I Don’t Want To Talk Unless It’s About Tamir

I Don’t Want To Talk Unless It’s About Tamir

“White people, you did this. I don’t care if you’ve never set foot in the state of Ohio. I don’t care if you were mortified by the video of Tamir’s murder. I don’t care if you cried and reached out to your black friends. I don’t care if your children are black. You are responsible for this.

Each and every one of you did this. Save your tears. Rally your fucking people! Demand the change. Prove all that shit y’all are in our inboxes and texts saying. Stop talking about and be about it. Stop asking us what you can do to fix this problem and fix it.

A 12-year-old is dead and no one is being held accountable. That’s the only conversation I’m willing to have. It’s the only conversation I can afford to have right now because I definitely can’t afford a black dress. I can’t afford the undying rage burning inside me. I can’t afford white apathy, white savagery, white supremacy and black docility. I can’t afford one more hashtag. I can’t afford the indignity.” – La Sha

KINFOLK KOLLECTIVE

They say George Stinney, at 14, was the youngest person ever executed by the state. Tamir Rice now holds that distinction. He was 12. Above all else, that fact matters. He had just 12 birthdays before his life ended. If it had been cancer or some other chronic ailment, we’d all mourn the tragedy. Since he was murdered by the epidemic diseases of white apathy and police brutality, though, the mourning for this baby is up for debate.

Black people, we failed to stop this too many times before. I don’t mean marching and begging like we do every time one of ours is murdered by cops. We’ve done that for decades. We’ve tried to appeal to an invisible conscious. We’ve demanded the snuff videos be released to the public again and again. And we’ve literally watched our own die, only to have what we thought was an indisputable account…

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Fear of Dying Dreams

My biggest fear in life is a life unlived. A life wasted. Opportunities not taken. Dreams not chased. I am not afraid of failure as long as I know I went for it. I am realistic enough to know not all dreams come true but to have the opportunity to go for my dreams but not take them would be my worst nightmare. There’s nothing worse than a life unlived, unfulfilled and potential wasted. 

I am not so afraid of death. Though I don’t look forward to it, I know it’s bound to happen one day. I am afraid of death in the context that I have unfinished business or that I would leave my children without a mother too soon. The scenario where I am tottering about in my dotage, sitting there in my home, thinking about all the things I should have done but didn’t do and are now not able to do due to physical infirmity, fills me with dread. There is nothing more depressing than the quiet oppression of a life half lived. Like Betty Draper Francis in the show Mad Men, her life of guilded desperation sent her to an early grave (aided by three packs of cigarettes a day and copious amounts of cocktails). 

I spent a great deal of time this year pondering and reflecting these life choices. I’ve had several bouts of depression this year. More than usual. I took it as a sign that the Universe is trying to tell me something. God is whispering in my ear about changes I need to make in my life. And I had better take note before it’s too late. Perhaps because I turned thirty-six this year and is ever inching closer to the big 4-0, all that’s left undone has been brought to my attention. I pissed away my twenties and part of my thirties in a series of uninspiring events. I didn’t show up for myself. I didn’t take care of myself spiritually. I didn’t look after my soul. And now I am paying for it. 

I don’t have extremely lofty goals. They are all quite reasonable to accomplish as long as I set about doing them and stop with the self sabotaging. I don’t want to climb Mount Everest or Kilimanjaro or even visit the Himalayans. I don’t want to sleep under the stars in the African bush and hope to not be eaten alive by a pride of lions. I am not an outdoorsman. I am a glamp-er. I like running water and indoor plumbing. I don’t want to backpack through India or join an Ashram, again, the indoor plumbing issue. The Eat, Pray, Love paradigm doesn’t interest me either. It’s absurd to travel to three continents for things you can do at home. I want to contribute to society, to my community and to the needy. I want to travel to Europe and visit all the historic sites and be inspired by its history. I want to visit the Ernest Hemingway house in Cuba and play with the cats that live there and experience the house where Hemingway lived and worked and be inspired by his spirit or his energy to write and do something great. I want to travel America, my homeland. I want to see all of America and see how the rest of my fellow countrymen live. I want to visit Mexico, eat real Mexican food, especially the historic pre-Hispanic parts of Mexico. 

I want to do charity work and volunteer in my community. I want to make my stamp in society. I want to make a positive contribution in the world. I want to be responsible for the energy I bring into the world (Oprah said this). I want the world to know I matter. When I am gone I want people to know I existed and I mattered. This crazy cat lady mattered. 

I want to be financially independent and I want to run successful businesses so that I am in control of my time and not be beholden to a boss eight hours a day.  I want to leave a legacy for my children and especially for my daughter, I want to show her how a lady-boss handles her business. I don’t want her to be dependent on anyone but herself. I want to show my children on how to live a full life. To live their best life, in service of others, with gratefulness in their hearts. 

So far, I’ve fallen short. I’ve wallowed in the mistakes of my youth, my wasted opportunities. I beat myself up for the would have, could have and should haves, instead I should be rejoicing at the life I do have. My life of “mundane mediocrity”is just a narrative I tell myself and it’s not true. 

So 2015 is almost over and good riddance. I want to welcome 2016 with a positive attitude. I want to leave all the negativity and confusion of 2015 behind and have a roaring 2016. No more shame, negativity or guilt. Only love, light and gratefulness. 

Happy New Year! 

Reblogged Content: Things my mother never did.

This post hit me like a ton of bricks. It was a punch to the gut. This is what happens when dreams and goals are deferred indefinitely.

I am at that crossroads of being a mother and deferring my own dreams and goals. Many days sort of blend together like Groundhog Day. Some days are brutal, especially when my kids don’t listen to a goddamned thing I say. I feel more like their help than their mother.

But I don’t want this to be my daughter after I am gone. I don’t want her to carry my burden because I didn’t deal with it. I don’t want to project my issues onto her. I am responsible for living my best life, for making my dreams come true.

But here’s the thing about dreams. They don’t die quietly. Hers certainly didn’t. They tortured her with visions of a life un-lived and she stuffed them down and pushed them aside and put everyone else’s needs before her own and she drank to dull the sharp edges of pain and longing.

This is also why I write a blog no one reads. I always wanted to be a writer in some capacity, even a failed one, I always wanted to write. I don’t know if I am a good writer or not, just like I didn’t know if I was going to be an exceptional mother, except that I would figure it out when the opportunity presented itself.

When someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, the first answer that popped in my head is ‘writer’, so I know that is the right answer. Writing this blog is me being accountable for and executing my dreams and goals.

I don’t want my daughter to go “shopping for the best therapist” in town when I am gone, because I projected all of my shit onto her.

Source: Things my mother never did.

Abandonment

Recently I heard from a relative that one of her childhood friends had ‘disappeared’ and effectively abandoned her children (a pair of boy and girl twins aged 5) to the care of their father. I will call her Ashley*. I didn’t know Ashley personally but I knew of her from my relative, who, along with her sister, is a godmother to the twins. I was told when her twins were born. I was given sporadic updates on how they were doing. I always inquired how Ashley was doing, but everyone thought she seemed fine. Her friends were always ready to lend a hand with babysitting as her family was not nearby. Ashley was one of the first of her friends to get married and become a mother and the fact she had a set of twins while still in her early twenties was a novelty to all her friends, most of whom she knew from her childhood.

Apparently, Ashley upped and left her family one day about 2 years ago, when her twins were about two and half years old. She could not be reached or contacted by anyone. Up until today, no one knows where she is or where she is living. My relative assumes she’s living with friends and doing drugs. She used drugs before she became pregnant. I found out in the same conversation Ashley herself had been abandoned by her own parents when she was 12 years old. After her parents divorced, her father moved back to his country of origin. Her mother met another man out of state, got married and moved in with him and decided to not bring her daughter along. She has barely seen or spoken to her parents since. From the ages of 12 to 18, she lived with the family of her best friend.

Through the various ‘updates’ I get about Ashley, I also know her marriage was less-than-happy. Prior to her becoming a mother, she had no college degree or established career and she was working as a barista. Her husband had a stable job and was able to support them all. After her children were born, she had no career or job to go back to and so she was thrust into the role of being a full-time mother, probably against her choice. After all, she couldn’t justify putting her children in daycare on a barista’s wages. So, she was effectively stuck in the house, with two screaming children and alone most times. Because her marriage was fraught, the couple avoided each other, which means all of the childcare fell on her. Her husband, by all accounts, had checked out and detached himself from his young family. He brought home the bacon and kept a roof over their heads and that was about it. And one day she snapped and left without telling anyone where she was going. All her friends were shocked but when they came to, they really weren’t that surprised, after all, that’s what her parents did to her. She’s simply repeating a vicious pattern. It’s all she knows to do.

As my relative was telling us this story, some listeners were pouring scorn on this mother for abandoning her children. I said ‘this girl needs help. She needs help with coping skills. She needs to turn this ship around before it’s too late.’ Someone in the conversation retorted, ‘how do you help someone like that? Someone who abandoned her own children?’ I hear the judgement in the tone of the voice and I chose to not engage.

I learned this over a week ago. This reel of this story is still playing in my head.

I don’t know Ashley, but from I know of her, up until she left her children behind, she was a struggling but caring mother. She was young but tried her very best to be a good mother under very trying emotional circumstances. Since her mother went AWOL on her, the one person she could turn to for support is not available. Her husband was uninvolved and she tried to cope with that the best she could. She often told my relative that she felt trapped in her marriage and in her situation. She has nothing to fall back on and nowhere to go with her twins.

This is the dark side of motherhood that no one wants to talk about. The universally taboo subject of a mother abandoning her duties, her most fundamental duty which is to care for her children in favor of her own selfish desires and needs. With all the mom-nazis and breastapo on the blogosphere, dictating to everyone out there how a child should be raised, no one dares to express the opposite view for fear of judgement from these self-appointed parenting experts.

The narrative usually goes something like this: Parenting is hard, it requires a lot of self-sacrifice, to the point of martyrdom, BUT I’d never trade it for anything else. My children mean the whole world to me. All of this sacrifice will become worth it once they grow up to be amazing people. All the time I muddled through the day in a haze of sleep-deprivation, physical and mental exhaustion, not to mention putting my own desires, goals and dreams on hold to tend to my baby will all be worth it is simply not true. To some women, it is not worth it. It will never be worth it. And it’s got nothing to do with love. Don’t believe me? Google the words ‘I hate being a parent’ and see what comes up.

If you ask any mother if they love their children, in the abstract sense, the answer will almost always be ‘yes, of course’. But love in the abstract sense does not always translate to the ability to care for the child. It does not always translate to having the ability to cope with child rearing and all that it entails. A woman’s best years are also her childbearing years. Having a child for most women, will almost always, delay, derail and in some cases, forever defer her own dreams and goals. It’s not fair, but it’s a fact of life. For a woman to resume her life and career where she left it off pre-baby will take a whole support system which most women do not have.

The simple fact is, not everyone is cut out to become mothers. Some women are more self-aware than others, but most women know if they are the mommy-type fairly early on. And those who aren’t mommy-types, please, for your own sake, do not cave into any pressure to have children. And get really good birth control. There’s no going back after a child is born. Your life will veer between feeling guilty for wanting to chuck it all in and run back to your old life and bitter resentment at your children for taking up all of your life now.

Some women are just better at coping with the frustration that comes with parenting. And some women are more suited for the domestic drudgery that comes with mothering than others. Some women find domestic work healing and nurturing. Some find it a near impossible grind and feel they become dumber with every load of dishes and laundry they wash. Most mothers are in between these two extremes.

I very much wanted to be a mother from a young age. I never thought about my ability of being a mother but I thought I would ‘figure it out’ as I went along. And it was an issue I wasn’t going to force, I was going to let it happen naturally. Meaning, I wasn’t going to marry a man for the sole purpose of procreating. I knew I didn’t want to be a young mother and I wanted to work, carve out a career for myself before I crawl into the cave this is known as motherhood. I had both of my children in my thirties. They were planned and I was ecstatic. I love being a mother. Most of the time. Some days I hate it and I don’t apologize for it nor do I feel guilty for it. After all, my children will probably never feel guilty for giving me such a hard time, I shouldn’t be made to feel guilty for dreading the task of looking after them day in and day out. And I do it regardless if I feel like it or not.

After I had my second child, the decision was made I would stay home with my children full time until they are of school age. It’s been two years since I became a full time mother and four years since I became a mother. I prepared myself for how hard it was going to be but I was wrong in the areas in which it would be hard. I found myself mourning the things I didn’t think I would miss. Such as having hours to myself to read, or blaring my favorite music in the house, which are not child appropriate. I missed having my own paycheck even though it wasn’t a huge amount but it was mine. To be almost 35 and ask your spouse for money is not a place I ever imagined myself being in and at this moment, I am working hard to address that particular irritation.

I feel my brain rotting a bit each time I hear ‘Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round’. Leaving the house to go anywhere with the children makes me just want to stay home because the thought of packing all of their paraphernalia is exhausting. I fancied myself as the mom who lugged her kids everywhere so I can be ‘involved’ in their lives. I can’t even be bothered to leave the house. All of this ‘extra time’ I imagined where I can write, read and learn a new language while I stayed at home with my kids is all but a fantasy. Any time I am not doing any chores I am too tired to do much else. Having said all this, I know it’s temporary. And it seems like eons away but I know they will grow up one day sooner than I like and not need me so much and all of that free time I want will be back. However, a young mother with poor coping skills will not appreciate this fact. She can’t see further than today and it’s just the same as yesterday. One long slog of wiping their noses, picking up after them, loads and loads of washing and a perennially unkept house. Sometimes, that is just too much.

So, back to Ashley, if she had a mother around to tell her that, this too shall pass. When your children are in school, sooner than you wish, you will have time to yourself again. You will be you again before you were up to your eyeballs with diapers and snot. But her mother abandoned her when the going got tough and when a new guy presented her a better life she ran. The thing is, Ashley will probably one day realize this is one of the worst things she’s ever done and she’s inflicted the same pain her mother did on her children and it will be too late to do anything about it. Right now her children are only 5, if she returns to them, even on a part time basis, she can minimize the damage.

Ashley’s children are fine. Ironically, after she left her children, her husband totally stepped up to the plate. He completely re-organized his life to accommodate his children. So, he is capable of childrearing after all and it took his wife walking out on them for him to step up to the plate. I am not blaming him for her departure and abandonment of her responsibilities but that he had a role in it.

*Not her real name.

Reblogged Content: Christmas Gift Guide for the Dickheads in Your Life

The festive season is upon us. This is all in good humor, in an attempt to not take Christmas and all that it entails so seriously. Yes, there are dinners to host (major bugger), shopping lists to do, gifts to wrap, houses to clean, over and over, people to please, unpleasant people you must deal with at this ‘special time’ of the year, perhaps the drunk and pervy uncles you must put up with at this special time of year, all of it.

However, let’s take a breather and take the sticks out of our asses and see people for who and what they are and try to laugh at them or with them. And if all else fails, there’s this helpful shopping list we can shop from to lift their spirits during this festive time. They were not perfect or even likable to begin with, what makes you think they’ll act better during Christmas time, especially when there is too much food and drink?

Cheers and have a good laugh. Happy Holidays!

Source: Christmas Gift Guide for the Dickheads in Your Life

Being Fat and Female

There is nothing more cruel than fate designating a woman to be fat. Being a fat woman, in the eyes of society, immediately renders you second class. Fat women are reviled and pitied in equal measure. Being a fat woman renders you a second class citizen. Being fat means you are only allowed the leftovers in life. Being fat diminishes all of your other achievements. ‘She’s got a law degree from Harvard but what a shame that she’s fat’. ‘Only if she weren’t fat, she’d be so pretty.’ Karl Lagerfeld lamented about how much prettier the singer Adele would be if she were only ‘a little’ less fat and when he was called out for fat-shaming Adele, he was incredulous as he meant it as a compliment, after all, he said she was pretty. Being fat renders all of your other achievements pointless. At least for fat men, if they have enough other compensating factors, being fat can be and usually is overlooked. He doesn’t even have to be rich. A fat man with a degree from a good college, a stable job, good credit, comes from a good family and all around nice guy, he can most likely get the girl of his dreams. But not for the fat girl. Being skinny is the compensating factor for her other flaws. If she’s got nothing else going for her, at least she’s skinny. The sitcom ‘King of Queens’ will never happen for a fat girl. A fat girl will never get a hot, good looking guy of her dreams. A fat girl will end up more like the sitcom ‘Mike and Molly’, where Mike and Molly are both fat and they spend all their waking hours trying not to be fat.

The feminist movement have tried its best to be inclusive of women of all different backgrounds: poor, rich, white, minority, educated, uneducated, high-earning, low-wage earning, young, old, straight women, sex workers, lesbians, genderqueer, cisgender and transgender women, but there is one category we are uncomfortable talking about because it’s so sensitive. And that is fat women. Yes. F-A-T. It’s uncomfortable typing the word ‘fat’ and even more uncomfortable saying it. We have invented other words to circumvent the word fat: overweight, obese, heavy, husky, curvy, round, rotund, anything, because saying the word ‘fat’ is so cringing to say and type. You almost feel dirty writing it.

In this era of people trying to be inclusive of everyone and everything (regardless if deserving or not, but as an open and enlightened society, we’ve told ourselves that we need to be tolerant of anyone and everyone, even the intolerable) yet we leave out fat people. Especially fat women. The feelings and needs of fat women can be ignored, disregarded and not even register on the radar of society for the sole reason that she’s fat, therefore she’s not worthy of being seen or heard.

Denigrating and insulting fat people is the last taboo that is allowed and tolerated. The conversation sort of changed in the last twenty years moving away from aesthetics to health. Instead of calling people fat, we use the medical term obese. Or if we want to be really technical, they are either clinically obese or if they are really really fat, we call them morbidly obese. But it all boils down to the same thing and that is they are all fat, just varying degrees of fat. We talk about the obesity epidemic, how much obese people are costing the healthcare system (not more than smokers, chronic drinkers and drug users but they don’t get all the hate). Kids in school now are fatter than ever, juvenile Type 2 diabetes rates have soared in recent years, especially among the working poor. The talking heads and health experts intone that children are fat today because their parents are most probably fat and don’t know how to feed their children properly. So on top of being poor, uneducated, stupid, bottom of the scrap heap, they are now draining the healthcare system because they are ‘unhealthy’ (another code word for fat). People who are poor are assumed to be stupid, because, as the Republicans will tell you, they are poor because they are too lazy or too stupid to pull themselves ahead. This country is the Land of Opportunity, you will get ahead if you work hard enough. You’ve got to be stupid to let your kids get fat like you too.

Millions of dollars have been spent on studying the ‘obesity epidemic’ and the results of all those studies say pretty much the same thing. When you consume more calories than you burn off, you get fat. So, if you like to eat, join the gym or engage in more physical activity. If you don’t like to go to the gym, then moderate your eating. The diet industry is a billion dollar industry and yet obesity rates are still through the roof.

But if you look deeper, just like everything else, how fat you get has very much to do with your socio-economic background. Middle to high income earners who can afford fancy grains (brown rice, quinoa, teff or couscous), fresh fruits and vegetables have an easier time controlling their weight than those who are at bottom of the economic scale. You will never see children of millionaires and billionaires fat even though they live in the lap of luxury and have access to the finest and richest foods. Even something so basic like food and nutrition has been drawn into this ugly class war. Food conglomerates have found ways to sell consumers processed food at the cheapest price possible. These processed foods are loaded with chemicals, sugar and sodium, some of them have been deemed addictive in some way. When people are too poor, they stop reading labels, they just need to feed their families and if you can get Campbell’s Soup at 2 for $1.00, then that’s what the kids are having for dinner.

In inner city and urban areas, fresh meat, seafood and produce are scarce, also known as ‘food deserts’. Many big grocery store chains don’t want to invest in inner city areas due to security issues, crime, vandalism and the question of affordability by the residents in inner city areas, especially if a substantial number of residents are on public assistance.

But a study by economists at the University of California and Michigan State shows that little progress has been made in pinpointing the real reasons that some areas become food deserts. And some possible causes are more insidious than you’d expect.

It only seems logical that if a neighborhood grocery store shuts down, another one should be allowed to move into the abandoned space. But the anti-competitive policy of deed restrictions often prevent that from happening, which leaves the neighborhood without convenient access to groceries.

In other words Deed Restriction. Safeway and Walmart have been known to use this tactic and leave their former storefronts empty but unavailable for sale or lease. Without access to fresh groceries, inner city residents are left with greasy fast food restaurants for their meals, which contribute to the obesity epidemic.

Like everything else in America, even something so essential and basic as access to food has been commercialized and stratified. Fancy supermarkets with organic foods and produce are what the middle and upper class people consume, and the greasy, processed packaged foods are what inner city folks consume. Inner city folks eat Jif’s peanut butter, but the middle and upper class people eat freshly ground organic nut butters where the sole ingredient is the nut which Whole Foods Market and its competitors have on offer for their customers. They would never dream of eating peanut butter out of a prepackaged jar. One would never see a Whole Foods Market opening in inner city of Chicago. They are lucky to get a Ralph’s and hope the Ralph’s stay open long enough for the residents to benefit.

When a woman is fat, she is denied her womanhood. She is denied her sexuality, her femininity and her basic personhood. Being fat makes you not fuckable, undesirable, and he must need a bag over his head in order to go to bed with you. There must be something so grossly wrong with you where you cannot control your weight. Fat women are bullied senseless first by their families, then by schoolyard bullies and taunted by boys. Fat women are more likely to be unemployed as well. Nobody wants to be seen with the fat girl.

If you are the fat girl you can only adopt two personas, the sweet fat girl or the funny fat girl. If you are the smart fat girl you be bullied for being smart and fat. If you are the opinionated and outspoken fat girl, you will be accused of thinking you are the cute skinny girl when you are just fat. The skinny girl can repeat the same words the fat girl just said but somehow coming from the mouth of the skinny girl, it sounds better. Just like in the boardroom, when a man and woman essentially express the same opinion, everyone will go with the man’s version. The woman was just nagging.

Without getting to know the person, society assumes the worst from fat people. To allow yourself to become so fat, you must not take pride in your appearance, you must be lazy. You probably smell and you are most definitely a slob. Fat girls have tried to overcompensate for their fatness by being overly nice. They become doormats for the popular skinny girls. They become doormats for their boyfriends who treat them like trash or have a fetish for fat girls, after all, society tells them, they are lucky to even have a boyfriend. And if you are so unfortunate to be fat, you must get a good personality real fast. There is nothing more revolting to society than a fat girl who is loud, opinionated and outspoken. Just think how few people came to Rosie O’Donnell’s defense when Donald Trump publicly bullied her about her weight. She was treated as if she deserved what she got, for opening her big fat mouth about Donald Trump.

Fellow blogger, Cute Girl with a Banjo’s mother was a proud overweight woman who spoke her mind:

I began to notice how many people looked at my mother with contempt. I observed their posture, and the looks on their faces when they spoke to her. They hated her. Even when she was being nice (which she mostly was), she seemed to rub people the wrong way. Especially men. It always seemed to me that most men couldn’t stand my mother. After all, she had a triple whammy of “unlikable” traits: she was fat, outspoken and female.

This issue of weight is personal to me because I was always made to be aware of my weight growing up. I grew up in a family of skinny women on both sides of  my family. I was skinny but curvy, which to my mother’s side of the family was ‘fat’ because of my developed chest and hips. My mother’s family comprised of small skinny Chinese women who are 100 lbs soaking wet. But I was proud of my figure because it was admired by westerners and by western standards I was thin. And in my not-so-good moments, I rubbed into the noses of my thin, flat chested family members. I was 5’8″ and 120 lbs at my best weight. And I maintained this weight without dieting. I had a few things in my favor, from the ages of 6 to 18, I was a vegetarian. I also didn’t suffer from a sweet tooth and I didn’t like carbonated drinks, so that naturally kept about 30 lbs off. I ate as I pleased but I knew how moderate and I rarely overate. I wasn’t an emotional eater. I ate when I got hungry and stopped when I was three-quarters full.

My father had a pathological hatred for fat people, especially fat women. This is a fact I am very embarrassed to talk about but it’s true and were he alive today, he wouldn’t hesitate to admit it. And God rest his soul, but his fat-phobia irritated me to no end. He disliked one of my cousins for no other reason than she’s been overweight for most of her adult life. He didn’t even care to know his niece because he was so revolted by the fat. This cousin also happens to be the daughter of the brother with whom he had a bad falling out with, but when we spoke of her, he only thought of her weight and it disgusted him. It also made me think, should I be unfortunate enough to inherit the fat gene, he wouldn’t love me as much. Knowing my dear old dad, this was a very strong possibility. It wasn’t an issue we discussed much because of its sensitive nature. I was just glad I wasn’t fat. I had enough problems already, I didn’t need those daddy issues.

Since I had my second child two years ago, there are thirty stubborn pounds which just won’t leave my body. Granted, I haven’t increased my activity level simply because there’s not enough time but I am keeping to a healthy diet. I assumed my body will bounce back postpartum because I was the girl who could eat whatever I wanted. But it didn’t happen that way. Even with my extra postpartum weight, I am nowhere near the fat category but I find myself feeling badly about my weight, which was something I never felt before. I feel as though my best days are behind me all because of this extra thirty pounds (it’s ridiculous, I know). I am still determined to lose it, but it’s just not coming off the way I expect it to.

My obsession with my inability to lose my extra postpartum weight has forced me to confront my own issues with fat-phobia. What is it about my extra thirty pounds, which really just renders me more curvy than before that is bothering me so much? Am I worried about belonging to the ‘fat’ tribe? To no longer be seen as the skinny girl? Did I subconsciously adopt the numbers on the scale as part of my identity?

And what is society’s disgust with fat people? And why does the feminist movement always skirt around this very sensitive topic. Since the medical profession got involved and gave it a medical diagnosis – obesity, feminists have left this very sensitive subject in the hands of capable doctors but it’s just a way to not deal with the problem of the poor treatment of fat women.

If the numbers on a scale are just that, numbers and nothing more. And if the reason one woman is heavier or lighter than the next woman is nothing more than genetics or lifestyle choice, we would not have such an emotional response to our weight. But the numbers on the scale are not just numbers. Those numbers represent a major part of our identity. It represents where our pecking order in society is. It represents whether we are considered desirable or not, whether we are worthy or not, whether we deserved to be loved for who we are as we are, not after we’ve lost x number of pounds.

Talking about all of this here has made me extremely uncomfortable, especially because I have never been fat before (outside of my pregnancies). And as such I don’t feel I have a right to speak about this very sensitive issue, even if I am advocating for equal treatment for fat people.

A common retort by non-fat men and women alike are, if you don’t want to be mistreated for being fat, then just lose weight. This is bigoted, unfair and wrong as fat people shouldn’t be bullied for their weight to begin with, regardless of the reason why they are fat. And as I have personal experience, losing excess weight is not so easy.

Having said all this, it doesn’t diminish the obesity crisis. It is a crisis. But is a crisis manufactured and prolonged by food poverty, the inaccessibility to fresh and unprocessed foods and fetishizing healthy eating. Healthy eating has become a dominion of the upper classes. Eating fancy, exotic, healthy and ‘clean’ diets has become a ‘lifestyle’ choice of the upper classes, thereby driving up the prices and easy access to fresh food and produce. Encouraging people to keep their weight at healthy levels is necessary and needs to be done, but it can’t be accomplished by shaming fat people to lose weight. Shaming people into doing anything has never worked. Also, what’s never discussed is, being thin does not automatically equal healthy. There are plenty of unhealthy thin people out there, people who smoke, do drugs, drink to excess, eat unhealthily as well but it doesn’t translate to weight gain, where is the boiling scorn for those people who are draining the healthcare system?

Martin Shkreli: When Karma is Divine

The unsavory rise and precipitous fall of Martin Shkreli is a truncated version of ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ on steroids.

Martin Shkreli got his start as an intern at Cramer Berkowitz when he was 17 years old. According to his Vanity Fair article profile, he ‘weaseled’ (or conned) himself into this job. According to his own legend, he became a protege of Jim Cramer (the guy that shouts stock and financial advice on CNBC). Shkreli had the unique ability to sniff out which biotech stocks were real and which ones were fraudulent. Though not a scientist, he has a keen interest in science and a strong desire to eradicate incurable illness with science and biomedical technology. Jim Cramer says Shkreli was no protege, he does not even remember this person working for him. Jim Cramer also left the firm he founded soon after Shkreli’s internship.

The valuable lesson Shkreli learned at Cramer Berkowitz is biotech companies can legally inflate the claims of what their drugs can do to get investor money. Since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) only approves 15% of all drugs which begin clinical trial anyways, the margin of error is wide. The conditions are rife for companies to make outlandish claims of what a drug can do just to attract investor funds. Many companies bilk investors out of millions of dollars without ever being prosecuted or jailed. In fact, there are groups of investors who specifically bet on this sort of failure by shorting biochem and pharmaceutical stocks, this is a safer bet than its alternative, which is the FDA approving new drugs to treat diseases.

Shkreli realized this is where the real money is. Pharmaceuticals, not hedge fund managing is the way to go if he wants to be the new wolf of Wall Street. In what universe can he bet on companies to fail and  make money? And do it legally. The other thing in Shkreli’s favor is his natural gift and interest in science, math and data crunching. Many doctors and researchers whom he worked with were impressed with his knowledge in science and data compiling and enjoyed working with him.

Prior to starting Turing Pharmaceuticals, the company which would acquire Daraprim, his career in big finance had been unremarkable and even disastrous at times. He had made several big bets and lost but because it was right before the financial meltdown of 2008 and it involved Lehman Brothers, he was able to ‘weasel’ out of paying that loss. He then started a hedge fund with a friend, but made another wrong bet and lost a lot of money for those investors. He had the gumption to take big risks knowing the losses could be big, he was of the ‘go big or go home’ persuasion, after all, the money he was gambling with wasn’t his.

He also made himself an expert on what is legal to do and what isn’t and as long as he painted within the legal lines regardless of the ethical and moral consequences, he had no trouble sleeping at night. When he realized running hedge funds required more work than he originally thought, he completely shifted  his focus to biochemical and pharmaceutical companies.

In August of this year, Shkreli acquired the rights to Daraprim, which is a drug that fights “toxoplasmosis, a parasitic infection that is particularly dangerous to pregnant women, people with compromised immune systems, and the elderly. In that vulnerable population it can lead to seizures, blindness, birth defects in babies of infected mothers, and, in some cases, death.” AIDS and cancer patients with compromised immune systems have also come to rely on this drug. It’s the most effective drug to treat this type of infection. Overnight the price of this drug went from a modest $13.50 a dose to $750 a dose, a price hike of 5000%, Shkreli defended his actions stating what he had done wasn’t ‘illegal’ and his justification is:

“This isn’t the greedy drug company trying to gouge patients, it is us trying to stay in business,” Mr. Shkreli said. He said that many patients use the drug for far less than a year and that the price was now more in line with those of other drugs for rare diseases.“This is still one of the smallest pharmaceutical products in the world,” he said. “It really doesn’t make sense to get any criticism for this.”

He also claims this drug is so rarely used by the medical community, the impact will be minimal. After much pressure from all directions, he agreed to lower the price and then be backed out of that agreement as well.

This month he allowed Vanity Fair to do a profile on him, he sat down for an interview with them and in that interview he claimed he was no different from John D. Rockefeller when he was in control of the Standard Oil Company. It is common practice to raise prices when a company gets acquired by someone else. Immediately Shkreli became the most hated man in America. He was the symbol of everything that is wrong with America, capitalism and Wall Street.

Nor is this a young man who is discreet with his wealth. On his social network profiles, he often puts his conspicuous consumption on full display, without shame or remorse. He’s got the green and he’d going to flash it. All of his claims of hiking the price of Daraprim is to improve the drug and develop new drugs to treat even more serious diseases doesn’t hold water.

Whatever he lacks in discretion, he makes up for with boldness and inflated sense of ego and self-worth. To even compare himself to John D. Rockefeller, while no saint is one of America’s greatest industrialists, is ridiculous. How this twitchy guy, who seems to have no control over his body movements while speaking, who is still wet behind the ears when it comes to business can make such a bold comparison is laughable. Shkreli doesn’t have half the depth and reserve of John D. Rockefeller.  Rockefeller, for all of the evil things he done on the way up, built a legacy, not just for himself, but for America. Regardless of what one thinks of his legacy and how he attained this legacy, that’s a separate argument. But one thing is for sure: Rockefeller would have never gotten caught this early in the game.

Given all the corporate greed and criminality out there, Shkreli’s actions are probably not the worst there is, but because of his inability to keep his mouth shut and wallet closed, he got caught up in the dragnet. Rightly so, not one person feels sorry for him, even if the allegations turn out to be trumped up and the charges don’t result in a conviction, it won’t matter one bit.

For all of Shkreli’s proclamations of raising the prices to make the company profitable to improve the drug and develop new drugs, as of yesterday, the real reason for the price hike is clear. He needed to raise cash to pay off the investors he angered when he ran his hedge fund into the ground. Before he started Turing Pharmaceuticals, he was the CEO of another biochem firm Retrophin, he was ousted as its CEO for misappropriating company funds and using company funds like his personal piggy bank to pay off the same angry investors from his collapsed hedge fund. The board of directors of Retrophin accused Shkreli of running a Ponzi scheme with their company and asked the Brooklyn DA to open an investigation.

The investigation resulted in an indictment yesterday and Shkreli was arrested by the FBI. Though he was able to bail himself out of jail, there is one more twist. The attorney who is representing him for his criminal case decided to charge his new client 5000% over what he normally charges. His attorney fees went from $1200 an hour to $60,000 an hour, to which Shkreli shrieked “this is the behavior of a sociopath” and accused his attorney of “outrageous and inhumane price gouging,” a rather teapot and kettle accusation.

According to the report by The New Yorker:

For his part, Shkreli’s lawyer was unmoved by his client’s complaint. “Compared to what he pays for an hour of Wu-Tang Clan, sixty thou is a bargain,” he said.

About that Wu-Tang Clan album, Shkreli reportedly outbid billionaires to acquire the one and only copy of an unreleased Wu-Tang Clan album, he paid north of $5 million dollars for it, apparently not realizing he’ll be needing these millions very soon.

Karma is not a bitch. Karma is divinely glorious.

 

The Satanists Next Door (This is Life with Lisa Ling)

The Satanic Temple is a new religious movement born out of the need to destroy the authority and dominance Christianity has over mainstream America. It seeks to enforce the the constitutional principle of separation of church and state. Its founders and followers chose Satan as their religious symbol because Satan is the universal bogeyman of the the monotheistic religions. The Satanic Temple, its name and use of anti-Christian imagery such as hanging the cross upside down, the satan symbol of the five-pointed star and statue Baphomet which is goat-headed idol with anti-Christianity symbols on it, all serve to challenge and offend the conventional sacred-cows of Christianity.

BAPHOMET GOAT
Baphomet – Photo Credit: The Satanic Temple by AP

Baphomet is a one ton bronze statue and members of The Satanic Temple haul it around the country, putting it next to any Christian religious symbol which is displayed in public. They petitioned to have it displayed next to the Ten Commandments Monument outside of the Oklahoma state legislature, the felt if the state of Oklahoma wanted to display a monument of the Ten Commandments in a supposedly secular and pluralistic nation, then they should be allowed to erect Baphomet next to it, to serve the people who do not believe in Christianity. Needless to say, the average Oklahoman was horrified at such a comparison, but they needn’t get too worked up about it, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ordered the Ten Commandments monument removed after a lawsuit filed by the ACLU. Many were disappointed that they couldn’t see Baphomet be displayed next to the Ten Commandments, even just to see the reaction on people’s faces.

It is important to point out The Satanic Temple is NOT the same as the same entity as The Church of Satan founded in the 1960s in San Francisco. The Church of Satan actually worships satan as one would worship God. The Satanic Temple do not worship satan as one would worship God. They do not worship anything, that is the whole point. The seek to promote pluralistic society, promote equality and civil rights. They also do not believe satan is a force of evil. They believe satan as someone who challenged authority, the authority of God. They do not believe there is an absolute, ultimate authority whom no one can challenge.

Many of the members of The Satanic Temple were raised as conservative Christians in the bible belt but felt the beliefs of their upbringing to be narrow, restrictive and excludes people whom they don’t agree with. Some of the members of The Satanic Temple were people who were rejected by their church and families when they revealed themselves to be gay.

This organization interested me because they don’t seek to provoke others just for the sake of provocation. They wanted to remove the oppression, especially in certain parts of the country, where fundamentalist Christians have waged their war against a secular and pluralist society. Their seven tenants are mostly about social justice and and equal rights for all:

  1. One should strive to act with compassion and empathy towards all creatures in accordance with reason.
  2. The struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws and institutions.
  3. One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.
  4. The freedoms of others should be respected, including the freedom to offend. To willfully and unjustly encroach upon the freedoms of another is to forgo your own.
  5. Beliefs should conform to our best scientific understanding of the world. We should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit our beliefs.
  6. People are fallible. If we make a mistake, we should do our best to rectify it and resolve any harm that may have been caused.
  7. Every tenet is a guiding principle designed to inspire nobility in action and thought. The spirit of compassion, wisdom, and justice should always prevail over the written or spoken word

Since this country was founded on the the principles of freedom of speech, expression and religion, than one religion (Christianity) shouldn’t dominate and tyrannize large swathes of the population in this country. And those who don’t conform with the fundamentalist interpretations of Christianity should not be treated as outcasts or second class citizens.

It’s very easy to paint people who choose to join this organization as failures and losers, but they are not, certainly not the people Lisa Ling interviewed. They were all mostly late Gen X or Millennials, well spoken, made valid points against the Christian establishment which most of them were raised with (whether as a Christian one agrees with them or not, their points were logical and valid) and strongly believe that all voices need to be heard, one ideology is not better than the other. And they emphasize they are not against Christianity or the right-to-life or monotheism at large, they are against Christians who use their religion to tyrannize, exclude, outcast others who don’t conform to their beliefs. And if a Christian monument goes up in a public space, then they will erect Baphomet next to that Christian monument so for the folks who do not subscribe to Christianity can be represented in a public space too (however, I am not sure if non-Christian observers will subscribe to being represented by Baphomet either, but their heart is in the right place).

I didn’t grow up in the bible belt or in a conservative Christian household but I do understand the urge to instinctively rebel from something in which was forced upon me. My current religious beliefs and level of observation is something I choose to practice. One of the major areas of interest for this group is protecting women’s right to choose. In some states like Michigan, they have these women’s ‘health clinics’ operated by the government using public funds but are deliberately giving women false medical information, such as telling a woman contemplating an abortion that she has a high chance of getting breast cancer if she goes through with it. There is absolutely no proof which show having an abortion may lead to breast cancer. This ‘myth’ has been debunked over and over again by all the major cancer research organizations.

Because of the backlash and threats members of The Satanic Temple receive, most members go by pseudonyms and they have difficulty procuring spaces to rent for their events. Many owners do not wish to be associated with a group like them. I think it’s poor business. It’s leaving money on the table for someone else to earn. Firstly, unlike The Church of Satan, who actively promote the worship of satan and all the nefarious things which associate with satan, The Satanic Temple do not worship Satan or sacrifice any animals at the altar (one key point they kept mentioning throughout this program). Their events, considering all the controversy and notoriety attached with it, are rather tame. Very little drugs or alcohol is involved, a few people got rather amorous with each other but it’s nothing to blush at. It’s really just a large gathering of people in front of Baphomet dancing to electro-pop music, celebrating their beliefs and each other. There are no proclamations of following darkness or evil. There are no pledges of allegiance to satan or all the supposed evil he promotes.

Their aim is to create a safe space for all the people who feel rejected or betrayed by Christianity or any other religion and celebrate humanity. Though they no longer wish to be Christian, they still want to do good works for society and this is where I see their value. They still believe in social justice and according to their Seven Tenants, they resemble many of the principles taught in Christianity but without God, Jesus, Heaven and Hell attached to it. So far, their stunt of erecting Baphomet next any religious monument in public spaces has worked. For better or worse, they are willing to test the limits of our freedoms conferred to us by The Founders and so far, it’s held up. I get a good giggle when I see these conservative, self-righteous Christians get their panties all in a wad over a bronze statue whose only meaning is what you choose to ascribe to it. For me, it means nothing but a weird goat headed creature. It neither insults nor offends my religious sensibilities. It’s just a statue.

For the full report, see here: http://www.cnn.com/videos/tv/2015/11/30/satanic-temple-lisa-ling-orig.cnn

 

 

On Hollywood and Being Fuckable

Growing up in the greater Los Angeles suburbs, where the influence of Hollywood is only a short drive away, most girls grow up with a sense of how to make oneself likeable, attractive (in appearance and personality) more importantly, likeable to people that matter. Or in a word commonly used by Hollywood producers to describe a sexually desirable woman: ‘fuckable’. Through subliminal and conscious messaging, girls from a very young age instinctively know what is attractive and what isn’t. Even people who don’t aspire to be in the Hollywood scene are heavily influenced by Hollywood’s sense of aesthetics, beauty and taste.

The actress Heather Matarazzo wrote a witty and poignant piece called ‘What the Fuck is Fuckable?’ She is relating an incident which happened to her when she was 19 years old. She was part of the development a film for two years, when they finally secured the financing for the film and two weeks before shooting was to begin, the director of the film met her a West Hollywood Starbucks to tell her that she was being let go from the lead role. He said it was the decision of the producers and not him, when she asked why,  the director told her, “They say you are not fuckable”. Boom. The reality of how business is run in Hollywood hit her square in the face. It didn’t matter she was connected to this project for two years, spent many unpaid hours toiling to get the script right, calling thousands of people to get on board with her project, did countless waitressing shifts to cover the bills so she can make the film that she wanted to make. She was dismissed with a ‘you are not fuckable’ and was given a smaller role in the film instead. She didn’t have the heart to walk away from something she has worked on for two years, something she was passionate about, so she swallowed her pride and took the smaller role.

Being ‘fuckable’ in Hollywood is a commodity. Growing up in the suburbs of Los Angeles area where I am far enough away from the glitz of Hollywood but still close enough to encounter it should I wish to immerse myself in the Hollywood scene, I can fully appreciate what it’s like to be told ‘you are not fuckable’. Heather Matarazzo describes her feelings as:

…ugly, disgusting, loser, failure, DISGUSTING…. That was the biggest word. It made me feel as though people wondered why I should even be taking up space. “Who the fuck are you to be taking up space on this planet you unfuckable fucking fuck?”

Hollywood has convinced most of America on how important it is to be fuckable, regardless of your profession or age. And being fuckable isn’t as obvious as it seems. It’s more than just your looks, body type and age. It’s an embodiment of a certain lifestyle, of having a certain x-factor. I have spent a good part of my youth, though I must say most of it unconsciously to remain relevant in my mind. It was not for any particular man out there, but I wanted to be relevant in my own eyes. So I was always trim, developed tastes for the right kinds of food and drink and adopted a fashion sense that was my own (I wore all black  and I still do), it wasn’t that imaginative, but it was easy and it looked good on me and it suited my personality) and I wanted to be seen as smart so I read a lot. I wanted to know about everything so I educated myself by reading everything. I was different from most homebred California girls because I wasn’t naturally chipper and blond. I was opposite of the sunny California girl. I was blunt to a fault, sarcastic, caustic, self-deprecating and largely indifferent to what others thought of me. I honed this to perfection and it’s not too different from my nature. My version of being fuckable was to not be like every other girl out there.

Being fuckable loosely means a woman (girl) is generally sexually desired by others, mainly the opposite sex. There is something about her that elevates her from the ‘friend’ category to the fuckable category. And it doesn’t always hinge on looks, weight, height and body type. Some would argue the curvy actress Rebel Wilson is fuckable because of the sheer force of her personality but the stick thin actress with an Oscar nomination under her belt Anna Kendrick probably wouldn’t be considered fuckable. Besides being white, thin, sweet natured and good enough actress, there is no x-factor there, she blends in with the walls. Hilary Swank despite being the youngest actress to earn two lead actress Oscars, her career never took off in the stratosphere a la Julia Roberts or Scarlett Johansson fashion. Why? Because she’s not fuckable and she lacks natural movie star charisma (another factor in being fuckable). Her two Oscar wins were a combination of good acting, luck and clever campaigning by the studios. Arguably one of the greatest actresses of our time Dame Judi Dench spent the best years of her career toiling on the London stage instead of the more lucrative television or film, when asked why she didn’t venture into television and film sooner, she said when she was young, producers told her she wasn’t fuckable. Being a conservative Quaker girl, she didn’t quite know what that meant, she was after all, happily married. So she shrugged her shoulders and went back on stage to do her outstanding work. The American audiences didn’t discover her until ‘Mrs. Brown’. What a loss for the world.

My feelings about Hollywood changed with age. When I was in my early twenties, the glitz was too overwhelming for me and I knew I was never the Hollywood type nor did I wish to become one. I consumed too many carbs. I don’t like gyms or any crowded spaces with sweaty people. I didn’t wear industrial quantities of war paint and I never mastered the art of brown nosing, which is so necessary to get your foot in anywhere. I wasn’t willing to do anything to be noticed and I quite liked myself as I am and didn’t see the need to change. I ventured to Hollywood mostly to shop, meet up with friends, try new restaurants and on occasion people watch (or more like freak watch). I never watched a single movie in Hollywood or attended a movie premier as a fan.

In my thirties, my perception about Hollywood changed, I went there less frequently because I moved out of Los Angeles county when I got married. If I went to Hollywood it was usually for work assignment, job interviews or to try out new restaurants with family and friends. With the recent organic and clean eating food craze, Hollywood has adeptly rebranded itself at selling to us what is now considered fuckable. All those juice bars, organic restaurants, vegan restaurants, pilates studios, yoga studios, fancy membership only gyms, SoulCycle studios that are dotted on every street in the Hollywood area is telling people how to be fuckable now. It means you need to adopt (at least superficially) a clean living lifestyle. The Lindsay Lohan days of falling out of clubs drunk and your nether regions on full display are over. That is passe. Nightclub partying is still the cool thing to do, but to fall out of clubs drunk with your makeup smeared and you’ve got two friends propping you up as you stumble to your waiting car is no longer cool.

To be considered fuckable now, you need to be active in any one of the approved modes of physical activity (gym, yoga, pilates or SoulCycle), you need to eat organic, take up juicing and run 5 miles a day. What’s even better is if you do a magazine spread about it and how when you made an about face to your diet and lifestyle, career opportunities opened up for you too. Even the unapologetically plus-size actress Melissa McCarthy has recently dropped a huge amount of weight, she did so by adopting a healthier lifestyle. She knows she will never be the leading actress in a major blockbuster production, but if she wants to remain employed and get out of the funny, fat, best-friend rut, she needed to rebrand herself to be more fuckable and in her case, it is appearing to adopt a healthier lifestyle.

Being removed from Los Angeles for awhile, I can appreciate the allure of Hollywood with a fresh set of eyes. It’s not just the glitz and glamour of the movie stars and the movie business, it’s the whole package they are selling. The eat good, drink good, feel good so good things will come to you philosophy has young people from everywhere coming in droves. The idea that if you rebrand yourself from the cornfed and milk-fed midwestern girl to a healthy eating, green-juicing and yoga loving California girl, you will have new career opportunities open to you. Especially with reality television shows all over the airwaves right now, anyone who is willing to be the most outrageous and obnoxious versions of themselves can be rich and famous, even if just for 15 minutes.

Many starlets and movie star wannabes now want to be seen coming out of green juice bars, healthy restaurants or gyms, not so much from the trendiest clubs and if they were coming out of clubs, they are to be photographed as being sober, freshed faced (even at 1 am) and all their makeup still applied. To make it seem all they did all night was sip on water.

Many accuse Hollywood of perpetuating or instigating racism, sexism, lookism, elitism, but do they really? Hollywood is first and foremost a moneymaking enterprise. Investors and studios spend millions of dollars making films not ‘art’, you can go to a museum for art. The aim is to make more money than they invested to make the film. Hollywood films simply reflect, magnify and exaggerate what they know to already be true in society. For example: fat, opinionated and outspoken women are generally disliked and reviled. This is not new, it’s been this way since antiquity. If you, as a woman, have the temerity to be fat and not do anything about it, you best learn when to keep your mouth shut and your opinions to yourself because no one wants to hear from a fat woman. The treatment of Rosie O’Donnell is very telling of this phenomenon. When she had her own talk show, she was the funny, sweet, jovial aunt next door, always ready to poke fun at herself, at the expense of herself. When she left her talk show and begun to speak her own opinions in her natural loud-mouthed manner, she became universally reviled as the fat woman with the loud mouth. So much so when Donald Trump openly bullied and fat shamed her, almost no one came to her defense, not even her boss Barbara Walters.

One the show ‘Empire’,  actress Gabourey Sidibe was in a steamy sex scene with a slim, fit, young and handsome record producer on an open rooftop, audiences were revolted and were not afraid to express it. How dare a black fat girl have sex in the open with a slim and fit handsome man? Sidibe’s love scene immediately became a meme on twitter the next day. Jokes insulting her weight came quick and swift and they mostly ran along the lines of, someone like him would never want to be with someone like her. Gabourey Sidibe spoke up for herself and told the haters to get lost, but not many others did, especially producers or directors. If the genders were reversed, if the man was overweight but rich and holds a powerful position, and the girl is young, thin and attractive, no one would bat an eyelid. It would be considered as normal.

It is my observation that too many people ascribe too many ideals to Hollywood and the power it holds. Many expect Hollywood filmmakers to show tolerance for all types of people, to give equal opportunities to everyone, to be inclusive of everyone and everything. People expect Hollywood to lead by example because of the supposed power it holds. Hollywood’s so-called ‘power’ comes from the movie audience. It only has power if people queue up to purchase a ticket and watch a movie. Hollywood is a moneymaking enterprise, its goal is to turn a profit and it can only turn a profit if it produces what audiences wants to see, hence now we have a parade of mediocre comic book prequels and sequels.

What Hollywood’s idea of being desirable is what society generally agrees to be desirable as well. If we start with children in elementary and middle school, the popular boys are the boys who are athletic and show physical prowess in sports, the popular girls are usually the skinny pretty girls with no discernable academic or athletic talent. The children who actually accomplish at school what they are meant to accomplish and that is academic excellence, those kids are called ‘nerds’ or ‘social losers’. Of course the perfect combination is brains and athletic ability, but that is rare. Academically gifted boys are seen as nerds and social losers and academically gifted girls are seen as not fuckable, not attractive. We all have seen the smart girl dumb herself down to get the attention of the boy she likes or to get in with the cool and popular girls. Society doesn’t like smart girls and it starts young, in elementary school. Smart girls are consistently bullied, denigrated and beaten down until they lose all self-esteem and join the stupid herd.

The same is true in Hollywood. The Hollywood establishment, which mostly consists of men, don’t like women who are outspoken and demanding their fair pay and respect. Angelina Jolie was called a ‘spoiled brat’ by the top brass at Sony, for demanding the best resources be assigned to her movie. If she had been a man, she wouldn’t have been called a spoiled brat, she would have been applauded for demanding the best.

The trends in Hollywood is really a microcosm and exaggeration of the trends in society. Hollywood aims to copy and replicate what’s cool to sell tickets, not the other way around. If society decided that fat girls are more attractive and interesting than thin girls, all the curvy actresses in Hollywood will get all the plum roles. If society decided to celebrate the nice guy who finished last and in the end also got the girl by his nice and assuming manner, macho male roles in movies will be replaced by the unassuming Mr. Nice Guy.

Catholic and Pro-Choice

I am a practicing Catholic. Being a Catholic is part of who I am. I subscribe to the Church’s message of hope, love, mercy, kindness and social justice. I like to think I try my best to practice these teachings in my daily interactions. And in the places where I’ve failed, I should try harder.

I also believe in the sanctity of life. I believe life begins at conception and ends with the last draw of natural breath. I believe life is the most precious thing and needs to be preserved, during any stage, at any age, with equal consideration to the health and wellbeing of all parties (mother and child). I am always moved to tears to see premature babies in the NICU, hooked up to tubes and machines, struggling for every breath, living in the incubator with the hope that they can exit this man-made cocoon and join its parents. It is equally moving to see mothers and fathers make the ultimate sacrifice for their children at the drop of a hat.

Life should be treated with the respect it deserves. And this includes people in which society has discarded: criminals, gangsters, serial rapists, child molesters, the scums of the earth, members of the LGBTQ community, poor and disenfranchised people, all of these people’s lives are important, not just unborn children and cute cuddly babies. The Catholic church deems all human life important regardless what they’ve done or who they’ve become. For the most hardened of criminals or people, as long as they still have breath in their body, there is a chance for reform and redemption. My confirmation priest worked with juvenile delinquents, he has personally seen people transform before him, with his quiet guidance, counsel and non-judgement, some people can and do change. When people change and when they know they’ve been forgiven, you can literally see a weight come off of their shoulders.

So, in a perfect world, where ideal circumstances always prevail, abortion should not have to happen. Forget about politics, the law, medical science or religion; in a perfect world, abortion does not need to happen. Period.

I am pro-choice. And I am Catholic.

I am not a simpleton. We do not live in a perfect world and circumstances are far from ideal for the majority of women in this world. Sometimes, a woman being with child, besides being an inconvenience due to circumstance, can be dangerous and perilous to her physical person. In parts of the world where young girls are trafficked and sold, where child bride practices are rampant, it can be unsafe, dangerous and perhaps deadly for a physically immature young girl to have a baby. A ten year old girl is not fit to have a child, the fact that she got pregnant doesn’t mean she’s physically ready and able to have a child. For people (such as Mike Huckabee) to believe just because she’s able to get pregnant (she was raped by her step-father), therefore, she must be physically fit to carry a child to term and deliver said baby from the hips of a ten year old child, is ignorance and misogyny of the first order. To disregard the human rights and wellbeing of a ten year old girl (also a child) in favor of her unborn child is barbarous and depraved.

Most mothers are willing to sacrifice themselves for their children (unborn or not). Mothers will endure untold physical pain and discomfort if that is what’s best for her unborn child. So, in cases where a decision needs to be made between  mother or unborn child, the focus of the medical team should be placed more on the mother and not the unborn child. The unborn child already has an advocate in its mother. The mother has no advocate.

So if a ten year old gets pregnant as a result of a rape, then an abortion needs to happen. If a child bride who was sold so her family won’t starve and her pregnancy is presenting mortal harm to her physical person, the pregnancy should be terminated if she wishes. If a pregnant woman is wheeled into the emergency room and she’s got uncontrollable bleeding and the only way to stop it is to terminate her pregnancy or deliver her child early, it should be done without hemming and hawing and deliberating about the ‘rights’ of the unborn child and consulting the lawyers and state laws (I am talking to you Texas). Of course, if the mother is conscious, it is to be done with her consent.

Most women in the world do not have the choice to become pregnant when they wish. They have very little to no control over their reproductive cycles. In third world and some developing countries, young girls and women are still routinely trafficked and sold. Many women are married against their wishes, sometimes when they are just children. Quality maternity care is often rare to non-existent in some parts of the world. Many women still risk their lives during labor and delivery. Safe and legal abortions needs to be readily available for all women, especially in times of medical emergencies. A medical emergency is when the mother is in physical danger and the only way to stop the emergency, when all other efforts have failed, is to terminate the pregnancy or early delivery of baby if she’s in later stages of her pregnancy. It is not what the church or a conservative pro-life doctor considers as a medical emergency.

I have been pregnant three times in my life, one resulted in a miscarriage, two healthy children were born and I am beyond blessed. What’s more, all three of my pregnancies were planned. I am one of the few lucky and privileged women where the possibility of getting an abortion did not factor into my childbearing years. Since I became an adult, I had the resources to be in full control of my reproductive cycle because I could always access contraceptives. What a woman does with her body is one of the most controversial debates which is still ongoing today. Just how much control should a woman have over her own body? When is permissible to override her decision about her body? (The answers are total control and never).

There is also an emotional aspect too. For every aborted child, there is a couple desperate to have a child of their own. For every woman who is suffering from infertility and has endured multiple painful miscarriages and failed fertility treatments, there is another teenage mother about to deliver her child or another woman about to give birth to yet another unplanned baby. For every woman (guilty as charged) who is complaining about the tedium, rigors and boredom of childrearing, there is another woman desperate for a baby of her own. The Universe works in mysterious ways in which we do not understand. Life is unfair, most people know and accept that, but when applied to sensitive issues such as pregnancy, childbearing, infertility and abortion, the lines get blurred.

Society, or patriarchal institutions rather, was always able to control women through our bodies. Pregnancy, childbirth and childrearing renders us vulnerable and totally dependent on the father of the children. More vulnerable than say an unmarried woman or a woman who’s passed her childbearing years. Childbearing and childrearing kept women chained and tied to their homes and and the inability to control how many children a woman wants to have makes that chain even more unbreakable. Women and their children are often derisively described as the ‘ball and chain’ of her husband, but the real ball and chain is the inability to control what happens to our bodies. Throughout history, until the invention and wide distribution and use of contraceptives, childbearing was a double edged sword. A woman must have children with her husband to maintain her position in society or at least in her social group, but if she has too many children, her health, wellbeing and family economics can be threatened. The key was always for women to be able to effectively control how many children she wants to have. Only this will shift the balance from men to women.

The one glaring in truth which the Catholic church and right-wing, misogynist conservatives refuse to acknowledge is having more children than you can support contributes to long term, entrenched, generational poverty. One way of reducing poverty everywhere, not just the developing and third world countries is to  make female contraceptives available and accessible to all women who wish to use it. This not political positioning, it’s not flouting religious dogma, it’s common sense. It’s basic math. When a family has more children than the parent or parents can support with their income, poverty arises and women bear most of the brunt of this poverty.

All life is precious. All life is deserving and worthy of having the basic necessities met. No one deserves to live in squalor and deprivation. No woman or young girl deserves to die due to a high risk pregnancy and nothing was done about it in the name of her ‘unborn child’. This is not valuing life, this is desecrating the life of a woman, a child, a mother (if she already has other children) or a future mother. Sometimes we are forced to make tough choices in life, we are forced to choose between no-good options and hope for the best. In the case of a mother and her unborn child, especially if the child is not yet viable outside of the uterus, the choice is obvious. You choose life. The life of the mother. Risking the life of a woman for the unborn child, especially when the baby is not yet viable, is devaluing and debasing the life of the mother.

A Public Service Announcement For the Potential Trump Voter

The title is self-explanatory. Don’t be a sucker. ‘Never Again’ not only applies to the Holocaust, it also applies to never again to fascism. Appealing to the lowest common denominator has never produced any progress to civilization.

Writers Without Money

This is an educational video put out by the United States Army in 1947. You can always spot a fascist. He’s the man who attempts to “divide and conquer” a people against itself. The message seems very relevant today.

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The End of the Line: A Microbus Map of Damascus

The End of the Line: A Microbus Map of Damascus

This is a beautiful piece about the city of Damascus before the Syrian Civil War tore it apart. It was a place I always wanted to visit. Damascus was an ancient city full of diversity and cultural heritage, including Christian and Jewish heritage.
The author here paints a more complicated picture of the civil war which began as a domestic uprising against the Assad dictatorship and the deterioration of economic conditions, which were then brutally repressed by Al-Assad and his forces and now it’s a sectarian proxy war between Sunni and Shia.
Ancient cities, towns, villages and most of all, the people, some of which date back to the First Century, are being destroyed. The end is a long way off. And the ‘end’ will just be the end of fighting, which by then will mean nothing.

Longreads

Matthew McNaught | Syria Comment | June 2013 | 18 minutes (4,615 words)

Matthew McNaught taught English in Syria between 2007 and 2009. He now works in mental health and sometimes writes essays and stories. This piece first appeared in Syria Comment, and our thanks to McNaught for allowing us to republish it here.

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Woodrow Wilson Will Not Turn in His Grave

The subject of college campus student advocacy and students’ rights  has been marinating in my head for the past few days. It’s wonderful to see college students, especially minority students standing up to school administrators to change the status quo and demand them to be more inclusive of minority students and their cultures.

Minority students demand to be included in important discussions and make their feelings heard when they feel like they’ve been dismissed. Many students will not put up with the cavalier attitudes of professors and administrators when an injustice has occurred, such as race insensitivity, rape, sexual assault and discrimination of all kinds.

College campuses was always fertile ground for student activism and personal expression. It used to be a safe place where people can explore their personal and political identities without it being held against them. It’s sort of like Las Vegas, whatever happens there, stays there (one hopes). It’s a place where you can join a communist party without being seen as a rabid red commie and leave college four years later with your reputation in tact, if, in fact, being a communist was just a phase. For LGBT students who have trouble expressing their sexual orientation at home, college campuses are a safe place to express that if they aren’t ready for the world or their families to find out yet. There is also a dark side to campus groups, there are campus cliques, fraternities and sororities which are ‘exclusive’ to a certain social class or family connection and to be ‘exclusive’ means they are excluding a majority of the people. The Skulls and Bones come to mind – a fraternity of WASPy boys of a certain background pledging lifetime loyalty to each other, come hell or high water, they will take care of each other, if they promise to keep each other’s deepest darkest secrets. The great thing about these cliques or ‘groups’, whether they are exclusive or not is the freedom to express yourself in a safe environment, with very little repercussion.

However, even with best of intentions of student activism for the fight against inequality and discrimination can can go off the deep end. Like it or not, freedom of expression and the right to assembly means people with nefarious intentions have a right to assembly and expression too. And in the context of college campuses, people who wish to outrage others with offensive Halloween costumes may do so. Snobby children of rich parents have the right to form their own social clique celebrating their snobbishness and flaunting their parents wealth. Colleges in the Bible Belt may form Bible groups which denounce all non-Christians as heretics and distribute offensive materials speaking to their beliefs.

The Black Justice League at Princeton University wants all images of President Woodrow Wilson removed from all public spaces and his name taken off buildings that were named after him. And the reason is:

“[The] the racist legacy of Woodrow Wilson and how he impacted campus policy and culture.”

The Black Justice League launched an online petition at change.org detailing a list of their demands, including a “cultural space” for black students and the space must be named by black students and if black students can’t name them, the school should avoid naming it after a “white benefactor” or “a person with bigoted beliefs”.

Since the topic of white supremacy and white privilege came to fore, on the back of the Black Lives Matter movement, there has been a call to name and shame all white supremacists and people who benefit from white supremacy, alive or dead. The list is very long, it basically includes every president besides Barack Obama and even that is questionable. It would include every public official (elected or appointed) since the start of this nation up until the present day. And not to be cheeky, but if minority student activists want every name of a ‘racist and bigoted’ person removed from buildings, public spaces and residence halls, they would need to rename every building to Martin Luther King, Jr. and all the other Civil Rights activists.

The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there. – L.P. Hartley (The Go-Between) 

Specifically to the Black Student League and their demands to remove Woodrow Wilson from all public spaces and have the school administrators and deans and acknowledge officially that President Wilson was a rabid racist and bigot. How will this change the past or the present? Isn’t fixating on a long dead president from the previous century a huge waste of time and resources if their aim is to fight inequality and injustice.

In the name of fairness and not promoting white supremacy, I will not name Woodrow Wilson’s achievements, a quick google search will inform one what they are. So,  let’s go over what exactly the crimes of Woodrow Wilson are, besides being an open racist and bigot, which we can safely assume all presidents before 2000 were. According to Geoffrey R. Stone, Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor of Law, University of Chicago:

Wilson was not without his flaws, however. During World War I, he, like Presidents John Adams and Abraham Lincoln before him, supported the aggressive suppression of dissent in wartime in a way that seriously damaged the core principles of American democracy.

More to the point of the current controversy at Princeton, Wilson also ordered the segregation of federal government offices, and his War Department drafted hundreds of thousands of African-Americans into the army, gave them equal pay with whites, but — in accord with military policy from the Civil War through the Second World War — assigned them to all-black units with white officers. When a delegation of African-Americans protested this policy, Wilson told them that “segregation is not a humiliation” and ought not “to be so regarded by you gentlemen.”

He goes on to add:

It would, of course, have been great if Woodrow Wilson, like some others of his generation, had directly challenged the morality of racial segregation. It would have been great if he had not believed in the principle of white supremacy. But, like all of us, he was a man of his own time, and he should be judged accordingly.

Woodrow Wilson and like all presidents mediocre or great, where men of their own times – “The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there”. Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves but was not for the equality between the races. In fact, he was adamant that black and whites should never be equal. Should we tear down the Lincoln Memorial? Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, he was in a ‘romantic’ relationship with one of the slaves he owned, which really translates to sexual slavery. Are we to dismantle the Jefferson Memorial? In fact, most of the founders and framers of this nation were men of questionable moral character at one point or another, especially when it came to the issue of slavery. Does this make it right just because they were men of their times? No, of course not. Does it take away their achievements and contributions? No, it doesn’t though it does taint it.

The actions of the college students about these demands look foolish to the wider public, to the adults who live in the real world, they look like spoiled children. People live with injustices and unfairness everyday. Fighting for equality and end to racism is noble and it must be done, but picking on dead presidents isn’t the way to go about it. How will removing Woodrow Wilson from all public spaces contribute towards the real problem of police brutality right now? How does it help towards the gaping economic inequality between blacks and whites? Let’s say Princeton University agrees to this demand and Martin Luther King Jr.’s name (or a name of their choosing) is replaced instead, how does that even erase the ‘racist legacy’ in which Woodrow Wilson left behind (if he was responsible for it to begin with)? If Princeton University’s campus culture is racist in the vein of enforcing white supremacy, promoting anti-black sentiments and xenophobia, it’s the people who are in the current Princeton administration which are responsible, not Woodrow Wilson.

If the demand to remove Woodrow Wilson from all public spaces is just a way for the Black Student League to stick it to the white supremacist administration of Princeton University and a way to humiliate the white power base, then it’s a colossal waste of time and effort. Since in their petition they acknowledge:

We understand that a name change does not dismantle racism, but also know that the way we lionize legacies set precedents.

I am afraid besides history buffs, very few people know about Woodrow Wilson and his contributions to America. Most can’t even tell you when he was president. People’s memory of recent presidents begin with John F. Kennedy and that’s only because he was assassinated in his first term. I bet most students can’t even recall one piece of legislation President Kennedy (there weren’t many, he had a deadlocked congress)  passed or what his major contribution was while he was in office.

Additionally, this demand by the Black Student League slightly worries me:

WE DEMAND a cultural space on campus dedicated specifically to Black students, and that space can be within the Carl A. Fields Center but should be clearly marked. The naming of this space should be at the student’s’ discretion in order to avoid naming it after a white benefactor or person with bigoted beliefs, as evidenced by the naming of Stanhope Hall.

Is this ‘clearly marked’ cultural space only for the exclusive use of black students? Are white and other non-black students banned? Even at the invitation of a black friend? And specifically, what is the purpose of this dedicated ‘cultural’ space for? Is it to explore African-American studies and the studies of other marginalized peoples? Or is it a place for black students to hang out in between classes? Isn’t creating this type of specific cultural space reinforcing another kind of division between races? The biggest hope for fighting racism and inequality is the cohesiveness of the Millennials. Millennials of all races and ethnicities are one of the most cohesive demographics out there, isn’t this type of demand serve to erode that cohesion?

President Obama’s commencement speech to Morehouse College graduates was criticized by black writers and leaders such as Ta-Nehisi Coates for it’s scolding tone towards black young men:

We know that too many young men in our community continue to make bad choices. Growing up, I made a few myself. And I have to confess, sometimes I wrote off my own failings as just another example of the world trying to keep a black man down. But one of the things you’ve learned over the last four years is that there’s no longer any room for excuses. I understand that there’s a common fraternity creed here at Morehouse: “Excuses are tools of the incompetent, used to build bridges to nowhere and monuments of nothingness.”

We’ve got no time for excuses—not because the bitter legacies of slavery and segregation have vanished entirely; they haven’t. Not because racism and discrimination no longer exist; that’s still out there. It’s just that in today’s hyper-connected, hyper-competitive world, with a billion young people from China and India and Brazil entering the global workforce alongside you, nobody is going to give you anything you haven’t earned. And whatever hardships you may experience because of your race, they pale in comparison to the hardships previous generations endured—and overcame.

As unpalatable and as ‘politics of respectability’ this may sound, the president isn’t wrong. He’s only telling the truth as he knows it, as he lived and experienced it. And what he is trying to really say is – in the real world, the one where you have go get a job and support yourself, no one really cares about your feelings. You have a complaint, go home and cry to mommy. If they get a job with a major Fortune 500 corporation and the founder of that corporation was bigot and a racist, for example, The Ford Motor Co., good luck trying to organize and get Ford’s name removed from the building(s).

What college students don’t realize is, the college campus is the last place where anyone gives any considerations to their feelings. It’s the last safe place, a cocoon for self-expression if you will, before one graduates and enters the real world. It is a cruel world where the rules one learns in school do not apply. There is no meritocracy, it’s your schmoozing and social networking skills (face-to-face not Facebook or Twitter) which will get you ahead. You will see the average mediocre white guy get ahead faster than you because his parents know the CEO.

The president said, “nobody is going to give you anything you haven’t earned”, even if you think you’ve earned it, you still may not get it because of a myriad of factors. The world is harsh, it is cruel, there is often no justice, no fairness and I am only referring to corporate America, not the streets of America. Many people do not get their just dues and no amount demands can change that. The president doesn’t have an answer for these graduates, except that making excuses and giving up isn’t an option.

The central theme of Coate’s writing and advocacy is for the betterment and empowerment of all black people, not just the talented and gifted few such as himself and President Obama:

No president has ever been better read on the intersection of racism and American history than our current one. I strongly suspect that he would point to policy. As the president of “all America,” Barack Obama inherited that policy. I would not suggest that it is in his power to singlehandedly repair history. But I would say that, in his role as American president, it is wrong for him to handwave at history, to speak as though the government he represents is somehow only partly to blame. Moreover, I would say that to tout your ties to your community when it is convenient, and downplay them when it isn’t, runs counter to any notion of individual responsibility.

Coates believes the ‘politics of respectability’ has held black people back and black people have been unfairly asked to remedy a situation not of their own doing. This is true, but what is the alternative? Is blaming and making excuses better than individual responsibility? And there are some things, even small things, all of us can do to improve our lot regardless of our present circumstances.

The only irony is Ta-Nehisi Coates is perfect embodiment of the ‘politics of respectability’. He is well-loved and well-integrated into the white system, perhaps not by his choice, but it’s what happened and he’s used that voice to empower black people. All people look to him as some sort of acknowledged authority on race matters. It is his voice and his writings that inform me about Black Lives Matter and other race matters more than anyone else and I am not black. His writing is thoughtful and moving and it’s caused me to think about my race and my privileges in a different light.

There is a fixed amount of capital for every movement, very similar to political capital. Right now the capital the Black Lives Matter movement is still at its peak. It would be a shame to see it wasted on things like removing a dead president’s image and name from university buildings. There is far far more important work ahead. It’s futile to waste capital on symbolic gestures.

 

50 Shades of Boring

The film ’50 Shades of Grey’ was released on February 13, 2015 to great fanfare and huge box office returns. Months before the film was released, the Hollywood press built it up to be one of the most scintillating and erotic films of the year. Every detail about this film was reported on with precision, from casting of the male and female lead, the director, scriptwriter and even the author herself, E.L. James and she’s also one of the producers on the film. The audience was led to believe this film will be the best original films on offer for the year 2015.

Everything was going great until the critics saw the film. Except for Dakota Johnson’s performance, everything was critically savaged. And even some of Dakota Johnson’s reviews were backhanded compliments in the vein of she’s the best thing in this hot mess of a film. The director of the film is Sam Taylor-Johnson, this is her first big budget Hollywood movie. Her previous full length feature film was ‘Nowhere Boy’ a film about the life of a young John Lennon. She was also well known figure in the London modern art world as she former wife and collaborator of art dealer Jay Jopling. She dabbled in music, directing television series and short films. Her body of work wasn’t prolific as some of the other directors on the shortlist to direct the ‘film of the year’ but she had a good reputation for her artistic integrity.

Before we talk about the film, let’s talk about the book whence it came. It was a book that was ‘e-published’ or ‘self-published’ by the British author E. L. James. I didn’t read the books but from people who did, they all told me not to bother, so I didn’t. Besides the awful prose writing, the main subject matter which features in the Christian Grey books, BDSM was poorly researched. It was little more than a bored housewife writing the stuff of her fantasy and it was poorly researched and poorly written. E.L. James, for whatever reason, struck a chord with her readers and her books took off from e-publishing to print publishing. James’s inspiration was from reading the Twilight series and it dawned on her that she too, could write. A major red flag right there, the author of the Twilight series, Stephenie Meyer is also known for her less than inspiring prose.

As soon as the film premiered, news surfaced that Sam Taylor-Johnson didn’t get along with the book’s author E.L. James, also one of the film’s producers. This isn’t surprising. Sam Taylor-Johnson being in the London fashionable art circle was quickly irritated with the bored housewife first masquerading as a book author and now a movie producer. When Taylor-Johnson was asked if she and E.L James became friends during the process of making the film, her curt answer was ‘no’, there was even no follow up of ‘but I admire her greatly’ or whatever, it was just ‘no’. E.L James was given significant creative control and direction of the film and this irritated Taylor-Johnson to no end. Shortly after the film’s release, Sam Taylor-Johnson announced she will withdraw from directing the next two films of this ‘trilogy’. No one can blame her.

The other night ’50 Shades of Grey’ was shown on HBO. So, I watched it. I already knew it was bad. The main characters lacked chemistry with each other. The script was lacking and everything else was mediocre at best. But I never expected it to be boring with a capital B. It is, after all, an almost x-rated film. The subject matter is most definitely x-rated. How can you fuck up a movie about sex? About BDSM? The stuff of people’s fantasies? Oh but fuck it up they did. Jamie Dornan, the unfortunate actor tasked to bring the enigmatic and sexy Christian Grey to life, for whatever reason (but not for lack of trying) he couldn’t bring that magic on screen. He didn’t have ‘It’. Dakota Johnson was tasked to play a boring mousy haired virgin ingenue type enchanted and intrigued with a guy who is into BDSM. She did get that job done and was fairly convincing, but it doesn’t require a great deal of acting expertise to pull that off.

The film is about a college senior, Anastasia Steele (played by Dakota Johnson) who interviews billionaire business extraordinaire Christian Grey because her friend who was supposed to conduct the interview got ill. She bombed the interview because she was intimidated by the laconic Christian Grey, who was a monosyllabic bore (but some women call that enigmatic and mysterious). But apparently Christian Grey took a shine to this average and plain Anastasia Steele and seeks her out and asks her out on a date but there is one caveat – dun dun dun. He doesn’t do romance, he’s into BDSM where he is dominant (always) and she is to be submissive and there’s a contract with excruciating details involved. The contract involves what Anastacia can eat, drink, which doctor she is to go for contraceptives and her conduct when she is not with Christian Grey. This is a exclusive relationship until Grey terminates it. But Grey consistently breaks his own rules because he falls in love with the simple and sweet Anastacia. Due to his past issues of childhood abuse, he has intimacy problems and will not allow himself to totally yield emotionally to Anastacia which upsets her. The film ends at a sort of an emotional impasse where the conclusion of their relationship isn’t defined. They still need to bore us with two more full length movies.

The film is a series of lulls of nothing happening between the non-inspiring sex and BDSM scenes. I find it hard to believe it was one of the highest grossing films in 2015. What did the wider audience see in this film? Did people not see the same movie I did? For many reasons, I’ve stopped seeing movies at the theater during opening weekend or even opening week or month. I always wait until it’s out on Netflix or even better showing on cable television since I’ve let my Netflix subscription lapse. I’ve learned to never buy into the Hollywood hype. A good movie will always be a good movie whether you see it the day it’s released or years after.

The same friend that told me to not bother reading the book or see the movie in theaters, told me there is one silver lining in this ghastly made movie, and that is it’s directed by a woman. One of the highest grossing films directed by a woman and 90% of the crew on this film are women. And the film, for all its awfulness, made money so that’s good for women in film. Perhaps, if one looks at it from that angle. But it’s also a crying shame that such talent was wasted on this film.

After seeing this film, I am happy to hear Sam Taylor-Johnson has detached herself from this project. She is far too talented of a director and artist to be associated with this sort of tripe. The new director is reportedly James Foley. I am not familiar with him or his work. I’ve never seen any of his films, but good luck to him. He’ll need it.

Update and Retraction: Baltimore Burning.

Baltimore burning was a post I wrote back in April. I’ve since changed my views about the police since I wrote this piece and I’d like to make a clarification, especially in relation to:

To the all the police forces of this country, this is not a time to demonize the police. 99% of police do excellent work at protecting the community they serve, they do so at the peril of their own safety, they respond and go to places many do not dare to venture, many go above and beyond their calls of duty and save countless lives, but when the same story happens over and over again where a white police officer has shot, killed, or grievously injured an unarmed black man during the commission of misdemeanors or arrests, it is a time for reckoning for everyone.

I no longer believe 99% of police officers do good work and really just want to protect the citizens under their purview. Most police are a bunch of racist and misogynist thugs who use the power of their badge to bully people instead of protecting people. There may be a few cops who do good work, but being involved with a corrupt organization, the ‘good’ only goes so far.

So much has happened since April of this year and still continue to happen with police abuse I cannot hold this view any longer. This view of most police officers are good people is just my point of view, a white-presenting biracial woman, someone who is not in the crosshairs of police brutality.

With what’s just happened in Chicago, where a corrupt police force protected a corrupt officer for over one year when he should have been fired on the spot for shooting a child. The mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel fired the Chicago police superintendent in a bid to save his career. I cannot hold the view that most police officers do good work. I also will not ‘Stand with the Police’ anywhere.

In something closer to home, a black woman, called Fay Wells, who lives in Santa Monica, California a newly ‘gentrified’ area of town, she forgot her keys and locked herself out of her home, she called a locksmith, resolved the situation and was safely tucked on her couch. Her neighbor, a white attorney who claims he’s never seen her in his life before called the cops about a possible residential burglary and 19 of the Santa Monica’s finest showed up at her apartment, guns drawn, with a dog, cuffed her and had a gun pointed in her face, for breaking into her home. When the whole fiasco was over and she escaped unharmed, she demanded the names and badge numbers of the 19 police officers, they stalled and stonewalled her. SMPD later released names of 17 officers but there were 19 there and the names were not consistent with what’s on the log. The matter is pending investigation and Internal Affairs is involved. No apology has been issued.

When she confronted the neighbor who called the cops, this was his response:

I introduced myself to the reporting neighbor and asked if he was aware of the gravity of his actions — the ocean of armed officers, my life in danger. He stuttered about never having seen me, before snippily asking if I knew my next-door neighbor. After confirming that I did and questioning him further, he angrily responded, “I’m an attorney, so you can go f— yourself,” and walked away.

And the response from the SMPD’s finest:

Editor’s note: The Santa Monica Police Department told The Washington Post that 16 officers were on the scene but later provided a list of 17 names. That list does not match the list of 17 names that was eventually provided to the writer; the total number of names provided by the SMPD is 19. The department also said that it was protocol for this type of call to warrant “a very substantial police response,” and that any failure of officers to provide their names and badge numbers “would be inconsistent with the Department’s protocols and expectations.” There is an open internal affairs inquiry into the writer’s allegations of racially motivated misconduct. After this essay ran online, Police Chief Jacqueline A. Seabrooks released an additional statement. “The 9-1-1 caller was not wrong for reporting what he believed was an in-progress residential burglary,” she wrote. Ms. Wells is not wrong to feel as she does.”

 

The Silence of Asian Americans

Many in social and mainstream media have noticed the silence of Asian Americans in response to the killings of black people by the police. There are a few prominent voices but most are silent or they offer platitudes of regret at the loss of yet another black man to a brutal and racist institution known as the police force.

Many Asian Americans have pondered the reasons for this, but the most eloquent by far is Liz Lin, in a blog post titled ‘Why Asian Americans Might Not Talk About Ferguson’. Liz Lin, specifically, is Chinese American, so she represents the Chinese immigrant narrative and being a child of a Chinese immigrant, her analysis is pretty much right on the money. I could have taken these same words out of the mouth of  my relatives but with less tact and elegance:

[…] there are all the other cultural and social factors that influence how we respond to events like Ferguson.

For one, Asian cultures strongly value harmony and not creating conflict.  The American proverb says that the squeaky wheel gets the grease; the Japanese proverb says that the nail that sticks out gets hammered down. Thus, even in the face of controversial events, even when we ourselves are the victims of wrongdoing, many Asian Americans tend to remain silent.

This tendency is exacerbated by the fact that more than 90% of Asian Americans are immigrants or children of immigrants1 — people shaped by an immigrant mindset of keeping your head down and your mouth shut, even if the circumstances are terrible. Because you want to be welcomed and accepted here, and complaining usually creates the opposite response, even if those complaints are warranted.

Along with that immigrant mentality can come a need to survive at all costs — at least in my family.  My parents desperately wanted my brother and me to succeed in this country, and the only way to ensure that was for us to beat everyone else.  So they instilled in us a deep competitiveness, a need to be the best.  I grew up with a sense that I had to fight for my own success and not let other people or their problems drag me down, an attitude that haunts me still.

And then you have the anti-black sentiment that pervades Asian and Asian American communities. There are plenty of better-researched, better-written explanations for these attitudes, but in my experience, the human predisposition to stereotype and the fairly universal attitudes about light skin being superior to dark skin are exacerbated in cultures that are racially homogenous.

Her last point of ‘anti-black sentiment’ which ‘pervades Asian and Asian American communities’ is putting this ugly stain in Asian and Asian American communities very diplomatically. I am going to go out on a limb here and violate one of my own cardinal rules, which is to never generalize, even to make a point about the larger issue.

Based on my experiences with Chinese immigrants and Asian Americans at large, including people in my family, they can be some of the most racist motherfuckers ever, especially towards black people. And if other non-Chinese people could understand Chinese, most would be appalled at what’s being said.

As children, we are told to stay away from the black kids, not just because they are black, but because they are usually the ‘bad kids’ at school who don’t get good grades and if we associate with the ‘bad kids’ at school, the teachers won’t like us and think we are bad too. This is what Liz Lin means by ‘not let other people or their problems drag me down’.

To Chinese, black people are an unfortunate race blighted by poverty, low education and criminality, everything the media (controlled by white supremacists) wants everyone to believe, and the Chinese have bought it lock, stock and barrel. On top of that, Chinese people are big believers of politics of respectability and so the situation is ripe for racism against blacks.  Because black people get in trouble with the police a lot, so we are to stay away from them so that we don’t get dragged down with them. While this may be true in some respects, most Chinese failed to investigate why black people are at the bottom of the social and economic heap and who and what has kept them there. They were more concerned with their own survival.

My aunt told me Confucius said we should make friends with people who are ‘better than us’ and to her that didn’t include black or brown people. First of all, Confucius didn’t say that, he said this:

If the Superior Man is not serious, then he will not inspire awe in others. If he is not learned, then he will not be on firm ground. He takes loyalty and good faith to be of primary importance, and has no friends who are not of equal (moral) caliber. When he makes a mistake, he doesn’t hesitate to correct it.

The Analects

What Confucius means by ‘better’ is someone who is morally superior, more virtuous and all around a better person than oneself, he was not referring to someone’s race or ethnicity. The ‘Superior Man’ Confucius refers to means people who strive to be morally superior, people who strive to be  better people everyday, not superior by social status.

Chinese culture inherently values education above everything else, it’s their tried and true method of upward mobility, not just in America but in their countries of origin as well. I was told from a young age, in order to get ahead, I needed to study, get good grades, get into college and get a good job. That’s it. And while we are in school nothing else matters but our studies. Not our friends, no boyfriends, no weekend trips with friends, no going to movies, no sleepovers at friends homes, we don’t even need to do chores, our sole existence is to study and get good grades. Like Liz Lin says, we are responsible for our own successes, no one is going to give us anything and anything which gets in the way of that is to be ignored, even at our own peril.

With my mother as the exception, since she was married to a white person her social circle was wider and she got to see what white people were really like up close and personal and she wasn’t too impressed most times. She thought white people and white culture was rather philistine, after all, she came from a culture which was almost 4000 years old. But her parents and siblings were racists of the Chinese variety. They were insular, paranoid and convinced the world (white world) was out to get them because of their unfamiliarity with American culture. This was especially true of my aunt and uncles. My grandparents came to the United States to retire and they were happy doing what retirees did and didn’t care too much about their surrounding demographics and the wider American culture.

They were well aware the system that is white supremacy. They also knew they will never be fully accepted by white people so they settle for second best, which is career and financial success, one of the few things white people can’t deny them. One of my uncles got his master’s degree at a prestigious California institution was working on his PhD before he decided to quit and get a job as an electrical engineer. This was the early 80s, he had a good job but all the white people were promoted over him and he was even made to train someone for a position that should have been his. This made him disillusioned and bitter and he took that bitterness out on me (as a white-presenting biracial woman, he knows I can get ahead with half of his talent). My other two uncles which didn’t achieve half the success of my uncle with the master’s degree and they toiled in lower income positions until their retirement. My aunt became a virtual social recluse (she’s been in this country for over 30 years and she’s got not one non-Chinese friend) as she was a school teacher in Taiwan and she wasn’t able to convert her teaching degree and continue teaching in the US. All of my uncles and aunt had something in common, unfamiliarity with the culture that is white supremacy and not having to social tools to successfully navigate it.

They also lacked the confidence that is required to be successful in white corporate America. They were brought up in a system which was totally different to how American children are brought up. They were brought up in typical Chinese-Confucian tradition, to respect authority, obey teachers, follow orders and to not speak your mind until you’ve earned your right or position to do so, basically when they become adults. Creativity and originality was not encouraged in primary and secondary education, their education system was geared towards them taking standardized test regulated by the government to determine if they can reach the next level of education. American children, especially Gen X, Y and Millennials, we are taught to be confident, to speak our mind and our opinion matters (even if that opinion is crap). As a child growing up, I distinctly recall my aunt and uncles being very annoyed with my opinionated nature and confidence in expressing my opinions, they were even more annoyed with my mom for not putting me in my place.

In my childhood, I heard so many disgusting racists things said about blacks and latinos by my family and it wasn’t just my immediate family. It was our extended families of in-laws, relatives and acquaintances. The racists comments were ubiquitous, they came up at the most random moments during the most routine things. I recall once seeing the singer Alicia Keys on TV, one of my favorite singers, my aunt said, very casually, ‘she’s not 100% black is she?’ I said, ‘no, she isn’t. She’s like me, she’s biracial, her mother is white and her father is black’. My aunt replied, ‘no wonder she’s prettier than the average black girl’ and for good measure, she said ‘and no, she isn’t like you, you are Chinese and white’.

My uncle’s mother-in-law once regaled us with a story of how an unfortunate friend of hers, because of her need for a green card, married a black person to get the green card and fell pregnant and gave birth to the most unfortunate looking baby, and openly lamented why the baby looked so ‘black’ with the kinky hair and all. It never occurred to her that this may be a love match since the said friend got pregnant, it clearly wasn’t just a green card ‘arrangement’.

The prejudice isn’t just against people of the black race, it’s against people with darker skin as some Chinese (and Asians) have darker skin than others. Once I was accompanying a friend to visit with her former in-laws and they were watching those Chinese variety shows where celebrities come on to make an ass of themselves and promote whatever album, movie or TV series they are doing at the time and one of her former sister-in-laws said ‘who is that piece of coal standing next to the show host?’ The ‘piece of coal’ was a Chinese actress with darker skin color, and it is consider very very rude to say about someone even amongst Asians. My friend and I were in shock, not just at the obvious racism or in this case colorism, but the person saying was is no looker herself. The irony was not lost on us.

I disagree with Lin’s assertion which, “There are plenty of better-researched, better-written explanations for these attitudes, but in my experience, the human predisposition to stereotype and the fairly universal attitudes about light skin being superior to dark skin are exacerbated in cultures that are racially homogenous.” The Chinese at least, always revered people with whiter skin long before they’ve ever seen a Westerner. This is no secret. People with fair skin are always perceived as being prettier than they really are. There’s a saying in Chinese which roughly translates to ‘having fair skin will conceal 30% of one’s ugliness’. Many people (mostly westerners) attribute this to post-colonialism, because of French, Portuguese, English and Dutch colonization of parts of Asia, people with whiter skin are seen as prettier. This may be partially true, but long before colonization by the West in China, you have Tang Dynasty poets praising women with milky white skin and how being fair is a mark of beauty and virtue. Almost all the heroines in Chinese novels (old and new) is always a woman described as having jet black long hair paired with milky white skin. Most of the famous actresses in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and any other countries where Chinese people feature strongly, they are all fair skinned women. This is not a coincidence.

As awkward as this is to admit, my mother and I are recipients of undue adulation due to our natural whiteness. My mother is considered very fair for a Chinese woman, she is often thought to be biracial by other Chinese (she’s not, she’s just unusually fair for a Chinese), and I am ghostly white because of my Anglo-Irish heritage. My mother is a lovely woman, one of the loveliest women I know but it’s to do with her whole being, not just her whiteness. In Asian countries, the markets are flooded with skin whitening ungents and creams. I don’t even want to know what’s in them, anything that can bleach your skin from yellow undertone to white can’t be good for you in the long run.

I am no longer in contact with my uncles. Since the death of my grandparents, the glue which held my mother’s side of the family together, I felt I’ve nothing in common with them anymore. Their racist views disgusted me growing up. When I was old enough to articulate my disgust, they turned on me even more. I attributed to their lack of success in America more to their bad attitudes towards other people rather than racism (looking back this is quite unfair). Because they were unwilling to learn American ways they blamed their failures on racism, it was a cop out so they don’t have to take responsibility for their actions. I realize this is a terrifically snobbish thing to say and one one tinged with white privilege which I enjoy but their causal and blatant racism in the open, spoken in a language that most people don’t understand was too disgusting for me to have real sympathy for them.

So far, the racism which exists in Asian communities have been unchecked and overlooked by society at large because we are all obsessed with white privilege, white supremacy and racism and bias executed by white people. White supremacy and racism from white people is perceived as more serious and at times deadlier than racism and bias from other groups. But racism, bias and prejudice is not acceptable from any group against any group, even if the groups involved are minorities. While I disagree that academic and financial achievement by some Asian Americans have contributed to the racism, discrimination and degradation faced by blacks and latinos for their own lack of success; after all, in order to find academic and financial success in a white supremacist society, one has to partake and contribute to that system, whether they are Asians or not, so it’s not fair to level this charge only to Asians. But it is totally unacceptable some Asians are getting away with racism. Just because Asians are the victims of racism, ugly sterotyping, fettishization of women and mockery of traditional Asian facial features and accents, it’s not acceptable to mete out the same treatment to other minorities. Just because Asians aren’t the dominant power in American society, it does not make racism against others acceptable.

It is understandable to want to preserve what little privilege one has in the amoral and immoral morass that is white supremacy, but no one really got ahead by stepping on the head of another. We are better in solidarity than being divided.

I needed to learn that my only-out-for-myself attitude was ultimately not helpful for me or for anyone around me.  I needed to learn that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, as Martin Luther King said; that if one part of the body suffers, every part suffers (1 Corinthians 12.26); that ending injustice — all injustice — is a central part of what God wants to see in the world (Isaiah 58.6, Luke 4.18).

I needed to learn that some things are worth rocking the boat for — and that if I wasn’t proactive about fighting injustice, I was quietly perpetuating it.

Liz Lin