The Politics of Confrontation

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Lately, I have had some things on my mind.  Often, when I talk to people either in person, over the phone or (most often) on the internet, I find myself accused of being “too negative,” “so aggressive,” or “oversensitive” whenever a subject is broached which is too controversial for polite conversation.  Folks like to tell me not to be “so angry,” and that, instead of focusing on the problems, I should focus on solutions – this gets into that same “It Gets Better,” and “Build don’t Burn” rhetoric that I find, personally, has a bad habit of missing the point.

What is troublesome about this logic is its failure to acknowledge that one cannot focus on solutions to problems if one does not first recognize the problem.  When I am accused to being too negative, it is rarely because I am a hopeless misanthrope who sees no end to human suffering, but most typically because my accuser doesn’t like the harsh realities which they are being made to confront within the context of the conversation. The fact is, folks don’t really like confronting systematic oppression – especially people of privilege (I know, dirty word) – because to confront would mean to acknowledge its existence and the ways in which we may or may not benefit from these systems. I say this as a white person who has worked (and is still working) to unpack my privilege and preconceived notions about race. Also, as a thin, able-bodied AFAB genderqueer person who, despite not really “passing,” gets to move through life with relative ease due to my perceived masculinity. I know how it feels to come to the realization that my being treated like a human being with rights and dignity comes at the expense of others who maybe don’t look like or get around as well as I do. It sucks and of course nobody would want to accept that, but the fact of the matter is your unwillingness to accept reality doesn’t actually change reality.

The reality is that cops can shoot unarmed black boys and girls on public streets in the daylight with impunity. Women can’t walk down the street without being harassed, or worse, and then blamed for it. “Trans panic” is an actual defense that people can actually use in court to get away with murdering trans women. Intersex folks are all but invisible at best and at worst, mutilated and often sterilized by doctors at birth as a means of “correcting” their genitals to make them appear “normal.” I could go on. For days. But let some of these things sink in – this is reality. And if I seem angry about it, it’s because I am. Because I should be. Everyone should be.

The mentality that “we should be focusing on solutions, not problems”; that we need to be “more positive”; is counter-productive and backwards. You can’t focus on the solution to a problem you won’t acknowledge. Solutions come from confronting the issue, head on, accepting that it is an issue and then finding where that issue comes from. We need to find the root – where it begins and how far it reaches. Then we need to attack that root. Like a weed, if we do not get it at the root, it only grows back. This is what I mean when I refer to the White Supremacist Cisheteropatriarchy – the most entrenched systems of oppression, the ones that have infected our minds like disease – this is the root. It runs deep, in our society, in our everyday interactions, in our selves and it’s so big and so far-reaching that when we do acknowledge its existence and power over us, it seems overwhelming – impossible to defeat. I think this is why it is so difficult to confront. I think this is why I get accused of being “too negative,” because when I make the claim that we are all infected with this insidious, seemingly-unstoppable social disease, I am declaring war on something intangible that exists within the individual as well as outside and it seems hopeless.

I think of humanity as one big organism, each individual person is a cell. The social disease causes some cells to attack others, and the organism is essentially killing itself from the inside out. We need medicine. Something to strengthen the cells being attacked so they can defend themselves and survive the onslaught and to weaken those attacking until they give up and eventually stop and something else to immunize new cells as they are created against the disease so that this can be prevented in the future. This cannot happen overnight – it will take a while.

Mind, this is not a perfect metaphor. This is essentially the best I can come up with while drowsy and a little dizzy from antibiotics. Essentially, what I am saying is that we need to confront the power dynamics which create the systems of oppression that have society so jacked up that folks can’t even see the problem when it’s right in front of their eyes. Or worse, they refuse to see the problems because they’re too big and scary to take on alone. The fact is, it’s okay to be overwhelmed and even to feel hopeless when first confronting horrible realities – really, it is. It’s okay because it’s perfectly reasonable; this shit is too big to take on alone, which is why we can’t. One person cannot take down centuries-old systems of oppression, but what about hundreds? Thousands? Millions? There are seven billion human beings on the planet, how many of them benefit from these systems versus those who are oppressed by them?

I am not “negative.” I believe in collective power and grassroots, horizontal self-organization. I have more faith in humanity than humanity has been proven to deserve, given my own personal experiences and what I have learned about the world in my short time here. I truly hate the state of things and I say so, often and loudly, because I can and I must. Don’t tell me “it gets better” unless you’re willing to put your boots on the ground and make it get better. Don’t tell me to “focus on solutions” if you’re not willing to be a part of the solution yourself. Don’t tell me to be “more positive,” you’re naive if you think my hopes for the world are anything but.

About the Whole Duck Dynasty Shenanigans…

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Until very recently, I have been happy to know as little about Duck Dynasty as humanly possible. I still could not care less about this show, but recently it has come to my attention that, not only is this one of the most popular shows on television at the moment, but that apparently people are surprised one of the characters would say something racist and homophobic in an interview.

 

 

Here’s why I don’t care what this guy has to say about gay rights or what Jim Crow was like for people of color:

 

 

Alright, well first, he is not a person of color so his opinions on the POC experience during Jim Crow are moot (albeit, still dangerous). He is also not gay – he can disapprove of Queerness all he wants and, as it happens, nobody will stop being Queer because of it. Mostly though, and I’d like to emphasize this, the Phil Robertson in this picture is not real. No, seriously, this is a character created for the soul purpose of boosting A&E’s ratings and for perpetuating the stereotypes associated with “backwoods rednecks.” In reality, Robertson holds a master’s degree in education from Louisiana Tech. This man is a multi-millionaire who can do whatever he wants and, what he wants to do is build his empire by marketing to an audience that can relate to this image right here.

 

 

Does this make his comments less dangerous and offensive?

 

 

Absolutely not, don’t be ridiculous. Robertson very well may even believe the ignorance that he has been spouting during and since the original GQ interview. And to his credit, his argument was just as eloquent as can be – just read this and tell me it doesn’t forever change your mind about “the gays”:

 

 

“It seems like, to me, a vagina — as a man — would be more desirable than a man’s anus,” Robertson told GQ. “That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.”

 

 

It’s like poetry, that. I mean, obviously, “there’s more there” just says it all. Really, why would a man want to be with another man when women have more holes? That’s just basic math, right there. Notice, by the way, that he doesn’t seem to care so much about lesbians. I suppose they never really do. Robertson has gone beyond that, however, apparently vowing to not shut up until this publicity stunt has reached its full potential.

 

These comments are dangerous and they are offensive, but frankly, I just wish people would stop giving Robertson so much attention for them. I took pride in knowing nothing about Duck Dynasty and still do not care enough to work harder than I must to understand the situation. Basically, a stereotype said some stereotypical things for attention and the media has obliged. Good job, media.

 

Why Macklemore Needs to Stop

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By now, I’m sure we all know who Macklemore is, and I’m also pretty sure that everyone has seen the new ACLU ad featuring Macklemore, but for those who haven’t, here is a link – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h3u2kSgpD0Y

I don’t want to attack the ACLU, but if they funded this promotion, they need to be held accountable. I had so much respect for this organization, but now…how are the marginalized and oppressed groups the ACLU purports to represent; People of Color, women, Queer folks; how are any of us supposed to trust them this blatant and public failure to properly represent any of us? Literally any person who is not a white man would have been a more appropriate spokesperson than Macklemore. I mean, really, you couldn’t find a single Queer person to represent the organization? What, was Margaret Cho busy that day? Shit, even Katy Perry would have been better representation.

I mean, come on. The last thing I needed to see when I first clicked that link was Macklemore’s ugly, smirking face talking about how, as a rapper, it would be inconvenient for him to be tazed, beaten or pepper-sprayed for speaking his mind. Let me be perfectly clear, until I see a video (preferably on loop) of Macklemore being tazed, beaten and pepper-sprayed, I’m gonna go ahead and assume he has experienced zero of those things. I’m also gonna go ahead and assume that his lack of experience in that arena may or may not be related to the fact that he is a straight, cis, rich, white, dude. Now, I’m not saying he deserves to have any of these things happen to him because of his political beliefs, but this transparent attempt at relating to Occupy folks, Queer folks, poor people and people of color who have been singled out as the targets of police (or general) violence is not impressive. Even less impressive is his stupid ass attempt to appeal to Queer youth and vagina-owners with his official straight male approval. It’s good to know that you approve of your “gay friends” marrying “the hell out of each other” and that I can do whatever I want with this vagina that I own. Before you came along, I was afraid I’d have to wear that chastity belt forever. Also, the tagline is “The only card that can buy freedom,” really? Look, this is not an exchange of goods and services. I do not need to “buy” my freedom, it’s already mine. Nobody is going to give me my freedom and nobody can sell it to me, it’s mine and I will take it for myself. This ad is literally just some straight white guy with a stupid fucking haircut showing off his new ally card as if to say “you can’t hold me accountable for appropriating and profiting off of other peoples’ struggles, I’m an ally. IT’S PROOF.”

Well, Mack, that’s where you’re wrong. The first time I even heard of Macklemore was on the Colbert Report and I think I can honestly say, I hated him instantly. He seriously makes me want to puke. I mean, really, who the fuck does he think he is? In his interview with Colbert, he stated that he’d noticed there was a lot of misogyny and homophobia in mainstream rap music and he felt that it was his responsibility to change that. How very good of him. Now he can bank on stealing the spotlight from Queer artists of color who have a much better understanding of the struggles faced by those who suffer in a racist and patriarchal society. In fact, if you are interested in actually good music by real Queer artists from diverse backgrounds, here are a few you might consider checking out instead of giving your money and attention to some obnoxious trendy cis/het self-proclaimed ally – Angel Haze, Azealia Banks, Brooke Candy, Big Dipper, Big Freedia, Tori Fixx, Cakes Da Killa, Deadlee, House of Ladosha, Deep Dickollective, JbDubs, Le1f, Mykki Blanco, Zebra Katz, God-Des and She, Johnny Makeup, Juba Kalamka, Katastrophe, the list goes on and on and every single one of these artists is better than Macklemore on top of being more qualified to speak on Queer issues.

For those who have not heard his music, either because you’re just lucky to not have run into it or because you actively and deliberately have avoided it, let me just break down the messaging in his latest hit single.

By now, we have all heard (or heard of, at least) the song “Same Love” which won “Best Video with a Social Message” at the MTV Video Music Awards this past year. According to MSNBC reporter, Sarah Muller, “the hit single by the Seattle rappers overtly embraces marriage equality at a time when recent polling suggests the nation appears to be shifting its mood in favor of same-sex marriage.” In other words, it’s an awfully convenient moment in time for an opportunistic straight white guy to jump in the spotlight in support of an issue of debatable importance compared to literally every other Queer struggle.

Now, we all know the song and we’ve all heard criticisms of it, but here is what I hear when this song plays. I hear some straight white wannabe savior complaining about homophobia in the church and in hip-hop and rap music while comparing the liberal mainstream gay rights movement to Civil Rights, claiming that “there is no difference.” So, uh, let’s start with the church and move through this, shall we?

In the very first verse, once it has been established that this song was clearly written by and for straight white people (and then all throughout the rest of the song), he calls out the church for homophobia, but who the fuck hasn’t? That is practically a requirement at this point. Actually, the problem that I have with this is less about calling out the church and more about using the “born this way” argument combined with biblical morality to do it. I mean, for shit sake, the accompanying music sounds like it came right out of a hymnal, because that’s what we need: some straight ally asshole preaching at us about our own issues that he knows nothing about (haven’t heard that one before). This is an all too common, useless and overall insulting strategy. “Born this way” or not, it doesn’t matter. The “born this way” argument uses made-up, bad science to support itself while negating and trivializing the entire concept that one’s sexuality might be subject to change and fluidity. It also treats heterosexuality as the biological default, making alternative sexualities some sort of genetic mutation. It’s bad enough when cis gay folks use this nonsense combined with Bible quotes to defend their precious marriage rights against the church, but when this presumptuous straight white savior did it in a rap song, my blood just began to boil.

Macklemore’s next big focus is mainstream hip-hop and rap music, which he accuses of misogyny and homophobia. First of all, he starts the second verse with “if I was gay, I’d think hip-hop hated me” – lemme explain a thing. There is no “if I was gay,” alright? You can’t say “oh, if I was [insert marginalized group here]” and then go on to make a claim about how you would handle that experience because you don’t fucking know. The fact is, you are not gay, you don’t know what it’s like to be gay or lesbian or bi or trans* or Queer in any other sense so shut the fuck up. You know, “if I was Queer,” I’d think all of society hated me, and I would probably want stupid ass straight boys to stop capitalizing on Queer struggles, you know, “if”. Now, I’m not saying that there isn’t a lot of heterosexism and cissexism in mainstream rap music, but it is not this straight white boy’s place to call it out. Especially when there are numerous gay and Queer-identified artists (see above) doing just that. Macklemore, by taking it upon himself to use his privilege as a means of speaking for the Queer community distracts from, trivializes and erases the attempts of Queer artists everywhere who have been working and struggling for years to challenge these issues in the hip-hop industry. Macklemore’s message is not an informed criticism of the issues challenging Queer folks in the hip-hop industry, nor does it attempt to inspire a change in attitude within the industry itself, but rather encourages cis gay folks to distrust Black media. The implication is that all other hip-hop artists are homophobes and the entire industry is saturated with hatred for the gays, but now that the White Savior is here to call out the hateful hip-hop industry, everything is better and you don’t have to be afraid anymore. Seriously, motherfucker, get over yourself. The hip-hop world is more Queer than you know.

Last, but most certainly not least, Macklemore’s song “Same Love” has the fucking audacity to compare the current liberal mainstream gay rights movement to the civil rights movement. Let’s get one thing straight right the fuck now – people need to stop comparing “gay rights” to the Civil Rights movement, okay? First of all, the current mainstream gay rights movement is afraid of doing anything even half as badass or radical as the shit Civil Rights activists did. And, furthermore, the gay rights movement, for all its talk about how much like Civil Rights it is, is awfully White, cis and middle class. They like to use the LGBT acronym, but we all know that the “T” is just an afterthought and for all the focus on “equality,” nobody seems to bat an eyelash when a Queer woman of color is raped, beaten, murdered or imprisoned because of her identity, her race or both. Above all, the Civil Rights movement was not single-issue. Actually, it was dynamically intersectional, tackling inequalities on a number of fronts including race, gender, sexuality and class among several others. By contrast, the gay rights movement has focused primarily on the “right” of cis, white, middle-class gays and lesbians to achieve a privileged status in society through assimilation and marriage at the expense of other, much more vital Queer issues. LGBTQ issues are also intersectional, hugely so – there are Queer folks from all ethnic, racial, religious, and economic backgrounds and their struggles fucking matter. But this movement, this liberal gay rights movement is for the cis white middle class gay, lesbian and ally club and to compare that to the Civil Rights movement is downright insulting, especially when the comparison is made by a rich cishet white rapper. Since when did MLK Jr. care more about interracial marriage than equal rights to services, employment and housing? And on that note, since when was gay marriage in any way, shape or form, the same as interracial marriage? Do these trendy fucks even realize the implications in that argument? Or the uselessness of it? Lemme explain a bit about the actual weight of the interracial marriage issue back in the day: anti-miscegenation laws enforced racial segregation on a personal level by criminalizing interracial marriage, and sometimes even sex between people of different races. Let me say that word again – criminalizing. This means that interracial marriage wasn’t just illegal, it was a crime for which [the Person of Color in the relationship] could be arrested and, as often happened, hanged. Of course, I know that there are sodomy laws still in a number of places, but those are rarely, if ever, enforced. And while there are definitely Queer hate murders which go unmentioned in the mainstream media or get trivialized/erased due to apathy and intolerance, to compare the current gay rights struggle to the Civil Rights struggle is not only presumptuous and inappropriate, it is appropriative and it trivializes the importance of that struggle as its own fight. And even if these comparisons were correct, there is really no point in making them – it offers no tactical benefit. But if we must find one similarity between the two struggles, here ya go: gay marriage will not end homophobia any more than interracial marriage ended racism. So, just because straight white people and cis white gays still think it’s appropriate to compare these two very different struggles, doesn’t make it okay or useful.

Aside from all of these things, it’s just…not even a good song. Like, who did he kill to get this shit so popular? The lyricism is awful and lazy, and any mildly clever wordplay is completely drowned out by the “meh”ness of the subject matter. He’s not saying anything new or special and his music is not interesting or unique. Basically, Macklemore is just a lame-ass motivational speaker with a rap gimmick. If it’s not inspiration porn, it’s guilt-driven exploitation. “This is a total train-wreck, but I’m not allowed to not like it.” – entire straight white liberal fanbase.

All of the above reasons and more attest to the fact that Macklemore is completely undeserving of any of the praise that he has been given by the other straight white pioneers of the Shitty Ally Club. The fact that his video with its flimsy and ill-informed “social message” won two VMAs and critical acclaim at the expense of so many other, much better Queer artists who truly deserved that spotlight, acknowledgment and respect makes me physically ill. And to pour salt on the wound, the ACLU had to fucking use this asshole in their ad.

I know that allies are important, but this is not allyship. An ally does not presume to speak on behalf of the marginalized groups they claim to support. An ally does not horde the spotlight, but rather turns the public attention toward the folks who are working to liberate themselves. An ally does not appropriate and capitalize on the struggles of marginalized and oppressed folks. And, perhaps most importantly, an ally does not decide their status as an ally, nor is that status by any means permanent or universal. You wanna help Queer folks in their struggle against cisheteropatriarchy? Awesome, then listen to what we say and help the way we want you to help, not the way you think we need your help. Macklemore does not represent the Queer community, but all of the above listed artists do. Everything he has done since he’s been in the spotlight has been to appropriate and capitalize Queer peoples’ struggles, except for those that he has erased (what does that “T” stand for again?). Queer folks do not need the approval of straight white men to be proud of who we are and challenge the oppression of the cisheteronormative social structure and we sure as hell don’t need the straight people we have to deal with daily trying to show how open-minded and supportive they are by buying into Macklemore’s whole shtick. Seriously, the next straight person who brings up Macklemore to me because they heard I’m Queer or plays “Macklemore Radio” on Pandora when I come over, is getting shanked.