issues and our place within them every day. But some white people, including these men I’m discussing, whose personal narratives and self-conceptions, like all of us, rely on being “the good guy,” are LIVID. The definition of “good guy” changed. It requires understanding and accepting something they do not have the will and/or ability to understand, and they are angry. They feel betrayed that “good guy” went from easy to difficult, was taken away from them while they weren’t looking, and is something to which they feel entitled, but is in reality something they now have to earn.

In addition to the fact that the qualification for “good guy” status has changed, the culture is changing all around them. While white men still hold almost all of the positions of power in our culture, and control almost all of the wealth, demographically their numbers are shrinking, and the culture is changing slowly to reflect that. The entire shape of the economy slowly changed since the Reagan Revolution, tipping the nation’s wealth to the hands of a few families, shutting people without wealth out of the political process, and almost entirely ending the American Dream of upward mobility. Many white men are hurting economically. Since all white American-born men have lived their entire lives in a culture that always put their needs first and was structured around their narratives, the idea that someone else’s narrative could be just as important, or, possibly, for even just a moment, more urgent and important, is, for some white men, literally impossible to understand. This subset of white men cannot comprehend that idea as anything but a MASSIVE injustice against them. They’ve been first in line for so long THEY NEVER EVEN KNEW THE LINE EXISTED, and they believe that being asked to wait in line like everyone else is bigotry against them. This subset of white men cannot comprehend that ending street harassment is a more urgent issue than their desire to approach women whenever and however they like; that actual rape is a more urgent issue than their fear that one day someone might possibly accuse them of rape; that the killing of unarmed Black men (and BOYS) is a more urgent issue than their fear of Black “thugs”; that the killing of unarmed Black men is a more urgent issue than a few broken windows.

This subset of white men cannot comprehend that the expression of the pain and anger of a long-oppressed group of people is a more urgent issue than their need to be seen as “a good guy.” It takes a truly mind-blowing amount of self-absorption, entitlement, and privilege to answer “White people are hurting us; please help make it stop” with “NOT ALL WHITE PEOPLE.” What this response is saying is: “My need to be seen as a ‘good guy’ is more important than your pain. Please direct your attention to that and confirm that I am ‘good’ before I will consent to recognize your pain.” It’s the social equivalent of demanding that someone compliment your bitchin’ Camaro before you agree to roll it off their foot. OR HEAD.

In the face of the changing culture, and the changing job description of “good guy,” this subset of white guys, these Defensive White Guys, have sunk into their anger and resentment and are filling the culture with a level of unapologetic, overt racism and misogyny that we haven’t seen in decades. And while I don’t have the answer, I suspect it’s because they resented having to make room in their social concept for women and people of color to begin with– they were only playing along so they could secure the title of “good guy” and be liked, not because they truly believed it was the right thing to do. And now that the culture has progressed and these DWGs have discovered that they are no longer the “good guy” without a little more work and direct engagement, they’ve reached a “fuck it” moment. They are reasonably sure– and they’re right, at least for now– that the culture at large will protect them in some way because it always has.

So when they express their resentment, anger, and feelings of betrayal by making these public racist and misogynistic statements, and are inevitably called out for them, they cry victim because they BELIEVE they’re the victims– the victims of a culture that changed behind their backs and deprived them of being the well-liked “good guy” without meeting new qualifications; the victims of a culture that deprived them of the American Dream; the victims of a culture that tricked them with social issues that everyone knew were inevitably lost into voting for conservative politicians who had no intent of doing anything but further distancing that American Dream from everyone but the wealthy; the victims of a culture that suddenly “doesn’t care” about their issues because the issues of other groups are starting to be seen as equally important; the victims of a culture that no longer posits “white guy” as the one human in constant possession of the benefit of the doubt.

These DWG performances reek with fear, desperation, panic, and the hatred those three inevitably create. The world is changing, and their role in that world is changing, HAS changed, and there’s precisely nothing they can do about it. The panic is as thick as tear gas.

Most white guys are up for the challenge the new America presents, especially the rising generation. Eventually this DWG phenomenon will die down, just as anything succumbs to cultural inevitability. They’ve already lost the battle they think they’re fighting– a battle best represented by the ultimately meaningless slogan “Take Back America!” The knowledge of the loss is, of course, what’s driving much of the anger.

But I think it’s important that these guys are so pissed in part because they believe they’re “good guys,” and believe the culture betrayed that by changing the terms of the agreement. They’re attacking and attempting to discredit everything and everyone they can find that represents, disseminates, or even just discusses the new “good guy” job description. I have to believe, despite everything, that there’s hope in that “good guy” self-image. I have to believe that eventually, at least some of these guys will come to an understanding of the truth, and put in the work required to really be good guys– good citizens of a diverse America– because (again, I have to believe) they honestly want to be. Maybe that’s naive, and my internalized white privilege is making me give these guys too much of the benefit of the doubt even as I condemn their actions. But I do. I still do. I have to have hope for change.

(NOTE: This is my personal blog. I am under no obligation to approve any particular comment. Racist, sexist, or threatening comments will be trashed.)

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The Performance of Protest vs The Performance of Excusing Apathy

Once upon a time I met an actor with mental health issues. Just . . . save that joke for later; I’m serious times right now. He told me that the Korean government was trying to kill him because of his political street theatre. When I tell this story, it never fails to get a laugh. Political street theatre? Harhar. No one cares about political street theatre that much! Harharhar.

In the wake of the failure of the grand jury to indict Darren Wilson, protests have exploded all over the country. The internet has also predictably exploded with people condemning the rioting and looting that have been an unfortunate component of some of the protests. The theatre around this issue is fascinating, and enormously telling.

There have been peaceful protests in Ferguson (and elsewhere) literally every single day since Michael Brown was killed. Here are some shots:

Ferguson, August 11. Photo by Robert Cohen, AP.

Ferguson, August 11. Photo by Robert Cohen, St. Louis Post-Dispatch/AP.

People march in Washington on September 6, 2014 to protest the killing of black teen Michael Brown whose killing by a white policeman in Ferguson, Missouri, ignited violent protests and debate on race and law enforcement in America.    AFP PHOTO/Nicholas KAMM        (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

Washington, DC, September 6. Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images.

Ferguson, September 29. Photo by Robert Cohen, St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Ferguson, September 29. Photo by Robert Cohen, St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

St. Louis, October 11. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

St. Louis, October 11. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images. You’ll see Scott Olson’s name on a lot of photos of Ferguson and St. Louis. You’ll also see photos of him being arrested by Ferguson police for taking pictures. Some of his fellow professional photographers caught his arrest on camera. Because evidently we’re the kind of nation that arrests journalists now.

Protestors staging a

Protestors staging a “die-in” in St. Louis, November 16. Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images.

Protests are political street theatre. The last picture shows an example of the kind of actions we’d more normally associate with “theatre,” but a protest of any sort is a performance intended to capture attention and make a certain point. The problem is: the peaceful protests were almost completely ignored. Sure, we saw some pictures early on, and the “die-in” got a little press, but by and large, Ferguson disappeared off the cultural radar within a few weeks of Brown’s death, only resurfacing as the grand jury decision was nearing. Headlines roared impending violence: “Police in Ferguson Stock Up on Riot Gear Ahead of Grand Jury Decision.” “State of Emergency Declared in Missiouri for Grand Jury’s Decision on Ferguson.” “Officials Prepare for Ferguson Grand Jury Decision, Urge Calm.” Everyone knew the grand jury would fail to indict. Even those who still had hope knew. Everyone expected there would be riots. And, amid the many peaceful protests over the past few days, there have indeed been many incidences of property damage and looting.

This shot, seen round the world, of a looter in Ferguson. November 24. Photo: David Carson/AP.

This shot, seen round the world, of a looter in Ferguson. November 24. Photo: David Carson/AP.

Dellword, MO, November 25. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

Cars burned during the riot the night before in Dellword, MO, November 25. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

Despite the violence and looting, most protesters are still peaceful.

Protestors in Oakland, CA, November 24. Photo: Jim WIlson/New York Times.

Protestors in Oakland, CA, November 24. Photo: Jim WIlson/New York Times.

Times Square, New York City, November 24. Photo: Kena Betancur/AFP/Getty Images.

Times Square, New York City, November 24. Photo: Kena Betancur/AFP/Getty Images.

The peaceful protests have been nearly completely ignored while America obsesses over the images of violence. That message is loud and clear: WE WILL NOT PAY ATTENTION TO YOU UNTIL YOU DO SOMETHING DRASTIC. And when you do something drastic, well, then you lose our respect and your issue becomes secondary to our scorn.

A significant chunk of America is terrified of the future diverse America they can do nothing to stop, or don’t care about people of color, or any marginalized people, and are livid that the culture is slowly lumbering towards expecting them to care. They’re in a flat-out panic trying to stop immigration (but only from the brown countries), trying to roll back the gains of feminism either overtly (denial of birth control) or covertly, pretending it’s all about a different issue entirely (Gamergate), trying to roll back marriage equality, trying to roll back the separation of church and state, trying to roll back diversity anywhere they find it. These are the people who use “social justice warrior” as a pejorative. The terrified and the indignant.

That chunk of America is comforting itself with those images of African American looters. They make an enormous amount of theatre about the rioting and looting– little performances on TV, social media, blogs– scolding African Americans, claiming they’re demeaning their cause with riots, or that the cause itself is just a fabricated excuse for violence and looting. Thousands of little performances that accuse Black people of expressing “sadness for a death” by rioting. Performances where Martin Luther King is trotted out to posthumously scold Black people. (White people always reach for MLK when they want to scold Black people without looking racist.) Performances scolding Black people for “honoring Michael Brown with looting.” Thousands of little, belittling performances that pretend this is about the death of one man, an isolated incident. Thousands of little, belittling performances that pretend the looting and property damage are the most important aspects of this cultural moment.

These performances deliberately miss the point because they are only meant to comfort that terrified and/or indignant chunk of America. If the protests are just senseless riots and looting, then nothing is actually wrong and nothing needs to change. They were right all along. Case closed.

In truth, no one actually believes this is just about Michael Brown. I think, by this point, everyone understands that it’s about Michael Brown AND Amadou Diallo, John Crawford, Ousmane Zongo, Timothy Stansbury, Kendrec McDade, Aaron Campbell, Victor Steen, Steven Eugene Washington, Wendell Allen, Trayvon MartinTravares McGill, Ramarley Graham, Oscar Grant, Jordan Davis, Darius Simmons, Eric Garner, Ezell Ford, and, just the other day, little Tamir Rice. AND MORE. So, so, so many more cases of white people killing unarmed African Americans, usually young men, because we have a culture that frames Black as a symbol for IMMINENT DANGER. White people imagine guns in the hands of unarmed Black men while they would never imagine such a thing in a similar situation with a man of a different race. They imagine a Black man walking towards them is a threat, a Black man adjusting his waistband is reaching for a gun, a Black man standing on the street is a weapon just waiting to be used against them.

I know it’s hard for some of you to imagine the anger of a community whose youth are routinely seen this way, and subsequently gunned down in the street, more often than not with impunity or the lightest of sentences, whose pain goes completely ignored or even contradicted– the terrified and indignant love nothing better than a performance about how wonderful things are now for people of color, how people of color are upset over nothing, how Black-on-Black crime or Black-on-Caucasian crime is the real issue (as if those two types of crime erase the problem). I know it’s hard to focus on a Big Problem that needs Big Work to solve. But we MUST.

I’m exhausted by people who think the riots are the most important aspect of this cultural moment, who ignore everything else. I’m exhausted by those people both because they’re using the riots to comfort themselves into believing the cause itself is worthless, and because they’re creating a self-fulfilling prophecy: IF YOU ONLY PAY ATTENTION TO VIOLENT PROTESTS, THEN PEOPLE MUST RESORT TO VIOLENT PROTESTS TO GET YOUR ATTENTION.

African Americans are just 13% of this nation, and this issue directly involves white people. White people MUST be involved if we’re going to have justice here. Most white people completely ignored the peaceful protests. They sent their last fuck off to seek its fortune with a knapsack and a pocket full of dreams two days after Brown was shot. The ONLY thing that got their attention was violence, and the ONLY reason they suddenly decided to pay attention was that violence gave their inattention a REASON. They couldn’t post “I’m ignoring these daily peaceful protests because the idea of losing my privilege in the face of equality terrifies me,” or “I’m ignoring these daily peaceful protests because I don’t give a shit about social justice or racism and I’m pissed that you expect me to care.” They stayed silent until the violence gave them a handy reason not to care, and then they finally erupted in thousands and thousands of little performances demonstrating why they didn’t need to care.

“A riot is the language of the unheard,” wrote Martin Luther King. When no one pays attention to peaceful protests, that anger, depair, and rage will boil over into violence. But MOST of the protestors, remember, are still non-violent. Most of the protest performance is still peaceful. Not that anyone notices or cares.

Of course you can decry looting and property damage while simultaneously fighting for justice. But I don’t see that in the many little performances blowing up social media. The most common theme in these is open racism. Many of the memes created aren’t even using images from Ferguson– they’re using images from other places and times. I’m seeing little racist performances like these everywhere:

“In memory of how Michael Brown lived his life. Looting isn’t a crime! It’s a tribute!”

“Not a single pair of work boots was looted in Ferguson last night.”

“The best way to end the rioting and looting in Ferguson is to hold a job fair. They’ll scatter like cockroaches when the lights come on.”

There are more. I won’t link to any of them. You’ve already seen them.

If you want to decry riots and looting while simultaneously working for justice, then by all means, do that. In actual fact, that’s what most people who support this cause are doing. While we recognize that riots, looting, and destruction of property are the language of the unheard (see Tea Party; Boston), we’re still working in peaceful ways to bring about change. But right now, we’re forced to push against a monolith of people using the violence to comfort them in their terror and apathy, and/or using the looting and property damage as a vector through which their racism can be channeled.

I wrote an article about how our culture frames Blackness as a symbol for potential danger, and how we as artists can work to change that. I’d be thrilled if you read my own little protest performance. I’d be even more thrilled if you shared it. But I’d be THE MOST thrilled if you wrote your own.

YES. WE. FUCKING. CAN. Change the country, create justice, and end racism. It’s a Big Problem that requires Big Work, and that’s scary and intimidating. You can’t do a Big Work all on your own. But a million small works add up to the Big Work. Create your own protest performance, even if it’s as small as a single meme, a single article, a single sign. Do what you can. Together, we can create so many they can’t be ignored. Let’s do this. Drown out the apathy, the fear, the hatred, the racism.

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Ferguson, Narrative, and Dungeons and Dragons

Like everyone, I’ve been thinking a lot about Ferguson, and about the epidemic of white men gunning down unarmed young African American men.  What is racism made out of? What makes someone think that such an action is acceptable in any way? As they say, no one is born racist. Sure, people talk a lot about the influence of tribal thinking (who is like me and therefore part of my group; who is unlike me and therefore a potential threat), but there’s no intrinsic reason that should be related to skin color any more than hair color or height. No, you have to create racists, and you do it by creating, disseminating, and consuming racist narrative.

When a police officer, or a man in a 7-11 parking lot, or another police officer, or the guy next door, or a Neighborhood Watch nutjob (I could go on and on, but you get my point) shoots and kills an unarmed young African American man (the ages of the five murder victims above spans 13 – 22), he does so because he believes that young man is in some way intrinsically dangerous, and less human because of that. After the fact, the stories pour out: “I saw him reach for a gun” is a favorite. “I thought my life was in danger” is another. What makes a man imagine a gun in the hand of an unarmed African American teenager? Because he sure as hell isn’t imagining that gun when it’s a white teenager in front of him.

I believe that the answer lies in the narratives we create, disseminate, and consume. The entertainment industry makes a staggering amount of money selling products that depict Black = Dangerous. There are white men whose entire fortunes are built on that trope. (Check out this article by Dr. Darron Smith on the issue of the depiction of Black men in American media.) The reality is that MOST African American men are NOT committing violent acts, but MOST of the art about African American men that gets funded, distributed, and consumed depicts that as if it’s irrefutable fact, even when the main Black character is not participating in those activities– he’s “getting out,” or “trying to rise above.” There are white gatekeepers out there refusing to fund art that doesn’t conform to that trope because they believe it doesn’t sell as well– and maybe they’re right, which is on us as consumers.

I’d never say that an African American (or anyone else, for that matter) who created art about violence out of his or her lived experience should not be doing that. No one should ever tell another person that the art they create out of their lived experience should be suppressed– consuming authentic narratives about others creates empathy. Everyone should have a voice, and we need diverse voices from diverse points of view in all our art forms.

But that’s just it– we need more diversity in our narratives. We need to take a cold, hard look at the ways in which we as creators and distributers of art contribute to making Black = Dangerous the PRIMARY narrative about African American men, because the impact of that is quite literally lethal. We don’t have other, equally potent cultural tropes about African American men tempering Black = Dangerous, which is why this racist trope is the one in the minds of armed white men facing unarmed African American teenagers– these white men have been taught from birth that Black = Dangerous, and they, for whatever combination of reasons (and we could list these all day– institutional racism, family racism, enjoyment of privilege, lack of critical thinking skills, and lack of empathy are just a few), BELIEVED IT, never questioned it, and gunned down someone’s baby in cold blood. As a mother, it stops my heart.

Solo performer and author Brian Copeland does a show called Not a Genuine Black Man. I took my students to see a performance of the world premiere run. It was an incredibly impactful experience. The most devastating story he told about growing up African American in a nearly all-white Bay Area town (San Leandro, now one of the most diverse cities in the nation) in the 70s, was when he was 9, being chased and harassed by racist white teenagers. He saw a police officer, thought “safety,” and ran up to him. The police officer took a step back and put his hand on his gun. NINE YEARS OLD.

This is what a nine year old boy looks like. From istockphoto.com.

This is what a nine year old boy looks like. From istockphoto.com

This country desperately needs to disrupt the cultural status of Black = Dangerous as the primary trope about African American men. We need to stop making money off a trope that’s literally KILLING KIDS. As artists, it’s our JOBS to understand the cultural context of the tropes and narratives we create. WE MAKE CULTURE. Let’s start making it with the deliberate goal in mind of making the primacy of Black = Dangerous a thing of the past, so that one day a story about a Black bad guy will be no more about his Blackness than narratives about The Joker, Emperor Palpatine, or Hannibal Lecter are about being white. We desperately need to decouple the concept of “dangerousness” from race.

Let’s look at a content creator who’s doing it right.

As a giant nerd, of course I got the new Dungeons and Dragons Player’s Handbook. When I first cracked it open in the store and began paging through, I was floored. Page after page after page of women– as many women as men– all looking like legitimate heroes in functional armor, not scantily-clad pose monsters pretending to fight while twisted into impossible shapes that manage to show both cleavage and ass. I never realized how much I felt like I was a girl horning in on a “guy game” until I saw these pictures and felt welcomed.

What also immediately stood out was the diversity. The book is filled with people of color. I stood there holding the book in the game store, and I almost cried. I held the book out to my husband, a longtime player, and fought back tears as I explained to him what it meant to me just to see these women. And to think about what it would mean to young nerds of color to see themselves reflected on those pages.

I could go on and on about what this means for women. But to stay on target: There will be an entire generation of nerdkids who will learn this game in this edition, for whom Black heroes will be a natural part of the game, who will experience narratives of Blackness that aggressively disrupt Black = Dangerous. All D&D adventurers are dangerous. But they are all individual, as individual as the people playing them. A Black D&D adventurer is no more or less dangerous than anyone else. His Blackness is part of his identity, but nowhere in that universe is the color of his skin a marker for his dangerousness. His broadsword or his spellcasting, on the other hand . . .

Let me show you a few examples. These are just a few out of an incredible diversity of images. If you EVER had an interest in D&D, or thought you might someday check it out, now is the time.

This is the first example they give of the Human race. LOOK AT THAT FUNCTIONAL ARMOR!

This is the first illustration in the Human race profile!

dnd2

This is the first illustration in the Fighter class profile.

This is the first illustration on the Wizard class profile.

This is the first illustration in the Wizard class profile.

There are still plenty of white guys in there, but along with them, there are just as many women and people of color pictured as legitimate adventurers in their own right, not window dressing or tokenistic afterthoughts. Bravo, Wizards of the Coast. You fucking nailed it. I hope this new edition brings you legions of new, diverse fans. And you can BET I will be showing these pictures to my students and talking about narrative creation in our culture.

Do I actually think D&D can save the world? YOU BET I DO. But it can’t do it alone. It’s up to us as artists and entertainment industry professionals to reject the idea that the only trope worth funding or distributing about African American men is Black = Dangerous, and replace that harmful idea with a wide variety of tropes– yes, including Black = Dragon Slayer. I’m not leading some campaign against art that depicts Black men committing crimes or being violent. I am, however, one small part of a campaign against a widespread artistic and cultural practice that PRIMARILY depicts Black men as threats.

This CAN be done. We just have to pay attention to the cultural context of what we’re creating, funding, distributing, and consuming, and make a commitment to real diversity. When it’s done right, it’s glorious.

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No, I Will Not Smile

Art by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh. More of her awesome work at: http://www.tlynnfaz.com

Art by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh. More of her awesome work at: http://www.tlynnfaz.com

So lots and lots of people who are cooler than I am have written about street harassment. Whenever I post about street harassment on facebook, I get dogpiled with comments– always from men– defending the behavior, or saying things like (and I quote):

“You should take it as a compliment!”

“That doesn’t happen in [city name].”

“That never happens in [type of place, such as subway, mall, universities].”

“I’ve never seen that happen.”

“Only men of certain ethnicities do that.”

“How else are we supposed to meet women? Give us a break!”

…….and the like. I have been told by men, in no uncertain terms, just how wrong I am every single time I’ve ever spoken up about this issue. Every. Single. Time. I see you, men who are limbering up your fingers to tell me I’m just a dumb girl, or a feminazi, or that I just don’t understand, or that I’ve made the entire issue up because duh women do that all the time. Hold up. Read the rest of the article, click on the hyperlinks and read those, and if you still feel like telling me what an asshat I am, I promise you I will read your comment with a serious look on my face THROUGH THE WHOLE THING.

This is what my serious face looks like . . . IN MY IMAGINATION. And please stop telling me I'm Simon, not Zoe. I ALREADY KNOW.

This is what my serious face looks like . . . IN MY IMAGINATION. And please stop telling me I’m Simon, not Zoe. I ALREADY KNOW.

The small area of the Street Harassment Monster I want to tackle right now is the, “Smile, baby! Why don’t you smile? You’d look so much prettier with a smile on your face.”

If you are approaching a stranger with any variation of the above, you are behaving like the human embodiment of painful rectal itch. Here’s why.

Accosting strangers on the street is uncool. In addition to being fucking annoying, it makes women feel unsafe. We have no way of knowing what you’re going to do. I was pushed, HARD, to the ground, at an ATM because I refused to acknowledge a strange guy who was demanding that I smile at him. If our responses to your demands for attention are not to your liking, many of you immediately escalate the encounter to verbal or even physical abuse. We have no way of knowing whether you’re just going to walk away or whether you’re going to follow us down the street yelling, “Fuck you, you stuck-up bitch. Who do you think you are, fat bitch? Don’t you ignore me, bitch,” grab us by the arm, pin us up against a wall, or surround us with jeering companions who threaten to rape us. WE DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU WILL DO. It’s scary. Stop it.

Is it unfair that you, who believe you are a Nice Guy, have to curtail your behavior because other men are behaving like worthless chumpbuckets? Maybe, maybe not, but it’s MUCH more unfair that you’re forcing a woman into an interaction that she knows has a very real chance of ending in verbal or physical abuse.

You have no idea why she’s not smiling. Did she just get the news of a death in her family? Lose her job? Is she having painful menstrual cramps? Did she just kill a strange man who harassed her on the street and is worried about doing it again now that she’s tasted blood? Demanding that a woman construct a cheerful look on her face simply because you demand it is to ignore the fact that she is a person with a life, just like you are. You know NOTHING about that life, and therefore, you know NOTHING about her emotional state. Back off. Actually, back off and read this.

You are not entitled to cheerful interactions with women on demand. Why do you think it’s OK to make random demands of women on the street? You are not our toddlers. Do not demand juice boxes, smiles, or attention from women you do not know. This is what toddlers do. This is why mothers are exhausted: constant demands for attention. Before you demand that the woman you see walking towards you (or are following, ew) force a smile on her face, remember that you are the third man who has demanded her attention in the last 20 minutes. She just wants to walk down the damn street. If she wanted a toddler, she’d have one. If she has a toddler and you harass her with “Smile for me! Don’t forget to smile!” she is now, thanks to Olympia Snowe and her outgoing gift to American women everywhere, The American Patriot Mothers for American Patriotic Heritage Act,  legally entitled to give you a roundhouse kick to the temple.

No, your attention is not flattering. I’m just going to leave this here in case you’re wondering what women think of your commentary and/or demands.

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If you think this behavior is OK, remember that there are quite literally millions of men all over the world who agree with you, and many of them will start harassing your daughter once she hits middle school. They harass your wife. They harass your little sister.

All we’re asking is that you remember that women are people. All we’re asking is that you treat women on the street with the same respect you’d treat your daughter, your mother, or a heavily armed level 20 dwarf fighter.

Did I just hear you demand that I smile? I will smile over your bloody corpse, human.

Did I just hear you demand that I smile? I will smile over your bloody corpse, human.

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When You Say “Weakens The Institution of Marriage,” You Sound Like An Idiot

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I don’t have a lot of patience for stupidity (perhaps you’ve noticed) so I have no quarter for the phrase “weakens the institution of marriage.” WHAT DOES THAT MEAN? In what specific ways will the INSTITUTION of marriage change when we have marriage equality? What specific weakness do you see in, say, Iowa that you don’t see in Alabama? How is marriage “weaker” in New York (third lowest divorce rate in the nation) than it is in Oklahoma (third highest)? YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW, so stop pretending that that phrase has any meaning whatsoever.

In discussions of marriage equality, “the institution of marriage” is a phrase that specifically refers to the ability of two consenting adults to enter into a legally-binding contract. The law has nothing to do with any church or religion anywhere. You can get “married” in every church, synagogue, mosque, and mandir in the nation, but unless you’ve been issued and then subsequently properly file a marriage license with your county, you are not legally married. “The institution of marriage” is ONLY a civil matter AS COVERED BY THE LAW, and the law is what we’re discussing here, not any religious doctrine.

So “the institution of marriage” is, essentially, two people signing a form and paying $50 to a county clerk who then gives those two people a different form, which those two people fill out later along with two witnesses and any rando licensed specifically for that purpose. The two people are considered “married” when that form is properly filed with the county and entered into the, I don’t know, googledoc or excel spreadsheet or whatever they use now to track these things.

How, specifically, does gender weaken that? Would issuing licenses to two women make the spreadsheet unresponsive? Would issuing licenses to two men make the paper more liable to tear? Are there only so many marriage licenses in the nation, and if TEH GAYS take them all, there will be none left for straight people? Where, specifically, does equality affect this process? SHOW ME WHERE. You can’t, because it’s a bullshit argument, and you KNOW IT. Where, specifically, is the “weakness” created by equality? Nowhere.

Out to destroy the institution of marriage through the twin powers of love and facial hair.

Out to destroy the institution of marriage through the twin powers of love and epic facial hair.

“No, I mean when they’re living married in the world and say they’re married and live together and get to file jointly and drop their kids off at school and we all just have to TAKE IT because they’re CRAMMING THEIR LIFESTYLE DOWN OUR THROATS so when THEY can be married instead of just US, it weakens the institution of marriage.” OK, first of all, no one is shoving anything down your throat just by existing. Secondly, you have no idea who is or is not legally married unless you’ve gone down to the courthouse and checked those records for yourself. The couple last weekend whose wedding you attended aren’t married if they burned the license instead of filing it (so you might want to check before you pay off the crystal decanter you put on the card).

Was this even on the registry?

Was this even on the registry?

Same sex couples exist and have always existed and will continue to exist both inside and outside the “institution of marriage.” Your experience of anyone’s relationship (including your own) is not in the least impacted by the existence of a legal contract, something you take their word for 9999 times out of 10,000 at any rate. When’s the last time you asked to see someone’s marriage license when they told you they were married? Whether that lesbian couple you see at preschool dropoff every morning is legally married or not makes no practical difference to you. You have no way of knowing what their legal status even IS without reviewing their documents. Their legal standing with each other is not visible to you, or experienced by you. Their legal standing with each other, therefore, cannot “weaken” anything for you.

Equality is what America is FOR. The purpose of the “land of the free” and “all men are created equal” is, you know, “freedom” and “equality.” You DON’T have the right to the “freedom” of living without LGBTs. First of all, IMPOSSIBLE (Your brother’s roommate is his boyfriend; your maiden aunt who’s lived with her “dear best friend” for 47 years is a lesbian; your pediatrician, five co-workers on your floor, and your personal trainer are all gay; your boss’s husband is transgender) and secondly, THIS:

The fact that you don’t WANT a certain group to have equal rights, for whatever reason, is not germane to this discussion. Your opinion about what impacts “the strength of the institution of marriage” is not germane to this discussion.

Nor is it Jermaine to this discussion.

Nor is it Jermaine to this discussion.

Nowhere in the constitution does it “define” marriage as “one man, one woman.” Shit, it doesn’t even do that in the BIBLE. Ask Abraham, Jacob, and David about “one man, one woman.”

I'm not even getting into Lot and his daughters. YOU'RE WELCOME. (Painting by Joachim Wtewael, 1595, entitled "Lot and his Daughters."

I’m not even getting into Lot and his daughters. YOU’RE WELCOME. (Painting by Joachim Wtewael, 1595, entitled “Lot and his Daughters.”)

Your OPINION about what rights a minority group should have, and whether that group should have rights equal to your own, is just not constitutionally relevant. It wasn’t for Loving v. Virginia, and it’s not for this.

There are well over 100,000 same sex couples in the US who are already married. If the “institution” of marriage were to “weaken” (and I still believe that YOU DO NOT KNOW WHAT THAT EVEN MEANS WHEN YOU SAY IT) it would have happened long ago.

These two look particularly dangerous.

These two look particularly dangerous.

Stop pretending that marriage equality will have any effect on your life whatsoever. We all know you’re lying, you know you’re lying, and we know you know you’re lying. Now you know we know you know you’re lying.

SO KNOCK IT OFF.

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Hey, Guess What? If You Think Women Are People, You’re a Feminist

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So facebook, amirite? Facebook. It’s a roiling sea of poorly-thought-out opinions, my own included. In the middle of a discussion about women playwrights (blog post coming soon), someone said that she’s not a feminist because women are “different,” and that we are “not equal” to men.

After I found my eyeballs and put them back into their sockets like a Tex Avery cartoon, I wondered if maybe she and I are just defining the term “equal” differently. What is “equal”? And can difference preclude that? Sure, there are ways in which difference can create inequality. Almost every human on the planet is a better athlete than I am. They are better; I am inferior; there is undeniable inequality there.

When we’re talking about gender equality, though, we’re talking about cultural equality and civil rights, where “equal” means “equal under the law” and “of equal worth.” Of course we’re not fully there yet; I know that. In a world where women still make 81 cents when a man in the same position makes a dollar, where 81% of all male faculty in the US are tenure-track or tenured as opposed to a measly 68% of female faculty (fully 32% of female faculty are lecturers– academic temps), where a woman CEO of a major corporation is as rare as the possibility of successfully navigating an asteroid field (NEVER TELL ME THE ODDS), we clearly have yet to achieve cultural equality. And when everyone down at the courthouse barely had a single fuck to give when my husband and I picked up our marriage license, but would have rung the HOMO ALARM had my betrothed been female, we have some progress to make regarding gender under the law. And pause for a moment to remember just how privileged cisgendered women are, despite our struggles.
But we ARE making progress.

I suppose it’s no surprise that a woman whose mother subscribed to Ms Magazine in the 70s and taught her who Gloria Steinem and Angela Davis were before she could walk has no problem proclaiming herself a feminist. The surprise to me is why YOU DON’T, people.

If it's good enough for Captain Picard . . .

If it’s good enough for Captain Picard . . .

Sure, women are different, I guess, in the aggregate. And there are plenty of things about me that conform to the stereotypical woman’s role. I loved being pregnant. I love to bake. I take pride in making seder. I also love to be in charge of shit and, honestly, I’m damn good at it. I don’t usually wear make up, I spend way too much of my free time on the xbox, I swear like 100 sailors, and I would rather listen to five hours of jackhammering than watch fourteen seconds of Sex and the City.

But “different” doesn’t mean “unequal.” When you say “I am a feminist,” what you’re saying is “I believe women should be treated equally, both under the law and culturally: That women should earn as much as men; that women’s stories are as important as men’s; that women should be considered equally for jobs and promotions.”

The tenure thing expressly pisses me off, yes, partly because I’ve been a dramatically underemployed lecturer for eleventy scrotillion years while watching men with less education and experience get tenure, but mostly because the gender breakdown of underpaid, overworked academic temps known as lecturers (who make less than the people working at the campus Starbucks) weighs heavily to WOMEN, while the gender breakdown of the people with tenured positions making twice what we make (to start) weighs heavily to MEN. Bear in mind that women earn 52% of the PhDs awarded each year, corresponding neatly to our percentage of the population. And yet we’re still largely held down into temp positions while the men around us land tenure-track positions in numbers that far outweigh their representation in the population.

But I digress.

YES, women are different than men, sometimes. Maybe most of the time. I’m interested in the neurology about gender. I still find babies miraculous and pregnant women enthralling and special. But women are not BETTER than men, nor are men BETTER than women, and if you think so, it’s a matter of opinion. Also, you are awful.

So what is a “feminist”? I gave it away in the headline, so if you made it this far, I SALUTE YOU. I hope you don’t feel cheated.

“Feminism” is the belief that women are people, and, as people, are as important as men, regardless of any differences, and deserve equal protection under the law. (Recommended reading: The equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution.)

YOU ARE A FEMINIST. Boom. What? BOOM.

worthyvoice

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