Monday, December 17, 2012

The line between slut shaming and personal responsibility

If you are a YouTube watcher you may have seen popular vlogger Jenna Marbles' Things I don't understand about women: sluts edition and the responses from fellow vloggers Chescaleigh, Laci Green and others speaking out against her 'slut shaming.'  The women and their followers speak passionately from their positions - calling women on irresponsible behaviors or defending women against derogatory perceptions.
In her video Chescaleigh refers to a 2011 New York Times article that focused on an 11-year-old rape victim's dress and demeanor as an example of society's tendency to blame victims of sexual assaults. The inclination, like journalist James McKinley's, to find the 'why' of a rape in the behavior of the victim is not new.  Laws have had to be enacted to prevent that kind of thinking from affecting rape trials.  Statistics indicate that one of the primary reasons many rape victims hesitate to report their assaults is the fear of being tried in the court of public opinion.  In theory, we all know that a question like "What was she wearing?" is irrelevant to the crime.  Yet moral judgments about victims, and character assassinations in defense of accused perpetrators persist. Sexual assaults continue to be the only crimes about which people commonly wonder if the victim was not maybe asking for it.  And before Chescaleigh and others were slapping Jenna Marbles on the wrist in cyberspace, groups (such as those that have organized Slut Walks in Toronto, New York, and other cities around the world) were condemning these attitudes in the media and in other arenas as dangerous and misogynous.

Has our defense of women been one-sided though?  As we defend the rights of women, shouldn't we also promote personal responsibility? 'Slut shaming' and victim-blaming have become synonymous terms and it is now politically incorrect to criticize women for any kind of sexual behavior.  That there is never any circumstance in which a woman deserves to be raped is no reason for women to relinquish all responsibility for their behavior. We all take precautions to prevent personal harm - we lock our doors at night, we look both ways before crossing the road, we keep our social security and banking numbers private.  Those are all smart things to do. Why, in the name of feminine rights and equality, would we advocate anything less for women?  I will not be telling my little sisters, young female cousins or my co-eds that they should be throwing all sexual morality and self-respect to the wind because no one has the right to judge them.  Rather than telling women in my sphere of influence that they should be able to do all the things that men stereotypically do and not be besmirched, I will be giving my little brothers and nephews all the reasons why they should respect themselves and respect all women.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The right to murder

" A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."  Second Amendment to the US Constitution

I am open to being convinced. I have never held a gun but I'm not anti-gun, so I am open to being convinced.  I  do not believe that guns are vile and the source of all of society's ill, so I am open to being convinced.  I teach my students that we are all better for sharing in the marketplace of ideas, so I am willing to wade into the debate with an open mind.  Convince me that anyone's rights are being violated with stricter gun controls.  Other than the politically powerful and moneyed gun lobby, who loses with laws intended to clean up gun ownership and make us all safer?

The second amendment to the United States constitution is held up by some as an irrevocable right of every American to freely buy, own, use firearms of all kinds. Even if I suspend my understanding of the sentence - that citizens may not be prevented from bearing arms in protection of the country - and agree that we are endowed with an inalienable right to own and carry a M16, I still cannot fathom the resistance to gun control laws that will create safeguards against murders like those in Newtown, Connecticut on Friday.

What is the resistance to requiring a license to sell firearms?  What legitimate purpose is being impeded by requiring thorough federal standards for background checks?  For what purpose does a law-abiding citizen need finger print resistant grips?  Is there a non-violent reason to own an assault rifle like the semiautomatic Bushmaster rifle, or other weapons with large magazines?  How are my rights being violated if everything is done to prevent someone with a mental or psychological illness from getting a gun?

We have all heard the adage: guns don't kill people; people kill people.  That may be true, but guns sure make it easier to do.  Could 20 children and seven adults have been killed with a knife?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Right to work laws show a forgetfulness of history

This nation was built. Arduously and on the backs of the disenfranchised. Railroad tracks were lubricated with the sweat of men who worked 12-hour days and saw little of the wealth the lines carried.  Skyscrapers were erected on the blood and bones of men working without harnesses or advocates.  Miners, field hands; they all had a heavy hand in the growth and wealth of the United States.  For many years they held no hope of sharing in its prosperity.

It was the establishment of labor unions that gave these workers an opportunity to share in the American dream.  Labor unions gave workers a voice to secure fairer wages, safer work conditions, and shorter work hours.  It is because of the work of labor unions that Americans can look at poor working conditions in China and other countries with righteous indignation.

Contrary to the attacks on labor unions over the years, neither democracy nor capitalism has suffered from workers joining forces.  The "right to work" laws, like the ones passed in Wisconsin last year and approved by Michigan legislatures on Tuesday, aim to cripple unions by limiting their ability to represent workers and to collect operation funds.  Proponents of these laws seem unwilling to remember the role unions played in this country's history and unwilling to see how the preservation of every employee's rights is imperative to our continued success as a nation.  Rather, they seem focused on giving employers every advantage in protecting their bottom line at the demise of social justice.

Not, without blame, unions - particularly those like teachers' unions that have been in the spotlight recently - need to ensure that their intent is not to glean all they can without thought to the overall efficiency, profitability and success of their employees, their customers, and their municipalities.

Getting rid of unions is not the way to increased productivity.  Engaging workers in a cooperative atmosphere to seek genuine consensus, rather than compromise; transformational leadership, rather than top-down autocracy.  These are the ideas that will move America forward economically, while preserving her integrity. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Race in the race

In 2008 many of us thought we were standing on the cusp of a post-racial America. A racially diverse electorate had put a black man in the oval office and the time seemed right to hope for the fruition of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s dream.

Four years later, we realize that we had been eagerly naive. The first signs may have been the vitriol that spewed from Republicans who forsook their duty as representatives of all their constituents to ensure that the weeks old presidency would last for only one term.  Shrouded money, such as from the billionaire Koch brothers, funded the Tea Party - effigies and all - in their stances against all things Obama or Democrat, rather than for anything in particular.  Since the hostilities came early, before there were any actions to object to, one can only ask at what then was the acrimony aimed.  I may be lacking in imagination, but I cannot think of much else than race.

As the election campaign has waged on, race has been a constant irritating wart on all our asses. President Obama's nationality, academic record and religion have constantly been called into question - as if his very qualification for the office is dubious.  Black voters are accused of voting for the President based on race alone, but white voters apparently are using their good sense to vote for the better candidate.  Disagreement with the President comes laced with disrespect that has not been aimed at any other president in recent history.  Again, my imagination fails to conjure any other reasons than race.

No matter who wins this election, we all should feel a loss - a loss of progress and pride.  Not because we did or did not vote for the black guy, but because we aren't progressive enough to care more about the issues than his race.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Keep church out of the voting booth

Recently, some of my Christian friends have been asserting that it would be unchristian to vote to re-elect President Obama.  One impassioned friend seemed heartbroken that though he had voted for him in 2008, he just could not bring himself to do it again.  His and many others' Christian beliefs stand in disagreement with the Obama administration's position on social issues such as gay marriage, and for them that translates into opposing the president politically.

I don't understand that position for a couple of reasons. For one thing, why put these particular Christian beliefs above other tenets?  Those who oppose President Obama and the Democratic party based on Christian principles seem obsessed with homosexuality and abortion, while seeming to ignore other Christian tenets - caring for the poor, for example.  By my study, Jesus spent far more time attending to the needs of the disenfranchised and outcast than He did preaching hell-fire on those who lived contrary to what He advocated.  Yet, I haven't heard many anti-Obama Christians expressing concern for the government's lack of care for the poor or disadvantaged.  Instead, they justify support for a party that for most of recent history has had an every-man-for-himself attitude when taking social and economic policy positions.

For many reasons - particularly the variant beliefs among denominations - Christians should be wary of inviting politicians and government officials to make their own beliefs part of their policy-making.  Could a Jehovah's Witness, Seventh-Day Adventist, or Mormon be sure that their Catholic representative's belief-supported policies would be in tandem with their own?  Our beliefs should dictate our own behaviors.  If you believe homosexuality is wrong, have your intimate relationships with someone of the opposite sex.  If you believe abortions are wrong, don't have one.  Enforcing religious beliefs should not be government policy and we shouldn't use our votes to encourage it.

The earliest Americans who fled Europe's religious persecution certainly understood the dangers of giving government leeway to base policy on any individual's or church's beliefs.  We would be smart to not undo their efforts. While the size and role of government continues to be part of the country's discourse, Christians, more than anyone else, should want to keep government and their beliefs separate.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The politics of black hair

It has been nine months since my last hit of the creamy crack and it has so far been an interesting journey.  Even the reference to hair routines as 'a journey" is telling of the intensity with which some black women approach this particular issue.  The responses to hair products company Carol's Daughter's Facebook post this morning ("Like if you have a relaxer. Do you plan on giving it up? Why or why not?") shows that the topic is a hot one, but that all black women aren't all lining up on the same side of it.

In five hours, just under 1,700 people had "liked" the post indicating they are happily straightening their hair with a chemical relaxer, and more than 500 individuals (likely mostly black women) had weighed in with their comments. While it has become more commonplace to see black woman wearing their hair in its natural state, the responses to Carol Daughter's post indicates that there are still mixed attitudes towards our hair.  Many black people still measure beauty - and even professionalism - against a white standard.  Straight hair, to many, is prettier and neater than curly or kinky black hair.  Curly styles, afros and braids are often considered out of place in corporate offices. Remarkably, those opinions are almost more likely to be held by black men and women than by white. My white friends are always complimenting me on my big (semi)natural curls.  It is my brothers and sisters who are discomforted by my choice to stop straightening my hair.  "What are you planning to do with it?"  "What will you do with it when you have to work?"  For them, black hair in all it's kinky splendor is something to be remedied.

On the other side of the hair part are those who seem to wear their hair as a militant sign of black-hood. Reminiscent of the 60s and 70s, natural hair has become an indicator of how proud and comfortable a woman is to be black.  For those on this side of the issue, natural curls are the anti-weave; the afrocentric response to the black majority's sell out to eurocentricty.  Natural hair blogs, vlogs and websites take on a holier-than-thou attitude, spewing condescension and condemnation on those who aren't taking the road to Happy Nappy.

It seems for every other ethnic group a hairstyle is just a hairstyle, but for us black women, hair is often a statement of who we think we are and who we want to look like:  How black do you feel, or how hard are you trying to be white?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Talking guns - again

"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

In the shadow of the slaughtering of 12 innocents in Colorado last Friday morning it is inevitable that the roar of the gun control debate would become deafening. Those who put the right to bear arms above the right to live are the most deafening.

I believe in the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution gives each of us the right to keep and bear arms.  And the Supreme Court has in recent years uphold the individual right to keep and bear arms for home defense and for hunting.  If a robber - or a deer - breaks into your home and threatens your home, I say it's your right to aim straight and drop him where he stands.

How many robbers and deer are we trying to drop with assault rifles though? And are the deer firing back? Is that why we need bulletproof vests?

Not only couldn't the Founding Fathers have known that there would be assault rifles firing off 100 rounds per minute, they certainly did not envision that unstable individuals would be able to use the internet to  acquire enough fire power to arm a small town police department.  If they had, I'm pretty sure they would have expected us all to use our common sense and implement fail-safes to protect high school and college students, train riders, and theater-goers from being cut down while minding their own business.  The gun lobby's persistent suggestion that our best protection is to have bigger guns than the bad guys is foolhardy and suicidal.  If there had been return fire in the Aurora theater how many more lives would have been lost?

Restricting access to high-powered rifles, high capacity drum magazines, explosives, and flesh-ripping bullets cannot be seen as equivalent with impinging on the intent of the Second Amendment.  We should not be ignoring the Supreme Court's ruling that state and federal governments have the right to monitor and regulate arms sales. We should not be cowering from the gun lobby, but rather we should be letting common sense prevail. The Second Amendment should not threaten my right to life, health and a good movie.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Real justice for my boys

Everyone with a sense of right and wrong is up in arms about the Trayvon Martin case; and rightly so.  The idea that an unarmed young man could be gunned down for walking to the corner store in a hoodie is incompatible with our assurance that we live in a just society.  Unfortunately people get killed everyday, so Martin's murder would not ordinarily have become of nationwide interest except for the Stanford Police's unwillingness to charge the overzealous cop-wannabe George Zimmerman with the murder.

As news programs and talk shows on television and radio have been analyzing the case thread by thread over the last couple of weeks, I have been struck by the recurring conversation about the appropriate behaviors for black males out in public - all the things law-abiding black men minding their own business should and should not do to avoid being targeted, harassed, or gunned down in the streets. Are white mothers being advised to sit their sons down to instruct them on always saying "Yes Sir" and always keeping their hands in clear view?  As a mother of  two sons, I reject the notion that I or my sons should be the ones to carry the responsibility for racism. Sure we can clad this idea in the language of protection of the innocent, but it lets off the hook those who would act based on stereotypes and prejudices. It is appalling to hear a mother describe how her son is repeatedly accosted by new tenants in their New York luxury apartment.  Their assumption is that he does not belong, or that he is a service person and should be using the service entrance.  I shuddered to hear a sister talk about making sure her brother always has his hair neatly cut so that negative assumptions wont be made about him on the street.

There will always be Trayvon Martins as long as being black is, on its own, grounds for suspicion.  Having sit-downs with our sons about casting their eyes to the ground and not looking "Massa" in the eye is not progress or justice.  If Zimmerman gets off for this murder it will confirm what American black families already know and seem to accept - that a black man is a dangerous thing to be.  It will be undeniable endorsement of racial profiling - not just by law enforcement officials but also by every crazy vigilante.

Not every criminal case has a wide-reaching implication for the rest of society, but this case definitely does.  Justice for Trayvon Martin not only means justice is more likely for my two boys, it also makes it less likely that they will actually need it - even if they wear hoodies and walk with their hands in the pockets.