With respect for the suspect

Don’t push my kindness” — reported as words of a police officer to a protester requesting exercise of their rights to a phone call.

We are all complicit, those of us who have said nothing as we see depictions of people arrested or detained and bounced around by police, humiliated in the process of incarceration…smirking because we believed it was comeuppance for “known bad guys”.

They do the same to people we would deem innocent. People we love. People who are vulnerable, weak, physically precarious.

Once again tonight I read accounts of protesters zip tied and treated unkindly. I hate that we live in a place where it’s considered normal for police officers to treat “civilians” with contempt unless they are part of protected categories. It’s everywhere in the culture around us.

It is part of a system that diminishes and dehumanizes us.

I would like that to change.

I would like to see us demand better. I would like to see us tell stories where courtesy toward the less privileged is ordinary. I would like to see us engaging in fewer instances of voyeuristic thrill in the humiliation of the powerless.

An open letter to America

Dear America,

I know it’s really hard when you make a giant, public declaration of love for a guy you know can be kind of a jerk, and then you find out that actually, he’s way more of a jerk than you had noticed before.

Especially because some of your relatives, and the friends who were always the kind that didn’t support everything you do, were saying mean things about him all along.

And that thing he claimed, about how he was between good things, but he just needed the *next* break to make it all wonderful? It’s starting to look like maybe the mean people were right.

But…giant, public declaration, and if you step away from him, all the dreamy stuff he promised you has absolutely no chance of coming true. And then you’ll be left where you started, before you started hoping because he was telling you such pretty things, telling you all the nice things you always wanted to hear — sad, lonely, feeling ignored, getting asked out by guys a lot less exciting.

It’s seems so reasonable to say, “hey, give him a chance!” You know what happens if you do, right? You’ve seen the Lifetime movies? You learn to accept being cut off from your friends, and then he starts breaking your stuff, and sometimes hurting people you love, and then hurting you. You need to open your eyes and stop giving him more chances.



Ships and sails and sealing wax, and little safety pins

Don’t wear the safety pin if you don’t mean it as a pledge.”

It got me thinking about all the different things a symbol pinned to clothing can mean.

Medals conferring recognition for extraordinary response to a situation.

Tokens of membership in a group. Professions of faith. Expressions of love. Declaration of a support. Political sloganeering. Exhortations to action. Presentation of a philosophy. A captured joke. Ornamentation.

The things that people intend the pin to convey in the wake of this most recent US election are much more complex than the original “I’ll sit with you” support post-Brexit. Small wonder that it hasn’t been as straightforward as the English movement.

I saw a wide range of approaches. People wanting subtlety, because they were afraid. People wanting visibility, because they wanted to be assertive. People wanting ornamentation, because they would be wearing it frequently.

I questioned what their motivation was…because when one is looking for someone to sit with on a bus or train, someone’s shoulder is a logical place to look as one scans for an open seat. A small safety pin is an easy thing to see at that range.

It works in small places. on the neckline of a teacher’s shirt, as a quiet, nonverbal marker in a place where political statements cannot be expressed clearly. (It reminds me here of the signs put up in libraries during the height of the Patriot Act’s invasions into library records, stating that the *absence* of that sign would indicate a search had occurred, because the librarians were barred from making any active statements about searches.)

It may work as a personal reminder to be brave and step up.

It may work as a quiet recognition symbol between people in passing, at the coffee shop, so that conversations can be started with some sense of comfort.

But…in public, in a tense situation, those pins are small and hard to spot. Yes, even the 2-inch ones. The head is barely larger than the gaudiest tie-tack. If the shaft is covered in beads and bling, it’s hard to separate that from just an improvised brooch. Was it ever going to work as a demonstration of one’s prior commitment to stepping in to de-escalate a moment of peril for someone?

I said rather bitterly elsewhere, “It’s not a sheriff’s deputy’s badge”. It doesn’t confer anything. The idea that someone being harassed will recognize it in the moment sounds like a radio serial decoder ring fantasy to me.


I think it’s mostly for the other moments…and best unornamented, unembellished, unobfuscated. And best as a thing you wear for yourself, to remind yourself of your commitment.

Be prepared. Do not put it on without thinking about what you are capable of doing. Are you going to step in? How are you going to inject yourself into the situation? Are you willing to be alert so you can detect the situation early? Are you willing to take the risk that you stepped in too soon? It’s not going to help if you have your headphones on and your nose buried in your book or phone, and you don’t notice.

What’s your strategy?

Don’t make it an empty gesture. It can be a really meaningful thing you’ve promised to do. The idea of an entire nation of crowdsourced immunization against the bystander effect is amazing. But only if you’re really willing to do what it takes not to be a weak link.

Ultimately, it’s going to be your actions in the crisis that matter.

Start practicing now. Oh, and maybe call at least one of the groups around you dedicated to safety for marginalized people, to volunteer what you can, whether time or money, okay?

Future dreaming

There is no line between my social justice and my love of speculative fiction. There is no line between the sort of politicians and public voices I thrill to and the way I dream. There is no line between the sorts of things I am moved to write essays about and the stories I want to tell. There is no sharp wall. There is only a flow, from one to another.

Collateral damage hurts when you’re in the splash zone

“Make Donald Dr*mpf Again.”

I’ve disemvoweled the surname. I understand why it’s become viral. Please don’t splain the logic and the rationale to me. I don’t object out of ignorance or a lack of understanding about political humor, satire, or the indictment of hypocrisy.

Seriously, if you’ve been reading here, and if you know me from elsewhere, you know that I’m well aware of the mechanics of all three.

Yet again, I’m disturbed by the willingness of the avowed liberal side to engage in Othering tactics that have collateral damage in the form of immigrants and the visibly unassimilable. Nearly 100% of the apologetics I’m seeing for John Oliver’s mocking takedown of Trump are from people who have never been faced with claims that they are unAmerican (and don’t belong) because of their “clearly foreign” surname, or whose appearance never elicits the questioning of their citizenship or right of residency.

For the rest of us…this isn’t going to have a limited impact. It fuels Anglo-normalization, and the questioning of “non-foreign” surnames for those of us who are visibly non-white in our ancestry. You wouldn’t condone using homophobia to combat homophobia. Or at least I hope you wouldn’t.

There are other ways to take him down.

Same as it ever was?

I wrote this on my Facebook wall one year ago today, in three successive status posts.

2014: Groundhog Day comes to social justice. It’s fifty years after Freedom Summer, but it all looks so similar. Feds needing to step in behind racist police and court actions.

Also: These unindicted deaths? These are not a bug in the system. They are a feature. Even worse, these aren’t introduced by the code, they’re part of the language and the hardware.

Social justice *now*. End neo-fascism *now*. End death penalty culture *now*. End the mindless worship of police and military power *now*. End victim blaming *now*.

The world is not changed by superheroes. It’s changed by ordinary people choosing to step outside the machines of injustice they’ve been assigned to.

I wrote “End entitlement culture *now*.” but I took it out, realizing it would be misread by some.

The worst entitlement culture is the one that says that prosperity is a mark of moral goodness, and poverty a sign of disfavor of God for moral weakness.

The worst entitlement culture is the one that says white boys are destined for prosperity and power, and their “youthful transgressions” just a thing to be grown out of, while black boys are destined for criminality, and their“youthful transgressions” a sign of things to come, to be addressed harshly as a curb to the inevitable.

The worst entitlement culture sees a young black man with a sword, a young black man with a BB gun, a black CHILD with a toy gun, and sees a threat to be gunned down…while cheering for open carry.

The worst entitlement culture sees black people treated badly and takes refuge in victim blaming—they must have *done* something to *deserve* that.

The worst entitlement culture says that the emotional discomfort of white people merits the death of black people.

The worst entitlement culture says that the emotional discomfort of black people…the expectations of servility and saintliness…are to be simply accepted and endured.

The worst entitlement culture looks on at hungry children and says, “well, you shouldn’t have had them, then” and “I earned my wealth.”

Wanting safety and warmth and health for one’s children, one’s elderly, one’s working poor? That’s not entitlement. That’s justice.

Two months and ten days

Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Six hundred minutes
How do you measure a year in the life…”

—”Seasons of Love” from Rent

Two months and ten days.

That’s the amount of time between the global outcry, “Let the Syrian Refugees In!” after the heartwrenching image of a small boy on a beach, to the current calls to “Keep the Syrian Refugees Out!”

How transient the sentiment, that the face of Syrians fleeing war has gone from the desperate families running across European fields, tripped by a sneering camera woman that we jeered, to some menacing phantom terrorist. (That passport? Faked. Will an account from The Paper of Record suffice for you?)

Two months and ten days after the limp body of a child made us feel that we could all, any of us, be the haggard and bereaved, many of us find the shocked and bloodied Parisians much more kin, and join in with a chorus of suspicion.

Two months and ten days after the poetry of Warsan Shire burst out in public view, speaking for the why of refugees—

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well…”

(I will not quote further from her deeply moving poem. You can find it elsewhere online, but I do not have her permission to use it here, and so I will not simply take it. I hope that the site I linked has her permission and has offered her recompense.)

Two months and ten days. Aylan Kurdi, I’m sorry.

What is the color of a sheet of paper?

I don’t see color. Racism starts when people distinguish between people because of skin tone.”—(not from the Dictionary of Social Justice)

What color is a sheet of paper?

“Well, it’s white, unless it’s colored paper.”

“Why is it white by default?”

“Things just show up better on white paper.”

There’s an art exercise where one draws on black paper instead of white. Often that results in someone using white marks on black just as if it were black marks on white paper—a simple inversion—but sometimes, it leads to a deeper shift in concept. What happens when you paint with light instead of dark? When you make dark the default, instead of the colored-in?

What if you went further? What if, instead of marking the paper, you used pinpricks and knife cuts? What if instead of light shining on the paper, you assumed light shining from behind the paper? What color paper would be useful in that situation?

White paper is the default “best” for a whole set of parameters we rarely examine.

…but we bleach our tree pulp paper to achieve whiteness because of those unexamined parameters.

Assuming the undefined “person” is White carries a similar set of unexamined parameters and consequences. When, as a person perceived as White by those around you, you assume that “color blind” means “like the default person” and your default person is white, this is like handing out only black crayons and not noticing that some people are not using white paper. The crayon choice was made without considering the impact it would have on papers outside your [unexamined] default assumption.

“But I offered the entire box!” 

And how were the colors in the box chosen? And why are we using crayons? Why are we assuming putting down marks on the paper?

Imagine living your whole life as colored paper in a world that assumes paper is white. “If you just put down your marks carefully, and with good attention to placement, your message will be easily understood!”