White People, Stop Making Fun of White People!

Did you ever read the blog stuff white people like? Or, have you seen this article recently 36 white people who need to be stopped? Or, possibly this video, 10 things I hate about white people? What is interesting about all this interweb stuff is that it was all created by white people.

So, if people of color want to hate on white people – if this is part of their healing process for being in a society that marginalizes them – I can tolerate that. I don’t like it, and nothing anyone ever says will ever make me *enjoy* hearing my race ridiculed, but it’s fine. I’ll work under the assumption that the healing generated from such comments outstrips my own irritation, and I’ll suck it up.

But, I cannot *stand* hearing this shit from white people.

News flash: making fun of white people doesn’t make you any less white. It doesn’t make you any more literate in issues that people of color have (in fact, I’d argue just the opposite – time spent making fun of white people is time focused *on* white people, not on other races. ) It doesn’t make you any cooler, or more interesting, or more relatable. Instead, it strikes me as a narcissistic way to appear politically correct. “Look at me, I’m not racist, I’m not like *those* white people.”

But, you know, most white people – are – sort of like “those” white people. White people who are focusing their energy on how “fucked up” white people are without any real suggestion for improvement are part of the problem. Mocking your own race in an effort to distance yourself from the atrocities committed by people who are the same color as you is cowardly. It doesn’t stop you from perpetuating the injustice, it doesn’t heal any of the past crimes, it doesn’t provide any sort of improvement in any way – it’s just attempt to reinforce your own ego as “not racist.”

Admitting your own racism is a lot harder, a lot braver, and a lot more useful than mocking other white people.

So, stop mocking white people white people! You’re not fooling anyone.

Why Did White People Have Black Slaves?

I was reading James Baldwin’s Everybody’s Protest Novel, in which Baldwin roasts Uncle Tom’s Cabin (an anti-slavery novel written by a white woman, Harriet Beecher Stowe) and, he raises what – for me – is *the* problem with pop discussion on privilege today.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin is a very bad novel, having, in its self-righteous, virtuous sentimentality, much in common with Little Women. Sentimentality, the ostentatious parading of excessive and spurious emotion, is the mark of dishonesty, the inability to feel; the wet eyes of the sentimentalist betray his aversion to experience, his fear of life, his arid heart; and it is always, therefore, the signal of secret and violent inhumanity, the mask of cruelty. Uncle tom’s Cabin like its multitudinous, hard-boiled descendants — is a catalogue of violence. This is explained by the nature of Mrs. Stowe’s subject matter, her laudable determination to flinch from nothing in presenting the complete picture; an explanation which falters only if we pause to ask whether or not her picture is indeed complete; and what constriction of failure of perception forced her to so depend on the description of brutality — unmotivated, senseless — and to leave unanswered and unnoticed the only important question: what it was, after all, that motivated her people to such deeds.

When I read that paragraph for the first time, I felt like Baldwin had shined a light into a part of me that was screaming. In fact, that paragraph is so good, I’m going to quote from it again.

Sentimentality, the ostentatious parading of excessive and spurious emotion, is the mark of dishonesty, the inability to feel; the wet eyes of the sentimentalist betray his aversion to experience, his fear of life, his arid heart; and it is always, therefore, the signal of secret and violent inhumanity, the mask of cruelty.

Sentimentality is the mark of dishonesty. How true that reads, and how relevant. That thought extends outward beyond race, beyond oppression even, to hit at something deeply out of line in our culture. Why is it that 28% of “young adult” novels are purchased by people between 30 and 44? Why do so many of the videos that pop up in my facebook feed contain the message “try to watch this about crying?” Why do we want to watch deaf women hearing music for the first time, or cats reunited with their owners, why do straight people get group-think obsessed with gay marriage?

the wet eyes of the sentimentalist betray his aversion to experience, his fear of life, his arid heart

Where, along the way, did we lose our ability to fully feel our ordinary lives? Why do we seek out extreme stories of emotion, to compensate for the deadness that has entered our hearts?

it is always, therefore, the signal of secret and violent inhumanity, the mask of cruelty.

What is acting as a signal of secret and violent inhumanity? James Baldwin saw this inhumanity in the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and now I see it everywhere. In particular, I see it in the discussion of privilege. So, if the “underprivileged” want to call out other people’s “privilege” – like, that’s fine and possibly even healthy. What pisses me off, however, is the way privileged people tend to “own” their privilege, how they attempt to construct a more flattering self identity by being “allies” of less privileged classes. Ultimately, however, it’s not *really* in their best interest to improve the state of these less privileged classes, because these “allies” need less fortunate people to perpetuate their own identity as an “ally.”

Or, another way to put it, is if there was no injustice in the world, there would be no liberals. Liberals feed off injustice, their identity, their purpose in the world is to fight injustice. And, I say this as a liberal white woman – a liberal white woman who wonders, “who will I be when we achieve equality?”

It is notable that Harriet Beecher Stowe campaigned for the expansion of women’s rights after the civil war, not to improve the lives of the recently emancipated slaves who she had so passionately argued for before abolition. What she seemed more interested in, and what James Baldwin called our out on, was *injustice* rather than *people*, or *slavery* rather than *slaves*. Discussions on privilege usually focus on the institution, and seem rooted in identity and narcissism rather than a desire for connection. Louis CK “checks his privilege” in a recent video about fat women, but the video isn’t about fat women, it’s about men. The fat woman’s rant starts with “it really sucks to be a fat girl,” but then launches into the issues *men* have that makes them not want to date fat women. “You think your dick is going to fall off if you hold hands with a fat girl?” the fat woman asks. Good question – but, we can’t ignore the fact that this is Louis CK’s show, that the space he made to discuss what fat girls feel was dominated by what *men* feel to be *with* a fat girl – coming from the mouth of a fat girl. He used her to ask questions he didn’t dare about himself, but he didn’t really shed much more light on what it was like to *be* her.

So, still – with all this discussion – the biggest questions are left untouched. As Baldwin pointed out, Stowe left unanswered the most important question of all – “what it was, after all, that motivated her people to such deeds”?

How could white slave owners get up every day and brutalize other people? How could this happen? How were they not driven to despair, or depression, or in any other way motivated to stop? How could they have desired their own prosperity at such a sharp cost?

I can’t answer that question right now, but it’s a question that needs answering and requires attention. Instead, I’ll ask another question which is more relevant to today.

How is it that we accept the mass incarceration of black and latino men? How are we ok with having nearly 60% of the prison system being filled with racial demographics that only make up 1/4 of the US population? How are we ok with the fact that one in six black men has been incarcerated at some point in their lives? (See source.)

Do you believe that one in six black men deserves to have been in prison at some point? To put someone in prison is to rob them of their life in the most straightforward way. As a country, we are committing a mass theft of life from men of color. How do we accept this?

If you’re like me, you may not have even thought about it for a long time. I’m nearly 30, and I didn’t really think of these issues until very recently, but I have known since middle school that black people went to prison more than white people. What was that knowledge accompanied by?

Honestly, fear. I am afraid of black men. Not the ones I know, but strangers – and, definitely the ones in prison. If you conjure up the image of a black inmate, you have conjured up someone I am afraid of, and this fear blocks my empathy. I’ve never heard another white person admit they are afraid of black men, and I’m ashamed to admit it on my blog, but it’s true. It’s true, and I know many other white people must also be afraid of black men, and this fear is keeping black men in prison. Liberal, “privilege owning” white people won’t say this out loud, and will probably condemn me as a racist for admitting it myself, but by not admitting it I would only be protecting my image at the cost of ever figuring out what is actually happening.

So, should I just get over this? Well, I’ve tried, actually, and there’s one problem. The men who shout sexual slurs at me in the street are overwhelmingly black and latino men, and my lizard brain can’t help but notice this fact. When I walk by a black man in the street, I tense up, because part of me thinks he’s more likely to shout at me than a white man is. Now, there are some exceptions here – a black man in glasses? A black man in a suit? I don’t fear these men. But, a black man in torn clothes who is clearly unbathed? I am afraid of him.

We can’t address white racial bias without addressing the long term affects of discrimination. If black men are more likely to go to prison, they’re probably also more likely not to really give a shit about violating the social norms that sent them there. White men don’t say bullshit to me in the street because they’re afraid of what other people around them will think, and because they benefit from playing by conventional rules (when it’s anonymous on the internet though, all bets are off.) My own fears and biasses interact with reality, interact with how people who have absorbed a lifetime of oppression actually behave in the real world.

So, why do we accept the number of black men in prison? Because we have made too many of them criminals, and by making them criminals once, we have given them an incentive to *keep* being criminals. Now, our biases that “black men are dangerous” seem justified, and polite society won’t openly admit this bias which only makes it even harder to fix.

To go back to slavery, I still can’t answer this question as to what made white people do it – but, I’ll take a stab at why they accepted it. Slaves lacked education, they had absorbed more physical and mental trauma than most people today can even conceive of, they were mourning from a loss of their own culture, and so they acted differently from white people, and differently from free people. Instead of seeing this behavioral difference as being directly caused by their actions, white people read this behavior to be an indicator of innate differences between the races that justified slavery.

Yet, white people must have seen that only because the *wanted* to see that. Why did white people want to see black people as slaves? Why did they want to see other cultures as inferior? I believe the answer to that question goes deeper than the material benefit they gained, that maybe it ties back to Baldwin’s point about excessive sentimentality and a fear of really living, but I’m not quite sure how.

Free Acts of Kindness

There was this vet who wrote a blog post about fixing up a homeless women’s sick dog but then TOTALLY RUINED my emotional voyerism with excessive displays of modesty.


“I don’t take any credit. And I honestly do not write this story to look like some kind of a hero.”

“It’s easy to puff your chest out when you do something difficult. But this wasn’t difficult.”

“Please don’t leave any comments. Like it if you want, and share it.”

Woah – that’s mighty defensive for a kind deed. What was he so worried about? That all of us selfish, self centered people would feel shamed by our indulgent lifestyles to which he wanted to reassure us “Don’t worry! USUALLY I’m just as selfish as you, this was really a small thing – I’ll go back to eating my slave chocolate later tonight.” (Eating slave chocolate is one of my own vices.)

Thing is, we’re all hardened, selfish little creatures at our core – or maybe it’s just me. Anyway, people who are really able to hold others in the same esteem with which they hold themselves are rare, but we’re going to need more people like that to fix the ways that the world is broken. So, what do those of us do who aren’t there yet?

In about ten minutes, I’m going to go walk out in the street and implicitly tell about ten homeless people that their starvation is less important than my coffee. And, what I will feel most for them is contempt, some level of guilt for my own selfishness. Why do they have to be homeless right outside where I live? Why can’t just one morning go by when I can go get my coffee in peace?

On some level, I think my mistake is not that I am selfish, but that I am able to view their wellbeing as separate from my own. Still, despite my logical perception of the problem, I can’t un-belive my separateness. Not yet, anyhow.

Is it right to give a homeless person a dollar? Jury’s still out, but I know I tend to feel better when I give them one. The reasons I tend not to are often social. I will never give money out if I’m with another person because I’m usually worried they will see me as weak (unless it’s one of my very close friends.)

We have a culture which causes us to be less charitable, which causes people like the vet to feel defensive when they open up about the kind things they do. But, what if it was just ok to brag? What if we allowed that?

Then, the exchange would be different. It would be more like,

“I want to give, but I still struggle with wanting to impress people. By listening to me brag about my charity, you help me be more charitable, so thank you.”

The Terrible Things we do to Boys are Why Women Aren’t Welcome On The Internet

I saw these two articles on facebook yesterday, and they seemed related: why women aren’t welcome on the internet and there’s something absolutely wrong with what we do to boys before they grow into men.

A lot of feminist reading I’ve read has focused primarily on the female experience, which is important. It has been helpful for other women to call out their experiences getting hate mail, getting harassed on the streets, and having it be dismissed as unimportant. It has helped me realize that I’m not alone, and I’m not crazy.

That said, there’s not a lot of discussion about the male experience. Why do some little boys grow up to be so angry at women? How have we produced a world, where for every feminist blogger, there are hundreds of men who want to tell her to go get raped? Many people, male and female, I know would basically just dismiss these men as human scum, but it doesn’t address the problem. Apparently, 6% of college aged men will admit to attempting to force a woman to have sex when he knows she doesn’t want to (but, will decline to call themselves “rapists”.) 6% is pretty high. If you think of 17 men who have been to college, in theory, one of them will admit to attempting to force a woman to have sex with him. And this is just men who come clean about attempting rape – if we include men who didn’t admit it, or behaviors that aren’t rape but are still intimidating to women, the percentages are probably much higher.

In fact, you probably interact fairly regularly with a lot of men who have committed some assalt-type behavior on women. And, you know, they might actually be a pretty nice. The majority of men who send death threats to women on the internet are probably totally capable of interacting with society on an acceptable level in public, but for whatever reason, have a need to vent some anger when they’re alone.

So, what’s going on here?

Why will some men present a politically correct front to the world, while hiding a much more sinister personal view on women?

Male majority sexist conversations I’ve been a part of (which, I’m sure are biassed because I’m a woman) tend to go one of two ways. Either, a group of men goes on to make a bunch of jokes about women unchecked, or one of them will speak up and say something like “not cool, bro.”

But the question “why are you so angry at women?” never goes asked. I don’t even think it can be asked. To ask a man why he feels something in a social situations is inappropriate (dare I say, “emasculating”.) For men to admit that they have emotions, that things might go wrong for them sometimes, can be an admission of failure. (This is not true of *all* men – I have many male friends who are able to articulate the problems they have without shame, but I think it’s true of enough men, particularly in professional settings, to cause problems.)

And, feminist men who speak up on the behalf of women are really great. But, I don’t think they’re gong to change the world.

I think the world is going to change when more men speak up – sexist men, rapist men, angry men, stalker men – and explain what happened to them that made them act the way they did. And, the more we blanket condemn these behaviors without asking *why*, the worse they’re going to get. We can’t arrest half of Reddit.

We can’t stop this by force. That is both the curse and the blessing of the internet.

The Value of Boredom

Sometimes when I meditate, especially if it’s for more than about 20 minutes, my mind starts thinking “oh my god, I am so BORED.”

“bored bored bored BORED bored BORED BoRED BOrED!”

“When is this over?” “This sucks – is it possible to die of being bored? Is something terrible about to happen to me, some horrible boredom induced brain injury?”

I can sit for a while – or walk, or whatever, while just thinking without getting bored. When I daydream, I don’t get bored. When I write, I don’t get bored. But, when I meditate I do. The way I meditate, however, is very similar to daydreaming. The only difference is, instead of attaching to a thought when I have it, I refocus on my breathing. So, internally it sort of goes like this.




“I wonder what we’re having for dinner today”


“I hope it’s not just reheated leftovers from last night, I didn’t really like that meal very much.”


“If it were up to me, we’d go grocery shopping instead of eating that again.”

***Some sort of wordless realization I have been following a train of thought***

***Draw attention back to my breathing***



“I’m hungry”

***Draw attention back to my breathing***




If I were not meditating, I would follow that entire train of thought to some conclusion. Perhaps, I would imagine myself cooking up some fantastic feast, or I would end up daydreaming about the tastiest things I had ever eaten. I don’t find that boring. But, focusing on my breathing?

To be clear, I don’t think the words “inhale” and “exhale.” Well – ok, sometimes I do (or, sometimes I think other words like *accept*, *release*) but sometimes, I’m just focused on the physical sensation of inhaling and exhaling. And it’s then, when my mind has been wordless for a while, that it’ll start going “bored.”

Actually, honestly, I’m sort of scared of that zone. The “bored” zone. I haven’t sat zazen longer than 20 minutes in a while, because I’m scared of it. I should probably go talk to one of the instructors at the zen center about that – I think I will in the New Year. It’s strange, you know – because boredom seems sort of benign, but actually, it’s kind of like a big voice screaming “STOP DOING THIS!”

Other times I get bored are when I’m laying around watching TV, or studying information I’m not interested in. There’s an edge of fear to it, but what is that edge? What am I afraid of when I’m watching TV, or studying, or meditating? Why is my mind telling me to stop? Is its fear justified?

I even feel bored writing this post. Maybe you’re bored reading it?

So…. boring……..


Self Absorption and the Homeless

One of my friends regularly tells me I’m too self absorbed, which is probably a fair point. I think about myself a lot.

However, one thing I’ve noticed is that often the people accusing me of being self absorbed seem to be suffering from a similar affliction themselves. In a way, it would make sense – the most self absorbed people would be the most annoyed about not getting as much attention as they would like in a conversation. They also may be the least likely to see that, sometimes, people have good reasons for being self absorbed.

One time I tend to be very self absorbed is when I see homeless people on the street. There are a lot of homeless people asking for money where I live, and when I see them, I will often go out of my way to walk out of their line of site so they will not see me. Sometimes, I will pretend like I didn’t hear them talk to me so it won’t be “awkward,” even though deep down we both know I did. Or, I will dismiss them with a quick “no, I’m sorry” or just give them a dollar and quickly get on my way. I feel afraid when I see them in the street, even though I know they won’t hurt me. I’m afraid of the confrontation that may ensue.

And I know that, more than money, often what they just need is a little recognition. One of the most painful things, I’ve been told, about being homeless it that people just ignore you as if you were completely worthless. I know this. I know that, ideally, even if I can’t give someone money that by giving them the same attention and respect I’d give anyone else, I am giving them the message “I see you, and you are worthwhile,” and I know that is a message many homeless people need to hear. Despite the fact that I know all this, I still regularly ignore homeless people.

Two days ago, a young and articulate homeless man stopped me on the street. He thanked me for my time, and asked me if I’d get him something to eat which I did. After talking to him further, I bought him a razor, some deodorant and soap at a local Walgreens because he said his lack of grooming was hurting him during his job interviews. He told me he felt bad about asking for what he needed, and I told him not to – that it was a joy to give to someone when I felt appreciated and respected. We parted ways with a hug, and I ignored all the other homeless people who talked to me on the way home.

I am able to occasionally engage with homeless people now, usually by chatting with them. But, I had to forgive myself for ignoring them first. I used to criticize myself all the time – how selfish I was! How much pain they were in, and I would willingly buy myself a latte, and not spare 50 cents for a starving person. What did that say about me? What type of selfish, self absorbed person was I? Thing was, that whole line of reasoning was too painful for me to go down often. So, usually, I would avoid the homeless and not engage with them so I didn’t have to confront these uncomfortable thoughts about what type of person I was.

However, eventually I came to forgive myself for ignoring the homeless people on my Starbucks run, and a funny thing happened. The more I was able to forgive myself for ignoring homeless people, the more I was able to engage with them. When my head was not filled with self-criticism, or actively involved with suppressing it, I had room to listen to them. Every time I have made the space to listen to a homeless person, they have been profoundly grateful. I can now see I was not avoiding them because I was selfishly hoarding my money – I was avoiding them because it is emotionally difficult to engage with someone in that much pain. I could give every homeless person I see in a day 50 cents, no problem, but I can’t take on that much of their experience without becoming profoundly depressed myself. So now, I do what I need to do. If I have the time, and emotional energy, I will talk to a homeless person – see what they need, and if it’s something I am able to give. And if not, that’s ok too.

I’m still working on it. I’ve noticed that the ones I help the most are the nicest and most articulate homeless people, and that probably the ones in greater need of help are some of the more difficult ones. But, I also know I’m not there yet. I’m still too full of ego to engage with someone who can’t moderate themselves for me, and that’s ok. It’s ok to be self absorbed. Because you can’t just replace self absorption with compassion magically, you have to give yourself what you need first.

The Ring Case

In Europe, there was a push for a while to label photoshopped images in magazines to “discourage the altering of photographs in a manner that could promote unrealistic expectations of appropriate body image.” (New York Times, Nov 2011.)  I watched a recent South Park episode where Wendy shouts “Kim Kardashian is a short, overweight woman who manipulates her image and makes average girls feel horrible about themselves.” The general assumption is that photoshop, these images, have the power to make girls feel bad about themselves and that we should do something about that.

It’s a view that I usually sort of buy into. Whenever I see a view of a beautiful woman, who is likely photoshopped, I usually mentally compare myself to her or feel angry. Part of me just wants someone to make it go away, and I deeply sympathize with people who want to legislate it away – and maybe it would even work, I don’t know. But, I don’t have the power to make it happen, this is not the world I live in. So, why worry about that too much?

Once, I took an introduction to shiatsu massage class, and half way through I was feeling very relaxed and open. Suddenly, a voice in my head said “I’m going to die soon.” I was deeply unnerved, and not really sure how to take it. I tried to resist it, but no reassurances I could give myself could reassure me that I wouldn’t die soon. What was soon, anyway? Two days? Two years? Two hundred years? Who was this “I” even referring to anyway? Me? Who is me? And who was this voice talking to? Also me, the same me? Why was it not “you’re going do die soon?” (In fact, when I repeated the story too a friend, I remembered it as saying “you’re going to die soon” – I couldn’t keep straight who was “me” and who was “you” when referring to the voices in my head.)

Anyway, I came to the conclusion that even if the voice was completely prophetic, nothing had really changed. Except, when I walked home that night, everything looked different.

As I stepped off the subway, I entered a room completely plastered in express ads. The ads featured skinny women in lacy clothes, with heavy eye makeup, and that slightly open mouthed expression that is so common these days. “Pouty” I think it’s called. I remember when they’d first put the ads up, I’d been so angry. My eyes could not escape them, no matter where I looked. They even had ads plastered on the floor – I was allowed to walk on the pretty women, as long as I looked at them.

But, when I entered that room that night – full of awareness of my own mortality – I didn’t feel angry. Or sad. I felt amused. I stopped in front of one of the large vertical ads, and stared up at these woman who were probably about twice as tall as I was. And, I can’t recall the exact feeling now, but I remember finding it funny.

Since then, sometimes when I pass the ads, I still feel angry. I have tried to remember what it was I found so funny, and I don’t think it’s quite something I can put in words.

But. It had something to do with the pouty expressions, carefully engineered to completely hide the inner world of the models.

Once, when I was a child, my grandmother showed me a case with a beautiful ring in it. She took the ring out to show it to me, but I was more interested in the case. She let me play with the case, but when my brother saw me playing with it, he wanted to play with it too. I had seen ring cases on TV, and had realized that people valued them which was why I wanted to play with it, but I didn’t understand the ring inside was the valuable part. When my brother saw me with the ring case, he was tricked! He also assumed the case was the important part. We sat there fighting over the case, completely ignoring the ring.

Maybe the media is like a giant ring case shop, with huge, beautiful ring cases on display – more elaborate and more ornate than anything that has existed before, most of which you could never afford. And in the corner, there is a bucket full of beautiful diamond rings that you pick up to go in your case.

You enter the shop, and go over the the bucket of diamonds rings in the corner. You spend a minute or two staring at them, then turn to the man who runs the shop and ask, “Can I have one of these?”

He laughs at you, in a condescending but indulgent way. “Sure,” he chuckles. “Help yourself to whatever you want.”

So you reach in and take a big fist full of diamond rings, and put them in your pocket. “Thanks!” you say, as you head out the door. And, he shakes his head with a bemused sort of pity. What type of fool are you, that would want a handful of rings without a good ring case to keep it in?