Using Privilege as Tool of Resistance

This blog is intended to be a resource sharing space as well as a place to share personal ideas and continue the conversation around how to dismantle the systems of oppression and privilege that dominate all of our realities.

I am a straight white male, who firmly believes that we all need to fight against injustice, even if it benefits us in the short term. Even as someone who benefits in my daily life from white privilege, male privilege, able-bodied privilege, heterosexual privilege, among others, I know these systems are actually destroying me and my ability to connect with the world around me.

Having said that, I wish for this space to be anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-heterosexist, anti-ableist, as well as critical of the system which serves as the root of all exploitation: capitalism and its historically similar systems.

The United States is in favour of stability. But you have to remember what stability means. Stability means conformity to US orders. So, for example, one of the charges against Iran, the big foreign policy threat, is that it is destabilising Iraq and Afghanistan. How? By trying to expand its influence into neighbouring countries. On the other hand, we “stabilise” countries when we invade them and destroy them.

—Noam Chomsky, ‘Power Systems: Conversations on Global Democratic Uprisings and the New Challenges to US Empire’ (via indizombie)

(via amodernmanifesto)

The Other Side of Privilege - Jordan, Trayvon, Renisha and the Justice System’s Attempts to Destroy Black Livelihood

I really don’t have much to add to the ongoing conversation about Jordan Davis, I feel as if there is a lot of information out there written by a lot of well-informed and talented writers (this is a particularly good one - Unpacking the History of Black Loudness).  I did want to throw my 2 cents in as I have found my mind preoccupied with this incident and am not sure how to process it except to try to write it out.

Most of the conversation about this incident is around the idea that Black lives are not valued in this country, and this is exactly where the conversation should be.  We need to be sure that we are connecting this event (along with the events of the murders of Trayvon Martin, Jonathan Ferrell, Renisha McBride, and many others) to the killings, arrests and torture of Black bodies throughout the past 400 years.  

While it is easy to see the effects of white supremacy on our society, it is also easy to detach the historical creation of race from this picture. 

While juries in both the Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis cases were told that they could not consider race in both of these trials, it is difficult to imagine that these cases would have even happened, if it had not been for the historical creation of race. 

Of course during the enslavement of Africans on this continent, white people could treat Black people however they wanted to because they were property.  After legal emancipation, Black bodies were enslaved again, but this time by the convict leasing system and a system of sharecropping that lead to white ownership of land and production relations almost mirroring slavery (except in name).  Black men could be arrested for walking close to the railroad tracks, for selling vegetables at the wrong time of the day, for allegedly looking at a white woman (source: Slavery By Another Name ). 

Today the civil rights act and 14th amendment tell us that legally we are all protected under the law, yet time and time again we see white murderers go free after taking the life of a young Black person.  This time, the killer, Howard Dunn, shot into a car full of unarmed Black teenagers and then continued firing on them as they drove away.  Instead of calling the police (he later told investigators that he saw Jordan with a shotgun inside the car) to tell them about a car full of teenagers armed with a shotgun, him and his wife went to a nearby hotel ordered a pizza and drank some rum and cokes (source democracynow.org).  Obviously, Mr. Dunn was feeling very remorseful and clearly felt threatened (he never called the police during or after this entire altercation…and the teenagers in the car were suspicious?!?).

To flip the script a bit, this story also made me think about my life and how deeply engrained privilege is.  Literally my skin color has saved my life.  Sure, not all Black men are in danger at all times in this country, but they are at a substantially greater risk to be killed by police, security forces, vigilantes, or just armed citizens who clearly should not be able to possess a gun license.  In fact the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement found that from January to July 2012 a young Black or Brown person was killed every 36 hours by one of these groups. (source: report).  

It is really unbelievable to me, that I can walk around the street and not have to worry about being killed for being who I am.  I won’t be arrested for waiting for the bus, I won’t be assumed suspicious because of my skin color or what I am wearing, I won’t be shot at point blank range looking for help after my car has crashed.  In all of this, I can rest assured that people who look like me will also mostly not be punished for their deeds of taking the lives of my brothers and sisters of different races. 

This story is disgusting.  I am happy that the justice system will at least put Michael Dunn in jail for 60 years, but I am in awe of the fact that race still cannot play a role in these conversations. I am left baffled by the fact that although racism and white supremacy created the ideas in Michael Dunn’s head that these teenagers might be dangerous or suspicious, these things cannot be discussed in his trial. 

A system like this is not broken, but rather working perfectly well in what its main goal is: to protect white bodies and lives and to destroy (and help protect those who destroy) the lives of Black, Brown and poor people.   

peoplepowermovement:

We would like to wish our revolutionary ancestor Huey P. Newton a Happy Birthday, who was born on February 17., 1942. He was a powerful warrior in the struggle against racism, capitalism, and imperialism during the 1960s and 1970s.

Without his leadership in creating and developing the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, many of us would not have the opportunities we have today, such as the Women Infant and Children (WIC) program, free school breakfast, Black Studies, and many more contributions for oppressed people to rise up and finally control our society for the advancement of our people and the world.

Watch this video of a huge rally of more than 5,000 people on his birthday, February 17, 1968, organized by Bobby Seale and the Black Panther Party for Self Defense to support the movement to Free Huey from prison.

#FreePeltier #FreeMumia #FreeCuban5 #FreeOscarLopezRivera
Free all political prisoners!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY HUEY P. NEWTON!

ALL POWER TO THE PEOPLE!

(via theblackamericanprincess)

Life is going to present to you a series of transformations. And the point of education should be to transform you. To teach you how to be transformed so you can ride the waves as they come. But today, the point of education is not education. It’s accreditation. The more accreditation you have, the more money you make. That’s the instrumental logic of neoliberalism. And this instrumental logic comes wrapped in an envelope of fear. And my Ivy League, my MIT students are the same. All I feel coming off of my students is fear. That if you slip up in school, if you get one bad grade, if you make one fucking mistake, the great train of wealth will leave you behind. And that’s the logic of accreditation. If you’re at Yale, you’re in the smartest 1% in the world. […] And the brightest students in the world are learning in fear. I feel it rolling off of you in waves. But you can’t learn when you’re afraid. You cannot be transformed when you are afraid.

Junot Díaz, speaking at Yale  (via malinche)

Those final four sentences are something else.

(via genericlatino)

(Source: avelvetmood, via bad-dominicana)

Are not all lifelong friendships born at the moment when you meet another human being who has some inkling…of that something which you were born desiring, and which beneath the flux of other desires and in all the momentary silences between the louder passions, night and day, year by year, from childhood to old age, you are looking for, watching for, listening for?

—C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (via thedapperproject)

(Source: pureblyss, via querida-guerrilla)

fuckyeahcracker:

“Black women wake up in the morning, look in the mirror, and see Black women. White women wake up in the morning, look in the mirror, and see women. White men wake up in the morning, look in the mirror, and see human beings.”

— Michelle Haimoff, on privilege (via jatigi)

(Source: queerthanks, via fyeahcracker)

On Respect and Applause for the US Military

As we left our flight one of the attendants asked for all active and retired military to raise their hands.  The whole plane clapped, including myself.  Doing this I even felt like I was going against my own values.  

In some senses I really appreciate the applause and good energy, directed towards these people who put their lives on the line for our country.  However, the respect given to all military personnel a priori and without regard for who the person is and what work they have done, is what I have a problem with.

The applause and respect given to US military personnel rests on four false assumptions.

1) The sacrifice/risks that these people are taking are to protect my (our) freedom.

2) That these sacrifices are the ultimate and therefore should uniquely be respected and applauded.

3) That any military personnel are taking similar action/doing similar work/fighting for similar causes.

4) Violence/militarism is and should be glorified and upheld.  

Obviously these assumptions are related to one another, but I will try to address each one individually.

1) Yes, it is true that some military personnel in US history were protecting our freedom.  World War II is maybe the best example (outside of the revolution and the War of 1812, of course) because had Nazi Germany emerged victorious from Europe, they surely would have come to the US next.

However, the notion of Cold War military action like Vietnam, Korea, Nicaragua and others being for “our freedom” was a completely constructed idea in order to limit the spread of a political ideology (communism).  It is safe to say that a united, communist Vietnam would not have posed any more of a threat than the temporarily divided Vietnam that the US did go to war with.  (At the end of the conflict in Vietnam, both Vietnam and Laos emerged as communist countries and neither has threatened US interests at all since becoming communist).  

So, this notion of military personnel protecting my freedom was a tool used by the ruling class to trick the public into thinking that unless the US has a strong (and offensive) military presence all over the world, our freedom will be taken away.

Fast forward to the present day: two current wars (or at least military involvement) in Iraq and Afghanistan. And how exactly does the futhering of an ancient conflict in Afghanistan help protect my individual freedom as a US citizen?  I am open to hear any answers to this question.

As a matter of fact, it is commonly known that these wars and other military action around the world, help create the next generation of anti-US militants.  It was well documented that the presence of US military in Saudi Arabia is one of the reasons that 9/11 was perpetrated.  Far away from protecting our freedom, it seems that US military presence in so many places around the world actually is making us less safe and placing us more directly in harm’s way.

2) While it is true that military personnel take particularly risky and brave actions based on the type of work they do, I take issue with the idea that these risks and actions are rewarded and others are not.  If we accept the claim that military personnel protect our freedom (which we already disproved) then we are leaving out a substantial number of people who we do not acknowledge.  Although it might not be in the same capacity, many other workers and volunteers risk their lives and make the ultimate sacrifice who are not military personnel.  

Journalists risk their lives so that we can even know about the way “our freedom is being protected.”  Groups like Doctors without Borders and the Red Cross provide medical assistance in conflict areas.  ”Development” and other aid workers like Peace Corps volunteers put their lives on the line to bring basic services to different people.  (This notion of development must be analyzed as well, but for now we can rely on the fact that these workers take similar risks to military personnel and are never applauded on airplanes).  

My general point here is that the military and its workers are not the only people to make the ultimate sacrifice or take the ultimate risk, but often times (especially in spaces like this plane) they are the only ones acknowledged as doing so.  (This also leads into assumption #4 in the sense that military personnel are applauded for often times behaving violently and Peace Corps volunteers are never given similar treatment).

3) Military service people come from just as many different backgrounds as any other profession.  Along with this comes different personalities, ideologies, worldviews and behaviors.  To treat all military personnel with an equal and unearned respect when we know nothing about them as individuals seems just as problematic as generalizing and applauding any other group.  

What if one of the men I applauded for on this plane, raped or sexually assaulted a female service member, which happens very often?  As a matter of fact just this past year alone 3,400 cases of sexual assault were reported in the US military.  That is over 9 assaults per day.  Up to 26,000 sexual assaults are believed to have been unreported according to PBS (http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/military/jan-june13/military_05-07.html).  What if I supported someone in doing this?  Who was I really clapping for?

What if one of the people I clapped for knowingly killed or harmed a civilian in their line of work?  What if they were part of a group that bullied queer service members?  These are not people that I would want to put my hands together for.

Wouldn’t these actions (which are very common in the military) make some people (for example female or queer service members) actually feel less safe and less free?

And to clap uniformly for any who have served?  It seems as though we are opening the door to respect and applaud real heros and courageous people, while simultaneously applauding those who cause much pain, possibly even to their own military brothers and sisters.

I really don’t want to devalue the work and experience of service members.  I am not claiming that we should not applaud their work.  What I am suggesting here is to applaud them as a group means we include in our praise people who have sexually assaulted others, killed innocent people and done harm on many different levels.  I do not wish to applaud the latter, but am forced to if we generalize all military personnel together.

4) We don’t applaud the Peace Corps volunteers or Reporters without Borders, but we always applaud the people who carry the guns.  For young people on this flight the idea of being rewarded for violent behavior is being entrenched into their minds as this happens.  (Let us clarify, not all military work is violent, but much of it involves carrying weapons and that is their main charge).  

A 9-year old boy sees strangers applauding people they do not know for being in the military.  What messages are we creating and reinforcing by clapping for all of these people?  Couple this with the glorification of the US military, war and imperialism in Hollywood and on US TV and we have a very dangerous combination.