Intent vs Impact: Why Your Intentions Don’t Really Matter

Imagine for a moment that you’re standing with your friends in a park, enjoying a nice summer day.

You don’t know me, but I walk right up to you holding a Frisbee.

I wind up – and throw the disc right into your face.

Understandably, you are indignant.

Through a bloody nose, you use a few choice words to ask me what the hell I thought I was doing.

And my response?

“Oh, I didn’t mean to hit you! That was never my intent! I was simply trying to throw the Frisbee to my friend over there!”

Visibly upset, you demand an apology.

But I refuse. Or worse, I offer an apology that sounds like “I’m sorry your face got in the way of my Frisbee! I never intended to hit you.”

Sound absurd? Sound infuriating enough to give me a well-deserved Frisbee upside the head?


So why is this same thing happening all of the time when it comes to the intersection of our identities and oppressions or privileges?

Intent v. Impact

From Paula Deen to Alec Baldwin to your annoying, bigoted uncle or friend, we hear it over and over again: “I never meant any harm…” “It was never my intent…” “I am not a racist…” “I am not a homophobe…” “I’m not a sexist…”

I cannot tell you how often I’ve seen people attempt to deflect criticism about their oppressive language or actions by making the conversation about their intent.

At what point does the “intent” conversation stop mattering so that we can step back and look at impact?

After all, in the end, what does the intent of our action really matter if our actions have the impact of furthering the marginalization or oppression of those around us?

In some ways, this is a simple lesson of relationships.

If I say something that hurts my partner, it doesn’t much matter whether I intended the statement to mean something else – because my partner is hurting.

I need to listen to how my language hurt my partner. I need to apologize.

And then I need to reflect and empathize to the best of my ability so I don’t do it again.

But when we’re dealing with the ways in which our identities intersect with those around us – and, in turn, the ways our privileges and our experiences of marginalization and oppression intersect  – this lesson becomes something much larger and more profound.

This becomes a lesson of justice.

What we need to realize is that when it comes to people’s lives and identities, the impact of our actions can be profound and wide-reaching.

And that’s far more important than the question of our intent.

We need to ask ourselves what might be or might have been the impact of our actions or words.

And we need to step back and listen when we are being told that the impact of our actions is out of step with our intents or our perceptions of self.

Read the rest at Everyday Feminism.


Standing in Solidarity with the CA Prisoner Hunger Strike

Most U.S. citizens take their civil and human rights for granted.

In fact, many of us are not fully knowledgeable of our rights as citizens of a democratic nation.

Don’t believe us? Take this online quiz to test your knowledge of First Amendment Law.

For most of us, there is no need to know what is taken for granted or to be self-evident.

And, when so few know the full extent of their own rights, even fewer are aware of or do not care about the rights guaranteed to the incarcerated.

Yet, the United States incarcerates a greater proportion of its population than any country in the world by far, and the vast majority of prisoners are incarcerated for non-violent offenses.

For many of us, the rights of the incarcerated are the rights of our friends, family members, and community activists.  How many of us stop regularly to consider the ways in which the imprisoned are granted certain fundamental rights that are deemed to be necessary in a civil society?

Prisoners’ rights are loosely described as the nature and extent of the privileges afforded to individuals kept in custody or confinement because they have been convicted of performing an unlawful act.

Over the course of U.S. history, incarcerated rights at times have been established at the state level, while more recently, prisoners’ rights have also been established and protected by the federal government.

The basic rights of the incarcerated include (abbreviated):

  • The right of access to the courts
  • Freedom to the expression of religion
  • The constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment
  • The right to due process

Due to history’s betrayal of basic human rights afforded to the imprisoned, prisoners and the detained are now guaranteed civil liberties that at the least serve to respect their dignity as human beings.

However, despite the supposed “guarantee” of these rights, prisoners all over the U.S. are forced to serve out sentences in inhumane and torturous conditions.

And the prisoners in California have had enough.

 The California Prisoner Hunger Strike

Since July 8th, close to 30,000 prisoners in the California state prison system have been refusing food as part of a massive, targeted hunger strike.  Some even  say that they are willing to die if their demands are not met.

Image by Rashid Johnson (Red Onion Prison in Virginia) in support of CA hunger strikers

Image by Rashid Johnson (Red Onion Prison in Virginia) in support of CA hunger strikers

 So what are these (un)reasonable demands that prison officials are willing to risk lives to deny to incarcerated people? What exactly are California prisoners wishing to bring attention to and calling for in their strike?

Prisoners are calling for 5 simple and completely reasonable changes.

 1. End Group Punishment and Administrative Abuse

A common tactic used in California prisons to control behavior is punishing large groups of inmates for the actions of one or a few.

Strikers are asking for an end to this unfair practice that is used for everything from justifying solitary confinement to denying leisure and recreational privileges.

Read the rest at Everyday Feminism.

33+ Suggestions for Action After the Zimmerman Verdict

In the days since George Zimmerman’s acquittal was announced, I have been at a loss for words.  And perhaps that’s good.  I have shared a lot of other people’s words, most of them feminist activists of Color, and in this time, perhaps those are the voices that most need to be heard.  There is not much I can say right now, nor is there much I should say.  Now is the time for people like me – people of race, class, and gender privilege – to listen.

As we listen and reflect, though, it is important that we are not simply get stuck in despair and inaction.  Collection action toward justice is truly the only thing that will ensure the travesty of the death of Travon Martin (and the injustice in our “justice” system that it represents) is not lost or forgotten.

And so, in the midst of my sadness, anger, and frustration, I took to the streets on Monday night.  MN Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC) organized a march and rally that drew between three and four THOUSAND people to downtown Minneapolis.  We heard some powerful speakers shout their truth, we stood together as one, we chanted, and we marched.  And it felt good.  For many of us, it was a healing action that helped us push past inertia and toward concerted, concrete actions for justice.

While I was out marching, I also received an email.  It came from an incredible activist that I consider a mentor and role model.  The email was simple.  It consisted of 33 suggested actions for responding to the Zimmerman verdict.  Some were simple.  Some were complex.  All were powerful.

Whether you’ve been integral to organizing marches and petitions or stuck in inertia, this list has something for every person.

So please . . . Take some time, consider these suggestions, and consider seriously the ways that you can stand for justice moving forward.


33 Ways to Act for Justice for Trayvon Martin

Justice for Trayvon MartinContributors:  Angela Davis, Carolyn Love, Benita Duran, Sherry Weston, and Daniel Escalante.

This list will help identify non-violent actions you can take to help eliminate racism and other forms of oppression, both at the individual level (self, friends, family, acquaintances, etc) as well as at the institutional level (work, schools, banks, politics, justice system, etc).

“If you can’t fly, then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”  Martin Luther King

Do one thing everyday that scares you.  Those small things that make us uncomfortable help us build courage to do the work we do.”  Eleanor Roosevelt

“One has to speak out and stand up for one’s convictions. Inaction at a time of conflagration is inexcusable.”  Mohandas K. Gandhi

1.  Participate in a personal Fast for Trayvon Martin’s family and for justice. Contemplate how you truly feel about this and what else you are willing to do, or continue doing, to promote social justice.

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No Justice, No Peace. Justice for Trayvon Martin.

From the first moment an African was first brought to this continent, one thing has been clear: Black lives are worth less. Worth less in the laws of the land. Worth less in the justice system. Worth less in the collective consciousness of White supremacy. Worth Less.

This verdict only makes clear how little has changed.

“Usually when people are sad, they don’t do anything. They just cry over their condition.

But when they get angry, they bring about a change.

You can’t separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom.” – Malcolm X

Fasting for Change

For almost two years of my life, I fasted every single Wednesday, which, for me, meant that I consumed nothing (no food, water, mints, anything) from sun up to sun down.  Whenever people asked why, it was hard for me to explain.  Most folks assumed it was some sort of religious reasoning, as that was their only context for understanding fasting, and it wasn’t.  While it was most definitely a spiritual exercise, I did it for more practical reasons.

I chose to fast to stay in touch with my privilege.  I have never once gone hungry in my life except out of choice.  And that is an incredible privilege!  I have had nourishing meals to keep me well fed and fueled every single day of my life.  I mean, what percentage of the world’s population can boast that?

It is a mark of great class privilege to be able to literally pop something delicious and/or nourishing in my mouth every time that I am hungry, and it helped me to stay in touch with that privilege to feel the hunger that rolled in every Wednesday afternoon while I fasted.

I stopped fasting weekly when I became a teacher.  I just couldn’t keep up with the afternoon energy of my students when I was so lacking in blood sugar.

Since then, I have fasted only sporadically.  I often fast a day or two during Lent in solidarity with my Christian brothers and sisters and once a week during Ramadan in solidarity with my Muslim brothers and sisters.  I’ve fasted on occasion during Yom Kippur, and a few years back, I participated in a 38 hour fast to honor the legacy of Cesar Chavez while recommitting to my own social justice work.

In thinking about these fasting experiences as opposed to my Wednesday fasts, I realize that what I was missing was the experience of fasting in community.  In community, we can talk about our shared reasons for fasting, our shared experiences of hunger and the reflection it prompted.  In community, we can break bread together at the end of the day and laugh and reflect on our privilege to eat so well together.

Fasting, much like social justice work, is best done in community.

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Why Zimmerman’s (Almost) All-White Jury Matters (and Might Lead to Acquittal)

On the day that the jury was officially selected for the murder trial of George Zimmerman, I was infuriated.  I wasn’t particularly surprised.  But I was pissed.

I posted about it on Facebook…

Jamie facebook Post re: George Zimmerman Jury

And it led to a “lively” discussion.

More than anything, the discussion was characterized by White folks (folks I love and trust) expressing confusion or anger that I thought the trial might be unfair because of the race of the selected jury.

So I had to be clear: It’s not that I think all White folks (or even the White folks in the South) are a bunch of card-carrying members of the KKK who will cheer at the chance to let a White man off the hook for murdering a Black teenager.

And there are in fact White folks out there who could see through the attempts by the defense to discredit witnesses of Color and to paint Trayvon Martin as a “thug.”

But you can bet your bottom dollar that those White folks are not on that jury.

Because just as they ensured that every single potential juror of Color save one was sent out of that courtroom, the defense would use voir dire to eliminate (without any need for an explanation, may I remind you) any White juror that they think has a critical understanding of race and racism in the United States.

For let’s be clear: as much as the defense tries to make this a trial about “self defense,” this is a trial about racism and the White racial frame.

And because they know this trial is about race and racism, the defense wanted to make sure that their jury was stacked with people who firmly believe the colorblind trope that  “racism would just go away if we stopped talking about race.”

In short, they were looking for the average White person.

So we need to prepare ourselves for an acquittal.

Because the fact that Zimmerman’s jury consists of 5 White people and 1 Latina tells us a few things.

1. Consensus Favors Zimmerman

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