2016.11.21 : getting back on the horse

i’ve had a cold for the past four days, which laid me out a little bit. (i was self indulgent on the weekend, and let myself spend all day in leggings – not the same ones I was sleeping in, but close – and hang out in my room and binge watch netflix.)

so i’ve watched a lot of Supergirl. it seemed to be the feminist showboat of the CWDCU so i figured i’d take it for a spin. it’s got a number of interesting commitments to social commentary it has dedicated itself to. obviously, the character of cat grant is an easy choice for commentary. the writers have made excellent choices presenting her as demanding, difficult, calculating, and cold, while fostering a rich inner life and complex set of motivators and emotions below the surface. this allows them to have an ice queen with a real human heart. it gets to the crux of the feminist problem with representation in media: can you have a stone cold bitch character who is still fully human and sympathetic? as many have long suspected, the answer is: yes. 

i still think that the show that provides the best explicit rather than narrative critiques of racism and sexism, in the CWDCU and possibly elsewhere is DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. If there is a dearth of complex characters, people are certainly taking steps to fill those representational gaps, but Legends is modeling active resistance to the powers of social violence and oppression. the character regularly interrupt and interject to point out the ways in which the forces of sexism and racism are consistently alive and well, and actively petition for their own rights. 

they also do a fantastic job of explicitly calling out passive acceptance of sexist and racist and heterosexist attitudes, particularly from the straight, white, male characters. if my tv shows are going to teach me anything this year, i’m hoping that Legends will continue to remind me to say something, when i encounter sexist or racist behaviors, rather than rolling my eyes and letting them slide. 


it’s been a tough couple of weeks; politics is a subiectum non gratus in my household. my father is actively distressed by discussions of the President-elect’s cabinet nominations. i cannot, strictly, disagree with his reactions, but i’m still in this semi-detached realm. some switch in my brain is flipped and i can look at the whole thing with dispassionate interest: how will things change with this or that nomination? what can we expect? what are the likely policy suggestions or outcomes of the contenders? 

but i don’t read the new york times in the morning, i trawl for information from Foreign Policy and Stratfor Intelligence and got myself a discounted subscription to Foreign Affairs. beyond the clear international relations junkie status, the steady diet of high-level analysis allows me to feel a sense of mastery over these arenas. the false confidence of information is a heady drug. but more importantly, it comes with the bizarre assurance that, just maybe, you could do better. that always seems to be the last defense of the incompetent when in power, and i look forward to the day when i can argue policy positions in the political arena. 


for the moment, i’ll continue to consume my own body weight in tea, irrigate my sinuses and work the sidelines of my responsibilities while i do my best to read every possible thing i come across. the future is grim, but it’s still there, for now. 

2016.11.16 : Unity not complacency. Fight, not despair.

There are many important things that have occupied my thoughts lately, but at the moment where I set fingers to keyboard to try and sort them out, they disappear. 


I have an extreme backlog of reading (I shudder to think of how many browser tabs I currently have open) and plan to spend the day making my way through as many of them as I can.


I recall what I wanted to say:

Much talk has been bandied about lately about who needs to do which work, and what work needs to be done. What do we do with the legitimization of racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia, misogyny, cronyism, violence, and impotent rage? Who is responsible for this outcome? How do we make sure the impact is minimized and the people who now have targets on their backs get through this with as little damage as possible?

Many people feel that speaking to, listening to, engaging with the people who put us here––with this President elect preparing to take office––is not only to ask for something that is impossible, but that is actively destructive. 

We don’t need to speak to these people, they say. These people want us dead. 

The easiest example is the back and forth argument about whether being a Trump supporter makes you racist or not. I am inclined to believe that it makes you a racist, in that his language did not immediately mark him as an illegitimate candidate. I do not think it means that you want to degrade and subjugate the people he spoke against. 

Such a distinction is trivial ultimately. 

I do believe––strongly––that to denounce and vilify the quarter of the population who voted for Donald Trump would be a cataclysmic error. 

image

(graph from CNN, November 11.)

First, they are not necessarily a majority. They are a quarter of the population. One of our biggest concerns should be connecting with the other half the population, that did not feel it was necessary, important, or were unable to vote in this election. We need to determine what kept them from getting to the polls, and take action to remedy those inhibitors (be it voter suppression, political apathy, economic lack of access, whatever). If we believe that democracy and political freedom are important, we need to secure the rights necessary for those outcomes for the entire population, regardless of their political affiliation. 

Second, we need to connect with that other half of the population and determine how many of them share our concerns about the direction of the country under Donald Trump. He may be determined to turn this country into a demagogic kleptocracy on par with Russia (taking the future of the planet with it; environmentally, politically, and economically), but, at the expense of sounding like the Right and far too many member of the GOP lately, we do still have the Constitution, and this is still a country founded on the principle: By the people, for the people. 

Anyone who wants to point out that we have never lived up to that ideal is welcome to do so now. We still need to use every tool at our disposal. More importantly, we need to take action to make that ideal a reality. To borrow another slogan from the other side: freedom isn’t free. If we want a government for the people, by the people, we’re going to have to hold up our end of the bargain, and push for it. By the people

Third, we need to bridge the gap––social, economic, political––between the coasts and the middle of the country. The political response and the rhetorical and ideological alignments that Trump supporters have chosen to express their grievances are hostile and reprehensible. That does not mean that all of their grievances are baseless or based in racial anxiety. 

The social and economic dislocation that is occurring in the empty stretches of land between our borders is not all that different from the social and economic dislocation being experienced around the world as modernity and globalization fundamentally reshape and restructure our lives and livelihoods. This extremist wave is the backlash we saw once already when modernity and globalization first crept across the borders of Europe and the West, bringing to life fascism, futurism, nazism, and the first and second world wars. We are seeing it now on a larger scale in a more totalizing form. 

That dislocation must be addressed. It cannot be allowed to progress unfettered, and it is not a specter conjured in the minds of people with something to lose. It is a reality of people who are already losing what they cannot afford to do without.

That does not mean that everyone must shoulder that burden equally. This is the moment where the white citizens of America, who have lived with privilege that far outweighs their right, must prove themselves patriots, and true allies and fellow soldiers in the war for equality and community. 

We cannot allow the burden of speaking out against this hatred, and the work of building the bridges that will bring us, the majority, the disenfranchised, the precarious, together that we can aim our anger upward towards the targets deserving of it. 

We cannot afford to atomize and balkanize. To fall into pieces will be a death sentence and leave us at the doors of annihilation. Our only hope is to succeed where all our ancestors have failed, and build the coalition which sees us as dependent on one another and responsible for each other. 

We can only succeed together.

2016.11.11 : the politics of multiplicity, a personal history.

It seems like the entire country is arguing about who is at fault for the recent election results. Who is more disconnected from America? Who is more self-righteous? Who understands the country least?

Meanwhile, I have been struggling to understand how ethnic or religious discriminatory rhetoric works. My go-to example has been the bankers. Why hate the bankers because “they’re Jewish” when you can hate them because they nearly destroyed the global economy? The first seems like a pathetic comparison to the latter. The latter cannot be denied and, more importantly, actively impacted every single person in this country in a negative fashion. 

I have long known that my experiences growing up where markedly different than the “average” American experience, or, more correctly phrased, the “average” experience of any “native national” citizen. 

I always begin with my elementary school education, but it begins before that; I grew up speaking two languages at home, Greek and English. And spent summers in a foreign country––one I nevertheless called “home”––amongst people who seemed to find me to be unheimlich, the familiar-strange. I did and didn’t speak like them, and looked and didn’t look like them, missing all the the wrong things to be the same, and all the right ones to be truly foreign. 

Then my parents sent me to a French-American school, where not only did I learn another language, but we began to learn how to be French. The French education system is a marvel, a perfectly calibrated colonial machine that can destroy borders and turn even native-born American citizens into tiny French nationalists. 

More importantly, of all the children in my class only two had parents who spoke only English, and of the “white” children, most came from families that would not be considered “American”. We were not diverse in racial distribution, but by age 8, I knew knew families hailing from more than one part of the Middle East, from a variety of places in north and west Africa, a Jewish family, a lesbian household, interracial parents, Muslim families, and any number of hyphenated Americans, and people who spoke more than English at home. 

I was floored when a friend told me he didn’t meet a Black person until after he finished elementary school. 

When I attempt to imagine getting to 18 without meeting someone Jewish, or Black, or bilingual, I am literally incapable of generating a workable facsimile of that experience. Never mind, living an entire lifetime like that. 

It seems stupid to say it, but just as there are people who have no framework for what a Jewish person is, or says, or does, besides what they see on TV or hear in church, I have no framework for having never met a Jewish person. My life is sheltered and devoid of much conflict and difficulty, but it has always been replete with individual variety. 

Growing up, my blond haired, blue eyed, male, English speaking, American best friend was the oddity. And I learned to get past it. Sure, it was odd that his parents couldn’t help him with his homework, and that they didn’t come from somewhere else, but people still learned to confuse us for siblings. 

I’ve always lived in the melting pot of America. I don’t know how to live somewhere else. 

2016.11.09 : today is different

I don’t know what words exist to describe the emptiness that lives inside me now. I had done what I could to push away hope because there are no good options, this year. But only this morning did I remember hopelessness. 

Hopelessness is the void that lives inside your chest and threatens every breath you draw into your lungs. It will eat everything; happiness, sadness, anger, fear, love. 

Pandora’s box, made empty, is filled with hopelessness and that box is made of the ribs and flesh of everyone who woke this morning and found themselves in a nightmare. 

Hopelessness is not knowing if you reach the other side of the mountain, after you have crawled into its belly of darkness because it is the only way forward. It is stale, damp air, and no hint of fresh air, no movement, no light. It is the loneliness that makes every person afraid. 

Last night, we clung to one another, my friends and me. Because when faced with that darkness, that loneliness, we know that the only thing that can invite hope back home, that can convince it to fill us once again with light, is the warmth of human flesh. 

Hopelessness is cold, and even when it weakens our spirits, our bodies are still warm. The only thing that can save us, that can begin to make us whole, is to remember that we are not alone.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

––Emily Dickinson

2016.11.08 : Please vote.

Electoral politics in a two party system leaves much to be desired. Democracy will never do a great job of truly representing the people, especially not in a country as big as the United States of America. But disappointment and disillusion have never yielded any improvement; we have to hope and visualize a future if we want to effect change. The right to vote seems like nothing to so many people, a given with no meaning in our slow and contentious political system, but people have fought and died in this country and in so many others around the world for that right. If you have it, hold fast, cherish it, and do not underestimate the power it grants you, even when it seems like nothing.