Political Correctness

Kai Chang has written the best critique of “political correctness” that I’ve ever read.

Simply put, the great “PC” cliché, as commonly deployed in mainstream discourse, is cultural propaganda designed to befuddle and misdirect while defending the current power structure. All politics deal with power relations, and in the debate over America’s alleged climate of “political correctness”, there’s a stark asymmetry of power between the defiant megaphone-wielders who complain of being constrained by humorless hypersensitivity from below, and the under-represented people of color, women, LGBT, handicapped, poor, and otherwise marginalized or dispossessed people who have no choice but to absorb the linguistic, cultural, and physical barbs of the ruling class. The megaphone-wielders feel psycho-emotionally oppressed by their inability to crack puerile ethnic jokes without criticism; the under-represented simply are oppressed.

Pride Panel and Coming Out

I co-facilitated my first pride panel today. It was very exciting. CM asked me to facilitate yesterday. I was very honored. There were over 50 people in the classrom. I think I had butterflys in all of my extremities. Thankfully the panelists knew what they were doing. I am grateful for the experience.

I briefly mentioned my own coming out story. I didn’t want to take time away from the panel but I did think it was important that the students (a class at OSU) heard an ally coming out story.

Eric Stoller at the Day of Speaking Out

I came out as an ally while I was at the University of Illinois at Chicago. It was during an event called the Day of Speaking Out. People were invited to share their stories at a podium in the campus quad. I stepped up to the podium and talked about my experience as an ally, my homophobic past, and what I was doing as an ally. It felt great.

From the Human Rights Campaign:

Coming Out as a Straight Ally
A straight ally is someone who is not gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender (GLBT) but personally advocates for GLBT equal rights and fair treatment. Straight allies are some of the most effective and powerful advocates for the GLBT movement. These allies have proven invaluable personally and politically, and are increasingly important in the fight for GLBT equality. Indeed, their voices often have been heard while those of GLBT people have been ignored.

The Heterosexual Agenda: Exposing The Myths

The The Heterosexual Agenda: Exposing The Myths

No longer satisfied with “mere acceptance” by our society, heterosexual political pressure groups have launched a well-planned, well-financed campaign, which, if left unchecked, threatens to destroy the most fundamental structures of American society. This report considers the implications of the heterosexual agenda (both overt and hidden), the problems it has already caused and its potentially disasterous results for society.

Check out the 36 page PDF file.

Excerpt:

The Heterosexual Agenda: Exposing The Myths is a parody. I wrote it to show how Focus on the Family, American Family Association, and many others produce some pretty convincing anti-gay books, videos, web pages, and other tracts. In doing so, I used social science research exactly as they do. The only difference between what I did and what they do is this: I showed you exactly what I did every step of the way.

I have counted fifteen key steps to writing an antigay tract. But there is one common element that ties these steps together: fear. Each step builds on the previous one, reinforcing the things the writer wants his readers to be afraid of. It starts with a fearful premise reinforced with fearful “facts,” and leads to the fearful consequences of those “facts.” It ends with a fearful depiction of the future for our society if these fearful problems aren’t dealt with.

Multicultural Action Plan (Journey)

A paper for my Multicultural Competency in Student Affairs class:

First of all, I want to clarify that I cannot stand the term, “plan.” It seems soulless when the context is multicultural action or social justice. A plan is something that does not reach my heart. For the purpose of this paper, I am going to use “journey” as the descriptor for what this document is all about. I think I’ve been on a multicultural competency journey since I started my graduate program. In the span of 2 years I have gained significant social justice “muscles.” I’ve written about white privilege, sexism, heterosexism, homophobia, and ableism. I attended a multicultural institute. I have decided that I am going to be an anti-racist, feminist, ally. When I started my graduate program I talked about the importance of diversity but I was not aware of my white privilege. I was not aware that I was actively contributing to sexism. I did not realize that oppressions are interconnected. I was an ally for LGBT folks but I did not realize how much racism and sexism seeped from my psyche.

My journey into social justice is still in its infancy. It is my desire to use this paper as a letter to myself. It will serve as a reminder to me that I still have a lot of learning and self-awareness work to do. Hopefully I will read this paper 5 to 10 years from now and see progress. This paper will serve as my social justice time capsule. One of my professors said that living with purpose makes someone matter. Multicultural action and social justice are two things that matter in my life. I wrote a paper about how oppression harms the oppressor and I really feel that this place that I am now in allows me to work towards subverting the dominant paradigm and the system of institutionalized oppression that we all live in.

What multicultural issues do I want to learn more about?
Suzanne Pharr’s excellent work on the common elements of oppressions has helped me to understand the linkages of various oppressions. The oppression of one marginalized group via the marginalization of another group will not end oppression. I’ve heard this labeled as “the Oppression Olympics.” I really feel that this interconnectedness of oppressions is something that I need to research further. I also need to dialogue with others about how to articulate the fact that I truly believe that oppressions are all related. I have read a lot, but I need to experience more in my daily life. Thankfully, I have a great group of social justice educator friends who humor my thirst for conversation.

In addition to conversations, I am planning on reading more books by people of color, by folks who are transgender, by folks with disabilities, and by folks who write from the perspective of multiple oppressions. For example: radical women of color.

My knowledge of history needs to be re-made. I was taught that Columbus discovered America. How do Native Americans exist in that kind of educational system? I hope to use my white privilege to work towards re-educating my white sisters and brothers. I know very little. I have taken a few classes, read a few books, and had a few conversations, but I still have a lot of work to do. Another “issue” that I need to address is my own heritage. What do I know about Germany, Ireland, or the Cherokee Nation? Almost nothing. The truth of the matter is that I am white and my culture is unknown to me. I have to learn about my own history.

My social life

When I was growing up, all of my friends were white. I did not have any friends of color. None of the members of my family had friends of color that I knew of. Everyone that I associated with on a social level for the first two-thirds of my life were white, heterosexual, and low to middle class. Presently, I have friends of color, friends who are gay, and my partner is a woman of color. Does this mean anything? I think it means that I have come a long way in my understanding of what it means to appreciate and celebrate differences. My current friends are as diverse as my thinking. I have learned a lot from them. They have been so patient with me. Sometimes I feel like all I do is ask questions. Most of the time though, I feel like my social life is wonderful. I support my friends and they support me.

Conferences
As I continue my multicultural journey I have come to realize that I need to speak up sometimes. One venue where I feel that I need to voice my opinion in is the professional conference. When I hear a white person say something about “normal students” and then refer to students of color as “non-traditional,” I need to speak up. I think I will plan on presenting at the next NASPA conference. I think it would be appropriate if I presented a session on ally work from a student affairs context. Perhaps a half-day session so that material could be delved into. It has been too often the case, in my experience, that social justice sessions barely scratch a surface and rarely involve depth.

How will I approach institutionalized discrimination?

I think I will work hard to educate those who are in my sphere of influence that the institution is oppressive and works towards an educational subversion. White privilege is a powerful tool when it is used as a crowbar against oppression.

Blogs and Action
I have found that blogs, both reading them as well as posting on one, have proven to be a great way to connect with a diverse group of people. It takes a lot of energy to post on my blog as well as to take the time to read what other people are writing, but I think I have built virtual relationships that are fairly strong. They have been forged by our collective stance against oppression. Who knows if our blogs will always exist, but at the very least, they have given us ways to connect and to share with one another.

Conclusion
I realize that this journey letter, this plan, this smattering of thoughts is but a small part of my everyday existence. Multicultural competency is something that is an ongoing process in my life. I feel that I have so much to learn and to discover about myself but also about people all over the world. It’s frightening that someone can make it this far in life and still have no idea about who they are. The reality is that I am a long ways away from being a multiculturally competent student affairs practitioner. Most of the theories that I have been taught come from a supposedly generalizable, white-male specific foundation. I need to read about theories from people of color about people of color. I need to read about theories from LGBT folks about LGBT folks. My head is spinning with what I need to learn. (Eric — when you read this next, you need to have read some more, talked some more, etc.)

The Common Elements of Oppressions


The Common Elements of Oppressions
by Suzanne Pharr

It is virtually impossible to view one oppression, such as sexism or homophobia, in isolation because they are all connected: sexism, racism, homophobia, classism, ableism, anti-Semitism, ageism. They are linked by a common origin-economic power and control-and by common methods of limiting, controlling and destroying lives. There is no hierarchy of oppressions. Each is terrible and destructive. To eliminate one oppression successfully, a movement has to include work to eliminate them all or else success will always be limited and incomplete.

To understand the connection among the oppressions, we must examine their common elements. The first is a defined norm, a standard of rightness and often righteousness wherein all others are judged in relation to it. This norm must be backed up with institutional power, economic power, and both institutional and individual violence. It is the combination of these three elements that makes complete power and control possible. In the United States, that norm is male, white, heterosexual, Christian, temporarily able-bodied, youthful, and has access to wealth and resources. It is important to remember that an established norm does not necessarily represent a majority in terms of numbers; it represents those who have ability to exert power and control over others.

Continue reading The Common Elements of Oppressions

Affirmative Action

Six years ago while I was nearing graduation for my undergraduate degree I was asked the following question, “Aren’t you afraid that you won’t be able to get a job?” I was not immediately certain as to the context of the question, but upon further inquiry, I soon found that the questioner was worried I would not be hired for jobs because I was white (and a man). This was the first time I had really thought about what affirmative action was, and what it might mean to me. My thoughts regarding affirmative action had mainly been influenced by my family and the media. For the most part, I thought that affirmative action was a good thing, but I did not know why I thought that way. Doubts about affirmative action being a positive policy seeped into my head while I was conducting my first job search. I believed that reverse-racism and/or reverse-discrimination existed and that I would have to “watch my back.”

Today, I have read, thought, and conversed about affirmative action. I feel that I use to believe in the myth of meritocracy. “Everyone can succeed as long as they work hard,” floated around inside my head and veiled my mind from the truth. I believe that the United States is not a meritocracy and that affirmative action is extremely necessary. Why is it necessary? Because the United States is a system built upon the backbreaking labor, systematic abuse, and marginalization of people of color, women, and other subordinate groups. Affirmative action is a program that seeks to provide equity for these marginalized groups. It helps to create a balance against the white supremacist patriarchy in which we live.

Several arguments exist which seek to discredit or devalue affirmative action. Two arguments that I hear frequently include: 1) Affirmative action gives jobs to people of color who are not qualified and they only receive said job due to this program. 2) White men are discriminated against because of the inherent reverse-racism within affirmative action programs.

The first argument seems to stem from the belief that the definitions of what makes for a “qualified” employee are usually in the hands of white folks. Most of the institutions in the United States are chaired, governed, and otherwise presided over by white people. When a person of color is hired for a job, how often is their competency called into question? Let’s consider the following scenario: A white person interviews and is consequently hired for a job. I would posit that no one says to themselves, “wow, they must have been hired because they are white.” It does not happen. However, if a person of color goes through the same process there will be doubters. I think that a lot of people will say quite negatively, “Yep, here’s another example of affirmative action hiring a person of color. I hope they can do the job.” The white person is given an air of competency simply because of their whiteness. Affirmative action opens up spaces for marginalized individuals to combat the inequalities of white supremacy within the realm of employment.

The second argument against affirmative action is constructed within a context that is void of a historical context and knowledge of the existence of institutionalized racism. Historically speaking, white men have been in positions of power over everyone. This “power over” has saturated the United States for over one hundred years. White privilege exists because of racist tactics, strategies, and actions of the dominant paradigm. The dominant paradigm is hierarchical and white men sit atop this ladder. To say that white men are discriminated against during hiring processes due to affirmative action is like saying white men are not in power. It is a falsity that is used to erode affirmative action and to maintain the ladder of white supremacist power. I believe that racism is something that white people perpetuate. Racism is institutionalized and spread into white consciousness like a virus. White men can be discriminated against, because discrimination is different from racism. It is true that I might be discriminated against in my lifetime, but not by affirmative action programs. Affirmative action programs will take a look at my qualifications and the qualifications of a person of color, a woman, etc. and if our qualifications are the same then I will not get the job. For racism to end, white people have to be willing to give up their unearned privileges and power. The same principle applies to sexism, heterosexism, ableism, and lookism. I feel that it is part of my anti-racist philosophy to rejoice in the fact that I did not get a job because of the mere fact that I am white. There are plenty of jobs that I can get.

So, rejoice in the knowledge that affirmative action exists. Affirmative action helps to restore the dignity of people in oppressed groups as well as people in oppressor groups. Affirmative action places all those who seek to work for the government at the starting gate of employment processes, instead of allowing the dominant paradigm to start ahead of those who have been, and currently are, marginalized.

Protest of Portland at Penn State

Today’s horizontal oppression example comes from Penn State:

http://www.diverseeducation.com/artman/publish/article_5560.shtml

Several Dozen Protest Ladies Basketball Coach at Penn State Game
By Associated Press
Mar 1, 2006, 09:00

Several Dozen Protest Ladies Basketball Coach at Penn State Game

State College, PA

About three-dozen people chose the final home game for Pennsylvania State University’s Lady Lions basketball team as the venue for a protest against Penn State coach Rene Portland and the university.

The protesters, who had tickets for the game against the sixth ranked Ohio State University Buckeyes, came inside the Bryce Jordan Center and watched the contest without causing a disturbance. They laid out a rainbow flag on three rows of empty seats, then waved a large banner during halftime.

Former player Jennifer Harris has filed a federal lawsuit against Portland, accusing the coach of asking her to try to look more “feminine” and of maintaining a discriminatory policy against lesbians or those who she thought were lesbians.

Portland has vehemently denied the allegations. Several hundred fans at the game responded to the protest by holding up “We Believe in Rene” signs, distributed by Portland supporters before the game, a 61-59 loss to the Buckeyes.

Portland declined comment about the protest after the game. She has refused to talk about the subject except for a few written statements at the beginning of the season.

“Can’t we just talk about basketball?” she asked in response to a question about the protesters. Asked about her supporters at the game, Portland, her voice cracking at times, said, “I really don’t know how to answer you.” Continue reading Protest of Portland at Penn State

Team Liberation

I participated in a 4 day Team Liberation training this month. It was a terrific experience. I learned about how to facilitate human relations workshops.

Padma and I co-facilitated a workshop called the “Coming Out Star.” This workshop illustrates the harmful effects of homophobia. People create paper stars which represent their hopes, dreams, family members, things they love, etc. Due to the destructive effects of homophobia, people end up folding their stars (to illustrate negative emotions) and sometimes they have to rip off star points which have the name of a loved one on them. Some participants tore off all of their points and throw their star onto the floor. They have just committed suicide. This part of the exercise was extremely emotional for me. I have been part of a heterosexist, homophobic culture and I have come to terms with my guilt, but it still made me very sad to watch people who I care about get so upset when they destroyed their stars. This workshop is almost as hard to facilitate as it is to participate in.


What is Team Liberation?

Team Liberation is a group of facilitators (mostly students) of human relations workshops. These workshops include issues of racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, ageism, ableism, religious intolerance, communication and community & leadership development in an interactive and inclusive way. Team Liberation facilitators have received over forty hours of intensive training, followed by additional peer mentoring in facilitation with diverse groups on campus and in the community.

Why “Liberation”?

Liberation is “a movement seeking equal rights and status for a group”. It is also a state of being. We as facilitators are seeking to help people liberate themselves from the thought-patterns and actions of social systems of oppression in which they have been immersed. We seek to manifest the change that we seek in the world—that everyone, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, class, religion, age, or ability, has an equal opportunity to grow, thrive and live with dignity and respect.

What We Do

Team Liberation facilitates experiential exercises and process learning methods to provide the following:

  • Communication and Relationship Building
    An initial goal of human relations facilitations is to create a safe and supportive environment conducive to open and honest dialogue.
  • Raising Awareness
    With the proper atmosphere created, a facilitation or workshop can encourage participants to expand their awareness of the impact of different social circumstances on individuals and groups.
  • Education and Training
    Workshops can also challenge participants’ assumptions about individuals and groups. It also provides opportunities to develop new strategies for care in daily interactions.
  • Consensus/Buy-In and Community Development
    Finally, group facilitation works to aid group members in recognizing and actively valuing each others’ contributions to the shared environment. This layer can include development of group goals and action plans.

Each workshop is custom designed for the participant group to match the group’s needs and goals, based upon interviews with the group organizer and using the knowledge and experience of the facilitators involved.