A thing I see often in discussions with well-meaning people with regard to privilege is an ignorance of how they benefit from centuries of the oppression of other people. A lot of people think, “well, slavery wasn’t MY idea, so why am I getting shit for something my ancestors did?”

Well, because you benefit from it, dear. That’s why.
One of the critical disconnects between conservatives and liberals is the individualist/collectivist thing. Conservatives tend to believe that every person is more or less an island, and who they are and how much relative power or comfort they have is a result of their own individual efforts toward being a responsible, productive member of society. They don’t look at the bigger picture and notice patterns of connectedness and how even small shifts in one area can affect everything else.
One of the biggest oversights of this philosophy is a misunderstanding of generational privilege: Not realizing exactly how much gets passed down from parent to child. Much of this is financial privilege–you can’t pass down what you don’t have–but there are plenty of other privileges, too, even going back to whether the people who made you had proper health care, nutrition, a relatively stress-free life and little exposure to teratogens. A fairly recent study found that even the great-grandchildren of people who survived the Holocaust bear changes in their DNA related to the intense stress and other terrible conditions their ancestors were subject to. It’s long been established that childhood poverty and stress lead to life-long physical and mental health issues, because they literally rewrite hormonal and neurological development, but the effects go back even before that.
Because of this, someone who is descended from people who faced terrible oppression is necessarily going to be at a disadvantage from someone who not only had a comfortable childhood themselves, but whose ancestors did, too. Hard work and luck can certainly help make up for some of these generational disadvantages, but they don’t fix everything. If you start out in life a mile behind everyone else, catching up is nearly impossible, no matter what you do. That doesn’t mean one shouldn’t try to do one’s best, but it does mean that people with those kinds of disadvantages may need a little help to be truly equal competitors with others. People who claim to believe in a meritocracy should be aware of this, instead of just happily claiming the advantages they have from having ancestors who never faced enslavement or disenfranchisement or the lack of basic necessities.
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We the People

A couple of months back, we were visiting family for the holidays, and had occasion to take our son to an indoor playground to burn off some energy. The place in question–the one closest to the family–was in a suburb on the eastern edge of the city. While the kid was enjoying himself running around like a human tornado, something didn’t feel quite right to me. The place was clean and friendly and though it wasn’t crowded, there were plenty of other kids and their adults there. It wasn’t until we left that it hit me: There wasn’t a single person of color in the entire place.

Fast forward to my son’s fourth birthday party yesterday, this time at a local “fun center” place: mini amusement park, ticket-spewing games, etc. The place was packed, and if I had to guess, it was maybe 1/3 white, tops. (That’s probably accurate–the nearby elementary school we’re zoned for is 25% white.) There were people in several different styles of religious headgear: dastar, pakra, yarmulke, about four kinds of hijab. Also plenty of Latinxs and folks from various regions of Asia and the Pacific (we have a large Filipino community here, for instance.) We happen to live in one of the most diverse areas of the state, so there’s that, but even farther up the road in a Republican-held Congressional district, it’s still pretty PoC-heavy. My son is one of about five white kids in his pre-school class.

Part of the reason for this is our local tech industry has a bunch of H1B employees, but we also have immigrants from plenty of other places, including quite a few Somali refugees. Though the state as a whole is still pretty white compared to parts farther south, this particular region of it is quite diverse. We actually have the most diverse zip code in the country just up the road from where I live. Not necessarily the one with the fewest white residents, but the one with the largest variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Having lived around here for 20+ years, this is all perfectly normal to me. If my 10-year-old self were to be dropped into this environment, the kid might find it a bit of a shock, but these days, eh. I ended up here because my city of origin wasn’t exactly friendly to my being queer and non-compliant with gender-role standards. Having diversity of other sorts around is also a good thing, and one I’m going to fight for.

I say this not to pat myself on the back for being “tolerant” or anything. Not trying to impress people with how awesome I am for not getting the creeps by standing next to a woman in a Somali-style abaya in the grocery store. Just trying to point out that the country is ALREADY diverse. The Midwest, both upper and lower, is certainly pretty white, and the farther you get from a metro area, the less likely you are to see a lot of darker skin, but in terms of the country as a whole, this is who we are, and have been for a very long time. Obviously, unless one’s ancestry can be traced back to the land’s indigenous people, all of us are immigrants, but even the non-white ones being targeted right now certainly aren’t a tiny minority of the population.

As I mentioned in my previous post, the country is simply far too diverse–and supportive of it–to round up all of us who oppose ridiculous measures like immigration bans. If one were to assume that the election results applied to the country as a whole (and they certainly don’t), that’s still only 46% who support Trump. Take away the misguided queer and PoC folks who voted for him, since many probably now realize sucking up to bigots and being one of the “good” ones won’t protect them from being targeted, and the number shrinks even more–down to about 40%. Is it really possible to deport, jail, kill or otherwise get rid of 60% of the country? Hell, no. They might be able to do this on a state-by-state basis, but as we’re already seeing, diverse states like mine (thanks, Gov. Inslee!) are fighting back without hesitation. Try to “purify” Kansas and you might manage it. Try to do that with California, and you’re going to face a wall bigger than the boondoggle you’re trying to build at the border.

People of color, non-Christians, queer and trans folk, people with disabilities and others have just as much right to be here as the dipshits who claim to be biologically superior to the rest of us. We ARE the people of the United States, and we’re not going to go quietly–we’re not going to go at all.

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100 Million Strong

I was all set this morning to do some fun number crunching on electoral-vote issues, but as I dug into it, I actually got considerably more horrified. However, there’s another set of numbers that also gave me some hope. More on those in a moment. For now, the frustrating bit of the numbers game:

As I posted about a couple of months ago, one of the reasons our EV system is messed up is that it doesn’t catch the rapid population shifts that happen now that migration is so easy in the modern world. The system, based on decennial Census tallies, was devised 200+ years ago when people didn’t move all that much or that far. It can’t keep up with things like California gaining three million people in five years, or the Upper Midwest states stagnating in population growth as their industries die out.

Much has been made of the drop in the percentage of the white population, particularly in the South and Southwest. Based on polls, we flirted with the possibility of flipping Georgia, Arizona and even Texas, and felt certain we’d pick up Florida this year, too. Texas was actually considerably closer than it has been in a long time: Hillary picked up the same percentage of the vote that Obama did in 2008, and Trump dropped a couple of points compared to previous GOP candidates. A very slight shift in voting habits or population could well switch things next time, which would, given the huge number of EVs in Texas, hand us a win even without the Upper Midwest and Rust Belt. And this isn’t entirely unrealistic: After all, the 2004 map, while giving the Upper Midwest and PA to Kerry, didn’t give him Nevada, Colorado or New Mexico, and those are considered solidly blue states now, thanks to their high Latinx populations. (This of course assumes no major voter-suppression efforts that would eat into those totals.)

We ran into an unforeseen disadvantage this year, however: Continue reading

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Authority Song

A couple of days ago, deep in the throes of data geekery and a migraine, I tried to write a couple of posts about sexism being a key factor in the election outcome, and ended up tripping over my white privilege and falling into a pit of missing-the-point blather. Said posts got scrubbed because UGH.

Not going to attempt to recreate the point I was trying to make there, but I am going to use the data analysis I did to talk about the meta-level point, which is this: This entire shitshow we’re in the middle of has been a long time coming, and its roots lie in a particular flavor of violently dominant, ableist, cishet-white-dude authoritarianism.

Read on for the wordy explanation of this. Continue reading

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On Elitism

Meryl Streep, bless her, issued a blistering condemnation of Trumpian nastiness at the Golden Globes last night, and of course his fanboys have jumped all over her. Blah blah “shut up and entertain us.” Blah blah “Hollywood elite.”

Predictably, the backlash to the backlash has been in the usual vein, too: Pointing out how hypocritical it is to condemn an actress for being elitist and speaking out about politics when they just elected a billionaire reality-TV star. But while that is rather eyeroll worthy, it misses the point of the “elitist” complaint, and that’s what I want to explain now. This is long–bear with me–but I really hope folks read and think about it, because if we want to work around these people who seem to unquestioningly support such a reprehensible toad, we have to understand them, and right now, I don’t think enough people on our side do.

One of the ongoing problems the left faces is how so many of our prominent voices are blue-bubble sorts. These are people who grew up at least middle class and have lived in metro areas or other liberal-heavy areas (college towns, for instance) their entire lives. They never doubted they’d be going to college, and they eventually found jobs in major industries. Most of the people who have platforms that go beyond low-entry-barrier stuff like social media have done so by either living in or running in the circles necessary to access major publishing or news providers, or the entertainment industry. And sometimes, they’re pretty dang snobbish about it, turning up their noses at “flyover country” or “rednecks.”

Before I go any further, I do want to make it clear that I’m not doing the “won’t someone think about the poor racists?” thing. This is also something that often comes from the bubble: an infantilization of the white working class, and a plea for the rest of us to be compassionate toward them because they’re often suffering in abject poverty. While it’s true that many are actually suffering, poverty alone doesn’t excuse being a violent, bigoted ass. Something that tends to get ignored–egregiously so, when you’re talking about folks like Bernie and his crowd–is that the working class and poor are not exclusively white, much less white and male. Being working class and also having to face racism, sexism, ableism and many other forms of bigotry makes poverty even more grueling. Economic-justice efforts will help all poor folks–we have no need to focus exclusively on the white ones, much less to ignore other critical justice issues in order to do so. I’m not, therefore, excusing the people I’m writing about here. I am, however, going to explain them, because personally I, too, am tired of the elitist cluelessness. Continue reading

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Saluting the General

I had just finished a med-check psych appointment when I heard the news about Carrie Fisher.

These appointments are mostly tedious–I have to go every few months since I need paper prescriptions for a controlled substance–but they’re also kind of a general mental-health check-in, and given how fucked up things have been lately–both in a global and personal sense–I did take the opportunity to vent.

In the course of doing so, I also told my doc about how I’ve been coping: trying not to give in to fear and shame and the pressure to ignore my own well-being because I’m supposedly not valuable enough to the world to take care of. I explained how I feel freer now that I’ve finally told some toxic people to shove off. I explained that even though it’s been hard in some ways, the holidays this year have been a good experience for me, because I’m shaping them around my own little family and my own life, instead of trying to cobble together something traditional and satisfying from carefully edited childhood memories.

My driving spirit of late has first been to try to let go of the things I have no control over, but also to finally accept the Mama Bear role that life has kept trying to nudge me toward for years. Not just an actual mother–though that role is one I’m enjoying, even as hard as it is with a four-year-old on the autism spectrum–but also the kind of cantankerous, take-no-shit battle axe that makes insecure sexists angry. A caretaker, but also a protector. A teacher, but also a fighter. A face and voice that says “fuck with me or my loved ones at the risk of being reduced to your component molecules.” While also, y’know, baking cookies and singing Mama Cass and Karen Carpenter to my son, and trying to admit when I need help myself.

One of the things that helped me accept this role, even if it may sound a little cheesy, was General Leia.

I saw her first when I was six, sitting in a crappy van at a crappy drive-in while my mom was downing smuggled-in rum and Coke and my dad was giving sarcastic, profanity-laden running commentary. Leia was mind-blowing for me at the time: sassy, assertive, fighting with the boys. A pretty princess, yes, but one that got dirty and told people to fuck off. She was me–the mouthy tomboy I was growing into, not the doll my mom wanted me to be. Though to be honest, Lucas wasn’t really all that great about the role or how he treated her, in the context of the era, she, along with a few of the other badass women heroes that cropped up then was an amazing breath of fresh air. I could, for the first time, see a life beyond the limited roles my sexism-poisoned mother was trying to prepare me for.

Almost 40 years later, Leia did it for me again. There are of course a fair number of older women in pop culture, but they tend to be limited to a few different types: matrons, kindly grandmothers, silver foxes, villains, shrews. The occasional queen, yes, but generally one-dimensional. We rarely see older women in pop culture in positions of heroic authority–positions that they undoubtedly earned through decades of experience. (One of the few I can recall in recent years was Judi Dench’s M in the early Craig Bond movies.) TFA’s General Leia, therefore, was remarkable, and even more so for the fact that she gave us a continuity that other roles often lack: an understanding that women don’t just exist in static forms and roles defined by whom and how they serve at a given moment, but age and grow and have their own long histories and complex lives.

We saw her at 19, leading the rebellion. We saw her again decades later, leading yet another fight. In both cases, she wasn’t a stern, emotionless icon or a cold-blooded warrior. In both cases, she was acknowledged as a person with desires for love and friendship as well as earned respect and leadership. She was clearly troubled by her son going astray. Clearly gutted by the loss of her beloved, even as estranged as they had been. Clearly still affected by the tragedy of her family of origin, and by the sudden, brutal loss of her family and other loved ones on Alderaan. Troubled even more recently by her brother’s disappearance. Her hard life was written on her face. And yet even with all of that, she was still a leader. She was still a decision maker. She was still an icon, looked up to by all who served: Idolized by the best pilot in the Resistance, who had grown up with her as a personal hero. Sought out as a mentor by a young woman who had herself been through hell and was bravely taking up the mantle of hero that had been dropped in her lap.

Sitting in the theater as a 44-year-old with my own scars—albeit somewhat less fantastical ones—that mattered to me. It really, really mattered. It mattered even more when I rediscovered Carrie herself in all her fearless, low-bullshit glory. Unfiltered in interviews. Unperturbed by speaking truth to a budding demagogue. Brave enough to show her weaknesses and talk about them. Brave enough to tell people to bring it the fuck on anyway.

This woman—this force of nature—should have been with us for so much longer. Like Molly Ivins, another hero of mine in the same vein, she is gone way, way too soon. But even in such horribly short years, she has proven that there is life and purpose and honor in persevering even when much of the world wants you to believe you’re too flawed to be allowed to go on. I can’t begin to express how much that resonates with me and how much I need it in my own life—especially now when I and millions more marginalized people are so at risk of brutal oppression.

I don’t mean to reduce Carrie to this one role—she was so much more than this, of course–but I also have to be honest about exactly how deeply she touched so many of us, at many different ages, because of her tenacity and courage. She may not be with us in this life now, but the voice she gave me and many others is still speaking, and will be for years and years to come.

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Good People Doing Nothing

Seeing too many people focusing on Trump, as if he’s the only problem. He’s terrifying, yes, but the scarier part is the already-existing framework that allowed him to win in the first place–and which will allow him to stay in office. Our only chance at saving the country requires dismantling that framework, and that means we have to do some unpleasant work on a personal level.

The GOP has spent decades cultivating a xenophobic, conspiracy-believing voter base that no longer sees reality and distrusts any legitimate source of fact. Upon winning those voters, they then quietly enacted voter-suppression laws, and gerrymandered districts to ensure that they’ll keep winning, even though their voters are well outnumbered by the rest of us. Almost all of the semi-reasonable Republican office-holders have been primaried out or retired at this point. All that’s left is Tea Party darlings who are willing to destroy the country if it means there’s a chance cishet white Christians, particularly men, will return to having virtually all political and economic power.

Even scarier: It’s not just older generations or the rural or working class doing this. Every single white demographic voted for Trump, including millennials and people with college degrees. The only white group that didn’t is registered Democrats. If you ask many of these people, they’ll claim they’re not racist or weren’t voting for racist reasons, but that’s effectively a dodge: That abject bigotry wasn’t a deal-breaker for them, or that they refuse to see that abject bigotry for what it is, IS bigotry in itself.

It may be too late for us to save things at this point, but we have one shot left: The mid-terms. Winning those, however, is going to require a lot of us to do things we’ve previously been too chicken shit or too “nice” to do: Confront the friends and relatives who either voted for Trump or didn’t bother voting at all. We can’t fix the system until we fix the voters, and that means all of us have a responsibility to light a fire under the people we personally know.

If you’d be in genuine danger by doing this, fair enough. Keep yourself safe. But otherwise? Have the guts to do this. Don’t let the peacemaking tendencies of being a soft-hearted liberal allow you to be a coward. Working for actual peace and justice requires engaging in some personal battles now and then. Change the minds you think can be changed. Ditch the people too stubborn, too unapologetically bigoted, or too brainwashed by propaganda to see reason. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that remaining in contact with these people will give you a chance to change them. If they haven’t changed with years of you already trying, they’re not going to. Continuing to personally support them means they feel increasingly confident that there will be no personal consequences for their awful beliefs and behavior. Remember that while diplomacy is always the first or even second or third step, you have to be willing to back it up with something more tangible, or there’s no incentive for people to change. As long as people think they’re going to get more benefits from an abjectly fascist regime, they’ll keep letting it happen. Your job is to make them feel the bite of that decision when they otherwise wouldn’t face one.

Remember the thing about evil flourishing when good people do nothing. Don’t do nothing. Yes, donate, call your reps, make a stink. But also stop sending Christmas cards to your racist uncle (and make sure he knows why), and stop letting your pothead high school friends argue that all politicians are inherently corrupt and therefore it’s OK to be lazy and not vote (or vote for some fringe third party.)

If you’re cishet and white, or happen to live in a blue bubble, you’re not on the front lines and therefore may not realize we’re already in the middle of a war. You can choose to pretend it’s not happening, but sooner or later, that war will end up on your own doorstep. Have the courage and honor to do something about it–to help the people already on those front lines–NOW, while you still can.

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