Chick-fil-a: Censorship or Freedom of Speech?

In the United States of America, you can say pretty much whatever you like.  You can march in a Gay Pride Parade or march with the KKK.  So long as you are not causing direct harm to another person as a result of your speech, you can say damn-near anything without fear of being arrested or sanctioned by the state.

And while that may be true, the right to free speech doesn’t guarantee that you won’t be seen as an asshole for the language you use.  Just because you can say just about whatever you like doesn’t mean that you are free from castigation or criticism for your language.

Therein lies a fundamental misunderstanding of free speech that’s quite common today.  More and more, when people are criticized publicly for, say, intolerant language, they complain about the “thought police” who are trying to “censor our speech.”

For instance, I recently shared this photo on Facebook:

A clever way of calling out Chick-fil-a for their anti-Gay agenda, it appeared as part of a recent public backlash against the fast food giant for their public support of Prop 8 and for their CEO’s anti-gay stance.  In the comments on my Facebook, one young man lamented the “level of censorship” we are seeing in this country, referring to calls for a boycott against Chick-fil-a.

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The Aurora Shootings: What’s Wrong with White Men?

Why is no one asking what’s wrong with White Men in the United States?

With the newest mass shooting in Aurora, CO captivating the nation, it seems someone should ask the question.  After all, if we had a pattern of Women walking into public places, heavily armed, and killing everyone possible, you can guarantee the headlines would read, “What’s wrong with American Women!?”

I mean, when Nidal Hassan opened fire at Ford Hood in 2009, the media and politicians were taking Muslim Americans (particularly Muslim members of the armed services) to task, questioning their loyalties, questioning if they were part of an “inherently violent” culture, questioning every aspect of their identity.  The same sort of questions were asked when Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people at Virginia Tech, only directed at Asian American Immigrants.

When Black on Black crime is brought up, few question the realities of concentrated poverty in which the violence is occurring.  Instead, people ask, “Why are Black people so violent?”

One of the powerful things about White Privilege and Male Privilege is that those of us who benefit from membership in these privileged groups do not have to worry that our individual actions will be attributed to everyone who looks like us.  Well, that’s not true.  When our actions make us (and others of our group) look good, it might be attributed to our race or gender.

But when the vast majority of mass murder shooters in the last 25 years fit one particular description, what questions do we ask?  What happens when the shooters look like this:

 Or this

Or this?

  

Are there questions we should be asking about masculinity?  Should we be investigating White culture?  What about White masculinity?

Because if everyone in those pictures were Black or Latino or Female or Muslim, you know their identity would be central to the conversation.  And every person who looked like them would pay a price.

Talking Privilege: Waking White People Up to Police Brutality

Tonight I’m going to a vigil, a type of vigil that doesn’t really happen in White communities.  It doesn’t need to.

This is Alonzo Ashley.  Well, this was Alonzo Ashley.

Alonzo was killed one year ago by the Denver Police.  He was at the Denver Zoo, and he was struggling with heat exhaustion, so he put his head in a water fountain to cool off.  He was acting weird (as anyone with heat exhaustion will), and when the police told him to take his head out of the fountain, he did not.  They raised their voices, so he, understandably, got frustrated and raised his voice right back.  The Denver Police used tazers on Alonzo to “subdue” him.  While he laid on the ground, he began convulsing and stopped breathing.  He died in police handcuffs.  He died because he was trying to cool himself down on a hot day at the zoo.

The sad part about this story is that in Black and Brown communities, this story is not unique.  In the first 6 months of 2012 alone, 110 Black people were killed by police in the United States.  That’s one extra-judicial killing of a Black person by police officers every 40 hours for the first 6 months of this year, and unlawful murders of Latinos by police are on the rise.

Alonzo Ashley, Ervin Jefferson, Steven Rodriguez, Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, Danny RodriguezPatrick Dorismond . . . There are faces behind these numbers.

This is nothing new, but more and more, Black and Brown people are standing up against unchecked police brutality and abuse of power.

Amazing young leaders like Jasiri X are using art to educate young People of Color about how to interact with the police to avoid this state-sanctioned violence, and organizations like the Colorado Progressive Coalition are holding “Know Your Rights” trainings that empower young people of Color to know their rights in interactions with the police.

What’s amazing (though in no way surprising) is that in the face of this incredible violence at the hands of those that are supposed to be protecting the people and in the face of the incredible activism and street protests against this violence, White people, by in large, have no idea.

In the words of Tim Wise,

What Black parents…understood but which Whites had the luxury of ignoring was the deep and abiding fear that pumps like blood through the veins of Black mothers in this country, especially when they are the mothers of black men: the fear that persons in positions of authority – most immediately police – may well end the life of their man-child if they misinterpret a move, a look, a glance, a comment, or a smirk.  It is a fear with which they learn to live early and always: the fear that the next time your child walks out the door, unless you or someone else has broken them first of whatever exuberance is otherwise second-nature for youth, they may be coming back to you only in a box, and even then, only so that you may dress them one final time (White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son, p. 22).

White Privilege manifests itself in many forms.  One very simple way to see privilege, though, is to look at the ways that White parents are privileged to teach their children to interact with police versus how parents of Color must teach their children to interact with police.  The former is “with respect” because “the police are your friend.”  This is how I was taught to think of the police.  The latter is “with respect” because “at best, they will harass you or arrest you for no good reason; at worse, they will kill you.”  And the police involved will suffer little-to-no consequences.

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Sex and Power: When Age is Not Just a Number

I recently learned that a male teacher at the school where I used to teach in Chicago was fired for sleeping with one of my former students.  No criminal charges were pressed, as the students was 18 at the time of the “relationship.”  When I talked to the student, her attitude was, “I’m an adult.  I don’t see why it was a problem!  I can do what I want.”  That worried me but didn’t particularly surprise me.  What truly startled me was the response I was hearing from other adults who also know the student in question.

“What was she thinking!?”

“I’m so disappointed in her.”

“He’s clearly in the wrong, but she shares some responsibility.”

“She supposedly came on to him!”

And I find myself saying,

Social power exists in lots of ways and in different contexts, but it usually has to do with the power our society affords certain people because of their identity in respect to the power (or lack thereof) that society affords to others.

Now, I can hear the objections, particularly from dudes, “But age is just a number!  And she’s totally of age to consent!”

Well, let’s start by acknowledging just how arbitrary the age of consent actually is.  Until the early 1900s, the age of consent in the United States was 9 or 10 years old, as men would often take brides of 9, 10, or 11 years old.  It wasn’t until the “strange bedfellows” of feminist reformers and conservative, religious groups worked together that the age was raised to 16 and then to 18.  So I ask, whether she’s legally considered capable of giving consent, what exists at the arbitrary age distinction of 18 years old that empowers such a young woman to give consent to her 42 year old teacher that didn’t exist when she was 17?

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Pixar’s Brave: A Not-So-Brave Attempt at Feminist Film

Spoiler Alert: This blog will give away key plot points from Disney-Pixar’s Brave.

I’ve come to expect great things from Pixar.  Both before and after their purchase by Disney, they have managed to produce films that capture the imagination with vivid imagery,  incredible story lines, and captivating messages.  In Up, the geniuses at Pixar managed to create one of the greatest love stories in cinema history in the first 10 minutes.  In Monster’s Inc., the writers capture the idea that joy is more powerful than fear with tremendous depth and cross-generational accessibility.  I could go on and on.

Thus, I was particularly excited to see Brave, the first film from Pixar with a female lead protagonist!

Instead of a powerful story with an important moral (and dazzling visuals) that can empower women and girls with its feminist message, what I found was a bland recreation of traditional gender roles.

Plot Summary

Set in Scotland, the story follows Princess Merida, a defiant and independent heir to the throne of an allied fiefdom.  More interested in riding horses and archery than in being a proper “lady,” Merida butts heads with her mother, Queen Elinor, clearly the ruler of her own roost (and arguably of her husband’s kingdom).  When Merida comes of age to marry, she discovers that she must wed the son of a nearby lord, the one who performs best in an archery contest.  Seeing her chance at freedom, Merida chooses to compete in the archery competition to win her own hand, easily besting her potential suitors.  When this only upsets the established order, Queen Elinor tells Merida that she must simply fall into line.  Angry, Merida visits a witch, who she asks to change her mother in a way that will alter Merida’s fate.  The witch then turns Elinor into a bear (the most feared and terrible foe of the king).  Merida then has about 36 hours (“until the second sunrise”) to mend the relationship with her mother.  After a fun montage of bear mom and Merida bonding, Merida staves off war between the clans competing for her hand by giving an impassioned speech about how the young leaders of the clans should be able to marry who they choose, not forced to marry through arrangement.  The young suitors pipe up in agreement, and all of the fathers reluctantly agree.  Celebration about the new-found freedom begins but is cut short when King Fergus finds bear Elinor and chases her into the woods, trying to kill her, with an angry mob not far behind.  The film climaxes with bear Elinor fighting off another bear (actually an power-hungry prince from long ago turned bear) to save her family.  Brought together through this harrowing ordeal, Elinor turns back into a human, and the family lives happily ever after.

So Close . . . Yet So Far

Let me be clear.  I enjoyed Brave a lot.  It was fun and funny and left me with a smile.  It’s notable that Pixar’s first female lead departs from the Disney tradition of weak princesses who only exist to find love and live happily ever after.  The plot doesn’t even have a love story, which (in some weird, backward sense) is progress!  Merida is strong and independent (if not petulant) and works hard to get herself out of the incredible trouble she creates for herself.  The film comically alludes to the idea that Queen Elinor actually rules on many occasions when her bumbling husband seems incompetent.  While these depictions of the female protagonists are surely better than what we saw in Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Little Mermaid, et al., they are far from the feminist positioning I was hoping to see in Brave.

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