Big Damn Heroes: Nina Davuluri and Crystal Lee

[Content note: GIFS, mentions of racism]

Meet Nina Davuluri. Nina Davuluri just won the Miss America contest, and is now Miss America 2014. And she’s pretty fucking awesome.

Nina Davuluri, Miss America

1. Her platform was “celebrating diversity through cultural competency.” When I first heard that, I had *no idea* what it meant. But once you look it up, it turns out it’s fucking awesome. Cultural competency means developing an awareness of your own cultural viewpoint, and then learning to understand, communicate with, and interact with people from all kinds of different cultures and socio/ethnic backgrounds.

Uh… amazing, right? Social justice-y, right?

Damn, woman.

2. She’s the first Indian-American – and Asian-American – Miss America. And yeah, there have been some racist motherfuckers who’ve been  oppressive assholes about this, but that doesn’t take away from Nina Davuluri’s very real accomplishment. Nina Davuluri is damn cool. And talented. And smart.

And she knew she was making history.  When Nina Davuluri was one of the last two women standing, alongside Miss California’s Crystal Lee – also an Asian-American woman – she said: “We’re both so proud. We’re making history right here, standing here as Asian-Americans.”

3. She makes terrible jokes.

Nina Davaluri, bad joke, GIF

Nina Davuluri

Damn it, she’s got my favorite sense of humor. AND she’s got an adorable embarrassed smile!

*Swoon*

4. Her talent was really fucking amazing – a fusion piece that combined bollywood dance with classical indian training.

Apparently, she chose her talent against the advice of her team, who thought it was “too foreign” for american judges. To which Nina Davuluri was like “Fuck you” and won the WHOLE DAMN THING.

Ugh, I want to be her when I grow up. Ridiculously talented and super-brave.

5. She’s a nerd.

Nina Davuluri cosplay, star wars, lightsaber, Miss America, Miss Geek America

[Okay, so, apparently, this picture is photoshopped. And I am terrible and can’t detecting photoshopping. *headdesk*, Which basically means that… this particular photo is photoshopped. But everything else in the post stands – she’s still a fan of Star Trek and Star Wars, she’s still a nerd etc. 
Also, who photoshopped this? Was it her? Because that would be adorable. Was it fans? Was it peopel who liked her? I don’t even know!]

YUP.

She cosplays. She loves Star Trek, Star Wars and anything Science Fiction. And she knows R2-D2 (don’t disillusion me. THAT IS R2-D2 IN THIS PICTURE AND NINA DAVULURI IS HIS BEST FRIEND)

She has a degree in brain behavior and cognitive science. She wants to be a doctor. She’s going into traditionally male fields and she’s a geek and a girl, and she’s fucking awesome.

I wonder what kind of SF books she loves. Maybe I’ll see her at a convention sometime!

And Nina Davuluri isn’t the only awesome nerdy WOC in the Miss America Pageant. The first runner-up, Crystal Lee, is Chinese-American. She graduated with a BA and an MA from Stanford in FOUR years. Her platform is women in STEM fields (awesome). She’s interned for DropBox, and she wants to start her own tech company. Her talent is Ballet-en-pointe, because HOLY SHIT.

It’s easy to focus on the disgusting racism that’s been happening around Nina Davuluri’s coronation. But don’t just talk about the racists. Talk about the awesome women they’re trying to erase through their racism. Don’t let their voices dominate the conversation.

Crystal Lee

The top two women at the Miss America pageant this year were both WOC. They were both hard-core nerds  who study STEM, They care about women and cultural diversity in tech fields. They like Star Wars and cosplaying. They’re going to start tech companies and promote diversity. They’re remarkable women. And it’s a remarkable thing, to look at the Miss America pageant, and see exactly who’s winning – STEM women! Nerds! Women of Color!

Crystal Lee and Nina Davuluri

As a fellow nerd, ladies – I salute you!

And I’m inspired by you. You’re Big Damn Heroes.

(Hey, geeks of america – could we wrangle a con invitation for Nina Davuluri or Crystal Lee? Wouldn’t that be awesome? I think it would be awesome)

****

Full credit goes to 

Thinkspeakstress on tumblr

Arturo R. Garcia at Racialicious

Lakshmi Gandhi at The Aerogram

and David Brothers writing “Racists React To [thing]” posts are just passive white supremacy

for making me check my white privilege, waking me the fuck up and reminding me to stop focusing so much on the racists and start focusing on the people they were actively erasing. I really appreciate the call-out. Thank you.

Note: I realize there are a shit-ton of problems with Miss America. I am aware. It’s never been my favorite institution either. But this post is not a place to complain about how terrible Miss America is. It’s to celebrate the accomplishments of the amazing women who’ve been erased by racists – and people talking about racists. So please don’t comment about the problems with the pageant *on this particular post*. 


Apparently, I’m Making Peter Capaldi Sad: Doctor Who and Exclusion

[Content note: misogyny, racism, whitewashing, transmisogyny, heterosexism, bad faith, flashing GIFS)] 

Okay. Let’s talk about Doctor Who, shall we?

tumblr_mr11mzrTEC1rhasruo1_500

Doctor Who 12th Doctor

Doctor Who 12th Doctor

tumblr_mr11mzrTEC1rhasruo4_500

tumblr_mr11mzrTEC1rhasruo5_500

tumblr_mr11mzrTEC1rhasruo7_500

tumblr_mr11mzrTEC1rhasruo8_500(

(artist/writer: ponyscribbles on tumblr)

A month ago, the BBC announced that Peter Capaldi will play the Doctor in Doctor Who after Matt Smith steps down. He’ll be the twelfth regeneration of the doctor. And the twelfth white man to play the role.

I think most fans were pleased. Peter Capaldi apparently has quite a following in Great Britain (as an American, of course, the only time I’ve seen him was in the Doctor Who episode “The Fires of Pompeii”). He seems like a great actor, and a lovely person.

A large group of fans, however, were quite disappointed. I was among them. We’d hoped – against all odds – that this would be the regeneration where the Doctor was finally played by a POC and/or a woman. This was our chance. We’d been discussing it for years, but now – maybe now – it could finally happen. The BBC even put up a poll asking whether the 12th Doctor would be a man or a woman, thus acknowledging the possibility of a female Doctor.

[note: I use “we” a lot in this post. I use “we” not because we all share the same oppressions and marginalizations, but because we’ve all been erased by, and ignored by, Doctor Who (and other media). But I don’t mean to conflate my identity with those of other marginalized people: as a white cisgendered woman, I’m relatively privileged, even when it comes to media representation]

We knew there wasn’t much of a chance.

But we hoped.

So yeah, a lot of us were majorly disappointed when it was another white guy.

And then, in the midst of my frustration, I saw the above comic. And lo, I saw the error of my ways, and stopped complaining about Peter Capaldi’s casting.

Cat and bath

Ahem.

Sorry about that. No, this is not going to be a post about how I finally learned to stop complaining and love oppression. And my sarcasm is probably also making poor Peter Capaldi cry. Sorry, Mr. Capaldi. You actually do seem lovely.

This comic isn’t some giant exception to the rule. Everywhere on the internet, you’ll find this idea that we’re being mean or unfair to Peter Capaldi by criticizing his casting.

So let’s talk about it, okay? *Really* talk about it.

Kangaroo, Ball, Gif,

I’m going to establish a few things upfront: I think I will really enjoy Peter Capaldi as the Doctor. I’m betting he will be a great Doctor. He seems, from everything I’ve seen of him on the interwebs in the past two weeks, to be a great actor. I’m also glad an older actor is playing the Doctor – it will make a nice change from Matt Smith and David Tennant.

I also love Doctor Who. I think it’s a great, beautiful, ridiculous, wonderful show. I would not bother to argue about it as much as I do  if I did not love it. I would not keep watching it if I did not truly believe in its promise and its potential. I would not be a fan if I did not believe it had a place for people like me.

We’ve gotten those things clear? Good.

Here’s the rub, my friendly readers: I’m also disappointed as fuck in Capaldi’s casting. I know! It’s so shocking. But it is, in fact, possible for me to feel more than one emotion about an event. I am a human being, and I can grasp complexity. I can be excited and disappointed at the same time.

Confused cat

SHOCKING!

Yes, I wanted the Doctor not to be a white man.

One of the most wonderful things about the Doctor is his (1) capacity for change. He constantly regenerates into completely different bodies. He is never static, never singular, always chaotic. He is simultaneously one and many. Everything about him is changeable, and changing.

So can you blame fans who want the Doctor’s various incarnations to reflect of the diversity of the world around him? To change races, genders, gender identities, ages, shapes, ability levels, sexualities, etc? In fact, it doesn’t make any sense for the Doctor to *not* change things like race and gender. To convince yourself that the Doctor should *always* be a white man, you’re ignoring the central tenant of his identity: nothing about him is unchangeable.

Except that some things are.

We’ve now had twelve doctors – with a recently revealed thirteenth (John Hurt) (2)- and they’ve all been white cisgendered men. Everything about the Doctor can change, apparently, except his race, gender and gender identity.

I cannot stress how incredibly depressing it is for people who are already erased, ignored and marginalized by the media to see a show like Doctor Who – which has a built-in excuse for being as diverse and inclusive as possible in their casting – just keep  casting white men. It’s almost deliberately cruel. “We could include you, but we choose not to. Let them eat the kyriarchy!”

So yeah, I’m pissed that Peter Capaldi was cast as the twelfth Doctor.

I’m pissed because there is absolutely zero evidence that showrunner Steven Moffat even considered casting anyone but a white man. Because, as Moffat put it, he had a shortlist of one: Peter Capaldi.

To everyone who has said: “Well, Capaldi was probably just the best actor for the part.” Really? How would Moffat even know that if he never bothered to audition anyone else? I mean, this isn’t a case of a white male actor legitimately beating out a bunch of actors of color and/or female actors through a stringent audition process. This is a case of a white man just being chosen, without anyone else getting a shot.

(If nothing else, it shows a shocking lack of imagination from Stephen Moffat. “I could only think of one person! So I cast him!”)

I’m pissed because Moffat has had three chances to cast a Doctor – Matt Smith, John Hurt and Peter Capaldi – and *all* of them have been thin white men. All of them. I have given up any notion that he gives a shit about inclusion. He’s had more chances than any modern Doctor Who showrunner to make the show more diverse, and he’s refused all of those chances.

I’m pissed because Moffat denigrated the very idea of a female Doctor. When asked about Helen Mirren’s call for a female Doctor, Moffat joked that the Queen should be played by a man next time.

Ellen Degeneres That's Gross GIF

Ellen Degeneres You Are Disgusting GIF

Which… wow. This simultaneously brings in transmisogyny (because there’s nothing more hilarious than drag queens and men who dress up as women, am I right?), a false equivalence, and stunning amount of bad faith. Having a woman play a traditionally male role is not the same as having a man playing a traditionally female role. Women are underrepresented in the media, so giving a woman a traditionally male role is being inclusive. Men are *already* well-represented in the media, so giving a man a traditionally female role only exacerbates the lack of inclusion.

And also:  bad faith. Queen Elizabeth should be played by a woman because the Queen is an actual historical figure who is female. The Doctor is not an actual historical figure. Moreover, the Doctor is a person whose identity constantly changes. Are you actually saying that being male is a constant part of the Doctor’s identity? That he can be anything – except that he must always be a man?

I’m pissed because of the message Moffat sends – and the show sends – by constantly casting white men. I’m pissed, because it it implies that gender and race are so *essential* to a person’s identity that they are the one thing an ever-changing alien can never change. It implies that those two things are so fucking fundamental that changing them would ruin the character.

Which is not at all a racist or sexist notion, no. Gender and racial essentialism, everyone!

I’m pissed because this casting is part of a long trend of the showrunners being oppressive and awful.  Doctor Who hasn’t had a female writer in three seasons. It hasn’t had a female director in two. It hasn’t had a writer or director of color in at least three seasons (3). It’s female characters get the wonderful privilege of participating in misogynistic storylines, including the mystical pregnancy trope, the “mothers are the most powerful people in the world because uteruses” trope, the “stalking is super romantic” trope and the “silly women and their obsession with their looks” trope. I’d be upset over the storylines surrounding major POC characters, but the truth is… there really haven’t been a lot of major characters of color in the past three years. And the ones I remember all die (like Rita in “The God Complex”). Moffat himself explains that he doesn’t bother with bisexual representation on Doctor Who because bisexuals are having “FAR TOO MUCH FUN. You probably don’t even watch because you’re so busy.” Asexual representation? Don’t even think about it – Moffat thinks asexuality is boring. 

I’m pissed because I see no signs that this is going to change anytime soon.

I’m pissed because whenever we bring this up, we’re being mean.

We’re being mean. We’ve been systematically ignored and erased on the show. People like us are denied representation, made fun of and stereotyped. We’ve gone through thirteen Doctors with no sign that we’re ever going to get representation – even though the show’s own rules mean it makes *no sense* for the Doctor to keep being white and male. We don’t have  representation in the writer’s room or the director’s chair.

Peter Capaldi and Stephen Moffat are powerful people. They have nice big salaries. They’re media creators. One of them is the head of one of the most successful franchises in the world, the other is about to be one of the most famous actors on the planet.

But we’re making them feel bad.

Nicole Beharie, Sleepy Hollow, Abbie, Slavery, You're offended,

… somehow, I kind of doubt it.

Comics like the one above are a silencing mechanism. They’re meant to make us feel bad for voicing our reality. For talking about the very real misogyny, heterosexism,  transmisogyny and racism displayed by Doctor Who and its showrunners. They’re meant to make it seem like *we’re* the ones who haven’t been inclusive, even though we’re the ones who have been systematically marginalized by the show and the showrunners. But we’re not inclusive. Because inclusive means no one ever feels bad. Especially not the poor, powerful white men who keep getting roles and jobs and representation.

Steve Colbert Oppressed White Male Alert GIF

Comics like the one above rewrite the narrative of Doctor Who. They rewrite our very real grievances, transforming marginalized people into a bunch of complainers who are trying to make Peter Capaldi and the Doctor feel bad.

Why isn’t our sadness ever depicted? Why is it always about the feelings of the most powerful people in the Doctor Who world? Why isn’t it ever about our feelings of exclusion, our feelings of marginalization, our anger at being erased and ignored? Why – even in a comic that is supposed to be about *us* complaining – why is it about Peter Capaldi?
Why aren’t we ever the protagonists of these stories?

***

… you know, on one level, this cartoon perfectly encapsulates the problem. Powerful white men in the Doctor Who world give other white men influence – as writers, directors and actors – while systematically ignoring the criticisms of those who feel excluded from the show. White men keep all the power for themselves, while making the people they’ve marginalized feel bad for complaining about it.  White men take the issue of system oppression and make it all about them.

Stephen Moffat hands the screwdriver over to Peter Capaldi, and then, when people point out they’ve never had a chance at that screwdriver, he berates them for making the new Doctor feel bad.

Frankly, everyone, I appreciate your concern for the Doctor, but seriously: the Doctor is a fictional character, and I can’t make him feel bad. So I’m not terribly worried about it. I’m not even worried about making Peter Capaldi feel bad: he’s got the job now, and he’s probably surrounded by wonderful people cheering his casting. And good for him! I don’t *want* him to feel bad. I don’t want him to feel bad, because it’s not his fault. He’s just the manifestation of a larger phenomenon.

The truth is, I don’t even think the comic writer above – and all the fans and creators who are trying to shut down complaints – care that much about Peter Capaldi’s feelings.

I think they want us to stop hurting *their* feelings. I think they want fans with legitimate grievances with the show to shut up.

Shut up, and let us enjoy Capaldi’s casting. Shut up and let us enjoy the show. Shut up and don’t remind us that some of this stuff is problematic. Shut up – I don’t want to feel guilty for enjoying the party. Shut up – I don’t want to think about the racism and the sexism while I’m watching my favorite show.
Please stop hurting my feelings. I don’t want to know about your problems.
I just want to enjoy the party. Why can’t you let me enjoy the party?

And I’m sorry to those people. I’m sorry that we’re making it harder for you to enjoy the Doctor Who party. But we’ve been left out of the party entirely, and we’d really like to come in. I’m sorry that when we press our noses up against the windows of the Doctor Who party, you feel bad. I’m sorry that we’re taking away from the glamour and excitement of the occasion, all bedraggled and locked-out as we are. But no one seems to be coming towards the door to let us in. And we’d really like to come in.

It’s not just that we’ve been locked out. We’re supposed to shut up about it. We’re simultaneously supposed to accept our outsider position – the constant attacks on our right to be fans of the show, and our right to see people like us represented in the show – while never complaining about it. The show can lock us out, and we should never ever complain about it. Because we’re the problem. The walls and the lock and the people who hold the key aren’t the problem. We’re the problem.

We’re always the problem.

I love the show. I’d love to come into the party and enjoy it with you. But I can’t.

It’s adorable that you think people like me have the power to bar Peter Capaldi from the party. But while he’s inside enjoying the celebration, most of us are still waiting for our invite.

I don't see how that's a party

It’s great if you can unreservedly enjoy the entrance of Capaldi into the canon. Hey – it’s also great if you’re part of a marginalized group and you can *still* enjoy the entrance of Capaldi without reservation.

But stop telling those of us who see it as the shutting of another door, the turning of another lock, the erection of a new barrier that we don’t get to talk about it. Remember that you can be a fan of problematic things. That liking something problematic doesn’t make you a bad person – but pretending something *isn’t* problematic does. Don’t silence the people who want an oppressive show to change. Don’t silence us.

Anita Sarkeesian, Feminist Frequency, Problematic Media,

Don’t watch the show bar the doors on its marginalized fans, and then accuse those same fans of not being inclusive enough.

Don’t lock us out of the party and then get angry when we make noise about it.

And maybe – just maybe – consider letting us in to party with you.

***

(1) I’m using male gender pronouns to refer to the Doctor because he’s only ever presented as male, and his latest incarnation is male

(2) It is unclear where John Hurt figures in continuity, or even whether he’s the Doctor. All we know is that he’s one of the Doctor’s regenerations.

(3) I went through each director and writer for the past three seasons and checked their race and gender. Obviously, this is a subjective process, since I’m one person, and there aren’t a billion pictures of all the writers. But I’m 95% sure that there have been no directors or writers of color in the past three seasons.

***

Commenting Policy: I’m going to make this explicit: this is a space to discuss the feelings and needs of marginalized fans of Doctor Who. It’s not a space for privileged fans to come in and say “well, this is what *I* want” or “I’m white and male, and I’m okay with the Doctor always being a white man!” That is welcome in almost every discussion on the internet. Not here.
Furthermore, if you want to argue that the Doctor should stay a white man, you’d better have a better argument than “because I like him that way.”
Because when the argument is “The Doctor’s static race and gender contributes to oppression and actively hurts already-marginalized people”
and your counterargument is “But I like him being a man!”
You sound like a fucking douchecanoe.

Again: This is a space to discuss the feelings and needs of marginalized fans of Doctor Who. Talking about the ways Doctor Who is oppressive is fine! Talking about general issues of oppression is fine! Talking about liking the show despite its problems is also okay! But this is a space that centers the needs of marginalized fans. Not privileged ones.


On Calling People (Mitt Romney) Out

Before I begin this blog post, I need a moment for prayer.

Please, please, Cylon Jesus, please let this be the last blog post I ever publish about Mitt Romney. Please let this be the last blog post I ever have to write about Mitt Romney, Cylon Jesus. In other words, please make sure Mitt Romney loses the American election and I never ever hear about him again.

Please Cylon Jesus.

It’s my birthday soon, Cylon Jesus. Very soon. You wanna give me a present?

No more Mitt Romney.

That’s all I want, Cylon Jesus.

Well, that and a pony.

(take care of the Romney problem first, Cylon Jesus, okay, though? #IHavePriorities)

***

Okay, back to Mitt Romney.

Stitch, frustrated, Lilo and Stitch

*shudder* Not Him Again

A couple weeks ago, I got in a facebook argument on a friend’s wall. My Awesome Friend had posted an article explaining that Mitt Romney’s 47% speech included a racist dog-whistle (or ninety).

Another facebook dweller (henceforth known as of Acquaintance)  was not convinced that Romney’s remarks had elements of racism. We had a nice productive facebook argument about that, and at some point, Acquaintance concedes that yes, Romney’s remarks were probably racist.

So far so good, right?

BUT THEN, Acquaintance goes (and I’m grossly paraphrasing) “Well, okay, maybe it’s racist, but we don’t need to call out the racism. Critiques of Romney’s remarks based on classism are sufficient.”

Cristina Grey's Anatomy confused

Wait, what?

*headdesk*

To be fair to Acquaintance, he’s not the only person guilty of such argumentative doltishness. I’m sure you’ve heard variations of this theme before.

It’s the “yes, okay, Republicans are attacking gay rights, and that’s terrifically sad, but we can’t talk about that, because it’s divisive! And we don’t want to alienate any of our supporters.argument. Or the argument of: “well, yes, all those anti-welfare advertisements Romney’s campaign is running are highly racist. BUT it only helps Romney if we accuse him of being racist, because then they’ll say we’re playing the race card.”

Or: “Sure, Republicans are talking about taking away a woman’s right to birth control/abortion/her own body. But that’s controversial, so we can’t talk about it.”

So. With a little less than a week left before the election, let’s clear things up.

You know why you should call Romney out for being a racist? Or a sexist? or a homophobe? Or a terribly oppressive douchecanoe?

*clears throat*

Because when Romney’s a racist, or a sexist, or a homophobe, he’s attacking PEOPLE. PEOPLE. REAL PEOPLE.

POC and women and queer peoples are PEOPLE. They’re PEOPLE. And when they’re getting thrown under the motherfucking bus by a bunch of asswipe politicians, you STAND UP.

For crying out loud.

Darcy and Elizabeth Pride and Prejudice dance GIF

“Mr. Romney, you are a terrible oppressive douchecanoe, and I am STANDING UP to you.”

When you say racism isn’t important enough to call out, you’re tacitly saying that POC aren’t important enough to defend.

When you refuse to call out the war on women’s bodily autonomy, you’re basically saying that women aren’t important enough to stand up for.

When you let Karl Rove and his minions play the “Ooooh, scary gay people” game without saying anything back, you’re throwing queer people overboard and letting them swim with the sharks by themselves.

***

I’m white. I have white privilege. I don’t honestly know what it’s like to be a POC and to hear Romney’s racist dog-whistles. And I don’t want to appropriate that conversation. You should read these awesome links instead (they’re a great starting point for understanding the DEGREE to which racist rhetoric has invaded Romney’s speech)

Paul Ryan doesn’t like anchor babies (racialicious)

Rosie Perez goes in on Mitt Romney

The Problem With the Word Illegal

 

I am a woman, however, and I do know what it’s like to hear politicians talking about taking away my birth control; my right to an abortion. I do know what it’s like to hear men – men who control our country’s policy – say things like “legitimate rape” and “forcible rape.” I know what it’s like hearing that a pregnancy resulting from rape is a “gift from God.”

This is my body they’re talking about. My right to control my own body.

Fuck, it’s terrifying.

I can’t imagine it’s any easier to be a POC listening to Romney’s racist rhetoric.

My point, here it is: This isn’t dinner theater. These are people’s LIVES.

Moses running in front of Aliens, Attack the Block GIF

When someone’s getting chased by the monsters of oppression, you don’t just watch like it’s a movie.

Racism, misogyny, homophobia (to name the big three) kill people. Yes, in the United States. Yes, in Canada.  And when they don’t kill you, they still force you to live a life full of micro-aggressions and oppression.

Or they just make you live a life of misery and terror. [ask me about living a life full of misery and terror! I am a woman living in rape culture. I’m a fucking expert!]

When politicians use racism, or sexism, or homophobia, or any kind of oppression in order to gain political points, they’re basically saying that oppressed peoples matter so little that politicians can use their lives as political footballs.

Women’s rights to their bodies are not a political football. The right of POC to be treated with respect and without bigotry is not a political football.

It’s not a game.

And when we don’t call them out, we’re tacitly agreeing. it’s okay if women/POC/queers/minorities are batted around like catnip in front of a kitten! It just doesn’t matter that much.

No, it matters.

And it’s not about Romney. I get that people are like “well, he’s a gross asshole in nearly every way, so we really don’t need to list every horrible thing he does.” I get people who say “well, no matter what we say, he’s never going to stop being an oppressive douchecanoe.”

(which: Fair. I don’t think there’s much that’ll make Romney stop being an oppressive douchecanoe)

Cristina Yang GIF Grey's Anatomy

Except the wrath of the Yang

But it’s not about Romney. It’s about the people he’s attacking in his attempt to win the Presidency.

You don’t call Romney out because you think Romney will magically learn not to be an oppressive douchecanoe. You call him out because you think the rights of oppressed minorities are worth standing up for. You call him out because you don’t believe in leaving people out in the shark-infested water, getting attacked by a bunch of cynical politicians.

You call him out because it matters to me, damn it, as one of those people being attacked, to hear others supporting my rights. To know that I’m not alone. That someone will fight alongside me.

It’s not about Romney.

And it’s not just about douchebags like Romney either. I think most people who read this blog are progressive or liberal (or else you’d already be sending me hate mail), and it’s pretty easy for progressive, liberal people to go “Oh, yeah, Romney, that racist asshat, I can call him out!”

It’s a lot harder when it’s your heroes. It’s a lot harder when it’s your allies.

I’m thinking of Bill Maher, misogynist supreme, and comedic hero of much of the left. We can’t call him out! He’s on our side!

(no, you really can call him out. And you should)

I’m thinking of Hugo Schwyer, feminist hero. A man who has admitted to having raped a woman and tried to kill his girlfriend. A man who has harassed and dismissed women of color in the feminist movement. A man that many Big Name Feminist still defend. We can’t call him out! He’s a male feminist! Also, calling him out is divisive to the feminist community!

(no, you really can call him out. Also, you should SHUN HIM).

I’m thinking of feminists who ignore women of color, or who act like WOC’s concerns are something to take care of “later.” Or who are blatantly racist and who STILL don’t get called out, because the feminist movement is often REALLY SHITTY about the rights and issues of anyone who isn’t a middle-class western cisgendered straight white woman.

Yes, I love feminism. Yes, it’s one of the great axis around which my life turns.

But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t call feminist out when they exclude women of color, or when they’re racist. No, I should.

Hell, I’m even thinking of myself. I’m a huge bundle of privilege, and I’m still very much in the “screwing up” stage of anti-oppression work. And you know what? If I say oppressive stuff, or write oppressive stuff, or blog oppressive stuff, or if I’m being problematic?

I would take it as a MASSIVE favor if you would call me out. Sure, I’ll feel defensive for 30 seconds, and then I’ll get my head on straight. Other peoples’ right not to be oppressed is more important than my ability to feel comfortable in my discourse.

***

Now, look. There are good and valid reasons not to call people out.

First, calling people out takes a fuckmetric ton of energy (Fuckmetric tons: scientific measurement right there). It’s not easy. And a lot of times, it’s not safe either.

There are many circumstances where I don’t feel safe calling people out. One easy example: I don’t feel safe yelling at street harassers.

What if they turned on me? What if they hurt me?

There are also circumstances where I’m just too tired to call people out, especially when it’s about something that personally affects me (sexism, stigmatization of mental health issues etc). It’s emotionally exhausting, having to argue for your right to exist, and to be treated with respect.

Sometimes, I just can’t handle it.

So I pick my battles.

The other major reason not to call people out is when you might be appropriating someone else’s fight or adding to oppression. This especially applies to allies.

Be aware of the fact that in many spaces, your voice may be more privileged just by dint of the body you inhabit. Men have more privileged voices than women. White people have more privileged voices than people of color. You want to be sure that your calling people out isn’t, by dint of your privilege, excluding or disempowering the people you want to support.
(random example of me screwing this one up: this weekend, I got in another facebook argument, this time about the importance of Andrew Ti. I waded in to support my friend, who is a woman of color (I’m white). The white dude in the argument dismissed my friend as childish and hysterical. On the other hand, he listened to me and CHANGED HIS MIND. Least you ask, my friend and I were making almost exactly THE SAME ARGUMENT. Word for fucking word.  So yeah, my attempt to support a friend turned into another instance of “let’s disempower the woman of color.” Yeah, I screwed that one up)

[also, if you’re not already reading Yo is This Racist? You should be.]

So yes, absolutely, there are good reasons not to call people out. But if you’re safe and secure and you know you’re not disempowering other people (except the racists – I fully believe in disempowering racists)?

And you choose not to do it, because of you just can’t be bothered?

Then dude, you suck.

Wonder Woman, injustice gods GIF

And the Wonder Woman will Rain Justice Down Upon You

Now, I’m not saying your suckiness is a permanent state. Let us note that I’ve been pretty damn terrible in my life at calling people out.

Yes, I suck!

But I’m working on it.

Call people out, everyone. NOT JUST MITT ROMNEY EITHER.

***

(Also, Cylon Jesus, if it isn’t too much to ask, I’d love to have my birthday night free of homework and stuff. No? Not possible? Okay, thanks for trying).

****
(hey, do you guys like the new blog design? I’m obsessed. Now with 100% more rose-red pink! And more feminist Batwoman!)


To My Future Russian Bride

[content note for a particularly heavy dose of sarcasm]

Dear Future Russian Bride,

I have been compelled to climb out of my cave of ugly-feminist-man-hating-anger ( decorated with the blood of the patriarchs) to write you this letter of love. Yea, for I have discovered that you shall soon come into my life (for the small small fee of $19.99 a month), and that has filled me with true happiness.

Let me begin at the beginning.

For years, I would go to dubiously-legal websites to watch TV shows and movies. Those were the dark years – the college years – when I was lonely and sad, and you (my future bride) were not yet in my life.

Yes, I saw the sidebars of those webpages, with those scantily-clad young ladies peering at me, but never once did I suspect that you – oh, glorious you (my future bride) – were hidden among them. I thought all these (beautiful) scantily-clad young ladies were a dream – a myth – for yea, I did grow up in a land full of super-feminist (and therefore ugly) women.” And these super-feminists and ugly women brainwashed me so that I thought all ladies looked like ugly toads rather than beautiful, scantily-clad angels.

Toads and Feminists

All Feminists Look EXACTLY like this. Except uglier.*

Adrianna Lima

I imagine that you, my future bride, look much like this woman (who is clearly NOT a feminist. Note the un-toadlike features).

But then, one day, a friend of mine was surfing on one of these dubiously-legal websites, and she had the courage to click on the picture of one of these scantily-clad angels (oh, how many thanks I must give to this brave, brave friend).

And that’s when I discovered the great truth. That’s when I learned that there were hundreds – nay, thousands – of scantily-clad, loyal, and never-aging Eastern European women who desperately wished to become my bride! And you were among them, my future wife!

I shall now reprint the advertisement that alerted me to your existence:

“If you are tired of pursuing the typical MTV educated, super feminist and ugly women you see every day, we might have the solution for you if you dare to read on…
Did you know Eastern European women were raised to aggressively pursue Western Men? Also, did you know Eastern European women look like they never age? Thanks to their partially asian genes, a girl will look like she’s in her 20s for a long time to come. In addition to being beautiful and loving to please their men, they also are incredibly loyal. A Russian woman will never leave you and make sure there’s always food on the table. It’s because they grew up to do the cooking, cleaning, and simply take care of their man. As long as you treat them with respect, they will stick with you through thick and thin. Sign up for FREE (limited time only) and meet tons of hot and loyal russian women”**

What joy there is here! What truth! Oh, brave truth, that is hidden in these poorly written and appallingly-grammared sentences. How perfectly the advertisement captures the reality of all thee women in the west, who, thanks to their MTV education, have become “super-feminists” (I assume that by MTV they mean “Margaret Sanger, Sojourner Truth and Vixens and Virgins for Feminism***” TV, correct?)

Can’t we get the channels that teach women to aggressively pursue men and to then attach to them? Where is the wonderful eastern programming that makes women grow and blossom into a wonderfully loyal super-cook? Why are mothers and fathers not teaching young girls to grab their men and never, ever, ever let them go (much in the manner of a giant octopus)?

Kraken and feminist

Do you resemble this beautifully loyal creature, oh future Russian bride?

And thank the gods above that Easterners have discovered the magic power of the “Asian” gene. Yes, now I realize why Russian women look so hot. They have just enough Asian DNA to never, ever become old – because, as we all know, all Asians are secretly robots which explains why they never age – but they don’t have enough Asian DNA to actually look Asian. They’re still white enough to look, you know, attractive. After all, I wouldn’t want our future neighbors to think I have an Asian fetish, oh future bride. But a little bit of exotic seasoning (and oriental submission) is just the thing to spice up our relationship!

I cannot tell you, oh future bride, how happy I am to have found this beautiful advertisement. My future, which once seemed so bleak, is now so bright. I no longer need to fear that I shall have to settle for a western-style, ugly-feminist for my bride. Instead, I see myself coming home to you, my gorgeous partially-Asian (but not too-much) wife. I see the wonderful food you have prepared for me, thanks to your years of Eastern training. I see you aggressively pursuing me (to feed me with these glorious foodstuffs). I see the way you wrap yourself around me loyally.**** And I see –

But wait! What is this I see?

“Eastern women were raised to aggressively pursue Western MEN

Oh God! Oh Horror! Oh Infamy! Oh Hellfire of Toads! Oh the Great Black Darkness that Has Settled Over My Heart!

My future bride! Can this be true? Because I do not possess a Y chromosome, you do not love me? Because I do not possess a Y chromosome, you shall not gift me with your loyalty and your wonderful cooking? Have you not heard that Our Great American President has decreed that men may marry men and women (like me) may marry other women (like you, oh my future bride)?

Michelle Obama Dance

Speaking of Marriage Equality, my future bride: HURRAH! Let the dancing commence!

But yea, I know what you will say to me. Even if we may marry, you were raised to attach to a western MAN. And I am no man.*****
Well, I suppose that’s fair, oh future bride. And though I am greatly disappointment, I am sure there are other options for me. After all, the internet is the great equalizer, is it not? What is available to western men shall therefore be available to me (albeit somewhere else)? I will simply go to other dubiously-legal websites, where I am certain I will find advertisements for scantily-clad women (and men) who were raised to attach themselves to ugly western feminist women like me. After all, they must exist, correct? I will go find those advertisements immediately!

… Oh future bride! My horror increases! The darkness of my heart is unparalleled! For after surfing hundreds upon hundreds of dubiously legal TV-watching websites I have discovered… there are NO advertisements that are aimed towards me. Where are the advertisements for never-aging, hot Russian men who will do my cooking and cleaning? Or the hot Russian women who reserves all their deep loyalty for ugly western feminists?

I must tell you, my future bride, my disappointment cannot be calculated at this moment. When I was young, I was told: the internet is the great equalizer. It shall level all differences between peoples. But here I see the truth. These advertisements, which promise hot people, are not aimed equally. They are only for (straight) western men. Where are those advertisements for gay western men? Or lesbian western women? Or straight western women? Or people of non-western origin? And now that I think of it… Who are (straight) Russian Men going to marry? And who will male Pandas have sex with?

All my life, I have been told that I, a woman, am in every way equal to a man. But this is a lie! A lie! Or else the internet would bend over to deliver hotness to me, just as it bends over to deliver hotness to my fellow man. Where is my hotness? Where are the dubiously-legal advertisements to satisfy me?

I have been completely disillusioned, oh my (no longer future) bride. I have realized that, far from being “the great equalizer,” the internet is just as riddled with misogyny and racism and heterosexism and western-obsession as the rest of the world. I, who was so joyful that my existence as an ugly western feminist might be lightened by your presence, am plunged into an even greater misery than before.

In the wake of this horrifying discovery, there is only one thing that can relieve my suffering…Oh, my no longer future bride! Will you not marry me anyways? We can run away to Canada! We can run away to France! I will pay the low, low fee of $19.99 a month in order to speak to you through the internet! I am willing to overlook my straightness if you will overlook my two X chromosomes! Will you not take my torment away and make me the happiest ugly-MTV-educated-western-super-feminist on earth?******

Love (love forever),

Your Future Wife (I live in hope)

[All credit for this post must go to my dear friends J. and A. (I need to start giving my friends better pseudonyms, or I’ll run out of letters…) Unlike me, J. actually had the guts (and the curiosity) to click through one of those obnoxious “Russian Women Very Attracted To Western Guys” type advertisements you find on questionable websites (yes, in fact, the block quote at the top is a direct quote. I am not making it up). J. then reported back to me and A. Hilarity ensued. Sadly this post is nowhere nears as funny and witty as they are, but I am but one (unmarried) woman, and my wits are sorely lacking]

* No offense to the toad. She/He/Zie is quite lovely.

**Yes, this is a direct quote. I did not make it up.

***Hey, coming up with a “V’ was really hard, okay? I looked through my “famous feminists” dictionary TWICE and then resorted to wikipedia before I gave up. Vixens and Virgins was the best I could come up with. Any other suggestions?

**** Seriously, this entire advertisement could be read as the premise of a horror movie. Young man brings home eastern bride who turns out to be an undying monster. She never ages, NEVER EVER LEAVES HIM (picture the woman’s teeth planted in the guy’s leg) and aggressively pursues him (with claws) when he tries to run away.

*****As the great Eowyn once said…

Eowyn Witch King I am no Man Lord of the Rings

“I am no man”

****** Funnily enough, my parents didn’t owned cable (and I don’t either), so I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen MTV.

Related Posts:

April Reads are Trapped in the Hermeneutic Circle

Trayvon Martin, the Hunger Games and Me

Why Can’t Women Win American Idol?


Trayvon Martin, The Hunger Games and Me

[Content Note: This post contains discussion of racism and violence. I also talk about racist slurs, although none appear in the post itself]

[Spoiler Warning: This post contains spoilers for both The Hunger Games movie and the books]

Since this post is almost exclusively about race – and about specifically the portrayal and the treatment of African Americans in American culture – I want to make it clear that I am a white American. My perspective is thus inevitably skewed. If you are interested in further understanding these problems, I highly recommend also seeking out perspectives on The Hunger Games and Trayvon Martin that are written by people of color. I have linked to several in this post.

Onward we march! (with the post)

Trayvon Martin:

Trayvon Martin

On February 26th 2012 in Sandford, Florida, Trayvon Martin, an African-American teenager, went to the convenience store to buy his brother a Snapple and a pack of Skittles. The neighborhood watch commander, George Zimmerman, saw Martin as he was coming home, and thought he looked “suspicious.” Zimmerman called 911. The Operator told him not to follow Martin. Zimmerman did not listen. He trailed Martin in his SUV. Zimmerman had a semi-automatic weapon; Martin was unarmed. What happened next is somewhat unclear, but a confrontation ensued, and Zimmerman shot and killed Martin.

Martin was seventeen years old.

Zimmerman told the police at the scene that he had shot Martin. He was neither arrested nor charged. In fact, it was not until April 12th, 45 days after the shooting, that Zimmerman was charged. If the case had not caused a national scandal, I have little doubt that Zimmerman would still be free.

Part of the reason Zimmerman was left free was due to the Stand Your Ground Law. Florida has an extra-special self-defense statute, which allows a person to use deadly force if he/she/zie ” “reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.” The statute includes no duty to retreat. The statute is the reason why Zimmerman can argue he was acting in “self-defense.  This article explains the law better than I can.

There are a lot of deeply disturbing things about the Trayvon Martin case.

For one thing, it’s just about as clear an instance of racial profiling as you’ll ever find. Martin was doing absolutely nothing suspicious except walking while black in a suburban neighborhood. Zimmerman, meanwhile, has a history of calling 911 and describing black youths as “suspicious.”One of those black youths was seven.

(Hey, I’m not judging. My brother was seven once, and he was pretty damn dangerous. He always got the last cookie in the cookie jar. Devious little thing)

Eyewitnesses on the scene said they heard Martin calling for help. The police corrected them and told them that they must have heard Zimmerman, rather than Martin. To quote Crunktastic: “Even with eyewitness testimony, the police seemed incapable of seeing Trayvon as the victim. Young Black men are always the aggressors, right? Not the gun-toting white guy, who weighed 100 pounds more than Trayvon.”

These links do a great job of detailing the many, many, many disturbing things about the way the case unfolded: Crunk Feminist Collective and Think Progresses “What Everyone Should Know about Trayvon Martin” and “The Five Unanswered Questions”

Thanks in large part to the national attention on the case, Zimmerman was charged with second degree murder. He is now out on bail, awaiting trial.

Now, lest we think that the racial profiling and racism of the case was confined to Sanford, Florida, let’s see what happens when the case becomes a national scandal:

– a prominent commentator on Fox News (Geraldo Riviera) told parents of black and hispanic children to keep their kids from wearing hoodies. Right. Because that’s the problem: that Black kids are making a decision to look suspicious, and not that people assume that black kids look suspicious.

– White Supremacy groups hacked into Trayvon Martin’s email and twitter accounts in an attempt to find evidence that would prove Martin was “dangerous.”Shock! Gasp! Martin listened to rap, may (or may not) have smoked weed, and sometimes used swear words.
The media pounced on this information. They did not pounce on the other information in the emails: Martin’s scholarship applications and his SAT scores (they must have missed that part)

– Trayvon Martin’s school records were leaked, again, in an attempt to find evidence that he was a Bad Person and Deserved To Die.

– Without any evidence, several prominent bloggers and columnists  stated that Trayvon Martin assaulted a bus driver and was a drug dealer. A columnist at the Examiner continued to make this claim even after the police confirmed it was untrue.

– The Sanford Police has leaked selectively negative information about Trayvon Martin. They also told Martin’s parents that Zimmerman was not charged with a crime because he had a clean record. This is a lie: Zimmerman once assaulted a police officer, and was charged with resisting arrest.

– Prominent conservative websites have run photos of Trayvon Martin where he is wearing saggy pants and making a rude gesture. The trouble is: whoever is in those photos? Not Trayvon Martin. Whoops. Fortunately, the websites have acknowledged their error. Unfortunately, they did not take down the photos (although they do acknowledge their mistake… in the caption. Thanks.) (Melissa McEwan of Shakesville does a take-down here)

[Further discussion at Think Progress’s great article on the Trayvon Martin smear campaign]

We as a country are engaging in a giant smear campaign against a seventeen year old kid for the crime of being shot and killed by a vigilante.

Why?

It’s horrifying enough that Trayvon Martin probably died because of his skin color. But what’s almost worse is that the reaction to his death has been riddled with racism and victim-blaming. Even if Trayvon Martin was bus-driver-assaulting-head-of-a-drug-empire, he did not deserve to be assassinated. Zimmerman knew nothing about Martin when he shot him. He didn’t shoot Martin because of what he was, he shot him because of what he looked like – “suspicious.”

And the national media, meanwhile, fell over themselves to try to prove that Zimmerman had a reason to believe Martin “suspicious.”

It’s like we can’t possibly believe that a black teenager could be the innocent one in the story.

The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games movie poster

The Hunger Games is a mega-giant-blockbuster of a Young Adult trilogy. The movie version came out a few weeks ago, and it broke multiple box office records. It’s opening weekend gross is now the third largest of all times, behind The Dark Knight and Deathly Hallows.

Quick plot summary for those who have never read the books or seen the movie (ie: my mother): every year in the country of Panem (a post-apocalyptic future version of the United States), twenty four youths between the ages of eleven and eighteen are selected (by lottery) as tributes to fight to the death in the titular “Hunger Games.” The games are televised for the edification of the nation. There is one winner.

So how does a YA dystopia-turned blockbuster movie relate to the Trayvon Martin killing?

Good question.

Two of the tributes in the book are African American: Rue and Thresh. Suzanne Collins, the author, explicitly describes both characters as dark-skinned, and in interviews, she has said she meant for them to be read as African American. When the filmmakers cast Rue and Thresh, they thus chose black actors.

Amandla Stenberg Dayo Okeniyi Rue Thresh

Amandla Stenberg (Rue) and Dayo Okeniyi (Thresh)

Now, I know what you’re thinking.

AWWWWWWW.

And “Oh, god, I have to watch these poor kids fight to the death?”

But actually – I just hope that’s what you’re thinking. Because a whole lot of people had a very different reaction to Rue and Thresh in the movies.

What follows are a series of tweets reacting to the movie (I have not included the twitter names of the people in question, although they are available at my original  sources) [content warning for racial slurs, racism, terrible spelling, failure at life]

“Why is Rue a little black girl?”

“why is Rue black?!?! #WTH #hungergamesprobs”

“Why does rue have to be black not gonna lie kinda ruined the movie”

“Why did the producers make all the good characters black”

“EWW Rue is black?? I’m not watching.”

“I’m still pissed that Rue is black”

“Sense when has rue been a” – (Me: you know what? I’m not printing that word. You know what it is. Starts with an N.)

“some ugly little black girl with nappy…hair”

“Kk call me racist but when I found out rue was black her death wasn’t as sad”

“Awkward moment when Rue is some black girl and not the little blonde innocent girl you picture”

“How in the world are they going to make rue a freaking black bitch in the movie?!?!?? lolol not to be racist”

“ew i imagined [rue] looking very innocent and cute”

Amandla Stenberg Hunger Games

THIS kid. THIS twelve year old kid is getting called a “black bitch.” This twelve year old kid, who (to steal Dodai Stewart’s words) looks like a freaking ANGEL, does not qualify as innocent. Just to be absolutely 100% clear: this girl (yes, the one right above this paragraph) apparently does NOT look “innocent and cute.”

There’s a whole contingent of people out there who think that because Amandla Stenberg has an extra melanin in her skin her death is not as “sad” as it was in the books. (They apparently failed to realize that Rue was also black in the books, which doesn’t say much for the state of reading comprehension in the United States).

The degree to which these people fail as human beings defies words.

All right. In spite of the massive amounts of racism and horrific-ness going on above, I will continue with a cogent analysis of the problem at hand, and attempt not to erupt into bouts of – OH WHO AM I KIDDING? WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE? SHE’S A TWELVE YEAR OLD KID!

Okay. I’m back. Apologies. I needed a moment. (I actually need more than just ONE moment, but… I will control myself).

Cogent analysis of the situation at hand.

What shocks me when I read these tweets is the raw anger that come off of them. These people aren’t just bemused by the situation. They aren’t laughing about their bad reading comprehension. They’re horrified. They’re angry. How dare they? How dare the filmmakers and Suzanne Collins besmirch Rue and Thresh by casting them as black?

In The Hunger Games, Rue is possibly the most innocent character of the entire narrative. She’s twelve – the youngest participant in the games. She never kills anyone, not even in self-defense. She saves Katniss (the protagonist). Her death is the most poignant moment of the movie. For the rest of the series, Katniss remembers her as a symbol of goodness, purity and innocence.

Rue katniss Amandla Stenberg Jennifer Lawrence Hunger Games

If you didn't find Rue's death sad, you're probably a robot. Hello, future robot overlords!

Thresh, the other African American tribute, comes from Rue’s district. He too, is an unambiguously good character. He refuses to join the “careers” (the group of tributes who actively try to kill the other children). Unlike Rue, he does kill, but like Katniss, he acts only in self-defense. He saves and spares Katniss’ life after he realizes she tries to save Rue, a decision that probably led to his death in the arena.

Rue and Thresh are good characters. Rue and Thresh are innocent characters. Rue is a symbol of innocence.

They cannot possibly be black.

As one of our Friendly Neighborhood Tweeters put it: “Awkward moment when Rue is some black girl and not the little blonde innocent girl you picture”

Blonde is innocent. Black is not. To be white is to be innocent, good, pure. But it does not matter who you are, what you have done, where you come from: if you are black, you cannot be innocent. To be black is to be guilty without ever having sinned.

I’m going to quote the founder of the Hunger Games Tweets website (which collected many of the racist tweets I quote before), who says it far more eloquently than I possibly could:

“These people are MAD that the girl that they cried over while reading the book was “some black girl” all along. So now they’re angry. Wasted tears, wasted emotions. It’s sad to think that had they known that she was black all along, there would have been [no] sorrow or sadness over her death.”

If she had been black all along, there would have been no sorrow or sadness over her death.

Does this sound familiar?

Like Rue and Thresh, Trayvon Martin was an innocent. He did not die because of what he did, but because of where he was: Rue and Thresh were forced into an arena, Martin was forced into a society where to be black is to be suspicious.

When Martin, a black youth, died, instead of sadness, we got indifference. The police refused to arrest his killer.
When Martin, a black youth, died, we got anger. Anger not at his killer, but at him. The police, the media, society at large, conspired to find every possible excuse to justify his death. He was wearing a hoodie. He used swear words. He did drugs.

His email accounts were hacked and his school records were leaked to prove he was a criminal.

We tried to find every possible excuse not to feel bad at his death.

We are so used, as a culture, to seeing black youths depicted as thugs, as lowlives, as “bitches,” as drug-dealers, criminals, delinquents, as stereotypes. We are so used to their role as the bad guys of pop culture and the media. We know who they are. We are so used to their depiction as less-than-human that we have lost our capacity to see them as children. As human beings.

We are so used, as a culture, to the negative, dehumanizing images of black people. We know they are thugs. We know they are sassy bitches. We know they are ugly. We know they are “suspicious.” We are so used to these stories about black children that we actually get angry when they dare – dare – to challenge them. When a black youth dares to show themselves as human, as a child, as an innocent among innocents, we are enraged.

When we see a young black girl who is innocent and smart and cute, we are mad. When we see a young black man who is shot, but who is the innocent party, we are enraged. We are so convinced of the rightness of our cultural narratives that we will do anything to prove them correct. We will hack into a murder victims’ email accounts to prove that yes, in fact, he is a criminal. He is not innocent. We will conveniently ignore the information in the victim’s email accounts, like the scholarship applications and the SAT information, that tells us that he was a smart, hardworking kid. That is not part of the story. We will call a twelve year old girl a “bitch” and deny the sadness of her death to prove that no, in fact, a black girl cannot be innocent. If she were innocent, we would be sad.

We will take every possible excuse not to feel sad at a black child dying.

That sadness you feel, when you hear about the death of a child?  To me, that sadness is an affirmation of the child’s humanity. And by refusing to feel sad that Rue and Thresh and Trayvon Martin died, we are in every way denying their humanity. Denying their right to exist on this earth.

Rue Amandla Stenberg Hunger Games

If Rue was walking home in suburbia, and she was shot by a vigilante for looking “suspicious,” would her death be treated with any more respect than Trayvon Martin’s?

I suspect not.

And that’s why Trayvon Martin is dead. Because we can’t even see patently “good” black youths like Rue as innocent [not that it’s okay to dehumanize black youths who DO fit the cultural narratives, but I think the example of Rue and Trayvon Martin show how far we’ve gone as a society]. And that’s why we have taken to smearing Trayvon Martin’s name after his death. Because we refuse to admit he could possible be innocent.

Me

The title is, after all “Trayvon Martin, The Hunger Games, and Me”

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been trying to understand why Trayvon Martin and The Hunger Games have hit me so hard. I can’t get them out of my head (I first thought of writing this post three weeks ago). I’ve ranted about both issues multiple times to friends. I’ve written out mini-rants on facebook. Last week, I started crying in the library as I read Ajani Husband’s heartbreaking Open Letter to his Unborn Black Son.

I know part of the reason these stories affect me so much.

You see, I have a brother.

My brother is Rue’s age, exactly and precisely. He’s only a few years younger than Trayvon Martin. When I read The Hunger Games, and Katniss volunteered at the reaping for her sister, it was my brother I thought about. When Rue died, it was my brother I thought about. When I read about Trayvon Martin for the first time, my immediate thought was how horrible it would be if my brother died that way, killed by a vigilante as he walks around the neighborhood.

When I read Ajani Husband’s letter to his son, I imagined reading it to my brother. I imagined telling him he would probably be shot and killed by the police. I imagined saying to him, as Husband tells his son: “you will die. You will perish at the hands of those who fear you. Your death will be likened to a hunting accident.”

And I was horribly, pathetically grateful that I would never, ever have to have that conversation with my brother.

Because my brother is white.

I will never have to tell my brother that he should fear the police. I will never have to tell him that there are people in the world, thousands of people, who view him as guilty because of the color of his skin.

He will not be killed by a vigilante who finds him suspicious.

But if he were, if he were to die in the exact same circumstances as Trayvon Martin, his death would be universally mourned. There would be outrage everywhere.

No one would blame my brother for his own death.

No one would hack into his email account to try and justify his killer.

No one would leak his school records.

No one would falsify information about “assaults” he caused.

Because my brother is white.

My stepsister is  Rue’s age as well. In fact, she looks a lot like Amandla Stenberg (they have very similar eyes). Only she is white. And blonde. And blue-eyed.

If she were in a movie where she died, no one would think her death was less sad because of the color of her skin.

I would never have to sit her down and explain why people on the internet call her names (yes, Amandla Stenberg knows about the tweets, which is one of the most horrifying parts of the entire story).

I cannot possibly understand what it’s like to know, every day, that your child is worth less than other children because of their skin color. I cannot possibly understand what it’s like to sit your child down and tell them how to protect themselves from the police.

I am not Trayvon Martin. I am not Rue. My brother is not Trayvon Martin. My step-sister is not Trayvon Martin either.  It could not happen to us. Because we are white, because we are privileged, we are assumed to be innocent.

So yes, part of the reason these stories really affect me is because these are children dying. And as a sister – as a human being – I can’t stand back while that happens and people act like racist idiots.

But that’s only part of the reason, because, like I said: this would never, ever happen to my family.

The other part of the reason, I suspect, that I’m so angry is that I know that I’m part of the problem.

After all, I’m white. I’ve been taught these cultural narratives about the worthlessness of black lives since before I could even process them. My safety as a white body is predicated on the criminalization of the black body.

When I use the term “we” in this post – when I say things like “we are so convinced of the rightness of our cultural narratives that we will do anything to prove them correct” – I do so very consciously. Because I am a part of  that “we.” I too, have been taught by my culture that black life is worth less. I too, have been taught to fear black men. I too, participate in these narratives, although (mostly) unconsciously.

And most of all, I know that it would be easy for me to forget.

It would be easy for me to forget the racism. It would be easy for me to forget the lessons I’ve learned from reading the blogs of black activists in the wake of the Trayvon Martin case. It would be easy for me to stop seeing my white privilege, to assume that my family and I are safe because we did the right things, because we are “good” and law-abiding. It would be much easier, in fact, if I stopped thinking about these problems. I could stop going to bed mad. I could stop raging against a world that says my brother is innocent, but Rue and Martin are not. I could stop trying to educate myself. I could stop listening to other people.

I could just forget.

It would be so, so, so easy for me to forget. To say: this couldn’t happen to me. Or to say: everyone is mad that children are dying (and ignore all the ones who aren’t), and think: I don’t need to fight this fight. Other people are fighting it.

It would be so, so, so easy.

That is perhaps the greatest privilege that comes with whiteness: I can stop seeing the problems of race. I can choose to forget. Amandla Stenberg, Dayo Okeniyi, Trayvon Martin and the other black children of America? They cannot forget.

So that’s my promise to myself. I will not forget. I will not let Trayvon Martin and Rue and Thresh slip quietly out of my mind. I will not pretend I understand what it’s like to go through this sort of racism, but I will stand with those who are fighting against it.

And I will try to find other ways to help.

In the spirit of being productive (and also of lifting spirits) I shall use the final space in this post to recommend links to other commentary on The Hunger Games and Trayvon Martin…

And to post happy pictures of Amandla Stenberg and Dayo Okeniyi being awesome.

Amandla Stenberg mother essence awesome

Amandla Stenberg and her mother: AWWWWW

Amandla Stenberg Dayo Okeniyi

Amandla Stenberg and Dayo Okeniyi being awesome

Dayo Okeniyi

Bond. James Bond.

Thresh Rue hug Amandla Stenberg Dayo Okeniyi

All together now: AWWWWWWW

Related Links:

Racialicious: Hunger Games Fans Still Racist

I am Travyon Martin

I could be Trayvon Martin

Walking While Black

A fascinating discussion of the Hoodie Marches, especially in context of Slutwalk, from the Crunk Feminist Collective

Related Posts:

Why Women Don’t Win American Idol

Great Books of Science Fiction for Women