An Open Letter to Dorkly

Dear Dorkly–

 I’ve always been a big fan of your website and I generally look at a couple of comics, articles, or videos per day. I know that that doesn’t make me your *biggest* fan, as I’m sure there are those who visit your pages with far more frequency, but know that I’m no stranger to your content or the types of audiences you reach/with whom your content most resonates (at least, judging by the likes, shares, and comments via social media).

We all know that the best way to preserve one’s sanity and maintain faith in humanity is to never read internet comments. However virulent and depressing they can be, though, there is also the chance of learning something new or getting a laugh from someone’s joke. It’s with the latter goal in mind that I occasionally scan through comments, and I found some interesting yet true commentary about your site.

In the past few months, I’ve noticed an increasing number of visitors commenting on the demographic make up of, or topic involving, the people in your content (when they feature non-pre-established people, that is), usually complaining about how “Dorkly is shoving social justice down our throats” or “Dorkly is being unrealistic in the name of diversity” or “Welcome to Dorkly, where they hammer social justice into you with situations that would never actually happen/it isn’t actually a problem.” These are not exact quotes, of course, as I’m not here to expose folks or give anyone any troll fodder. However, that is the general gist of what others are saying. I myself have noticed a marked increase in representations and discussions of gender, cultural, racial/ethnic, sexual, and even class identities (among others). Not only is this present in your content, but the way it is addressed sometimes run counter to what many typically experience in their day-to-day lives.

It’s true that sometimes the content appears forced.

It’s true that sometimes things seem out of touch with reality.

It’s true that it seems like it’s happening a lot.

And so, with the utmost respect and adoration, I must humbly make a request of you, Dorkly:

Keep.

It.

Up.

Whether by serendipity or conscious choice, what you are doing, and what you are supporting, is something that many media and entertainment outlets seem to not understand, or about which they do not seem to care. It’s true that there are some dissenters, there are also the commenters who publicly support what you’re doing, even if they seem farther and fewer between. And then there are all of those who remain silent who really, truly appreciate your efforts. To borrow a quote from the fantastic Janet Mock (who was referencing the new, additional gender identities available on Facebook):

“There’s going to be a lot of people for whom this is going to mean nothing, but for the few it does impact, it means the world.”

While it clearly means *something* to the people commenting disparagingly about it, the positive impact it has on others far outweighs the negative, which generally amounts to annoyance (though at times, full on rage).

You see, when your content reads as being heavy-handed, or forced, it is because we, your readers, are literally forced to recognize that these images and stories are not the norm. Hopefully this will encourage some people to think about *why* these representations are not more frequently seen or socially normalized, and to explore how people who finally see a part of themselves or their lives reflected in your content must feel since they otherwise almost *never* see themselves, their lives, or their struggles represented.

When your content feels outside of reality, it is because we, your readers, don’t always recognize that the experiences we are viewing can even *be* a part of reality, let alone that it should be. Maybe this will help some other folks to consider how limited and limiting the ways they’ve seen other people have been, and how it affects they way they think about other people, their lives, and ideas, including how *normal* we think those ways are. And maybe all of that, finally, can show how it all leads to negative social, political, and economic outcomes in people’s day to day lives.

When your content is accused of being too frequent (which is strange to me since your content is largely based on established characters and franchises…) it is because we, your readers, are starting to have to make a choice—do we return for the fun and jokes, or do we leave because we don’t like who and what we see represented? Perhaps, though, this will begin to help someone think more about how what they find funny (or not) reflects how they view, and what they think about, other people and their experiences.

There will be some for whom none of the above happens at all. We will still see people leave comments on your site about needing to be post-racial, post-gender, post-everything, despite plenty of personal experiences that directly counter such mythical ideologies and wishful thinking. For others still, they might consider all of the above and more. But whatever ends up happening, Dorkly, I sincerely hope that you continue on your chosen path, constantly striving to do better and do more. It doesn’t have to be every post every day—it’s not now, and it never needs to be—but forget the naysayers and keep pushing forward.

Yes, there will be bumps in the road, times you mess up and have to apologize, and probably times when you’ll want to stop it all or tone it down. Whatever you do, don’t give in. Stay strong in your commitment to provide us with both good fun and good thoughts.

More of us are behind you than you know.

Sincerely,

A Hopeful Fan

 

 

The Importance of Context

TRIGGER WARNING: Triggering racial epithets used in this article, mention of sexual assault.

Yo soy yo y mi circunstancia.”—José Ortega y Gasset

Being abroad as a US citizen of color has allowed me to have various and inaccurate identities attributed to me. Generally, I do my best to patiently explain that yes, I am a Black/African-American US citizen—the last part frequently causes surprise—and move on with my life.

This confusion of identity has given me an interesting vantage point to both see from afar and experience first-hand the ways in which different racial, ethnic, linguistic, social, etc. identities are culturally absorbed and broadly understood. The most recent bout has been in Santiago, Chile. I absolutely love it here and have had a generally positive experience, so much so that I extended my planned stay by an additional 10 months. That said, a number of recent instances have been building up that have reached a tipping point with the hooplah that arrives with the October holiday season across much of Europe and the Americas—from jubilant candy-seeking to deeply spiritual—that pushed my feels into needing to write, write, write it out because hey, what better time to deal with issues of oppression and appropriation than Halloween, amirite?

Over the past few weeks, I’d already been thinking about the conversation around appropriation and how even in the not-so-mainstream media, the focus was on the (very real and very important) personal offense these acts cause, and less so on other factors Several of the aforementioned interactions I’ve had throughout the past month that led me to this point are include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • A 6-year-old student walked into English class and the first question innocently asked was “Profe, que significa ‘nigga’?”
  • At the end of a texting conversation with a Chilean friend (young adult), the parting message I received was “Yah, buenas noches, mi lindo nigga!”
  • I had an 11-year-old student excitedly start singing Gansta Rap’s “Nigga Nigga Nigga” in class when I asked students to tell me about one of their favorite songs in English.
  • I went to a set of hip-hop dance classes where the instructor chose to use Tyga’s “Hit Em Up”, where the main word being sung along to/used to help count and said quite loudly and forcefully was “nigga”; after class, the refrain was quietly sung by the students (ages 18-30+) as they left.
  • I had a 9-year-old student enthusiastically and cluelessly greet me with “Hey, Profe, my nigga!”
  • I was told by a business professional in the same breath that they were “proud of their beautiful fair skin” but that Chile doesn’t have a race problem.
  • A post in a Facebook group wrote that they were seeking “Russian/Northern European/North American looking” people for a photoshoot, which led to interesting responses when I stated “If you want white people, just say so.”
  • The brief but noticeable flicker of surprise on people’s faces when I tell them I’m from the United States and not Brazil or Colombia or Africa.

I don’t think anyone in the above examples are terrible people, and I haven’t experienced anyone using the n-word to my face as a pejorative the way I have countless times in the US. I don’t believe they are capital “r” Racist, the 21st century ultimate insult (for some people, at least). But I had to stop and think for a moment about how to explain why, in a non-US/ post-colonial, situation, I still strongly felt that something just wasn’t right. And then it hit me.

Context is everything.

But what is context? Context doesn’t just involve the past—it involves our present and our future as well. It extends to the here and now, making and keeping us aware of how these images and words still float around our conscious and subconscious levels of thinking. Understanding context helps us to understand how these images and words have already led—and continue to lead—us to form beliefs and opinions about others that affect the ways in which we conduct business as usual every single day (of which we often aren’t even close to being consciously aware), beliefs that aren’t going to go away without some serious work and are more likely to be reinforced each and every time you encounter something that so much as passively affirms it.

So, in the case of the n-word, the context is more than just the Transatlantic Slave Trade. It’s more than just the historical pejorative given to anyone who was unwanted in someone’s (historically anglophone) country. It’s more than just a word that gets tossed around haphazardly in the entertainment industry.

In the case of Halloween costumes, the context is more than just the fact that many of the parts of the costumes that people wear (if not the entire things) are eyebrow-raising at best and horribly offensive and psychologically triggering at worst, though most probably fall into the “bad taste, stereotype perpetuating” category. It’s more than just the history behind many of those costumes, which are based on caricatures and beliefs about real peoples’ bodies that were used to justify all kinds of violence against them.

In the case of both the costumes and the use of the n-word, it’s about more than “political correctness” because anyone who is serious about real social or systemic change (and we all should be, for all our sakes) shouldn’t care much about “political correctness” because it really gets us nowhere.

So what does this all mean? It means that embracing context can show us the patterns and logic these words and images create that affected and shaped—and continue to affect and shape—the lives of countless numbers ofpeople around the world in horribly oppressive ways.

Context is remembering that across the globe and for various historical reasons, light-skin is prized and associated with intelligence, beauty, innocence, and other positive traits (remember: subconscious processes!) while darker skin is often associated with stupidity, violence, and laziness,

Context is recognizing that as the process of “Americanization” (or “Westernization” or “Globalization”, pick your favorite) continues, the usage and definition of things like English and hip-hop “culture” are no longer limited to the lands in which they were initially created. As my friend and co-blogger stated,“They are in the process of passing outside America’s meaning-making jurisdiction, if they haven’t done so already.”.)

Put more concretely, the past part of context—what aids in shifting the focus beyond the interpersonal realm of “offensive” acts of racism, sexism, etc.—helps us understand that the reason I continued to hear variations of “there is no racism in Chile”. After the end of the military-controlled government, the rather rapid influx of predominantly US products, businesses, and media in the past 20ish years to Chile also brought with it the dominant (and misguided) US definition of “racism”, where racism stems from being consciously mean and/or prejudiced against people of other racial or ethnic groups; in the US, historically these groups are specifically Blacks, Latinos, and Asians, allows for “reverse racism”, and tends to ignore First Nation/Indigenous populations . This definition was brought into the sociopolitical fabric of Chile whose only other major socially distinguishable/recognized “ethnic” or “racial” population is the less than 5% Mapuche.

We know that every society has a complex social web that manipulates people into acting and thinking in certain ways—or at least getting them to pretend to. But when ideas are brought in and embraced from the outside, the people around whom those ideas are built are also affected, which is magnified as those ideas adapts themselves to beliefs that already exist.

The idea that Blacks and other dark-skinned people are more violent or threatening? Yep, they’ve got it.

Are Black/dark-skinned males hyper-sexual and wielding enormous penises? Duh.

Are Blacks/dark-skinned people inherently more athletic and physically stronger? You betcha.

Are they poor and lazy? Of course they are!

And the list goes on.

These are the types of images running beneath the surface when we hear certain words or see certain styles of dress, and they are familiar images that can be found around the world. Context is what allows us to step out of what appears to be on the surface and dive into the myriad of ways that it affects every facet of our lives, from interpersonal interactions to seemingly impersonal decisions. Everything we digest from the media, from our educations , from our political and social and religious leaders, and from the barrage of marketing and advertisements we encounter daily plays off of and employs these images and words, which once again affects our interactions and decisions.

So why is the n-word here not so out-of-context in Chile as one might think, and why do Halloween costumes continue to warrant a serious discussion beyond “it’s bad taste”? Because images and words have the ability to trigger the aforementioned cognitive processes based on directly associated ingrained thoughts and beliefs. And real people suffer as a result.

Of course, context is not a one-way street, and when words and images travel, the impact of the old context may not fully come with it, because it can’t. For Chile and the prevalence of the n-word, the full history of its use and meaning—which evolved over time— simply isn’t here. So it makes sense that use of the word doesn’t come with that consciousness. Meanwhile, the exposure they have doesn’t make it any easier. A line from the Tyga song I mentioned earlier states “I said fuck them other niggas, cause I’m down for my niggas” which is bound to confuse anyone about what the word means, how it’s used, and who can/can’t use it, including and especially in the US (because we have this debate all the time). The challenge in Chile is that the word has been absorbed largely though hip-hop/rap music and through movies with Black characters exchanging the word—thus, without the past or present parts of context that created the word in the first place—which conjures up very particular images and beliefs about Black people in general, specifically (as my trusty co-blogger once again nails it) “from the hypermasculine heterofantasy of mainstream hip-hop”. And, as previously stated, these images definitely exist here.

Like I mentioned before, I’ve never had the word hurled at me pejoratively here in Chile(nor have I heard of that happening to anyone) and I don’t think that those who use it—remember, usually in the “between friends” way—are mean, scum-of-the-earth people. But the use of the word and the way that it is being used comes from a particular context, and we cannot subtract it from that context when it clearly is working to re-construct similar beliefs/ideologies that led to its original creation in its new home. The word evolved to have that meaning because of and in spite of its history. Simultaneously, the sociopolitical context of its modern usage from which it is being borrowed—primarily it’s cultural use within Black communities as both an act of positive reclamation among Blacks and as an insult towards other Blacks—is built upon that same violent history. Simply put, contemporary usage of the word—wherever it is being used—cannot be separated from its painful and violent history and continuing legacy. So, while it definitely isn’t a carbon copy of what we have in the US, it is still problematic in it’s new form.

To draw this to a close, I definitely acknowledge that there are terrible people out there who are fully aware of themselves when they do and say terrible things. But the discussion simply cannot end there. I offer you this parallel: immoderate consumption of alcohol lowers our level of cognition and makes it more likely that we will injure someone else. But we also know that alcohol lowers inhibitions and makes one more likely to suffer from heart disease, kidney or liver failure, brain damage, infertility, and to commit sexual assault. Singly, any one of them is a sufficient reason to moderate your drinking, but taken together, they paint a much fuller picture that brings us much closer to necessitating it. Halloween is now behind us, with Thanksgiving looming ahead of us, where another round of heated debate is sure to spring up. As we consider what these holidays and associated images mean, I ask is that we ensure that we paint the full picture when it comes to use of language,sociocultural appropriation, and historical meaning-making, and make decisions on what to say and how to (inter)act accordingly.

community: perspectives: I Am Not a Feminist, But I’ve Got a Match and Kerosene and Patriarchy’s Splinters Smell Dry Tonight

An amazing post on claiming the title of feminist (or anything else, really) by Progressive Paradox’s very own Brandon!

kuntsrule

Kuntsrule asked Brandon from Progressive Paradox to write a guest piece. Really thought provoking stuff about why the difference between identity and action is important. We thank you, Brandon, for your words.

Read on, friends:

I want to think in terms, not of what I think I “am,” but of what I do. Three reasons:

First, treating feminism as an identity turns it into a good, into capital. Once the title “feminist” becomes something that I can lose or affirm, then I become a mercenary. By that I mean: whoever fights in a war they don’t “have” to fight in—white anti-racists, for example—still looks for recompense: gratitude, affirmation that they’re “one of the good ones,” affirmation that they are a feminist, even deferential treatment. (Think of the casually heterosexist Nice Guy™ who bemoans how “all women” go after “assholes” and “douchebags,” because, after all, assholes and douchebags aren’t…

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Deconstructing Victim-Blaming in the Steubenville Rape Case

The tragedy that is the entirety of the Steubenville rape case has taken over headlines, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, e-mails, texts, and live news coverage (among other forms of instantaneous media) for the past few weeks, and has had yet another explosion after the announcement of the sentencing of the the two athletes—16 and 17 year-old boys—who raped the 16 year-old girl from Steubenville, Ohio. And amidst this explosion of reported facts, sensationalism, and opinions—centering on expressing rage and anger at the case itself or the guilty verdict and the 1 to 5-year sentences in juvenile detention centers— lies one more infuriating aspect: the number of purported “liberals” and “progressives” who are celebrating.

Let me start, as many have had to do in defending such opinions, by saying that yes, what those boys did was absolutely horrible, and my heart aches for the victim and her family. It was violating, it was disrespectful, it was humiliating, and completely atrocious behavior. And while there is no excuse for assaulting the very core and essence of someone’s body and being in the ways that they did (namely, for the pleasure and enjoyment of the perpetrators at the expense of the victim), there are many, many reasons, and none of them have to do with the state of the victim at the time she was raped nor some purely spawn-of-satan evil living inside of the boys. And it is for these reasons that my heart also aches for the perpetrators of this violent and inexcusable crime.

You see, one of the reasons for this blog was to point out the sometimes hypocritical rhetoric that mainstream progressives and liberals alike employ, in the hopes that we can do better. In this case, individuals and organizations everywhere are railing against the ever pervasive patriarchal rape culture that creates a rationale that blames the victims of rape and sexual assault as opposed to the perpetrators. But it seems as though far too many are willing to ignore the fact that the patriarchy constructs problematic and readily-embodied male ideals which value misogyny and acts of abuse, among other oppressive behaviors, as traits that are not only desireable, but necessary to ensure one’s masculinity. So therefore, I ask, how are we constructing and using the term “victim” in this case, and who is engaging in “victim blaming”? It is on this complex topic that I write the inaugural post of this blog.

I find it quite disheartening that many of the people who truly do understand, at least in part, how masculinity is constructed encouraged, performed, and regulated—particularly within male athletics—seem to the first to toss this knowledge aside to join the choruses of “justice has been served!” that have resounded throughout the country, often in staunch defiance of those who would state that justice failed the perpetrators. Additionally, many of these same people acknowledge—or, at least, claim to understand—the challenges faced by adolescent and young adult males in asserting their identity through masculinity, knowing they tend to lack, from a purely physiological and cognitive standpoint, fully developed behavioral management “tools”, such as fully developed frontal lobes (which underpin planning, intent, forethought and judgment), the hypothalamus and amygdala (which regulate aggression and sexual urges), and the somatosensory cortex and the insula (in which emotional processes have been found to have been deeply written and encoded, though emotional responses in general come from throughout the body). Yet despite all of this much-needed information that progressives/liberals are constantly attempting to get into mainstream rhetoric and dialogue, many have once again fallen into victim blaming—this time, of the perpetrators of the rape.

Again, let me emphasize that this is NOT to excuse the actions of these boys. But it is almost sickening to think that this case is anything but lose-lose-lose: it was a loss for the victim when this horrible tragedy first occurred, it was a loss for these boys as they have grown up with harmful ideologies about women and sexuality, and it continues to be a loss for society as a whole for being responsible for creating the beliefs that led to this crime in the first place (as, let’s be honest, these boys weren’t raised in a socio-ideological vacuum). We have an extremely flawed system that continuously produces victim-blaming ideologies, equates sexual conquests with masculinity (a.k.a success, power, status, etc.), and individualizes all crimes with the intent to scare individuals from becoming first-time offenders or prevent them from becoming repeat-offenders through punitive measures that disproportionately incarcerates poor people and people of color.

Black Girl Dangerous beautifully writes:

“I also feel sorry…[t]hat we have created a world in which, at just 16 years old, and even younger, boys can already dehumanize and degrade [girls]. That misogyny is so insidious and so effective as to make 16-year-old boys incapable of respecting this girl, of seeing her as a human being with the right to make her own choices, even when drunk, and the right to remain unviolated, even when passed out. I am sorry for these boys that, at 16, some of their humanity is already gone.”

It is within this flawed system that has created the insidious misogyny, homophobia, and heterosexism of which she speaks. Additionally, when it comes to criminal cases, we have perpetuated false dichotomies of victim-perpetrator, plantiff-defendant, winner-loser, and guilty-innocent. We are led to believe that it is simply not possible for the system to allow for multiple tragedies from which recuperation is impossible, and that any and all crimes have a way of “settling the score”, so to speak, between the two parties. So is it really that much of a victory when, within a social structure as broken as ours, two boys were convicted of a crime and assigned the totality of the blame? Is this what we call a “success” within our system of justice?

Neil Irvin, executive director of Men Can Stop Rape, responds to the tragedy by stating:

“I can admit that my first instinct on these kinds of cases is to demand my pound of flesh…For many of us, this is what happens in a society dominated by unhealthy masculinity, and the easiest way to react to something like rape that scares, shocks, saddens, and wounds us is to be angry. But our anger won’t help us understand why these boys felt it okay to rape an unconscious girl, it won’t help the survivor heal from her trauma, and it certainly won’t address the underlying causes of rape culture…[T]he pressures to showcase traditional ideals of masculinity will always outweigh the news stories that only capture our attention for one week at a time.”

Astute observations such as these desperately need to be understood by the general public, yet they remain largely overlooked and/or ignored. By and large, the liberal/progressive reaction to the verdict has consistently been one of triumph. Understandably, the staunch displays of nearly unconditional support is, in part, likely a response to much of the mainstream news coverage that disgustingly ignored the victim and her family, which is nauseating beyond words. However, that doesn’t mean we must ignore the fact that these boys exhibited behaviors that reflected deep-seated, subconscious ideas about women’s’ bodies and human sexuality that undoubtedly led them to commit their atrocious crime.

Focusing on punishment on the individual level will forever blind us to the necessary systemic change that would actually give us cause to celebrate and say “no, this will never happen again.” Obviously, crimes such as this must be dealt with, but even the most optimistic of us should realize that corrective “punishment” is too little, too late for the victims. Teaching healthy sexuality, healthy social and personal identity development, consent, and the inherent value of others (especially women in the case of rape, though persons of any and all sexual and gender identities, orientations, and performances must be included) that is backed up and reinforced by society at large are a necessary first step. Otherwise, we are only fooling ourselves in being surprised that hundreds of women are raped in the United States each and every day. If we want rapes and sexual assault to stop—which, for my own sanity, I have to assume that we all do (please let me have SOME faith in humanity)—we need to wake up and realize that right now, there are victims on both sides of the coin, and blaming and punishing one is no better than blaming and punishing the other.