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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Hobby Lobby Case: Not the End of the World, But a Revelation

Now that we’ve had some time to review, reflect, and consider the Hobby Lobby case, I’m pretty damned sure that it isn’t the End of the World (TM), but yet a realization that the Song Remains the Same. A revelation, in fact. Oh, you know what another word for revelation is, right? Apocalypse!

All hail Lord Darkseid!

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Darkseid

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Darkseid

As we’re probably well aware of by now, this case and its neighbors are not about religious freedom of people – they’re about the rights of some to religiously inhabit the spaces, bodies, and options of others. There is no Third Way here, no room for nuance in this case, no dialog to be had with those who believe that their rights to practice their religion take precedence over other people’s lives and bodies. But because I’m obviously a Comp 101 student or a Baptist preacher, I’ll break it down into three fun takeaways from this case.

The Courts’ conservatives aren’t Originalists when it comes to the 14th Amendment

Since the late 1800’s, the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution has been gradually stripped of its meanings to protect Black Americans and reduce the effect that the ideology of personal property has on people. Where it was framed in the context of removing a people from having been considered mere property, from de-propertying them and placing them within full civic and civil rights, the 14th has more often been interpreted to prop up and humanize personal property – literally turning corporations into people. This is a big component behind, of course, both Jim Crow-type laws (which are still being practiced today albeit in less direct ways; c.f., with non-violent criminals) and corporation-as-people rulings (most famously Citizens United). The directly racist patterns that SCOTUS was holding up started being overturned by the Warren Court in Brown V Board, but class is still directly tied in to racism and so racism is still a factor in these recent rulings as they privilege wealthy white men and their corporations over the lives of employees, consumers, citizens, and poor people.

In its decision (pg 3), the majority rule and Justice Alito argued as such:

Protecting the free-exercise rights of closely held corporations thus protects the religious liberty of the humans who own and control them.

Again, property trumps humanity. And employees are seen as property – belonging to those who own the corporation. Our rights are extended as far as the corporation can extend its grasp on us. Our religious views are now their religious views. Our loyalties are theirs. Our bodies, theirs.

Alito’s blatant humanifying of corporations continues:

Any suggestion that for-profit corporations are incapable of exercising religion because their purpose is simply to make money flies in the face of modern corporate law.

Hear that, America? Your employers can practice religion – the religion of their founders and executives. And they don’t have to respect yours.

The Wars on Women* & Employees are real

First of all, if you doubt that this was an attack on women, you probably don’t have much skin in this game. You probably, like myself, have not been harassed by the douchecanoes of #TCOT (The Country’s Ogliest Trolls) on the Twitter Machines. In fact, what too many men have said to deny this – from slut-shaming women to claims of ownership of women’s sex and bodies due to paying taxes [people are f**ked up in the head, man] to telling random women on the internet that they have to be employed and then make their own choices [whaddafok??] to mansplaining science with nonscience [“Abortificients?” Bro, do you even biology?] – conservative men have outright demonstrated that they know and will pounce on the central target of this ruling. It’s not just conservative men whose arguments demonstrate the deep palate of misogyny in the good ol’ US of A, but also cis male brogressives – either mocking women* or presuming that their needs aren’t important. And while these jabs vehemently and violently deny the truth, they also demonstrate that it is women*, not Hobby Lobby, who were on trial here and had to prove their worth. It was women who were found wanting by five heterosexual men in robes and seemingly unlimited power. Not a one of the conservative five – and only one of the six male justices – acknowledged that women have to be trusted to make their own decisions regarding their own bodies. In a broader scope, that employers feel that it is their prerogative what employees – and particularly women employees – do with or to their bodies when it doesn’t impugn upon their work is beyond the pale and speaks of a patriarchal neo-slavery. 

This is true not just in this case and with women*, but in how Hobby Lobby treats its employees, telling them, for instance, that they should be home eating dinner with their families at night and not with vendors. It’s true with the HR departments increasingly dependent on social media to screen potential employees and it’s true with bosses using the same to keep current employees in line. Women, LGBTQ people, and anybody else who, out of the hours they are under employ, don’t fit the image profile that the company wants to project of itself – regardless of the extra-curricular activities of board members – are under intense scrutiny as automatons for the will of the company. They are increasingly at risk for at-will firings even as these same companies and rulings strip protections for said workers. Workers need to remain undyingly and intensely loyal to what the company wants. Even as these same companies erase pensions, commit massive and random layoffs, coerce employees to attend to and support favored politicians, and send profits into think tanks like ALEC and SuperPACs that support big business interests and fly in the face of little person interests.

But back to the bodies and choices of women. What Justice Ginsberg in her dissent said is true:

Any decision to use contraceptives made by a woman covered under Hobby Lobby’s or Conestoga’s plan will not be propelled by the Government, it will be the woman’s autonomous choice, informed by the physician she consults.

What Hobby Lobby, their co-defendants and the conservative majority of the SCOTUS have argued for is to reduce a woman’s* options for her health, her well-being, her life choices. While there was no scientific or even faith reason to deny the contraceptives in question, that shouldn’t be reason enough to stop Hobby Lobby and any other closely-held corporation from interfering with a woman’s* rights over her own body.

This of course would include not just Green’s Hobby Lobby and the four-out-of-twenty contraceptive methods they opted out of, but companies like Eden Foods, Gilardi, and Autocam Corp. These companies, led by anti-abortion Catholics, had already filed cases with lower courts recently seeking to opt out of all contraceptive and family planning services covered under the ACA. The Supreme Court is telling the lower courts to re-review their cases under the new ruling. As the US Council of Bishops has made clear, the hierarchy of the Catholic church and most anti-abortion Catholics are firmly against contraceptives. Lower courts had already ruled in favor of the owners behind the Korte and Newland companies who also requested that they also be freed from the shackles of having to provide any sort of help for women who don’t want to be pregnant all the time. So we already know that the precedent is there:

And there’s the un-fucking-mistakable case that the five jurors who agreed with Steve Green and his Cohort of Dominionists are men. Just as those who created this phony “religious rights” argument were also all conservative men. Which isn’t to say that everybody who agrees with this decision is a man or is self-hating, but it highlights the fact that those who don’t need to worry about such decisions nor never truly needed to worry about them are the ones making the decisions for those who do.

Strengthening the case for universal healthcare

This case highlights the ridiculousness of connecting our healthcare with our employment. Healthcare should not be tied to the whims and concerns of the people we work for – nor whether or not they’re able to afford it. Whether we work for Scientologists who don’t believe in mental health meds, or Jehovah’s Witnesses who don’t believe in blood transfusions, or Catholic hospitals who don’t believe in contraceptives or abortion in any circumstance, or just cheap-ass Papa John’s or a string of part-time employers, every single person should unequivocally have immediate, affordable access to full medicinal purposes.These are life-and-death and public health issues and not left to the strongly-held but incredibly ignorant religious beliefs or opinions of dumbass greedy rich people.

So, what is the connection with all three points?

Fight!

Fight!

Fight!

Tomorrow is a new day and next year is a new year.

Fight!

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*I say “women” but “those who can get pregnant and other people who can benefit from the pills” is more accurate.