Showing posts with label bigotry. Show all posts
Showing posts with label bigotry. Show all posts

1.18.2019

jackie robinson: "i owe more to canadians than they'll ever know."

Let me set the scene.

The year is 1946. The United States is deeply segregated. The birth of the civil rights movement that would begin as African-American soldiers returned home to Jim Crow, after fighting for democracy abroad, is still a good 10 years away.

Newlyweds Jackie and Rachel Robinson leave their hometown of Pasadena, California, for Florida, where Jackie will become the first African-American to play organized, professional sports in the United States. When Rachel sees "whites only" signs for the first time in the airport bathroom, she takes a deep breath and walks in anyway, feeling scared, but proud and defiant. Neither Rachel nor Jackie had ever seen the heart of the Jim Crow South. They had no idea what awaited them.

Despite her airport bravada, Rachel and her husband weren't allowed to board their plane. They were "bumped" from their scheduled flight, and the flight after that, and the one after that. They were also not allowed to purchase food while they were waiting. The airline finally suggested they go into town and wait until a flight was became "available". Twelve stressful hours later, they were allowed to fly as far as Pensacola, Florida -- where they were forced off the flight, their seats sold to white passengers.

They then boarded a Greyhound bus, where they were forced to sit in the rearmost, windowless row, for 16 hot, bitter hours, then waited in a dirty, overcrowded "colored" waiting room for yet another bus, shared with black labourers on their way to work. Thirty-six hours after leaving Pasadena, Jackie and Rachel finally reached Daytona Beach, where the Brooklyn Dodgers held spring training.

Robinson and Branch Rickey,
Spring Training, 1946
And then it began. Teams cancelled games rather than have a black player on their field. Thousands of paying (African-American) customers were turned away when the "colored section" of inferior seats were sold out. Disgusting catcalls from the stands were standard. Pitchers threw at Robinson's head repeatedly. Sliding baserunners aimed their spikes at his skin. When the team was on the road, Jackie and Rachel stayed and ate at the homes of African-American families, as none of the hotels or restaurants that served the team would admit them.

At the end of spring training, Jackie was assigned to the Montreal Royals, the Dodgers' top "farm club". Road games were a nightmare – but home games were a joy.

From Jackie Robinson: A Biography, by Arnold Rampersad:
In Montreal, after about a month in a guest house, and despite an acute postwar housing shortage, Jack and Rachel found a nice apartment. Expecting the sordid resistance that would have come in virtually any white American neighborhood, she was stunned by the genteel response when she answered an advertisement to sublet half of a duplex apartment at 8232 Rue de Gaspé, in the traditionally French-speaking East End. Deliberately, Rachel [who was pregnant with their first child] had chosen the less affluent French-speaking district over its wealthier English counterpart, which she expected to be more exclusive. (Montreal had no distinctly black district.)

On De Gaspé, almost everyone spoke mainly or only French, and a brown face was unusual; but the woman of the apartment received Rachel pleasantly, poured tea and talked, and quickly agreed to rent her apartment furnished, with all her own linen and kitchen utensils. Rachel was almost overwhelmed. "The woman didn't merely agree," she said, "she insisted that I use her things. She wanted me to be careful–no water on the hardwood floors, that sort of thing, but she was gracious. It left us euphoric, really. All the months in Canada were like that."

They moved in without incident. Later, when she began to show, an informal delegation of local women visited her to offer not only advice and friendship but also coupons from their ration books, so she could buy any scarce foodstuffs she needed or craved. With the language barrier and the demands of the Royals' schedule, Jack and Rachel could make very few friends in the neighborhood; but upstairs were the Méthots, with seven or eight children who brightened the house. Rachel and Jack came to know Edgar Méthot and his wife, who had just had a baby; twenty-seven years later, the Methots would recall the Robinsons as "such good people." Their closest friends, however, were a Jewish couple, Sam and Belle Maltin. Sam, a Canadian and a socialist, wrote on sports for the Montreal Herald but was also a stringer for the Pittsburgh Courier; like Rachel, Belle was pregnant at the time. Knowing of Rachel's love of classical music, the Maltins took them to outdoor concerts on Mount Royal that reminded Rachel of visits to the Hollywood Bowl. Belle introduced Rachel to Jewish cooking and also knitted her a sweater she still wore fifty years later. The Maltins had another black friend, Herb Trawick, a football player with the Montreal Alouettes, and the Robinsons got to know him as well.

On the whole, however, the Robinsons aimed for a subdued life when Jack was home. Rachel's day was bound up in going to the ballpark to watch him. When he was away, sometimes she traveled with him (although the club frowned on wives on the road), but mostly she stayed home and sewed clothes for herself and the coming baby, or worked on a crochet tablecloth she was making for her dream home in California. She got to know some of the neighborhood children because they followed her on the street or carried her groceries home; she also tempted the children living upstairs by leaving a door open and a bowl of fruit in plain sight. Rachel could say little to most of the adults – she had taken Latin but no French – but they remained friendly and protective of her. She liked to watch them come out onto their balconies to take the sun in the lazy summer afternoons; they, no doubt, admired her brown-skinned beauty and grace. In May, an Afro-American woman reporter, recalling Rachel's night of abuse in Baltimore, wrote admiringly of her unusual calm and poise: "The only person I know who can equal her is that first citizen of the world, Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt."

. . .

[Robinson] could count on a uniformly warm reception only at home, in De Lorimer Downs. "I owe more to Canadians than they'll ever know," he said later. "In my baseball career they were the first to make me feel my natural self." Robinson would write later about one French-accented rooter who "used to shout from the bleachers, if things were bad, 'Jackie, 'e's my boy!' The man had lungs of brass, a voice of iron, and a heart of gold."

. . .

Protected in this way, Jack flourished on the field despite his periods of gloom. Typical was a game in Baltimore when he led an injury-ridden Royals team to a 10-9 victory, after Montreal went ahead 8-0 only to have Baltimore tie the game. Jack not only got three of the Royals' seven hits but also stole home. Such feats made him a lion to his teammates, and to his manager, [Clay] Hopper, who was now almost a complete convert to Rickey's view of Robinson. In Newsweek, Hopper saluted Jack as "a player who must go to the majors. He's a big-league ballplayer, a good team hustler, and a real gentleman." Race now meant less to other baseball men. "I'd like to have nine Robinsons," Bruno Betzel, the Jersey City Giants' manager, declared. "If I had one Jackie, I'd room with him myself and put him to bed nights, to make sure nothing happened to him."

"I've had great luck and great treatment," Jack told Newsweek modestly. "This is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me." By September, when the regular season ended, he had completely vindicated Rickey. Robinson became the first Royal to win the league batting crown; his average of .349 also eclipsed the Royals' team record, set in 1930. Hitting only three home runs, he nevertheless drove in 66 runs; he also scored more runs, 113, than anyone else in the league. His 40 stolen bases put him second only to his teammate Marvin Rackley's record-setting 65. At second base, he ended the season with the highest fielding percentage in the league. With one hundred victories, the highest number in team history, the Royals won the pennant by eighteen and a half games. They also played before the largest crowds at home and away – more than eight hundred thousand people – in the history of the club.

In the playoffs, the Royals won two tough seven-game series, first with the Newark Bears and then with the Syracuse Chiefs. Against Syracuse, in the deciding game, Jack went four-for-five. Then, late in September, the Royals traveled to Louisville, Kentucky, for the Little World Series against the Colonels of the American Association. For many of the Louisville players, officials, and fans, Robinson's presence was the most urgent single consideration; the series brought integrated baseball to Louisville for the first time. The Colonels, who had agreed only reluctantly to his playing, underscored their opposition by sharply limiting the number of seats for blacks, many of whom were left to mill about in confusion outside the park. Some who made it inside probably regretted their luck. "The tension was terrible," Robinson wrote, "and I was greeted with some of the worst vituperation I had yet experienced."

The Montreal press loved him.
The series opened with three games in Louisville, during which Jack slumped, going one for eleven. His failure only fed the rage of many white fans in the cheaper seats. "The worse I played," he recalled, "the more vicious that howling mob in the stands became. I had been booed pretty soundly before, but nothing like this. A torrent of mass hatred burst from the stands with virtually every move I made." As Jack suffered, Montreal dropped two games after taking the first. The abuse was so great that the white Louisville Courier-Journal felt obliged to deplore the "demonstrations of prejudice against Montreal's fine second baseman, the young Negro, Jackie Robinson," as well as the "brusque refusal" of the park to accommodate more black fans.

However, when the series moved to Montreal, the local fans repaid the Colonels. A storm of abuse, unprecedented at a Royals game, descended on the visitors. Down 4-0 at one point in the first home game, the Royals stormed back to win 6-5 in the tenth inning on a single by Robinson. In the fifth game, Jack doubled and, just after Louisville tied the game 3-all, hit a towering triple; then he laid down a bunt in the eighth inning "which really settled the fate of the Colonels," according to the Montreal Daily Star. "This was a really heady play, a beautifully placed hit." With Al Campanis, he also executed superb double plays to kill off Louisville scoring threats. Finally, on October 4, before an ecstatic crowd, the Royals defeated the Colonels once again, 2-0, to win the Little World Series. Robinson, who finished the series batting .400, also scored the last run.

Hustling to leave the ballpark in time to catch a plane, Jack made the mistake of stepping back onto the field before he could shower and change. Deliriously happy Montreal fans snatched him up in celebration. Previously, they had lifted Clay Hopper and a white player to their shoulders. Now, hugging and kissing Robinson, slapping him on the back, they carried him on their shoulders in triumph, singing songs of victory, until he was finally able to break away. Watching, the veteran writer Dink Carroll of the Gazette began to cry: "The tears poured down my cheeks and you choked up looking at it." Inside the locker room, Hopper warmly shook his hand. "You're a great ballplayer and a fine gentleman," he told Jack. "It's been wonderful having you on the team." When Robinson reappeared outside in street clothes, a large part of the crowd was still waiting. "They stormed around him, eager to touch him," the Gazette reported. Knowing exactly what he had accomplished over the season, they sang in tribute, "Il a gagné ses épaulettes"—He has earned his stripes; "they almost ripped the clothes from his back." In the Courier, his friend Sam Maltin wrote memorably of the astonishing scene: "It was probably the only day in history that a black man ran from a white mob with love instead of lynching on its mind."

7.01.2018

happy canada day: a wish for a pledge

One unfortunate result of the current ascendancy of white supremacy in the US is the increase in Canadians' nationalism and self-love -- the strengthening of Canadians' conviction that our society is peaceful and democratic, our institutions benevolent, our kindness manifest in law.

We pat ourselves on the back while Trudeau spends our money trampling Indigenous rights, poisoning our water, and hastening climate catastrophe. We say "We're the greatest country in the world," while our most populous province has elected a false-majority, white supremacist government of our own.

So often, if Canadians can believe that it's better here than in the US, they are happy enough to stop there.

We can do better.

We must do better.

This Canada Day, let's pledge to push our governments -- and to educate our friends, family, co-workers, and ourselves -- so that Canada can live up to its reputation, a little more every day.

magazine covers presented without comment, because what is there to say






4.08.2018

reading can make you a better person. here's evidence.

Celebrate #EmpathyDay with a good book.
Last year, a prosecutor in the US state of Virginia asked a judge to hand down an unusual sentence. Five teens had defaced a historic structure -- a Jim Crow-era schoolhouse for African-American children -- with swastikas and other racist graffiti.

The judge agreed with the prosecutor -- and she sentenced the teens to reading. The teens were to choose books from a list of books that illuminate bigotry and hatred, among them Elie Wiesel's Night, Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and Arthur Miller's The Crucible.

Sentenced to read

With at least one of those teens, it worked. This person (not identified), who is 16 or 17 years old, agreed to share his reading list and his thoughts with a reporter for The New York Times. The list included The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, The Tortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle, and Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.

The books he found most affecting were 12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup and Night. The Times article includes excerpts from his court-ordered essay.
He describes not fully knowing what a swastika meant, and that he thought it "didn't really mean much."

"Not anymore," he wrote. "I was wrong, it means a lot to people who were affected by them. It reminds them of the worst things, losing family members and friends. Of the pain of torture, psychological and physical. Among that it reminds them how hateful people can be and how the world can be cruel and unfair."

Now, he wrote, he sees the swastika as a symbol of "oppression" and "white power, that their race is above all else, which is not the case."

He also wrote that while he had studied this period in history class, the lesson lasted only a few days.

"I had no idea about how in depth the darkest parts of human history go," he wrote.

He wrote that he feels "especially awful" that he made anyone feel bad.

"Everybody should be treated with equality, no matter the race, religion, sex or orientation," he wrote in his essay. "I will do my best to see to it that I never am this ignorant again."
Alejandra Rueda, the creative Virginia prosecutor, has used the idea on at least one other occasion. That time, she worked with librarians to create a reading list, which included a book of poetry called "A Wreath for Emmett Till."

The sentence was certainly controversial. Marilyn Nelson, the poet, was less than pleased to see her work -- or any poetry -- used as a punishment. Many librarians and teachers expressed similar concerns about associating reading with punishment. Other people felt the sentence was too light.

I thought Rueda said it best: "Is it going to change their perspective on swastikas if you put them in the juvenile center and lock them up?"

A larger sample size

I don't know if Rueda had researched this idea or thought of it independently, but there's evidence to back her up.

A Washington Post science reporter asked, "Does reading make you a better person?". It appears the answer is yes.
In 2000, Jemeljan Hakemulder at Utrecht University in Germany published "The Moral Laboratory," a book outlining the results of almost two dozen experiments that linked reading to better social skills.

A 2013 study in the American Psychological Association's journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts found that the process of imagining scenes while reading led to an increase in empathy and prosocial behavior.

Raymond Mar, a psychologist who co-authored the 2006 study with Oatley, has found that the parts of the brain used for inferring thoughts and feelings of others — a phenomenon called "mentalizing" — light up in an MRI machine when people are processing stories.
In 2013, a study published in the journal Science suggested that what young people read is a significant factor in socialization. Literary fiction, it seems, builds empathy in a way that genre fiction does not. Scientific American magazine reported:
The results are consistent with what literary criticism has to say about the two genres — and indeed, this may be the first empirical evidence linking literary and psychological theories of fiction.

Popular fiction tends to portray situations that are otherworldly and follow a formula to take readers on a roller-coaster ride of emotions and exciting experiences. Although the settings and situations are grand, the characters are internally consistent and predictable, which tends to affirm the reader's expectations of others. It stands to reason that popular fiction does not expand the capacity to empathize.

Literary fiction, by contrast, focuses more on the psychology of characters and their relationships. "Often those characters' minds are depicted vaguely, without many details, and we're forced to fill in the gaps to understand their intentions and motivations," Kidd says. This genre prompts the reader to imagine the characters' introspective dialogues. This psychological awareness carries over into the real world, which is full of complicated individuals whose inner lives are usually difficult to fathom. Although literary fiction tends to be more realistic than popular fiction, the characters disrupt reader expectations, undermining prejudices and stereotypes. They support and teach us values about social behavior, such as the importance of understanding those who are different from ourselves.
The Guardian put it this way:
Have you ever felt that reading a good book makes you better able to connect with your fellow human beings? If so, the results of a new scientific study back you up, but only if your reading material is literary fiction – pulp fiction or non-fiction will not do.

Psychologists David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano, at the New School for Social Research in New York, have proved that reading literary fiction enhances the ability to detect and understand other people's emotions, a crucial skill in navigating complex social relationships.
The Guardian story also explains a bit about how the researchers distinguished genre fiction from literary fiction, and offers a dissenting opinion -- interestingly, from someone involved in prison librarianship.

You can find more studies and factoids about reading and empathy using the hashtag #ReadForEmpathy.

9.01.2017

harry hoo, nick yemana, and the persistence of racism on mainstream tv

My "comedy before bed" TV watching -- the habit of a lifetime, and the surest way for me to fall asleep -- has gone retro again.* I watched "Get Smart" end-to-end and am now making my way through "Barney Miller".

Harry Hoo, Dr. Yes, and "Craw, not Craw!"

Get Smart was a TV comedy conceived by funny men Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, and piloted by the amazing Leonard Stern. It's part James Bond spoof and part Inspector Clouseau. Don Adams stars as Maxwell Smart. It was to be the one and only part Adams ever played well, but boy was he good. Barbara Feldon as "99" and Ed Platt as The Chief were both brilliant, but their characters were purely straight men for Adams. Get Smart ran from 1965 to 1970. I watched at least the last few seasons as a kid, and have seen a few re-runs over the years. Watching it straight through, I laughed out loud through the entire series. It was completely ridiculous and completely hilarious.

Except for one giant cringe factor: racism. This wasn't about African Americans. Indeed, people of colour rarely appeared in Get Smart, and when they did, they were not in racist situations or portrayed with racist overtones. The racism in Get Smart was almost fully reserved for Asians.

Don Adams as Maxwell Smart and Joey Forman
as Harry Hoo. Prepare to cringe.
In the show's early seasons, Asian people were played by non-Asian actors with facial hair meant to be read as Asian, crude eye makeup, and heavily accented speech. Unlike the comic Russian and German characters who belonged to KAOS, the international organization of evil, Asian characters might be good or evil. Either way, they were never Asian.

As the seasons progressed, a few Asian actors appeared playing Asian characters. I don't know if this was in response to complaints, or if an Asian actor had some influence on the show's producers, or something else. But whatever the background of the actors, the stereotypes persisted.

One "good guy" Asian character in Get Smart was Harry Hoo, a parody of Charlie Chan, who was a fictional Chinese detective of books, radio, television, and movies. Except for a brief period at the show's inception, Charlie Chan was played by white actors. Harry Hoo was no different, played by a white comic character actor named Joey Forman. (The use of white actors to play people of colour has a long history on both the small and large screens, not something I can explore in this post.)

Everything about Get Smart is spoofy, so there are plenty of ridiculous stereotypes and anti-stereotypes to go around. It's part of the show's brand of comedy. But only Chinese characters are dressed in old-world costumes, their entrance always heralded by "Oriental"-sounding music, ringing gongs in their laundry shops, speaking in accents played for laughs. The jokes are beyond cringe-inducing.

Nick Yemana and the dinosaurs

"Barney Miller," which ran from 1975 to 1982, was another animal entirely. I watched this show regularly in its early years, often with my father.

Barney Miller was an ensemble-cast workplace comedy, so perhaps the comparison with the zany Get Smart is unfair. Barney Miller had no catchphrases, no physical comedy, and almost no cringey insensitivities. There is even a gay character -- a minor but recurring role -- who is out and proud, if mincing, and sometimes has a partner in tow. Jokes in those episodes revolve around the detectives' varying degrees of homophobia, not the gay men themselves. The eponymous Captain Miller, played by Hal Linden, treats the gay couple with respect, unphased, and it's from that character that the baseline is established.

In the run-down station house in which the show is set, against a backdrop of New York City's dire years of cutbacks, crime, and decay, the detectives of the 12th Precinct are a snapshot of ethnic New York. Whether the real NYPD was ever this diverse is another story. The detectives are a picture of diversity in background, lifestyle, and worldview.

Jack Soo as Nick Yemana.
Soo started his career entertaining
his neighbours in a Japanese internment camp.
Which brings me to Sergeant Nick Yemana, played with wonderful understatement by Jack Soo. Both character and actor were Japanese-American. (Soo died during the show's fifth season, a shocking loss for loyal viewers.)

Yemana's character and actions seldom involved his ethnic background, but he was frequently a target for characters who were racist but trying to act like they weren't. The show's Inspector Frank Luger (James Gregory) was especially uncomfortable with Yemana's Asianness -- but the joke was at Luger's expense. The Inspector was a relic of an earlier era, a dinosaur who didn't understand diversity. He'd make embarrassing attempts at a "soul" handshake with Detective Harris (played by Ron Glass, known to Firefly and Serenity fans) and spout fake Spanish at Puerto Rican characters. The characters are all decent and sympathetic figures; it's the bigotry itself that's the joke. I wrote about a similar dynamic in the TV show "M*A*S*H," where only idiots and cowards glorify war, or hate and fear the Koreans.

I did say "almost"

The bad ethnic jokes of Get Smart were almost entirely reserved for Asians, but not completely. In the first season, there's an episode called "Washington 4, Indians 3" featuring "Indians" -- feathers, teepees, an inability to use contractions -- the works. After all, this was Mel Brooks, a comedy writer from a generation that thought it was hilarious to have "Indians" or "Nips" use Yiddish phrases. But to the Get Smart writers' credit, the jokes focus on the stupidity of the war-happy Pentagon, and how we're all on stolen land in the first place.

The "almost" on Barney Miller is really strange. Rape jokes? Really? That warrants its own post.

* Old TV shows watched: Bewitched, MASH (pulled from Netflix when I was up to Season 9!), Get Smart, Barney Miller (currently watching). To come: The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show. Those last four I'm watching on DVD.

8.13.2017

join the ndp and vote for niki ashton: deadline aug 17

The deadline to join the NDP and vote for Niki Ashton is August 17.


Last night I saw something that shocked me, and today I did something I've never done before: I joined a political party. And I did it so I can cast my vote for Niki Ashton for leader of the federal NDP.

* * * *

I worked on Saturday, and was very busy, with zero time to check headlines or social media. After work, I was watching the Red Sox trounce the Yankees and idly tapping on my tablet, when I was stopped cold.

Heather Heyer was killed when a Nazi rioter
drove a car into the crowd.
I am not easily shocked. Perhaps I think I am shock-proof. But the spectacle of an angry mob carrying torches and Nazi banners, openly attacking a group of peaceful protesters, hit me like a gut punch.

I've been writing about the collapse of the US empire, the US becoming a third world country, the fascist shift, and so on, for a long time. It's not like the rise of the white supremacists came out of nowhere. And it's no surprise that police and local government allowed this to happen. So on the level of "this happened" -- no, it's not a shock. But emotionally, psychologically, even physically, the force and weight of it hit me. Men holding Nazi banners, chanting about Jews and Muslims. A peaceful protester and two others killed. Right now, in the country of my birth.

And from the White House, silence.

And from Ottawa, silence.

White Supremacists surrounded peaceful protesters
and attacked them with pepper spray and torches.
I have no illusions about the priorities of Canada's oil-rich federal government and the shirtless Prime Minister. But I imagined they had at least the veneer of humanity. Nope. It's more important to please the US than it is to speak out against white supremacy and Nazism. They might be only empty words, but Trudeau won't even speak them.

I watched the spectacle in Charlottesville, Virginia, and I felt sick. Not a figurative "this makes me sick," but a literal churning stomach, cold chills of fear, tears in my eyes. Wondering, What's next? Wondering, where are hundreds of thousands of Americans in the streets, shouting a huge, loud, collective NO! ?

* * * *

Some people think it's funny that the Nazis used
"tiki torches". I'm not laughing.
Despite the very justified focus on the current POTUS, the US has been moving in this direction for a long time. The spectacles we saw at Trump rallies did not materialize overnight, without context. An oligarchy completely unresponsive to the needs of its people, an economy based on the transfer of wealth from poorest to richest, no meaningful work, no social system for education, housing, and, until recently, health care -- a populace armed to the teeth, like its government -- xenophobic scapegoating -- and the legacy of racism that has never stopped, never even taken a breather: all this gave birth to what we're seeing now. I've seen some people on Facebook imagining (fantasizing) that if Hillary Clinton was POTUS, this might not be happening. One could just as easily fantasize that it would have happened the moment she was elected. The powderkeg would still exist, and the catalyst wouldn't be far behind. The Democrats certainly had no plans to reverse the course of the last 30 years.

The truth is, in the US, there was no choice. There's the party of cats or the party of cats.

Of the many things that attracted me to Canada, one of the strongest was the presence of an actual, viable third party, a party that more closely represented my values. But in recent years, the NDP has been disappointing, to put it mildly. The party was using the same playbook that ruined the Democrats, moving farther and farther to the right, hoping to capture the so-called centre -- a strategy sure to lose before it even gets started. It's been depressing. My activism has never been around party politics and elections, and the NDP's rightward shift pushed me even further away.

But people's movements have surged in recent years. People are fighting back. Occupy, Idle No More, Black Lives Matter, The Fight for Fifteen -- activism around climate change -- the popularity of Bernie Sanders' platform -- union fightbacks -- all taken together, have created a groundswell. A context where real change might suceed. Where we might have hope.

And right now, in Canada, we do have hope. At last, there is someone running for NDP leadership who wants to recall the party to its roots: Niki Ashton.

From Ashton's website:
I am running because I believe we need a clear vision. We need fundamental change. We need to build the NDP as a movement for social, environmental, and economic justice.
The way forward for the NDP is clear. We must work tirelessly for true reconciliation with Indigenous people, for the protection and preservation of our environment, for working Canadians, for women, for people living with disabilities, for racial justice, for justice for transgender and non-binary people, for LGBTQ+ justice, and for the right to be who you are, and to love who you want to love. 
We must build a political movement that connects with the many Indigenous, racialized, student, environmental and labour movements that are driving progressive political change. We must move ahead with a positive agenda that tackles rising inequality and climate change. We must build a movement that has the strength of the people at its core. We must unite, and build people-centred policy as our foundation. As a party, we need to embrace the thousands of activists across this country who have paved the way for our movement. Their fight is our fight, and together, we are stronger.

I want people to know that we are in their corner, with every decision we make. I want Canadians to feel at home in the NDP because they see themselves reflected in the values and principles we fight for every single day.

It is time to be bold.
It is time to create the Canada we know is possible — we must accept nothing less.
It is time to address inequality in a real way, with real action.
I know we can do this.
I know that together, we can build a movement.
Today I realized that I must help Ashton build that movement. I need to exercise whatever power I have, to vote for Ashton for leader and to urge others to do the same.

August 17 is the last day to join the NDP in time to vote in the leadership election. You can do so here, from Ashton's own page, to show that you joined in order to support her.

Thanks to all my activist friends whose words and actions led me to this change! Solidarity always.

It's time!




7.23.2017

why do we need to say black lives matter? a brief and partial history lesson

The African American experience in Los Angeles County, California: a brief and selected timeline of sorts.*

From 1940-1960, thousands of African Americans migrated from Louisiana, Georgia, Texas, and other southern states to California, hoping to find decent jobs, affordable housing, and equality of opportunity.

California was not quite as welcoming as advertised. Housing was strictly segregated. The Los Angeles Police Department under the governance of Chief William Parker functioned as an occupying army in all-Black neighbourhoods. The only contacts between the all-white police force and the black residents of L.A. were roundups, traffic stops, arrests, humiliations, and beatings.

August 1965. With the community at a boiling point, a traffic stop gone awry precipitates the uprising known as the Watts Riots. During the riots, Parker says: "These people came in and flooded the community. We didn't ask these people to come here."

("These people" were Americans, who supposedly enjoy a Constitutional right to travel freely between states. Author Walter Mosely on the Watts Riots: "Someone asked me, did all blacks feel this way? I told him, 99% of us do, but the other 1% is really angry.")

1982. Under Police Chief Daryl Gates, the occupation expands. When the LAPD is questioned about the many African Americans who died in police chokeholds, Gates says that African Americans were more likely "to die from chokeholds because their veins or arteries do not open up as fast as they do on normal people."**

From 1987 to 1991, Gates uses "Operation Hammer" to supposedly clean up gang violence. With no attempt to speak with or involve the community, the LAPD deploys thousands of police to African American and Latino neighbourhoods. Families are rounded up, pushed face-down in the dirt, humiliated, demeaned, arrested, beaten, with little regard for evidence. Tens of thousands are arrested; but in the majority of cases, no charges are filed.

August 1, 1988. As part of Operation Hammer, police forcibly enter apartments at 39th Street and Dalton Avenue, holding residents at gunpoint while they vandalize and destroy everything in the homes. They smash appliances, mirrors, toilets; they shred clothes and children's toys; they rip up furniture and family photos. Police spray-paint "LAPD Rules" and other slogans on the apartment walls.

The raid nets six ounces of marijuana and less than one ounce of cocaine.**

March 3, 1991. A taxi driver named Rodney King is pulled over after leading LAPD on high-speed chase. A group of officers surround King, beat him with metal batons and kick him as he lay writhing on the ground. In an age before cell phones videos, a neighbour videotapes the beating and sends it to a local news station. The beating is shown continually on TV news. Four officers are charged with assault with a deadly weapon and use of excessive force. The defense claims that the beating was a function of the city's ban on police chokeholds.

Despite the irrefutable evidence that all of America had seen day in and day out, none of the four officers are convicted of anything.

It is often said that the 1992 uprising/riots followed the Rodney King beating. This is incorrect. The riots were in response to the Rodney King verdict. The African American community trusted in the judicial system, believing that this time, with incontrovertible proof, there would be justice. I think of the Rodney King case whenever I hear Bob Dylan's "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll": "Now is the time for your tears."

March 16, 1991. Soon Ja Du, a shopkeeper, incorrectly assumes that 15-year-old Latasha Harlins is stealing a bottle of orange juice. A scuffle ensues. As Latasha walks away, Du produces a gun and shoots the teenager in the back of the head, killing her.

Security footage captures the incident, leaving no doubt that Du's claims of self-defense were false.

Du is fined $500 and sentenced to 400 hours of community service.

This is just some context. Context before Oscar Grant, before Michael Brown, before Trayvon Martin, before Eric Garner, before Philando Castile. Before these people in 2015, and these people in 2016, and these people, so far this year. One American city, and a few famous incidents.

If you call the US a police state, you'll be accused of hyperbole. "Go live in [current hated country] and see what a real police state looks like!" Or closer to home, just be black or brown and live in the wrong zip code.

------

* This post was inspired by watching "OJ: Made In America," a five-part documentary series, part of ESPN's excellent "30 For 30" docs. I may write about the OJ movie another time. This post is not intended for discussion of anything OJ-related.

** One of the US war resisters in Canada recognized army raids on Iraqi homes as a version of the police raids that were a regular feature of his neighborhood in East L.A. From that similarity, he began to see the US as an occupying power.

*** Gates is often heralded for ushering in the era of SWAT policing and the DARE anti-drug program. The former has escalated police violence while failing to protect communities, while the latter was a colossal waste of money, finally discontinued in 2002 after all studies proved it was a total failure.

7.14.2017

what i'm reading: pit bull: the battle over an american icon

If you have an opinion about pitbulls, chances are good that it's based on myth, misinformation, and even disinformation. I know a good deal about dogs, and I thought I knew a lot about pitbulls, yet I was constantly amazed and enlightened by Bronwen Dickey's Pit Bull: The Battle Over an American Icon.

Here are some of the things you will learn if you read this book.

There is no agreement on what a pitbull is.

No one can correctly identify a dog's breed-mix based on the dog's appearance, including experts.

Many or most media stories about pitbulls are based on uncorroborated heresay and myths, and many are actually fiction.

Many dog-bite incidents reported as involving pitbulls actually involved Golden Retrievers, Dalmatians, Poodles, and other breeds.

Accurate statistics about dog bites, especially those that account for severity, do not exist.

There is nothing special about a pitbull's jaws or the strength of its bite. In fact, no test exists to measure the strength of a dog's bite, thus "facts" about a pitbull's bite being x pounds of pressure compared to other dogs' bites, are pure fiction.

Reading this book, you will consider connections between the media's portrayal of pitbulls and racism, between fear of pitbulls and fear of urban youth, the dynamics of a social phenomenon known as "moral panic", and how the moral panic over pitbulls mirrors the one about crack cocaine. And did you know that in pre-Civil War America, dogs of slaves were confiscated and put to death, as were dogs in Jewish homes in Nazi Germany?

All this might be merely interesting, or perhaps fascinating, if ignorance and moral panic didn't inform law-making. Sadly and infuriatingly, this is not the case. Thousands of dogs labeled as pitbulls that never harmed anyone or showed any signs of aggression have been killed. Thousands of people were forced to choose between their beloved dogs and homelessness, when any dog deemed a pitbull was banned from most public housing and much private housing. This is not about a dangerous dog being euthanized. This is the wholesale round-up and (attempted) eradication of dogs based on appearance only.

In one of the many insightful looks into media coverage of dog-bite stories, Dickey uncovers the total lack of credentials, expertise, and experience of the owner of a professional-looking website called dogsbite.org. She notes that on one side of the so-called debate are the Center for Disease Control, the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, the National Animal Care and Control Association, the Animal Behavior Society, the Association of Professional Dog Trainers. and all but one animal welfare organization. On the other side, the owner of an attractive website with unsourced claims. But the media, in the name of "balance", will give these two sides equal weight, without questioning where dogsbite.org gets its information. The answer is: they make it up.

Dickey introduces the reader to two important, remarkable organizations: the Coalition to Unchain Dogs, now called Beyond Fences, and a Humane Society program called Pets for Life. In the past, the only thing animal control organizations could do for neglected dogs was remove them from homes -- a chilling echo of how children were removed from certain homes under the guise of protection. These two groups help people keep their animals, by offering free veterinary care, free quality dog food, and free dog-care education. Because -- go figure -- it turns out low-income families love their animals just as much as affluent families. The descriptions of dogs and people whose lives have been transformed by the dedicated people of these organizations are the most beautiful and hopeful parts of this book.

Dickey introduces the reader to many amazing people -- dedicated rescuers and trainers, as well as people who are amazing for all the wrong reasons -- amazingly ignorant, willfully ill-informed, and close-minded, determined to rid the world of one supposed breed based on a refusal to acknowledge facts.

Dickey's book is a tour de force of research and synthesis. It's not so much a book about dogs, as a book of history, sociology, science, and information studies where dogs are the organizing principle. I wish that everyone who has an opinion about pitbulls was required to read this book.

7.09.2017

a must-read if you're responding to ignorance and bigotry about omar khadr's settlement

In case everyone hasn't seen this yet, written by someone named Ben Feral Selinger.
July 6

Okay, I'm fucking sick of the idiocy and done with writing a diatribe every single time a friend posts about how they're upset that Trudeau is giving a terrorist $10m. You people are.... wilfully ignorant and hypocritical. Here's why. (And I thoroughly suggest reading the entire post. If you know me, you know I'm neither stupid, nor an apologist. I am pure fucking science, and this post is such. Read it before making an ass of yourself by posting about how we just gave a terrorist money).

The story (the facts we know).

* Canadian born Khadr was taken to Afghanistan at age 9, by his father. We don't know if he wanted to go, and we don't know why they went. There has been zero evidence put forth to suggest the trip had anything to do with terrorism. Regardless, as he was only 9, he had no choice in the matter.

* Khadr, aged 15, was found in critical condition following a firefight. The mission debrief report filed by the US troops stated that a middle aged man threw a grenade, which killed one US soldier. The grenadier was shot in the head and confirmed killed.

* Khadr was taken to Guantanamo Bay prison. No charges were filed against him at that time.

* Several years later, formal charges were filed. These charges were technically not even charges of war crimes, as if they were true, Khadr would be considered an enemy combatant during a time of war, and thus everything he was accused of doing, was legal under rules of engagement. He was denied access to a lawyer at this point and no trial date was set. He was held in detention and tortured for nearly 10 years.

* Nearly a decade later, an addendum to the original mission debrief was submitted, which identified the grenadier as Khadr by name. The original report was not rescinded. No one knows who made the addendum. No US personnel present during the firefight confirms the addendum. (at least I've not been able to find any).

* A week later, Khadr is offered a plea deal. The terms of the deal were to admit guilt to all charges and serve a few more years in a Canadian prison, or refuse to admit guilt and be denied trial indefinitely. (the latter portion is not confirmed by the US government, but let's be realistic here...)

* Khadr takes the plea deal, is transferred to Canada.

* Khadr sues the Canadian government for their involvement in his illegal detention, torture, and lack of a trial.

All of the above is true as far as anyone knows. That is the official story, from both the Canadian and US governments. They have said straight out that Khadr would not be offered a trial unless he took the plea deal. Just let that sink in for a moment.

Now let me ask you a question.

As a Canadian, what do you stand for? Do you believe that you, as a Canadian, have the right to be presumed innocent, until proven guilty, as well as the right to a fair and quick trial? I know this is hard for many of you to consider without jumping to "oh, but he's a terrorist, so fuck him, he's a traitor and doesn't deserve anything", but we'll get to that in a minute. Seriously consider this. Do you believe you have, as a Canadian, the inalienable right to everything laid out in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms?

If you do, but still think Khadr does not, because he is a terrorist, let me ask you; "How do you know he is guilty?" There was no trial for 10 years, and he was only offered a trial on the condition that he plead guilty. How do we, as Canadians, determine guilt? Have you read and understood the Charter of Rights and Freedoms? It's entire purpose is precisely to ensure that what happened to Khadr, is not allowed to happen. Period.

Now I know many of you still can't get past the "but he's a traitor so he doesn't deserve a trial" even though neither you, nor me, nor the US or Canadian government were able to provide ANY evidence whatsoever, of his guilt (no evidence was submitted during his trial, presumably because none exists), but that doesn't matter. Let me explain the problem to you.

You are worried that terrorists are trying to take away your freedoms as a Canadian right? They're trying to force their way of life upon us and we as Canadians, won't stand for that right?

Do you see where I'm going here? Presuming Khadr's guilt, with no evidence and without trial, is precisely what the terrorists want to do to Canada. Isn't that your concern? Does it not strike you then, that by saying that Khadr doesn't deserve a fair trial because he is a terrorist, with absolutely no evidence, nor a trial to prove the charges, that you are doing precisely what you are worried the terrorists are trying to do do us? A presumption of guilt, no trial, a decade of detention and torture. Is that not EXACTLY what you are worried terrorists are trying to do to us?

At this point, I don't think any of us should even be concerned about Khadrs innocence or guilt. He is inconsequential at this point. The REAL concern for all Canadians, is that our government denied a Canadian citizen his inalienable rights, guaranteed to him under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They did EXACTLY what you are worried the terrorists are trying to do. If Khadr was guilty, a trial probably would have proven such, so why was he denied a trial?

For your information, the Canadian government did not simply offer up an apology and $10m for no reason. They were sued. Khadr filed a civil suit with the supreme court of Canada, and that court found in favour of Khadr, in that the Canadian government was in breach of Canadian and International law. Over half the money awarded will be going toward legal fees.

Think about it this way. Your government, was just successfully sued for war crimes. Crimes they committed not only against Khadr, but against the entire Canadian public. They assured us that we would all be given a fair trial, but now we know that is not true. They assured us that we will always be presumed innocent until proven guilty. We know that is not true. They took your money, money which could have been spent on building half a hospital or something, and spent it instead, on committing war crimes, and crimes directly against the Charter for which our country stands.

Now I don't know if Khadr is innocent or guilty and I don't know if that money will end up right back in the middle east, but before you get upset about that, I want you to consider this: Had the Canadian government offered Khadr a fair trial, regardless of his guilt, there would have been no civil suit and we'd have $10.5m more Canadian Pesos to spend on Moose shirts, or maple syrup flavoured hockey sticks.
All they had to do, was abide by our own legal doctrine, and this whole mess would have never happened.

In summation:

If you believe Khadr did not deserve a fair and quick trial, you are not Canadian. You do not stand for what Canada stands for. You are saying very clearly, that you don't care about evidence, treating people (who we presume are innocent until proven guilty) with basic decency, or your own or anyone else's right to a fair trial. You are, quite literally, openly supporting about half of Sharia law. You fuckwits.

Addendum: Hey guys. I had no intention of this post reaching such a wide audience. It was really just directed at my fellow redneck buddies (all very excellent folk but who I felt could benefit from the data). I've adjusted some of the language to suit a wider audience.

I appreciate the feedback (surprisingly generally positive), but bear in mind that with a post this widely shared, I cannot respond to the thousands of PM's flying at me. Feel free to re-share the post, or just copy/paste to your own feed to keep the conversation going. I absolutely do not need any personal attribution.
Thank you, Ben.

5.27.2017

what i'm reading: the new jim crow by michelle alexander

When I first heard the incarceration of African Americans in the United States referred to as a "new Jim Crow," I thought it must be hyperbole. So did Michelle Alexander, a fact she discloses in the introduction to her book. As Alexander researched the concept, the more she learned, the more she changed her mind. She changed my mind, too.

In The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Alexander builds an unassailable case that mass incarceration through the (so-called) War on Drugs is the third large-scale caste system that holds Black Americans in a second-class status. This is true even in a society that includes Oprah Winfrey, Clarence Thomas, and, of course, Barack Obama.

The first caste system was slavery. The second was the laws and customs of segregation, discrimination, and terror known as Jim Crow. The third and current system is mass incarceration. This includes rules governing local policing, key court rulings, the court system itself, the parole and probation system, and laws that discriminate against former inmates.

* * * *

The numbers are staggering. More African Americans are under correctional control today than were enslaved in 1850. A greater percentage of African Americans are under correctional control now than black South Africans were during apartheid.

The US is 5% of the world population and has 25% of world's prisoners. Black and Latino Americans comprise one-quarter of the US population, but almost 60% of the prison population. African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of white Americans.

In terms of the War on Drugs, one might think these disparities could be explained by differences in rates of illegal activity. One would be wrong. The data shows that people of all colours use and sell illegal drugs at very similar rates. When there is a difference by skin colour, the numbers skew towards whites.
Thus, the very same year Human Rights Watch was reporting that African Americans were being arrested and imprisoned at unprecedented rates, government data revealed that blacks were no more likely to be guilty of drug crimes than whites and that white youth were actually the most likely of any racial or ethnic group to be guilty of illegal drug possession and sales.
The fact of incarceration alone is only one piece of the picture. Before incarceration, there is a series of court rulings that have gutted constitutional protections (especially the Fourth Amendment, the right to be free of unwarranted search and seizure), and make it impossible for citizens to argue racial bias in any criminal proceeding. There are draconian mandatory sentencing laws, which lead to the normalization of plea bargaining, in which people who have committed no crime plead guilty to some crime, in order to avoid a life sentence. There are huge financial incentives to municipalities to militarize their police forces, and to states for building -- and filling -- prisons.

After incarceration, the system prevents almost everyone who has been incarcerated from re-entering mainstream life. It is virtually impossible for anyone convicted of a felony to access housing, education loans, or jobs. In most states, formerly incarcerated people are stripped of voting rights and from jury rolls -- forever.

Former inmates, as Alexander writes, "will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits.” Right now, about 30% of African American men are automatically banned from jury duty -- for life.

There is a terrible circular logic to the system. As a former US attorney general explained:
Law enforcement officials often point to the racial composition of our prisons and jails as a justification for targeting racial minorities, but the empirical evidence actually suggested the opposite conclusion was warranted. The disproportionate imprisonment of people of color was, in part, a product of racial profiling -- not a justification for it.

In the years following the release of the New Jersey and Maryland data, dozens of other studies of racial profiling have been conducted. A brief sampling:

• In Volusia County, Florida, a reporter obtained 148 hours of video footage documenting more than 1,000 highway stops conducted by state troopers. Only 5 percent of the drivers on the road were African American or Latino, but more than 80 percent of the people stopped and searched were minorities.

• In Illinois, the state police initiated a drug interdiction program known as Operation Valkyrie that targeted Latino motorists. While Latinos comprised less than 8 percent of the Illinois population and took fewer than 3 percent of the personal vehicle trips in Illinois, they comprised approximately 30 percent of the motorists stopped by drug interdiction officers for discretionary offenses, such as failure to signal a lane change. [These discretionary offenses are often an excuse to search vehicles or to arrest people for "resisting".] Latinos, however, were significantly less likely than whites to have illegal contraband in their vehicles.

• A racial profiling study in Oakland, California, in 2001 showed that African Americans were approximately twice as likely as whites to be stopped, and three times as likely to be searched.

Pedestrian stops, too, have been the subject of study and controversy. The New York Police Department released statistics in February 2007 showing that during the prior year its officers stopped an astounding 508,540 people -- an average of 1,393 per day -- who were walking down the street, perhaps on their way to the subway, grocery store, or bus stop. Often the stops included searches for illegal drugs or guns -- searches that frequently required people to lie face down on the pavement or stand spreadeagled against a wall while police officers aggressively groped all over their bodies while bystanders watched or walked by. The vast majority of those stopped and searched were racial minorities, and more than half were African American. . . . . 
Although the NYPD attempted to justify the stops on the grounds that they were designed to get guns off the street, stops by the Street Crime Unit -- the group of officers who supposedly are specially trained to identify gun-toting thugs -- yielded a weapon in only 2.5 percent of all stops. . . .

Rather than reducing reliance on stop-and-frisk tactics following the Diallo shooting* and the release of this disturbing data, the NYPD dramatically increased its number of pedestrian stops and continued to stop and frisk African Americans at grossly disproportionate rates. The NYPD stopped five times more people in 2005 than in 2002 -- the overwhelming majority of whom were African American or Latino.
Perhaps the most surprising portion of The New Jim Crow is Alexander's history of the War on Drugs. The "tough on crime" stance that began under President Nixon and intensified under Presidents Reagan and Clinton was born when rates of drug use and crime were low.

Today nearly one-third of African American men are likely to spend time in prison. Once released, they live in a state of permanent second-class citizenship. Alexander builds a case that the War on Drugs was not a response to higher crime rates, but a deliberate plan to dismantle the gains of the civil rights movement. If this sounds unlikely, I highly recommend reading this book.

Alexander has clearly done exhaustive research, but she doesn't exhaust the reader with statistics. Although the numbers are extremely convincing, they are woven into a compelling, readable narrative. It's a disturbing book, as it should be, and an excellent one.




-----
* Amadou Diallo was an African immigrant living in New York City. In 1999, when stopped by the police and asked for identification, he reached for his wallet. Police later said they thought the wallet was a gun. The police shot 41 times. Diallo was 22 years old, and unarmed.

* The Wikipedia article about the Diallo murder contains this:
On March 13, 2015, Capital New York and other news organizations reported that 50 of the 15,000 IP addresses belonging to the NYPD were associated with edits, dating back to 2006, to English Wikipedia articles, including this article on the Amadou Diallo shooting. These IP addresses geolocate to NYPD headquarters at 1 Police Plaza. Detective Cheryl Crispin, a NYPD spokeswoman, said that "the matter is under internal review."

5.18.2017

postscript: some clarifications and addenda to my recent post on cultural appropriation

Many people have been discussing my recent post about cultural appropriation on Facebook. I'm not surprised that many people disagree (that's why I wrote it, to put my countering opinion out there), but I have been surprised by how many progressive people do agree.

From the negative comments, I can see that I wasn't clear on a few important points.

1. The entire post refers to white, first-world people calling out other first-worlders with accusations of cultural appropriation -- not aboriginal people. I would not pass judgment or venture an opinion about a native person's judgment of appropriation of their own culture. I have no right to do so -- and I would not do so. I was referring what I see as a quite a large bandwagon, pointing self-righteous fingers at others -- by white people, and at white people.

2. The above might explain why I feel the words shaming and bullying are fair game. I wasn't suggesting that aboriginal people are bullying white people about appropriation. That would be absurd.

3. I do believe that on a personal, one-to-one level, we are all equals and must treat each other with mutual respect. I do not believe that membership in a historically marginalized group is a license to act disrespectfully. That's my belief, but it's not what the post is about.

4. My post was not in response to the Hal Niedzviecki controversy. I had been writing the post for a while. I have very little time to write, and I edit every post at least twice, so it can take quite a while for me to finish something and get it online.

5. The post was also not in response to me personally being taken to task for appropriation. The whole #fragilewhiteperson thing is not at issue here. Again, I was referring to white people criticizing other white people for what they have -- mistakenly, in my opinion -- labeled cultural appropriation.

6. Apparently some readers thought my post was in response to one comment I saw online. Believe me, I don't write 3,000 words about one random comment. I see this as a clear trend.

This postscript is meant for clarity only. It's not important to me whether readers agree with me or not. I just want to express myself clearly and stimulate discussion.

5.16.2017

accusations of cultural appropriation are a form of bullying -- and don't reduce racism

I'm increasingly dismayed by accusations of cultural appropriation that are used as weapons, rather than as a tool for raising awareness and educating. Accusations of appropriation have become a form of bullying, a weapon wielded to police and enforce a superficial obeisance to a behavioural code -- while doing nothing to address the underlying issues.

Cultural appropriation is real. It's a valid issue.

I'm not saying that cultural appropriation is not real. It is. I'm not saying claims of appropriation don't have merit. They do.

When I was a child in the 1960s, parents might dress their children as "Indians" for Halloween, without a second thought. Kids played "Cowboys and Indians," dressing up in hats or feathers, with toy guns or tomahawks. Can you imagine if someone had played "Nazis and Jews"? It's completely inappropriate to turn a history of genocide and oppression into costumes and games. That in the 21st century, people are still doing this... it's mind-boggling.

Racist names and logos of sports teams, the Disney version of stories like Pocahontas -- these images are demeaning, degrading, trivializing, and undeniably racist. They should never stand unchallenged. (When it comes to sports teams, names and images should be changed
immediately.)

It’s disturbing to see sacred images commodified and commercialized, reduced to merchandise, devoid of meaning. That's what our consumer society does -- to everything. Religious holidays become secular shopping marathons. Spiritual symbols are sold on infomercials. Leaders of movements who fought for radical change are re-packaged as icons with feel-good slogans.

Using objects of cultural significance in trivial (and usually commercial) ways is a hallmark of consumer culture. Everything is gobbled up by the giant maw of consumerism, then diluted and spit back, stripped of all meaning, in some mass-marketable form.

It can be depressing, and it can be enraging. But shaming people for their ignorance will not stop this dynamic. The proliferation of racialized language, the enforcement of racialized divisions, the policing of thought and expression -- all hallmarks of appropriation shaming -- do not increase understanding. They preclude it. The current opposition to cultural appropriation sounds a lot like calls for segregation.

The hyperbole is out of control. There is no doubt that dressing children in "Indian" costumes is racist. But it is not -- as I have seen it called -- genocidal. When everything is genocide, then nothing is genocide; the word ceases to have meaning. Perhaps this analogy works: racist costumes are to genocide as street harassment is to rape. They are related. They can be placed on the same continuum. But they are not the same thing.

The current climate of accusation is misguided and harmful. Some thoughts.

-- Who owns culture? Expression is not owned. Culture is not owned. It's not owned by Disney, and it's not owned by the Ojibway. The Ojibway people have a much greater claim to their own culture than Disney, but neither can restrict anyone else's use. No one owns cultural influences, and no one can stop anyone else from being influenced.

-- Who appoints the expression police? Freedom of expression is a human right. When that expression is harmful or offensive, then others must exercise their own freedom of expression in opposing it. But bullying people into silence is never OK. What's more, it doesn't even work! You might get the person to stop the behaviour, but is that the only goal? Submission and silence do not equal understanding.

-- The rhetoric has grown increasingly authoritarian. That alone should make it suspect. The accusations emphasize divisions. They create division.

-- Accusations of cultural appropriation trivialize racism. Calling a hairstyle, or food, or a dance "genocidal" is an insult to every culture that has experienced genocide.

-- Some accusers will say that using another culture's symbols is acceptable if one has engaged meaningfully with that culture. So who makes the call? How does the "appropriator" communicate their engagement, and to what tribunal do they submit their evidence?

-- Who decides? Do the self-appointed guardians of culture have the widespread support of the community they claim to represent?

-- The current rhetoric does nothing to bridge divides and promote understanding. Instead, it accuses, shames, and basks in self-righteousness.

-- The accusation of cultural appropriation is often based on assumptions. Are you sure the person you’re accusing has no “right” to wear her hair that way or to wear a First Nations insignia, or are you assuming based on physical appearance?

I recently learned that a co-worker of mine is First Nations. Had she not told me, I never would have known. Can she wear signifiers from her heritage culture without exposing herself to accusations and attacks? Why should she have to explain or justify her choices? And, it follows, why should anyone?

White women wearing African-derived hairstyles are a common source of outcry. What if we learn that the apparently white woman is actually a light-skinned African American? Is it then ok? Pretty soon we're back to the "one drop of blood" rule. We're DNA testing women to see if they were biologically female at birth. We're asking people to identify their heritage in order to be granted access to a culture. Why do we think this is OK?

The world is a heap of broken images

We live in a multicultural, mongrel world where cultures are constantly blending and shifting and taking on new forms. Almost everything in our common culture originated from some other culture, often from cultures that were once despised and marginalized.

Credit is important. Engagement is important. But even without it, no one has the right to police anyone else's culture.

We often hear that art is "stolen" from its sources. It's not that simple.

Artist Damien Hirst recently was accused of appropriating Nigerian art. Hirst admit the influence and credited it -- but apparently didn't say it loudly or often enough. I'm not a Hirst fan by any means, but here an artist is acknowledging an influence, and it's still not enough.

We can see the influence of African masks in Picasso's paintings, but Picasso did not steal the mask images. It is often said that Elvis Presley "stole" African American music and dance.* In fact, Presley was influenced as much by the music of his African American neighbours as the "hillbilly" music of his white neighbours (who were also poor, marginalized people). Those two influences came crashing together in the form of one (part-Native American) Elvis.

That’s often how art happens -- cultures clash, then give birth to something new. That may happen with or without exploitation -- but it can’t not happen. It will never stop happening, nor should we want it to.

Miley Cyrus was apparently lambasted for twerking onstage, a white woman performing a “black dance”. (I learned of this when researching this post. This "news" would not have been on my radar!) So some people are policing who does what dances, apparently ignorant of the way dance styles proliferate. First it's a strange, exotic movement used by an in-crowd, then it is seized on by the mainstream, at which point the in-crowd moves on to the next new thing. Surely we are not saying that some dance moves can only be made by people with dark skin? And if we are -- why is this OK??

Some responses to what's out there

Researching this post, I’ve read many thoughtful articles purporting to explain cultural appropriation, but I disagree with much of what I read.

In How to Explain Cultural Appropriation to Anyone Who Just Doesn’t Get It, I read --
for the first time -- about the supposed cultural appropriation of food. Nigerian jollof rice and Vietnamese pho have been given a supposedly hip twist by some famous chefs.

I don’t doubt that to some Nigerians (like the author) and to some Vietnamese people, this is offensive. To others, I’m willing to bet, it’s amusing. And still to others, it may be flattery. That is almost always the case. Does the writer speak for all Nigerians? Surely not. He speaks for himself and no doubt some Nigerians agree with him.

Jamie Oliver isn't hiding the fact that the dish is Nigerian in origin. He isn't trivializing Nigerian culture. He isn't using sacred symbols in a debased way. He has created some Nigerian food with his own twist.

Just about the last place we should look for cultural appropriation is the dinner table. Almost everything we first-worlders eat originated from some culture somewhere. Last week, I ate hummus, pizza, and sushi. Somehow I doubt the restaurant owners felt I was engaging in cultural appropriation. Can only Polish people eat pierogis? Should we demand that non-Polish people understand the historical struggles of the Polish people before eating kielbasa? Let's not even get into corn -- invented by the aboriginal people of what is now the Americas.

As ridiculous as it may seem to some to turn a simple dish like jollof rice or pho into upscale food, that is a part of our multicultural world that many people celebrate. It's not appropriation.

In this article in Jezebel, the writer wonders if it's all right for her to hang a dreamcatcher in her window. You do not need someone else's permission to decorate your home, nor should you be concerned that the art you love is originally from another culture. Find me some art that’s not.

This article from an aboriginal blog encourages us to learn about the cultures we borrow from, and asks us to stay away from images that are sacred and meaningful in their original culture. For me it was a welcome, compassionate voice in a sea of snark.

Many people are sharing this post from Everyday Feminism: What’s Wrong with Cultural Appropriation? These 9 Answers Reveal Its Harm. I agree with a few of the writer’s points, but I find others very problematic. I'd like to respond to a few points in particular.

It Trivializes Violent Historical Oppression

Sometimes it does. And anything that does that is wrong. The racist team logos and nicknames do. The skirt depicting slave ships do. Decorating your room with a dreamcatcher or eating Jamie Oliver’s jollof does not.

It Lets People Show Love for the Culture, But Remain Prejudiced Against Its People

The writer uses the example of white people wanting to eat authentic Mexican food but not wanting to venture into "sketchy neighbourhoods" to get it. I get this. It can be maddening to run into that kind of classism and racism.

In our multicultural society, we can take what we like and avoid the rest. I think it's something we all do to an extent, including the people who complain about it. However, it is not appropriation. See above: the "yelpers" eating Mexican food are not using sacred symbols in a distorting or demeaning way.

The writer says:
So is every non-Mexican who enjoys a good burrito guilty of cultural appropriation? Say it ain’t so! That would include me and nearly everyone I know.

But now that you know that popularizing “ethnic” food can be one way to harm a group of people while taking from their traditions, you can think about ways to satisfy your international food cravings without participating in that harm.
I find this an enormous leap and assumption. I don't "know" this, I only know this writer thinks so. But more importantly, how can we tell if a burrito-phile is participating in harm or not? We can't. So let's not assume and render judgment.

It Lets Privileged People Profit from Oppressed People’s Labor

Show me one first-world person who is not doing this, every single day, no matter what their background. Is any first-worlder so naive or narcissistic or self-absorbed to think they're not doing this? Where does this woman shop, where does she buy her food? It's not only the privileged that engage in this. In our economy of precarious work, very few people can afford not to profit from the labour of oppressed people.

This is something all first-world activists and revolutionaries should own. We profit from the labour of oppressed people, every time we buy clothes and much of the time we buy food. Believing that this is something other people do -- that appropriators do -- is hypocritical. It's delusional.

It Perpetuates Racist Stereotypes

I am concerned with this. Challenging racist stereotypes is part of my life. It should be part of our daily work for justice. But this --
As Dr. Adrienne Keene of Native Appropriations puts it, “You are pretending to be a race that you are not, and are drawing upon stereotypes to do so.”
-- made my flesh crawl. Pretending to be a race you are not? First, do the appropriators actually pretend to be something they are not? Is Miley Cyrus pretending to African American? And more importantly, I find the language here – race, instead of culture or background or ethnicity – creepily regressive.

White People Can Freely Do What People of Color Were Actively Punished for Doing

Here the writer reveals a fascinating bit of hidden history.
Did you know yoga was once banned in India as part of the “racist and orientalist narratives” that characterized Indian people as perverse heathens who had to conform to Western ways? The bands of yogis who resisted the ban rose up to challenge the oppressive British rule.

These days, it seems like yoga’s everywhere, and practitioners don’t have to challenge the rules of the government to reach it. It can bring up some sensitive feelings to say that non-South Asian people who do yoga are appropriating culture, because the practice benefits many people throughout the US.

But you know who’s not benefiting from the commercialization of yoga like middle class white women are? The South Asian people for whom yoga has a deep cultural and religious significance.
I ask: Do South Asian people oppose the popularization of yoga? There is evidence from one person. This may be the dominant thought in her culture, or it may not. I've heard my South Asian co-workers mention yoga with pride -- a positive piece of our common culture that originated from their original culture. This may or may not be the dominant thought of South Asian people. I wouldn’t presume to know. Neither should this writer or anyone else.

It Prioritizes the Feelings of Privileged People Over Justice for Marginalized People

Freedom of expression is not a feeling, it isn't trivial, and it doesn't only affect privileged people. Just the opposite. Marginalized people are always more affected by laws and customs that curtail freedom of expression. Freedom of expression cannot apply only to certain people and not others. Because again, who decides?

I understand the arguments about power imbalance. But when you police culture, you are appropriating power. What gives you the right?

Let's be honest: many of the accusers, many people happily calling out others on charges of appropriation, are not themselves members of marginalized cultures. Many members of the culture police I see on Facebook and Twitter are North American white folks.

So what do we do?

Almost everyone in our world has a background of mixed origins and cultures. Are we only allowed to use expressions from our original culture? Who decides when an attribute from another culture is now part of the mainstream? Three or four generations after my great-grandparents emigrated from the shtetls of Eastern Europe to the US, am I only allowed to use cultural references they would have recognized? We recognize that question as absurd. But we're willing to say that this white performer shouldn't dance a black-identified dance, and this artist shouldn't use African influences.

Researching for this post, I did find an article expressing the same ideas as I do here: The Dos and Don'ts of Cultural Appropriation, in The Atlantic. After describing how "getting dressed is a daily act of cultural appropriation," using and wearing items gleaned all over the world, Jenni Avins writes:
As I dress in the morning, I deeply appreciate the craftsmanship and design behind these items, as well as the adventures and people they recall. And while I hope I don’t offend anyone, I find the alternative — the idea that I ought to stay in the cultural lane I was born into — outrageous. No matter how much I love cable-knit sweaters and Gruyere cheese, I don’t want to live in a world where the only cultural inspiration I’m entitled to comes from my roots in Ireland, Switzerland, and Eastern Europe.

There are legitimate reasons to step carefully when dressing ourselves with the clothing, arts, artifacts, or ideas of other cultures. But please, let’s banish the idea that appropriating elements from one another’s cultures is in itself problematic.

Such borrowing is how we got treasures such as New York pizza and Japanese denim — not to mention how the West got democratic discourse, mathematics, and the calendar. Yet as wave upon wave of shrill accusations of cultural appropriation make their way through the Internet outrage cycle, the rhetoric ranges from earnest indignation to patronizing disrespect.

And as we watch artists and celebrities being pilloried and called racist, it’s hard not to fear the reach of the cultural-appropriation police, who jealously track who “owns” what and instantly jump on transgressors.

In the 21st century, cultural appropriation — like globalization — isn’t just inevitable; it’s potentially positive. We have to stop guarding cultures and subcultures in efforts to preserve them. It’s na?ve, paternalistic, and counterproductive. Plus, it’s just not how culture or creativity work. The exchange of ideas, styles, and traditions is one of the tenets and joys of a modern, multicultural society.

So how do we move past the finger pointing, and co-exist in a way that’s both creatively open and culturally sensitive? In a word, carefully.
Avins then lists her own take on the how to show this care, such as "Don’t Adopt Sacred Artifacts as Accessories," "Appropriation is not a substitute for diversity", "Engage With Other Cultures on More Than an Aesthetic Level," and "Treat a Cultural Exchange Like Any Other Creative Collaboration — Give Credit, and Consider Royalties".

This strikes me as sensitive, compassionate, and mindful of the rights of all parties involved. We have no way of knowing if the appropriator has sufficiently met this criteria or not. So let's not judge them.

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* I am aware of Sister Rosetta Tharpe. I know quite a bit about blues music and early rock-and-roll. They are not the same thing.