On Monday, a Missouri Grand Jury decided that when a police officer kills an unarmed young person, no crime has been committed as long as the officer can spin a fanciful tale of The Incredible Nigger Hulk. That officer not only need not be locked up, decided the Grand Jury, but he doesn’t even need to see the inside of a courtroom. He doesn’t need to be cross-examined, his story doesn’t have to be questioned, there need be nothing more than the pathetic ghost of a due process that the people of Ferguson have been told to shut up and wait for.
Predictably, the residents of Ferguson weren’t pleased with the result. Peaceful protest and non-peaceful protest filled the streets, shut down traffic, and in the latter case, destroyed many local businesses and other property. In response to the protests (which have, by the way, been called “riots” in the media from day 1, regardless of the predominantly peaceful nature. Until the cops showed up, at least), a chorus of voices has gone up condemning violence and looting. This would be a defensible position from people on the ground in Ferguson, or people who are leading specific civil rights projects relevant to police brutality – in that case, it’s brand management and promotion. Nothing wrong with that.
The problem, in my eyes, is that the “violence solves nothing” crowd has a broad swath of representation from people with absolutely no connection to the issue. It is the ever-present spectre of respectability politics manifesting itself as a treatise about the merits of violent vs. non-violent protest. It is an excuse to remove one’s self from any sense of responsibility or complicity in the situation that has triggered the violence – “well, I agree that things are bad, but that’s no excuse to be violent!”
In response to this sneer disguised as a moral stand, I sent out a couple of tweets: … Continue Reading
Longtime readers may remember that religion used to be a primary, rather than incidental focus of this blog. It may be the case that writing for Canadian Atheist and then moving to Freethought Blogs took some of the fun out of being a combative atheist. It could just be that I had more pressing questions rattling around in my brain. At any rate, I haven’t done a pure religious critique in a while, so pardon me if the rust shows through.
I read the Old Testament when I was in high school. Being a longtime fan (and voracious reader) of Greek mythology, I immediately recognized the stamp of myth on the stories of Jonah and the Giant Fish, Noah’s Ark, the Walls of Jericho, you name it. Stories are important cultural signifiers that transcend generations and give us some common ground. It didn’t strike me as particularly peculiar that a group of nomadic people whose written language arrived many generations after many serious events in their history would have kept their history alive in story form. It seems equally non-controversial to imagine that, as stories tend to do, the histories and the fables and legends became blended over multiple tellings. For someone who, even at the time, wasn’t a literalist believer, the idea that a literal super-strong Samson probably didn’t actually exist in the way he’s depicted didn’t matter much to me. What was important were the lessons of the Bible. It would take me a few more years to realize how monstrous many of those lessons actually are.
Similarly and non-coincidentally, I began to view the New Testament as a work of fictionalized history. At the time I thought Jesus was probably literally real, and that the writing in the Gospels needed to be viewed in context of the politics of the time. Understanding the tension that would have existed between, for example, the Pharisees and the Roman Empire at the time, helped put things like the Sermon on the Mount into a reasonable context – Jesus wasn’t speaking for eternal attribution, he was talking about the issues of the time. Judas wasn’t some evil conniver, he was a run-of-the-mill political zealot who sought to install new leadership by betraying the old one. And so on, in a most run-of-the-mill sort of way. … Continue Reading
It’s been a while since I last posted (and in fact, even since I last wrote an entry on my personal blog), and this entry is about part of the reason why—and that if you’re reading this, you should take up similar pass times. For anyone who is unfamiliar with the distinction between so-called “peaceful” actions and non-violence, I’d suggest you keep a stopper on that query until a later date, when I will answer that question for you in another piece of writing. In this piece of writing, I am deliberately choosing not to talk about “peaceful” anything; however, I am also not talking about aggressive behaviour or confrontation of any kind, while focusing on a specific form of non-violent direct action. … Continue Reading
A brief note from Jamie on the piece of writing (by another author) that takes up the majority of this post:
For readers who are unfamiliar with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, this is a government-implemented program in Canada, which visits indigenous communities primarily for the express purpose of hearing the experiences of residential school survivors, which are then reported to the Canadian government along with any insights shared by those communities about how the government can take steps towards reconciling with indigenous communities. Residential schools were geographically isolated institutions initiated by the Canadian government and run by the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches, in which more than 150,000 indigenous children over the course of more than a hundred years were forced to face horrific physical, sexual, and spiritual abuses while being racially and culturally brain-washed, in a campaign of systematic cultural genocide. Many children were assigned Anglicised names or even referred to only by numbers, many healthy children were intentionally exposed to tuberculosis, and countless children died alone in remote wilderness trying to escape. The last Canadian residential school closed in 1996, in Alberta. A majority of Canadian public schools do not even acknowledge this facet of Canadian history, and as a result, a significant majority of settler Canadians have literally no understanding of the continued legacy of trans-generational violence within indigenous families and greater communities. As a result, that majority tends to harbour dehumanizing and blatantly racist attitudes towards this country’s indigenous peoples, which prevents reconciliation between indigenous peoples and settler society, continues to maintain serious social barriers against the social growth and empowerment of indigenous communities, and prevents the Canadian government from being held accountable for its actions and racially selective policies against indigenous peoples (thus contributing to the perpetuation of debilitating racial injustice on the scale of genocide, merely repackaged to appear otherwise). This is all especially important given that indigenous populations across the country are once again on the rise (e.g., it is estimated that within the next ten years, up to a third of the province of Saskatchewan will be of indigenous heritage) and yet currently, approximately one half of all children currently in the custody of child care services are of indigenous heritage (i.e., child care services taking custody of indigenous children has become the new residential school system — there are now more indigenous children separated from their families by this abuse of power than there were during the 60s scoop). The following is a two-page essay that was handed to me by the author (a residential school survivor) at a recent consciousness-raising rally for indigenous rights.
This past week, the United States has experienced a horrific series of civil rights violations: the Boston Marathon bombing, followed by the lockdown of the entire city under martial law (during which several civilian homes were burst into with military might, in SWAT raids searching for one of the suspects, both of whom were considered armed and highly dangerous), and the passing of a bill (CISPA, or Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act) that allows the United States government to monitor traffic on the internet at its whim and fancy. And that’s not just American citizen’s internet traffic — that includes monitoring of non-Americans accessing US websites too. Canadian civil liberties organizations have asserted that this is very likely to result in further violations of Canadian citizens’ civil liberties as a result (e.g., extradition to the states for alleged “cyber crimes” against the US government).
Also this past week, I observed someone on my Facebook comparing the Boston SWAT raids to the Nazi invasion of Poland and rounding up of Jews at gunpoint. And to my utter shock, not one but twophilosophy dudebros came along to defend this individual, on the basis that they think my emotions have clouded my ability to think critically about this outrageously offensive comparison (which directly equates Jews to terrorists, no matter which way you attempt to slice that). This post is going to get personal.
Concern troll warning: Take your “reverse sexism” claims right now and stuff them where the sun doesn’t shine—unless you’re homophobic, in which case, get ready to chew and swallow. If I could literally force-feed it to you, I most certainly would not hesitate.
Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows what my position is on “intent” when it comes to things like racism and misogyny. Intent lies on an orthogonal axis to racism – someone doing something intentionally racist just adds bad intent to bad action. If we are of the opinion that racism is harmful in and of itself, we have to identify something as ‘racist’ or ‘not racist’ based on its own merits, regardless of whether the person “meant to”.
This appears to be a major sticking point for people. They have bought, either consciously or unconsciously, into the myth that racism is something perpetuated by “racists”, and that if someone didn’t mean to do it then it can’t really be racist – just “ignorant” or “an accident” or whatever euphemism they prefer. This myth has a lot of popular currency and is fairly ubiquitous within North American discussions of race. The problem, of course, is that people can be and are discriminated against based on their race in ways that have nothing to do with ill intent all the time. Demanding that intent be consubstantial with racism precludes us from taking any action against these kinds of racism.
In a stunning display of well-intentioned cluelessness (and what could be called willful ignorance), country star Brad Paisley has decided to step into the fray by teaming up with LL Cool J in a ballad called “Accidental Racist”. Here’s a sample: … Continue Reading
I went to a high school with an incredibly diverse student body. While I didn’t really recognize it at the time, I was incredibly lucky: I was surrounded at all times by people from all over the world with a wide variety of experiences and beliefs. It didn’t “force me” to be tolerant or anything like that – like all things that happen during youth I just took it in stride. It wasn’t really until I got to the largely monochromatic environs of my undergraduate program* that I realized what it was like for major parts of the rest of the country – surrounded by people who look like you, and taking it in the same stride that I took my variety of classmate.
The idea that someone would want to segregate schools is, thus, very foreign to me. My education benefitted immensely from being cheek-by-jowl with people whose backgrounds were dissimilar to my own. It broadened my world view and allowed me to reflexively challenge a lot of racist and xenophobic assumptions about people who weren’t born in Canada in a way that the classes I took couldn’t hope to approach. The idea of someone choosing to rob someone of that kind of opportunity is baffling.
When I was in Chicago, I was (deservedly) upbraided by a member of the audience for referring to the #IdleNoMore aboriginal sovereignty movement in the past tense. Of course this movement is still ongoing, just as it was before the advent of the hashtag and the dramatic public demonstrations that accompanied it. The latest federal budget, announcing that benefits for First Nations youth (but not youth in other places) would be tied specifically to a Workfare program (with an enforcement budget that is larger than the budget for actual benefits), suggests that despite the statements of intention to co-operate, the Harper government has no interest in treating Aboriginal Canadians as anything other than inconvenient wards of the state who are in need of instruction in fiscal discipline (yes, the ironies abound).
And so, the revolution will go on, and an opportunity to change the toxic paternalism of the nation of Canada to the people it has colonized has been squandered.
One of the most common critiques of discussing issues of race in atheist communities is that it is ‘divisive’. For a moment, I will hold my bile and grant the most generous interpretation of this kind of statement – since race is not a valid reason to divide groups of people, we should not treat people from different racial groups differently; discussing race divides the population into arbitrary groups, and that’s not fair. The reason that it is almost exclusively white people who make this statement is perfectly illustrative of the problem with it: race may not be a morallyvalid way of dividing the population, but racialized people are acutely aware of the fact that it does divide the population. Pretending that isn’t so does not somehow make the effect disappear.
One of the chief arguments pressed into service in defence of so-called “casual” racism – that is, racism that occurs as part of popular culture without any awareness of racist content on the part of the majority – is that in the absence of intent, acts are not racist. While we here know this to be largely a fiction born of self-flattery, it is surprisingly persuasive and popular. It’s not exactly a difficult puzzle to solve – if you have not had to deal with the consequences of racism in your own life, you’re unlikely to have much appreciation for the myriad ways in which it manifests itself and exerts its influence.
The close cousin of the intent argument is the “well that’s not what it means to me” argument. When someone uses racist imagery in this same “casual” way, either out of apathy or ignorance, the typical response is for the person to say that ze simply doesn’t see it as being racist. This is often the case for things like blackface or cultural appropriation from First Nations – it’s not racist, it’s like, totally meant as a compliment! Or it’s completely blind to the culture from which it’s taken. I’m honestly not sure which is worse.