MLK, Jr. Day Thoughts

Before I muse, here are some important social justice reads I’ve been thinking about:

Calling IN: A Less Disposable Way of Holding Each Other Accountable by Ngọc Loan Trần

The Case for Reparations by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Listening to the Living and the Dead: Ruminations on #JusticeForLeelahAlcorn by b. binaohan

Special Prostitution Courts and the Myth of “Rescuing” Sex Workers by Molly Crabapple

And if you’re on Twitter, these have been some of my favorite writers and activists to follow:

@rgay
@harikondabolu
@IjeomaOluo
@tanehisicoates
@kima_jones
@Lavernecox

I’m going to write a little bit about cultural/institutional bias here. I’ll use the term “racism” because, as a white American, my race is one of my main privileges, but I think these thoughts may apply to any other: class, ability, size, orientation, sex, gender, etc. Feel free to transpose for relevance.

For a lot of people in the world, including me, it’s easy to be racist. We grow up hearing and observing jokes, headlines and microaggressions. They’re never directed toward us, so we don’t have to think about them too much, but we absorb them. They calcify in our minds and become assumptions; the assumptions become fears. In especially dangerous cases, the fears become anger, or manifest in words or actions.

Part of me is excited about this time in our history, because, thanks to the seemingly tireless work of activists of color, I feel like progress is being made, and that more and more people of privilege have opportunities to become aware of it. We can begin to chip away at those assumptions we have stuck in our heads, pulverize them and expel them. All that cultural gunk that’s been around for generations always tries to get back in, but with time and listening, we can get better and better at addressing it, taking it apart, and dismissing it. When we carry guilt (which can be powerfully constructive), we can counterbalance it with action and gratitude.

Listening to people of color is the only way to progress away from societal racism, and combating internalized racism is empowering for everyone. It’s exhilarating to realize that humor, creativity and personal power thrive when not relying on bias. Our deepest, untouched, true selves have no need for bias.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Justice is love correcting that which revolts against love.”

Advertisements

Helpful Links on This Week’s Horrible News

done

I’m still not over all of this week’s terrible events. Rolling Stone retracted their article about rape at the University of Virginia, blaming a victim instead of their own journalistic integrity. My despair over police brutality was exacerbated when I saw a heated thread on a family member’s Facebook page fizzle out when someone wrote that the events “[affect] none of us personally.”

I’m really sad.

Here are some links about all of these topics, though I know I’m forgetting many. They are helpful. Share them. Content warning for all.

On Institutional Racism:

The Stages of What Happens When There’s Injustice Against Black People by Luvvie

My Vassar College Faculty ID Makes Everything OK by Kiese Laymon

The New Rules for Black People in America by Carvell Wallace

This photograph by Josh Davis

Ijeoma Oluo’s tweets following the grand jury announcement. Her handle is @IjeomaOluo.

#AliveWhileBlack

On Rape:

Our Stories by Roxane Gay

Checklist. by Genevieve Valentine

What to do when your partner is sexually assaulted

Lindy West believes Shia LaBeouf.

This infographic from Vox

A rebuttal to UVA Phi Psi’s rebuttal from Sam Biddle

. . .

My only goal right now is to be here for victims/survivors.

Christian/Spiritual/Yogic/Angry

(Note: I’m going to talk about church/Jesus in this post.)

I go to church. It’s something that I did every Sunday for much of my life. Then, for several years, I stopped, but I started up again a year ago. I go to a very large Episcopal church, and I go by myself. The church I attend could stand to be a little more inclusive, insofar as liberalism could stand to be more inclusive, but they welcome everyone, use historical/figurative scripture interpretations, and play beautiful music, so I’m usually very happy to go there and be still.

After church last Sunday, Father Greg Boyle came and had a public talk with our rector. Father Boyle founded Homeboy Industries, one of the world’s largest gang intervention programs, which you can read about on their website. He’s known for doing very good things in L.A., and he is, by all accounts, next-level compassionate. At Sunday’s discussion, Father Boyle said some profoundly lovely things, particularly with regard to Michael Brown, which I wrote down and will probably share another day. However, he said something I’ve been thinking about ever since that just doesn’t sit right with me: “I don’t do disappointment because God doesn’t do disappointment…God is too busy loving us to get around to disappointment.”

Hm.

These words aren’t computing for me in the wake of the Ferguson and Eric Garner grand jury decisions. I’m not sure pure love for love’s sake is enough anymore. I’ve struggled with the same thing in my yoga teacher training: at one point, I asked how practicing the niyama (observance) of santosha (contentment) aids yoga practitioners in achieving social justice (my belief in yoga as a therapeutic social justice aid is a primary reason for my becoming a teacher). One of my classmates pointed out a quote in a book she’d brought in, which stated that “achieving inner peace is a more political act than overthrowing any empire.” Though I do understand and appreciate the necessity of self-care for activists, I wasn’t swayed by that idea.

I attended a Ferguson solidarity rally last week, where many of those gathered demanded body cameras for police forces in the U.S. Today, a grand jury in New York City declined to indict the policeman who strangled Eric Garner to death on camera. Garner was unarmed. His last words were, “I can’t breathe”. He was denied CPR for seven minutes after losing consciousness. He was ruled dead by homicide. His murder was recorded and seen by millions. His murderer is free, without trial.

I can’t practice contentment here. And unlike God, I can’t withhold disappointment here. I’m exhausted and angry about people in power caring so little about the people they’re supposed to represent and protect. People in our police force disproportionately injure and kill people of color. Our justice system perpetuates rape culture. Our government disregards the concerns of people of color, the poor, women, the LGBTQ+ community, and students. I’m not content with it. I’m not going to say that I am, or try to be.

So, right now, my spiritual mind is with Jesus. Perhaps God doesn’t do disappointment, but Jesus did. He got really rude with the people he was disappointed with. Jesus called people out. And he didn’t get disappointed about abortion or gender expression. He got disappointed in greed, exploitation, prejudice, racism and oppression. I hope he can remind spiritually-minded people, particularly those of privilege, that you shouldn’t stand for injustice because you’re chasing peace.

#DearDePauw

Students of color at my alma mater, DePauw University, are organizing for visibility under the hashtag #DearDePauw. If you are reading this, I urge you to check it out and support them.

I attended DePauw from 2007 to 2012. I was a student in the School of Music and the College of Liberal Arts, and I earned two degrees there. I also met my best friends and my husband there. I loved most of my professors and learned from all of them.

No campus is perfect, but DePauw, especially the College of Liberal Arts, needs to acknowledge and scrutinize its flaws. Some bullet points from my own experience:

  • White students and students of color are separated. In my CLA classes, I do not recall having more than one student of color in a class, and I only had three professors of color (one of whom was a visiting professor). Students of color and international students are often placed in different campus housing, whether that’s due to historically Black or white Greek letter organizations, special-interest housing, or substance-free housing. The result is de facto segregation on campus, and the distinct vibe that there is “Black DePauw” and “white DePauw”.
  • Sexual/gender diversity is largely ignored.  When I was at DePauw, there was one smallish blanket student organization dedicated to LGBTQ advocacy. It was a nice group of people, but it generally lacked intersectionality, as well as solid, vocal representation of bisexual, trans, intersex and asexual students. I hope this has improved.
  • Binge drinking and underage drinking are ubiquitous. DePauw requires students to take an online alcohol safety course before arriving on campus, but abstract statistics mean little to most incoming freshmen. Group activities that could be fun (e.g. campus clubs, intramural sports) are either dominated by Greek organizations or largely ignored, which can make finding friends in a risk-free setting tricky. When I had my first big struggles with depression and anxiety during my first years at DePauw, I had way more visible opportunities to self-medicate with alcohol than I did to seek help in a nonjudgmental space.
  • Hazy consent is common in sexual encounters at DePauw, as it is at many residential colleges in America. When so many 18-23 year-olds are intoxicated on any given night, and our culture does not freely give people (especially women, but really any people) the vocabulary to directly discuss consent and desire with others, the issue of consent is bound to be a mess on all sides. However, the administrations of other colleges are at least paying lip service to sexual assault on campus. I haven’t found this to be the case at DePauw. Several months ago The DePauw published an article about the issue–the author interviewed victims, saying that s/he was working on an assignment for a journalism class, then published the piece in the paper, including the victims’ names. To my knowledge, the university never made a public statement about this violation or penalized the writer, though it appears that the piece was removed from The DePauw’s archives.

These are mostly problems that are common at American schools, but DePauw’s administration is not giving marginalized students the support they deserve, that they have paid for. When my husband and I receive our quarterly issues of DePauw magazine, we read articles touting alumni successes (these alumni are usually white dudes) and new construction projects on campus. We hear nothing of campus controversies or the university’s efforts to address them. Recently, DePauw celebrated the crowning of its first WOC Old Gold Queen at that festive annual homecoming celebration. I know that the student who received the honor is deserving, but DePauw has been around for 177 years. That a woman of color hadn’t been crowned before 2014 is embarrassing, but DePauw pats itself on the back. Instead of fretting that students can’t fill an auditorium to hear speeches by social justice activists or celebrities from marginalized groups, DePauw high-fives Twitter when students line up to see Jimmy Kimmel. Instead of making a visible effort to increase multicultural and/or consent education on campus, DePauw wants to make sure we know about the new gym they built.

I had a lot of fun at DePauw. I learned a lot from my professors. But I’m deeply ashamed and embarrassed that it took me until after graduation, until moving to a large coastal city, to find feminism. To learn what “intersectionality” means.  To fully understand my sexual identity. To recognize my privilege and examine my microaggressions. To take stock of the ways in which I was marginalized/victimized as a woman on campus, and the ways in which I personally was destructive to myself and others when I engaged in DePauw’s dominant culture. Most of these things are on me, but I also believe that they are things liberal arts students should learn by virtue of being on liberal arts campuses. I could have learned them at DePauw, but I didn’t know where to look.

But that’s just me. I’m lucky. To the students who are the true victims of DePauw’s campus climate, the students who have started #DearDePauw, know this: I stand with DePauw because you are DePauw. I am sorry I didn’t see you when I was there. Stay angry. Stay loud. Tiger Pride.

Update 11/12: DePauw senior Ashton Johnston (who wrote a powerful piece for HuffPo on the #DearDePauw conversation) informed me that University President Brian Casey sent an e-mail to students, faculty and staff today, expressing solidarity for marginalized students and advocating for a multicultural education requirement. Casey said he would be holding a faculty meeting next Wednesday to discuss setting aside a school day for a campus-wide discussion of DePauw’s othering culture, as well as the possibility of implementing a multicultural requirement. Casey closed his e-mail with this excellent sentiment:

Some of you may find yourself thinking that the reported examples of racism, bias and insensitivity do not involve or represent you, that the DePauw described in these reports is not the DePauw that you know. It is precisely this disconnection that, I believe, presents us with a challenge and with real opportunity. That is the work ahead for us.

I am committed to the work that lies ahead, and I look forward to the university we can become.

Note to DePauw alumni: The Office of Alumni Engagement is currently hosting a massive drive for donations targeting GOLD alumni (Graduates Of the Last Decade). I threw them a few bucks today on behalf of Zac and me. When asked where I’d like my money to go, I checked the box labeled “student experience”. My hope is that my measly donation will go toward the creation of safe, intersectional spaces on campus. If you give, make it clear why you’re giving. When I speak with my alumni friends, we remember our time at DePauw fondly, but with the understanding (sometimes verbalized, often not), that things were amiss. It doesn’t need to be that way anymore. Vote with your dollars and add some of your own noise.