Archive | April, 2012

Furry discrimination

30 Apr

Meet Barney Rubble.

A colleague just adopted Barney from Loup Garou Rescue in San Francisco, which is “dedicated to the rescue and re-homing of black and dark colored companion animals from shelters where they are disproportionately euthanized for their color” (http://www.loupgarourescue.org/).

That’s right. Black dogs are less likely to be adopted–and therefore, more likely to be put down, than white and light-colored dogs. Why? One explanation for “Black Dog Syndrome” suggests that black dogs “look more threatening than other dogs.” Another observes that black dogs are “tougher to photograph well”–which matters when potential owners’ first glimpses of you are on-line or on a poster (http://www.care2.com/greenliving/black-dog-syndrome.html#ixzz1st3lPW1b).

The parallel to humans would be comical, but we’re talking about lives, both canine and human.

And, of course, the anti-black trend holds true for cats as well. According to Kathleen Fram, co-chair of adoptions for the Summit Animal Rescue Association in NJ, “Black cats don’t get adopted nearly as frequently as other colors. People just pass them by” (http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/living/2004374431_blackcats28.html). So it appears, the myth of bad luck bounces back on cats in a very real way:

A 2002 study in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science that examined adoption rates over nine months in a California pound found that black cats were about half as likely to be adopted as tabby cats and two-thirds less likely than white cats. But for cats in general, the odds are not good: of the approximately 3,000 cats of all colors offered for adoption during that time, only around 600, or 20 percent, found homes. Those remaining were euthanized.

Given these odds, kudos and thanks to Loup Garou (which is French for “werewolf”) for the work they’re doing and the awareness they’re raising about a real, irrational and lethal bias that may very well be getting in the way of people finding a companion animal to love and to love them. No, adopting black cats and dogs won’t mean that every animal finds a home, but it may mean more animals finding homes, if we can see our prejudice and have an opportunity to interrogate it.

For more info about Loup Garou dogs up for adoption: http://www.loupgarourescue.org/adopt-this-pet/ or to send a donation: Loup Garou, PO Box 16008, San Francisco, CA 94116.

** Thanks (and congrats!!)  to my colleague BB for the info on Loup Garou. And a big puppy hug to Barney Rubble.

Saturday quote

28 Apr

“When we quit thinking primarily about ourselves and our own self-preservation, we undergo a truly heroic transformation of consciousness.”

—Joseph Campbell

I, hobo, take thee, hobo…

27 Apr

Imagine that dear friends or family of yours are getting married. The invitation arrives in the mail, and your presence is requested… in “hobo casual attire.”

Thoughts?

In 2011, a Pennsylvania couple threw a “Depression-era hobo” themed wedding, complete with “hobo-chic outfits” and decor (http://www.etsy.com/blog/en/2011/handmade-weddings-depression-era-hobo/?ref=fp_blog_title). The bride Sarah posted all about her nuptials on the craft site Etsy, explaining, “After reading that the word ‘hobo’ may be a syllabic abbreviation of ‘homeward bound,’ [my husband and I] fell in love with the notion.”

I suppose that, yes, scrubbed up like that, “hobo” is a lovely notion. However, the condition of not being at home and therefore being homeward bound, was bound up in joblessness, poverty, starvation and the need to go as far as you could to try to find some work or sustenance. Not to mention the current connotations of “hobo,” which are more criminal than romantic.

Yes, let’s party like it’s 1929.

Still, Sarah’s fellow arts and craft devotees responded with delight over her “endless creativity” and “brilliance.” Countless compliments professed thrill and envy over her theme, raving, “So down to earth” and “You do Little Abner proud!”

I found myself continuing to scroll through the comments, increasingly disturbed that I wasn’t reading any other opinion about the choice to make the Depression, and the itinerant lifestyle that it forced on desperate people, a romantic fantasy. Eventually, I found those posts, best summed up in the comment, “Wow, poverty. Awesome. Can we see a famine theme next?”

Of course, in response to the criticism, there were the “can’t we all just get along?” posts, such as:

I’m not sure why everyone is making such a big deal out of this. It was your wedding and you made it what you wanted, and in a lovely way too. People need to lighten up and not be so critical.

OK.

When I’m prone to reflexive, no-compromise thinking (like hobo-theme = product of entitled life), I do try to notice and examine my outraged certainty.

What do you think? Hobo-theme not such a big deal? Lighten up, Alison?

Let me offer another example of an inscrutable wedding theme as counterpoint. In 2010, a couple got married in South Africa in an “Out of Africa” theme that included “an all-white crowd was waited on by an all-black staff of servants”  (http://jezebel.com/5820577/colonial+themed-wedding-included-authentic-all+black-servant-staff).

Thoughts?

And any other thoughts on the difference between these two themes, that dress historical and contemporary realities up in whimsy and love?

I, for one, wonder about how the desire to have a nontraditional wedding may lead to more weddings of this ilk. How the new tradition of being untraditional may drive self-proclaimed quirky, fun and hip couples to go where other marrieds haven’t gone before (for good reason).

Certainly (at least if you’re heterosexual), you have the right to marry as you want. But I also can’t help wondering what it’s like for those folks who aren’t down with black servitude or the fun of poverty to receive one of these invitations from a couple they do love. Somehow, RSVP-ing, “Yes, we are delighted to attend!” doesn’t seem to cover it all.

On bodysnarking

26 Apr

Heard the term “thinspo”? It’s an abbreviation for the term “thinspiration,” which is causing some controversy on-line these days. According to Business Insider:

Thinspo devotees ostensibly post pictures of slim-looking men and women as  inspiration for those wanting to lose weight. More usually, however, the images  are a thinly veiled cover for the pro-anorexia community (http://articles.businessinsider.com/2012-04-21/news/31377650_1_ban-fails-alexa-chung-harm#ixzz1snr1nAV5).

That’s right, there’s a pro-anorexia community, so well-established that it, too, goes by its own nicknames:

Pro-ana and pro-mia websites advocate anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa as a lifestyle choice, rather than as serious mental disorders,” said professor Ulrike Schmidt, chair of the [U.K.’s Royal College of Psychiatrists’] eating disorders section. “Research shows that, even for healthy young women, viewing such websites induces low mood, low self-esteem and increased body dissatisfaction” (http://news.cnet.com/8301-17852_3-10359511-71.html).

The connection between thinspo and eating disorders becomes alarmingly apparent when you visit sites like Thinspo (http://www.pro-thinspo.com/thinspo.html), where the tabs at the top of the home page include: “Dieting,” “FatBurner,” “Fasting” and “Exercises.” You can also click on hyperlinks to view pictures of “sunken cheeks,” “concave bellies” and even “graphic bones”–but the latter only if you have a membership to Prothinspo, the self-proclaimed “Queen of the Starvation Scene!!”

Concern about thinspo/pro-ana/pro-mia postings on-line has prompted several social media sites to ban “images and accounts that condone “self-harm” behavior such as eating disorders, cutting oneself, or committing suicide” (http://news.cnet.com/8301-1023_3-57418395-93/instagram-follows-tumblr-pinterest-bans-self-harm-posts/?tag=mncol;editorPicks). But, of course, independent sites like pro-thinspo.com have freedom of speech. And then there is the uncensorable fact that we live in a pro-thin society that views the sometimes unhealthy skinniness of celebrities as part of the beauty ideal. One such thinspo role model? Alexa Chung (I don’t know why she’s famous) who posted this photo of herself (she’s the one on the right) on Instagram:

Notice your own reaction to this picture.

Other Instagram users weren’t shy about posting their own reactions, which included describing Chung as “horrid,” “too skinny” and “ugly.” One viewer commented, “you’re [sic] legs look unhealthy,” while another posted, “Ew shes [sic] so skinny it’s gross.”

Do you agree?

While “thinspiration” is a valid concern, the attack on Chung (who responded to her critics with this sign-off: “Hi, I am here. I can read. Ok everyone thanks for the teen angst discussions. People are different sizes. I’m not trying to be thinspo for anyone (sic). I am now making this acct private. Byyyyyeeee”) seems hypocritical.

Claire Mysko, writing for the National Eating Disorders Association’s Proud2Bme website, offers this perspective:

We’ve talked before about how celebrities like Demi Lovato, Miley Cyrus, and Ashley Judd have been on the receiving end of harsh comments about how they look “too fat,” “puffy,” and other such nonsense… But what about when the snark is directed at a celebrity for being too thin? Does that make it okay? The short answer is no. It’s not okay. Bodysnarking in any form–whether it’s about someone being too fat, too thin, too wrinkly, too “done,” too busty, too flat, you get the picture–reinforces the idea that it’s acceptable for our bodies to be objects of constant scrutiny. It sends the message that life is one big beauty competition, and we’re all expected to be contestants. Except that there’s no real prize because no one can ever win. (http://proud2bme.org/content/ew-shes-so-skinny-its-gross-why-alexa-chung-got-bodysnarked-why-its-not-okay).

Mysko’s position reminds me of Ashley Judd’s call to end the “misogynistic assault on all women” (see my 4/19/12 post for the link to her essay). Both women raise a disturbing point about buying into a prejudice and perpetuating it–not just on others, but on ourselves–while we claim to be striving for acceptance and equality. Criticizing women for not being fat enough, like criticizing women for being stay at home moms, is just a variation on a theme, self-justified though it may be under the mantle of “feminism.” This female participation in a misogynist mindset reminds me of the expression “crabs in a bucket,” describing the tendency of those crustaceans to pull each other back down, instead of working together to get out of the bucket. Just swapping or “paying back” discrimination doesn’t make the world any more equitable. But stopping the snark might just tip the bucket over.

Some rules are made to be broken

25 Apr

Here’s the headline from last week: “BART worker may lose job over act of ‘benevolence.'” And here’s the story:

A teenager who lost his father last year started having trouble in school, so his grandparents moved him from the local public school in Hercules to Flex Academy in San Francisco. The kid has turned things around, but the $200 monthly in fares to get to and from school were threatening his ability to continue at Flex. According to the San Francisco Chronicle:

When [station agent Jim] Stanek heard about their dilemma, he thought he could help. In the Daly  City booth where he works, there was $300 worth of paid, unused tickets that commuters left behind. Stanek says those tickets are usually thrown away.

Two weeks ago, Stanek said he gave them to the teen – knowing it was against  the rules. Later, when a station agent asked the teen about the bundle of  tickets, he explained where he got them (http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2012/04/18/BAIK1O5GLI.DTL#ixzz1sVlG1j2y).

So Stanek is facing early forced retirement.

Wow. Although Stanek technically stole from BART (since “tickets are cash”), it seems more like recycling, doesn’t it?

His story makes me wonder about the logic of just bundling up money and locking it up somewhere. Perhaps in addition to reviewing Stanek’s actions, BART might review its own and consider instituting a policy regarding lost tickets that benefits commuters: like the give-a-penny-take-a-penny dish by cash registers, or donations to an organization that serves folks in need, or redeeming the lost tickets for a day or week of discounted fares?

Because Stanek’s actions seem as inspired by institutional inaction as by his personal interest in one child.

The Self-Made Myth

24 Apr

Here I go… with a recommendation to check out a book I haven’t read in full myself. But it can’t hurt to check it out, right?

Reading about “tax-us” activism (aka “taxivism)–the efforts of wealthy people to get their taxes raised (http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2012/04/18/BU551O4NV8.DTL&tsp=1) led me to the group United for a Fair Economy, who just published The Self-Made Myth, an exploration of “how wealth is really created and why it matters”  (http://www.faireconomy.org/selfmademyth). Here’s an excerpt from the book:

The self-made myth is the assertion that individual and business success is the result of the personal characteristics of exceptional individuals, such as hard work, creativity, and sacrifice, with little or no outside assistance. Those who subscribe to this myth do so only by ignoring the contributions of society, the supports made possible through governmental action, any head start a person may have received, and just plain old luck. If this were purely a matter of ego and self-delusion, it would not warrant such a book, but the perpetuation of the self-made myth has profound and destructive impacts on our views of government and the public policy debates of our times (http://faireconomy.org/selfmademyth/excerpt/1).

While this intro avoids the “contributions” that institutionalized discrimination makes toward the “self-made” actualization of some but not all people, I’m hopeful the book may go there, based on UFE’s mission statement, which proclaims “awareness that concentrated wealth and power undermine the economy, corrupt democracy, deepen the racial divide, and tear communities apart. We support and help build social movements for greater equality” (http://faireconomy.org/about_ufe). As their mission implies, you can’t talk about social mobility and success without acknowledging how racism, classism, sexism, xenophobia and other systemic inequities enhance or obstruct individual efforts.

So check it out, and if you finish it before I do, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Act: Meditations on the Disabled Body

23 Apr

I came across this series of portraits by Denis Darzacq and wanted to share them. Darzacq “portrays people using their bodies to express a profound sense of freedom from the limitations that life has placed on them. In his latest work, the series ‘Act,’ he worked with young adults leading difficult lives, their bodies challenged by conditions such as Down’s Syndrome or cerebral palsy” (http://www.laurencemillergallery.com/darzacq_act.html).

In another series titled “Hyper,” Darzacq captures the same freedom from physical limitations, featuring street dancers.

You can see more of the series here: http://www.laurencemillergallery.com/darzacq_hyper.html.

Looking at these collections together, I’m struck by the photographer’s vivid perception and representation of human diversity: Darzacq’s subjects, who embody very different social ideas of physical “ability,” are all vulnerable and limited, and also dynamic and powerful when we pause and really look at them.