Monthly Archives: September 2013

The Black Girl Who Was Mean to You in 7th Grade Was Not A Reverse Racist

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Occasionally I witness something enough times that it registers on my radar as being something that 1) is a “thing” and 2) needs to be written about. This is one such “thing.”

The “thing?” White people (men and women) who compare bullying they experienced from black peers in middle school and high school as “reverse racism” and “oppression.”

If your face just did this, then you have just had the same reaction as I did. But I’ve heard this one a lot. I’ve seen it in tweets, I’ve read it in comments on blogs, I’ve overheard it on public transportation, and I recall hearing it when I left my mostly-black public high school and entered my almost entirely white private high school as a teenager. This is a “thing,” ladies and gentleman. Now let’s talk about why it’s dumb. This should be easy.

Your feeling belittled for a few years in your adolescence is not the same as the systematic discrimination that black and brown people experience in all aspects (economic, social, interpersonal, etc.) of life, and have experienced for generation after generation.

Not easy enough? Let me break that down.

  • A black girl telling you that your shoes are ugly is not the same as the massive wealth inequality in the United States, in which whites have claim to 22x more wealth than blacks.
  • A black boy threatening to beat you up after school is not the same as a black boy being gunned down in his own neighborhood and his (nonblack) killer not being arrested for weeks.
  • A black girl calling you names is not the same as the President of the United States being called a “nigger” and being told to “go back to Kenya.”
  • A black boy calling you names is not the same as fraternities and sororities on university campuses across the United States—including Ivy League schools—hosting parties in which the attendees dress in blackface and throw up what they believe to be gang signs.

It’s an interesting phenomenon, this eagerness of white people to attribute individual suffering to systematic injustice, especially in the context of the following observation about the perception of said injustice that white privilege provides: White people want to be judged solely based on their individual actions and not be held accountable for the actions of other people of their race (including their ancestors), yet insist on viewing the actions of black people as attached to their race as a whole, holding an entire race responsible for the actions of individuals. This phenomenon can be applied neatly to the discussion of bullying at hand. No one wants to say that the white children who alienate and marginalize the lone black student in their midst are miniature racists. “Kids being kids,” perhaps. “Kids don’t understand racism fully. They’re just doing what their parents taught them.” I have heard these excuses with my own ears, and perhaps the latter is somewhat valid. However, if it is valid, it must also be valid for black students who “pick on” white students. Kids (of all colors) are cruel. Don’t we all know this? Then why are black children vilified as perpetuators of “reverse racism,” tiny thugs picking on their blameless white peers, whereas white children are given the luxury of being clueless kids? Again, this is an instance in which whites are granted individuality, and blacks are regarded as a whole: one black bully and suddenly there is an institutional problem in which white children everywhere are the victims of mass injustice.

Look, I went to a mostly black school. I was in classes where I was one of maybe two or three white kids. People picked on me, sure. (Hi, Denise!) Black kids picked on me, sure. But you know what? Those black kids picked on other black kids too. And you know what else? White girls were meaner to me than black girls, and I guarantee you that some of the adult white women I’ve heard complain about the treatment they received by black girls as a kid were also picked on by other white girls. Yet for some reason those white Mean Girls aren’t targeted in the memory the way black Mean Girls are.

Perhaps this is a symptom of years of cultivated white privilege. White people—even as children—expect everyone to cater to us; serve us; be nice to us; tolerate us. When the world—and its people—are unkind, perhaps it is a system shock: “But I’m white! I thought everyone had to be nice to me? Why are these black kids picking on me? I’m supposed to be better than them!” This is one of the nearly infinite problems of white privilege: what does raising a white child to believe that they deserve special treatment teach other than how hard the ground is when the reality of non-white experiences bursts that fragile bubble? That being said, some white people live their entire lives with that bubble intact: a white supremacist culture makes this possible. For all the complaining white people do about “the race card” being pulled, they certainly keep it close to the top of the deck themselves. A kid is mean to you in high school. That’s life. They’re not hazing you with a noose on your locker. They’re not making these videos. They’re being mean-ass kids. That’s life. But white privilege teaches white kids something different about life. That’s not life, we tell them. Not for you.

One thing that always shocks me when I see/hear/overhear these anecdotes from “victims” of juvenile “reverse racism” is the complete lack of willingness to regard those black kids from their past as humans. You know, other thirteen year-olds going through puberty, getting their hearts broken, being frustrated with their lack of a boyfriend/girlfriend, struggling with grades, being slighted by friends—all the things that makes being a middle/high schooler so abominably difficult. And in addition to all those “kid” problems, other, bigger problems. In the case of my friends in middle school, dealing with violence at home, drugs in their neighborhood, gangs on the walk to school, racism from the very teachers who are supposed to be helping them succeed. Maybe the black girl who “bullied” you in 7th grade was going through some shit. Ever think of that? Yet these white “victims” can’t find it in their heart for one moment to look back on their adolescence and not only forgive a black child who caused them pain, but empathize with what that individual might have been experiencing? Things worse, perhaps, than the momentary shame you might have felt when she called you fat in the lunch line?

I could go on. I’ve already gone on too long: this is supposed to be a micro-blog, after all. But I feel strongly about this one. I’ve heard it too, too often: white women and men looking back into their childhood and seeing, instead of the tough middle school years that everyone had, a deeply unfair system of reverse racism in which twelve-year-old black kids are equivalent to Al Capone; chalking up the meanness of a few to the flaws of the whole.

No. The girl who was mean to you in 7th grade was not a reverse racist. She was a 7th grade girl. And I think it’s time you got over it.

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Riddick Thinks Lesbians Are Just Kidding About Being Lesbians

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I saw Riddick this weekend, against my better judgment. Watching Vin Diesel act is like watching a lump of cookie dough animate and plod across the kitchen floor, but I like movies with aliens, so give me a break. Yet the film was confounding. Not just because Vin Diesel’s attempts at acting are so one dimensional that your brain will go numb, but because somehow Riddick—and thus its director, David Twohy—seems to think that lesbians are just playing hard to get when they say they aren’t attracted to men.

There is only woman in the movie—except for a woman of color who was onscreen for all of four minutes before she was shot like a dog while running braless—and her name is Dahl. Dahl is a white, blonde, tough lesbian. Her sexuality is made clear when she says very plainly that she “doesn’t fuck guys.” She is referred to as a “lesbo” by the human antagonist. Her character is what could be called “masculine”—if “masculine” indeed means one is gun-toting, strong, somewhat muscular, and possesses the ability to throw a mean right hook.  Dahl makes it clear that she has no interest in any of the men in her crew, let alone Vin Diesel’s character Riddick, who is unpredictable, arrogant, and extremely violent. Despite her disinterest, Riddick spies on her while she’s naked in the bathroom, makes repeated advances to which he receives no positive encouragement, and, while chained up, vows that when he’s free, he will kill the antagonist and also go “balls deep” in Dahl. This would be shockingly rapey if he didn’t follow up with, “But only because you [will] ask me to…sweet like.”

If this sounds wack, that’s because it is. (And follow-up or not, it’s still rapey.)

In the end, Riddick does indeed kill the antagonist and survive some aliens. The “good guy” inexplicably rescues Riddick in a spaceship, and who repels down with a harness to bring him onboard? Dahl. She straddles Riddick and, as they are towed upward, says that she has something to ask him “sweet like,” and he grabs her ass.

<slow applause>

So according to Riddick and Twohy, lesbians are just kidding. They don’t really “not fuck guys,” they just don’t fuck guys until some irresistibly masculine, bald-headed lump of clay with two chins struts along and renders their sexual orientation invalid. Twohy and his screenwriters have given themselves away as the overcompensating, adolescent jackoffs that they are: “what’s hotter than fucking a lesbian?” they giggle to one another under their Superman bedsheets. “Nothing!” They could’ve written Dahl as straight and set up the typical “bad boy gets to have sex with girl at end of action movie” trope. But no. Why stop there in their subjugation?

Dahl—who was named “Dahl” for a reason: the joke is they’re really calling her “doll” throughout the entire movie—is strong, necessarily violent, muscular, a great shot with numerous weapons, and smart. Yet Riddick renders her passive. Despite her strength and capability—and despite her sexual orientation—her identity is subject to the whims of the men onscreen: she is a rapeable object lacking agency and even a real name. Riddick, on the other hand, is subject to nothing: not even Dahl’s humanity.

Why? Let’s face it. In Hollywood—in America?—the male hero must get the prize. Despite the fact that Riddick didn’t really do much to redeem himself (his actions were in pursuit of his own survival; in retrieving the power cells from where he’d hidden them, he ensured his own well-being: the fact that the others also survived was coincidental) Hollywood still thinks he should get the prize. The prize is the girl, of course: the flesh dowry of male success awarded like cattle to any penis that patriarchy deems worthy. Riddick gets the prize simply for surviving. The message here, friends, one that we see over and over and over, is this: men deserve to have women awarded to them like chattel, simply by virtue of their maleness. You don’t even have to do anything good or moral or prince-like or gentlemanly to receive this prize: continuing to breathe is enough. And your prize? She doesn’t even have to be attracted to you. She doesn’t have to like you. Heck, she doesn’t even have to be straight. She’s all yours, pal. Enjoy. The prize is yours, even at the expense of others’ agency, humanity, and identity.

Fail. Riddick, you fail. On so many levels. You can’t “convert” a lesbian with a bald head, forty-six year old muscles, and a comically emotionless voice. In fact, you can’t convert a lesbian at all. Will Smith can’t convert a lesbian. Christian Bale can’t convert a lesbian. Barack Obama can’t even convert a lesbian. Do you know why? Because lesbians are lesbians. And that means truly, actually, in real life….they don’t fuck guys.

Really.

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How Not to Be Rapey on the City Bus

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Let me tell you about something that just happened.

On an overcrowded 62 southbound bus in Chicago, I was standing to the side of a seated woman in her 30’s who had her purse on her lap. I noticed her when I got on because she was very pretty and dressed well. Standing next to me (and in front of the woman) was a white man in his 40’s: 5’5” or so, very slim, large glasses, wearing a polo shirt. He raises his voice a little to be heard and says to the seated woman, “That’s a beautiful purse.”

Her: Thank you. [small, polite smile.]

A few minutes pass in silence. Then,

Him: It goes very nicely with your shirt. [His voice is a little different now. It has taken on a wheedling tone. He’s making it clear he’s hitting on her.]

Her: Thank you. [only a glimmer of a smile. She averts her eyes.]

A few minutes pass in silence.

Him: So. Are you coming from work? [now he’s in full on creep mode. It is important to note that the way they are positioned places his crotch almost fully in her face.]

Her: [silence. Averted eyes.]

A minute later:

Him: Did you not hear me? Are you coming from work?

[enter Olivia]

Me: Excuse me, has she given you any indication that she is in the least bit interested in you?

Him: No. [stutters] Don’t worry about it.

Me: Well, I’m going to worry about it if you’re making her uncomfortable. And you’re making her uncomfortable. Leave her alone.

Him: Shut up. If she was uncomfortable, she would have said so.

Her: [looks up at me, refusing to look at him]

Me: Dude, are you blind? She’s uncomfortable. Leave her alone.

Him: [muttering insults]

Me: Did you say something?

Him: Yes.

Me: Oh I didn’t hear you. Because you were mumbling

Him: [silence]

The rest of the bus ride passed without incident. The woman got off five stops later and I got off seven stops after that (two after my actual stop: I didn’t want him to know my real stop in case he was a psycho). He stared at me for much of the ride but said nothing.

So why am I writing this blog? For a number of reasons.

Even if someone is not saying the words “You’re making me uncomfortable” they might still be telling you they’re uncomfortable. The woman’s clasped hands, the aversion of her eyes, the shifting in her seat, the refusal to answer his questions? This is discomfort. Part of living in a civilized society is taking social cues from one another. If you can’t restrain yourself enough to not hit on a woman in public—and I urge you to do exactly that: restrain yourself—at least have the humanity, respect, and presence of mind to take note of the behavior of the subject of your attention. Often, men who engage in street harassment rely on the societally taught politeness that is ingrained in most women in order to subjugate their target. They interpret this politeness as either interest or “playing hard to get.”   Hint: “Playing hard to get” doesn’t really exist in these kinds of scenarios. She’s not “playing hard to get.” She wants you to leave her the fuck alone.

Additionally, take stock of your privilege. Not just your male privilege—hopefully you’re already taking stock of that daily—but your physical privilege. Standing in front of a woman on the bus with your crotch in her face is not the time and place to compliment her on her shirt. Trust me. You are in a position of physical dominance. Allowing this posture to inflate your sense of control in the situation is not “being confident.” It’s being rapey. Don’t be rapey.

We need to teach men. Men need to be taught about boundaries, dominance, privilege, intimidation, street harassment, and a multitude of other microaggressions that they employ—sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously—when they interact with women.

Men, the first step is paying attention. Please, please pay attention. Sometimes you can’t see because you’re standing in your own way. Advice? Move.

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