A sign held by a protester at the rally

Calling Out Anti-Semitism as We Work to #FreePalestine

As is the case with most of those around me who are paying attention to the state of the world, I’ve been hurting. Watching the violent anti-immigrant fervor taking place in the United States and seeing the ongoing violence in Central African Republic, Syria, and Iraq weighs on me.  Learning of civilian planes being shot down and of families being denied access to their loved ones’ remains because of political posturing weighs on me.  And the violence in Palestine and Israel and the ongoing violence of the occupation weighs on me.

Whenever I feel overwhelmed in this way, I try to think of concrete actions that I can take to work for justice or healing. One of the ways that I recently found inspiration and peace was to march with others in Minneapolis for an end to the violence in Gaza and for a free Palestine.

A photo I took at the rally

A photo I took at the rally

On the whole, the march was amazing.  So many people came out to support Palestine and to call for justice and an end to violence and occupation.  Sadly, though, as is the case every time that I have gone to a rally against the occupation or in favor of Palestinian independence, there were a few people who insisted on making their message anti-Semitic.

A sign held by a protester at the rally

A sign held by a protester at the rally

I tried to engage the anti-Semitism wherever I could, and in talking to the guy holding the above sign about it, he just simply couldn’t hear my point.  He kept repeating, “They are the same!” I kept insisting that equating the Star of David, a symbol representing much within Judaism, with the Swastika, the single most prominent symbol of genocide committed against Jews, was fundamentally oppressive and, further, hurts the movement for a free Palestine.

We cannot call for freedom and justice while simultaneously advancing the oppression of others who are marginalized and oppressed in other ways or other contexts.

There are many who call out this sort of anti-Semitism.  I’ve learned how from the incredible Palestinian activists who I saw do it in the past.  But we must speak out whenever we see it, no matter how or where it rears its ugly head.  Not only does it dehumanize a population of people that have long been oppressed (even if many of them are acting as oppressors through the Israeli state), but it hurts the movement, as it encourages others to write off legitimate criticism of Israel as anti-Semitism.

So I will leave you with this article, one I wrote more than two years ago.  If we cannot talk about liberation of Palestine with nuance, then we find ourselves on some terribly slippery slopes.

READ MORE: Anti-Semitism and Criticism of Israel

WealthDisparity

Income vs. Wealth: How Privilege Is Passed Down from Generation to Generation

Not too long ago, I got an angry e-mail from someone in the town where I grew up.

The author of the e-mail is someone who knows my parents pretty well, and he had somehow stumbled across something I had written about privilege.

“How disrespectful can you be!? It’s like your spitting in the face of everything your parents have worked for,” he wrote. “Writing about this White privilege makes it look like your father, one of the harder working men I know, just had everything handed to him. You know that’s not the case!”

I did my best to respond by explaining that privilege doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve had everything handed to you, and I know that my father has worked hard. To say that we have privilege doesn’t discredit any of his hard work. It simply puts that hard work in context.

I recently heard privilege described as a tailwind,” taking your effort and energy and propelling you further forward than those who must fly against the winds of our society’s constructs of power and privilege.

My father didn’t grow up with incredible wealth privilege. He is the son of a truck driver and stay-at-home mom who also worked at a local school cafeteria to earn extra cash. My grandfather grew up in the “holler” in West Virginia in an area well familiar with intergenerational poverty.

Part of what set our family apart, though, was our ownership of land.

Similarly, on my mom’s side of the family, go back a few generations and you’ll find some poor, hardworking farmers from Ireland and Belgium who settled on stolen indigenous land in South Dakota. Again, they were able to buy a plot of land upon which they could start to build their familial wealth legacy.

Fast forward a few generations, and I am the son of a doctor and a nurse.

Wealth and the Context of History

There are really a few ways to look at my family’s history.

Some might say that it’s the perfect example of “The American Dream,” as defined by the ability of a people to build something (read: wealth) for themselves that is passed down to ensure the next generation’s life is a little better than the last.

Others might note that my family’s story perfectly illustrates the trappings of privilege.

Sure, my family gave up most of our cultural identity to become White in the United States, but doing so gave us access to a system that privileged us in countless ways.

Simply put, we traded culture for a tailwind.

After all, one of the key markers of access to wealth in the United States for much of its history has been the ability to own land. There’s a reason that for a good, long while in this country, a man couldn’t vote unless he owned land, and you couldn’t own land unless you were White and Christian.

And land-ownership has been systematically denied to those not considered “White” (through the ever-changing construction of Whiteness) for most if not all of this country’s history.

From the Land Grant Acts to the Homesteading Acts to redlining policies toWhite flight, we see how owning land, but particularly land considered “desirable” or worthy (whether because of access to resources or proximity to jobs or simply status) allows for wealth mobility.

And this access to wealth mobility is relates directly to intersectional identity politics.

This does not mean that all White people are wealthy or that poor White folks somehow are failures for not better working the system that privileges us.

It simply means that the limited access to wealth that has always been a staple in this country has just been more limited for people of Color and women and disabled/differently-abled people and non-Christians and really anyone who isn’t part of the smaller, privileged few that are most granted access to wealth in this country.

Read the rest at Everyday Feminism.

Men in Feminism

Against Patriarchy: 20 Tools for Men to Further Feminist Revolution

ChrisCrassThis week’s post comes from Chris Crass, a longtime organizer working to build powerful working class-based, feminist, multiracial movements for collective liberation. Throughout the 1990s he was an organizer with Food Not Bombs. In the 2000s, he was an organizer with the Catalyst Project, which combines political education and organizing to develop and support anti-racist politics, leadership, and organization in White communities and builds dynamic multiracial alliances locally and nationally in the United States. He has written and spoken widely about anti-racist organizing, lessons from women of Color feminism, strategies to build visionary movements, and leadership for liberation. He is the author of Towards Collective Liberation: anti-racist organizing, feminist praxis, and movement building strategy published by PM Press.

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Men in Feminism

For all of us who are men who believe in social justice, who want healthy and beautiful lives for our loved ones, and who are working for positive change in the world, let us commit or re-commit to making feminism central in our lives, values, and actions.

Black feminist scholar bell hooks writes, “When women and men understand that working to eradicate patriarchal domination is a struggle rooted in the longing to make a world where everyone can live fully and freely, then we know our work to be a gesture of love.” She continues, “Let us draw upon that love to heighten our awareness, deepen our compassion, intensify our courage, and strengthen our commitment.” It is time for men in the millions to take courageous action in our society to further feminist revolution.

The everyday violence and oppression of sexism in our society is epidemic and not only must end, but can end. Sexism devastates our relationships, communities, social justice efforts, and our lives. While we did not choose to be men in a patriarchal society, we have the choice to be feminists and work against sexism.

Below is a list of tools and suggestions that have helped me over the years as I have struggled to understand what it means to be a man working for feminism (1).

Let us look to the leadership of women and gender oppressed people for guidance and work alongside them, let us bring more and more men into feminist efforts, let us embrace feminism as a healing and transformative force in our lives, and let us feel in our hearts that we can do this (2).

1. Develop an intersectional feminist analysis of patriarchy, capitalism, White supremacy, heterosexism, and the state. Study feminist analysis from writers such as Audre Lorde, Gloria Anzaldua, Suzanne Pharr, Angela Davis, Barbara Smith, and Elizabeth ‘Betita’ Martinez. Learn about the historical development of patriarchy in books such as Maria Mies’ Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale, Silvia Federici’s Caliban and the Witch, and Andrea Smith’s Conquest.

Explore the impact of patriarchal violence on your life and what you can do to stop it in Paul Kivel’s Men’s Work. Read bell hooks’ essays about men and feminism in Feminism is for Everybody and The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity and Love. Learn more about gender justice in Leslie Feinberg’s Trans Liberation: Beyond Pink or Blue. Reflect on your experience of gender using Kate Bornstein’s My Gender Workbook as a guide.

2. Study social movements and organizing experiences led by women and gender oppressed people historically and today — from Ida B. Wells and Abby Kelley to Septima Clark and Ai-Jen Poo. Also learn about men in the movement who supported women’s leadership and feminist politics—from William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass and W.E.B. Du Bois to Ricardo Flores Magon, Carl Braden, and David Gilbert.

Take stock of the resources around you that can support your learning. Women’s Studies, Ethnic Studies, Gender Studies, and Labor Studies programs were won through the struggle of previous generations. Some of the most visionary and powerful feminists of our time teach; seek out opportunities for study at colleges. Look into political education and training programs led by social justice organizations with feminist politics. Look for events about women’s history and feminism at progressive bookstores, social justice conferences, and with community groups. Join or form a study group to read books from some of the authors already mentioned, and to learn more about feminist history.

3. Think about women, genderqueer, and gender non-conforming people in your life who support your development as a feminist. These may be friends, people you’ve worked with, or family members. Reflect on what you have learned from them. Far too often patriarchy teaches men to ignore or devalue the wisdom of gender oppressed people and this both undermines their leadership in society and robs us of their leadership in our lives. Take time to thank people for what you’ve learned and look for opportunities to support them and strengthen your relationships.

4. Think about men in your life who can support your process of learning about sexism and developing as a feminist activist. This could include talking through questions and struggles you are having and/or reading one of the authors mentioned above together, as well as participating in organizing efforts that have feminist goals. While support for your development as a feminist will often come from women and genderqueer people, and it is important to show gratitude for that support, it is critical to build bonds of mutual support with other men as we work to grow individually and also to develop a culture of feminist activism amongst men.

5. Learn about current struggles in your community that further feminist goals and have a gender analysis. Look for opportunities to get involved and support these efforts. Your support can include donating money, volunteering to do office work, doing outreach for events, showing up with others to demonstrations and rallies, and recruiting other people in your life, particularly men, to get involved as well. It is important to support and respect the existing leadership of these struggles, rather then come in thinking you’re going to take over. Look for opportunities to build relationships with the people involved in these efforts. The more you show up and make useful contributions, the more you can also build trust and respect.

6. Develop a feminist analysis of all the social justice work you do, and work with others to help make that analysis more central in your efforts. Reach out for help and ask questions. Notice when you feel that asking for help is a sign of weakness and try to do so anyways.

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CoolStoryBabe TShirt

A New Masculinity: Why I Need Feminism as a Man

As I was thinking through what I might say in this article, I found myself sitting in the back of a classroom, observing a teacher in a school where I was offering some bullying-prevention training.

While the teacher was engaging the students in a discussion on the foundations of Judaism for a World Religions class, I noticed that a young man was wearing this t-shirt:

Capture

For the next ten minutes or so, I considered what I could say to engage this young brother in a discussion about the impacts of his choice in t-shirts.

After all, he undoubtedly wears it to court attention, so a confrontation or preachy approach surely isn’t the best route. And I wasn’t sure of the best question that I could ask him to get him thinking about the problematic nature of his shirt.

Then the bell rang, and he quickly grabbed his things and ran out the door, disappearing into a mass of students before I could get his attention.

As I sit here hoping that one of the other men in his life calls him into a discussion, I am still not sure what I would have said to him, but I do know that the route that would likely be most successful in encouraging critical thought would be one that calls him to reconsider what it means to be a man.

After all, I know that I’m more likely to critically engage when someone calls me in rather than simply calls me out. Sure, calling him out would have felt good, but calling him in may have led to change.

That said, the “calling in” conversation isn’t likely to be a discussion I could have with him in passing, for a reconsideration of masculinity and gender isn’t exactly the stuff of hallway banter in a busy high school.

Meeting Men Where They Are

Yet reconsidering mainstream masculinity and its role in a wider system of gender oppression is one more of us as men need to take up in all of its nuance and complexity.

And yet without fail, every time I have written something addressing the need for a new masculinity – one not rooted fundamentally in oppression, violence, and power over others – someone offers a comment or an e-mail about how my efforts are misguided.

They argue that the problem is not just in masculinity, but in gender as a whole, and if we really want to end gendered oppression, we have to “blow the whole thing up.”

While these comments are often quite thoughtful and give me much upon which to reflect, I still cannot really get behind the simple “Let’s just destroy gender” argument for one main reason: I don’t find it helpful for meeting most people where they are.

If my goal is to engage men, and mostly cisgender men, in participating in the movement to end patriarchal oppression, telling men that we should just end gender doesn’t get me very far.

Further, the “destroy gender” argument, while rooted in sound theory, doesn’t (at least as I’ve seen it offered) effectively address the ways in which people of all genders are invested, both positively and negatively, in current constructions of gender.

Thus, while my ideas may be evolving, it’s possible that I simply see the need for construction of a new masculinity as part of the journey toward the reimagining of our current notion of gender altogether, but that doesn’t mean that we as men shouldn’t invest earnestly in transforming what it means to be a man.

Read the rest at Everyday Feminism.

Allies: Are You Really About This Life?

There’s been a lot of great conversation taking place on the interwebs about allies, allyship, and solidarity lately.  And when this week’s guest contributor sent me this post, I knew I had to publish it.  It definitely says plainly and clearly what any of us who fashion ourselves “allies” need to know.

Marcus SimmonsThis week’s post comes from Marcus Simmons, a writing and diversity educator based in Chicago.  Marcus Simmons is a native son of Texas who has worked as an intercultural communications educator/artist and a writing coach in Chicago for the last nine years. With a background in performance, conflict transformation and higher education, he views his work as amplifying stories that reconcile, build community, and push deeply into the end of abuse culture. Marcus currently serves as the Coordinator of Student Engagement and Lecturer at North Park University, where he is completing graduates studies in theomusicology. He’s also involved in a number of creative projects ranging from blogging to video game modding. He is absolutely obsessed with music and double stuff Oreos.  Connect with Marcus on Twitter and Facebook.

Allies: Are You Really About This Life?

I’m tired of people making anti-abuse alliances all about tolerance and benevolent privilege. Being an ally is more than promises, pretty words, and potlucks. It’s more than re-posting liberal think pieces on facebook and winning arguments with bigots on twitter. You call yourself an ally, but are you really about this life?

Sayin’ It Ain’t Bein’ It

You may think yourself an ally, but that doesn’t make you one. Too many crusaders, dripping with self-belief and entitlement, elbow their way into spaces wanting to make a difference without really investing in the community.

Anti-abuse spaces are clogged with slacktivists who study the community from a distance, expecting to impact the lives of people they know precious little about. These people show up with great ideas that are great because they said so. They usually have a limited understanding (if any) of their own privilege and the power dynamics that animate it. They act with a lot of passion, but often lack people skills and wisdom.

You can’t be a good ally if you don’t know how to care for people. I’ve done work with numerous fair-minded, sincere people only to learn that at the end of the project, meeting, rally or dialogue, I become invisible again. Don’t be one of those people who are married to the cause and divorced from the people.

Becoming an ally begins with asking permission to be a listener, a supporter, and a co-worker. Be motivated by a love for people – not a need to erase whatever guilt, fear, or shame you feel because of the privileges you have. You can’t base a movement on that. To be an ally, you actually have to join the community, be mentored in it, and take your cues for action from your relationships with the people there.

Do the Work

Here’s the thing about privilege: it teaches those who have it to press your own well-being and desires over and against others. It conditions you to think that people without social advantage must take time to teach you, the one with the social advantage, how to be a better person to them.

You’re wrong.

I’ve lost count of the number of white “allies” that have accused me of not providing them with enough inspiration, education, suggestions, and closure to sustain their anti-racist work. This is a textbook example of internalized privilege.

Alliances are mutual so I don’t mind partnering with you, but I refuse to be held responsible for you “getting it.” I am confident in your ability to get your stuff together without me having to get it together for you.

Allies Do Not Give Agency 

If you think oppressed people need your help to survive, do not apply.

Many well-intentioned (but ill-informed) allies make the mistake of thinking their job is to speak for the voiceless. This is another textbook example of internalized privilege. There is no such thing as a person without a voice or the ability to articulate their situation.  It’s just that sometimes that voice is in a language, a body, or tone that some of us would rather not acknowledge.

Allies understand that they can be helpful without being the hero. Fighting abuse culture is less about “empowering people” in their humanity and more about making sure that people’s inherent humanity is recognized.

What the oppressed require more than anything else are ears to hear, eyes to see, a heart that won’t forget, and feet that won’t turn and run for the hills (or suburbs) when the fight becomes difficult.

Allies Are Not Experts

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Everyday Feminism

30 Ways to Be a Better Ally in 2014

As I think back over 2013, I’m happily overwhelmed by memories of my first year living with my partner, of incredible opportunities to collaborate with new professional colleagues, and of time with family and friends.

Standing at the margins of these memories, though, are ones that make my heart beat a little faster, that make the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

No, these are not necessarily memories of trauma, per se. They are memories of hurt that I have caused, of my attempts to be a good ally that ended up hurting those with whom I attempted to act in solidarity.

My heart races, in part, because I feel embarrassed and ashamed, but more so, my heart races because I know I hurt people for whom I care very much, and I have a responsibility to do better going forward.

With that in mind, I have been reflecting a lot lately on how I can be a better ally.

And as we wade our way into 2014, I suppose now is as good a time as any to consider some ways that I (and any person who wishes to act accountably as an ally) can do better in 2014.

So here’s my list of 30 ways that those of us who strive to act in solidarity and allyship (most notably inclusive of myself) can be better allies.

1. Listen More

It can’t be said enough. The single most important thing we can do to be better allies is to listen across difference.

2. Talk Less

The other side of the coin of listening is that we can always do a better job of stepping back, asserting ourselves less into spaces, and, in doing so, allowing those to whom we ally to speak their truths.

3. Look to Amplify Rather than Overshadow

Though being a better ally can mean that we must talk less, that doesn’t mean that we ought to be in total silence.

We surely need to defer to those with whom we are acting in solidarity, but we also want to make sure that we are not leaving those to whom we want to ally ourselves to be the only ones speaking.

Thus, there are times we should be speaking up, times where we can amplify the voices of others with our collective perspectives. It’s just important to be sure we’re amplifying, not overshadowing.

4. Strive to Use More Inclusive Language

There are always ways that we can use more inclusive language as allies. I, personally, think I do a pretty good job of being inclusive, but I still find myself using ableist language like “insane” or “lame” pretty often. Thus, in working to be a better ally in 2014, I can work to be even more inclusive in my language.

5. Be Careful with Pronoun Use

Part of using inclusive language that is, unfortunately, still pretty new to a lot of people working for social justice is careful use of pronouns.

Not all people would label themselves with the gendered pronouns that you might assume for them, and some people prefer non-gendered pronouns altogether.  A simple way that we can be inclusive is to offer what pronouns we prefer and ask others what they would prefer.

And try not to misgender people by assuming the pronouns that they would prefer unless you’ve heard them assert their preference.

6. Engage More People Who Share Your Identity

As allies, our primary work must be with people who share our privileged identity. Thus, the more we can work to bring people who share our identity to understand their identity and privilege and to act for justice, the better.

7. Don’t Think You’re ‘Holier Than’ Those Who Share Your Identity

I recently had a fantastic conversation with my partner, her mom, and a family friend about a really frustrating thing that we often see among White liberals: the“holier than thou” attitude.

As our primary responsibility as allies is to challenge and bring into the fold those who share our identity, calling people out with no desire to call them in or to engage them or others in dialogue or action toward justice is just lazy, faux activism. Stop it.

8. Cite Your Sources

Whether discussing the origin of a hashtag or referring to a complex theory or idea, if you’re a person of privilege, you have a responsibility to cite your sources.

In the age of the Internet, it can be pretty easy to pass off anything and everything as our own (whether intentionally or out of laziness), but we need to be clear where our ideas are coming from.

If we’re talking about oppression and we’re not oppressed, the ideas aren’t ours. Cite them.

9. Self-Reflect More

Simple. Pretty much everyone of any identity could use more time for both critical and loving self reflection in a society that encourages us constantly to be engrossed in exterior input.

But for people of privilege who want to be allies, it is particularly important that we build into our lives ways to consider our own identity and its impacts on others and how we can more fully live in our values.

10. Interrogate Why You’re Striving to Be an Ally

As part of this self-reflection, it is important to ask why you’re striving to be in solidarity with oppressed people across difference.

Are you doing it because you want to “save” others or “use your privilege” to help someone? Or are you striving for solidarity because, in the words of Lilla Watson,“your liberation is bound up with” those with whom you ally yourself?

Read 11-30 at Everyday Feminism.