Tuesday, October 26, 2010

You're Fired!

Once when was still in grad school, I was talking to my therapist about how I hated writing papers. The thing that I hated about it was the effort it took to take a list of information and turn that into a paper. Introductions, conclusions, topic sentences, and the like. And don't get me started on APA style. I have often said that much of higher education is a game--forcing people to write in a certain style is one of the best examples of that. Margins, two spaces after a period, italicize this, underline that, and how do you cite websites again? But now I'm getting off on a tangent.

So, in one of our sessions I was telling him how my life would be so much easier if I could just turn in a list of bullet points. He responded by asking me what was keeping me from asking my professors if I could do that? I think he was trying to show me that I had some control in the situation, and that I could stop complaining and take some action. Like most clients, I heard what he said but didn't do anything differently ;) I just continued to soldier through, writing the stupid papers in the stupid APA style, until I got that lovely diploma and got the hell out of there.

But here it is several years later, and I've had a revelation. On my blog, I can do bullet points if I want to! I don't have to ask anyone for permission, and I don't have to let my disdain for finding the perfect transition word keep me from writing about something that's been on my mind for days: the Juan Williams
controversy. So, let's get to it...

--Juan Williams said something like "When I see a person on a plane dressed in Muslim garb, showing that being Muslim is their primary identity--I get scared." NPR fired him soon after. Fox News signed him to a multi-year, 2 million dollar contract soon after that.

--Juan's comment doesn't make logical sense. The people who bombed the U.S. on 9/11 were not wearing what Williams would consider 'Muslim garb.' And even if they were, 19 people dressed a certain way doesn't mean you can come to conclusions about millions of other people who are dressed similarly.

--My understanding of the situation is that Williams was not making this statement proudly. He followed it up by saying that he still gets on the plane, and that he doesn't think the people he is scared of should have to go through extra security. I interpreted his comment as an honest confession of his feelings.

--Part of NPR's justification for his firing is that his role with their organization was as a "news analyst," and with that statement, he was making it difficult for people to distinguish between his opinion and actual fact. Personally, I think a person would have to be pretty obtuse to think that what he said was anything but his personal opinion.

-- Related: I also think it's funny that people in the media think it is even possible to be objective when reporting about pretty much any issue. Anytime a person writes or says anything, it is being influenced in some way by their personal experience. I think the field of journalism would be enhanced if it would acknowledge this fact more, instead of thinking that people are able to be truly neutral, objective, fair or balanced in their reporting.

--Williams' comment bothers me because he is sending yet another message to marginalized people that says, "Hey if you just assimilate--you can be accepted." Don't show pride in your marginalized identity, at least not in a way that is too 'in my face.' I write more about this way of thinking, and why it is harmful here.

--But, Williams simply making the comment doesn't bother me. I think NPR by firing him sends the message, "It's not okay to say you're scared of Muslims. We're not scared of Muslims here at NPR." They're missing an opportunity to explore why he and millions of other people get scared when they see people who look like they follow a certain religion. And what that does and doesn't have to do with 9/11.

--NPR is also being hypocritical because like Patricia Heaton said on The View, if Juan had said he was scared of members of the Tea Party, he would likely still have his job. Basically, NPR gets to decide who it is and isn't okay for Williams to be scared of.

--That last point makes me think of black conservatives Shelby Steele and Clarence Thomas, who make the provocative argument that white liberals are fine with black people--as long as black people agree with them. If black people stop agreeing with them, start having their own ideas, defining problems differently or want to try other solutions--bad things can happen. You can lose your job, be labeled an "Uncle Tom" and/or very quickly fall out of favor. You can read more about these ideas by checking out some books by Steele and Thomas--which are over on the right there under my "read more books" sidebar.

--9th grade civic lesson: this is not an issue of free speech. If Juan had been thrown in jail by the police, or if NPR got more than 2% percent of its funding from the government--we might have a 1st amendment issue on our hands. Free speech and the first amendment only come into play when the government does something to punish someone for what they say...mmmmkay?

--Finally, if you think you're not afraid of Muslims (or gay people, or black people or people in wheelchairs, or some other group that's not exactly like you,) please go here and take some of their nifty tests.

--As per usual, I want to know what you think. Feel free to leave me a comment in whatever style you'd like (bullets, haiku, interpretive dance, etc.)

Monday, October 18, 2010

Music Mondays

I've been thinking that I should bring back Music Mondays. There weren't really many songs that were jumping out to me to play, but then I saw the video for this song and thought it would be a good candidate. Then I heard it again on the radio tonight, which I took as sort of a sign from the gods.

It's an Asian Rap group! I've never heard of an Asian Rap group before. There was an Asian guy that went to a bar I frequented in my college days who called himself DJ SARS. But he wasn't a rapper, he was a DJ.

But more importantly, it's a good song. I wouldn't just put them up here because of their sheer Asian-ness, they actually have to put out a good product. This is definitely a song that I would put on one of my legendary itunes mixes, for an imaginary dance party or something. It might be a good workout song too. The only thing I don't like about the song is that it talks about "sipping sizurp" which I think is referring to using cough syrup as a recreational drug. That's dangerous.

I first heard about this song through my husband. He was asking me what a G6 was. He knew it was a car by Pontiac, but he also knew rap groups don't typically make songs about Pontiacs. Through the magic of Google, we found out it was a plane.

So what have we learned today? Not only can Asian people be Scottish, they can drop hot rhymes too.

Comments? You know what to do.

Thursday, October 07, 2010


A week ago on my twitter page I asked, when is someone going to publish the seminal work that answers the question: is the internet bringing us together, or pushing us apart?

My tweet was spurred by learning about the Rutgers student Tyler Clementi, who committed suicide after his roommate allegedly broadcast Tyler's tryst with another guy over the internet. Like millions of other people, I felt a sense of shock and sadness when I learned about this incident. Tyler was a talented young violinist, and ended his life by jumping off of the George Washington bridge. He also left his suicide note on Facebook.

There are many things that I want to say/questions I want to ask about this situation. I have hesitated in writing this post, because of my fear that I will say the wrong thing. Or that I will offend people that have a more nuanced understanding of the events than I do. But I know that my intentions are pure/good, and hopefully that will count for something.

First, I think the fact that both Tyler's roommate and the woman who was arrested with him are both people of color is significant. It's significant because it helps illuminate the idea that the vast majority of us have some identities that align with the dominant culture. So even if you are brown, if you are heterosexual-- that gives you a set of privileges that a white gay person would not have.

Second, Tyler's roommate seems like a straight up a-hole. I don't know that the internet has a whole lot to do with it. If i-chat didn't exist, he strikes me as the type of guy that would be hiding a video camera in the closet, and then showing the VHS tape to all his friends.

Third, Tyler's roommate tweeted, Roommate asked for the room till midnight. I went into Molly's room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay.'

I added the emphasis on the last word, because to me it has a lot of significance. Obviously, he is being sarcastic--he's not really happy about it. But there is a reason that he said yay instead of "sick!" or "gross!" both of which I think are more in line with what he was actually thinking.

He said 'yay' because as a young, little bit of college educated person, he knew that using one of those other words would have made him seem like a homophobe. And he knows enough to know that being a overt homophobe (like being an overt racist,) is not something that is looked upon kindly, especially in college (most colleges anyway.)

So what does he do? He makes his comments more subtle, feels out his audience, avoids saying anything obviously hateful. This is important because it illustrates how a lot of people respond to doing work around diversity and multiculturalism. They learn that some things are not said in polite company, and so they avoid saying them in polite company. But the idea that their hearts and minds are truly changed...I think we know the answer to that.

Fourth, I really wish that Tyler hadn't of killed himself. Refer to my second point, his roommate is an a-hole. Given that fact, an a-hole taping you is not something you want to kill yourself over. He's the one with the problem, not you.

But then that gets me thinking: What caused Tyler to do this? I don't like what I am hearing that places the blame on Tyler's roommate. It is extremely dangerous to put the blame for one person's suicide on another person. What the roommate did was outrageous, and he certainly deserves to be punished. But casting him as the evil one and trying to find a way to throw him in jail for the rest of his life is not the answer.

Our society as a whole has to take some responsibility for this tragic event taking place. When a seemingly healthy, well-adjusted person gets to the point that they are in such deep despair that they throw themselves off a bridge???

Many "straight allies" are pointing the finger at conservative clergy, and just conservative people in general. I agree that any pastor who takes the time to write a sermon calling gay people unnatural; or a conservative voter who does his or her part to deny gay Americans equal rights--they're not helping.

But I said society as a whole, remember?

What about you?
What about me?

My husband and I have beautiful baby son. Already, people make comments about how he is going to be popular with the ladies when he is older. I think to myself, "How do you know he is going to like girls?" But most of the time I don't say anything, because I don't want to seem...weird.

Or when we meet someone new for the first time and say, "Do you have a _________," filling in the blank with the romantic term of opposite sex of the person we're talking to. Now, we'd be fine with the person saying "Actually, I have a _______ (insert same sex term here)" But...why do we even make the assumption?

Or what about when we still think The Hangover was a hilarious movie, even though the characters frequently used homophobic slurs?

Or when someone we know and like (or love) says something intolerant or bigoted, and we don't speak up? Several people were following those tweets about Tyler--what did they do when they read them?

These things are all part of the problem. All these examples promote the message, "Being gay is not ideal, and treating it as something 'less than' is acceptable to me."

Point the finger at conservatives all you want, but not if one of the major motivations is to make yourself feel better and say, "Well at least, I'm not like them." We are like them, and the sooner we recognize that--the better off we will all be.

My baby son is laying on the floor right now; gooing his little heart out.

For Tyler, for all the other nameless gay teens who have died, for my son, and for myself I want to recommit myself to speaking out.

I will risk my heterosexual privilege and take the chance of seeming weird, or annoying, or unable to take a joke. I will continue to examine my own beliefs and attitudes, so that I can try and rid myself of the homophobia that I have picked up along the way.

I will do this in hopes that if my son tells me one day "Mom, I'm gay." I can say, "ok" and that will be the end of it. I won't have to join a support group, and I won't have to worry that because my son is gay, people are going to think it's okay to make fun of him, or beat him up, or kill him.

So, the internet can be used for evil and the internet can be used for good. More than anything, it's probably used to waste ridiculous amounts of time. Today, I am using my little piece of it to invite you all to take risks. To resist complacency; to think about the ways that you continue to be part of the problem, and the things that you can do to continue to be part of the solution.

As always, I welcome your thoughts.