I complimented a black woman on her hair the other day, and my motivations were weird. I keep thinking about it, and keep being like “it’s a compliment, she was probably happy, I should just forget about it” but I can’t hide from myself. I know it was weird, and that’s why it keeps bugging me. See, I know I have the tendency to compliment natural black hairstyles – in America. (It’s worth noting that how I perceive black people in England is different from how I perceive black people in America, and I act differently accordingly.)

Oh god, I just figured out the root of my compliment, and it’s super embarrassing. So, I’m going to ease into it with an analogy.

Back in high school, I shaved off my hair, and some self-identified feminist high-school guy said to me “oh, I liked your haircut before” or something.

And, I said “I don’t care what you think,”

And he responded with “Good for you.”

Like, he was well meaning, but he still couldn’t drop the mindset that somehow his opinion *mattered*. Even after I told him I didn’t care what he thought, he felt the need to communicate his approval of me. The idea that he might be irrelevant to my decision making process was sort of incomprehensible to him.

Anyway, my compliment had a similar vibe to that. I feel the need to congratulate black people on their natural hairstyle choices because deep down, it is incomprehensible to me that they wouldn’t want my approval. This type of behavior is called a microaggression because, in a small way, I invalidated the autonomy of another human by implicitly assuming the increased validity of my own opinion. I’d actually use the word “micro-manipulation” to more accurately describe what I felt. I didn’t feel very aggressive, per se, but I did feel a bit manipulative. I mean, I guess manipulation is a form of aggression – but, if you think you ever may be on the aggro-side of this (and, most of us fall into at least one dominant “culture” of sorts – white, straight, cis, or male) I’d suggest feeling for where you’re acting a little manipulative. It probably won’t feel like anger or dislike (and, if it does, it may not be a “micro” aggression.)

I’ve been on the other side of this too, and it feels – confusing. When I started dating my now ex girlfriend, I found people would just ignore the fact that I was in a relationship. One instance was when a straight couple made up of two friends of mine suggested that one of their friends might be a good boyfriend for me, and I was like “hello, I already have a girlfriend!” Like, if I had to guess at what they were thinking, they were probably thinking “oh, wouldn’t it be fun if the four of us went out on a double date together!” But, the fact that I already had a gf was nowhere in their brains, because “woman-woman” relationships just didn’t register as a “real” relationship the same way a “man-woman” relationship would.

I don’t mean to judge them, since clearly I do this stuff too. But, in that moment I felt – lost, confused. Ignored, as if what I wanted wasn’t important. It was also really hard for me to call them out, since they are a very queer friendly couple in a lot of ways, and would have been mortified to see themselves doing this. (I did actually explain this to my friend eventually, and I think he got it.) But, it suckkkks to be the bearer of bad news. “I hate to inform you, but you act a little homophobic in sometimes.” Yeah, try telling that to your liberal friends and see how well it goes over.

Perhaps a useful guideline to start thinking about this stuff is “am I doing this to support what this person wants for themselves?” For instance, if I had a friend who recently changed her hairstyle and I was like “hey, you look great!” that’s seems fine, since I’m supporting her decision for how she wants to look. On the other hand, if I have a friend who every time her hair gets a bit longer I’m like “you look great!” right before she gets a haircut, then I’m sort of trying to manipulate her into a different hairstyle choice than the one she wants – one that makes *me* comfortable, not *her*. Not that this would all be considered a “microaggression” necessarily, but it’s a place to start looking. Also, on a larger scale, trying to support people to live the lives they want to live rather than the lives we want for them is a good step to work toward a generally less fucked up society.

Seeing Yourself as Human When You Have Privilege

I just read this article by Jezebel Delilah X about growing up in an affluent, black family. She talks about how her teachers treated her differently in school, and encouraged her classmates to be more like her.

That sort of dynamic fuels a resentment that goes far deeper than jealousy; it fosters the fear of not belonging, not having enough, not being worthy of respect, not deserving of goodness. It’s a feeling of displacement, of loneliness, of failure. No one wants to feel that way, and as history has taught us time and time again, people will fight for their equality and dignity. Each time my classmates attacked me, that’s what they were doing: fighting against the injustice I represented to them. I received privileges and affirmations, not fully of my own merit, but because I represented a juxtaposition to the stereotype that was projected onto so many of my classmates. Though there were no white people around, there was still privilege present—class privilege—and I was the one who benefited from it.


She provides important insights as someone who straddles unorthodox societal lines (oppressed by race, but not by class, except when race acts as a stand in for class) however her article is missing one thing.

How did she feel? How did she feel? How did she feel?

She goes at lengths to humanize her classmates by exploring their feelings (“That sort of dynamic fuels a resentment” – “it fosters the fear of not belonging, not having enough, not being worthy ” -“It’s a feeling of displacement, of loneliness, of failure”) but I have no idea how she feels. She only references her own feelings once, and then only tangentially.

The quality for which I was culturally ostracized—talking “white”—provides me with access to money at the expense of other Black people.

It hurt me, and my classmates, so much as a child.

She spares only three words for herself alone “It hurt me.” That’s all we see of her emotional reality as a child – hurt. She was hurt. How was she hurt? What was this pain? OH MY GOD, IT IS SO IMPORTANT – what is this pain?

It’s a delicate point, because “underprivileged” groups of various sorts are also typically under-represented in media, so I understand the impulse to shed light on their experience if you are given a platform. However, any sort of deep appreciation of the subjective experience of another human will have to begin with a deep appreciation for your own.

It is telling how Jezebel X’s father comforted her after rejection by her peers:

I was about six years old, sitting on my father’s lap, crying about being bullied by my classmates—yet again. My father did his best to lovingly comfort me: he pulled out his bank statement and showed me the tens of thousands of dollars he had in savings.

“Baby,” he said. “Those kids are mean to you because they are jealous. You think their parents got this in the bank? No. Plus, you’re smart. Keep getting those grades and one day you’re going to be the one writing their paychecks, determining how much money they take home to their families, and deciding whether they should have a job or not.”

All his words of comfort centered around their family’s higher objective value than value of their peers because of their money and measurable intelligence (grades.) Jezabel X has recognized how much this objectification cost her peers, but has not discussed how much it cost *herself*. She is important because her experience is important, not because of her money and her intelligence. That she was bullied as a child is sad, not because she is “better” than those children, but because her subjective experiences *matters.*

We don’t really have space for people to talk about the pain their privilege has brought them, and this is a problem. That we don’t have a space is sort of understandable – people with privilege tend to use it to co-opt safe spaces (e.g. a meeting of issues for People of Color will become a discussion about white guilt) so they get kicked out – but still problematic. The heart of discrimination is objectification of the other, and objectification of others usually stems from objectification of the self. A large part of the objectification of women in society is because attractive women will enhance the status of a man who “has” her, but for a man to care about this status is to objectify himself. A man who derives his self worth from his wife’s bodacious breasts and large bank account has failed to see that the true jewel he carries is his own consciousness. Instead, he has fallen in love with things that carry no life.

How can he appreciate anyone else’s consciousness, someone else’s humanity, without first seeing his own?


My Most Valued Posession

I was on the train, and a young black woman was solving some math problems on the seat across from me. She dressed femininely, with a purple skirt, and little white flat shoes, and this big gold ring that kept flashing as she worked through her problems. But, the part of her that carried the most life was her face which was unsmiling, set in deep concentration – real concentration. When I watch actors on TV work through “math problems,” I can tell they’re not really thinking. But this woman, she was thinking.

She had this curly hair that took up so much space – it was as if her hair was standing up on end because it was electrified by her immense brain. In that moment, it seemed *so important* – to her, to me – that what was ever in that head of hers got out onto that piece of paper.

She had so many markers of the type of person who is asked to hold it all in, exhibited by her femininity and her blackness. I suppose, narcissistically, she reminded me of myself a bit – or, that part of myself that sees things that I am asked to keep hidden. We sat there on this train, me watching her, she lost in her math, as two young women with brains in working order. But, for how long? What would happen to all those things we were unable to get out of our heads?

I was born in England and lived there from 1984 to 1990, the six years which spanned the mad cow disease epidemic. As a young girl, I learned how the disease would create holes in your brain that would drive you to insanity, then death. Since then, I have always had this fear of losing my mind in that way, and feared it could occur randomly at any time.

My mind is my most valued possession.

I thought that once when I was meditating. I would give anything else I own up to protect my mind, but at the end of the day, that’s all it is. A possession. Something to be used to its full capacity while I have it, but ultimately something I will lose. We don’t get to keep any of our possessions forever.

My grandfather is dying of Alzheimer’s disease, and I worried that it would be terrible to see him because his essence would be gone. But, when I saw him last, I didn’t see that. Instead, I saw something shine through him in spite of his crippled mind. If I have any sort of faith, it’s that there is some part of us that runs deeper than our possessions – some part of us that cannot be brought, or fixed, or lost and that all the things we cling to are not really who we are.

And yet, while I still have my mind, I want to use it. If I was diagnosed with mad cow disease tomorrow, I wondered, what would I do?

I would spend the rest of my life getting all these things I’ve seen out of my head, and down onto a peace of paper like that young woman.

I spend a lot of time writing about race and gender, not because race and gender are particularly important, but because they provide a lens to answer the question “why do we, as humans, do horrible things to each other?” That is the question we need to answer! Race and gender are useful because they have already been explored by many great minds, and provide deep insights into the experience of the oppressed. Yet, if we end up in a world where all genders and all races are equally represented in all areas of society, but we still have oppressed classes (the poor, the felons, etc.) then we will have gained nothing. The study of race and gender cannot be ends to themselves, but rather a springboard into the deeper workings of our humanity.

We need additional work to explore the mechanisms of the oppressors – we need people who oppress people to write about the experience of oppressing people. This is something I am deeply curious about, but have come to no definitive conclusions.

I think that status, and the role of status, is essentially the key to understanding it. I think status is *the* most important thing to people after they get their animal needs met. A great exploration of this with respect to the prison system is in Violence by James Gilligan. That book changed how I thought about the world.

Status is a false god, though – love is the important part, but very few people really get that. At least, I don’t think they get that until they’re pretty old or nearly dead. Most people in the US sell out love for status (wondering how? Just watch any romantic comedy ever.) It’s not their fault though.

People in the US are dealing with a deep level of objectification. The study of the sexual objectification of women can shed light on this, but again, we cannot stop with the understanding of the sexual objectification of women. We have to dig deeper, and see the material and mental objectification of everyone. Racism is another form of objectification. And, by objectification I mean we value the *objectness* of a person, not the *subjectness*. When we are interested in a person for how they look, what they do, what they can do, what they think as opposed to *what they feel* or *what their lived in experience is like,* I think we are valuing their *objective status.* Instead, we must learn to value their *subjective experience.*

Because, that is not only the most important thing – it is the ONLY thing. Our lives are 100% our subjective experience, what else is there? Everything objective that exists is filtered through the lens of the subjective to achieve its value. Yet, we ask people – all people, all genders and races – to violate their own subjective experience to enhance their social status as an object. How insane is that? How perverse is that? That is the deepest sin we commit against humanity, and no one ever calls it out, and it is a tragedy.

I need more space to write out these ideas – I can’t support them as well as I’d like, but I want to get them out.

I also think that we need a serious exploration of the role of technology in our society.

My generation, the millennial generation, had grown up with ubiquitous access to information. But, what have we seen? We have seen anger, and trolling, and horses fucking women, and killings, and just the basest of human behavior come bubbling to the surface. We have ripped the bandage of politeness off of society, and found a festering wound underneath.

So, where do we go from here?

I think the millennials have no fucking clue, but we are the ones tasked with solving this problem. How will we raise our children not to be traumatized as we have been? How do we brace them for this onslaught of images into the darker parts of the human psyche? We need to talk about that.

Censorship is not the answer, and will only make things worse. How can we accept humanity, in all it’s broken fucked up ways, and work on progressing it forward? How can we take this world of objectification, and move it into a world of subjectification?

I’m not sure yet. I want to think on it more, while I still can.

How Ideas About Privilege Reinforce Racism

One of my internet crushes is whatever asshole writes the last psychiatrist, and one of his (I think it’s a man) themes is that the system defends against change.

Recently, I’ve been reading the word “privilege” everywhere in the media – often in conjunction with race, but not always. (This theory also applies to gender, sexuality, etc. – but, I’m going to talk about the race for right now.) Check your privilege! You know you’ve heard it.

Anyway – let’s say you agree with the idea that “the system defends against change.” (In this case “the system” can be thought of as “the media.”)

– The system defends against change

– The system is racist

– The system has completely embraced the concept of privilege

– Therefore, the concept of privilege is being used to inhibit useful change that would actually lessen racism.

Ok – so, to back up – what is racism? I’m sure there are many answers to that, but I’m going to go with “when members of one race are forced to absorb behavior against them that is detrimental to their mental or physical wellbeing because members of larger society choose to ignore these injustices.” This is systematic racism I’m talking about, not individual racism. Notably, I believe it is possible for members of one race to be racist against *their own* race – if, as part of larger society, they do not support actions to protect other members of their race. This happens sometimes, I think, because individuals expect they will benefit more personally than they will be injured by the actions that are harmful for individuals of their race as a whole. One of my other internet crushes, @dexdigi, writes about that here.

So, how does the concept of privilege solidify racism?

First of all, it sets up the frame of reference to be from the point of view of the white person. It’s “Check your privilege!” not “Check my injustice!” I can see why it took off this way – the media tends to favor the white point of view. White people have more trouble empathizing with minorities than minorities do empathizing with them. It’s telling, that even in our discussion of racism, we’re still parsing the discussion through the eyes of of white people. To *really* loosen racism, white people are going to have to learn to project themselves into the bodies of people of color. White people are going to have to *feel* a little part of what people of color *feel*. By keeping this discussion focused on what is happening inside the white body, we are preventing this empathy from developing. For white people to make this transition, they’re going to need to keep reading stories from the point of view of people of color.  Even just hearing a language change (Check my injustice!) would be an improvement, because it would invite the reader – for a split second – imagine what it’s like to be someone else.

The concept of “privilege” also implies a fix to something that’s not the problem. Many people with privilege recoil from wanting to talk about privilege, and in my opinion, justifiably so – they don’t want to lose it! For instance, sometimes feminists say men are “privileged” not to know what it’s like be scared walking home at night. This is dumb – I don’t want men to be scared walking home at night, I want women to feel safe. I don’t want it to be harder for white people to get jobs, I want it to be easier for black people to get jobs. These things shouldn’t be *privileges* they should be *normal*, and not having them should be called *injustice*.  The fact that the system has called it “privilege” makes it sound like some people are benefitting from the system being a certain way. Men don’t actually benefit from women being scared to walk home late at night, but by saying they have “privilege” sort of makes it sound like they do. This sets them up to defend it, no one wants to give up their “better” position, but they don’t actually benefit from this arrangement. Their wives and daughters could get stabbed. Similarly, black people having trouble getting hired doesn’t actually benefit white people overall, it just makes the economy smaller, and in the meantime we have to do something with all those people who can’t get jobs. (Prison, anyone?)

Lastly, the concept of privilege leads to a politically correct laziness. “Checking” your privilege is very easy – you just say “I acknowledge my position as a privileged white person” then don’t actually change any of your behavior. It has provided a code for people to project the image that they want (nice! liberal!) without actually changing the more destructive aspects of their behavior. It provides a way of objectifying people (“if I say all the right things, then I can’t get yelled at by minorities.”) As Lupita said, you can’t eat words (or beauty, works both ways.) Words are meaningless, if they don’t touch something deeper.

So, what do you actually do?

Anytime you want to “acknowledge your privilege” – flip it, at least in your head. Put yourself in the opposite point of view and imagine what it would be like to not have that “privilege.” Start with the assumption people who are complaining have a legitimate grievance, and try to understand it.

The deeper fix is to loosen the sytem’s grip on you. This is hard. I can’t tell you how to do this, cuz I haven’t done it yet. Check back later!

Asian Fetish

Apparently, on OKCupid Asian Women get the most messages. This preference is true for men of all races except, strangely, Asian men. Interesting! I’m sort of jealous, but also having a little bit of schadenfreude at the same time. Cuz, you know, us white women hear a lot about how Western beauty standards damage the self esteem of women in other races.

But, you can’t blame us anymore! Western beauty isn’t where it’s at, it’s passé, old news! So, I hereby bequeath all of our liberal white woman beauty guilt to Asian women (and, Middle Eastern women who apparently also get a lot of responses.) Next time someone goes on about how our beauty standard is whitewashed, you can be all “what are you, stuck in 1950?” So, for realzies, white women may still be over-represented in magazines, but that’s just a holdover – it’s on the way out, as the racist old men who control the media slowly die. Also, are we even sure all those women are being “whitewashed?” Seems to me some of them could be being “Asian-washed.” As a very white English woman, I can testify that my particular very-pale skin tone is usually not in fashion unless some Winona Ryder renaissance is happening.

However, the way liberal discourse responds to white women being desired as opposed to Asian women being desired is very different. When white women are “what’s hot” it’s an example of an oppressive beauty system that is degrading to other races. BUT, when Asian women are “what’s hot” it’s an example of Asian fetish, which is degrading to Asians.

So – to simplify:

White women hot? Seen as privileging white women.

Asian women hot? Seen as dis-empowering Asian women.

It is worth noting, that according to Wikipedia Asian Fetish supposedly doesn’t exist, and even on OKCupid white men responded to Asian women and white women a similar amount. Yes, it’s true *some* white men say some really terrible things to Asian women (and, there’s a tumblr about that) but I’d suggest that it’s more that the race difference opens up opportunities for a *particular set* of vile things to be said.

This difference in how we read preference for white women vs Asian women reminds me of how we read preference for thin bodies as opposed to a preference for heavier bodies. Many heavier women complain that they are de-sexualized, and also that the only people who sexualize them are fetishists. But, what they fail to see, is that thin bodied women are also frequently fetishized – in that, many people who date thin women are not interested in their sparkling personalities, but have an obsessive attraction to a particular body type. Many heavier women won’t see this as a similar thing, but this is because of the ways that heavy women *themselves* are privileging thin bodies. On some level, men who are attracted to heavier women are seen as “fetishists” because we view it as abnormal to be attracted to fat women. Men who behave the same way toward thin women aren’t viewed as “fetishists” because we see that as normal. So – again, attraction to fat women is phrased in a way to disempower fat women, whereas attraction to thin women is phrased in a way to empower thin women.

Similarly, we have normalized attraction to white women so we see attraction to Asian women as fetishized. If you believe it is fetishizing to be attracted to Asian women because of typically Asian physical traits, but it is not fetishizing to be attracted to white women because of typically white traits, then you have brought into the idea that the white appearance is the default, and you may want to introspect a little on that. (I’m not calling you racist, but… well, think about it.)

I’m not saying that Asian women don’t face racism, or that heavy women don’t face size-discrimination. In fact, I’m saying the opposite of that – that racism and sizism are so prevalent that they they have infiltrated liberal discourse such that Asian women and heavy women are seen as being *disempowered* by things that would be seen as *empowering* white or slim women. We are denying the Asian/fat groups access to the power that we would grant the white/slim groups (and, yes, I hope women get power outside of their physical appeal – my point is Asian and fat women don’t even get *that.*) And, the problem isn’t with the fetishists – the problem is with is the liberals whose critiques of beauty culture end up implicitly reinforcing the prejudices they are attempting to denounce.

The trap is a trap, watch out for it.