What Is a Microaggression in the Era of Black Death?

A few days ago, I noticed one of the trending topics on Facebook was a story about a Black actress who tweeted something after getting a patronizing greeting while boarding her flight in first class. I recognized it as a microaggression on the part of the employee, but I thought it was not just petty for that employee to respond in such a way, but also petty for the actor to tweet about it, and petty for it to become a trending topic.

I’ve lately been caught up in the political measures and actions that disproportionately and devastatingly affect material realities for people and communities of color, particularly poor ones. The ways that Midwestern governors are stripping the social safety net on a daily basis. The Blue Lives Matter law when the practice of police lynchings of black people has become public. The recent gutting of the Fourth Amendment by five of eight Supreme Court Justices. Using capitalist-style competition (which is not how the Capitalist Class operates but merely how they have us operate) to dismantle and destroy public schools in Detroit and, frankly, everywhere else. Islamophobic police strip searchesPre-crime policing of black and brown youth in Chicago. The Puerto Rican debt crisis. The fact that gun control is being used to further police and surveil Muslim and Muslim-misidentified communities and people.

These stories were not trending on Facebook.

And this isn’t even hinting at the militarization of security at airports that targets people of color and people with disabilities.

And so I continued the trend of pettiness and surpassed the previous levels of petty pettiness by posting the story and pettily adding the petty lines “BFD” [“Big Fucking Deal”] and “*rolls eyes*”. A friend confronted me on it, and I’m grateful to her because it re-grounded me.

I had to confront what in me (outside of just a crappy mood for personal reasons) positioned me to such pettiness. Part of it was the material realities outlined above. But then there were three other takeaways as well:

  1. While microaggressions themselves may seem minor, a thousand papercuts are lethal, and dozens take their exhaustive toll on an already-exhausted public body.
  2. The metaphor is reality. I say this as an English teacher and as a student of society and racial realities. In this case, the metaphor denying and policing space for People of Color is intricately connected to the public and societal policies denying and policing space for People of Color. A black woman feels a patronizing slight against her having a seat in first class? Look into who tends to occupy those seats; they are rarely black people. While the employee may not have intended to send the message that  Danielle Brooks doesn’t belong in the luxury portion of the airplane*, that is still the message. A White Christian makes a joke about a Muslim woman being a suicide bomber, but it’s a joke get it – no harm done! Except that the harm is done and that is to publicly police private people whenever and wherever the State and corporations have yet to exclude, detain, or kill them. In point of fact, the whole Donald Trump campaign is wish-fulfillment to turn microaggressions into public, perpetual policies.
  3. This one is just a reminder for me and all the other white (and white-passing) people: I don’t experience racial microaggressions** so maybe I should be reverential around the issue?

*Intentions are often a red herring that center the story back on white people and their presumed innocence rather than on the system of White Supremacy and how it daily affects people of color

**Being called “white ass” in grade school and having people stare me down in my own neighborhood because I don’t look like I belong doesn’t really count. While they happen, they’re far too infrequent to be at the level of irritant and they are not connected to, say, lynchings or redlining, respectively.

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Uber & The 606: The Worth and Work of Women of Color in the Neoliberalism Era

While riding with my daughter the other morning, we traveled down the new above-ground park-slash-bike/jogging trail called conversely The Bloomingdale Trail and The 606. While grabbing some water on the way up the 606, I noticed the trail was extra busy, with many joggers and walkers as it was such a brilliant, nice day. Two joggers I noticed in particular were white women just coming out of an Uber driven by a black woman. The moment was too delicious for simple irony, yet too bitter to b satisfying.

For those unfamiliar with the history of the Bloomingdale Trail, a railroad line heavy with cargo used to pass through the Chicago neighborhoods of Bucktown, Logan Square, and Humboldt Park. While the lines it adjoins to the west are still in heavy use, over the last fifteen or so years, the nearly three mile stretch grew weeds and would occasionally host the straggling jogger.

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Bloomingdale Trail pre-park via Field Guide to Nature

About ten years ago, members of the Logan Square and Humboldt Park communities would meet to discuss plans for how to use the railway to benefit the neighborhoods. At this time, both neighborhoods were largely working class LatinX and – with the exception of the large and beautiful Humboldt Park and the boulevard system running through it – possessed very little green or public space. So they began a dream of turning the infrastructure of the railway into a pedestrian park.

This dream was fast-tracked some years later under Mayor Rahm Emanuel when he realized this park was a way to build up a tax revenue base. Which is to say it was a good way to build more outside interest in an area already facing massive gentrification. The months surrounding its opening saw people being priced out of their homes as nearby rents dramatically increased 40-100% and long-term homeowners were scared off by the prospect of substantially higher tax rates.

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Normally not as festive. Credit: Adam Alexander Photography via The Trust for Public Land

What is becoming common knowledge in gentrified Chicago is that our city uses good things to draw in wealthier and wealthier people – not just to build a tax base, but to drive the poor apart from their collective actions so there is little recourse left but to give up. It is systemic disengagement and disunion of Black and Brown communities. This is especially lethal as Black and Brown communities cannot rely on common or familial wealth, nor of basic services. Thus they must and do rely on support networks in their communities. 

So gentrification isn’t making the community better, it’s using long-delayed improvements of the community which were called by the community to displace and fracture that same living and fighting community and replace it with a permanently mobile economic force. One that either cannot or does not need to fight back.

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Logan Square Neighborhood Assn protest against gentrification. Photo by Tyler ReViere via Chicagoist

What gentrification does to black and brown communities, however, the Sharing Economy as highlighted by Uber does to worker communities.

The taxi business has largely been run by immigrants and, while far from perfect, has been a means for people of color to survive when few other options are available. Because of the intimacy of the ride, the dangers of the road, the semi-freelancing of the gig, the potential violence that drivers face, the taxi business relied on safeguards such as unionization, licensing, and medallion-winning to protect the consumer and the worker.

Most of these regulations have been sidestepped by the would-be taxis in the ride-sharing business. When Uber and Lyft, et al, came to Chicago, the neoliberal administration headed by Emanuel did away with most of those regulations. But they came with technology that made it easier and faster to hail a cab, as well as an economic structure that made too much sense on the face of it. In its introductory phase, the cost of a ride in an Uber was considerably cheaper than one in a taxicab. Outside of the share that is given to Uber for the technology and use, the rest is given to the driver-owner, who is not leasing a car but using their own. Of course, this model is only possible because the driver is not an employee (and thus the costs of living are transferred to someone else, such as other employers, the drivers, and the government) and thus Uber gets to have and eat its cake.

However, in a model learned from Wal-Mart, as this cheaper model of taxiing begins to saturate the market, it forces out the old cab drivers and their unions – the communities that they built up. As the competition is being gutted, Uber raises the fees for both the consumer and the contractor. This has already started happening at certain peak hours, where costs are exponentially higher.

So Uber will eventually out-Uber itself as a de-unionized, untrained, and even unvetted workforce rises to replace an older community of working class people of color, only to themselves be ushered out by more desperate people looking for even fewer scraps.

In short, more working class women of color will be driving more professional class white people to a park dreamt up by working class women of color but implemented by professional class white people in order to drive out the working class women of color – but for less and less payout.

The Age of Late Neoliberalism is especially adept at not just taking crises and turning them into opportunities for the Investor Class, but also at taking lovely things – often things we create – and turning those against us. See for instance how the city of Chicago turns neighborhood parks into music festivals (often featuring artists of color from working class roots) as an aid in gentrification and homeless erasure. Or how art, artists, and art fests have been used to displace Logan Square residents (while LatinX and Black art are still drastically underfunded starting at the school level). Notice how a Logan Square developer/evil landlord boasts about investing in neighborhood as a means to drastically raise rents.

Despite these tactics, enjoy the beautiful and the lovely. I travel the 606 with pride, as do many WCPOC. This is our neighborhood. We’ve lived here and suffered the worst through disinvestment and we should have good things available to us without guilt. Like your music and your coffee shops. But it is to say that the tools of the Neoliberal Age toward its anti-communal goals are tricky, and we must recognize them to navigate them and beat them to the punch.

Enjoy your day. Party. And fight.

On Liberalism, Radicalism, and Criticism

I tend to look at politics and society through a telescope with lenses for equality, liberation, and justice (Maybe if you’re all good, I’ll tell you about it sometime) . And having only taken one poli-sci course (it was a good and transformative one), I may not have the best vernacular or tools to grapple with what I see, but I sees it hows I’s sees it.

I agree with Corey Robin that the conservative movement is reactionary and defensive (a line from his book The Conservative Mind goes, “Conservatism is the theoretical voice of this animus against the agency of the subordinate classes”). Its job is to defend the power structures, institutions, hierarchies, powerful, elite and – above all else – patriarchal system from the forces of equality, justice, and liberation. If it defends democracy, it defends a certain way of doing democracy – a very limited way.

Being reactive, however, is not to say that one acts instantly or without thinking. The funding of conservative think tanks and SuperPACs, or the systemic breakdown of workers’ rights over the last four decades are reactive responses to justice, liberation, and equality, but they are neither immediate nor brash.

Nor is it to say that the Left – and all that implies – is intelligent, thoughtful or unified in its approach toward equality, justice, and liberation. Or that the Left even seeks equality, justice, and liberation for all. Within the broader Left bank there are two camps (some would argue interchangeable, but not necessarily) that seek to reform society and politics rather than uproot and fundamentally change them. These groups are liberalism and its less moderate sister progressivism.

For simplicity’s sake, we’ll address the more left-ist groups/movements as radicalism. Radicalism, it should be noted, is the digging deep into the roots of society in order to enact fundamental change. Radical Leftism, then, is about changing society and politics toward equality and liberation through fundamentally critiquing and changing how society and politics function. Radicalism should be looked at as something apart from extremism – though there are extremists in radicalism as there are extremists in conservatism. Radicalism isn’t about blowing up shit or people. Very few of us throw Molotov cocktails. And we can argue stringently and widely and fiercely about policies and methods towards those policies. Bertrand Russell, Malcolm X, the Weathermen Underground, Fredrick Douglass, and Martin Luther King, Jr. were radicals of their times, although King is hagiographically accepted now into the very liberal circles he widely criticized in Letter from a Birmingham Jail. And the Weathermen, despite accidentally killing one of their own while protesting a war that killed hundreds of thousands, are still looked at as “dangerous terrorists” by mainstream politicians and press.

Because, you know, property and decorum are far more important than sterilized, systemic war by the state.

Swallowing the Ruins

Oh, forgive this graying radical for his tangent…

This is also not to say that radicals always seek justice for all oppressed/marginalized groups. Many radical groups are primarily concerned about economic systems and disregard sexism, racism, ableism, and other forms of White/Male/Straight/Able-Bodied/Able-Mind/Wealth/Educated Supremacy. Many radicals cannot see beyond their privileges even if they (we) acknowledge we have them.

A couple of examples why I think that liberalism/progressivism ultimately fails to enact the kinds of changes our societal structure needs and the important distinctions between conservatism, liberalism, and radical leftism.

One such is seen when I showed a general malaise-al dissatisfaction with the US and the Democratic Party (and particularly its neo-liberal leadership) over the last couple days. Conservatives of course, know that everybody on the left of the dial hates America and babies and that we won’t be happy until everyone gets gay-orgy married under Chairman Mao. Or at least that’s the perception that liberals try very hard to fight – so they work extra hard to tell radicals to not act all crazy in front of the neighbors. In truth, liberalism believes that the structures of society are basically good, they just need to be tweaked. So expressing dismay over the Clintons or Democrats or the US as a whole is not acceptable. Because, don’t you know, the USofA has its problems but it’s still the #greatestnationintheworld4evah and the Clintons have had their problems but let’s be practical and reasonable and, oh yeah, they’re the best anyway and have and will always do the best with whatever they have. And Democratic Party is better than the Republicans and they’re #theonlyrealisticchoicewehave. This is like saying that the only two choices we have are to be homeless and starving or have a bullet lodged through the brain.

So I get chided for admitting that I feel like the US is an abusive parent and that I approach the Fourth of July like some who have felt abandoned approach Christmas and family-oriented holidays.

It’s not that I think they are mean people or ignorant or whatever. But USian reformers are more invested in and therefore attached to the narrative mythos of the United States and its politicians than radicals are. The myth that the United States, a nation built on and through slave labor and injust labor on the backs of the poor and that still largely relies on wage slavery for its food (particularly from immigrants) and products (through purposeful extractions and extortion of Third World people) can represent truth and justice . Radicals, in rejecting that mythos (or at least parts of it), can be so disinvested in the lives of ordinary people we seek to draw that 1) we can ridicule anyone who does not share our behaviors and values and 2) we do not consider any political action but revolutionary action to carry political weight – this is in itself problematic for the majority of poor people in the US who cannot afford to be arrested, or people of color who are already being beaten down and subjected by the police, or people who are just trying to do what they can to physically, emotionally, and psychologically survive through the next day.

So, while I actually appreciate the tug from reformers, at the same time I do not appreciate being talked down to like a simple child who can’t begin to comprehend the big, bad world and the complex choices one has to make in navigating it.

Oftentimes, those who suffer from the workings of the world are the ones being told they do not understand how the world works. It is the unnecessary suffering that arises in us; that suffocates us; that tells us, “No, you cannot have that which is necessary to live, that is for the wealthy and bourgeois”; that silences us for we have not suffered up to their expectations.  *

Sorry to make people feel uncomfortable, but the oppressed have suffered long and deep and far and wide enough. It is time for the world to join together in the cries of solidarity, feeling together the deep woes of pain and inflicted violence and moving through that to a swelling and sweet symphony of justice.

It is time for, for another example, white liberals to stop ignoring and talking over the concerns of people of color. No, you don’t know better about their suffering than they do; no, you do not get to set the agenda; no you do not get to say, “But that’s past!” or, “That’s trivial compared to THIS crisis!” You do not get to pretend to care about the concerns of dark-hued people during election season or call them to your agenda and fight only to turn your back when they note real, systemic oppression  just because you haven’t faced it and don’t quite understand it.

I’ve come to find that when racism is mentioned in a large liberal forum, there are about three groups of reactions:

  • there are those who know, who’ve lived under the thumb of racism due simply to the color of their skin, or who’ve studied and ally themselves with people of color. These are not always nor exclusively radical leftists (nor are radicals exclusively allies or race-conscious POC), for there are many conservatives, moderates and liberals/progressives of all races who recognize their privilege and ally with people of color (as there are who ally with LGBTQ even if they themselves are not cis-gendered, straight and conservative).
  • there are those who react wildly, fiercely, bitterly, and oppressively (being angry isn’t the problem on its own), who begin to metaphorically throw shit, who are indignant at the thought that black and brown people are fully human beings and should be treated as fully human beings. The reactive racist conservative demands that the black person succumb to her way of thinking, on her terms, and using her language to further her causes.
  • and then there’s the colorblind – a legacy of US progressivism and liberalism. The colorblind is not far removed from the reactionary conservative though he fancies himself as being so. In fact, the colorblind progressive also demands that the black population be judged according to the standards of his culture, that the people of color succumb to his way of thinking, on his terms, and using his language to further his causes.

The colorblind sees racism only as a problem of conservatives and the GOP. He doesn’t look on the system of racial oppression inherent in US society and perpetuated by his own “blindness”.

As Rod from Political Jesus notes, colorblindness is a colonial gaze, looking upon people of color under the rubric of the White EuroAmero-normalized perspective. At the very least, the colorblind discounts and tries to silence the perspective and voice of the marginalized, critical person of color.

Again, I don’t want to turn away my co-farmers. I just want to challenge them to look more critically at some of these plants on our fields – they are rotten to the core, carrying all sorts of disease. Perhaps, just perhaps, we should pluck the weeds out by the roots a bit more. Even if these weeds are really, really big.

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*Of course, I say this as a white, cis-gendered, heterosexual, able-bodied, Christian, USian, educated male. I have many roots of privilege that I fully acknowledge. But that doesn’t keep me from being severely underemployed, working-class, Taino-descended person with untreated depression. In these areas, I strike with solidarity. In my humanity and in the intersections of my privilege and oppression and in neighborliness, I identify with the oppressed, while recognizing my own privilege.

It Isn’t Comfy to Be in Poverty

The poor, by definition, are those who either do not have enough or who live in a state (often constant) of material emergency – always steps away from being wiped out. The poor exist in different contexts and with different stipulations in different towns, states and communities – and one with no cash can in many ways be more well-off than one with a couple thousand tucked away – depending on circumstances and contexts like family and health and need to relocate, proximity and access to education, decent medicine, food, etc.

However it is broken down, though, the state of being mere steps away from imminent disaster can never be described as “comfortable.” There are different ways of dealing with that insecurity – but the point is, poverty is insecurity. It is the opposite of comfort.

Unless you want to speak from a place of experience of being poor (or being near the poor) as Fox News contributor Charles Payne does here in order to highlight how the poor just need a quick kick in the nuts to get their shit together:

There’s this idea that between the food stamps and the welfare and the earned income tax credit and the child tax credit and the local programs, you know, it gets a little comfortable to be in poverty.

Payne isn’t alone in this regrettable observation. This idea that  the poor are here for a free ride and, really, being poor isn’t that hard after all trickles down in scattered showers and barrels against us like vengeful hurricanes through color commentary, enactments, legislation and the general demeanor of the ruling class toward the underclass.

Hammock

In Tennessee, for instance, a bill has been making the rounds that “calls for a 30 percent reduction in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits to parents whose children are not making satisfactory progress in school.” Poor children are penalizedfurtherfor not living up to the standards of upper middle class white legislators – most of whom are male, most of whom can afford to go to a school council meetings because of flexibility with their jobs not often given to hourly workers.

Oftentimes, poor parents can’t make those meetings. They work long hours. They commute long hours. They can’t find a sitter for the other kids – or they have to visit other kids’ functions. They prioritize, but they have other priorities to meet at the time. Often emergency priorities. Because, again, being poor means that one is constantly licking the flames of an emergency state, constantly in crisis.

Or maybe the parents and the students feel like the schooling system isn’t listening to them. Or maybe they’re just exhausted.  Will starving them when they are already undernourished help them in any manner? No. Of course not. Putting the vulnerable at more risk only means that they have more to worry about – and worry and resignation is much of what both defines and defeats the poor as it is.

For when you are poor for a long time, you begin to worry – not just about whether you will eat or pay the rent (two things I constantly worry about), but whether you will ever stop worrying.

When you are poor, you are likely to:

  • Wonder when you’ll eat good food regularly again – or you settle into the idea that that will not be an option
  • Have poor education. Partly because most available education is paid for by local property taxes and the ones who can most afford higher taxes are the ones with the least amount of worry and who can also afford private education
  • Seriously cry over spilled milk
  • Spend every waking hour – and those are many – worrying if you’ll have enough money to last the week, let alone pay off debts.
  • Find it increasingly difficult to live in a safe neighborhood.
  • Be more often victimized and assaulted
  • Be close to those who are victimized and assaulted – and perhaps those who victimize and assault
  • Be uninformed of the options available to get into college
  • Be in an abusive relationship
  • Receive harrassment rather than assistance from police
  • Need police and public services
  • Be denied access to public services as funds are
  • Are more likely to find yourself in social circles with few people who can assist you in a tight financial strain
  • Are more likely to be the victim of predatory lending with exponentially higher interest rates for necessary loaning than the middle and upper classes
  • Pay more in regressive taxes and may pay more percentage-wise than the very rich who can most afford it
  • Can not have your money work for you; since two pennies scratching each other don’t actually do anything
  • Don’t have the privilege of getting your teeth checked regularly
  • Tend to consider the emergency room as your clinic
  • Get used to being associated with criminality and malicious intent
  • Are considered either a criminal or a criminal-in-training
  • Are as likely if not more likely to suffer from chronic health problems as middle class/wealthy, but far, far less likely to receive adequate medical treatment for it – let alone consistent treatment. Let alone able to see for a second or third opinion
  • Are blamed at every turn for fiscal problems of city, county, state, and nation

All of these are circumstances of being poor. Most of these I have experienced first-hand or my neighbors have. I have been accosted. I worry hourly about how to stretch money, pay bills, make more money, and feed my daughter. In addition, the poor are under relentless scrutiny and endless judgment by the upper classes as well as their own class – mostly for that which is not within their power or immediate grasp.

The poor are scrutinized for:

  • Clothes (ever wonder why poor in certain communities buy so much cheap clothing?)
  • Food
  • Weight (“If they’re so poor, why are they so fat?” is a common question that middle class white Americans ask about the food insecure – ignoring the fact that grease is cheaper as well as addictive)
  • Household items
  • Not having stocks or savings (In a Facebook thread I was recently involved in, one White male asked, “If you’re 35, single and without stocks or bonds, where did you go wrong?”)
  • Style
  • Language usage (Middle class, Midwestern speech patterns are considered the default pronunciation and grammar settings in the US. Everyone else is judged for how closely they resemble this “good language.”
  • Hints of dirtiness

And the poor are judged for:

  • Apparent work ethic
  • Values
  • How we treat our children
  • Trying to fit in.
  • For not trying to fit in.
  • Education level
  • Job status
  • Career
  • Performance in public places
  • Whether or not we meet requirements of “genuine” poverty

Field Refrigerators

These poor people have too many fridges!

In fact, long before the Heritage Foundation used universal ownership of refrigerators as evidence that USian poverty is truly a myth, some of my conservative friends would compare the abundance of today’s poorest to the lack of kings during the middle ages (they had castles, but no central heat. It was really cold in those drafty places. Too bad they couldn’t warm up with fireplaces or nothing…). The implication being that the poor in the US these days have it soooooo fekking easy.

But we don’t. There is no comfort in being judged for what we lack. There is no physical or psychological or social comfort in any of this. Whatever comfort is to be found is found by the necessity of erasing the high-bludgeoning tensions through various (and often unhealthy) means, whether they be drug or alcohol abuse or partying or gaming or sports.

They use these methods of escape, when they do, because, once again, there is no comfort in poverty.

Accidental Racial Road Trip

Brad and Ladies Love’s song “Accidental Racist” is troubling for so many reasons, but there is only so much room on the intert00bs and so much time to read, so I’ll focus on two (If you want more, Melissa McEwan’s post is a good place to start).

Long before I heard the song my ears were assaulted by LL Cool J’s line: “If you don’t mind my gold chains / I’ll forget the iron chains.” This line comes to the crux of what the song is about. It ignores the effects of historical and institutional racism on Black USians (particularly, though other racial and ethnic groups also facing contemporary and sustained institutional racism in the US are ignored here – per usual) and treats race relations as a tiff that can be overcome by buddyhood. After all, Paisley can’t comprehend the animosity shown to his character’s Confederate Flag t-shirt. And then there’s the line about him getting blamed for stuff that happened before he was born. You know, like slavery and Jim Crow. To quote Homer: “Why do you gotta bring up old stuff?”

Slavery Phoenix is the most racist bird of all time. Except for the robin.

Slavery Phoenix is the most racist bird of all time. Except for the robin.

Because Paisley, like much of White America (Northern as well as Southern,) fails to grasp the god-awful truth that racism – like sexism – is alive and well and systemic and tremendous. Racism is not just the Tea Party, although in corners it is very blatant and open. Racism is not just AM Radio, though it’s all over the DNA of right-wing talk show hosts. Racism is actual practice and actual harm done to others under a pathology of White Superiority.

Racism is alive in red-lining, in predatory lending, in the high rates of unemployment and homelessness. Racism is observable in the vastly disproportionate incarceration rates. Racism is alive through voter suppression and the negation of voters’ rights for ex-felons who have done their time. Racism is alive and well in the refusal to challenge corporate America’s White-dominant system (which also adversely affects people of color throughout the world in Third World Nations).

But Paisley can’t acknowledge that. For the brutal reality of racism is reduced to feelings – and White America doesn’t want to get its feelings hurt.

James’s problem here is that he also doesn’t want to hurt White America’s feelings. “No, it’s okay. Look, *you’re* not racist yourself even if you wear a symbol of massive oppression, representing an entire nation designed to keep slavery as a way of life forever as well as the hopes and dreams of those who wanted that nation to rise again. You can’t participate in racism because you’re a good guy with a good heart.” That is James’s role in this song, to play the Black buddy who affirms the White male of his goodness even as the White male continues to downplay and erase the very evil he is complicit in.

Very evil we are complicit in.

This line about the chains takes that line of thinking even further, though. According to James, wearing cultural artifacts of Blackness that White Americans do not necessarily grasp (whether it be a gold chain or a do-rag) is offensive and its transgression is equal to the amount of offense of slavery and the related wearing of the symbols of subjugation. They’re the SAME thing and equally offensive because slavery makes Black people uncomfortable, I guess? Because slavery was a lifestyle choice?

More likely, because it offends the stylish sensibilities of a group of people who would rather wear cowboy hats inside? The point being that no style is neutral and that there are cultural touchstones as to why different groups of people wear what they wear and do what they do. But NEVER can a choice of style be compared to the monstrosity, evil, life-sucking machine of slavery.

The second point of contention is this idea about what the song is about, in Paisley’s words:

I just think art has a responsibility to lead the way, and I don’t know the answers, but I feel like asking the question is the first step, and we’re asking the question in a big way. How do I show my Southern pride? What is offensive to you?

There is this pervasive idea that just talking about Big Issues leads the way to justice and reconciliation. But sometimes we can have a talk about the very real things we need to (Southern pride, for example. Racism in the US, for another. Slavery and Jim Crow) but we frame it in such a way that the majority of the conversation is detrimental and damaging. This song – with an endorsement from a major Black figure – leads many White Americans to the conclusion that racism is merely a frame of mind kept together by African Americans still bitter about stuff that happened long before our generations entered a bar. Racism is actually like any prolonged oppression done by the majority class/culture, in that it is invisible to the majority while very real to the suppressed.

Having a conversation about something that one party refuses to acknowledge is not a conversation – it’s a railroading, it’s a blindsiding. What kind of road trip was this guy planning, anyway?

If he really wanted to have a genre-bending, country-rap dialog about racism, slavery, and chains, Paisley should have invited Kanye. Or Mos, or Talib. Or, he could have actually listened and had a real conversation first. But that would have entailed listening. And maybe getting his feelings hurt for a bit.

Your new-caught, sullen peoples / Half devil and half child*

In addition to the typical American Christian Islamophobia, we also see a rise of Islamophobia among the so-called New Atheists and “feminist” movements like FEMEN.

The New Atheist strain of anti-Muslim paranoia and violent hatred is not new. Christopher Hitchens long ago called for Muslim countries to be bombed back into the stone age in order to free humanity of Islam’s stench.  Personally, the Christian call for unholy war against Muslim and Arab peoples (which we’ve dealt with here) is the most troubling because it so clearly goes against our founder’s directive to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Further, since much of the animus directed against the West by Muslim peoples is directly related to the Christian West’s horrible treatment of Third World peoples, we are actually responsible for much of their hardship and for creating “enemies” in the first place – let alone for physically attacking and thereby amplifying the conversion to “enemies.”

But that doesn’t mean I would be silent from pointing out these other grave injustices just because they are committed by secularists. Injustice is always injustice and does harm to us all. Colonization and its ideas hurt our neighbors of color and the poor. As a Christian, I recognize that that means it hurts my God as well. Since many of my community and many of my clients and students are Muslims – some who are women and choose to wear traditional garb – I feel a somewhat more direct relation to this issue as well. Muslims in my city, in my country, and in our world are being bullied by Americans and Europeans and by the extension of our own ideology onto the various Muslim communities and peoples. And because those same ideas can come back and be used to harm other groups of poor and marginalized peoples, I am further alarmed. I do not see the benefit of being silent, but rather the harm of not speaking.

Additionally, these groups – Femen and New Atheists – do not pose threats merely to Muslims, but in their hypocrisy, they also target anyone who does not align with their views of beauty and truth.

The Frustrated Arab talks directly about the coopting of Muslim women’s voices to suppress them in “FEMEN and the Suppression of Native Voices“:

Despite having our religious attire, skin colour and even facial hair, being routinely mocked and worn as makeshift costumes as a part of ‘solidarity actions’ it is said time and time again that we should be ‘grateful‘ that anyone simply has reason enough to ‘care‘.

Despite the watered down slogans of liberation and freedom being copy-pasted by the parade of online followers of groups such as FEMEN many of these same activists are so inebriated with colonial feminist doctrine that they gleefully take part in patronizing , Islamophobic and misogynistic rhetoric in response to women of colour telling them that they take great offence, that their voices will not be usurped, that they are the sole guardians of their plights and no one has the authority to speak on their behalf, no matter how allegedly ‘well-intentioned’. In response to FEMEN’s topless “jihad day” event Muslim women created #MuslimahPride on Twitter; Sofia Ahmed, one of the women behind “Muslimah Pride Day” described the campaign as follows:

“Muslimah [term for a female Muslim] pride is about connecting with your Muslim identity and reclaiming our collective voice. Let’s show the world that we oppose FEMEN and their use of Muslim women to reinforce Western imperialism.”

Using #MuslimahPride many Muslim women began voicing their disapproval of FEMEN, one such woman was Zarah Sultana who posted the following photograph on her public Twitter page, which I have received permission to post here, and which in turned catalyzed many other Muslim women to do the same in an array of languages, by women from multifarious backgrounds:

The sign reads: “I am a proud Muslimah. I don’t need “liberating”. I don’t appreciate being used to reinforce Western imperialism. You do not represent me!

The responses Sultana received were drenched in perverse Islamophobia, sexism and pure, unashamed hatred:
“Fuck off back to your own country”, “burn in hell”, “grab your ankles and remain silent”, “Mohammad was a pedophile”, “put on your burka”, “she’s happy with her chains” etc.- all coming from those who, just moments earlier, were tweeting gleefully in support of Muslim women.

When it comes to non-natives speaking in regards to native issues – it is a path that must be tread upon lightly in order to avoid (a) tokenization and (b) the usurpation of native voices. Solidarity is great, but it is when campaigns turned publicity stunts like the ones FEMEN indulges in begin using brown bodies as props while at the same time perpetuating orientalism and engaging in blatant prejudicial acts to promote their idea of ‘liberation’. FEMEN, and other such groups, offer no solution to the undeniable subjugated of women present in the Middle East-North Africa, it is all a show of thin, white grandeur.

Sarah Salem, in Femen’s Neocolonial Feminism: When Nudity Becomes a Uniform, also draws attention to the cross-strains of racism and homophobia that groups like Femen travel in:

Feminism has the potential to be greatly emancipatory by adopting an anti-racist, anti-homophobic, anti-transphobic and anti-Islamophobic rhetoric, instead of often actively being racist, homophobic, transphobic and Islamophobic. By clearly delineating the boundaries of what is “good” and “bad” feminism, Femen is using colonial feminist rhetoric that defines Arab women as oppressed by culture and religion, while no mention is made of capitalism, racism, or global imperialism. It is actively promoting the idea that Muslim women are suffering from “false consciousness” because they cannot see (while Femen can see) that the veil and religion are intrinsically harmful to all women.

Not only is the publicization of Femen bad for Muslims, it’s bad for women and great for patriarchy’s Male Gaze as Mona Chollet details in The Fast Food Feminism of the Topless Femen:

The permanent reduction of women to their bodies and their sexuality, the negation of their intellectual abilities, the social invisibility of women who cannot please the male gaze: these are keystones of the patriarchal system. It is rather stupefying that a purportedly feminist ‘movement’… cannot see this. “We live under male domination,” Inna Shevchenko told The Guardian, “and nudity is the only way to provoke them, to get their attention.” So, a feminism that bends to male domination: well, it had to be invented.

Shevchenko not only accepts this order of things, she approves of it: “Classic feminism is a sick old woman, it does not work anymore. It is stuck in the world of conferences and books.”

Hijab

Both the Femen criticism of Muslim dress and of Western women who don’t conform to Western ideals of feminine beauty are troubling as they dehumanize both Eastern and Western women to what they wear – or refuse to wear – and how they appeal to straight, Euro-American males. This type of dehumanizing leads to a legitimizing of murder-through-war – which is directly what neo-cons such as New Atheist leaders (and their proxies who flood the Twitterverse) argue should be done to the Threat of Islam upon Western Civilization.

Sam Harris’ recently vocalized declarations are nothing new. The late Hitchens himself long ago expressed supreme pleasure at the murder of scores of Muslims – apparently seeing little difference between Taliban leaders and any living, breathing Muslim.  “It’s them or me. I’m very happy about this because I know it will be them. It’s a duty and a responsibility to defeat them. But it’s also a pleasure. I don’t regard it as a grim task at all.” This he says a minute after drawing a distinction between the attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan and the “racist” war in Vietnam.

For something a bit more contemporary, Sam Harris has been under the microscope a bit more recently – even though he has been citing anti-Muslim arguments for many years, as Glenn Greenwald notes:

The key point is that Harris does far, far more than voice criticisms of Islam as part of a general critique of religion. He has repeatedly made clear that he thinks Islam is uniquely threatening: “While the other major world religions have been fertile sources of intolerance, it is clear that the doctrine of Islam poses unique problems for the emergence of a global civilization.” He has insisted that there are unique dangers from Muslims possessing nuclear weapons, as opposed to nice western Christians (the only ones to ever use them) or those kind Israeli Jews: “It should be of particular concern to us that the beliefs of devout Muslims pose a special problem for nuclear deterrence.” In his 2005 “End of Faith”, he claimed that “Islam, more than any other religion human beings have devised, has all the makings of a thoroughgoing cult of death.”

This is not a critique of religion generally; it is a relentless effort to depict Islam as the supreme threat. Based on that view, Harris, while depicting the Iraq war as a humanitarian endeavor, has proclaimed that “we are not at war with terrorism. We are at war with Islam.” He has also decreed that “this is not to say that we are at war with all Muslims, but we are absolutely at war with millions more than have any direct affiliation with Al Qaeda.” “We” – the civilized peoples of the west – are at war with “millions” of Muslims, he says. Indeed, he repeatedly posits a dichotomy between “civilized” people and Muslims: “All civilized nations must unite in condemnation of a theology that now threatens to destabilize much of the earth.”

This isn’t “quote-mining”, the term evidently favored by Harris and his defenders to dismiss the use of his own words to make this case.

Harris has previously made this distinction before, that Muslims “do not have a clue as to what constitutes civil society.” This allows him to suspect any possible Muslim as a potential terrorist. In fact, “anyone who potentially looks like he or she could conceivably be a Muslim” should be targeted as a security threat and needs to be profiled. How these views are not problematically racist is beyond me.

In Scientific racism, militarism, and the new atheists, Murtaza Hussain is much more direct in making the connection between the old scientific-covering of racism (ie, phrenology) and the new “scientific” covering of racism of these New Atheist anti-Muslim apologists (Emphases mine):

Citing “Muslims” as a solid monolith of violent evil – whilst neglecting to include the countless Muslims who have lost their lives peacefully protesting the occupation and ongoing ethnic cleansing of their homeland – Harris engages in a nuanced version of the same racism which his predecessors in scientific racism practiced in their discussion of the blanket characteristics of “Negroes”.

Indeed he argues in his book that the only suitable form of government for Muslim people is “benign dictatorship”, an echo of the 19th century social theorist George Fitzhugh who argued in favour of slavery by saying:

“The Negro is but a grown up child, and must be governed as a child.”

Finally, dismissing the possibility that Muslims may have legitimate objections to being subjects of torture, murder, and – as he’s advocated – wholesale nuclear genocide, Harris helpfully states:

The outrage that Muslims feel over US and British foreign policy is primarily the product of theological concerns.”

Get that? Hatred of colonialism is merely theological and, according to New Atheism, therefore not legitimate.

Which makes sense, as any other concerns, feelings, objections that Muslims and Arabs feel (or any who look like them and are therefore automatically suspect) are also illegitimate.

Meet the new colonial racism, same as the old colonial racism.

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*Kipling’s White Man’s Burden