Stop saying racists are bad people

 

September 21, 2018

I had a realization of why it’s so hard for people, especially white people, to deal with the reality of racism. It’s because we have a stock image of who the racist is. It’s that sociopathic redneck waving a Confederate battle flag or Nazi skinned who screams about sending non-white people “back to where they came from!” Wrong. The racist is the person reading this (and writing it). It’s not the Klansman that is the problem. As Pogo Possum once said, “I have seen the enemy and it is us.”

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It’s another example of binary thinking. It’s so easy to think of racists as “bad” people and therefore we’re the good people. It gets us off the hook of our own internalized and unchecked racism. So let’s deal with this here and now.

We’re talking about two kind of racists here. The first is our cartoon character white supremacist who actively believes racism is a good thing. I’ve spent 30 years interviewing these people and believe me, they are proud to be identified as racist. Thirty years ago they’d go on Geraldo and Oprah and rant about preserving the white race. Now they are rallying at alt-right gatherings, blathering about “European chauvinism” and “Western supremacy.”

The other type of racist is the rest of us. We honestly believe racism is wrong but we have internalized the basic values of white supremacy. It could be something as a basic idea of what a “real American” looks like. Or it could be the impulse to clutch your purse when a black man is walking by. Research on implicit bias has shown how deeply this unexamined racism runs. It manifests in hiring decisions and picking the candidate who just seems a “better fit,” as well as when police officers pull the trigger because they perceive a “threat” that is subconsciously influenced by the color of someone’s skin.

I need to say this implicit bias also encompasses those who are actively anti-racist in their orientation. I was dropping off my daughter at pre-school. There was an African-American teenage boy in a hoodie on the sidewalk, staring at his phone. “Oh, what’s up with this?” I thought. I walked my daughter quickly past him. Turns out he was waiting for the school bus and I hated myself for the racist impulse, wondering if he picked up on my “white fear.” My wife was watching Cozy play a game on the iPad and noticing how she routinely picked the blonde white girl avatars, leaving the brown and black characters unselected. Research has shown us how early kids pick up on these messages, in homes with black or (in our case) brown parents. The white doll is more valued than the black doll, because black is “bad.”

Whenever white people say, “Well, minorities can be racist, too!” (as if to say it’s OK that I’m racist because they are), I like to tell them, “Yes, but not in the way you think.” Research shows that they value whiteness over their own racial group. They’ve internalized the same white supremacist ideas that whites have. Just look at who the media promotes as “beautiful” in the minority communities. The lighter the skin, the better. Latina beauty magazines still advertise skin lightening creams. Barak Obama got a lot farther then Jesse Jackson in politics and many believed it was because Jackson was “too black.” I would ask my students the question, if love is blind, why do more interracial marriages have a black husband and a white wife than the opposite? Because black men have been taught to value white women just as white men have. It’s all rooted in the white supremacist belief that white is better. Everyone is infected with racism. Malcolm X called it out it 55 years ago and we’re still wrestling with it now.

Every time a white person says, “I’m not a racist, but…” it’s always fun to call them out on their obvious racism. But maybe that should be a moment of self reflection instead of another “us vs. them” binary. You might not have said that, but I know you’ve thought that. Just yesterday a black woman threw some liter out of her car window, and I thought, “Oh, black people.” I’m admitting that. I had a friend who recently told me that he was caught off guard by his impulse to immediately judge a white woman with biracial children. I wanted to tell him I’ve done the exact same thing.

It’s not us and them. Just us. Our county was built on racism. All men were not created equal based on the “Godly” laws of our founding fathers. Our story is rooted in genocide, slavery, and systematic exclusion. Our national anthem was written by an anti-abolitionist slave owner. The state I live in, Oregon, was founded as a “white only” state. You might want to pretend we live in a “post-racial” society (“But y’all had Obama!”), but these sins run right to the marrow of our bones. We can’t talk about “racists” as if they are separate from us. Donald Trump is a racist and so am I.

We are racist. Let’s fix it now.

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Are you “friends” with a Russian bot? Taking a stand against idiocracy

September 13, 2018

So I have this friend…. he’s a real idiot. Here’s the problem. I’m concerned he might not be an actual person. He might be a Russian troll bot. Or if he’s a person, he’s a cyber operative of Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA). It’s either that or he’s an idiot.

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Let me tell you about my friend, “C.” (If he is just an idiot, we should take pity on him and not harass him. You can fix stupid.) C spends his days on Facebook. As a stay-at-home parent, I typically just keep my laptop open for the the occasional news binge or topical post, but every time I glance at it there is another 5 posts from C. Typically it’s some stupid meme about “socialism,” or Obama (still) or Hillary (still) or how Trump making America great again. He posts enough images about cute kittens and college football to look legit, but then it goes off the rails. Much of his posting is seriously bigoted towards Muslims and black people. Whining about black NFL players protesting racism takes up a large chunk of his time and when the Nike deal with Colin Kaepernick was announced, he went into full snowflake mode. I wanted to know what was going on in C’s life that he was so triggered by America’s long slow journey toward social justice and equality.

Then I realized I didn’t actually know C. He’s allegedly from my hometown, which is Stone Mountain, Georgia. Stone Mountain is the birthplace of the modern Ku Klux Klan in 1915 and sight of the first KKK cross burning, so it’s not uncommon for these mouth-breathing good ol’ boys to pop up in my social media network. But I never actually met C and an algorithm could have generated the connection, the same way I get endless friend requests from women in bikinis who live in “Portland, Oregon.” (Bikinis are about as common in Portland as baristas are at an NRA rally.) We have 37 friends in common, but they could have fallen for the fake profile as well.

C also claims to be a reservist in the Army which adds to his appeal of having in my friend circle. I’ve supported vets and my active service friends as long as I can remember. But now I see it a bogus attempt by foreign agents to create a profile that has credibility as a “real American.” I can’t believe any real American could be this stupid or bored. And here’s why I think that. C regularly posts things that are easily proven as false. Fake facts and fake news stories with photoshopped images. I’ve been guilty of posting something that sounds good and then someone will post a link to Snopes or FactCheck debunking it and I quickly delete it with a mea culpa. Not C. When I (fairly regularly) debunk his asinine posts, not only does he leave them up, he opens the door for his moronic troll army to attack. I know lots of people in the military, including family members. I have respect for them and know they are honorable people. Not C. He traffics in division. There’s no way he’s in the American armed services. He is fighting against America. He’s gotta be a Russian troll.

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I bring this up for two reasons. The first is there is more evidence that the Russians are weaponizing social media to spread discord among Americans before the 2018 mid-term elections to keep Trump’s power unchecked. C is a discord machine. His latest rash of stupid memes are dedicated to Democrats stealing hurricane relief funds and blaming Trump. He’s funneling images from Russian troll farms like “I hate hippies and their stupid light bulbs” and “Occupy Democrats Logic” like there was no tomorrow. C wants a divided states of America. There is never a call for national unity on his feed. It is corrosively anti-American.

The second reason is about how much time I have spent arguing with this non-person, pointing out his fake news and trying to convince him that there is a better way of thinking about politics. Why am I wasting my time? I like a good political debate, but this is an exercise in futility. I’m either going up against the Kremlin, or someone so damaged by repeated head blows in Afghanistan, I might as well be talking to a wall. Either way, I fear for the country. It feels like we are descending into Idiocracy and I’m complicit. Giving C one second of my time has advanced Russia’s goal to drive an even wider wedge between the red and the blue, when we are all only shades of purple.

So C, as of today I quit you. I won’t unfriend you, because I need to be able to see what Russia’s IRA trolls are up to, but I never respond to any of your posts about “Muslim slavery” or “Al Sharpton’s taxes” again. I can’t say it’s been fun. Удачи мой поддельный друг.

She ain’t heavy, she’s my daughter: Trying to understand child abuse

August 31, 2018

I’ve told this story a thousand times. There was never a greater moment of clarity in my life than the moment I first heard my unborn daughter’s heartbeat. We were at Alma Midwifery and the whooshing sound came over the little speaker. It was as if the whooshing zoomed in to surround me and in that moment it was clear that it was no longer about me. My sole purpose in that life was to protect the heartbeat and the person that was growing around it. I was now primarily a vehicle for her success in the world. I don’t know if it was a moment of pure love or a genetic mandate to make sure my chromosomes made to the next generation intact, but it nearly knocked me off my feet.

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We were blessed to have a happy, healthy baby who is now a very smart and loving 4-year-old. I still find myself watching her sleep at night or spending time looking in the rearview mirror at her while she processes the world that passes outside the Prius window. The urge to protect her is even greater now that she has some independence. I worry that she will walk in front of a car backing out of a driveway, or get hurt at pre-school, or be grabbed off a playground in the moment that I look away. She’s about to spend a week in Mexico with my wife so you can imagine where my mind will go. I’m ready to step into full Liam Neeson mode at the drop of hat.

I mention all this because I am trying to understand the reality that parents routinely abuse their children; physically, sexually, psychologically and emotionally. It’s just the hardest thing for me to understand, because I feel like every single strand of DNA inside me is telling me to protect my child from harm. There is no question I would trade my life for hers. Not even a nano-second of hesitation. Cozy is needed in this world a lot more than I am. (But you’re gonna get both of us for a long time.) I’m not some perfect parent, devoid of ethical flaws. What makes me different from them? According to a 2015 report, over 7 million children are identified as abuse victims by Child Protective Services each year. Over a third (37%) of American children are reported to Child Protective Services by their 18th birthday.  37%! That’s insane and heartbreaking and completely unacceptable.

I don’t get it, but as a sociologist and criminologist it’s my job to get it. My work often involves me building some empathy for some pretty horrible characters, including school shooters, Neo-Nazis, and serial killers. It’s not always easy and some bad actors challenge the assumption that all people are redeemable. (This is not a piece about university administrators.) As a parent, it’s easier to explain away a sociopathic serial killer than it is someone who would sexually abuse their own child (especially knowing that many serial killers were sexually abused by their own parents). Fortunately, social scientists are doing this research in a heroic attempt to break the cycle.

And “cycle” is the key word. Many abusers are acting out their own experience of abuse on their children. Others where brought up in cultures and subcultures of violence where the belief was that if you spare the rod, you spoil the child. (“He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.” – Proverbs 13:24) Some are alcoholic or drug addicted and take out their chaotic mental state on the nearest target. Some are misogynists and attack “their” women and children to prove their masculinity. Some suffer from accutmental illness while others simply can’t handle feelings of powerlessness in a complex world. Explanations can be very broad, including the lack of social support for the economically stressed trying to raise children in this downwardly mobile economy.

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All those give us insight to the abuser. But it’s just not enough. I’ve been pretty economically stressed these last three years, not working full time and not sure when I would be, but I never thought to take it out on my small child. I could get the drunkest I’ve ever been and I have to think hurting her would never arise as a possibility. I could be in the throes of deep depression and her protection would still be paramount. I had a good friend who killed herself because she believed, in her depressive state, that she was protecting her daughter. There’s just something deep inside both of Cozy’s parents that would just STOP anything before she was hurt. What is that thing? It can’t be biological if over a third of kids (that we know about) are being abused. I was whipped a few times as a kid (The Belt!), but I don’t feel mindlessly compelled to repeat that behavior. They can’t all be so mentally ill that they don’t know what they are doing. It’s gotta be more complicated than a screw loose. Then there is the whole wide spectrum of psychological abuse, and abuse by step-parents and mom’s boyfriends and on and on. It seems massive. Like the untold story of America is what we do to our children.

Maybe it is because I didn’t become a parent until I turned 50. By then I had a lot of time to both want a child and think about what kind of parent I wanted to be. There are plenty of “unwanted” children in the world and many are born to parents who are so damaged that they are completely unprepared for the awesome and life changing responsibility of ferrying a baby into adulthood. But why didn’t hearing that baby’s heartbeat help push them in the right direction? Am I being overly judgmental?

I don’t live a bubble. I see it all around me. Adults with stories of childhood abuse and a few parents who definitely should not be raising kids until they have worked their own shit out. Violence in our society is what we sociologists call normative. We use it to express ourselves and “solve problems.” We used to think children were just little adults so why not knock them around for talking back, right? But nobody believes that anymore, unless you live in an FDLS cult in Utah. Kids are supposed to get a pass from our culture of violence. What is it? This question perplexes me to no end. I feel like if we could figure it out, as a species, we could truly evolve.

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Can I be a feminist, too?

August 24, 2018

I was recently on a panel in Washington DC, assembled by a congressman, charged with addressing how we should respond to the neo-Nazis marching in the streets of America. For my initial statement, I was only given 6 minutes so I was decided to make one point as strongly as I could. Fortunately, it was carried live on C-SPAN, so I think a large audience got to hear it.

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My one point was that people, especially white people, need to stop saying they’re not racist. We all internalize white supremacy from an early age. It seeps in from our parents and our TVs. It’s impossible to not be racist in this racist culture. Implicit bias tests prove it. And that goes for people of color who get the same “white is right” messages and devalue those with darker skin tones. Just look at the complexions in any black or Latina beauty magazine. Own it and work on it. We can’t deal with alt-right racists until we deal with our own racism.

What I told the crowd there (and a few members of Congress) was that an alcoholic can go for thirty years without a drink but they will never say they are an alcoholic, they’ll say they’re on the road to recovery, one day at a time. Racism is the same way. I never say I’m not a racist. I am a racist, but I’m on the road to recovery, one day at a time. The same is true with sexism, ableism, homophobia, and all the other bigotries. I have to unlearn messages that are still washing over me even though I know in my heart they are wrong.

So can I truly call myself a feminist? I’m a sexist, but I’m on the road to recovery, one day at a time. Some days I fall backwards more than a few steps. The misogynistic programming is more complete than the racist programming. I want to be a feminist but the sexism runs so deep, that after decades now of working the program, sometimes I feel like I’m barely out of the gate. Just today I referred to grown women in jazz history as “girls.”

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My path to and as a feminist has been littered with horribly un-feminist behavior. Some issues could be argued from a feminist perspective. For example, accusations that I have entered relationships where there was a “power imbalance,” force me to ask the necessary question – In a patriarchal society, in what male-female relationship is there not a power imbalance? If I dated a former student or a university administrator, there was a power imbalance. (I’ve dated both.) The issue arrises when that imbalance is exploited. That’s a lot different than it just existing. And often there are competing power balances at work. See? It’s not so simple in the real world.

Others have just been me stupidly not addressing my male privilege. Here’s a good example (changing the names). I had entered a relationship with a woman named Veronica, but I still cared what Betty, from an older relationship, thought of me. She was not convinced that Veronica was a good match. So I tried to sell Betty on how strong Veronica was, as a person. I told Betty a little about Veronica’s history of sexual abuse and that she was a true survivor with a depth not evident when you just glance at her. Now, I see it was a horrible betrayal of Veronica’s trust and was only shared with Betty for selfish reasons. Pretty freaking un-feminist.

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So do I have a right to call myself a feminist?  Feminist icon bell hooks defines feminism as the “movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.” Then I’m on board as a feminist! But what if someone says, But you participate in sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression! You can’t be a feminist. And then I say you don’t? Can you guarantee the clothes you wear or the food you eat are not the product of sexist exploitation? And it goes around and around. As a man, I have to keep my “male fragility” in check and accept what the feminist consensus is. But is there a consensus?

The latest message is that men can’t be feminists because, no matter how down for the program we are, we still have a vested interest in patriarchy and the disempowerment of women. But we can be “pro-feminist.” That’s similar to me urging white people to stop saying they’re not racist, but take an anti-racist position in their lives. This is reflected in the great quote from Angela Davis, “In a racist society it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.”  So maybe stating that I’m a pro-feminist male carries more weight than just saying I’m a feminist.

I mention this because a pro-feminist male colleague of mine is currently under the glare of the spotlight after some anonymous accusations emerged of inappropriate behavior on his part. How could this feminist role model not be be perfect in his gendered behavior? On one hand, it is important to believe women after generations of female complaints being dismissed out of hand. On the other hand, due process matters and in this day of rumor-mongering campaigns, people still have the presumption of innocence. From what I can tell, the alleged offense seems minor but I am far from knowing all the facts of the case (as, I’m guessing, most of the people who have commented on it are). But it seems like once there is blood in the water, those that think it’s impossible for a man to claim feminism are racing in for a chomp. His guilt or innocence won’t matter once he’s been devoured.

There is no such thing as a perfect feminist. I could be called a hypocrite once a day and I’m guessing the same could be true for most of my feminist sisters. Can you be a feminist and like Madonna? There is a feminist debate about that. Lots of feminists miss out on the importance of intersectionality. Can transwomen be a part of your sisterhood? There’s another debate. Those jeans you’re wearing were made by young girls in sweatshops in Bangladesh. A debate that should be happening about that. Us men have all those debates and the brainwashing that has told us from birth to dominate and conquer and never ever shut up and listen. So yeah, I’m a feminist who acts in un-feminist ways pretty frequently. But I’m working on it.

One day at a time.

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Note: I’m a subscriber to Voice Male Magazine. It’s a great place for men to find their place in the feminist effort liberate both women and men from patriarchal oppression. Check it out!

My best friend is 4

August 17, 2018

When Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique in 1963, illusion of the “happy homemaker” was forever shattered. Women were more than “Mrs. Joe Blow,” finding a sublime happiness in a spotless house with dinner on the table at six sharp. Feminist sociologist Dorothy Smith wrote that women were given the domestic sphere of the home so men could occupy the whole of the public sphere. Suddenly, the word was out and girls and women said, “I’m coming out into the wide word. Time for a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T!” (Forever love to our queen.)

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My experience flipping the script and becoming a house husband while my wife went off to work at various Portland law firms revealed some unexpected truths. Expectedly, as Friedan would have predicted, I hate housework. The reality of the that drudgery came rather quickly. But I’ve found a sense of fulfillment out of getting dinner on the table. The thrill of the grocery store hunt for ingredients (“Excuse me. Is pesto a spice?”), the kitchen assembly (while this week’s Spotify Discover Weekly playlist plays behind the Food Network website), and then the ultimate cliffhanger (Will they eat it??). John Lennon once said that, when he became a house husband, preparing a meal that his wife and child actually liked was better than making a hit record. I can totally relate, John. All we are saying is give pasta a chance!

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But the other part that has crept in is the intense bond I have built with my child, who turns four today. That moment when we brought her home from the wild ride of her birth, she was just this helpless little blob that looked like my father but acted more like a slug than a member of the family. In those four years she has become a full-fledged person with the world in her sticky palm. Yeah, she’s cute but,  yeah, she knows how to work it. Somehow she picked up on the social lessons of how to work a room. She’s got work to do before she truly understands how to win friends and influence enemies. She’s still fairly id driven – “What can you do for me? That might work for our emotionally stunted president, but we want her to ask, “What can I do for you?” I guess, until then, she’s just half-fledged.

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My wife can see the bond between Cozy and I. We have our own secret language (called Kupa Sana) and her weird hand mannerisms are the same as mine. (Sorry, kid.) We fill our days with adventures. This week we spent some time wandering around Lone Fir Cemetery, full of nineteenth century headstones of Oregon pioneers and twenty-first century headstones of Russian immigrants who lived through the rise and fall of the Soviet empire. We talked about life and death and how we can be sad when people die but happy because their memories surround us. “You mean, the spirits of all these dead people are floating around here?” she asked. I was worried that the death conversation would traumatize her, but, instead it gave her a sense of calm. I guessing that’s because she’s half Mexican (and really loved Coco).

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A few days later we trucked up to Sauvie Island to pick blackberries on an organic farm. The smoke from the west coast wildfires hung low, but we lost ourselves in rows and rows of sweet berries, learning which ones were sour (“Daddy, this one’s not ready. Can I spit it out?”) and which ones were perfectly sweet. We were in a little cubby hole of fruit, with the occasional tiny green frog crossing our path, laughing and eating more berries than we were putting in the bucket. Her face and hands were purple and I had a moment where I thought she had been sent to me from another dimension to help me connect the real world to the one that exists in dreams.

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It’s strange having such an intense connection to a child. Andrea is right in that we celebrate Cozy as the intersection of that’s everything that’s right about us. We had to bust through some seriously evil roadblocks just to be a couple. Cozy represents everything that is pure about our desire to be together. Her birthday is a reason to celebrate what a good job we’ve done. But she’s also her own entity that’s full of depth and wonder separate from us. Last night we took Cozy to see a band recreate The Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers’ album and on the first note of the third song she screamed “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds!” This is my child. I vowed not to be the parent in “She’s Leaving Home” and held her tight.

Each moment of these four years has been a gift. I wonder about the fathers who see the “domestic sphere” as an alien, feminine space. Do they know what they are missing? Do they know the unadulterated thrill of having a child say, “Daddy, you make the best spaghetti ever!” (even when you know that they’ve only had spaghetti made by you). As much as I’m ready to return to full-time public life, this experience has given me a great friend and expanded my soul. I might not know who’s playing in town this weekend, but I know someone who digs nature walks,  old Batman episodes, and endless blackberries, and that’s cool enough for me. Happy birthday, Cozy Pozy.

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What Do We Do About the Nazis After Charlottesville?

August 11, 2018

How much has this nation changed in one year? In the wake of the murderous rampage of neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia, we’ve seen an increase in hate crimes and a white supremacist administration who complains about “shit-hole” countries in Africa, puts brown kids in cages, deports asylum seekers, and threatens to revoke the green cards of legal immigrants. Oh, and white nationalists are marching on our capital. Are the racists winning?

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A year later the same “Jews won’t replace us” thugs who marched in Charlottesville are on their way to the nation’s capital and the city is bracing itself for more right-wing violence.

I’m in Washington, DC, participating in some events in response to the second “Unite the Right” rally. Part of this was appearing at a teach-in to counter domestic extremism. It was organized by Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) and held at the Washington Hebrew Congregation. Right-wing extremist expert Leonard Zeskind spoke about the roots of white nationalism. I was part of a panel entitled “Developing Effective Responses to Eliminate Hate,” featuring Dr. Wes Bellamy, Vice Mayor, Charlottesville, VA, Lecia Brooks from the Southern Poverty Law Center, Monica Hopkins, from the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, D.C., Tony McAleer, Board Chair of Life After Hate, and Chris Magyarics, Senior Investigative Researcher at the ADL. It all ended with a mighty 45-minute sermon from Rev. Dr. William Barber II that made me feel like I was sitting in the lap of God.

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Teach-ins and sermons are great, but this one had the ears of members of Congress and you felt a shift.

The question is – What do you do when Nazis come to your town? This event is one response. You organize to educate and embolden the resistance. Sometimes the batteries of social justice needs to be recharged and there’s nothing like a few rousing political speeches and a sermon from on high to get folks back on track. Otherwise, what’s on TV? A body can waste precious hours scrolling through a Facebook feed when it could be engaging with minds in a room with other folks who have the same end goal. It’s so easy to be distracted these days but to be in a synagogue full of people bending the arc of history towards justice seemed a good way to spend a Friday afternoon.

We use these words now – build community capacity. By educating people to the threats present, both existential and physical, but also about what has been done and can be done, you build a resilience. A resilience to say no (again) and resilience to do what needs to be done (again). Fighting the forces of oppression is a marathon, not a street battle. (Sorry, Antifa.) As Rev. Barber said last night, if you really want to fight racism in America, get serious about fighting the voter suppression by Republicans that silences minority voters.

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A point I made at the event (which made it out over the C-SPAN airwaves), is that I don’t want to play Wack-a-Mole with alt-right “Western chauvinists” (formerly known as neo-Nazis). I don’t want to have to plan my weekends around what they’re latest stunt. That lets them drive the narrative. It hands the power to organized racists. “Well, I was going to go hiking this weekend but the Patriot Prayer is having another rally so I have to go downtown and tell them they’re idiots.” Not gonna do it.

Instead, let’s do this work everyday in our communities, in our schools, in our places of worship, and our workplaces. And in our leisure time as well when our friends say something bigoted and think we won’t call them on it. Building community capacity is a full time job but it pays off in numerous ways.

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First and foremost is food. What brings people together more than food? Last week in a Portland park their was an immigrant family having a picnic. Some uppity white lady told them that they didn’t belong in this country and to “Go back where you belong.” Another white lady told uppity lady to leave them alone. She shut the bigotry down. Then the community, an area called Rose City, came together in a unity rally to support the vulnerable in their community. There was music and food. Lots off food. I stuffed myself with tamales. A local ice cream truck rolled out and gave away free scoops. Community capacity is delicious.

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Not in our town – strength for our neighbors

(For the next section of the blog, I’m writing at the Starbucks at the Trump International Hotel. You know, for irony. #Portlandrepresent)

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The second; community gatherings build capacity by linking us together as neighbors, not in front of screens, but face to face. As much as I appreciate a live tweet, the hugs shared last night were more encouraging to keep up the fight than I might have guessed. This includes from veteran social justice warriors that were in the trenches when I was a wee pup to high school kids who earnestly asked, “How can we do this anti-racism work in our school?” More hugs would be a good place to start.

The truth is liberation work is hard. And it’s a thousand times harder for people of color than it is for me. I can “turn it off” and go back to my white privilege bubble and say, Yeah, I’m a gonna take that fight on next week. It’s hard because requires dedication to see the subtly of oppression, including our own internalized white supremacy. It’s hard because, at times, the Trump white nationalist march to make America 1850 again seems unstoppable. And it’s hard because some of your allies will try to pull you down, like crabs in a barrel trying to stop another crab from lifting itself out (to help free all the goddamn crabs).

I posted a link to C-SPAN feed to the teach-in on the Coalition Against Hate Crimes Facebook page and this was the first comment.  You still hang out with Nazis on weekend to “create dialog”? A dismissive white dude as Chair of OCAHC is still a bad look, I could care less about your credentials. The average POC has far more expertise on this subject matter. I had to check my white fragility because my impulse was to fight. Instead, I replied,  I’d love to buy you a coffee one day and tell you why I think my work is important. And you can tell me what you think I can best do to help the cause. (Still waiting for a response.)

This is a marathon. Let’s build each other up instead of tearing each other down.

Cut off their oxygen 

Alt-Right Organized Free Speech Event In Boston Met With Counter Protest

The third benefit of the community building is it deprives the hate machine of fuel. The alt right is actively recruiting young white males who have no sense of connection. If you are alienated, you will join any group that says it  will build you up, and that’s exactly what thuggish groups like the Proud Boys and Identity Evropa do (and your traditional street gang or cult, for that matter). It’s not the racism that attracts whites to the groups. It’s not understanding the social and demographic shifts that they are living through and the only ones who are explaining the “whys” to them are “Western chauvinists.” It’s not surprising that they are attracting lots of white guys who think everything was better in a mythical past. “Again.”

If we have strong communities where neighbors know neighbors, including that new family from Syria or El Salvador, the alt right hate spin has less pull. Those targeted people, even older white men with beer bellies, are less alienated and less likely to fall for the simplistic rhetoric of the far-right. I think everyone wants the same thing, to live in a (tag Paul McCartney song) peaceful neighborhood. I don’t need to join an extremist group. I have friends and neighbors I care about and I’d rather defend them against the threat of your extremist group, thank you very much.

I won’t speak against the people who will show up to directly confront the alt right boys this weekend in Washington, DC, Charlottesville, and wherever else they are seeking photo ops. Those counter-protestors are willing to risk their necks to say that fascists are not welcome and don’t represent the true direction of this country’s future. I’ve spent plenty of time on the frontline. It’s both exhilarating and righteous. I hope they get lots of pictures of these “patriots” so they can be shamed back under their rocks. But I also want to reach out to these alienated folks, who seem so full of anger, and invite them to our side, where we are less alienated and there’s better food. Some of the most committed anti-racists I know are former members of the hate movement.

Tonight there is a vigil in front of the home of alt right godfather Richard Spencer in Arlington. Maybe someone will invite him out for some pho or tapas. Maybe Spencer will be a “former” on the second anniversary of the Unite the Right march that led to the death of Heather Heyer. Maybe he’ll be on a panel in a synagogue asking for forgiveness and permission to join our marathon.

How do we respond to Charlottesville? Some liberal hippie once said, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” Let’s start there.

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What I’ve Learned about Countering Violent Extremism (is the opposite of what I’ve been told to believe)

August 3, 2018

I’m pro-radicalization. I want to radicalize people to be critical of power structures and constructs. I want them to ask questions about government, gender, guns, and Genesis. I want them to dig deep and talk to people outside of their comfort zone. I want them to show up on the front line. I want to admit that they can be well-meaning but wrong.

The latest buzzword in my academic field is CVE – Countering Violent Extremism. It basically represents a constellation of various strategies to prevent people from becoming violent religious and right-wing extremists. (I can already hear right-wingers asking, “But what about violent left-wing extremists?” To which I would say, “Touché.”) It is inherently of value to people like myself working to reduce hate crimes. My first exposure to this work was this spring when I was flown to the Middle East to participate in a United Nations/Haditha program to explore the role of gender in CVE.

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In those three days, I heard zero about surveillance or government programs to profile Muslims. I heard from ex-jihadists and ex-skinheads and people working in community-based groups to rescue teenage girls who thought running away to Syria to become a bride of an ISIS fighter seemed kinda cool and rebellious. I was honored to be in their company to talk about the my research on the role toxic masculinity plays in right-wing extremism.

So when I got an invite from the U.S. Embassy to be a part of a “CVE Community Leaders Exchange” in the United Kingdom, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. I had presented on confronting hate crimes to the British delegation when they visited Portland earlier this year and now ten of us, from Portland and Seattle, would be on a ten day trip to talk to community agencies in Luton, London, and Leeds, England. (Why didn’t we get to go to Liverpool?) The Portland delegation was four folks who work for the city, including a police captain who heads the youth service division, and me, representing the Coalition Against Hate Crimes. The Seattle delegation had a similar mix of city officials and community advocates. The trip, organized by a non-profit called Cultural Vistas, would allow us a chance to observe important community work on the issue.

To be clear, I think most of the people in our group had no interest in “CVE” anything, and were motivated by learning how community groups help young people. As a criminologist, this was my connection to the whole thing.

Off to the UK

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Our first stop was three days in Luton, England. Luton had been a hotbed of activity for the right-wing, anti-Muslim English Defense League (EDL), as well as Al-Muhairoun (ALM), the Islamacist group that had been linked to several terror incidents including last summer’s attack on the London Bridge. We spent our days talking to people who are working to divert youth from this type of extremism. This included teachers at the Al-Hikmah School and Mosque, and youth intervention workers, and Carnival mask makers, scholars studying right-wing nationalism, and a group called the Luton Tigers who gets kids on the football pitch as an alternative to radicalization. The young imam at Al-Hikmah explained that the best way to strengthen their Muslim faith was to clarify the teachings of the Koran, which are in direct opposition to the call for violence.

What I learned right off the bat was that all this work was done by committed community leaders desperately working to help young people make the most of their lives instead of becoming Nazis or jihadists. Instead of talking, these people were doing. Unlike their critics, they were actually working with those most at risk. I didn’t see one single covert government plot unfolding or double agent spying for MI5. I just saw motivated people putting their shoulder to the wheel.

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Then we headed down to London where I slipped off to a “Free Tommy Robinson” rally in front of Scotland Yard. Robinson is the nationalist leader of the EDL who was jailed for contempt of court. The small crowd of rabid older white blokes (many in Trump hats) wanted their Islamaphobic leader released and, briefly, set on me for holding an anti-Nazi sign. It was a reminder of how important this work was as a British member of parliament had been stabbed to death by one of Robinson’s followers, while he shouted, “Britain first!” (And five police officers were attacked at the rally I attended, making it all even more dire.)

While in London, we had a long morning in the basement of the Home Office (essentially the UK’s Department of Justice) learning about modifications to the Prevent program, Britain’s primary CVE program. The initial rollout went all kinds of sideways, with some horror stories of Muslim kids being wrongly profiled and thrown onto “Terrorists!” watch lists. We got the government line on the attempt to overcome the “toxic” branding of the program with a more bottom up, community-based model, which is what we witnessed in the field. Maybe it was the English accents, but it felt a little bit like we were sequestered in the inner sanctum of the Orwell’s Ministry of Information, so we asked the hard questions about CVE and civil liberties.

What we heard in Luton, London, and Leeds, was that when you asked critics of the Prevent program what should be done to divert youth from violent extremism, their answers were exactly what Prevent was doing in 2018. There was just an awareness gap. The program needed a PR campaign, said we Americans who know the value of a good advertising budget.

After our morning at the Home Office we had another community meeting at the new U.S. Embassy building, followed by a reception. Other than having to walk past a giant grinning photo of Donald Trump (who was having his secret meeting with Vladimir Putin as we walked in), everyone was completely hospitable and happy to host our delegation. When I lived abroad, I was always mindful of where my embassy was just in case things got weird (or I lost my passport). It was a true thrill to be inside. We took a group photo and I posted it online. From Stone Mountain punk to American diplomat. Kinda cool.

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That’s when things got strange. A friend who works with the Council for American Islamic Relations (CAIR) in Portland began posting on Facebook that we were complicit in some anti-Muslim governmental “training.” It just seemed silly at the time. I had just been watching the World Cup with the Muslim founders of the Luton Tigers. My only training was in what team to cheer for after England was knocked out of the cup. (France?) There was a hysterical storm brewing back in Portland, but we continued on. Most assuredly there are folks in the Muslim community who have been burned by “CVE” efforts in the past, but it wasn’t what we were seeing at all. There seemed to be a disconnect.

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Up to Leeds, where I had last been in 1982 to see the Rolling Stones play. We did some fantastic site visits to communities that are on the front lines in the battle for souls. We visited a domestic violence shelter where a bad-ass Bangladeshi sister works to counter violent extremism by teaching men how to respect women. We went to a refugee service center where committed activists work to counter violent extremism by plugging migrants into the needed resources to build secure lives in their new home. We went to the Makkah Mosque where leaders from the local Muslim, Jewish, and Sikh communities talked about how strengthening faith networks worked to counter the pull of violent extremism. And we ended up a in a community center in the Harehills, the poorest section of Leeds, talking to a cop named Ash. Ash had, with the help of the neighborhood kids, built this center with his bare hands to create a meaningful community-based way to counter violent extremism. Four walls, two floors, plus a gym and football pitch, just from the energy of his desire to create alternatives for young people. Wow.

In none of these experience was there anything about surveillance or undermining the civil liberties of any group, especially Muslims. There was only committed community activists, including police officers and imams, who were going above the expectations of their role to give youth an alternative to become violent nationalists or jihadists.

Fake News?

So imagine my surprise when I was contacted by young journalist at a Portland weekly, the Portland Mercury, asking what was going on over there in England. The folks from CAIR had her ear and there must be some conspiracy afoot because anything associated with the government is inherently oppressive to minorities, right? I tried to let her know that our trip was nothing of the sort and was motivated by learning how to protect those communities from the rising tide of hate in America. I even sent her some boring pictures of the delegation sitting in various settings, listing to community presentations. Those pics weren’t used.

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The Mercury’s piece was entitled, “City Officials Attend a Conference on Controversial Anti-Terrorism Surveillance Strategy” (with a creepy stock photo of someone doing some lurking). At first I laughed at the sophomoric reporting. There was no conference, just a series of community meetings. And, again, the issue of surveillance was never even on the table. How to get girls to play soccer and how to get boys to not join Nazi gangs were. That wasn’t headline grabbing, I guess. What Portland readers got was more hysterical knee jerking that conflated old and dealt-with criticisms of the UK’s Prevent program with Trump-era Department of Homeland Security anti-terrorism strategies. Suddenly, I was a part of Trump’s Muslim profiling thought police! And my friends at CAIR were convinced that I was either an agent of the Trump regime (Have they read this blog?) or a dupe of a massive Alex Jones-level conspiracy.

The whole charade has been deflating. It insults the efforts of those who are committed to do this work to protect youth and their communities as well as the delegation itself. I spent 10 days away from my family because I wanted find strategies to help Oregonians be safe from the wave of hate that has surged under the Trump presidency, targeting, among others, the Muslim community. The city workers and police in our delegation all had the same goal – find what works at preventing people from going down the rabbit hole of extremism and hurting (and killing) our friends and family. Certainly research must be done on what strategy is the most effective, but we saw plenty of anecdotal evidence on how small groups of people can change the world.

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The other piece of this is locked into the binary thinking that breeds hysteria and, dare I say it, fascism. Here we have the simple good vs. evil duality. Reality is alway more complex. There is a large voice in Portland that thinks anything associated with the government is evil. All cops are evil and, I guess by extension, all equity workers for the city are evil. It requires little effort because everything drops into their binary paradigm. Just post an article from a few years ago and you’ve “proven your point.” Understanding the real world takes effort. First hand contact implies risks to challenging your perfect perspective. I can think all Trump supporters are “crazy racists.” Actually talking to them might upset what “I KNOW.” The Portland and Seattle city workers on this trip impressed me with their desire to work for social justice. And my conversations with Prevent coordinators in the UK (who were not white people, by the way) made it clear that Prevent had to make up for its past mistakes and rebuild trust with all the communities it serves. They were ready to do that heavy lifting, not from behind their laptops, but in the streets of some of the toughest streets in England.

The hysteria of the Mercury piece and those that still think we were all on some Trump secret mission threatened to affect important community relations in my city. Since the 2001 terrorist attacks, the local police bureau has engaged in numerous outreach efforts with the Muslim community and there has been a meaningful flow of good will and joint efforts to work to protect those communities. I have been a part of much of that work and it flies in the face of the “Cops suck” chant from the teenage anarchist crowd that gets so much attention. I wonder if my colleagues at CAIR have any practical ideas on how to fight extremism. I’m hoping it’s not more division between “them” and “us.” As much as I respect their work, I would inform them that there is only us.

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Like the local leaders I met in the UK, we will continue to strengthen those community relations, build local capacity, and help young people build the strength to resist. Resist. This resistance builds bridges, not more walls. It smashes ignorance (on all sides) with truths. We fight hate by reaching out to our critics to find a common path forward. We’re in this together.

In the end, the trip really wasn’t about “CVE,” but BCC – Building Community Capacity. I learned some good lessons that I can’t wait to share.