‘He had the courage to day unpopular things’: No praise for courting controversy

By Guest Contributor Tami Winfrey Harris, cross-posted from What Tami Said

This post is not about Christopher Hitchens. It is just that eulogizing of the writer has me pondering the adulation we give people and ideas believed to be outside the bounds of “political correctness.”

Hitch was a polarizing figure: He could be a louche wit and raconteur, an exceptional writer, a tireless advocate for the Godless, a moving chronicler of the end of life and also a pompous sexist, racist warmonger and Islamophobe, drunk on privilege (and whatever else). I’ll remind that Hitchens was the guy who argued that women are inherently not funny, who attempted to paint Michelle Obama as a black militant on the strength of a college thesis about the alienation black students often feel on majority white campuses, and who said of the war in Iraq: “The death toll is not nearly high enough… too many [jihadists] have escaped.”

Now, despite all that, many folks were fond of Hitchens–at least that is the impression I get from comments on Gawker, Salon, Slate and the like. How does one square abhorrent pronouncements by a man whose work can also be admirably challenging and engrossing? Apparently, it is by evoking the rather vague and puzzling commendation: Well, even if I didn’t agree with him, he had the courage to say unpopular things. I keep hearing this in relation to Christopher Hitchens and I wonder: Is the will to say detested things praise-worthy, in and of itself?

At the root of the discussion is the myth of “political correctness,” which I wrote about a few years ago in this space:

Disdain for “political correctness” is often positioned as a concern that some important truth is not being spoken for fear of offending someone. But that concern is nothing but smoke and mirrors. To invoke “political correctness” is really to be concerned about loss of power and privilege. It is about disappointment that some “ism” that was ingrained in our society, so much that citizens of privilege could express the bias through word and deed without fear of reprisal, has been shaken loose. Charging “political correctness” generally means this: “I am comfortable with my privilege. I don’t want to have to question it. I don’t want to have to think before I speak or act. I certainly don’t wish to inconvenience myself for the comfort of lesser people (whoever those people may be–women, people of color, people with disabilities, etc.)” Read more…

Since the (conservative-driven) idea that some “Stalinist orthodoxy” prevents good Americans from speaking freely has taken hold, I notice more amorphous applause for people who say controversial things no matter what those controversial things are. Content matters. It is indeed commendable to speak truth to power, or to stand up for right in the face of wrong. But just to say unpopular shit? Why should anyone get cookies for that? Most people would not charge half the human race with a chronic lack of funny, because the statement lacks nuance (As Echidne capably points out here.) and because they have heard of Lucille Ball and Fanny Brice and Moms Mabley and Tina Fey, not because they are cowards in fear of the PC police.

It is not a virtue simply to say controversial things. You know who else says controversial things? Michelle Bachmann. Are we to laud the good Senator for her courage to speak against death panels, despite the fact that, you know, none exist, have existed or were planned to exist? The very idea is silly.

Every unaccepted pronouncement isn’t hidden wisdom. And every speaker of provocative things isn’t a genius. Saying someone has the courage to say the unsayable is meaningless without analysis of what exactly is said.

Image courtesy of Scott Beale/Laughing Squid

Excerpt: On The First Two Stops In The 2012 Election

The life of the average Iowan or New Hampshirite doesn’t reflect the reality of the average American. Take a look at New Hampshire’s demographics, and you’ll see a state that’s nearly 94 percent white, with wealthier residents than the many states, far fewer foreign-born residents, and higher levels of educational attainment. Iowa is much the same: 91 percent white, high rates of home ownership, and low rates of poverty.

The short answer for why Iowa and New Hampshire matter: Symbolism. The Iowa caucuses are the first electoral events of the presidential campaign season; the New Hampshire primary is the first primary.

The long answer: The process leading all the way to the general election starts here. In Iowa on Jan. 3, voters will meet in 99 conventions to elect county-level delegates. Those 99 county delegates select district and state delegates, who will eventually select the delegates that attend the national Democratic and Republican conventions—-where those delegates confirm the presidential nominee. (Remember the frantic counting of delegates that happened before Hillary Clinton suspended her campaign? The Iowa caucuses are the first step there.)

And it’s worth noting that Barack Obama won the largely white Iowa caucuses in 2008—Schaller calls it “one of great racial ironies of modern American politics”—which was the first sign that he actually was a viable candidate.

- From “Why (Very White) Iowa and New Hampshire Mean So Much In Politics,” by Shani O. Hilton

How Egypt’s Nude Revolutionary Delivered a Stick of Dynamite

 By Guest Contributor Simba Rousseau, cross-posted from Witnessing Life

Twenty-year-old Egyptian blogger Magda Aliaa el-Mahdy rose to stardom after delivering a stick of dynamite via her blog, ‘A Rebel’s Diary’, in what she described as being in the spirit of the revolution.

(Editor’s Note: NSFW image is under the cut. – Arturo)

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Open Thread: Is It Time For A Geeks Of Color Convention?

By Arturo R. García

This is just an idea that’s been kicking around my head for a few days, but I’d like to get everyone’s early take on it. Let me begin by listing reasons a POC-centric geek gathering should happen:

  • Because we’ve already seen Geek Girl Con and and Bent-Con step up for communities typically marginalized or exploited by genre-related industries.
  • Because Christina Xu’s GGC wrap-up raises questions that still need to be addressed:

in an age when superstar rapper Nicki Minaj name-checks Street Fighter characters and streetwear brands team up with comic-book companies like Marvel and DC, who exactly is the geek referred to in GeekGirlCon? To be a geek, do you have to prefer filk over bounce? Is it a self-identification?

I ask these questions because I’m legitimately curious; if fandom is the uniting factor, then the increasingly diverse audiences for all of our favorite geek media (video games, sci-fi, comics, etc.) should be offered a place at conventions like GGC. If, in fact, geekdom here is actually defined by a set of social norms and practices (or the lack thereof) that just happens to coincide with fandom, then geek communities need to have some serious internal conversations and own up to that.

  • Because, while San Diego Comic-Con and other conventions featured race-positive programming this year, that still doesn’t make them safe spaces.
  • Because you can still say the same about any number of fandoms.
  • Because in spite of this fact, there’s still members of fandom – consumers, creators and executives alike – who still won’t own up to the fact that there’s geeks out there who react with hostility whenever somebody points out a problematic portrayal of race.
  • Because there’s got to be creators and aspiring creators of color out there who need a place in which to meet and network outside of the “general population.”
  • Because, while it was great to read about DC Comics getting called out on the carpet at SDCC with regards to gender issues, I shouldn’t have to doubt that raising the same questions about race would get half as much discussion outside of sites like this one or Racebending.
  • Because the Akira adaptation is still happening, proving Hollywood didn’t get the message about The Last Airbender.
  • Because this might be the best way left to get those same industry forces to listen to our concerns, in a place where we can set the terms of discussion.

Again, this is just a kernel of a concept right now, but … what do you think, Racializens? Would you be up for a full-scale gathering?

From Risk to Harm and from Harm to Suicide

by Guest Contributor Louise Tam, originally published at Hyphen Magazine

In September, I wrote a piece describing my perspective as a disabled woman of color and psychiatric survivor. I explored how race-specific self-killings are differentially represented by the media to demonstrate how public perceptions of suicide depend on social and political contexts. My intention was to de-sensationalize model minority suicide in order to draw attention to how particular non-white bodies are often presumed to be volatile and violent.

This month, I look more closely at clinical explanations of ethnic minority suicide and respond by citing current non-clinical and community-based anti-racist reflections on the significance of emotional pain and anger.

Before I proceed, I would like to draw attention to how the term suicide is invoked by the viewer rather than the subject of suicide: the neighbor who calls 911 rather than the person exhibiting suspicious behavior. This can have negative repercussions on the “allegedly suicidal” that we don’t often think about. In fact, daily we are surrounded by public campaigns that encourage us to report at-risk behavior with the intention of saving lives: we believe it is our civic duty to do so. This is especially true in communal living environments such as campus residences.

The “peril of help” arises in (1) how we, as the public, determine what is suspicious or at-risk behavior and (2) how our social infrastructure then deals with the people we “call out.” Behavior can be “cut out” of context, of an individual’s life history, when it does not make sense to onlookers, including family, friends, and employers. Behavior might not make sense and alarm us because an individual’s actions are inconsistent with social rules and, furthermore, associated with narratives of harm we are taught to recognize daily by institutions around us. For example cutting is strongly associated with suicide. Seen in the absence of context, most of us would be compelled to stop this action and probably call on professional expertise to intervene and solve what we identify as a threat. Continue reading

The Siwe Project’s Global Black Mental Health Initiative

By Guest Contributor Rob Fields, cross-posted from Bold As Love

There’s still things black people don’t talk about in 2011 and, to our collective detriment, mental illness is one of them.  I mean, for a people who have survived colonialism, the Middle Passage, slavery, Jim Crow and institutional racism, it would be surprising if we perfectly fine mentally and emotionally after all of that.  And many of us are alright.  But there are just as many who aren’t.

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Clay’s Ark [Octavia Butler Book Club]

Clay's Ark

[W]as he wrong? Should he give himself up? Would he be able to tell everything he knew and dump the problem into the laps of others?

To give himself up would be an act of self-destruction. He would be confined, isolated. He would be prevented from doing the one thing he must do: seeking out new hosts for the alien micro-organisms that had made themselves such fundamental parts of his body. Their purpose was now his purpose, and their only purpose was to survive and multiply. All his increased strength, speed, coordination, and sensory ability was to keep him alive and mobile, able to find new hosts or beget them. Many hosts. Perhaps three out of four of those found would die, but that magical fourth was worth any amount of trouble.

The organisms were not intelligent. They could not tell him how to keep himself alive, free, and able to find new hosts. But they became intensely uncomfortable if he did not, and their discomfort was his discomfort. He might interpret what they made him feel as pleasure when he did was was necessary, desirable, essential: or as paon when he tried to do what was terrifying, self-destructive, impossible. But what he was actually feeling were secondhand advance-retreat responses of millions of tiny symbionts.

The woman touch him to get his attention. She had brought him a tray. He took it on his lap, trying, and in the final, driven instant, failing to return the woman’s kindness. He could not spare her. He scratched her wrist just hard enough to draw blood.

It’s hard for me to articulate how I feel about Clay’s Ark. Sandwiched in as the third of the Patternmaster series, Clay’s Ark feels dramatically different from the pacing and tone of Mind of My Mind and Wild Seed. In many ways, Clay’s Ark functions as a bridge to explain the events that lead to the creation of the Clayarks and their eventual war with the Patternists. There were no standout characters to wrestle with, in this one – the main thrust of the novel is the series of extraordinary circumstances that bring about the end of (a) world.

We’re a bit behind in the book club, so let’s call this one the “winter break” read. We’ll do a summary post in January, and then roll right into Patternmaster.