Thursday, April 30, 2015

Three Interesting Things: The Baltimore Uprising Edition

1. If you are looking for places to support Baltimoreans, here are some book/food/water type places:  Maryland Food Bank, Pratt Library, Village Learning Place, and Baltimore Water Project.
2. A really good rundown of the conditions in Baltimore that have been leading to this quite desperate need for change was in the WaPo here. (I find that the description of the what triggered the looting differs from other accounts, but as a rundown of Baltimore, it is a very useful source.)
3. This article about the strange experience of playing a game for no live fans is, certainly not fluffy, but an examination of a less serious aspect of things Baltimore.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Let's Talk About Privilege

There's been a lot of discussion recently about privilege and structural isms and so on.  And it's really a tough thing if you've never quite seen where in some cases you get certain advantages (or even experience less barriers) to open up and try to examine that.  And also part of it, is that embedded approaches seem so huge to fix, that it's very, very tempting to ignore them and hope they go away. 
Not picking on anyone I'm just going to share some examples that I've seen and talk a little about them.  These examples are paraphrased and the identity of each I don't think is important, but I will state that there are people of multiple races represented here, and while these examples focus on socio-economics, I could easily have plucked some that looked at gender bias, or rape culture, or any other myriad of things.
"These people are in Seattle, so there is no excuse for bad behavior while protesting."  (The bad behavior was not illegal behavior, it was simply a protesting statement that some people find offensive.)
So..first, assuming that people who don't live within spitting distance of the latest situation of a police-related killing, kind of works on the assumption that you think this problem (if, admittedly you agree that this is a problem) is based on specific police officers, the bad apple theory. So if it is just specific police officers who aren't fully trained, or have bad days, or overreact, then, sure, no one anywhere else ever has to worry that they or someone they love will be a target of this.  Except, there are examples nationwide. And look, I am pro-police officers, not just because I am related to some, but I am also aware that there is clearly a systemic problem. I suspect that there aren't simple answers, it won't just be training, it won't just be more safeguards, it won't just be legal adjustments, but that doesn't mean I don't understand why people who don't live in spitting distance of this year's police involved killings are worried that people they love might end up the next statistic.
"Why do protesters interfere with traffic.  People here hate that.  Traffic is bad enough."
Now, I hate anyone interfering with my commute too.  (Okay, sure, as a telecommuter, that's hard to do these days.) But, let's face it, traffic interruptions make news.  Just like athletes wearing t-shirts or making gestures, so these things are not solving any immediate issues, but they certainly work as far as keeping people aware that the protest continues.  During the Occupy protests, it was often easy to forget they were still there.  Every day.  So, if these protestors are making use of traffic interruptions, I'm not surprised.  People commonly come down to DC and refuse to move in front of the White House in the hopes that their eventual arrest will make news.  Sometimes it does.  It's a tactic. 
"Well, that's not enough of a number to really draw any conclusions." (This was in response to the statistic that people of color are about four times more likely to die while being arrested or detained by police.)
I applaud questioning the source of statistics.  However, if you look at the self-reported numbers - here is one article -  it looks bad.  And given that this is the self-reported data, and there are probably many more that aren't reported, well, I suppose it's theoretically possible that any missing numbers are all white people and would skew the statistics.  But here's the thing, the data we have is imperfect at best, but nothing about that data suggests to me that we should wait on a larger sample size.  And, forgive me for making assumptions, but I think the only reason you might think we need more time is if you are again, pretty sure that you don't have to worry about anyone you love.  And if you don't, lucky for you.  But I would hope that would then spur you to say we need better data, not, nothing to worry about here.
"Area unemployment is so low, obviously anyone out of work doesn't want to work."
I'm not saying that there aren't people who aren't motivated to work.  But low unemployment means the job market is good, but doesn't speak to the jobs that are available.  There might be very few open jobs available to people without a certain education level, without an address, or in the DC area, possibly without security clearance.  Also, I may be able to get a job flipping burgers tomorrow, but that job would likely not support my current rent, so even people who have jobs, may be struggling to find sufficient employment to live.  Areas with hot job markets also seem to have high rental and property rates. Again, if you don't want to worry about unemployed folks, you don't have to.  But don't decide that the numbers let you off the hook.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Three Interesting Things

1. This TED talk with the Story Corp founder is just as amazing as you might expect. 
2. Michelle at Fluttering Butterflies talks about growing up mixed race and wishing she could find mirrors in fiction.
3. And Lifehacker has an interesting post on signs the debate you are engaging in will not end fruitfully.

Monday, April 20, 2015

In the Company of Writers 2015

This past weekend was the Washington Romance Writers retreat, aka, In the Company of Writers in Westminster. Friday we gathered up and Bella Andre kicked us off with a great speech at dinner about doing your research and not being afraid to ask. The next morning I was up very early, so I could go into a critique workshop with a group of my fellow WRWers. It was a great session, led by Kerri Buckley and everyone had really great feedback. At lunch, Rita Clay Estrada, who founded RWA (and whom the Rita award is named after) talked about the founding of RWA and how it had been started in part after nasty comments from an attendee at a writer's conference who wanted the romance writers to take their silly books somewhere else. (Be careful what you wish for.) And then of course, the journey led to RWA which was able to provide numbers and information specific to romance writers. At one point, RWA was offered a million dollars for their published author list. (They turned it down.) Chapter awards were given to those that had been of particular help to the chapter. The Marlene winners were also announced and quite a number of winners and finalists were there, which was great. Gwen and Sara Reyes from Fresh Fiction talked a lot about website content and newsletters. American Author gave us another wonderful snapshot into writers brains. I had read a few more of the entries than usual (thanks to contests and such) and so it was particularly interesting to hear the reaction. Mary Kay Andrews gave a wonderful speech about her journey from unpublished to mystery writer and then the agent who said to her, I know what you've been doing, tell me what you to do now? And so she transitioned to be a women's fiction writer. Romance Jeopardy had an Elvis theme, leading to a lot of blue suede shoes. I am kicking myself for not picking up on the opportunity to go Hawaiian themed. The game was as usual, not fair. Some of the questions were really hard this year. I am going to blame Elvis for that. It was still a great time. And then, there was much general writer chill time. I confess, I made a decision that I could not go to bed before Rita Clay Estrada, who was great fun to talk to. Outlasting her did mean I had a bit of a slower start the next morning, but I did make it to Cathy Maxwell's farewell, which this year was introduced by the wonderful and funny Mary Strand who promised she would reveal the real truth about Max. (Um, I could tell you what she told us, but I hear that Max is mean.) Cathy Maxwell talked about the writer tribe we had bonded with and how to remember that storytelling is something that's in your soul, and that's why you do it. It was, as always, so much fun, and the weekend I leave sadder that I only got to chat with half the people there and not everyone.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Three Interesting Things

1. I agree with this post about "Younger" in that is clearly a patchy show at the beginning, but there are moments that are so true and not addressed enough in TV that is is, for now at least, carrying me through the rest.
2. A twelve year old noticed an unfortunate trend in video games, that it literally cost more to play as a girl, and her Op-Ed has gotten the notice of some game makers.
3. And yes, million times to this post about Iris continually being left in the dark on "The Flash".  I'm trying to hang in there until they inevitably (right, universe?) do a musical episode (because, come on, who would waste all that musical talent) but this insistence by all the male people that Iris is "safer" (though she's already been kidnapped and threatened, so, explain that again) by not knowing is not believable.  It was barely believable at the start. It's really unbelievable now. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Two R's

One of the things I've noticed in recent weeks is that there are some similarities in some reactions to issues surrounding rape and racism. People of color are accustomed to folks searching out the reasons behind their mistreatment, explaining away centuries of racism with suggestions like well, stop wearing that hoodie, pull up your pants, and stop the teen pregnancy and then people won't mistreat you.  Totally ignoring the numbers that belie this*, it is a kneejerk response that refuses to look the racism in the eye and seeks to explain it away based on the behavior of the victim. 
Similarly, rape culture is so pervasive that while people maybe stopped asking if every rape victim is a virgin (I think) but there are still discussions about what the victim wore, how intoxicated the victim was (whether or not that intoxication was by choice), and that no, that person is so nice, it was probably just a misunderstanding. 
And so here's the thing.  When you are constantly confronted with these biased assumptions and accompanying microaggressions and people constantly try to explain away the things you know to be wrong as misunderstandings, well, it's hard.  You may start to internalize it, to buy into it, to think you acted, spoke, or dressed in such a way a invite this behavior.  You may try to act, speak, and dress in the ways that have been deemed safe.  And, well, sadly you will discover that people still treat you pretty much the same as before.  You may try to dig deeper into the hierarchy, to start examining those around you through this filtered lens, judging people as behaving, speaking, and dressing correctly or not, to prove you understand the difference.  And who knows, it may mean you go days or weeks before the next incident. 
And another choice is to discard all these respectability politics.  To speak out against those who try to stifle the victims instead of appropriately blaming the aggressors.  And then you might find it hard to address or respond to any criticism.  Might be infuriated every time someone, in the name of balance, told a story of a victim and qualified it with the victim's contribution to their own victimhood.
I don't want to say the answer is in the middle.  Answers often are, but the reality is the first step is understanding that these frameworks are so embedded into the culture that you have to work to discard them.  We are often taught to wait for all the facts, or to try to see both sides, but if someone has hurt someone, assaulted them, or worse killed them, well, there may or may not be extenuating circumstances, but that doesn't make the outward act correct.  Understanding motive is a natural desire - there's an entire TV show dedicated to it.  But, in the end, we need to stop the acts.  Not correct the victims. 
So, telling people to wear different clothes, or use special nail polish isn't empowering.  It is insulting that once again the onus is on the victim to protect themselves from predators, instead of society to stop enabling predators.

*Teen pregnancy is dropping across all populations in the US, as are teen abortions.  Still work to be done, but declining in all populations in the US.  

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Three Interesting Things: The Data Edition

1. Someone did an informal survey of library staff and teenagers as far as what gender they perceived - based on the cover - books were marketed too.  While several survey participants noted that readers of either gender should read what they want, there are still some interesting results.  Certainly I know I gravitate towards certain covers, assuming they must contain more me-like books. 
2. The Vida counts are out this year, and there are some signs of improvement as far as gender parity in literary coverage. The women of color count, well, it showed lots of room for improvement.  As the VIDA folks say, the idea here is not quotas but awareness of trends and habits. 
3. I have not yet watched the Monica Lewinsky Ted talk, but this post from the comment moderation team about how virulent the early reaction was, and how, with the help of aggressive comment moderation, they were able to see a shift in the response, was very interesting.

Monday, April 06, 2015

To Engage or Not

One of the things I have been working on is when to engage.  In other words, to paraphrase the Serenity Prayer, to accept that there are some people and/or some situations I cannot change and to try to recognize the difference.  This is not to say I haven't fallen down the rabbit hole a time or seven, but I worry more about the times I let something, some stray comment pass because it wasn't the right place to engage in any sort of reasonable discussion and yet, I don't want to be the person who let that go unanswered.  I at least want to figure out a way to say, wow, that really makes me uncomfortable, but I then worry that I become one of those people who under the guise of not starting an argument then imposes their opinion and leaves.  Something along the lines of, "Well, that's clearly a terribly uninformed opinion, but we don't have time to discuss that further right now."  Something like that might be mildly satisfying to say, but it hardly helps.  It doesn't explain why the statement or opinion they expressed concerned you, and is really an obnoxious aggressive drive-by disguised as peacemaking. 
But there must be some sort of happy medium.  Sometimes I have found a well placed, "Wow, that's an interesting list of stereotypes," can be effective (and well, if it's not, then I feel pretty good about my assessment of how well a deeper discussion might go).  And certainly there is the, "Well, I'm not so sure about that..."  But there are times when I don't want my first interaction with someone to be, "Hi, I know you probably meant well, but generally we don't use oriental to describe people any more."*
My grandmother on my dad's side grew up in Hawaii.  Oahu specifically.  Oahu is a little island.  This is not to suggest she never travelled,  She did, but Hawaii is, in many ways a small town with a beach. There is great diversity, but not surprisingly, Hawaii's diversity trends more to Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Filipino and other such cultures.  So, less of a population with African or Hispanic roots.  So, my grandmother was using words like colored long past their fashion with most of us.  She wasn't particularly prejudiced about black or African American folks.  My dad and I talked about it once and he said, growing up most of their exposure to black people was to entertainers, so when he thought of black people he thought of people like Harry Belafonte.  But my grandmother didn't really have a lot of opportunity to discuss such things, until she came to stay with us in DC for a few weeks and my mother was a little concerned that she'd say something somewhere in front of the wrong person who would not see that she was just forgetting the current vocabulary, but might think she was making an intentional choice.  Once it was explained, my grandmother did work on updating her vocabulary.
Another aspect of it is the not my fight part.  In this day and age where we still seem to be turning to white men to discuss sexism and racism, it can be hard to figure out the best way to support the people who need to be heard on a particular subject without looking like you're crowding onto their platform, and also not look like you're ignoring it. 
And then there is the outrage fatigue, some days my fury seems iced over, buried deep down inside where I know it should be boiling and find that it isn't.  Social media gives us access to so many more voices, but that some days seems to mean it gives us access to so many more jerks.  It isn't true, there are just as many jerks everywhere, but seeking that balance between staying engaged with the world, and making the best use of my mad about the world is an ongoing balancing act. 

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Three Interesting Things

1.  I enjoyed the letter that President Obama wrote to one of the prisoners whose sentence he commuted.
2. We all know I love a good, I stepped into different shoes story, and this woman who posed as a man on Twitter for a bit found some interesting results.  (I follow some folks on Twitter who have found that changing their avatar from themselves to a white person had similar results.)
3. And well, the usefulness of this information is still being determined but it seems that one mouth virus might actually provide immune boosts when fighting off things like the flu for some people.