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)
Another metaprinciple is "equality." What do you do if you have an opportunity to advance one of your principles, but only for some people? For example, the GI Bill that sent WW2 veterans to college. I haven't thoroughly researched it, but my gut feeling is that was a pretty good idea: it rewarded people for risking themselves in the one war no one has moral qualms about, it was short term economically beneficial by mitigating a post-war recession caused by a sudden glut of labor during a simultaneous demand drop, it was long term economically beneficial by raising the education level of the country at a time when we had a shortage of educated workers.

The G.I. Bill as written was race neutral, but it was implemented by people, and people implemented it in a racist way. Black soldiers were guided/nudged/pushed disproportionately into trade schools, sent to worse trade schools for worse trades than their white equivalents, and disproportionately denied aid entirely. Even if aid distribution had been truly proportionate, you had to be admitted to a school in order to attend, and universities admissions were still quite racist. There are some very good HBCUs, but not enough to absorb so many new students.

So the bill will disproportionately help poor white people over black people. It may well widen the wealth gap as measured in dollars. But the poorer you are, the more utility you get out of each dollar, and poor black people have fewer alternatives than poor white people. Trade school isn't Harvard, but it might still be better than nothing. Tressie Cottom says functionally the same thing about grad school. It might have a terrible average payoff and have an even worse payoff for black students, but it still might be the best option for some black people, at a higher rate than it is the best option for white people.

[Please also read this account of a VA bureaucrat trying to talk a black veteran out of attending a 4 year school he was already admitted to. The counselor couldn't legally say no, but he did everything he could to deny the man his rights. Now read Tressie Cottom's post on how dressing "up" enabled her mother to convince government workers to give her benefits she was entitled to but otherwise would have been denied. ]

So if you're president in 1944, what is the moral thing to do? Is helping some worse than helping none? What about minimum wage laws that exclude primarily-black occupations? Great Depression public works programs that will only hire white workers? A universal health care program that leaves care of the absolute poorest to the states, and states with high numbers of poor POCs are refusing to participate?

[Full disclosure: I opposed the Affordable Care Act act at the time for many reasons, but I have to admit I was against universal health care. Now I see a place for it, but maintain my belief that the ACA was one of the absolute worst implementations that could possibly exist.]
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
There's a category of things I call metaprinciples. It includes things like states rights and libertarianism. There is never a situation involving just these principles, you can only apply them to other principles. For example, in deciding whether to support a federal law on credit card disclosures, you must both decide how you feel about the actual disclosure, how you feel about it being mandated at all, and how you feel about the federal government being the one doing the mandating.

When you have a metaprinciple and a controversial issue, you have two options:

  1. Only invoke the metaprinciple when it gets the answer your primary principle suggests, e.g. "I'm for states rights when they're passing abortion restrictions, but not when the state is allowing Terry Schiavo to be taken off life support." Opponents will accuse you of hypocrisy and the population at large will dismiss the metaprinciple as political noise.
  2. Invoke the metaprinciple even when you find the particular application bad or even abhorrent, e.g. "I want women to receive equal pay for equal work, but don't want a law mandating such". Opponents will accuse you of holding the opposite view on the primary principle (in this case, "you must want not care if women are underpaid" or even "you must think women deserve less").

Of course, that's only for important and controversial issues. If you ever bring up a metaprinciple in regards to a non-controversy, you will be called pedantic and annoying. See this Colber Report clip:

The Colbert Report
Get More: Colbert Report Full Episodes,Video Archive

Summary: a woman attempts to poison someone and is convicted under a federal chemical weapons treaty statute. She challenges on 10th amendment grounds and it reaches the Supreme Court (Bond v. United States). Colbert's response "I've always said poisoning was a state's rights issue." Because if you challenge the methods you must oppose the outcome.

I believe that your commitment to metaprinciples is measured by how much violate of your primary principles it will make you tolerate. In what meaningful sense can you be said to value something unless it changes your actions or beliefs? This makes it frustrating for me when proponents of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 accuse opponents of hating women, with no further evidence. It erases the possibility of someone genuinely wanting fair pay and genuinely wanting something else even more.*

Of course, many people are committing choice #1 from above and using a metaprinciple to justify something they wanted to do anyway. You can prove this by looking up their record and finding situations they advocated the opposite, but it's time consuming and much less satisfying.

The other reason metaprinciples are meta is they are often shorthand for primary principles that look unrelated to the question at hand. For example, I think discrimination based on race is morally wrong. But I think private individuals (and thus the companies they own) have an absolute right to choose who they hire and fire, that anti-discrimination laws violate that by making them prove their decisions were just. I worry that this power could be used to for evil, like deny unemployment to anti-government activists, or even allow individual employees to punish their personal enemies.

Of course, the Civil Rights Act and Ledbetter decision suppose the government *does* have that right, they're just arguing over how long it has to enforce it.**

If I say this, and my opponents understand it, we can argue about the second order effects of the laws and come to conclusions about the relative costs and benefits. We might disagree, and I might maintain that the law of unintended consequences means we are likely to underestimate costs, but at least it could be an honest debate.

*In the particular case of the fair pay portion of the Civil Rights Act, that could either be "the federal government has no standing to intervene in private contracts" or the more practical "It is impossible for a jury to evaluate the merits of a wage decision made 50 years ago and I do not believe the documentation costs and uncertainty this law would impose on corporations, some of which will come in the form of reduced risk taking, justifies the benefits for women. I'm worried it may even come back to bite women, Americans with Disabilities Act-style" or even "I want the statute of limitations to extend from last the last paycheck and believe it would be constitutional, but also believe the text of this specific law mandates first paycheck and believe observing the text of laws is important. I support passing the Ledbetter act to change this."

**Although enforcement, and paying for it, falls to the individual. This is one reason I hate these laws: invoking them requires a certain about of social and economic capital, and the more of these people have the less they need the protection. You're imposing a burden on companies to protect themselves from law suits (expensive even if they never lose. Expensive even if a suit is never brought) to give people above a certain critical threshold a tool to get richer, while leaving the truly poor (in money or knowledge or connections) out in the cold. That there are charities that occasionally enable people below the threshold to use the law is great, but insufficient.
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
I'm going to take a brief break from the heavy blogging to do some nice, easy criticism.

I've really enjoyed Ron White's previous specials: They Call Me Tater Salad, You Can't Fix Stupid, and Behavioral Problems. Please enjoy these clips demonstrating why I like him:

(Ron White: Deer Hunting)

His latest special is called "A Little Unprofessional". This is not a great start. His first (excluding Blue Collar Comedy Tour) special, "They Call Me Tater Salad", had a really great, evocative name that no one else could have used. His second ("You Can't Fix Stupid") could have been more generic, but it was the punchline to a joke that was utterly his, and once you had seen it you couldn't imagine another comedian using the line. Almost everyone in comedy has "Behavioral Problems", and while I'm sure he used the line in the special, I don't remember it.* But "A Little Unprofessional" is so damn generic, and didn't tie into the act in the slightest. Wait, no, I take that back.

His act didn't talk about him being unprofessional, his act was unprofessional. Detecting altered states in comedians is hard: many of them do their best work drunk or high and do so deliberately. Others do it because they're addicts, but have been doing it for so long they've worked it into their act, or at least learned to make light of it. And others stay sober but act altered because it's funny.** So I'm very slow to make guesses about a comdian's actual mental state. But I'm pretty sure White was drunk, that he started drunk, and that it was hurting the act.

One of the things I admired about White was how he made consistency look natural. Like most comedians he doesn't repeat jokes between specials, but between amateur footage, his short Comedy Central Episode, his multiple solo concerts, and the Blue Collar Comedy Central specials, you can find multiple versions of the same joke. Every version you watch looks completely natural, with a lot what look like pauses to think, and spontaneous changes and interesting voices. But if you watch multiple versions, they're fucking identical. Check out this audio-only version of the Drunk In Public bit I posted above.

I am pretty sure that's a different recording, because the mic quality is different, some of the character voices changed, and you can hear other voices on stage with him (presumably it's Blue Collar Comedy Tour). But the timing is so close I can't be sure. The deer hunting bit was on one of his specials too: I can't find a sharable copy, so please take my word for it that it was the same performance on a different night in front of a nicer camera. And you would never know unless you saw the repeated clips, because he looks so natural every time. I can't stop talking about how amazing that is.

Or, was. I can't prove the pauses were genuinely because he forgot the joke, or that he isn't doing the same every other night, but it sure didn't look like it, and it sure wasn't aiding the material. His timing was frequently awful, and I'm pretty sure he dropped several jokes halfway through. Where his act used to be mostly long stories with outstanding transitions between them, it is now a lot of short disjointed jokes.

It still surprises me how much work and feedback you need to take the idea of a joke and turn it into a polished comedy bit. This is why even Jerry Seinfeld still occasionally goes to open mics.*** If a comedian doesn't get that feedback- either because they choose to stop going to open mics, or because audiences are too pre-disposed to laugh at them- you get the comedy equivalent of the writer who's too big to edit. Either Ron White has stopped getting this feedback, or he's stopped listening to it.

I'm not the only one who feels this way. This special is a marked step down from his previous one: the venue is 1/5 the size of this previous special, and the complete absence of crowd shots
makes me think it wasn't full. Or maybe they just didn't want to strain their videographer, who was having enough trouble keeping the top of Ron White's head despite both White and the camera being perfectly still. The lighting was mediocre. And it was produced by Country Music Television, not Comedy Central or HBO or even Netflix.

And while I wanted to take a break from the heavy stuff, I can't let the misogyny or racism slide. He does a joke set in a sushi bar, and caps it off with an impression of the chef's accent. There is no joke except that the foreigner talks funny.

The case for misogyny is more involved. There is a spectrum: on one side lives specific criticism of specific non-gendered traits of specific people, which is clearly okay. On the other lives broad derogatory generalizations about entire groups, which is clearly not. There is an uncertain middle ground where someone is saying something consistent with widespread stereotypes, but about a specific person, or a subset of the group for which it is legitimately true. You can't put noticing when people conform to stereotypes off limits, but you can use those stories to reinforce stereotypes without acknowledging it, or even meaning to.

Up until now, I'd put White on the safe end of the spectrum. I wondered why he kept marrying such high maintenance women, but thought the jokes themselves were okay, and they rested in a larger relationship context. Even the woman he'd already divorced came across as a real person who he remembered loving and why. This time around, he described telling a woman talking at the theater to "shut her cock holder", and ended three or four jokes about being annoyed by his wife with "this dick ain't gonna suck itself."

So in conclusion: not impressed with "A Little Unprofessional"

*Come to think of it, I don't remember enjoying Behavioral Problems as much as the first two. At the time I'd put it down to watching it with my best friend, two weeks after he transitioned from boyfriend to best friend, and Ron White's main selling point was as a way for us to spend time with each other without crying. It didn't seem fair to expect the same laughs/minute under those circumstances. Although I will note that a week later, Christopher Titus's "Love is Evol" was hilarious as I unpacked my boxes the apartment I had moved to but not yet furnished.

**I saw Dylan Moran this summer and thought his hungover thing was an act, until he called an intermission- a thing that is never, ever done in single person comedy shows. I assumed he must be completely destroyed to need that kind of break. I double checked that for this post, found reports of intermissions in lots of cities. So maybe it was an act after all.

***It's also why comedians are so protective/defensive of other comedians when they say terrible things at open mics. It is really easy to misjudge the proper amount of irony and exaggeration you need to layer into a joke, and if the topic is sensitive it's really easy to say something horribly offensive. I've done it myself. Saying you have to get it right the first time is the same as banning all sensitive topics from comedy.

Of course, that defense only works if your response to being told you offended someone is "I am horrified that that is what came across, thank you for tell me so I can correct it."
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
When the Mother Jones article on worker condition inside an Amazon warehouse came out, I was not sympathetic. Yes, the company wants you to work fast. I don't consider it damning that a writer on an assignment was unable to meet quota for a highly physical job. Okay, it sounds mean that they will fire you for saying "This is the best I can do" but again, they have the right to retain the fastest workers. It is weird that they will fire you for missing a day your first week, no matter what the excuse, but then hire you back. That's expensive to them and could be fixed with some discretion. And not giving employees lockers is a total dick move. They can't even keep their keys or phones on them in the warehouse, so they have to hide them and pray. Making all the employees break at once is pretty cruel too, given the bottlenecks of metal detector and bathroom.

Debt talks a lot about how slavery, debt, and ripping people from their contexts are intimately linked. Slaves don't get to have social networks like owners, or even poor free people. Slavery often originates as a way of paying off debts/response to debts unable to be paid. Debt itself is about removal of context- people will do things to get out of debt they never would have for the the same amount of money outright. People will accept treatment of debtors for being debt that they would never accept as conditions for getting out of whatever caused the debt in the first place. Somehow the gap between original conditions (sick child) and when the payment comes due changes the moral calculus. And since money's entire purpose is to reduce the context necessary for economic exchange, it does the same thing.

I've had shitty jobs, but I never had a McJob, and I am beginning to recognize the importance of that distinction. I have never felt interchangeable. My shittiest job was summer school tutor. The teachers didn't even want me, my position was funded by a federal grant meant mostly to help the tutors themselves, finding people qualified to take the position would have been trivial... and yet, once I was in the classroom and working with kids, I was an individual with an individual position. I was not irreplaceable, but replacing me had a cost. If I had screwed up, the school would have had reason to pause before letting me go. The thing about McJobs is that no matter how good you are at them, you're replaceable. Even the fastest warehouse picker can be replaced by a finite number of other pickers. It's not until you get late 90s level unemployment levels that unskilled labor any leverage over your employers.

Which explains the unmeetable picker quotas. But why can't they get some g-ddamned lockers? I know the employees are replaceable and the margins low, but I can't imagine there wouldn't be some productivity benefit to employees not spending their entire workday wondering if their car will be there when they get back, and that that benefit exceeds the cost of the lockers. I'm having trouble typing this because I feel like a dirty commie*, but I believe my friends' explanations that it's a deliberate attempt to keep the workers down. That if you consistently tell them they're not even worth lockers, they won't be able to ask for more. I've talked about government and sick systems in poverty, and those are at least nominally designed to help people. Corporations will proudly state they're not allowed to have morals.

Yesterday I talked about the gaslighting involved in subtle racism: why wouldn't the same thing apply here? Once you've accepted that employers want you to fear losing your phone every day, it's not crazy to wonder if they're deliberately setting your quota beyond what a mortal is capable of so they can yell at you. Especially when they will fire you for not promising to try harder, regardless of what your numbers do. Maybe the McWorkers aren't in a position to judge exactly where economic rationality ends and arbitrary cruelty begins and letting that devalue their point is choosing to let the toxin win.

*And then I swing around to "only an unfeeling neocon would be feeling that"
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
Like rape jokes, I think jokes about racism are powerful and important, and follow roughly the same rules: kick up, don't minimize, don't use it cheaply, and remember that people are worse than you can possibly imagine and your obvious caricature of how awful an opinion is is someone else's reality. I have less freedom to joke about race and racism than rape, because I'm white (which is totally fair and not me being oppressed), but that is not the same as saying white comedians can't talk about race. For example, please enjoy this clip from my go-to social justice comedian, Louis CK*

[Louis CK: Being White]

Key phrase: "I'm not saying that white people are better. I'm saying that being white is clearly better"

Or Wanda Sykes on reverse racism:

Key phrase: "That's not reverse racism. What you're afraid of is called karma"

Or Chris Rock on when white people can say the word nigger.

ETA: Lenny Bruce on the word nigger.

On the other hand, I have really limited sympathy when your entire schtick is using emotionally charged words, and someone becomes emotional in response to them This seems to be Sarah Silverman's problem. In her autobiography The Bedwetter she talks about telling the following joke on Conan:

I got jury duty … and I didn't want to go, so my friend said, "You should write something really really racist on the form when you return it. Like, you should put 'I hate chinks'." And I said, "I'm not going to put that on there just to get out of jury duty. I don't want people to think that about me." So instead I wrote, "I love chinks." And who doesn't?
Note: the original slur was nigger, but NBC made her change it to chink. So it's not like anyone was unaware what the driving force of the joke was.

In her autobiography, Silverman is really upset at the idea that anyone was offended (i.e. hurt) by this joke. She defends it as not being about Chinese people (or black people) at all, but about her being an idiot. I don't think that's a good defense. At a bare minimum, just using the world chink is reminding every Chinese person who has ever been a victim of overt racism (and I would be shocked if there was anyone who had been completely unscathed by racism) who hears it that racism exists and it is hurting them. That hurts. That invokes pain. And it's not incidental, it is the entire point of using a racial slur. Every joke involving race or racism invokes that pain, and it is their duty to have a point that is worth that cost. Louis CK's joke does: he's making people more aware of how racism is not a thing of the past.**

Here is the thing: just like jokes can reinforce rape culture without being about rape or sex, and without anyone wanting to imply that penetration without consent is okay, jokes can be racist without being about race. Kayne West (about whom I know almost nothing) said some batshit things on TV. Jimmy Kimmel did a bit on his show where he reenacted the interview with 9 year old children. I didn't see it until after I read the the criticism of it, but if I was seeing it fresh, I don't know if I would have picked up on the racial overtones. It would have been equally funny if it had been a white person spouting nonsense. But as Cord Jefferson points out, calling a black man a boy has a very long and specific history. I knew that intellectually, but I have no faith I would seen the implications in this particular instance. I was going to say that is many ways the greatest white privilege, but generations of accumulated wealth and not having my neighborhood torn apart by militarized police are pretty neat too.

My comedian boyfriend interpreted Jefferson's article as saying that any mockery of West was off limits. I don't think that's what he meant. I don't think he said anything about jokes one way or the other. I think he was trying to convey that West's abnormalities are not randomly distributed. West doesn't just live in a world where he's discriminated against, he lives in a world where people refuse to acknowledge he's discriminated against. Where the burden of proof is on him to prove the discrimination was racially motivated and not random noise. Which is just about impossible to do in any one instance- some people are universally assholes, some people are nice but having a bad day and sharing it with everyone. And yet over the some total of her life, a black woman will be the victim of a lot more of other people's bad days than I will. Telling black people they're not experiencing racism unless they can prove it is gaslighting.

For a really good, pure example of this, see the comments thread on a BoingBoing post about a Biology Online editor asking black female scientist Danielle lee, who blogged under the name "Urban Scientist" to write for him for free, and calling her an "urban whore" when she refused (she didn't name him, so I'm not going to either). One of the first comments is someone asking why BoingBoing mentioned her race. From there, the conversation devolved into "but you can't know for sure he was racist! It's a parallel to her blogging name! The fact that he was already using a misogynistic slur has no relevance to his argument! I am so logical and you are being ruled by emotions! Being offended is a choice!". The message being that 1. this man's intentions were the only thing that mattered. Pain caused by a slur used unintentionally is a moral failing of the victim. 2. some people on the internet incorrectly believing this man did something racist is a million times worse than some people on the internet incorrectly believing he didn't do something racist.

And it's all so focused on a word. Even as they made themselves look like ignorant, racist buffoons, his supporters successfully prevented the conversation from reaching the deeper issue of the severe entitlement issues this man displayed towards Lee, much less the fact that lots of other people, people in power, have those same entitlement issues and the good sense not to call their victims whores in a recorded medium.

To return to the subject of comedy and subtle racism: let's talk about the Smith kids. Everything I know about them I learned from Suri's Burn Book, but I'm prepared to admit they probably are arrogant little fucks whose parents are buying careers for them. That's what happens when your parents are that rich and famous and beautiful. Are they worse than white children would be, given similar parents? Do they receive more criticism than white children in the same situation displaying the same attitudes? Is that the right question, given that the situations are not the same, that these kids are growing up in a racist world? Are Willow and Jaden entitled to more leeway over attitude problems than white kids? Isn't that the path to infantalizing and invalidating black people?

The best answer I can come up with is that abstract opinions and interpersonal interactions are very different thing. A young black celebrity offspring is not entitled to cut in line at the DMV (an example I just made up), and if they did the people involved have every right to tell them to cut it out. Race blindness is sufficient to get the not-racist merit badge. But celebrity news sites should go softer on them*** , and adults as well. And yet, coverage on celebrity news can help a celebrity's career. But it seems entirely possible for coverage to be net positive for the individual celebrity but net negative for black celebrities as a whole, or black people as a whole, because it reinforces negative stereotypes.**** But it's the fault of a racist system that black celebrities idiotic actions hurt black people in ways a white celebrity's don't.

There may not be a fair outcome here. And I hate that. I want there to be something I can do, now, that means I don't have to think about hundreds of years of oppression or violence. Contemplating that there may not be, or that it may require sacrifice of things I feel like I earned, is really scary.

*Who I learned while researching this post is Mexican. As in, born in Mexico, learned English when he came to the US at age 7, still has Mexican citizenship. Ethnically he's 1/2 Irish, 1/4 European Jewish, and 1/4 Spanish/Indigenous Mexican. HH looks white, and his schtick is very much privileged white guy so I still feel like this is a valid example of how you can talk about race while looking white, and also I didn't want to rewrite 3 paragraphs, but it does complicate the point somewhat.

**I know I'm spending a lot of time praising Louis CK, but see also this clip on how recent slavery was. "Every year white people add 100 years to how long ago slavery was. I’ve heard educated white people say, ‘slavery was 400 years ago.’ No it very wasn’t. It was 140 years ago…that’s two 70-year-old ladies living and dying back to back. That’s how recently you could buy a guy. And it's not like slavery ended and then everything has been amazing”

***To the extent they are talking about children at all. I mostly don't they should, except for Suri's Burn Book, because that is really making fun of the rest of the media. But like I said about feminism last week: being not-racist is not the same as being good.

****See: the Flavor Flav Minstrel Show.
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)
Ferret criticized Cyru's VMA performance as inferior to Britney Spears's or Madonna's because the older two appeared to be aware of and enjoying the audience's sexual response to them, and this gave them some vulnerability. That's bullshit, and especially disappointing from the person who wrote Dear Daughter, have good Sex*. Taking the cases I know the most about, Britney and Christina went sexual in a highly polished, pleasing, feminine way. They might want to shock, but they also want validation that they're shocking in the right way.

Compare the video or VMA performance of "We Can't Stop" with some videos on similar themes: Christina Aquilera's "Can't Hold Us Down", Pussycat Doll's "I Don't Need a Man", and Ke$ha's "Blah Blah Blah"

What do these have in common? They're all sung to men. They're an attempt to convince men of something. They're highly performative**. Whereas can't "We Can't Stop" seems to be sung to grown ups.

Also, Britney, Christina, and the Pussycat Dolls are extraordinarily conventionally attractive, feminine women. Ke$ha's affecting a trashed look, but still looks noticeably more feminine and conventionally attractive in her videos than she does in real life. I still feel bad about this, but my first thought when I saw 16 year old Miley Cyrus was "Oh, Disney's trying to tamp down on problems by getting an ugly one." Her hair cut is aggressively masculine. Her outfits are revealing but ugly as hell. Her dancing may lack all subtlety, but in a way that makes me feel better. Previous starlets were produced and scripted and managed to make sure they never made anyone feel more uncomfortable than they wanted to feel. The word I'm looking for is coy. Promising a lot sexually, but also prepared to shut it down and pretend it never happened at a moments notice. Cyrus genuinely looks like she's doing this because she thought it would be awesome. It comes off as aggressive and unartistic because she's 20 years old and subtlety takes a long time to master, but that's okay. It's not her job to tamp down on her sexuality because it makes other people uncomfortable.*** She can be sexual without being attractive

Look, a professional dancer agreed with me (although he probably wouldn't put it that way). Britney was an astonishing dancer. Miley is spazzing around like an idiot. And I kind of love her for tricking MTV into letting her do that on national television.

I do want to acknowledge the genuinely problematic racial elements in Cyrus's performances. Consciously or not she's associating herself with the Jezebel stereotype of insatiable black women. This is one of those really tough things where one group is being denied something and another is being forced to have it, and the more privileged side can end up seriously damaging the less privileged side as they attempt to change the system. See also: rich white women being denied sterilization they want because doctors believe they should have more babies, while poor and minority women are sterilized against their will because doctors believe they shouldn't. Both sides are being denied something they're entitled to, and rich white women need to be conscious that laws and norms they're advocating for could make things worse for poor black women. But it some ways that's another crime the system has committed against the rich white women, by shackling them such that their choices are suffer, fight for their rights and hurt someone else, or bear the exhausting weight of fighting for their rights without hurting poor black women.

This is mostly unrelated, but I do wish people would stop calling her performance twerking. Twerking is not a generic term for moving your ass, it's a really difficult, athletic dance style with a long history in African dance. In that same vein, the Harlem shake isn't a controlled epileptic fit, it's a really impressive dance style that is both extraordinarily fluid and yet tightly controlled. Start treating them with the respect they deserve

*Of course, he also created the open source boob project and named it open source boob project. He has some big fuck ups, but I admire his willingness to make and own them publicly.

**particularly atrocious in the case of "I Don't Need a Man." It's great that there are men who really enjoy watching women orgasm even if they didn't provide it, but in a world full of male entitlement it often becomes "prove to me you're experiencing pleasure" and I hate that.

***Which is of course not to say that other people need to participate in it or stick around to watch, but that they're not entitled to make her stop doing it with people who do want those things.
pktechgirlbackup: (pktechgirl)
UK anti-forced-marriage charity is recommending girls who are flying to their parents' countries of origin and believe they'll be forced to marry place spoons in their underwear, so they will trigger a private security screening, where they will be able to tell an authority figure . Not to take a pro-forced-marriage position, but I have several problems with this.

1. Then what? Is an accusation of planned forced marriage sufficient for the girls to emancipate themselves? Is there financial and support available for girls who do so?

2. Even if that exists, how much proof does it require? How sure does the girl have to be? If I suspect my parents are the kind to force me to marry, but they haven't said anything about this particular trip being The Trip, what do I do?

3. The charity is named Karma Nirvana, two things that don't really have anything to do with their stated mission of preventing forced marriages and honor-based abuse. I was going to suggest something really unkind about this being a straw charity designed to disparage Muslims, but I looked it up and the CEO has a Muslim-Punjabi name. So maybe I should just shut up now.
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)
Since leaving tiny ninjas, I've been teaching biology at a school for sick children and their siblings. The school is really there as a support system and to keep their brains busy, which is good, because the biology program is in terrible shape. I didn't get a textbook until this week, and it is terrible. There is no curriculum, and I'm completely unqualified to teach a real biology class. But I am reasonably qualified to show two kids things I find interesting and show them how to follow up on their own interests. It took me four weeks, but I finally got them to ask questions so I could start opening their minds to the wonders of science.

Unfortunately, what they want to know about is the genetics of racial differences.

They're asking innocently. They used the same tone when asking about the biology of zodiac signs, whether their red hair meant they were angrier, and if the doppelgangers from Vampire Diaries could actually exist. But it puts me in a tricky position. There is a lot of horrible psuedoscience used to support racism, and I don't want to lend credence to it. On the other hand, I don't want to teach them that questions with potentially unpleasant answers shouldn't be asked. Some day they may be doing medical research. Back on the first hand, stereotype threat is a real problem and truth is not an ultimately defense when it is involved. Also, I would like to not get in trouble.

What I told them at the time was: most people talking about genetic differences between races are evil and also bad at science (bonus: they're young enough I can shock them by swearing!), there are often substantial differences between small populations, but two distinct Asian populations look as different from each other as they do from a European population. I threw in a bit about how the classic racial categories just are not biologically true, but maybe not enough. For homework I assigned them articles on sickle cell anemia and lactose tolerance, on the theory that malaria and pastoralism are neutral ways to talk about differences in environment applying selective pressure. I dream of ultimately finding one of those racist fact sheets and eviscerating it with them, which would be both anti-racism and pro-science, but we are not there yet.

The problem is that a neutral reporting of the facts is not enough here. There's reasonably good statistical evidence that Ashkenazi Jews are slightly smarter than Europeans from the same geographic areas. There's super interesting speculation as to why*, and I have in fact discussed that speculation is detail with a very socially conscious Jewish friend. But if all I tell the kids is "Jewish people are smarter", I risk reinforcing some really horrible stereotypes. Luckily, the story of the selective pressure is intimately tied up with persecution and bigotry, so it's easy to bring up. If I talk about rice farming selecting for mathematical aptitude or poor hygiene in Europe selecting for a better work ethic, relative to south Asia, I risk reinforcing some really horrible stereotypes. But the things that would counter those stereotypes are outside the scope of a biology class.

It'd probably be much the same if we cover reproduction (not guaranteed- kids are only here for a few months and I'm letting them choose the topics). In a world where kids learn all about enthusiastic consent and masturbation and queer sexuality, I could teach them the biology of reproduction and move on. In the current world, teaching reproduction reinforces the undeserved primacy of straight, cis, PIV sex.** But I don't thing I can assign What You Really, Really Want as part of biology class.

I'm open to suggestions here, on both the meta issue and on specific examples I can explore with them.

*Short version: the risk of spontaneous attacks by Christians rewarded medieval Jews for keeping forms of wealth that were easy to travel with and hard to seize. Farm land was the opposite of this. Gold was pretty good. Intelligence was perfect.

**I have a BA in biology and the only time I ever heard vaginal wetness discussed in college was a psychology class, where they explained that arousal experiments were done primary on men because they were easier to measure.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
Olympic gold medal gymnast Gabby Douglas went on Oprah and talked about racial bullying she received at her (former?) training gym. Several ex-gymnasts have issued statements defending the school. Before I even watch the actual interview, I'd like to play a game called "let's pretend that's true" with the defenses.

This is absolutely ridiculous. I trained at Excalibur gymnastics for 8 years and I personally trained with gabby for 2 of those years. The accusations that are being made against the gymnasts and coaches are just sickening. I watched dena and Gustavo put so much of their time and effort into gabby and the other athletes, no matter their race. Gabby was never a victim, in fact many would say she was one of the favorites.

Let's pretend that's true... even if she was their favorite, that doesn't prevent them from ever saying or doing something racist, and it really doesn't prevent other students and staff from doing so.

I am not saying that she never felt bullied because when you are in a sport with a bunch of girls it is bond to happen. However, anything that she may have felt was never about race and I can assure you everyone at some point has felt bullied.

Right. Girls are well known for being vicious little harpies who nonetheless scrupulously avoid ever making someone feel left out because they are in some way different.

I never once heard her complain about girls being mean, funny how it is just now coming up.

I'm glad we've established her qualifications to talk on this subject.

Also, not only does she owe the gym thousands of dollars but she owes dena thousands as well. I watched dena open her home to gabby, feeding her, taking her to gym, and allowing her to stay over her house whenever gabby wanted to. You take people like dena and Gustavo, people that are selfless and put so much into helping these gymnasts reach their potential and you make them out to be evil and heartless.

Let's pretend that's true... this is another thing that only even pretends to address a small portion of the problem, and doesn't even do that. Also, I find it curious that she's consistently capitalizing the male coach's name, but no one else's.

You should all be ashamed of yourselves. Unless you were there to witness these so called racial acts against gabby I suggest you take your comments elsewhere because you sound ignorant. Girls leave gyms all the time it is just part of being an athlete but there is absolutely no need to publicly bash people that have done nothing but support you and do the best they can to help you reach your dreams. I also trained with Morgan Evans, Marcia Newby, Britney Ranzy and Sheriese Clark all of which were on the national team and are African American. I can assure you they all have nothing but great things to say about their experience at Excalibur.

So... none of your black friends have ever complained about racism to you? And the conclusion you draw is that racism is not a thing?

Here's another one, from another athlete.

I’ve had the pleasure of knowing the Excalibur coaches for many years- never once would I question their coaching or love for their athletes. In fact, Dena and Jim were the first coaches to congratulate other athletes, as well as their own.

I don't think anyone did question their coaching or their love for their athletes. And I'm running out of ways to say "but that's completely orthogonal to the point in question."

I couldn’t agree more with Randy Stageburg. While I wasn’t personally coached by Jim, Dena or Gustavo- what Gabby is saying makes me sick.

I have no data except the belief that things I find unpleasant aren't true.

I know numerous gymnasts who experienced nothing but fantastic memories from Excalibur. Pay back the money you owe, stop playing the victim and respect the coaches who got you to the Elite level. Because the Excalibur family is one that I personally remember during my career.

Let's pretend that's true... I understand the implication that she's trying to make Excalibur look bad so she can avoid paying them back, or is just complaining out of spite. But it turns out it is possible for people to be racist even at locations that have extended you credit. I know, I was shocked too.

The article has a video response from her gym. It's less terrible, in that they give actual facts that affect the argument (i.e. that Douglas wasn't the only black gymnast), but mostly it's one lady saying Douglas never told her about this at the time, and she's sad that she's doing so now, which if she had read this post she would know is not a counter argument.

Okay, I just watched the video (embedded in the article, starts at 4:30, and again at 11). She doesn't make a single accusation against the coaches.

So here is what I suspect happened: from the perspective of the defenders, Gabby was unpopular for reasons not related to race. She was a coach's favorite and he apparently deliberately kept her apart, and she didn't have the gifted-level EQ required to overcome that. Plus, it's teen girls in a competitive environment, society doesn't have a concept of them not being mean. Independent of that, there were a few isolated incidences of girls making jokes that could have been racial in origin, although we can't even jump to that conclusion, they could have been using the word slave in a race neutral sense.

From Douglas's perspective, these things are not separable. Separability is for people at the top of the privilege hierarchy. Which means I don't have a ton of insight here, because I am very near the top myself. But I am very sure that's what's going on.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
Reel Injun is one of those movies that will be looked back on as severely flawed or limited when we have better movies on the topic, but is a good enough attempt about an important topic that currently gets almost no oxygen, so you should still see it. And that's in no way a criticism of the filmmakers: exploring and explaining how American cinema stereotyped Native Americans, and the effect that had an actual people is a huge, unfinished topic. We figure out which bits are most important and illuminating by telling slightly different stories until we find the one that clicks.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
True Blood is not a perfect show when it comes to race. 100 years from now, no one will be impressed. But relative to most of television, it's doing well enough to merit mention: it sails past the POC Bedchel test every episode without even trying, by virtue of several deep, interesting, well written black characters (I'm on season 4, there's a new Hispanic character but it's a bit early to call him 'well characterized'). And while it doesn't make you think about racism very often, it does make it abundantly clear that this is a luxury the minority characters do not have- and that a lot of it is coming from people who white characters would never think to question.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
So, Shakesville kind of has a point that the processes used to stereotype Scotts in Brave are the same ones we object to when used against oppressed groups (note: I haven't seen Brave yet, but neither has McEwan, so I think we're on even ground here), and it's good to notice that. Sort of like how, yes, doing an end run around procedures to block you from commenting does share some thought processes with attempting to rape someone*. And yet, you can't make the comparison without minimizing the actual bad thing.

I think the issue is this: Planning end runs around people not wanting to have sex with you is bad, and it contributes to rape, in ways both obvious and not. But the impact of that thinking is absolutely nothing compared to the impact of actual rape, and to imply otherwise is to minimize rape. It's turning a very real, physical violation into a live action political cartoon. Similarly, the impact of Scottish stereotypes on Scottish people is nothing compared to the impact of black stereotypes on black people. So while it's reasonable to help actual oppressed people by attacking the stereotyping process at its roots, it's not reasonable to say "this is used to hurt other people very badly, therefor its use carries the moral weight of that pain."

*I found that comment while looking for the post on Penny Arcade's Dickwolves joke, in which the author says she does not get comedy as a thing. Alas, that post was written by someone else at Shakesville.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
Over here is an unbelievably depressing story by a black man who strangers continually confuse for anything but his child's father. Uncle, babysitter, cousin, but never father. Oh, and parents at the park accuse him of attacking their child without evidence.

This is an unmitigated tragedy, and deserves to be recognized as such. But I also want to note my dislike for his judging of other parents when they don't play with their kids at the park. Now, he's earned the right to some unjustified scorn, especially after a woman who wasn't watching her child saw only the aftermath of a fall and told her husband "this big nigger just pushed Miriam to the ground." For Taylor, who is working full time, the park is a place for quality time for with his daughter. But for SAHMs who spend all day with their kids, it's a rare chance to talk to grown-ups, and his condemnation of them for not paying more attention to their kids bugs me.

Which is not an attack on Taylor in the slightest. I very literally can only imagine how deeply that knife cuts. I admire both how he handled the incident at the time, and how he's thinking about it now. But I do hope that at some point we as a society stop judging people for not visibly parenting the same way we do.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
"I will not claim causation, but I will say that there is a strong and avid correlation between bigotry and stupid."- Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Quote from a commenter on that same post: I was going to write "privilege can make you stupid", but that isn't right. We all start out stupid. Privilege allows you to stay stupid.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
For years, doctors told women they did not have cramps while menstruating, it was all their heads. Or they were hysterical, which is hilarious if you know the history of the word. Now people use PMS to dismiss women.

Europeans held themselves to be smarter than Africans, so naturally they were in charge. Until the Asian colonists started scoring better on administrative exams than they did, when suddenly raw intelligence was not enough. Scoring too high was actually a sign that you lacked the necessary will and quick-thinkingness to lead. But not too much. Too much quick-thinkingness, such as that displayed by the Jews, was fine for basketball, but not for important positions.

During slavery, blacks were ridiculed as weak and puny. Once they had access to sufficient food, it turned out they were a few inches taller than the people who were defined as white at the time, and so the white people invented the ape stereotype (I know this is from Ta-Nehisi Coate's blog, but I can't find the link now).

Prejudice finds a way, regardless of facts. Almost regardless of actions- you can make almost anything discriminatory if you try hard enough.

This is what feminists and anti-racism activists mean when they won't tell you what the right thing to do is, you have to just believe what they do and it will work out. I think that approach betrays a certain lack of understanding of how the more left-brained among us learn, but I do at least get what they mean now.


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