pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
I'm trying to lead up to a big post on affirmative action, but I keep getting side tracked by other things I need to explain first. So here's my latest one: I think discrimination against women and LGBT people is fundamentally different than racial discrimination.

I ran into someone at a party last week who gave me some really awesome career advice. She didn't know me very well, but then it didn't take much effort from her to be really helpful to me, and most people like feeling helpful. I may never see her again, but then I may never again see the man whose brother I saved from wasting four years at Digipen either, and I still feel good about telling him to direct his brother towards a real CS degree. And there are probably thousands of smaller examples of people I knew socially moving something from unknown to known that have benefited me.

Men probably get more of this. It is mostly men in power, and people especially like to help people who remind them of themselves. But the only thing keeping those men from helping me are their choices and mine. I run into men with power as much as my male friends in similar jobs and social strata, and if those men started evenly distributing their largess, I'm in position to benefit. Similarly, while LGBT people face horribly discrimination, as soon as people stop doing that, the wound will close.

This is substantially less likely to be true if you're black, because black people are significantly more likely to be poor. Even if you're black and have money, most of the people you know and are related to don't. I spent my entire life preparing for four-year undergrad college and then grad school, and while it was stressful as hell, it was also very known. Just considering a different kind of schooling (and funding type) after 8 years in the workforce is scaring me; I can't imagine what it's like doing it at 17 when no one you know has been to college.

There are white people with these difficulties too, of course. I know some of them. Part of me thinks it's not fair to devalue their struggle just because of their skin color, but then I remember that white privilege is a thing, and the fact that it would be unfair to group certain people together as then declare that group worse off in an alternate universe does not have a lot of bearing on what I should do in this universe, where there is systemic discrimination.

Because women and gay people don't come from women and gay people, the impact of discrimination isn't heritable.* And that's before taking into account how much easier it is to get white men to empathize with someone who reminds them of their sister or cool uncle. And thus there will be substantially less overlap in remedy than a naive interpretation would have you believe.

*Fun fact: the way heritability is defined scientifically, sex is not heritable. The difference between heritability and genetic determinability is is important to keep in mind when reading genetics studies.
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)

Finally, people are talking about introversion and extroversion and how they interact with the rest of the world, rather than keeping them in their own isolated bubble. Privilege exists. Introversion and extroversion exist. Except for extrovert privilege*, your orientation does not affect the amount of your privilege, but it does affect its expression. And it's vastly easier to notice that in opposite-orientation people than in yourself or people like you.

*which is the worst privilege because it's the best one I don't have. Yet.
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
The idea that women are allowed to feel nervous around any man they choose, and to enforce that feeling by telling him to cease certain behavior or exit the premise, has really taken off in certain sectors of feminism lately. It's about time. Women were operating under an obligation to honor men's feelings first and their own second, and that's terrible.

Whenever this comes up on blogs, there are comments that I read approximately as "look, I see why you're upset, and rape is totally bad. But there are lots of not rapists, and have you considered that they will be hurt when you reject them? Could you maybe not reject anyone unless you're sure they're a rapist?" These people are assholes. But their abundance has led to an unfortunate tendency to dismiss a man's reactions to rejection as whining at best, and predatory at worse.

That's unfair. For an extreme case see "Trayvon Martin and I Ain’t Shit" by Ahmir Thompson, a black musician. Thomas achieved a lot of artistic success and was invited to a lot of elite, mostly-white spaces. He turned down the invitations because he knew his presence would make people uncomfortable and didn't want to/didn't want to see them react to him like that.

I mean, that is a crazy way to live. Seriously, imagine a life in which you think of other people's safety and comfort first, before your own. You're programmed and taught that from the gate. It's like the opposite of entitlement
My friends know that I hate parking lots and elevators, not because they are places that danger could occur, but it's a prime place in which someone of my physical size can be seen as a dangerous element. I wait and wait in cars until I feel it's safe for me to make people feel safe.

You can say that people feel unsafe around Thomas for bad reasons (skin color, size, hair style), and feminists are talking about good reasons (boundary violations), but that's not right. What I want to fight for is specifically the right of people to not have to justify why they don't feel safe around someone, and have that honored without friction. Women are imperfect, and I will not stand to see their rights dependent on their perfection, so that will include bad reasons. But supporting that will inflict hurt on people like Thomas, and that's not right.

Women's feelings of unsafety are legitimate. Thomas's feelings of isolation and dehumanization are also legitimate. Having the right to our feelings does not give us the right to have other people react the way we wish. Which, coincidentally, is what we've been trying to teach creepy men about women: you can want her all you want, but you do not have a right to have that desire welcomed. We're allowed to be obviously creeped out, we have a right for men not to treat us safely even if we are not being nice, but we have no particular right for them to like it.
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
The Order of Myths is a documentary about a town in Mississippi with extremely elaborate, racially segregated Mardi Gra celebrations. It is mostly mediocre, but I like it as an example of progress coming not from morally pure, philosophically brilliant people make the intellectual case for it, but when flawed, ignorant people decide it would be easier or less embarrassing to go along with it.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
Some guy: how about including a more diverse representation of ethnic background in D&D Next? WotC is on a great trajectory, going from all white male in 1st ed to the current ethnically ambiguous drawings, but it would be really great if they took the next step of having a wide variety of identifiable ethnicities. Please take me seriously despite titling this "A Modest Proposal"

Internet: aaargh, you are so racist for making me think about this.

No, seriously, allow me to share some choice quotes

"I simply cannot understand why some people believe it's the duty of every single writer and artist to tackle all social issues from our world when they create works of fiction, especially when this fiction takes place in a fantasy world."

"f I'm not a racist, and I'm not a minority, why should I be thinking about racism all day?"

"If anything adding just black characters will be insulting. Because instead of focusing on promoting diversity, they would just be trying to make it look like they are promoting diversity"

"I feel like that's a contradiction - that they're saying white people should have to work to identify with other groups but those other groups shouldn't have to work to identify with whites"

"I"ve never been to a movie theater to see a movie starring Will Smith, Morgan Freeman, Denzel Washington, etc, and seen the seats totally bereft of white people. White people show up for Book of Eli and I Am Legend.
BUT when studios tried to cast white actors for the main lineup of The Last Airbender or Prince of Persia, it offended a lot of people."

Then there's the guy insisting that drow count as representing black people and women should be restricted to tavern wenches and harem girls, but I assume he is trolling.

(from the original post at
"Why not just let the artists create art, the game be a game. Why is D&D being used for race baiting?"

"When people think of high fantasy, they think of a generic middle ages europe with elves and dwarves. Why force them to change their image? It's not hurting anybody"

"I'm white. My wife is black. I introduced her and her siblings (ages 14-20 at the time) to rpg's. Strangely, they were never concerned that the art in the books didn't include many minorities. They were concerned with having fun, which we did. "

That's made up, right? No one who actually married a person of a different race would be that stupid, right?


No one, much less an ethnic minority, would ever marry a person who was that clueless on race, right?
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
My feelings on the Civil Rights Act: Not to trivialize it, but it some ways it's a lot like the anti-smoking legislation. I think it's anti-libertarian, which doesn't just mean it's violating some abstract principle but that it ratchets up the amount of control we're ceeding to the government in worrisome ways. But I also recognize that I've always lived in a world where the traditions these laws were aimed at had already had their back broken. Creating and then repealing them would probably have a very different path than if they'd never existed.

I frequently call Ta-Nehisi Coates brilliant, but this post exploring the psychological need that both Ron Paul and Louis Farrakhan filled is especially so. I'm not even going to touch the main subject matter, because I can't improve on it. But one thing I noticed in the comments was the belief that letting black people suffer at the hands of the unequal treatment they were given in southern states is antiliberty. Which of course it is, the question is whether it is sufficiently antiliberty to justify a violation of federalism, which may not be antiliberty at the time, but encourages a creep of federal power that could just as easily be applied to something bad.*

But they have a legitimate point- what's the use of being protected from the federal government if the state government's official policy is against you? This feels glib, but is it possible we could fix the problem by helping people move to different states? It's not ideal, of course, but since so much of libertarianism is premised on letting people vote with their feet, making sure they have feet seems worthwhile. Plus, I already like it as an anti-poverty measure.

*Such as, as I'm always quick to point out, the Fugitive Slave Act. I fully admit that many-if-not-most people claiming libertarianism are doing so for this one specific case, and will switch back when it benefits them, like the pro-lifers and Terri Schiavo. But some of us are legitimately thinking "if we make abortion a federal issue, what happens when the anti-choicers get five guys on the Supreme Court? Or create a really good PR campaign against a particular act?" It's not always the noble federal government versus the yokel state governments.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
Ta-Nehisi Coates, commenting on Andrew Sullivan's video explaining why he never made an It Gets Better Video:

I think one of the reasons I write as I do about race is because I never really saw myself as a direct "victim" of racism. I thought there were many things that would impede my life--but white people never really ranked among them. I understood--and understand--that racism is a powerful systemic force. I understand red-lining, block-busting, slavery, Jim Crow etc. I don't demean them as forces in American history. But there's a difference between understanding how society views your group and being daily taunted as a faggot or a nigger.

This resonates with me, because as far as I know, I have never been a victim of sexism. No one ever told me "girls can't do that", except my parents teaching me how to respond. I have, on the other hand, heard a lot of anti-sexism. Somehow I was always the representative to the empowerment seminars. One published a book with essays from all the attendees. Mine said "I didn't learn anything here". I crippled my mom with embarrassment when I called a state official at a career panel on referring to men as boys (my dad was super proud of me, especially because I was motivated in part by specific political criticisms he'd made of her months earlier). I can recall several incidents of being told I was a shoe in because they needed women, and none of the reverse. Which doesn't mean sexism doesn't happen to other people or even that it hasn't happened to me in a subtle fashion, but the lack of first hand experience plus the fact that my life is just extraordinarily cushy means it has no resonance for me. In my personal experience, talking about sexism has caused more problems than sexism.

But I have been a pretty severe victim of racism. Or rather, some combination of classism, anti-nerd bias, and sheer cultural differences that got expressed as racism. I was a white, middle class kid moved from a mostly white, middle class private elementary school* to a poverty stricken middle school where I was the only white kid in the class, and I was tortured for it. I think making me poor, or having gone to a public elementary school would have done more to change how I was treated than changing my skin color.** But this is something I figured out years later: it felt like racism, and to this day I'm a lot more passionate about racial, poverty, and educational issues than feminist issues***.

*I feel like I should note this was a school for the children of aging hippies, not an andover prep school.

**As I heard it, the one hispanic student at my elementary school, who came from a very poor family and was on scholarship, went to one of the best public high schools in the city, and got eaten alive, because even if his home life was tough, he was used to be the scariest one at school.

***Reflected more in my charitable giving than my writing because I maintain a healthy skepticism of my ability to educate Ta-Nehisi Coates about poverty and race. ***

****Actually, I did write him once explicitly to give him new information, on a racial issue, and it was well received. But I assume a key part of this was that I was passing on actual scientific data.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
I'm 20% through The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (by Rebecca Skloot) and it has every appearance of being one of those books that changes my mind about things: it's well written, well researched, not the approach I would take but not so alien as to be useless, and in an area I don't understand well. Broadly, the book is about cancerous cells that were taken from a (black, poor) woman and became the first human cells to be successfully grown in a lab. These cells have gone on to do all sorts of important things for science (which worries me, because they're CANCER CELLS being used as models for human, and cancer cells THAT COULD SURVIVE IN CONDITIONS NOTHING ELSE COULD* at that). But they were taken without permission, and while her medical care was no Tuskegee, her story shines an uncomfortable light on just how bad the best medical care in the country for poor black people was at the time. It uses her descendents' medical care to talk about the care available to poor black people now. I don't know if this was intentional, since she hasn't mentioned that cervical cancer is caused by HPV, but the fact that her cancer was caused by an STI, of which she caught numerous and varied from her husband, certainly makes me think about issues of sexual violence, consent, coercion, and 1950s gender roles. And there's a lot about race in there too. In short, despite my well earned reputation for enjoying really astonishingly depressing books, I'm finding this one a little stressful. Since I could easily see my opinion change over the course of reading this, and I have a tendency to forget I ever held another opinion when that happens, especially when the old opinion was muddled and weak, I'm recording some of my thoughts on the matter now.

  1. Bodily integrity and control are very important and should be respected
  2. Patients are idiots and keep refusing to let science use things they're getting removed anyway.
  3. but it's not consent if you're not free to say no
  4. but they're so stupid.
  5. I once had an optometrist (optomologist? the doctor one) slip in a form saying he could use results from my exam in research studies without even notifying me. And it was opt-out. Now, it would have been nice to get a note, but I totally understand why he didn't want to bother with notification. But I really hate it when people, especially doctors, slip in things hoping you won't notice, so I opted out. Just to piss them off.
  6. Even though the theoretical universe says that it shouldn't matter if your doctor anonymously writes up your case, I think that human intuition is that no one can serve two masters, and allowing them to write about you will subtly shift their priorities to your detriment.
  7. This isn't such a big deal when it's your barista mining you for poetry material, because you feel confident in your ability to assess his coffee making skills. But it's a really big deal when you're trusting someone else about something very important that you don't understand at all.
  8. The reflexive no may be a desperate attempt to maintain control in a situation where you have so very little of it.
  9. it was common belief at the time that doctors should be allowed to do research on public ward patients, since they weren't paying for their care
  10. I am okay with this, for very limited definitions of the word "research". Unnecessary medication? no. But I think it's ridiculous that we don't even track the outcomes for procedures medicare/aid pay for. And I think I'm okay with free patients being required to give medically unnecessary tissue samples, if it can be done without harm.
  11. did you know that hospitals keep the foreskins of babies they circumsize and sell them for thousands of dollars? On one hand, the families didn't want them before, why should they now? On the other hand THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS. Also, it makes me suspicious of the AMA's support for a procedure that: 1. has no medical justification when done on infants. 2. has a nontrivial number of people saying it's abhorrent.
  12. It's sort of like organ donors. You're allowed to not give up your organs, but not for stupid reasons like "I can't be bothered to think about something so icky until it's too late."
  13. Lacks's family complains specifically about not being able to afford medical care when their mother gave so much to science, especially when parts of science are charging other parts of science $25 a vial for it. And yeah, that does feel extremely unfair.
  14. I think this stems from the human intuition that if you give something to X, even something that costs you nothing, X owes you (or your descendants) something of the returns they got with that object.
  15. This is logically incorrect. Either science owes them money (which can be spent on their choice of medical care, education, high priced call girls, or anything else they might desire) or it doesn't.
  16. early chemotherapy apparently consisted of taping radium to the cervix. I can't tell you how unpleasant it is to listen to that while you're biking.
  17. It feels unfair that some company makes $25/vial off of Lacks's cells and her family gets nothing.
  18. The lab had gone through hundreds if not thousands of tissue cultures before happening to find one that worked. Tracking all of those would have been a nightmare.
  19. But letting them count expenses against these profits opens the door to hollywood accounting.
  20. normally I'd just say "let the market sort it out", and if they can't afford to do the research, so be it, but I want to be young and pretty forever, and discouraging medical research does not jibe with those goals.
  21. This is related to a problem with medical patents: if you have an awesome idea that relies on patents from 10 different companies (easy to do in medicine), you basically can't make it, because you'll never be able to negotiate a good enough deal with all of them. Last I read there are some workarounds for this involving standard contracts, but it's no panacea.
  22. Partially because if you're a bureaucrat who kills a deal that would have made the company millions, no one will ever know. But if you're the bureaucrat who sold a patent too cheap, you're dead.

*It's unclear at this point in the book if Lacks's cells survived because of something particular to them, or because the scientist just happened to get the mix right at that point.


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