Archive for January, 2015

Both my local news and CNN were full of Marshawn Lynch for the past couple of days.  Honestly, I’d never heard of the guy; I’m not what you’d call a sports fan and I certainly don’t care what a football player has to say (even when it’s amazing quotes about balls).  Despite my lack of interest, however, the news saturation has forced an opinion out of me.

For Pete’s sake, leave Marshawn Lynch alone!

Apparently the NFL has a policy that players must talk to the press or face serious fines.  Marshawn is not a big fan; the press conference I’ve seen has him saying “thank you” to every question, or answering with “you know why I’m here” and “I’m here so I don’t get fined.”  It’s hilarious.

This morning CNN reported he may get fined for wearing “unapproved hats.”  Seriously?

Leaving aside the utterly ridiculous fact that the NFL is technically a nonprofit, this is absurd.  WHO CARES about his flippin’ hat?

This is the problem with overarching rules, a lot of the time.  They’re probably there for a reason (like to make sure players who behave badly, like [too many to list], have to be accountable at least a little to the press) but the enforcement gets ridiculous.

Lynch hasn’t done anything wrong (at least not publically, since his 2012 DUI).  He’s a great player (watch the following for proof).  He stated he doesn’t like talking to the press because of his upbringing (because winning games is about the team) and being forced into it.

So why do we keep forcing him?  Can’t we just talk to the other dudes on his team, who’d probably love some publicity?

Better yet, why do we talk to these folks at all?  Maybe if we cared a bit less about this baloney we could have actual news on our news stations.  Just a thought.

(however, this run is sick.)

As so often happens, I was reading an article in the Metro Times, one which advocated for marijuana dispensaries as legal business within the city of Detroit (and Michigan, in general).  Read it here.

Right now in Detroit there are about 180 dispensaries all over the city; Weedmaps has a service allowing users to locate their nearest dispensary, much like a yellow pages for pot.

You may have already guessed I’m an advocate of legalization; honestly, I’d like to see all drugs at least decriminalized, so we can stop filling up our jails with simple users and non-violent drug crimes.  But the dispensary issue is a bit murkier.

Since the end of prohibition in the 1920s, liquor has been widely available for purchase and subject to government regulation.  Like it or hate it, we have an age where use is legal and we have standards for how to sell it (by looking at an ID, bartenders aren’t supposed to over-serve, we have a legal limit for driving etc).  Even though we know parents buy for kids, teenagers sometimes get a ‘fake’, we still (generally) see the rules being followed.

There aren’t real, concrete rules for marijuana dispensaries or who they can sell to, where they can be located…it’s a bit of a mess.

I love the idea of stores because it’s a safety issue; it’s safer to go into a business than to talk to some dude on the street (or, more likely, to trust that the guy your friend uses has safe, quality product and isn’t working for the police).  I love the idea because it moves us one step closer to that state of legalization and of decreasing stigma of use.  It just worries me, because we’ve seen alcohol be used as a means of oppression in poor communities, and I’d hate to see this go the same way.

Poor areas are wayyyyyy more likely to have an abundance of liquor stores.  WayMoreLikely.

Easy availability of alcohol is associated with increased rates of neighborhood violence.  Alcohol advertising is targeted toward people and communities of color (l think we all remember the Colt 45 ad with Billy Dee Williams, now ironically appropriated by rich white hipsters).  Liquor stores take up space that could otherwise be used by local businesses, schools, religious organizations, etc (or even grocery stores to increase food availability).  Liquor ensures poor communities stay poor, and contributes to lack of safety and economic decline.  When liquor stores are less prevalent, youth homicide drops and median income rises.

Don’t get me wrong – this isn’t a plea to make booze (or weed) illegal again, but we can’t deny the impact adding liquor and weed to the environment has on our vulnerable communities (including the perpetuation of racism against and within communities of color).

So we’re seeing enormous numbers of weed stores popping up all over Detroit.  When I look at the map of dispensaries, I’m not seeing them ONLY in poor areas, but perhaps concentrated in areas of vulnerability.  District 1 is home to 13 stores; District 1 has some of the lowest employment rates in the city.

We don’t need rules and regulations to protect us from ourselves – we need them to ensure corporations and single-minded businesses aren’t allowed to create negative environments just because they can, because we haven’t said no.

Weed might be safer than other drugs, but if we don’t pay attention, it will be added to the oppressor’s toolbox.

Ever since Ferguson, I’ve been hopeful that we’re living in a historical turning point.  I keep thinking and hoping the greater culture is finally going to open up a bit, to acknowledge systemic oppression.  Hell, just to acknowledge basic inequality here in the states.  And maybe to look at the function police serve.

Probably a lot of this hope comes from my online reading and research.  Sometimes, I think we lose sight of how insular online communities, forums and opinions can be; it’s very difficult to judge how well a viewpoint translates to the wider world if we’re constantly surrounded by agreement and similarities.  Even when we think our views are the best and clear and should be obvious to anyone with a brain.

My parents and I have been growing steadily different, like two paths branching out from a fork in the woods.  Sometimes it feels like miles of darkness between us, with no clear path to connect.  Neither of us is bad or stupid, and we still function and love each other (which is often a rarity in families, I’m very lucky).  And because we still love each other, it’s sometimes difficult to even attempt the long slog through the woods towards each other – what if we end up with only hate and vitriol that will forever stain our relationship?  A film of anger over our love for each other?

Today I figured out what’s been bothering me, niggling away in the back of my brain, about Darren Wilson and Michael Brown.

Someone close to me characterized Brown as a “thug.”  This is a person whose father was a (white) Detroit police officer in the 1960s, and left a few years after the rage and destruction of the 1968 riots.  He was by all accounts a good man and a good cop, although I doubt we ever truly know a person after the fact, or know everything about them from one role they play in their life.  Lineage informs our development and views, and it makes sense to me to support police if your experience was with a family member on the force who was good and decent.  Even if we don’t agree, we can understand why this person might not want to look at bad police behavior.

Now, my favorite documentary is American Hardcore, the movie about the hardcore punk scene in the late 1970s and 1980s; love it or hate it, it’s a nice little slice of the music and attitudes from that period.  In it, there’s a moving scene of Mike Watt and Henry Rollins (separately) talking about police beating up kids at shows.  I can’t describe it, it must be seen.  (watch it here, at 1:19:23, I could not find a youtube of the right part).

Rollins talking is what reminded me of Ferguson.  He looks at the camera incredulously, saying “The police always started it.  It’s not like we go up to uniformed, armed men and say ‘come on’!”

If nothing else, talk with your parents about this.  In my experience of white, middle class, suburban people, which is admittedly not a random sample nor representative of all families, older folks identify with the police.  They understand the fear, the need for protection, the concern that our world is falling apart with violence at every corner and beneath the skin of every person, and feel the police are doing well, acting ethically.

Your job is to bring up the other side.

Without empathy we cannot move forward.  If our job as white people to get our own people; if they cannot hear the words of people of color, they should be able to hear us.  I don’t know if they’ve never known fear of authority (because it looks like them) or if they’ve simply forgotten what it’s like to move in a hostile world.  It really doesn’t matter; people can remember, they can see. they can learn.

If we can get them to feel just a fraction of the fear our communities of color experience, we’ll have gotten somewhere.

A kid doesn’t charge a uniformed, armed officer in a vehicle.

And working to change (or better yet, abolish) a system must be understood as a movement because it’s not working.  It is not working to have 70% of our population constantly living in fear.  It is not working to incarcerate 2/3 of young men of color.  It is not working to act surprised when police act how they are taught to act, and acknowledging this does not condemn the good people who are attempting to function in a broken system.  It’s not working to blame songs like “Fuck Da Police” when police make you feel scared rather than safe.

An act by one person of is enough to condemn the group, then why isn’t an act by one cop enough to condemn the system?

Not all cops, sure.  But then you HAVE to understand – not all [black, brown, young, poor, angry, female] people.

(image via)

One of the blogs I read on the regular is Dances With Fat; I like the material and it’s turned me on to lots of HAES resources and ideas.  It was interesting reading her post “There Are Two Kinds of Fat People” today, because it reminded me of the baloney Bill Cosby used to put in his stand up act (when he was still somewhat respected because we hadn’t found out about his bad sexual assault habit) talking about black men.

There are a ton of black comedians (and of course, comedians of other races, but we’ll ignore them in favor of people who have actual lived experience and have a voice as people of color) who talk about different kinds of black people.  Chris Rock had the most famous bit (I think), talking about how he hates n*****rs.  You can watch it here.

His bit is clearly part of respectability politics, the idea that if you act good enough, achieve high enough, try hard enough, that you will then be treated as a human being, worthy of respect and consideration, by the dominant class.  Generally, this involves simply adopting the ideas, mannerisms and goals of the dominant class, without regard to your personal autonomy or being able to choose your appearance, dress and presentation.

An excerpt from Buzzfeed, of all places, sums it up:

Society has spent decades, if not centuries, just waiting for black people to “get it,” and one by one these brave messengers will come, sharing with us the gospel of how it’s all our fault…but hey, we can fix it.

But in order to become “respectable,” the targeted group is always encouraged to change. And the changes always, always require the targeted group to become more like the dominant group. If black people act more like white people, or women act more like men, or gays and lesbians act more like straight people, they’ll all see the same outcomes. But the underlying goal of this is to stop being “different.” Act “normally,” and you’ll be treated normally, but if you step outside those boundaries, it is your fault and your fault only.

(full article here)

As you might have guessed, I don’t buy into this idea.  I may have personal preferences for how I enjoy people to behave, but those are my preferences.  People deserved to be treated like people, no matter how they choose to dress or present themselves.

I stand on the side that doesn’t support black youth having to constantly live in fear that if they did one single thing wrong, including their clothing, they could be killed legally. Oh wait, it’s still kind of like that.

The idea of a “good fatty” is the same kind of respectability politics.  I figured this out finally – the reason I was so defensive when I’d go to the gym for only 30 minutes rather than an hour, or the reason I still can’t look a clerk in the eye when I buy an ice cream cone, is because I feel like this is proof I’m a “bad fatty.”  I was being judged, I deserve what I get, I am disgusting, and if only I would deign to change my lifestyle, life would be easier and better for me.  Any bias or judgment or discrimination is my own damn fault for not caring enough to change.

Someone’s appearance is not a judgment of their worth.  Wasn’t it Martin Luther King Jr. who wanted his daughters to be judged on the content of their character, rather than the color of their skin?  Yet here we are, adding prejudice to our already bright array of ill-formed ideas about what a good, normal person is like rather than opening our minds and hearts to the beautiful diversity so essential to the human race.

People deserve to be treated like people.  The end.

(all images link to original sources)

The horrific attack in France that left 12 people dead have whipped the internet into a furor.  Suddenly, people are talking about freedom of speech and discussing responsibility.

If you live in the United States, you exist under a law cementing your freedom of speech.  It is your right to say what you want, with exceptions for inciting folks to harm, libel and hate speech.  Hundreds of thousands of papers have been written analyzing the impact of these laws, to prevent chilling effects and ensure citizens and media have their freedom.

People don’t get freedom of speech because of the nature of people.  Almost without exception, we like and support people who believe and speak as we believe and speak, but get upset and angry with people who express views and ideas running counter to our own.  We have the law to protect us AND the people whose views we despise.  To paraphrase the great Andrew Shepard (sorry, an old white dude president, but I love this flipping speech), uphold the rights of someone whose views you would spend the entirety of your life shouting against.  Celebrate that in your classrooms.

It is this freedom that protects bands that I won’t even link to, bands promoting racism, homophobia and misogyny.  And we react not by banning those bands’ ability to make music, but by not buying their material, not supporting their tours, and writing and releasing music supporting values we believe in.

The solution to speech is more speech, speech promoting what you believe, or in opposition to what you do not believe.  (side note – it’s out of the scope of this blog, but there are important exceptions for hate speech, which significantly impacts people and is banned under the 14th amendment, providing all equal protection under the law).

Both terrorist fundamentalists and our media talking heads lose their focus here.  If you don’t like what’s being said, TALK MORE.  Act more.  Protest more.  Don’t kill people who don’t share your views.  Bans, rules and fear will not change people – they will never see things your way from being afraid.  DEATH SHOULD NOT BE A CONSEQUENCE OF SPEECH.  But, it is.  Often.

Even when the said speech sucks.  Even when it’s offensive to us.  Death should not be the consequence, and expressing our empathy and compassion for those lost in the attack does not equal agreement with what was published.

Reporters, bloggers, writers, artist, musicians, citizens – do not give in.  Do not let fear and oppression rule the day, but do not use our ability to speak as a carte blanche stamp to say whatever the hell you want.  We have a unique opportunity to show solidarity and support to those in France who made their views public, at great risk to their own lives.  We also have an opportunity to use our speech to condemn both the newspaper’s racist cartoons and the terrorists’ act of violence which cost lives.

Now is the time to stand up for the right of all to speak freely and disagree freely.

(image via)

This morning NPR actually blew my mind.  Thomas Piketty, a person I had never heard of, is now my hero.  Why, you ask?

Piketty is a French economist, and France’s government was going to honor his achievements with an award called the Legion of Honor.  He turned it down.  Why, you ask again?  BECAUSE THE GOVERNMENT SHOULDN’T BE DECIDING WHO IS HONORABLE!

this guy, right here. hell yeah.

I fist pumped in my car, shouting “hell yeah!”  Because that’s awesome!  Here is a dude who is practicing what he preaches, actually acting on his ideals and beliefs!

Me being me, I had two thoughts occur after hearing this story.  Posers are the scourge of the punk rock scene; as SLC Punk put it, “they’re people who dress like punks but do it for the fashion!”

People who don’t actually act in line with what they’re presenting to the world, people who pretend to know or be something they’re not.  Posers.  And Piketty is the ultimate anti-poser.  Seriously, Green Day just got inducted into the Rock and Roll hall of fame.  For a band that calls itself punk (even though we all secretly know they’re terrible), that is super fucking lame.  Hall of Fame?  Punk is about blowing that shit up, about destroying all of that.

Secondly, the reason PIketty totally rocked my socks off has to do with a study in psychology on conformity.  A dude named Asch did a (now) famous experiment after World War Two, when most social psychologists were trying desperately to understand how “normal” people had done such extraordinarily evil things.  He put a man in a group of “confederates” (people working with the researcher), then showed the group pictures of lines with different lengths and asked them to decide which lines were the same lengths.

The group insisted the wrong lines matched, and here’s the thing – the man placed in the group usually went along with it (about 75% of the time).  It’s SUPER hard to go against the group, even when you know that what you’re agreeing to is wrong.

So props to you, Piketty. You’re a man of ideals, with the courage to go against what most people would probably accept.