Monday, July 31, 2017

Lil Duval, Non Binary Genders, and Questions About Rape

Fact: there are transgendered people who live in a constant state of physical and sexual terror. In the last few years there’s been an increase in gang rapes, sexualized torture, and murders of transgendered women and men. Paradoxically, all of this violence is happening at a time when more and more people are fighting to affirm the rights of the LGBTQIA community. Much of the violence and fear transgendered people are experiencing is a last-ditch effort to push them back into the closet. This violence has no place in our society.

Last Friday, as a guest on “The Breakfast Club”, Lil Duval opened himself up to the full wrath of the LGBTQIA community and their allies when he said, “This might sound messed up, but I don’t care, she dying,”. His response was to a question about a hypothetical sexual encounter with a woman who turned out to be a transgendered man. By Saturday, people who’ve never heard his name had an opinion about him and his comedy. By Sunday, there were calls to boycott “The Breakfast Club” for giving him a platform.

Washington Post / The Breakfast Club / YouTube

This controversy is playing out on social media- that’s good and bad. Social media is a great snapshot of what people are thinking at any given moment, but the caustic environment found on many platforms make civil discussions almost impossible. There are hundreds of articles and blog posts attacking Lil Duval’s words, but what’s lacking is a serious dialogue about consent and what rights a man has in a sexual encounter of this nature.

Disclaimer: I’m not attempting to defend Lil Duval or his statements.  

Central to this discussion is the question of how much information about a potential sex partner is needed in order to give consent? If someone had a history of sexually transmitted diseases do you have the right to know? If someone is married or has a significant other do you have the right to know? If someone is addicted to alcohol or drugs would that have an effect on your decision to have sex with them? If someone was born the same gender as you do you have a right to know?

Our society has no problem identifying a sex crime when the victim is a woman or child, but what rights, if any, do men have when it comes to sexual disclosure of a partner with a non-binary gender identity? I know I’ll be accused of centering the rights of men, but it was a man’s answer to this question that started the conversation. It’s possible for a CIS gendered male to hold no animosity towards the LGBTQIA community, and be upset if they were deceived into a sexual relationship they didn’t consent to. I don’t know if this factored into Lil Duval’s answer, but we can’t be so shocked by his response that we ignore what prompted it. People have a right to choose their sexual partners. This isn’t a controversial position to hold. When women aren’t given a choice, it’s rape. Children can’t consent so it’s rape, and a man who isn’t given enough information to consent is raped.

With all of the work that’s been done to educate people about sexual assault it’s reasonable to expect adults to know what constitutes consent and what’s considered rape. Sex without consent is rape. It doesn’t matter what someone is wearing, what kind of reputation they have, or if you’ve had past sexual encounters with them. Every sex act should be consented to. This isn’t complicated; unless the sex act in question is between a man and a member of the transgender community.

Lil Duval’s comments were seen as crude, crass, and offensive by a large segment of our society, but they also resonated with many of his core supporters. Transgendered people are under attack. They face threats many of us don’t see or have to worry about. Their fight is as existentially important to them as any fight anyone faces. I won’t disconnect their terror from this conversation, but we can’t allow that terror to usurp another person’s right to choose.  

Monday, July 24, 2017

Virginia Election 2017 Trump Vs. Pipelines?

The Omni Homestead resort in Hot Springs was the center of politics in the Commonwealth of Virginia. On Saturday July 22nd, the Virginia Bar Association welcomed the current lieutenant governor, Democrat, Ralph Northam and businessman, Republican, Ed Gillespie to participate in the debate moderated by “PBS Newshour” host Judy Woodruff.  
Since securing their respective party’s nominations both candidates have tried to focus their attention on what they believe to be their opponent’s biggest weakness.
The Gillespie campaign has highlighted Ralph Northam’s indecisiveness on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The lieutenant governor has tried to walk a tightrope on the Dominion Project. During his primary race with Tom Perriello, Ralph Northam opted to defer to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality as to what would be the best decision for the citizens of the Commonwealth. His well crated political answers about the pipeline have hurt him. His middle of the road approach has alienated the environmentalist wing of the Democratic party who supported his primary opponent.
Since securing the Democratic party’s nomination, Ralph Northam has sought to make this election a referendum on the Presidency of Donald Trump: whom he has referred to as a “narcissistic maniac.” The lieutenant governor has tried to link Ed Gillespie to the polices, or lack of polices, coming out of Washington D.C. His campaign even incorporated the use of a cardboard cutout of Ed Gillespie in a Facebook live video while reading the proposed GOP healthcare bill.
Both of these strategies, on the surface, are politically savvy, but the Northam strategy is problematic. Making the November election a referendum on Donald Trump is likely to fail in what is expected to be another low voter turnout election. The Commonwealth remains a purple state even though the Democratic candidate has won here in three straight presidential elections. Republicans control the state legislature due to heavily gerrymandered districts and the Democrats off year election apathy.
In the 2016 presidential election (according to the Virginia Department of Elections) 72% of registered Virginians participated. That was up one percentage point from 2012, but down from the 74% who voted in 2008. If the 2017 gubernatorial election follows the 2009 and 2013 trends there could be as much as a 30-percentage point drop in voter participation. This fact doomed State Senator Creigh Deeds in his 2009 gubernatorial race against Republican Bob McDonnell.
Ed Gillespie’s strategy of forcing Ralph Northam to go on the record about the Atlantic Coast Pipeline could prove to be his trump card (pun intended). The interruption at the beginning of the VBA debate by a young man form Loudon County is indicative of where a lot of the Bernie Sanders/Tom Perriello progressives stand on this issue. The lieutenant governor would have to get unprecedented support from the Blue Ridge and Appalachian Mountains if young environmentalist in the progressive wing of the Democratic party take 2017 off.

This election isn’t likely to turn on issues affecting the masses of Virginians. There are a lot of one issue voters who won’t concern themselves with budgets, tax policies, healthcare, or infrastructure spending. Voters who followed these candidates through their primary races likely didn’t learn anything new during this debate. For them, Saturday morning was more performance art than a rigorous dialogue about the issues. For voters tuning in for the first time the candidates painted a Rorschach of themselves and their opponent. Neither candidate improved or diminished their chances of winning in November; If you are a Republican Gillespie will do, and if you are a Democrat Northam is your guy. Both candidates looked like boxers content with letting the judges decide the outcome. A lot can happen between now and November, but the most eventful moment of this debate belonged to a young man who isn’t on the ballot.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Hating The Game: Did Michael Vick Sellout?

"First thing we’ve got to get Colin to do is cut his hair."

Michael Vick offered Colin Kaepernick some unsolicited advice as a guest on Fox Sports 1’s “Speak For Yourself”. After listening to him say, “I really think the stand that he took has nothing to do with him not having a job playing in the National Football League right now.” I was disappointed. Michael Vick was the previous owner of the shoes Colin now fills. There will be over 100 quarterbacks competing for jobs before rosters are cut and Vick doesn't think Kaepernick is better than half of them? Does he really believe 32 head coaches, 32 general managers, and 32 owners simultaneously came to the conclusion he couldn't play anymore?

Vick's words opened him up to ridicule from some of his most loyal supporters in the black community, but calling Michael Vick a sellout does nothing to address the root of Colin's problem. The NFL is ran by people who have very little, if any, vested interest in the issues he was protesting. In the NFL, the only Black Lives that Matter are the ones that are profitable. If you can run a 4.3 40-yard dash and keep your mouth shut you can do almost anything and maintain employment. 

"Listen, I’m not up here to try to be politically correct. Even if he puts cornrows in there. I don’t think he should represent himself in that way (wearing the Afro). Just the hairstyle. Just go clean-cut. You know, why not? You're already dealing with a lot.

The NFL is a meritocracy as long as you don't hurt the bottom line. Kaepernick would have been better off had he beaten up a pregnant white woman. Rapist and domestic abusers are welcomed back to the NFL because their crimes don't cost the league revenue or challenge its authority. When a player, irrespective of race, beats a woman, she's the victim. Colin's protest caused a public outcry that victimized the league. NFL owners don't suffer losses well and aren't willing to face economic backlash for signing an unrepentant Kaepernick. No one knows this better than Michael Vick.

Michael Vick had to kiss the proverbial ring to get his second chance. I'm not sure Kaepernick is willing to (publicly) do the same; his circumstances are a lot different than Vick's were. Vick was hemorrhaging money due to the termination of his endorsement deals and his Atlanta Falcons contract. When Vick filed for bankruptcy protection he owed his creditors 18 million dollars. Kaepernick, who hasn't made as much money as Vick did before his troubles, is in far better financial shape. Vick had no choice but to acquiesce. He was never going to come through his bankruptcy and get his life back together without the NFL. 

“I just think perception and image is everything. This is not the Colin Kaepernick that we've known since he entered the National Football League. I’m just going off my personal experiences. Listen, I love the guy to death. But I want him to also succeed on and off the field. This has to be a start for him."

Michael Vick gave Colin Kaepernick the kind of practical advice any public relations expert or image consultant would give him, but he did it in the company of a toxic sports personality. Jason Whitlock is less popular in the black community than Diabetes. Every few weeks he gives #BlackTwitter a reason to hate him. Vick's statements, if made to someone whose commitment to the black community is unquestionable, wouldn't have been so controversial. Vick never condemned Kaepernick for his protest. He acknowledged the reason for his protest and thanked him for doing it. Vick's advice, however pragmatic, calls for Colin's Submission. If Colin crawls back and begs for forgiveness he could make a lot of money, but that money will cost him his integrity. 

It's easy to attack Michael Vick's​ words from the comfort of a smartphone or tablet. Michael Vick was in debt, had a family to provide for, and had millions of dollars on the line. He gave the right answer for someone in his situation. If Colin wants to wear another NFL jersey he probably knows he has to “play the game”. This is unpopular, it's unfair, but it's the reality in the NFL. A man who kneeled to take a stand might have to bow to take a snap. This isn't right. He is being punished. We can hate the player, but we should probably hate the game that asks brothers to scratch when it doesn't itch.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Blacks Only?

The absence of white bodies doesn’t make a space black only. People of color have been consciously and unconsciously conditioned to see themselves as less than. Physically separating oneself from white bodies does nothing to deal with the psychological damage that comes from being inculcated with the myth of white supremacy. In every black only setting lives the remnants of an ideology that formed the desire to meet outside of the white gaze.
This paradox is often overlooked. I’m not going to attempt to solve a problem this complex in a few short paragraphs, but we need to look at this issue from multiple angles. Black people seeking to create spaces where our thoughts and feelings are a priority harms no one, yet this enrages white conservatives, isolates white liberals and progressives, and hurts black integrationists irrespective of their political leanings.
Many conservatives see black only spaces as a sign of racial hostility, but de facto black only spaces have existed since slavery. Slaves would steal away in the night to fellowship without scrutiny or violence. Today black only spaces are the result of choices rather than a historical necessity. The desire to decenter whiteness from discussions affecting people of color isn’t the same as government policies designed to limit access to opportunity.

White America is in no way negatively impacted by black only spaces. Contrary to popular belief, black only spaces aren’t a form of segregation. When an assembly ends the participants go back into a world shaped by the idea that their skin color is problematic. Simply put, black only spaces are places where black identity and intellect is affirmed. These aren’t “safe spaces”, if you make a weak argument or derail a discussion your feelings won’t be spared. Black only spaces aren’t about running from conflict; at their best, they’re about engaging conflict with people who’ve been negatively affected by the subject matter being discussed.

There have been white liberals and progressives who’ve felt betrayed by black only spaces. There are white allies who’ve worked incredibly hard to get outside of themselves to see what America looks like to people of color. I applaud their efforts and count them as allies. Ultimately, it will be white allies who stop the normalization of racism, but this reality doesn’t give them carte blanche access to black ideas and emotions. Imagine a man so committed women’s liberation that he commits himself to destroying overt and covert systems that oppress and disadvantage women, would his agency negate his manhood? Would he be allowed into the women’s locker room at the gym?
Talking about black liberation without constantly having to remind white allies of their goodness is almost impossible. Too often discussions about systemic racism get hijacked by well-meaning allies who feel the need to make sure they aren’t indicted for the crimes of others. This unintentional microaggression moves the focus of discussion from black liberation to white absolution and we’re not here for that.
Lastly, there are factions inside the black community who find black only spaces problematic. Many of them are so assimilated that they truly believe the path to black liberation is paved with conformity and kowtowing. Some of the most sophisticated defenders and deniers of white supremacist ideologies have black skin. The acceptable negro approach works on an individual basis, but it does nothing to liberate the masses. The irony of black opposition to spaces centered around blackness is that it usually comes from black people who are minorities in their professional lives and isolationist in their personal lives.
In a room full of black people, ideas grounded in white supremacist ideology are still represented. This is a fact no amount of physical separation can deny. I don’t care how “woke” someone is; once they embrace the need to constantly remind everyone they’re “woke” they’ve exhibited a symptom of the trauma they think they’ve overcome. People who don’t smoke don’t walk around announcing it every day. The only space we can truly make black only is the space between our ears and that’s much more difficult than segregating an auditorium for a few hours.