Re: Reverse racism is not a thing

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Since my last post about how reverse racism cannot and does not exist, I have received a lot of feedback on my blog. Overall, I’ve come to the conclusion that white people get really upset when you write about racism. The comments I received ranged from hateful and uninformed to constructive, and I’d like to address some of them here. Some comments were purely hate and not really saying anything of relevance, so I won’t be spending any time on those.

Firstly, I’d like to clarify the difference between individual racism vs. systematic racism. This was a constructive point that several people brought up. People of color experience racism on both an individual and systematic level. Individual racism includes blatant, intentional racism and unintentional racism and microaggressions. Systematic racism involves institutionalized discrimination that permeates our criminal justice system, healthcare, education, and more. White people, on the other hand, do not experience systematic and institutionalized racism. We are not oppressed in this way because we live in white supremacist society. White is the default race, the norm, while people of color are consistently devalued. While it is technically possible for white people to experience individual racism, it is highly unlikely and the consequences are not as serious. My point is that white people simply do not experience racism as people of color do, because white people (in America) do not have the same history of oppression.

A couple of people also brought up the fact the Irish people were once enslaved in America. While this is true, it doesn’t change the fact the oppression of African Americans is unique and is still relevant today. Irish people are no longer discriminated against – they are classified as white and therefore privileged. Black people, on the other hand, still face racism on a daily basis. It’s just not the same.

I also had many white people complain that I was “pointing fingers” and that they had never been given anything in their life that they didn’t earn with hard work! Let me be clear: pointing fingers was exactly what I was doing. I was pointing fingers at ignorant white people who refuse to acknowledge racism and white privilege. I’m calling you out on your shit. The fact that white males honestly believe they don’t have it easier than the rest of us is frankly hilarious. This is a refusal to examine one’s privilege and consider structural inequality. Many people became very defensive when they are called out on things like this, and if you are one of those people, I’ll ask you to consider why that is. Why is it that you feel like you are being attacked? My guess is that it’s uncomfortable to face your privilege and acknowledge that you are part of racist and sexist system that works in your favor but oppresses others.

When it comes to examining your privilege, it can be difficult but it is necessary. As white people, the least we can do is try not to be shitty to people of color. Part of this process involves simply thinking about the fact that you are accorded privileges because of your skin color. Think about the fact that your race is invisible and you are therefore unmarked and “normal.” Think about the fact that you don’t face oppression on a daily basis because of your skin color. Most importantly: do not play the victim and act as if you are somehow oppressed the way people of color are due to your race. Please, for the love of God.

Dear white people: Reverse racism is not a thing

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Because apparently, this bears repeating.

Reverse racism is not a thing. It does not exist. If it’s not already obvious why, let’s talk about the basics of structural inequality and hierarchy. In our society (currently and historically), people of color are systematically devalued. This devaluation results in institutionalized discrimination, aka institutionalized racism. Racism pervades our justice system, prison system, health system, education system etc. Racism also occurs on the individual level, whether intended or unintended. Sometimes people are hateful, other times they are just ignorant. The point is, people of color are systematically oppressed due to the color of their skin. White people, on the other hand, are not. We’re just. not.

Which brings me to white privilege. White people are privileged in ways that people of color are not because our race is “invisible” and “normal.” The best example, in my opinion, is the fact that white people do not have to think about their skin color on a daily basis. People of color, on the other hand, are constantly reminded of their skin color because they deal with oppression every day. The fact that I don’t even have to think about my skin color (unless I choose to) is a privilege. Simple as that. Other examples of white privilege include:

- I can count on seeing my race represented in just about any television show, commercial, or movie

-I will not be stopped and frisked on the street due to my skin color

-I will not be followed around in a store because of my skin color

-My intelligence will not be discounted because of my skin color

-I will not be arrested and thrown in jail because of my skin color

-I can ignore the fact that racism even exists

All of these things are privileges. Privileges that I did not earn, but was born with. If you are white, you have these privileges too. That white people can ignore that racism even exists is a tremendous luxury. Now, this is not to imply that white cannot have difficult lives. Of course, we can. But our problems are not a result of our skin color.  As a woman, I have to deal with sexism and gender inequality. But I am also white, middle class, and cisgender. Intersectionality is everything. And although I have personal struggles (i.e. losing my mother to cancer), this does not negate my white privilege. Just because life is hard for some white people, it does not mean that racism doesn’t exist, or that reverse racism does.

As a white person, you are not oppressed because of your skin color. Just because individual people may say that they “hate white people,” that does not make you oppressed.  You are constantly being affirmed by our culture and afforded privileges you did not earn due to your whiteness. People of color, on the other hand, deal with inequality on a daily basis and despite their individual strengths and ambitions, cannot escape the institutionalized racism that dominates American society (especially if they are poor and/or women). And let’s be real: the chances of someone hating you because you’re white are slim to none. They might hate you because you’re racist or ignorant, but that’s not because you are white. It’s because you’re an ignorant asshat.

When I think about slavery, segregation, Jim Crow, and the current state of inequality in America, the idea of “reverse racism” is laughable. White people do not have the history of enslavement and discrimination that people of color do, and therefore cannot be oppressed as a result of race. I really need white people to reevaluate and stop for a minute to listen to people of color. Just stop talking, and listen. Listen to the people who actually experience racism and stop pretending that you are oppressed for being white. Please and thank you.

*If you still need convincing, see –> How To Be A ‘Reverse-Racist’: An Actual Step by Step List For Oppressing White People for a satirical account of why reverse racism cannot and does not exist.

365 Gratitude Project: Day 3

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I swear I’m better at remembering to take my birth control pills than remembering to post these. Day 3!

I am so lucky to live in the incredible place that is Asheville, North Carolina. When I started looking at colleges, I knew I wanted to go out of state, but I also didn’t want to be too far away from home. My parents tried to encourage me to remain in-state (because money $$$) but eventually supported me in my decision to leave Georgia. I am so thankful they did and that they helped me get into the school of my choice: UNC Asheville. Without their emotional and financial support I would not be here (the scholarships and loans help too, of course). Asheville isn’t a perfect place, but it’s pretty darn awesome, and I definitely fit in here much better than in my hometown of Augusta, Georgia. The landscape is beautiful, art and music is everywhere, delicious vegetarian food abounds, and liberals and feminists are on every corner. If you know me, you’ll understand why this sounds just about perfect.

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I mean…I live here.

365 Gratitude Project: Day 2

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I’m already failing at this since I forget to post yesterday (whoops), but here’s Day 2!

I am beyond grateful for my roommate of three years and best friend, Alex. We were paired together by chance freshman year of college, and it turned out to be the perfect match. We’ve been roommates and best friends ever since, and I have no idea what I would do without her. Literally. I can’t even count the number of times she has had my back when I needed it most. When my mom was extremely ill she drove down to visit me without a second thought and was there to support me. She also arranged a call from Scott Avett (yes, Scott freakin’ Avett called me) which was pretty much the best day of my life. Our favorite hobby is to impersonate Lana del Rey, and even though we hate her, we know all of her songs. I’m so thankful that I met her three years ago and that she’s still part of my life.

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Isn’t she adorable?

“Risk Reduction” Doesn’t Stop Rape

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A few weeks ago I attended the first session of a RAD (Rape Aggression Defense) Self-Defense course for women. It was presented as something empowering and was promoted by the counseling center at my university, so my friend and I thought we’d try it out. Unfortunately, where we expected empowerment, we got victim-blaming. I was under the impression that self-defense could be taught in a way that didn’t walk the line of victim-blaming, but now I’m not so sure. Although the intentions in teaching self-defense are good, in the end it is not empowering to tell women that they can prevent themselves from being raped. It’s victim-blaming.

The class began with a PowerPoint presentation of “risk reduction” techniques. Slide after slide, we were given lists of things that we were supposed to do/not do. The advice became more and more absurd, from getting a specific kind of blinds for your windows to refusing help when your car is broken down on the side of the road. I was personally called out on one piece of advice: don’t ever answer your door if you’re not expecting someone. The instructor asked if any of us had ever done that, and I raised my hand. Just that week I had answered the door for a dishwasher repairman, whom I wasn’t expecting, but gladly let in because our dishwasher was broken. He was a perfectly pleasant man who fixed our dishwasher in less than five minutes. The instructor’s consequent reprimand and look of disbelief said to me, “How stupid are you for letting a stranger into your apartment?!” It seemed that the onus was one me if something bad were to happen, because I was foolish enough to answer the door.

Uh, nope. The only one ever responsible for a rape is the rapist. Needless to say, this interaction made me feel incredibly uncomfortable. I began to feel that the general message being portrayed was that as a woman, I should never trust anyone, especially men. And while this might be the “safe” thing to do, it is no way to live. All of the “advice” we are given only heightens our paranoia and makes women feel like they must do these things or be raped, which leads them believe that they are responsible for preventing it. In addition, the sheer amount of restrictions placed on women in the name of safety is absurd. Why should I have to consciously change the way I live and tiptoe around carefully just so my bodily autonomy isn’t violated? That’s bullshit. The behavior of the rapist is what needs to change, not mine.

After the first class, my friend and I did not go back. We both felt incredibly uneasy about it, and after I further examined my feelings I understand why. Insinuating that rape is preventable by anyone other than the rapist is not empowering. Because we live in a culture that continually puts the responsibility on women not to be raped, our focus does not need to be on self-defense. Our focus needs to be on the people perpetrating the crimes, and the society that allows these crimes to happen. As Anne Theriault writes so eloquently, “Rape is not an accident that happens to you because you didn’t take enough precautions or because you weren’t paying close enough attention. Rape is a deliberate choice for violence and harm made by another person.”

We’ve all heard the commonly given advice to women about what we shouldn’t do: don’t wear revealing clothing, don’t go out alone at night, don’t drink, don’t talk to strangers, etc. Like the advice given to me in class, this list equates to victim-blaming. When you get down to it, risk reduction often doesn’t even work because most rapists are acquaintances or romantic partners, rather than strangers in dark alleys. Not going out alone at night isn’t going to stop your boyfriend from raping you. Being sober isn’t going to stop anyone from assaulting you. The misconception that rape only occurs in some abstract scenario in a deserted alley perpetuates the myth that women can prevent their own assaults. In reality, this is simply not true. Even if you take every possible precaution, rape can still happen. And that is never your fault.

So I become very frustrated when I hear about the innovation of Anti-Rape Underwear and the call for women to moderate their drinking habits to avoid being raped.  These things only serve to keep the responsibility on women to prevent rape and sexual assault. What about educating men about the connection between alcohol and rape? The connection is an important one, but we won’t make any progress if we only include victims in the discussion. I see the Anti-Rape Underwear as a modern-day chastity belt that is completely unnecessary and misses the point entirely. The point, which continues to elude almost everyone, it seems, is that rapists bear the full responsibility for their crimes. The victim is never, ever to blame. Until our society begins to understand this, I will not be attending any more self-defense classes.

Virginity is Not a Thing

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The concept of virginity, though incredibly salient in our culture, is a social construct. When I say it is a social construct, I mean that there is no biological marker for being a “virgin” or not. Nothing distinguishes a virgin from a non-virgin besides the social stigma that is attached to each, respectively. So really, virginity shouldn’t be a thing. This is not to downplay its social influence however – the concept of virginity has serious consequences in society, especially for women.

Let’s start with “purity culture.” Purity culture is the set of social standards that tell women that there is virtue in remaining pure and refraining from taking part in sexual activities that will “dirty” their bodies and souls. Purity culture includes the notion that women should wait until marriage for sex. The roots of purity culture can be found in traditional Christian notions about sex. Oftentimes, young Christian girls will take a purity pledge and wear a purity ring to mark their chastity and commitment to God (and/or their father). The problem is not the personal decision of a woman to wait until marriage for sex, but rather a culture that mandates it. The idea that women must remain pure is incredibly damaging for several reasons. First of all, it creates the virgin/whore dichotomy in which women cannot win no matter what they do. We’re expected to remain pure while also satisfying the sexual needs of men. Not to mention the fact that women have their own sexual needs just as men do – but to fulfill one’s own needs as a woman is to be a whore. For a survivor of rape or sexual assault purity culture is especially damaging, because it tells them that they are no longer pure or whole. They are worth less because their virginity was taken from them, whether or not they consented to it.

The idea that a woman’s worth is dependent upon her sexual history is awful in so many ways, and purity culture only seeks to reinforce this message. Purity culture also perpetuates several falsities about the nature of sex. Primarily, that sex is one and only one thing: penetrative vaginal sex that requires a penis. This definition of sex only includes heterosexual people. In reality, there is no singular definition of sex. Sexual acts are many and varied, and they all count as sex. And when you take this into consideration, you have to wonder what exactly counts as “losing virginity”? If I don’t enjoy penetrative sex, does that mean that I am perpetually a virgin? What about the first time I had oral sex? Or the first time I was fingered? Does that count? What about lesbians? Are we to assume that they never have sex because a penis isn’t involved? When you get into the definition of virginity it gets messy, because sex is not just one thing. People enjoy sex in a variety of ways, and we’re not all heterosexual.

Another myth that purity culture teaches is that your “first time” will change your life. For the longest time I was terrified to “go all the way” because I thought I would be emotionally changed in some way and there would be no going back. This is just simply not true. Now that I know that virginity is not a thing, I realize how foolish I was. I don’t even know what my “first time” really was, and it certainly wasn’t life-changing in any major way. The problem with putting so much emphasis on one sexual act is that it diminishes the importance of all the others. Isn’t it more important to have meaningful and consensual experiences throughout your life? So what if your “first time” sucks. Realize that you’re not actually losing anything. It’s not going to make you a bad person or change who you are. You’ll likely have many more sexual experiences in your life and they’ll probably just get better and better.

Perhaps the most damaging thing about virginity is the idea that having it or not having it somehow defines who you are as a person. Even some of the most open-minded people I know talk about virgins as being a certain way as compared to non-virgins. Why does this distinction even need to be made? One’s sexual history should have absolutely no bearing on how they are perceived as a human being. Too often, women are judged under the criteria that virginity matters. It’s supposedly good to be “pure,” but you also run the risk of being labeled a prude. If you do choose to express yourself sexually, you’re immediately a slut or a whore, especially if you have sex with more than one person. The importance of virginity has a lot to do with misogyny, and this cannot be ignored. In reality, a woman’s sexual history has nothing to do with her inherent value as a human being. Unfortunately, society teaches us otherwise.

See also: Laci Green’s LET’S LOSE “VIRGINITY” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DIm1FK4MQ2w

Sexuality as fluid: smashing the binary

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In her book Contemporary Feminist Theory and Activism, Wendy Lynne Lee discusses six global issues that she sees as feminist undertakings, one of which is sexual identities. Specifically, she focuses on the problems caused by viewing sexuality as a binary and encourages us to see sexuality as fluid. She explains that anytime a binary exists, one member of the pair is devalued as inferior to the other: male/female, masculine/feminine, human/animal, white/black, us/them. So too is the case with sexuality – heterosexual is valued as superior to homosexual. In addition, the binary serves to erase all other identities in between the two poles of homosexual and heterosexual. This exclusionary nature of the binary is especially problematic. In the face of these issues, Lee asks us how we can move away from the binary and celebrate the fluidity of identity. I would argue that dismantling of the binary of sexual identities is important not only on a societal level, but also on an individual level. As we learn to understand sexuality as fluid and non-binary, we are able to open up to the possibility of new experiences and allow ourselves to explore. Through this exploration we find our true selves.

I believe that people often feel limited by the categorical options provided by the binary: gay or straight. And within those two options, only one is validated by society, which basically leaves you with no choice. For this reason, I think that many people automatically identify as straight because they’re told that it’s normal and natural. It is definitely safer and more comforting to feel like you are “normal.” From a very early age we are told, explicitly and implicitly, that we should be attracted to the opposite sex, and only the opposite sex. We internalize this message and many of us never question whether or not it actually reflects our true desires. Some people only realize it later in life, after starting a family with a spouse of the opposite sex.

In my own experience, I considered myself a straight woman until I got to college. I had always been attracted to men, and so I assumed that I was “normal” and heterosexual.  Occasionally I felt attracted to women, but I didn’t take it seriously and never dated anyone who was not a cisgender male. When I came to college everything changed. Through my feminist and gender studies classes I learned that sexuality is, in fact, fluid. I learned that gender is fluid as well and that people identify in many different ways, often outside of the binary. I learned to question my long-time assumption that I could only be attracted to cis males. What if that wasn’t true? I had never been open to the possibility before, but now I let myself explore. I dated a transitioning transgender man who helped me better understand my sexuality. I learned that genitals were not something that mattered to me in my feelings for and attraction to others. This was a revelation to me, and I opened up to the idea of dating people who were not men. When I found myself attracted to women, I let my feelings develop instead of pushing them away. Through sexuality workshops I learned about all different kinds of sexualities, sexualities that I didn’t even know existed. I saw that the binary did not encompass the true diversity of human experience. I now identify as pansexual, and it feels very liberating to finally break out of the straight “box” that I was in for so long. Because I don’t fit in a tidy box anymore, however, it can be difficult and awkward to explain my dating preferences to people. Most people see sexuality as binary, so it is confusing for them when I mention being open to dating women as well as men. The boxes that we so often force people into makes things more complicated than they are – sexuality is fluid and just can’t be easily categorized.

When people are given the opportunity to explore their sexual identity beyond preconceived notions that they are fed by society, something very empowering occurs. This individual empowerment is incredibly important and leads to the need for societal emancipation as well. As Lee asserts, we can only reach this freedom through a total paradigm shift. We must learn to understand sexuality as fluid and embrace sexual identities that are outside of the binary. This also involves creating visibility for identities that are often silenced and ignored, such as bisexual and asexual individuals. To fully move away from a heternormative society, we must leave behind the gay-straight binary that both perpetuates inequality and erases the identities of so many other people. Amidst the conservative political effort to constitutionalize heterosexuality, these issues are as pressing and relevant as ever.