Brett Kavanaugh and Bro Culture: Let’s Look in the Mirror

Sept. 28, 2018

Judge Brett Kavanaugh and I are basically the same age. He’s almost a full year younger than me and a lot more bourgeoise. But the summer of 1982, we were probably pretty similar characters. He was hanging out at the country club in Deleware, and I was hanging out in punk rock bars in London. He was drinking a lot of beer at 17 and I was trying to be vegan at 18. But we were both teenage boys surrounded by Rocky images of masculinity and the patriarchal notion that God or the gods put all the world’s women on Earth for us to enjoy.

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The difference is that I never tried to rip the clothes off of 15-year-old girls. My warped perception of male entitlement only went as far as envying the shower scene in Porky’s. I was sexually shy that summer, but he seemed to have an action plan.

Watching the testimony yesterday morning of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford was gut wrenching. I have to think that millions of women (and plenty of men) were both transfixed and transported back to their own moments of violation. The trauma of sexual assault isn’t a wound that is just healed by time. We don’t expect war veterans suffering from PTSD to “just get over it,” yet there seems to be some statute of limitations on the waves of devastation caused by sexual violence. Dr. Ford was calm but fragile, as she relived her deep-rooted trauma. Kavanaugh’s hysterical testimony, full of conspiracy theories about the Clintons and “Democratic hit jobs,” would have been derided if he had been a female, but men are allowed to use their anger as a cudgel in absence of the truth. “He must be right, look how loud he is yelling.” (And aren’t judges supposed to be politically impartial. This is like giving Fox News a seat on the Supreme Court.)

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The underlying message is that the starting assumption is men are truth tellers and women are liars or patsies. Welcome to Anita Hill Redux. You haven’t come a long way, baby. And yes, maybe Ford was mistaken and Kavanaugh is innocent, but his “defense” didn’t convince a single rape victim. No matter how impressive your resume is and how many times you’ve flown on Air Force one and how much you lean on the wisdom of your daughters, good men can do bad things. His credentials don’t shield him from abusive behavior. It’s not good people vs. evil monsters, us vs. them. It’s just us.

As I recently wrote with regard to race, not only do we all internalize white supremacy, infecting each of us with a degree of racism, so to we all internalize misogyny, infecting each of us with a degree of sexism. We might not say it out loud, but we (men and women) are socialized to believe that “male” is the norm (a message delivered by your mailMAN each day), and women are, as Simone de Beauvoir called it, the second sex. I’ve written a great deal about the challenges of being a male feminist when the go-to switch in your head says women are “girls” and secondary or sexual objects. I am a racist and a sexist. Brett and I both learned these lessons long before 1982. The difference seems to be that I seek to purge the sexism within me and he has chosen to deny its existence. I half expected him to pull a Trump and claim, “I’m the least sexist person you’ll ever meet!”

Part of the gendered message we get early on is that men stick together to maintain their authority. “Bros before hos,” the frat boys chant. That male bonding was evident in the predatory behavior of teenage Kavanaugh and his wing-man Mark Judge and it is evident in the Republican men of the Senate Judiciary Committee who are desperate to give this bro a lifetime appointment on the high court. Bro culture reinforces patriarchy from the ball field to fraternity row to the senate chambers.

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But it’s easy to point to Brett Kavanaugh as the supreme douchebag of the land, who may or may not have spent Beach Week ’82 plying underage girls with grain alcohol. Whether or not he makes it on the court, he will always be known as the “rapey judge.” Kavanaugh is “them.” We need to focus on us and how our own internalized misogyny creates the rape culture that allows credentialed dicks like Kavanaugh to rise to prominence. If the rise of the alt-right is an opportunity for this country to explore the damage done by white privilege and normalized racism, the Kavanaugh hearings are an opportunity for us to confront our issues with male privilege and normalized sexism.

Brett Kavanaugh isn’t the problem. He’s a symptom of the problem. As my wife and I watched Ford’s testimony, we wondered if our daughter would be telling her own stories of sexual trauma one day, trying to convince a panel of old men about the lifelong damage created by one single act. Trump and his old boy network are fighting tooth and nail to make sure that #metoo is just a fad and the old regime stands firm, so I am desperately worried my daughter will encounter her own Brett Kavanaugh at some point.

But if we men can take a deep dive into our own sexism, our simple dismissal of women and all things feminine, we might put an end to the uproarious laughter of boys who have a girl locked in a room and see her dehumanization as sport. We might delegitimize the delegitimization of women and girls. We might keep my daughter safe by surrounding her with boys and men who see her not just as somebody’s daughter but as somebody. We might be able to undo what we have done for so long.

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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.

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.