The Willful Woe

Years ago, there was a movie called The Players Club written and directed by Ice Cube. It followed a woman’s account of her time as a stripper, and while it wasn’t a memorable film on the whole, there was one scene that stuck with me. If you’ve seen the movie, you likely know which scene it is.

First, I want to touch on an earlier scene for context.

Reggie – played by Ice Cube – and his buddy Clyde are at the club with a stripper named Ebony, who they think they can have sex with – either for money or for free. She’s too drunk to stand let alone consent to sex, but they take her out of the club and pull her down the street.

Clyde jokes about “running a train” on her and Reggie tries to quiet him as he doesn’t want to draw attention.

They reach the car and throw Ebony in. Thankfully, Ebony’s cousin, Diamond, shows up and tells Ebony to get out of the car because “Reggie and Clyde will rape her”. Reggie and Clyde protest, remarking that no one is going to get raped, Diamond is stuck-up, etc.

Ebony says it’ll be okay but Diamond won’t relent, so Ebony finally agrees to leave, which upsets Reggie and Clyde. Diamond tells the guys to let Ebony out of the car before she calls the cops. They comply, calling Diamond and Ebony names before driving off.

Ebony mistakingly believed Reggie and Clyde only wanted her to dance for them. Diamond, familiar with their circle – even having been sexually assaulted by their acquaintance, a fellow stripper named Ronnie – knew better.

Here’s that scene if you want a look:

The main scene in question takes place later at a bachelor party being thrown by Ronnie for her brother Junior. Not wanting her friends to strip for the questionable assortment of men, Ronnie tricks Ebony into going, giving her the impression that there will be other strippers too.

When Ebony realizes she’s the only one, she gets worried and calls Diamond to pick her up. Diamond, however, takes her sweet time since they aren’t on great terms by that point.

Meanwhile, Reggie, who is at the party, is still upset that Diamond got in the way of he and Clyde’s “fun” and that Ebony went along with rejecting them, maybe even insulting them at some point we didn’t see, so he decides to get back at them.

While Ebony is alone in the bedroom reluctantly getting ready to strip, Reggie tells Clyde to take Ronnie outside. He then tells Junior to have sex with Ebony, lying about how she’s easy and willing, that he and Clyde ran a train on her, and giving Junior a condom to use.

Convinced, Junior enters the bedroom to find Ebony half naked and scared, clutching her chest. She tells him she’ll be ready to strip outside in a minute, but he remarks that the real party is in there.

Realizing his intentions, Ebony makes it clear that she’s not there to have sex, she’s only there to dance, to which Junior locks the door and replies, “Then let’s dance.”

What follows is a shot of Reggie and the other “men” standing outside the door listening as Junior brutally beats and rapes Ebony. Sickened by what they hear – though not enough to intervene, apparently – the men slowly start to exit.

Unaffected, Reggie eyes the men funneling out of the room as if he doesn’t understand why they’re put off. Ronnie and Clyde return just as they’re exiting and Ronnie asks where Ebony is.

Reggie says, “Ask Junior”, following it with a quote that perfectly punctuates the brutality of the scene. “Oh yeah. Tell Ebony we understand. No do mean no.”

You can watch this scene as well and keep in mind that while it doesn’t show the sexual assault, hearing it may still be upsetting:

By the way, for anyone wondering why I bothered to describe the scenes if I was going to post links to them, it’s because users sometimes take videos down and not everyone will watch them anyway.

Now on to the meat and potatoes of this post.
Why did this scene bother me so much?

Two reasons.

The first is obviously the violent rape, but the second and most important is the fact that Reggie sent Junior in there knowing what would happen all because he was pissed he didn’t get a little ass and his ego was hurt.

Of course, he didn’t know exactly how things would end up. He wasn’t clairvoyant. But he did know Junior was unstable with a history of violence, so it was likely that sicking him on an unwilling female participant in that context would have predictably violent consequences.

You would assume that’s a no-brainer, but there are people out there who somehow think Reggie wasn’t setting Ebony up to get attacked and that he was as unnerved by it as the other men in the room despite being the last to leave and his heartless callback to being cock blocked by referencing that no does mean no.

Regardless, this post isn’t about The Players Club.
It’s about the Trump administration.

I know, I know. You’re like, “Whuuuuut?”

But this is what I do. I tell stories. I draw parallels. And I do that because more often than not, people have difficulty accepting certain information or understanding a certain perspective due to bias specific to that subject.

Changing the subject removes that bias from the equation, allowing people to think more freely and critically – and when you ultimately bring it back to the real matter at hand, they will have hopefully retained a bit of what they learned from the parallel you drew.

So what’s on my mind?

Well – when questionable policies proposed by the Trump administration are announced or when members of the administration say sketchy things that relate back to the direction they’d like the country to go in, it’s become common for people who aren’t keen on Trump to claim that this administration is trying to dismantle America from the inside out.

It’s a pretty bold accusation – that the folks in power are willfully trying to destroy our country. But when you consider the kind of shit that’s happened throughout history on both a domestic and global scale, it isn’t exactly implausible. Moreover, I can see how some concerned Americans would get that impression.

Look at people like Betsy DeVos, Ben Carson, and Scott Pruitt – the Secretary of Education, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency respectively.

Not one of them appears to be qualified to hold their position. It could even be argued that they’re the exact opposite of qualified – like appointing a pedophile as the Director of Children’s Safety or making someone who believes there’s nothing in your closet the President of whatever’s in your closet.

And it’s so obvious how mismatched they are – not only in respect to their (lack of) relevant qualifications but also when comparing the intended functions of their departments to their personal opinions and political history – that you can’t help but think their misaligned appointments were intentional.

Because no one in their right mind would think they’re great candidates unless the whole point is for them to be bad ones. Just like no one in their right mind would send a violent sex offender into a bedroom to sleep with a girl who doesn’t consent unless the whole point is for her to get attacked.

In case that parallel went over your head, one could say that America is Ebony, naked and bare, fearful of its future, desperately clutching its dignity, only to have Trump usher a shitload of Juniors into the room. The only question is why?

We know why Reggie did it.
Why did Trump?

I ask because let’s assume for a moment that those who believe this administration wants to tear our country down are right. That the government is trying to get America to cannibalize itself socially while methodically dismantling the foundations of a thriving nation – healthcare, education, infrastructure, economy, civil rights, environmental safety, et cetera – under the guise of improving those things.

What’s the endgame?

Growing up, I’d look at the villains in movies and comic books whose goal was to destroy the world and I’d think, who the hell wants to rule over a decimated wasteland full of suffering citizens? I’d rather rule over a world that’s powerful and prosperous because I’d be powerful and prosperous by extension. I’d reap all the benefits it sowed.

Then I realized it’s a matter of necessity. Few if any villains enjoy the idea of presiding over a crumbling society. They just recognize that a crumbling society is easier to rule.

People busy fighting for food, fighting for medicine, fighting for shelter, fighting for work, fighting for rights, fighting each other, won’t be fighting their oppressors any time soon. Even if they wanted to, they wouldn’t have the means to do it. Not the resources, not the knowledge, not the strength.

And it’s not like those villains are forced to endure the misery themselves. They don’t live in that wasteland. They don’t even have to look at it if they don’t want to. They always have some fancy fortress or mansion on a hill or walled-in city or some other place cut off from the despair around them.

They have their education, their infrastructure, their wealth, their food, their health, their freedom. Taking those things from everyone else is a small price to pay for control because it isn’t a price they’re paying anyway. It’s the victims footing the bill.

When’s the last time you came across a villain who was fine sacrificing themselves and all of their creature comforts to see their evil done? Someone willing to suffer for their power in the way that some suffer for their art? It’s a red flag, you know. Policies that don’t negatively affect the ones making them. Just saying.

Maybe the endgame is unchecked authority.
Maybe the endgame is unfettered wealth.
Maybe the endgame is unending war.

Who knows.

Regardless, I understand there are Americans who think the Trump administration is doing a bang up job and I’m not here to argue with them. This post isn’t about them.

It’s about the worry many Americans have that the decisions being made aren’t being made in ignorance. That those in power know exactly what will happen to those who aren’t because they’ve designed it that way.

That the increasing struggles of the middle class and the ever present crushing of the lower aren’t unintended side effects. That the in-fighting and the fear mongering and the division and distractions are strategic.

That making people responsible for government agencies they can only, by nature, ruin, is simply another way to destabilize the power of those agencies while simultaneously abusing it.

And that they’ll continue down this path of cutting off America’s nose to spite its face despite protest from millions of Americans who don’t want to be screwed by the upper crust because our leaders understand no means no.

They just don’t care.

 

 

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Creeps Revisited

After posting what was certainly a poor generalized scratch on the surface of the discussion about what it means to be a creep and how that term is beginning to influence gender dynamics, it occurred to me that I didn’t include any anecdotes.

(Actually, it occurred to me while a stranger was shaking me like a chilled cocktail, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves…)

Although I was speaking on the issue as someone who’d despise the behaviors I warned against even if I weren’t confronted with them on a regular basis, I’m revisiting the subject to give you a quick peek into what I personally deal with on that front to better illustrate how some of my “creep rules” play out in real life.

Car Creep

I was walking down the street, minding my peppers and onions, when I noticed a car idling behind me. Whenever that happens, it’s usually a guy giving me a look over, so I did what I always do in that situation: I sped up.

To be clear, I didn’t assume the driver was a creep or even a male. It could have been a lost soul inching along to get their bearings or someone in the passionate throes of an alien abduction. I reacted as if the driver were a potential threat simply because the probability of that outcome given my past experiences made it the safest call.

Moving on, I’ve said this before and it’s worth saying again that if a woman breaks the fucking sound barrier to get away from you, she probably doesn’t want to engage. But creeps often struggle with that kind of logic. Some are so predatory, in fact, that they’re incited to chase you because you’re running away as if your attempt to escape further identifies you as prey.

So as I double timed it, I wasn’t surprised the driver sped up.

Reaching my side, he beeped his horn, rolled his window down, said hey, and made kissy-face noises at me. I kept walking and he said hey again.

I turned briefly with a stony frown to acknowledge that I know he’s there. I’m not deaf. I just don’t give a shit. Then I continued walking, crossing the intersection into the parking lot of a grocery store.

He left the turning lane and went straight to enter the lot behind me, beeping at me again, tailgating me. So I cut across the parking lot at a diagonal, weaving through the parked cars to prevent him from following me directly.

In response, he sped ahead to the next available aisle and screeched his car to a halt about two feet in front of me to block my path as I emerged from between the cars. He smirked and said hey sweetheart, looking me up and down.

I quickly walked around his car and continued my journey while calculating the odds that I was gonna have to beat a man’s ass in the next five minutes.

He sat there a moment staring at me and eventually made his way back to the road he was on, which I knew because I make sure creeps are completely gone before continuing about my day. I don’t need any surprises that don’t include ice cream and cake.

What did the stranger do wrong?

A) Followed me in his car.

B) Made kissy-face noises at me.

C) Attempted to block my path.

D) All of the above.

If you answered D, congratulations! You’re a star!

I’d like to point out that this encounter, like the majority of encounters I have with creeps, happened in broad daylight. So it wasn’t necessarily that I feared for my safety in the same way that I would if I were alone at night in a secluded area. I’ve just had enough negative experiences with random men on the street to be mindful of specific behaviors I find questionable. Situational awareness is my middle name! 

(It’s French.)

Hold on, woman! Guys don’t follow chicks like that for no reason! You were probably dressed like a slut or he was just plain crazy!

One, guys follow me like that on a regular basis. It wasn’t an isolated case. Two, it’s more likely to happen to women like me who walk everywhere and take public transportation. Women who drive everywhere are better shielded from it, so it may not be the norm for them to the same extent.

Three, creepy and crazy aren’t mutually exclusive and we don’t need a lot of either running around, so I don’t much care about that distinction where my well-being is concerned.

Four, I don’t condone victim blaming, but I also object to the willfully obtuse using victim blaming as a knee-jerk response whenever someone touches upon the reality that it is indeed possible to increase (or decrease) the odds of being harassed. You just can’t predict if and when your efforts will make a difference.

Putting it another way, the fact that a man can harass you for any number of reasons outside your control doesn’t mean every man will.

Never assume that you have no control over what happens to you in life just because you aren’t to blame for it.

It’s a very dangerous message to send to those who become powerless – that they were powerless from the start – and that’s something I feel strongly about in a society so desperate to affect positive change in the lives of women that it’s fine playing dumb to make a point.

Not to get off track here, but I find it sad that we put forth such concerted effort to make women feel “empowered” by taking their clothes off or being sexually provocative while shirking our responsibility as a culture to make women feel empowered by taking their personal safety into their own hands.

And yes, I said responsibility.

We need to get past the sticking point that the only one to blame for a woman being attacked is her attacker by telling women yes, you can take steps to protect yourselves and that does not mean it’s your fault if you’re assaulted anyway. It just means your preventative measures weren’t enough to combat that particular evil.

So to the dismay of those who’ll say that bringing my attire into the discussion is just an extension of ignorant victim blaming, I think it’s valid commentary and worth mentioning that I wasn’t dressed in a way one may consider likely to provoke unwanted attention or otherwise give a man the impression that I can be picked up off the street like a hooker. I was in sneakers, sweats, and a sweatshirt.

But doesn’t that prove the argument you’re against? That you can be harassed regardless of what you’re wearing, for example?

No – because that’s not what I’m against. I’m against the notion that if you can be harassed regardless of what you’re wearing, then what you’re wearing is always irrelevant. That’s terrible logic.

I’ll also point out that anyone who thinks my attire couldn’t be a factor simply because it wasn’t what we’d deem salacious is a testament to the belief that certain attire is inherently “inviting” – a concept we need to explore more and don’t.

Store Creep

I was working at a store and I was scanning some merchandise when a customer walked up to me and said, “Hey, sweetie. Where can I find the belts,” while slowly and deeply stroking the length of my arm several times. What’s wrong with this picture?

A) He called me sweetie.

B) He slowly stroked my arm.

C) Both.

This one is tricky!

I both understand and acknowledge why men oughtn’t use terms like sweetie and baby when addressing women they don’t know, but I also think men shouldn’t be condemned for calling you that simply because they’re men.

The problem with these words is the underlying attitude motivating their use, and it’s sexist to assume you know what that attitude is based solely on gender. You should have a little more to go on than that and I’d say the creepy way this guy was touching me while nearly pressed up against my body qualifies as “a little more”, so the correct answer is C because of B.

Buffet Creep

I went into my local grocery to grab some tasties from the buffet. A man on the opposite side of the buffet came over to me and said something innocuous about the food. I laughed politely and agreed. Then this happened…

Your food has onions in it. Guess you won’t be kissing your boyfriend after eating it, hmmmmm? Or you’ll be kissing him, just not deeply with your tongues in each other’s mouths, hmmmmm? On the couch? Maybe you’ll be on the couch and you’re kissing each other deeply with your tongues, but only for, maybe, fifteen minutes, hmmmmm? Or will it be all night? Will you be kissing deeply on the couch all night? You will, hmmmmm? 

What went wrong?

A) He started talking about me deeply kissing my boyfriend.

B) He kept saying hmm in a disturbing way.

C) He was commenting on my choice of food.

D) All of the above.

The answer is D because I don’t need people all up in my food’s business, thank you. Moreover, I think I covered this in my original post, but it’s creepy when a stranger talks about you doing physically intimate or sexual things. Especially when they’re even mildly descriptive. In my finest British accent, it simply isn’t done.

Gym Creep

I was doing lats at the gym when a guy came up behind me and said something like, “You’re working hard,” while massaging my shoulders. It was all downhill from there.

Me: Can you stop touching me, please?

Him: You look like you need a massage, though. *still massaging me*

Me: *releasing the bar* I’m pretty sure I asked you to stop touching me.

Him: I like a girl who takes care of herself. You look good. What’s your name? *still massaging me*

Me: *standing up* If you put your hands on me again, we’re gonna have a fucking problem.

We had everyone’s attention by then since it was a very small gym, though no one intervened because humans. I was standing “nose-to-nose” with him and he didn’t say anything, so I pushed by him and went to another machine.

As I was setting it up, he came up to me again and took my hand, asking again for my name. I pulled my hand away, turned around, and said, “What the fuck did I just say to you?”

I was so enraged in that moment that I don’t recall what he said back. I just remember it being ignorant and me leaving the gym because one or both of us was about to end up in the hospital. Where did this guy fail?

A) He massaged me without my permission.

B) He ignored my objections.

C) Both.

Correct! The answer is C. You’re getting good at this!

Understand that while I personally have little qualms about fighting a man if it comes down to it because you never know when you may not have a choice, I believe we should all avoid physical confrontation – male and female alike – instead of responding to inappropriate behavior with threats that could escalate the situation.

So if a guy is putting his hands on you in a public space, don’t do what I did and get in his face about it. Make a scene and get management or the authorities involved. In this case, the former wasn’t there and the latter would have taken longer than it took me to walk away, so I didn’t practice what I preach.

I included this example to remind you that above all, the creepiest creeps are the ones who completely ignore you telling them outright that their advances aren’t wanted or that what they’re doing isn’t okay. Those are the ones most likely to need a punch in the nuts because nothing less works.

Other Store Creep

I was at work at the same store previously mentioned when a customer approached me and asked if the item I was standing near was on sale. I said it wasn’t, at which point he grabbed me by the arms and started shaking me violently while saying in a fit of laughter, “You heard her! She said it’s an extra 20% off!”

A coworker witnessing this said, “Um… do you need me to come over there?” I shook my head as I pulled away from the guy, who was still laughing. Once he calmed down, he asked where something was, I answered, and he thanked me, walking off with a final, “Have a good day, sweetheart!” Why was this not okay?

A) He was touching me.

B) He was shaking me.

C) What the fuck?

The answer, of course, is C.

Did that encounter make him a vicious predator? No. He just struck me as a happy, outgoing guy having a little fun. He even resembled Santa Claus.

Maybe he was Santa Claus.

But you can’t overlook or be unaware of your culture’s social graces, like the fact that you don’t go around shaking the living daylights out of complete strangers.  His failure to abide by something so obvious, especially where a female is concerned, raised too many questions with potentially creepy answers, making him kind of creepy by extension.

The length of time he shook me was also creepy. It wasn’t a quick haha shake. It was a prolonged let’s see if I can get her tits to launch into the atmosphere shake.

The lesson to be learned from this one is that someone can be a creep without being scary, violent or mean. Creepiness isn’t defined by hostility or aggression so much as by invasion of privacy, body, and space. In short, there are nice creeps.

They’re still creeps.

Hotel Creep

I met a guy during an event and he told me he wanted to crawl inside my skin. I won’t even quiz you on this one. While that may be the kind of “poetic” thing some find moving and romantic on paper and on screen, in real life, someone you just met telling you they want to crawl inside your outermost organ is creepy as hell.

Disproportionate intensity always makes something otherwise harmless come across as unsettling. In this case, the guy seemed too emotionally intense, and people who “feel too much” are a lot more appealing in theory than they are in practice. They’re the kinda folk who kill other folk over love stuff, then kill themselves.

Not a fan!

Pool Creep

While I’d love to finish this post off with the comedy of horrors that was a stranger’s extended harassment of me at the pool, including the slice of pizza he tried to force into my mouth, I’d rather skip to the shocking truth that I gave him a pass for a few reasons.

One, he was so drunk (and high) that it was clear his ability to stand up, let alone control himself, was severely compromised. I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t remember anything that happened when he woke up the next day.

Two, he wasn’t threatening. I didn’t feel at any point during his harassment that I was in danger and he didn’t put his hands on me. He was just being highly inappropriate and it was obnoxious because he wouldn’t (see; couldn’t) stop. Note that him trying to get me to eat pizza doesn’t count as putting his hands on me since his hands were on the slice.

Three, several people were trying to rein him in, including his friends and a lifeguard who kept checking on me to make sure I was okay whenever he saw any guy come up to me. That concern was sweet.

So while I certainly didn’t condone his behavior and continued to make it clear that it was unwanted, I fully understood that I was trying to negotiate with someone who lacked the capacity for restraint while heavily under the influence.

In light of that, I tried to manage it the same way I’d manage someone who’s mentally ill until his friends were able to get him home to sleep it off. I remember him apologizing to me as they dragged him off in a floppy, slurring mass. Definitely someone who needs to cut back on the “recreational” activities.

Anyway!

I could go on with more – and incredibly worse – examples considering I amass them on the regs, but I think I’ll end it here with a thought instead: Men have been sexually harassing, stalking, and generally being creeps to me since my pubescence, and that truth is echoed by the overwhelming majority of women I’ve met in my life.

It’s so frequent that it’s fairly normalized. As a female, you expect it to happen at some point – and it does. The good thing is that we’re in a time when we can speak up about it and speak against men (and women) who try to justify it. Even better, we have the opportunity to educate men who genuinely don’t realize that what they’re doing bothers us or is wrong because it’s been normalized for them too.

Regardless, while all of this unwanted attention hasn’t “screwed me up”, it’s given me a duel perspective. The fact that so many men think they can walk around imposing themselves on women at will or being gross and sexually explicit as they see fit with little to no regard for how we feel or how it affects us is so astonishing that I ceased to be astonished.

I now exist in this weird state where every time it happens to me or anyone else, I’m both surprised and not surprised because I shouldn’t be surprised and that’s surprising.

And don’t even get me started on the creeps who’ve said they have the “right” to treat women however they want by virtue of being men because women were “put here” for them. That’s a kettle for another stove…

The Articulate Plague

It’s frustrating trying to explain something to someone fundamentally ill-equipped to understand it. They’ll either get it or they won’t, and your explanation rarely has any effect on that outcome. I think I’ve said as much before.

A black woman was talking about makeup and beauty, and a white guy commented that she was very well-spoken and articulate. I rolled my eyes, and I’d bet dollars to donuts that another black person reading this already knows why.

It’s one of those seemingly innocuous things you either pick up on from firsthand experience living in a particular skin or from being socially conscious – which not enough people are.

Let’s call it a symptom.

If you’ve ever played the game Plague Inc., you know the goal is to kill everyone on the planet with a pathogen you’ve created. Being a simulation that explores the spread of disease and the devastating potential it has to obliterate us on a global scale, there are a few things you have to consider.

Time is an important factor because you want to kill everyone before the world finds a cure, so the pathogen has to be infectious enough to spread quickly. It also has to be resistant enough to changes in climate to spread widely. And lastly, it has to mutate to make treating it more difficult.

The trickiest bit is in balancing the fact that it has to be deadly enough to kill, but not so deadly that it kills its carriers faster than they can infect others – and for the most part, that’s controlled by manipulating symptoms.

You want them severe enough to be fatal, but not so severe that people notice them too soon. Because it’s the symptoms that call attention to the disease, and once people are aware of the disease, they set down the path to cure it.

We suffer many diseases as a society – things that burn through us like wildfire before anyone takes note. By the time we realize something awful is spreading, we’re already infected and in a weaker position to fight it than we would have been had it not taken us so long to catch on.

My point is that failing to acknowledge that something is a symptom of a greater problem almost guarantees that we’ll never solve it.

Now that I’ve enlightened you with the delightful parallel that is a game about decimating mankind, let’s see how it applies to this particular post!

In this case, the symptom is a symptom of another symptom…

Having grown up in America, it’s no secret that when someone who isn’t black thinks of a black person, there are quite a few stereotypes that often come to mind.

Some good. Many not.

And one of the most prominent “nots” is that we don’t speak proper English, this consensus that we butcher the language more than Americans in general. That every other word out of our mouths is either profane, grammatically incorrect, or some ridiculous unintelligible slang that others mock yet will eventually adopt nonetheless.

It’s a given to many that we sound uneducated and illiterate to the point of being humorous, which is why it’s so entertaining to mimic us. I got my hair did and I’m hip because I said it that way! Ain’t nobody got time for that! Oh, boy, it’s fun reducing black perspectives to jaunty memes!

Since this is the way blacks are viewed here by and large, there always appears to be this underlying hint of surprise from others when a black person doesn’t speak that way. And that surprise compels them to acknowledge the anomaly – to give that black person a pat on the back for not sounding “black”.

So we’ve ended up with a society full of people – primarily white people – who hear a black person speak in a way that would otherwise be considered unworthy of note and the first thing that comes to mind is, “My, isn’t he/she articulate!”

Of course, they think it’s a compliment – just like they think it’s a compliment when they tell us we’re not like other blacks or that they “don’t see color”.

But those of us who recognize these compliments as symptoms of the disease that is the perception of blacks as inferior in a number of ways, including in our grasp of the English language, are rightly insulted, annoyed, or – at the very least – not uplifted by it.

It amazes me how many people can’t wrap their heads around this, so I’ll draw another parallel. It’s like if I were to say to a random guy, “You don’t seem like a rapist at all!” I wouldn’t blame him if his initial reaction were, “Why would I seem like a rapist?”

Because that’s the question.

Why wouldn’t I be articulate?

The answer is because I’m black and that’s the problem. It isn’t that someone wanted to pay us a compliment. It’s that someone thought it was something that needed to be complimented as if it’s unusual when there’s nothing unusual about it.

If and when a white person is called articulate, it’s because they actually express themselves with notable eloquence and effect. Meanwhile, all a black person has to do is structure a sentence properly. That’s how low people have set our bar in their minds.

“I went to the store to buy soup and they didn’t have any.”
“Whoa! You’re so articulate!”

It’s so common that it’s been addressed again and again and again – in real life, in television, film, articles, and comedy – yet those of us who don’t speak like a black caricature are still inundated with people who feel compelled to point out that we’re articulate.

Then they learn nothing when we explain why it’s obnoxious because they’re too busy arguing about how we should take it.

Equally bad are fellow blacks who’ve internalized this negative perception of how we speak and instead of saying we’re articulate, say that we sound white. It’s a different branch of the same ignorant tree.

I remember when a white coworker I’d become friends with said, “You should give me your Ebonics dictionary, because you obviously don’t use it.”

“What?”

“I just mean that you don’t speak in Ebonics and all that yo yo and he be doing and that kind of stuff. You speak properly.”

I schooled my friend on why that was both the dumbest and most racist thing he’d ever said to me. He apologized and seemed to get it, but it’s not always that simple.

So the next time you’re tempted to comment on how “articulate” a black person is, I want you to think hard and honestly about why that word came to mind.

Was it because their way of speaking or writing was really that impactful in its clarity and expressiveness and the like? Or was it because you were expecting them to sound like “something else”?

Picture them as any other race.
Does it still seem worth complimenting?

It’s easy to speak and act without thinking about why. It’s easy for people to read my comments or blogs, find out I’m black, say I just assumed you were white, and never give any consideration to why they did. But I don’t do “easy”.

Easy rarely makes you more intelligent.
Easy rarely makes you more aware.
Easy rarely makes you better.

Go hard or go home.

Represent

I was thinking about people I’ve met who were born and raised overseas. You can learn a lot about other places from those who are actually in that environment, keeping in mind that what you’re learning is still being filtered through a particular lens – albeit a closeup.

One constant is how often we develop a perception of things we’re not quite familiar with or have never encountered ourselves by way of the media. Rather, from the information, ideas, and imagery we’re exposed to – the majority of which is derived from the media.

It’s something I always come back to when listening to people who’ve never been to my country and/or never spent time around my race talk about what they think we’re like. Because when asked why they believe what they do – where they get their ideas from – the answer is always the same.

Western media.

What we’re exposed to dictates our worldview more than anything, and that extends to the way we view ourselves. Every second of every day, we’re consuming information. Pictures and words. Feelings and thoughts. And we internalize that data. We adopt it into our existence and into our translation of the world around us.

What we’re exposed to becomes the building blocks of our social language – the way we understand our environment and communicate with each other through that understanding.

Most of that happens subconsciously, but there are times when we’re aware of specific things that have an effect on how we think. Sometimes, we can even pinpoint the very moment something sparked a change or planted a seed. Beyond that, it’s like those things have always been there.

How many of you are insecure about a feature of yours or a perceivable trait? Maybe it’s a body part or your body as a whole. Maybe it’s an accessory like glasses or braces. Maybe it’s the way you talk or walk.

Do you remember the moment when that thing became an insecurity? When the switch flipped, turning something you didn’t think about at all into something that was all you could think about?

What happened?

In many cases, the answer will be that someone said something to you about it. In other cases, the answer will be that something you heard or saw prompted you to become insecure in spite of nothing being said to you directly.

Either way, insecurity is a product of your environment. You were exposed to something, directly or indirectly, that – in reality or in your mind – defined a particular trait as a flaw and you internalized that definition.

I was thinking about this because I came across a post online that I don’t feel like finding again. Paraphrasing, it said that if someone creates a TV show featuring a cast full of what I personally refer to in America as the dominant groups (e.g. white, straight, Christian, etc.), it doesn’t make the show creators bigots, and it doesn’t mean they hate other groups.

In the same vein, if someone does the opposite, creating a show with a cast comprised of everyone but the dominant groups, it doesn’t make them social justice warriors.

The post ended with write what you want or some such thing, and I agree with the basic sentiment. Don’t jump to conclusions. Sometimes, the way a film or television show is cast is just a creative decision. Not everything has a hidden agenda, good or bad.

That said, something doesn’t need to have an agenda to send a message, and when the message it sends is symptomatic of a greater problem or serves to perpetuate a greater problem, the fact that it may not have been purposeful isn’t really the point.

The point is what I’ve been rambling about: Internalization.

Given that what we’re exposed to plays such a significant role in our worldview and the way that we view ourselves, it’s in our best interest to expose ourselves to things that will have a positive effect on said perspectives.

Unless we prefer a stagnant society full of miserable, self-hating, other-hating, intellectually deprived individuals that are neither progressive nor productive, in which case, that’s cool too.

But – if for some totally insane reason, we want to enrich ourselves, then we need to surround ourselves with enrichment. If we want to expand our knowledge, then we need to surround ourselves with new knowledge.

And if we want to improve our worldview and the way that we view ourselves, we need to improve the way that we represent the world and ourselves in our environment.

That’s why, as much as I believe that we should write what we want – both literally and figuratively in terms of what we put out into the world – I also believe we should want to write things that in some way make society better.

That’s why I think it’s important for people to be mindful of the message something sends to those who are exposed to it and the potential impact it has on society as a whole. It doesn’t start and end with the question is there an agenda here and it isn’t just about intent.

We understand that a narrow mind is often a sheltered mind. We point fingers at cultures deemed barbaric or archaic because we see the negative effect of what they’ve been exposed to (or not) and we recognize that broadening their exposure is a part of the solution – a step towards a more well-rounded, civilized existence.

So why do we fight against broadening our own?

Everything around us contributes to the brainwashing we experience from the day we’re born to varying degrees. This isn’t news. And we’re (hopefully) aware that most of the social problems we have stem from this non-stop conditioning and involuntary internalizing of what we’re exposed to in our everyday lives.

Yet we don’t want to limit the things we say, do, or create. We put freedom first to a fault. It’s a part of our cultural identity as Americans, and to make up for it, we pretend that something’s okay as long as it’s not intentionally wrong.

In this case, that it’s okay to repeatedly feature an all-dominant cast and narratives that revolve around their perspectives as long as it’s not because you’re prejudiced.

Sure, it’s been proven again and again that a lack of representation has a long-lasting negative impact on the self-image of those who aren’t represented (or are represented poorly) while simultaneously contributing to them being valued less and/or perceived less favorably by those who are represented or by outsiders…

… but as long as it’s not on purpose, it’s fine! Why deviate? Because it would improve those attitudes? Quell those negative effects? That’s dumb!

I say all of that to say this…

The old adage that things don’t happen in a vacuum is an overused cliche for a reason. It’s one of those things that’s so true, it’s hard to imagine a world in which anyone alive would ever need to be told that, and yet everyone alive needs to be told that.

Everything that we say and do matters.
Everything that we see and hear matters.

And it’s a self-serving cop-out to excuse yourself or anyone else from what you contribute to that collective by saying, “It wasn’t intended to have this effect.” You didn’t intend to have diarrhea when you ate that burrito. Did that change the fact that you shit all over the place?

Long story short, we can’t complain about the awful things going on in our society or in our homes or in our relationships while at the same time giving a pass to the very things that, by and large, serve only to trigger or perpetuate those undesirables just because we don’t have a problem with the catalysts themselves.

The bigger picture is pretty big.
We should try looking at it from time to time.

Let’s Play Smart: Deconstructing White Privilege (pt. 1)

I was sitting here, minding my ooples and banoonoos, going over the brief for a client’s project, when I came across the phrase vice white. The context made it unclear if this was a typo or a description of a particular color to be used in the design. My client wasn’t around, so I did what any good citizen would do and Googled it.

It led me to this…

White People Talk About Their White Privilege

I sighed because my brain, always itching for something to think about, should have taken a left turn at Albuquerque and instead, took a right turn at ooh, I wonder what this is. So I clicked on it.

Now this is happening.

Welcome to Let’s Play Smart where we ban together to take on society’s greatest debates! The rules are simple. Instead of weighing you down with stuffy, academic posts on subjects we’re all probably sick of hearing about, I’m going to tackle them with basic parallels and phrasing even a rock could understand and you win by not acting like you’re too fucking stupid to get it!

As the title of this post suggests, today’s game is about deconstructing white privilege. Many have tried and after reading the comments on that Vice blog, I see that many have failed. Not us, though! We’re going to work it out because we’re winners, winners, chicken dinners!

We’ll start with three teams:

The first team is for people who think white privilege doesn’t exist, the second is for people who think it does, and the third is for people who are on the fence about it or otherwise willing to give it more thought.

You know how game shows often have a challenge that eliminates one team right out of the gate? This was that challenge. The first team can leave because you’re already wrong.

I’m kidding. 

Not about you being wrong. About you needing to leave. You, in particular, need to stay. This Bud’s for you. Let’s play smart!

What is white privilege?

To answer this oft-inflammatory question, we’ll simplify it. What is privilege in general? Forget dictionaries, friends. They’re myopic and tell you how to pronounce things. Yes. Dictionaries are that guy. So let’s ask a thesaurus!

privilege

Pretty intimidating, right?

Of course not. They’re words. Words you all know and understand.

Advantage is arguably the most common interpretation, but it’d be fruitless to assign privilege that identity across the board when it dons a variety of meanings and manifests itself in a number of ways.

Privilege is what we lean on rather than fight against. It’s dynamic. Fluid and limitless. And what exists as a privilege today may not be one tomorrow.

In one aspect or another, we’re all privileged – as individuals and as groups – and every privilege, great or small, makes our lives better in often unspoken, unrecognized ways that sometimes add up to a remarkable existence and sometimes don’t. 

Because privilege guarantees itself.
Not the outcome.

Challenge #1:

Whoever you are, whatever you are, think of five privileges you have that aren’t tied to your race. Consider the implications of the synonyms I put before you in the image above and paint with broad strokes. This should be as easy as making a grocery list except the items on it are food for thought.

If you’re feeling strained, try flipping the question on its head and ask yourself what you’re thankful for, because everything you’re thankful for is a privilege. Everything you benefit from is something someone else on this planet may not have.

I can give you a list right now: I have friends. I have two hands. I can swim. I’m literate. I like vanilla ice cream – and yes. I just said liking vanilla ice cream is a privilege. That’s me challenging your understanding of the shape privilege can take. 

Vanilla ice cream is abundant, which means that I have the luxury of desiring something readily available to me, and ease is a privilege.

When putting a puzzle together, you start with the big picture because it gives you insight into what the individual pieces add up to. If you can’t expand your definition of privilege to appreciate the fullness of how it affects our everyday experiences, you won’t make sense of the picture our society has painted, even as it comes into view.

To say that white privilege doesn’t exist is to say that in a world of infinite privilege in infinite forms, being white was somehow excluded – and that’s dumb.

So the question isn’t if white privilege exists. The question is why it matters and why so many whites are socially conscious and self-aware about the notion of privilege except when it’s applied to their race? This is where the deconstruction really starts.

Congratulations! You made it to the next round!

What does white privilege mean?

We’ve briefly touched on what privilege is and what it can be for all of us, but what something is ain’t what it means. How does privilege manifest itself in our reality? How does it apply to our everyday life? How does it shape who we are?

What does it actually do?

Many users commenting on the Vice blog understood the answer to that question, citing examples of what being white has meant for them:

Unnamed: I feel like so much of my career has been about people taking chances on me, putting faith in me, etc. I have had basically four different careers—all really interesting and challenging—and I’ve gotten the chance to transition to each and show what I can do, based on people giving me those opportunities. I’m not blind to the fact that for many non-white people, getting a big break ‘on faith’ is essentially unheard of.

Andrew Litchfield: I’m a white male nurse. I work with many excellent African nurses, some who have more experience than me. I know that I’ll never be turned away by a patient asking for another nurse because I’m white. It happens to black nurses at least once a month.

Corey Reynolds: I’m a white male and I’ve had an employer tell me with a straight face “we don’t hire guys with beards or black people” in 2013. I had to shave. Black people can’t shed their skin.

Joey Gizzarelli: The effects are subtle. But it means that on meeting me, I’m assumed to be more intelligent and more trustworthy. To have had a better education, to have lived in a better area. I’m assumed to have better connections and resources, and therefore seen as more valuable. My mistakes and hardships are more likely to be attributed to chance and misfortune than to my abilities or character.

Iikka Keränen: As a pale-skinned immigrant from Europe [living in America], I have never been given trouble (or made fun of) for having an accent. I have never been accused of stealing people’s jobs or coming here to leech off the system. I have never been told to “go back to” wherever. People are interested and eager to hear about my ethnic/cultural background and don’t automatically assume it’s somehow inferior. People don’t run for the President of the United States on a platform of marginalizing me.

Beth Allen: My 10 year old son looks looks like the typical blond haired blue eyed boy – his best friend since kindergarten J is black. Our house is a second home to J – and our families are very supportive of each other. I observe how the bodega owner clocks J and doesn’t even watch my son (who is frankly much more likely to filch a candy bar). When I was growing up – almost exclusively black men (and women) in movies and TV had negative roles – the criminal, the druggie or the bum. I knew this on a conscious level and felt it was wrong. But when your perspective is parental, wrong hardly covers it. I worry about the impact of racism on J often – what is 18 years of extra scrutiny doing to his self esteem, self image. How is he being shaped by seeing his reflection in the media and films as largely negative – second class?

Zachary Stein: When me and a group of my friends are walking down the street at night, drunkenly screaming and laughing and staggering around, we NEVER even stop and worry about a police officer accosting us. Meanwhile, a group of black people engaging in the same behavior are going to get stopped because the police are worried about them “wiling out”. This flagrant disparity in treatment shapes whole swaths of society’s behavior unbeknownst to most.

Meanwhile, other users entirely missed the point:

Charles Lyons: More anti-White agitprop to prey upon White guilt.

There are a number of reasons for that disconnect. Most boil down to a lack of understanding the phrase white privilege and its intent. The rest are symptomatic of a degree of racism that renders one incapable of recognizing the term in earnest.

I’ll talk about how to spot the difference between the two later. For now, deciphering what white privilege means begins with declaring what it doesn’t. What better way to simplify that than with a bulleted list!

  • White privilege doesn’t mean white people don’t experience hardship.
  • White privilege doesn’t mean white people don’t experience discrimination.
  • White privilege doesn’t mean white people owe all of their accomplishments to being white.

Like the Wise Men of old, these three things come bearing gifts in celebration of your birth into the world of racial intelligence. Said gifts are wisdom, knowledge, and a potato.

Someone playing dumb would struggle with this list, fumbling about like a child pouring juice into a cup it has no business drinking out of in the first place because really, it was made for adults and smaller ones exist. Lucky for us, we’re playing smart!

Challenge #2:

Read the following comments from the Vice blog and match them to a point in the bulleted list that the quoted user clearly doesn’t grasp. Extra gold stars if you can match a comment to more than one!

Erik Shepner: This message that we (white people) are continually being bombarded with usually implies we owe it to others in society to degrade ourselves, that our accomplishments as people are null and void, and that we should live our lives in shame and guilt.

Craig Zacarelli: Back in the 1980s i got turned down for a job because I had a mohawk, it wasnt even one of those huge obnoxious ones. But the boss told my friend who worked there and tried to get me the job that i “looked like a punk rocker”. He was white, I was white. I also got fired from my fair share of jobs too. I never had anything handed to me just for being white, and i have never been able to take advantage of a situation because i was white.

Amy Turner: If “advantages” go to white people, I guess I must be black and color blind then! I lived in the ghetto til I was 21. I was one out of three white kids in a school that was all black and I WORKED MY BUTT OFF to move my kids out of the violent neighborhood I was living in. Was never “PICKED” before anyone else and all my superiors were black.

Andrew Roesch: Honestly I’d rather burn off my fucking skin than read one more thing about white privilege. I’d like to claim that it is an insult to anyone, white or else, that worked hard to achieve their goals.

Dylan Silver: So my question is if I have so called white privilege why as a senior in highschool were me and my bestfriend pulled over for being out “too early to not be ditching” Which we weren’t as seniors we got out at noon and this happened around 1 pm, then as I complied with the officers request for my id why did I get my face bounced off the dashboard of the car, put in cuffs and beaten at gunpoint for making an aggresive motion? I was in my seatbelt still and Complying with his orders…

Alex Brown: Nothing pisses me off like seeing someone say they got a job because of “white privilege”. The implication being, of course, that every unemployed white person must have just been particularly stupid.

Vi King: im so tired of hearing about this myth of white privilege. im white and it doesnt help me in my daily life at all. i went to college and still dont have a “good job”. i dont get tax breaks for being white. i dont get to ride in the front of the bus or go to the front of the line at the grocery store. in fact, being tall i always get asked by short people, mostly women, to help them get some item off the shelf or help them carry their heavy item to their basket.

Huh?

Since there were also comments suggesting that the concept of white privilege is somehow a personal attack, I’d be remiss not to mention that the term white privilege isn’t a criticism of white people. It’s an allusion to how white people are perceived (and subsequently treated) by the environment.

Again, those who enjoy playing dumb will struggle with that, so I’ll give them a hand. It’s the difference between the statement hot dogs sell well versus hot dogs are delicious. The former relates to the way the external world acts upon the hot dogs. The latter would be a comment on the hot dogs themselves.

The phrase white privilege reflects a very basic observation: In America – and arguably many places across the globe – you’re considered better if you’re white. Just like you’re considered better if you’re thin, for example.

So what does it matter in practice?
Better than what and how?

We’ll explore that in the next part of the game and face new challenges. Are you up to the task? Are you human enough to handle it?! CAN YOU STILL PLAY SMART?!?!?!?!

Let’s find out!

It Doesn’t Make You Racist (But It Kinda Does)

Every once in a while, a less-melanin’d human will remark that a particular period of American history was better, wishing we could all go back to a time when things were “simpler” and our values were still “intact”.

And when that period is fraught with the inhumane treatment of blacks – which, for our country, is as likely as hitting the broad side of a barn with another barn – it isn’t all that unusual for someone to accuse him of being racist, either seriously or in jest.

Of course he objects, insisting that longing for the feel of a moment in time that just happened to be openly racist doesn’t make him racist by extension, and I agree. Thinking the old days were swell doesn’t make you racist any more than thinking Roswell was a great place to be in 1947 makes you an alien conspiracist.

But let’s look at it another way…

It’s 1999. A brisk New Year’s Eve. You’re at a club celebrating Y2K’s approach, drink in hand, soul on your sleeve. Your favorite band performs and brings you up on stage. You dance alongside them while your friends hoot and cheer until your eyes land on someone you’ve worshiped for months without a word.

Fueled by the night’s adrenaline, you make a move. Your cheeks touch as you exchange flirtations and the sexual tension of the silence that falls in between, and you realize that everything in that moment is right. This is the way life should be!

You later discover that a girl was brutally raped that night. While you were floating on affections and pounding away at the stage, she was dragged into a bathroom, assaulted, and left for dead not more than fifty feet away.

You watched the news about it, read about it, overheard people talking about it. You knew every unthinkable detail there was to know because everyone knew. It was a part of the club’s history now – a part of that night.

It didn’t change the tenor of the moment.
It became the tenor of the moment.

Now it’s 2016 and you’re at lunch with a friend and you say, “You remember that New Year’s Eve back in 1999 when we went to Club Hypothetical? Everything about that night was perfect, wasn’t it? Life was so much better for everyone then. I wish we could all go back in time and relive it over and over again!”

A woman at a nearby table groans in your direction. “You realize a girl was raped and beaten within an inch of her life that night, right?” And you nod, almost as if it were silly of her to ask. Of course you realize it. That knowledge was inescapable.

The woman’s face shrinks in disgust. “If you know what happened, how can you say it was perfect? How can you say we should all go back and relive it?” Because that’s the question hiding under the skin – how can you pine for something knowing what you know?

The truth is that it didn’t concern you. It didn’t happen to you, it didn’t happen to anyone you care about, and it didn’t have any effect on your life.

Sure, you wouldn’t wish it on anyone and you can’t begin to imagine going through it yourself. But you don’t really care in the way others think you should care, because while that girl’s night was horrific, yours was fucking awesome.

And that’s what counts – right?

It’s understandable. Bad things happen to other people all the time. If we all fell to pieces about it, society would drown in tears, a mound of sullen husks moping about on everyone else’s behalf. And we’re not built for that.

Still…

What if it wasn’t just that one girl, that one night, that one place? What if it were all girls, every night, everywhere? What if it was the nature of that period that women, by virtue of being women, could be, would be, and were being beaten, raped and killed as others saw fit?

It wouldn’t be isolated enough for you to claim no connection then, would it? You may not know a particular woman, but you know women. We’re all born from and related to women, you may be friends with women, you may date women, and your children may grow up to be women.

You can’t detach yourself anymore because it’s no longer about a single stranger you’ve never met. It’s about every stranger you’ll ever meet.

Could you still look that woman in the eye and say best night everrrrr when she asks if you realize that everyone like her was suffering while everyone like you was free to pursue their fill of happiness? And how what happened at the club that night was merely a testament to that dismal truth? Par for the course?

Maybe you could because it’s only that one night you miss. A night that, in your mind, exists independent of the darkness storming around it. A night that you have the right to long for because it was yours. Maybe you could because you tell yourself that it wasn’t the culture you missed. It was only that club and that band and that lover.

A part of me might still question how it could be so easy for you to mourn for something steeped in so much pain. Who yearns for an island in a sea of blood?

I say all of that to say this…

Claiming that a period in history was better than now in general just because it was better for people like you is a slap in the face to the rest who were also there in mind, body, and spirit because it hammers home the point that you define the world we all occupy by your occupation. That you view the whole of that history as the sum of your parts alone.

It creates a bubble where the things that matter to you are the only things that matter, and the fact that the values you praise are the very same values that permitted the systematic culling of a people is somehow an irrelevant footnote.

In short, it’s a reminder that at the end of the day, the meaning of race in our country and the state of the black race in particular doesn’t affect you because it didn’t affect you. So you have the luxury of calling it what we can’t:

The good ol’ days.

And no, that doesn’t make you racist, but boy, does it make you stupid if you can’t understand why many of us have grown tired of hearing white people lament the loss of a tortured past our people are lucky to be freed from right to our faces as if we’re a historical afterthought in a nation whose history was all but shaped by the story of us and how your people chose to write it.