Why I’ve Started to Fear My Fellow Social Justice Activists

From Yes Magazine:  http://www.yesmagazine.org/people-power/why-ive-started-to-fear-my-fellow-social-justice-activists-20171013

We are alienating each other with unrestrained callouts and unchecked self-righteousness. Here’s how that can stop.


Oct 13, 2017

Callout culture. The quest for purity. Privilege theory taken to extremes. I’ve observed some of these questionable patterns in my activist communities over the past several years.

As an activist, I stand with others against white supremacy, anti-blackness, cisheteropatriarchy, capitalism, and imperialism. I am queer, trans, Chinese American, middle class, and able-bodied.

Holding these identities scattered across the spectrum of privilege, I have done my best to find my place in the movement, while educating myself on social justice issues to the best of my ability. But after witnessing countless people be ruthlessly torn apart in community for their mistakes and missteps, I started to fear my own comrades.

As a cultural studies scholar, I am interested in how that culture—as expressed through discourse and popular narratives—does the work of power. Many disciplinary practices of the activist culture succeed in curbing oppressive behaviors. Callouts, for example, are necessary for identifying and addressing problematic behavior. But have they become the default response to fending off harm? Shutting down racist, sexist, and similar conversations protects vulnerable participants. But has it devolved into simply shutting down all dissenting ideas? When these tactics are liberally applied, without limit, inside marginalized groups, I believe they hold back movements by alienating both potential allies and their own members.

In response to the unrestrained use of callouts and unchecked self-righteousness by leftist activists, I spend enormous amounts of energy protecting my activist identity from attack. I self-police what I say when among other activists. If I’m not 100 percent sold on the reasons for a political protest, I keep those opinions to myself—though I might show up anyway.

On social media, I’ve stopped commenting with thoughtful push back on popular social justice positions for fear of being called out. For example, even though some women at the 2017 women’s march reproduced the false and transmisogynistic idea that all women have vaginas, I still believe that the event was a critical win for the left and should not be written off so easily as it has been by some in my community.

Understand, even though I am using callouts as a prime example, I am not against them. Several times, I have been called out for ways I have carelessly exhibited ableism, transmisogyny, fatphobia, and xenophobia. I am able to rebound quickly when responding with openness to those situations. I am against a culture that encourages callouts conducted irresponsibly, ones that abandon the person being called out and ones done out of a desire to experience power by humiliating another community member.

I am also concerned about who controls the language of social justice, as I see it wielded as a weapon against community members who don’t have access to this rapidly evolving lexicon. Terms like “oppression,” “tone policing,” “emotional labor,” “diversity,” and “allyship” are all used in specific ways to draw attention to the plight of minoritized people. Yet their meanings can also be manipulated to attack and exclude.

Furthermore, most social justice 101 articles I see online are prescriptive checklists. Although these can be useful resources for someone who has little familiarity with these issues, I worry that this model of education contributes to the false idea that we have only one way to think about, talk about, and ultimately, do activism. I think that movements are able to fully breathe only when there is a plurality of tactics, and to some extent, of ideologies.

I am not the first nor the last to point out that these movements for liberation and justice are exhibiting the same oppressive patterns that we are fighting against in larger society. Rather than wallowing in critique or walking away from this work, I choose a third option—that we as a community slow down, acknowledge this pattern and develop an ethics of activism as a response.

Continue reading at:  http://www.yesmagazine.org/people-power/why-ive-started-to-fear-my-fellow-social-justice-activists-20171013

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A Muslim American’s Homecoming: Cowboys, Country Music, Chapatis

From The New York Times:  https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/26/travel/muslim-road-trip-america.html

By

The conversion took place on Honky-Tonk Row, my baptism a glaze of midsummer Tennessee sweat anointing my forehead. Nashville’s Wildhorse Saloon is a tabernacle for line-dancing disciples, and I was in communion with the gyrating congregation.

“Shuffle, shuffle, turn to your left.”

“Right, left, right — there ya go!”

I have a strong respect for choreographed mass dancing; I grew up with the understanding that seminal moments in Bollywood films must be commemorated with synchronized hip shaking. The Wildhorse was a divine revelation — white people, they’re just like us!

There I was, a Yankee of Indian extraction who had always dismissed country music without a second listen, tearing through Nashville’s Lower Broadway — swaying along to cover bands at Tootsie’s and Robert’s Western World and perusing star-spangled cowboy gear at Boot Country.

My visit to the South was long overdue. I’ve lived in five countries on three continents, but the United States has always been the unifying thread; my America is diverse and dynamic and molded by immigrants. But how well did I really know it? Last fall, when I returned from a four-year stint as an expat in South Africa, I deplaned into unfamiliar territory. There was an acrid, unseen fog looming: two weeks later came Election Day.

President Trump began his term with a travel ban on certain Muslim-majority countries; this week he’s expanding that diktat, and in what’s become the hallmark of a turbulent presidency, no one has any clue what’s next. As a Muslim American immigrant, am I just a few 140-character proclamations away from having my citizenship revoked? But fear also sparked curiosity. To me, “Wyoming” sounds foreign and peculiar, spilling lazily off the tongue like a yawn and evoking in my mind the wild terrain someone else might associate with a Zimbabwe or Mozambique. What’s exotic to me isn’t food gilded with turmeric and six-day weddings — it’s grits and rodeos. How much time did I have left to experience them?

I wondered if, given Mr. Trump’s rhetoric, I would feel like a foreigner in my own home. So I hit the road over the Fourth of July to see how much of an outsider I really was.

The Not-So-Deep South

“The songs really don’t help the stereotypes,” Sobia remarked.

Every explorer needs a sidekick, so I’d drafted a friend whose curiosity rivaled my own. Sobia was the Clark to my Lewis, the Finn to my Sawyer, the Buzz Lightyear to my Woody; we were two Muslim-American women trying to demystify guns, cowboys, and church, and hopefully evading lard in the process. At that moment, however, our ambitions were limited to making sense of the song on the radio: “I was sittin’ there sellin’ turnips on my flatbed truck…”

You have to hand it to country music. You want to mock its clichés? It’ll cram each verse with so many mommas and daddies and shotguns and Chevys that it insulates itself from satire. It’s self-aware and sassy, somewhere between caricature and cultural anthropology — just look up the lyrics to Hank Williams Jr.’s “A Country Boy Can Survive.” Recurring themes of booze, small-town boys chasing blonde-haired girls, guns, and pickup trucks are not my domain. The heartbreak, however, is breathtakingly relatable.

Sobia and I began our trip to Nashville by educating ourselves, first at the Country Music Hall of Fame and later at the iconic Grand Ole Opry. But it’s in the kitschy, bachelorette-party ridden dives of Lower Broadway, dappled in neon and scorned by locals, where we truly embraced the music. We enjoyed our barhopping expeditions far more than anyone sober reasonably should, given the unseemly behavior and crimes against dancing that prevailed. We took a break to fuel up at Hattie B’s, where we waited in line for an hour to sample Nashville’s famed hot chicken, a fiery, delectable treat that singed even my normally spice-immune Indian taste buds.

Continue reading at: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/26/travel/muslim-road-trip-america.html

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The voices of Weinstein’s accusers have torn the fabric of patriarchy

From The Guardian UK:  https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/oct/14/sexual-assault-report-women-culture-of-silence

This outpouring could be a turning point. It’s time to name those who have abused us, and treat sexual crimes with the seriousness they deserve


Saturday 14 October 2017

There are many shocks following on from this week’s reports of the sexual violations and rapes allegedly committed by film producer Harvey Weinstein. One shock for me is about the language used by the media to describe them. Almost all early reports referred to victimisation as “sexual harassment”.

Weinstein’s alleged acts involved quid pro quo offers, requests to be watched in the shower and for massages, naked pursuits of targets around couches. Such actions are sexual harassment.

But they are not just harassment. These are criminal acts that, if proved, would lead to jail time — not just fines and wrist-slapping. Language out of a Henry James novel made it sound as if rape was like using the wrong fork: “Mistreatment of women”, “misbehaviour”, “indiscretions”. Or “misconduct”, like a bad orchestra. Reporters used “episode” or the 70s-ish, hot tub-ish, “encounter”.

It’s likely that media lawyers advised reporters to use softer terms. But if you are reporting on a hate crime assault, you don’t inform readers accurately by calling it a “racial encounter”.

Shocking too is how district attorneys have failed to react. The New York Times and New Yorker exposés include reports of many alleged crimes in two jurisdictions: California and New York. I believe that basic information about the laws regarding sex crime and abuse are rarely explained to women, and this perpetuates a situation in which sexual assault is treated as a cultural event — “blurred lines” — when in fact criminal law is clear.

In New York state, any unwanted sexual contact is “sexual abuse”. In California, any unwanted sexual touching is “sexual assault” or “sexual battery” punishable by prison terms of six to 12 months. In both states, coercing someone into sex is sexual assault. Forcing someone to submit to oral sex, as actor and director Asia Argento alleged of Weinstein, is a felony. When someone chases a target around furniture, while he is naked, with exits from the room locked, this is arguably stalking and kidnapping.

When someone exposes himself in a public place such as a restaurant, and masturbates, as Fox reporter Lauren Sivan recounted, it is “public lewdness”, a class B misdemeanour. If “he or she intentionally exposes the private or intimate parts of his or her body in a lewd manner for the purpose of alarming or seriously annoying such person” it is a class A misdemeanour; six months, and usually placement on the registered sex offenders’ list.

Also, these events have widely been discussed as if they are history. But the statute of limitations is still open. In New York, the statute for sexual assault is five years, but there is no statute for rape. You can bring charges until you or your rapist dies. In California, a 2017 law, passed after the Bill Cosby allegations, extended the statute of limitations to — for ever. And to six years for assaults that took place prior to 2017. In the UK, there is no statute of limitations for serious sexual crimes. UK victims can bring charges forever.

Most of these women, in other words, could press charges today, even if their assaults happened years ago.

Ambra Gutierrez, an Italian model, wore a hidden recording device in 2015 to document the fact that an assault had occurred in her previous meeting with Weinstein. In an act of courage, this woman went back into danger. But DA Cyrus Vance’s office did not then pursue the case because, a statement said, it “couldn’t establish intent”. This week, it was reported that, months later, Vance was gifted $10,000 for his reelection campaign — by one of Harvey Weinstein’s lawyers.

Had Weinstein boarded a plane to Switzerland this week, as he was reportedly planning to do, that too might have constituted a crime: obstruction of justice. Resisting arrest. Flight. These are felonies or common law crimes.

But because our power brokers want to keep sexual assault in the realm of the “uncomfortable” or the “disgusting”, rather than the criminal, Weinstein was not told not to leave town. Only on Thursday was it announced that police in New York and London are taking action following the reports. Meanwhile, Weinstein headed to Arizona, to sex rehab, with yoga and equine therapy. But “rehab” is a choice, not a confrontation with the criminal justice system.

Continue reading at:  https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/oct/14/sexual-assault-report-women-culture-of-silence

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