White suburban dystopia

So, I decided a while ago that I wanted to try something, and today I got around to doing it.

I’ve been trying to share the perspectives and wisdom of others that I have encountered via social media, regarding primarily police brutality, its role in white supremacist capitalism, the history of white supremacist imperialist patriarchy.  Aside from social media and conversations with my mom, there isn’t much opportunity to engage in discussion about social justice issues.  These aren’t small-talk topics around most white middle-classians – actually, they’re strictly no-discuss topics.  And since I’ve been spending most of my summer in my house, it’s not as though I’ve been talking to much of anyone anyway.  But I felt like connecting or reaching out to my immediate community in some way, finding a way to wake some people out of their comfort bubble or maybe let them know that someone close to home cares about oppression and wants others to care as well.

I came up with the idea of putting flyers on stop signs.  Well, not flyers, I guess, just pieces of paper turned landscape style.  The papers – in regular stop sign font, white text and all red background (and much smaller than the stop sign itself) would be PSAs of sorts, each using a few words to encourage viewers to challenge societal problems.  When positioned under the stop sign, they would produce a complete phrase, for example :

“Stop condoning police brutality”

I made up around 20 of these signs, and set out this afternoon to put them on stop signs around my neighborhood.  I didn’t intend to identify myself with them.  I didn’t think I would have any way of knowing people’s reactions to them, because there are so many people in my neighborhood with whom I have no regular contact or have never met.  But I knew the signs would be seen, and to think that a few people would see them and feel encouraged or say “yeah! That’s right” or that a few would would stop (literally, as per the law) and think about what I wrote – that would be something.  Maybe a few conversations would be had.  I expected many of them would be ignorant, frustrated conversations.  But at least the people who wanted nothing to do with challenging racism, sexism, all other host of -isms would see those signs and know that one of their neighbors gives a shit.  Maybe.  I don’t know what goes on in most people’s heads most of the time.

So I walked around for about 30 minutes putting up my signs.  I only put up about 10 of them, as I only passed about that many stop signs on my loop.  Here are pictures of some of them:

   
    
    
 
(I forgot to take a picture of “condoning police brutality” and a couple of others.

I had noticed that right after I put up “condoning police brutality” below the stop sign at one of the exits of our neighborhood, a cop car drove out of the neighborhood in that direction.  I’m guessing they saw it.)

So, Howdy-doo, while I was turning onto a street to head back to my house, the Sheriff rolled in.  Right up to where I was.  I knew why.  

He said someone had “called him in” saying they thought someone was putting up “anti-police” stuff and, according to him “people kind of like us out here”.

Im thinking yeah, I know.  This is a primarily white  middle-class neighborhood.

But most of the signs didn’t mention police anyway, so I told him, they were really to raise awareness of social issues.  I told him I hadn’t thought it would be a problem because people put signs on the stop sign poles all the time.  Neighborhood events.  Babysitter needed. Lost dog. Etc.

He said yeah, technically your not supposed to, but for stuff like that people mostly just look the other way.  He was only here because someone had called about my signs specifically. 

So, one of two things happened:

– The cop who I originally saw leaving the neighborhood was put off by what he saw and decided to tell the sheriff to come over and just say someone in the neighborhood had called him.

Or – Someone in the neighborhood actually had called him, and that someone was an ignorant asshole who decided a message to “stop condoning police brutality” was worthy of complaining to white suburban police about.  Plus, if they did see any of my other signs, they chose that one to complain about specifically for obvious reasons.  Most of the signs didn’t say anything about police.  But they probably hated all of them.  “Stop ignoring racism? Fuck you.  I don’t see color.  I earned everything I have.  You’re the racist!”

Lost dog?

Go ahead, post it up!

Dying Black people?

Get that shit out of my face.
I mean, I expected that to be a lot of people’s response.  I’m sure it would have been, for a lot more, if the signs stayed up longer than 20 minutes.  (I went around and took them down, since the sheriff said the only other option was putting them on lamp posts since they’re “not state-owned”.  Without the word “stop” above them, the signs would make no fucking sense.) A few more minutes and I could have gotten home and nobody probably would have been able to identify me as the one who put up the signs.  But the sheriff got my name.  My thinking was – eh, I can afford a fine.  But if this neighborhood is really so closed off to thought that some messages on a stop sign make the hairs on the backs of their necks stand up – (even if the person who told the sheriff to swing by was another cop, I fully believe that most people in my neighborhood are very friendly with the cops, based on the neighborhood group posts on Facebook) – maybe it just wouldn’t be worth it.  So I took them down.  Had to make the whole loop again.  It was sweaty.  

So, yeah, there you have it.

Possibly another instance of cops being dishonest assholes,

Possibly another instance of suburban white people plugging their ears and screaming.

Nothing unexpected.  

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 Abuse of Education

This past Spring, the Ohio University Board of Trustees decided to purchase a $1.2 million dollar property (plus furnishings) for Ohio University President Roderick McDavis (and Deborah McDavis).  This would have been a gross misspending of University funds, a clear indication of the OU administration and Board’s self-serving priorities at a time when students everywhere are drowning in debt by the time they receive an undergraduate degree.  Not only that, but the $1.2 million property is owned by John Wharton – a landlord of many properties in the Athens area who apparently had also offered donations to OU’s athletic program around the same time this deal was being planned.  This is not unprecedented behavior on the part of those pulling strings at the top of corporate ladders, and now elitist, wealthy businesspeople are securing their grip on higher education through positions on Boards.  These people make decisions that affect entire Universities, from students to faculty to the surrounding community – and they often receive no input from the people who should be wholly and solely involved in every aspect of the educational process: students and teachers.  (It’s also not uncommon for Universities to seek out donations for athletics while neglecting the needs of other programs.)

When students and faculty heard about the OU Board’s plan to buy this new house for the president, they raised their voices.  Many faculty co-wrote and signed a letter condemning the decision, and students and community members spread the word in the local newspapers and through rallies.  Stories of the students and faculty’s efforts were partially told by new outlets such as the New York Times.  Eventually, the Board announced their plan to back out of the deal, and while they responded as though they had no idea they could have been acting with “impropriety”, we knew their real sentiments were more like the tagline of the villains from Scooby Doo:  “And we would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for you meddling kids!!” (replace kids with students, faculty, and Athens community)

I’m fucking sick of this.  I’m sick of people with a ton of privilege and money being handed all of the resources and decision-making power over things that have widespread impact on other people’s lives.  Not only have the administration and Board at OU abused their power and funds against the desires of students, they have made construction decisions which are dangerous to the community Ohio University is a part of.  In order to reach an upcoming EPA deadline to reduce their use of coal as an energy source, the Board decided to build a natural gas pipeline to pump fracked natural gas under the Hocking River and to a designated facility on campus.  The fracking process has already been widely protested due to dangerous wastes produced during the process, but the natural gas industry is doing everything they can to convince people that natural gas is a safe and superior alternative to coal.  It’s still a non-renewable energy source, and it still produces at least as much waste as coal-burning – just at different points in the process.  And natural gas pipelines have been known to rupture, leading to explosions and contamination of nearby areas.  So, rather than investing in renewable energy alternatives – which they should have been doing for a long time now – OU’s Board has decided to put off this switch for as long as possible, and now they’re scurrying to guzzle up just enough natural gas to make the EPA’s coal reduction deadline.  This further invests them in the fossil fuel industry.  Other renewable energy options are available.  They don’t care.  They don’t give a shit about any of this.  They care about their pockets.

Now, they’re trying to find some kind of loophole so they don’t have to release their communications and information on business deals to the public.  Conor Morris (who also published emails and a timeline of events involved in the $1.2 million housing deal) wrote about it in this article:  http://www.athensnews.com/news/campus/ou-trustees-vote-to-establish-affiliated-entities-policy/article_42f24084-1db6-11e5-baee-ff3f3a99a2e1.html

At the same time, emails have just been released in which Board member Steven Schoonover – who is also a donor to the University – told other Board members they should play the “race card” in response to protests over the plans to buy a $1.2 million dollar house for President McDavis.  You can read his full email and the comments of agreement from multiple other Board members in the following article, also written by Conor Morris:   http://www.athensnews.com/news/local/major-ou-donor-suggested-in-email-pulling-the-race-card/article_78a0a1c0-274e-11e5-987f-d33f3cffc5d2.html

SO, you have a white, wealthy donor, who is also allowed to serve on a University’s Board of Trustees, getting pissed because students and faculty think they should have a say in how their educational institution works and how it uses its funds, which include the tuition for which students are going tens of thousands of dollars in debt – the NERVE – and telling a bunch of his colleagues that they should pull the “race card” on behalf of the University’s Black president…even though he clearly thinks it’s ridiculous when anyone calls out racist Republicans for their remarks on the president of the United States.  Holy fucking Jesus.  But this isn’t even remotely uncommon.  This is the white patriarchal capitalist.  Entitled.  Selfish.  Hateful.  There are people with his attitude everywhere.  Educational institutions included.

It’s depressing and enraging to think about.  One tiny step we can take right now at OU to challenge elitist corporate abuse of our education is to demand that Steven Schoonover and the other Board members who agreed with his statements resign, and that the Board makes all of its communications, donor information, and financial dealings open to the public.  Please sign this petition, so we can pressure this to happen:

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1JGtlyOo87Txced1Br77DOz5joMJT10PhHAMPvMq-tQw/viewform

Troublesome things 

things I’ve observed recently that have bothered me

1.  Two young girls at the pool – I’m in the water, listening to them.  One of them is in the water, the other sitting on the edge with her legs hanging in.  The one in the water looks at the other’s legs and says “you need to shave your legs!”  

I wanted to say something, but I was halfway across the pool (I have good hearing).  

The girls looked about 8-9.  The one whose body had just been shamed seemed uncomfortable.  

Reminds me of how it was when I found out that girls shaving their leg hair was a thing.  It’s not introduced as an option.  It’s not introduced as something shaving industries have invented.  It’s not introduced as something that only started happening relatively recently.
It’s introduced as an expectation.  An expectation made more imperative by the assertion that your body is disgusting the way it is.  I hope that girl hears alternative explanations.  

2.  I recently watched most of “Kingsman” (movies go in quotation marks, right? whatever, like I give a fuck).  I had no intention of watching it in the first place, but it was on and I was bored.  So, yeah, spy reminiscent blah blah blah, some guy’s plot to destroy most of humanity by sending out signals from cell phones that make people uncontrollably aggressive and start killing each other…fate of humanity rests in the hands of some spy agency that’s currently training a bunch of young adults in a sort of competition to see who gets to be the new “Kingsman” (k).  I missed most of the beginning.  The woman who protected the villain and had weapon attachments instead of feet (and maybe hands?) was the most interesting character, even without any backstory (if they wrote her one, I missed that part – I missed most of the beginning).  The limited info I got for the main younger guy character was that his dad probably died, and his mom gets abused by some guy.  From the beginning to the end, he doesn’t seem to learn much of anything except some basic fighting skills.  He’s cocky and gets to put in some witty comments.  Seems to be taking things as a joke most of the time, so realistically I don’t know why he was able to make it into the final 2, but he’s  the story’s boy savior, so of course he has to do it.  Everything in the movie seems to take a turn from mildly interesting at times (if only through the introduction of new characters) to EVERYTHING HINGES ON THE ACTIONS OF THIS BLONDE BOY HERO.  His female ‘friend’ and competitor in the “Kingsman” contest is his obvious superior as far as determination and loyalty to the program goes, and she WINS the contest.  But instead of then focusing on her story, and the already constructed opportunity to recognize the indesputible value of this female “KingsMAN”, the climax sees very little action for her and once again recenters around this guy whose every move apparently needs to be followed.  The movie creates the illusion that he earned the prominent role in the final mission, even though most of the true Kingsman’s actions up to this point have shown that she possesses superior reasoning ability, superior ability to follow instructions, and superior ability to work with the strengths and weaknesses of both herself and the people around her.  This other guy, who was also marketed as the face of the film, jumps into this final battle scene and manages to make it through dozens of armed and armoured guards AND take out the woman who has clearly been the best in combat throughout the film (the villain’s main bodyguard) in a way that makes absolutely no sense.  It’s some sort of miracle feat with a highly improbable number of bullets dodges and some knife-throwing and combat skills on his part which we have hereforeto not seen.  But apparently whatever needs to happen for him to arrive timingly the movie’s final moment “hero” has to happen  Then we get the icing on this misogynistic cake when some princess who was locked up earlier in the movie, who he stumbles upon during his big climactic ending, just flat out offers him sex if he can “save the world” and rescue her from her cell.  The hell with subtlety.  I guess if the writers wanted to recycle the disgusting “women-rewarding-male-protagonist-heroes-with-affection” trope, they had to at least try to regain your attention with it by just flat out SAYING it and then showing a close up of a woman’s ass. So, yeah – for the love of Satan, that movie was terrible. 

3.  While hanging out in the pool, on numerous occasions I heard the men of one family discuss a task or problem at length amongst themselves (often involving checking on somebody’s kid)…and then tell the only woman present that she should go do it.  While in the water, some of the men in this same group had one of the younger boys with them, and they told him to tell one of the women sitting in a chair that he was “hanging with the guys”.  How early people demonstrate association based on gender to kids…

 4.  While at an outdoor shopping area, I saw two parents with their 3-4 year old child.  The mom had her phone out (or maybe a camera, I can’t remember) and the dad was trying to get the boy to make muscle poses in front of a Batman statue.  He looked uncomfortable and like he didn’t want to, but his parents kept pushing him to do it.

5.  How often white people and other priveleged groups think they get to just ignore the context provided to them about someone else’s knowledge or lived experiences (and instead take on an “I believe and/or care about only what I have experienced myself” attitude)…

6.  Listening to exploding fireworks and imagining animals whipped into a frenzy, fleeing, and getting lost from their families…

Also, remembering when I was a child and hated fireworks, and everyone told me to unplug my ears and watch – but with my sensitivite hearing + anxiety, each pop was painful and made my body shake.

7.  The fact that I could send or pass out gold star stickers for people on a ridiculously frequent basis with phrases on them such as “I perpetuated rape culture”, “I said something sexist”, “I said something racist”, “I passed White Supremacist US History”, “I body shamed someone”, “I blamed a victim”, “I missed the point”, “I tried to rationalize racism/sexism”…etc.

If you are a cisgender boy/man who is friends with a girl/woman, there is a high likelihood that you will tarnish that friendship.  

Not her.  She may treat you like a true friend, seeing you as an equal, an individual.  You may believe she is your friend because…look how she treats you!  But it is possible that you fail to be a real friend to her.  

Do you try to put down or belittle women in her presence?  Do you try to make women the butt of your jokes?  Do you try to make jokes about the struggles that many women face or in any way try to minimize those struggles?  Do you try to perpetuate unequal standards of behavior for men and women? 

And if she tries to tell you that you are wrong, false, cruel, disrespectful…do you listen to her?  Do you apologize?  Do you make immediate efforts to change your behavior?  Or do you deflect?  Do you attempt to rationalize your behavior?  

She is not being “too sensitive”.  You are being ignorant and cruel, and she is respecting herself.  She is recognizing that she has been a friend to you, possibly more and longer than she needed to, and yet you do not to have a grasp of what it means to be a friend.  And you’d better listen, to learn.

Reach, 

   There’s meaning in the ceiling,

    In the pulpit,

    Maybe in the windows.

hush, Reach,

    Their bodies are quiet for their waiting

They clutch the preacher’s words,
    Try to digest them through their systems,

    Try to get meaning from them, with them

But I’m already laughing,

For in the silence 

I have found the top of the blonde head of a child

Bobbing up and down as they walk

Down the pew row,

And in the back another child cries,

Defying the silence –

A bright gurgling of life.

You Do Not Own Language

No one does.  

At some point humans decided to communicate with each other, sometimes using mouth sounds, sometimes making marks on surfaces.  We’re still playing around with it.  Importantly, it’s a cooperative activity. Communication requires multiple people.  Unless you’re having a conversation with yourself trying to peel back the endless layers of your soul.

We try to have some shared understanding of the ideas represented by the words we’re using. But we are all so different – and so fucking complicated – that we’re likely to have variations in our understandings.

When we want to communicate and share ideas with someone else, we want to make sure we have a shared understanding of what we’re trying to represent with the words we’re using.  If a person interprets a word or words we use in a way we did not intend, we may attempt to further explain our understandings of the words we are using and how we believe those understandings relate to one another.  In order to move forward, the person we are communicating with must have the desire to understand our ideas, and this may involve considering new or different interpretations of the words we use.  But if someone decides they don’t want to accept your understanding of the words you’re using, they’re not going to consider any of the ideas you’re trying to share. And that’s a shame. 

Suppose two people are talking.  One tells the other that they “don’t enjoy taking notes”.  The other hasn’t heard the phrase “taking notes” used that way before and gets confused.  They think the word “taking” means that you are removing something from somewhere else.  Why would this person be “taking” notes?  From where? From whom? They express their confusion, and the first person explains that “taking notes” is used to mean ‘writing down what is being heard or read’.  Imagine if the second person was frustrated by this and refused to listen to the remainder of the other person’s thought just because they didn’t want to accept a different interpretation of those words?

I’ve seen situations similar to this many times.  The people who refuse to accept different interpretations of language from the ones they have already gotten used to – these often seem to be people who feel that their perspective is ‘the norm’, the standard of ‘rationality’, perhaps even superior…the people who are used to being listened to and perhaps not as used to listening.  These are people whom society, including many of the people’s they interact with, have sent a message that their voices are ones that are always heard.  They read stories and watch movies by and about and about people that look like them and have similar experiences to their own.  They see people in positions of ‘authority’ who look like them and have similar experiences to their own.  These things may contribute to someone feeling that their perspective and their voice are important.  There’s nothing wrong with believing your perspective and your voice are important.  There’s something wrong with believing they’re more important than everyone else’s.

And I’ve seen that attitude plenty of times.  I’ve seen people express ideas worthy of contemplation and discussion only to be shamed by a person who doesn’t really want to communicate.  When approached by a perspective that doesn’t mirror their own experiences – when addressed with language that might confuse them – they don’t ask questions.  They feel no responsibility to learn about different interpretations and perspectives.  They shame others for not fitting into their own understanding.  They shame anyone who uses language in a way they’re not used to hearing.  They try to squash different perspectives and ideas.

It is these different perspectives and ideas which must be brought to life through language and behaviors.  These which are often squashed, are some of the only tools any of us have to work against oppression by those who would have us feel that certain voices matter more than others.