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Learning About Ferguson

November 28, 2014
tags: ,

Imagine how absurd it would seem if you wanted to learn all about the country of Latvia, but to do so you elected to speak only to Polish people and read articles on the subject from the Gazeta Wyborcza. Or you wanted to decide whether you should apply to Yale, yet you contacted only students and advisors at the University of Connecticut for their opinion. Both suggestions seem, of course, patently ridiculous. You can clearly see the gaping holes in the logic of such an approach.

Unfortunately, this clear-sightedness only seems to apply when we are positioned outside of both the target group (Latvia or Yale) and the filtering group (Poland or U of C). The faulty logic is not so clear when we ourselves are members of the group through which opinions are filtered; in other words, Polish people themselves will find no issues with basing their views of Latvia on the opinions of other Polish people.

With this in mind, consider the following: when reading about issues of race, if all of the people writing, discussing, commenting and high-fiving each other are people of a different race than the one being discussed, they are probably getting a lot of things wrong. Just as Polish people are not experts on Latvia and U of C students only know so much about Yale, white people should not be considered authorities on the Michael Brown story.

Since the Ferguson grand jury’s decision on Monday, I have been brooding and stewing and mentally pacing as I tried to figure out what I wanted to say. The evidence is conflicting; reports are confusing and contradictory; lawmakers themselves are in disagreement; how are we to separate out the facts, etc. etc.? Then I came to realize two things:

1. As a white Canadian, I am so far removed from this event as to have no hope of ever fully understanding it and its significance.

2. It doesn’t actually matter if the entire truth is ever known. Because the protests in Ferguson (and across the U.S., and worldwide) are not really about one black teenager’s tragic story.

And so, instead of adding one more white perspective to the blizzard, I present you with a list of articles to read by authors who have far more personal insight into this situation than I do.

The Gospel of Rudy Giuliani: a response to the oft-repeated statistics about black-on-black violence.

Black Moms Tell White Moms About the Race TalkWhat it’s like to raise a black son in America today.

I Am Utterly UndoneWhat it’s like to exist as a black person in America today.

On Ferguson Protests, the Destruction of Things, and What Violence Really Is (and Isn’t)“The brutal and unnecessary killing of unarmed Black women, children and men by police officers isn’t called “violence” by any of these people. […] What is “violence” to these people? Property damage. Looting. The destruction of things.”

Becoming a White Ally to Black People in the Aftermath of the Michael Brown Murder

Black Kids Don’t Have to Be College-Bound for Their Deaths to Be TragicAn article on respectability politics posted last August, and even more relevant today as allegations about Brown’s role in a shoplifting incident arise. Is his death still a tragedy, even if he robbed a convenience store? Yes. It is.

Ferguson Protest. Photo by Debra Sweet via Flickr.

Ferguson Protest. Photo by Debra Sweet via Flickr.

Should you change for the sake of your relationship? (Published on elephant journal)

November 18, 2014

Actually, what needs to change is that question. All relationships change the people who are in them. Nobody goes through the fire trial of romantic love and comes out the same on the other side.

In fact, I would argue that for a relationship to last in the long-term—i.e. for two differing individuals to do the hard work of unpacking their own souls so they can better understand each other and live together in harmony—healthy change is essential. So I believe a more fitting question would be, what is healthy change, and what isn’t?

Continue to elephant journal to read the full text.

Image by Dimka via Flickr

Image by Dimka via Flickr

If You Care About Freedom of Speech, You Should Care About Net Neutrality

September 14, 2014

I know, two posts in one day, what? But it was brought to my attention that, if you happen to be American, there’s a very important thing for you to weigh in on by tomorrow: Let the FCC know how you feel about Net Neutrality.

Net Neutrality is talked about as if it’s all about money or speed of transfer. It isn’t. It’s about who has control of the information and ideas that get distributed to the general public. Historically, that control has always been held by mainstream media – newspapers, TV, radio. The people whose perspectives were heard were those who could pay to have them disseminated.

Social media has changed the game, big time. I’m sure I need not remind you about the Arab Spring , as a prime example. The current teacher strike here in B.C. is another one closer to home; I have worked in education for more than a decade and have never seen such a high level of support for teachers amongst the general public. I’m convinced it’s because teachers have been able to use Facebook, Twitter, etc. to make their perspectives heard. I believe also that the major changes in attitude toward things like marriage equality have been driven by social media, and a neutral Internet where minority voices can make themselves heard.

This shift in discourse is surely terrifying for those who are used to controlling the conversation. If the U.S. government allows those who can pay more to have faster access to your computer screens (and I have no doubt that this will have ripple effects on Canadian society as well as countries outside of North America), we will return to the same hierarchy. Let’s not do that.

How OCD are you? Take this quiz to find out!

September 14, 2014

Grab a pen and keep track of your points. Do you agree or disagree that these totally OCD characteristics sound just like you?

1. Something feels wrong, in a way you don’t quite know how to put into words. In the back of your mind is a nagging impulse saying wrong wrong wrong wrong quick hurry danger do something.

Agree? 100 points! Disagree? 0 points.

2. In the front of your mind, things are a lot worse.
In the front of your mind are images and thoughts you can’t escape from. Maybe you are picturing the people you love being horribly maimed or dying grisly deaths. Maybe you are picturing a disgusting person doing unspeakable things to you. Maybe you are picturing yourself doing unspeakable things to someone else. Maybe you visualize awful disease-laden microbes crawling into your body’s every pore and orifice. You try to push and fight and squash these images, but they pop right back up again like a horror film.

Agree? 200 points!! Disagree? 0 points.

3. The only temporary relief you can get from these thoughts is to compulsively act out repetitive gestures or rituals until that panicky wrong wrong wrong impulse feels satisfied and goes quiet. You place an object in a certain way, and then re-do it and re-do it until it feels exactly right. You repeat numbers or words in an exact pattern in your head, and if you make one mistake you go right back to the start, as many times as it takes until you get it perfect. You repeatedly twitch with your entire body to dislodge and shake out the nightmare visions.

Agree? 500 points!!! Disagree? 0 points.

4. The whole time this is happening, you are perfectly aware of how bizarre it is, and how utterly insane you look. You know there is no logical reason for it; you know that it isn’t actually possible to save your family from death by opening and closing and opening and closing and opening and closing the front door until your brain is satisfied that you’ve done it right. You feel intense shame, humiliation and self-loathing. But you can’t stop.

Agree? 1000 points!!!! Disagree? 0 points.


This might not be the lighthearted quiz you were expecting. But this is what OCD feels like. It is not a funny quirk or a joke. It is hell.

* * *

I wrote the above, partly a description of what my life was like from adolescence to about my mid-twenties, as an introduction for my friend to use in her information sessions about the nature of OCD, and why it’s inappropriate for people to use the term flippantly.

In general, I’m not too bothered about the way that language shifts and words are borrowed for other purposes. And I don’t feel especially offended on a personal level when someone uses “OCD” to describe commonplace fussy, nit-picking or repetitious behaviour. But I do wish that people would educate themselves about what it really is, and realize that it can be a debilitating condition that causes extreme psychological distress, to the point that in some cases it can lead to suicide. People who live with this disorder every day might have a bit of difficulty seeing the humour in it.

The Evolving Definitions of Racism (and Why There’s No “Reverse”)

July 3, 2014
tags: ,

I find most of the discussion around the term “reverse racism” troubling. Partly for the obvious reason that some people still think such a thing exists, but also because the usual line of reasoning given to disprove it is frustratingly counterproductive. The problem, I believe, lies in the definitions of racism, and particularly the tension between its original, commonplace definition and a newer, evolving definition.

The prevailing counter-argument to the concept of reverse racism is usually given thus: Racism is prejudice + power; in other words, it is an institutionalized form of discrimination deeply embedded in a society that provides one racial group with the power to act out their prejudice through systematic oppression of other racial groups. This system can’t be “reversed”, because the oppressed groups do not have enough power and influence to act against the dominant group in any significant way.

This is an extremely valid and important concept that I wish a lot more (white) people would take the time to really understand. The problem, however, is that it’s not the only definition of racism. It’s not, in fact, even the primary definition of racism, as both found in most dictionaries and used by most English speakers. Which is why I see the following miscommunication repeated over and over:

A: That person of colour used a slur against whites. Reverse racism!
B: No, reverse racism doesn’t exist, because racism is prejudice + power, so people of colour can’t be racist.
A: Wait, wait, WHAT?!

(Before I continue, let me divulge that prior to giving this topic a lot more consideration, I myself used a variation on the above bolded phrase in conversation with a Punjabi friend, who blithely retorted that it was racist of me to suggest that only white people could be racist. She had a point.)

In my unofficial survey of several free online dictionaries (including Merriam-Webster, Cambridge and Oxford) the primary – if not the only – definitions given revolve around racism as a belief in the superiority of a particular race; a feeling of hatred or intolerance for other races; or acts of discrimination or violence against other races. Sadly, of course, it is clear that these xenophobic tendencies are intrinsic to human beings of all varieties.

It is my impression that the primary dictionary definitions of the word “racism” reflect its primary usage in common speech as well. Only two of the six sources I checked ( and even included any mention of the “institutionalized discrimination” definition. The fact that both of these are uniquely online sources rather than inveterate standbys like Merriam-Webster would indicate that this a newer definition — one that I believe probably evolved precisely to explain why “reverse racism” can’t exist.

But any student of linguistics will tell you that people are very, very resistant to language change, especially language change that seems “forced”, and especially especially language change that involves creating a polysemous definition for a word already in common circulation. And understandably so; the potential for confusion is enormous. This is why I say that attempting to use a newer, restricted definition of the word “racism” in order to oppose the concept of “reverse racism” is counterproductive. People will confuse it with the older definition and look at you like you’re a space alien when you try to tell them that people of colour are incapable of racism — because while you mean institutional racism, they think you mean commonplace racism — and will thereby dismiss you as a delusional, raving Social Justice Warrior.

I don’t really know what the solution is. In writing, we could maybe differentiate between lowercase-r racism and uppercase-R Racism in the same way that we differentiate between the commonplace and institutional definitions of catholic/Catholic, but that doesn’t really help us in speech. I do think it is important to figure out how to remedy this problem, however, so that we can continue to discuss why, for example, Maya Peterson’s Instagram photo mocking white bros was not Racist:



Not being personally acquainted with Ms. Peterson, I can’t comment on whether she happens to hold any lowercase-r racist views. But a black woman who posts a photo making fun of a group of people who hold long-established social power and influence over her is not enacting Racism. She is not disparaging white males for the simple fact of being white and male; she is disparaging those white males who continue to propagate systematic prejudice against her for the simple fact of being black and female. She does not have a godlike capability to “reverse” centuries-old paradigms of oppression with one Instagram photo. If only.

Reblogged: All Known Health Frauds are, in Fact, Valid

June 10, 2014


Can I get a HELL YEAH. This is pretty much the exact post I would have written about this topic, ifIeverhadtimetobloganymore and if someone else (a.k.a. blogger Kim at But Seriously, a smart and funny human whose words you should read) hadn’t got there first. READ IT. And then let’s all shut up about gluten.

The Vicious Cycle of Gluten Fuckery. Credit Kim at

The Vicious Cycle of Gluten Fuckery. Credit Kim at

Originally posted on But Seriously:

Author’s Note (6/10/14): Huh! Looks like we’re at 9k FB shares. That’s 8,996 more than I expected! So, that’s a win. Apparently a lot of people think the system is broken. Ok. Now, what do we do about it it? I’ve added a new bit at the end.  

::::::::::: RANT ALERT :::::::::::

Remember how six months ago, everybody had a gluten allergy? Remember how, as of last week, nobody has a gluten allergy? Remember, she said as a casual aside, my last post about social systems and pendulums?

I walked into a meeting yesterday where four people who know nothing about medicine, were confirming to one another that gluten allergies have finally been proven a hoax. My boss, a super-intelligent biologist, handed me the links cited below as proof that there are no gluten allergies in anyone ever.

I have issues. For starters:

One: Both links (same article), actually say

View original 2,040 more words

Interlude: Go read this blog and dismantle some privilege

April 22, 2014

I have resigned myself to the fact that I’m not going to get any more posts written until after I’m finished the online math course that is eating up all my free time. In the meantime, I have found something wonderful for you to read:

Across Difference | Working against privilege.

This blog is a propitious convergence of so many topics that interest me – language, education, privilege, gender, etc. – written in clear and accessible terms, with altogether more professionalism and less caustic snark than I am sometimes capable of. It is well worth a perusal, so go peruse it, I say.

If you happen also to be interested in adult education, one of the authors, Kate Nonesuch, is a literacy practitioner with an equally excellent education blog. Having previously attended one of her numeracy workshops, I can attest to the high level of knowledge, skill and insight she brings to her approaches.


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