Stop Being Mean To Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick Lamar has a new song out called “HUMBLE.”  It features a complaint about images of women being edited unrealistically prior to publication.

“I’m so fuckin’ sick and tired of the Photoshop
Show me somethin’ natural like afro on Richard Pryor
Show me somethin’ natural like ass with some stretchmarks”

A couple days after the song came out, social media started buzzing with posts about the song from online content outlets (if you quiz me on which type of apple I am, you are not a news site).  These posts from online content outlets were helpful because they could tell us how to feel, and how other people were feeling.

For example, XXL will tell you all about the “feminist backlash” to the song.  However, the Huffington Post will tell you all about the “resounding ‘YES'” which erupted in response to the song’s “powerful” message.

If you click on the links above, you’ll see that XXL cites a whopping total of nine posts on Twitter to back up their article, whereas the Huffington Post upped the ante with a total of twelve.  Yes, those articles are each credited to individual writers, but there was still an editorial staff in both situations that decided ‘ok, great, this is what we’re going with.’

So what gives?  Why is this accepted?  Random people on Twitter have no authority on these issues, and what a handful of cherry picked posts suggest has almost no weight.  Just like how what a random celebrity thinks about a terrorist attack isn’t important.

However, the people wanting to believe a random celebrity has the authority to reassure them will stay tuned to be reassured.  The people who want to think there is a feminist backlash are totally okay with nine tweets as the basis for their belief in a controversy.  The people who liked the song are okay with twelve tweets being the definition of critical acclaim.

These junk articles do not meet any journalistic standard, because we are not asking for that.  That is not the requirement for an article to go viral.  If it were, tweet citing would not be a standard practice.  The only requirement for something to be accepted, apparently, is that we are told what we want to believe.

If you don’t believe me, you can rest assured that I have seven YouTube comments to prove it.

America Online: Confessions From “One Of The Good Ones”

When I was a junior in high school, there was a divisive discussion about Gay Pride parades on the front page of Reddit which I decided to take part in.  Having seen this Reddit post, and having read the comments section, the following occurred:

1. I posted my opinion, identifying myself as a gay male.

2. I received dozens of replies telling me how smart I was, hundreds of upvotes, and my comment was cross-posted to other parts of Reddit (for example, the “Best Of” subreddit).

3. My inbox was filled with messages telling me that I was sharing a naive and damaging perspective.

4. I became overwhelmed and essentially removed my writing from the thread.

I didn’t know it at the time, but — for that brief moment — I had essentially become “one of the good ones.”

When this virtual circus occurred, I was a confused 16-year-old with a knack for arguing my views.  I was experiencing a critical period of my childhood within which I was starting to see some people who were very close to me as hurtful.  I was trying to reverse-engineer an explanation for the clash between what I was seeing and what I wanted to see.   As such, I jumped on this idea of sexualized behavior at ‘Pride’ events making hapless people irreparably prejudiced towards the LGBT community, because it would mean the negative ways I was being treated were the fault of a third party.

My argument contained the following three points:

1. Yes, it isn’t fair for people to view all LGBT community members in a negative light, in response to a few people behaving badly (note: this was in specific reference to people being naked in public spaces).

2. However, when those incidents occur, it may be all that a straight cisgender person is exposed to in regards to the LGBT community.

3. Given this reality, it’s no wonder that people develop these prejudices, and the people behaving badly are consequently ruining it for everyone else in their marginalized group.

As an adult, roughly six years out from having written that comment, I still see variations of my argument everywhere online.  Most recently, on Reddit, I saw it in a relatively popular comment on the story of four African Americans who abducted and tortured a white special needs person in Chicago.  Once again, the same framework was there:

1. Yes, it isn’t fair for people to view all LGBT African American community members in a negative light, in response to a few people behaving badly (note: this was in specific reference to people being naked in public spaces brutally victimizing an innocent young man due to his skin tone).

2. However, when those incidents occur, it may be all that a straight cisgender  white person is exposed to in regards to the LGBT African American community.

3. Given this reality, it’s no wonder that people develop these prejudices, and the people behaving badly are consequently ruining it for everyone else in their marginalized group.

Just how like my comment was written ‘as a gay man,’ this comment was written ‘as a black man.’  Just like how my comment was lauded by straight people, this comment was lauded by white people.  I’ve seen similar examples in discussions of Muslims, Hispanics, immigrants, women… almost anything you can think of.  If you are in the minority, and a member of that minority does something bad, writing a comment with those three aforementioned components is almost guaranteed to rake in those coveted internet points.

I believe sincerely that this logic contains a subtle yet damning flaw: it ignores the free will of the person who is prejudiced.  It is completely ridiculous to assume that every gay person, every black person, or any person of any group is defined by the behavior of a few individuals.  To me, to become “one of the good ones” is to ignore that reality, in favor of not viewing those who are prejudiced in a negative light.  

My inference is that many people on Reddit specifically – young, white, straight, and liberal – have a similar dilemma with their own family members.  Their mother is racist, or their father is homophobic, or whatever else it might be; by accepting that certain individuals are ‘causing prejudice,’ it abdicates their own loved ones from being responsible for that prejudice.  If they are racist, sexist, or homophobic, they’re not just creating victims; they’re a victim too! This is very convenient, because it circumvents any discomfort or challenge to an existing world view.  

Nobody wants to feel guilty, nobody wants to feel like they have an unfair advantage, nobody wants to look at those close to them in a critical light.  However, I think that this view of prejudiced people is essentially self-fulfilling.  The prejudiced people who can be changed never will be if everyone decides they can’t change, because nobody will try to change them.  If Daryl Davis could flip 200 Ku Klux Klan members into his personal friends, there’s probably at least a coin-flip chance that you could flip grandma away from thinking every black person is going to mug her, or flip Uncle Jerry away from thinking I shouldn’t be allowed to raise kids.  

Here, let me help you with the following response template:

“But that’s just a few people!  There are thousands of (other group) people!  Plus, aren’t there examples of that in (our group) too?  That seems kinda unfair to say!”  

It’s not exactly Calculus.

Yeah, by challenging the prejudice of your family or friends, you are potentially opting into discomfort.  However, for Americans who are a member of a minority group, the pain and discomfort prejudice causes is not something we get to opt out of.  Please consider this before listening to “one of the good ones,” because they’re probably “good” for you at the expense of themselves.

Covering your eyes from the truth does not make it go away.

Update: some interesting discussion here if you would like to read my perspective in more depth, as well as some detailed challenges to it.

Yes, Anti-LGBT Hate Crimes Are On The Rise; No, You Shouldn’t Just “Get A Gun”

As a member of the LGBT community, the famous statement that “we have nothing to fear but fear itself” is not something I completely agree with.  Although it is true that we cannot let ourselves be controlled by fear, negative emotions often reveal to us an issue which needs to be addressed.  Speaking as someone who embraces this concept, my concern is not fear; my concern is my response to it – or lack thereof.  In the wake of this recent election cycle, many LGBT Americans – in addition to other minority groups – have been feeling fear.  Our task now is to understand where it’s coming from, and to understand what should be done about it.

It is likely unwise to view conservative Americans as a monolith.  However, there is substantial evidence that Donald Trump’s far-right political victory may catalyze an increase in hateful actions towards minority groups.  In the wake of England’s “Brexit” referendum, which was significantly aided by nativism, the National Police Chief’s Council reported a 58% rise in hateful incidents.  Recently, the Southern Poverty Law Center has reported a similar spike in the States, after what is considered by many to be a similar political victory.  This is not a case of a few incidents being blown out of proportion; this phenomenon has past precedent and current documentation.  It is reasonable for us to be concerned about what is happening, and it is reasonable for us to be concerned about what’s to come.

Having established that these hate-related safety concerns are legitimate, the next step is to explore various avenues of self-defense.  Specific to LGBT Americans, the first group you are likely to encounter is the “Pink Pistols.”  At first glance, their website is reasonable enough, with a general statement that “all people have a right to defend themselves from harm” followed by general support for Second Amendment protections.  However, a subset of Pink Pistols members tend to cite the organization when arguing against less-lethal means of protection.  This is in contrast to a general argument *for* protection from harm: it is a condemnation *against* specific forms of self-protection.  These people may be a fringe of the Pink Pistols organization, but they are loud, and anyone exploring this issue will likely hear them.  They will tell you that you need a gun, because a gun is what works.  Full stop.

There are many core problems with the idea of advocating gun ownership as the cure-all for self-defense, and the first is a form of false equivalence.  If you speak to people who experience violence as a function of their profession – EMTs, police officers, etc. – they will likely tell you that tools such as pepper spray have little to no effect.  However, in regards to hate-motivated crime, our primary antagonists will be everyday people operating on ideological flaws.  They are not going to be on PCP, psychotic, saturated with adrenaline, or any other number of characteristics likely present in the violent people an emergency healthcare worker or law enforcement officer will typically deal with.  As such, I think discussing the effectiveness of less-lethal self-defense in the context of such professional encounters is ultimately misguided; it’s not tenable to prepare for encounters with hate via metrics for encounters with accident victims, career criminals, and the mentally insane.

(Added thought, edited in on 12/1/16: unless it look like this, I don’t think Saturdays at the shooting range are going to prepare anyone for the physical and mental impairments inherent in an actual conflict).

In addition to this issue of overly specific experience, it is arguable that resorting to lethal self-defense may actually increase the danger we put ourselves in.  In my home state of California, I am only legally permitted to engage in *proportional* self-defense.  This means that if someone puts their hand on my shoulder, I can push their hand off; I cannot threaten to shoot them.  In fact, according to the Shouse California Law Group, such escalation can actually give the other party legal permission to use deadly force.  I have written their reasoning below, verbatim, from their website:

“Example: At a Dodgers-Giants baseball game, Steve, a Dodgers fan, exchanges some aggressive words with Juan, a Giants fan. Steve then punches Juan in the face. Juan pulls out a knife and moves to stab Steve with it. In this situation, Steve might be justified in pulling out a gun and shooting Juan in self-defense. This is because, even though Steve started the fight, Juan was the one who ‘upgraded’ the fight to deadly force.” (source)

If I’m “Juan,” I clearly have reason for concern.  Besides pulling out his own gun, “Steve” may lunge at me to take away my knife, at which point I have the person who scared me enough to threaten lethal force now holding my lethal weapon.  Replace “my knife” with “my gun” and it’s not hard to see some serious problems occurring.  Of course, it may be comforting to imagine myself using a gun like some “Hawaii 5-0” cast member, calm and collected while controlling the situation.  However, I’m a 20-something college student with the physical presence of a very heavy preteen, whose combat experience consists of pillow fights and that one time I played paintball.  There’s a fair chance that most people reading this are not MMA fighters, Navy Seals, or professional athletes.  We’re accountants, store managers, musicians, teachers, and every other variety of “not meant to fight for our lives.”  As such, if we are being attacked, it’s probably not the best idea for us to throw a lethal weapon in the mix.

At this point in this piece, I’m left to address those who understand societal concerns about hate-fueled violence, but believe that they will never personally need self-defense.   This group believes that “yes, these things happen, but they almost certainly will not happen to *me* specifically.”  To those people, I say the following: I think you’re right, but I think I’m right, too.  Let’s say that 1 in 1000 minorities in America will ever feel physically threatened in a hateful context, and there is a minimal opportunity cost to acquire reasonable means of self-defense, in regards to tools and education.  For each of those 1000 people, there is minimal motivation to personally equip themselves for such situations.  However, when viewed as a group, if 90% of those people prepare themselves to handle a hateful encounter, there then becomes a 90% chance that the person who is victimized can handle it.  It’s not a matter of individual protection; it’s a matter of community protection.  By encouraging a culture of individual protection, we can collectively defend the individuals who will in fact need that protection.

At the end of the day, these problems are real, they do have solutions, and we must take care in our response as to circumvent cynicism without figuratively – or literally – shooting ourselves in the collective foot.