I might look suspicious– if not for white privilege.

Racism is a white problem. Preferences and prejudices are universal. An ‘-ism’ needs power and privilege to make it real.

When I say racism is a white problem, I mean white people belong to a majority group, a dominant group, we have the power to enforce our prejudices. I think most white people do this in very subtle ways and would be horrified to realize they are doing it that all.

When I say racism is a white problem, I do not intend to dismiss or minimize the impact it has on people of color. Instead, I would liken it to a disease that afflicts the privileged. Unlike a disease, it can only be changed by those who are afflicted.

In an article published in the Atlantic, Teju Cole  talks about the White Savior Industrial Complex. The theme I took away from the article was about well-intentioned white people trying to do good in short spurts. Meanwhile, the slow and steady support of oppressive regimes, inequitable trade relations, discrimination, racial profiling and everyday microaggressions continues.

This is, all at once, too large and complex a problem to even think about and also so small we can’t NOT address it. We can confront our prejudice and privilege every day, one incident at a time.

Carl Jung talked about the importance of embracing our shadow-side. It’s not easy. Who wants to think of themselves as racist? But pretending racism is a thing of the past or limited to fringe supremist groups doesn’t make it go away. Only by acknowledging white privilege and the racist climate we live in, can we begin to see what we are doing to perpetuate the problem.

Stealing from Children to Improve their Future

Just read the e-update from GovWalkerNewsletter@wisconsin.gov

It says:

“The school portion of the property tax levy was down one percent across the state. It’s important to point out that school tax levies increased on average $162 million a year—each of the last five years. By comparison, this year we put $228 million back into the pockets of property taxpayers in this area alone. That amounts to $69 for every man, woman and child in the state.”

Not every man, woman and child pays property tax, only property owners do. Gov. Walker took $228 million out of Wisconsin schools and put it back into the pockets of property owners. He says “Everything we’ve done is to lay the groundwork for a better future for the next generation,” but he’s taken away from the next generation in order to do it.

Pressing Your Advantage

Years ago, when a coworker kept talking to me about the importance of not sacrificing one’s children to public school, my mentor suggested to me that men who do things like this do them for a reason.

Let me offer a little background, so you can see where I’m going. I was married at the time, and my husband worked in the same division. Our children were 6 and 8 years old. My coworker was a single man and a recent immigrant from Uzbekistan. We talked about faith as we were each discovering our own.

In a very real way, his faith had set him free. Christian missions from the United States lobbied his government to allow Jews to emigrate. Through 2 generations of communist rule, his family only knew they were Jewish because it was considered an ethnicity and it was documented on his papers. When he arrived in the United States, he began an earnest exploration of what it means to be Jewish.

His concern about public education was grounded in his own public education. For him, school was chiefly about political indoctrination and he was not allowed to talk about questions of faith. I agree with him at some level, and we both agree with Marx, at some level. Marx suggested that public schools are a tool to shape workers. But I don’t think my coworker was actually interested in my children or their education.

I think he was interested in having less competition in the workplace. I say this because he never had this conversation with my husband, who was also a collegue. Also, when I asked him to stop he did not. When other male colleagues pointed out to him that I felt hurt by his attack on my place at work, he did not stop. I think my mentor was right. When people in positions of social advantage talk about that advantage or press the point they do so to enhance their advantage.

Silence is the Voice of Complicity

I’m a huge fan of free speech. It doesn’t mean I like everything that other people say. It doesn’t mean I’ll stand around and listen. But it is important enough to me that I gave seven years of my youth in military service to support free speech. It’s important enough to me that I continue to try to encourage people to speak.

Have you seen the bumper sticker that says, “Silence is the Voice of Complicity”? I think it’s true. I also think it is often easier to ignore a problem than to confront it. It sometimes works with children and with puppies. When they don’t get the response they are hoping for they often stop the behavior. You probably know this doesn’t work with teenagers. If your new driver borrows your car without asking and you say nothing your new driver learns they don’t have to ask for the car.

When your coworker makes an offensive remark and you ignore it, they learn, and the people around you learn, it’s okay to make those kinds of remarks. It’s not easy to make an appropriate response to an inappropriate comment. It makes everyone uncomfortable. But inappropriate comments also make people uncomfortable. If you’re going to be uncomfortable anyway, why not venture an appropriate response?

What is so terrifying about openly gay relationships?

“Nigeria is pushing forward a law that would make it a punishable offense – of up to 14-years in prison – for anybody to go to a gay bar,  to work for or be involved with LGBT organizations, or to be in an openly gay relationship.”

http://www.allout.org/en/actions/nigeria

Is this not a form of thought control? Would this not make it illegal to talk about  human rights with regard to sexual orientation?

I have to wonder what is so terrifying about openly gay relationships.

Here in the United States, I think the political noise around homosexuality is a distraction from the real issues of governance. A smokescreen. It’s like the Wizard of Oz telling Dorothy to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

I have read, but don’t have sources for, articles suggesting the religious right here in the United States is supporting movements like this in Nigeria. I just don’t understand why.

What’s at stake?

If you agree that the proposed law will do more harm than good, please click on the link above and sign the petition. If you disagree, or can help me understand what this is about, please comment.

Free Market Fundamentalist

“Free market fundamentalist.” Funny little phrase isn’t it? I heard it on the radio this morning.  It co-mingles the invisible hand of God and the invisible hand of the free market – as if the universe had been created by the great clock-maker who wound it up and walked way. Adam Smith was actually trying to apply this image of natural forces to his thoughts about commerce.

Almost twenty years ago, I tried participating in my local government. I had just bought a house in a new development and discovered the city planners had done nothing by way of preparing for the population boom the building permits they granted would eventually cause. This was bad, but not enough to draw me out beyond my day-to-day concerns of providing for my very young children. Then I discovered a developer was applying for another permit for new construction, which would further burden the insufficient infrastructure of the area. They must have known residents would resist their application because they complied with the public notice requirements in much the same way a mime would entertain on a darkened stage.

Nonetheless, someone noticed and started talking about it. Within a day, a clear majority of the affected residents had signed a petition to block the permit. Remember, this was pre-internet. People walked the neighborhoods, knocked on doors and talked about the issue. Residents packed the planning commission’s public hearing; chiefly raising objections about the developer’s plan to extract value from the land without contributing to the infrastructure changes they necessitated. The residents were accused of being greedy and classist.  Their objections were dismissed. The planning commission approved the permits as if no discussion had taken place, no petition submitted.

I found the whole process discouraging and confusing. For years I thought perhaps I was actually viewing the problem from a greedy and classist perspective. The developers’ spun the homeowners’ objections as a fear that their high-density ‘affordable’ housing plans would lower existing home values. Now I understand this to be a classic example of projection. Had they not feared a reduction in home values themselves, they would have developed a balanced distribution of luxury and affordable housing from the start. I had taken the children with me to the hearing. Afterwards, I felt relieved they were too young to understand how democracy failed to work in that instance.

I was at the time a strong believer in free-market capitalism. What I didn’t understand at the time what that free-market capitalism is a myth. Individuals do not make informed economic decisions based on self-interest. First, individuals are rarely aware of all of the details surrounding their economic decisions. Second, individuals are sometimes coerced into making economic decisions against their self-interest. Finally, because we are human, we sometimes make economic decisions to benefit a third-party rather than ourselves.

I had also never considered capitalism a threat to democracy. For some, this threat is so obvious it does not bear discussing. For others, the discussion itself is threatening.  Capitalism is sacred and patriotic and I might just be a communist if I suggest otherwise.

Capitalism is a huge threat to democracy. For-profit entities must try to remove all barriers to profit maximization. Democratic governments, by nature, to protect constituents, regulate commerce and those regulations create barriers to profit maximization. The tension is built in. Unfortunately, economic power trumps populist concerns; most especially because economic power can be used to discredit or mask populist concerns.

The inertia of economic power is probably the reason we still talk about “invisible market forces” causing market corrections and assuring free trade. If you had considerable economic power that depended on the majority of people believing you deserved that power wouldn’t you invest in educating the population about the system (the science of economics) that affirms your economic power as justly conferred to you?

Harassing the Homeless: A hidden facet of corporate wealthfare

OccupyMN.org reports “County Commissioners and Sheriff Stanek have threatened to close down the occupation of the People’s Plaza in Minneapolis.” And reference an article in downtownjournal.com describing the situation.

Margaret Hastings of Minneapolis, a self-described advocate for the homeless, said she supported the resolution and called it reasonable. She said the county has been practicing a double standard by allowing the protesters to sleep on the plaza.

“Homeless persons are not allowed to sleep out on the plaza,” she said. “The very inequality they talk about, they themselves are practicing.”

http://www.downtownjournal.com/index.php?&story=17633&page=65&category=92

One can only hope this comment was taken out of context. People supporting OccupyMN are not preventing homeless people from sleeping out in the plaza, the county is.

Homelessness is one of the issues that needs to be addressed in our country. It is shameful that anyone be abandoned to the elements in the richest country in the world.

It is not only shameful, it is absurd. Solving the problem is far less expensive for society than harassing the homeless on a daily basis then jailing or hospitalizing them during their times of extreme need.

In his collection of essays What the Dog Saw, Malcom Gladwell includes a discussion of ” ’Million-Dollar Murray’ [which] explores the problem of homelessness — how to solve it, and whether solving it for the most extreme and costly cases makes sense as policy.”

http://www.gladwell.com/dog/index.html

The problem is that solving homelessness offends our sense of fairness. Why must I work so hard when they get everything for free? We worry that everyone will stop working and then there won’t be any money to provide for the needy or anything else.

The truth of the matter is that we already generate more wealth than we as individuals need. We generate more wealth than we as individuals ever see. It’s not that our taxes are artifically high to support welfare programs, our incomes are artificially low because we are paid at capitalist rates, which support wealthfare. Unless you are one of the rare few employee-owners practicing true profit sharing, you probably have no idea how much wealth you generate.

The deeper problem is that solving homelessness takes away the element of fear that keeps many of us working so hard for so little in return.

Apologize, Make Amends, Move On

It’s not surprising that Herman Cain has been accused of sexual harassment. It would be surprising if he never harassed a women. It would be so gay. Men and women perceive sex differently. Men and women approach sex differently. I think men typically make the first move because they would be waiting a long time otherwise. Unwanted advances are inevitable. Inevitable, but not harassment. It’s not harassment until he refuses to accept that she isn’t interested and tries to leverage a power advantage to get what he wants.
I can’t imagine there is a man on the planet who has never made an unwanted advance or been perceived to have made an unwanted advance. I can’t imagine there is a man on the planet who hasn’t tried to leverage his maleness to some advantage. These things aren’t harassment until the threat of sexual coercion or economic exclusion emerge.
I have heard that men who view themselves as successful also tend to over-estimate their sexual attractiveness. Successful men make more unwanted advances because they can’t imagine their advances would be unwanted. Perhaps they are more often accused of harassment because the power differential makes the threat of coercion or exclusion stronger than ever they intended.
None of this matters. Human beings make mistakes. What matters is how we respond to them. A man who appears to request sex and accepts a woman’s refusal — even if he didn’t intend to request sex — this man does not get charged with harassment; this man does not settle out of court because it’s cheaper; this man doesn’t need to discredit that woman because nothing happened. People of integrity apologize when they offend and they seek outside themselves to ensure they continue to act with integrity.
Herman Cain probably did cross a line at some time in his past with one or more women. He is a heterosexual male. What matters is how he and other men are responding to this ‘news’. Personally, I don’t think any of the Republican candidates are credible and I don’t think Cain is a frontrunner. Allegations of sexual harassment do make great smoke screens though. The disturbing response from some extreme voices — that women accuse men of sexual harassment because they can’t succeed in the normal way — aren’t even germane.
We know Cain is not a man of integrity because he can’t handle a simple allegation of misconduct. Great, but what do we know about any of the other candidates? Will they continue to funnel money to the wealthy? Will they continue to use the military and paramilitary forces to protect the financial interests of large corporations? Will they continue the war on poverty-stricken families? Will they continue to belittle GLBT people in order to intimidate heterosexual men? Do any of them actually know how to govern?

Where’s the Win?

In a discussion about mortgages and foreclosure, someone commented that a system has to allow for failure if it is to have any chance of success. This is not unlike the theological argument that forced confession does not engender faith. Even more so, I think this is analogous to the idea that winning a competition is meaningless unless there was a real chance of losing the competition. It’s hard to boast if everyone wins.
I think the commentator was pointing to the genius of free market capitalism. All things being equal, the most industrious and effective people win. But all things are not equal and the ideology of capitalism is no more applied in the real world than the ideology of communism. They are interesting economic theories, but have little to do with the world we live in.
When groups organized around the principle of capital creation grow powerful enough, they change the rules to reduce the possibility of losing. An empty victory is still a victory because the capital continues to grow.
I think the commentator was missing the problem entirely.
Mortgage lenders stand to loose a tremendous about of money through foreclosure. Our country stands to loose a tremendous asset of patriotism through the loss of a sense of rootedness in the land. Corporations loose a level of dedication in their labor force rooted in the sense of indentured servitude a thirty year mortgage conveys.
What does an individual or family stand to loose through foreclosure? Is their sense of financial security better or worse without paying two and a half times the purchase price of a home that is worth only two thirds of that price? Will they have more or less to save for retirement and health care costs? Will they have more or less to save for their children’s education? Is it better or worse to be able to move closer to one’s workplace?
I think a system has to allow for success if it is to continue.

Why aren’t you Occupy-ing?

I’ve been talking to people about the various Occupy actions, with a particular focus on OccupyMN because that’s where I live.

I started with my parents. A playful tease. Yes, I am old enough to know better. Yes, I am old enough to feel embarrassed about having done this. My parents were born just as the Great Depression got underway — now you see why I feel a little embarrassed.

When I heard they were going to D.C., I asked if they’d be joining the protest.

Their first response was “what protest” — early days — Occupy Wall Street was only in it’s third week at this point. Even so, I was surprised because my parents are politically savvy news hounds. If the main-stream media have covered a topic, they know about it.

Their next response was, “Don’t be silly. We are too old for such things.” Never mind that my parents aren’t the protesting kind. They are more the pro-democracy, keen on honoring human rights, silent sentinels of the cold war kind of people.

Together since their youth, they have dedicated their entire adult lives to defending freedom. For thirty-two years, they served the U.S. Navy. Now they support a national heritage site, provide scholarships for the children of sailors, and volunteer at the polls.

It’s not their way to protest the unilateral reduction of their retirement contract. It’s not their way to protest the denial of basic civil rights to some of their children and grandchildren. They might talk about it. They will definitely vote about it. But you won’t find them on the streets carrying signs.

What about you? Are you just not the kind of person to take to the streets? Do you disagree with the message? Are you confused by the lack of message? Are you waiting for them to ‘land’?

If you haven’t connected with the Occupy actions, why not? Some of the responses I’ve heard are included below. Please add your thoughts too.

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