We often use college course abbreviations to describe the various levels of social justice discussion. Someone might refer to a “101-level” conversation when we’re talking about identifying racism as a social construct rather than a biological reality. Trying to access the specific ways in which racial constructs impact the lived experiences of people might qualify for “200-level” status, since it requires us to understand and accept the conclusions from the 100-level stuff before we can move on to the real-world implications. Discussing things like intersectionality and the consequences of multiple identities that intersect race is maybe your “300-level” stuff, which is more or less the level I think I can comfortably converse.
Hey folks! Remember that time that Clint Eastwood did something hilarious?
Clint Eastwood did end up stealing the show at Mitt Romney’s formal appointment as his party’s choice for the US presidential election but perhaps not in the way he or the candidate would have wanted.
The 82-year-old’s rambling gravel-voiced conversation with an empty chair – supposedly supporting an invisible Barack Obama – proved a bizarre and confusing warm-up act for Romney.
“Mr President, how do you handle promises that you have made when you were running for election, and how do you handle them? I mean, what do you say to people?” he asked. He berated Obama for not learning from the Russian experience in invading Afghanistan. It was George W Bush who ordered US troops into the country.
For your convenience, the word “hilarious” has been temporarily redefined to mean “sad and pathetically embarrassing”. Eastwood, in a fit of improvisational zeal, decided that it would be an effective strategy to bring out an empty chair to symbolize the President and then have a one-sided conversation with him/it in front of an international audience. Columnist Jamelle Bouie noted that the image of an old white man angrily lecturing an imaginary Obama was a perfect encapsulation of the entire Republican election process.
One of the pieces of political language that drives me absolutely nuts is the term ‘illegal immigrants’. The system of immigration in both Canada and the United States disincentivizes documented immigration by making it nearly impossible and subject to interference by the capricious whims of the party in power. Looking at it cynically, one could make the argument that there is a huge economic benefit to the elite class, who can exploit undocumented immigrants for what is essentially slave labour, secure in the knowledge that threats of deportation are usually enough to quell any resistance to the illegal working conditions. The system punishes the exploited, not the exploiters.
Of course, there are few places in the USA that are more openly and notoriously malevolent to undocumented immigrants than the state of Arizona. Despite the blatant racism inherent in their newly-minted anti-Mexican law that they try to pass off as a way of handling “illegals”, they are still legally allowed to detain and deport anyone who looks ‘foreign’ and can’t prove their non-foreign-ness to the satisfaction of the towering legal intellect of folks like Joe Arpaio.
One common claim that comes up in discussions of social justice issues is the following, predominantly uttered by a member of the majority group:
I am against all kinds of discrimination. In fact, I am never hesitant to call others on their own prejudiced behaviours!
What usually follows is the word ‘but’, and then some explanation of how ze is the real victim of discrimination because people keep telling hir to check hir privilege, often with accusations of being bigoted* or something of that nature. The reasoning, I imagine, goes something like this:
I believe myself to be opposed to discrimination
I behave in a way that is consistent with someone who is opposed to discrimination
Therefore your accusations of my prejudice are misplaced
I can certainly appreciate how much it sucks to have someone call you a bigot when all you’re trying to do is express reasonable skepticism about something. This is especially true when you are a passionate defender of the very people making the accusation. From an outsider’s perspective, it can certainly seem as though the name-calling is completely offside – they should recognize that you are an ally and you are doing your best.
Maybe the following expansion of the above syllogism can help flesh out why this attitude is problematic and will lead you into more trouble: … Continue Reading
I’ve had a few e-mails and tweets and comments over the past handful of weeks asking me some version of the following question: “is racism as bad in Canada as it is in the United States?” Many people have heard of Canada as being a place where racism is not really that big a deal, and people like in relative peace and harmony. Then they come to this blog and read about all the horrible racist shit that goes on here, and it shatters the illusion.
I hope you’ll forgive me for skipping ahead to the end of my long-winded and professorial answer when I tell you that I would much rather live just about anywhere in Canada than just about anywhere in the United States. While neither country is perfect, and I have only anecdotes to inform my opinion, I can say that despite Canada’s flaws, the kind of racism we have here is, on the whole, far less violent and extreme than our southern neighbours. And when something racist does happen, it is cause for national consternation: … Continue Reading
One of the most powerful tools we have when trying to parse an argument is the analogy. We can take the elements of a position, plug them in to a different context, and then press ‘play’ to see whether or not the argument still logically follows. So when a religious apologist talks about the perfect love and perfect mercy of YahwAlladdha, we can ask if it would still be considered ‘loving’ to lock your children in the basement and torture them (for any amount of time, let alone eternity) if they disobeyed your rules. We can point out the absurdity of demanding that atheists ‘play nice’ or ‘leave well enough alone’ by pointing to the similarities between ours and other civil rights movements, and show how active engagement in the public sphere is vital to progress.
Accustomed as we are to the incredible usefulness of this tool, there are cases where it goes horribly awry – namely, those cases in which privilege plays a significant role. At once, argument by analogy becomes completely derailed, and to the person drawing the (flawed) analogy, it seems as though the “privilege card” is being pulled out of nowhere. The argument seems to be, to them, that one is wrong simply because ze is white, or male, or cisgendered, or whatever dominant group identity is germane to the conversation – that the mere fact of being in the majority immediately disqualifies your arguments. Then out come the waterworks: “you’re just as bad as those you criticize - my opinion is being dismissed as you complain about people dismissing yours!”
Let’s just jump ahead a few paragraphs to the end of the argument and state unequivocally that your argument is bad, and you should feel bad.
Now that everyone who needs to learn this lesson has stopped reading, let’s forge ahead, shall we? … Continue Reading
There is a contingent of the freethinking community, and I have no idea how large it is statistically, but a contingent nonetheless that believe the conversation about social justice lies well outside the list of things we should be talking about. Science, religion, skepticism – these are clearly part of the relevant topics for us to discuss. Why do people believe crazy things? How do we get them to stop? What is the evidence? Other things like racism, feminism, sexual expression and identity issues – these sorts of crazy beliefs and evidence are obviously not relevant to our group. These folks rankle and agitate any time any of these subjects are even broached, replete with admonishments to focus on the ‘real issues’, and to claim that people are ‘overreacting’.
Of course, anyone who honestly agrees with any of that is hereby invited to fuck right off.
I have size 16 feet. They’re quite ridiculously large. I have to order my shoes from the internet, because if I try to buy them in a story I get laughed at (and then apologized to when they realize I’m not joking). I am not particularly eager to confirm or disconfirm the rumours about guys with big feet, but let it suffice to say that my feet are a rather hefty inconvenience. They pretty much preclude me from any activity that requires specialty footwear – rollerblading, skating, bowling – all of these have been off limits to me for about 12 years now.
One of the biggest losses, as far as I’m concerned, has been my ability to ski. When I was a kid, I was enrolled in a junior ski racing program at my local hill. I wasn’t great, but I had some serious promise. Then we moved to Ontario, my feet grew out of control, and the rest is history. It’s a true shame though, since I live within a pretty short drive of some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the world. And until I have a couple thousand dollars to blow on custom equipment, I’m going to have to forego the thrill of winter sports.
One of the things I remember most clearly about skiing is what would happen when, either at the end of a day or just one a break, I removed my ski goggles. In order to protect from glare, ski goggles are tinted orange. After an hour or so on the slopes, my eyes would adjust to the way the lens would filter colours. When the goggles came off, however, the full spectrum flooded in. In the relief, the world looked eerily blue and fluorescent. It would often take a few minutes for my eyes to return to normal. … Continue Reading
This weekend this blog was visited by a rather unsavoury character who decided to take your humble narrator to school on why passing laws against black people isn’t racist. At first I was amused, much the way I would be watching a dog try to take a stick through the doggy door. It’s cute and entertaining in a pathetic sort of way, watching the poor thing struggle to achieve its goal. Unlike a friendly mutt, however, this particular commenter got progressively more unhinged as I refused to take him seriously, and he began lashing out. I quickly became bored, and left him to rage by himself in the dark.
One of the points that he was sure he had ‘got’ me on was the fact that black people are incarcerated at a much higher rate than white people. This proved, he asserted, that there was something wrong with black people that made them more likely to commit crimes. It’s just statistics, he claimed. The problem with his theory is that it is not supported by the evidence, or at least the evidence is not sufficient to justify the conclusions he draws. We know, for example, that racism often acts as a confounder in what appears to be a straight-line relationship. We also know that race can play an undue role in things like sentencing and presumed innocence, putting the weight of the judicial system disproportionately against defendants of colour.
This phenomenon is not necessarily because judges are ‘racists’ or because they have a grudge against black people or anything quite so simplistic. The issue is complicated, but one of the culprits is our inability to think critically about our own attitudes about race and racism. By making race a taboo subject, we have set up a situation where people would rather ignore it than discuss it. It happens to police, it happens to lawyers, it happens to judges, and it happens the next level up as well: … Continue Reading
DISCLAIMER: I am going to do my absolute best not to make fun of Alberta in this post.
Those of you who do not follow Canadian politics news closely may be unaware that the province of Alberta recently had a provincial election. Alberta has often been (somewhat unfairly, but not entirely) characterized as the Texas of Canada. It is rich in oil wealth, and has long held itself out as the victim of a campaign of neglect by central Canada. At least partially as a result of this, and the entrenched conservatism that seems to accompany life on a frontier, Alberta has long been to the political ‘right’ of most Canadian issues. Of course, now that we have a Prime Minister from Alberta who is to the political ‘right’ of most Canadian issues, it’s a confusing time to be Albertan. What does it mean to your long-standing identity as the middle child of the Canadian family when one of your own is calling the shots?
In the wake of this confusion sprung the Wildrose Party, a provincial party that is even further to the right than the Progressive Conservative Party that has run Alberta for the past 40 years. Yes, you read that right – Alberta has been represented by a single party for 40 years, and it is called the “Progressive Conservative” party – Americans, sorry for blowing your minds with our weirdo Canuck ways. The Wildrose Party, branding itself as the populist conservative alternative to the staid, Tory leanings of the PC party, made a strong bid to unseat the reigning PCs in this latest election. Up until recently, political observers (plus everyone with a sense of civic duty) were gnawing their fingernails at the prospect of the right flank of the right wing seizing control – it was a real possibility.