Going to the MLK memorial dedications gave me quite a bit to think about. I struggled, a lot, with Dr. King’s messages of non violence growing up, and I am working on a piece about these different schools of thought and how they influence us. I was grateful to Xernona Clayton, for being so candid about her struggle with accepting nonviolence while studying with Dr. King, because she articulated so much of what I felt.
[H]e and friend/bandmate Adal had left the Paradiso nightclub when two Black men with some Caribbean accent began harassing them as they left the club. Adal is not queer, but the two men, according to Brontez, assumed that they were a couple, and began calling them “batty boy” and other epithets. Finally, they made the statement, “if we were at home you’d be dead by now.” Read the Post Scattered Thoughts on Violence and Non Violence
by Guest Contributor CVT, originally published at Choptensils
This is the first segment in – what should be – a regular series on this site. Part of my answer to the questions I raised in my “Elitism or Anti-Intellectualism” post, I hope to start making current research and discoveries about how humans work more accessible (and digestible) to folks fighting oppression outside of academia. My goal is to create an “online toolkit” of sorts – one full of scientific resources, references, etc. – built specifically for anti-oppression advocates. Those with the power to oppress often use (faulty) “science” to justify further oppression, and I want to do my part to give the rest of us the means to competently push back.
The first few posts in this series will not really focus on any current research, but instead touch on a few key concepts that are necessary to understand before moving forward.
This first is about how variables work, specifically in the context of oppression. Let’s just get to it.
Definitions: So, just to make sure we’re all on the same page here – a “variable” is one, single, isolated factor of an overall system that has an effect on the system as a whole. Now, a “system” could be anything from a computer network to Oppression (*1) to a specific question about Oppression (ie. “why do black kids tend to sit together at lunch?”) – anywhere different pieces, doing different things, come together to make something bigger than those individual pieces.
How they work: Okay. For any given system, there are a million little variables. Some of them bigger than others. For example, when we’re talking about our group of black kids at lunch, variables that could come into play are: race, age, gender, if the kids know each other, who their family is, the time of day, what’s for lunch that day, who the kids’ classmates are, the weather, the academic subject they studied right before lunch, class, what the kids are wearing, number of parents at home, their favorite color, the color of the lunchroom walls, etc.
Get the picture? Our first mistake when playing with systems – especially in answering big questions – is to choose one variable to focus on and dismissing the rest in our deeper analysis. Usually, we choose the variable that is most personal to us, or the most triggering, or that plays on our fears. We tunnel-vision in on just that one thing and create all sorts of – seemingly – logical arguments to go along with it. Read the Post Science of Oppression I: A Basic Understanding of Variables
by Guest Contributor CVT, originally published at Choptensils
When I moved out of my first place in Portland, I had to head down to the local hardware store, buy some drywall patches and stucco, and fix some holes in the walls of my bedroom. They were relatively large holes – certainly not normal “wear-and-tear” – and if you looked at them closely (or from a distance, actually) you could swear they were in the exact shape of a right fist . . .
Well – because they were. In a couple different fits of frustrated anger, I had punched some holes in my walls. After the second (or third) one, I started thinking about the cost of fixing the holes, so I moved on to hitting a punching bag when I flipped my shit.
And flip my shit, I did. Not too regularly, but every once-in-awhile, the overwhelming frustrations of circumstances and the world got to me, and I just had to hit something. (*1) There was no other way for me to let it out. Or so I thought.
And I remember being really embarrassed by it. I covered up the holes with art. I never mentioned it to friends. In most of my public life, I held myself “calm” and “under control” all the time. Nobody would have guessed that I would do that kind of thing – that I had any vaguely violent tendencies – because I hid it so well.
And I hid it because I didn’t want anybody to know there was something wrong with me. I didn’t want people to know that I was a “violent person.” I didn’t want people to feel unsafe around me. Because the majority culture told me that those tendencies weren’t “normal.” In fact, “society” seemed to deem those behaviors on the verge of “pathological.” Maybe I needed to be medicated or something, because I certainly couldn’t “control” my anger and emotions like I was supposed to be able to do . . .
But the funny thing is, as the years passed, that uncontrollable urge to physically hit something started to go away. That extreme frustration filled me less and less often – and after I moved into my new place, I never touched that punching bag again.
So what happened? Did I learn to “control” my emotions? Was I just more “calm” in my oh-so-wise late-twenties? What was the big change?
Well, it’s hard to be sure, of course, but – during that time, I just started punching things with my mind, instead. I began to focus on writing and composing hip-hop and performing spoken word poetry around town. (*2) And I did it violently.
I didn’t stop being frustrated. I didn’t stop being angry. I didn’t even stop being aggressive – no, this wasn’t sublimation as it is thought of psychologically – I wasn’t changing my rage into something else; it was actually more like the chemistry “sublimation” – where I was distilling and concentrating my frustration into a more pure form – an artistic, peaceful violence. Read the Post Violently Peaceful: Oppression through “Staying Calm”
I never intended to write about the scarf/veil/hijab/niqaab. Like a lot of people who write about the Middle East and North Africa (Muslim and otherwise) I roll my eyes at the Western preoccupation with the scarf, which seems to dominate the discourse. The Islamic practice of covering seems to excite the imaginations of both Judeo-Christian/nationalist/conservatives and (largely) white/western/feminists, an unlikely alliance that occurs from time to time around representations of women (as in pornography, for example). I will admit that I do not understand this preoccupation… I am not a Muslim so I have no religious or cultural investment in covering one way or the other. For me, the scarf is just clothing. This may be because many of my Muslim neighbors in Brooklyn cover to varying degrees and I see them going about their lives, just like everyone else. When you are standing behind a veiled woman in line at the supermarket and you see her trying to keep her kids quiet with one hand while she organizes coupons with the other, the whole thing seems pretty ordinary, at least in my part of the world.
As far as I can tell, I have only one neighbor who goes about fully covered, while others wear their scarves in very different styles, depending on their preferences, home countries and cultures. It is very common to see Moms with their heads covered while their little girls are bounding around in jeans and Dora the Explorer t-shirts, but there are a few little girls with their heads covered as well. Two or three summers ago I was walking down the street and a hijab-wearing 11 year old girl went whizzing past me on a Razor scooter, scarf and dress flapping, face split with a giant grin. Despite the wide range of styles, these women and girls all seem to socialize together and I have seen zero indication of the isolation and division that are often assumed to be part and parcel of the practice of covering. I know there are issues with the scarf in Islamic cultures, and it is not my intention to minimize them, none of my female Muslim friends and colleagues wear it and some have spoken against it. But my assumption is that any intra-cultural issues around the practice of covering can be addressed by the women it impacts directly, so I feel no pressing need to climb on to my white horse with my American flag clutched between my teeth.
So even when French President Sarkozy floated his wrong-headed hijab-ban I never thought I’d write about the scarf. It is annoying that so much of the conversation, not to mention the ban itself, is based on perpetuating Islamophobic and Orientalist stereotypes (even among people who should know better) but again I thought, “Not my fight.”
The original view of Middle Eastern/Muslim women was that of a lazily sensual harem woman reclining on a couch. Most recently, it has morphed into a cowed housewife bullied by her religion and the men in her life. From these icons arises a newer image of Muslim women: one that combines the two.
I’ll term this genre “veil fetish art,” because every featured woman has most or all of her face and hair covered. Although the woman herself is the main focus, the veil acts as a sexual catalyst: it brands the woman as forbidden, despite the fact that you may be able to see most of her naked body. So even though she’s exposed, the veil reminds you that she’s “forbidden fruit,” and pushes the viewer to want her even more.
So did I find these pictures while uploading porn? Nope. All I did was run a Google search for phrases like “Muslim women,” “burka,” and “veil,” and several not-safe-for-work results came up (FYI: moderate safe-search was on). The majority of these results came up within the first five pages. If you click on the pictures to find where they’re showcased, you’ll usually be taken to websites geared toward Islamophobic and xenophobic world views that fly under the flag of “anti-terrorism.” Or Islamophobic discussion threads. Or porn sites (sorry, no links for those).
Though it’s a possibility, these women are most likely not Middle Eastern or Muslim. It’s more likely that they’re white and/or western models with some spray-tans. The only thing that signifies their cultural or religious affiliation is a veil, which works in two ways: to brand the woman as a Middle Eastern/Muslim woman, and to arouse the viewer.
It’s something like an updated version of the French-Algerian colonialist postcards produced in the mid-nineteenth century. The primary difference is that the Orientalist postcards centered on domesticity, docility, and an exotic locale, aiming to showcase naïve young Algerian girls with their breasts exposed.
But the subjects of veil fetish art are neither girls nor innocent, and it doesn’t matter where they are: these women are hot under that niqab, and they want you to know it. They are positioned in pin-up posture: coy, curvy, and enticing. Or, they’re in a Maxim-style stance: they stare you down while your eyes roam over their partially-obscured form. Read the Post Oooh, Baby, Put it On: Ripping up Veil Fetish Art
Who’s Danielle Crittenden? She writes a blog for The Huffington Post and recently, she decided to “take on the veil” as a social experiment for one week of her life in Washington, D.C. She went straight for the gold and decided to wear the starkest, blackest niqab out there, ignoring the fact that the hejab is far more prevalent among Muslim women than the niqab. She blogs about her experience in four separate posts under the title, “Islamic Like Me.”
Readers, you know my issue with people who use “Muslim” and “Islamic” synonymously. For god’s sake, would somebody check the Associated Press guidelines?! “Islamic” describes architecture and history…things. A “Muslim” is an adherent of Islam; Muslims are people, not things.
So Ms. Crittenden decides to put on a niqab…for what? For giggles? She never really explains her reasons for doing so, but makes it very apparent that wearing a niqab is a bad idea because it’s “oppressive”. Does she want to see what it’s like to be a Muslim woman who wears niqab? Does she want to understand the prejudice that these women face?
No. After reading her posts, it’s obvious she just wants to play dress-up. She doesn’t attempt to adhere to any principles of Islam while wearing the niqab, nor does she take it off in her home like most niqabis would, nor does she even attempt to start a dialogue with any Muslim women—niqabis or not.
This experiment reminds me of one of Tyra Banks’ experiments: you remember when she put on a fat suit? Yeah. That one. She put on a fat suit under the guise of “seeing how the other half lives” but really just used it as a self-indulgent exercise in vanity (kind of like everything else Tyra does, bless her heart). This one seems really no different.
So, we read the first paragraph of Ms. Crittenden’s post “Islamic Like Me: Taking On The Veil”, and already, I want to throw my computer out the window.
“‘I wonder what it’s like to wear Arabic dress?’ I said one day to my husband. His eyes sparked with interest. ‘You mean as in I Dream of Jeannie?’ ‘No. I mean those black cover-ups they wear in Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries.’”
(Long sigh). So, we begin with the blatantly incorrect idea that all women in the Middle East wear “Arabic” clothing, even if they are not Arab or Muslim. We see later in her posts that her idea of “Arabic clothing” is a niqab and abaya—ignoring several other traditional dress styles that Arab women wear. And, of course, her husband throws in the sexualized Orientalist fantasy of I Dream of Jeannie. Fantastic! Read the Post The Veil Does Not a Prison Make
You’ve probably heard about the recent ruling given to a Saudi gang-rape victim: 110 lashes added onto the original sentence of 90 lashes because she protested her sentence to the media. It’s a horrible and vindictive sentence, and the callous treatment this woman has received as a victim is insulting to her, Saudi Arabia, and Islam.
Why Islam? What does her ruling have to do with Islam? Well, nothing really. Technically, the judge who sentenced her went by Shari’a law, but he added those extra lashes from his own judgment because she spoke out about her case. So he punished her.
But every reactionary blog poster, conservative news network, and Western women’s rights group has condemned this action as an Islamic one. So Muslim women around the world have a choice: do we defend ourselves against Islamophobia, against racism, or against misogyny?
This “triple threat” is one we often face as Muslim women (especially if we are also women of color). We always seem to be battling against one (or more) of these three issues: racism (for Muslim women who are also non-white), Islamophobia, or misogyny (not just from our own Muslim communities, but also from non-Muslim communities who think they know what’s best for us).
Being on the defensive all the time creates reactionary behavior. We always feel like we have to keep our guards up to defend our faith and our choices, and it gets tiring. Most Muslims don’t necessarily mind explaining stuff (that is, if you’re genuinely interested in understanding instead of starting an argument), but we can’t all be Encyclopedia Islamicas all the time.
Some of this “damage control” keeps us from having dialogues within our communities. Muslim women face a lot of problems within our communities as well as outside, but we’re afraid to talk about it because it can potentially be used against us. People in our own communities this power: for example, feminists in Iran are accused of being too “Westernized” by compatriots who have no interest in changing the status quo for women. Many women who seek their fair share are given this load of crap in order to guilt them into shutting up, because Westernization is equated with undesirable qualities in the Muslim world. Or, if we try to speak out to a non-Muslim audience, we are accused of “betraying” Islam or our communities by airing out our “dirty laundry.” Read the Post Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Triple Threats and Double Troubles for Muslim Women