Social Justice Round-Up

Lots of good stuff going on in the blogosphere/news media lately, and since I’m feeling far too lazy to write a real post, check it out:

1. From a bird and a bottle, and incisive look at the War on Drugs as it relates to the War on Terror. In order to make more young people eligible to go fight in Iraq, the Marine Corps and the Army are granting more criminal waivers to recruits. Given that most of these waivers are for drug-related offenses, it’s an interesting strategy — many young people who are convicted of drug-related crimes lack access to education in prison, are barred from voting in several states, and are ineligible for federal student aid. In other words, they have limited access to higher education, by extension limited access to well-paying jobs, and no political power to change that. But they do have access to a fine job, completely with benefits and good pay, in the U.S. armed forces. We take a hard line on drugs — unless taking that hard line begins to handicap Republican goals, instead of accomplishing the traditional ends of filling their pockets, maintaining their political power and enabling the prison industrial complex. We support our troops — so long as they’re economically coerced into the job.

2. Chris Clarke does a wonderful job of taking on the John Aravosis/Native American blog dust-up. I hope that this time around, Aravosis is paying attention to his progressive detractors. I don’t understand why it’s so difficult to grasp how the Indian Mascot thing is offensive, no matter how supposedly tasteful the mascot’s dress and performance is. Chris makes the apt comparison to minstrel shows, which were justified as respectful nods to black culture. I’ll further point out that minstrel shows were part of a multi-pronged attempt to justify slavery (and then segregation) by portraying the Jim Crow character as a happy half-wit, part of the greater slave family of the Mammy happily serving her master, the gentle Uncle, the lazy Sambo who had to be kept in line, the wide-eyed pickaninnies (who were always getting eaten by tigers and alligators), and so on. Contrasted with the images of Zip Coon (the free black man trying to imitate white culture) and the scary black brutes who wreaked havoc and regressed to savagery without the benevolent guidance of whites, Jim Crow served as part of a wider strategy to justify racial oppression. The use of Native peoples as mascots does the same thing — it positions the Native, untamed by civilized whites, as an aggressive, war-like, threatening character. A mascot. Whose purpose has traditionally been to strike fear into the hearts of the team’s opponents, in addition to representing the institution itself. Mascots are scary animals, objects, and… “Indians.” And occasionally representatives of long-dead cultures which have been mythologized for their strength in war (i.e., th Spartans). The image of the savage war-mongering Indian has been long used in this country to justify ethnic genocide, cultural marginalization and ongoing oppression of Native peoples. Using that image for a sports team is unconscionable.

3. I hesitate to touch on anything which might re-flame the Great Blowjob Wars of 2006, but Twisty has a post up which, despite its requisite reference to funk-filled bratwurst (you can’t say she’s not funny), points out the pathetic role that sex plays in female identity. Married women in the UK are being told that the blow job may save their marriage — because it’s a quick way to please your husband without actually having to take your clothes off! The blow job, then, is “valuable” for time-starved and over-worked women. And of course, the men love it! What could be better than having a full-time wife who takes care of the kids, cleans the house, works outside of the home, and gets you off without even for a second thinking about her own desires, needs or pleasures?

4. Amanda and Melissa tell their stories. Jesus’ General responds (and here and here) to the Christian love that so many of Bill Donahue’s followers showed to the feminist bloggers. Lindsay also has thoughts.

5. Jon Swift is right — being friends with black people is hard! I’m glad Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck are willing to just come out and say it. I mean, one minute you think that your one black friend is totally cool, and then you tell him what you like about him — that his hair is so neat to touch, that he’s so much more articulate than those other black folks you know, that he’s remarkably clean, that you totally get him because you’re Irish and that’s a minority too — he gets all uppity and doesn’t want to “chill” with you anymore. Apparently there are some white people out there who are still able to have black friends — how do they do it?!

6. A radical conversion to Christianity. Proving again that progressive politics and religion do not have to be at odds, and at the same time that some people who profess to dislike Christianity the most aren’t necessarily coming from a place of blind bigotry:

My social circle was shocked when I first shyly broached the subject of church. An activist lawyer I knew sputtered. “Are you kidding?” he said. He launched a litany of complaints about the church that I’d come to hear over and over: It was the most reactionary force in the world, anti-Semitic, misogynist, homophobic … the Vatican … the Crusades … Jerry Falwell … child-molesting priests … Ralph Reed … I’d hated, during the 1980s, being expected to defend left movements or revolutionary parties, even when they were screwed up. I had no interest in defending another more fabulously corrupt institution. “It’s not about the church,” I said. “It’s about — ”

“Good deeds?” the lawyer asked incredulously. My desire for religion just didn’t make sense to him. He worked harder than anyone I’d ever met, spending fourteen hours a day defending Haitian refugees and Muslim political detainees and the victims of war and empire. He’d listened to prisoners at Guantánamo sob as they described Christian jailers destroying the Koran; he had represented a Nicaraguan woman raped by evangelical soldiers who sang hymns as they took turns with her on a dirt floor. Whatever faith drove him forward in his vocation, it had nothing to do with the Almighty God so readily invoked at prayer breakfasts in Washington.

Read the whole thing. It’s lovely, nuanced and brave.

7. In the Washington Post, Robin Givhan points out that “curvy” women are more acceptable when they’re women of color. She blows it at the end, though, when she writes that “Roundness is more accepted of black women because they are more accepting of their own curves.” I would argue that roundness is more accepted of black women because they’re already an exoticized “other” whose bodies have long been used in the service of white men, as a counter to the dainty, frail, servile and thin white women who are supposed to be the cultural ideal. Older, bigger women of color are the care-takers (nannies, mammies), and younger, curvier women of color are the temptresses and oversexed sluts. Black woman can be curvier because the assumption is that they aren’t as attractive (at least for permanent partnering) or as “classy” as white women, and don’t have to play by the same rules — and so their bodies can be co-opted and hypersexualized in ways which would be indecent for white women.

But yeah, sure, it’s all because women of color love themselves more.

Finally, not exactly social-justice-related by worth a read nonetheless, are the winners of Dahlia Lithwick’s “write like a right-wing blow-hard” contest. Is that our very own commenter Uccellina who scored an honorable mention?

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30 comments for “Social Justice Round-Up

  1. February 17, 2007 at 11:38 pm

    you can’t say she’s not funny

    She’s funny, in the same sense other niche polemicists are funny. The parallels between radical leftists like her and radical rightists are too ubiquitous to be coincidental.

  2. j
    February 17, 2007 at 11:59 pm

    No, Twisty is definitely funnier than any radical rightist I’ve ever read.

    The website is hilarious.

  3. Mnemosyne
    February 18, 2007 at 12:32 am

    I can kinda-sorta-almost see continuing to let the guy who’s been performing as Chief Illiniwek for the past 20 years or so to keep on doing it until he finally retired this week. But it’s more, “Oh, let the poor old man keep his job,” than any rational feeling. And I think the decision to let the mascot end after his retirement was absolutely the right one.

    But, hey, I graduated from a school where they ride a horse around the stadium after every touchdown, so I’m sure PETA will be on our ass about that one any day now.

  4. exangelena
    February 18, 2007 at 1:05 am

    Well, maybe it makes me a radical leftist (although I identify as a political moderate) and I don’t agree with everything she says, but as a woman and a feminist, I love the way that Twisty points out how degrading and damaging that “everyday” femininity can be.
    About #6, how is that any different than a right-winger citing horrible things that a few extremist Muslims do – like stoning women to death, committing suicide bombings, murdering journalists, etc. – and then saying that their religion is the most horrible in the world? In all organized religions, we should have cause for concern with their more violent and dangerous practices, but be careful not to tar millions of people with the actions of a radical minority.

    And about #7, maybe that is true for black and Hispanic women, but for Asian women, the standards of thinness are, in my experience, even stricter than for white women. With a lot of Asians, a size 4-6 is considered fat, whereas for white women it is fairly desirable (unless you’re Nicole Richie, that is).

  5. Henry
    February 18, 2007 at 2:08 am

    I kind of figured “curves” are more accepted in black women because black men like ’em. That whole stereotype of black men liking girls with big asses is pretty much true in my experience, at least with the majority of the ones I know. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I know plenty of white guys that are the same, they just don’t talk about it as much.

  6. Tara
    February 18, 2007 at 2:31 am

    I remember local criticism over the Chief Illiniwek mascot in the early 1990s. I’m amazed that they’re finally ending it (thank god). Mascots are another case, I think, where it is important and difficult for many people to see past their own investments (and not be defensive or self-serving) and see how others perceive a symbol (how they are offended, reminded of their second-class citizenship or complete outsiderness, etc.) I’m glad this change happened.

    About the Wash Post piece on black women and body image, I think it has become commonplace, in academic, public policy, and popular discussions, to state that black women are more accepting of their bodies and have higher self-esteem. Cultural reasons often get cited to explain this. I wonder if this is true. It seems like it’s a ‘positive’ stereotype, but I’m not so sure — about its capturing the ‘truth’ of social reality and about whether it might reinforce black females once again not being an object of concern or study.

  7. February 18, 2007 at 8:55 am

    thanks for the link, jill, and for rounding up some really interesting stuff.

  8. exangelena
    February 18, 2007 at 11:16 am

    Henry – I think what’s different in this case is that these black and Hispanic women are being accepted as larger by the mostly white men and women in the entertainment and fashion industry – the same ones who promote emaciated fashion models and actresses, called Kate Winslet fat, and claim that the slender Scarlett Johansson and Catherine Zeta Jones are “voluptuous” – not only within their communities.

  9. Tony
    February 18, 2007 at 1:39 pm

    Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar?

  10. February 18, 2007 at 1:45 pm

    Blackamazon rants a bit about that WP article in this post.

  11. February 18, 2007 at 2:58 pm

    I don’t understand why it’s so difficult to grasp how the Indian Mascot thing is offensive, no matter how supposedly tasteful the mascot’s dress and performance is. Chris makes the apt comparison to minstrel shows, which were justified as respectful nods to black culture. I’ll further point out that minstrel shows were part of a multi-pronged attempt to justify slavery (and then segregation)

    Well, having had managed to miss grasping it myself for far too long (read: long enough to open my mouth about it, thank Goddess only once), I have to say that what you said about the minstrel shows’ use in justifying slavery and segregation point out why it’s hard to get—they wouldn’t have been used to justify slavery and segregation if they weren’t useful in justifying slavery and segregation.

    They created an idealized image that white people could feel good about, and could expand society-wide; it gave the appearance of respect and pleasantness and gave people something to focus on that covered up the vivid injustices of real life.

    The society of the oppressors is not made up solely of die-hard racists—it has a huge percentage of people who don’t hate, in their hearts, the people being oppressed; people who, if they looked, without the rose-colored glasses that society teaches them to look through, would recognize injustice and oppression for what it is. For the oppression to continue, these people must be kept complacent, and the minstrel shows were a good for doing this, perpetuating the fiction that the oppression in question was not oppression but necessary, and good, and, here’s the kicker: unoppressive.

    They perpetuated the idea that no defense against oppression was needed—that the situation was ideal. Above and beyond the deliberate blindness that people were taught—the technique of “othering” the oppressed group so as not to be affected by their suffering—the minstrel shows discredited that suffering, dismissed it, as nothing more than the little things like everybody deals with, in amongst a contented life, rather than a chronic and significant misery caused by systematic oppression.

    Therefore, the otherwise-decent white person who might grow uncomfortable seeing human suffering amongst the black population (who couldn’t dismiss them as “not like me” enough to completely turn off her empathy), could take solace in the vision created by the minstrel shows—convincing herself that the problem doesn’t exist, rather than confronting the reality of how much is fundamentally wrong with her entire society.

    This has been done with much more success and pervasiveness with gender—the male domination of society has stood tall and strong for centuries because it has so perfectly given its oppressions the illusions of not only legitimacy but idealism—they have integrated it with love and kindness and happiness so well that half the time the oppressed aren’t even aware of being oppressed. This is how the Equal Rights Amendment failed, for example; this is why so many people—so many women—claim feminism is no longer necessary, as in centuries and decades past they claimed in similar numbers that it wasn’t necessary, period.

    The key to successful oppression is painting a picture of ideals, so that the people decent enough fight for what’s right instead fall into thinking that nothing is wrong.

    The Native American mascots do the same thing on a smaller scale—they create a pleasant and fun image of Native culture that has the appearance of being respectful—and people easily take the path of least resistance and enjoy the show, and pat themselves on the back at the same time for their “respect” of Native American culture.

    That’s why it’s so difficult to grasp. It’s not obvious. It’s not obvious because it’s tailor-made to shift one’s perception the opposite way. It’s not obvious because that’s the whole point.

  12. February 18, 2007 at 3:26 pm

    About #6, how is that any different than a right-winger citing horrible things that a few extremist Muslims do – like stoning women to death, committing suicide bombings, murdering journalists, etc. – and then saying that their religion is the most horrible in the world? In all organized religions, we should have cause for concern with their more violent and dangerous practices, but be careful not to tar millions of people with the actions of a radical minority.

    I think the point was that this lawyer had spent his career dealing hands-on with victims of people who did significant harm in the name of Christianity. For him, it’s not theoretical. I’m not justifying it, but I can understand it a little more than a Christian in the United States hating Muslims because of something they saw on the news.

  13. zuzu
    February 18, 2007 at 6:44 pm

    That, and he didn’t require a church to do good deeds.

  14. exangelena
    February 18, 2007 at 7:34 pm

    Jill – what about someone like Ayaan Hirsi Ali? She is someone who was raised Muslim and who suffered terribly in childhood and as a young adult. Or Donna Hughes and Phyllis Chesler who are feminists but see radical Islam as a threat to women’s rights? I’ve seen the blogads for Because They Hate, an anti-Muslim book being promoted by conservative websites, but it isn’t written by a pundit watching the Middle East conflict from an armchair, but by someone who lived through war in the Middle East.
    I don’t agree with their views on Islam at all, but I wouldn’t lump them in with the 101st Fighting Keyboardists.

  15. February 18, 2007 at 7:38 pm

    Well, yeah, that’s pretty much what I’m saying — that there are people who, because of their personal experience, oppose certain groups or ideologies. That doesn’t make them right, or immune to criticism, but I can understand it. I think Ayaan Hirsi Ali is wrong. I think that the lawyer in the Salon article is wrong. But I have far more sympathy for their views than I do for the Chicken Littles crying about our future as “dhimmies,” or the 101st Fighting Keyboarders.

    I think we might be arguing similar things here, but maybe I’m wrong?

  16. exangelena
    February 18, 2007 at 7:40 pm

    Particularly in Europe, there are some liberals of a similar viewpoint to the man in the Salon article, who see Islam’s cultural conservatism as a threat to gay rights and feminism.

  17. Bloix
    February 19, 2007 at 1:01 am

    Mascots are scary animals, objects, and… Indians. And occasionally representatives of long-dead cultures which have been mythologized for their strength in war (i.e., the Spartans).

    Yeah, right. Like Steelers, Brewers, Packers, Oilers, Flyers, Whalers and Mariners. Also Athletics, Dodgers, 76’ers, 49’ers, Trailblazers, Rangers, Yankees, Senators, Saints, Patriots, Celtics, Islanders, Texans, Canucks, and Canadiens. Not to mention Cowboys.

    Oh- also Aggies, Boilermakers, Cavaliers, Hilltoppers, Hoosiers, Minutemen, Mountaineers, Northmen, Pilgrims, Pioneers, Rebels, Rivermen, Scots, Swedes, and Yeomen.

    You do fine cultural criticism, but you don’t know shit about sports, do you?

  18. exangelena
    February 19, 2007 at 1:04 am

    Yeah, everything seems a lot clearer now :)

  19. Ataralas
    February 19, 2007 at 9:47 am

    Bloix, don’t forget how scary the might Cardinal is. Or the Blue Jay, Penguin, or Duck. Or those fighting Metropolitans and Twins and Padres.

    Jill, yes, Indian mascots are problematic in many ways. But there are also good examples, such as the FSU Semioles, where the Seminole governing bodies approved of the images and use of their name and the tribes have beneficial relationships to the schools. (e.g. there are scholarship programs directed towards Seminole students.) It appears that the UofI didn’t fit into this model, and so perhaps it was good to drop the mascot. But mascots can be complicated.

    Also, as a lifelong mainline Protestant (who is also a scientest and a queer), it’s nice to see some honest writing about being a Christian in a progressive context. It’s certainly not easy to walk the balance between recognizing how those of your faith have hurt your friends and colleagues and yet being authentic and open about your own faith and faith communities.

  20. Bloix
    February 19, 2007 at 12:16 pm

    I did forget the Padres. Also the Fighting Irish. And how ’bout those Mud Hens- my 2nd favorite team name of all time. My favorite of course is my own Terrapins – Fear the Turtle, as we like to say. (The Duck is different- he’s Mighty.) What Jill doesn’t get, of course, is that lots of traditional mascot names are about local pride. My guess is she doesn’t like sports – it’s just a lot of organized brawling to her.

  21. February 19, 2007 at 12:24 pm

    Bloix, if you’re going to be an asshole and attribute motives to me, you can fuck off.

    I do like sports. I do not like racism. Clear enough?

  22. February 19, 2007 at 1:35 pm

    Probably Jill just isn’t a half-literate moron with no grasp of history, whose enormous sense of entitlement is inversely proportional to her actual intelligence.

  23. February 19, 2007 at 3:21 pm

    The fact is, in many, many cases, black women are accepting and proud of their curves. I’m one of them. Few women I know actually want to be rail-thin, and the ones that are naturally slim often talk about finding ways to “put more meat on their bones.” Sure, there’s a historical context to black women being sexualized, but that’s removed from the fact that women of color have learned to love themselves in a society where many don’t accept them.

  24. Bloix
    February 19, 2007 at 5:28 pm

    I do not like racism. Well, bully for you. But a little beside the point, isnt it? You make an argument. I point out that it’s flawed. You call me a body part. Along with disliking racism, you seem to dislike being made fun of for a howler of an error. Or maybe you were remembering your classics class, where you studied how the ancient and fearsome Steelers fought their fabled wars against the warlike Packers and their allies the Bills. The point is, Jill, that there are lots of team names that evoke local pride, and lots of them are about kinds of people. Sometimes they’re even ethnic- Celtics, Vikings, Fighting Irish, Canucks. So it’s not obvious that all Indian names are racist.

  25. February 19, 2007 at 6:58 pm

    Learn how to use tags, pal.

    You pointed out that one small part of my argument is flawed. That doesn’t invalidate the entire thing. The point is that there are some groups in this country who have been traditionally marginalized, and when they are used to represent sports teams, it’s very questionable. How would you feel about a team called the New York Negroes? Or even the New York Blacks? Or the New York Jews? A-ok, since there are a lot of Jews and black people in New York?

  26. Tony
    February 19, 2007 at 9:36 pm

    What about the Cleveland Browns?

  27. Ataralas
    February 19, 2007 at 10:48 pm

    The Browns were named for their first coach, Paul Brown. No, really. The St. Louis Browns (now Cardinals) were named for their socks, in a similar manner to the Red Sox and the White Sox.

    I think, Jill, that it’s not just a small part of the argument. I think all of the teams listed show that mascots are drawn from a huge range of sources, from professions, to animals, to colors, to ethnic groups, to things I don’t even know how to classify (Metropolitans? Nationals?). And so, at least to me, there’s not necessarily a “violent” stereotype inherent in mascots; they tend to echo something interesting or notable about a region or a team.

    Perhaps I also feel, because of the locational nature of many team names/mascots, there’s some difference between say, the UofI Illini and the FSU Seminoles vs. the Cleveland Indians and the Atlanta Braves, the latter two being very generic, but the former two being very specific. And also a difference between the Seminoles, who have given explicit permission to use their name, and the Illiniwek, who as far as I know, haven’t said anything on the matter.

    And if naming the team of the state university of Illinois the Illini isn’t ok, then should we rename the state of Illinois? As far as I can tell, very few of the Illiniwek are extant, some scattered in Ohio, some in Oklahoma. (Now, that, for sure, is a crime!)

    Should we rename the state of Indiana?

  28. Bloix
    February 21, 2007 at 9:26 am

    I thought we were talking about the Ilini. Redskins is racist. Indians is too close to the line and the cartoon mascot is amazingly offensive. Braves and Chiefs are okay – they’re like Knights or Cavaliers. Same with Illini and Seminoles. I don’t see a problem.

  29. DataShade
    February 22, 2007 at 1:09 am

    I’m sorry, but the whole mascot thing is way off-base and overblown. maybe when you said “scary animals, objects, and ‘Indians,'” you didn’t intend for the adjective “scary” to be commutative over the rest of the list. But you didn’t put out any outrage for the not-always-pugilistic Fighting Irish, or those poor Hoosiers, Steelers, and 49er’s, no one’s taken up the burden of the oppressed Red or White Sox, etc.

    Also, the whole “minstrel show” thing seems almost deliberately conflated and combatitive. Wikipedia puts the first recorded North American game of baseball in the same year as the Trail of Tears, so you’d probably have to waterboard me to convince me that freakin’ MASCOTS had anything to do with anti-Indian sentiment. If you wanted to tell me it was cheaper to steal land from the indians than pay to sharecrop for America’s early near-feudal landowners, I’d believe that (which of course only heightens the irony of Andrew “White Male Suffrage” Jackson’s harsh anti-indian policies; he was all for empowering poor non-landowners, but also continued the proud tradition of fucking the red man to make farms for poor previously-non-landowning men).

    Anyway, I grew up in a school system named after one of the surviving Native American nations, I’ve studied under Robert Warrior, I *like* studying Native American history and I resent what my nation did to these people in the past, so you’re welcome to try to say I don’t understand where the outrage is coming from. But, I’m Polish and Italian, my initials spell out “MOB,” and I heard a polak joke a day from the time I started Kindergarten until the time I topped 6 feet. I COULD try to piss up a rope every time someone makes a bad show about La Cosa Nostra, or calls someone a wiseguy, does a bad Marlon Brando impersonation, etc. Instead, I just carry my squirtgun around the Monday after Easter and tell people not to fuck with my cultural heritage.

  30. February 22, 2007 at 7:56 pm

    Everyone in this thread who’s Native American, raise your hand.

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