Why we still need to talk about race.

Recently, the media has been somewhat abuzz with the comments Cliven Bundy has made about African-Americans.  Bundy’s started gaining notoriety when the media picked up on his battle with the federal government concerning federal land he has been using for cattle grazing which has come to a standoff between Bundy and the federal government.  He had become somewhat of a hero to people standing against perceived government overreach.  Lately, he has been gaining more attention about comments he has made about “the Negro” and wondering if African-Americans may have been better off as slaves.  Understandably, his vile words and thoughts have received a good deal of backlash, and Bundy has responded in a somewhat predictable fashion.  In the wake of the backlash, he spoke about how he loves all people and how he is not a racist.  In an interview with Chris Cuomo, Bundy continues, “Maybe I sinned … and maybe I don’t know what I actually said. … If I say Negro or black or slave … if those people cannot take those kind of words and not be (offended), then Martin Luther King hasn’t got his job done yet. … We need to get over this prejudice stuff.”

It is easy to point out the things he has said, examine what is wrong with them, and explain why they are racist.  However, this does not get to the root of the issue.  If we were to examine one thing he has said, I believe it is the quote above.  There are two phrases that stick out to me most.  The first is “if those people cannot take those kind of words”.  With this phrase, Bundy is trying to tell African-Americans (as well as other people he offended) how they are supposed to feel about his use of the word “Negro” (yes, he mentions black and slave, but he is just trying to deflect and have people ignore the context in which he used the other words).  He does not seem to realize that it is 2014 and that “Negro” is not an acceptable word that should be used in any discourse.  He seems to not care about the incredibly negative connotations that word has, or its ties to slavery and further oppression that African-Americans have faced, and still continue to face, in this country.  Bundy doesn’t seem to get that the words he used are not ok and that people should not have to take his use of those words lying down.  They have every right to speak up and speak out against his flagrant and cavalier use of them.

The second phrase, and the more important one to me, is “We need to get over this prejudice stuff,” specifically the phrase “this prejudice stuff.”  With this phrase, we get a full understating about how Bundy feels about what he said.  His positing of the concept of prejudice as mere “stuff,” or ancillary noise, shows that Bundy is somebody who is not only out of touch, but also somebody who doesn’t care about the struggles others have had to face in the United States.  He wants to sweep prejudice under the proverbial rug and never really have to talk about it.  I think it is clear that his words and actions say otherwise.

Finally, I get to my main point: the issue I take is not specifically in what Bundy said (as offensive and horrible as it is), I take greater issue in the attitude he has about what he has said and what his ideas are.  Bundy comes from a position where he does not have to think about issues pertaining to racial inequality or other forms of inequality and oppression in his day to day life.  Many other people do not have that luxury.  Because of this, when these issues do come up, Bundy and others like him want to ignore the harsh realities some people have to face, and they either try to minimize the problem by saying it is not as bad as it was, blame the victim for the problem as Bundy demonstrated, or they say that we should all come together and not speak about these issues anymore.  Neither of these options are viable.  Avoidance, victim blaming, and minimization of oppression that has occurred and continues to occur does not solve any problems.  With Bundy’s statements, it is clear that we still need to take about race and racial inequality.  This is not about trying to divide people or get people angry.  It is about solving real problems that are occurring.  Yes, these issues are not the most comfortable ones to speak about, but avoiding them is not the answer.  Moving forward, we need to have discussions about the current state of people who are members of minority groups and other disenfranchised classes, how things have changed, or not changed, from how these groups have been treated in the past, and how we can work to find solutions to the problems we have today.  I don’t claim to have any solutions that would be sufficient to solve or mitigate some of the current issues at hand; what needs to happen should be a learning process for everybody.

“If you won’t listen to reason, there’s always…Towanda.”

My Challenge to Peter Schiff: Spend a Day with a Person who has an Intellectual Disability While They Work

One of my biggest pet peeves is when somebody speaks about a subject matter as if they are an expert when, in reality, they do not know the first thing about it.  Everybody is guilty of it to an extent, but at least I hope I can realize when I don’t know enough to speak about an issue.  I know enough to say that I shouldn’t be speaking about the ins and outs of international relations; I am not well read or studied on the matter.  However, there are some people with whom this construct has not set in.  One of these people is Peter Schiff.

Schiff was featured on The Daily Show this week on a segment regarding Obama’s State of the Union address.  During the address, President Obama spoke about issuing an Executive Order requiring federal workers to pay their federally-funded employees a wage of at least $10.10 per hour.  During the Daily Show segment, Schiff expressed some apprehensions about Obama’s executive order and proposed to get rid of the minimum wage as a whole.  He goes on to speak about how getting rid of the minimum wage would create jobs and how some people would be happy to work for $2 an hour.  That’s where things went south for Schiff.

When asked about which people would be happy working for $2 an hour, he mentioned teenagers working at McDonald’s and the intellectually disabled.  He defends this statement in a follow up interview by saying that if an intellectually disabled person could not make a minimum-wage level of output, then employers should not have to pay them minimum wage salaries.  He then speaks about how the intellectually disabled tend to enjoy the jobs they have when neurotypical people would find them boring and mundane.

Does Schiff really not see how offensive his comments are?  When speaking about intellectually disabled people and employment, he has the arrogance level of Donald Trump and the tactfulness of Archie Bunker.  He presumes to know about how intellectually disabled people function within society and assumes that they are either too happy or too naïve to understand or perceive when they are treated unjustly.  His remarks also carried a smug, condescending tone that should make anybody uncomfortable even reading them.

So, that is why I am proposing a challenge to Peter Schiff.  I would like for him to spend one day with an intellectually disabled person at their workplace and to do the job that person does on a daily basis.  We’ll let him feel how demeaning it is to have to come to work to do a menial job where he doesn’t get paid a living wage and where his employer does not appreciate the work that he does.  I would hope for him to learn that the work that these people often perform is not easy for anyone to perform.  Maybe then, he’ll actually learn what minimum-wage level work actually looks like.

I have had various kinds of jobs in the past.  In some of them, I have worked alongside people with intellectual disabilities (and no, that does not make me some sort of hero or martyr).  The people I have met are not only capable of performing the tasks they are assigned, they are some of the hardest workers in the place of employment.  Their work is not worth less than a neurotypical’s work because of their disability.  Many of these individuals live on their own and are responsible for many, if not all, of their finances.  If Schiff ever bothered to look, he would see that.  But, it is obvious he hasn’t.  I believe that any person who works a full work week should be paid a living wage, regardless of ability.  Schiff, obviously, does not.

Overall, I feel Schiff’s comments during The Daily Show interview and subsequent follow-up to be ignorant, insensitive, and disgusting.  Schiff is not only a man who has no idea about how people with intellectual disabilities live their lives, he also seems to have no idea about what it is like to have to really struggle to make ends meet.  Although he understands that people want to work, he does not understand that people want to be able to make enough to get by.  For too many people in the United States, this is not the case.  I hope one day, Schiff will be able to empathize with people who have to struggle to earn a living or with people who have intellectual disabilities working as hard as they can to survive as well.  Until then, he should just close his mouth and listen.

“If you won’t listen to reason, there’s always…Towanda.”

John Elder Robison Resigns from His Positions with Autism Speaks

What can you say about an advocacy group that loses its only member who is part of the target group they are working for?  You would say that group was doing a bad job at working for the people they advocate for.  This is now the case with Autism Speaks.  For the past few years, John Elder Robison, a man with Asperger’s Syndrome, has been working on the science and treatment boards at Autism Speaks.  He resigned just this week.  He explains his reasons in this post:

http://jerobison.blogspot.com/2013/11/i-resign-my-roles-at-autism-speaks.html

I am not going to summarize what he said because he is capable of speaking for himself, and because he enumerated his issues with Autism Speaks in a succinct manner.  I will say this, however:  I commend Robison for trying to work with Autism Speaks.  Upon hearing about his appointment, I feared he would end up being tokenized(well, he was) and start to tout the Autism Speaks mantra of fear, dehumanization, and stigma.  But his post shows otherwise.  He went into an organization knowing full well about its PR issues, its issues with allocating funds, and its general unwillingness to listen to the voices of autistic people.  It makes me upset that Robison could work for an organization that targets a population which he is a member of and not take anything he tried to say or do with the legitimacy it deserved.  From his post, it appears that he spent a great deal of time being frustrated with them and their inability to listen to him.  In my eyes, he chose the perfect reason and time to sever ties with Autism Speaks.  (For the post Robison is referring to, here’s the link: http://www.autismspeaks.org/news/news-item/autism-speaks-washington-call-action)

For him to see a post like this, after working with that organization for that long a period of time, must have been completely infuriating.  It’s infuriating to me, and I don’t even work for the organization.  For it to be 2013 and to have one of the founders of the largest autism organization worldwide to call us autistics public health crises, the cause of families breaking up, and consider us general burdens to society is disgusting.  This type of rhetoric has no place in 21st Century dialogue.  No wonder why so many autistic people think Autism Speaks is evil.  Look at what they’re saying about us!  For Robison to stay on as long as he did shows that he has more patience than almost anybody I can think of!

Oh, and I find it funny how the science world believes we lack empathy.  That we can’t understand what other people are thinking or that we are not considerate of other people’s feelings.  So many believe that autistic people’s primary deficit is being unable to understand others and empathize with them.  But, even after all of the pushback Autism Speaks has faced from autistic people, whether it be after the “Autism Every Day” incident, or the pushback after the release of the “I Am Autism” video, they still use the same exact scare tactics they used before to promote their organization.  It’s as if they’ve learned nothing over the past few years.  They have learned nothing about how autistic people feel when they are called public health crises, diseased, defective, etc.  They have learned nothing about how to work with autistic individuals in developing the best solutions for mitigating disability and creating a more equitable society for everybody, autistic and neurotypical alike.  They have learned nothing about advocacy as a whole.  I think we all now know who really lacks empathy…

So, now that Autism Speaks’ only autistic member is gone, the organization can no longer make any claim whatsoever, that they are inclusive.  They have gone back to being 100% against the disability rights’ movement’s mantra: “Nothing about us, without us!”  Finally, they have thrown away any possibility of being able to have a dialogue with autistic individuals about how to improve our lives.

Are you listening now, Autism Speaks?  I doubt it.  So, you can go on with your fear-mongering, your dehumanization, and your ignorance.  We’ll move on without you.

“If you won’t listen to reason, there’s always…Towanda.”

Now can the media admit to there not being two legitimate sides to every issue?

A large majority of news shows feature panels debating an issue during one of its segments.  One person will be defending one position and the other person will be defending the opposing position.  It is a good way for news watchers to get a cursory view of an issue from both sides and allow for them to come to their own conclusion.  But what if one side ‘s positions are not based on objective fact or sound evidence?  There are many cases in which two people are invited on to a news show to discuss an issue and one side bases its entire position on half-truths and outright lies.  Issues such as climate change, gay marriage and the existence of trans* people are what immediately come to my mind.

Yesterday, CNN hosted a discussion of the passage of transgender rights laws in the state of California.  They featured and Transgender Law Center’s Masen Davis alongside Randy Thomasson, the leader of the SPLC-identified hate group, Save California.  In this segment, Thomasson calls trans* people “sexually confused” and “in need of counseling.”  He also believes being transgender is not immutable and that gender and sex are synonymous terms.  None of Thomasson’s assertions are backed by any credible evidence.  The interview ends with Thomasson saying, “Hey, nice talking to you ladies,” in reference to the host and Davis.  Davis is a transgender man.

I understand that new stations want to look fair and balanced, but there are times, such as this one, where looking fair and balanced allows for dangerous misinformation and harmful attitudes to be spread.  For Thomasson to refer to Davis as a lady is not only offensive and insulting, it portrays an attitude that it is ok for people to refer to transgender individuals as a gender they do not identify with. It allows for other people to mimic the childish, cowardly, and crass attitudes Thomasson displayed.  Additionally, it is clear that Thomasson has no idea what he is talking about from this segment.  Between his failure to understand the difference between gender and sex and his attempts to tie being trans* to child abuse and divorce, it is clear that he is pulling stuff out of his ass.  It irks me that someone is allowed to say these things without being fact checked all for the sake of “balance.”

I realize this is not a new phenomenon by any means.  I am speaking about this issue because it seems like people are starting to become cognizant of news stations showing two sides to a story when only one is legitimate.  There is demonstrable evidence which points to the existence of climate change.  Gay people and gay couples exist and should have access to a marriage license.  Trans* people exist and deserve to have access to facilities that match their gender identity.  There is no reasonable opposition to any of these.  The news media shouldn’t be intimating that there is.  It may be of good entertainment value, but it is not good journalism.

“If you won’t listen to reason, there’s always…Towanda.”

Man Shoots and Kills Minor…Gets Acquitted

I honestly don’t know how to start this post.  Do I rehash what happened?  Everybody knows at this point the George Zimmerman was acquitted for the killing of Trayvon Martin. The jury couldn’t prove that the crime fit second-degree murder criteria.  I admit I’m no legal expert, and I am not knowledgeable about the ins and outs of a second-degree murder charge in the state of Florida.  I am also not very knowledgeable about Florida’s “Stand your Ground” law.  However, I am baffled by how Zimmerman is allowed to walk away a free man.

Yes, much of the evidence in the case is cloudy.  It is not clear how the altercation between Martin and Zimmerman started.  It is also unclear who was attacking who.  I also can’t speak to the character qualities of Martin or Zimmerman.  Despite this cloudiness, there are some things about the case that are clear.  Zimmerman was armed.  Martin was not.  Zimmerman approached Martin after following him for a period of time.  Zimmerman shot Martin multiple times resulting in his death.  Martin was also a minor.

I don’t know what Zimmerman’s intent was in shooting Martin, whether it was in self-defense or to kill him.  If we give Zimmerman the benefit of the doubt and say the killing was, indeed, in self-defense, it would only be reasonable that he would be found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, or a crime along the lines of that.  It doesn’t make sense to me that he gets to go free.  What if Zimmerman does something like this again?  What do we do about the laws in Florida surrounding “Stand your Ground”, murder, and manslaughter?What do we do about people who think they have the right to take the law into their own hands?  Something isn’t right.

I am angry that somebody can shoot and kill a minor and not get any sort of punishment.  I am angry that there are people out there who think they can police neighborhoods without proper training.  I am angry that a man can go after a minor because he “looks suspicious”.  I can’t help but wonder if the case would have been adjudicated in the way it was if Martin was white.  I would like to think that white privilege is a thing of the past, but I’m not disillusioned.  It isn’t.  We are not living in a “post-racial” society as many people would like to think we are.  White privilege exits today, as it has throughout the history of our nation.  Did it play a role in this case?  I wouldn’t doubt it.  There are certainly historical precedents that would suggest so.

In the end, I feel that the ruling was an injustice.  A person should not be able to murder a minor and then be set free because of legal technicalities.  Laws need to be changed.  Now.

“If you won’t listen to reason, there’s always…Towanda.”

DOMA and Prop 8 Rulings this Week

So, I started a thread about my feelings about marriage equality when I learned of the Supreme Court rulings that would be made about DOMA and Prop 8.  So, it’s finally the week when they’re supposed to come out.  A lot of people are sitting on the edge of their seats about what the Supreme Court is going to do (and, frankly, I’m curious, too) and what the outcomes will mean for marriage equality going forward.  A lot of the attitudes I have seen concerning this issue range from people wanting the Supreme Court to uphold “traditional values”, whatever those are, and there are others who want the Supreme Court to show how progressive it is to uphold marriage equality.  Both sides seem to view this as a controversial and complicated issue.  I don’t.

My feelings about both of the rulings are that they could have been settled in 20 minutes at the maximum.  It takes nothing more than a fifth grade knowledge of United States government and civics to realize that Section iii of DOMA and Prop 8 are both unconstitutional.  While other people may be begging and pleading for the Supreme Court to rule their way, I’m screaming “Just overturn them, already!  Come on!  This isn’t hard!  Let’s talk about something else!”

There are other things to talk about, especially concerning LGBT issues, that are more urgent than marriage equality, yet get no media time.  Marriage equality gets all of the air time because it’s easy.  People are the most able to comprehend this issue, versus other issues, such as the rate of gay homelessness, trans* issues, non-binary gender identities, and the many issues that gay minorities face.

In short, I’m hoping the Supreme Court rules the way it’s supposed to.  DOMA will be gone, Prop 8 will be gone, and marriage equality will be legal in all jurisdictions of the United States.  Then, since we will have this simple issue out of the way, we can finally talk about important, tougher issues.

“If you won’t listen to reason, there’s always…Towanda.”