Women in Uniform and Denial of The 1/3rd Statistic

Trauma.  The unspeakable.  Denial, repression, and dissociation are not just the coping patterns of an individual in aftermath of trauma.  They are also, in some ways, the societal process of understanding atrocities.  The unspeakable.

One out of every three women serving in the military is raped or sexually assaulted.

According RAINN (Rape Abuse & Incest National Network), 1 out of every 6 American civilian women are targets of rape.  These atrocities are occurring at staggering rates.  In civilian life, it is estimated that 60% of incidents of rape go unreported.  In the military, it is estimated that 80% of the cases of sexual assault and rape go unreported.

One veteran explains:

“I am also a retired female veteran… In the military we know that 80% of females rapes go unreported because of blind survey results and over 15 years of validated data received from the Department of Veterans Affairs.  We also know that the sexual assault false report rate is 3% which is the same false report rate for other felony crimes. When active duty members make a false report, most commanders do charge them with and punish them for making a ‘false official statement.’ …I have spent the past 30 years healing and I have never reported my sexual assault.”

Her story is like so many others who have never come forward.  And her story, like so many others, gets met with skepticism and disbelief, and eventually dismissal.

There is a systemic denial that takes places surrounding sexual assault.  There is a social skepticism when a woman is raped.  This skepticism is as systemic and endemic as the problem of assault itself.

When a women is sexually assaulted, some of the first questions that are asked:

“What did she do?”

“What was she wearing?”

“Was she under the influence of alcohol?”

Rape Myth.  Rape Myths are the ways in which men and women shift their blame from the perpetrator to the victim.   Racism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of oppression are all correlated with the acceptance of sexual violence and rape myth acceptance.  According to some researchers, in order to understand the systemic occurrence of sexual assault as well as the denial of women’s (and men’s) traumatic experiences, one must understand that dominant the cultural attitudes continue to facilitate apathy of aggression toward women, thus condoning sexual violence.

Sexual assault in the military is so prevalent that is classified in the DSM IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) under a subset of PTSD called Military Sexual Trauma, or MST.  According to PhD Mathew Tull, MST may be more likely than any other traumatic experience to lead to PTSD, whether in civilian or military life.

Helen Benedict, in her book The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq, takes an intimate look at the experience of women soldiers serving in the U.S military. Benedict explains that over 206,000 women have served in the Middle East since March of 2003.  She explains that even as these numbers increase “women soldiers are painfully alone.”  Women soldiers remain extremely isolated in Iraq; they make up only 10% of troops and are often serving in a “platoon with few other women or none at all.”

The “military’s deep-seated hostility towards women” in combination with spatial isolation from other women, the difficulty of coping with the repercussions of war and then the added threat and “degradation” of “sexual persecution by their comrades,” makes the struggle for physical and emotional survival extremely complex and extremely difficult.

Symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder as result of warfare and as a result of sexual assault are almost indistinguishable.  The reality of having to confront both of these horrors on a daily basis is monstrous.  According to a number of studies conducted by the Department of Veteran Affairs, “30% of military women are raped while serving, 71% are sexually assaulted and 90% are sexually harassed.”

“I joined the military to defend my country, not my integrity and self-worth,” one veteran explained.  How is it possible that 90% of women in uniform are sexually harassed?

Chantelle Henneberry, an Army specialist, served in Iraq from 2005-2006 with the 172nd Stryker Brigade out of Alaska:

I was the only female in my platoon of 50 to 60 men.  I was also the youngest, 17.  Because I was the only female, men would forget in front of me and say these terrible derogatory things about women all the time.  I had to hear these things every day.  I’d have to say ‘Hey!’  Then they’d look at me, all surprised, and say, ’Oh we don’t mean you.’  One of the guys I thought was my friend tried to rape me.  Two of my sergeants wouldn’t stop making passes at me.  Everybody’s supposed to have a battle buddy in the army, and females are supposed to have one to go to the latrines with, or to the showers – that’s so you don’t get raped by one of the men on your own side.  But because I was the only female there, I didn’t have a battle buddy.  My battle buddy was my gun and my knife.  During my first few months in Iraq, my sergeant assaulted and harassed me so much I couldn’t take it any more.  So I decided to report him.  But when I turned him in, they said, ‘The one common factor in all these problems is you.  Don’t see this as a punishment, but we’re going to have you transferred.’  Then that same sergeant was promoted right away.  I didn’t get my promotion for six months.  They transferred me from Mosul to Rawah.  There were over 1,500 men in the camp and less than 18 women, so it wasn’t any better there than the first platoon I was in.  I was fresh meat to the hungry men there. I was less scared of the mortar rounds that came in every day than I was of the men who shared my food. I never would drink late in the day, even though it was so hot, because the Port-a-Johns were so far away it was dangerous.  So I’d go for 16 hours in 140-degree heat and not drink.  I just ate Skittles to keep my mouth from being too dry.  I collapsed from dehydration so often I have IV track lines from all the times they had to re-hydrate me.

There are many horrific and appalling stories from women in the military who dealt with the threat of sexual harassment.  Testimonials reveal so much about pervasive “institutional sexism that, as an intractable power dynamic, defines the lives of women in uniform.” One woman, Jen, explains that sexism is simply “codified” within the military and that in the military “you’re trained to view women as something less.”  She explains “sexist army running chants (cadences) called ‘jodis,’ in which trainers bark narratives of weak and scheming men having affairs with the soldiers’ wives (aggression training that both feminizes civilian men and demonizes soldiers’ wives).  Discussing the recent New York Times series on murder at the hands of Iraq war vets — an article that upset many veterans — she notes that a lot of the victims were wives and girlfriends.”

Mickiela Montoya:

Army specialist Mickiela Montoya served in Iraq for 11 months from 2005-6, with the California National Guard.  She was 19 years old.

The whole time I was in Iraq I was in a daze the whole time I was there ’cause I worked nights and I was shot at every night.  Mortars were coming in – and mortars is death!  When they say only men are allowed on the front lines, that’s the biggest crock of shit!  I was a gunner!  But when I say I was in the war, nobody listens.  Nobody believes I was a soldier.  And you know why?  Because I’m a female. There are only three things the guys let you be if you’re a girl in the military – a bitch, a ho, or a dyke.  You’re a bitch if you won’t sleep with them.  A ho if you’ve even got one boyfriend.  A dyke if they don’t like you.  So you can’t win.  A lot of the men didn’t want us there.  One guy told me the military sends women soldiers over to give the guys eye-candy to keep them sane.  He told me in Vietnam they had prostitutes, but they don’t have those in Iraq, so they have women soldiers instead. At the end of my shift one night, I was walking back to my trailer with this guy who was supposed to be my battle buddy when he said: ‘You know, if I was to rape you right now nobody could hear you scream, nobody would see you. What would you do?’

‘I’d stab you.’

‘You don’t have a knife,’ he said to me.

‘Oh yes I do.’

Actually I didn’t have one, but after that, I always carried one.  I practiced how to take it out of my pocket and swing it out fast. But I wasn’t carrying the knife for the enemy, I was carrying it for the guys on my own side.”

Marti Ribeiro:

Air Force Sergeant Marti Ribeiro was assaulted by a fellow serviceman while she was on duty in Afghanistan in 2006.

It’s taken me more than a year to realise that it wasn’t my fault, so I didn’t tell anyone about it.  The military has a way of making females believe they brought this upon themselves. That’s wrong.  There’s an unwritten code of silence when it comes to sexual assault in the military.  But if this happened to me and nobody knew about it, I know it’s happening to other females as well.

Sexual harassment is clearly defined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).  In short all of the bullet points are highly unacceptable and punishable under the law:

  • submission to the conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment, or
  • submission to or rejection of the conduct by an individual is used as a basis for employment decisions affecting such individual, or
  • the conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.
  • unfulfilled threats to impose a sexual quid pro quo.
  • discussing sexual activities;
  • telling off-color jokes;
  • unnecessary touching;
  • commenting on physical attributes;
  • displaying sexually suggestive pictures;
  • using demeaning or inappropriate terms, such as “babe”;
  • using indecent gestures;
  • sabotaging the victim’s work;
  • engaging in hostile physical conduct;
  • granting job favors to those who participate in consensual sexual activity;
  • using crude and offensive language

In 2007, of the 2212 servicemen investigated for sexual assault only 181 were prosecuted (8%) compared to 40% of civilian cases.

The Erratic Synapse wrote a horrified and angry response to the gang rape of a 15 year old girl that attracted 20 onlookers to do nothing but watch for 2 hours.

He noted that “there are some women who tell me that they approach every male as if he could be a potential rapist… Too many people think that the woman is partially (or totally) at fault in certain instances of rape.”

According to the findings, around 25% of people believe that women who have been raped are at least partly to blame because of how they dressed, how much they drank or how many sexual partners they have had.

The survey revealed that:
-38% believe that a woman is partly to blame for rape if she walks through a deserted area.
-37% think a woman is partly to blame if she flirts extensively.
-30% think a woman is partly to blame if she flirts with a man at all or fails to say no clearly.

It also found that 10% pf people feel that a woman is completely to blame for rape if she has had a number of sexual partners.

He challenged his male readers and told them that they needed to “make their male friends uncomfortable.” He argued:  “You have to bring up this subject out of the blue and tell them everything I just told you… I don’t give a shit if they look at you funny for it, especially if you believe them to truly be your friends. Addressing and preventing rape requires the audacity of reason, with an emphasis on “audacity.” And if you encounter a man who consistently refuses to accept [this] you should be watching him closely from now on…”

Society as a whole does not take care of its women.  We deny their secret and horrific experiences and as such we deny them of their humanity.  And when we deny others their humanity we negate our own.  Something needs to change for the status quo is absolutely unacceptable.


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January 30, 2010 at 9:16 pm Leave a comment

AABA Proposes “Nothing but Racism”

An all white basketball team?  Yes, that’s right.  Some fool that goes by the name of Don “Moose” Lewis has made the ludicrous decision to create an all white professional basketball team.  Only players that are “natural born United States citizens with both parents of Caucasian race are eligible to play in the league.”  Lewis also has the audacity to then claim that this decision for an all white team has nothing to do with racism.

This man is an idiot.  The most disturbing part about this entire thing is that there are people that believe him.

Moose Lewis, a “Georgia boxing and wrestling promoter,” is now also the founder of a new group called the “All-American Basketball Alliance.”  The group was announced on Martin Luther King Day.

Hold the phone…

Since when is it not blatantly racist to announce your all white basketball team that only allows white players on the federal holiday that recognizes the efforts of Martin Luther King to desegregate all facets of U.S society?

In an interview with the Augusta Chronicle, Lewis tried to explain his “non-racist” idea:

“It has come to the attention of the principals of the (All-American Basketball Alliance) that white basketball players are essentially ‘shut out’ of conventional professional basketball due to the proliferation of non-organized play on the court… With players on other professional teams carrying guns, attacking fans in the stands, and going through the motions of playing the game, fundamentally sound white players are a vanishing species.”

Charles Barkley, a retired NBA player, was quick to see though Lewis’s statements.  “It’s just blatantly racist if you look at the code words he used…It just lets you know there’s blatant racism out there. ….It lets you know that, as a black man, there are people out there who don’t like you.”

Barkley raises an interesting point.  Blatant “coded” racism.  Lewis’s message isn’t really that coded, but the idea of racism being coded is extremely important.  Racial bias gets hidden by a mirage of seemingly non-racial epithets.  Although Lewis’s appeal to have an all white basketball team verges on the extreme, to some folks out there his “coded” message will somehow be taken at face value.  Pretty ridiculous.

Lewis is targeting Augusta, Georgia, of all places to start his “White American League.”  The Mayor of Augusta, Deke Copenhaver, has publicly denounced the team stating:  “As a sports enthusiast, I have always supported bringing more sporting activities to Augusta… However, in this instance I could not support in good conscience bringing in a team that did not fit with the spirit of inclusiveness that I, along with many others, have worked so hard to foster in our city.”

Georgia News Channel 6 WJBF has a poll on their website asking readers if they think this all white basketball team is a good idea.  Apparently out of “695 respondents, 53% said No and 47% said Yes.”  Those numbers are too close for comfort.

It isn’t clear whether all those voting reside in Georgia, however the San Francisco Chronicle  points out that if the majority of voters are Georgians it “may very well show why Don “Moose” Lewis picked Augusta in the first place:  racism – a massive mental illness – still appears to be a big problem.

Scott Michaux, a columnist interviewing Lewis for the Augusta Chronicle, was in short disgusted and outraged.  “It sickens me to hear this kind of prejudice garbage given even the smallest iota of credence… Just the fact the someone would consider this kind of venture shows just how far away we are at truly reconciling our society.”

Lewis states later in his interview with the Augusta Chronicle:

“It’s because of the fact that natural athleticism of people of color is different… They can make up for their shortfall in fundamentals with their natural athleticism.  And coaches look for the quickest way to win, so they go for natural athleticism instead of the fundamentals from a white player.  Is it a coaching problem?  To a certain degree, but a lot of it is the culture….”

In another interview he added:

“Would you want to go to the game and worry about a player flipping you off or attacking you in the stands or grabbing their crotch?  That’s the culture today, and in a free country we should have the right to move ourselves in a better direction.”

Black and brown folks are so good at basketball and sports “because they actually work at it” like anyone else.  According to considerable amount of research, a “subculture” of black and brown people excelling in sports is a result of them being excluded in so many other areas of mainstream society.  Furthermore the idea of one race of people possessing some kind of cultural inferiority like “flipping you off, attacking you in the stands or grabbing their crotch…” is racist plain and simple, and no different then assuming biologically inherited racial inferiorities.

Of course, true to racist form, Lewis doesn’t stop there.

I know there’s bad apples of every color, but like my wife says, let the numbers speak for themselves.  Turn on the local TV news and who do you see on there?  Facts are facts.  Now, imagine the safety and quality of play at games where there’s none of that.  Anyone can be a star.”

There are folks out there (and I would assume they are mostly white folks) who after reading this will still jump up and wonder why it’s not O.K. to have an all white basketball team, announced on Martin Luther King Day, run by a man who believes that folks of color are violent, dangerous, don’t play the “fundamentals,” and have an advantage over white players because of their “natural athleticism.”  These folks have come back with arguments like “We have…The NAACP and the Negro College Fund…so why is an all white team racist?”

These folks fail to realize over and over again that organizations like NAACP and the Negro College Fund we created as a way to confront an overtly racist social system.

The NAACP: “was formed partly in response to the continuing horrific practice of lynching and the 1908 race riot in Springfield, the capital of Illinois… Appalled at the violence that was committed against blacks, a group of white liberals that included Mary White Ovington and Oswald Garrison Villard, both the descendants of abolitionists, William English Walling and Dr. Henry Moscowitz issued a call for a meeting to discuss racial justice.  Some 60 people, seven of whom were African American (including W. E. B. Du Bois, Ida B. Wells-Barnett and Mary Church Terrell), signed the call, which was released on the centennial of Lincoln’s birth.  The NAACP’s principal objective is to ensure the political, educational, social and economic equality of minority group citizens of United States and eliminate race prejudice.  The NAACP seeks to remove all barriers of racial discrimination through the democratic processes.”

Interesting.

The Negro College Fund was founded “… on April 25, 1944, by Dr. Frederick Patterson, president of Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University), Mary McLeod Bethune, president of Bethune-Cookman College (now Bethune-Cookman University), and others.  UNCF envisions a nation where all Americans have equal access to a college education…”

There are no similarities between these organizations and the one in which Lewis is promoting.  One of the many disturbing underlying assumptions of the All American Basketball Alliance is that somehow white people are at a disadvantage and that white people deserve some sort of special prize for putting up with organizations like the NAACP and the Negro College Fund.

In the United States racial disparities remain at an all time high and in many cases continue to grow.  Within the last 10 years “white households had incomes that were 67% higher than blacks and 40% higher than Hispanics.”

According to sociologist Edwardo Bonilla-Silva:

“Blacks and dark-skinned racial minorities lag well behind whites in virtually every area of social life; they are about three times more likely to be poor than whites, earn about 40% less than whites, and have about an eighth of the net worth that whites have.  They also receive an inferior education compared to whites, even when they attend integrated institutions…Black-owned units compared to white ones are valued at 35% less.  Backs and Latinos also have less access to the entire housing market because whites, though a variety of exclusionary practices by white realtors and homeowners, have been successful in effectively limiting their entrance into many neighborhoods… Blacks and dark-skinned Latinos are the targets of racial profiling by the police that, combined with highly radicalized criminal court system, guarantees their overrepresentation among those arrested, prosecuted, incarcerated, and charged or in a capital crime, executed… How is it possible to have this tremendous degree of racial inequality in a country where most whites claim that race is no longer relevant?“

Law and social policy professor Thomas Shapiro, at Brandeis University, said “The wealth gap is not just a story of merit and achievement, it’s also a story of the historical legacy of race in the United States…”

White people have been and still are the recipients of overwhelming preferential treatment in America because of their race in every facit of U.S society.   Organizations like the NAACP and the Negro College Fund serve a very specific purpose, namely to create and maintain equality, while organizations like The All American Basketball Alliance work to undermine it.

What Lewis is doing is not even that subtle and must be condemned.  Folks who believe Lewis when he says he’s not racist are 1. )  in total denial or 2.) their moral compasses don’t point due north and they know it.

January 24, 2010 at 9:31 pm 2 comments

Curiouser and Curiouser

Washington Politics.  Robert Creamer, a long time political strategist, has cleverly compared “Washington conventional Wisdom,” to Alice in Wonderland. A place where “’nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary-wise, what is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?’”

I don’t know about you but I don’t get it.

January 19, the good people of Massachusetts elected Scott Brown (an accomplished Republican and Cosmo center-fold winner) over Martha Coakley (an accomplished Democrat and not so accomplished campaigner) to fill the late Ted Kennedy’s seat in the Senate. Humm…

Disappointing? Yes definitely, but not entirely shocking.  Something else is confusing me.

Media outlets everywhere are suggesting that not only is the failure to win this election a result of unrest with the health reform bill but also (and maybe more importantly) that Democrats no longer have the 60 count majority (filibuster-free) vote needed to pass the Health Care Bill through Congress.

The Daily News suggested, “’People in Massachusetts are not ready for national health care reform.’”  CNN commented that “the Senate will need a least some Republican support to deliver a final bill to Obama…” and David Gergen, a political analyst and CNN contributor felt that “we’re probably seeing the obituary written tonight for universal access on health care, and it’s been a dream of Democrats now for 70-plus years.” And the New York Times claims that the Democratic defeat in Massachusetts “imperils the health care overhaul.”

Really?

I admit I’m not the savviest of savvy when it comes to politics and law. But after consulting with Ben’s Guide to U.S Government for Kids, I discovered that for a bill pass in the House in needs majority of 218 of 435 and in the Senate a majority 51 of 100.

Interestingly enough, after texting ChaCha, I learned that Democrats have a majority of 256 to 178 in the House and apparently 57 to 41 in the Senate.   So “contrary-wise, what is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?” No I don’t!

Talking Points Memo released, well, they released the memo on what they call “Democrat Talking Points.”

Among many interesting “talking points” in the memo, Democrats stated that: “It is mathematically impossible for Democrats to pass legislation on our own.  Senate Republicans need to come to the table with ideas for improving our nation and not obstructionist tactics…”

First of all, when don’t Republicans use “obstructionist tactics,” and secondly Democrats have an overwhelming majority in the House and a significant majority in the Senate.  They don’t need a 60% majority to pass health care reform.  Although a filibuster is possible it’s also avoidable.

A Republican backed filibuster around health care reform conjures up images of Strom Thurmond, a segregationist who served in the United States Senate until January 2003.  He conducted the longest filibuster ever by a single U.S Senator. Why?  He opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1957. He talked for 24 hours and 18 minutes non-stop.  He must have really hated black and brown folks and Congress must have really hated him for talking for so long.

Although Republicans are going to take advantage of whatever situation Democrats have undeniably put themselves in, I think it’s probably time for Republicans to shed that anti-progressive skin and offer some viable solutions. We don’t need another Strom Thurmond and it’s disturbing to think he was returned to serve in the Senate so many times given his very openly racist views.

“…To hear some the Republicans, a few conservative Democrats, and portions of the media, you’d think that the idea of passing something with a majority in the Senate is a grave perversion of the Rule of Law … That formulation could well have come from the Mad Hatter…” Robert Creamer argues.

A lot of political analysts have suggested that the Democrats need to stop being so passive and just get the job done. If this was a war, Republicans would have done it already. Creamer explains that the bill should be passed using budget reconciliation rules.  This would require that the House “pass the Senate’s version of the bill as well as a second bill that includes the agreements negotiated in the conference between the Senate and House. The second bill would be considered under the budget reconciliation rules that would not be subject to a Senate filibuster and could therefore become law with the support of a majority vote.”

For this to work some sacrifices would have to be made.  The bill in the Senate is not perfect and in many ways not ideal.  Without going into an entire analysis of the bill it’s important to acknowledge while there are flaws, this is a huge step in the right direction.

The first Civil Rights legislation of 1866 stating that all persons born in the U.S were citizens, was not nearly enough to eradicate institutional racism but it was a step, no one can deny a step in the right direction.

98% of people in Massachusetts have health care insurance because of “state-based health care reform and almost 80% are happy with their health care.” So was the Democratic loss in Massachusetts really about health care reform?

Folks are frustrated and afraid.   But having access to quality health care is a basic necessity that the richest nation in the world should be able to provide its citizens.  Currently the United States ranks 37 in The World Health Organization’s ranking of the world’s health systems. We are 31 below Singapore, 11 below Saudi Arabia and 1 below Costa Rica.  To me that’s just not acceptable.

Hopefully fear and frustration of the public won’t get in the way of making necessary and fundamental change.  And lets hope Scott Brown’s snail trail won’t get in the way either…

January 21, 2010 at 10:30 pm Leave a comment

Welcome to the Race Factor

January 19, 2010 at 4:59 pm Leave a comment

Lets wake up white folks!

Below is a really well written article that I wanted to share.

The important point to walk away with here is not that white folks are racist, afraid of Obama, don’t like him, or don’t think he’s qualified.  Instead I think the key point in this article points to the importance of reflecting on how, and to what extent a governing white culture has created and shaped those thoughts, and opinions.

White cultural superiority affects folks who don’t think of themselves as racist, or afraid; who aren’t conservative, and many times, who aren’t white.  Regardless of any of those things, white folks are so deeply implicated in the construction and maintenance of racism that race is and has always been a white issue.

Why Conservatives Are Really Afraid of  a Black President

By Johnathan L. Walton, Relgion Dispatches.

… in Obama’s America, the white kids now get beat up with the black kids cheering, “Yay, right on, right on, right on, right on,” and, of course, everybody says the white kid deserved it, he was born a racist, he’s white. Newsweek magazine told us this. We know that white students are destroying civility on buses, white students destroying civility in classrooms all over America, white congressmen destroying civility in the House of Representatives. — Rush Limbaugh,
Sept. 15, 2009

Ever the statesman, and often candid to a political fault, former President Jimmy Carter said recently that much of the animosity directed toward President Barack Obama is “based on the fact that he is a black man.”

A lifelong Southerner, Carter acknowledged that the inclination of racism still exists, and that “it has bubbled up to the surface because of the belief among many white people, not just in the South but around the country, that African Americans are not qualified to lead this great country.”

Click the link to continue reading…

October 13, 2009 at 10:42 am Leave a comment

Experiment and the White "Habitus"

I was out in the middle of nowhere Massachusetts yesterday.  I went to Middleborough to leave my dog with a wonderful dog trainer so I can pack this week and then head off to Morocco.

I was lucky enough to have Tom accompany me on this journey because the drive is long and boring and I was sad about having to say goodbye to my dog for three months.  On the way home Tom and I both got hungry and decided to stop at an Outback somewhere in between Middleborough and Springfield.

While talking over some appetizers I casually looked around the restaurant and realized that everyone was white. I mean every single person in the entire restaurant was white, apart from Tom who is Vietnamese.  I told him, and we both looked around and verify the accuracy of this statement.

True.

So Tom proposed a little experiment:  How about, he proposed, we ask the waitress if there are any non-white people here. Let’s tell her we’re uncomfortable by being around so many white people. So that was the game plan.  I suggested we wait until after our food came out so they couldn’t poison us or anything…

Observation 1: To perfectly honest I was really nervous about confronting this lady who was waiting on us. What if we make her really uncomfortable, what if she gets angry, what if we get thrown out. Food came and we ate and briefly talked about experiment logistics.  When the waitress brought the check Tom, very nicely asked if we could ask her a question.

So are there any non-white people here? We’re not really used to this (being around so many white people) and it’s making us kind of uncomfortable.

Observation 2:  The waitress giggled a little bit and looked around the restaurant.    Usually it isn’t like this, usually there are more of them. I’ve lived here my whole life and when I was young maybe there weren’t that many but now it’s much more.  There even were some working here.

If I’m remembering correctly I think maybe Tom interjected at that point and reiterated that we weren’t used to being around so many white people and that it was weird.  She went on to say something along the lines of:

Yea I don’t see any.  Maybe they’re all sitting on the other side and then giggled. You know I’ve lived here my whole life and it used to be really, you know, maybe like a few black people (whispered) but now it’s different and it’s good for my kids because my daughter is going to a school thats really, and now when she sees it out side she wont point and think that it’s weird like she used to.

Observation 3:  I felt like I was playing fill in the blanks.  She left out just about any word describing race except when she whispered ‘black people.’  She used words like “it” and “them” to describe people of color or just didn’t finish her sentences.  She also had just about the entire conversation with me,  not giving Tom much eye contact, even though he posed the question.

It was just so striking how uncomfortable she was, not by our question necessarily, but by having to discuss race.  She may have spoken more freely if Tom was white come to think of it.

It’s so interesting how isolated white people have become.  Eduado Bonilla Silva, in his book Racism Without Racists, calls white isolation from minorities  “‘white habitus.”

A racialized, uninterrupted socialization process that conditions and creates  white’s racial tastes, perceptions, feelings and emotions and their views on racial matters.” (104)

In a survey conducted with a sample of 41 white students, only 4 indicated having lived in proximity to a person of color and only two of the people chose to associate with the people of color they lived closed to.  Bonilla-Silva explains that there is a lack of reflexivity among white people who remain highly segregated from people of color. In other words white people don’t usually think about why they live in areas that are all white or think about why this extreme isolation from people of color could be problematic.

White people tend to naturalized segregation or minimize it, or claim that they are not isolated when they are.  “People just like to live by people that they have something in common with.”  Or, “It’s just the way things are.” Or white people just claim that they have a best friend of color.   Unfortunately, residential segregation is neither natural or something that should be minimized.

Despite the civil rights movement, whites, young and old, live a fundamentally segregated life that has attitudinal, emotional and political implications (125).


September 14, 2009 at 1:28 pm Leave a comment

Anger for a White Woman

I was taught as a child that expressions of anger were inappropriate. Especially for women. Even more so for white women. This wasn’t necessarily something that was told to me directly, but there were hundreds of little ways that I learned indirectly how I was supposed to express myself.

Growing up I rarely expressed anger if ever.  I grew up idolizing people like Belle (ok a cartoon) from Beauty and The Beast, Abraham Lincoln, and anyone who sung ballads during the 40’s.  Not much in the way of wild passion or intense emotions (Abraham Lincoln will be for another post, another time).

This is about as angry as Belle could get before she burst into chorus and did twirls in the field.

White women in particular are taught from such a young age what is appropriate in terms of expression and what is not. I don’t mean to be analyzing disney (this will also be another post) but it seems that the only women that are ever angry in children’s movies are the evil ones that want to skin puppies alive.

note the crazy women driver comment

I always thought that anger was bad and unproductive.   I thought the people that were angry didn’t have any control over their emotions.  I suppose in some cases this may be true.  There are a lot of angry hateful people out there.  But anger isn’t always a bad thing.  I think in some situations it’s absolutely necessary.

The first time I ever really allowed myself to be angry was probably in college.  I remember I was taking a class called the Psychology of racism my junior year.  I had just begun to delve into the concept of white privilege and it made me so mad.  I felt betrayed, and hurt because so  many things I learned growing up about race, and class, and sexuality just were not true.  Mostly though I was angry with myself for not seeing something that became so obvious in those classroom moments.

Anger like this was new to me and it’s still unknown. At present time anger and I have a less than intimate relationship with with one another.  I’ve become more familiar with expressing and recognizing how I feel when I’m alone.  The expression of anger when I’m with others is still kind of difficult.  When someone a.) says something/does something racist or sexist or b.) someone catches me on a bad day and they’re just being useless and doing nothing to actively eradicate either system; I feel like Cruella Deville on the inside but so many times catch myself acting like Belle on the outside and do something equivallent to singing a little song or running in a medow.

I think that’s what so many people expect from white women, and what white women learn to expect from themselves. To clarify this is probably not just white women.  Just speaking to what I know.

So how can we as white women make any kind of real change if we’re always under control, if we’re always whispering, or if we’re always so concerned about pleasing others and being liked.  White women really want to be liked by the way.   There is an association of “moral goodness” attached to white women identity that many try desperately to uphold.  We can do more harm than good, and oppress more than we liberate with this “moral goodness” mentality if it means that we’re quite when it matters the most.

History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.

-Martin Luther King Jr.

What I am endorsing is not hate or rage but rather the expression of how we really feel; Real emotion and specifically, direct, firm and even angry disapproval of the things that we disagree with most.  Obviously all white women to not have the same list of thing that make them mad.  Here are mine:

These things that make me really angry:

Racism: a.) The system it’s self b.)people who are just plain ignorant and who are either unwilling or too lazy to educate themselves.

Sexism: a.) The system itself  b.) men who feel more masculine by making women look or feel weaker or less able c.) trying to put me in a gendered category filled with gendered roles.  I don’t fit your stupid categories thank you.

Lastly is the feeling of having to fear for my own safety because I’m a women. It makes me angry just typing those words.

So why should I act like a diplomatic princess when I’m boiling inside??

I had an interesting ah-ha moment when I saw this clip a few days ago of Tim Wise on CNN. My reaction to it really surprised me specifically because Tim Wise is someone I admire greatly. Take a look

Sorry the embedding didn’t work.

What surprised me most was my initial reaction to Tim’s discussion: Wow! Why is Tim being so rude!!

I watched the clip a few more times and kind of caught myself thinking: well if I was Tim I would have been quiet, or I would have waited for Joe Hicks to finish his thought.  I would want to appear as under control as possible.  I’m not sure how much this would have helped the situation, if any, but it was my knee-jerk reaction.  I don’t think that Tim was being rude, I do think that he was frustrated.  Even so, how do we distinguish between all the different facets of emotions: anger, hate, frustration, fear?

I think my experience as a white women has taught be to be uncomfortable when people disagree or become confrontational.  I think Tim did an excellent job though, even if my initial reaction would have been to do it differently.

Many of you may be thinking “anger isn’t productive,” or “raising your voice is silly.” While those things may be true in certain situations, there must be a time and a place for anger.   For any person with a heart and soul, there’s no way to see racism and feel sexism on a regular basis and not be angry. The Angry Black Woman said something on this very well, better than I could, so please refer to this page for more clarification.

So my question is, where is the time and place to be angry? When is it most productive and when is it self defeating?

As The Angry Black Woman clarified, anger does not necessarily mean hate which is a huge distinction to make.   I think that for some people unchecked anger can lead to hate for sure. And I think that too much anger can be too great of a burden on our souls. But just as there’s a place for passion and joy there has to be place for anger especially if the alternative is silence.

September 10, 2009 at 11:13 pm 2 comments

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