Discussion Recap: 09/08/15

With the new semester, we’re back!  We’ll have weekly op eds and discussion recaps.  Stay tuned!

By Mady Duarte

This week we discussed the topic of prostitution, specifically whether legalization would be safer for sex workers and more beneficial to society. To guide the discussion, we read a series of opinion editorials published in the New York Times expressing a range of views on the subject.

To begin, one of our members asked for a show of hands to see where most people’s opinions fell on the subject. Almost everyone present raised their hand in favor of legalization, although when a third option was presented to the effect of ‘I think legalization is a complex action that doesn’t fall neatly into an unequivocal yes or no,’ every member cast their vote again. This is a safe response to an extent, but it doesn’t really tell us where to go. For many people interested in social justice, the knee-jerk response to prostitution is legalization– no one should be legislating a woman’s bodily autonomy! However, it is undeniable that there are issues needing addressed in tandem that do not have clear solutions.

One of our members seemed especially concerned with regulation. How would the government keep tabs on all sex workers and their STI status? Would they also be responsible for keeping record of clients’ STI status? The government already has access to medical health records so it doesn’t seem insurmountable to extend the record keeping to this industry. Additionally, it could create the potential for a safe ‘pos’ community where both parties already have the same STI and fully consent knowing their partner’s status. A database would ensure testing stayed up-to-date and would help create a standard of STI testing.

In an ideal world, legalization holistically supports the autonomy of women, but in reality many people who go into sex work did not exactly make a fully autonomous decision to do so. It is often very difficult to differentiate those who entered sex work of their own volition from those who were trafficked. Part of the article expressed concerns that legalization would open avenues that would make sex trafficking easier to hide or disguise. Additionally, people question whether the decision to enter sex work can be considered fully autonomous if it is financially driven in the extreme– in essence, forced by circumstance. However, at root, this is an issue with capitalism, not specifically exchanging sex for money, though the same argument is not applied as vehemently to any other job. It is common to be forced to make career decisions based on money. This doesn’t definitively mean sex work is singularly manipulative, rather, it is singularly stigmatized.

Some question if legalizing sex work would do any good without changing the stigma, but perhaps legalization would have to come first as a step towards confronting the stigma. People would no longer be able to fall back on the circular argument that sex work is morally wrong because it is illegal, and prostitutes could not be met with law-sanctioned police brutality as the current standard allows. Many would still morally object, but we would reduce the amount of harm that can come to prostitutes by creating a space for them to turn to police in cases of abuse or whatever else the police are supposed to be able to help any person with.

It is also worth noting that while the discussion and this recap continually reference women’s autonomy and make use of female pronouns, we recognize the presence of other genders in sex work and do not mean to limit the scope to only one gender.

Here is the link to the article, let us know what you think!


Discussion Recap: 3/29/15

By Amanda Ahadizadeh 

This week we had a guest speaker, Rance Weryackwe, who was kind enough to attend our meeting and read his recently published article, “Savages, Settlers, and Slaves.” The primary focus of Rance’s article is our university’s mascot: the Sooner.

At football games, gymnastics meets, softball tournaments, and basically every single other kind of campus activity, we celebrate ourselves by using the word “sooner.” We don’t think of the history of the word when we scream it at the tops of our lungs; we don’t recognize the weight it carries as we wear it proudly on our sweatshirts. We hear “Sooner” and we think of our university, our sports teams, and our collegiate identity. Native American students think of the land run. They think of how land that rightfully belonged to the native tribes was stolen, even against state law, and never returned. Imagine being reminded of such a painful history every time you saw the word “sooner” on the University of Oklahoma’s campus. I mean, how many times a day do we hear “Boomer” followed by “Sooner”? How many people on campus wear their (probably free) t-shirts, proudly exhibiting the word like a badge of pride?

Rance’s article called into question our university’s choice of mascot and pointed out the hypocrisy of it particularly in light of the SAE scandal. In the moment when racial discrimination was finally gaining attention, our campus glossed over this racially charged phenomenon: “You should not have the privilege of calling yourselves ‘Sooners.'”

Of course we all love President Boren, and it makes sense for him to use this word in this context. But why have we allowed this phenomenon to continue? Why have we not yet asked to change the names of our sports teams? Why do we continually perpetuate this racially biased system? Our organization changed our name not because we’re A+ human beings, but because we realized our own ignorance in using that word to represent ourselves. We realized the irony. How can a university attempt to ameliorate itself, particularly in regards to institutional racism, when its very identity is intrinsically supremacist?

Please, read Rance’s article! It’s short, sweet, and to the point. Let us know what you think!


Discussion Recap: 3/1/15

By Amanda Ahadizadeh

This week we invited Dr. Schumaker to lead our discussion. Dr. Schumaker is a professor in the Letters and Constitutional Studies department at OU. She selected this week’s article, “The Case for Reparations” by Ta-Nehisi Coates. The article was published in The Atlantic in June of 2014. It argues that reparations, simply as an idea, need to be explored, investigated, and studied. Reparations are means to make amends for wrong-doings, and in this context would be actions by society to amend the gross abuse of Black Americans throughout our history.

“Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.”

In this article, Coates writes about the systematic oppression of Black Americans, particularly post slavery. He explains redlining, the practice of discrimination based on the racial makeup of a person’s neighborhood, most often used in the context of extending credit or providing insurance coverage. Redlining is a type of de facto discrimination which economically disadvantages Black Americans. Private corporations, homeowners’ loan associations, banks, and even local neighborhood committees perpetuate this system of chipping away property value based on the racial makeup of an area.

“Locked out of the greatest mass-based opportunity for wealth accumulation in American history, African Americans who desired and were able to afford home ownership found themselves consigned to central-city communities where their investments were affected by the ‘self-fulfilling prophecies’ of the FHA appraisers: cut off from sources of new investment, their homes and communities deteriorated and lost value in comparison to those homes and communities that FHA appraisers deemed desirable.”

The electronic article includes an interesting interactive map feature which allows the reader to observe redlining in action in conjunction with unemployment and vacancy from 1950-2010. The interactive census is shockingly representative of the phenomenon which most people like to believe ended in 1964. It is clear which neighborhoods are poor, and those neighborhoods naturally coincide with unemployment and vacancy, but also race.

In his documentation of the exploitation of Black Americans, Coates mentions two significant reparations. Bank of America and Wells Fargo paid $355 and $175 million respectively in reparations for targeting Black Americans during the subprime mortgage housing crisis in 2007. If those sums were decided for such a recent, short-lived (however powerful) crisis, how much would the United States have to pay to rectify the damage of the past 435 years of discrimination and abuse?

The article briefly mentions Michelle and Barack Obama and their children. “…Barack and Michelle Obama have won. But they’ve won by being twice as good—and enduring twice as much…But for all our exceptional ones, for every Barack and Michelle Obama, for every Ethel Weatherspoon or Clyde Ross, for every black survivor, there are so many thousands gone.”

My favorite part of the article was Chapter X: “There will be no ‘reparations’ from Germany.” I found this final chapter extremely interesting because it compares the United States and its treatment of Black Americans to Germany and its treatment of the Jews. In our tailored history courses, we learn again and again about the horrors of Auschwitz and the evil Nazis who persecuted the Jews. We are taught the Holocaust each time we discuss WWII. We feel triumphant when the United States takes the moral high ground in Paris, and we think the terms treaties are too merciful. Never in these history classes do we learn about redlining. We don’t discuss the horrors of being colored in the United States. Our teachers fail to tell us that Nazis sent their scouts to the United States in order to learn about Jim Crow, so that they could implement something similar with the Jews. Coates writes that only 5% of Germans in 1952 reported feeling guilty about the Holocaust. I wonder what that number would be in the United States. How many of us even know about the oppression of Black Americans post slavery or post Jim Crow? How many of us feel like society and/or the government owes its Black population reparations?

We strongly suggest you read the article.  It covers subjects that curriculum in schools fails to discuss or even mention.

Tell us what you think!

Discussion Recap: 2/15/15

By Alice Barrett

This week we read and discussed an essay on Black Girl Dangerous by Martina “Mick” Powell entitled “Hold Up: A Lovingly Disgusted Note to Hip Hop.”  The discussion started out slow, which is such an organic, interesting element of almost all academic discussions I’ve taken part in, but the difference for this one was that most of us found the reading logical and anticipated.  We’ve all heard that rap and hip hop often employs sexist, homophobic, and oppressive positions.  “Kids and their dang rap music!” or something.

Powell’s piece, we agreed, seemed personal in ways that criticism of rap often can’t be.  She paints her history with rap music (seemingly a universal history for other black people, too) with intimate, detail-oriented phrases: “everything—every beat against bass, every drip of spray paint, every time your body contorts itself into a new shape—has a purpose.”  Powell is a black queer woman discussing the problems she has with rap and hip hop’s discussion of black and/or queer women.  Her complaints are the most valid complaints one could lodge; she experiences the way hip hop and rap have previously validated her experience, and she notes importantly that they still erase her.

“I want so much to love you endlessly but sometimes, it gets hard walking into a brick wall day after day, never being fully able to escape. As much as you confirm my existence and my struggles, you also erase me, ignore me, defile me. Sometimes you hate me so much that you keep repeating yourself over and over again and sometimes you want me so much that you can’t control yourself.”

Her writing is poetic and personal, and therefore effective.  Perhaps someone who has noted oppression in hip hop and rap–and noted it only negatively, only to reinforce racist concepts, only to cement ideas of black men being violent and savage–will read this work and see the many facets of the hip hop and rap experience.

Some problems several members had with the piece was that it focuses solely on the sexism and homophobia in hip hop and rap, which could suggest if taken out of context that the only problematic parts of popular culture involve an art that has typically been associated with black males.  Powell’s essay doesn’t seem to look at all of the forces that combine to create this homophobia and sexism in rap and hip hop.  It focuses specifically on hip hop–which makes sense because of her own biography–but in doing this it fails to comment on society’s ingrained discriminatory practices.  It does not comment on the appallingly oppressive lyrics in rock, in country, in alternative music.  It comments only on hip hop and rap, which could certainly be virtuous in that the conversation is specific and more likely to be effective but is also race-specific.  This seems to be a problem in lots of social justice work–how can we discuss specific injustices without scaling out to look at the patriarchal, white-washed society we constantly participate in?

We additionally discussed the opposite phenomenon, where specifically Macklemore was apotheosized for declaring–for setting the record straight, for deciding perhaps–that (!) it’s okay to be gay (!) in his song Same Love.  He’s a white straight guy who confirmed that queerness is natural–and he’s a white straight guy who was worshipped for doing so.  In this case, Macklemore wrote something super positive, criticizing the homophobia in some rap music and supporting the struggles of queer people.  This should be valued, absolutely!  He’s using his privilege to positively affect popular culture.  How people received this, how he was described as the first person to talk about Actual Important Things in rap, as opposed to money and hoes, how he seemed to some to save and justify rap–these are the problems we should have with his work.  We should find it problematic and disgusting that popular culture will ignore the beautiful, authentic work of past queer, black rappers to champion the commercialized, bastardized work of a white guy.  We should be so, so sad that an artist like Kendrick Lamar was overlooked and erased in the Grammy’s for this song of Macklemore’s.

Finally, we discussed attempts to reconcile problematicism of things we love so, so much.  Can I listen to Kanye even though he says fucked up things about women and queer people?  Can I ignore Azalea Bank’s negative slurs in her attempts to point out problematic aspects of other artists’ work?  How can one enjoy popular culture when racism, sexism, classism, homophobia stain so many aspects of it?  We don’t know.  We think pointing out problems is the most feasible way to be productive in the face of oppression.  Perhaps we could use our commercial power to send messages, by boycotting the work of artists who enforce oppressive power structures, and perhaps we can be vocal about the problems we have with their work.  We don’t know.  It does not appear that one cannot enjoy culture that participates in discrimination and oppression; instead, maybe, we need to realize why artists are reinforcing oppressive ideas, especially when they’re reacting against other power structures they’ve experienced.  We need to demand more.  We need to reject any ideas of Macklemore’s superiority in rap (and especially the race-tinged aspects of this).  We need to look at valuable essays that note the multifaceted aspects of love and culture.

Discussion Recap: 2/1/15

By Amanda Ahadizadeh

In honor of Black History Month, we will be discussing articles particularly related to racial equality for the next few meetings. For our first meeting of the month, our members read the Combahee River Collective Statement, which was written in 1977 by a group of Black Feminists in Boston. The Combahee River Collective was actually a Black Feminist Lesbian group named after the guerrilla action led by Harriet Tubman in 1863 in Port Royal, SC.  These women formed out of the Boston chapter of the National Black Feminist Organization (NBFO), an antiracist AND antisexist group. They built their identity around their social status as the most disadvantaged group in society: “…being on the bottom, we would have to do what no one else has done: we would have to fight the world.” Just fight the world, no big deal. (scoff)

The defining characteristic of Black Feminism, especially in the 70s, was utter lack of privilege. These women did not have the male privilege of Black men, nor could they share in the racial privilege of white women. As for white men, “Black women have always embodied, if not only in their physical manifestation, an adversary stance to white male rule…” Black women are basically the arch nemeses of white men. The bane of their existence. The Harry to their Voldemort (it’s funny because Voldemort was so pale). Black men, according to the statement, reacted negatively to Black Feminism, which relates to what we discussed last week in the white privilege article. “They realize that they might not only lose valuable and hard-working allies in their struggles but that they might also be forced to change their habitually sexist ways of interacting with and oppressing Black women.” Basically, Black men felt like the success of a Black feminist movement would take away any sense of supremacy they had. How sad! The statement also points out that while “eliminating racism in the white women’s movement is by definition work for white women to do,” the progress within the white women’s movement reveals an awful negligence on their behalf. It was as if white women only had enough energy to fight for their rights specifically. They couldn’t be bothered to take a stand against racial discrimination, even though their cause is basically invalidated by condoning oppression of any kind. But I guess they didn’t realize that.

In our discussion, one of our members pointed out that Black women’s cause should be fought by all women, because, as the statement points out, the success of their movement would mean the “liberation of all oppressed people.” Because Black women are the most disadvantaged demographic, their deliverance would mean the deliverance of everyone less disadvantaged. It may be Black women’s cause, but it should be all women’s concern.

Interestingly, the Combahee River Collective also offered an economic stance.

“We realize that the liberation of all oppressed peoples necessitates the destruction of the political-economic systems of capitalism and imperialism as well as patriarchy. We are socialist because we believe the work must be organized for the collective benefit of those who do the work and create the products, and not for the profit of the bosses.” Stick it to the man. Hell yeah.

This brought up a discussion among a couple of our members about economic structure and oppression. Someone pointed out the more left-leaning economic structures of Western Europe and correlated that with seemingly less oppressive societies. Another person said that economic success, in whatever structure, is the foundation for social liberation. Many prominent members of society make their voices heard by financial means.

So what do you think? Does economic structure hurt or help oppressed groups? Or is the economy irrelevant? And as for white/black/male/female, what responsibilities do you think each demographic has for the others?

As always, here’s the link.

Discussion Recap: 1/25/15

By Amanda Ahadizadeh

Our second weekly meeting was a smashing success. I know this because we were passionate enough to annoy the other people in the Community Room at the good old Biz. We’re not wholeheartedly sorry–it’s called the Collaborative Learning Center for a reason. 🙂

This week’s topic was white privilege. We read, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” by Peggy McIntosh. Interestingly, this was one of the first published works on white privilege. Now, why is that interesting? Because it was published in 1989.

1989, in addition to being the name of Taylor Swift’s most recent album, is also not that long ago. Most of our parents were born before 1989. The Civil Rights Movement was allegedly all wrapped up in the late ’60s, right? Wrong. 1989. Blondie. Perms. Grunge. White privilege? I feel like sometimes we make the mistake of thinking we’ve come a lot farther than we really have, especially concerning white privilege. Today it’s something we read about every week, something that we can quickly identify.

26 years ago, Peggy McIntosh was astute enough to use her perspective as a woman, a socially marginalized and oppressed person, and relate her feminist philosophy to race. In her article, she opens by commenting on her experiences with males. Apparently, the men she had encountered had no problem recognizing that women were indeed disadvantaged by society. However, they were rather unwilling to acknowledge their own privilege, especially as a benefit of female oppression.

“I have often noticed men’s unwillingness to grant that they are over-privileged, even though they may grant that women are disadvantaged. They may say they will work to improve women’s status, in the society, the university, or the curriculum, but they can’t or won’t support the idea of lessening men’s.”

At our meeting yesterday, we discussed the average privileged perspective. In agreement with McIntosh, we too were taught in school that racism is categorized by explicit acts of violence. In school, the slaveholders were racist. Racism is mean. Racism is bad. Racism is over because the Union won. With this mindset, a mindset of sympathetic observance, a sense of “Gosh, I’m sorry that happened to your people, but I didn’t do it,” we fail to realize how privileged we are. McIntosh listed twenty-six daily effects of white privilege in her life. Some of these we the privileged take for granted. For example, number ten: “Whether I use checks, credit cards, or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability.” Or, “I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me.” These are things which we can all agree EVERYONE should be entitled to. The fact is, people take their privilege for granted most of the time, and revealing it to them destroys the “myth of meritocracy.” It’s not pleasant feeling like the oppression of a whole group of people is your fault. It’s not pleasant feeling like you didn’t earn your place in society. But I’ll bet you can guess what’s even less pleasant…

The myth of meritocracy is so incorporated within the American culture that it uncomfortable and inconvenient to identify. As McIntosh discusses in her article, men were very offended when she pointed out that they received advantages not because they deserved them, but because these advantages were reserved for them. Our hierarchical social system, unfortunately, is based on dominance masked as merit.

“Thinking through unacknowledged male privilege as a phenomenon, I realized that since hierarchies in our society are interlocking, there was most likely a phenomenon of white privilege which was similarly denied and protected. As a white person, I realized I had been taught about racism as something which puts others at a disadvantage, but had been taught not to see one of its corollary aspects, white privilege, which puts me at an advantage.”

How might your privileges affect others? Take a look at McIntosh’s essay. It’s only five pages long. Cross reference her list of privileges with a list of your own. See what happens.

Discussion Recap: 1/18/15

By Amanda Ahadizadeh

In addition to our blog, another aspect of this organization is a weekly discussion group over academic articles, essays, and/or current events relating to social justice. Last Sunday we discussed an article by Maxine Baca Zinn and Bonnie Thornton Dill entitled “Theorizing Difference from Multiracial Feminism.” The authors offered a rather critical perspective on feminism as an all-inclusive group. According to the article, race transcends gender.

“So much feminist scholarship assumes that when we cut through all of the diversity among women created by differences of racial classification, ethnicity, social class, and sexual orientation, a ‘universal truth’ concerning women and gender lies buried underneath.”

Zinn and Dill make the argument that race affects everybody, while differences based on gender vary according to race, class, nationality, etc. There is no “singular or unified feminism.” For example, though I am a woman, all I truly understand is what it’s like to be a middle-class Iranian American women, and nothing further. During our discussion on Sunday, we wholeheartedly agreed that race and gender, and other factors, importantly interact and that their intertwining is often overlooked.  We challenged, however, the idea that race totally transcends gender, that there is no universal aspect of feminism. Feminism, defined most simply, is the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes. More particularly, feminists fight for the right to choose.

We came to this conclusion after a brief debate between two female students. On one hand, we as Americans tend to assume our way is the best way. Our nationality affects every aspect of our opinions. We see things like genital mutilation as completely and entirely wrong. However, in some cultures mutilation is involved in a highly respected ritual. On the other hand, undoubtedly it is wrong if a girl is subjected to mutilation against her will. This, we all agreed, was an anti-feminist phenomenon. The “we” I’m referring to included both men and women, white Americans, black Americans, Middle Eastern Americans, one Indian American, one Hispanic American, and two international students, one from Uganda and the other from Burundi. Although we were of entirely different racial backgrounds and even nationalities, we concluded that there is a singular feminism. It may be broad and it may be relative, but it exists.

We also discussed cross-cultural feminism and debated whether or not our “western” feminism differs (and to what extent) from other regions around the world. There is something to be said of the differences in every day trials when discussing cross-cultural feminism. While we are fighting for equal pay in the U.S., mothers in poor villages are struggling to find food for their children. What is feminism like there? While we question the demonization of female sexuality, women in some countries of the Middle East are forced to cover their heads with hejabs. And still, many women chose to cover themselves, receive hatred for their choice, and deserve the right to do what they want and not be disrespected or submitted to violence for it. The problems of women elsewhere in the world should be recognized–not because we plan to pull a George Bush and go over there and fix it–but because we all need some perspective. That being said, we can certainly aim to fix what’s right in front of us. Although our problems here in Norman are far less severe, that does not make them any less worth fighting for. The discrepancies in oppression across the world are significant, but the same power structure is used to dominate them. Attempts at controlling women’s clothing is certainly different than domestic, radical violence. However, both contribute to the devaluation of women cross-culturally.

Within the demographic of American females, race certainly has major effects. Female black Americans have the lowest unemployment rate of record. A black woman is paid 55 cents for each white man’s dollar. Race and gender interconnect, and the experiences of people from different backgrounds will differ. But when we fight for equal pay, we’re fighting for the equal pay of ALL WOMEN. When we fight for the right to choose, we’re fighting for ALL WOMEN. While each individual does and should identify as more than just a women, whether it be a white woman, a black woman, or a poor woman, their similarities lie in gender. And although they don’t match up identically, their commonality matters. Our discussion concluded that while race, class, ethnicity, and sexuality are all hugely important within feminism, they do not transcend its definition. Instead, we must ask ourselves to recognize women for their many facets, understand that different groups of women face different issues, and work toward a good that doesn’t exclude select groups of people.

The discussed article is posted below! Please read it and let us know what you think. Does race force wedges between women, or is gender the trump card?

“Theorizing Differences from Multiracial Feminism”