Suggested reading — insightful sites that are currently on my reading list

Blogrolls are supposed to be a sort of promotion of other stuff one reads and stuff that’s interesting, but I feel like my reading is never that stable and I’d have to update the blogroll once a month to have it representative. There’s really only maybe 3 sites I visit regularly, and it’s often not for the reading but for the socializing. Maybe instead I should do occasional “what blogs/sites have I recently been reading” posts instead, pointing out interesting blogs I’ve discovered. Today, I’d like to feature the following sites for that purpose:

1) written by Tressie McMillan Cottom (@tressiemcphd). From her bio:

Woman. Friend. Daughter. Scholar. Armchair activist. Hell-raiser. Intellectual Catfish.* Not particularly in that order.

I am also a PhD student in sociology at Emory University where I study education, inequality, and organizations. My research has surveyed for-profit students and the organizational mechanisms of the for-profit college sector. . My questions are less who and what and more why and how. Why are so many black students enrolled in for-profit colleges? So many women? How do status competition and stratification processes intersect with labor and economic structural change to produce these patterns?

As of Fall 2013 I am a Graduate Fellow at the Center for Poverty Research at UC-Davis. I am examining poverty policy and credential seeking. I cover highered debates at Slate and write about inequality, race, gender from time to time.

2) written by Trudy (‏@thetrudz) From her bio:

I’m a 34-year-old Black woman who identifies as Jamaican Black (yes, Black is the noun, H/T to Nikki Giovanni). I am cisgender and identify as an ace; asexual, heteroromantic to be exact. I am a Womanist who includes Black feminism and intersectional feminism in my social justice work and writing, but Womanism most accurately speaks to my collective sociopolitical framework for anti-oppression praxis. (I reject the use of “social justice” as a dismissive label when I happen write about my personal life.) Politically, I identify as neither Republican (barf) nor Democrat (Zzz). My political leanings are very Left, but that includes intersectionality and a plethora of perspectives, not solely raceless conversations about class. I identify as an agnostic atheist but still very connected to Black culture in most ways though zero interest in monotheisms and I try to have nuanced perspective on non-Eurocentric, Afrocentric theisms and deities. Though I am an atheist, I am not interested in White supremacist atheism either.

I am college-educated. I have a Master’s degree in Criminal Justice and I completed 2 years of additional graduate work in Psychology and Mental Health Counseling. I studied race, gender and adolescent mental health/education and I have a lot of interest in how media/culture impact this. I studied Behavioral and Social Sciences at the baccalaureate level. (It’s a NO on pursuing a Ph.D.)

3) written by Suey (@suey_park). Short bio: “Freelance Writer. Organizer. Graduate Student.”

4) newly started by Natalie Reed (@nataliereed84). From her bio:

Natalie Reed is a queer trans grrl, (…)-survivor, former addict, writer and activist currently living in Vancouver, BC. This is a space for thoughts and writing on feminism, gender theory, trans and queer rights, rape/abuse issues, addiction and drug issues, other social justice concerns such as sex worker and prisoners’ rights, and also pop culture, comics and other stuff, as it occurs to her. Intersections of various political and cultural issues are a particular interest.

5) which is a news site “where race matters, featuring award-winning investigative reporting and news analysis. Colorlines is published by Race Forward, a national organization that advances racial justice through research, media and practice.”

Reactions to Nelson Mandela’s death

Nelson Mandela died yesterday. This prompted reactions pretty much everywhere, because if nothing else, the whole media-accessible world agrees that he’s a memorable and comment-worthy man. The most frequent reactions so far seem to fall roughly into three categories: right-wingers who hate his guts; right-wingers trying to appropriate him; and liberals trying to appropriate him.
This is where, usually, the “the liberal appropriation is worst” or”at least the right-wingers are honest” sort of stuff goes, but that’s crap. These are all crappy reactions to the death of Mandela. Yes, the right-wingers are the least wrong when they scream about what a communist and terrorist he was, since a)he worked closely with communists and believed freedom from poverty was a human right; and b)was the leader of a “terrorist”*/guerrilla organization before his arrest. But lauding them for that is a bit like lauding the fucker who smeared shit all over the bathroom for getting some of that shit into the toilet as well: the right-wing calls everyone they hate a terrorist and communist, sooner or later they were bound to hit someone who actually can be labeled like that with decent accuracy.
I’m not gonna bother saying much about right wing politicians appropriating Mandela. Because what exactly can I say about e.g. Santorum using his name in his battle against healthcare for poor people that doesn’t just speak for itself? I’ll just leave this handy list here, and also this UK-themed text-image**, and move on.
As for liberals appropriating Mandela? That has two parts. The first is people like Bill Clinton “remembering” Mandela as a friend, when he was still on the terrorist watchlist during Clinton’s presidency; when his administration did a lot to harm the new South Africa. I’m not saying Clinton didn’t think of himself as a friend, but you know… he was probably that kind of a friend; the kind that makes enemies superfluous; and now? Now he gets to bask in reflected glory. Swell.
In the long term, the second part is even worse. The second part is where the owners of history re-write Mandela’s biography as more palatable, squishy, cuddly, liberal-friendly. Now begins the same process that scrubbed all radicalism from the memory of MLK; the kind that takes the fact that after release from prison he chose not to be an agent of vengeance but of reconciliation and extends it beyond all reason to calling Mandela a symbol of “the power of peaceful resolution in even the most intractable conflicts” as a New York Times piece just did. No. As a note circulating the internet said:

Nelson Mandela used peaceful means when he could, and violent means when he couldn’t. For this, during his life they called him a terrorist, and after his death they’ll call him a pacifist — all to neutralize the revolutionary potential of his legacy, and the lessons to be drawn from it.

And his Unwillingness to reject the sometime need for violent resistance “when other forms of resistance were no longer open” is not the only part of his legacy that’s being erased. His left-wing politics, his anti-imperialism and anti-Americanism*** are all being erased (which gets us back to the part where a man like Bill Clinton gets to remember his version of Mandela; in public, for the public memory), smoothed out to make him more palatable as a hero for the still-existing kyriarchy.

There’s a 4th kind of common reaction to Mandela’s death: the people who are trying to set the record straight. Writers and commenters reminding people of the “radical histories of Mandela and MLK”, reminding them that “Mandela Was No Care Bear”, that he was an Unapologetic Radical, that he “will never, ever be your minstrel”, that “Conservatives Can Own Reagan, But You Don’t Get Mandela”, that “leadership knows how and when to follow and how and when to be unpopular; that resistance can not always be non-violent; and that perseverance is the cornerstone of revolution”. A few of the people doing these corrections do so because they think his radicalism and acceptance of sometime violence was a flaw that must be remembered; far more (I hope) will point out that sometimes oppression cannot be ended solely by non-violence, solely by clinging to civility and a moral high-ground built entirely to favor the status-quo in maintaining itself.

P.S.: A Mandela Reading List I didn’t manage to stuff anywhere into the body of this essay.

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*in the sense it’s often used, meaning private persons or organization using violence and/or property-destruction as methods to fight against established governments
**if you can’t see the UK-themed image, it says

Mandela will die soon. Today, tomorrow, this week, next week. It won’t be long. Remember this.
When Cameron latches on the Mandela bandwagon this week remember that in 1985 he was a top member of the Federation of Conservative Students, who produced the “Hang Mandela” posters.
In 1989 Cameron worked in the Tory Policy Unit at Central Office and went on an anti-sanctions fact finding mission to South Africa with pro-apartheid Lobby Firm that was sponsored by P.W Botha.
Remember this when he tells the world he was inspired by Mandela

***in the Cold War, the USA was on the side of the Apartheid regime; the USSR on the other hand sided with the ANC. Such are the vagaries of history.

Transgender Day of Remembrance and Transgender Awareness Week

This post really should have happened last Monday, at the beginning of Transgender Awareness Week, which was Nov 11th – 17th. So I massively failed there. OTOH there’s really never such a thing as the wrong time to make people aware of an axis of oppression, the consequences of that oppression, and the way in which it is being fought and the ways in which allies can make themselves useful.

November 20th specifically is Trans Day of Remembrance, a day to honor the memory of victims of lethal transphobic violence. GLAAD publishes a long but probably non-exhaustive list memorializing trans people who were murdered every year. They are mostly women, and most of them are women of color. Monica at Transgriot wrote two amazing blog posts on this. 238 names is about remembrance being not just passive experience of mourning, but about the active anger, about being “fed up” with all the things that lead up to there being over 200 trans people being murdered and needing this commemoration; Thinking About The Girls Like Us Who Didn’t Get A TDOR Memorial is about memorializing trans women who were killed before there was ever a TDoR. Another amazing post on the Transgender Day of Remembrance was written by Emily at Planting Rainbows. In her post Al Heyt for Transgender Day of Remembrance, she applies a Jewish tradition to the act of remembrance, transforming it from an act of mere listing and memorializing of names to an act of recognition of the sociocultural patterns we all engage in and with that lead to these deaths and to other violent acts against trans people.

What TDoR unfortunately also often is, is the one and only day a year that cis people remember victims of anti-trans violence at all. And I’m not excluding myself from that, since I’ve been extremely neglectful in writing about anti-trans violence and also about the trans-eliminationist sociocultural patterns that make that violence common, invisible, and socially acceptable to the point of being able to walk away from it unpunished.
I have, for one example, not written about the clusterfuck going on in California (and Colorado), in which the passage of a law giving students the right to the use of sex-segregated facilities in accordance with their gender identity, rather than listed gender has caused transphobes (primarily as represented by the ex-gay group Pacific Justice Institute) to start a prolonged and toxic shitfit to attempt to a)stop the law from taking effect in January, and b)put it on the 2014 ballot in an attempt to repeal it by popular vote. Transadvocate has been writing about this for months, documenting the lies and assertions that posit the very presence of trans children as a threat to cis people; the support for the anti-AB1266 campaign by trans-exclusive feminists; the fraud and scaremongering involved in gathering signatures for the repeal; etc. This clusterfuck? Prime example of what trans-eliminationist sociocultural patterns look like: it’s a law protecting small children from discrimination, but the very presence of those children is interpreted as violence against cis people. This isn’t the only example of course; they gay-panic defense is a more well-know version of this. There are many other, subtle as well as extremely blatant patterns that make up our anti-trans culture (some of which are described in the essay from Planting Rainbows linked above). Trans-eliminationism functions in many ways that parallel rape culture: where rape culture creates an environment in which rape is the victim’s fault and rape is minimized or not allowed to be recognized as rape, and consequently rape ends up very common, invisible, and consequence-free for the perpetrator (but double-victimizing for the victims), trans-eliminationism creates an environment in which the trans identity is being seen as an attack, moving victim-blaming further still, to the point where a trans person is definitionally excluded from innocence (thus re-framing all anti-trans aggression as self-defense, but all self-defense by trans people as aggression, as happened for example in CeCE McDonald’s case). And of course, trans people and especially trans women have to live in a culture that’s both a rape culture and a trans-eliminationist culture.

So: let’s remember the victims of anti-trans violence. And let’s also act to distrupt and eventually destroy the toxic patterns that make up trans-eliminationist culture, so that there will be fewer and fewer such victims in the future.

In which I fansquee over my favorite talk at Skepticon

I wasn’t going to do a roundup of talks and workshops of Skepticon, because that stuff Is generally well taken care of by the folks at Skepchick and FTB.


Dr. Monica Miller‘s talk, titled “I Got 99 Problems But God Ain’t One: Hip Hop and Humanism’s New Black Godz” was fucking amazing. And I almost didn’t go, because I don’t music in general, and Hip Hop specifically doesn’t figure at all in my life. So I didn’t think I was going to get much out of that particular event. But I stayed and was glad for it. It was an hour of sociology and cultural analysis beyond the 101-level of explaining to people what “socially constructed” means, and because neither the topic nor the particular perspective on it were something I was familiar with, it was one of these talks in which I felt my brain re-arranging its well-worn ways of thinking about humanism.

Her talk was a discussion of how a humanism can be expressed with religious language, without actually talking about old bearded dudes in the sky etc. Specifically she talked about the way hip hop uses “god talk”, meaning religious imagery and language, to express non-religious, humanist ideas, e.g. criticism of class and race structures, as well as criticism of organized religion*. She mentioned that the history of this practice goes back to the slave spirituals which used religious/biblical language to talk about the very here-worldly topic of fleeing north and described this as a dominant language or framework being pushed on an oppressed people. That framework didn’t get rejected but subverted instead, put to a use different from the one the Christian framework serves/served in the dominant community. In the talk, Dr. Miller also notes that she is suspicious of statistics about the religiosity of America’s black communities, which show black Americans to be extremely religious. The interpretation of religion and the religious framework as a subverted and re-purposed thing which she presented in this talk is one way to think about this supposed religiosity: that despite superficial appearances, it’s not actually always about some “god” out there, but about “gods” in humanity; that it is humanism, expressed through god talk.

What was interesting to me at a more personal level was her self-description as both a functionalist and a deconstructionist. Most of the functionalism I’ve been familiar with until now has tended to view society as a more-or-less unified whole with structures that function for the purposes of society as that unified whole***. A functionalist who focuses on non-dominant groups, and especially on the functions of dominant structures as subverted and re-purposed by the subaltern is deeply fascinating to me. Or, as the Internet used to say, “I am intrigued by [her] ideas and would like to subscribe to [her] newsletter”. Which I can. Because she’s on twitter and she writes at Culture on the Edge, and she wrote a book**** which I have and shall read shortly, and she also wrote this paper and this paper, which I’d also love to read but can’t cuz the university finally yanked my library access *coughhintcough*.

Most importantly though, I hope to see more of Dr. Monica Miller at skeptic and atheist events. Because she’s awesome and her ideas are awesome and she’s a great speaker.[/fansquee]

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*The complete list of songs/videos in the talk:
No Church In the Wild, New Slaves, I am A God, Picasso Baby, and Heaven. For those who can’t do video, or like me can’t process language in music very well, here are the lyrics in text: No Church in The Wild**, New Slaves, I Am A God, Picasso Baby, and Heaven

**Note the Euthyphro dilemma :-)

***with the sole exception of the essay on the Uses of Poverty(pdf), which goes through the effort of distinguishing between benefits to society as a whole, and benefits to the dominant groups within it.

****the price is so high because it qualifies as an academic book/textbook. We don’t make the rules, we just suffer from them.

Republicans switching parties isn’t a good thing

What I run into occasionally in my facebook feed etc. are gleeful stories about some Republican or another switching parties because the GOP has become to extreme for him (so far, it’s always been a “him”, at least as far as I’m aware). And while I’m sure these stories are entertaining, and maybe even vindicate people in their opinion that the GOP has made an extreme shift rightwards, I don’t actually think this is a good development.

To explain this, let me backtrack a bit and first talk a bit about the U.S. political system and its parties a bit. The way voting is set up in the U.S. by its constitution, all of it is stuck at single-member districts in which candidates are elected to represent a region, not ideas*. As the wikipedia article notes, that tends to lead to two-party systems, with maybe an occasional 3rd party cropping up. Historically, in the U.S. 3-party situations tend to be unstable though and either an old party collapses, or the small 3td-party does, and either way you end up very quickly with only 2; and today even that much flexibility doesn’t exist, because the 2 parties are basically very rich and powerful political corporations, and the country is still suffering a 2000 election hangover and consequent allergy to everything 3rd-party. In other words, barring a complete collapse of the current political structure, the U.S. is stuck with the Republican Party, and the Democratic Party.
What this means in the context of Republicans leaving and becoming Democrats is that after all the “moderately” conservative people leave, the Republican party is not going to collapse under the mass of its epistemic black hole (at least not without causing the aforementioned collapse of the political structure), and the Democratic Party is not going to split into one moderately conservative and one progressive party**. Instead, by having people fall off the “left” edge of the Republicans and onto the right edge of the Democrats, the entire system shifts rightward even more, by making both parties just that little bit more conservative. And that’s just the obvious and immediate bad result. Another bad consequence is that when these former Republicans run for (re-)election, they will no longer be competing in primaries against other Republicans, i.e. people more to the right of them; they’ll instead be competing against Democrats, usually people to the left of them. That means whenever one of these guys ends up going into the general election, he does so instead of a more leftish candidate.

So what I’m saying is: unless these dudes have actually changed their minds and genuinely shifted leftwards rather than have the GOP shift rightwards away from them, I don’t want them changing parties; I want them to stay where they are and force the Republican party to be more like them and less like the teafucks. There’s nothing to celebrate when these guys change parties, because all that does is speed up the rightward shift of the US.

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* Although, my entirely non-lawyery reading of the U.S. Constitution failed to find a requirement for congressional districts voting for one representative; AFAICT the relevant parts (Article 1 Section 2; 14th Amendment Section 2) only say that the number of representatives would be determined by population in some way. For the states that currently have one representative this makes no difference, but there’s states with many representatives, and I’m not sure there’s a constitutional reason not to apportion a state’s seats proportionally after a state-wide election, rather than with district-level elections for a single representative.
OTOH, doing it that way would probably cause an even greater imbalance in the relative over-importance given to low-population states.
And while I’m at it, I’m not sure there’s a constitutional requirement for First Past The Goalpost voting, instead of preferential voting systems where you pick your top 3 candidates. Which could also help undo the 2-party-default, but are oddly unpopular at least in the media for some reason.

** Not that all people cheering at Republicans becoming Democrats necessarily think this, it’s just that believing something like that is one of a very few reasons I can think of to cheer this development. Some others I can think of are treating party politics like sports, and Rs leaving to become Ds means your team is winning; and thinking that Rs leaving means they’re becoming more moderate.

“women” didn’t

When Obama won re-election, the media story went that “women voters” rejected Romney because of his stance on reproductive rights*. This framing is not a false claim in itself; women as a group really were more likely to vote for Obama than for Romney (55% and 44% respectively). And since many sites that present demographic stats on such elections are doing so by sorting people into single-demographic-marker categories**, that tends to look like the entirety of the story. But it isn’t. When you take apart these large demographic lumps, as CNN did here, it becomes obvious that “women voters” didn’t vote as a block at all. Only 42% of white women voted for Obama, while 96% of black women and 76% of Latina voters did; they’re the ones who won the “women vote” for Obama***

Why am I bringing this up now, a year after the presidential election?

Because the same narrative about “women voters” is being dragged out to explain the Virginia Governor race which Ken Cuccinelli just lost and in which according to the exit polls(pdf) barely over half the women voted for the Democrat in the race. Such articles were being written before the race (and Rachel Maddow talked about the gender gap as well), but the election results show a much smaller gap than had been predicted. And yet, despite that tiny number, people are writing articles again about how “women” elected the Democratic candidate****. Granted, they’re a bit more nuanced this time than during the presidential race, actually looking a bit deeper at the demographics; but the overall narrative and the headlines stay the same. Even though white women, again, voted for the Republican candidate (54%), while only 38% of them voted for the Democrat.

What bothers me about the narrative of “Women” deciding these elections is not that they’re not strictly speaking true; statistically they’re true but incomplete. What bothers me is that the narrative exemplified in these articles then gets picked up by individual white women as well as organizations with few minority women as a story about a collective “us” that voted for Democrats (or against Republicans) that completely erases the regressiveness of the average white woman voter as well as the heavy lifting done by progressive minority women; a heavy lifting done in the face of ongoing voter suppression, to boot. This appropriation of positive actions is in many ways the twin of the appropriation of violence statistics in which a too large demographic “we” is made out to be victims of violence, when most of the incidences come from oppressed groups within that huge demographic but they are used as talking points to promote the agenda of the (relatively) dominant groups within it.

Not only is this erasure and appropriation rather disgusting in itself, it will also assure a complete lack of self-reflection, a lack of trying to figure out how to stop the white, wealthier, and/or married women from voting against the interests of all other women, and to some degree even against their own. There will be too little analysis of race and class, even though they are so eminently relevant to why a particular group of women keeps on voting for the most toxic candidates available.

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*for example, here, here, and here

**like this one orthis one

***and by the way, the same thing was true for the “youth vote”, since only 44% of white 20-somethings voted for Obama.

****for example here and here