Thursday, April 28, 2011

I Need to Borrow a REALLY Small Violin, Please

TW for homophobia and transphobia, including use of slurs and references to violence

Via a university newspaper, I first became aware a couple of days ago of a proposed Texas state budget provision "requiring state colleges and universities that use state funds to support 'a gender and sexuality center' to spend an equal amount to promote 'family and traditional values'." The amendment was proposed by Representative Wayne Christian and passed by a margin of 110-24. Christian identified the source of his consternation as centers "for students focused on gay, lesbian, homosexual, bisexual, pansexual, transsexual, transgender, gender questioning, or other gender identity issues."

Inside Higher Ed has more on the story, including the observation that "Lawmakers supporting the bill have said that they favor only equal time for all kinds of sexuality" (Because cisgender heterosexual people aren't getting their fair share of time or money... or something).

But the Inside Higher Ed article and the school newspaper make it clear that other supporters are honest about their ultimate goal--getting rid of centers "that serve gay and lesbian students":
[T]he Young Conservatives of Texas, a group that worked with Christian on the legislation, did so with the hope that public colleges would respond to a law, if the bill passes, by ending support for existing centers. Tony McDonald, senior vice chairman of the group and a law student at UT Austin, said in an interview that "we could try to get these groups defunded" in a law, but that the equal funding approach was viewed as more likely to pass (perhaps with the same impact).

And from the school newspaper:
"State funding and student fees should not fund any university minority or political group whether it be black, white, gay, etc," John McClellan, Christian's Chief of Staff, said. "This amendment is just one step in the process towards getting rid of these centers."

The argument seems to be that traditional family values*, whatever the hell those are, and heterosexuality are in danger because of a conspiracy to "promote" homosexuality. Wherein promoting homosexuality is roughly equivalent to daring to exist as a gay person.

Poor Tony McDonald of the Young Conservatives of Texas is distraught that ""If I were to walk through UT law school with a shirt on that said, 'Homosexuality is immoral,' if I were to do that, there would be an uproar. People would be upset, and it would be considered out of place and not acceptable to do that. I'd probably get a talking to. But if you go through campus to promote homosexuality, that is the norm."

See how equivalent these things are? Being gay or supporting a university gender and sexuality center is the same as walking around wearing a t-shirt that actively promotes a hostile climate and condemns/others people.

Again, I ask where does this shit come from--these ideas that the most privileged people in our society are persecuted simply by the presence of truly marginalized people who are refusing to stay confined to those margins?! According to the article, students indicated that they just want "to create 'an equal playing field' for those who may disagree with the gay center."

Because the playing field at universities is so obviously leveled in a way that unfairly benefits gay students.

Dear Mr. McDonald, despite your (un)righteous indignation, as the Inside Higher Ed and the linked Texas Observer articles point out, there are things you will probably never have to worry about:

1. Grown ass lawmakers won't "crack jokes and guffaw" when discussing your sexuality or gender identity.

2. As the program co-ordinator for the center at Texas A & M notes,
I have never heard of any student who took their life because their college roommate outed them as being a heterosexual student.


I have never had a student come up and complain that someone comes up and out of the blue calls them a 'hetero' and slapped them, but that happens to my students, who are called 'dyke' and 'fag.'

3. No one is ever going to accuse you of promoting heterosexuality just because you exist.

4. I agree with the Observer that you probably won't have these worries on the first day you're on campus:
How will he fit in? Should he tell his new roommate about his alternative hetero lifestyle? Will he be bullied, just like he was in high school, where he was mercilessly teased for being a sexual deviant? Where does a straight person turn?

No, you'll bounce through life willfully oblivious to the ways that heterosexuality is promoted, via everything from media outlets to tax benefits, imagining yourself egregiously put out and put upon.

But it's everyone else that has a "grievance-based" identity, right?
*It would've taken another post to unpack the ongoing assumption that only people who are straight and cisgender (and to a certain extent, married/aspiring to be married) have family values and that "traditionally"/historically no one but those people have existed--I find the term "traditional" neatly and conveniently disappears the lives and experiences of a whole lot of people.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Pull Over, that Ass Is Too Black!

When I first turned on the internet this morning and realized that President Obama had released the long-form version of his birth certificate, verifying that he was, indeed, born in Hawai'i, my first sarcastic thought was, "Bet some people finally regretting how we stole Hawai'i now."

Beyond my sarcasm, though, I think the president has set a horrible precedent. I mean, on a grand scale, he just got pulled over and asked to show papers proving his citizenship. I could be optimistic, I suppose, and think, "Well, maybe now he'll take a firmer stand on the treatment of immigrants and other people of color who are harassed, badgered, interrogated and violated every single day over questions of citizenship. Maybe he'll have this as a reference point." But optimism is not my strong suit.

He is supposed to be, as we so smugly and arrogantly love to say, the most powerful man in the world. This should be a lesson as to how that power is negated? mitigated? birthergated? by race and the equation of "Americanness" with "whiteness." In releasing that birth certificate, President Obama not only validated current problematic (understatement!) immigration policies, he conceded to the historical demand for people of color to "prove" their citizenship and that they deserve access to political and civil rights.

And why? He can't really believe the people who even posit shit like this will ever be satisfied or accepting of his presidency. Instead of saying, "I'm tired of this shit, it's ridiculous, so here is proof," he should've been saying, "I'm tired of this shit, it's ridiculous, and I won't engage with it."

I don't understand how you validate the extremists in the "other" party while always scornfully chiding the so-called extremists (ahem, perhaps actual progressives?) in your own.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Endangered White Men: The Saga Continues!

In a Newsweek article more accurately described as a lamentation on the possible loss of privilege, Rick Maren and Tony Doukopil explore the plight of the "Beached White Male.” More specifically, they continue the ever popular myth of "the endangered white man.” From the article:
Brian Goodell, of Mission Viejo, Calif., won two gold medals in the 1976 Olympics. An all-American, God-fearing golden boy, he segued into a comfortable career in commercial real estate. Until 2008, when he was laid off. As a 17-year-old swimmer, he set two world records. As a 52-year-old job hunter, he’s drowning.

Brock Johnson, of Philadelphia, was groomed at Harvard Business School and McKinsey & Co., and was so sure of his marketability that he resigned in 2009 as CEO of a Fortune 500 company without a new job in hand. Johnson, who asked that his real name not be used, was certain his BlackBerry would be buzzing off its holster with better offers. At 48, he’s still unemployed.

Two coasts. Two men who can’t find jobs. And one defining moment for the men in the gray flannel suits who used to run this country. Or at least manage it.
Capitalism has always been cruel to its castoffs, but those blessed with a college degree and blue-chip résumé have traditionally escaped the worst of it. In recessions past, they’ve kept their jobs or found new ones as easily as they might hail a cab or board the 5:15 to White Plains. But not this time.


The same guys who once drove BMWs, in other words, have now been downsized to BWMs: Beached White Males.

The theme throughout the article is that the effects of the “Mancession” are suddenly more alarming because people like this--Ivy-league educated, BMW driving, white men--might be suffering, too!

I don’t know rightly where to start or stop with this article because it is so very, very loaded. Maren and Doukopil really used the phrase “All American… golden boy.” They really casually reference the easy way in which white men "hail a cab," an un-innocent choice of words, an invocation of the sorts of things white men have been able to take for granted, given cab drivers' well-documented reluctance and outright refusal to stop for men of color. They really suggest that white men used to run the country, as if the presidency of Barack Obama renders invisible the makeup of Congress, the court system, the governorships, business leaders… well, you know. But most disturbingly, they really imply that the situation created by the recession is unfair, not solely because these men “deserve” security because they are educated or made good career choices (that would be problematic enough in and of itself given the unequal access to education and work opportunities, but I digress), but they “deserve” better because they are white and male.

See, the endangered white man myth does not solely rest on the zero-sum argument that white men are increasingly disadvantaged in this country by the gains of women and people of color. The myth is also fed by the fear that being white and male will no longer bring all the old advantages. Claiming that white men are suffering unfairly or disproportionately is the not-so-subtle code for, “Ahh! The old system of privilege is being dismantled and we want to hold onto it!” Many white men have come to see the benefits of the privileging of whiteness and maleness as their due, as rights to which they are entitled. When that privilege seems even remotely challenged, when the systems that have upheld and institutionalized their "exceptionalism" seem no longer to do so, the result is a "real" crisis, i.e. one felt by the people deemed most important in society.

And so, Maren and Dokoupil inform us that the term “ ‘socioeconomically disadvantaged populations’… now includes white males.” This operates at once, as an acknowledgement of class and an ahistorical disappearance of generations of poor and working class white men, commensurate, I guess, with their focus on the plight of white men with the most social privilege. They speculate on the devastating effects the recession may have on the mental health and well-being of these men who might feel less-than-men. And they equate (their problematic definition of) manhood solely with the experiences and existence of upper class white men as they wonder, “Can manhood survive the lost decade?”

The power of the endangered white man myth lies partially in its ability to obscure the plight of people who really are suffering inordinately. In this case, in an admittedly terrible economy in which white men are struggling, they still have relative privilege to everyone else, who are also struggling, but even worse. For example, the alarming statistic around which the Newsweek article is organized is this: “Through the first quarter of 2011, nearly 600,000 college-educated white men ages 35 to 64 were unemployed, according to previously unpublished Labor Department stats. That’s more than 5 percent jobless.”

Y’all… when I looked quickly at BLS statistics for March 2011, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for white men 20 and over was 7.7% For black men in the same age group, it was 16.8%

But Newsweek makes it clear to whom we should direct our attention and concern. For the last few years, we have been repeatedly told that the effects of this recession are somehow made more damaging because it purportedly affects men more than women. Now, we learn, its even worse than we thought because it is affecting the men who matter most.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

My Child, Son of a Sistorian

Yesterday, on our way to basketball practice, my son and I were treated to the delightful sound of Rihanna... umm... "singing" S & M.

"I hate this stupid ass song," I said.

"Mama," he countered, in that tone that lets me know a dig is probably about to be made about my age or total lack of coolness, "this is a good song!"

"Boy, please."

"It is! The only part that's bad is when she says 'chains and whips excite me.'"

I looked at him out of the corner of my eye, half afraid to ask why he thought that particular line was bad. I just knew he was going to reveal some knowledge about bondage or sex that I wasn't ready for him to have, much less discuss with his fragile-flower mama. But, of course I asked, "Why that line?"

"Mama! Chains and whips excite me? How she gone say that? She needs to think about her history. I bet they didn't excite her ancestors!"
Revelations and ruminations from one southern sistorian...