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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Looking Under the Hoodie

The exposure is stark, high contrast, black and white. The last time this country cared even near this much about a person in a hoodie was that infamous sketch of the sunglassed Unibomber, Ted Kaczynski. But wearing a hoodie doesn't make one evil, threatening or a gangster, despite FOX News showman Geraldo Rivera's bizarre assertion that, "His hoodie killed Trayvon Martin as surely as George Zimmerman did."
Blaming Trayvon Martin for being suspicious in a hoodie is like blaming a rape victim because she wore something sexy. Judging someone because of what they wear or the way they talk is the same prejudice that judges them by their skin color. Sure, there are times when "appropriate" attire is required, like a funeral or a job interview, but the kid was just walking on a particular street, like hundreds of other kids do, everyday. Apparently, some people don't want kids to be kids, especially if they are Black (or Asian or Hispanic or Muslim).
 American Minds
The lesson here is less about the gun lobby's "Stand Your Ground" law, than it is about how far we still have to go to recognize all Americans, regardless of race, color or creed, as neighbors first, and criminals only when there's direct evidence from that individual to support specific suspicions.
We are meaning making machines, a teacher once told me. We relate to other people (and our environment) with the lessons past experience has taught us, or, lacking direct experience, we draw conclusions based on "stories" we have heard from our prime influences - our parents and our community. So all it takes to change the reflexive responses to social situations to which we resign ourselves, is a willingness to acknowledge that things may not be what you were always led to believe they were.
That's not always an easy thing to do. It requires disavowing some deeply held beliefs, letting go of our grip on the familiar bar that has gotten us this far in life, and like a trapeze artist, trusting that there's another mindset that will catch you and validate your new feelings. If you've ever had to admit you were wrong about something, in just about any context, you've done something similar. The biggest difference is admitting something you once thought was correct is flawed, compared to something you were certain about could be wrong.
Here's an exercise from the Book of Oversimplification that may help you. Let's say you have this idea that you look terrible in stripes. Try wearing stripes on a date, or to an important meeting, and see if it really matters. Better yet, try listening to your significant other in a conversation, while you're wearing stripes, and pretend you don't automatically know where they're coming from. Be willing to be surprised, by every one and everything. Americans are better than the racial profiling that passes for vigilance these days. George Zimmerman may not be there yet, but you can be. Give it a try.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Smears and skidmarks

It turns out what Rush Limbaugh did by calling Georgetown law student, Sandra Fluke, a nasty name may not only be misogynistic and in horrible taste, it may be illegal. That would make him a criminal and an asshole. According to the Huffington Post:
Gloria Allred, the famed celebrity lawyer, sent a letter to the Palm Beach County Attorney's Office on Thursday saying prosecutors should consider a charge under an 1883 law making it a misdemeanor to question a woman's chastity.
Yes, that Gloria Allred. It's not illegal to spew bullshit from a radio microphone, or a megaphone, as long as it doesn't sully someone's reputation. That would be slander, which is a civil matter. Satire is not slander. That's why comedian Bill Maher is allowed to call Sarah Palin a "dumb twat," because it does not imply any sort of specific behavior. He doesn't attempt to present any evidence of her dumbtwatness, doesn't implore us to see her and think, "Now, there goes one dumb twat." It's just his personal assessment of her demeanor. Rush Limbaugh - Caricature But calling a woman a slut implies a specific kind of behavior, one engaged in by women of loose morals and low character, a purposefully twisted conclusion based on her truthful and sincere testimony to a Congressional committee, and that is where Rush messed up. He went too far because he gorged himself on the lumps of fat that pass for brains among Right Wing extremists. When one feeds at the trough of ignorance, bigotry and intolerance, one extrudes excrement of hate, derision and superiority. It's what his audience wants. The problem is, he forgot that what he says doesn't stay in in his EIB bubble, that the public's airwaves are, by their nature, an open system. It may be intended for a limited, shit-for-brains audience, but people who actually understand the meaning of language and speech hear it too. It's no accident, then, that politicians who reach for the same audience as Rush have engaged in similar vitriol. It's why they can't bring themselves to declare that there's no doubt about President Obama's citizenship or religion (not that the latter should matter at all). It's also why Rick Santorum can assert that the president is "a snob" for encouraging a system that enables higher education. His wife called him on that, though. It's not Christian, you see, to call someone a snob. "The snob comment did not go over very well," Santorum said, relating his wife, Karen's, dissatisfaction in an interview with CNN's Piers Morgan, "And she reminded me, you know, it's snobbish. You can say it was a snobbish thing to say, but don't call him a snob." So Obama isn't a snob, see? He just engaged in snobbish behavior by saying a snobbish thing. I wonder if he took that into the confessional. "Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. I called the President of the United States a snob, when I should have said he said a snobbish thing. I also said a beloved, assassinated, Catholic president gave a speech that made me want to throw up." "I can prescribe penitence, son," the priest might have replied. "I'll accept it, humbly," Santorum would say. "But I can't prescribe a prophylactic, Rick -" "I know," the candidate then interrupts, "I've taken a strong stand in that regard. "Let me finish, boy. I can't prescribe a prophylactic," the priest repeats, "which is too bad, because you need one for your mouth." Maybe Rush can spare that condom he's always slipping over his microphone. Not sure why he does that, though. Maybe it's protection for when he shoves it up his bung hole so we can hear him talking out of his ass. Now, that would be video worth putting online. -PBG