Marriage Equality: One Small Marker for Liberation

With the recent Supreme Court decision, I am celebrating marriage equality like so many other people across the country. It is a journey in the United States that started with two University of Minnesota students applying for a marriage license in 1970. Their application was rejected and the courts rejected their legal arguments. Today, we have marriage equality.

Yet, our struggle is not complete or over as this is only one issue. Today, a couple can get married one day, fired the next day for being LGBT or Q, and the following day lose their home if they are a renter. The first Federal gay civil rights bill was introduced in 1974 by Us. Representative Bella Absuz (D-N.Y), who I think it is important to note, was a woman and an early ally to the LGBTQ community. Her bill would have made it illegal to discriminate against people based on sexual orientation in the areas of housing, employment, and public accommodations. Her bill failed and we still do not have a Federal law protecting people based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Change is needed now.

Immigration is an LGBTQ issue and needs to be resolved now. Jennicet Gutiérrez forcefully brought this issue to the nation’s attention when she interrupted Obama during an event celebrating Pride Month. She has made us think about sexual assault, lack of medical care, and violence perpetrated against Trans* immigrants who are detained. A disturbing fact on Fusion’s website informs us that of every 1 out of every 500 detainees is transgender and that 1 out of every 5 victims of confirmed sexual abuse in detention is transgender. Change is needed now.

LGBTQ youth are still at a higher risk for suicide, homelessness, bullying, and drug use, than their straight peers. It does not matter that there are a few LGBTQ characters on television (and these characters reflect a very narrow part of the community) or that some people are more accepting of LGBTQ people. The question also arises, who is being more accepted within the giant spectrum that is the LGBTQ community? Bi, trans*, and non-binary youth are still more often than not rejected not only by their straight peers but also by their cisgender gay and lesbian friends. The rates related to suicide, homelessness, bullying, and drug use within our youth are unacceptable. Change is needed now.

I have only touched the surface of issues our community needs to address even with marriage equality finally happening.  We must learn from other civil rights movements. We cannot relax now and we must remember to remain vigilant. The fact is that those who believe they are losing their power never stop trying to regain it. Those who are oppressors do not just fade away or die off. Many people thought voting rights were secured after the 1960s but as we have seen there are efforts across the country being made to limit who can vote. Those who were opposed to expanding the right to vote to people of color, never went away. They did not die off. Instead, they passed their beliefs on to others and they slowly kept making new arguments for why we should limit voting access and make it harder to vote. Finally, we see the efforts of their long-term efforts and that is turning back the right to vote for people and doing it while claiming they believe in democracy and freedom. The oppressor never fades but changes tactics.

In a similar fashion, we must not allow this one victory on marriage equality to lessen our passion for our freedom and liberation. We must not lower our energies or think we have arrived at some promised land because we have not. Our liberation, true liberation, is a long-term process and we must be ready to challenge those who would oppress us whether it is today or in 50 years. We need to continue to bring our energy and passion to our efforts more than ever.

Right wing extremists have made it clear that they intend to fight our freedom and equality even harder than before. They will never stop trying to take away our rights. The history of voting rights and abortion rights both teach us the lessons we must learn.  Just as with voting rights, opponents to abortion never stopped challenging women’s freedom and now we see all kinds of laws limiting their access to abortion and even birth control. The history of freedom and liberation (no matter the group) is a history of persistence, constant struggle, and long-term efforts.  Change is needed now but the struggle never ends.

Avatar in Spokane: The Role of White Supremacy and Privilege in Creating an Identity

I lived in Spokane for 10 years and Rachel Dolezal was someone I considered a friend and deeply respected and admired. When the news broke that she has two whites parents and is not multi-racial I was surprised, as I had no idea.

As the story has developed I cannot help but think of the movie Avatar. A movie released in 2009 in which a white man, Jake Sully, is initially linked mentally to an alien’s body with the intention of convincing the Na’vi to allow humans to mine their planet. In the end, he falls in love with a Na’vi princess and takes on the fight of the Na’vi against the humans. He also transforms from being just mentally linked to an alien body to becoming a Na’vi. He then becomes their hero and saves them. It is a fairly typical Hollywood story about a white man becoming part of an oppressed class and saving them. The film, though critically acclaimed, received criticism for basically being a white savior story.

In so many ways I can see Rachel’s story as the Avatar story. Here is a white woman who develops a strong mental, emotional, and spiritual connection with the African-American community. Is it really so hard to believe that a person can move from a strong affinity with a group to eventually wanting to adopt that group’s identity? Whatever happened in her life, she developed a deep connection with the struggles of this group and determined that she wanted to not just be their ally but to be one of them.

When she transformed herself into being part black, she set out to support social justice causes, challenge inequality, and become a leader in the community, much like Jake from Avatar and other white people in other movies such as Kevin Costner in Dances with Wolves. In essence she become a white savior to the black community by becoming one of them and rejecting her past and her heritage. Goodness knows that whites have been writing enough fictional stories about this topic, it was just a matter of time before someone started living it.

The problem here is that race is complicated and it is not simply a matter of claiming oneself to be a new race that makes it so. Yes, race is a socially constructed concept built on the physical reality that there are many different skin tones in the world. Despite the fact that it is socially constructed, it is not as easy as saying I am now a new race and claiming another people’s struggles as one’s own. It is not acceptable to claim another group’s voice as one’s own and to speak for them.

I believe there are a few struggles that sometimes get confused. One is the struggle against racism, which is a struggle all of us can join. However, people of color also have what I think of as a primary struggle and that is the struggle to be a person of color living in America. This is a struggle I can never be a part of. I can listen to people of color and empathize with their experiences but I cannot join them in that struggle no matter how much I wish I could. It is not the struggle for social justice or against racism that impacts the identity formation of many people of color but the struggle of declaring one’s basic right to life that forms the identity. This is a struggle that starts at birth and ends at death and one which I as a white person will not ever experience or fully understand. I cannot claim blackness as I do not have nor can I have this same experience.

The other thread that goes through this for me is white supremacy and white privilege. A white person gets to claim that she is black because of some outward changes and a claim that she is part black. Let us think about this for a moment.

Someone who claims to be a light skinned biracial person gets to claim being black or African American because whiteness in our society is based on being pure. If you have one drop of blood that is not white, simply put you are not white even if you look the part. A dark-skinned biracial person does not get to claim their whiteness as their only racial identity. Someone who is black does not get to wake up and claim to be white.  In bother these cases, most of us would look at the person like they were in denial. Simply put, this is societal white supremacy at work. You are either pure white or the other. When was the last time you heard someone say, “I am a dark-skinned white person.” Yes, there are many different shades of whiteness but “dark-skinned white” is not an expression that is used.

Another concern I have with this idea that a white person can claim a black identity, is that it reminds me of colonization. The white race colonized large portions of the world and in that process stole land, committed genocide, enslaved millions, and exploited the resources of other nations. We created the concept of race to benefit ourselves. Now, are we saying that white people can claim the black identities we socially constructed? Are identities that are rooted in a person’s experience as being of color now open to being colonized by white people? We took their lands, resources, people, and lives, and now we are going to take their identities. Nothing is safe.

By taking their identities, it also means we get to colonize black spaces within the U.S. Blacks or people of color can no longer have spaces that are theirs as whites begin to claim a black, or any other race, identity and claim their struggle as our struggle. We can claim their voice as our voice and act as if our experiences since birth were the same. We know that such a statement is untrue. To me, claiming another group’s identity without having lived their struggle, without having to live how they lived, and being able to move in and out of that identity as needed is just another form of violence against them and another example of white privilege and supremacy. We as white people need to just stop.

One thing I know about Rachel is that she has a powerful voice. She truly is an amazing person who is committed to social justice. I do not question her commitment to the social justice struggle. It is unfortunate that she decided to usurp an identity to do it. She could have been a strong white ally. I strongly believe we need more strong and outspoken white allies who are moving the white community toward understanding racial issues in this country.   People of color cannot be expected to keep teaching us whites about racial issues. As whites we need to educate ourselves and to teach one another. Rachel could have been one of our great teachers and a role model for being a white ally.

I guess she is becoming one of our great teachers but probably not in the way I would have wanted. We can see in her the struggle of being white and wanting to be an advocate for change, equality, and justice while having to confront the fact that historically we as a people created this system of oppression.

The questions I see here are how can we as white people be advocates with others while accepting our background, heritage, and history? How do we raise up the voices of others while not claiming to speak with their voice? How do we bring our voice to the struggle in a way that is authentic and does not drown out the voices of people who are already marginalized, oppressed, and unheard?

Finally, as a white man I am not in a place to say what racial issues are the most important to discuss at a national level. I can understand why it has received national attention. This story presents itself with a lot of human drama, intrigue, and questions about race. However, what I have heard from friends and have read from people of color is that this issue is a distraction from other issues that have a major impact on their lives such as police brutality, high incarceration rates, lack of access to jobs and opportunities, and other issues.

If this issue, of a white woman claiming a black identity, is seen as a distraction from more important topics by the African-American community then I say leave this issue to Spokane to manage. It does not need national attention. I do understand why it is an issue within the Spokane community and I trust them to figure this out and find the best way for them to move forward.

Though I do not support the idea that a white person can claim another group’s identity, I send Rachel my love, care, and positive energy. She remains a human being who should be treated with dignity and not our scorn, pity, or mockery.  I know this is not an easy time for her.

I will also leave with this final thought. Maybe in 10 years I will have a change of heart and see race as something that is changeable and acceptable. However, at this moment I cannot accept such a concept since it seems to be a one-way street – whites get to claim any identity they want and no one can claim to be white unless they are born that way.

Red Alert: People of Color Meeting and Talking in Higher Education

You might think that people who feel marginalized, discriminated against, or just plain unwelcome who decided to come together to discuss issues of mutual concern and build community would find a welcome place at an institution of higher education.  You would be wrong.

The Seattle Times reports that an employee group at South Puget Sound Community College wanted to have a diversity “happy hour” in which people of color were invited and whites were asked not to attend.  This group of people of color has no institutional power over anyone. It is not making hiring decisions. It is not distributing funds or making budgetary decisions.  As a group they are doing none of these things and yet their decision to meet has some white people in an uproar.  There are two issues I have with the reaction to what I see as a reasonable desire for people to meet.

First, it is not segregation or discrimination in the way we think of it.  When people of color were forced by law to be separated from whites, the services for the two groups were different. Schools for whites were better funded. Whites had all the hiring power and would exclude people of color from employment. Laws were applied unequally (and this is still a problem today). All of these things are true but segregation and discrimination are not good reference points for what is happening in this situation.

From what I can tell is that the people starting this meeting want a space where they do not have to consider what white people think of them and to build community. They want to meet to discuss issues openly with one another and sometimes they may not want to mince words so white people feel comfortable or don’t feel “threatened.”  It is about having a safe and supportive space.  This is not the same as discrimination or segregation where people cannot get jobs, loans, or housing, or where people are forced into only specific jobs or housing markets.  It is a group meeting to focus on a specific conversation and once again the reminder that it is a group that has no power over anyone. This leads to my second issue about this story which is white privilege.

We white people cannot stand the idea that we may not have access to every space we want to go. This is a privilege. In this case, we cannot even grant the idea that people of color might want to meet in a situation where they are exerting no power other than joining together to hear each other and maybe discuss ways they can improve the work environment. And we white people can’t stand being left out. We may have all the answers they need and how will they know if we are not there. We may be able to help them better understand their experiences but we cannot help iif we are not invited.  We white people must always have our say and give input and anything that interferes with this must be a problem.

Yes, we whites do have this idea about ourselves that our input is so valuable and this is why even white allies do not need to be present at this meeting (I know not all white people do this but actually without knowing it, we do but that is a bigger discussion). Even as allies we can say or do things that are marginalizing. Depending on how long we have been allies we may not grasp the experiences of people of color. Sometimes even allies try to explain away racist experiences. I consider myself an ally but that does not mean I need to always be with people of color talking about these issues.

Where does this leave the white people?  If we are truly interested in challenging racism, there is a place for white allies to meet among ourselves. As allies there are things we need to learn and we can help each other with those things and not expect people of color to teach us. They cannot always be our teachers. At some point I do think both of these groups would come together to discuss the issues and to engage in difficult conversations. However, people of color need to have a space to meet without white people.  Again, I want to point out this is a group that has no actual power or authority. There is no specific prestige associated with being part of the group nor do people in this group get special treatment or privileges not granted to people outside the group.

What about white people who don’t want to be allies. Well, if you aren’t interested in challenging racism why on earth do you want to be at this meeting. This group of white people just want to cause problems and are the exact reason why people of color need their own space. They are not worth any more discussion other than to say they do not need to attend this happy hour and they do not have some kind of point about being discriminated against.  Again, the meeting of people of color has no power and if this group of whites has no interest in fighting racism then why do they feel they need to be able to attend this meeting?

White people are everywhere especially in the work environment.  Sometimes people of color want to meet just as a group and I say they deserve to have this kind of space. I know it’s scary for us whites to think about them meeting and talking without us but we need to get over it.

Implementing Religious Freedom on Campus: The Case for Colored Stars

The recent attempts to pass religious freedom laws in a few states has me wondering how we might be able to implement such laws in a college setting if they ever pass.  Maybe if we could pass such laws at the federal level that would be helpful in giving all public colleges and universities the ability to defend religious freedom for students and employees.

Basically, these laws allow people to refuse service or assistance to anyone who violates their religious tenets.  Though they mostly target the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender community, there is no reason that the laws cannot be more expansive.  I can see how these laws can be very helpful to society and I think colleges and universities need to be out front thinking about how they would implement the laws if they ever pass at a state or federal level.

First, let’s be honest.  These laws are about White Godly Christians (WGC) being able to defend themselves from those we consider impure.  In a college setting, why should a WGC faculty member have to teach all students?  If the students in the class do not all come from the same background or have the same understanding of the world, that creases confusion and makes it difficult for the faculty member to teach.  Faculty need to know that their students have similar background experiences and perceive the world in a similar fashion.  Anything else is chaos and could lead to WGC faculty and students being led astray. Faculty need to have the right to remove from their classroom anyone who does not conform to their faith.

As administrators, why should we have to work through the conflicts that result from a diverse student body?  Once again, we see that having students from a similar background can make the college experience deeper and more impactful for students.  A WGC administrator should not have to interact with an LGBT student or even an LGBT employee.  Since this group of people have decided to reject God, they do not need to receive the same services as WGC students.  It would probably be best if we only admitted WGCs into our colleges.

From my perspective, these laws do not only protect employees but also protect students.  Students no longer need to interact with faculty or staff who are not the same.  Why should a student be forced to interact with a gay administrator or be taught by a Jewish teacher.  They could constitute a threat to the WGC student so they can just refuse to take classes taught by those instructors or meet with those administrators.  They can probably demand to be taught only by faculty of the same faith because nothing can interfere with their religious beliefs.  From where I sit, students can also refuse to take certain classes if those classes provide a perspective different from a student’s currently held beliefs.  After all, never interacting with a person or thought different from you is the definition of education.  If education does not reinforce what you already believe, what is it doing?

Now there is a problem I see with the implementation of these laws.  Some people might pass as a WGC and trick the good people into working with them.  Not all LGBT people are obvious and some even appear normal.  Most people of color are obvious but some multi-racial people appear more white than their heritage would indicate.  We need to develop a way to mark people who are different from WGCs so we know who to avoid.

My original thought was that our driver’s licenses can hold all of our social identities including race, religion, sexual orientation, disability, nationality, and any other characteristic we want. The problem is that we do not often see a person’s driver’s license.  We need a quick way to determine within a higher education setting whether we can interact with a person or not.  No reason for conversation or learning about someone who is different from us.  We need an early warning system.  We can even give it a name like the Freedom of Religion System.

I think the most elegant solution is to have people where different colored stars.  We can have a pink star for gay men.  Maybe a yellow star for Jews.  Different ethnicities each have their own color.  I am sure we can find a color for every group.  I am thinking WGCs do not need a star since they are normal.  Anyone not wearing a star can be assumed to be worthy of conversation and interaction.  I really like stars, instead of say triangles, because stars make you seem special.  They imply that you stand out and isn’t that what we want.  We want people who are different from WGCs to stand out.

Now that I am really thinking about this idea, I realize it is not enough.  I think we could do more especially at the federal level.  I suggest that two additional laws be passed at the federal level.

First, we need to allow all public colleges and universities to have guns on campus.  We know that people who are different from us tend to be less moral, more criminally-minded, and dangerous. A law allowing WGCs to carry guns on campus gives them the protection they need to feel secure in their learning environment in case they encounter one of these dangerous types.  Nothing says safety like the ability to shoot another person on campus.

The next federal law goes along with the guns on campus law.  We need a federal stand your ground law.  It is absolutely essential that people on campus be allowed to use deadly force if they feel threatened on campus.  For example, let’s say a WGC student is walking from one building to another and he (most likely a he because women shouldn’t have to hurt their brains with education) sees a black man walking toward him.  Now we know that black men really do not belong on a college campus so he must either have just committed a crime or plans on committing one.  Why should the WGC student have to take a long way to his next class just to avoid interacting with this black man.  The long way may make him late because of this thug.  Instead, with a federal stand your ground law, the student can say he felt threatened, shoot the black man, and get to class on time without any sense of remorse or being hassled by law enforcement. A definite plus for education.

Yes, let’s implement federal versions of religious freedom, guns on campus, and stand your ground laws.  All three of these laws can help us redefine freedom as the act of never having to interact with people who are different, and if we do encounter someone different, we have the right to kill them because they are just a little too icky and dangerous.  Isn’t that what freedom and education are all about?

Being an Ally in Higher Ed: Beyond Heroes and Holidays

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I love food as much as the next person.  I love to learn about holidays, heroes, people, and all the other surface stuff that starts us on the journey of learning more about a different culture.  I also think it is important to have events where we celebrate people, introduce students to new foods, holidays, and traditions.  There is a place for bringing in a traditional Chinese dancing troupe to demonstrate one component of one of the many Chinese cultures.  Yet, if this is all we are doing in higher education, we are not doing enough.  Organizing celebrations is not what makes us an ally to a group other than us.

Being an ally is about challenging oppression.  It is about understanding their values and issues as best we can and standing with them to achieve justice, equity, and fairness.  It is not about trying a new food. It is not about doing a folk dance.  Besides organizing celebratory events, there are a lot of things we can do to serve as allies for other people.  Usually when we discuss being an ally, we talk about awareness, building our knowledge about policies and issues, developing our skills to support others and challenge oppression, and taking action to make a difference. All four of these items are about self development but as we develop as allies we need to think critically about how we can bring about change.  While being an ally starts with oneself, we need to think about how we can contribute to change.  You are not doing ally work if you are not working for change.

The University of Michigan talks about the different levels where we can create change as an ally.  The three levels they examine are the individual, institutional, and societal/cultural levels.  These changes are not all discrete.  An individual change can also be part of an institutional change.  Below are a few things I think we can do in higher education to begin to make a difference and to serve as allies for others. These suggestions go beyond the usual self-awareness ideas of knowing your own culture, understanding your privilege, recognizing your power, etc.

1. Focus on who is at your school.  Do you know the research at your institution?  Is anyone doing the research?  This is not about knowing the demographic breakdown though that is one part of it.  It is knowing who is graduating, completing certificates, persisting from one quarter/semester to the next, dropping out, achieving high grades, being involved with student government and clubs, getting referred to a student code of conduct, and having their voice heard. These comments all relate to students but what about employees?  Who is being hired and who is staying? Where is there diversity?  Most colleges see a lot of diversity in their classified staff but faculty and administrators often are not. We cannot make change if we do not look for where the successes and challenges are otherwise we are developing interventions that might be wrong or targeting the wrong issues.  This is both an individual level (your knowledge) and an institutional level (demanding an annual diversity and equity report on institutional data, which many colleges do not do).

2. Know who is at your school because this can lead you to who you need to learn about.  It is impossible to know about every culture, group, and issue if we think about things on a global scale.  However, when we start to focus on where we work, it becomes much more plausible to connect to the people, values, and issues within your institution.  If you don’t know who people are at your institution (I mean real people and not just the numbers), you do not have much of a chance to be an ally.  You cannot speak or stand with people if you have not listened to or heard them.

3. Create opportunities for students and employees to learn about different issues and concerns.  There is a place for holiday celebrations and there is a place for going deeper.  I used to think holiday celebrations were a distraction but I have come to see their value.  Not all people understand there are different cultures.  The Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity explains that some people are in a stage of denial that cultural differences exist.  Celebratory events mixed with an educational component can assist people in this stage with accepting there are differences and may help them be more open to other more complex ideas about culture. And this is the second part.  As higher education professionals, we need to be ready to provide the next step in someone’s education. We want to start those courageous conversations (Singelton and Linton) about race, power, privilege, values, oppression, justice, and similar topics.  We want to provide avenues for people to examine how different cultures and peoples are treated.  This is another area that I think hits all three levels mentioned above.  We are working on educating the individual and providing opportunities to examine institutional and cultural issues.

4. Advocate for change.  As we listen to the voices of others talk about their successes and challenges, we need to be willing to work with them to maintain those things that are working and change those things that are barriers to success for students and employees. To do this we need to understand what we have some control over and what may be a longer struggle.  For example, most procedures used by colleges are things that can be changed by an office or combination of offices.  If we find that a procedure is a barrier, we can examine it to determine how valid it is and how it can be changed so it is not a barrier.  If we are looking at policies, most of those are normally set by a Board of Trustees.  This will mean approaching the Board with an explanation for why a change is needed and what that change is.  They will want to know the impact of such a change on the institution.  The change will need to be couched in terms of student or employee success.  Finally, there are laws and regulations from city, state, and federal governments that guide some of what we do.  These are not as easily changed but that does not mean we cannot join the struggle.  We can write to our legislators asking for a change in a law or regulation.  We can work with students so they can organize a rally, march, or writing campaign to bring issues forward to government officials.  Here we are working for change at an institutional and societal level.

6. Find other allies and do self care.  Social justice work can be exhausting and time consuming.  Because many of us who are allies are passionate about our issues, we often burn the candle at both ends and believe that we must do it all so we can create change.  None of us can do it all and we will only ruin our own health trying to do it.  By having other allies, you have someone to talk with and with whom you can share your struggles and successes. This is one part of self care.  Do not work 12 hours a day every day and weekends.  You deserve time for yourself to regroup.  You need to keep your relationships that exist outside of work as healthy as possible.  Whatever it is that recharges you, make sure you do it.  Higher education will absorb all of your time if you allow it.  Set healthy boundaries and stick to them.

These are just a few of the things that we can do in a higher education environment when we serve as allies.  Yes, we can make a difference, even if it takes time.  Higher education changes at a glacial pace but that does not mean it won’t change.  We just need to keep coming back to the issues until the change happens.  There are so many other things that allies can do.  What can you do?

Run! The Ally is Coming! The Ally is Coming!

Ugh! If you are from a marginalized group, have you ever had that reaction when you saw one of your allies coming? If you consider yourself an ally, have you ever thought that when you saw another ally coming?  Then you know what I am talking about.

I am a white, gay male which means I serve as ally to some groups and I have other people who are allies with me.  I think being an ally is a powerful and meaningful relationship with others and I think allies make a tremendous difference in the world. Let’s face it there are not enough lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people in the world to create change without our straight allies.  Yet, there are times I really wish allies would learn some lessons.

I am thinking of an incident in which I as a white ally was embarrassed by the actions of another white person who considers herself an ally.  I am calling her Mary and the person of color she wanted to help I am calling Aran.  Mary decided that Aran had experienced a racist incident and rose to fight for him.  She was his champion and inserted herself into a discussion between Aran and another person.  Mary, who did not try to determine how Aran was experiencing this situation, spoke for him and started to explain his experience for others.  When Mary was confronted with the issue that Aran did not see the discussion as racist, she insisted that he was just afraid to admit it and let me be clear Aran is not afraid to admit when he experiences racism.  She insisted he had been belittled even if he didn’t realize it.  Mary set herself up as the arbitrator of what is and is not racist.  She established herself as defining the experience of a person of color. And yes this is what white people do, even allies.

From this experience and many others, which include me making mistakes as an ally, there are some lessons I wish we could all learn.

1. White people, straight people, men, or any group who is in the dominant position try to define reality for marginalized groups.  The dominant groups think they can determine how marginalized groups can feel and think.  As allies we must recognize how we do this and sometimes it is so automatic we do not even realize we are doing it.  If we are allies we do not get to define the reality and experiences of others. We do not get to tell people whether they did or did not experience racism, sexism, homophobia, or other ism.  That is for the person to decide.  This brings me to the second lesson.

2. As an ally we must listen. I firmly believe we cannot be allies to others if we cannot listen to and accept their stories.  We should not attempt to explain away racist actions by trying to find different explanations for those actions. As a gay man, if I have a homophobic experience, I do not need a straight person explaining to me how it was not homophobic.  I know homophobia.  Likewise, for me as an ally to people of color, I accept their experiences of racism.  I do not get to lessen those experiences.  I think part of the reason why people attempt to minimize these feelings of oppression in others is that we do not want to believe in a country where everyone is supposed to be equal that people are not actually treated equally.  We also need to listen to what people need.  We cannot determine what other groups need at different times.  Do they need someone to stand with them?  Do they want you to stay in the background?  I remember one time when I was with a friend who has a physical disability.  We were in a situation where both of us thought he was going to be discriminated against.  I do not remember exactly what I said to him but I remember him banishing me to a corner and telling me not to say anything.  He, of course, handled the situation brilliantly and I was not needed.  In fact, I might have made things worse.  I needed to check myself.  The best action I took as an ally that day was to do nothing.

3. My third lesson is that as allies we must stop dominating others.  We must follow and this is so hard for us to do.  We are used to leading, controlling, and determining what should happen.  Well, we need to put our pride aside, listen to others, and then take the action we are asked to do.  When my friend from the story above asked me to leave the situation, I had to put aside my desire to be his champion.  I had to stop wanting to be the savior for the poor, marginalized person.  I had to follow his lead because he knew what needed to happen. I would have just made a mess.  This experience was humbling for me and it is one I try to remember.

4. When you do speak, it is with your voice of an ally.  As a white man, I never speak with the voice of a person of color.  If I am in an all white environment I can challenge racist comments and attitudes but it is always with the voice of an ally.  I am not bringing the voice of people of color to that environment because that is not who I am.  Only people of color can speak with their voice.  I also do not like the idea of giving voice to the voiceless because it makes me their voice.  If people are voiceless, we need to find a way to support them in expressing their own voice.  As allies we should never assume that our voice is as good as another person’s.  I know many extremely articulate straight allies for the LGBT community.  They are beautiful and wonderful individuals, yet I never want them to say they speak for me.  They can speak as allies and I want them to continue doing that but please do not represent yourself as me.  Likewise I try to do this as a white ally.

5. Do not get upset if you don’t get accolades for your efforts as an ally.  Yes, sometimes you might get recognized but here is the thing.  In many ways, being an ally means you are being a decent human being and do we really need to sing your praises so you will be decent?  I remember a few years ago reading another white person’s story online about how we was at a diversity event that was attended by mostly people of color.  He felt slighted because he did not think he was praised enough for being there.  He felt like he was not being properly recognized for his efforts on their behalf.  My thought was get over yourself.  Being an ally is not about you!  It is about the people you are working with. If you want awards, praise, and recognition, you are not an ally because it means you are doing things for the wrong reason. Be an ally because you care.  Be an ally because you believe.  Do not be an ally because you want to be liked or to be a “hero.”

6. Always remember you have privilege.  I remember an experience of being with people of color and someone said, “Since we are all people of color here…”  She looked right at me and I looked at her.  She then said, “I consider you a person of color because of how you advocate with us.”  While I appreciated that comment and felt very connected to the group, I had to remind everyone that no matter how we may feel in the group I am still white and that brings a lot of privilege with it.  I cannot just shed my privilege because it is something imposed on me.  No matter how much I may speak out my privilege remains.

7. You are not perfect and will make mistakes.  We live in a society that is racist, sexist, homophobic, ableist, and so many other things and we cannot help but absorb some of those lessons even if we try fighting them. This means we can say or do things that reflect our privilege. When we get called out for our privilege, it is not the time to be offended.  It is the time to go back to the other lesson of listening.  Yes, it will be difficult.  I know as an ally I am attempting to overcome the racism and sexism I have learned but that does not mean I do not still express those things in some way, even if it is unintentional.  When a person of color tells me I have said or done something racist, I do not shrug it off or think that person is being too sensitive.  I listen because I want to understand. I engage in the conversation rather than withdraw because I want to learn and I want to change.  When someone trusts you enough to point out a problem that is not the time to say I am an ally and to list all of things you have done for others as if all of those things absolve you of doing something that is oppressive.  Accept your imperfections and be willing to learn.

Some of these lessons seem obvious but I know there are times, though we love our allies, that those of us in marginalized groups sometimes wish our allies would just quiet down a little and let us speak. Do not be the ally where people run from you because you are replicating the oppression you claim to be fighting.

Racism and Rape Comedy: It’s All Fun and Games Until Someone Dies

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There is no better way of hoping harm comes to a pop singer we don’t like than racist dreams of rape.  Full disclosure, I am not a fan of Justin Bieber.  In fact, I just had to go double check the spelling of his last name, that is how little I follow him.  I do know that he spent some time in jail and the reason I know that is because I started seeing images like the one above involving Bieber being paired up with a black man who it is implied will rape Bieber as he goes into jail.

Racism and rape give us two wonderful things at which to laugh.  The reality is that the image above could have had a white person where the black man is (we would still be talking about rape) but that apparently is not “good enough” for Bieber.  The image above tells us that there is nothing worse than a white man being raped by a black man and isn’t that rape funny when it is perpetrated against someone we don’t like.

The image goes into the white fear that there are big, dark, black, scary people out there ready and willing to do harm to white people at a moment’s notice.  It plays into all of the stereotypes of black men as sexually unrestrained, violent, criminal, and dangerous.  The stereotype is then used to make us laugh about Bieber being raped in jail.  The rape is not bad enough unless it is by a scary black man.

The inherent racism of the image is vulgar but it does not stop there.  The joke of the image is not just the racism but that Bieber is going to be raped.  Isn’t that just so funny?  There is something about this image that we are to cheer and say, “Yes!” let Bieber be raped because his music is annoying and he violated a law.  I can imagine some people just drooling over this possibility.  The problem is that rape is not funny to me.  No matter how much I dislike a person, I do not wish that person to be raped.  I do not find rape to be a tool of justice or to be someone’s comeuppance for something he/she did.

These types of images degrade the act of rape.  It is so degraded that the Daiquiri Factory in Spokane, WA even has a drink called Date Grape, a clear play on the phrase date rape.  The fact that a bar would have a drink called Date Grape and be completely blind to the fact that alcohol plays a large role in rape and that drugs are mixed in with alcohol to make a woman more vulnerable to rape is beyond belief.  Rape is becoming something that is now becoming nothing more than a punchline even though it is an act that still to this day is not punished fully.  Men still get away with light sentences after raping women.  Yes, men can be raped but the overwhelming number of victims are women. These types of images and word plays help to make rape seem less destructive than it is.

Am I making all of this up?  Well,  I wanted to see if there was some research and lucky for me there is this blog, A Scientific Case Against Rape Jokes that already discusses this topic.  There are also a large number of studies looking at how racist jokes make and environment unwelcoming for people of color.

Why do these things matter?  Why not let the joke go?  Simple.  People are still dying in this country because of racism and misogyny. I do not mean the blatant, foaming at the mouth racism or misogyny.  I mean the racism that has men check their wallets and women hold their purses closer to them when a black man gets close.  I mean the misogyny in which women are still not believed when they are raped.  I mean innocent black men and women being shot for no other reason than they were black and it was assumed they were engaged in criminal acts though they were not.  Images like the above one matter and they have consequences.

In a previous post I mentioned moments of socialization.  This image is another moment of socialization.  By itself it won’t change the world but when combined with all of the other racist and misogynist images we are bombarded with, our perceptions of the world become shaded.  We become slightly more afraid of people who are different from us.  We may not be able to trace that fear or concern to anything specific but it is there and it is real.  These feelings than guide how we act and how we think about everything from friendship to justice to love to enemies to politics to just about everything.  When messages like these, that down play racism and rape, continue to bombard us on an almost daily basis, we become desensitized to the actual impact the messages have not only on the people who are the target of the jokes and messages but on those of us who tell them or allow the messages to be said without comment.  There is a reason we talk about institutional racism and rape culture.

Racism and rape – still not funny.