Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Green Sticks I Have Known and Loved

There's no accounting for taste. Why we prefer one type of book but not another. Why we keep falling for the same type of person at the expense of so many other types. Why I'm drawn to these odd plants but not those odd plants.

These three stalks belong to the Euphorbia genus, and none of them do much other than be green stalks. I love them.

On the left is what I have hesitantly IDed as  Euphorbia alluaudii. Hesitantly because I bought it as a small cutting at the Melbourne International Flower & Garden Show back in March, and it came with no tag. It was just a funny green stick. In the intervening eight months it has continued to just be a funny green stick. It never puckered for want of water, never shrivelled from too much water, never changed colour with changing light conditions or the shifting seasons. It has seriously done sweet f-all. In fact, it was only in repotting it into the above container that I had any proof it was alive.

Look! It has roots! It was doing something after all!

Plants find their own way to communicate their needs. Well. What they're doing is reacting to their environment and altering their structure to best protect themselves, but it can be a form of communication for the gardener. This plant apparently wants for nothing because it doesn't communicate anything. It's a native of Madagascar (maybe), and I can't imagine Melbourne providing the same climate and soil as Madagascar, but hey, it's happy. So, having transplanted it, I'm going to continue ignoring it.

The middle is Euphorbia debilispina, which did come with a tag, purchased at the yard sale of an award-winning plant grower. A native of southern central Africa, I haven't had it long enough for it to start complaining about the conditions I'm providing. My goal is only ever to not kill my plants.

On the right is Euphorbia antisyphilitica, (ANTI-SYPHILIS?!) which was purchased from the same sale and thankfully tagged. Despite being another nondescript green stick of the Euphorbia, this hails from southern USA to Mexico. I'm expecting it to do not much at all.

They should all do well going in to summer. I intend to leave the pot where it can get full sun and pretty much cook them alive. Hopefully this will get them nicely established before the cold soggy seasons roll around again. 

Why am I drawn to these seriously undramatic plants? I have no idea. They're ridiculous. They're just sticks. Frustratingly vague sticks. Still, I love them, I go stand in front of them with my hands on my hips and purse my lips and curse them for being ridiculously low maintenance and entirely happy. 

Friday, November 18, 2016

A Case Study on Well-Spoken, "Reasonable" Bigotry

Geoff shared this on FB. A couple of days previous I had shared the same article, commenting that Hamad's writing did a pretty good job of summing up my position of the subject. It's an article that touches on many nuances of the current climate, but ultimately boils down to the fact that symbols are empty without the accompanying action they symbolise. Wearing a pin does nothing if you're still bystanding the oppression of others.

I opened my big gob, and the following exchange ensued:

I bowed out when I said I did.

Beyond pointing out that the system in America allows the public to choose their presidential candidates (unlike here in Australia in which you can only choose your party, and no one but the actual party members get to pick the leader of that party) and they most emphatically chose the overt bigot and sexual predator as their candidate, I'm not going to break this down again. 

I am, however, going to explain why this is just another iteration of bigotry. 

This will be framed in terms of racism, although the framework should overlap with pretty much all forms of oppression. When I say 'white', I'm speaking of the Concept of Whiteness which has saturated western society, which isn't necessarily tied to one's heritage, especially given that being white doesn't stop the Polish in the UK from experience hate crimes, nor protect white Jewish people from anti-semitism. 

I will be using CALD - Culturally and Linguistically Diverse - as shorthand for non-white people. I came across this term in the essay 'Fuck Your Echo Chamber' which is also well worth a read. Previously I would have used PoC - People of Colour - but I've never been fully comfortable using it, as it is a form of appropriation, having been coined by Black African Americans, for Black African Americans. CALD appears to be Australian in source. 

For the most part I will be speaking from a position of oppression and marginalisation, and so speaking upward, at those whom have privilege. Given this instance will be focused on racism, it could be interpreted as being solely aimed at white people, but my hope is to speak broadly enough to encapsulate the general axis of privilege.

This will bleed together events in America with politics in Australia.

For some of you it will be old hat. Don't worry about it, it isn't meant for you. For others it might be new, in which case I apologise for the coming torrent of jargon, but there's only so far down I can break this before it becomes too disheartening.


The overt bigots are easy to spot. They're yelling "Fuck Off! We're Full!" or "Grab her by the pussy!" They're dangerous - literally - and it's highly unlikely that any of them will change their world view without something extremely drastic happening to them personally. There's been much discussion on what can be done in the days following T's appointment as president-elect, and a ghastly amount of that discussion pushes for people to reach out to and understand the 'other side', ie, those who voted for him. 

This actually reeks of White Saviour-ness, even though it is targeting predominantly the white demographic. 

Bigotry already has privilege, and in this case, power. To reach out to someone is generally framed as appealing to their better nature, and someone who already has power has no real impetus to change their circumstances. Casting bigots as just misunderstood and waiting for a kind hand to show them the way is assuming that this hasn't been tried. It has. For centuries. The oppressed can tell you that asking nicely accomplishes nothing. It also appears to forgive the bigot of all the harm and damage they have already perpetrated, excusing it as "they didn't know better". This ignores the voices of those who suffer at the hands of bigotry, who have be asking for consideration for a very long time. This is not something any one should have to ask for. 

There's also the assumption that bigotry will want to have this conversation with you, the privileged ally. For the most part, bigots don't think of themselves as bigots. They see themselves as realists, or intellects, and are acting for what they perceive to be the greater good. A conversation that may change their position must alter that definition of 'good'. People do not react well to the implication that their idea of what is good is wrong. 

I've had this conversation many, many times, with many and varied people. Mostly with very good people with very good intentions. On the occasions I've actually got through to someone, it is because they were already willing to actively learn and listen. I can count the number of times I've been successful on one hand, and these were people who were already savvy to the forms of bigotry. They deepened their understanding of the nuance of oppression, but they were already allies. 

For the most part, however, I receive push back and defensiveness. I won't count how many times I've been told that I've hurt someone's feelings by pointing out what they're saying is problematic, which typically prioritises the feelings of the well-intentioned ally over the feelings of me, the person being othered. This then puts me in the position of having to point this out as well if I'm to make my point. I assure you, they don't like hearing this any better. The whole thing where it is now considered more hurtful to be accused of racism than it is to actually perpetuate racism plays out in many different ways. 

I now assume that when I point out bias/bigotry, no matter how nicely or politely, this will be the outcome. It ends with me saying my part, and then saying no more as the other party continues to justify and excuse themselves. It does not end with learning. If learning is something that comes later, very few have come back to actually acknowledge their part in the interaction, and what it cost me.

You could say that's on me and possibly I suck at conversation, which is entirely likely. I might be able to bash out a blogpost, but I can't hold my own in a conversation to save my life. However, I am not the only person saying these things. There is a resistance at play which has nothing to do with my conversation skills.

Bigotry that is not easy to spot comes dressed in good-manners, is well-spoken and often sounds perfectly reasonable. While folks being abused and/or in physical danger need immediate assistance, if you want to change the culture, then it is the well-presented bigotry you must also challenge.

Geoff's original comment probably doesn't ring any alarm bells for the privileged ally. Or, perhaps it did, but the privileged ally was unsure of what exactly was off and how to address it. I explained in my first comment the problem with his framework. And in my second. He would not engage with the subject of the article, which I tried to bring it back to, and he thus attempted to control the direction of the conversation according to what he had decided was valid.

This was a derailment of the actual subject, and a derailment used to then dismiss the entirety of what was said in the article. The net result was the dismissal of both the voices and pain of CALD people. 

He further remarks that this is 'bad and divisive journalism'. When the marginalised speak of their oppression, specifically when speaking against the privileged and powerful, they are often chastised for being 'divisive' to the cause. This is one way the privileged silence the oppressed, as this implies that these problems faced by the oppressed are not legitimate, and that the problem is the complainant, not that there is something to complain about. Shut up and fall in line is the real message.

It becomes slightly more overt when Geoff states that it goes "beyond racist whites in the US". This is partly true: the current state of US politics is a giant mess of racism, sexism, classism, and probably many more ugly -isms, and in fact the current state of politics in Australia is the same mess, just playing out differently. However, Geoff is in this case using it to dismiss responsibility from the white vote, while at the same time ignoring the fact that the 'we' he claims need to seek answers also includes the article author, Hamad, a CALD person in Australia, whose article is actually guidance for action. 

By that point, it was pretty obvious to me that he was not listening. He hadn't listened to Hamad, wasn't listening to me, so I felt pretty sure that unacknowledged and unaddressed internalised bigotry - be it racism or misogyny - meant he'd already dismissed the voice of any CALD woman. There was basic groundwork he'd have to do on himself before this particular conversation was going to be in any way productive. 

Perhaps a properly white person would have had more luck. Perhaps he would have viewed my words coming from the mouth of another white person, or man, as being worth heeding. 

That particular comment thread ended civilly. This second comment thread, not quite so much. 

First of all; mad cheering to Lukas for stepping in. Bro, you have my sword. For context, Lukas is also CALD, and in the USA.

Second; Geoff's tone goes through a significant transformation. His first response to Lukas is almost conciliatory in nature. His second comment is another story. As indicated by the timestamp, it was edited. Initially it contained nothing but tags for myself and Lukas, presumably to get our attention. That's what I saw before I turned off, at any rate.

It appears that when neither of us came when summoned, that conciliatory tone evapourated and what is nothing short of white privilege having a foot-stamping tantrum came out.

For starters; no CALD person is at the beck and call of a white person, especially a white person who has previously dismissed and derailed CALD voices. Nor does any CALD person owe validation to a white person when said white person suddenly decides to project a sympathetic tone. Opportunities to do thusly had already been ignored, and as indicated by the foot-stamping, that attempt at sympathy and care was not sincere. It is likely at that point Geoff realised that he sounded like a typical privileged white person (because he did) and so was trying to alter that impression. He became aggrieved when we did not immediately appease this attempt.

This is exactly the issue with the safety pin. The words Geoff chose and when he chose to use them indicate that he was more concerned with not being seen as 'one of Those Whites' than he was with the actual experiences of CALD persons facing bigotry. When he was not rewarded for this 'goodness' he accused both of us of playing games with identity politics and of generally spouting BS. Not to mention going off at Lukas about discussing race politics in the USA, he who is actually living in the USA, which Geoff certainly isn't. It was Geoff who started with comments on the race of voters in America.

The implication here that identity politics only apply to CALD persons and is in fact divisive is based on the assumption that whiteness is not an identity, but the default. This is the basis of white supremacy. Lukas's final comment is a good summation and I will again point you toward this excellent essay as it contains a fine breakdown of how identity politics are used by the privileged and powerful all the time.

Geoff also implies that by calling for consideration, Lukas and I and the groups we signify are to blame for 'alienating' the left and centre. This is essentially tone policing, telling us we need to fall in line and know our place for the sake of white feelings. He is telling us to behave according to the expectations of the privileged. This is a means of silencing the anger of CALD people, by threatening to withhold support if said CALD person isn't 'nice'. Doing so indicates that the CALD person is not viewed as an equal person, thus the support dangled on offer is not real support. He also forgets that CALD people populate the left and centre. 

Due to the fact that the Australian media is currently fixated on American politics we have been inundated with updates on what T is doing and saying. This has had a palpable affect here. The re-election of the Liberal Party in Australia (here, the Liberal party is the conservative right, don't ask) along with the One Nation Party winning multiple seats has emboldened the bigoted elements in this country. T's appointment is further validation for many bigots, be they overt like the One Nation Party or standing in the closet door muttering about how the place is going down hill. Hate crime happens here, and the US election has seen a noticeable increase on what was already increasing. Giving platform to T and the like is giving them power. This is a great article here on the hypocrisy of Australia's obsession with the US elections, given our own track record and current practices. US politics are influencing the landscape of our society because we're listening.

Only two CALD people challenged Geoff's comments. No allies.

There are many reasons why this could have happened. This is specifically for those who didn't see the problem or didn't know what to do.

My suggestion has always been and will always be to listen to those over whom you have privilege. This isn't accusing you of bigotry, but pressing you to acknowledge the privilege you have. While I've primarily spoken here from the position of the oppressed, I have great big mountains of privilege. Within Australia, with my biracial identity, I am still in the position of coloniser over the Indigenous people of Australia. My privilege is being of Asian descent, which means in the false hierarchy of "which dirty migrants are worse" I'm actually not too bad. I'm a cis woman, largely heterosexual (trag├ędie), middle-class, and while chronic physical and mental illness restrict my abilities, I'm pretty much able-bodied. That is a lot of privilege. 

So when I tell you to listen down the privilege ladder, I'm not suggesting you do anything I am not already doing myself.

What this will do is broaden your understanding of the impact of bigotry, and more importantly help you to recognise the myriad forms bigotry will take. I'm guessing not many recognised the bigotry present in Geoff's initial comment; I did, because while I talk about these matters a lot, I spend even more time listening. In this instance, Geoff revealed his true colours with very little prompting. Learning to recognise nuance, recognise derailment, dismissal and erasure even when its dressed up with Cornell University figures, is the first step in challenging bigotry. You can't fight what you can't see. 

I owe a great debt to Blak and Black women, to trans, non-binary and queer people . Listening to them has helped me recognise much of my own unconscious bias and keeps me humble. The time they take to speak is a constant learning experience. I can only strive to earn what they teach. Thank you. It's from you that I have the courage, confidence and conviction to speak now.

Listening will assist you in being a better ally. An ally should not speak over or speak for the oppressed. That's once again the centring of privilege and making it about you. It may seem subtle, the difference between saying "I think X" and saying "So-and-so said this, which I agree with," but there are magnitudes of difference. The former positions you as the font of wisdom, the latter amplifies the actual oppressed and signals your support. It draws attention to the voices that should be heeded.

More importantly, listening will help you to identify the unaddressed bigotry you carry within you. We are all of us guilty of bigotry in one form or another. Growing up in a western country, surrounded by western media - the news and entertainment - and western advertising will plant so much conditioning in your unconscious that yes, you will reject the notion that there's even a speck of bigotry in you, the mere suggestion is abhorrent. I grew up surrounded by all this, and have had to, am still dealing with, all manner of internalised bias which is to the detriment of others and myself. My childhood taught me to be ashamed of my racial heritage. It takes a lot to unlearn.

Glass houses, thrown stones. You cannot challenge others for what you have not addressed in yourself. The most unconfronting way to do this is to listen, listen, listen, and assume, take for granted that you are part of the problem

No one can see you listening. You'll have time to apply what you learn to yourself, be disappointed in yourself, figure out how to do better by yourself, and this is far more comfortable than, say, having me decide to make an educational moment out of your comments.

But finally, listening empowers the oppressed. 

The oppressed demographics have been oppressed in western countries fooooorrrrr aaaaaggggeeeesssss. They have been repeating themselves foooooooorrrrr aaaggggeeesssss. What I'm saying now is what so many others have said before me. I am not saying anything new. 

If you want to know what to do: listen.
If you want to know where to donate: listen.
If you need the tools to take up this fight: listen.

In not listening to the oppressed, but heeding and following the privileged, we have ended up here, now. What needs to change; the oppressed have already figured that out. What needs to be done to bring about that change; the oppressed have already figured that out. The only thing needed to bring this about is for you, me, us, the privileged, to listen.

If you think by writing this I am out of line, mean, "bullying" or the like, I suggest reading through all this again. So often the onus of education is put on the oppressed. We are the ones who have to argue for our own humanisation. You can see me entering into a discussion in these comment threads, and I deliberately policed my tone to make it palatable. When those tools don't work, then I will use other tools. If you wish to control the manner of your education; educate yourself. Policing how the oppressed educate their oppressors is yet another example of privilege speaking, again. Pointing out that Geoff was not seeking education is once more centring on the privileged. The oppressed are not going to wait for their oppressors to wake up. 

The worst that may come of this is Geoff having his feathers ruffled and ego hurt. T is a clear example of the consequences a white man will suffer when exposed as a bigot, ie, none. I've done Geoff a mercy and not put his name in text, removed his surname from the screencaps. No search engine will link this to him.

What comes from the views Geoff broadcast is the further entrenchment of insidious bias and privilege, which enables the violent and abusive bigotry so many are focused upon. 

This isn't a call to dogpile. If you perceive it as such then you haven't been listening and I'm not sure I want what support you were going to offer. It would have been nice if some allies had stepped in to simply say "I agree." That time has passed; he's completed his emotional cycle. Because Geoff's position is founded on unacknowledged and unaddressed white privilege he was never going to hear me. He might have heard his peers though.

Geoff isn't throwing bricks through windows, nor hurling abuse. Regardless, his expressed views are bigotry. This unacknowledged, unaddressed bias and privilege won't lead to him starting fires, but it is this exact same unacknowledged, unaddressed bias and privilege that enables bigotry to flourish, to normalise, to become overt. 

Chances are that most of us will never actually have the opportunity to intervene on an abusive bigot and play the hero. Should such an instance arise, then hell yes step in. However, for the most part, fighting bigotry is unheroic. It involves frustrating and uncomfortable and tedious conversations with people you respect and admire, with your close friends and distant friends, it involves upsetting people, it involves being 'mean', it will end with people being angry at you, relationships marred and possibly ended, and it needs to be done.

It is just as important to challenge insidious bigotry as it is to stand up to overt bigotry. This must be fought, at all levels.

This was sent after I'd left the conversation, and before his foot-stamping.

I was not having a conversation.

I was challenging the bigotry.