Friday, February 27, 2015

A little about Agent Carter and Homeland

I have a bad cold, so if this post is stupider, or smarter, than usual, that may be why. It's like drunk blogging with chest-wracking coughs.

If you're afraid of spoilers, don't be. I'm not giving away any major plot points.

The only reason I'm writing about these two shows in one post is I've been watching them lately, though if I were being pretentious, I'd say they're both propaganda for neoliberalism, but only one does that well.

One episode of Agent Carter is pretty much what the show should've been all along: that's the Howling Commandos ep, which you can probably watch out of context. The rest of the first season suffers from these things:

1. They don't burn story. They had enough material for five or six episodes, not eight.

2. They try too hard to be relevant by making the show explicitly about 1940s sexism. They could've done a fine first episode in which some of the men underestimated Carter, but the showrunners forgot that this is not a story about a young woman who has yet to prove herself. Peggy Carter has serious credentials. Given her past in the first Captain America movie, the men might treat her as an exceptional woman, but they would never treat her as an incompetent one.

As for the show's ties to neoliberalism, well, I'm stretching here, but I wanted a show about tracking down the last members of Hydra. I didn't want a show with commie villains. I dislike Stalinism as much as anyone, but Nazism is a much better ideology for the sorts of villains I want from a 1940s SHIELD show. Nazism gives you unabashed racists and sexists, while Stalinism gives you a society that for all its flaws was seen as a better alternative to the US by hundreds of black Americans (see In Russia, early African American migrants found the good life) and where women served in the military as snipers and bomber pilots.

3. Though the showrunners decided to make the show about sexism, they ignored racism. They must've been intending to get to that--there's undoubtedly a reason the agency is all white in this season--but see Point #1. Without a character like Gabriel Jones, Agent Carter feels less racially enlightened than Marvel's original 1960s' SHIELD comic.

As for Homeland, I watched the first few episodes when it debuted and thought it was heavy-handed propaganda. But a friend whose taste I respect loves it, so we gave it another try, and found the show gets a lot twistier fast. They burn story gleefully, so I rarely knew what was going to happen next. Mind you, I do think it's propaganda--they acknowledge a lot of flaws in the US approach to the Middle East, but ultimately, the head terrorist of the first two seasons isn't much more complex than the Red Skull. But it's nuanced propaganda with a nice attention to character, especially with its leads, so I'll be starting in on the third season soon, I suspect.

Fredrik deBoer on the diversification of inequality

it eats everything | Fredrik deBoer:
Perhaps no form of subtle social control better exemplifies privilege’s ability to dominate through soft power than the way in which privilege theory itself becomes a commodity, monetized and peddled to the privileged as easily as consumer electronics or expensive clothes.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

I wish Adolph Reed Jr. had a movie column: "The Real Problem with Selma"

From The Real Problem with Selma | nonsite.org:
...the specific sensibilities that carry the spate of slavery/Jim Crow-era costume dramas are those around which the contemporary black professional-managerial class (PMC) converges: reduction of politics to a narrative of racial triumph that projects “positive images” of black accomplishment, extols exemplary black individuals, stresses overcoming great adversity to attain success and recognition, and inscribes a monolithic and transhistorical racism as the fundamental obstacle confronting, and thus uniting, all black Americans. History is beside the point for this potted narrative, as is art incidentally, which the debate over the relative merits of Spielberg’s Lincoln and Tarantino’s Django Unchained demonstrates. The only metric that could make comparing such radically different films seem plausible is the presence or prominence of a black hero or black “agency.”
As usual with Reed, read slowly; almost every sentence has an important insight. He moves from a brilliant account of Reconstruction to black politics today, noting:
An interpretive posture that posits an unproblematic “black community” or “black masses” as a normative standard cannot adequately conceptualize the relatively autonomous tendencies toward neoliberal legitimation in black politics; much less can it confront them politically. 
This may be a reason that, as Cedric Johnson and I have complained to each other about since 2006, anti-racist activists focused their political outrage and calls for national action, including mobilization for mass marches, on a racial incident in Jena, Louisiana that was little more than a high school fight yet were incapable of, if not uninterested in, mounting any systematic or coherent action to protest the ongoing travesty of forced displacement and criminal inaction affecting hundreds of thousands of people little more than a three-hour drive away in post-Katrina New Orleans. Jena fit comfortably into a historically familiar frame of stereotypically southern small town racism/antiracism; the political and interpretive tools available in antiracist discourse did not work so cleanly in New Orleans. 
In the tradition of great researchers, Reed's footnotes are well worth reading (that's where nonfiction writers get to keep the darlings that had to be cut). Here's #2:
Du Vernay’s vision of the local movement doesn’t extend much beyond King and his SCLC confederates at all. Glen Ford rightly criticizes Selma’s characterization of the SNCC radicals’ relation with King and SCLC. Du Vernay reduces the tension to an expression of some of the SNCC activists’ ultimately petty and juvenile turf-protectiveness. Political or strategic differences are beyond her purview. While license is what it is, and the SNCC/SCLC tension is arguably not crucial to the story she wants to tell, her choice to portray James Forman in particular as a young, narrow-minded hothead may be as revealing as it is gratuitous and inaccurate. Forman was one of the most systematically leftist voices in SNCC, a Korean War veteran, a former teacher and organizer before going to join SNCC and was actually a year older than King. Du Vernay’s film describes King as having “led the Civil Rights movement for thirteen years” until his assassination in 1968. That view is consistent with her trivialization of SNCC; it is also in no way correct. King, for example, was not even the principal force driving or the main attraction at the 1963 March on Washington, which was most of all the project of A. Philip Randolph and his Negro American Labor Council. See, for example, William P. Jones, “The Unknown Origins of the March on Washington: Civil Rights Politics and the Black Working Class,” Labor 7 (2010): 33-52 and The March on Washington: Jobs, Freedom, and the Forgotten History of Civil Rights (New York: W. W. Norton, 2014). In fact, I know several people who attended the march and left before King spoke because it was a long, hot day, and he was at that point in the minds of many activists just another preacher, albeit a courageous and progressive one.
I still want to see Selma someday, but I'm in no hurry.

Monday, February 23, 2015

If "not classically beautiful" is code for black, Marilyn Monroe and these women are black

I missed the twitterage under #notclassicallybeautiful after Alessandra Stanley wrote in Viola Davis Plays Shonda Rhimes’s Latest Tough Heroine:
As Annalise, Ms. Davis, 49, is sexual and even sexy, in a slightly menacing way, but the actress doesn’t look at all like the typical star of a network drama. Ignoring the narrow beauty standards some African-American women are held to, Ms. Rhimes chose a performer who is older, darker-skinned and less classically beautiful than Ms. Washington, or for that matter Halle Berry, who played an astronaut on the summer mini-series “Extant.”
The assumption was that the comment's racist—see 26 Best Tweets in Response to Critic Who Called Viola Davis 'Less Classically Beautiful'—but a quick google shows these women are also "not classically beautiful":


The 100 Most Beautiful Actresses of All-Time...: "49) Marilyn Monroe - For all the hoopla and sexuality she was a lovely looking woman. Norma Jean was a determined young woman who made one of the most significant marks in 20th century pop culture. Certainly not classically beautiful, but one would be hard pressed to find a more memorable image on the silver screen. "


Pin by Robert Routh on Beautiful Ladies | Pinterest: "Jo Stafford-perhaps not classically beautiful but I find her alluring and I love her music!"


Pin by Ruth Waddell on exotic women | Pinterest: "how to describe a face like this without the typical cliches (eg not classically beautiful... ugh)"

Waddell points out the real problem with the phrase: it's a cliché that tells you nothing at all.

As for Marilyn Monroe, these black women were rated above her: Vanessa Williams (#11), Diahn Carroll (#17), Lena Horne (#32), Paula Patton (#36), Halle Berry (#44).

Bonus: Beauty and Indian actresses are discussed at The unsung beauties from the 50s | Indulging myself...: "Another beauty who was and I feel still is underrated was Nargis. Nargis was not classically beautiful, she had her flaws, but she made the flaws look so gorgeous that everyone wanted to copy the flaw."

ETA: Some of the people who claimed the writer was racist don't seem to understand how "and" works: the writer didn't claim skin color had anything to do with "classical beauty", which I'd guess began as a reference to Greco-Roman statuary. "Classical beauty" has to do with the structure of the face, favoring features that are found from Ethiopia to Scandinavia.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Three essential points about trigger warnings, Neil Gaiman, and Kameron Hurley; or Trigger warning: Shetterly

I've been taking part in the discussion at Kameron Hurley on Trigger Warnings and Neil Gaiman. Hurley says,
Conflating “little triggers” with “Trigger Warnings” is, to put it mildly, irresponsible. I grew up in my online life in feminist science fiction circles. I encountered trigger warnings all the time, primarily on feminist academic blogs.
Hurley argues that Gaiman is belittling an important concept and failing to do the "easy, decent thing" of including trigger warnings. But the failure is hers: She has accepted her community's convention, the use of trigger warnings, and not bothered to research it. If she had, she would've found Deb Stone's Why Trigger Warnings Don’t Work, which includes this:
According to the National Center for Health, “Avoidance is a maladaptive control strategy… resulting in maintenance of perceived current threat. In line with this, trauma-focused treatments stress the role of avoidance in the maintenance of PTSD. Prolonged exposure to safe but anxiety-provoking trauma-related stimuli is considered a treatment of choice for PTSD.” Avoidance involves distancing oneself from cues, reminders, or situations that remind one of the event that can result in increased social withdrawal. Trigger warnings increase social withdrawal, which contributes to feelings of isolation. If a survivor who suffers from PTSD has had adequate clinical support, they could engage online with thoughts or ideas that previously had been avoided. The individual is in charge of each word he or she reads. At any time, one may close a book or click a screen shut on the computer. What is safer than that? Conversely, trigger warnings perpetuate avoidance. Because the intrusive memories and thoughts are internal, trigger warnings suggest, “Wait! Don’t go here. I need to protect you from yourself.”
Let me stress this: Not only do trigger warnings fail in their intent, they harm the healing process for people who do suffer from PTSD.

A second point is one that lovers of trigger warnings avoid: If trigger warnings could be shown to be useful, how should they be employed? Should all plot points involving violence or sex be acknowledged in warnings at the beginning of a story? Should every potentially disturbing metaphor be mentioned? In the discussion, Elizabeth Nitecki, who suffers from PTSD, asks,
how do you trigger warning the smell of wet paint? i'm still waiting for the answer to that question, because thats what triggers are.
Anyone who has researched PTSD knows triggers are specific, not general. If trigger warnings were effective, an effective list could not consist of a few general subjects; it would have to be long enough to include the smell of wet paint.

Which, according to feminist trigger theory, would mean that the trigger warning would be triggering, and should require a trigger warning.

A third point: Hurley failed to appreciate that Gaiman did exactly what she and her community asked: He put a trigger warning on a book that contains imagery that will disturb some people.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Liana Kerzner on "Fighting Fucktoys" and Feminist Frequency, and an autobiographical note

A few bits from Why Feminist Frequency almost made me quit writing about video games: Part 4 | Metaleater:
The fighting f**ktoy trope is, as Anita applies it, a blanket condemnation of women who display openly sexual characteristics. Her application of the concept is indistinguishable from the way moral conservatives expect women to be uniquely modest in both attitude and dress. That's slut shaming, and it's harmful.
WHAT EXACTLY IS FFT?
The fighting f**ktoy, or FFT, is a concept popularized by Caroline Heldman PhD. It's supposed to refer to a female character who appears to be empowered and carries an action-driven story, but when you look deeper, she's still just a sex object.
And:
Feminist Frequency also constantly confuses sexual attractiveness that is an element of a character's purpose for sexual attractiveness that is the entirety of a character's purpose. At no point do most of the female video game characters labelled FFTs ever actually have sex, meaning that the issue isn't the activities they engage in, but how they look. In order to make the FFT label appear to fit, Sarkeesian and other feminists who apply the terminology to video game characters cram and jam facts into unnatural arrangements and outright ignore other elements. They apply this term to Bayonetta, Lara Croft, and who knows how many other perfectly decent female characters who happen to have distinct costumes and large boobs.

It benefits no one to slap demeaning labels on women who choose to accept and embrace their own physicality. Around the seventh grade, girls start to lose their connections to their authentic selves, sacrificing that to survive as part of a socially restrictive, competitive group. Discouraging direct confrontation, ie: aggressiveness, is part of that loss of self. Furthermore, body shaming is a very real thing that voluptuous women encounter: we don't have many role models who are valued for being intellectuals or leaders, after all.
And:
Some of you may be wondering at this point why I have such a radically different perspective on these characters. I think it's because I analyze these games as games, not as interactive movies subjected to traditional communication theories. Action games move so quickly and require so much concentration that you don't have time to stare at the playable character's ass. The so-called "male gaze" doesn't apply when your attention is focused on a targeting reticule. The player works with these third-person protagonists as a team. While the player may find their partner attractive, the relationship isn't a simple one of subject and object, as we've dealt with in previous parts of this series.
I'm sympathetic to Kerzner's main point because my first love hated the kind of attention her large breasts got her from men and from women so much that she had breast reduction surgery. See Power Girl vs. the Slut-shamers of Skiffydom: on cosplay and feminist pulchriphobia.

As for her point about the "male gaze", people notice people's sexual attributes. The male gaze is only one half of the human gaze. See Female gaze, and a piece I just happened on, A hip hop feminist questions the “male gaze”, which concludes:
My own experiences and knowledge have brought me to a place to deny the possibility of any woman ever actually satisfying the male gaze, no matter how hard they try, for two very contradictory reasons. Firstly, the male gaze is a product of capitalism. So it has the capacity to make even the most traditionally beautiful women feel like shit about themselves. The perfect woman to satisfy this gaze does not exist. And secondly, my experiences with men as friends, lovers, and family have shed light on the fact that they themselves are not as bound to the standards established by the gaze as one would assume.
To elaborate on the hip hop feminist's last line: This is very true. Two takes:

1. I admire Buckingham Palace, but I do not want to live there. I also suspect that if Buckingham Palace was conscious, it would be envious of the Taj Mahal and the Eiffel Tower and Airstream trailers and any number of cute cabins and cottages.

2. When I was young, I was only attracted to women who were my height or shorter than me. Then I fell in love with Emma. Now my "male gaze" lingers on tall women.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Liana Kerzner's smart feminist critique of Anita Sarkeesian's Feminist Frequency

Kerzner has posted three parts of a five-part series titled "Why Feminist Frequency almost made me quit writing about video games." If, like me, you know little about gaming, you'll find yourself skimming bits, but don't skim too much. It has brilliant bits like this, from Part 2:
...cultivation theory ... doesn't claim television shapes behaviour. It claims television shapes perception of social reality. For instance, studies were done of schoolchildren, and they found that the kids that watched the most TV thought the world was more dangerous than the kids that watched less. The thought was that television cultivated the idea that the world was scarier. This was referred to as "mean world syndrome."

I repeat: watching television made people more afraid of violence, not more likely to commit violence. Television doesn't figure into predicting criminal behaviour, nor does it turn people into Sherlock Holmes.

Extrapolated to sexism, this would mean that viewing sexist material would make people believe the world is more sexist, not turn men into perverts. The implications on Feminist Frequency's theories on that point alone are significant. If true, the concern shouldn't be that sexually violent or objectifying content is going to make consumers mimic these behaviours. The concern should be that this content makes people more afraid of rape, abuse, and second-class status because our entertainment is cultivating this mindset.

This is a very valid concern. Excessive fear will hold back entire portions of our society -- in this case, women. But our current approach has not been fear reduction.

For example, Anita Sarkeesian does talks where she displays horrid, vicious tweets and emails she's received. According to cultivation theory and mean world syndrome, if exposed to heavy doses of this messaging, her audience will become more afraid that they too will be attacked. If Sarkeesian is cultivating fearful attitudes through repeated, systematic exposure to vicarious abuse, this is, to borrow the word, "pernicious."

For the record, I'm not saying she should be muzzled from talking about her experiences. I'm just applying the theories Feminist Frequency uses to their own work.
And there's this, from Part 3:
That doesn't mean that prostitutes aren't sometimes used as interchangeable set dressing in games. However, Feminist Frequency uses clips that don't match the assertion that the prostitutes are always there to titillate. For instance: the Watch_Dogs scene in which Aiden Pierce infiltrates a human trafficking ring. In context, that scene is uncomfortable because the women placed on objectified display are there against their will and are obviously frightened. The game makes it clear that these women are sometimes brutally beaten by sadistic customers. A player has the option to complete a set of side missions to free the women and break up the human trafficking ring, and Aiden is never rewarded for that with a roll in the hay. According to Feminist Frequency, these victims of human trafficking in this scene are there to titillate straight men, but their actual in-game role is to horrify the player. I don't know why the people at Feminist Frequency found that scene pleasantly arousing, but I'm pretty sure that wasn't the reaction Ubisoft intended.

The problem with claiming that the Watch_Dogs human trafficking ring scene was intended to titillate is that it confuses an act of consensual sex - which is an understandable ego boost -- with rape -- which is an act of violence. Sex with a trafficked sex worker is a form of rape because she is not empowered to say no. Sex with a call girl making Charlie Sheen-level money is a totally different paradigm.

Anti-rape advocates have spent years making the distinction that rape is a crime of violence, not of sex, and yet Feminist Frequency insists that video games use the victimization of women to titillate players. Most men do not get turned on by rape. To imply that they do demonizes male sexuality, and that's not fair critique.
The series so far:

Part 1: An introduction to my perspective on the current state of the gaming community.

Part 2: Cultivation Theory and Gaze Theory. Are they good fits for video games?

Part 3: Objectification and the Tropes - We all know it happens. Can we prove it hurts?

ETA: Major support for the critique of cultivation theory: New Study Finds No Link Between Gaming And Sexist Attitudes

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Minneapolis could be used as an argument for Basic Income or socialism

The Miracle of Minneapolis - The Atlantic: "One reason the American dream has come apart is that too few cities have shared their resources—and real estate—between the rich and the rest. This isn’t a fact of nature, like the mountains and oceans that restrain our coastal metros. It is a policy of our own choosing. The lesson of Minneapolis is that even our richest cities are free to make a different choice."

Friday, February 13, 2015

Three points from Adolph Reed's speech, “How the Left Redefined Social Justice: Capitalist Class Power and Inequality from FDR to Obama"

I heard Adolph Reed speak last night about the transformation of the American left since 1945, and afterward, I told Emma, "There's a whole lot of smart on that stage." Like many intelligent thinkers, Reed seems a little uncomfortable when he's reading, but his content makes up for that. But a lot of the fun comes with his asides and afterward, when he's dealing with questions.

Now, I didn't take notes, so I apologize if I misremember anything, but here are three points that especially struck me. I've put bits in quotes that I hope are accurately remembered:

1. Where the old left called for solidarity, the new left calls for diversity.

2. "Race is ethnicity." That's one of those things I've known for decades without being able to condense to three words. Reed pointed out that your only other choice is to endorse—my words now, not his—pseudo-science. If you reject "racial realism", race is ethnicity. Which, I'll add, has always been true. Even at the height of Jim Crow, black folks who could pass as Egyptians were treated differently than the locals.

3. On the contradiction of institutional racism: "Racism is an attitude, and institutions can't have attitudes."

Since there's not a transcript or a video online yet, here's a link to a talk with Reed from 2014: On the "desiccated hollowed out vaporous left"

Thursday, February 12, 2015

On black racism, and Adolph Reed Jr.'s comment about Derrick Bell, father of Critical Race Theory

Adolph Reed Jr. is speaking today at Macalester College. Googling for details, I came across On the “New Jim Crow”: An Interview With Adolph Reed. Reed said,
I remember I was at a conference a number of years ago at Harvard Law School when Derrick Bell was still on the faculty there. Bell was on a panel at this conference, and he insisted that nothing really had changed for black Americans since 1865. And I’m looking at this—here he was, a full professor at Harvard Law School, making the assertion that nothing had changed. Well, obviously something had changed, because he was in Harvard Law School without a broom in his hand.
 Among Bell's crazy notions is the idea that all whites are racist. There's no evidence to suggest that was ever true, and while you can still find people who claim it's true, most black Americans disagree. From Who Is Racist? | National Review Online:
According to a recent Rasmussen poll, 31 percent of blacks think that most blacks are racists, while 24 percent of blacks think that most whites are racist.
Rasmussen's write-up: More Americans View Blacks As Racist Than Whites, Hispanics

Possibly of interest:


Single Female Seeking Same-Race Male - NYTimes.com: "In that analysis of more than 20,000 online daters, split roughly evenly between Boston and San Diego, men didn’t show much preference for same-race partners. Women did, and African-American women showed the most pronounced preference."

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Link of the day: Seven Myths about the USSR

Seven Myths about the USSR | what's left

Links: one on Feminist Frequency, one on fandom's furious identitarians

Astrogator's Logs » Blog Archive » How Many Swallows Bring Real Spring? by Athena Andreadis:
RH/BS and her acolytes have set back true progressives in SFF by at least a decade and have turned “social justice” into a term of derision even among supporters of change and an apotropaic invocation for those agog to have SFF revert to the circa-fifties Leaden Era. However, of greater concern are those who are so eager to exhibit ideological purity or (belated) art-for-art’s-sake “objectivity” that they’re effectively contributing to the relentless onslaught on real diversity in SFF. Their actions have helped turn the SFF ecosphere into rigid, brittle monocultures clustered at extreme end-nodes of the political/identitarian spectrum.
Now, I personally think the true progressives were set back during scifi's Racefail '09, but I quibble. Also, I'm pleased to see another person using "identitarian", a word I picked up from Adolph Reed Jr.

Why Feminist Frequency almost made me quit writing about video games: Part 1 | Metaleater by Liana Kerzner:
...if you take one thing away from this five-part piece, please let it be this: feminism, especially feminism in video games, is a diverse subject with varied opinions and a lot of disagreement. When any single voice becomes too powerful, it stifles other voices that have just as much to offer. Feminist Frequency is very good at promoting itself. It has not been good, so far, at promoting other women -- real and fictional -- in the video game industry

Sunday, February 8, 2015

How the rich make Jesus's teachings meaningless

From Pope Francis Declares Oscar Romero a Martyr for the Faith—but Whose Faith?:
According to the National Catholic Reporter, there is unease with Romero’s case for sainthood among high-ranking prelates, including Benedict XVI, “because of Romero’s embrace of liberation theology, a type of Christian theology that posits that Christ did not just seek liberation from sin but every type of oppression.” In fact, there was an actual Vatican ban on Romero’s beatification, which the pope lifted with his declaration.
The unasked question: Why would Jesus want to preserve any type of oppression?

The rich have an answer that can't be found in the Bible: "Original sin", the notion that everyone has to suffer because Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. But the idea that children suffer for their parents' sins is clearly refuted in the Bible. Deuteronomy 24:16 (King James Version) reads:
The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin.
Now, there are passages in the Bible that suggest children suffer for the sins of their parents, but in context, they're using "sin" in the general sense of "mistake", and no one would deny that when parents screw up, kids often have to clean up. But even when the kids must deal with the consequences of their parents' deeds, the responsibility does not fall on the kids: the Bible's principle is that the one who did the crime should do the time.

And there's a card palmed in the notion that the majority must suffer in an unequal society because of original sin: it exempts the rich, turning them from fellow sufferers in Adam's fall to agents of God's punishment. That's a comforting theology for the rich, but it's entirely non-Biblical. The Bible's conclusion is simpler: The powerless, aka the meek, shall inherit the Earth.

Friday, February 6, 2015

capitalism joke of the day


John Locke's defense of Basic Income and taxing the rich to help the poor

"God, the lord and father of all has given no one of his children such a property in his peculiar portion of the things of this world, but that he has given his needy brother a right to the surplusage of his goods, so that it cannot justly be denied him when his pressing wants call for it, and therefore, no man could ever have a just power over the life of another by right of property in land or possessions, since it would always be a sin in any man of estate to let his brother perish for want of affording him relief out of his plenty." —John Locke, First Treatise of Government

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Thandeka's critique of privilege theory

At "~I've~ never benefited from injustice!" : socialism, redditors are discussing this cartoon by Barry Deutsch:


Two points from Thandeka's "Why Anti-Racism Will Fail":

1. It is not a privilege to not be oppressed. Thandeka wrote:
Imagine that business and government leaders decreed that all left-handed people must have their left hand amputated. Special police forces and armies are established to find such persons and oversee the procedure. University professors and theologians begin to write tracts to justify this new policy. Soon right-handed persons begin to think of themselves as having right-hand privilege. The actual content of this privilege, of course, is negative: it's the privilege of not having one's left hand cut off. The privilege, in short, is the avoidance of being tortured by the ruling elite. To speak of such a privilege -- if we must call it that -- is not to speak of power but rather of powerlessness in the midst of a pervasive system of abuse -- and to admit that the best we can do in the face of injustice is duck and thus avoid being a target.
2. Privilege comes from wealth. Thandeka wrote:
80 percent of the wealth in this country is owned by 20 percent of the population. The top 1 percent owns 47% of this wealth. These facts describe an American oligarchy that rules not as a right of race but as a right of class. One historical counterpart to this contemporary story of extreme economic imbalance is found in the fact that at the beginning of the Civil War, seven per cent of the total white population in the South owned almost three quarters (three million) of all the slaves in this country. In other words, in 1860, an oligarchy of 8,000 persons actually ruled the South. This small planter class ruled over the slaves and controlled the five million whites too poor to own slaves. To make sense of this class fact, we must remember that the core motivation for slavery was not race but economics, which is why at its inception, both blacks and whites were enslaved.
ETA: Deutsch seems to dimly grasp that wealth is the heart of privilege—that's the only excuse for his conflation of class and race that's especially noticeable in the fourth and fifth panels.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

When thinking about the murder of Emmet Till, consider another murder too

Sex and pop: The forgotten 1909 hit that introduced adultery to American popular music tells the story of "I love my wife, but oh you kid!" It includes this:
The Oct. 28, 1909, edition of the New York Times noted a bizarre ruling by a court in Pittsburgh: “Any man who shouts ‘Oh, you kid!’ at a woman on the street, even though she should be his own wife, should be whipped. The Magistrate said he would not fine any man who administered the whipping.” An editorial writer in Arizona went further: “The man who without cause or reason, says ‘I 
love my wife, but oh you kid!’ would not wear
 his button long, for the fool killer would start 
for him and mercifully end his existence.” That scenario was not, it turned out, farfetched. In October 1910, in Atlanta, a man named N.H. Bassett was shot by George Lambert, a railway company executive, after Bassett approached Lambert’s wife on the street crying, “Oh, you kid!” “It is believed Bassett will die,” wire services blithely reported. “Lambert surrendered, but was at
 once released.”
That reminded me of the murder of Emmett Till, a black fourteen-year-old who was brutally murdered in 1955 for flirting with a white man's wife. What exactly happened may never be known—he may have been misunderstood by the wife, or, as she testified at the trial, he may've been more forward than the man who called, "Oh, you kid!"

I had always assumed racism was the only factor in the killing of Emmett Till until I read about the "Oh, you kid!" murder. Race was irrelevant in the death of N.H. Bassett, and Bassett's murderer, like Emmett Till's, was freed by people who believed husbands could kill to defend their wives' honor.

Because the internet is awful at nuance: This does not mean I think race was irrelevant in the death of Emmett Till. It was the 1950s in the American South. The rule of Jim Crow was coming to an end. Race had to be relevant.

But any student of history knows that few things have a single cause, and that a cause which is remembered may not be the greatest.