Casino
kim-gordon

PUAs, Kim Gordon and the Narrative of the Scorned Woman

Kim Gordon’s husband left her for a younger woman. Literally nothing could be more boring. This is the way of things, the most normal, mundane, expected story that has ever or could ever play out. He left her for a younger woman because he could. Because he’s rich and she has nothing on him. Because she dared to get old, and lose all her value. Because he doesn’t have the integrity to keep to his commitments. And commitment is the only thing reason men with options keep old women around.

Her story is interesting because she’s Kim Gordon, and he’s Thurston Moore, and they were Sonic Youth. “The couple everyone believed was golden and normal and eternally intact, who gave younger musicians hope they could outlast a crazy rock-and-roll world.”

Her story is also interesting because even the fantastically talented, still beautiful, paradigm-shifting, rock-and-roll changing Kim Gordon is, at the end of the day, just like everyone else. “Just another cliché of middle-aged relationship failure — a male midlife crisis, another woman, a double life.”

What a terrifying fate. Cast aside, just when no one else wants you. Lied to and betrayed, then left alone to die. Used up and then discarded, never to be touched again. The prevailing narrative of what it is to grow old as a woman is designed to put women in their place. Make no mistake, it’s a warning to us: Find a good man while you still can. Ensnare someone who will love you even after it’s a sacrifice for him to do so, or else.

But back up for a second. This narrative rests on some assumptions. Mainly, on the assumption that women get less valuable as they get older. It’s a biological reality that women lose their fertility before men do. It’s a social reality that reproduction is only a small part of what makes a woman valuable.

Which is not to say this is a reality that all people will grasp. For some, a woman’s value beyond reproduction is too frightening a thing to fully appreciate. Some people cling to ordered views of the world where people have their place, men before women, young women before old ones. More subtle differences, characteristics, traits, and contributions are lost on some people, either because they are too dull to pick up on them, or too afraid to acknowledge them.

A woman is made valuable, by and large, by the same things that makes a man valuable. Most men and women acquire these as they age. Wisdom, virtue, work ethic, patience, kindness, self-control are learned habits, honed over a lifetime.

It is difficult, though, to appreciate wisdom without a modicum of wisdom, virtue without a modicum of virtue, etc. As a sex-positive feminist, I’ve often been asked about my feelings about Pick-Up Artistry. The truth is that it saddens me deeply that there exist so many men whose ability to appreciate women goes only as far as sleeping with them once. I can think of little sadder than trying desperately to get into the kiddie pool when the ocean awaits. Whether they are too stupid to fully appreciate a woman or too afraid to try varies from man to man. Regardless, I find myself too wrapped up in pitying the lack of ambition in their goals to worry much about their tactics.

It’s like, with our acceptance of the scorned woman stereotype as representative of women’s fate, we’ve replaced critical thinking with a PUA view of women. To limit women’s contributions to fertility or signs thereof is to swim in the kiddie pool of one half of humanity.

The narrative is wrong. In fact, women initiate more than half of divorces. In fact, most splits are over money, not sex. In fact, women get better as they age, just like men do. And there exist, in this world, despite the narratives, despite the PUAs, despite people who need to enforce rigid roles for men and women because to do otherwise scares them, men and women who understand this. Who value what women gain as they age more than what they lose.

More than that, the narrative is deleterious. And we’re fools if we believe it. I’ve got a new warning to us: Be a good woman because you can. Only tolerate someone who will love you because they know they’re lucky to be able to do so.

struggle

What I Want in a Class, and a Lover

Having established that I am an inveterate asshole, I do not want it sitting out there that I’m a whiner. As much time as I wasted over my year in the Dick program I did learn one invaluable lesson: “No bitch without a pitch.” So herein I will explain what I want out of a class, which, it has occurred to me, is also what I want out of a lover.

It might have happened before Dr. Collins, but I’ll always remember him as my first. I’d studied the Constitution, as in read it, before. How hard could the Constitution and Federalist Papers be? It’s an undergrad class. But oh, hey, guess what? Your Alabama public school social studies class in no way, shape, or form prepared you for Dr. Fucking Collins, who reads Latin and Greek for funzies. I was blown away. I scribbled furiously, barely following him as we read Locke and Rousseau to help us understand the philosophical underpinnings of this document. It was like being the star of your podunk high school’s football team, then showing up at practice at Alabama. Fuck me, I thought. This is so good. I am so dumb. It was the best, and spawned a deep and abiding crush on Dr. Collins, despite the fact that he was approximately one billion years old, and cranky as shit.

The second class like this was a two-day training right after I was hired for my first big-girl job after college. It was called something like Bruce Clay SEO 101, and literally everyone in the class did internet for a living, including someone who worked for the Bang Bros franchise. I did not know any HTML. The closest I came to internetsing was AIM and a Livejournal.

I called my dad in tears. I didn’t know what anchor text was, and they were trying to teach me how to optimize it for search. He told me that it was uncomfortable, like drinking from a firehose, but that I’d get it eventually. That no one expected me to know this stuff already, but just show up and learn. I did. It was miserable, right until the group photo at the end where Bruce Clay himself grabbed my ass. But shortly thereafter I became Birmingham’s very own SEO expert. Lolcats.

The truth is I like some discomfort, some terror. I like the pressure to pay close attention, to be 100% present, just to not be left behind. I like the idea of some struggle to prove my worth. Whether it’s a man or a class or a friend. My saving grace is that I’m not actually all that smart, so it’s not too much of a struggle to find a struggle, especially in this town.

I can’t tell you how much it breaks my heart that the beauty-for-status trade is mostly a myth. I keep offering my looks for status, “Here, take them!” But no one will. “Ugh,” the Harvard guys say, as they pass me by for the Yale chick. And I’m crying into my beer, alone. Whatever, Harvard. You’ll never make Yale happy. Oh wait.
Which means, of course, that if I’m not going to be smarter than my friends and lovers, that I need to be nicer. Which is, as we’ve discussed, a struggle all its own.

asshole

I Wish I Could Stop Being an Asshole

Not to sound *too* terribly arrogant, but I’ve got a few things going for me. But, probably the thing that holds me most back from getting what I want in life, other than not being able to want any one thing for more than five minutes, is that I cannot stop being an asshole.

The latest iteration of the pattern was this class I signed up for. To protect the innocent, I won’t name the class or the organization it’s offered through. It’s something interesting and business-y, but not directly related to my career goals. The reason I signed up is that I wanted to undo some of the damage I did the last time I was in close contact with this organization, which is well-funded and influential. We’ll call it the Dick Foundation. But it’s pronounced “doke.”

I’ve taken classes offered through Dick before. You know that person in class who always needs to argue with everyone about arcane shit no one else cares about but for some reason really works them up? Who gets really upset when the classes teach things they disagree with? Or gets very invested in how things are taught? That was me. It was a year-long class and by the end of it I’d freaked out and alienated nearly every person I’d come in contact with.

The weirdest thing about it is that I knew better. I knew that making a good impression, and the helpful connections and relationships that would result, was far more important than whatever petty bullshit I kept calling people out over. Alas, I was an addict, and self-righteousness and pedantry were my drugs.

So with a solid year between that class and me, I vowed to do it better this time. I’d show up, be nice, make friends, and, coincidentally, perhaps learn something.

Having done (most of) the reading, I sat down. The PowerPoint began. I read points from the book word-for-word on the slides. Then the instructor read those points, word-for-word, from those slides. This is where my rage started bubbling up. And this, my friends, is where I should have left.

Now, I have no idea where this rage comes from. It’s a free class. All I was missing is the Tuesday discount for buying plane tickets and some girlfriends meeting for drinks in DC. Maybe it’s PTSD from Alabama public schools, where a teacher who didn’t read straight from the textbook was a rarity.

But as one hour turned into two, my expression got more dour. I crossed my arms and scowled. I could not believe he would dare to stand up there and waste my time by simply explaining what I’d already read in the book.

Everyone else seemed happy, chipper, even. Asking polite, pertinent questions. Going along to get along.

When the teacher asked me if I was getting anything out of it, before I could stop myself I said, “The book is really clear.”

Why did I say that? These people around me just nodded their heads. These people are going places. They will obtain positions of power, influence, and wealth.

And the craziest part is that it’s not like I’m some super genius or have a photographic memory. My memory is horrible. So it’s not like I can’t benefit from repetition. I just find it excruciatingly painful. Inexplicably so. Literally my only saving grace is that I have zero emotional attachment to or investment in the content of the course, or I would surely have made an ass of myself about that as well.

Realizing what was in store, I left after the second hour, before the third (!) began.

A woman’s got to know her limitations. And I literally cannot sit through three hours of reading a textbook I’ve already read off of slides which are then read aloud. Cannot do it. Wish I could. Would be better if that were possible. Really jealous of the people who can. Look forward to working for them. But I’m going to have to quit the class before a whole new group of people realizes that I’m literally incapable of not being an asshole.

If I had this superpower, that these people seem to possess effortlessly, who knows what I could accomplish, beyond sitting through three hours of this class. The other kids didn’t even look upset. They looked like nothing was amiss. What would I do with that kind of patience and zen?

grass

Sex-Obsessed and Single on Valentine’s Day: Three Tips for Making It Work

This weekend will be my first Valentine’s Day as a single adult woman. Woo! I will not be judging my boyfriend for being basic and buying me something default like a giant teddy bear. I won’t be going to see 50 Shades of Grey. I tried to read it and had to stop. Mind you I’m no snob. I read all four Twilight books, twice. And I regret nothing. But this was literally unreadable. Every page was filled with cringe.

Here’s my thinking about Valentine’s Day: It sucks. It’s a lot of pressure, for very little reward. I didn’t especially like it when I was in relationships. I’m still meh on it now. I think most people think like this, but it’s like a game of romance chicken, where neither person wants to be the asshole who didn’t do anything for Valentine’s Day. I read that women are more sad to be alone on Valentine’s Day than men. That’s probably because men are A. more relieved at dodging the expectations train, and B. excited about the prospect of women looking for self-esteem sex.

I maintain that there’s only one reasonable excuse for being sad on Valentine’s Day, instead of thrilled to avoid the considerable financial and emotional costs of culture-mandated “romance.” And that’s that you’re sad you’re not in a relationship in general.

I never, ever thought I’d say this, as someone who has been correctly described as “boy crazy” from a very young age, and “sex obsessed” after that. But I’m really happy to not be in a relationship, on Valentine’s Day and beyond.

This sounds sad as hell, I realize. I remember having a crush on a political science professor in college, as a nerdy young future political writer does. He was divorced, and lived alone in an apartment with his cat. I remember thinking it was the saddest existence possible. Now, divorced, living alone with no cat and not enough money for rent and furniture, I see Dr. Collins was onto something more than the Federalist Papers.

Living alone and being single is the shit. Really. Here’s why: Friends. They’re harder to make and keep when you’re putting a ton of time and energy into a romantic relationship. And being the socially awkward, self-centered, quirky person that I am, I really didn’t need the handicap.

The research backs me up. Single women are happier, healthier, and live longer. The reason is that they are more integrated into their communities and have a larger, tighter social circle. As for healthier, men take terrible care of themselves, and it rubs off on their partners.

There is one glaring drawback to singledom. Here’s where I’m going to keep it real for y’all. Because I love you. Sex is both harder to get and far lower quality. Those two things usually don’t go together, so it’s like a one-two punch in the vagina. I’m not saying it’s hard. It’s just harder than rolling over and touching a penis, which is generally all that’s required when you’re living with a man you’re in a relationship with. Or rolling over and smiling. Or just laying there and living your life. Sex mostly just happens when you’re in a relationship. But being single means I have to actually text someone, wait for them to come over, and then kick them out after. The kicking them out is definitely the best part, as sleeping alone is probably singledom’s biggest perk. But it’s also awkward.

This seems like a problem which could be solved. But it also seems like a bit of a trap. Here’s one of life’s great mysteries: How does one have consistently great sex with someone, but not end up on the hook for any of their emotional needs or with a consistent sleep partner? It’s like rolling around in a field on a beautiful summer day. Fun, until you get up and you’re covered in grass stains and/or hives.

If someone could point me to some kind of listicle on that, I’d be forever grateful. In the meantime, here’s what I’ve learned on the eve of my first single Valentine’s Day:

  1. Do something fun with your friends. I’m going to ISFLC, where I’m going to see a shit-ton of people who I love who live out of town. We’re going to party down. If you don’t have friends, now is an excellent time to make some.
  2. Own your shit. Charles Manson got engaged in prison. If you wanted to be in a relationship, you’d be in a relationship. Oh, you haven’t met the right person? Stop being a victim and take ownership of your life. You wouldn’t say you just haven’t met the right job, now would you? You’d go out and make do with whoever will take you who you like best until you find something better. Because you want a fucking job. If you don’t want a fucking relationship, that’s fine. But own it.
  3. Be the person you’d want to date. What qualities would you love your ideal partner to have? Do you have them? If not, why the fuck would they want you? As it turns out, opposites attract and the status/beauty tradeoff are mostly myth. In reality, assortative mating is the norm. Which means people choose people with similar levels of attractiveness, education, income, intelligence, social status, and so on. So be the person you’d want to be with and they’re going to be more likely to want you. Or, you might find out that being that person is more than enough for you. Either way, you win hardcore.
vaccine

The Other Big Problem with the Anti-Vaccine Movement

Three kinds of people have been sharply dividing the nation over the past few weeks: People named Tom Brady, people who had movies made about their involvement in the Iraq War, and people who refuse to vaccinate their children. Each reveals the utter insanity of large swaths of the American public in their own special way. But I’m going to focus on the latter, because of what it reveals about just how stigmatized mental differences are in American society.

Now, it would be easy to rail against anti-vaccine parents for bringing extremely contagious deadly diseases back from near-extinction, putting the lives of their children, and other immunocompromised children, in needless jeopardy because they can’t be bothered to learn what scientific consensus or herd immunity means. And many have.

But I’m going to take the high road. After all, science is hard. And I, too, am frankly suspicious of the medical industrial complex.

What I’ll rail against them about instead is that they are so afraid of mental difference that they would prefer to risk a measles outbreak to non-standard psychological makeup.

Before I go on, just to reiterate, there is zero peer-reviewed, non-debunked evidence that any vaccine has in any way contributed to any mental illnesses, disabilities, or even changes. From the New York Times, “The anti-vaccine movement can largely be traced to a 1998 report in a medical journal that suggested a link between vaccines and autism but was later proved fraudulent and retracted.” On the other hand, there is a ton of peer-reviewed, non-debunked evidence that not vaccinating is the leading cause of the recent resurgence of measles cases. NTY again: “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that measles cases soared last year to 644, many more than in any other year in more than a decade. Since Jan. 1, the C.D.C. has confirmed 84 measles cases in 14 states. California’s health agency, which is updating a measles count more frequently, has reported 91 cases, with the biggest number, 27, here in Orange County.”

So that means two things. First, many parents refuse to believe there is any chance of a spike in deadly diseases as a result of not vaccinating. This is a level of delusion that’s hard to even comprehend, much like still believing the Iraq War was necessary or beneficial. But for the rest of non-vaccinating parents, they must believe that the small chance of bringing back whooping cough is worth decreasing the chances their kids will end up on the autism spectrum. Let’s say that again. They would rather kids possibly die of a preventable disease than be slightly off of what’s generally considered psychologically normal.

The problem with mental illness is that it’s fundamentally less straightforward than any other type of illness. We know how a liver is supposed to function. When it functions differently in a better way, no one generally knows. When it functions differently is a worse way, we call it an illness. Determining that someone is mentally ill requires knowing how people function normally, and then deciding whether deviations off the mean are good or bad.

Let’s look at autism specifically. Autism is marked by certain deficiencies, the most glaring being the ability to read others’ emotions. It’s also marked, sometimes, by other heightened abilities, such as memory or information synthesis. Autism prevents some people from forming meaningful relationships or holding down a job. It provides others with incredible genius. People with autism are different from people without autism, yes. But what makes that difference an illness? Being an asshole also prevents some people from forming meaningful relationships or holding down a job. Does every form of asshole need a diagnosis?

And what makes the mean preferable? All genius is neuroatypical, by definition. That what differentiates genius from madness in our society is the ability to get along well with neurotypical people and fit snugly into the machinery of 9-to-5 corporate work should give us pause about the shaky foundations of our bigotry against people who fall outside that mean.

One drawback of this bigotry can be seen in the measled-up faces of hundreds of American children. The other is unseen. We’ll never know how many geniuses languish unrecognized, who never utilize their strengths because they spend their energy trying to fix what’s wrong with them instead of use what is right. How horrible to go through life feeling broken instead of just different.

We can get angry at parents deathly (literally) afraid of a non-neurotypical life for their children, sure. That’s easy. Or we can look in the mirror at how we contribute to this fear by stigmatizing and ostracising people who think and feel outside the mean.

This post originally appeared at C4SS.org.

abe

Flattery Will Get You Everywhere With Me

Tonight was one of the more awkward, weirder nights of my life. And my life’s baseline levels of awk and weird are pretty high, in my estimation. You know when two people are having a pissing contest where their egos are pretty clearly on the line but they’re trying to act like they’re not and this is all in good fun, one-upping each other with “witty” comebacks and trying to make the other look, and feel, foolish? Yeah I really hate that. Before you say it, yes, it is because I’m not very good at it. I just can’t train my brain to expect anything other than earnestness. It takes me a relatively long time to believe that the thing a person just said wasn’t literally true.

I’m just an earnest person, which accounts for a lot of the aforementioned awk and weird. I like everyone to be in on everything. I like people to be kind to each other. I’m never impressed when someone can make someone else look dumb. How hard is that? People are freaking dumb. What’s hard is to return nastiness with kindness. That’s impressive.

I’m never clear on what I’m supposed to be doing while two people take their dicks out and compare them. Comment on the girth? Pretend something is happening on my phone?

At one point the boy tries to reconcile. “Really though, I had a good time tonight. I like you.” And my heart warmed. I smiled. The girl though gets mad! “I see what you’re doing here.”

Here’s another thing I don’t understand. Why do people get upset about flattery with an agenda? As if there’s a store of totally genuine positive thoughts and feelings people have about you, and only a compliment plucked from that secret garden “counts” as “real.” First of all, everyone does everything because they want something. That’s called being alive. Sure, there are levels to which they are aware, consciously, of their scheming. And levels of skill at obfuscating that agenda, as I have to remind myself, because I have no obfuscating skills whatsoever. But I’m not going to hold introspection and self-awareness against anyone! Second, let’s just say that the person does not, in fact, find my whatever, purse, let’s say, actually “cute,” but only said it to curry favor from me because they expect that will help them in the future. Bitch, that’s flattering! That means they think I’m a person of influence, worth buttering up! Frankly that’s way better than having a cute purse.

My life is a series of social interactions where I’m not exactly sure what is happening. Some nights, I am fairly certain I do know what’s going on, and I do not like it. That was tonight.

floppy

Enough Pressure to Kill An Erection

As a feminist, sometimes I get upset by popular depictions of male sexuality. Take this video, Sex Tips Which Don’t Suck, which I found fabulous, and moving. The spoken word poetry describes a man unconcerned about his female sex partner’s pleasure. But what I’ve found in my life is the opposite, of men eager, almost desperate to please me. Men are so messed up en masse, that it feels wrong to malign them for something so far from universal.

The most moving part was at the end, the women learning how to ask for what they want in bed. Which, despite my sex-positive feminism and the fact that I blog on the topic, I find strangely difficult to do. As my friend described me, “You’re a typical Evangelical, obsessed with sex.” This is true. I don’t write about sex because I’m fine with it, squared away, only positive feelings. That’s boring. I write about sex because I’m obsessed with it, in a way one can only be obsessed with something with which they have some kind of deep and abiding conflict. And for all my efforts, somehow thinking deeply and publishing about the politics of sex hasn’t really made me any better in the sack.

So I’m sitting there watching this video, going, “Yeah, you go girl, ask him in a firm-but-not-bitchy way to slow it down!”

But what they said in the first bit didn’t jive with me. Which isn’t to say all men are giving, sensitive lovers. I’ll admit to my own selection bias in who I’m going to get down with. Also my utter naivete. Until very recently, I’d never been cheated on, lied to about something big, or strung along for sex before. To be young again…

But anyway, if ladies are getting caught with an oddly large number of bedroom jackasses, they might want to take a look in the mirror. There are lots of dudes who want to make sure you have a good time.

Contrary to those women, who my heart goes out to, what I’ve found with surprisingly frequency, are men so intent on pleasing me that they can’t. And it really does seem like the more they care about me as a person, the more they have trouble making it happen.

Time was, when I was far too old for this shit, that I thought that an erection problem meant a man didn’t find me attractive. It pains me to type that because it’s so stupid. I was 26 when I was faced with this for the first time. (late bloomer) Now, when a man can’t get it up I try to stop saying things to him like, “Don’t worry, this is going up on my blog later.”

Honestly, I feel for modern man. These women, with all their equal paychecks and sex having and live-Tweeting. How do you impress her? And what happens if you fail to? I recently had a guy straight-up tell me (in different words) that his ability to get it up was directly conversely proportional to his being emotionally vulnerable. He could not bang the same woman he cried in front of. What does this mean about masculinity? Perhaps that I have weird friends. Or maybe all this pressure to be perfect affects men as well as women, but in men it creates a flaccid penis, and in women it creates spoken word poetry.

“Women are not so much concerned about bravado, they tend to be more confident and therefore more honest,” a friend wrote to me. “They are the hunted not the hunter so they aren’t as concerned about making a faux pas and therefore the one thing they treasure above all is honesty. The secret to unlocking a woman’s mind is being absolutely honest and forthright. Most women love when a man is ‘vulnerable’ the reason is because that’s what it takes to get most blokes to drop the pretense and ‘be real.’” All I ever wanted was honesty. That’s probably why I’m single. And as much as I hate all the “men are this way, women are this way,” I see some truth to this.

Except that we’ve invented “the cool girl” which is essentially women telling men that false bravado is no longer their purview alone. Not that I think any of this is necessarily new.

What does it mean that I write about sex? Not that I’m good at it, or squared away in any real sense. It means I think it’s fascinating. Because it’s more than sex. “Everything in the world is about sex, except sex,” wrote Oscar Wilde. “Sex is about power.”

The distribution of power is changing. What does sex look like while we live through the death throes of patriarchy?

I guess the ultimate sex tip that doesn’t suck from me my spoken-word poem, would be, “If you’re encountering a lot of men who don’t care about your pleasure, bang different dudes, and make sure you’re communicating your wants effectively. But mostly just shun selfish lovers to the outer banks of access to fornication. And yes it sucks that you have to change your behavior instead of the boor changing his. But that’s the nature of boorishness, it’s pretty impervious to helpful suggestions.”

And to me, it would be, stop intimidating lovers with your good looks, witty banter, and fantastic blog, you minx. Their erections don’t stand a chance.

garner

White People Do Not Think That Black Lives Matter

We’ve got another awesome Sex and the State guest post! If you would like to submit a guest post, please fill out my contact form with an brief outline of what you want to write about.

Halfway through Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s 2013 novel, Americanah, the protagonist, Ifemelu, writes a blog post, perhaps a better one than I am able to write here. She writes with the lived experience of a non-American Black woman, one who is frequently asked whether “they eat dogs in Africa,” one who must sear her scalp with hair relaxant just so she can look “professional” enough to get a job. She writes with an unaffected wryness I can never have when writing about race.

She writes something, a piece of advice to other Black people in the United States, which breaks my whiteness in two: “If you’re telling a non-black person about something racist that happened to you, make sure you are not bitter. Don’t complain. Be forgiving. If possible, make it funny. Most of all, do not be angry. Otherwise you get no sympathy. This applies only for white liberals, by the way. Don’t even bother telling a white conservative about anything racist that happened to you. Because the conservative will tell you that YOU are the real racist and your mouth will hang open in confusion.” This survival guide for victims of racism speaks volumes, not just about Blacks’ lived experiences, but about the nature of whiteness.

I have wanted to write about white racism for a while now, but every time I do, the subject seems so daunting. It’s a slippery, burning thing, this white racism. I think I will never fully understand it. But a white friend told me recently that he was insulted by the slogan, “Black Lives Matter,” because, he said, it implied that he didn’t already agree with the statement. And when he said that, my whiteness shuddered, like when I read Adichie’s words. I thought, “Maybe I will write about this white racism. Maybe I’ll say something, and see if it makes sense.”

White people do not listen to Black people, because we do not think that Black voices speak any kind of truth. We put stock in white institutions, white publications, white celebrities – and white racists. My first impulse, when someone tells me that their grandfather has just died, is to console them. My first impulse, when a Black friend tells me that someone has said something racist, used to be (to an extent, still is) to tear down their story. To ask: “Are you sure they said that? Are you sure they meant that? Are you sure you didn’t imagine this?” At best, I think this impulse results from a desire to be certain that no one has actually done harm to another person. At worst, I know that it is a socially promoted belief that racism is dead (or gone, vanished to somewhere “else”), and that Black people overreact, fabricate, and belong to a culture which cannot be trusted to produce any kind of truth.

Why, for example, is it entirely believable, almost a matter of fact, that Darren Wilson would never have shot a Black teenager because of implicit bias against Black bodies – while it is also wholly believable that a Black teenager would, for no discernible reason, charge and beat a white police officer immediately after allegedly committing a robbery? Why is it unbelievable that a white police officer is lying, but so believable as to be automatically factual that a Black teenager would be stupid and violent enough to beat the living shit out of said cop? How has this claim been maintained, despite the fact that Darren Wilson emerged from the encounter with barely a scratch

Certain narratives are always credited from the start. The narratives of white cops are one instance. What else can explain the media reporting that twelve-year-old Tamir Rice, who was shot and killed by a white cop in Cleveland for holding a BB gun, was the product of an abusive household? What purpose could that information possibly serve, other than to further legitimize a narrative of white cops saving dumb Black people from themselves? Why is it that when a prominent Objectivist intellectual wrote a Facebook post about Michael Brown, he referred to him as “Big Mike” throughout and included the teenager’s height and weight – but called Darren Wilson “Officer Wilson,” and didn’t include any similar stats about the rather man-sized cop? How is this “objective”? How is it that the privileging of one narrative over another, despite evidence and voices to the contrary, is not only acceptable, but natural?

White people have been raised to accept some sources of knowledge more quickly than others. Because we have been represented in every major legal, political, scientific, academic, and commercial institution in this country, we have no distrust of these institutions. They have always been our institutions, speaking with voices that sound like ours, representing interests that have (sexuality, gender, class, and disability aside) always been in line with ours.

White people, since the inception of “whites” as a class of people distinct from Blacks, have by definition, been those who owned, and were not owned. Non-Jewish white people have never been experimented on en masse by scientists looking to test new medications. White people have never been sterilized for being white (forced sterilization being a practice that extended into the 70s and ended in 1981). White people have never been barred by law, as a punishment for being white, from living in certain parts of the country. In short, white people trust this country’s institutions, because we have never had a reason not to. We can easily claim that these institutions have changed, that Black people are not slaves, may own property, may go to university, may live wherever they want. We can claim that these things are true – and we do claim it, regularly, when we complain about Black people complaining about racism – but in doing so, we reject the legitimacy of Black voices.

We assume from the start that Black people who say, “I was discriminated against,” or, “The TSA let my white friends go through but strip searched me,” or, “I was fired from that job because I wore my hair in braids, instead of relaxing it” – are lying. We assume this from the beginning. Because it is not supported by white institutions. And the funny thing is that when these institutions do produce research, at long last, proving true what Black victims of racism have always said – proving that a white man fresh out of prison is likelier to get a job than a Black man who has never been to prison, proving that resumes headed by “Black-sounding” names are passed over for more “traditional” names with equal or less experience – white people denounce these findings, ignore them, call them “Marxist” or “collectivist.” And so the cycle of racism is complete: mostly-white institutions identify and discriminate against Black people as a collective, and when Black people seize on the trait which is the object of that discrimination, white people accuse them of racism, collectivism, “tribalism.”

Socially epidemic racism functions so smoothly by blaming the victims of racism, and removing from those victims the central tool of resistance: the ability to identify your oppression. In Objectivist terms, we might call this thesanction of the victim: “the willingness of the good to suffer at the hands of the evil, to accept the role of sacrificial victim for the ‘sin’ of creating values.” In feminist terms, we would call this victim-blaming. In any terms, it is unjustifiable.

My friend, the one insulted by the statement that “Black Lives Matter,” is a good man. I like him very much, he is intelligent, he strives to understand the world around him, and he’s so unlike most white people I talk with about racism in that he’s willing to accept that it might, in fact, exist. But he believes that white people already know that Black lives matter. He says that a better chant could be found, one which doesn’t seem to imply that all white people are racist. Ari Armstrong, an Objectivist writer I usually respect, has written that saying “Black Lives Matter” is collectivist, because it implies that all Black people are blameless, and all white police officers are monsters.

How do I explain what I am still learning? No, not all Black men are blameless. But this is not the point. Yes, most white people, if asked, would agree that Black lives matter. But that, too, is not the point. What does it mean to say that you believe Black lives matter, and then refuse to believe it when your Black friend says, “Something racist happened to me”? What does it mean to say, as Armstrong does, that we must value all individual lives equally, regardless of race – and then ignore the mounting evidence that police are readier to shoot darker complexioned people than lighter? What does it mean to say that, “I, as a conservative – a libertarian – a liberal, am opposed to racism,” but to accept only white narratives and white voices as the “objective” voices?

The truth is that white people do not think that Black lives matter. We have never been taught how. And our individualist ideology, though valuable, can ironically become a pernicious kind of collectivism when we ignore the persistent influence of old ideologies, old racism, and how this racism still informs our biases. A consistent objectivity, a consistent individualism, would be reflective, introspective, and always critical of assumptions. It is always astonishing to me how white individualists who claim to be critical of government institutions can suddenly become the most fervent defenders of big government when race enters into the discussion.

Anyone who lays claim to individualism and objectivity must confront where they come from, how they were raised, what sorts of narratives they were always taught to believe, and which other narratives they were taught to discredit. Objectivity is not a state of being – it is a practice. And white people have failed to keep practicing.

Brendan Moore is an undergrad studying English and French. He lives all over the place. He enjoys a good beer and subversive feminist stand-up. Both at the same time.

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Photo from VICE.

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Writing About This Is Way Scarier Than Writing About Sex

I really prayed for the first time in a long time last night. It’s been years since I’ve regularly done more than the occasional, “Thank you, God,” or “Please help me find my phone.” It’s been years since I’ve stepped foot in a church. In the meantime I’ve lost touch with all my believer friends.

A few moments led me to that prayer. The pivotal point was laying on my sister’s attic floor, tripping on acid, watching the pattern of the ceiling tiles dance beautifully. I suddenly remembered something my father said to me about the moment I was born. Years ago, he told me that at the moment I was placed in his arms, he felt an entirely new way to love another human being. Not a sappy man, he tried to explain to me that it feels like you could not possibly love another person more. And then it happened again. The product of that was tripping with her girlfriend downstairs when I thought about that conversation, and bawled.

Then her roommate walked in, and asked how we were doing. “Tripping balls,” I said, tears in my eyes. And my friend who was with me cracked up for the millionth time that afternoon.

I have exactly one non-family friend who I speak with regularly who is a Christian. A dude I was trying to get to love me described me as a “lapsed” Christian. Which is accurate, and not. I still believe in God and love Jesus, as I’ve written about before.

The thing is, I want to experience that kind of love. I’m not down with exiting this earth without loving another human being like that. Maybe it won’t happen for me, and that wouldn’t be the worst thing. It’s never been my sole mission in life. A stranger on Twitter described me as “not the wife and mother type,” which I totally own. And yet, I’m going to try.

Two questions arose out of my realization on the floor of the attic. The first is, what will my relationship with God look like? What will I teach my child (should I be lucky enough to give birth or adopt) about him? The second is: What will my partner’s relationship with God look like?

Since I broke up with the Evangelical Church, my relationship with God has been distant, guarded, “appropriate,” as I described it to my mother. The truth is that I did terrible things when I was wrapped up in God. I look back in horror at who I was. Self-righteous doesn’t begin to cover it. Sanctimonious. Ignorant. Of course I want to blame the church for my bad character. But the truth is that it doesn’t matter. I’ve avoided the church in part out of fear of again becoming what I once was. Half-assed isn’t my default setting. Hair-on-fire zealous evangelical is how I roll.

As angry as I am about all the bigotry, misogyny, sex-shaming, and narrow thinking I perpetrated and endured as a Southern Baptist zealot, I’ve never been able to deny God.

At night, the man I loved right after I left my husband and would ask me why I believed what I believed. As he slowly cracked opened my unthinking, knee-jerk morality, the sunlight of empiricism and skepticism shone in, disinfecting my brain and washing out so much superstition. He taught me how to think, and showed me that what I’d been calling thinking was feeling and believing. And that they were different.

Yet there remained a place which resisted skepticism and empiricism. He asked me recently why I believe in God despite a lack of empirical evidence. I told him that it was like measuring volume with a ruler.

I don’t know why I still believe in God. I don’t know why I ascribe certain experiences to the supernatural, and specifically to God. Why, as I violently broke away from any expectation that God has anything to say about the way I act and behave and totally rejected Christianity as a good basis for my ethics or morality, did I still pray those little prayers? Why can’t I be content believing in God as a deistic force, existing but removed from my day-to-day?

A heuristic is a mental shortcut that allows people to solve problems and make judgments quickly and efficiently. I’ve got a tendency to overthink bigger decisions. As annoying as those “God led me to…” people are, they’re not overthinking it. A bias toward action is a wonderful thing, however you accomplish it. I need to make some big decisions, namely who/whether to marry and whether/how to procreate. A shortcut sounds great right now.

The other reason was revealed in the words with which I began my prayer. “I miss you,” I said to the God I’ve spent the last three years denying could care about the minutiae of my life.

I’m afraid. I distrust my ability to practice faith responsibly. But whether God can be a heuristic for me, or just a tiny part of my life, is something I’d like to have settled. I’m not sure where to begin. I don’t know if I can silently sit through slut-shaming or bigotry in church. So far I’m reading Relevant and listening to Christian music.

Writing about this makes me feel about a million times more vulnerable than when I write about sex. I’m not sure why. Perhaps because it’s more important. Perhaps because I’m a million times more regretful about the things I’ve done because of religion than anything I’ve done in bed. Perhaps because my desire to separate myself from the things people will assume about me because I love sex is tiny and insignificant compared to my desire to separate myself from the things people will assume about me because I love Jesus.

But of course it’s my personality to lean into the discomfort. Like all writers, I want to expose exactly what people want to keep hidden. So I want to blog this journey. I hope I have the courage to take it, and document it.

Photo by Pawel Kadysz

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I’m Trying to Make My Sales Content Half as Compelling as My Political Writing

When I saw the Fast Company Create, headline, 4 COMPLETELY SCIENTIFIC WAYS TO KNOW IF YOUR CONTENT IS COMPELLING, my first thought was, “I used to know how to create compelling content.” I’ve only been in sales, and out of full-time political writing for three weeks, but I already feel like has-been city.

Now, I want to make a distinction. My political writing may or may not have been good. There are solid arguments either way. But, by God, it was compelling. Comments on my posts would appear days after I put them up on Facebook. Twitter wars over what I wrote would rage for days as well. People devoted entire Facebook pages to reacting to what I’d written. And I was memed. More than once.

The Fast Co article describes how compelling content evokes a powerful emotional response. My stances on already-fraught issues are already evocative, even when I don’t realize it. And when I do find myself agreeing with the mainstream, my immediate thought is, “How can we progress?” As a future-oriented person, I want the future to be better than the now. And I know that doing the same things we’re doing now won’t get us there. I want to innovate everything, and that often involves sacrificing some sacred cows.

But how do you do that in sales and marketing, my new field?

I learned what headlines drove clicks when I worked at Reason. “If it bleeds, it leads” holds true. And if it’s bleeding, you’d better get that across in the headline. But what’s bleeding in sales and marketing? How do you get people as riled up about sales as they are about death and taxes?

There’s probably no way. No one’s going to get as weird about internet marketing as they are about the concept of privilege. And, really, thank God for that.

But here are some things I want to try:

Making the value clear

What someone’s going to get out of the post should be clear in the headline.

Make it personal

Reading me, people should know a little about who I am, where I’m coming from, and what I’m trying to accomplish.

Make it matter

Sales and marketing make all other innovation possible. We’re creating the conditions necessary to move humanity forward toward prosperity and away from want. This stuff matters, and we have every reason to take it seriously.

Photo by Kelley Bozarth