In Answer to Your Question About Who Won the Sports Ball Competition

In Answer to Your Question About Who Won the Sports Ball Competition

A joint project by Karen Craigo & Karin Barbee

 

Super Bowl Sunday, 2016

I want to start a list: If you’ve ever enjoyed a corn dog, you’re not too good for the Super Bowl. If you know the names of at least two characters on General Hospital, you’re not too good for the Super Bowl. If you’ve ever asked for a side of ranch with your fries, you’re not too good for the Super Bowl. If you’ve made a sincere attempt at the claw game, you’re not too good for the Super Bowl. If you’ve purchased a shot glass with your name on it, you’re not too good for the Super Bowl.

If you have ever rocked the chocolate fountain at the Golden Corral, you’re not too good for the Super Bowl. If you’ve sniffed the armpit of a shirt to see if it’s still wearable, you’re not too good for the Super Bowl. If you’ve issued a significant look to suggest that a particular fart does not belong to you (when it really does), you’re not too good for the Super Bowl.

If you’ve ever given your significant other a birthday or valentine’s day card that featured an outdated and possibly sexist depiction of a busty female, you’re not too good for the Super Bowl. If you get excited about limited time only sandwiches at Wendy’s, you’re not too good for the Super Bowl. If you’ve ever voluntarily done a shot that curdled in your mouth, you’re not too good for the Super Bowl.

If you’ve ever seen Ernest “go” ANYWHERE, you’re not too good for the Super Bowl. If you’ve worn your husband’s underwear, you’re not too good for the Super Bowl. If you’ve driven a month or more on your donut tire, you’re not too good for the Super Bowl.

If you’ve ever Google mapped your old boyfriends/girlfriends to see what their houses looks like, you’re not too good for the Super Bowl. If you’ve ever worn tights with such a horrendous crotch tear that you can’t comfortably take the steps, you’re not too good for the Super Bowl.

If you grind it into the carpet instead of wiping it up, you’re not too good for the Super Bowl. If you’re swayed by celebrity political endorsements, you’re not too good for the Super Bowl.

If your artificial dairy product displays shock or dismay at its relationship to butter, you’re not too good for the Super Bowl. If you’ve pretended to be on the phone because someone in the next car caught you talking to yourself, you’re not too good for the Super Bowl. If you’ve lied about how far you got when reading Moby-Dick, you’re not too good for the Super Bowl.

If you’ve ever rocked out to a $6 musical card in Walgreens, closed it, rocked out again; you’re not too good for the Super Bowl. If you’ve ever kept a dictionary on your desk because it seemed like it should be there, you’re not too good for the Super Bowl. If you’ve ever used a panty liner as a Kleenex, you’re not too good for the Super Bowl. If you’ve purchased and eaten a box of Luden’s cherry cough drops for the flavor alone, you’re not too good for the Super Bowl. If you’ve ever searched for the appropriate gif to represent “disgruntled,” then abandoned it for “shrug,” you’re not too good for the Super Bowl.

If you’ve ever cut the last custard pączki at work in half, you’re not too good for the Super Bowl. If you’ve ever consumed both of the last two custard Pączkis at work, you’re not too good for the Super Bowl. If you’ve created a bookmark folder for PLACES THAT GIVE BIRTHDAY DISCOUNTS, you’re not too good for the Super Bowl. If you’ve described your desired meal by degree of crunchiness, you’re not too good for the Super Bowl. If you’ve used duct tape as a lint roller, you’re not too good for the Super Bowl.

If you’ve ever, as an adult, found yourself stunned to learn that a pony is not just a young horse, you’re not too good for the Super Bowl. If you ever sniffed markers to see what the hubbub was about, you’re not too good for the Super Bowl. If you’ve used the word scaffolding when describing your own teaching, you’re not too good for the Super Bowl. If you’ve ever engaged in a euphemism battle using only references to Barney Miller, you’re not too good for the Super Bowl.

***

KARIN WRALEY BARBEE, a native of Ohio, has lived (reluctantly) in Michigan since 2011. Her work has appeared in Natural Bridge, Swerve, Fjords Review, Columbia Review, Found Poetry Review, The Diagram, Whiskey Island, and Sugar House Review.

KAREN CRAIGO is the author of the poetry collection No More Milk, forthcoming in the summer from Sundress Publications. She maintains the daily blog Better View of the Moon.

We Can’t Breathe

Student Protest #BlackLivesMatter
High school students in Cleveland protest for #BlackLivesMatter

We Can’t Breathe

Cleveland high-school students respond to state violence.

 

An introduction from teacher and project coordinator Sarah Marcus:

I never wanted to be a teacher. It took some weathering to arrive here. Years of resisting the inevitable. Growing up, entitled and drug addicted, I was quite vicious to my own teachers. I couldn’t wait to “get out.” But, at some point, we become aware that people are watching us.

I am impossibly lucky to get to work with students at an urban high school in Cleveland, Ohio. It turns out that their determined spirit is the chant I told my child-self to remember. They remind me every day why our actions matter. They remind me to be patient and to be generous. They remind me why it’s important to stay in a place that is struggling. Because if we leave, who will be there to help advocate?

Black Lives Matter. Reverse racism does not exist. You will not find me saying “All Lives Matter.” The problem isn’t with the words themselves. They make sense, all lives should matter. But the reality on the ground is that they don’t. Not here. Not right now. The evidence is suffocating (literally). Because racism is institutionalized, All Lives Matter is a misguided response to Black Lives Matter. It works to soften the truth, to bury it, to make it more bearable. This is a terrible mistake. We should not be allowed to swallow this injustice. It hurts on purpose. More insidiously, All Lives Matter works to completely negate Black Lives Matter. This is the way we rewrite history. The way we forget on purpose.

As a white, Jewish woman I can’t even begin to pretend to know or relate to what my kids are up against. I speak from a place of privilege. I can only guide them to use their voices. I can only teach them about civil disobedience. I can only encourage them to write and speak, because they matter. They matter so much. My whole heart is filled with gratitude as I stand beside them while they walk through this messy, dangerous world with such dignity and grace.

The following is a collection of creative student responses to the recent extrajudicial killings and the deep-rooted issues that continue to plague our communities.

We mourn for the family of Clevelander Tamir Rice. We mourn for all of the families touched by this abhorrent abuse of power. We won’t hold our breath. We will fill their air with song.

– Sarah Marcus, Cleveland teacher and poet

*

“Premonitions” of Hope

Perspective is one of the most important things you are granted in life. It’s the opinion you have that no one can understand unless they’re you. Being a young black man from inner city Cleveland your perspective is to feel hopeless. Our school system and economical position continuously shows us we aren’t meant to have any self worth. I’ve grown up in a society that feels hopeless. Like their meaning of life is nothing more than what they have been told their whole lives. Rather, it’s on TV, in movies, or in reality that their lives don’t matter. The reason the Mike Brown and Eric Garner cases are so pivotal is because it’s people telling us through the legal system that the worth of black lives isn’t even jail time for a murder. They justify murder through personifications like “he was a hoodlum” or “he disobeyed the law” like asking “why” to a man putting handcuffs on you is reason for murder. They say things like “it’s a black president” to set precedent for inequality, but acting if change is really happening. It’s deeper than a life. It’s a statement. We look at the problem and say “how?” We live in a world where there is almost no black heroes from the streets to comic books, and black men have a murder rate from police that is 6 times higher than whites when we’re 1/3 of the population. It’s been almost 50 years since segregation, yet we protest and profess pain like it’s 1968. It’s 2014, yet we march and fight for our lives to be equal as one that is white. Malcolm X once said, “if you stick a knife in 6 inches and pull it out 3 inches you can’t act like the problem has been resolved.” The problem, the cause, and the solution is that it’s deeper than police brutality, it’s deeper than the wrong decisions. The problem is for 150 plus years, equality between the lives that are black and white seems like fiction. That’s the reason there is so much black crime and the reasons why we feel worthless and hurt, because we’ve been fighting since we were slaves and obviously…… no one hears us.

– DeJuan Rocius Brooks, a human being, also class of 2015

*

I CAN’T BREATHE!!

I can’t breathe…
gasping for air while I’m on my knees,
feeling like I’m dying from a severe disease
YELLING FOR HELP BUT THERE IS NO ONE I SEE!!
Please…
I CAN’T BREATHE!!
It’s killing me, its killing me!
This disease that’s constantly hurting me,
is …
well, …
SOCIETY…

My mother, my father,
my sister, my brother…
Not just “my”…
Why?
Why can’t we all be together?
You see, the world looks out for themselves…
Everyone wants to make it home,
Who would ever want to be alone?

Racism?
Really? Is that still going on?
Is it true the ones they want us to look up to and respect are the very ones who are killing us with their very own gun?
Why? …
Day After Day… WE CRY!!
Because The Ones We Adore…
Unfortunately, Are The Ones We Having To Say Those Words Too…
That “Bye-Bye”
That We Hate To Say
Day After Day,
We Pray..
Hoping There Will Be Unity Across The USA

I said I CAN’T BREATHE!!!
Will You Watch Me Die Or Will You Help Me Change Society?!

– Malik D. Anderson, Class of 2015

*

I Can’t Breathe

I can’t breathe. I can barely gasp for air knowing that my brothers are being killed and have no chance of success. It hurts me deeply to know that my ancestors fought for me and everyone around me to have equality and justice, but years later we are still fighting for life and talking about the same problems. The time changes but the history of it all stays the same, and although history can never be changed, we as leaders of the community have the power to break the cycle so that history does not continue to repeat itself.

Unfortunately, most of the time it takes a person to be affected directly by violence for one to make a change. This is what happened to me. My freshman year of high school, I lost one of my friends to violence; he was shot 3 times in the head. T’John would now be eighteen years old and looking forward to graduation day. Because I went through this hard loss of a friend, I did not want anyone else to feel the pain that I had felt. Losing a life to violence is always hard to deal with, but when a community loses a child, it is a feeling that cannot be explained.

When I heard the news of 12 year old Clevelander Tamir Rice being killed by a police officer, I experienced the same pain that I felt when my friend was killed. I lost another T’John it was as if I knew Tamir. My heart hurts knowing that his family is now going through what I went through; another child whose dreams have been snatched away from him by a bullet.

I can’t understand why so many people are treating the African American race as if we do not belong in this society. I hear too often in my surroundings that its “Us vs. THEM.”  I never want to believe that someone is against my life because I am not the same color as them. Karter Zaher said, “We were all human beings until race disconnected us, religion separated us, politics divided us, and wealth classified us.” I am surrounded by tons of people everyday who care deeply about my future and what it should look like; some of these people are not the same race as me, however, that doesn’t change the level of love that they have for me. It seems as if we as a people have forgotten that we are all humans. We were all made in God’s image and likeness of him. The injustices that are going on in Ferguson and Cleveland and New York and across this country are a reflection of this disconnection that we have from our creator. The injustice that has happened to Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Ronald Madison, James Brissette, Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, Kimani Gray, Kendric McDade, and countless others is a reflection that there is no dignity left in the value of human life. How many more people need to die for you to take action?

– A’bria Robinson, Class of 2015

*

We Will Breathe

Who is man?
Am I man?
Is my brother man?
Is my father man?
I am man.
I am black
Negro
Colored
I am man.
All African Americans are man.
We are equal to you whites,
To all people.
Characteristics of a man:
Two-handed (check)
Laughs (check)
Weeps (check)
Intelligence beyond that of animals (check).
The black man meets all of these and more.
Speech, reason, power of knowledge, heaven-erected face, inclinations, hopes, fears, aspirations, and prophecies all set the Black man apart from animals.
So, who are you to deny one that is clearly man
FREEDOM?
Of injustice
Of prejudice
Of dignity
Of life
HOW ARE YOU TO DENY THESE BLACK MEN THE RIGHT TO WHAT IS DUTIFULLY THEIRS?
The Negro is a man!
He deserves all rights available to whites.
“Man is distinguished from all other animals, in that he resists as well as adapts himself to his circumstances.”
Anglo-Saxon whites ripped us from our home, but we adapted to this new land.
YOU made us slaves, servants, animals.
YOU forgot – no disregarded – the fact that
Blacks are men.
Man does not take things as he finds them, he adapts, he changes his circumstance
The black man will no longer take this current treatment of life.
BLACK MALES
young
old
are
MEN.
The black man will gain his right to dignity
His right to life
His right to justice
His right to opportunities.
Whites will no longer:
Enslave
Discriminate
Oppress against the African man.
HE is equally a man
WITH
whites.
The Negro is refusing to be read out of the human family.
The BLACK man will be made a FREE MAN!
Whether you are or not willing to let this liberation ensue.
Negroes
Blacks
African Americans
Are men and will be treated as such.
We will be free.
We will be recognized as who we are–
MAN.

–Saiida Bowie-Little, Class of 2015

*

I Can’t Breathe

The violence around the nation has taken a tremendous toll on the people. As I sit and listen to all the pleas, opinions, and declarations I am worried. I don’t understand the theories regarding all the violence that’s going on in Ferguson. All I hear is black and white, and it should not be so. I cannot believe the insight people are going towards. It’s like our morals as people have completely changed. The people see a white man killing another black man. It’s way bigger than that. It’s about one human being killing another. It’s so simple. We don’t love each other anymore. What happened to the respect of life and dignity? There was a boy that I knew in grade school. Sadly, he was shot and lost his life. My friend and I went walking down the street one day, and the pool of blood where he got shot was never cleaned up. They just left it. We no longer look out for one another and look at each other as brothers and sisters. You’re either my enemy or you’re nothing. What kind of logic is that? Race is not the issue anymore; it’s the value of human life. Human lives are being taken for no reason. We’re beating each other and ridiculing each other. Where is the love? We are all called to love each other. Instead of destroying we should be loving. Someone’s life being taken away should be mourned, but the reaction is not receivable. The receivable action is when my brothers and sisters come together. Regardless if they’re black, white, Latino, Muslim or Catholic.  We want them to all come together and not fight each other, but fight the injustice of the system.

– Asia Terry, Class of 2015

*

How Dare You

Please don’t ask me.
Please, don’t ask me why I have so much hate in my heart.
Why I’m losing hope in my society.
Look at the people, the children.
Look at how beauty is not in the eye of the beholder,
It’s in society’s hands if you are acceptable.
Look at how we label ourselves and our peers
Calling women bad bitches or guys niggas
Instead of ladies and gentlemen.
Whereas back then that was taken as an insult
That’s become one of the labels we accept to call ourselves.
Being labeled by our skin color and not our intellect or potential
Being labeled as a criminal
Not being able to trust people because you don’t know if they will harm you or stay by your side
“I thought I could trust you” that’s a phrase I haven’t heard, instead it’s “I’ll just fall back” or “I never trusted them in the first place.”
Get shot, raped, or kicked in the face, but you have nobody to blame but yourself.
It’s your fault that you were black while walking down the sidewalk of a white neighborhood.
It’s your fault for looking the way you do they had to search you for weapons that you might have
They don’t shoot to disarm but to kill.
They shoot whoever seems “dangerous”
Do you think they care that you are innocent?
That you aren’t really a threat?
No, they don’t.
That little boy, he had hopes and dreams and wishes.
That young man, he has a family that loves him and just lost a father and brother and husband.
These young men and women had lives that weren’t finished yet.
Lives ended for them, before they even had a chance to make a difference in this hate filled world.
All we have is each other, and sometimes that doesn’t even work
Even we tell each other things need to change, nothing is done.
Instead, we blame each other and hurt each other and worsen the problem.
We can stand up 7 times but fall down 8
I have to worry about if I have a son
If he will be labeled as a thug or juvenile delinquent
Or a daughter
Who will only be identified by her skin color or her body shape
So how dare you,
Ask me
That.

– Ashley Williams, Class 2015

*

I Can’t Breathe

I always hear that it’s a cold world, but does it have to be? We make this world cold by our evil ways. I feel our black community is blinded by the truth of what is really going on. Yes, African American men are being killed, but why is race involved? Does it always have to be? We don’t have to act in violence to get a point across. How many people are going to die to show that violence is never the answer? Nothing is going to improve or change if we keep thinking in rage. We must start thinking with our heads and our hearts. The students at my high school organized a silent protest that affected many people that drove down St. Claire that morning. We didn’t act violently or yell. Our silence, our posters, were just enough to show people that we care. These shootings have not only broken the African American community, but have impacted everyone in some type of way. I have witnessed numerous violent altercations in my life. I had a friend that was trying to disarm someone with a fake gun that was threatening to shoot them. When the cops arrived, my friend had the gun in his hand and the police immediately pulled out their gun ready to shoot. This moment was the scariest moment of them all. I just cried and cried because I felt like there was nothing that I could do to convince them that it was fake. No, my friend didn’t get killed, but the thought of it happening would have crushed me. Our policemen are trained to kill and it’s sad to say. But everyone deserves to live! God wanted us to love each other regardless of color, ethnic group, or where we came from. There is no longer love in this world, because we are all blind to the truth: the truth that we are all brothers and sisters of Christ. It’s time to make a change in history and stop repeating it.  Take Cleveland’s Hough riots that happened during the mid 1960s. Blacks still felt unequal to whites and really nothing good came out of it. The majority of African Americans were killed and things didn’t just magically improve. Everything isn’t just going to change all of sudden. We need to stand together and work together to make a change. To want a change!

– Niesha Johnson, Class of 2015

*

Some Neglect, Some Honor & Protect

My perspective was that every police officer promised to serve and protect no matter what, especially in our young black community. Coming from a household where my dad is a Police Officer, I just know that he would do anything to protect his city, and so would every officer he is associated with, who was sworn in on under the same oath that he was.  Looking at the world today I see teenagers who look just like me getting killed left and right, but the worst part of it is realizing that our officers are the people doing it. Most people in my community are scared of the police, and they know that there are hundreds of people behind them ready to do whatever it takes to get their point across so that they are heard. That’s what scares me especially after the shooting death of Tamir Rice. My community believes in their mind that EVERY police officer is the enemy. That’s not true!  The officer I know would never follow the actions of Officer Darren Wilson or Timothy Loehmann. I know that firsthand, because I’m with my father everyday of my life, and he’s kept the promise to serve and protect since the day I was born, not only to me, but to my mother, his family, and our city. I want to see Officer Wilson and Loehmann indicted more than anything, because I couldn’t imagine someone close to me being gunned down for nothing more than merely being black or looking suspicious. But, a war on police officers is definitely not the answer, because Police Officers will just have another reason to keep killing our young men. Just like innocent teenage African American lives were lost, believe it or not, there are innocent, good, and honest police officers in our community, our city, and our world who have families that love them and kids that love them. I’m not asking anyone to stop fighting for what’s right, I’m asking to keep it peaceful because everyday my dad leaves out for work I never know if that will be the day someone decides a police officer’s family should feel the same way as Mike Brown, Eric Garner, or Tamir Rice’s family has. I know that there are police officers who don’t do what they should I know some police officers neglect, but I’m asking everyone to stop, and realize that some do honor and protect.

– Andrew Jones-Walker, Class of 2015

***

Be a part of the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
Support the Greater Cleveland YWCA.
Learn more about Sarah Marcus and her work here.

 

 

 

 

In Using My Voice and Social Media Platforms More Effectively (step two)

In Using My Voice and Social Media Platforms More Effectively (step two)

by Perry Janes

 

*A version of this originally appeared as a post on the author’s Facebook page. It’s reprinted here with permission.

 

There are people on my newsfeed with posts and memes that read “Michael Brown is dead because of Michael Brown’s actions.” There are others voicing their support of the NYC police officer who choked and killed Eric Garner. There is literally no word in the English language to express the outrage I feel at these sentiments – at seeing them when I log in to my account – or to unpack the levels of racism and hatefulness implied here. Let’s set aside the fact that an armed, white police officer in a community already rife with racial tensions fired six shots into an unarmed teenager – six shots against an unarmed youth –  and, for argument’s sake, let’s set aside any perceived ambiguity about what did or did not happen on that street. Let’s also set aside the fact that Eric Garner said “I can’t breathe” at least 7 times (verifiably, on video) before he died of asphyxiation on the sidewalk, that chokeholds are not approved by the NYC police force, and that Eric Garner did not appear to be an aggressor in this situation.

Instead, let’s talk about the people on Facebook, and in the world, who default to a racist and fearful narrative with or without realizing it, who level sweeping generalizations about how black and minority cultures respond to injustice (the recent riots in Ferguson with the possibility of further unrest now in NYC and across the country) while treating the myriad riots perpetrated by white people (the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup riots being one small example, incited over hockey, I might add) with completely different levels of rhetoric and criticism; let’s also acknowledge that you can question and inspect this disparity in these dialogues (and the power structures informing this disparity) without approving actions you may view to be personally destructive.

Let’s talk for a second about how easy it is in too many white communities to unplug from this discussion entirely, to wave it away or disengage, and to disregard how impossible it is for other members of our community and our country to do the same.

Let’s talk, also, about the infrastructures of power and authority that exist in this country, about how these structures have been clearly abused, and what that does to a collective level of trust in the police, in government, in judicial systems; and then let’s talk about how positive and influential it would be if these same policemen and lawyers and authority figures – rather than be defensive of their colleagues – listened to public concerns, and validated them, and stood in solidarity of cultural and professional reform in order to repair this broken trust.

Let’s talk about history, too, about how short a time it’s really been since America was a country with institutionally and governmentally sanctioned policies based on skin color, a country where unsanctioned, regular, and rampant acts of racial violence were overlooked and accepted; about how that history doesn’t erase or vanish in a generation, or two, or ten, and how it persists in a variety of forms (readily seen and unseen) today.

Most of all, let’s talk about how these Facebook posts – that attempt to invalidate criticism or rigorous examination of the events in Ferguson and NYC, as elsewhere – reduce and undermine the ability to hold any conversation at all.

Let’s talk.

Part of talking means sharing. In this spirit, I’d like to share a poem. I’ve not yet had the opportunity to meet Danez Smith – I hope to, we share a handful of wonderful friends and colleagues – but this poem, which you can see him read (masterfully) elsewhere on the web, stopped me absolutely cold the first time I read it. This poem – featured in POETRY Magazine and on poetryfoundation.org following Smith’s recent Ruth Lilly Fellowship – hits about twenty different frequencies at once. And it couldn’t be any more relevant to the conversations taking place today.

So, to the people on Facebook making these posts: my first impulse – my desire – is to delete you from my network. It is hard to imagine us belonging to the same community. But the truth is: you’re also the ones I want to read this, to stop at some point – any point – during your day and think about the historical, personal, and political frequencies that fuel your denial of the voices expressing hurt and anger in the world around you. To acknowledge and engage with these voices means, ultimately, practicing empathy. To delete you from my network would only make it is easier for you not to take in outside voices, or not to engage with them. So this is me throwing a bottle into the endless Facebook breach – filled with voices of all kinds, some of which give me great hope and others that inspire nothing but sadness – and hoping for the best.

Gayle King Is Wrong: Street Harassment Is Not a Compliment

Gayle King Is Wrong: Street Harassment Is Not a Compliment

By Leslie Maxwell

 

By now you’ve likely seen the video released recently by Hollaback!, a campaign to end street harassment, in which a woman walking around New York is harassed more than 100 times over a 10-hour period. (If you haven’t, it’s worth watching.)

Men of all ages harass her. White men and black men harass her. Men shout “Smile!” and “Damn!” and say, “Hey, beautiful!” A man walks alongside her, pestering her to talk to him, asking if he can give her his number. Perhaps most frighteningly, a man walks next to her silently for five minutes.

This woman’s experience is significant because it’s not unique. Women experience street harassment every day. I have my stories, and so do most women: getting honked at by passing cars, being followed for few feet or even a block or two, being yelled at by passing car. I’ve been sung to.

On CBS This Morning, co-anchors Norah O’Donnell and Gayle King discussed the video after watching a short clip of it. O’Donnell said the video resonated with her because she experiences some form of street harassment regularly.

King had a different take:

I’m just sitting here, Norah, going, I’m not going to get upset because somebody said, ‘Hey girl, you look good.’ You know what I say? I twirl and say ‘thank you’. It would be different if they’re, you know, throwing you on the ground and saying ‘Hey, I want to boink your brains out.’ For the most part, some of that stuff was inappropriate, but for the most part, they’re just saying, ‘Smile, you look good.’ But there is a difference between someone that goes over the line and somebody that just says you look great.

O’Donnell responds by explaining, “That’s different when someone says, ‘Hey, you look fabulous.’ It’s different when a guy is catcalling, Gayle, and saying, like, ‘Hey, baby.’ That feels threatening.”

But King remains unconvinced, “I don’t know. I guess it just depends. To me, there’s a line, and you have to know where the line is.”

By the end of the segment, O’Donnell and King agreed that there is indeed a line. But they clearly didn’t agree on where that line is.

The line is not, as King seemed to indicate, when a man throws a woman down and tells her that he wants to “boink her brains out.” The line is way, way, way before that.

These men are not complimenting women. These men are not telling women they look great. Their goal is to get attention from women – and because they are on the street, their goal is to have an audience.

Getting a woman’s attention is about power and control. If a man can get a woman’s attention and there are witnesses to that attention, then he has power over her. If he can get her to smile, it’s power. If he can get her to acknowledge him in any way, it’s power. If he can get her to say “leave me alone,” it’s power. Any response will do when your aim is control.

Street harassment and the desire for control that motivates it is a problem. It perpetuates a centuries-old notion that women exist for men’s pleasure. In the first-year writing course I teach, when we read excerpts from Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, published in 1792, students are surprised at the limitations women faced in the late 1700s, at the education many were denied. Yet when we get to the part in which Wollstonecraft writes that many men are “anxious” to make women “alluring mistresses,” students make parallels to the way women are still often seen today.

While King may not see anything wrong with a man telling a woman he does not know that she is beautiful, there is something wrong with it. It objectifies her by suggesting that she is nothing more than something to look at. It suggests that her happiness might depend on how a stranger on the street sees her. And any man anxious to make a woman anything other than who she is seeks control.

These desires – for power and control – are why the line is far before we get to knocking a woman to the ground wanting to “boink her brains out.” So no, street harassment is far from “harmless,” and it’s certainly not a compliment. Women are not and should not be seen as “alluring mistresses” – and it’s time we push back against that outdated notion.

***

Leslie Maxwell lives, teaches, and writes in Durham, N.C. Read more of her opinions in the News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C) and other writing in The Fourth River and decomP magazinE. Find her online at lesliemaxwell.com.

THE ETIQUETTE OF POLICE BRUTALITY: AN AUTOPSY

THE ETIQUETTE OF POLICE BRUTALITY[1]

(AN AUTOPSY[2])

By Rion Amilcar Scott

 

Go ahead. Smack him one. He expects it so it would be rude not to. Besides, look at him giving you a dehumanizing stare[3]. How dare he look at you in that manner? He thinks he’s better than you. Approach in such a way that makes you look huge, immense—a living blue wall of silence[4]. But be loud. Put this guy down before he even starts. Grab him from behind. Maybe use the baton. Don’t be swayed by his screams and pleas of innocence. As a matter of fact, don’t hear them at all. Be deaf to his cries. Innocence doesn’t really matter here, anyway[5]. Sort it out later. Don’t be inhibited with the violence—punches, kicks, strangulation holds[6], baton blows, Tasers[7], and so on. Don’t worry, the state has your back. Make up any excuse you want. It doesn’t need to sound good. As a matter of fact, it would be insulting to make it sound too plausible. Say something like: “He was looking at us all leery and then he raised his hands. We had to throw him on the ground, smash his face to the concrete, knock his teeth out, and put him in a chokehold[8]. It’s important to neutralize the threat.” Toss it off without thinking. Fuck it, say: “He was dancing funny and I found that threatening so I was forced to jab him in the ribs.” The state has your back. No matter what you say, your superiors, the courts, everybody will nod and mumble: “Seems legit.” Yell racial epithets[9]. Shoot wildly[10]. At least 40 shots if unarmed[11]. More might be better[12]. It’s only polite to flex your authority every once in a while[13]. Let the world know how tough you are. The standard charge is resisting arrest. Assaulting an officer. Pile up any ol’ charge. What does it matter? To make the people feel safe and whole you have to break[14] one or two every once in a while so they know your power is both awesome[15] and nearly completely unchecked[16].

 

[1] Inspiration for this piece came from a short story collection called Modern Manners For Your Inner Demons by Tara Laskowski. The work is structured like an etiquette book except each piece of advice covers how to properly comport yourself while doing something wicked such as homicide, adultery, or arson.

[2] I go back and forth with this satirical piece—or “mockery” as I call it (“humor piece,” “satirical piece,” such clunky terms)—wondering if it’s at all successful. It was written from a place of pretty raw anger and frankly, terror, after reading about a succession of police harassment and brutality cases, mostly involving black and brown “suspects.”

Many of these incidents featured graphic and disturbing video of the assaults taking place. Sometimes I was brave enough to watch.

The public has been filming and broadcasting egregious acts of police violence since the 1990s when a motorist filmed Los Angeles police brutalizing Rodney King. Now that most of us carry video cameras in our pockets, such footage is nearly a weekly occurrence. This has done much to inspire the outrage of the public but has seemed to do little to stem the tide of police abuse or even to ensure the type of decisive and swift punishment that would make police think twice about physically assaulting citizens.

One possible thin silver lining is a study done by Rialto, Calif. police that ran from February 2012 to July 2013. A group of officers wore tiny video cameras while interacting with citizens. According to the New York Times, the video cameras resulted in a 60 percent drop in the use of force and an 88 percent drop in complaints against officers.

[3] According to CBS Miami, Miami-Dade Police choked a 14-year-old boy on Memorial Day 2013 because he watched them with what police termed, “dehumanizing stares.”

[4] It’s often said that a universal and morally bankrupt admonishment against “snitching” in poor black communities enables crime in these neighborhoods, but when was the last time you heard of police informing on one another? As the rapper Immortal Technique said, “They never snitch on themselves, but they want you to snitch on you.” An important question that’s rarely asked in these debates is why would anyone want to report crimes to people who have a reputation for brutalizing them?

[5] In Sept. 2000 in Prince Georges County, MD—the county I currently live in with my wife and son (in fact, this occurred in the very neighborhood I once lived)—Prince Jones, a man who had committed no crime, began his last stand. Undercover Prince Georges County narcotics officer, Cpl. Carlton B. Jones (no relation) followed Prince roughly 30 miles to Fairfax, Va. (coincidentally, the county where I went to school in the mid to late aughts) in an unmarked SUV and shot his car 16 times, killing him in the process. Police say they were trailing a suspect in the theft of an officer’s gun and Prince’s car resembled a car driven by the suspect.

Prince, a Howard University student (the university from which I hold an undergraduate degree—as a matter of fact, I too was a Howard student at this time) nearing graduation, was unarmed.

Cpl. Jones claims Prince rammed his car and refused to stand down when he announced he was an officer (though he admitted to showing no badge); witnesses dispute this claim, however, saying that Prince’s car was not moving when Cpl. Jones fired his weapon. As a result of killing Prince Jones, Cpl. Carlton Jones faced no criminal charges (sources: Washington Post; Washington Monthly).

[6] On Thursday July 17, 2014, police in Staten Island approached 43-year-old Eric Garner, a 400 pound asthmatic, purportedly to arrest him for selling loose cigarettes. Garner had reportedly just broken up a fight. Video recorded by a bystander shows Garner protesting frequent harassment: “Every time you see me you want to mess with me. It stops today… I’m minding my business officer. Why don’t you just leave me alone?” Four officers surround Garner and wrestle him to the ground. One deploys a chokehold, a use of force specifically banned by NYPD regulations. Despite video evidence, police claim a chokehold was not used on Garner. While an officer shoves Garner’s head to the sidewalk, he repeatedly cries, “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.” And those are his final words.

[7] When Oakland transit officer Johannes Mehserle pulled his revolver, shooting and killing Oscar Grant while he lay handcuffed and face down, he claimed to have been reaching for his Taser. For killing Grant, Mehserle served less than a year in prison.

In 2007, after a video of a University of Florida student being tasered by campus police made the rounds on the internet, “Don’t tase me, bro!” became a late-aughts punchline, but the incident that inspired it, a young man being tasered by police for aggressively asking a politician a question during an open forum, is a chilling, abusive, and reckless display of police power.

[8] From the New York Daily News: “The NYPD prohibited the use of chokeholds in 1993. The city’s independent police watchdog has substantiated 10 chokehold cases filed against cops since 2009, but little has happened to the officers involved, records show.

“In one of the cases, the cop accused of putting a person in a chokehold lost up to 10 vacation days, records from the Civilian Complaint Review Board show.

“In two cases, the department declined to discipline the officers, and in three cases, cops received ‘instructions,’ or retraining. In another case, the cop retired before he could be disciplined, and the three remaining cases are pending, the records show.”

[9] According to the New York Times, in 2011 the government intercepted a phone call in which NYPD officer Michael Daragjati bragged about falsely arresting a suspect. In regards to the young man, Daragiati said: “Fried another nigger.” Even more horrifying: Also in 2011, retired Marine, Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr., 68, inadvertently called police to his White Plains home when he accidentally activated his medical alert bracelet. The response of police—this is not in dispute—was to ignore Chamberlain’s request that they leave, call him a nigger, and fatally shoot him (sources: New York Times; New York Daily News).

[10] In 2013, the NYPD shot a disturbed and unarmed man and two innocent bystanders. The man, Glenn Broadnax, caused a commotion by jumping into traffic. The wounded Broadnax was then charged with assault for the bullet wounds suffered by the bystanders under the theory that his actions caused the police shooting to occur. An attorney for one of the wounded bystanders speaking to the New York Times: “It’s an incredibly unfortunate use of prosecutorial discretion to be prosecuting a man who didn’t even injure my client. It’s the police who injured my client.”

The NYPD (again) in 2012 shot nine innocent bystanders during a confrontation with a gunman in Times Square. All nine bystanders were struck by bullets from police weapons. NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly on the shooting: “I believe it was handled well” (Source: FoxNews.com).

While searching for alleged cop killer Christopher Dorner in February 2013, the LAPD shot at trucks that were said to resemble Dorner’s on two separate occasions. In the first incident, police fired on two Hispanic women—a mother and her 47-year-old daughter as they delivered newspapers early in the morning. A bullet ripped through the back of 71-year-old Emma Hernandez. Somehow this incident resulted in no fatalities despite the fact that police fired more than 100 rounds.

Later that day, police opened fire on a truck driven by a white male, David Perdue, a surfer on his way to the beach. In that instance, police rammed Purdue’s truck before shooting at it. Perdue was not hit and prosecutors determined the use of force was reasonable. Dorner, who died in a cabin fire police claimed not to have intentionally set, was a black male (Source: Christian Science Monitor).

Richard Pryor on California police in 1973: “They accidentally shoot more niggas out here than any place in the world. Every time you pick up the paper: nigga accidentally shot in the ass. How do you accidentally shoot a nigga six times in the chest? ‘Well, my gun fell and just went crazy.’”

[11] 41 police shots took the life of Amadou Diallo in the infamous 1999 shooting in the Bronx. He was armed only with a wallet.

[12] In 2006, 50 police shots took the life of Sean Bell in Queens, NY the morning he was to marry. He too was unarmed.

[13] The examples of police brutality used in this piece are all relatively current, which implies that this is a recent problem. That is certainly not the case. Worldwide, police and excessive police force have historically been tools of the state used against the disenfranchised and dispossessed to make sure they don’t get too loud in their cries against their disenfranchisement and dispossession. As the rapper Boots Riley notes: “You never seen a police break up a strike by hitting the boss with his baton pipe.”

It was police, for example, who held the fire hoses that mowed down civil rights protesters in the 1960s.

Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale formed the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in Oakland as a response to police harassment in 1966. Even then it was a long-standing community problem. The group’s initial program was an armed patrol to evaluate the behavior of the police. Government suppression of the Party was codified in the COINTELPRO program (see FBI documents here), a wave of law enforcement intimidation and force unprecedented in its cruelty, lawlessness, and violence. Chicago police murdered the Deputy Chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party, Fred Hampton, in a police raid while he slept (drugged by infiltrators) on December 4, 1968. Police fired nearly 100 rounds at the Illinois Panthers while the Panthers fired only one.

[14] Richard Pryor on the police from Wanted/Richard Pryor Live in Concert (1978): “Two grab your legs, one grab your head—they go, snap! ‘Oh, shit he broke. Can you break ‘em? Does it say so in the manual? Let’s check. Yep, page 8, you can break a nigger.’”

[15] A 2014 American Civil Liberties Union report (War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing) details the increased militarization of police departments around the United States. SWAT teams armed with military weaponry, vehicles, and equipment handed down from our decade long Middle East (mis)adventures are being deployed in American cities for fairly routine operations. Just outside of Atlanta in 2014, police raided a house in search of a small stash of drugs. They carried M16s and upon entering tossed a flashbang grenade that landed in a crib next to a sleeping toddler. The child suffered a hole in his chest and possible permanent brain damage. The suspect police were looking for was not in the home at the time and did not even live there, according to the toddler’s mother, who wrote about the incident for Salon.com.

The family moved to Atlanta, a town that is no stranger to police raids gone astray. In 2006, police invaded the home of 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston, shooting her dead in the process. After police found no drugs in her house, they planted three bags of marijuana. The paperwork that served as the basis for the “no knock warrant”—which alleged that an informant purchased drugs at Johnston’s home—turned out to be based on falsified evidence (source: CNN.com).

[16] In many of the above cases, such as the Chamberlain case, police were cleared of any wrongdoing or faced relatively light or unspecified punishments, a situation that I imagine leaves police feeling comfortable in deploying any act of violence in their toolbox, no matter how reckless, if it leaves them standing when all the smoke from the gunfire has cleared. However, for much of the populace, that knot in their chests when a squad car sidles up next to them in traffic is the twinge of sheer terror.

***

Rion Amilcar Scott has contributed to PANK, Fiction International, The Rumpus, and Confrontation, among others. Raised in Silver Spring, Maryland, he earned an MFA at George Mason University and presently teaches English at Bowie State University. He can also be found at forgottentunneltv.tumblr.com and @ReeAmilcarScott.

Because Misogyny

Because Misogyny

By

Kirsten Clodfelter

 

Because misogyny: Elliot Rodger.

Because misogyny: Every man who Elliot Rodger calls to mind. Every man who has let the whistled catcall of hot momma morph in his mouth to stuck-up bitch when that tried-and-true method of objectifying a complete stranger fails to get him laid. Every man who has complained of being friend-zoned as if the act of being decent – as if the act of simply treating a woman like a human being – is all it might take.

Because misogyny: Equality as radical. Empowerment as weapon. Feminist as feminazi. At some point, doesn’t a lifetime of incidents of domestic violence, of rape, of murder, of torture, of withholding count as its own Holocaust? The terror George W. was hunting to finally justify that war?

Because misogyny: Filmmakers Woody Allen and Roman Polanski are lionized as their own type of victims. Misunderstood. Brilliance over ethics. Over empathy. Art as disassociation. As inculpable.  Steubenville mourns ruined football careers. Playboy lauds Neko Case only as a woman in music.

Because misogyny: A talented, well-meaning poet attempts to process trauma through art and gifts a new voice to the wrong protagonist of this story.

Because misogyny: A friend posts an article on Isla Vista, and someone comments, “Come on, ladies, take one for the team,” as if women weren’t just murdered over a man’s sense of entitlement. Have ever been murdered over a man’s sense of entitlement. As if a person’s right to humor obviously trumps a person’s right to safety. To comfort. But actually, not really person. Woman.

Because misogyny: A comedian co-opts #YesAllWomen at our expense without bothering to be subversive or challenging or even funny, and when these jokes fall flat, are returned in echo, these men recoil at the thought of reflection and rush to fill the silence with their own extraordinary reasoning, take solace in the certainty that they are the exception, never the rule.

Because misogyny: An older male colleague whose name I don’t know finds me in an adjunct office one afternoon, my belly ripe and low-hanging and nearly ready for the picking as I organize papers before class. He takes a long look at my ring finger – bare – before he asks, Is the father in the picture? I am too stunned to smile, to extend my hand for a strong shaking, to chirp through my teeth that, where I come from, we usually just start with hello. Instead I nod and choke the yes from my throat to his brightening. That’s good. His approval offered as a talisman, the balloon of relief inflated almost to bursting, as if the whole of my daughter’s personhood, her very legitimacy, is tied to this. As if there is nothing worse he could imagine for my child than the thought of me raising her on my own.

Because misogyny: My kind-hearted, pro-equality father comes to visit and still occasionally says things like, Sometimes you just have to shut up and let a woman pick the curtains, like there is one secret, and this is it. Nevermind that in our cramped apartment, curtains are a luxury. Nevermind that a blanket – gifted to me a decade ago for my high school graduation – hangs covering our daughter’s bedroom window. Nevermind that it’s my partner, the dad, who most often sits with our toddler to fix her hair, who possesses the fashion expertise for best pairing her cute, coordinated outfits, who successfully executes DIY home-décor projects he scores from Pinterest while my own crafting attempts usually disintegrate rapidly into unrecognizable piles of hot glue and yarn.

Because misogyny: That my partner does these things for our daughter, that he makes pancakes good enough to put your favorite hole-in-the-wall diner breakfast to shame, that he doesn’t hesitate to run the vacuum, that he asks my opinion and considers my feelings in front of others – sometimes earns him less-than-favorable labels. Whipped. Weak. Pussy. Because that’s the greatest insult we can think of: To tell a man he’s acting like the lesser sex – like a fucking woman.

Because misogyny: We are asked often if we’re going to try for a boy. Not if we’d like to have more kids, but specifically this, because no matter how hilarious or adorable or delightful our daughter is, no matter how much love we lavish or how big our hearts swell or how soft our voices go when we talk about her, that pronoun must in some way indicate that she might still not be enough for us.

Because misogyny: Men who meet the minimum expectation of how to treat other human beings feel charged to speak up for themselves when these daily injustices finally grow into too heavy a burden for us to carry quietly, as if it’s they who are oppressed, rushing to remind us it’s #NotAllMen, because it’s easier when there’s distance, easier to step back or away than to lean in, easier to act as aggressor than ally.

Because misogyny: I’ve heard, But he was drunk, as if it is an absolution.

Because misogyny: I’ve heard, But she was drunk, as if it is an absolution.

Because misogyny: Before there was a sweet baby or a partner who lifts me up with his kindness, a man who was once my husband felt entitled to hide our car keys or laptop from me during arguments. To throw dishes or destroy my things as if this was a fair compromise for keeping his hands off of me. As if there was still so much for which I should have been grateful. And it was this entitlement that finally called our friends forward to share – with concern, hesitation – that from the mouth of the man who had vowed his love, and always, I was a worthless waste of space, dumb, a child. This entitlement is pervasive, endemic, impossible to escape. It is here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here. So many heres that there isn’t enough time or space to name even the smallest fraction. So many heres that my own barely make a dent. Are hardly worth blinking an eye over.

Because misogyny: A mutual friend once visited in the middle of the day and told me to pack a bag and come with her, worried that I was no longer safe living with the husband. Of escalation. Days later, she explained that his mother – a woman I both trusted and adored – had heard the charge of verbally and emotionally abusive in my kitchen and waited until I’d left the room to whisper her own solution: I needed to grow up, to stop acting like such a baby. C’mon, ladies. Take one for the team.

But I won’t.

***

Kirsten Clodfelter holds an MFA from George Mason University. She has contributed writing to The Iowa ReviewBrevityNarrative MagazineGreen Mountains ReviewstorySouth, and The Good Men Project, among others. Her chapbook of war-impact stories, Casualties, was published last year by RopeWalk Press and is now available for Kindle. Clodfelter writes and lives in Southern Indiana with her partner and their awesome, hilarious daughter. KirstenClodfelter.com@MommaofMimo

The Human Flame War

The Human Flame War

By Tini Howard

 

As part of what I’ve reviewed for at At the Margins, I like to give people a nice, smooth transition into the world of comics, which hasn’t always been… super inclusive. There was a time – a time many of us grew up in – in which comics were an infamous hive of everything wrong with mass media. Everyone was sexually exaggerated and villains were based solely on racist caricatures on the regular and excused through shoddy narrative.

This gives comics nerds a really bad name, one that a great many people live up when it comes to the questions we ask about the recent rise in superhero media. Make a billion dollar blockbuster where Superman’s entire personality is disregarded in favor of neck breaking and no one bats an eye. Give Wonder Woman pants and everyone loses their minds, to borrow from the medium itself. Nary a day goes by when any attempt at inclusion or updating on the part of the big comic publishers is met with the scorn and outcry of a hundred thousand nerds over the most absurd and minor things.

The most recent announcement to generate this sort of insanity is the casting announcement for Fox’s upcoming Fantastic Four film. Actor Michael B. Jordan, who is black, has been cast in the role of Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, a character who has historically been portrayed as white.

I feel like I don’t even need to discuss the first type of backlash here. I don’t even really care to give it attention. I just don’t think the argument that “the movie has to match the comic” holds any water. As in none. At all. To everyone who says “he’s white in the comics,” I say, he’s also been dead in the comics, and now he’s not.

Or, if that doesn’t catch you, I suggest this: One young black guy who was previously going to watch that movie without seeing a single hero that looks like him now will. If that’s less important to you than Johnny Storm’s skin color, if you say (as so many people have), that “seeing a black man in a role that was previously portrayed by a white man ruins the character” for you, I don’t know what to say to you, other than there’s a word for that.

It’s a six-letter word that starts with R and should make you cringe. Hint: It’s not reboot.

Don’t suggest to me that I don’t really care about these characters, that I’m not a real fan. I adore Robert Aguirre-Sacasa’s “4.” I think it was a great run because – and I’ll spare you the recap where I post panels of all of my favorite moments and make emotional commentary – because it nails down what the Fantastic Four are about, what makes them different from the Avengers or the X-Men. And that’s the idea of family.

So this brings me to my second talking point – people claiming that that somehow is shattered by casting a black actor in the part of Johnny Storm. The suggestion has been made that perhaps Sue Storm should have been cast as a black actress – Kerry Washington was suggested, and I think that would be just perfect. She hasn’t been, and white actress Kate Mara is playing the part. But if your perception of the Fantastic Four as a family, of Sue and Johnny Storm as siblings, is just shattered by them being different races, I suggest you watch a few Cheerios commercials. Or take a look at the multi-racial family of writer Brian Michael Bendis – the author of Ultimate Fantastic Four.

I want to be clear, from over here at the margins, that most of the people I know personally and follow socially are not the backwater nerds who are pissed off about this. This is what kind of kills me about the whole thing – literally everyone I know who actually buys comics weekly, all of the people who are reading Fantastic Four, the people who are going to dress up and be there at the midnight showing, who will see the movie four times in theaters so they can fill their Tumblr with references – aren’t bothered by this. All of the people you’d think to be the most hardcore nerds, the ones you’d expect to be giant jerks over this – they’re all for it.

The weird, vocal group of people I’ve encountered who are angry about this haven’t bought a comic in years. If they had, they’d understand what the medium is all about now, how it’s become a haven for characters too other for television and for concepts a little too off-the-beaten-path for those weenies in the mainstream media. These days, we’ve got Batgirl’s transgender roommate, a biracial Spiderman, and a team of teen Avengers who are led by a perfect Kelly-Kapowski-and-Zach-Morris dream couple – only they’re both boys. Stuff that just isn’t getting the representation it needs other places finds a home on the pages of superhero comics.

If nothing else, hear me out on this: If you’ve been staying away from comics because of a vocal group who fancies themselves to be old-school nerds and adheres to canon at the exclusion of minorities, please, come into the fold. The core of us, the fans and creators and cosplayers and conventioners, we love our diverse world. We welcome you into our family. It’s Fantastic.

***

Tini Howard is a writer and semi-professional nerd living in Wilmington, North Carolina. She has recently been featured on io9, Kotaku, and Nerd Caliber. TiniHoward.com, @TiniHoward.

Women Are “Just More Emotional”

Paula Modersohn-Becker “Die Klagender Frauen” (1902) Public Domain

 

 

Women Are “Just More Emotional”

By Sarah Marcus

 

“Hey, the 1950s called, they want their stereotype back,” I said during a somewhat intense debate last night. I was asking a new friend, let’s call him Adam, what he thought of Garance Franke-Ruta’s recent article in The Atlantic called “Why Isn’t Better Education Giving Women More Power?

If I’m being honest, I probably already knew his response; I just really wanted it to be different, because… I like him. The article is basically about how even though women are generally more successful in school, the same behaviors and tools that helped them to succeed in the academic arena don’t necessarily translate into the workforce. The article gives statistics on the disparity between genders and points out that studies show women in the workplace are criticized more, make less money, and are generally judged more negatively. But the most important piece of this essay, and the part that I am most interested in, deals with the root of the problem:

The university system aside, I suspect there is another, deeply ingrained set of behaviors that also undermine women: the habits they pick up—or don’t pick up—in the dating world. Men learn early that to woo women, they must risk rejection and be persistent. Straight women, for their part, learn from their earliest years that they must wait to be courted. The professional world does not reward the second approach. No one is going to ask someone out professionally if she just makes herself attractive enough. I suspect this is why people who put together discussion panels and solicit op‑eds always tell me the same thing: it’s harder to get women to say yes than men. Well, duh. To be female in our culture is to be trained from puberty in the art of rebuffing—rebuffing gazes, comments, touches, propositions, and proposals.

Bingo. This makes total sense to me. I am a woman. I have all too well mastered the art of rebuffing. It’s March: Women’s History Month. There are signs in stores that are supposed to be “celebrating” women. They read: 60% of our employees are women! But, it’s a party trick. “Hey, look over here!” Because when you look at upper management, it’s only 4% female. Now, Adam’s initial response to this article was to also look at the numbers. He’s very logical. He’s very smart. I like him. He would like to see the holistic ratio of employees in business. He’s had a 50/50 ratio of male to female bosses. Then, he gives me a word problem: If there are 100 employees in the office and 10 are women, and there are 10 spots to move up from that 100, then 1/9 women should be promoted and 9/90 men should be, too. His point being that no one thinks about the actual numbers, they only look straight to the top and see that there are 9 male bosses and 1 female boss. I acknowledge that he is speaking from a place of privilege, and in my mind, this isn’t the problem either.

The problem is much deeper; it’s much bigger. The problem is that there are only 10 women who are employees going after that promotion in the first place. The problem is that we (women) have been taught all of our lives to accept our position, to be submissive, and to self-objectify. These behaviors and states of being are so deeply ingrained that sometimes I’m not even aware that I’m participating in this dynamic. From a very early age, we lose belief in our own political and social efficacy. We learn to see ourselves and value ourselves how the media and the collective consciousness see us.

Still, the real problem is even more insidious and subtly woven into our social makeup. The REAL problem is that we still exist in a time and place that perpetuates an accepted culture of violence against women. At some point in our debate, Adam says that men and women ARE different, right? He brings up the obvious difference: our physical traits. This is the in. Yes, I think, herein lies the issue at the core of our patriarchal power dynamic. Our physical traits have been held against us and kept us repressed since the beginning of time. This is usually where I lose my male readers. They hear sexual assault/domestic violence and distance themselves, because they would never do that, so this part doesn’t apply to them. This is where we’re all wrong. Let me give you a scenario that most of the women in my life can relate to:

I am joking around with my boyfriend. Maybe there’s a mutual nudge or a thrown pillow (all in good fun—remember, we are being hilarious and having a great time). Then, he holds me down by the wrists (not maliciously, still joking around, maybe even in an effort to transition into something more intimate). But, I have a moment of panic. Being held down, in that split second, I am utterly terrified when I realize that I am completely helpless, physically. He is still laughing, and when I suddenly say, “let go,” and he (of course) does, he is caught completely off guard by my reaction. He asks, “What’s wrong?” and says, “I was just joking around.” AND he was just joking around… and he didn’t do anything wrong, but what I realize in that moment is that he will (hopefully) never feel that specific kind of complete helplessness. He doesn’t get it. He doesn’t know what that violation feels like. He doesn’t understand that even the threat, the possibility of violation, is intimidating. He doesn’t know how to empathize. We MUST have these conversations. If we don’t talk about it, if we don’t express the legitimate danger, then people (and men, specifically) simply don’t think about what’s actually at stake here. What feels like small, insignificant attitudes and actions are actually monumental in this way.

Circling back to my debate with Adam, he says, “Women take things more personally than men do.” I have a heart palpitation, and I want to call him out on it, but I make a joke instead. He says, “Women are more sensitive by nature.” I use that 1950s line, and then I urge him to read the fabulous piece on emotional gaslighting by Yashar Ali, “A Message to Women From a Man: You Are Not ‘Crazy’.

This article essentially explains that “it’s a whole lot easier to emotionally manipulate someone who has been conditioned by our society to accept it. We continue to burden women because they don’t refuse our burdens as easily. It’s the ultimate cowardice.” Ali also argues that he doesn’t “think this idea that women are ‘crazy,’ is based in some sort of massive conspiracy,” but rather that this idea is instead “connected to the slow and steady drumbeat of women being undermined and dismissed, on a daily basis. And gaslighting is one of many reasons why we are dealing with this public construction of women as ‘crazy.’”

He goes on to talk about how men are conditioned to feel uncomfortable with emotional expression, because they are discouraged from emotional expression from an early age. Ali’s conclusion is in the form of a question. He asks: “Isn’t the issue of gaslighting ultimately about whether we are conditioned to believe that women’s opinions don’t hold as much weight as ours? That what women have to say, what they feel, isn’t quite as legitimate?” I think, yes.

Adam reads the article, but I am still met with more defensiveness, and I realize as we go back and forth that we are essentially having two completely different conversations. Adam initially interprets the article as an accusation. When he reads Ali’s plea to stop telling women that they are “crazy” or “too sensitive,” Adam thinks back to that one time with that one woman who said/did that super crazy thing and he “rightly” told her she was acting crazy. He feels like the message is: “Don’t do that. You’re wrong.” I see this interpretation/reaction all the time. My students, my friends, my family, most people do this. I realize then that Ali’s audience is “the choir.” He is essentially speaking to women who can already relate or men who already know not to do this, and this problem doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

As a teacher, a daughter, a friend, and a potential partner, the question for me has now become this: How can we enter into this conversation from a place of empathy? I have this hope that my attitude will inspire empathy in those who have a difficult time relating (coming from a place of privilege, or lack of exposure/experience) to the women who are being gaslighted. How do I talk to Adam?

Firstly, we need to recognize that men and women are taught to act and react differently. It is so important to take these kinds of articles and suggestions seriously, because I believe that this basic common respect, and our ability to value each other as equals, is the only way we will eradicate our culture of violence against women. This is how we stop victim blaming. This is how we end rape culture. This is how we become better humans, partners, family members, etc. We have to teach men not to violate women. We have to unlearn what we already know so well. This, as Adam points out to me, is essentially the Golden Rule: treat others the way you want to be treated. He asks, “What can I do that would be acceptable in the context of this article?” This is exactly what we all should be asking ourselves.

I think about Adam: He is a good human with a good heart… did I mention that I actually like him? So, what do I need to change about the way I am approaching this conversion? It dawns on me that we are all universally connected. We all have mothers, and sisters, and daughters, and friends. We all only have control over one thing in this world: our behavior. I try to shift our conversation towards this focus: “Don’t you want your partner/mother/sister/friend to feel valued? Shouldn’t we all (men and women) strive to put ourselves above emotional manipulation?” And the answer is obviously, yes. But Ali is also pointing out that we even enter this conversation on unequal footing.

The incredible documentary film, MissRepresentation, points out:

“Little boys and little girls, when they’re 7 years old, in equal number want to be president of the United States when they grow up. But then you ask the same question when they’re 15, and you see this massive gap emerging.”

Undeniably, there is a hierarchical structure of power in our society, and women are not at the top.

Our conversation shifts back to us as individuals, and Adam starts to talk about what he can do about the “problem.” So, in the context of raising a family, and in the workplace, and in relationships, he says that he’s been taught, harshly, to take responsibility for his actions, period. That he should own up to his mistakes and not make excuses. He’s been taught (like so many of us) that everyone is the same, and that it’s important to surround yourself with people that make you better regardless of their sex, race, or sexual orientation. He then asks, if he is operating under that fundamental mentality, in the way that he should, then what should he do differently within the context of his everyday life? This is an awesome question; one that I think about constantly.

My response is something that I have to work on every single day of my life.  It’s what I am working on in this moment: even when I believe that someone is being too sensitive or emotional, I try to listen with an open heart. Instead of poking holes in a belief or argument, I try to look for ways to be helpful and to empower people who feel as though they have lost efficacy. And then, Adam says something really powerful. He says that “in reality, if someone is being too sensitive, I listen to them, and I ‘empathize’ as you’d say. The only time that I say [the] things [in the article] is when I am at the end of my rope in a relationship and acting out. It’s my actions that cause it; I realize that. The good thing to do would be to cut it off or to not say those things at all.” While what Adam is saying seems so very simple, it is in practice, truly profound. It’s hard to act well, especially when our social instincts feel like they’re being threatened, and when we’re taught that vulnerability is “bad,” it’s no wonder we get so uncomfortable when people express themselves so directly.

All roads lead back to compassion. How do we teach and inspire compassion? I’m not saying that women shouldn’t be angry. I am furious. Everyone should be furious about violence against women. This is an issue that impacts all of us. Most of the men I know seem to be unaware, even, that 1 in 4 women in their lives have been sexually assaulted or an attempted assault has been made on them. Or maybe they (we) hear these numbers but can’t connect them to ourselves?

I imagine that our lack of information is primarily due to the fact that assault is difficult to talk about and difficult to hear about. We don’t really have safe spaces (especially in the public opinion arena) to talk about such things. We tend to retruamatize survivors. I want to know how we can express our anger in a way that doesn’t shut people down.

It is a travesty that there’s so much negativity connected with the Women’s Rights Movement. People are terrified to be a part of the feminist community, to call themselves FEMINISTS. I’m scared, too. I know, it’s hard to believe with my incessant facebook posting and boycotting and protesting that I feel scared, but I am human. I care about being judged just like everyone else. I wonder, because of the negative connotations surrounding the “F” word, whether I will “scare” off a potential partner or friends. I’m afraid it will scare Adam. What will my future employers think? These thoughts are persistent, though I have learned to move past that fear and do what I think is right regardless of how I feel.

Still, it’s important to continue thinking about and asking how feminism and the feminist community can become more inclusive. If a feminist is “anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men,” then we should certainly all call ourselves feminists. If not, I think we have a whole lot of explaining to do to our wives, daughters, sisters, and friends.

A version of this article originally appeared in So to Speak. It has been reprinted here with permission from the author.

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Sarah Marcus is the author of BACKCOUNTRY (2013, Finishing Line Press) and Every Bird, To You (2013, Crisis Chronicles Press). She is also a Count Coordinator for VIDA: Women in Literary Arts. You can read some more things about her at sarahannmarcus.com.

 

 

 

Hell Yes, I’m Intolerant

 

 

Hell Yes, I’m Intolerant

By Joanna Schroeder

 

The other day on Facebook a friend of mine shared his thoughts on the Coca Cola ad set to the song “America the Beautiful.” My friend’s status said, “If this bothered you… I don’t even know what to say to you. Get a brain.”

This seems like an obvious sentiment. If you’re bothered by “America the Beautiful” being sung in other languages or by images of happy people doing fun things while being unapologetically whatever race or religion they are, then you do need a brain.

I don’t think anyone was surprised by the fact that some people hated the ad. Racism is alive and well, and it’s something people of color experience all the time, in all sorts of ways. Hating “America the Beautiful” because it portrayed America the Diverse is par for the course in a nation peppered with intolerant bigots.

But what did surprise me were the people who commented on my friend’s status by saying (paraphrased), “I don’t agree with the people who were angry about the ad. But it doesn’t bother me that they hated it. Why should I care?”

I had to stop and do a double-take at this.

Really? It doesn’t bother you that people are being racist? Not at all?

It was hard for me to resist typing, “You are a moron and I hope you fall in a deep, deep hole.” Instead, I said, “Of course it doesn’t bother you that people are racist. You are white. Why would it bother you that people don’t like non-white people?”

The response that I got was fascinating (again, paraphrasing).

“No,” said one racist-who-thinks-she’s-not, “I, unlike you, am not intolerant of other people’s opinions.”

This forced me to consider whether I was, in fact, being intolerant.

I am most certainly sometimes stupid, and quite often blind to the realities that people of color (or other marginalized groups) face on a day-to-day basis, primarily because no matter how hard I try, my privileges can make it hard for me to see outside of my own experience. I work hard to simply keep my mouth shut and listen so as to avoid being stupid and perpetuating more stupid… But I don’t think of myself as “intolerant”.

But then I thought about the actual meaning of that word and I realized that, YES, I am intolerant.

From Merriam-Webster:

in·tol·er·ant

adjective -rənt

: not willing to allow or accept something

: not willing to allow some people to have equality, freedom, or other social rights

See what she did there? She took a word that is contextually understood to mean one thing (essentially, bigoted or racist) and twisted it around so that she could sound righteous by exploiting the fact that it also means, basically, “not putting up with your stupid shit.”

I suspected that this must have a Fox News origin, and so I went digging. I Googled “leftist intolerance” and found a lot of really amazingly terrible clips wherein Fox News pundits call liberals hypocrites because we, the liberals, are the ones who are intolerant of them and their racism and anti-gay agendas.

Here’s one really painful example, though I have to warn you before you click through that it is a clip of five (not one, not two, but FIVE) white people talking about the NAACP and US Senator Tim Scott (who is Black), and how generally terrible they think the NAACP is to Black people. I’m not embedding it for obvious reasons.

After all of that, I realized that yes, I am intolerant and I’m proud of it!

I’m intolerant of white people being assholes about “America the Beautiful” being sung in non-English languages. I’m intolerant of people who say that people of color or non-Christian folks don’t represent our nation.

I’m intolerant of people who say that our LGBTQ+ brethren don’t deserve equal treatment under a Constitution and Bill of Rights that affords all people the same rights.

I’m intolerant of people referring to young Black men as thugs when they, themselves, are the ones who think gunning down unarmed boys, girls, women, and men who aren’t committing any crimes (or even trying to commit crimes) is an okay and legal thing to do. I’m intolerant of your racist thuggery, racist white people.

I’m intolerant of a lot, really. I’m intolerant of people who abuse children, of people who commit rape, and of people who deny the reality of how often rape and sexual violence happens in this nation to men, women, boys, girls and everyone else.

I’m intolerant of people who think that being transgender is something we can just tell people to stop being and that it will magically work. I’m intolerant of those who choose to mis-gender someone who very clearly has told you that she is a woman.

I’m intolerant of the parents and teachers who think it’s okay to let kids say “f*g” or “pussy” or “queer” to kids like the boy who likes My Little Pony and is now on life support after trying to take his own life. I’m intolerant of the adults who modeled that hate to their children. Yes, shaming kids who don’t conform to the strictest gender binary is hate. Pure and simple. And it is killing kids.

I’m intolerant of the people who tell my friend’s daughter that her gorgeous natural hair is a problem for them. I’m intolerant of the toy companies that don’t offer enough dolls that look like all the kids in the world, so that each child can have a baby doll that represents an image she or he can relate to (I’m looking at you, American Girl).

I’m intolerant of people who perpetuate myths about the nature of Islam, and I’m intolerant of the people who scrawled racist graffiti across the gorgeous GAP ad featuring Sikh-American Waris Ahluwahlia, implying he and anyone else in a turban is a terrorist.

I’m intolerant of people who refuse to see the pain and disrespect brought to Native Americans by the unauthorized use of Native mascots, names and iconography. I’m intolerant of the white folks who think they have some right to Wahoo the Indian or the name “Redsk*ns“.

I’m intolerant of this nation of bullies that gets off on thinking that the only real way to be American is to be white, non-poor, Christian, educated, able-bodied, cis-gendered, un-scarred by emotional or physical abuse, and straight. And I’m intolerant of all of you who think that it’s okay to say absolutely nothing to the people in your life who are harming others through any sort of racism, abuse or bigotry.

Hell yes, I’m intolerant of your willingness to tolerate others’ hate.

This article originally appeared at The Good Men Project and is reprinted here with permission of the publisher.

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Joanna Schroeder is the type of working mom who opens her car door and junk spills out all over the ground. She serves as Executive Editor of The Good Men Project and is a freelance writer whose work has appeared on sites like xoJane, hlntv.com, and The Huffington Post. Schroeder loves playing with her sons, skateboarding with her husband, and hanging out with friends. Her dream is to someday finish her almost-done novel and get some sleep. Follow her shenanigans on Twitter.

Gawker is Defending Snark and It’s Such a Good Feeling To Explain Why They Are Wrong

Mr. Rogers

Gawker is Defending Snark and It’s Such a Good Feeling To Explain Why They Are Wrong

by Allan Mott

This past Thursday, Gawker published an essay by Tom Scocca entitled “On Smarm.” And while it spends a lot of time discussing this titular subject an equally apt title would have been “In Defense of Snark”. That’s because its thesis is that the use of snark (as found on websites like Gawker) is a direct reaction to the nefarious influence of smarm—which Scocca describes as a patriarchal tool used to squash truth and debate through the oppressive policing of tone and insincere advocation of  kindness.

It’s an eloquent essay full of memorable insights, but it is also an extremely self-serving one based on a crucial miscalculation and made possible by the essential arrogance that snark thrives on to exist—the idea that the author alone possesses access to undeniable truths the rest of us are either too stupid or cowed by our cultural overlords to uncover ourselves.

This response isn’t going to be anywhere as long or detailed as Scocca’s essay, but having read it and seen it praised by people whose opinions I respect, I feel compelled to point out where I see he has erred and/or is blind to his own failings. And I hope to do so in a way that proves it is possible to express a negative critical opinion without using the specific rhetorical tool he works so long and hard to defend.

The first bump in his argument came for me in the section where Scocca nominates popular Gawker target Dave Eggers as “the most significant explicator of the niceness rule….” Eggers crime? An email interview the author and publisher wrote 13 years ago in which he said, “Do not dismiss a book until you have written one, and do not dismiss a movie until you have made one, and do not dismiss a person until you have met them.”

Scocca’s response to this is one of incredulity:

Do not dismiss … a movie? Unless you have made one? Any movie? The InternshipThe Lone Ranger? Kirk Cameron’s Unstoppable? Movie criticism, Eggers is saying, should be reserved for those wise and discerning souls who have access to a few tens of millions of dollars of entertainment-industry capital. One or two hundred million, if you wish to have an opinion about the works of Michael Bay.

Scocca might have been justified here if Eggers was truly saying that you had to have the exact same experience to properly appreciate and judge a creative work, but that’s an assumption he clearly makes because it is convenient to him and allows him to glibly decry it with examples of movies of dubious merit. (Reading the full essay you’ll note that he doesn’t show similar outrage over the other two subjects Eggers notes, because neither writing a book or meeting people allow for the same level of hyperbole).

And while I cannot speak to what exactly Eggers had in his head when he typed out those words, as someone who has expressed similar sentiments in the past, I would tell Scocca that no, you do not have to make a major studio blockbuster to criticize one, because the experience of simply attempting to put together a no-budget digital short in your own backyard is more than enough to provide valuable insights into the often heartbreaking realities of filmmaking—where the best of intentions are often inevitably undone by forces beyond the filmmaker’s control.

What Scocca fails to realize is that in this statement, Eggers is not pushing for “niceness” but empathy—the ability to put yourself in the place of the artist and to appreciate the inherent difficulties of creating any work of art, much less a good one.

But is it important for a critic to feel empathy? Well, that depends on what you believe the purpose of criticism is—to improve the culture we live in or to destroy it so that it can be rebuilt in the image we’d prefer. Scocca clearly believes in the latter, so it makes sense that he would be offended by the thought he might be asked to show sympathy for the artists he and his fellow Gawker contributors snark against in the name of their anit-smarm revolution.

To the snarkful, those artists are working in service of a status quo they deplore and thus must be brought down to Earth via their dismissive wit. And what is that status quo? One in which the snarker is forced to write about others, rather than be written about themselves.

Because that is what lies in the beating heart of the condescension through which snarkery thrives—anger over the idea that someone else has made their way into the spotlight that the snarkers covet for themselves. It is the most obvious response to a system that is often arbitrary and unfair, abetted by decades worth of academic criticism arguing that the critic serves a greater role in the creation of art than the artist (Author? What author?).

Scocca pitches the battles of snark vs. smarm as one of truth vs. lies and this is relevant and true in the sections where he specifically focuses on hypocritical calls to civility from political opportunists looking to deflect honest assessments of their records, but the problem is that this ignores the fact that the majority of snark seen online is aimed at pop culture and that is an arena where the concept of “truth” is at best highly questionable.

Because as insightfully as any critic assesses a work of pop culture, they are still always operating in the world of subjective opinion—not objective fact. When it comes to the new Miley Cyrus album, there are no universal truths. Some will love it. Some will hate it. Both will be able to defend their positions and neither will be more wrong or right than the other.

More often than not the reason why some will praise a work is the exact same reason others will decry it, so to suggest that one group possesses wisdom that the other lacks—as the snarkers frequently do—isn’t battling against tyranny, it’s just creating a new one where only one opinion is considered enlightened and all others are dismissed as deluded and wrong.

Scocca does precisely this himself when he writes:

Whether a work is…any good is beside the point… we have an entire class of art or entertainment that relies on other art, parasitically, for its protection or certification. Julia Child…became a beloved and admired figure, so how could Julie & Julia be greeted with anything but love…? “Swan Lake” is essential to the classical canon, so Black Swan must be taken seriously… .

When we detach ourselves from the logic of smarm, it becomes possible instead to read Julie & Julia as a chilling portrait of sociopathy, and Black Swan as hysterical junk….

With this, Scocca specifically states that his rejection of smarm gives him a special insight unavailable to those of us still caught in its web. He informs us why many of us praised these specific movies and why we were foolish to do so. He never once considers the possibility that there might be other reasons for appreciating them.

Maybe I enjoyed Julia & Julia because it featured one of my favourite performances by an actor who I personally believe is one of the greatest to ever work in film? Maybe I was especially touched by its depiction of Child’s unique relationship with her husband? And it seems weird to tell me that I only recommendedBlack Swan to others because it references “Swan Lake”—a ballet I’ve never actually seen or feel any particular connection to. The possibility that I might have empathized with Portman’s insecurity and resulting descent into madness is discounted because Scocca believes it is “hysterical junk” and his detachment “from the logic of smarm” apparently makes this analysis irrefutable.

What Scocca’s essay fails to acknowledge is that it is entirely possible to engage in intelligent, thoughtful negative criticism without being condescending or engaging in the self-satisfied cheap shots that define the snark oeuvre. It’s just much harder, because the one thing snark really has going for it is that it is by far the easiest method of public discourse. All one has to do is strike a tone of superior dismissiveness, find fault and run with it for as long as inspiration welcomes.

Being negative in a way that is actually constructive, though, can require real work. It forces you to consider what you are saying and how your subject will react to it. This is something you never have to do with snark, because its whole point is to dehumanize the person you are discussing—to turn them into a thing you can mock for page views and general amusement. Sometimes the crimes of the subject are such that they deserve this kind of treatment, but most often their basic humanity is robbed from them for no other reason than the snarker’s own amusement.

That’s why when I criticize the use of snark, I am not doing so in the defense of smarm and my own desire to silence dissent. I do so because it treats people like things and when we treat people like things it makes the world a worse place to live in. I rally against rudeness not in the name of preserving the patriarchy and the status quo, but because these discourtesies rob us of our humanity—without them we are nothing more than inconvenient impediments to other people’s desires. Civility is not being nice to allow the wicked and corrupt to flourish, it’s the acknowledgement that how we treat each other is the only thing keeping our civilization from collapsing. Being polite is not an act of submission, but an acknowledgement that there is a world greater than us that we are just a part of—that we do not stand alone in the centre of the universe.

But the crucial miscalculation in Scocca’s argument is that the only reason smarm is the antithesis to snark is because both are equally flawed as rhetorical devices. By reacting as it does against the forces he laments snark does as much damage as it prevents. It’s fighting toxic waste with toxic waste—a defence that only leads to more cultural pollution, not less.

No, the true weapon against both smarm and snark is sincerity. To clearly and honestly engage in a debate without invective or adornment and trust that those who you are arguing with are doing so based on their true principles and beliefs and not merely for attention, ego, profit or entertainment.

Sure, it sounds boring, but it doesn’t have to be. My personal hero is a man whose entire existence was devoted to being sincere and whose innate kindness was not a ruse or a tactic, but the defining trait that made him special and unique in a world that needed him to exist. Because I am a flawed person I often fail to follow in his example and engage in the exact same kind of behavior I’ve spent nearly 2000 words arguing against, but his existence proves that we can rise above the battle Scocca describes—we are not obligated to take a side. We can be polite, thoughtful and kind without automatically furthering the ends of those who attempt to hide their corruption behind such principles—we can do so simply because it’s what Mr. Rogers taught us.

 

This article originally appeared at The Good Men Project and is reprinted here with permission of the publisher.

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Allan Mott was once accused of being a narcissistic goth lesbian by a disgruntled Amazon reviewer. That pretty much sums up his writing career (which includes 12 and 1/2 books and frequent contributions to such sites as XOJane, XOJaneUK, Canuxploitation, Bookgasm, and Flick Attack). His most personal writing can be found at VanityFear.com, where he uses the subject of B-Movies to mostly talk about boobs and stuff. Tweet him @HouseofGlib.