Tales From A Survivor

Chris Brown tried to choke Rihanna. That was while he was threatening to kill her. And the stans are out in force claiming that she deserved it/provoked him/he didn’t do it on purpose. I would say I don’t know WTF is wrong with people, but I see this shit a lot. From men who want to justify it and from women who think it could never happen to them. Here’s the thing, abusers never seem like they’re violent to people on the outside, and in the beginning of the relationship they are the *perfect* partner. I mean it, they are absolutely the best partner their victim has ever had. They have all the romantic touches down, they’re a great listener (the best you’ll ever meet), and before long they have insinuated themselves into every single aspect of their victim’s life. As soon as they can’t imagine life without this person, they’re in deep shit.

Why? That’s when the abuse starts. And it’s not overt or even necessarily something that anyone would recognize as problematic. Because it’s just words, little subtle digs at their self-image that come from this wonderful person who knows them so well and loves them so much. And so they listen, and they lose a little of themselves. It’s that slow chipping away that’s important. Because without it? The first blow will be the last one. And the abuser can’t have that, so they lay the groundwork. But sometimes that chipping away doesn’t work, or at least not fast enough for the abuser. Maybe they’ve been pushed too far too fast, maybe at their base they’re not broken enough, maybe they are just plain contrary, or maybe they get fed up early in the cycle. Who knows? But when things don’t go according to plan the abuser flips their shit. Annihilation time if they can manage it.

And the fucked up part? They’re not necessarily consciously aware of what they’re doing to the victim. So they can tell themselves that they’re not a bad person, and they’ve never been this way with anyone else, that it’ll never happen again and a half dozen other things that add up to not having to face the reality that they’re hurting someone very badly. Because in their own heads they love their victim. Even when they want to control them and crush them. They love them so much that they can’t let the relationship end, or risk their SO meeting someone else, or whatever else is the trigger of the moment. And people will swear that something big must have happened to provoke them, but the reality is that they’re a ticking time bomb. All day. Every day. Whether it is a burnt dinner, a tone of voice, or being successful, there is nothing the victims could have, should have, would have done to defuse that bomb.

And people will say “Why didn’t she just leave?” like that would fix something. Know when most victims die? When they try to get out. And the craziest part is that people will still swear they should have tried harder, left earlier, done something other than whatever they did. Because victim-blaming is the most comfortable emotional reaction for a lot of folks. Here’s the thing, for a whole host of reasons there’s no way to spot an abuser at a glance, and even if you do figure it out fairly early in the relationship, there’s no guarantee that the fuse on that bomb isn’t so short that you’re already in danger. Does that mean no one should date? No. But it does mean that people should stop blaming the victim and start blaming the abuser. Want to get them help? Great. But don’t serve it with a side of justification for the abuser’s actions, or disdain for the victim. Domestic violence crosses every line regardless of money, race, or religion and we need to start treating it like the sickness it is instead of hiding from it. Yes I got out of my marriage, but it was hard and required me to do some things that I’m not proud of even though they saved my life. Luckily I had friends that truly supported me, and now I hope Rihanna (and every other victim) has friends that will stand by them until they can call themselves a survivor and get on with life.

What Is Cultural Appropriation?

A few years ago at WisCon (the feminist SF convention) there was a panel about Cultural Appropriation that sparked an online discussion about the topic that is generally referred to as the Great Debate of DOOM. This was partly due to the wide-ranging nature of it (over 20 blogs, I believe) and due to the great abundance of wank, ignorance, and utter fail on the part of some participants.

At every WisCon since, there have been other CA panels that attempted to fix the issues raised by the first. But it was clear to those of us who have these conversations and panels all the time that a 45 minute or 90 minute debate/discussion/whathaveyou was not going to get really deep into the topic. Judging from the stunning amount of ignorance and defensiveness associated with such discussions, obviously a longer, more in-depth treatment of the topic was necessary. Thus, this series of posts on the ABW.

At first I thought that we could contain everything in one post. But this topic has so many facets and aspects that I quickly realized this could never be. That’s fine with me, because it will help us get really deep into the issues in the comments (which are slightly unwieldy due to the lack of threading).

I thought it would be appropriate to first define what we mean when we talk about Cultural Appropriation. What is it? What do you mean when you apply that term? If we can all express that and put up a few loose boundary markers around the subject, that will make discussing its effects and manifestations a little easier.

As a writer of color, I’m used to discussing cultural appropriation in the artistic sphere. Remember, though, that the issue extends beyond art – spirituality, style/fashion, speech, attitudes and more. Let’s bring them all in.

A note on participation:

Everyone is invited to contribute to this discussion. But if this is your first time here, I suggest you read The Rules (linked at the top) before wading in. There are bannable offenses here, and I will not hesitate to bring the hammer down if you bring bullshit to the table.

A note on comments and moderation:

By default, all comments by first-time participants are automatically moderated. This is a measure to keep the drive-by crazies out, not a tool to suppress anyone’s voice. If your comment doesn’t show up by midnight or so, please use the contact form to query about it. It may have ended up as spam. To avoid being put in the first-timer box, please use the same name/email combination every time you post. That way WordPress will recognize you.

We will try our best to keep up with the moderation queue, but remember that we have jobs and lives away from the Internet!

Things You Need To Understand #10: The Dictionary Is Not A Perfect Rhetorical Tool

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a long time, but one of the comments on the Avatar post finally pushed me to do it.  I am just so tired of people using the dictionary in discussions of complex issues as if the dictionary definition trumps, well, everything.  No, people.  The dictionary is a good tool, but a very simple one.  It will not help you understand complex concepts and it will certainly not win you a debate.

This happens a lot when white people try to have a discussion about the word racism.  Any time the concept of Prejudice + Power comes up, certain folks rush to m-w.com to prove that racism means exactly what it says online.  “See!!” they shout triumphantly, while anyone who’s had this conversation hundreds of times merely rolls their eyes and prepares to begin another session of Racism 101.

Dictionary definitions are problematic, particularly online definitions.  Merriam-Webster Online’s free version is abridged.  For those unaware, abridged means:

1: to reduce in scope : diminish

2: to shorten in duration or extent

3: to shorten by omission of words without sacrifice of sense : condense

Most inexpensive print dictionaries are abridged, too.  And though I don’t think they say so on the site, some m-w.com definitions are even more abridged than the print version.  Most of the time people looking to get the gist of a word don’t need the full, unabridged definition and etymology of a word. However, anyone looking to prove that a word does or does not mean something absolutely, or to say “You’re making up definitions, X word doesn’t mean that!”, cannot turn to the abridged definition to prove their point.

Beyond that, not all dictionaries are created equal.  Merriam-Webster is a good dictionary, yes.  But comparable to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED)?  Not quite. Will you find a more thorough definition of racism in the OED than M-W unabridged?  Probably.  (I can’t say for sure as I do not own an OED.)  It certainly won’t be less complex.  These are not the only two dictionaries of the English language around, either.  And while they certainly will have many of the same definitions, there is a reason why there are more than two.

And then we come to words whose many facets are beyond the scope of a dictionary definition.  This is what encyclopedias are for, in part.  If you’re looking for a deep understanding of a word or a concept, the dictionary isn’t going to provide it.  That’s not a dictionary’s job.

In his essay “Defining Racism“, Daniel Hindes points out that “dictionary definitions are all short and unambiguous (traits desirable in a dictionary),” and take a lot of key things for granted (due to shortness).  For the definition of Racism, this includes the existence of Race.  Hindes then brings up the functional/sociological definition of race, something that requires a lot more words than you’ll find in most dictionaries.  The functional definition is a lot deeper and more involved — not a surprise — and is the result of people’s actual experience with racism and many, many discussions about the issue, amongst other things.  Sociology is complex.

One final point to consider:  I’m sure that the people involved in editing and updating various dictionaries strive to be impartial and unbiased.  After all, it’s just about the words and what they mean, right?  There’s no way that could be biased or skewed in some way.

Untrue.

Though I don’t ascribe some vast conspiracy by “The Man” to “Keep us down” or anything like that, I am well aware that if you’re a member of a majority or privileged group, the fact that racism is not just about how one person feels about another might not occur to you.  If it doesn’t occur to you, then having that as a definition wouldn’t strike you as odd or incomplete or even wrong.  The thing to remember is that not all definitions are absolute or true to the core.  The English language is mutable, changeable, evolving.  Don’t believe me?  Then go throw a faggot on the fire and rape your neighbor’s lawn gnome.  The former will not require having to interact with a gay person and the latter has nothing to do with sexual assault.  Look them up.

Bottom line: whipping out a dictionary definition during a discussion of complex issues is ill-advised at best.  I would even go so far as to say it’s dumb.  It doesn’t put you over on anyone else and it doesn’t win the debate.  It usually shows that you don’t have any kind of true understanding of the concepts under discussion and usually leads to people either working to educate you or dismissing you outright.

There’s a fine line between trying to understand a foreign concept or different point of view and just being an ignorant ass.  Avoid the latter by leaving the dictionary alone.


Update: Here’s video of an amazing talk lexicographer Erin McKean (who is an editor of the OED) gave at the TED conference.  Really amazing stuff on language, dictionaries, and the English language.

Ignorant Parents In Danger Of Raising Ignorant Children

So here’s the story as I understand it.  Every year at this elementary school they celebrate Thanksgiving by having the kids dress up as pilgrims and “indians”.  Parents, mainly those of Native descent, have begun to object to this for several reasons.  1. It’s a completely inaccurate portrayal of what went on when the pilgrims got here.  (I am also kind of sick of the way we lie to kids about history, only to have to reteach it later.  Columbus discovered America, anyone?  Lincoln fought the war to free the slaves?  But I digress.) 2. The “indian” outfits are stupid and based on racist stereotypes, anyway.  All they were asking is that they have the Thanksgiving stuff without the ignorant dress up time.  The school board agreed and said that the feast should happen without costumes.

And then.

Well, most of you who read this blog can guess what happened.

Condit Elementary School parent Michelle Raheja said she was not prepared for the backlash she got from helping to write an e-mail to a kindergarten teacher at the elementary school.

She and her daughter have been harassed as a result, she said Wednesday.

“It was a private message to one kindergarten teacher,” Raheja said. “She did not ask me if she could circulate it to others or circulate it to the principal. I don’t think she was ill-intentioned.”

On Tuesday, numerous parents and their children dressed in American Indian and Pilgrim costumes to protest a Claremont Unified School District decision to have a Thanksgiving feast without the costumes that have been traditional for decades.

Another group of protesters, many younger and of American Indian descent, carried signs that said “Racism,” “No Thanks No Giving,” “Respect” and “Don’t Celebrate Genocide.”

Raheja said she and about 15 to 20 parents in the school helped write the private e-mail message about their concerns with the dress in the Thanksgiving feast to a Condit elementary teacher. She said the e-mail was redistributed without her knowledge.

At the Tuesday feast, Raheja said her 5-year-old daughter was harassed. A parent dressed up as an American Indian, Raheja said, “did a war dance around my daughter.” The parent then told her daughter and others to “go to hell,” she said.

Let’s pause here a moment.  A war dance.  A WAR DANCE, PEOPLE.

What the fuck kind of ass do you have to be to tell a 5 year old to go to hell?  The same kind of ass who would do a “war dance” around one.

I don’t advocate violence, but if I had seen that, I would have just hauled off and hit that person.

Continuing…

On Wednesday, she said she had received more than 250 “hateful and intimidating” e-mails.

“They go from being anxious about political correctness to calling me (an epithet). They don’t know my daughter’s name, but they’ve said hateful and disgusting things about my daughter.” (Classy! –abw)

At Tuesday’s feast, Raheja said she was told “if I had any issue with the school, I need to leave the school, and my daughter would not be welcomed.”

Raheja said, “We love Condit. We love the staff. Overall, we’ve had a very good experience. But the anger and hatred has been unbearable.”

If you have an opinion on this matter, I suggest you express it to the Condit staff and administrators yourself.  Website is here, complete with contact information.  I personally think it’s a little messed up for them to have even allowed parents to act in despicable ways around kids at their school or to distribute that email in the first place.

Google News on the subject here.  Beware clueless people being quoted and yammering on about how horrible political correctness is because it keeps their children from parading around in “headdresses”.  Idiots.

Inspired

Last year on the anniversary of 9/11 I was listening to NPR’s Morning Edition and their coverage of the memorial stuff going on at the WTC site.  I was struck by the structure of the ceremony — there wasn’t just the reading of the names, but also a bell rung at the moments when the planes struck and the buildings collapsed and some other moments marked.  It occurred to me that the mourners and officials were trying to, in essence, recreate that day, which seemed really painful and non-productive to me.  But I’m also aware that grief, particularly public grief, takes on many forms and no one can say “this is the wrong way.”  There are no right or wrong ways.

Still, that feeling stuck with me and started to take shape as a story.  Now a little over a year later, that story has been published.  If you’re interested, you can read it at Strange Horizons.

It’s Morning In America

Last night America elected its first black president.  We made history, as everyone still enjoys saying.  And I think we’ve earned the right to bask in the glow for a little bit.

But listen, there’s still a lot to be done.

First and foremost, it should be stated that, although come January we will have a Black president, that does not mean that racism is “over”.  That having a black president does not end the dialogue we have on this blog, on other blogs, and in meatspace about race, prejudice, and the challenges people of color face in this country and the world.  Obama’s win only proves that he specifically had what it took to win this election.  It wasn’t that any black person could have won, just as not any random woman could have won.  McCain made the mistake of thinking that; of looking at people like labels.

So there’s still a lot of anti-racist work to be done.  Racism still needs to be eliminated.  And while I’m hopeful that having a black president is one major step in that direction, it can also cause a setback as people throw “But we have a black president!” in our faces every time we bring up the deep-seated problems in this country.  We can’t let that happen.

Another important thing to remember is that Obama is not perfect and he’s not supernatural.  While we can rejoice in his presidency, we can’t cut him any slack.  And I think we must be willing, as activists and as non-activists, to work hard for change.  He said as much in his speech last night, so let’s hold him to his word.  More than ever we need to hold a president to his word this time around.

Am I wrong to feel, to hope, that doing so will be easier?  That in 4 years I’m going to feel better about my country than I do today?  Obama has never shared all of my values, but I am overwhelmed right now with a good feeling.

Of Patriotism, Joe Six-Pack, and Real Americans

There’s been a lot of rhetoric lately about this idea that “real” Americans are middle class Christian white people living in small towns. Because somehow the POC in those towns? Not really American. People living in major cities? Not really American. People who are not Christian? Not American. Part and parcel of the implications of the “real” American stance is this idea that “real” Americans are patriots who are willing to sacrifice their lives (or watch their children make that sacrifice) in service to their country. Now, as some of you already know I’m a veteran. And I have to say this idea that the only specific religions and races are really American? Disgusts me. Because I know who I served with, I know how many families that have made the ultimate sacrifice do not bear any resemblance to the Joe Six-Pack image that is being espoused as the true face of America. The true face of America? Looks like this:

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In what reality is it remotely acceptable to imply that this soldier was not a “real” American because of his last name or his faith? He was 20 years old, and he put it all on the line for his country. How dare anyone disrespect that sacrifice by implying that he wasn’t good enough to be a “real” American? Are there real Americans in small towns in the Midwest? Absolutely. There are also real Americans living in Brooklyn, Chicago, and Los Angeles. They are Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Pagans, Agnostics, Atheists, and host of other belief systems. They are every race, every income level, and every educational background. Because that’s the true America. Not the one that spews hate and calls it patriotism.

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