Only White people….

This is for all the people who say: “So only white people can be racist?  That’s ridiculous.”

Yes, only white people can be racist and I will tell you why.

Upon first glance, the statement “only white people can be racist” seems wrong.  That is probably in part because the basic definition of racism goes like this: a doctrine or belief that one race is superior to another race based on biological or other inherent differences, and/or hatred of another race or races.  This is the general definition if you look up the word “racism” on dictionary.com.  This is the definition that people who reject the statement are working with, and because you can look it up in the dictionary, it seems that there is an objective truth to back up the position.  Then the argument becomes: anyone can be racist.  Which, according to the dictionary definition of racism, is correct.

However, it is false.  The dictionary is not the authority on what racism is.  And that is the reason people who doubt that only white people can be racist (in my experience, white people) get told by other people (in my experience, black people) to educate themselves.  Or as one woman put it on twitter: “Pick up a fucking book.”

If you happened to pick up a fucking book, and if that book happened to be Cornel West and Philosophy by Clarence Johnson, you would find a chapter on how raciology became racism.  This chapter outlines how during the Age of Enlightenment, the period between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, there was a new focus on the sciences, with great advancements being made in many areas (especially astronomy—hello heliocentric solar system!).  During this time, much of the natural world came under the lens of scientific curiosity, and many who would be scientists decided to turn their gaze towards man.  This (white male) gaze saw varieties of man within the living species of man and set out to categorize them according to empirical differences, and results of this study were presented as legitimate scientific facts based upon observable data.  Carl Von Linneaus published The God-Given Order of Nature, in which man is categorized as follows:

  1. Wild man. Characteristics: four footed, mute and hairy.
  2. American (i.e. Native American). Characteristic: copper-colored, choleric, erect. Hair: black, straight, thick; nostrils: wide; face: harsh; beard: scanty; obstinate, content, free; Paints himself with fine red lines; Regulated by customs.
  3. Fair, sanguine, brawny. Hair: yellow, brown, flowing; eyes: blue; gentle, acute, inventive. Covered with clothes vestments.  Governed by laws.
  4. Phlegmatic, relaxed.  Hair: black, frizzled; skin: silky; nose: flat; lips: tumid; crafty, indolent, negligent.  Anoints himself with grease.  Governed by caprice. (Eze 1997b, 13)

I’m sure you see the problem with raciology: it imparts personality traits to people based on flimsy empirical data.  As Johnson puts it, “it is precisely because raciology, through its practitioners, imputes psychological characteristics to groups based on what it deems the physical; makes normative and aesthetic judgments about groups based on the practitioners’ judgments about those groups’ physical characteristics; and, most importantly, created a hierarchy of the  groups—a hierarchy grounded on a supposed correlation between the psychological, normative, and physical—that it ceases to be a scientific enterprise and becomes instead a racist and White supremacist ideology” (152).

Racism therefore, is an ideology (or doctrine, or belief, to use the dictionary’s words) that has its roots firmly planted in raciology which specifically is NOT any race hating any other race or races, but is the notion that Europeans (white people) are superior to all other people naturally.  How did it go from raciology to racism? Well you can see the hierarchy is built right it—it’s not much of a leap.  Those writing contemporary to Linneaus, or using his work like Georges- Louis Leclerc, suggested that all non-Europeans were savages, and “incapable of thinking and inherently stupid and ignorant; hence they lack the arts and industry” (151).  Toward the end of the Age of Enlightenment, several philosophers and politicians used raciology to defend their racist beliefs and their racist activities, like participation in the slave trade.  John Locke, one of the nation’s founding fathers, is one such case in point, however, he used the ideas in raciology to argue that black people were not people at all, and therefore they needed to be kept like animals.  Hume, Kant, Hegel and Locke all formed racist ideologies with roots in raciology to defend chattel slavery.  THAT is just ONE example of how racism becomes/became systemic.

The actual definition of racism is not an abstraction like we find in the dictionary.  This is the case because the dictionary is meant to be a definition of general terms.  What this means is that when you look up the word “car” there is a definition for cars in general, not a specific car, like a Rolls Royce.  The same with “cat” and “color”—the definitions relate to these words in general, not specifically, and as such, are abstractions, which means that the definitions have a degree of separation from actual objects in the world, yet are specific enough that we can identity particulars.  So if we see a particular cat that is a domestic short haired tabby with yellow eyes, white whiskers and a long, thick tail, we can call it a cat even though the dictionary doesn’t give that definite description of a particular cat, but a description of a cat in general.  No cat in the real world is going to be the dictionary definition of a cat (any of several carnivores of the family Felidae) without any other particular properties (orange hair, yellow eyes, etc.).

Similarly, the dictionary doesn’t give a definite description of racism, being systemic, being white supremacist, etc. because the definition is about racism in general terms.  The dictionary definition leaves out the particular features of racism as we know it, just like it leaves out particular features of individual cats.

Racism in general, as an abstraction from actual racism, is a doctrine or belief that one race is superior to another race based on biological or other inherent differences, and/or hatred of another race or races, but racism in particular, is in fact rooted in raciology and places Europeans superior to all non-Europeans.  Therefore, if a person is racist, that person is white, and when we are using racism to describe a situation that is not involving a white person, we are using the word in error.  The correct word is prejudice.

Anyone can be prejudiced, but only white people are racist.

On Morality.

So what if millennials don’t believe in right and wrong?  What does that mean?  It means the objective goal posts have been removed.  Morality, in our country, has long since had to do with God, framed around a concept of sin and punishment.  That which was wrong was sin and sin was defined by the Bible, and by extension, the church (youth pastors, parents, the community).  Without God defining right and wrong, what is the backup goal post?  Objective truth?  In my case, science and philosophy have removed that goal post for me (Gen X, but still).

Science shows that much of what we consider to be reality is created in the mind- colour, taste, sound and even pain are all internally generated.  Sensory information is basically the brain’s interpretation of vibrations.  The sky is not really blue and mushrooms are only considered edible by the people whose taste buds say “yes”. Mine don’t.  Kant (and large branches of eastern philosophy and now postmodern philosophy) recognizes that reality is only empirically real, that is, it is only functionally real.  Space and time aren’t “out there” as some kind of permanently fixed objective reality, and in fact, nothing is “out there”.  If something is “out there” in fixed objective reality, we don’t have access to it; our reality is completely subjective because it is always perceived through a human subject and the filters that come with human perspective.

In order for us to be able to say what is right and wrong, there has to be some line of demarcation between the two.  Without God or objective reality, it is really hard to know where to draw the line.  That’s why it’s blurry.  It is not because millennials have some how failed to learn something so natural that their older counterparts have readily understood it.  It is that their definition of reality has changed, and there are not any easily apparent replacement goal posts.

Millennials, and people like me, have to ask themselves how they know what is right and what is wrong.  It is a difficult question.  Harm seems to be the obvious goal post in the absence of the others.  It is wrong if it does harm, it is right if it does not.  However, we recognize that there are differences among people, and what harms them, and what does not.  Harm itself is a nuanced concept.  Take lying for example.  There are times when lying causes harm and times when it does not.  There are times when it actually better to lie, to spare someone’s feelings, or when telling the truth is nothing but selfish.  Without God saying “lying is sin” or objective truth saying “lying is wrong”, how do we decide when to lie and when not to lie?  Well, we do it based on the situation.  Which means that the goal post is movable.

Having movable goal posts requires an astute sense of judgement because morality is defined and decided upon in every situation.  There are no more defaults.  There is no way for us to fall back on a set course previously decided by our biblical or philosophical concepts of right and wrong.  They just aren’t solid.  This is exactly what Nietzsche was saying we ought to do- create this meaning for ourselves.  He saw that God was dead, and he saw reality as Kant did, with reality created by the perceiving subject, and his ubermensche are not the Arian brotherhood.  The ubermensche are those who recognize that there is not something in reality that holds objective meaning or objective truth and who create meaning and truth for themselves.  This, to me, is freedom.

But with this freedom comes great responsibility.  It is in the Bible, it is in the Bhagavad-Gita, it is in Sartre’s existentialism and Husserl’s phenomenology, it is in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics.  When we create for ourselves meaning and truth, we are responsible for the harm we cause others.  We owe it to those around us, and the whole world, to be the best people we can possibly be, to conduct ourselves with as much honour, integrity, justice, and love as we can possibly manage.  So rather than having black and white definitions of right and wrong dictated by concepts of God and objective truth, we have values in their place.  Or we ought to.  Only values will hold in the situational fluid of every day life.  I cannot conduct myself according right and wrong, but only according to what I see as honorable and just.  The word I live by is my own and I strive to put as much love into the world as a flawed human being can.

The problem is not with right and wrong or with movable goal posts.  The problem a lack of introspection on the values which motivate our behaviours.  And I would say this problem is not exclusive to millennials, but much of the country.  People are so busy looking outside of themselves that they do not realize they are the problem.  How about judge not, and take some time to clean up your side of the street?  Get that plank out of your eye, and be the change.  Most of all, take some time to think about why people are the way they are, and have some understanding, some compassion, and then maybe, you know… a conversation.

America Needs Marriage Counseling

Left: you’re yelling and your rhetoric is terrible.

Right: you’re not even trying to listen.

The Left is just so fucking sick of racism that when they think about, they get pissed off.  Pissed off enough to think that getting rid of the Confederate flag and Confederate memorials is a good thing.  They’re not entirely wrong if you look at it this way: racism is systemic.  If it is built into the system, then removing objects that the system put in place would be a positive statement made by the country that most of us (like we already know) aren’t racist.  The Confederacy, though having many reasons for their succession that included a very valid stance that state’s rights trump federal law, also stood for one of the most racist acts our country committed.  It’s a painful part of our history.  So the thought of tearing down a statue or defacing one that belongs to a slave owner seems reasonable.  This is the admirable part of the anti-racism movement: getting rid of symbols of racism like its an act of good faith (it probably is).

Now let’s consider the fact that often, when a person does not feel they are being heard, they yell.  The left is yelling.  The problem is that because the Left is yelling, they aren’t hearing the response of everyone who is not racist saying that they aren’t.  Trump has said it and continues to denounce David Duke and the KKK.  He obviously does not support racism, or Nazism in our country.  They also aren’t paying spectacular attention to history: not every Confederate memorial is a symbol of our country’s slave owning past.

Now the Right (and those in between) are saying: “Come fucking on.  Quit acting like children.”  They are making a mockery of the Left’s insistence that racism is still a thing (it is) and that it is systemic (it is).  The message isn’t being heard because the messengers appear to be throwing a tantrum.  Think about when the anti-slave movement started, and what that looked like.  People wrote articles, published pamphlets and circulated them, called community meetings where local people spoke out against slavery (and women’s rights- these things were coming about around the same time, interestingly, a time in which we had our own Enlightenment, which opened many doors for women).  It was peaceful (on the side of those looking to create change), it was powerful.  It was good rhetoric (even though in the case of Ida B. Wells, it resulted in the lynching of three of her closest friends, which was legal at the time).  Good rhetoric is what the Left lacks and why the Right will never listen, even if the Left is absolutely right.

A lack of good rhetoric is what makes today’s activist groups unbearable.  If they want people to truly listen, they need to approach the subject of racism with intelligence, a thorough knowledge of U.S. history to inform their approach, and dignity (not violence or hatred of their own).  They have to stop being so damned critical, so loud.  If the Left began to whisper (but whisper prolifically), others would lean in to hear what they are saying.  Instead of good rhetoric, they do this: http://bit.ly/2x7X9dq   Their actions are making them a joke and impossible to take seriously.

If the rhetoric of the Left included calm, lucid arguments, people would be more willing to grant their requests.  At the least, maybe there could be a conversation about racism in our country.  One where people aren’t denying that it exists and where they are focusing on the solution rather than the problem, then maybe we could get somewhere.  What the Left wants is less fucking racism.  We all want that (with a few exceptions).  Yelling is not going to reduce racism or change the minds of those who deny it exists.  A conversation might, though.  A conversation could bring people together instead of tearing them apart.

 

 

Gender, Shmender

We have so much free time on our hands that now we can argue about gender.  Let me show you how I see it: on the one side you’ve got science, which says that sex and gender are the same thing (you have a vagina, you are a woman, you have a penis, you are a man), and on the other side is a group of people who believe that gender is a subjective feeling, and not exactly related to genitalia (which is interesting because for most of the planet, the genitalia and the feeling pretty much match, or at least match enough that they don’t have to have sexual reassignment surgery to make them match sufficiently).

Somewhere floating around in the middle of this is some interesting gender theory (you might think gender studies, though I encountered it in a graduate level literary theory class).  Judith Butler, for example, has written on the performativity of gender stating that one’s gender identity is not simply the expression of one’s inner gender (because the self has no gender) but rather it is something that is co-constructed through the interaction between the individual and society.

This is not to suggest that gender identity can be put on and taken off like a pair of pants, but that what makes gender identity appear to be a uniform aspect of a person’s self is merely an effect caused by similarly repeated performances of gender identity day in and day out.  That is, if you look like a duck, walk like a duck, and quack like a duck all day every day, people are going to call you a duck.  They’re not saying that there is a duck essence behind the duck performance.  People see the duck being the definition we have given ducks and call the animal a duck (people like to categorize things; it makes the world easier to understand).

But what do we say about those who feel like a woman right down to the core (regardless of genitalia)?  What if the animal performing the duck says it really feels like a swan?  Should we redefine ducks? Or Swans? Should subjective feelings about gender be used to redefine gender?  That seems to be what is happening (or at least what some people may want).  Sex and gender are being deconstructed into separate parts, with science defining the former and subjective experience defining the latter because science cannot tell us whether or not the self has a gender (arguably identity lies outside of the realm of hard science).

This is fine for me, but people also like to be right and have other people tell them they are right. So the gender debate is going to go on and on just like the God debate; faith can’t prove science wrong and science can’t prove faith wrong because they are in utterly different realms (which is interesting because science is also subjective and filled with theory, but that isn’t this conversation).  With that in mind, can I just suggest that we let people call themselves what they want and pee where they want, and move onto something that actually matters?  Otherwise, we are going to be doing this (https://youtu.be/gkONHNXGfaM) forever.

 

Butler, Judith. “Imitation and Gender Insubordination.” The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader.   Ed. Henry Abelove et al. Routledge, 1993.

Grief Writing

I think I have finally figured out how to write about my mom.  Just like the grief, I can’t take it all at once.  I break off little bits and pieces at a time, just enough to nibble on.  If I took a big ol’ bite, I’d choke to death.  Like it was a spoonful of Nutella and I stepped on a Lego.  So, I’ll write little vignettes.  Snap shots of her life, of mine, of her death.

Let me tell you this really quick.  My mom was my best friend, my companion, my son’s third parent.  She was entwined and ingrained in our lives as closely as anyone can be that is not a spouse.  I go home to her house every day.  Park where she parked.  Feed the animals she brought home.  Water the lawn she tended.  I live there, in my childhood home, in the house her and my dad picked out together.  It’s so full of memories, all I can do to change it is move the furniture around.

There is no right or wrong way to grieve.  And there is nothing you can say to someone who is grieving that is going to change anything.  I have found though that there is one thing, and only one thing, that is actually really nice to hear.  I love you.  So if you know someone who is grieving the loss of someone close, try those words.  Those words say so much more than “I’m sorry”.  They say “I’m here with you” because I didn’t realize how alone I wasn’t until she died.

As hard as it is to write through the grief, it is just as hard to submit those grief writings for publication.  But, I do what I always do.  Just close my eyes and click.

Ah, freedom.

I’ve taken the leap.

I thought before today that I was living the dream, whatever that is, by being a poor college student working part time.  Of course, the education was supposed to help me land a real job, where I could work for 40 hours or more a week and never have time to write.

Sounds like a dream come true.  Not.

So, to hell with that idea.  I dropped all of my classes during the first week of the second quarter and have no intention of returning to the credential program.

From what I understand, teachers spend the day in class, spend their prep periods and lunches grading papers, the weekend and the evenings planning lessons and grading even more papers.  They work all day, and at home and on the weekends.  Summers off sound great, but teachers get those off because they put in a whole year’s worth of work in 8 months.  A teacher friend of mine said that she knew a fellow teacher who logged her hours meticulously and discovered that if she worked a 9 to 5 job, she would have gotten the equivalent of exactly two weeks off a year.  If I became a teacher, my life would be teaching and I would write on the side.  That is the opposite of what I want.

This girl has got to write.  I’ll teach on the side.