sleeping alone and starting out early

an occasional blog on culture, education, new media, and the social revolution. soon to be moved from http://jennamcwilliams.blogspot.com.

Archive for the ‘human rights’ Category

Jon Stewart on "should Muslims be allowed to build their mosques in the neighborhoods of their choosing?"

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on July 8, 2010

Sometimes Jon Stewart is just so on.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Wish You Weren’t Here
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Tea Party

Posted in Congress shall make no law, gay rights, human rights, Jon Stewart, religion | Leave a Comment »

turns out Gallagher has become an evil clown.

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on July 8, 2010

The Seattle newspaper The Stranger is a free alternative newsweekly, so I suppose that explains the strident anti-conservative tone of a recent piece about the aging comic Gallagher.

The primary target of this piece is Gallagher himself; the author describes Gallagher as “a paranoid, delusional, right-wing religious maniac,” then offers up some pretty convincing evidence:

Gallagher is upset about a lot of things. Young people with their sagging pants (in faintly coded racist terms, he explains that this is why the jails are overcrowded—because “their” baggy pants make it too hard for “them” to run from the cops). Tattoos: “That ink goes through to your soul—if you read your Bible, your body is a sacred temple, YOU DIPSHIT.” People naming their girl-children Sam and Toni instead of acceptable names like Evelyn and Betty: “Just give her some little lesbian tendencies!” Guantánamo Bay: “We weren’t even allowed to torture all the way. We had to half-torture—that’s nothin’ compared to what Saddam and his two sons OOFAY and GOOFAY did.” Lesbians: “There’s two types—the ugly ones and the pretty ones.” (Um, like all people?) Obama again: “If Obama was really black, he’d act like a black guy and get a white wife.” Michael Vick: “Poor Michael Vick.” Women’s lib: “These women told you they wanna be equal—they DON’T.” Trans people: “People like Cher’s daughter—figure that out. She wants a penis, but she has a big belly. If you can’t see your dick, you don’t get one.” The Rice Krispies elves: “All three of those guys are gay. Look at ’em!” The Mexicans: “Look around—see any Mexicans? Nope. They’ll be here later for the cleanup.” The French: “They ruin our language with their faggy words.

Holy crap. With hate speech like that, Gallagher deserves as much disgusted critique as writer Lindy West can dish out. But she doesn’t stop there; the audience, she explains, are “rabid, frothing conservative dickwads” who lap up Gallagher’s racist, xenophobic rant. Okay, so the question becomes: Is West responding in kind? Is she unloading hate speech on the group she dislikes in a similar way to Gallagher’s anti-gay, anti-liberal “act”?

First, I want to make clear that while all hate speech is abominable, hate speech that targets marginalized groups is more abominable than hate speech that targets dominant groups. Why? Because of power and inertia. Marginalized groups–the LGBTQ community, for example–in lots of ways exist at the mercy of dominant groups–in this case, the heteronormative community. “Should we give them the right to marry?” “Should we pass laws to protect them against anti-gay violence?” “Should we let them claim each other on their tax returns?” It’s taken for granted that American society needs to decide what rights to “grant” gays. The alternative would be to assume that the LGBTQ community already has the same rights as everyone else, and laws that violate those rights need to be struck down.

Power. Inertia.

So calling a language “faggy,” advocating “girly” names to avoid giving daughters “lesbian tendencies,” finishing up an act by, as West describes it, smashing a plate of fruit cocktail and an Asian vegetable mix and announcing “This is the China people and queers!!!”–way more abominable than calling Gallagher’s appreciative audience “rabid, frothing conservative dickwads.” It’s an audience, as Gallagher himself points out, filled with white people, and the risk of getting beaten, killed, or legislated against for being a conservative white person is fairly low relative to the risk that goes along with being gay, African American, Mexican, or any of the other ethnic and cultural minorities against whom Gallagher is stirring up the pot of hatred.

Which makes West’s response understandable but still not quite okay. I say this as someone who absolutely adored this article, who is aghast that hate speech like this attracts any audience whatsoever, and who has the same impulse to rage against anyone who would even chuckle at Gallagher’s diatribe (which, by the way, doesn’t even seem particularly funny).

Anyway, you should read the whole article, which is fairly short and extremely well crafted, then let me know what you think.

Posted in bigotry, evil clowns, gay rights, human rights, obnoxious | 1 Comment »

twinning injustice, one social structure at a time

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on July 2, 2010

My sister, who just finished absolutely destroying her first year of law school, recently announced an interest in pursuing criminal prosecution. Once I overcame my instant misreading of her announcement (don’t blame me; I’m not a morning person), I figured out pretty quickly that my twin sister and I are pursuing vocations that spring from the same moral impulse. To wit: I must serve and defend people who have suffered or will suffer at the hands of others.

It’s just the name–prosecution–that throws us off, makes us think prosecutors are out to punish the bad guys. In certain respects, of course, that’s exactly what prosecutors do–that’s exactly the power we confer to them. But the public interest in punishing the bad guys is an outgrowth of a deeper public impulse: To maintain the social order, to protect our citizens from injustice and victimization, to fight for the good guys.

Protecting people from injustice and victimization. Fighting for the good guys. That’s pretty much what I like to think I’m doing, too, by working in the service of working class kids and kids who are deeply undervalued and underserved by a system that is not designed to help them. I work in defense of those kids. And another way to frame that work is to say that I am a public prosecutor, building a case against a system that’s criminally unjust, criminally cruel.

But here’s where I think Laura and I part company: I believe we need to demolish the social order. I believe that the public education system is deeply, perhaps fatally, flawed, especially for poor kids and minorities, and I believe we need to work to tear it down. That’s the wheel I’m throwing my shoulder against.

Though we haven’t explicitly talked about this, I’m pretty sure my sister believes the criminal justice system is similarly deeply, deeply flawed (see here, here, here, and here)–but it seems to me that her stance is something like “this is the best system we have right now, the only system we have, so we need to use it to protect the innocents and the victims.”

I’m all, fuck the Man and the horse he rode in on! And my sister’s all, yyyeah that’s nice but lookit all these victims who need protecting and defense right now. And I’m all, Yes! And let’s muster up an army made up of those victims and march with them right to the gates of hell if that’s what it takes! And my sister’s all, um, okayyy but this woman was raped and that guy’s son was murdered and this woman was stabbed by her partner and what if we put aside the anger and try to take care of the people who need us right now?

Details, details, right? Laura and I agree that the world is all effed up, and we agree that we are therefore bound to the work of un-effing up things. The rest is just planning.

Posted in crime, education, human rights, law, politics, public schools, racism, twins | 1 Comment »

principles for ethical educational research

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on May 15, 2010

I’ve been thinking lately about the burden of speaking for others.

Because I’m an educational researcher, and speaking for others is the heart of what we do. We walk into a classroom, watch some things happen for a little while, then make decisions about which stories are worth telling, and how, and why, and to whom. And this is precisely what we’re supposed to do. This is precisely why we head into the classroom in the first place: to tell stories about what learning looks like.

But it can be such a heavy burden, this speaking for others. You know the burden is heavy when the simplest challenge is finding a way to represent what happened in a way that everybody would agree is reasonable and accurate. But that’s not where our responsibility ends, because no research findings are politically or socially neutral. Every representation of research is an articulation of a belief system; it’s an expression of a worldview; it’s a document that leads people to act in ways that can help or hurt the populations we hope to represent.

And the burden gets heavier for researchers working with marginalized, oppressed, or disenfranchised populations, since speaking for these groups can so easily fall into a reproduction of the oppression that rains down on them from all around. Paulo Freire warns us against the “false charity” that so often comes from members of dominant groups who wish to help the oppressed:

False charity constrains the fearful and subdued, the “rejects of life,” to extend their trembling hands. True generosity lies in striving so that these hands–whether of individuals or entire peoples–need to be extended less and less in supplication, so that more and more they become human hands which work and, working, transform the world.

It seems to me that false charity emerges when a person becomes too confident that she knows and understands the needs and interests of the oppressed groups she hopes to represent. False charity can therefore look like an awful lot of things: Research focusing on vocational education for poor kids. (Why would we dare to assume working class kids wouldn’t want to go to college?) Research showing working class kids are capable of doing college-level work. (Using college readiness as our measure of ‘success’ allows policymakers to continue to make decisions that assume that college readiness is the most important goal, thereby continuing to marginalize kids for whom college is neither desired nor possible.) Research documenting the learning trajectories of immigrant students. (We’re at a cultural point at which nearly anything that’s said about immigrants, especially in America, can be twisted to hurt the very populations it’s intended to help.)

I’ve been working in a small alternative high school populated primarily by lower class and working-class kids. I’ve seen miracles happen in this school for many of its students, and I’ve met graduates of the school who talk about their time in the school as the most powerful and important educational experience of their lives. Sitting in a classroom in this school, or walking down its halls, or talking to its students, reminds me of how powerfully transformative an education can be. I wish you could all spend a day at this school. You would walk out joyful, hopeful and optimistic about the future of our children. You would walk out with a renewed faith in human beings.

But you won’t get the chance to visit this school, because the school board decided to shut it down. I probably don’t need to tell you that I think this is a mistake. I further believe that the decision to close this school was motivated by a deep cultural prejudice against poor kids. We don’t often say it out loud, but we hold a cultural belief that a child’s value is largely determined by the likelihood that she will go to college; our culture is embarrassed by its children who are poor, who live in rented houses or youth shelters or foster care, who are not college-bound. Our society is built on the backs of these kids; we need their labor to keep our society running–and this need only embarrasses us all the more.

It’s the job of researchers who work with marginalized populations to represent their research in a way that not only serves the best interests of those populations but also helps to rewrite the cultural narrative that keeps these populations oppressed. It’s not easy work, simple work, or quick work, but it’s necessary work.

With these things in mind, I want to offer a set of principles for educational research that I hope can help guide researchers in our work with marginalized populations–and maybe our work with all sorts of learning populations.

1. We exist in the service of the communities we work for. I have to believe that when we forget this, it’s on accident. But we must never, ever forget that our work should first of all support the needs and interests of both the learners and the educators working inside of our chosen learning communities. This means that we have to actually talk to the learners and educators to find out what they want, and we have to take them at their word and not, for example, guess that if they knew more about the world they’d want something different.

2. We exist to serve the needs and interests of the communities we work for. It is not our job to decide whether a community’s interests are good or right; it’s only our job to work in service of those interests. If a researcher can’t get behind the stated needs and interests of the members of her chosen research community, then she needs to find another community to research.

3. It’s our job to represent our work in ways that support ethical decisions by policymakers and external stakeholders. Educational researchers serve as an important bridge between learning communities and policymakers who make decisions about the futures of those communities. One of our most essential roles is to represent research findings in a way that is clear and useful to policymakers while also representing to those policymakers findings that support the needs and interests of the communities we serve. I’m not saying this is easy. I’m just saying it’s essential.

4. All educational research is social activism, and all educational researchers are social activists. There is no such thing as politically neutral educational research. Let me say that again: There is no such thing as politically neutral educational research. All statements of research findings are statements of a belief system about the role of education, and all researchers must therefore do research that both aligns with and serves to articulate that belief system. Further, all researchers must make their belief system clear, to themselves, to the communities they work for, and to policymakers who make decisions about those communities. They must always ensure that their belief system aligns with the needs and interests of the communities they work for, and if there is a conflict then the community’s interests always trump the belief system of its researchers. If the ethical conflict is irreconcilable, then the researcher must find another community to represent.

Here I want to crib a quote from Jim Gee, who laid out his own set of principles for ethical human behavior in his book Social Linguistics and Literacies. After describing these principles, he made this declaration:

I would claim that all human beings would, provided they understood them, accept these conceptual principles. Thus, failing to live up to them, they would, for consistency’s sake, have to morally condemn their own behavior. However, I readily admit that, should you produce people who, understanding these principles, denied them, or acted as though they did, I would not give up the principles. Rather, I would withhold the term ‘human’, in its honorific, not biological, sense, from such people.

This declaration was made in the second edition of Gee’s book; if you own the third edition, don’t bother looking for the quote–for reasons that are unclear to me, he removed it and instead simply asserts that we really shouldn’t bother trying to change the minds of people who disagree with these ethical principles. I want to call for a return to the stronger language. Given the incredibly high stakes of public education in America, we don’t have time for politeness. We’re in a fight for the very lives of the students we serve, and it may be that too much politeness is what got us here in the first place.

Posted in bigotry, education, human rights, Jim Gee, politics, public schools, schools, social justice, teaching | 4 Comments »

against ‘tolerance’

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on May 10, 2010

I want to share with you a beautiful piece of prose I encountered via Out Magazine. The essay, “Riding in Cars with Lesbians,”  by Helena Andrews, is the memoir of a woman who grew up with a pair of painfully abusive mothers. Though they mainly directed their abuse at each other, the scars crisscrossing the writer’s emotional terrain are evident everywhere you look. Here’s an excerpt:

A 99-cent store dry erase board saved my life. I’d never given the thing much thought before using it to slash manic slaps of marker onto our Frigidaire. The grown-ups were in the living room arguing during the commercials, trading insults to a soundtrack about sunglasses. Frances, we need to talk about this. My name is Geek, I put ’em on as a shocker. Do whatever you want, Vernell, leave me out of it. Man, I love these Blublockers. I hate you. Everything is clear. Keep your voice down. They block out the sun. Why? Helena knows what a bitch you are. Oh, yeah, I gotta get me some.

I also love this piece because it presents a clear-eyed picture of an abusive household that happens to be headed by a pair of lesbians, though really, the author treats the gay issue as a secondary thing. Sure, the teenaged daughter is embarrassed to have two mothers–but her embarrassment is depicted as on par with the range of things our parents can do to embarrass us. A trashy car, embarrassing wardrobe choices, the fact of a mother and a stepmother with no father in evidence–it’s all approximately equally embarrassing.

We need this sort of narrative.

We need people who can talk about members of the LGBTQ community in terms as human as those we’ve traditionally reserved for mainstream (straight) people. Gays are neither the vile, depraved and hellbound pedophiles that religious and far-right political groups would like you to believe; but neither are we the perfect angels who only have missionary sex at night with the doors locked and the lights out, who want nothing more than a house in the suburbs and our allotment of stock options and children, who pray to the Lord Our God each night before we go to sleep. Like most people in the world, most LGBTQ people fall somewhere in the middle of the continuum. Sometimes we want to act up and act out; sometimes we want  to toss up our queerness like a flaming red mohawk:

And sometimes, like my friends Elaine and Nancy, we just want to get married:

And sometimes, as in Helena Andrews’ essay, we’re far less generous and kind than we wish we could be. Sometimes we can’t help but talk shit about our partners, even in front of children. Sometimes we’re mad enough that we can’t help but take a swing or two, even at the people we love.

It’s not okay to behave badly, but it’s okay to acknowledge that gays could be better or worse people, depending on the day or the circumstances. It’s okay to acknowledge that gays are decent people, beautiful people, sometimes heroic people, but mostly gays are just average people who are trying to live their lives as fully and kindly and with as much joy and love as they can.

I’m not a fan of the notion of “tolerance,” mainly because I believe it suggests that the people who are supposed to be “tolerated” must be proven to be acting “tolerably.” That’s not equality; that’s patronizing. That’s a power differential that favors the status quo. That’s charity, handed out to the trembling hand held up in supplication. That’s a stunted revolution that permits only the most limited type of dancing.

I prefer multiplicity, openness, dialogue. I prefer that we strike down the cultural narrative of gays as a monolithic group walking together in lockstep, especially since that narrative is not borne out by the truth of “gay culture.” I prefer–I propose–that we craft a new narrative, one that presents members of the LGBTQ community as exactly as diverse, as variable, as perfect and flawed, as everyone else in the world.

Posted in beauty, creativity, gay rights, gender politics, human rights, politics, social justice, writing | Leave a Comment »

best. live performance. ever.

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on April 24, 2010

I just got back from a show starring the Indigo Girls, with a special appearance by a band I’d never heard of. The group is called Girlyman, and they are drop-dead fantastic. They knocked us all absolutely dead, and it was obvious that the Indigo Girls, Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, had a great deal of respect for these guys.

Here’s a vid of one of their recent songs, “Young James Dean.” In the live performance, they also had a drummer, JJ Jones, who added a nice kick to their sound. You might want to consider checking them out if they come to a town near you.

Posted in awesome, creativity, gay rights, gender politics, human rights, music | 1 Comment »

Transgender Basics, via NYC’s Gender Identity Project

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on April 16, 2010

“It is so painful to live a lie…and it’s so freeing to be true to yourself. And we should be applauded for that. We should not be persecuted for that, we should not be discriminated against and denied services, housing, jobs, for that. We should be celebrated, and we should be valorized.”

Posted in gender politics, human rights | Leave a Comment »

how to make like an ally

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on April 11, 2010

You read Sady Doyle’s blog Tiger Beatdown, right? Everybody reads Sady Doyle’s blog Tiger Beatdown. If you’ve never been to this site, may I suggest you leave my blog immediately in order to immerse yourself in the glory and ladyrage that is Tiger Beatdown? Here, I’ll even do something I never ever do: I’ll give you a link to her blog that takes you directly away from my blog and deposits you at her blog, which if you haven’t read her blog is actually where you belong anyway.

Today I want to direct your attention to the most recent Tiger Beatdown post, which is about feminist allies and offers a nice description, in the person of one Freddie de Boer, of how not to be an ally. Freddie, it appears, is Sady Doyle’s enemy in the worst way: He explains that, as a feminist man, he’s tired of being silenced by feminist women who purport to have more right to speak about sexism than he does!

Well, Sady gives ol’ Freddie a glorious smackdown, which I’m sure he has already interpreted as yet another example of why we shouldn’t let ladies speak their minds. In the middle of her smackdown, Sady offers up what I consider to be most excellent advice for anybody who wants to serve as an ally to a marginalized group. I’m going to include an abridged version of her advice below, though this should in no way hinder your intention to read the entire post in its gorgeous entirety.

Sady writes:

A common phrase, which just about every ally has ever heard or been instructed to heed, is, “if it’s not about you, don’t make it about you.” That is: If someone is describing a gross, oppressive behavior that some people in your privileged group engage in, then there is no reason to get defensive unless you personally engage in that behavior, in which case you need to stop complaining about your hurt feelings and focus on how quickly and completely you can cut that shit out. And rushing to the defense of people who do engage in the oppressive behavior, even if you don’t engage in it, is not acceptable, because you’re showing solidarity with your privilege, rather than with the people who are being hurt or oppressed. There is no better way to announce that you seriously don’t care about racism than to leap to the defense of some racist-ass people and ask people of color to stop talking about them in such a critical tone, for example.

To illustrate what the ally behavior Sady describes above actually looks like on the ground, I want to tell a story about my friend Adam, in whom I recently–and unexpectedly–found an ally.

I have a history of being a woman, and I also have a history of being involved in romantic relationships with women. I talk about the first thing all. the. effing. time. I haven’t done much talking about the second thing, though I’m proud to announce that I’m getting better at talking about it.

I was out with a group of friends a few nights ago and decided to talk about it. Specifically, I decided to talk about my tendency to judge people who affiliate with organizations that make it their business to try to keep gay people as unhappy and unable to live freely and without risk of personal or psychological harm as possible. (I do not accept ignorance or political apathy as an excuse, in case you were wondering.) Uproar ensued around the table, which was filled with people who to my knowledge did not have any history of dating people of the same gender. Everybody wanted to weigh in on whether I was right or wrong to judge others. Everybody wanted to weigh in on whether I was being closed minded. Which was fine with me, really. These guys are my friends, and they seem to like me an awful lot, and I wasn’t mad or upset or anything. I was interested in learning how each of my friends (some of whom belong to their own marginalized–or even doubly marginalized–groups) understood the notion of marginalization. I was intensely interested in fighting about this issue for as long as they were willing to fight.

But Adam, who I believe to be a straight white man, did something I didn’t expect: He acted as my ally. He participated in the conversation, but he mainly did so to help me to clarify my stance and open up space for me to speak. He did this so gracefully and so intelligently that I assumed he agreed with me but only later realized I actually don’t know his opinion on my stance toward people who affiliate with anti-gay organizations. I don’t think he ever weighed in.

Adam is a classmate, and he’s near the end of his graduate career. In class, he’s kinda pushy and extremely talkative; he tends to dominate discussions and it’s sometimes hard to get a word in. But on the other hand, he knows an awful lot about his field and has a lot to say about it.

So I know Adam can dominate a conversation, which means that in Friday night’s discussion, he chose to stand back in order to give me more room to speak.

This is Adam:

Adam knows a thing or two about how to listen. Adam is an ally. I didn’t thank him on Friday night, so Adam, consider this my thanks.

Posted in awesome, bigotry, feminism, gay rights, gender politics, graduate school, human rights | Leave a Comment »