Words, words, words, art.

The Blatherings Of A Blitherer

Transphobic bathroom laws aren’t about protecting women


One of the big explanations/excuses for why various transphobic laws restricting public bathroom use to genitals is that it protects women from men who’d put on wigs and dresses (and shave their bodies? and wear foundation garments? and pad themselves? and use extensive make up? and manage to find size 12 or larger womens’ shoes?) and assault women in the bathrooms while disguised as women, something which has never happened, although men dressed as men have assaulted women in bathrooms and have camped out in portapotties to get a glimpse of women using the toilets.

If legislatures really wanted to protect women in bathrooms, they’d realize that first of all, assault is assault. It doesn’t matter if a man assaults a man or a woman; it doesn’t matter if a woman assaults a man or a woman. If you’re in the bathroom and someone assaults you, that’s already a crime. You don’t need to make a special law that only targets one particular marginalized group of people on the grounds that one of them might maybe commit a crime at some point. Then maybe they’d look into laws across all states, or even federal laws, protecting people from “upskirt” photos. It’s legal, at least in Scotland, to install one-way mirrors in public bathrooms and then sell tickets for men to watch women using the bathroom. Has there been a rash of legislature outlawing that in the USA?

Laws barring Trans and Non-Binary/GenderQueer folk from bathrooms because of their genital configuration are not about protecting other bathroom users. They’re about curtailing the ability of Trans & GQ/NB to exist in the world without harassment. They’re about making it illegal to exist as a Trans & GQ/NB person when there are more and more laws protecting their right to exist. They’re about finding ways, about creating ways, to oppress a marginalized group and make it very clear that they are unwelcome and not fully human.

These proposed laws spin ciswomen as delicate tender flowers needing extra protection and transwomen as sexual predators who are “really” men. They are harmful and they are bullshit and they are created not out of any desire to help or protect but out of the desire to actively oppress and harm Trans and GQ/NB people.

This is a tremendous problem.

posted under feminism, GQ/Trans*, politics, social responsibility | Comments Off on Transphobic bathroom laws aren’t about protecting women

Dove wants your money and will tell you what you want to hear


You’ve probably seen the latest Dove viral ad campaign. It’s a video available on you tube about how totally awesome Dove is because of their decade long “Real Beauty” campaign and how now they’re going after the people who are REALLY evil: “art directors, graphic designers, and photo retouchers.” Not ad executives and companies, no. Just those evil artists who for reasons TOTALLY UNKNOWN make women feel bad ON PURPOSE about their bodies. But how to “catch them in the act!!!” and “make them reconsider”? They needed a plan! So they created a Photoshop Action and released it into the wild, where it will be used by amateurs who want to make wedding and baby photographs look better. Billed as a “skin glow effect” they posted it on reddit and other places where art directors, graphic designers, and professional photo retouchers TOTALLY hang out and get their totally professional Photoshop Actions, Brushes, etc from.

In reality, all the Action does is revert all changes made to the original image and pop up a scolding message.

Don’t manipulate our perceptions of real beauty.

Of course, to undo that reversion, all one has to do is hit… well… undo.

BAM! A totally effective message that will OBVIOUSLY CHANGE THE WORLD FOREVER!

Or, more likely, go viral and make Dove look totally awesome and progressive because they just love women so much and are so willing to take on those horrible evil photo retouchers who are just the WORST, right?

Dove, remember, is owned by Unilver which has those atrocious Axe commercials (women! they are fuck beasts for fucking!) and SlimFast (women: you are fat cows, stop eating!). If they really wanted to push for long acting real social change, they could apply pressure to Unilver to at the very least stop marketing Axe the way it’s marketed.

Of course, they could also change their own advertising as well.

I mean, if Dove really thinks womens’ bodies are beautiful and we should all stop altering our perceptions of real beauty, maybe they shouldn’t find new body parts for women to be ashamed of? I, for one, never knew my armpits were ugly until Dove told me so.





If Dove really thinks womens’ bodies are beautiful and we should all stop altering our perceptions of real beauty, they wouldn’t market Firming Creams, and their criteria for casting calls wouldn’t be quite as shameful (beautiful skin and hair only! No zits or scars, those are GROSSSSSSSS).


If Dove (and Unilever) really thinks womens’ bodies are beautiful and we should all stop altering our perceptions of real beauty, they wouldn’t market skin-lightening creams (which are physically as well as emotionally harmful) around the world.

Like diet companies who co-opt HAES and Size Acceptance verbage, and companies who practice Greenwashing, Dove is taking Body Acceptance language and using it to sell product. They are telling women what they think women want to hear for the sole reason that they want to sell products to those women. There’s nothing inherently wrong with companies advertising their wares. What’s wrong is the incredibly hypocritical advertising Dove uses. They aren’t trying to change the world, but they very willing to use social justice and activism language to sell their products and their subtle form of body hate. Dove doesn’t give a shit about your body or how beautiful you feel, they just want your money.

One of the worst things is that Dove is actually in a position to make actual changes in the industry. Instead of telling everyone that we should pat them on the back for promoting size acceptance and bodily diversity (while actually showing a pretty narrow range of sizes and skin colors), they could just use a wide variety of women of different body types and ethnicities. They could show instead of telling. They could push for Unilever to do the same with other ad campaigns as well. And they could pressure Unilever to drop the body shaming, sexist, manipulative language and images that other Unilever products use. But Dove isn’t doing that. Instead, they’re creating viral videos that do the bulk of advertising for them (saving them money) and creating good will among their users. It’s an effective ad campaign, but it’s also an insulting one.

Dove claims that they’re against distorting perceptions of beauty, which is harmful to women, while telling women that their armpits are ugly and their skin is saggy and their scars are gross and their frizzy hair is uggsville and their dark/uneven skin is THE WORST, but hey it’s ok because they can spend money on products to make them prettier YAY GIRL POWER WOOOOO now how about a nice round of SlimFast for all? The hypocrisy is thick on the ground.

posted under advertising, body issues, fat, feminism, health, politics, social responsibility, vanity, women | Comments Off on Dove wants your money and will tell you what you want to hear

You’re not responsible for the past, just for fixing the present


We were lucky enough that a friend of our was able to come over last night. I made pizza and we had a low key evening of sitting around eating pizza and talking. We talked about a LOT of different stuff. And at one point, said friend asked if I’d heard about the recent con where a woman was harassed and I was all LOL WHICH ONE BB because lately it seems like just about EVERY con has had that as a “feature.” And then we talked about sexism a little bit.

He mentioned a work thing. He’s a sysadmin for a big company, and he works with a dude who’s been there about two years. And at a recent meeting, New Guy was asked a question about a problem with a program he’s responsible for, and the guy was all “Oh, that’s Benn-Ware.” And people looked at him, all whaaaaat, until it transpired that he was referring to the Benn who’d written the code, and had some issues with it. And then they were all “dude, it doesn’t matter who wrote the code. If there’s a problem with it, YOU have to fix it, that’s YOUR JOB.” and he was all “BUT BRIGID’S FRIEND, you yourself refer to “Jerome-Ware” when talking about your own stuff!” and my friend said yeah, he does, but only as a preface to “and I’m sorry I haven’t fixed it yet, I’m going to, this is my plan/schedule to do so.” In other words, he acknowledges the existing problem, which was created by other people, but then HE GOES ON TO FIX IT. Because that’s his job.

And, because he’s brilliant, he told me this story as a prelude to talking about how he tries to handle sexism/misogyny that he encounters in the world. Somebody Else MADE the problem. But his job is to fix it in whatever way he can.  Which I adore.

I encounter a lot of dudes who kind of throw up their hands at the idea of being a feminist or working to dismantle the Patriarchy because it’s Not Their Fault or Somebody Else Can Do It or What Can Ya Do, Y’Know? But I think that story– that it doesn’t matter WHO instituted the wrongness or how long it’s been wrong, it’s still YOUR JOB to fix it– might help. I don’t know.

I thought it was a great anecdote and I’m sorry I didn’t tell it better here.

I feel very lucky that I have some really awesome dude friends who aren’t assholes, and who like and respect me and think that I, that all women, deserve to be treated as full human beings instead of humanlite or whatever. And then I feel a little angry that I’m reduced to FEELING LUCKY that I’m treated like a human being. And then I shove that away and just enjoy my friends. IT’S COMPLICATED OK.

We also talked about how awesome it would be if The Rapture actually happened and how we’d advance so much as a society if all those nozzles who believe in The Rapture and think one totally cool way of being right with God is to oppress the shit out of women and gay people were actually Raptured. How neat would it be to open a book and find it’s a bit of Post-Apocalyptic fiction but then find that the Apocalypse was all the fundie assholes being removed from the Earth? (which would leave, of course, the non-fundie assholes behind.)


posted under feminism, politics, social responsibility | Comments Off on You’re not responsible for the past, just for fixing the present

Out of touch politicians


According to <a href=http://www.npr.org/2011/09/20/140627334/millionaires-in-congress-weigh-new-tax-on-wealthy>an NPR article,</a> about 1% of the population of the USA are millionaires while almost half of Congress–46%– are millionaires. They obviously aren’t representing the actual people who make up the USA. This is, perhaps, explained why in a time of brutal economic downturn and lack of jobs the people running the country are busy slashing funding to create jobs and provide medical, dental, housing, and monetary assistance to people who need it most. It might explain, just a bit, why politicians are soundly endorsing “personhood”  amendments that are failing at the polls. It might, just might, account for why so many people are invested in the various “Occupy” movements.

Power is currently held in the plutocratic hands of people looking out only for themselves. Everyone else, apparently, can go screw.


Can we revisit the mythical bootstraps college student thing?


Buster Blonde of Persephone Magazine did a really great take down of the mythical college bootstraps studenthere. I want to drive it a bit further into the ground.

"not the 99%"

In case you can’t see the image or read the hand written text, it says:

I am a college senior about to graduate completely debt free. I pay for all of my living expenses by working 30+ hours a week making barely above minimum wage. I chose a moderately priced, in-state public university and started saving money for school at age 17. I got decent grades in high school and received 2 scholarships which cover 90% of my tuition. I currently have a 3.8 GPA. I live comfortably in a cheap apartment, knowing I can’t have everything I want. I don’t eat out every day, or even once a month. I have no credit card, new car, iPad, or smart phone- and I’m perfectly OK with that. If I did have debt, I would NOT blame Wall St or the government for my own bad decisions. I live below my means to continue saving for the future. I expect nothing to be handed to me, and will continue to work my ass off for everything I have. That’s how it’s supposed to work. I am NOT the 99% and wehther or not you are is YOUR decision.


I graduated high school in 1997. Like the anonymous sign holder, I also went to an in-state public university and had savings from high school jobs. My senior year, for instance, I worked over 30 hours a week every week at a restaurant where the owner literally threatened me with a knife, because I knew my parents would be unable to pay for my cheap in-state public university tuition. Instead of padding out my college applications with extra curriculars, I worked and saved money. I was accepted to every college I applied to, and was courted by several I didn’t apply to as well. They all offered me scholarship money… thousands of dollars worth (one college offered me over $10k, which wasn’t enough). None of it covered the cost of tuition let alone books, fees, and living expenses which is why I enrolled at my shitty state university.

I should note that I went to a college preparatory high school. In theory, every single teacher and guidance counselor and staff member was there to promote college attendance, to help and guide students in selecting and applying to colleges, find financial aid and scholarships, etc. In practice, a lot of students (myself included) fell through the cracks. Overwhelmed and immature, not sure what to do or how to do it, we also had the “bad” guidance counselor who was more interested in coaching softball than guiding students. My educational experience was incredibly privileged and I still was unable to find ANY scholarships other than ones offered by schools. (If the internet, and search engines, had existed then things might have been different; instead I leafed through binders and catalogs with no idea what I was looking for). There are a LOT of kids, a huge amount of kids, graduating high school and interested in college who have no idea how to find scholarships and no guidance counselor to help them. The fact that this person allegedly got 90% of their tuition covered by just two scholarships implies that they had a LOT of help. Most people aren’t so fortunate.

I also worked as a student and rarely ate out. My final year of school, before my nervous breakdown and suicide attempt(s), I was working 3 part time jobs and still barely able to pay my bills… bills which consisted of telephone and credit card payments for text books and housing and basic clothing purchases… underpants, a sweater that fit, nothing extravagant. I punched into my first job at 8am, then went to class, then went to my second job, then went to class, then went to my third job and didn’t get done with that until almost midnight. It was a grueling and stressful existence and an appalling way to live. I was constantly “on,” short on sleep, and busting my ass for SIXTEEN HOURS A DAY. I made slightly more than minimum wage and still had a hard time paying the bills for my cheap-ass in-state shitty university education.

Smart phones did not exist at the time, but I currently have one. It’s possible to get an iPhone through my phone company for free, and the basic data plan is not much more than a regular phone plan. Poor people squandering money on smart phones as proof of their not-really-being-poor/making-bad-decisions is a shitty strawman argument that I wish would die in a fire. Credit cards enabled me to enroll at the start of the semester and pay it off over the course of said semester, as UIC did not offer payment plans. You paid all at once or didn’t go to class. I especially leaned on my credit card the semester UIC lost my financial aid payment, leaving me several thousand dollars short (but don’t worry, they found it a year later and gave it to me! Wasn’t that nice of them?). There’s this pervasive rumor that people in the USA have massive credit debt because they are buying frivolous things and are too stupid to make good financial choices. This lets people without credit card debt feel smug and superior and ignore the fact that most credit card debt is to cover emergency situations, like groceries while unemployed or surprise medical expenses or super fun sudden car repairs or tuition or the like. I also had no car at all and continue not to have a car, but I live in a city with pretty great public transit. I do not NEED a car to get to work or the grocery store (although it’s great when my husband can give me a lift places). There are places not-where-I-live where if you don’t have a functioning car you can’t get to work. You don’t go to work, you don’t get paid. You don’t get paid, you can’t pay your bills. A functioning car is necessary in some places, in most places. It’s shitty to sniff down your nose at people for filling a legitimate need.

College tuition and fees have been going up more and more each year while state and federal financial aid have been going down and down. College tuition, even at affordable in-state institutions, is getting out of reach of MANY people in a country where a bachelor’s degree has become the equivalent of a high school diploma, a requirement for the most basic untrained work. Sure, there’s community colleges… assuming those colleges are at all decent. One of the community colleges near where I grew up lost accreditation and didn’t regain it for several years, although people continued taking classes there. A friend of mine put in 4 semesters at a community college, spending time and money and learning things, only to find that most of his credits wouldn’t transfer to a traditional 4 year university because LOL COMMUNITY COLLEGES, AM I RITTE? Further, part of the reason we have the current problem with the housing market and foreclosures is that banks encouraged home owners to take out mortgages to fund their kids’ college educations, to invest in their kids. Which is great in theory, but helped prop up the skyrocketing cost of college tuition while shutting out people who didn’t own homes and couldn’t take out mortgages, and which also affected the people who held the mortgages when their interest rates shot up 10% overnight. WHOOPS. I don’t know about you, but banks that aggressively fuck people over while the government sits back and slashes funding to educational opportunities sounds like a pretty sound thing to get riled up about.

If you want to get really depressed, look at how many European countries subsidize their population when it comes to higher education. Spoiler:  a LOT of them do, while also providing decent, qualitative health care and in general taking care of all their citizens and not just the ones who make six figures or more  a year. The USA is losing vast amounts of money every single year by not taxing the top 1% of earners and not taxing huge businesses. We could stop slashing education and health care and social programs, we could repair our falling-apart roads and bridges and deteriorating infrastructure, we could subsidize higher education and training programs… or we could continue letting a small handful of people go swimming in their giant vaults of money or whatever the hell it is they do with it.

It’s incredibly depressing how many people are at best just barely getting by and at worst actively failing (the dude working 12 hours a day 7 days a week while dying from cancer springs to mind. The American Dream, am I right?) and defending to the death their right to suffer and languish and stagnate while a tiny fraction of people continue soaring to great heights. This person, with their 90% scholarship and their never eating out and their barely scraping by on minimum wage… it’s great that you’re self sufficient but is that honestly all you want, all you aspire to? To barely scrape by while working your ass off? To have no savings and no safety net and nothing to fall back on, no guarantee of employment and no vacation days or sick days? I’m sure you imagine that if you just WORK HARD! and LIVE BELOW YOUR MEANS! and SAVE FOR A RAINY DAY!!!!! you’ll join the ranks of the 1% but let’s face facts: you’re graduating into an employment market with, in some areas, 9% or more unemployment. There is a LOT of competition for jobs, much of it from highly skilled, experienced people. How long will your rainy day savings last you when you’re unable to find a job because companies once based in the USA are moving more and more of their facilities (including office jobs, not just factory jobs) to other countries? When you realize that you’ll need to get an advanced degree to get employment or a promotion, and tuition is higher and state and federal aid lower? When your rent and groceries and gas and taxes (and your boss’s pay and bonuses) keep going up but your paycheck stays the same or even is reduced, as many state employees are finding themselves faced with having to accept pay cuts to keep their jobs?

Baby, you’re part of the 99%, and they’re fighting to protect you and your interests. They’re trying to make the world a better place for you. I’m sorry you can’t see that.





I am very unenthusiastic about voting right now, especially as I live in Chicago and a lot of our local political options are especially dire. I kind of feel like I’m being asked to chose between being stabbed in the arm or being stabbed in the leg. Both are going to hurt and be bad for me, but which will hurt less? Which will lead to less long-term damage? Do I want to go with the leg, which will bleed more; or with the arm, which may lead to nerve damage of my hand/fingers? It’s a hard question to face, to make a decision on. Frankly, a lot of the platforms that a lot of politicians are standing on are directly designed to hurt me and people like me. They are literal attacks on me and people like me. I’m talking about stuff like restricting access to health care and abortion (even in the case of rape or incest! BTW: if it’s incest, it’s probably rape! even in cases where it will literally kill the mother! ABORTION: MOST EVIL THING EVER; WOMEN: TOTALLY EXPENDABLE), slashing important funding for stuff like education and government services, cutting funding for WIC and SNAP and programs that feed the poor and also stimulate the hell out of the economy.

I’m disgusted by the continuing attacks on the “Obamacare” initiative and the utterly foolish allegations about stuff like “death panels.” At least once a week, often more frequently, I read a blog post from someone about their personal life or a friend of theirs or someone in their church or community who needs medical assistance. Maybe they need new corneas, or need surgery on their jaws to keep all their teeth from falling out. Maybe they need a new heart and also anti-rejection medication. Maybe they need medication for their mental illness. Many of them either have insurance that simply magically doesn’t cover this expensive thing, or else they are uninsured either because they don’t have the option of insurance at all or because they’re uninsurable or because their insurance options suck (trufax: I once had the option of health insurance that paid out less than what you paid into it. For instance, you paid $X per month, but would have to pay out of pocket for anything that cost more than $Y for the year. $Y was less than $X*12 and also you had to pay into the plan for six months before you could use it. One was better off stuffing one’s money into one’s mattress and praying.). There is a gripping and vital need in the USA for affordable, comprehensive health coverage and access to medical care. People are literally dying without it, but as they aren’t affluent white dudes I guess it isn’t really that important or something so hey let’s talk shit about Nancy Pelosi in political ads. Saving Lives: It’s A Bad Thing Apparently.

Anyway, that being said, here’s Eight False Things The Public “Knows” Prior To Election Day by Dave Johnson.

posted under Chicago, life, politics, social responsibility | Comments Off on Voting

Does it really get better?


I don’t really have friends.

That sounds weird and possibly pathetic, doesn’t it? I mean, who gets to be in her early thirties and doesn’t have friends?

I keep most people firmly in the “acquaintance” category, in my head. This includes people I’ve known for over a decade; people who I spend holidays with; people who I’ve helped move and who’ve helped me move; people who invite me to parties and who I invite to parties; people who, I’m sure, lump me firmly in the “friends” category. And if I were “normal,” I’d consider them friends and feel how very lucky and secure I am in having so many close friends to whom I can turn in times of need. But I don’t feel I can turn to them, and that’s entirely not their fault at all.

Rather, it’s the fault of every single person who bullied me throughout grade school and made it very very clear that I wasn’t worth being friends with; that nobody liked me, would ever like me, could ever like me. I meet new people and I just wait for the other shoe to drop, for them to realize how disgusting and socially inept I am, to realize how undeserving of friendship and human contact I am. Even when I meet good, kind, intelligent, awesome people I still feel that way. I don’t get fully involved, I hold back, and I assume that they like everyone better. This happens in social situations, and this happens in work situations. People make friendly overtures to me, and I assume that they are either being polite and don’t really mean it, or they want to get me into a situation where they can dig at me and hurt me.

I am 31 and I’m still afraid of people.

I’m married to a wonderful person and I have a son who I love with a deepness and intensity I didn’t think possible. But even with them, I often feel on the outside, like I don’t really belong. They are human beings. I’ve been told over and over that I’m not really a human being, and this was reinforced by the teachers at my very small, tight-knit grade school.

I remember when I was 7 years old, lying in bed in the crushing grip of insomnia, staring up at the ceiling and wishing I’d never been born; that I didn’t exist. A few years later I stumbled on the concept of time travel and spent hours concocting elaborate fantasies about discovering how to travel through time… and prevent my mom from conceiving and giving birth to me.

This is what bullying does. It destroys people. And the onus is often, so very often, placed on the victim of the bullying. Sticks and stones break bones, and name calling and shunning and shitty behavior stay with people forever. Teachers shrug off the complaints– if the victim is able to pull their shit together enough, brave up enough, to make the complaint in the first place– or, in my case, join in on the abuse.

Schools have zero tolerance policies for things like bringing plastic knives (to spread cream cheese on a bagel) to school, or bringing a plastic squirt gun to school, or playing hands-on games like “tag.” How many schools have zero tolerance policies for bullying? How many schools are actually invested in protecting the most vulnerable– and most likely to be targeted and bullied– students?

There are kids dying right now because of bullying. What leads a person to feel so miserable, so unwanted, so torn up and alone, that death is the best and most viable alternative? Take a guess. A lot of the media and blogging focus right now is on kids who were bullied because they were– or were suspected to be, or who lived in places where this was the worst insult possible– gay. But sexual policing, sexism, is often a component of bullying, as is racism and classism and ablism. I’m so, so glad that people are noticing that kids are dying and noticing that this is a problem. I’m glad there is outreach to young people who are queer. But this is a symptom of a larger problem.

Bullying needs to end. It needs to stop. Schools need to take a hard line against it, and need to teach children from a young age that it is not acceptable. Every single school that does not prevent kids from bullying other kids is responsible, directly responsible, for what happens to the bullied kids. There is blood on the hands of the school administrators of those kids who killed themselves, those kids whose souls were murdered by their classmates and peers. Every teacher, every class and hall monitor, every principal, who did nothing to prevent it is guilty.

I spent a really big chunk of my life wishing I were dead and resenting other people. If my high school experience had been different, if it had been at all like my grade school experience, I probably wouldn’t be here today. I don’t think I could have slogged through another four years of that soul killing crap. It’s important for young people to realize that there is life beyond school, that there is life beyond whatever crap hole small town they might be in. But any damage that’s already done is still going to be there, and life usually doesn’t magically improve just because you finally escape a shitty situation.

posted under life, politics, social responsibility | Comments Off on Does it really get better?

That’s just some PC thought police bullshit.


Here’s the thing about “Political Correctness.” It’s not about policing thought or taking away “free speech.” What it’s about is elevating people who aren’t privileged (White Privilege, Male Privilege, Straight Privilege, Cis Privilege, Abled Privilege, and more (sorry if I’ve forgotten anyone)) to the same level of humanity as people who are privileged. It’s about not doing actual harm to a person or group of people.

When people use racist or sexist slurs, or ablist language, or co-opts chunks of someone else’s culture/heritage (hipster eagle headdresses, anyone?), or uses “Jew” as a verb, or claims loudly that the only reason person X got a job was because of X’s race/religion/gender/etc, those people are fostering an atmosphere where the people they slur are treated as Other and Less Than. It’s reinforcing notions that they aren’t good enough, aren’t equal, don’t belong, and don’t deserve respect.

If you are willing to defend to the death your ability to use the phrase “gypped” or “death march”, why is that? What do you gain by causing pain to others, to emphasizing negative racial stereotypes or belittling traumatic (and relatively recent) history? Why does your “right” to express yourself trump the very real pain that other people feel? Why is your ease more important than treating other people– other human beings– like actual human beings?

posted under life, politics, racism, social responsibility | Comments Off on That’s just some PC thought police bullshit.

But where are you FROM? I mean, originally.


Nesko gets asked that a lot.

“But where are you FROM,” people ask, when looking at his ID or debit card (so usually when he’s trying to buy something).

“Evanston,” he answers, which is true!

“Oh, no!” they persist. “I mean, originally.”

“Ahhh!” he answers, like everything is coming clear. “Well, I was born in Chicago.”

Obviously, he’s had lots of opportunities to work out a pat, humorous answer to nosy people. Because, you know, there are certain names that are “American” and certain names that are foreign.

I used to have an “American” name. Sullivan! It’s actually a really awesome name to have when you live in Chicago, because Chicago prides itself on being all “Irish-American” and shit (Irish people! Now they are considered White and not scum!) and has lots of “Irish-American” politicians and chiefs of police etc. I used to bust out my ID or debit card or whatever and people would nod knowingly at my name. It was a correct and proper name. I fit in. Nobody ever suggested I change my name to be more “American,” as Texas state rep Betty Brown (R) suggested that every Asian in the USA do, you know, to FIT IN. And people didn’t really grill me on my name and heritage! It was awesome!

Then I got married to a dude with a silent “J” in his name, changed my name to match his because I am a baaaad feminist who buckles under the Patriarchy’s massive weight, and things changed.

FOR INSTANCE! I once had a temp job at a state agency, and had to call IT to get my email account working. Man, where they glad I could speak English! Because obviously with a name like mine I would be an old fat Russian lady with a hairy chin and a thick accent or maybe poor English skills! Well… I was 30 at the time (almost old), fat, have a hairy chin, and am obviously from the Midwest. I drop my G’s a lot lately. That’s kind of like having an accent! I guess! They were DREADING speaking to me, based SOLELY on my last name, and actually told me (in a relieved voice) all that they had assumed. Stay classy, state departments!

And then yesterday I was headed in to another temp job (more counting passengers on trains, which gave me the ideas for 2 different Secret Chicago pieces… or 1 piece and a longer short story, not sure which) when I stopped into a convenience store in Union Station to get some water as I was going to spend 8 hours locked in a moving metal box in Chicago Summer Heat (90F*+, tons of humidity; I actually started getting sick to my stomach from the heat at one point). I grabbed a magazine and a bottle of water and went to check out. There were two women behind registers. One was, I think, Vietnamese and she had a little accent but nothing unusual for the USA! Many people who live in this country, who work in this country, who study in this country, have accents! For instance: every single person who lives in Maine has an accent! Anyway, the white woman behind the counter said she’d take me (I assumed the other woman didn’t have an active cash register or was in training or something, nothing out of the ordinary). The white woman then started, every time the other woman said something, interrupting her to say “chin chin chonnnnng ching chon chon ching.”

I was… baffled.

If I’d had my wits about me, I would have abandoned water and magazine and gone someplace else. But no! I did not!

She scanned my things and I gave her my debit card. It did not go through! This always twists me into a moebius strip of uncertainty and anxiety. She asked for my card and ran it through again, and I was so upset that I didn’t hear her question at first. She repeated it.

“THAT’s an interesting last name!”

“Uh… thanks.”

“Where are you from?”

“Well, I mean, I’m American. My family’s all been over here forever, so…”

“No, I mean, Originally!”

“Jesus. My ancestors have all been here for over 200 years, ok? I really don’t feel any connection to my European antecedents.”

“I’m just askin’, hon! But what ethnicity is this name?”

“My husband and his family are from Montenegro.”


“The former Yugoslavia.”

“Wow! Your husband and his family, huh. So what was your maiden name?”

I should have just grabbed my stuff and walked off, but I was flustered and she hadn’t handed me back my card yet! I was trapped! She also, I kid you not, GOT OUT A SHEET OF PAPER AND A PEN.


“OH! So you’re IRISH.”

“Well, I mean, no. I’m American. I identify as American.” (I want to note that lots of people identify as Irish-American or Polish-American or Guatemalan-American or whatever and that’s great! That’s part of being a citizen (or resident) of the USA and it’s totally awesome! I’m not trying to present myself as being, like, the Ideal American Citizen because I am All American, I just think it’s ridiculous to lay claim to European Ancestry that has very little impact on my personal life other than, like, going to St. Patrick’s Day parades. But if you feel a strong connection to another country, that is totally entirely 100% awesome.)

She started getting offended at this, called me “hon” again, said she was JUST ASKING, and launched into some convoluted tale about how both her parents are immigrants (Polish, and German). Mine… are not. My grandparents… are not. My most recent immigrant ancestors, as far as I know, came over during the Famine. You know. During the 1850s. That… is not recent. I mean, in the grand scheme of history it’s an eyeblink away, but you know. (Also: they might have come over earlier than then, a lot of my family history has been romanticized in the telling. FOR INSTANCE: there is no actual royalty in my bloodline! ALSO: there is actually a lot of inbreeding! Surprisingly!)

She started pushing, like aggressively, to find out what I “am,” what I “identify” as. Like it’s impossible to not cling to the Immigrant experience. I snapped at her that I had an Irish last name, but genetically, I was more Belgian than anything else– which is true. I have very mixed European ancestry (to a degree) (I mean, Scottish/Irish/Welsh/English is more cultural differences than, like, genetic and then there’s some French and several sources of Belgian and a dollop of German and probably there is some Native American and African blood in me that nobody really talks about at all, and there’s some other stuff I think I’m forgetting, also a lot of my ancestors spent a hundred years or so in Canada before heading south to Wisconsin) and she started rabbiting on about how she knows someone from Belgium and it’s so beautiful and blah blah blah and she called me hon again and I realized I had my debit card and had signed the slip and I left while she was still talking.

I don’t really know anything about Belgium (they make beer? Belgians tend to be blond? They have a mild climate?) other than what I’ve seen on, say, “Rick Steve’s Europe.” In fact, my dad thought we were mostly Dutch until he talked to a cousin who said that no, although there’s a “van” in my maternal grandmother’s maiden name, it’s actually a Belgian name, and he gave some more genealogical info. I really have no interest in Belgium, or at least no more than I have in other countries that sound like vaguely cool places to visit if I can ever go on a Grand Tour Of Europe. Sorry, Belgium, it’s not personal.

I have to go pretty far back to be able to point to an ancestor and say that that ancestor is 100% anything; that that ancestor is 100% Belgian or Irish or German. (And even then, all my gallo-celtic ancestors were born from a series of viking raids and rapes that turned them from a short, dark people to a tall, fair people who fear the sun.) And I like that. As far as I can tell, my ancestors came over here against their will or out of dire necessity for the most part. They were convicts and indentured servants, they were fleeing starvation and oppression. They came to a totally new country and did well for themselves. They trapped animals for fur, farmed, dug ditches, constructed rail roads, founded towns. Some of them became very rich (then lost everything in the Great Depression). Others didn’t. But they helped build this country and make it what it is today, just like my mother- and father-in-law, immigrants, are building and shaping this country. Just like every person who lives here who doesn’t have an “American” name is building and shaping this country. Just like every brown-skinned resident of Arizona is building and shaping this country.

I spent 29 years awash in the privilege of having people assume that I was a citizen of the USA– a “real” citizen; that I belonged here. That I was an integral part of the warp and weft of “American” culture. I didn’t have to explain myself or where I was from. It was super awesome! And now, sometimes, I do have to explain myself and am pressed to answer detailed questions about where I’m from, to prove my… I don’t know what I’m expected to prove, actually. But it’s harassing and unsettling and puts me on edge.

And for a country of immigrants, a country founded on immigration, that’s total bullshit.

Racist actions and words are racist.


Here’s the thing:

If you firmly believe that the recent actions in Arizona (requiring proof of citizenship from all dark skinned people or people who look “foreign” or “exotic” or “weird”, requiring a mural showing actual students be repainted to portray all students as white, removing an expensive banner targeting people who don’t speak English as their primary language for the census) are totally cool and good because “mexicans” don’t belong in the USA and do nothing but steal and rape and murder and cause problems and are all here illegally and should be deported?

You’re racst.

If you think that no money should have been sent to Haiti to literally save the lives of people who had no access to food, shelter, clean water, medical attention, etc because they are black and there are people in the USA who are homeless?

You’re racist.

If you think that no money should have been sent to Haiti because OMG what has Haiti ever done for the USA, you’re an idiot, because the impoverished peoples of Haiti still managed to scrap together a sizeable amount of money to donate to US citizens after 911 and after Katrina.

If you think that it’s racism that prevents public fund-raising for donations to clean up the gigantic oil spill that is spewing across Florida, I really don’t know what to say. But no, it’s not because Florida is entirely white and people don’t give money to white folks. No, it’s not because everyone spent all their money on Haiti on those dirty undeserving Black people who live there. How can you possibly be cool with BP, a company that has more money than God, sitting back and letting the public donate money to clean up its mess? Do you really think that Florida is populated entirely by white people? Seriously? That’s your argument? That’s it’s too white to get money?

Moving to an area that once was part of Mexico, and which also had once upon a time a thriving population of Apache, Cocopa, Hopi, Mojave, Navajo, Paiute, Yuma, and other indigenous folks, and then complaining about all the dirty, thieving, raping, low down, no good, non-White people who live there is just… utterly, utterly baffling. And also racist!

If you are constantly bitching about people who aren’t white getting donations/assistance for things (earthquake or tsunami relief, WIC, whatever) but never ever complain about white people getting donations/assistance take a good long look at that. You are being racist. You are revealing your underlying belief that people who aren’t white don’t deserve help, care, consideration, to be treated as human beings and assisted in their time of need. If you think that people who are not white cannot possibly be– and don’t deserve to be– US Citizens, you are being racist. You are revealing your underlying belief that people who aren’t white don’t deserve to live in a country that was founded on the genocide of people who were the first inhabitants and who weren’t white.

Arguing that you aren’t racist when, in fact, you espouse racist beliefs doesn’t really accomplish anything. Well, it makes you look even more ignorant. But it doesn’t change the fact that you are really racist and insulting and hateful.

posted under life, politics, racism, social responsibility | Comments Off on Racist actions and words are racist.
« Older Entries