Archive | October, 2013

Gender ABC’s

11 Oct

Here’s a great opportunity to experience some of the best in contemporary theater, make a donation to the arts and support queer youth and allies:

The Cutting Ball Theater needs your help to make our upcoming production of Sidewinders one that Queer youth and their allies can see at no cost.

Please Donate

Playwright Basil Kreimendahl says “Sidewinders is a play about living in the in-between…I want students to be able to see Sidewinders because it’s really important that we see ourselves on stage and hear our stories.”We hope to raise $10,000 in just three weeks to cover the full cost of providing free student rush tickets for the full run from October 18-November 17.Learn more about Sidewinders, our campaign, and our fun thank you gifts at www.cuttingball.com/donate.

To give you a sense of the show, check out Sidewinders‘ “Gender ABC’s” (http://cuttingball.com/season/13-14/sidewinders/), prefaced with these notes by dramaturg Rem Myers:

  • Sidewinders is a play that from its outset defies the very labels that are presented in the Gender ABCs. In fact, the actors in Sidewinders do not use a single term among those listed below. This list is offered with the goal of introducing the big and complex world of gender by teaching 26 key words.
  • As the alphabet only has 26 letters, there are only 26 terms listed: one per letter. Unfortunately this meant not listing every word related to gender identity, including Gender Bending, LGBT, Two-Spirit, and more. The Gender ABCs is not a comprehensive list, but simply an introduction.
  • Vocabulary is constantly changing, evolving, and growing. Words, particularly those describing gender, are also subjective and personal. Many of the terms below have different meanings for different people and none of these definitions are set in stone.

Finally, immgration talk that makes sense

10 Oct

This morning, I heard an article on NPR regarding the deaths of at least 280 African (Eritrean, Somali and Ghanaian) migrants whose boat capsized and caught fire just off the shore of Italy earlier this month (http://www.cnn.com/2013/10/03/world/europe/italy-migrants-sink/index.html). Fleeing famine and war, the migrants were hoping to smuggle themselves to safer, freer lives in Europe.

I was struck by the European response to this tragedy:

European Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecelia Malmstrom, who is reportedly “pushing for tougher measures to fight smugglers, partnerships with migrants’ home countries, and an increase in legal immigration quotas,” stated, “This restrictive approach [of closing borders] has proven its limit. We need to move towards openness, solidarity, sharing of responsibility and true European response.” (http://www.npr.org/2013/10/10/231248988/tragedy-prompts-calls-for-change-to-eus-immigration-polices).

Meanwhile, Bruegel Institute migration specialist Rainer Munz is advocating for governments to “address the root causes why people are leaving Somalia, South Sudan, Afghanistan, etc.” because “[t]o truly solve the problem, migrants must be given hope back in their own countries.”

And as I was listening, I found myself thinking this is the first practical and moral institutional perspective on immigration reform I’ve heard in, well, too long. Of course, it’s coming from across the pond. Yes, yes, I know they’re European, and this story is brought to you by public radio. And yet. I can only hope more people in the US are paying attention to how other countries (check out New Zealand!) handle immigration for the mutual benefit of immigrants and native born folks. Because wouldn’t that really be something to work towards?

Equity: not just for chicks

9 Oct

This morning on KQED’s Forum, Michael Krasny talks to two economics experts about Barack Obama appointing Janet Yellen to head the Federal Reserve. His guests are Laura D’Andrea Tyson, professor at the Haas School of Business, UC Berkeley and former chair of President Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers; and Peter Coy, economics editor of Bloomberg BusinessWeek.

Krasny pitches some questions to both guests, and others to one or the other, depending on the fit he presumably sees between their qualifications and expertise, and the subject of his query.

One question in particular struck me.

Krasny asks Tyson whether she is, “of course” excited that Yellen is a woman. To be clear: Krasny specifically does not ask Coy. Apparently, Tyson would be the expert regarding the awesomeness of Yellen being a woman. Because, after all, Tyson is a woman.

Right?

Tyson, who is no dummy, deftly replies with the classic two-part response:

  • She, of course, believes that any appointee should be qualified.
  • But (then she corrects herself)–And, she is delighted that a woman has made it and can now be a role model and inspiration to women worldwide.

Speak it, sister.

And yet.

While I breathed a sigh of relief at Tyson’s skilled handling of the question, I was still peeved. Not that Krasny asked–I think we live in a time where he still has to, and because he does, people get to hear Tyson remove one more brick from the merit v. diversity myth.

I was peeved that Krasny didn’t notice the blatant sexism of his question: by making this a woman’s question, he momentarily stripped Tyson of all her credentials, while he and Coy got to sit back and once again listen to the minority defend the minority’s merit. (I mean, really, what answer did he expect? He’s talking to a woman who pursued a Ph.D. in macroeconomics. She knows about having to justify her lady smarts.)

And I was really peeved by the persistent myopia of the question: Aren’t we all, regardless of our sex, excited that Yellen is being appointed? Isn’t it reassuring to know that the position of Head of the Federal Reserve isn’t limited by sexism? That the economic well-being of our country isn’t just a boys club? (Qualified boys, of course.) That someone as obviously qualified as Yellen is able to take the helm of the Fed? I would think so.

That’s the question I’ll be glad to hear some day, asked not just to the minority unofficially assigned to handle these issues, but to everyone. Because equity isn’t just for some of us.

Poverty in CA

2 Oct

A quick post-and-run: Stanford’s Center on Poverty and Inequality just released a new, more nuanced analysis of poverty in CA that takes into consideration the cost of living in CA and realistic expenses like out-of-pocket medical expenses. According to the CA Poverty Measure:

“22 percent of Californians [and 25 percent of children in CA] live in poverty, and that figure would be even higher if not for the state and federal safety nets, including CalFresh, the state’s food stamp program; CalWORKs, the state’s cash assistance program; and the federal Earned Income Tax Credit.

If these programs were not in place, the child poverty rate would increase by another 12 percentage points, raising it from nearly 25 percent to nearly 37 percent of all children” (http://news.stanford.edu/pr/2013/pr-poverty-index-california-100113.html).

The findings are particularly alarming given the current government shut down, and raise the question: how will the Center’s findings matter to public policy? Will greater clarity about living poverty in CA lead, as the Center hopes, to “meaningful policy debate” and action? And on a personal note: what do I do with this information? How do I translate this report into meaningful action in my own life and work?

You can read more about the CA Poverty Measure here: http://www.stanford.edu/group/scspi/cpm_overview.html.

Diversity in a galaxy far, far away

2 Oct

Something about Star Wars has been bugging me. Something other than the really bad scripts, racist stereotypes (http://www.davechen.net/2012/02/racism-stereotypes-phantom-menace-star.html) and sexist characterizations (http://leiashotfirst.wordpress.com/2011/04/15/is-star-wars-sexist/), that is.

It has to do with midi-chlorians, or at least what I understand of them. (Now before I continue, I would like to preface the rest of this post by saying that by no measure am I a Star Wars historian or even much of a fan. So I promise to do my best and apologize in advance for any details that I get wrong. Please do write in to correct me if you spot a factual error.)

Back to midi-chlorians. If you watched the Star Wars prequels, you may remember that midi-chlorians were introduced as an explanation for what makes a Jedi. According to Star Wars wiki Wookieepedia, midi-chlorians are:

intelligent microscopic life forms that lived symbiotically inside the cells of all living things. When present in sufficient numbers, they could allow their host to detect the pervasive energy field known as the Force. Midi-chlorian counts were linked to potential in the Force, ranging from normal Human levels of 2,500 per cell to the much higher levels of Jedi. The highest known midi-chlorian count—over 20,000 per cell—belonged to the Jedi Anakin Skywalker [who would later become Darth Vader], who was believed to have been conceived by the midi-chlorians (http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Midi-chlorian).

In other words, Jedis are born. They are genetically determined, and there’s nothing you can do to make yourself a Jedi: you either are, or you aren’t.

So what, you may be thinking. Who cares if you’re a Jedi or not? Well, considering that the Jedi are the “guardians of peace and justice in the [Star Wars] galaxy” (http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Jedi), I would argue that everyone in the galaxy should care. These are the self-selected people who have taken the safety of the galaxy upon themselves. And yes, they are self-selected. According to Wookieepedia, “[m]idi-chlorian counts were measured through a blood test; the Jedi used this method to locate Force-sensitive children before their Order was purged by the Galactic Empire.”

And once located, these children would receive an elite education, which their teachers would commit their lives to administering, no matter how much complaining, back talk or general lack of gratitude these midi-chlorian rich youth might dish out.

So to recap: Jedi are born based on one genetic metric that supposedly makes them superior to other humans. This superiority creates exclusive access to educational resources and life opportunities that impact not only the Jedi, but everyone else in the galaxy whose safety now resides in the hands of this group that not only calls the shots regarding what is best for all humans (and some other life forms, considered to be allies), but also determines who will call the shots in perpetuity.

This is the definition of privilege: advantage you didn’t earn but you get anyway, just because of how you were born (http://www.jonesandassociatesconsulting.com/The_Right_Hand_of_Privilege_ThoughtPaper.pdf). And what I find fascinating and fearsome is how clearly George Lucas’ science fiction mirrors back this real life phenomenon so starkly. I say “fearsome” because I don’t have much confidence in George’s storytelling as a vehicle for social justice (see racism and sexism above): what he has portrayed about privilege in his Star Wars franchise seems, if anything, to glorify privilege, rather than critique it.

But the critique is in the pudding, as they say (or sort of say): how exactly has this whole Jedi system of privilege worked out for the galaxy? Arguably, not so great. As sci fi/science/entertainment site io9 observes:

For over a thousand generations, the Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic. But they weren’t necessarily very bright. Unfortunately, there’s no IQ test needed to become a Jedi Knight, and thus these guardians of peace and justice have brought almost as much war and disorder as they’ve prevented (http://io9.com/the-9-least-competent-jedi-1371895703).

Starting with one Jedi’s determination to train “the ticking timebomb of midicholrians that was Anakin Skywalker [aka Darth Vader],” io9 makes a compelling argument that one genetic mutation does not greatness make.

And so, holding the window and mirror of science fiction up to ourselves, it seems that despite George’s love affair with his privileged-by-birth Jedis, Star Wars does offer a vital lesson about privilege: since privilege is situationally activated by systems that advantage some over others (i.e. privilege isn’t a state of being that exists in a vacuum), we have the opportunity to notice the privileges we enact, actively and passively, directly and indirectly, knowingly and thoughtlessly; and we have agency to challenge those systems of privilege (or endorse them intentionally because when we think about it, we do believe in them). And it’s our right and responsibility to do so. Because whether it’s obvious or not, peace and justice in this galaxy depend on us.

** Thanks to my partner AP for making me read all those Star Wars articles.