“Are you Muslim?” “Does it matter?”

This past weekend I was at the 2015 Hunger Walk benefiting the Atlanta Community Food Bank. I’m there through my internship, a non-profit that works with the Hizmet Movement (AKA the Gulen movement)–a peaceful civic interpretation of Islam that fosters understanding and dialogue between all faiths, based on the ideas of Turkish scholar Fetullah Gulen.

In such an environment I wasn’t expecting to have the conversation that I did. Before the walk begins, I was speaking with a middle aged woman who, upon learning I’m at the walk through my internship, asked: “Are you Muslim?”

I told her, “No.” I’m not Muslim. I din’t tell her I’m Jewish because I distrusted her.

She attempted to backtrack but didn’t apologize because she didn’t realize she had done something wrong. She then told me, “I know not all Muslim girls wear a headscarf.”

This is true, but it doesn’t justify her question. If she had to ask if I was Muslim it meant she would view me differently based on my answer. She needed to know to satisfy her own curiosity and prove her own goodness and accepting diversity. It’s the same way that by telling me she knew not all Muslim women wear hijabs, she was really telling me was: I’m a good liberal woman, I swear. I’d accept you even if you were Muslim.

And I’m sure she’s a good person, but she didn’t need to prove how liberal she was to me. I talked with her throughout the walk and found out she routinely does walks for Breast Cancer, that she supports gay marriage and that she’s aware of issues of race. These conversations came up naturally and we were having a discussion. I felt more at ease because she wasn’t trying to prove anything.

I’ve been having a lot of conversations with one my friends lately about the “good liberal on the street” who thinks that listening to NPR, voting for the democrats and supporting gay marriage or having a gay friend makes them radical and leftist and somehow helping the world. But if this is all a person is doing, if this is all a person sees as making a difference, and if a person is willing to stop there and congratulate themselves on their good liberal lifestyle they’re still part of the problem.

NPR is tame. Gay marriage is the tip of the iceberg.

As long as liberal people feel the need to prove how liberal they are with questions like “Are you Muslim?” then we’re stuck in an unfortunate definition of liberality. We’re stuck with liberals but not activists.  I’m not saying these “good liberals on the street” are bad people, or that being radical somehow makes someone more moral, but we need more than surface level change. We need to arrive at a day where the answer to the question “Are you Muslim?” is “Does it matter?”

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How Superheroes Can Demonize People of Color

I went to an anti-police brutality rally protesting the death of Mike Brown recently. But it wasn’t just about Mike Brown. It was Trayvon Martin. It was the woman down the street.  It was for everyone who ever suffered under a racist police system.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ari/8460113914/

Anti-police brutality rally, Feb. 2013.

And as I stood in the crowd and chanted and yelled with my voice ringing with a myriad of voices around me, I thought about superheroes. I thought about the Justice League coffee mug I own and how out of all the superheroes depicted everyone is white.

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The mug features head shots of Robin, Batman, Superman, The Flash, Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) and Wonder Woman. Everyone is white. What this means is that the heroes are white. The good guys are white. The guys who win, the guys who have the power, the moral righteousness that lets them make difficult choices. These heroes are white (and overwhelmingly male). I know not all police officers are white. I know you can be a person of color and still be racist both against your own race and against others. But I also know the message DC sends to its fans when it produces merchandise like this.

Cyborg is now on the Justice League and I’m thrilled that DC has taken this step, but it’s not enough. We need to show comic book readers of all colors  that your race has nothing to do with your morals. We need to show casual fans that in a world where racist police exist, at least in fiction it doesn’t have to. That’s the joy of fiction: it can illuminate the world’s problems and it can also offer solutions to them. And sometimes the solution is depicting a world where it has already been overcome.

That’s Problematic

I tend to move in left wing circles of friends. This is great because it means we very rarely need to tell one another to stop using homophobic language or to treat the female participants of the conversation as full individuals, it also means we tend agree on most issues. So, how is this a problem? Well, in order to become more knowledgeable about the issues we discuss (gender, sexuality, race, economics, government, politics, etc) having a cross flow of ideas is invaluable.

Think about cross ventilation in your home or apartment in the summer. Imagine how the room becomes unbearable with a lone fan sitting in the window blowing hot air into the hot room. What can initially seem as a joy in and of itself (at least you have a fan, or  a space for liberal discussion) that joy does not last.

I’ve noticed that when I’m in these groups, one of us will comment on how something is problematic. Disney’s Pocahontas, for example. I might say that I love that film, but I am well aware it is problematic. Another of my friends will agree with me and we move on. In short, we’ve identified a problem,  but failed to unpack what’s actually wrong. All it would take for us to have a discussion and not just throw around vague opinions we both agree on, is for my friend to ask me, “how do you see Pocahontas as problematic?”

Because maybe I’m thinking about the affront to Native American culture when the white men leave in peace at the end, denying hundreds of years of continued abuse, brutality and racism. Maybe my friend is thinking about the sexualization and exoticization of Pocahontas as a character. Maybe another friend jumps in and talks about two-spirit ideas of gender in Native American culture.

Pocahontas

 

Suddenly “problematic” has branched off into many veins and sparked a conversation where a cross flow of ideas can take place.

Unpack your ideas and don’t be afraid to be challenged or to challenge others. Ask questions to better understand another’s views. There is no need to sit with that same one fan blowing hot air. Open up another window, turn on the AC and let the ideas circulate. The conversation will be far more fascinating and your opinions far more developed.

Websites You Need to be Following

I always struggle to be politically informed and I don’t have an excuse. I have access to print and online sources. I have no excuse not to be informed. However, I am always concerned about where I read my news and what sources I can trust to give me a full picture of current events. Here are a list of websites I’ve compiled for anyone suffering under the same dilemma I face. These websites are not just news sites, but also websites with links to important petitions and social action campaigns.

1. http://www.truthdig.com

Truth Dig (founded 2005) is an online news website dedicated to digging up the truths more mainstream media would not cover. Some of their most famous publications include “The Last Letter” (written by a paralyzed American veteran who served in Iraq and writes to former President Bush and Dick Cheney calling them war criminals) and Sam Harris’ “The Atheist Manifesto.” The website has won 5 Webby awards for best political website.

2. http://www.democracynow.org

It’s an independent news site. That in and of itself immediately makes it more trustworthy  because I know they are not bought and sold by corporations. The hosts, Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, contribute to the news both through broadcasts and online journalism. If you do not want to read their stories online, check them out on NPR.

3. http://www.justforeignpolicy.org

As Just Foreign Policy explains on their homepage, they are about changing American foreign policy to be more just and reflect the views of average Americans not corporations. Like Democracy Now, Just Foreign Policy is also an independent news site. Their current campaigns range from releasing the US’s torture report to the public, to ending Drone Strikes in Pakistan. What I like best about this source is that it does not just encourage you to donate, but offers alternative means of action. Most times you are asked not only to sign a petition but also to make a phone call or send an email to your local representatives or even President Obama.

I am open to further suggestions of your best news site and I plan to add to this as I become more educated.

 

 

 

Why I do not want a woman president

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I am ready for Hillary but America is not. And this is the issue. Hillary Clinton (or any woman running for office) should not be defined by her gender. The fact that it is groundbreaking for a woman to have a fair shot for the American presidency, puts unnecessary emphasis on the fact that she is not a man. It should not matter whether she is a man or a woman so long as she fulfills the role of President and makes smart decisions for the country.

It is a similar situation when President Obama was running for his first term in 2008 and it was groundbreaking that a black man could not only run for president but be elected. And the logical leap commences that because a black man is president of the United States therefore racism is a thing of the past. If a black man can “make something of himself” every black person (or person of color) is obviously just not trying hard enough to make a decent life for themselves. If they are poor, if they are in jail, if they are illiterate it is now undeniably their fault. We live in post-racial world, after all. The logic of these statements do not hold up.

Just because one person of a specific race achieves something deemed “out of the ordinary” by the dominating white culture, means nothing in regard to the others of that race suffering under systematic oppression. The fact that a successful person of color is deemed “out of the ordinary” at all holds its own immense problems.

I fear that if Hillary Clinton is elected, it will give the world another excuse to claim feminism is a defunct principle that belongs in a history book and not in contemporary issues of debate. If a woman can become president, then sexism cannot exist, right?

In addition, anything that goes wrong during her presidency would be blamed on her gender. Most arguments I hear about why we need a woman president is based on biological essentialism: women are naturally more inclined toward peace and therefore a woman president would prevent wars. Women are not naturally inclined toward anything and neither are men, but this argument consistently arises. Even people who support female leadership do so by putting emphasis on her gender. This is not the way to bring about equality but to further the gender divide and place it as a normal concept in the public sphere.

Whoever becomes the first woman president would be an experiment, but even worse, an experiment pre-determined to fail. No matter what she might do in office her policies will be treated harsher and she will be more criticized than her male predecessors. Women in any sphere fight a two fronted war. They need to first fight to enter the conversation and then fight again to get an idea implemented. Imagine fighting this war when you are chief executive of a nation trapped in a political system that is already stagnant. It’s not that she would fail because she is a woman, but that is exactly the message the American people would receive. Everything would be a failure for not being the perfect president women have claimed a female president would automatically be. Putting someone on a pedestal is just another form of oppression: it gives you a reason to hate this person when they do not live up to your expectations.

I believe in gender equality, but I do not believe in a female president. The only change in American politics would be the gender of the commander-in-chief. Instead of instituting gender equality from the top-down we would be replacing a male led power structure with a female led power structure. Politics would remain stagnant. Policies combating racism, sexism and classism would remain on paper (at best). And when her term (or terms) were over she would be relegated to a footnote in history.

Gender equality will not come about through top down reforms anymore than racial equality came about with Obama’s presidency. Real change needs to be a bottom-up overhaul of the oppressive systems that make a black president or a female president an anomaly even in the 21st century.

Take Up Space

It is not difficult to look into a room and know immediately who controls the area. Watch people’s body language. How do they sit? Who is standing? Where are they gathered and around who are they gathered? Who looks the most comfortable in the space? Chances are the ones in control of the space are men.

Count how many women sit with their legs or ankles crossed.  Count how many men sit with their legs splayed. Who is controlling the space?

Men are taught to take up space when they enter a room. Whether that is literally inhabiting more area by sitting with their legs splayed, or standing with confidence to dominate those who are sitting, men are taught they enter a space and they own it. Any competition to be top-dog exists between men only. Women in the space are fixtures of beauty to be acted upon and brought into their sphere of influence.

Just the other day I was standing and drinking tea with a male professor. Another man came by and asked if I was cold. I was not cold and for a moment I did not understand. Then it became clear: I was standing with my tea cup grasped with both hands in front of my chest and my shoulders hunched together. I looked cold because I was unconsciously trying to take up less room.

While men are taught to dominate public spaces, women are taught that their presence is tolerated so long as they don’t speak up or take the spotlight from men. It’s so easy to sink into the shadows when you’ve been taught your whole life the public sphere is not for you. It’s easy to relinquish control to the idea of male domination because most of this power dynamic is incredibly subtle.

It’s me standing with my whole body hunched in on itself to give my professor more room. It’s me walking just slightly behind a male companion to let him lead. It’s me readily giving up my control of a situation. Because that’s what this concept of public space is about: control.

If you control the space, you control the people in the space. You set the agenda for what is heard, what is said and what is taken seriously. With myself included, women need to take up more space. It won’t be easy because a woman who takes up space is a woman with a voice and a woman with a voice is a woman who is shot down at every turn. It is “unladylike” and you will be criticized for it. But it is better to have a voice and push to be heard because eventually you will succeed. With more and more women understanding this idea of body politics, we will succeed.

When women take up space we create a more equal playing field before words are even spoken. We challenge the status quo by putting our bodies out there as whole people who deserve respect. Respect yourself and take up more space.

Bring Back the 2% Solution

In December 1930, Albert Einstein gave a speech in New York expressing his dedication to the peace movements in America and abroad. But he did more than speak in abstract ideals of a peaceful future. He proposed a solution. He said:

Even if only two per cent of those assigned to perform military service should announce their refusal to fight, as well as urge means other than war  of settling international disputes, governments would be powerless, they would not dare send such a large number of people to jail.

On December 30th 2013, the US census bureau projected that in 2014, the US population would be 317,297,938. Two percent of the American population is over 6 million people! Imagine the political strength of 6 million especially if, as Einstein suggested, each of these individuals encourages others to stand against war and militarism.

What if 2% of the American people decided to stop paying their income taxes until military spending is cut down and the money transferred to education or sustainable energy? What if 2% of the American people rallied against the NRA? What if 2% of the American people demanded Guantanamo Bay be shut down?

What if 2% of the American people realized they have a powerful voice?

I’m speaking specifically about the American people because America, and specifically American youth, have become depoliticized just when the world most needs a protest movement that moves beyond internet circles.

Politics and politicization is not just for radicals, but for everyone who has something they believe in. Politics is for everyone.  It is the way to have a voice and recognize the power of that voice, especially in standing for peace in a violent world. The suffering of people in Syria, in the Ukraine, the violent attacks on protesters in Taiwan and in Turkey cannot be ignored as conflicts for others to deal with and broker peace. The US cannot take any stance for peace beyond its borders until the US government cuts down its military budget and takes steps toward a domestic peace process to end their own state monopoly on a violence. The US relies on a racist and sexist system inherent in a violent culture to control its population.

Bring back the 2% campaign! With enough people believing in a world free from militarization as a means of political  control, radical change can be made toward a realistic peace.

For more information on the history of an international peace movement I recommend reading Peace: A History of Movement and Ideas by David Cortright.

Our masters have not heard the people’s voice for generations and it is much, much louder than they care to remember. -Alan Moore, V for Vendetta