Monthly Archives: July 2013

What I’m Reading #1

I’m sad that I don’t write more. I read a ton of articles (thanks Facebook, feedly, and Twitter) and posting all of the links to FB/Twitter seems like a bit . . . much for my friends & followers. So, in the vein I suppose of my favorite Autostraddle column Things I Read That I Love, I’m going to write What I’m Reading lists every once in a while. Comments appreciated!

-Ren

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My Father Once Tried to Take Me Away From My Mother Because She’s Gay

The Atlantic, 22 June 2013

{LGBT rights, history, family, parenting}

This story is devastating, but I suppose it has a happy ending. It’s stories like these, though, that remind me of how far LGBT rights have come. I don’t know what would’ve happened to me if I had been brought up back then…if I ever would’ve figured out my sexuality or if I would’ve gone with what was “normal”, since I wouldn’t have known anything else. I imagine my whole life would’ve been drastically different, which is probably obvious, but this makes it all the more poignant. Also, for the record, battles like this aren’t over yet. Same-sex couples aren’t allowed to adopt children from Russia anymore, and can only adopt in some states (joint same-sex adoption is protected in 23 states plus DC, and prohibited in 7). This article is also super relevant to the episode of Switched at Birth I’m currently watching, in which a character tries to remove his biological daughter from her adopted home–where she is the child of two gay parents. Unfortunately, it’s so easy for me to see this plot line turning for the worse; despite his shaky track record (immigration difficulties, abandoning his first daughter when she was 3), he could probably easily convince a judge that the couple is unfit to raise the child. Kansas (the state the show takes place in) doesn’t have any laws prohibiting joint adoption, but it doesn’t protect it. Despite all of our pride rallies, obviously, we still have a ton to work for. 

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The Invention of Jaywalking

Gizmodo, 22 July 2013

{jaywalking, history, fun facts, social campaigns}

I loved this article, for one, because I am a self-proclaimed professional jaywalker. Since I’m from NYC, it comes naturally to me. I’ve been told by countless old ladies to get out of the road because they’re concerned for my safety, and been warned that in Boise they, perhaps, actually ticket jaywalkers. But why walk further if the path you have is more efficient? I ask. I am always one for efficiency. Anyway, this history is really fascinating and not something I had ever thought about (in particular, how society had to adjust to the addition of cars on the road). I really can’t think of anything in my lifetime that has required so much social adaptation…the closest I get is to it is adjusting to the internet and technology, but that’s mostly a private, personal experience. Not something that the government has to get involved in, really, anyway.

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NYC Mayoral Candidates Spend A Night in the Projects

NY Times, 21 July 2013

{housing, nyc, mayor, class}

This is of special interest to me because I have no idea who to vote for in the upcoming mayoral primary for NYC. I’m glad that they point out that this is a bit reality TV-like, because that was my first thought. It’s very gimmick-y, and I’m a bit skeptical about how this will really affect their policy. Politicians who care about social justice and the poor will be invigorated, and those who don’t will be able to shake off their experience easily enough. I feel like the most interesting part of this is who they’ve decided to bring as their guests. (Spoiler alert: de Blasio is the only one with a family member, his daughter whom I happen to know, Quinn brought her spokeswoman, and Weiner, unsurprisingly, was alone.)

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Mormons Find Internet, Lose Faith

NY Times, 20 July 2013

{mormons, faith, internet, europe}

Mormons fascinate me. I could (and have) watch “And I’m a Mormon” videos for hours. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s because they’re Christians, technically, but so far removed from Christianity. Maybe it’s because they never show up in the places you’d expect (none of the people I know from Salt Lake City are Mormons, and none of the Mormons I know are from Salt Lake City, for example). My religious studies professor called them the Jews of Christianity, I think. Or maybe that was another religion. At any rate, I think it’s interesting to read that all of those people who argue about religion at the Internet might actually be inspiring some people to question their beliefs.

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Five Questions: A Vigil for Trayvon Martin

NY Times, 21 July 2013

{trayvon martin, race, interview, vigil}

Last week I went to the Boise, ID Trayvon Martin vigil, so I want to answer the questions that they ask.

1. I was there because I wanted to get off of my ass and do something to show my support for the Martin family. I was there because I didn’t know anyone in Boise who cared about this in the way that I did, and I wanted to find hope.

2. Frustration, and a lack of surprise.

3. Universal background checks, smaller magazines, no military grade, no Stand Your Ground. The obvious stuff. That said, I’ve never seen the appeal of owning a gun, so I don’t really understand why people want them to be unrestricted so badly in the first place.

4. Hopefully, it will make people think a bit harder about their privilege. Make the government a little less white. Realistically, if it got rid of just one Stand Your Ground law, I would feel a little bit better. Also, fuck Stop and Frisk and racial profiling B.S.

5. This isn’t about you. Because I’m not sure that it is. Under Stand Your Ground, as I understand it (hah), Zimmerman was kind of covered. Which sucks. And is dumb. But it represents a systemic problem, and not an individual one.

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For Funsies:

Carlos Danger Name Generator

The Slate, 23 July 2013

 

Internet-Themed Crayons

Gizmodo, 22 July 2013

 

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On Reading The New Jim Crow While Watching The Wire

I’ve been struggling a lot with writing recently. In particular, I have about 8 titles/ideas for blog posts in my head, and yet I have written exactly none of them.

I’ve watched all of (and completely fallen in love with) Orange is the New Black. I went to a vigil for Trayvon Martin. I’ve read a lot about Trayvon Martin. I have been angry and felt sad and talked about Trayvon Martin. I have not done enough for Trayvon Martin. I became more in tune with my math research. I discovered Ani DiFranco and The Indigo Girls (I know, I know, super late on this gay train). I’ve encountered a lot of new blogs, read a ton, and been generally present. I wrote a poem!

In short, everything is very exciting (not in that everything is good, but in that many things are happening all the time and they tend to be thought-provoking and/or feelings-inducing).

Among these things is that I have finally gotten around to doing two things which have been recommended to me over and over again: watch The Wire, and read The New Jim Crow. If you are unfamiliar, The Wire was a television show that ran from 2002 to 2008 about the Baltimore Police Department’s struggle with a local drug ring. People I know (typically, white liberals) love the show for its evenhanded portrayal of both the BPD and the crime lords–the viewer is meant to empathize with both sides of the struggle–and for how far-reaching it is; each season of the show changes focus, from the neighborhood to the docks to the school system, and illustrates how far-reaching drug crimes are within the community. The New Jim Crow is a book by Michelle Alexander about how the conservative movement have systematically used prisons and the War on Drugs to incarcerate black people in place of slavery or Jim Crow laws.

Before I delve in, I want to note that I am a white woman. While I have known people who have struggled with drug addiction and been in prison, I’ve never been well educated on the details. I don’t know a ton about this issue, and I’m using Alexander’s book to educate myself. Everything I know about the prison industrial complex, more or less, comes from what I’ve read. Mostly, I’m writing this in an attempt to think more critically about this TV show everyone I know seems to love so much. Without further ado, then…

Since The Wire has been off air for more than five years now, and The New Jim Crow was released just last year, I haven’t found anything online comparing the two. But I must admit: reading Alexander’s scathing critique on the War on Drugs as a tool to enforce racism makes The Wire hard to stomach. Sure, it lends a sympathetic ear to those involved in the drug trade–many involved are children who would rather go to college than sell drugs, and even some of the grown men make noble (though ultimately futile) attempts to get out of the business–but it does not delve into the complicated history that Alexander outlines for why this system exists. The men in The Wire sell drugs because that’s what their fathers did before them, and presumably their fathers before that. The show makes it sound as though this struggle (to sell drugs illegally and evade the police) has been going on for centuries; however, as Alexander points out, the War on Drugs was announced by Ronald Reagan in 1982 and it is only afterwards that crack cocaine is introduced and popularized in poor black communities.

Most astonishing sentence so far? There are a lot of them, but this one really got me: “During Clinton’s tenure, Washington slashed funding for public housing by $17 billion (a reduction of 61 percent) and boosted corrections by $19 billion (an increase of 171 percent), ‘effectively making the construction of prisons the nation’s main housing program for the urban poor'” (p.57). WHAT THE F*CK.

Of course the police on the Wire aren’t perfect. They work so hard their wives get mad at them, and then they have affairs. But they are sure to secure warrants before tapping wires and avoid reckless stopping and searching, and state again and again that they don’t really care about the drug crimes: what drives their work is the homicide that comes with it. Which is nice, for a TV show, but doesn’t reflect Alexander’s reality. Stop and frisk laws allow police to search individuals at will, and by “individuals” I mean “people of color.” Alexander describes how cops have used minute traffic violations as an excuse to pull over people of color and search their vehicles for drugs–even though the hypothetical drugs have nothing to do with the so-called “crime” they were pulled over for. Police departments are given millions of dollars in funding (and military-grade weapons) for their pursuit of drug criminals. Furthermore, while The Wire police typically use street dealers to try and gain information about the major ringleaders, Alexander points out that the idea that “the war is aimed at ridding the nation of drug ‘kingpins’ or big-time dealers” is a myth; “The vast majority of those arrested are not charged with serious offenses. In 2005, for example, four out of five drug arrests were for possession, and only one out of five was for sales. Moreover, most people in state prison for drug offenses have no history of violence or significant selling activity.”

I suppose it’s no wonder that, while reading Alexander’s book, I have trouble watching The Wire. The show attempts to depict the war as a battle between two half-goods-half-evils. Two merely different ways of life. But, as The New Jim Crow makes abundantly clear, the War on Drugs is about so much more than that: it is systematic racism, encapsulated. I still have most of the book left to go, and two seasons of The Wire, and while I’m looking forward to learning more, I don’t anticipate that it will get any easier.

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A New Kind of Television

When I first started watching Switched at Birth, I was pretty excited to see deaf people represented on mainstream television. My ASL instructor at the time–a deaf actress herself–warned me not to be too excited; deaf was usually a one-episode story arc featuring Marlee Matlin. But despite the bizarre, uninspired plot line, the show surprised me. There wasn’t just one deaf character, there were numerous. And they didn’t all view their deafness in the same way: while Daphne speaks and occasionally hides her deafness to get by in the hearing world, others, like Emmett and Travis, do not speak for individual (though very legitimate and real) reasons. Communication between the deaf and the hearing occurs in many ways–lip reading, on occasion, but more typically slow and English-esque sign language with written or typed messages when the meaning isn’t clear or the light isn’t good enough. The show regularly and thoroughly (and without compromise!) articulates the struggle of deaf and hard-of-hearing people to survive in a world that wants to fix something that isn’t broken. While the show could certainly use some characters of color and a discussion of cochlear implants**, but while I haven’t had the opportunity, in particular since the all-ASL episode, to talk to the deaf community about their perspective, the show has left me feeling pretty good about the direction progressive television could be headed in.

Similarly, I was excited about The Fosters, albeit wary. I’ve watched Ellen, Will & Grace, The L Word, Queer as Folk, Modern Family, Glee, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy: a lot of white, gay, trans*- and biphobic, rich, glamorous, effeminate men and women who hardly get to kiss (The L Word and Queer as Folk are exceptions to this, but only because they were on Showtime), let alone become more than stereotypes or issues-of-the-week (here’s lookin’ at you, Glee). And sure, they were all progress. They were all a Big Deal. But I’ve never felt represented watching any of these shows, and for that matter, I don’t know anyone who has. The characters were eye candy and comedy–or edgy and tragic. The Fosters, potentially at least, was gearing up to fill the gap that these shows left by tackling visibility, politics, and community.

I cried a lot the first episode. There’s the biracial lesbian working mothers couple. Steph talking to her adopted kids in Spanish without subtitles. The gender non-conforming Jude who wants to wear a dress. Callie who has been screwed over by the adoption and school-to-prison system. Lena, a black woman with natural hair who calls herself a feminist to a straight-white-male and it isn’t a dirty word. So much good in one episode. All the things I had wanted to fix about television: the answers were here.

And the show has not backed down. Jesus shamelessly takes his ADD medication and later pursues the morning after pill for his girlfriend (because proactive birth control and sex education are the healthy option). Lena argues with her mother about African-American racial politics. There’s a Quinceñera. When Jude is bullied for painting his nails, his friend (crush? Dare I speak too soon?) paints his in solidarity. There was a short-haired lesbian in a plaid shirt, and for once I got to think to myself, hey, she looks like I do. I could grow up to be that person. I would like that.

The thing that felt the most off to me in the show thus far is that the poetry slam wasn’t quite accurate.

You guys, read that again.

The poetry slam wasn’t quite accurate.

How privileged are we to have a television show where the thing they can’t get quite right is a freakin’ poetry slam.

No, their lives aren’t perfect. They fight, they’re bullied, they make sacrifices, and run away from their problems. But they support each other. They are community. At the end of the day, they hold hands and kiss (or get it on in the back of the car, your choice). If you aren’t watching The Fosters (or Switched at Birth for that matter), you’re making a mistake. Meanwhile, I’ll be on the edge of my seat for every episode. Thank you, ABC Family. Please don’t let us down.

 

**Editor’s Note: At the time of this post, I hadn’t watched the most recent episode of Switched at Birth, which opens up the discussion of cochlear implants. Goddammit, ABC Family. You read my mind.

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