I am racist, and so are you.

Exactly this.

Being Shadoan

And the sooner we both acknowledge this, the sooner we can begin to address the problem. So let’s talk.

“Wait just a minute here, Rachel. You’re like, the least racist person I know. You’re always sharing stuff about race and racism. You couldn’t possibly be racist.”

Here’s the deal. Racism isn’t just guys in white robes and Paula Deen shouting racial slurs. Racism is subtle, racism is insidious, and our culture is so deeply steeped in it that it’s impossible to grow up in the US and not be racist. It’s a kind of brainwashing: a set of default configuration files that come with the culture. It’s a filter, built up from birth, that alters our perception of the world. (Literally–racial bias makes people see weapons that aren’t there.) Racism isn’t just conscious actions; it’s judgements that happen so fast that we may not even be aware of…

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By ResearchToBeDone Posted in other

Why and How to Spread the Message and Take Action on the Events in Ferguson

There is so much to say that everything still going on in Ferguson, MO, that I’m feeling overwhelmed figuring out what to say. More than anything, though:

Please be paying attention to this and spread the message that it is happening. Follow the reporters, follow the hashtags on Twitter, watch the live streams and the videos of what’s going on. This is tremendously important and significant portions of the media are ignoring it or spreading incomplete or inaccurate information about it.

Amnesty International is getting involved in a way that they never have inside the United States before, other countries are sending in their war correspondents to cover this, police are doing everything they can to keep the media from seeing what they are doing up to and including threatening to shoot and tear gas journalists, and arresting them, and protesters are doing what they can to make sure that what is happening is being covered (read: the police believe that the more people know about what is going on the worse it will reflect on police and the protesters believe that the more people know about what is going on the better it will reflect on protesters; the police do not want to be watched and the protesters do). Police are wearing their uniforms but removing their ID badges so that they are not individually identifiable. Media and children are being tear gassed.

Still, there are people who are unaware of all this. Make sure it doesn’t stay that way. Watch what’s going on, signal boost it, talk to people about it, retweet, re-blog, and repost stories about it. We cannot let these events go unknown or ignored. Spreading the message about what is going on in Ferguson is incredibly important right now, and everything any of you can do is important.

Here are some places to follow what’s going on:

Ways to take other types of supportive action:

If anyone knows of other resources they think should be added here, say so. 

On Mike Brown and the Ferguson Police Department (probably just a part one)

Note: this entry emphatically subject to my privilege disclaimer.

There is so much to say about the events that have been unfolding over the last week in Ferguson that I don’t know where to begin, but I feel a responsibility, particularly as a white person, to do what I can to talk about what has happened and is happening there.

Authors note: this ended up being a piece outlining what I feel is the practically incontrovertible evidence that Mike Brown’s shooting had no justifiable cause and that the police department’s actions and statements speak to a long history of extremely racist beliefs and actions. Knowing my usual readership, I imagine this is not a case it is necessary for me to make to most of you, but it is my hope that for any who still need the case made, this will help.

Let’s start with the beginning: a police officer shooting Mike Brown, an unarmed young black man, multiple times until he was dead. No one disputes that basic summary. Not even the police.

The police account suggests that Mike Brown struggled to grab the officer’s weapon. The witness accounts thus far released uniformly contradict that story. Witness accounts that the Ferguson PD have not felt it necessary to include in their investigation, even in spite of at least one witness explicitly volunteering their testimony to the police department.

The Ferguson PD have also said in a statement that Mike Brown was a robbery suspect.

Let’s start just with the above. The robbery suspect statement is bewildering. Why that matters in the slightest in situation like this is beyond me. Robbery is not a crime that carries the death penalty, and even if it was, the police are not in any way permitted to kill people suspected of committing crimes that might potentially carry the death penalty. The best possible spin you could put on the police department releasing this information is this:

“The officer did not kill an unarmed civilian for nothing, the officer killed an unarmed civilian because there was a possibility they had stolen something.”

This isn’t a defense. The killing is still illegal – it is still murder, and it reads like “we didn’t murder for nothing, we murdered for shoplifting”. The fact that they think this will work as a defense is, in my opinion, a testimony to their faith in the power of systemic racism. It is, by any reasonable standard, an appalling defense. It becomes even more so considering that the Ferguson police chief has stated that the officer who shot Mike Brown did not know he was a robbery suspect.

This begs the question: why even bring it up, if it has no bearing on how the police officer made his decision to kill? Why bring it up unless you somehow think that robbery suspect status retroactively justifies the extrajudicial killing of an unarmed citizen?

Then there is the fact that they have apparently no interest in interviewing witnesses to the shooting. It doesn’t matter in the slightest whether or not they think the witness accounts are likely to be true or false; if you genuinely want to find out the truth about an event, you interview the witnesses. The only reason for them not to do that, especially when witnesses have explicitly volunteered themselves to you, as far as I can see, is that they are not actually interested in the truth coming out.

Let’s take a step back, now, and look at the Ferguson Police Department’s record with respect to race. First, based on statistics provided by the Missouri State Atty. Gen.’s office, black people in Ferguson are much more likely to be subject to stops, searches, and arrests than white people in the same area. The rate of searches is particularly telling, because black people are searched proportionately more in spite of the fact that the data shows that searches of black people have yielded proportionately fewer discoveries of contraband than searches of white people.

These more frequent searches of black people in Ferguson are not happening because they are more likely to yield results. The data in fact show that they are less likely to yield results than searches of white people.

Outside of the hard numbers that suggest racism, we have past scandals in the area. We have the whistleblower originally known as “Lonewolf”, who was subject to continual harassment after revealing his identity to the public in order to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission about a police sergeant. The sergeant, Hayes, “used ‘inappropriate racial references’ while issuing…orders”. He would reportedly do things like ordering officers to arrest black people in and around the S. County Shopping Ctr. as well as a nearby Walmart, and instituting “black days” where officers were specifically encouraged to “fill the jails” with black people. The whistleblower’s story was eventually corroborated by nine people interviewed in the subsequent investigation of Sgt. Hayes.

There is also the story in 2009 of the Ferguson police arresting a black man for a crime he didn’t commit. After they realized their mistake, the booking officer, instead of releasing him, escorted him to an already-occupied one-man cell, and refused to provide him with one of the unused sleeping mats (the sole bed being already occupied). The booking officer subsequently summoned some other cops, who proceeded to beat the man bloody, and then charge him with destruction of property for bleeding on their uniforms. As if that wasn’t horrifying enough on its own, it later transpired that the cops involved had apparently lost the security footage of the incident, and all of them testified in court that they had not, in fact, even gotten any blood on any of their uniforms (not that the situation wouldn’t have looked horrifying if they had, but I think the fact that they lied about even that illustrates the lengths they were willing to go to hold and abuse the victim).

In summary, without even getting to later police responses to vigils and protests in Ferguson, we have these facts about the shooting of Mike Brown: a documented history, both in government-provided data and in previous incidents with the local police that are matters of public record, of a culture of racism by the local police. We have the fact that the police have claimed to be investigating the shooting of Mike Brown in spite of not having made any effort at all to interview key witnesses. We have the fact that the witnesses that have come forward have consistently represented the incident differently than the police department. We have the fact that there are documented incidents of the local police lying in order to excuse or falsify justifications for the actions they take against black citizens, even when they know that they have no reason to take any action whatsoever against those citizens.

If you believe the Police Department’s accounts of recent events given the above, you are being mind-bogglingly naïve at best, though I would contend that a more sensible and more complete explanation is a combination of naïveté and racism. Even if you do believe police accounts of recent events, if you believe anything that they have said justifies the killing of an unarmed citizen, I can think of no explanation for that stance that isn’t steeped in racism. Personally, I believe that the fact that writing a post like this is even necessary, given everything that has happened in the last week, is a testament to the incredible power of implicit racism and the irrational fear that we as white people so often experience about black people. I hope all of this has given us all reason to ask serious questions about our own biases with respect to race; I know it has for me.

There is a lot more to say about everything that has happened in Ferguson over the last week, but I’m not going to try to fit it all in one post, in order to keep this the length of a blog post instead of the length of a book.

By ResearchToBeDone Posted in other

How to Be a Strategic Asset for Bullies

At the end of Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone, the main characters have to fight their way past a series of obstacles to stop Voldemort from getting his hands on the sorcerer’s stone. Most of the obstacles take particular skill sets to defeat. To get past devil’s snare you have to know that it doesn’t like sunlight, to get past the chessboard you have to be good at chess, to get past the potions riddle you have to be good at solving puzzles, etc.

It makes for an engaging story, but there is an interesting implicit assumption in the way the obstacles were chosen: that knowledge, skill, and cleverness are the domain of the great and good. It’s one of the many manifestations of the “Only Smart People May Pass” trope:

This refers to any barrier that requires the heroes to solve some kind of puzzle or Riddle in order to pass. Alternatively, it could be some test of skill … One wonders why this was deemed a better barrier than say, a lock and key carried on someone’s person instead of being in a chest elsewhere in the building.

If the goal was to actually allow smart people to pass, like into Mensa, then this would make sense. But it’s often a defense against smart people who want to take whatever is being guarded. If evil, these smart people will either already be past this puzzle or trick the heroes into solving the puzzle for them.

Emphasis mine. The problem with this idea is that in the real world, intelligence is not solely the domain of good people. People who do harm are not simple, boorish automatons. Bullies and assholes are not just guileless, unsophisticated jerks. Many of them are tremendously intelligent, and are deliberate and strategic in the ways that they cause harm.

For an example, we need only look as far as the recent #EndFathersDay hoax, where people from 4chan started the #EndFathersDay hashtag pretending to be feminists in order to make feminism look like absurd extremism. To an extent, it worked. It was even picked up by a mainstream media outlet or two. People believed it, and in some places the ecosystem of erroneous feminist stereotypes grew a little bit thicker*.

In a way we all already know this. Have you ever heard of a playground bully who did their bullying in front of teachers or admitted to it when accused? I would imagine not, because most of them tended to be smart enough to either do their bullying out of sight of authorities, or in ways that authorities either wouldn’t notice or would ignore. In other words, they were strategic. They worked out as best they could what they could get away with and in what contexts and acted accordingly.

The people I knew of who were playground bullies when I was growing up are full-grown now, and for those who haven’t learned how to be decent human beings, I see no reason to suppose that they have lost all ability to reason and strategize about bullying between then and now.

How do you effectively bully as an adult? The same way you effectively bully as a kid: you either figure out the places you can do it where no one else will see you, or you figure out the ways you can do it that people will either not notice or disregard.

From the perspective of someone who wants to sexually assault someone, people who focus on what victims were wearing or how much they drank are incredibly useful dupes. The strategic predator will find social contexts with high concentrations of people who focus on victims in this way because they know it means that if they assault someone who was drunk or wearing revealing clothing that they probably won’t face consequences. The strategic predator will find social contexts where people often excuse inappropriate behavior with social awkwardness, because they know that means if they harass someone and then claim social awkwardness that they probably won’t face consequences.

As Dr. NerdLove puts it:

Creepers and predators rely on other people insisting that their social awkwardness is a mistake because it gives them cover. When the “socially awkward” exception is in play, other people are less likely to call him out on his creepy behavior. It becomes a way of isolating somebody from potential allies and tricking others – people who might otherwise object to his bad behavior and assist his target – into being complicit in his actions. The Awkward Exception teaches other people to tolerate, even expect creepy behavior… and to forgive it because hey, “he means well.” It gives the creeper cover and allows him to continue being part of the community; he’s not “Johnny the creepy predator”, he’s “Johnny the decent guy, a little weird sometimes but harmless.”

Now let’s move on to the Internet. This post depicting a feminist holding a sign that says “I need feminism because 4chan gave me PTSD”, recently appeared on Reddit. As you might expect, it was posted for the purpose of ridiculing the idea that someone could get PTSD from Internet harassment. The top rated comment reads: “I got PTSD when I couldn’t open the mayonnaise.”

But here’s the thing: the weight of the evidence of actual psychological research is firmly on the side of “Yes, online harassment can cause PTSD.”. Leaving aside the discussion about how this means there’s a very good chance people on the 4chan subreddit are getting their kicks by making fun of PTSD victims, let’s examine the implications of this post for the strategic bully: the strategic, intelligent bully knows that online harassment can be horrible, even to the extent of causing PTSD, and knows that there are communities where people think this is impossible. Ergo, the strategic bully knows that there are communities where they can organize campaigns of harassment extreme enough to cause PTSD, and no one will call them on it or stop them. In fact, not only will people not stop them, they will actively pile their own ridicule on top of the harassment already taking place.

Think about that: if most of your community thinks the idea of people getting PTSD from online harassment is absurd, then your community is a uniquely prime opportunity for bullies to harass people to the point of getting PTSD without any consequences whatsoever.

In a more general way, online communities where the prevailing “wisdom” is that Internet harassment should just be ignored are a fantastic opportunity for bullies. If online harassment actually is an effective bullying tactic (which, again, the overwhelming weight of the evidence suggests that it is), then a community where online harassment is hand waved away as “something you should just ignore” is the perfect place to bully.

Intelligence and strategy are not traits unique to the great and good. Bullies can be just as skillful tactical thinkers as anyone else, and if you fail to realize this – if they know how effective their campaigns of harassment and silencing can be, and you don’t – then you are the perfect strategic asset for a bully.

If you think focusing on victims’ behavior is an appropriate response to sexual assault, you are the perfect strategic asset for a sexual predator. If you think social awkwardness excuses sexual harassment, you are the perfect strategic asset for someone who wants to freely harass people. If you think most rape claims are made-up, you are the perfect strategic asset for a rapist. If you think online harassment should just be ignored, you are the perfect strategic asset for people who want to deliberately drive certain subsets of your community out of being able to participate. If you think someone can’t be a predator, a misogynist, or a bully because they are a valued member of your community (or worse, that being a valued member of your community earns someone the right to be any of those things), then all any horrible person has to do in order to be able to get away with anything in your community is put themselves in a position of providing some sort of value.

You may be a good person (if we’re being simplistic about good and bad, anyway), but I guarantee you that your “goodness” does not mean that you can’t be outsmarted by people who aren’t. If you do any of the things I mentioned in the preceding paragraph routinely, then you are being outsmarted and used by assholes routinely, to the detriment of your community and everyone in it. If you expect “real” bullying to be obvious and easy to spot, then you have no idea how real bullying tends to work, and you are a fantastic strategic asset for a bully.


* Just before posting, became aware of another upcoming planned attack by 4chan, in case you need more reason to believe these things are often strategically  planned: a planned “raid” on Tumblr users on this August 4th (see “Operation Wave/Time Bomb” image).

Further examples of the effects organized harassment can have and the forms it can take: No skin thick enough: The daily harassment of women in the game industry, I Stand with Shakesville, This is What Has Been Happening