The World


Breaking! We now interrupt your regularly-scheduled soapboxing to bring you a short, unsolicited blurb about the debt crisis in Greece!

Okay, I admit it, I’ve spent the better part of the week wringing my hands about this thing. First, the referendum, which ended in a heart-breaking “no” to the latest EU rescue package that may as well have been a “no” to other questions such as “Will Greece keep the common currency?” or “Can we be sure that Tsipras isn’t a psycho shape-shifter sent by Hades?” I held out hope for this morning’s EU summit based solely on a reasonable certainty that the Greeks were bluffing and don’t actually want to plunge themselves into economic chaos on purpose.

“The Akropolis? You ain’t seen Greek ruins yet, Voldemort.”

I guess I was wrong. New finance minister Euklid Tsakalotos showed up to today’s summit without even a new proposal to show. At a point when news sources estimate the time remaining before Greek banks run out of money in the unit of days or even hours, just wow. And meanwhile Alexis Tsipras is frolicking about happily, still high off whatever he snorted to celebrate the referendum results a few days ago, without a care in the world even though each day of capital controls will make any EU rescue effort that much costlier, and therefore a lot less likely. If only the man’s brain was half as big as his balls! I can only assume that an economic free fall is what he’s actually angling for.

Do I blame the Greeks for voting “no”? Not at all – the IMF itself found that there’s no way for them to ever repay the loans under the terms of the austerity plan. But I do blame them for the ridiculous show they’re making of being the only victims here. Yes, the euro ended up benefiting Germany more than any other member country, and their stellar economic performance in the last decades was in great part due to the blunted competitiveness of Greece and others. I don’t think that’s how it was envisioned when the currency was introduced in 1995, but it surely played out that way and I think Germans should acknowledge that they have been systemically blessed by doing more than their share of helping their euro neighbors in their hour of need. When the Greek crisis first broke, triggered by the 2008 Great Recession, I thought the first austerity-conditioned bailout was a bad call, and Greece probably should’ve defaulted and declared bankruptcy then and there instead of taking it. But they did choose to take it. Fast forward to 2015 and they’re still retiring 10-15 years earlier than other Europeans and haven’t managed to collect the taxes they promised they would. Even if it’s just a drop in the bucket maybe they should’ve done something more to help dig themselves out of the hole, instead of shoveling full blame plus interest on someone else’s doorstep.” I read that on average every European (man, woman, and child) has already contributed $500 in taxes toward the last two Greek bailouts. That’s a whole bunch! Even so, I still think Germany and the rest of the prosperous European countries should just do the morally right thing and cut Greece’s debt. Unfortunately for the Syriza party, the rest of Europe are democracies, too. I don’t think they’ll ever consider a debt haircut now, thanks in great part to Tsipras’ ridiculous strategy of old school demagoguery and brinksmanship, and Tsakalotos’ note to himself not to gloat today when the rest of the continent imagined that he would be there to humbly ask for an exception to the written financial law was the nail in the coffin. If Merkel dares to bend the rules now she’ll be out of work in a month. The average European tax payers are suffering from this crisis, too – and they had as little to do with the bad loans as the average Greek did. For the Greek populace to keep denouncing them as stingy and imperialistic, after all they’ve been doing to try to solve a complicated and unprecedented problem, and on top of that to ask for more and more from people whose lifestyles are in some cases a hell of a lot more austere than their own, is seriously shocking to me.

“Good people don’t need laws to act responsibly. Bad people will find ways around the laws. And ridiculous people will pass a law that a dead man’s pension is inherited by all his unmarried daughters.” – Plato

I hope that the Grexit goes as amicably as it can. I’ve been following the news in a couple of newspapers and even from the Germans and Spaniards who reacted to the audacity of Greek brinkmanship as one would expect them to, there was a call for humanitarian aid while the country rebuilds itself. It’ll suck and life will turn out way more miserably for the bureaucrats and military personnel than any EU aid package ever could’ve made it, but maybe the only way out of this for Greece is through a new drachma. The hardest part will be finding someone else to give them loans after they declare bankruptcy. Unlike Argentina, which bounced back from bankruptcy as if it were Diego Maradona’s hand, Greece imports a lot of its food and fuel. It needs to secure loans to survive, because its economy is that unproductive at the moment. Will Russia step up? As much as Putin is looking chummy with Tsipras, I highly doubt that he can afford to put his money where is mouth is. Neither China nor the U.S. are likely to find it an attractive investment, either. The defaulted-on IMF and soon-to-be-defaulted-on ECB won’t be able to give more. So that leaves… the European Union. Oops.

Sascha

And puny DIY economic stimulus: We had a bunch of Greek olives for dinner, in hopes of helping an olive farmer.

For the record, they were so close! Even in Germany, where most of the supposed “hardliners” live, even as late as last week, the majority were for the referendum and many criticized Merkel for never offering Greece a reasonably generous bailout. When polled on their greatest concerns in the Greek crisis, a measly 31% of respondents cited the disintegration of the European Union and 69% worried about the suffering of the Greek people. I haven’t been able to find a more recent poll but it doesn’t take a political scientist to see that the tide of sympathy has shifted dramatically in the last few days. From interviews posted on German news sites it seems clear that at least some Greeks are blaming Germans for keeping “their” money away and Merkel even for directly closing Greek banks. Even if Tsipras didn’t encourage this thinking, he certainly thrived on it (and let’s be real – he and Yanis Voldemort, er Varoufakis, pretty obviously encouraged it). I’m worried sick about the impending suffering of the Greek people, too. I hope that their recovery from bankruptcy will be quick but without access to credit or a viable economy I think they might be living in a third-world country for generations. How deluded Tsipras and his ministers must be, to think that they have something to gloat about!

I’m not white but I get mistaken for white by people that I meet all the time. I have nothing against white people, obviously, but I don’t have any particular connection to stereotypical “white” stuff, like pumpkin lattes and John Mayer (not Jack Johnson), or even to stuff that white Americans are more genuinely culturally connected to, like entrepreneurship and the American flag.  By our country’s infamous one-drop rule I suppose I’m yellow, though I can’t say I feel myself to be very Asian either. In any case anyone who knows me even a little realizes that I’m nonwhite.

But what a boon to the Zanzibari clove industry this stuff must be.

The only excuse for drinking this weird stuff is wanting to support the Zanzibari clove industry.

That’s the main reason I no longer post my “political” opinions on Facebook. They’re not reaching the ones for whom it might matter anyway – white people who, consciously or unconsciously, are upholding white supremacy in this country. I even think it was harming because it reinforces the perception that this is an us vs. them issue.  By the same token I stopped posting about gender issues years ago because no matter what specific issue I brought up, some idiot would remind me that “I” didn’t have it so bad. As if the fact that my husband doesn’t beat me invalidates me drawing attention to the pervasive, horrifying reality of domestic abuse that so many other women face.

I’ve lost all credibility to a white racist, you see, by virtue of being a liberal person of color myself.

Black academics, possibly the best qualified to bear witness to the social toll of racism on our society, are ironically the least likely to make an impact on so-called white “conservatives,” because academia is already considered with deep suspicion to begin with by certain someones – it’s not useful, productive work like plumbing or construction, it’s getting paid to sit in a chair and think about stuff. On top of that these cushy-life professional daydreamers are just championing their own racial self-interest over ours, damnit! The problem is, we (anyone interested in dismantling racism) have to reach out to white racists. This is a revolution that might see a few battles on the institutional front, but ultimately it’s a psychological one. The long-term failure of every movement to secure equality for black and white Americans in the past lies in that they all blissfully ignored racism and only tried to fix its symptoms – slavery, segregation, hiring discrimination, etc.

... but feel free to discriminate in your personal lives, folks.

… but feel free to discriminate in your personal lives, folks.

I mentioned that when I paid attention to Facebook posts in the aftermath of Freddie Gray’s and the Charleston church shooting (and similar divisive events) I noticed people posting almost exclusively for the benefit of like-minded friends, and precious few actual conversations that sprung up about either topic. The only exception to this was provided by a small number of white Facebookers. One of them was my friend Vanessa, a libertarian and lifelong lover of the NRA, who called out anti-black bias in no subtle terms. I think perhaps people engaged her thinking that they could sway her into seeing that she’s wrong about racism existing in any significant way, but they underestimated her conviction and knowledge on the issue and, hopefully, came away with even an iota of a different perspective on the whole matter.

My friend Jackie also posted about it:

“White privilege is feeling more fear when walking alone at night and seeing a black man, though statistically the white man is more likely to cause you harm as a solitary white female. This fear has been conditioned by virtue of growing up in a particular culture and with a biased media. Black individuals do get treated differently. Shutting our eyes and plugging our ears in denial, or worse, defending the status quo and discounting the everyday reality of half of the population is not going to make it go away, nor will it make it any less real. Can we all just come to terms with the fact that one can be white, not feel so privileged at all and still live in a world where white privilege exists? Only when we look at the problem directly, without defensiveness or fear for the preservation of our egos, can we do something about it.”

And there were quite a few other examples. Admittedly, most of them were written by suspect “liberal” academics, but it was heartening all the same. I think this is the only way forward. It would make me happy beyond belief to see more white friends who might not on the outside seem like they should feel passionately about racism speak out and raise consciousness about this problem, not angrily or accusingly but with respect and a desire for dialogue. Because I have to say that most white racists aren’t consciously so. It’s so ingrained in all of us that we don’t even think of it. Even Jesse Jackson admitted, with great shame, that “there is nothing more painful to [him] … than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery, then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved.”

Make no mistake. Race isn’t biological, but it’s very, very real. It’s been made real by our institutions, our media, our snowballing everyday prejudices, our actions, and our inactions. I am not white, as I said. I’m not rich and my parents were even born pretty poor, in other countries. None of my ancestors ever set foot on this continent before the 1970s. Still, I am responsible for American racism. I’ve benefited from it. I was silent about it. I’ve felt afraid of black men walking behind me on a street, as much as I hated myself for it.

I never thought of myself as a racist until I spent a year working in a department store in Upstate New York. Most of my coworkers were black women. Hanging out with them, I finally understood. It was crazy how much differently people looked at me when we walked together. It was crazy in the most horrific way possible what some of them dealt with in their daily lives. At the time, I was feeling sorry for myself because I had been suspended from college for marijuana possession, but my friends knew plenty of people who had gone to jail for the same. One of the women was very visibly pregnant and working her ass off to move into a suitable apartment and take care of her child. She took the bus to work in a town that had, to put it mildly, a puny public transportation system. Our managers always gave her shit for getting to work ten minutes late, even though they knew that her commute would’ve been two hours long instead of one if she tried to catch the earlier bus. I was so embarrassed that I’d ever complained about getting the ten-year-old family beater to drive when I turned sixteen. I was even more embarrassed when she actually got fired for chronic tardiness, literally a week after I (truthfully) called in sick from work for being too hungover. Then there was the time I sat in the back seat of a car being driven by another woman’s (also black) boyfriend while we were being followed by a police car forever. Anyone who thinks black men saying that they are “afraid of cops” is hyperbole should know that it’s not, even in the slightest, and with good reason.

Now that there are videos and white allies, more white people are finally starting to pay attention to the outrageous violence with which black men are treated, even while fleeing, but black people have been trying to get their attention about police brutality for years.

Fact: If Feiden Santana had witnessed Walter Scott's killing with only his eyes and not his cellphone, we wouldn't heard about it.

Imagine if Feiden Santana had witnessed Walter Scott’s killing with only his eyes and not his cellphone.

I’ve said it before but it bears repeating: Working in the department store was what made racism real to me. I thank God for that. Studying our country’s history, deciding to go to grad school and write about historic race relations – that all happened after I realized how deep the wound was, not before. My personal bad experiences aside I would’ve gladly endured grad school to the bitter end if I thought getting my PhD would’ve in any way allowed me to change the hearts of other unconscious racists, who don’t have the blessing of getting suspended from college and coming face to face with their privilege. But the ivory tower is large and hollow, and its walls are thick.

Shouting it out, in person or on social media, isn’t going to make much of a difference, either. Not if I’m doing it. There are more and more people who definitely are raising those scary first doubts, though, even in the midst of an otherwise depressing mess of vitriol from all sides and deliberately incendiary commentary that seemingly gets worse day by day. That’s not necessarily promising, is it? But it’s something, and maybe the first step of our collective recovery is admitting that we have a problem.

Part one here! Part three coming up!

America, do something about your ethnic strife or please shut up about intervening in other dysfunctional countries forever.

I’ve been meaning to write about how sad I am about the current state of mere coexistence in this country for a while now but have been putting it off, mostly because I’ve been busy with work, but also because sadness isn’t very inspiring. It’s not like anger. I can rant all day, ask anyone. Ranting is good because it might spur the change you want to see.  Our country’s fissures, though, seem every day further removed from the possibility of healing.

Charleston AME

Coexisting because you have no other choice isn’t much of an aspiration.

It was clearly evident after Freddie Gray died on April 12, 2015. My previous post was a reaction to the ensuing Facebook shit show, with one (predominantly white) segment “standing with the police,” trolling about black-on-black violence, and even posting the absolutely horrific sentiment that Gray deserved to be killed for his previous record. On the other side, the (predominantly black and/or grad student) segment likened the police presence to slavery and called for people of color to “fight back.” It was absolutely disheartening to see so many people completely talking past one another. I bet many of them went to town on Facebook’s unfollow option, which only increased the shrillness and vitriol because then there wasn’t even the one sane moderate humbly critiquing your hateful posts, only the thirty members of the choir you’re preaching to showering you with likes and hell yeahs.

For the record, I find it almost impossible to imagine that Gray died from any other way than excessive force by the police. Whether or not the officers’ actions were motivated by race is another matter. It’s a matter that might affect the legal details of the case but happens to be irrelevant to the bigger picture that we Americans are still ridiculously motivated by race.

I don’t mean just whites. I mean all of us. We cling to racial identity as if it actually means something, we insist on ascribing characteristics to races in a way that would’ve made Louis Aggasiz blush. Aggasiz, using that sophisticated measuring-the-volume-of-sand-in-skulls method in the years leading up to the Civil War, only argued that blacks are stupid. In 2015 I witnessed Facebookers call blacks stupid, lazy, dishonest, violent, and (in the case of Freddie Gray) deserving death for breaking society’s rules.

What a mistake it is to assume that these are the ramblings of fringe white supremacists intent on safeguarding their privilege, though. There are so many people who truly believe those things, and they live in fear. These are people honestly can’t imagine why black families are worried about their sons encountering police because it’s so far removed from their own experiences of cops directing traffic or giving them a friendly wave at the doughnut shop. They don’t consider how humiliating it is to constantly see pedestrians cross to the other side of the street, let alone have chubby security guards subtly trail you through the Walgreens. They aren’t even bad people, only people who don’t know.

On the other hand, there are also people who genuinely consider today’s cops to be analogous to plantation overseers. Because of that they too live in fear and calling for violence to end violence seems to be the only option left. They call whites greedy, dishonest, violent, and deserving death for gaming the system to their perpetual advantage. It hasn’t occurred to them that white people don’t think of themselves as descendants of slaveholders because to them honoring the experience of the enslaved is still very salient. They can’t imagine what it’s like barely being to make ends meet for your family yet being told to “check your privilege.” Again, though, they aren’t bad people.

So we need to talk. Better yet, we need to think. At this point I can’t imagine it getting better unless we consciously stop using race as a category of difference. It’s a shameful historical relic that never did serve any purpose other than demarcating us vs. them, and if you’re sure you’re the good guy it’s difficult to see that the other guy might be good too. To quote the poet Kai Zen: “The truth is, there is no race but the human race. But we want there to be race, otherwise how would we know who wins?”

Asian doctor writing in medical record

If you’re concerned about what rejecting race categorization as dumb and offensive might look like, ask the Orientals, the members of the yellow race, how it worked out for them.

Case in point: Last night nine congregants at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopalian church in Charleston were killed by a gunman who allegedly screamed “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country!” as he reloaded five times. Three times as many people died in Charleston compared to the Boston Marathon, but we’re in so deep that even this very fucking blatant act of terrorism is somehow controversial. Somehow, the same War on Terror zealots who went apeshit over the Tsarneav brothers can’t muster the outrage to say one word about this shooter. Somehow, “rednecks” and their “white supremacist culture” need to be dragged into the fray. This is what I mean by our current state of mere coexistence. We coexist, barely, because we have to, but the dysfunction is submerged only just below the surface.

This is the first part of a series of three posts! 

“I saw a really racist post on Facebook the other day, with really idiotic commentary. Even though all the news sources I consider trustworthy reported exactly the opposite, I decided not to unfollow this time and read everything with an open mind. It really opened my eyes! Even though I still don’t agree with what was said, I understand now that people different from me are just as worried and scared as I am, just for different reasons. So now I listen calmly to people whose perspectives used to really piss me off. Hopefully they in turn will listen calmly to me, so that we can one day finally have that long-overdue conversation about what it’ll take for all of us Americans to feel safe.”

– no one ever

I nearly changed my mind about how awesome Facebook is this past week :-/ Then my inner optimist made its triumphant return! More tomorrow though. I just finished a last-minute push with grant writing assignments due by the end of the month, and I’d like to take the rest of the day to unwind.

funsies

Unwind = Dig through more ridiculous photos of this sexy meat-head I used to date. Before I married him.

On some level I really mistrust nonprofits. In part that’s because so many of them arrogantly presume to provide “cultural enrichment” to “at-risk youth.” I’m sure I’ve bitched about it enough before but I find it incredibly myopic and condescending to assume that material poverty equals cultural poverty. The greatest contribution the U.S. has ever made to world culture may well be jazz – and you know Louis Armstrong wasn’t born with no silver spoon between those sweet lips of his.

Armstrong Park, view from my old place.

Armstrong Park, view from my old place.

And “at risk” for what, exactly, are poor young minorities as a group? Someday trying to take outside of the system what’s being systematically denied them inside it? If you ask me a person is statistically at far greater risk of becoming a war criminal if they’re born into privilege – especially in this country. If only some nonprofit had sent Dick Cheney to free after-school violin lessons!

dick-cheney

Violins is not the answer.

We should all hope that in the future there will be more American parks and monuments dedicated to our creative geniuses and fewer to our remorseless psychos. In the meantime, I wrote a blog post for Wild Fundraising about some of the irreplaceable and pretty badass services that only nonprofits can render – especially in the areas of historical preservation and memory, which are super close to my heart.

Please check it out!

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