Crossing Class Divides for Allies | Friday Keynote | WPC-14


Notes & Copyright

Keynote: Crossing Class Divides for Allies

Speaker: Betsy Leondar-Wright | Friday, April 12, 2013

Leondar-Wright is a professional middle-class ally against classism. Starts speech out with a slideshow illustrating class bias. First slide is an image of a flyer in MA — has a back-view picture of a slovenly, fat man in a too-short shirt and ill-fitting pants with his butt crack and belly hanging out. He’s wearing a baseball cap, has whiskers, and has a piece of grass/ straw hanging out his mouth. The text says, “Don’t let the rednecks ruin our schools and cripple our library.”

Leondar-Wright states that white working class men get a bad rap from liberals and progressives. She says liberal voters tend to blame our social issues on white working class men because of the very small (but loud!) subset who vote conservative/ tea party/ republican, and hold racist, sexist views. She reminds us that they are a subset, though, and a small one at that, and that there are many potential social justice allies among the working class.

Though white, working class men are stereotyped as racist or bigoted, they are in fact more likely to have diverse workplaces than middle class professionals are. Furthermore, white professionals in positions of power are the ones who have the ability to perpetuate institutional racism/ sexism/ classism, not working class men.

Leondar-Wright talked about the language of classism; how people insult or compliment each other by referring to class. Insults include calling or comparing someone to a redneck, low-life, white trash, or trailer trash. We often compliment someone by saying they are/ did something classy or are a class act.

On, they have a contest for the most classist comment of the year, and we might be surprised by how often liberals/ progressives win. In 2004, the most classist comments were chosen when a Halliburton truck driver was detained in Iraq. The liberals and progressives blew up news stories and comment threads attacking the trucker for working for Halliburton. Many blamed the trucker, saying it was his own fault for “choosing” to work for Halliburton and stating that if he was beheaded or tortured it would serve him right. The trucker was working for Halliburton because his wife needed surgery and it was the only good-paying job he could find — this didn’t matter to the libs/progs, who felt he should have quit and that he’d brought his misfortune upon himself by working for such a company.

 Levels of classism

  1. Cultural
  2. Interpersonal
  3. Institutional

Leondar-Wright points out that classism is the insult that justifies the injury. Blaming the victim for their economic state. She says income inequality is growing while class mobility is shrinking. People born into working class families are more likely to still be working class when they die. She laid some statistics down on us.

Faces of Poverty

  • 13% of whites live in poverty.
  • 35% of blacks live in poverty.

 Number of families born into poverty in 2011

  • Whites > 4 million in poverty (most poor families are white, because the population in the US is still predominantly white)
  • Blacks < 2 million in poverty
  • Latinos < 2 million in poverty

[Personal Note: The percentage of poverty/ impact of poverty is higher for the populations of color because there are fewer people of color per capita in the US. Basically, imagine a sample population of 3,000 people. If 2,000 of the population are white, 500 are black, and 500 are Hispanic, the ratios of poverty would be 260 white people (out of 2,000) living in poverty, 175 black people (out of 500) and 175 Latino people (out of 500) living in poverty. There’s a lower percentage of whites in poverty, but a higher population density to draw from — the disparate impact of communities of color increases the percentage of PoC living in poverty.] 

Education is supposed to be how we level the playing field; it’s supposed to be the key to mobility. It is not. Schools are funded through property taxes, which means poorer kids get poorer schools, and wealthy kids get better schools. Elite and private colleges admit more students from the top 2% of wealth in this country than from the bottom 50%. At four year colleges with no class affirmative action policy, poorer applicants of all races get NO lift relative to the more affluent applicants.

Racial affirmative action slots are filled with elite foreign students of color or students of color from wealthy families. Working class students — both of color and white — are routinely discriminated against.

For example, legacy admissions. Legacy admissions are blatant classism. Children of alumni make up 1 – 25% of the student body at selective colleges. This is more than the amount of students allowed in from racial affirmative action, athletic scholarships, and geographic admissions combined.

Leondar-Wright urges us to look into the legacy policy at our colleges and make it a scandal if one exists. If legacy admissions were abolished, there would be many open slots.

Leondar-Wright says that just as reaching a world w/o classism requires eliminating racism, uprooting racism requires tackling class and classism. Says our default culture is the middle class culture, and this creates bias in our organizations to their very bones. Middle class professionals run the non-profits, are placed on boards, run businesses, are the management and supervisors, and hold the power: These are college educated middle class people who run things. People with high school diplomas or Associate of Arts degrees are made support staff, with little or no input into the policies and voice of the organization. If a working class voice is wanted or needed, they are often brought on as unpaid advisors. The middle class professionals say, “We want to hear your voice,” and bring them on as unpaid support.

This practice is defended by claiming that college education confers certain skills that are needed. She allows this may be true in some cases, but asks why we don’t train people within our organizations, instead of requiring them to have a degree.

Leondar-Wright points out that approaches to eradicating racism are often infused with professional middle class culture. For instance, the language we use in talking about racism.

Racism frame: Bigotry.

The implied cause of bigotry is prejudice, discrimination, and hate that is caused by institutionalized white supremacy.

The implied solution is increased education and awareness.

She points out that it’s saturated in the language introduced in college classes. The working class is discriminated against as being white supremacists. Anti-racist activists use language that alienates and discriminates against the working class by implicitly and explicitly blaming them for the perpetuation of racism and discrimination.

She says we also need to lose the college jargon. Language like, “supremacy,” “imperialism”, “hegemony,” “neoliberal,” and “white privilege” are terms learned and predominantly used in college classes. She asks the audience to consider why saying, “white privilege” might be a bad idea when addressing working class and poor people?

Because privilege also means wealth and luxury, and that is the definition most people are familiar with. The concept of privilege as discussed in college classrooms by middle class progressives and liberals is completely different. A white working class person will hear the word “privilege” and think “luxury”, and they are very aware of the lack of luxury in their own lives. To have a middle class college guy telling a working class guy that he’s privileged is just . . . insulting.

She then asked the attendees how we would describe this conference to working class friend without using the words “privilege” or “supremacy,” or any of those types of terms.

[Personal Note: I would say, “It was this thing where a bunch of like-minded people got together to talk about racism and how it effects everyone in society, and to come up with ways that white people and black people can recognize and combat racism as allies.”]

Leondar-Wright points out that as tough as this economy has been for poor white people, it’s been ever harder for people of color. This is a reality the working class white male can relate to.

In college classes, they tell us to take the emotion out of our voice. They tell us to remove personal stories from our writing, and encourage us to use big words and new concepts. Leondar-Wright points out that these are bad communication practices no matter who you’re talking to; they are alienating.

She talks about how in her book, they share personal family stories. For instance, she talks a lot about her dad, a WWII veteran who benefited from the GI Bill, and uses that to segue into talking about how vets of color were excluded from GI bill benefits. She says we need something in this country like that GI Bill again, but this time for everyone.

Language isn’t the only issue, though. It’s also about our practices, how we “do diversity.” There are ways we practice diversity that work well in professional middle class settings, but bomb in working class settings. For instance:

A company held a “Diversity Day” at all their offices and stores. The professional middle class staff loved it, but the low level working class staff groaned at the idea of spending a day just talking about it. They wanted to know why the company needed one dedicated day; why they couldn’t just start doing the right thing. The concept of a diversity day was one brainstormed, proposed, and implemented by white middle class college educated professionals. Working class people often feel that middle class allies spend a lot of time talking and not a lot of time doing.

A certain town had an LGBT group founded by black and white working class gay men. They were representing the LGBT movement in the community. The middle class college educated members of the LGBT community felt that the working class men were not representing the LGBT community well. They said the working class men were unprofessional and made the movement look bad. Ultimately, the working class men were replaced by middle class college-educated white professional who had “diversity skills.” This example highlights how middle class professionals often see working class people as incapable of speaking for themselves or fixing their own problems: they do not believe the people who have the problem possess the skills or knowledge to fix the problem.

She then introduced four typical professional middle class approaches to diversity that bomb with working class people.

Ideological litmus tests.

Ex: A professional middle class group working on a social justice issue wanted to limit membership in the group to people who shared their exact ideological values (for instance, a group of gay atheists insisting any gays in their group also had to be atheists). Working class people are baffled by the intentional exclusion of potential allies.

Over emphasis on racism as internal dynamics.

Ex: Professional middle class people tend to talk about racism problems in the organization or workplace they’re in, rather than on a larger social scale.

More talk than action.

Working class people see the professional middle class allies as having too much of an emphasis on workshops and special sessions to discuss the issues, and too little on actual action.

Ideal of “interrupting” oppression.

The white ideal of interrupting or calling out oppression. The working class says the calling-out culture (which they see as finger pointing) stems from elite educated activists feeling entitled to sit in the seat of judgment and critique other.

This doesn’t mean we should stop calling out oppressive and discriminatory speech, but instead of getting lecture-y, we need to connect and relate. Connect before correct. Use human connections and respect to make your point, don’t talk down to people.

Then she lists some strengths from the working class heroes who are something to be. (song reference is my addition). They show understanding of the action behind how changes happens. They show strength and solidarity.

  • Emphasize discrimination in wider society, not only within group culture — the harms done in society as a whole.
  • Focus on concrete action with outcomes that benefit a particular people of color. Everyone is enthusiastic about concrete action with visible results.
  • Discussions of racism need to be integrated into working meetings, not just special workshops. In a working meeting, introduce brief mentions of oppression or discrimination in everyday language.
  • Be attentive to preserving the unity of the group; form a larger shared context of shared goals and solidarity.
  • If you disagree with someone and call them out, use camaraderie language, ie: “Hey, man, that wasn’t cool. That was actually really messed up. I love ya, but you gotta cut that shit out.”

She finishes her speech by encouraging us to draw on old labor movement activist traditions of brotherhood, friendship, and solidarity — all for one and one for all.

[Personal Note| added 2015: I remember that I had been feeling a vague sense of frustration with the conference until I heard Leondar-Wright’s speech. I walked out of her keynote with tears streaming down my face. It felt raw and personal, like hope and possibility. A speaker at this conference who actually offered an active solution for changing the future together, as brothers and sisters with arms linked together in solidarity. It felt like someone who recognized that classism was the real enemy, and race was a tool being used by the elitists to arbitrarily divide us and pit us one against the other; as it had been since colonial times. She was the first person at the conference who seemed to actually be talking about the effect of classism on race, and it was incredible.]

gratitudes and platitudes

We went to a friend’s place for Thanksgiving Dinner today. It was a bit hectic, and understandably so! Our hosts, “Lina” and “Arius,” were juggling a baby less than a year old, a teenager, and meal production for/ entertainment of two guest families — not an easy task, and I was in awe of Lina’s good temper, patience, and hostessing skills.

The other family sharing the meal today was the “Bings”, comprised of, “Brienne,” “Tony,” and their three children. I know Brienne from back in the day, when we went to the same church together. We reconnected a few years ago, and she’s overall just a super awesome, sweet, generous, cheerful, and intelligent person — actually, she’s a lot like Lina, to be honest, which is why I introduced them earlier this year.

Lina had a full schedule of optional activities for the day — arts and crafts for the kids in the morning and dinner around 3:30 in the afternoon, followed by a walk and a movie. It sounded brilliant, but also utterly exhausting.

My son and I can be pretty high-sensitivity at situations like this — not, like, easily insulted, we just get super over-stimulated by all the people, conversation, noise, heat, activities, etc. etc. pretty easily. I’ve typically dealt with it by smoking, which I’m trying to step away from (obviously). My son tends to react with a meltdown, because he’s 11. Not a temper-tantrum, everyone look-at-me meltdown; it’s more like he shuts down and stops interacting, and gets weepy or angry when people don’t respect his stated desire to be left alone. I’m trying to both manage my own high-sensitivity better through acknowledging it and setting personal boundaries and self-imposed time limits, and to model personal-responsibility and emotional self-management to my son.

So we eschewed the arts/ crafts portion and arrived at 2 p.m. The plan was to come early, help fix dinner, visit and go on the walk, then head home before the movie. I have a hard time sitting still through films (I blame my mom, I don’t think she ever watched a film without pausing it at least once).

If you’re getting a sense that I’m somewhat introverted and dislike social interaction, you would be partially correct. Basically, my favorite social activity is talking with 3 or fewer friends, preferably over food or coffee, for visit of 2 hours or less. Add in more time or people, and I tend to get overwhelmed from the plethora of visual/ audio/ tactile/ olfactory/ temperature stimuli. I usually deal with extensive social interaction by taking lots of cigarette breaks, or (if it’s a party with alcohol), getting quietly and desperately drunk in an effort to dull the sensory intake.

So we arrive, and things seem to be on schedule. Arius is washing dishes and Lina is nursing Nib. The turkey is done, pies are on the counter, and it seems that only the stuffing needs to be completed. I ask Lina if I can help with anything, and am soon happily zesting a lemon and chatting with Lina as she prepares what will become a truly incredible spinach-pomegranate-pecan-mandarin salad with a lemon vinaigrette dressing. That woman can cook!

Tony, Brienne, and the kids return from walking the dogs, and Brienne joins us in the kitchen while the guys play video games. Very June Cleaver, if the Cleavers had video games. It’s a crowded kitchen, though, so I can’t throw too much shade at the guys. Besides, Arius probably helped before the guests arrived, and Tony did make the gravy. Plus, I really like having the ladies-only time.

Lina is one of those rare and talented cooks whose ego is not tied up in being the sole cook. She is both excellent at preparing food and in delegating responsibilities. It’s such a relief, and makes for a smooth-running kitchen. And I loved that I was accepted into the kitchen and given tasks to do. It was like family meals when I was younger, with my whole family milling around and everyone expected to pitch in. It doesn’t feel like you’re really accepted if you’re not allowed to help in the kitchen.

The meal was a little delayed, but nobody really cared because we were having fun hanging out. I did get a little overheated/ overstrung and really craving a cigarette a couple times, but I’m trying a new thing — when I get over-stimulated, instead of going outside to smoke, I just go outside instead. No cigarette, just outside. The truth is, I’ve always gone outside because it’s quiet and a break; the cigarette was initially the addictive excuse so people wouldn’t think I hated their faces, and also because only weirdos and addicts choose to go stand alone in the rain or cold for 15 minutes instead of socializing with friends inside. I’ve cut down significantly (0-3 cigarettes a week and no self-purchased packs), but I feel like to be successful, I have to be okay with taking some recharge time for myself when I’m at social functions.

I did step outside a few times today. John noticed, and being the sweet and perceptive husband that he is, he realized I was getting overwhelmed by all the heat/ noise/ people inside. After about 10 minutes, just as I was thinking about being social again, John came outside with Kidling and started kicking a soccer ball around. I joined in and pretty soon we had a game of kick-the-ball going. Soon enough, Brienne and her son joined us, then Lina’s teenager made it out there, too. It was really fun — Brienne said we should do this every year, and have like a trophy that we pass on, like the football tradition in Friends. I concur.

Then we had dinner, and just . . . wow. Wow. Lina went all out. It was amazing. She had this recipe for cornbread-tofu-cranberry stuffing that was just delectable. She made the cranberry sauce from fresh cranberries and mint. She had this crazy delicious spicy pomegranate-sweet potato dish that was like heaven in a platter, and she had made about three or four pies. Also, the requisite mashed potatoes, turkey, blanched green beans with almond slivers, and sweet potato casserole, as well as a bunch of rolls and stuff. In short, it was a delicious gourmet spread.

The food was set up buffet-style, because there were so many people. We were supposed to grab plates and go eat wherever we could sit, nice and casual. I felt like a complete and utter idiot, because as we began to crowd around the table, I asked, “So, do we, like, give thanks or anything?”

Arius and Tony gave me a shocked look and laughed. They weren’t mean about it, just kind of . . . nonplussed, I think. We tend, in our culture, to equate “give thanks” with “pray,” so hearing me propose the idea must have been startling, at best.

I didn’t mean pray. I’m an atheist, so don’t for a minute think this is something to do with religion. The idea of “thankfulness” and “gratitude” is is actually a Thanksgiving concept I’ve been wrestling with for awhile now.

A few weeks ago, my dad asked me how atheists celebrate Thanksgiving. I said, “Well, I don’t know about celebrate, dad. I enjoy the day off with my family and I like good food as much as anyone, but I don’t particularly celebrate the genocide that accompanied the colonization of this country. So I like the holiday for family-time, but I’m uncomfortable with what it stands for because, well, genocide.”

My dad kind of laughed and replied, “So what you’re saying is that you don’t give thanks to god on Thanksgiving?”

To which I replied, “No. I do not thank the great sky-daddy for genocide,” and we both kind of laughed uncomfortably because it’s an uncomfortable topic.

And truth be told, I have a hard time in general with the concept of, “giving thanks,” or saying, “I’m grateful for [good things in my life],” because those phrasings both seem to indicate in  a vague way that the thanks/ gratitude is directed toward a higher being. I’ve noticed, too, that there seems to be a growing assumption in recent years that only spiritual or religious people “gives thanks,” hence the startled pause when I suggested the exercise, as though everyone just heard the words, “Shall we pray?” instead of, “Should we give thanks?”

I need to find another way to phrase it, but I feel like any way you try to say it is awkward. It’s pretty simple, though — I am grateful for my life, and for all the people and decisions that led to where I am today.

  • I am grateful that my parents decided to settle here, in this town, because that meant that I was in the position and place to meet my husband, who moved to this town as a teenager. I am grateful that his family moved here, too, because otherwise we would not have met.
  • I am grateful that through the privileges afforded to me through the situation of my birth and my parents, I have had ready access to clean water, plentiful food, indoor plumbing, and (generally) affordable education.
  • I am grateful I worked at Summit, because that’s where I met Lina. She has become like a sister to me. Despite the scammy, unethical employers, I cannot actually regret taking the job — because without that position, I would not know Lina.
  • Similarly, I am grateful I was raised LDS, because that’s where I met John, who is the most amazing, generous, compassionate, and intelligent partner anyone could dream of. If it weren’t for the LDS Singles Ward, I do not think our paths would have crossed. So I’m grateful to the LDS church for providing the setting that allowed me to meet my husband. The LDS church is also where I met Brienne the first time, and where the seed our friendship blossomed from began.
  • I am grateful I lost my faith first, because my experience put me in a place where I could support and comfort Brienne when she called me, shocked and in pain from the multitude of lies she had built her life on.
  • I am grateful that my friendships with Lina and Brienne led me to Lina’s home on Thanksgiving Day, where I stood by a table laden with delicious home-made food and discuss the nuances of showing gratitude with my dearest friends.

Yet, although I am grateful for the decisions I’ve made and the relationships I have cultivated, I still struggle with the the dangerous perpetuation of the myths surrounding the Thanksgiving holiday and the cultural misrepresentation, cultural approbation and erasure of genocide which are endemic to the holiday. I dislike perpetuating such myths, even passively, and I dislike the religious overtones the holiday is steeped in, and (honestly) I don’t even really like turkey. It’s gross.

I do like that it’s one of John’s paid holidays, which is extremely rare for a retail employee. I do like the idea of setting special time aside to focus on on your loved ones — a role holidays have typically filled.

I feel like too often, we all get so caught up in decrying the disgusting commercialization and corporate takeover of holidays that we forget most people actually do spend the holidays with people they care about, and the trappings are just that — trappings. The people, the relationships, are what really matter.

I mean, yeah, we should all show affection and love on a daily basis, and in an ideal world we would. But in the real world, we rely on each other to understand the unspoken, and sometimes expressed affection can slip through the cracks of communication and scheduling.

So I feel like holidays and birthdays and anniversaries are this great, socially-condoned excuse to set time aside and focus on our loved ones; our friends and family. Since realizing I am an atheist, I have found the true meaning of these holidays was hidden in plain sight all along — it’s not the religious or the secular trappings, it’s the people you’re spending them with (or the people you want to be spending them with).

Anywho, we did give thanks of a sort at Lina’s dinner. After I asked if we would be giving any sort of thanks, and got some good-natured ribbing from the boys in response, Brienne and Lina volunteered some things they’re grateful for, followed by John and a few of the kids. I feel a little foolish and childish for saying anything, but also happy — dare I say grateful — that I have such lovely friends.

The Commercialization of Asian American Stereotypes| Thursday Workshop | WPC-14

Note: These workshop notes are extremely in-depth. I had my tablet with me and I type fairly quickly at ~80/wpm. The original notes also utilize my preferred shorthand techniques, which I’ve obviously expanded into the full words/ sentences here. So these notes do cover the entire presentation, not just the highlights.


Notes & Copyright

For the Love of Money: The Commercialization of Asian American Stereotypes

Facilitator: John D. Palmer | April 11, 2013

The historical/ colonial relationship between Asians and the US was formed largely around three factors:

  1. Earning respect from Western powers.
  2. China and Japan as allies to the United States.
  3. Trade and opening up a market for American goods. (The tea at issue in the Boston Tea Party was Chinese tea.)

Japanese Americans were different from the  transient Chinese immigrant populations. The Chinese immigrants came to earn wealth, then took that wealth back to China. They did not want to stay in America and did not consider themselves American. Japanese immigrants, however, considered themselves American and wanted to not only build wealth, but become American citizens.

This is seen in the history of the “picture bride,” where Japanese men would choose a bride based on her photograph and either go pick her up to bring her back to America, or have her brought to America by ship. Chinese, on the other hand, wanted to return home to marry and build their lives.

[Personal Note: I am not sure how accurate this statement is. At the least, it strikes me as disingenuously broad.]

In 1910, the Japanese Imperial Army defeated the Russian Army. President Teddy Roosevelt negotiated the Japanese-Russian peace treaty, by specific request of the Japanese. President Roosevelt actually won a Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating this treaty. A key element of the treaty negotiations was improved treatment of Japanese Americans. Japan told Teddy Roosevelt that they would not sign the treaty unless America started treating the Japanese people in America as citizens. As a result of these negotiations, Teddy Roosevelt desegregated American schools for Japanese students almost 50 years before Brown vs. Board of Education. This allowed Japanese Americans advantages in education that other minority Americans did not have access to.

Early Chinese immigrants were gold miners, railroad workers, and laundry workers — low wage and exploited. Employers would pit the minorities against each other, claiming that Chinese were driving down wages (would work for $1 an hour, leading to accusations that they were driving down wages), so the Chinese immigrants faced threat and violence from the white minority immigrants like the Irish. The 1930 fire in San Francisco Chinatown was a result of the Irish hated and violence against Chinese, which was fanned by neo-liberalist design.

The 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor erased the Japanese favoritism in America. The Chinese Americans were now favored, as the US and China became allies. The peace treaty favors negotiated by Teddy Roosevelt disappeared, completely gone. In 1942, Executive Order 9066 approved the internment of Japanese American citizens.

Image credit: PBS website – The Supreme Court | Law, Power, and Personality

[Further research:442nd Regimental Combat Team — the most decorated combat unit, because they were sent on the most dangerous assignments.]

During this time, the Japanese Seattle flower shop owners were evicted from their houses and shops. Their belonging were looted, their business stolen, and their homes occupied.

Example of a Japanese flower shop in Seattle, Washington, circa 1940s, owned by the Habu-Kabota family. Image credit: Dorpat SherrardLomont

One important thing to remember is that while the dominant reality was betrayal and theft by their government and neighbors, there were some happy stories.

There was a neighborhood in Seattle where the white neighbors of a Japanese family promised to look after their home and flower shop while they were gone. For the 4 years this family was in the camps, the white neighbors kept their promise. They maintained the house, yard, vehicles, and shop. They put aside the money earned from the shop for their return. When the enforced imprisonment of Japanese American citizens was lifted, many chose not to return to their former homes. This family did, however, and found everything as they had left it. Untouched, undamaged, unlooted — and a savings account of 4 years worth of earnings was waiting for them.

Stories like this are important and necessary to share, because they illustrate how white allies can utilize their privilege in times like these. They teach us how to act and respond in times of tragedy. Another example is the professors at the University of Berkley, who recommended and sent their Japanese students to programs on the East Coast in order to save them from the camps.

Asians In Cinema up through 1950s and 1960s

In Hollywood cinema, Asian women are shown as either submissive, delicate, obedient flowers or as prostitutes. The roles of Asian women onscreen are usually filled by Asian actors.

Frances Nuyen as Liat in South Pacific, 1958

The Hollywood portrayal of Asian men is problematic in a different way. They were usually portrayed as greedy, uneducated, and oversexed. White male actors were relied on to fill the roles, with the use of caricatured stereotypes (bad accents, buck teeth, squinty eyes) to convey the ethnicity.

Mickey Rooney as Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast At Tiffany’s, 1961. Image Credit: EthicsAlarms

Rise of the Model Minority myth

After more than 100 years of immigration exclusion, the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 was passed, allowing Asian immigration to the United States. The first wave of Asian American immigrants were the wealthy/ upper class Chinese, Japanese and Korean. They were middle class, educated, and well off. They matched the values and education of middle class America, and fit in more easily than if they had been poor or uneducated.

Further, the first generation of immigrants did not want to make waves. They wanted to fit in, they wanted their children to attend good schools and succeed. They did not want their children to be “un-American” or different. They learned English, they taught their children English, and they insisted on speaking English even at home. They didn’t like to feed their kids traditional foods from at home — Palmer relates how many 2nd generation Asian kids recall their parents eating traditional foods like Kim Chi at the table, while providing a separate meal of American-style foods for the kids. They did not want their kids to smell different, or eat different foods, or speak a different language than their American peers.

They wanted their kids to fit in, not attract attention, and succeed. This led to Asian American immigrants and their children choosing to overlook racism and insults, both blatant and subtle. Aware of the sacrifices of their parents, the children preferred to pursue success rather than equality. They internalize the discrimination and remain quiet to it. They are told by their parents and culture that Asian American discrimination is not that big a deal. They are happy most of the stereotypes seem positive, not negative like the other minorities. They are not as bad off as the other minorities, and are okay with being held up as proof that racism is gone. They don’t want to get the negative racist attention.

The problem is, the Asian American youth were getting negative messages both at home and through the media about the value and character of Asians, and these messages created a lot of identification issues and internalized the cultural stereotypes about Asians. They wanted to succeed to pay back their parent’s sacrifice, but they also questioned the value of their culture/ history.

Asians In Cinema through 1970s

In the 1970s, more positive ideas began to emerge regarding Asian roles: Takei in Star Trek with his calm, logical demeanor and unaccented English, Bruce Lee and the rise of martial arts films.

George Takei as Lt. Hikaru Sulu on Star Trek.

Even the Calgon commercials popular in the 1970s showed a more positive view of Asians (apparently the commercial referenced involved a Chinese laundry with white patrons. The white patrons were exclaiming over the quality of the cleaning, and the Chinese business owners spoke in unaccented English and were clearly educated. At the end of the commercial, the punchline was the white patron asking how they got the shirts so clean. The Chinese owner looked into the camera and said the only line spoken in a heavy accent, “Ancient Chinese secret.” Then Calgon jingle and slogan, I guess). It seemed like the silver screen could go in a positive direction, but it ultimately did not.

Instead, Hollywood began casting white actors as the hero in martial arts films, while the few Asian roles cast were as the villain. Bruce Lee was even asked to hide his ethnicity, and the backslide in Hollywood representation of Asians increased even as the rate of Asian American immigrants was rising.

Persistent Social Myths about Asian Americans.

  • Forever Foreigner
  • Model Minority
  • Tiger Mom

Forever Foreigner — this is the idea that all Asians are 1st gen immigrants.

Palmer relates a common incident for him. He meets someone new, and they ask where he is from. In unaccented English, he responds that he is from Ohio. They then ask where he’s originally from, to which he responds (again), Ohio. Depending on the cluelessness of the asker and Palmer’s mood that day, this cycle of questioning can apparently go on for a while. Palmer points out that no-one approaches a white person and tries to find out when/ where their ancestors immigrated and from what country, or doubts their being raised in America. 

[Personal Note: Relevant YouTube video]

Model Minority — this is the idea that Asian Americans are an example of what all non-white minorities can achieve with a little effort.

It does not examine the disparate impact of the historical circumstances: In the case of Black Americans, they were forced to arrive in bonds of slavery, and then persecuted through Reconstruction, Black codes, and Jim Crow. Despite being citizens of America, they did not have a basis of wealth, nor were they provided means to acquire it. Institutionalized racism made progress and the acquisition of wealth and education difficult (if not impossible) for most Black Americans. In contrast, the bulk of the Asian American population arrived in the 1960’s already primed for success. They were from wealthy backgrounds, had the benefit of Western-influenced education, and arrived post-Civil Rights Acts. Disparate impact — situation do not compare.

Tiger Mom — the Tiger Mom idea starts in the 1980’s with the media focus on the “super minority.”

Magazine and newspaper articles celebrated the Asian moment. Pres. Reagan called Asian Americans exemplars of hope and inspiration. Top schools around the country had high rates of Asian American students. President Bush praised Asian Americans for their dedication to law, work, and education.

 Asians In Cinema through 1980s

1980s saw the silver screen emasculation of the Asian American male. Asian Americans were finally being cast in Asian American roles other than villain, but they were still not cast as the hero. Martial arts films cast white actors as the hero, and Asian American actors as the love interest (female) or the support system/ sidekick (male).

Ralph Macchio as Daniel LaRusso in The Karate Kid, 1984. | Image Credit: The Guardian

Other films relied on Asian American characters for comedic value. Male Asian American characters were written for laughs — Long Duck Dong in 16 Candles or Takashi in Revenge of the Nerds. They were effeminate, harmless, silly. Not a threat. Asian Americans were not written or cast as jocks or masculine men.

Gedde Watanabe as Long Duk Dong in 16 Candles, 1984 | Image Credit: NPR

Women were still cast and portrayed as exotic and submissive or as prostitutes. Hollywood profits on the grief and tragedy of wartime prostitution, mocking their experiences and the decimation of their country by American-perpetuated wars and American troops.

“Black Blouse Girl,” My Lai, 1969 by Army photographer Ronald L. Haeberle | The moment captured is the moment between sexual assault and massacre.

Side note: When Hollywood casts the female love interest as Asian, the white guy gets the kiss, while the Asian guy (if he’s even in the competition) does not. One of the only kisses on Hollywood silver screen given to an Asian American male was to Jackie Chan in one of the Rush Hour films — he gets a peck on the cheek.

1980s Stereotypes

  • Submissive/ Obedient Asian woman
  • Sexual/ prostitute Asian woman
  • Tiger Mom

Submissive/ obedient — Fetishization of Asian women as submissive/ obedient women who prefer to have a man in control.

Idealizes Asian women as exotic and delicate flowers.

Sexual/ prostitute — As portrayed in many war films, it is the stereotype of the oversexed Asian prostitute eager to please the white man.

Often also portrayed as amoral/ greedy/ duplicitous. The popular quote, “Me so horny me love you long time,” epitomizes this trope. Palmer notes this trope is particularly horrifying, given that wartime prostitutes are more often than not forced into that circumstance because of the war and the presence of soldiers. American troops come over, destroy their home which results in these women being forced into prostitution to survive, then go back to America and make movies about the devastation they wreaked on these lives.

Social Issues and Asian American Culture

1. Marriage:

Asian Americans have the highest rate of any minority for marrying out of their race. Part of it goes back to the Japanese internment. The Japanese wanted to be American; they considered themselves American citizens, but they were imprisoned anyway. The post-internment generation of Japanese married out of their race in extremely high numbers in order to confirm their Americanism.

Rate of Asian American miscegenation is rising in each generation, and more are marrying out of their race every year. Palmer stresses he’s okay with miscegenation and does not have a problem with marrying out of race, but adds that this trend shows the internalized beliefs Asians have about Asian Americans as partners.

All this detracts from the threat of minority and supports the cultural representation of Asian Americans as the model minority.

2. War on Drugs

Concurrently, in the 1980s, Reagan’s war on drugs was targeting Black and Latino men. The law said 5 grams of crack cocaine brought a minimum sentence of 5 years in prison. 5 grams is the size of a nickel, and was very cheap. Easy to acquire, easy to conceal, and easy to plant. Police would do exactly that — if 5 grams of cocaine were dropped on a minority during an arrest, it ensured their incarceration and removal from the street. Over time, the penalties increased, and prison sentences went from 5 years to life for possession of crack cocaine.

Cocaine was popular in the 80s and used by all classes, but powder cocaine was the realm of wealthy white kids. Crack cocaine was associated with poor people, especially poor minorities. When the elite white or Asian kids did powder cocaine, it wasn’t seen as a problem. Example/ life comparison: When college kids finish finals week, it’s an accepted tradition that they party. Everyone knows there will be alcohol, weed, maybe even a little powder. Everyone looks the other way, sees it as blowing off steam — a reaction to the stress of finals week.

One of 5 frat boys arrested at Columbia University in 2010 for allegedly selling over $11,000 worth of drugs to undercover cops. | Image Credit: Gawker

When Black and Latino people break under the stress of institutionalized poverty, unemployment and discrimination and turn to drugs such as weed or crack cocaine as a relief from their stress, it is seen as validating negative stereotypes about their race(s) as a whole, and is attributed to the flaws of their race.

Image Credit: Betches Love This

What was the benefit of the war on drugs to white America? Prisons. Building and maintaining prisons, hiring guards and housing prisoners saved the economy of upstate New York, and many other dying rural areas. Locking up Black and Latino men saved white communities. Raising prison sentences from 5 years to life created job stability as the Black and Latino men were warehoused into old age.

Accusations of racism in the policies were answered by holding up the success of Asian Americans — they were held up as a law abiding, educated, and successful minority; proof of America’s post-racism and the myth of individualistic merit. The claim was, “See — minorities can succeed if they want to.

3. Black Decline in America

Palmer also points out that low income schools in slum/ ghetto neighborhoods often have guards, guns, and wire. Says society is training and acclimating the students/ inmates to a life and future in prison. Compare with middle class/ affluent schools preparing their students for college/ workforce.

Palmer states that Asian Americans are the root cause of Black decline in America. Asian Americans immigrated in droves and set up new businesses. They hired within their racial communities, but didn’t hire Blacks. They drove down wages and overall employment, and their success in America allowed whites to cast Asian Americans as proof America was not racist and minorities could succeed. The contrast of Asian American success highlighted the struggles of the Black and Latino communities, confirming in many minds the existing negative stereotypes about Blacks and Latinos.

The tensions were fed and inflamed by the media, pitting minority against minority.

Example: Latasha Harlins and Soon Ja Du.

Latasha Harlins

Latasha Harlins was a 13 year old Black girl shot to death in 1991, shortly after the beating of Rodney King. Harlins had entered a Korean corner grocery owned by Soon Ja Du. She walked around the store but did not purchase anything. As she started to leave the store, Du stopped her and accused her of stealing a carton of orange juice. Harlins denied the accusation and turned to leave. Du shot the 13 year old child in the back of the head, killing her. Du was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter, but did not serve a single day of prison time. Instead, Du served her sentence through fines and community service, but remained a free and active member of the community.

In the same time frame as Harlin’s murder and Du’s “sentencing”, the LAPD officers were acquitted in the beating of Rodney King. The Black community began rioting in response to the news, but it is telling that they did not riot in the wealthy/ affluent parts of the city — the rioting broke out against Korean shop owners and in Chinatown. News coverage showed the race riots; and highlighted the violence Blacks and Latinos were perpetuating against the “model minority”.

There was no coverage of benevolence or assistance across race, such as when an elderly Black man stopped the beating of an Asian youth by stepping between the youth and assailants and telling the assailants they would have to go through him to get to their victim; or when a Latino priest warned and protected his Korean neighbors.

When the O.J. Simpson trials were televised, racial tensions were again exploited and misrepresented in media coverage. Judge Ito was portrayed as weak, indecisive, and emasculated.

Media coverage and representations also like to highlight the opposition of Asian Americans to Affirmative Action — the rejection of Affirmative Action by a minority is used by whites who reject the validity of affirmative actions as validation/ proof that it is unnecessary and not wanted.

The media coverage narrative that claims Asian Americans oppose Affirmative Action usually features stories and statistics claiming that Asian Americans are over-represented in higher education, and so “lose out” on Affirmative Action.

Palmer allows that there are many Asian Americans who do not believe they benefit from Affirmative Action, a perception fed and increased by media coverage representing this as the common opinion of Asian Americans. He thinks there is a philosophy of personal gain/ what’s in it for me? when considering Affirmative Action, which is the wrong way to approach it. It’s not about the individual situation, it’s about improving the community as a whole. The misrepresentation of the value and benefits of Affirmative Action is meant to pit minorities against each other so they won’t notice/ care about the greater inequities.

The Stained Glass Ceiling

 The glass ceiling is not just a gender issue. There is a glass ceiling for minorities; even Asian American minorities. Whites in America are making more. Only 29% of Americans get a B.A. degree. Of that 29%; 52% are Asian Americans and 32% are Whites. The remainder are Black and Latino — despite the higher rate of B.A.’s, Asian Americans still bring in less income than whites.

Asians In Cinema through 1990s – Present

In the 1990s the silver screen representations of Asian American culture is still casting white actors in the positive Asian-inspired roles. Asian Americans are still cast in the supporting roles of wise mentor/ sidekick/ comedic relief. 1990’s also sees the rise of the Indian American grocer stereotypes. The Asian women fall in love with the white hero and the Asian American male continues to be emasculated on the silver screen.

The 2000s sees both positive changes and the continuation of negative trends. On the plus side, Hollywood is breaking racial lines on the silver screen and casting more Asian American actors than ever, and in more positive roles. Jackie Chan, Lucy Liu, Margaret Cho, Kal Penn.

[personal note: also Steven Yeun as Glen on Walking Dead; Harry Shum Jr. and Jenna Ushkowitz as Mike Chang and Tina Cohen-Chang, respectively, on Glee?]

There are rising representatives of Asian American culture in both t.v. and film, as well as in the world of sports. Palmer named a bunch that went over my head, but I did catch Ichiro something and Lin. Further, the current Asian American silver screen representations are less demeaning/ caricatured, more vibrant, and more diverse.

On the downside, there are still far more negative stereotypes represented in popular culture than positive ones. There is still an erasure of strong, successful male role models — in The Last Samurai, the protagonist hero was played by a white male. In 21, a film based on a real-life card counting event that was later recounted in a best selling book, the card counting crew of 6 was played by 4 white actors and 2 Asian American actors. In the real life event that inspired the book (and later, film), all the card counters were Asian American — a fact recognized by the book, but not the film.

In romance and gender dynamics, the Asian American woman are still most frequently cast as submissive/ shy/ nerdy/ sweet/ exotic, and the white male lead still gets the kiss and the girl.

Further, when blatant racism does occur, Asian Americans are told it is just a joke/ they are being too sensitive/ get over it/ get a sense of humor. Examples include an ESPN story about Jeremy Lin with the headline, “The chink in their armor?”; or a 2006 airing of The View in which host Rosie O’Donnell cracked a joke about the Chinese perception of Danny DeVito which included a string of, “ching chong chang,” to imitate Chinese people talking.

In sports, too, Asian Americans are praised for success — but not too much success. Examples include Michelle Kwan apologizing for her success when she beat out white competitors to represent America in the Olympics/ figure skating; and the media representation and coverage of Kristi Yamaguchi.

Q & A

Jess: Asks question about the immigration exclusion act, and whether in its historical absence, the result would be a far different version of American racial demographics.

Palmer: Doesn’t think so, because of the different immigrant cultures. The Chinese liked to come in, make money, and leave. The Japanese preferred to stay, but the numbers of immigrants do not support the theory that our racial makeup would look radically different.

[personal note:I don’t think this answer really addressed the question. I feel like he actually didn’t listen or maybe just didn’t “get” what Jess was asking.]

Older Asian American Female: On the ESPN/ Lin situation — she had heard the writer/ editor did not realize/ know the term “chink” was derogatory. She thinks this could be a good sign — the newer generations do not know the old insults and slurs, and surely that’s a sign of progress and improvement. Thoughts?

Palmer: The PC generation has grown up to be the “Hush” generation. They’ve been trained to distance themselves from racial questions through a lifetime of the adults around them saying, “Shhhh,” when they ask questions about a non-white minority, especially in public places. The result is a generation of youth who are uncertain about race and uncomfortable talking about it. They don’t know how to engage or how to address/ respond to racial differences. Even so, there is still clearly a subconscious cultural awareness about the racialized language of oppression — would that writer had chosen the headline, “The chink in their armor?” for Kobe Bryant? No. So there is a subconscious awareness of racial slurs and the power they have. The Hush generation has questions, but they’ve been trained to silence and the silencing of dialogues across racial lines. They are paralyzed by fear and guilt — fear of appearing racist and derogatory, guilt about their cultural heritage. They fear engaging in racial discussion.

[personal note:I’ve always termed the sort of clueless/ unconsidered questions that can arise from ignorance of racial issues “accidental racism”. I know there are probably better terms in my books.]

Testing Recipes: Bacon Cinnamon Rolls

You may have seen this image floating around on Pinterest and Facebook. Probably Tumblr and G+, as well.


I adore both cinnamon rolls and bacon, so I saw this and I was just like:

Omg, omg, omg!

Of course I had to go out and get the stuff to try this immediately. I bought everything earlier this week, but I had a bunch of papers due on Friday, two reading selections to complete, my Spanish homework, and John started his new shift this week. So you know what today was, right?

It’s time for bacon!!!!

Recipe-testing day! (kind of. This doesn’t really count as a recipe, because it’s really just the last step of slightly altering the pre-assembled ingredients before the requisite baking).

Allright. So, full disclosure, I did not decide to write a post until after I made the things. I promised to update a friend on how it turned out, and decided to do this instead of a FB status. After all was said and done, this is my assessment:

It was all right.

It’s okay. It’s nothing to write home about, and certainly nothing to get super excited about. But it wasn’t awful. There are some improvements that can be made, I think:

  • I lightly cooked the bacon prior to rolling it into the cinnamon roll. My husband suggested this step, and I think it was a good idea. It ensured the bacon was not only fully cooked, but retained some it’s bacon-y texture instead of becoming a limp bacon strip essentially boiled inside the expanding dough.
  • Remember to roll the cinnamon rolls back up tightly, because after unrolling them they kind of want to stay open.
  • Make extra cinnamon-butter. I didn’t do this because I didn’t think of it, but I wish I had. A decent amount of the cinnamon filling comes off when you unroll the things.
  • Following the above point, make sure you’re using a clean surface like a cutting board, and have a knife or spatula handy to scrape up the cinnamon filling/ butter that peels off.
  • Cut  the bacon. I didn’t do this, but I recommend it.

For the final point, I’d say, like 1″ strips for the bacon. When you just do the one long massive strip in the roll, it ends up pulling the whole strip of bacon out with the first bite. Don’t get me wrong, it’s delicious — but it means that it’s not bite after bite of cinnamon-roll bacony goodness, and that is the main reason for my “meh” reaction. I could have just cooked up some bacon while baking the cinnamon rolls and had the same situation.

Seems . . . pointless.

So instead, I’d suggest cutting the cooked bacon strip into 1/2″ or 1″ strips and laying down the full strip of pieced bacon in the roll. This will allow for a better bacon-to-bite ratio.

I think the next time I try it, I will also sprinkle some of those real bacon crumbles on the top of the cinnamon rolls. (I’m actually thinking I should go ahead and try to make actual homemade cinnamon rolls, which I’ve never done, and incorporate pecans, bacon crumbles, and a maple glaze.)

Bacon! Maple! Pecans! Cinnamon Rolls!

Thursday Keynote – WPC-14 (April 11, 2013)

I’ve been meaning to post my notes from the WPC-14 conference for a while now, but I keep forgetting. I figure they’re decent, pre-typed up entries to toss up on the blog during this push through to finals week. So here’s my notes on Paul Gorski’s keynote speech from the WPC-14.


Notes & Copyright

Keynote: Hypocrisy and the Perpetuation of Systemic Macro-aggressions

Speaker: Paul Gorski

Introductory speaker: Talking about checking attitude, showing love and grace, and trying something new. Don’t be angry if a workshop is full and you end up missing it. Look for another workshop, be flexible. Says he was going to give announcements, but sees they are all in the program. Adds that sometimes in workshops, people will “show out”.

[Personal Note: The term seems to mean act inappropriately; to say or do something that is sexist/ racist/ classist or otherwise out of line]

If someone “shows out”, even if it’s the presenter, they need to be challenged on their actions or words, and we need to do that. Then he acknowledged the high school kids and invited them to an open mic later that evening on the rooftop. Cracked a joke about how he used to not be allowed into the building, and now he’s invited to the Penthouse. Then he introduced Paul Gorski, ran through his credentials/ achievements, and invited him onto the stage.

[Personal Note: Dr. Paul Gorski is super cute and young. That was unexpected.]

Dr. Gorski asked for a round of applause to thank those who have made this conference possible. Then he gave a shout out to the hotel employees who have helped make all this possible and are probably not being paid a living wage, and that we need to remember that and acknowledge the people who are so often invisible to us.

[Personal Note: If I was a hotel employee, I would feel so embarrassed and singled out right now. That comment really felt like more of a self-satisfied pat on the back than an actual awareness and consideration of their feelings.]

Gorski: I am a hypocrite. When I was invited as keynote speak, I spent weeks agonizing about what to talk about. Education? Marginalized communities? Others who are involved — educators, advocates, etc. etc. are better suited.

[Personal Note: It’s a little unsettling how self-congratulatory he sounds every time he says he is a hypocrite. Instead of appearing upset or suprised/ confused by this, he just sounds . . . . satisfied? As though he thinks it is a true-false thing. Like he has somehow drawn the teeth and poison of this perceived moral failing by recognizing it, naming it, announcing it, expressing regret, and then naming the behavior in others.]

Then he thought about talking about the way in which he personally perpetuates systemic racism, and that led to him thinking about how the process of learning about racism is an ongoing thing. There are progressive kicks in the ass, from the initial discovery of the individual/ personal relationship to racism to the institutional perpetuation of racism to the global and systemic perpetuation of racism. His most recent kick in the ass occurred because of three events.

  1. The International Multicultural Institute recently released their 2012 list of Diversity Awards. Among the companies listed was Sodexo.

[Personal Note: I don’t recognize that name, but they are clearly famous — or infamous — by the collective indrawn breath and shocked mutterings that cascade through the room at this information.]

Dr. Gorski did some research and discovered that Sodexo has won many diversity awards over the years, despite their various and frequent human rights violations. Apparently the CEO board is very diverse and they play well together, which is all that seems to matter. He also discovered in his research that Sodexo is involved with social justice programs much like this one, conferences that look at diversity and racial inequality. Sodexo has, in fact, funded and sponsored such conferences, and payments from these conferences in turn go to Sodexo and fund their company and continued mistreatment and underpayment of workers.

  1. Acknowledging the trivial, which is Gorski’s introduction to animal rights issues.

He gives a little “intro to cosmetics” and claims that if a product does not say it is cruelty free or not tested on animals on it, then it WAS tested on animals. He shows slides of animal testing and torture to illustrate his point. He tells the audience to get out any personal bottles of hand sanitizer or lotion they many have, and says if it does not say cruelty free or not tested on animals, then that lotion/ sanitizer was rubbed into some animal’s eyes before it was approved for final use.

[Personal Note: This information is both hyperbolic and false. I have several makeup powders and glosses made by a small 2-person company called Shiro Cosmetics. They are mixed by hand in her home and sold through her website. The website is marked as cruelty free, vegan-friendly and paraben-free, but the products are not.

I also have several lotions and body mists from The Body Shop. Again, the products are not individually marked as cruelty free, but the website is. The Body Shop does no animal testing and packages all their products in environmentally friendly materials. They are also paraben-free and vegan friendly.

I also have some Neutrogena and Aveeno items, parent company Johnson & Johnson. The individual product labeling does not indicate whether or not they are tested on animals, so I googled them. Johnson & Johnson is named on PETA’s website as an evil animal experimenter, but a perusal of Johnson & Johnson’s own website and policies reveals that neither Johnson & Johnson nor any of their subsidiary companies use animal testing on any of the cosmetic or personal care products. They also state that they abide by the sanctions and requirements of the EU regarding animal testing. I attribute the PETA hate to a line of legalese that indicates they will do animal testing for such products the law requires them to. Offhand, given Johnson & Johnson’s vast array of products, I’d guess there may be some laws requiring them to test things like medication or formula.

So Paul Gorski is using unnecessary fear mongering and emotionally charged images to manipulate his audience and drive home his point.]

Animals are tortured to satisfy our trivial cravings for hamburgers, fur and leather clothing, and personal care products. We deprive animals of vital needs to satisfy our trivial needs.

[Personal Note: I agree with the basic premise, but feel he is being hyperbolic and manipulative in trying to make his point, which ultimately undermines his credibility and argument. I also have a personal nitpick with his usage of the term “needs” in reference to why we are exploiting animals. These are not needs, they are wants. There is a difference. Henceforth, I will change any reference to human trivial “needs” as a reference to trivial wants.]

  1. He realized he supports corporations that exploit workers and the environment.

He talked about industries and corporations that destroy communities with clear cutting, environmental devastation, pollution, runoff, etc. etc. Says often the only jobs left to work in these communities are for the corporation that is destroying the community — or to leave and join the army. The members of the community have two options: Join the army, with all that entails; or become part of the machinery destroying their community. He says when we buy from major corporations and support industrial giants, we are contributing to these and other human rights violations.

Then back to the self-satisfied hypocrite announcement. “I am a hypocrite,” he reiterates, and begins explaining how he realized that his consumer habits perpetuate the global exploitation of other’s vital needs.

[Personal Note: I cannot believe this is a revelation to him. I simply cannot. This is the most baffling speech I’ve heard come out of the mouth of a college-educated adult. It’s even more baffling because he was introduced and has been lauded throughout the day as this incredible expert on social justice and activism, and he’s sitting here claiming he’s only recently realized the way corporations and industries perpetuate discrimination and environmental devastation on a global scale? And people are clapping and responding as though this is a revelation? This is either a giant circle-jerk with everyone congratulating themselves for their self-awareness or it is the saddest and most revealing insight into the “educated” minds of the leaders of the progressive movement that I will ever have.]

Then he begins talking about terms we’re familiar with and his spin on these terms regarding this corporate/ industrial perpetuation of global human/ animal/ environmental rights violations.

  • Familiar Term: Intersectionality. A popular but poorly applied concept.
  • His spin: Uber-intersectionality, which he says ties together in a corporate capitalist context the human rights violations, animal injustice, and environmental devastation.

 Then he added a quick caveat stating that he’s not in any way making a direct comparison of which is worse, human rights violations or animal testing, but he does want to clarify that all three of these issues are part of an overall cycle of violence and corporate greed. He also points out that historically, animal testing has also been applied to races considered inferior. An example would be the infamous Tuskagee Syphilis Trials, which were justified because the experimenters saw those populations as subhuman and not worthy of consideration or rights — like animal testing today. Any industry that exploits animals and the environment will also be culpable of human rights violations.

[Personal Note: He makes a really salient comparison with the rationale behind animal testing and the Tuskagee trials. Also I find it kind of amusing that he’s so quick to preemptively try to defuse or rebut potential arguments against his inclusion of animal testing — is this a hot-button debate in the community?]

  • Familiar Term: Microaggressions.
  • His spin: Macroaggressions, which he defines as the not necessarily purposeful participation in the global system of oppression. Gives examples:
    • Someone wanting or purchasing wood furniture usually doesn’t consider the clear cutting and community devastation that occurs so that furniture can be made.
    • Someone who is hungry and stops at KFC will not be thinking of the human rights violations perpetuated in the raising and harvesting of the food, or of the animal torture endemic in factory farming.

 He says he has perpetuated and participated in these systems, and has therefore perpetuated and participated in global human rights violations and endemic sexism, racism, and classism. He is part of the problem.

[Personal Note: There’s the admission and repentence. Now comes the finger-pointing.]

White liberals see themselves as super progressive, but refuse to acknowledge the ways they benefit from and perpetuate these macroaggressions.

[Personal Note: I am amused that he singles out white liberals, as though we’re the only ones who can be guilty of having both the means of perpetuating the systems, and the education to be aware of our complicity in the system and associated guilt. It seems to have unconscious tones of both classism and racism to it.]

As examples of his consumerist hypocrisy, he cites examples of eating at McDonalds, enjoying coke with lime, and wearing Nike shoes. These are all consumer habits that perpetuate macroaggressions.

[Personal Note: Despite my issues with his presentation of his argument and the somewhat classist/elitism assumptions reeking through his language, I begin assessing my own consumer habits to see where I can improve the world in my own small way. I think the most effective choices for me would be to stop shopping at Amazon once and for all, to switch from bottled water to a reusable water bottle, and to change my meat-eating habits by both eating less and by purchasing certified free-range meat.]

He talked about the conditions of animals in factory farms: Birth to death in a cage, fed foods that are unnatural to them in order to increase growth, and how at birth, male chicks are separated from the females and tossed live into wood chippers. He also says eating meat at every meal is a new phenomenon that was created and marketed by the meat industries.

[Personal Note: I knew that. I knew everything in that paragraph, including the change in our meal habits. I’m finding it really disturbing that this is apparently not common knowledge.]

He tells us that workers at factory farms are paid well below a living wage, not provided health insurance, and denied both safe working conditions or protective gear. Because so many of the employees are illegal immigrants or brought up on a visa, the working conditions and safety violations go unreported. Even in predominantly white communities, factory farm workers are minorities, migrants, and immigrants.

These minority workers are exploited by their employers. They are threatened into silence through their fear of deportation. They cannot report violations — there is little to no government protection for them, they are often unaware of what protections they might have, and they fear the loss of a much-needed livelihood.

In Brazil and third world countries who provide much of the world’s exploited labor force, the farmers will use debt labor. They employed armed guards and local militia to intimidate workers and prevent them from leaving. Child labor is rampant on factory farms. It is also common for the guards and employers to rape women and children employed on the farms.

[Personal Note: I don’t know if I’m in a particularly bitchy mood or what, but I am having a really hard time trying to wrap my head around this speech. I mean, clearly, he’s trying to educate the audience on the necessity of changing their consumer habits, but he’s stating information I seriously thought was common knowledge; information I had assumed people generally choose to ignore their awareness of because the discomfort of the knowledge interferes with their psychological welfare in their day-to-day lives.

His presentation of this information, however — the depth and detail he goes into in describing it — indicates that he does not have reason to believe the animal rights violations are common knowledge.

Earlier referred to a company, Sodexo, but didn’t expand or explain what the company produces or who it’s subsidiaries are, or what human rights violations they’ve been accused of. He assumed that information was a known quantity, and did not expand on it.

In contrast, he explains the animal rights violations, environmental impact, and human rights violations of factory farms in detail. He names the working conditions and safety violations. He specifies the substandard wages and clarifies that the workers are denied legal protections or recourse. He carefully outlines each of these facts in detail, with the apparent assumption that the audience is unaware of these facts.

This means one of two things: One, the speaker was previously unaware of these facts and is sharing new and horrifying information under the assumption the general population is also unaware, or Two, the speaker knows the audience does not possess this knowledge and is genuinely imparting new information to them.

Since I am sitting in this room of educated white-collar professionals who are attending a conference about social justice and activism, it is reasonable to assume that one or both of those choices are accurate. It’s just really hard to wrap my mind around.]

At this point, he reassures the audience that he knows they do not intend these consequences, and do not realize when they say things like, “I could kill for a cheeseburger,” it could very well be literal. He says it is not about intent, but about the effect. Then he continues moves on to the environmental impact of factory farms.

Factory farms contaminate soil and water, cause environmentally devastating soil runoff that damages and/or permanently alters local ecosystems. This impacts the health and life expectantly of nearby poor and rural communities. Studies have shown that the spread of factory farming is harming the poorest communities; those with the least resources and abilities to deal with the devastation.

Factory farming also contributes to worldwide food and water shortages. Factory farms use 40% of the world’s grain supply and 15% of the world’s distilled clean water — just to feed livestock. Factory farming is the leading factor in human-caused climate change.

All these issues are traced to factory farming, and most strongly effect the poorest people around the world.

[Personal Note: I like steak as much as anyone. I don’t particularly like poultry. I read an article recently that mentioned the chicken of today is different in flavor and texture from the chicken of yesteryear, due to the changes in the way we raise and feed them. Apparently a happy chicken is a tasty chicken, so if you want yummy and flavorful poultry, you need to raise your own chickens and kill them at the peak of their life. I am actually thinking about doing exactly this, for all the issues stated in regards to factory farming. I am unsure if my landlord would let me.

Steak I do enjoy. I don’t buy free-range steak, but the last time I purchased steak to cook at home was in the summer of 2012. I plan on buying free-range steak the next time I purchase steak at the grocery store. I don’t particularly enjoy hamburgers or cheeseburgers, and the rare times I eat them is at a restaurant. In that regard, I could do better.

There is a difference, apparently, in the texture and flavor of free range steak. The steak sold today has been fattened on corn subsidies and grain, which is not what cows have evolved to digest. Cows are supposed to graze on grass; that’s how they’ve evolved. When we feed cows corn subsidies and grain, it fattens them up more quickly, increases the fat (and marbling) and (apparently) changes the flavor of the meat to something more bland and generic. Further, since cows have a hard time digesting the corns and grains being fed them, they fart more. Cows fart methane, and the vastly increased amounts of methane created by the practice of feeding factory farmed cows with corn subsidies and grain is what makes them the number one factor in climate change.

We do not purchase our meat sustainably at this point, partly because we just don’t eat much meat — maybe two meals a week feature meat. In the summer, John fishes and we all go crabbing and clamming as a family, gathering the majority of our protein from the Puget Sound. I’m pretty sure that’s a sustainable, eco-friendly, and non-exploitative practice. My son might disagree about the non-exploitative.

I guess my overall reaction to this portion of the talk is that we’re aware of the problems, now does he have any solutions and suggestions to address it?]

Next on the list of bad consumer habits is soda pop. Soda is made to be addictive. It is nutrient-less and pumped full of harmful chemicals. Soda pop companies prey on youth, poor communities, and people of color with targeted advertising.

[Personal Note: I hate soda pop. I dislike the flavor, texture, and sensation of it. I have for years. This is apparently an odd dislike to have in our culture, so I’ve frequently found myself having to explain my personal distaste for soda pop over the years. I’m going to assume it’s because of that history that I’m aware of the negative health effects and predatory marketing practices of soda pop companies, and that this is an area I should not assume is common knowledge.]

Martin Luther King actually called for a boycott against Coca Cola shortly before his death, citing their discriminatory employment practices.

[Personal Note: I did not know this! I have learned something new!]

Coca Cola still practices discriminatory employment practices and other human rights violations today. The list of oppressions perpetuated by both Coca Cola and Pepsi include:

[Personal Note: I did know this.]

  • False imprisonment and enforced labor.
  • Use of paramilitary and military plantation guards.
  • Union busting.
  • Violence against workers.
  • Murder.
  • Torture.
  • Kidnapping.
  • Water privatization
  • Guards raping the women and children they are “guarding”
  • Use of prison labor in China
  • Child labor exploitation.
  • Predatory marketing targeted at poor, undernourished communities where the population lacks access to healthcare and water.

He says his love of a glass of coke with a wedge of lime is another example where his trivial wants have exploited and erased other’s vital needs. Next on the list: Bottled water!

[Personal Note: This is an area where my trivial want for convenience definitely trumps the vital needs of the world. I tend to justify my continued purchase of plastic bottles by recycling them and reminding myself that I am purchasing bottles that are made of recycled plastic . . . but it’s a poor excuse.]

People in the US drink more bottled water than in any other country. 17 million barrels of crude oil are used annually to make these plastic bottles. There are over 1500 million plastic bottles in landfills and oceans. Landfills are usually located in low income minority communities, which means the impact of plastic bottles in landfills is not seen in wealthy white communities.

[Personal Note: This is a result, I think, of what John calls the NIMBY effect: “Yes, I want clean air and reusable energy! But don’t put those windmills near my house,” or, “Yes, I want the convenience and ease of bottled water, but don’t but the landfill near my house.” It’s the not-in-my-backyard. Please provide the results, but do it in such a way that I am not aware of any except the exact results I desire.]

And onto Nike. Converse is owned by Nike.

[Personal Note: Okay, that one I did not know. Damn it.]

Nike is also guilty of various and repeated human rights violations.

[Personal Note: I did know that. Hence the “damn it.”]

I think the speech has probably been going a little long, because he doesn’t go into a detailed list of Nike’s human, animal, and environmental rights violations. He skips onto the language of consumerism, which casts wants as needs:

  • I need an iPhone 4 to replace my old iPhone 3.
  • I am dying for a coke.
  • I have got to have those new Nikes!
  • I would kill for a steak right now!

Nike’s list of human labor violations is as long as Coca Cola’s.

[Personal Note: Oh, I guess he will go into it.]

Nike has been found using child labor in India and Indonesian sweatshop labor. The blamed the contractors, stating that Nike does not have any oversight of contractor activities — bullshit.

Nike has also utilized Indonesian paramilitary to intimidate workers. The runoff from Nike’s factories is ruining the surrounding ecosystems. Nike regularly practices discriminatory employment policies and health violations abound in their factories and warehouses.

Then he puts up a list of clothing brands/ corporations who are also guilty of the aforementioned human rights violations and environmental impact. A partial list is below.

Abercrombie and Fitch; Adidas; Ann Taylor; Banana Republic; Billabong; Calvin Klein; Champion; Columbia; Dickies; Express; Fila; GAP; Jansport; JC Penney’s; Lands End; Levi’s; Macy’s; Nautica; Nordstrom; Old Navy.

[Personal Note: You know what all these stores have in common? I don’t shop there. Ba-da-ba -tsssh! I kid. I shop at Old Navy for my son’s jeans when they do their $5 jeans Back to School sale. Otherwise, I actually don’t shop at any of these stores, because I don’t like shoddily made clothing steeped in the tears and blood of exploitation. Clearly, well-constructed clothing steeped in the tears and blood of exploitation would be a different matter . . . I kid, I kid.]

Consumerist society perpetuates and preserves endemic systems of oppression. He then promotes veganism.

[Personal Note: I hate the missionary zeal of the newly-converted vegan. Look, buddy, I’m glad you like being vegan and I’m glad it works for you as an answer to the issues presented by factory farming, but it’s not actually an answer. Imagine, for a moment, that the entire world did go vegan. Would the environmental devastation and human rights violations cease? No. Because (surprise surprise), crops can damage the earth and cause environmental runoff and devastation, too. Like animals, crops are a nature-based resource exploited by humans, and in the production of our resources we push all boundaries of moderation, common sense, and indeed, sanity. So a vegan world would not actually address this issue, it would just change some of the language of the conversation, from the unnatural feeding and housing of cows to the unnatural planting and fertilizing of crops. Further, how the hell would the human rights violations of workers stop? Somebody has to pick the damn plants, same as someone has to kill the damn cows!]

We call out racism, sexism, and discrimination on an individual level on Facebook and in society, but we find it inconvenient to stop perpetuating macroaggressive systems of complacent discrimination. Consumer culture itself is predicated on assumptions of access and wealth. Wealthy communities offer the option to “opt out” — to live vegan, to buy free range meat.

Poor communities are therefore exploited twice over. Not only are they exploited by having to produce these systems, but they are then exploited by the intense and targeted predatory marketing to their communities which forces them to participate in the ongoing cycle of exploitation. This predatory marketing perpetuates a system that enforces the complicity of the exploited communities in their own exploitation both in the production and consumption of these items.

Then he asks us to be mindful and take stock of our personal participation in global macroagressions, to ask ourselves who was exploited so we could have this want.

[Personal Note: Okay. Clearly I had some issues with his presentation and the arguments he chose. At the same time, I do agree with his basic point, which is precisely why I have been slowly but surely altering my own consumer habits over the past several years.

Groceries and food: Eating less meat, purchasing from local stands and grocers when possible, patronizing local and sustainable restaurants to support the community, not buying unnecessary foods, reducing overall purchases of snacky-type foods and soda pop (John loves soda pop, and I haven’t been able to convince him to drop it completely), baking and preparing our snack items when possible, and harvesting our own seafood.

Clothing and shoes: The bulk of our clothing purchases are second-hand items through thrift stores and consignment shops. A very small percentage of items are “investment” items — well-constructed clothing sold at a locally owned and operated shop that has a seamstress or tailor on site for alterations. The shoe situation is a little different. I am trying (and thus far, failing) to find a company that makes sewn-sole shoes and boots that are both fashionable and well-constructed. Once I find the damn company, I’m going to buy myself a pair of boots — don’t care about the cost! — that will last longer than 6 months. When they finally do start to wear out, I am going to take those boots to the shoe repair shop and have them repaired and then I am going to keep wearing them. And once I find this damn company, I will also buy boots/ shoes for my husband, because I am sick of paying out the wazoo for shoes and boots that are so poorly constructed they just fall apart after only 6 months of wear. IT IS NOT RIGHT.

Household Items and Electronics: Before I buy, I determine whether it’s a want or a need. I research the hell out of the brands to determine which one is of the highest quality and will be “for life,” the sort of quality product I can use to the end of my life and maybe even pass onto my children. I also try to look at the company’s treatment of workers, the environmental impact of the product, the expected life span, and a variety of other factors. We often choose to purchase household items used from garage and estate sales, thrift stores, and auctions.

Makeup and Personal Items: As noted earlier, I purchase all cruelty-free and environmentally sustainable makeup and personal care items. I also try to support small businesses when I can.

Worst habits: As stated earlier, my worst and most shameful consumer habits are centered around my desire for convenience. I purchase stuff off Amazon, I use bottled water, and since I started working, I’ve gotten in the habit of purchasing pre-packed quick-cook meals. These are the specific consumerist habits I have that place my want for convenience above the vital needs of others. I’ve been trying to figure out ways to address these without sacrificing too much convenience, and think I’ve come up with some solutions to implement — no thanks to this talk.

My biggest issue with this talk is not his language or vegan missionary-ism or hypocrisy. My biggest issue with this talk was the complete lack of suggested solutions, aside from “go vegan and stop buying stuff from bad companies.” It was a solution so generic and useless as to be laughable. Grrr.]

adventures in bisexual erasure

I read this post a few weeks back called Why Gays Don’t Support Bisexuals. I thought it was pretty interesting, and sparked some thoughts based on my own relationships with bisexual men. The bi-erasure I’ve run into as a cis-woman when in a relationship with a bisexual man is usually one of two branches, both of which either invalidate our relationship or his identity:

  1. There’s no such thing as a bisexual male, so he’s actually gay and in denial/ in the process of coming out.
  2. No, he’s with a woman, so he can’t be bisexual. He’s straight.

Janeway expresses so many feels.

See, my general thing is to assume people know themselves pretty well — so if someone says they’re bisexual, they probably have a pretty solid reason for identifying as such (personally, I tend assume everyone is kinda bisexual, but for some people their bisexual inclinations are so minimal that it’s easier or even a non-issue for them to present/ identify as monosexual). Me, I’m straight-identified, which is actually part of how I came to this conclusion. I mean, I could see maybe being in a relationship with a girl should a very specific set of (and honestly, quite unlikely) circumstances occur.

A VERY specific set of circumstances.

It’s not that being with a girl is repellent to me, it’s that it just doesn’t matter to me. I’m neutral/ ambivalent about the idea. I’ve had girl friends who I am quite close to, and have kissed or felt the urge to kiss women in the past … but then again, kissing is fun, and I’ve never been interested or invested in pursuing it past that urge.

In short, I feel like I could have a happy romantic relationship with a girl should some “Y: The Last Man,” situation ever call for it, but I don’t particularly care to test-run that theory.

If you don’t get that reference, I feel bad for you. You need to go read this.

My bisexual friends do not hold this level of disinterest toward the idea of a relationship with either gender. They say, “I could go either way. I’m more interested in a great personality, and sex is sex– fun!”

This seems to generally sum up their attitude toward romantic relationships: Cool people are cool regardless of gender, and sex is fun– so why limit the possibility of romance?

On the other hand, when I speak with gay or straight-identified people about bisexuality, there seem to be two reactions to the idea of sleeping with both genders:

  1. Detached disinterest in sleeping with the opposite of whatever sex they’re attracted to.
  2. Vehemently expressed disgust.

I’ve begun to refer to such vehement disgust/ biphobia as the “team mentality” of sexuality. The “team mentality,” is when someone who identifies as straight or gay dislikes bisexuals because they (the monosexual-identified person) have so deeply invested their identity being perceived as 100% straight or gay, for whatever reason, that they don’t want to back away from their “team.”

The analogy, obviously, is from die-hard sports fans who get all weird and disturbing about their singular focus on a sports team.

Image from Why Your Team Sucks

Much like homophobia, I think biphobia comes about in part because the person does not want to look at/ acknowledge a part of themselves that would cause them to re-assess their identity and public persona.

In the case of biphobic gay people, this kind of makes sense. A lot of gay people have had to identify politically and socially as “gay” in order to fight for the rights to have their same-sex relationships recognized and legally validated. I would imagine the psychological effect is a bit like a hazing, or bootcamp, or running a gauntlet. It’s this traumatic event that tears down the existing world and relationships, puts life and psychological well-being in danger, and creates a sense of community forged through shared hardship.

Coming out as “bi” just as gay-ness is beginning to gain mainstream acceptance would be willingly subjecting themselves to a level of discrimination and erasure that the gay community is only just beginning to be able to move past. Furthermore, since bisexuality is so often cast as a “phase” it seems (at first blush) to counter arguments for gay rights– after all, if being bisexual is not “merely” a transition period, then that leads one to think that a self-identified gay person could, perhaps, find love and happiness in a heteronormative relationship.

And maybe they could– I’m sure there are plenty people who currently identify as gay that could possibly find heteronormative love, just as I think there are many people in heretonormative relationship that could find happiness in same-sex relationships.

Of course, that’s not the point — the point is that there is absolutely no moral or logical reason to prevent consenting adults who wish to engage in a relationship and build a family/ life together with whomever they choose from doing so. It is that simple, or should be.

Marriage for all! Dance party!

But it isn’t. There is unfortunately a large (but shrinking!) and noisy population of people who truly believe they “know,” for whatever reason, that gay marriage is a horrible thing. They are utterly convinced of their correctness, and have spewed their divisive vitriol into the public debate and into the private home lives of people they’re utterly unrelated to.

Why, how did this wikimedia image of Orson Scott Card end up here?

The children (and possibly grandchildren) of those bigots are raised in a culture of hatred and fear, and some of those kids have same sex attraction.

Now, imagine a kid is being raised in a family that believes same sex attraction is wrong and evil, and that kid realizes they have some same sex attractions. The kid is essentially faced with two socially-constructed options, no middle ground. Those options are to be gay or straight. So they pick a team. They draw a line in the sand and choose to identify as one or the other. Generally speaking, this results in an outcome that falls under one of four broad categories:

  1. Person chooses to ignore homosexual feelings of attraction and live as a straight person. If they get married, all their family will probably come to the wedding. No state, city, or federal agency will prevent them from having or adopting children. If they get divorced, they will not lose any claim to visitation or custody over their children. If their spouse ends up in the hospital, they will be able to visit them and sit by their bed. As a married couple, their marriage will be recognized on both state and federal levels, and they will benefit from all the legal benefits and protections such an official relationship bestows.
  2. Person chooses to ignore heterosexual feelings of attraction and live as gay person. They come out to their family and friends, and risk ostracization and discrimination. If they get married, some or all of their family/ friends may boycott the wedding. If they want to build a family, they will find people actively campaigning to prevent them from doing so. If they manage to become parents (as a stepparent, through surrogacy, through adoption, etc.), they may lose any right to see or visit their child should the adult relationship cease. If they get married, the legality of their relationship will not be recognized by all states/ countries. They will not benefit from all the legal protections and benefits the civil institution of marriage should offer to all citizens.
  3. Choice 1, but person does not find happiness or fulfillment in this lifestyle and re-assesses their identity. This becomes part of their coming-out saga, and they move on identifying as homosexual.
  4. Either of the first two choices, but person continually finds themselves slipping/ experimenting (either during or in between relationships). They always term these to be curiosity/ boredom/ loneliness/ desperation, and continue to present as their chosen identity. 

Basically, repression of sexual desires does not actually mean erasure of said desires — it means denying, for a lifespan, a key and essential aspect of how they relate to and interact with other people.

I really do believe most people are on a sort of broad spectrum of sexuality, similar to the Kinsey Scale. Research has long pointed to a genetic link, with recent research showing that epigenetic markers may be the deciding factor.

This HuffPost editorial by Christopher Rudolph, titled, Ender’s Game And Philosophy,’ New Book, Asks: ‘How Queer Is Ender?‘ gives a brief overview of Queer Theory and in the process, describes my view pretty well:

“Some people are biologically predisposed to being interested in the same sex and some the opposite sex, but there would also be many people in between—not just bisexual people, but people who mostly prefer men or mostly prefer women. In our society, we’re terrified to think that many of us are born somewhere on the middle of this spectrum, because we’ve been taught to hate and fear same-sex relationships, so we cannot even think about it!”

Personally, my suspicion has always been that hormone release (by both baby and mother) during gestation is what determines later sexual orientation. I figure it’s like a bit like baking — if I make a cake and don’t add enough sugar, or maybe I cook it at too high a temperature, then it won’t be the cake I thought I’d have.

Ingredients and timing matter, even in biology. Maybe the hormone release is dictated by the epigenetic changes, who knows.

Anyway, I do think there is a very, very small percentage of the population that is actually 100% hetero or homosexual. I just think that, given social pressures, if a person can fit in as straight, and they’re not overly interested in a homosexual relationship, why would they risk their safety and social privileges to come out about the possibility they may want to have a same-sex relationship some day? They may not be averse to the idea, may even have some curiosity about it — but why risk all for an urge they can dismiss as mild curiosity?

And if a person has identified as gay, and has given up relationships with their family or friends to live as a homosexual, and they have built a new support system within the gay community — well, then, why deal with the repercussions and sense of betrayal within the community just to announce that they maybe, possibly, might someday be interested in a straight-apppearing relationship, especially when such urges can be dismissed as a longing to fit in and be accepted?

As an analogy, imagine that you’re hungry and you want a snack. You have the option of ice cream or pie. But you’ve set up an arbitrary restriction for yourself, so you can have only one or the other — you want both, but you have decided you can only have one. You like both options, but you choose one over the other. Which do you choose? Why? Whichever you chose, you probably chose because you prefer it. You may like ice cream, but you prefer the texture and warmth of pie. Or maybe you enjoy pie, but it’s just not the same without ice cream, so you’d rather just have ice cream alone. You like both, but have a preference. It’s like 90% of you chose the pie, but 10% of you could go with ice cream. That’s how I kind of view most mono-presenting bisexuals. I figure they prefer one snack over the other, but there’s a little and easily repressed interest in the discarded snack.

Taking that percentages idea further, the less equivalent someone’s interest in both sexes is (say, 90/10 or 80/20), the more likely I think they are to identify as monosexual. But if someone has a 60/40 or 50/50 interest in both genders, then it’s going to be really hard to pretend to be monosexual. Your sexuality– no matter how much some people try to claim it isn’t an identity– is a huge part of how you view the world and interact with people around you.

But people still don’t like to identify as bisexual, either because they think bisexuals don’t exist, or they think it’s betraying their community, or they’re just scared to admit to same-sex attraction in any form.

Having a community, an identity — it makes a difference in your emotional and psychological health. Knowing there are people who “get” you.

On top of that, there are so many negative stereotypes and myths about bisexual people. People say bisexuals are cheaters, indecisive, attention whores, just in transition, in denial of their homosexuality. More than once, I’ve been told bisexual men are incapable of monogamy. In a nice little piece of hypocrisy (and, to my mind, one of those weird moments when people spout biological differences between the sexes like we’re literally different species), I’ve been firmly informed that while it is well-known that women are sexually fluid, men are incapable of this kind of fluidity.

One very angry man, with utter conviction and no small amount of spittle, spent a good 45 minutes reiterating this point to me; and insisted that any man I had been with sexually who had also been with a guy had either been a) faking it with the guy and was raped, or b) was faking it with me and in the process of coming out. It was inconceivable to this individual that any adult male could actually choose– and enjoy– sexual relations with both men and women.

What do you say to intransigent idiocy?

I guess there’s just no convincing some people.