You can’t spell “resistance” without “rest.”

SleepingLion

Dear Rebecca:

This morning in church I was asked to read from the writings of “Kansas poet” William Stafford. Stafford died in the 1990s, but these particular passages seemed very well suited to our Internet-Trump era.

He speaks of writer whose work seems to be to

Find limits that have prevailed and break them; be more brutal, more revealing, more obscene, more violent. Press all limits…

Fascination with things as they are becomes addictive; stronger and stronger shocks become necessary. People want even their entertainments to satisfy their lust for fear, cynicism, and disgust…

We must suspend the old course in current events, in order to protect the young. And even the old, battered, disoriented, blasé, can no longer register human feelings in the blizzard of our time.

Sanctuary, sanctuary — what lives needs sanctuary.

Sound familiar?

It seems to me these days we are governed by provocation and provocateurs. On social media, we swim in a tide of constant outrage — the “blizzard of our time” — and our passions, my passions certainly, are governed by the need to respond to those outrages, to make them right. “Someone is being wrong on the Internet” is a motto for our generation.

And more specifically, we are literally governed by a man who seems to want to find limits that have prevailed and break them, to be more brutal and obscene and violent.

What if we stopped being provoked?

I’m not suggesting we absent ourselves from politics. As many have pointed out, that’s something you can do when you’re privileged, when politics don’t happen to you.

But I am suggesting maybe it’s time to disarm, to stop responding to every provocation with a torrent of outrage. What if we don’t go apeshit every time our leader pokes us with a stick?

What if we follow the logic of sabbath? You can’t spell “resistance”without “rest” after all.

I don’t know exactly what this looks like. I don’t know how, precisely, to avoid being provoked when our leader’s every action is provocative. But I suspect that finding such an approach would rob the provocateurs of their greatest power, their greatest advantage. Maybe the slyest rhetorical weapon we have in this age is … the shrug.

There’s so much to be angry about. Our rage is earned, and righteous, but I increasingly suspect it’s a way of controlling us. There are benefits to dispassion, after all, to the pulled punch and the shot gone unfired.

Sanctuary, sanctuary. What our lives need is sanctuary.

Restively, Joel

Arpaio, Trump, and Nazis

Dear Rebecca:

Donald Trump’s pardon of  Joe Arpaio re-emphasizes something we already knew: The folks who say they only have a problem with illegal immigration often aren’t being totally square with us.

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See, Arpaio got in legal trouble not because he was hunting illegal immigrants, but because — for all practical purposes — he was hunting Latinos: native-born, naturalized, or undocumented. Trump’s pardon says that’s OK.

Remember:

A 2011 Justice Department report concluded that Arpaio engaged in “unconstitutional policing” by systematically targeting Latinos for racial profiling. That same year, in response to a lawsuit, a federal judge ordered Arpaio to stop detaining and harassing residents of largely Latino neighborhoods. He ignored the order and continued to perform sweeps, claiming they were lawful.

And, uh, yeah: That does put Trump on the side of Nazis, Confederates, and any other group of racists you care to find deplorable. It singles out a less-powerful group for legal harassment and possible arrests based on nothing more than the color of their skin.

That is racist. That is racist. That is racist. Period.

Respectfully, Joel

 

Joss Whedon and the Theater of Allyship

Dear Joel,

Joss Whedon took a risk that reeks of male entitlement: to claim feminism but not give up his abusive behavior toward women. Maybe he’s a faux-feminist or a woke misogynist. Maybe he’s a liar who wanted to cash in on feminism. Maybe he can’t make the connection between the political and the personal. Maybe he’s doing what more feminist-identifying men would do if they were given the opportunity. The fact that he decided to speak like a feminist and act like a dirtbag suggests to me that he wanted the benefits of both—for him to be celebrated by women and also for him to have power over them. Like lots of men, he sees the advantages that feminism has for him, but he doesn’t want to give up the perks of sexism. It’s rather nice to have the tools of sexism—firing women for getting pregnant, marital infidelity—in your toolbox, just in case you might want to use them one day.

Perhaps this is why so many good men, men who are, in practical ways, feminists, don’t embrace the term. Once you declare yourself a feminist, you have to live up to it. You secretly want to reserve your right to be a misogynist, just in case your wife asks you to do something really uncomfortable, like organize your family around her career trajectory or keep her own last name or just address the f@&*! Christmas cards this year. Better to be a misogynist than a hypocrite, seems to be the logic.

Of course, you don’t have to be either. You can be a consistently good man, which is to say, a man who consistently challenges male privilege and works to insure equitable treatment for those who are not men. You don’t have to be a perfect man, but you do have to be a man doing better and being better than he was before. This is what good people want in all areas of their lives—that their “love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.” Becoming a better advocate for those who are vulnerable, including women, is part of that growth.

Sometimes, it’s easy to see misogyny and fight against it. Don’t cheat on your wife. Treat domestic violence like the crime that it is. Don’t laugh at sexist jokes. Intervene in sexual violence against women.

And, sometimes, men still have a lot to learn and, even harder, believe: about the wage gap, about the mental load, about emotional labor, about why putting your dishes IN the dishwasher or your clothes IN the hamper is a requirement for leveling up in feminism. (Many feminist men seem to struggle with prepositions. If there is a Bloom’s taxonomy for feminism, mastering the difference between in and next to is toward the top. I’m not making an easy joke about that, either. Recognizing inequality in the household workload is harder for most men, I think, than is seeing inequality elsewhere.)

In feminism, as in loading the dishwasher or diapering an infant, it’s not okay to throw up your hands and say, “I’ll never do it well enough to please you, so I’m just going to stop trying!” You have to keep trying, recognizing (as with the dishwasher or the baby) that there are a million ways to do this right and a few big ways to do it wrong and that, as an adult, you have to do it one of the right ways. And it’s not your wife’s job to teach you how—it was your father’s.

We can’t escape the culture we live in, including its sexism. But we can, over time, change it so that the sexist behaviors men today accept as the norm about will be ones that the men of the future can’t even fathom.

Image result for men who change diapers change the world

Above, a bumper sticker declares that “Men who change diapers change the world.” True, but I’m fairly sure that my children wouldn’t understand that, once upon a time, men needed to be celebrated for providing for the basic needs of a person they are, you know, responsible for. Just one way that I think the future is going to be different. 

Glad we are doing it together,

Rebecca

Whedonesque

Dear Rebecca:

I’ve been a fan of Joss Whedon’s shows for awhile. “Firefly” was one of the best short-lived shows ever to exist, and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” still (mostly) stands up 20 years later.

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More than an entertainer, though, Whedon has been known as that rare thing: A guy who proudly adopts the “feminist” label. Only….

Joss Whedon made his name directing cult television shows such as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and big-budget action movies that often featured women in empowering roles. Many applauded him for being a champion of women, a feminist in an industry accused of misogyny and sexism.

That image was challenged by his ex-wife Kai Cole, who wrote an essay in a Hollywood industry blog called the Wrap Sunday accusing him of serially cheating during their 16-year marriage and calling him a “hypocrite preaching feminist ideals.”

“I want to let women know that he is not who he pretends to be,” Cole wrote. “I want the people who worship him to know he is human, and the organizations giving him awards for his feminist work, to think twice in the future about honoring a man who does not practice what he preaches.”

So. Confession time. I’m terrified that I, too, am Joss Whedon.

I’m not abusing my power as a producer by (allegedly) sleeping around with female actors, nor have I (allegedly) fired a woman for being pregnant. I like to think I wouldn’t do such things.

I also know it’s possible I would.

I know my heart. I know its temptations. I know I try to be better than my most base self, but I also know my most base self is in there somewhere.

There’s a lot of talk these days on the left about how people with privilege can be allies, and I confess sometimes to wondering about the limits of allyship. I try to be supportive of feminists, people of color, all the Ls, Gs, Bs, and Ts. I think this is my best self. It’s who I want to be. I think.

But I’ve never really had the power to be a total monster. And I sometimes stop short of identifying myself as a “feminist” publicly, not because it is a bad thing to be, but because I know I might be a bad man who someday shows myself to be an utter hypocrite. Joss Whedon’s troubles show me I’m not the only one.

Maybe this isn’t something to admit publicly. But I suspect that if I’m going to write honestly and ardently about the issues I write about, a bit of honesty here is critical.

I’ll keep trying to be better than my worst self. But my best self feels like a fragile thing sometimes.

With respect, Joel

Keep White Supremacists on the Run

Dear Joel,

I have bad news, good news, and better news.

The bad news: ACT for America is an anti-Muslim group with a worrisome number of victories that have a real impact on Muslim Americans, Muslim immigrants, and those who would welcome them as our neighbors. The group claims 750,000 members and chapters all across the country, though those numbers may be unreliable, given the organization’s history of exaggerating its number of chapters. It also takes credit for a dozen federal and even more state-level bills aimed to curtailing immigration, “securing” the border, and outlawing “sharia law,” a bogeyman they use to scare up support for anti-Muslim policies. The organization, which bills itself as an “grassroots” national security non-profit, organized a multi-city “March Against Sharia” event this past June. ACT for America operates as if its main concerns are women’s rights (which is just a way to gin up outrage at Muslim-majority nations, not an actual effort to protect women’s rights any way that might offend the many conservative Christians who participate in this group), “standing with Israel” (also a direct appeal to conservative Christians and Jewish people), and national security (that is, anti-immigration).

Leaders in ACT for America might pretend to be nice, respectable citizens (In Jonesboro, Arkansas, where the local chapter is quite active, many members are current or retired pastors and lawyers. A prominent local Tea Party politician is also a member.), but they are part of an organization with explicitly racist and violent views. Just one example: the June rally in Arkansas was led by Billy Roper, a former history teacher and one of Arkansas’ more ambitious white supremacists.

In other words, you don’t have to dig very deep beneath ACT for America’s veneer of respectability (Folks who attend conservative churches: See if your church is getting propaganda from this group, please.) to find white supremacists calling for genocide against non-whites of any religion.

Embolded by the Trump administration’s anti-Muslim policies, they’d planned nationwide rallies for September 9.

The good news: The rallies got cancelled. Or, rather, moved to online rallies. The only sad part about this is that it’s always good to see just who in your community would show up to protest the settlement of war refugees in your town so you can be sure to boycott their business.

The better news: They bailed because they saw the counterprotest in Boston. They saw how pathetic the 50-100 white supremacists looked against 15,000K people who won’t accept hate–and they saw that white people, in particular, won’t stand for it. In their comments in Breithbart (No, I’m not linking to it), ACT for America, like their white supremacists president, put neo-Nazis, neo-Confederates, and other white supremacists in the same category as antifascist protestors and said that, by golly, things were just too dangerous–even though the Boston counter protests were remarkably peaceful. But don’t let them lie to you: they aren’t afraid of neo-Nazis and defenders of slavery. They put those folks to work leading the organization! They are afraid of the humiliation of counter protest.

Counterprotests work. For folks wondering if we shouldn’t just ignore protestors, if depriving them of an audience would shut them up–nope.

I’ve shared this story elsewhere, but it’s worth retelling. I learned it from working in hate studies for years now. It comes from insights from a former hate group recruiter who shared it.

You want to recruit in a town. You go in and do a little damage–paint a swastika on the synagogue, for example. If, the next day, the only people cleaning it up are the Jews in town, you stay and recruit. If, the next day, the whole town is there–more people than you can count, more people than could ever be useful in cleaning it up, and they are of every faith and they are happy to be pulling together and they are loud in their proclamation that this won’t stand in their town… then you move on. There’s no reason wasting your time there. 

This is how we have to treat hate. We keep it running. When a flyer goes it, you take it down–loudly and repeatedly. When ACT for America makes a reservation for a meeting at a local restaurant, you start a boycott of the restaurant until they deny the group meeting space. When the campus Republican club invites a speaker with ties to white supremacy to campus, you fill up every parking space on campus and the five surrounding blocks hours in advance, and you meet them with on the sidewalk with signs and sousaphones and professional clowns and whatever else the spirit moves you to greet them with–but you let them know that you are watching them and that you are collecting their license plates numbers and calling their bosses to let them know that white supremacists work there and that you’ll be sharing this information on the company’s Yelp page. Call their mama and their grandma too. Make them understand that hate won’t take root on your watch. They’d best just move along.

It works.

Rebecca

USPROTESTSFREESPEECH_1Above, a photo from the Boston counter protest to white supremacy this past week. A counterprotestor stands behind a sign that says “Keep Your Country Nice and Clean” and includes an image of a figure tossing a swastika into the garbage can. 

‘He’s No Angel’: The unbearable whiteness of innocence

Dear Rebecca:

Conor Friedersdorf is one of my favorite writers around right now. He’s conservative, but he’s probably the most intellectually honest commenter I know of — during the Obama Administration he was equally tough on both the president and the president’s most-stupid critics.

His latest post over at The Atlantic involves the consideration of a podcast interview between Sam Harris, professional atheist and Trump-hater, and Scott Adams, “Dilbert” creator and Trump-lover.

He quotes from the interview at length, and it was in those quotes that something jumped out at me:

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Technically, he’s white.

Adams: Keep in mind that President Trump’s past is far more public than other people. So you’re going to see the warts as well as the good stuff. But let me stop acting as if I disagree with the general claim that you’re making, that he has done things that you and I might not do in the same situation, and would disapprove of. That is common and would be shared by Trump supporters as well.

Harris: But then you seem to give it no ethical weight.

Adams: Here’s the proposition. He came in and he said in these very words, ‘I’m no angel.’ But I’m going to do these things for you. Now he created a situation where for his self-interest, if you imagine he’s the most selfish, narcissistic, egotistical human who ever lived, he only cares about himself, he put himself in the position where there was exactly one way for any of those things to go right for him, which is to do a really, really frickin’ good job, and to imagine that he wants to do anything but the best job for the country now, now that he’s in the position, and probably even when he was running, is beyond ludicrous.

“No angel.” Where had I heard that term before?

Oh. Yeah. It’s used anytime a black person has been abused by police — to suggest that even if the victim of that abuse didn’t haven it coming, he or she probably still had it coming. It’s a cliche among activists now, one that had its origins in the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, and the New York Times coverage afterwards.

Justin Cohen explained the problem with this last year for HuffPo:

In the wake of police executions, you are bound to hear a few things that distract from the real issues. One of those storylines is that “he was no angel,” wherein the media will outline the various ways in which the victim behaved inappropriately in the past. None of this matters, and it certainly does not change the fact that the police killed the person outside of any legal process. I smoked pot when I was in high school, for example, and if the police used that as justification to murder me, that would be ludicrous.

Which brings us back to the president. As Friedersdorf notes: “It is fascinating that Adams counts the pronouncement, ‘I’m no angel,’ as a point in Trump’s favor, as if unapologetically acknowledging moral depravity lessens its weight.”

Indeed, for our white president, “he’s no angel” is his “boys will be boys” get out of jail card, an exculpatory phrase, whereas when the phrase is used with black people, it’s to heap guilt upon them in, at best, ambiguous circumstances.

Seems wrong, somehow.

Sincerely, Joel

Elijah Parrish Lovejoy, Heather Heyer, and the white fight against racism

Dear Joel,

Has some defender of the Lost Cause told you yet this week that you need to “learn your history”? (I know, it’s only Sunday, but I’ve already wracked up a few!) I find that retort to be especially vexing because those who toss it out generally don’t respect the intellectual work of historians. Most often, they’re not going to be convinced by history, and they don’t value learning.

But I’ll meet them partway and offer a brief history lesson:

I’ve heard that Elijah Parrish Lovejoy was the first white man killed in defense of freedom for enslaved African Americans. I don’t know if that is true, but he was clearly one of the first. He was killed in 1837–nearly 30 years before the Civil War broke out–when a pro-slavery mob came to set his newspaper press on fire. His abolitionist newspaper had been attacked three times when it was located in Missouri, a slave state, so he’d move across the river, to the free state of Illinois, to continue his work.

He was a Princeton-trained theologian and a Presbyterian pastor. He knew that slavery was wrong, and he fought against it using the liberty granted to him by the First Amendment. He was killed in that endeavor.

Lovejoy is a hero, the kind of person, like Heather Heyer, who put his life on the line to fight injustice.

We honor Lovejoy with a monument in Albon, Illinois, where he was shot and killed.

I hope this year sees a rush to honor more people like Lovejoy and Heyer, like Denmark Vesey and Nat Turner and others who resisted white supremacy and slavery.

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Above, the Lovejoy Monument, honoring a true Civil War hero.