There are few things that get me more irate than people who selectively quote Martin Luther King Jr. as their ‘trump card’ for their argument. While I think Dr. King had some fantastic ideas in his time, he was looking at reality through a theological lens without the benefit of scientific training; furthermore, the world he knew is now more than 50 years old. To suggest that disagreeing with Dr. King in 2013 means that your argument is incorrect is a naked appeal to authority that happens far too frequently.
Even beyond that though, most of the quoting I come across is sliced out of a single speech (the ‘Dream’ speech), without even the courtesy or intellectual rigour to quote the lines in context of the rest of the speech:
But one hundred years later, we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize an appalling condition.
If someone wants to try and reconcile that passage with the idea that Dr. King was colour blind, they’re welcome to waste their time doing so. Also everyone is invited to evaluate whether or not the conditions that prompt that speech are radically or even meaningfully different than they were in 1963.
The fact is that Dr. King wrote more than one speech, and his beliefs went beyond simple platitudes of “colour of skin vs. content of character”. Failing to appreciate this not only gives us a skewed and wildly inaccurate view of both the man and his contribution to history, but it robs us of the wealth of thoughts he did contribute. So today I invite you to brew a cup of coffee, sit down somewhere comfortable, and watch the video linked here. … Continue Reading
Back in the early days of this blog, I talked about an Ontario court case involving a woman who did not want to be compelled to remove her niqab (a Muslim face covering) in order to testify against two of her family members who she accused of sexually abusing her over a number of years. I thought it was an interesting case for those of us interested in how to properly build a secular society that respects personal expression but does not kowtow to every religious cause under the sun. I said this at the time:
For once, I don’t have a clear-cut answer of what the court should do. On the one hand, testifying would have deleterious effects on the plaintiff and possibly cause her to lose her family and social life; it would most certainly deter other abused women from coming forward after they see that the consequence of speaking up is social isolation (and possibly more abuse). On the other hand however, allowing her to wear the veil not only violates the right of the accused to confront their accuser face-to-face, but implicitly assents to the practice of veiling women.
The case found its way to the Supreme Court of Canada, who handed down their decision this morning. I have, on several occasions, expressed my deep respect and admiration for Canada’s Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, who wrote for the majority in the 4-2-1* decision, finding that while the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (equivalent to the U.S. Bill of Rights) does explicitly defend a person’s right to freedom of religion, it also explicitly defends the rights of the accused. As such, the decision prescribes a series of test questions that must be satisfied before requiring a woman to remove her niqab to testify.
The full text of the decision is here, and my own summary and analysis of the decision follows below the fold. … Continue Reading
It is more or less always true in social justice conversations that if you’re talking more than you’re listening, you’re fucking up. This is particularly true when you’re advocating for a group you don’t belong to. I realized that I was guilty of this a few months back, particularly when it came to aboriginal Canadians. While I think the challenges faced by First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Canadians are criminally underdiscussed, what I failed to realize is that the root cause of this is the absence of aboriginal voices in the conversation. If nobody takes your contributions seriously (or worse, you’re not even provided a platform to contribute at all), then even if your problems are addressed, they are done so in an extremely paternalistic and often half-hearted way.
And I was doing that.
Luckily, technology allows me to do something about that, so I put out the call on Twitter, asking for accounts from aboriginal persons, preferably those that discussed political realities and interpretations of news items. A trickle quickly became a flood, and my ‘following’ list exploded. This doesn’t mean that hey now I am magically allowed to talk at length about stuff, but it does mean that I’m slightly more aware of stuff than I was before.
And it’s a good thing too, because something’s happening right now: … Continue Reading
So last night we had a bit of a chuckle at the expense of a hapless boob from Maine who is the chairman of the state Republican party. After the laughter subsided, I said this:
What I will say is that this fits neatly with the larger Republican narrative from this last election cycle: that black people voting is suspect for fraud. That black people have to provide additional proof that they are indeed qualified to vote. In the old days, this was done through explicit policies like poll taxes and “literacy tests”. Today it’s done through barely-covert policies like “voter ID” that is designed to suppress the votes of not only black people, but pretty much anyone who would vote for a Democratic candidate. This is not a new story, and it is part of the attempt to erase people of colour from the collective consciousness, or at least to deny them (us) the possibility of equal partnership and participation. This story is not new, and it’s not just chuckle-fucks like Charlie Webster who are behind it.
And I wasn’t kidding either: … Continue Reading
I am irate. Look, I realise that I am in a position of privilege, and I realise that I’m not angry about this all the time because I’m male and that this is something that I have the privilege of simply not-concerning-myself-about for the vast bulk of my life.
I rationalise this as that I pay attention only insofar as harm is brought to my attention. And Ireland has ever-so-slowly been moving towards legalising abortion since 1992. Oh, that’s right, you didn’t know that abortion was illegal in Ireland. My bad. Did you know that it was actually illegal for doctors to tell patients about their abortion options in other countries? And that it was illegal for people to travel to another country for an abortion? No? Well, anyway, we were focused on my privilege, so let’s keep on topic.
… Continue Reading
Trigger warning for rape dismissal, extreme misogyny.
So I’ve been walking around angry for the past couple of days. Undoubtedly you’ve heard the latest pearl of idiocy to drop from a member of God’s Own Party:
“It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare,” Mr. Akin said of pregnancies from rape. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something: I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child.”
Republican Congressman Todd Akin has decided to impart his second-hand medical wisdom on the rest of America, and undoubtedly legislate based on it. First of all, no Mr. Akin you absolutely did not get this ‘understanding’ from doctors. Nobody who has had a conversation about reproduction with any medical professional who isn’t deep in the anti-choice* camp could possibly walk away believing that the human body can recognize rape and stop conception from happening. One would think that nobody who has taken a high school sex-ed course could possibly believe this kind of mythology, but since Todd Akin is likely opposed to sex education as well, there is no inconsistency. … Continue Reading
For whatever reason (I suspect a combination of relative anonymity and a general distaste for overt racism), I don’t get too many racist trolls here at the site. I thought for sure when I started I would get all kinds of “race realists” and would-be white supremacists and all sorts of slime crawling out of the woodwork. Instead, I’ve found my life sorely lacking the high-quality and high-cognition contributions of those who believe, for whatever reason, that you can tell something meaningful about someone based on the flawed genetics behind the arbitrarily-assembled social constructs we call ‘races’.
That being said, just because they’re not here, doesn’t mean they don’t exist:
A Hawkins man is claiming his civil rights and religious freedom were violated earlier this year when a black man sacked his groceries and a Big Sandy grocery store owner banned the customer from the business. DeWitt R. Thomas filed a federal lawsuit in July against Keith Langston, owner of Two Rivers Grocery & Market.
Yeah, read that over again. You weren’t wrong – the guy who did the racist thing is suing the guys who employ the victim of the racist thing. Do not adjust your internet. This isn’t even the crazy part of the story. Are you ready for the crazy party of the story? … Continue Reading
I suppose it would be fair to criticize me as a radical. There is a scene in the movie Across The Universe where Evan Rachel Wood’s character is on the phone to her mother, who is concerned that her daughter has just become too radical in her political opinions. Wood’s character replies “you should be radical! We should all be radical!” The fact is that there are deep and fundamental problems with not just our political system, but the entire way in which our global society is structured. Nothing short of consistent, ceaseless, radical action will create the kinds of change we need to see if our world is going to improve meaningfully.
It is for this reason that I was so excited to travel to Montreal during the largest student protest movement in Canada’s recent history. This is a protest movement that has caught international attention – due in no small part I’m sure to the fact that it stands in sharp contrast to the stereotype of Canadians as meek, friendly and passive people. It also has the dubious ‘advantage’ of being a story that conservatives can sink their fangs into with gusto: a bunch of rich pampered kids who would rather whine for handouts than work a shovel.
For me, this story is about a central question of how power is exercised in our society, and it is perhaps the most important question we are in the process of deciding the answer to: do political leaders derive their power from the consent of the governed? Are politicians truly beholden to the articulated best interest of their constituents, or is voting merely a cosmetic exercise in choosing which individual goes on to pass the same kinds of laws? Do we have the ability to enforce rules and constraint on the powers that be, or has our democratic system merely become a showy diversion to obscure the influence of those who hold true power? … Continue Reading
I have not written about the #Occupy movement in a while, owing somewhat to the disappointing failure of Occupy Vancouver to resurface at the beginning of this month. However, I have not stopped believing in the validity and necessity of the cause. I recognize that there is a Sisyphian task of convincing the general public – like a frog in a pot of gradually warming water – that there is an urgent problem that needs addressing. Most people would rather retreat to trite platitudes about ‘laziness’ and ‘entitlement’ and ‘handouts’ instead of bothering to take a moment and look around and realize that something is really rotten. The myths about hard work and achievement that this society was built on are hollow in the face of reality, but like so many other things, it is easier to perpetuate the myth than make the necessary change.
There are few people on television I find more odious and more historically unnecessary than Sean Hannity. I say ‘odious’ for reasons that I imagine are obvious to anyone who’s watched him interview anyone that isn’t Ted Nugent. He hops from ‘question’ to ‘question’ (they are actually not questions, but straight-up lies thrown at a guest who is not given a chance to respond before the next salvo is launched), reducing the interview to little more than a televised bullying session. I say ‘historically unnecessary’ because men like Hannity have always been around, arrogantly strutting and trying to pass their stereotypes off as wisdom. This is perhaps no better displayed than in this video: … Continue Reading
This morning I briefed you on a fight going on in Saskatoon between the city’s mayor and one of its citizens over a led prayer at a volunteer appreciation dinner. Worse, perhaps, than the mayor’s recalcitrance, was the racist and anti-immigrant backlash Mr. Ashu Solo faced as a result of speaking out, despite the fact that he was born in Canada (brown people are easy to demonize). Perhaps even worse than that was the uninformed and lazy reaction from other atheists who decided that, despite not having been there or knowing anything about the situation, they knew the correct way to handle things.
I spoke to Mr. Solo via Facebook and e-mail, and asked him a few questions about the situation. Here is an edited version of his responses*. … Continue Reading