Let’s End Duality: Make America Grey Again

January 4, 2018

To start off 2018, I’d like to take us back to a moment in 2004 when Illinois Senate candidate Barack Obama said these words:

“The pundits like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue states: red states for Republicans, blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don’t like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states. We coach little league in the blue states and, yes, we’ve got some gay friends in the red states.”

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It seemed like a shift away a from the Bush-era divisiveness and surely played a role in Obama’s election in 2008. It’s worth pointing out that 14 percent of registered Republicans voted for a black Democrat in that election. It seems unimaginable now as we tweet and post from our red and blue state fortresses, rejecting anything that requires acknowledging the complexity of these issues. Remember Donald Trump in February saying,  “Nobody knew that healed care could be this complicated.” Oh, they knew.

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Queer Theory has been instrumental in helping people break through their binary thinking. When we are young we are taught that the sexes are “opposite.”  We are brainwashed in gender attributes that are mirror reflections. Boys are strong, girls are weak. Boys are stoic, girls are emotional. Boys are active, girls are passive. And on and on. It continues into adulthood. Men are from Mars and women are from Venus. Men care about foreign policy and women care about education. Most adults figure out that we have more in common that in opposition. “You have a pancreas? So do I!” Gender is not black and white. It’s many shades of grey. (A little bird told me that Vice President Mike Pence wears frilly pink panties and Donald Trump actually has a mangina.)

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I was thinking about the persistence of this bullshit dichotomy over the holidays when I read my old pal Bono kavetching that today’s music was “very girly;” that there wasn’t enough loud rock ’n’ roll like when he was a teenage boy. I flashed to the moment that a local Atlanta rock star I worked with in 1981 described the first U2 album as “whiney.” He should try saying music is too girly to Joan Jett’s face. Bono might turn off the Taylor Swift and check out bands like Savages, Diet Cig, Daddy Issues, and War on Women. There’s an explosion of women in rock right now. When I was 13-years-old I thought Kiss rocked and then I heard The Runaways’ Queens of Noise album. I’d put “Neon Angels on the Road to Ruin” against any of U2’s “guitar rock” without hesitation. If that’s girly music, give me more. The girls I know love the loud guitar. I’m a huge U2 fan but Bono is stuck in an antiquated binary.

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We don’t live a black and white world of evil doers and God’s pious peeps. We’re all sinners. One person’s freedom fighter is another person’s terrorist. Context matters. The yin-yang symbol makes for a cool tattoo, but Buddhism does not reduce the world into a simple duality. Taoism is based on the paradox of simultaneous duality and unity. God vs. man? The Gnostic Texts excised from the Christian Bible, make the case that Christ ends that duality. The kingdom of heaven is within you. But you don’t get that message from the Christian Church. Man keeps constructing boundaries. Here’s how you get through heaven’s gate…

Duality makes sense in the abstract world of Boolean algebra, but here in reality things are rarely occurring in opposites. It’s only freaking Thursday?? And yet it’s 2018 already! Time can move fast and slow simultaneously. Even the distinction between life and death is a blurry line at best. We let those man-made boundaries define us. A person can be born with a penis, see themselves as a female identified person, AND be attracted to women. And maybe men occasionally.

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The issue of gender queer persons makes binary thinkers’ heads explode. You have to fit into a nice socially constructed category. It’s either/or not whatever. You have a penis? You belong in the heterosexual male box. Anything else is a “transgression” against nature, or God, or that old Oxford English dictionary your grandmother gave you for your ninth birthday. Those boys and men who stray into the pink zone must be punished. You’re watching The Crown instead of the Sugar Bowl? Smear the queer! I remember it well.

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The same is true with race. You’ve got a box to fit in and that’s who you are. You are either white or non-white. Again, reality has other plans. In the 2010 U.S. Census, 2 percent of Americans identified as two or more races. That’s 9 million people. In fact, multiple-race Americans grew at a faster pace than single-race Americans (32% vs. 9.2%). More and more Americans do not fit nicely into a demographic box. Is my half-Mexican daughter “white” or “brown”? Well, when she is applying for college scholarships, she’s gonna be “Latina” when it helps. But her light skin will privilege her the majority of her “white” life.

But here we are are, in a world where the President of the United States tells transgender Americans they are not allowed to serve in the military. (Another of his many failures in 2017.) Lower-level dualistic simple thinking rules the day. Either you are with us or against us. America, love it (our way) or leave it.  Sorry, simple people; it’s just not that simple.

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The reason this is the first post of the year is that I’ve noticed a creeping problem in 2017. Both sides are stuck in a binary deadlock. If you are a conservative, anyone who identifies themselves as liberal is just a “libtard” and anything they say will be dismissed out of hand. The other side is not much better. “You voted for Trump? You must be a complete moron and incapable of rational thought.”

Americans are not red or blue. They are mostly purple. Numerous surveys show that, despite political polarization, most Americans hold both liberal AND conservative opinions about things. Not only is it a scale, it’s a sliding scale. I imagine people get more conservative as April 15th approaches and more liberal over the holidays. Some people are socially liberal and economically conservative or vice versa. Some may change their political position after a good movie or a bad arrest. I spent much of my college years hanging out with Marxists, but I don’t want to live anywhere that looks like North Korea. I think capitalism is inherently corrosive but I appreciate the entrepreneurial spirit of my local Portland businesses. I even bought something in a Wal-Mart last year. (Long story.) Am I a hypocrite or just a complex person? Most people are complex. People who voted for Obama also voted for Trump and might vote for Elizabeth Warren in 2020. My dad likes to say he’s a “Republicrat.” Make your case. He’ll listen.

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I’ve written about the need for political civility in this blog. But this is something bigger. This is about breaking away from the us vs. them lie that’s been fed to us. I’m a post-modernist. I want to destroy these artificial barriers that confine us politically, sexually, spiritually, and any other way. We are trapped in our dogmatic partisan perspectives, fearful of the natural complexity of things. This is nothing new in this country. Our founders divided themselves into federalist and anti-federalist camps. Surprise, surprise – the best reality was somewhere in the middle.

There are things we can do to break through this artificial dichotomy. Ask questions of people making opposing arguments. Find the shades of grey you can work with. Keep an eye out for polarizing language. I tell anyone who uses the word “libtard” in a Facebook debate that there is no point to engage after that. Others should do the same when I use the word “moron.” Don’t make assumptions about people in different camps. You probably have more in common than you know. Instead of trying to “beat” them, help them to understand your position. Break out of your bubble. Diversity is good for plant life and party conversations. Don’t be afraid of encountering strong arguments that undermine the position you’ve taken. Don’t be afraid.

2018 is going to be a hell year. Perhaps the most important mid-term election in this nation’s history is only eleven months away. It’s going to be emotional and people are going to be combative, defensive, and needlessly inflammatory. We could divide ourselves into two opposing factions, a new civil war. Or we could reject the red and blue traps we’ve created for ourselves and make America fully human for the first time. “Hi, I’m Ying Yang, Yeah, it’s complicated. Get to know me.”

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Vivimos en dos mundos (We live in two worlds)

July 4, 2014

This is my first time blogging from another country. We arrived in Mexico two days ago so I could teach a research methods class on an island in the Caribbean. I’m not doing it for money, just to live on a tropical island for six weeks and get my Ernest Hemmingway on. Cozy will have her first birthday on Isla Mujeres and probably celebrate it by riding away on the back of a dolphin.

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But first we’ve come down to the city Andrea is from, Morelia, to spend time with her family. We’ve been here together before and I wonder if last time we were here, her mother imagined us returning with a child. I love seeing my wife in her native land, returning to the house she grew up in. And Cozy’s eyes are wide at all the new sites, sounds, smells, and flavors. While her dad and her uncle do shots of mescal, she watches kids play soccer in the alley.

We made a decision early on that our daughter would spend as much time in Mexico as possible. She is “bi-racial” and certainly, at least, bi-ethnic. On the 2010 U.S. Census, nearly 3% of the population identified themselves as being more than one race. The number of biracial children increased 50% from the 2000 census. While the white-supremacists I study see all this “race-mixing” as the end of the white race as we know it (a race that never actually existed until slave-traders invented it), most of us see it as a beautiful door that opens to more goodies. Postmodernists tell us that collision is production. You bigots can keep your chocolate and peanut butter separate, but give me my damn Reeces.

The line I’ve always heard from people (especially racists) is that bi-racial children suffer because their identity is somehow split in two. There was the famous 2009 case of the Louisiana judge, Justice Keith Bardwell, who refused to marry an interracial couple because of the harm it would do their future children. Tell that to Barrack Obama. There is no scientific evidence that shows that biracial kids have it harder because of their status. The only evidence of harm comes from the racists themselves who stigmatize such children as “half-breeds” (Cue Cher song.)

Most anti-miscegenation appeals are by racists who fear the blurring of racial boundaries. There has long been a fear of “mulattos” making it hard for whitey. Just watch the 1915 epic Birth of a Nation. “Is he black or is he white? Quick! Call the Klan! Stay in your racial box, boy!” But the other side is about the loss of culture. For example, the more Native Americans assimilate with American culture, the less of their own culture they have to hold on to. I went to a wedding on the Warm Springs reservation between members of two different tribes and there was an awareness that the children would be less than full-blooded members of any one tribe.

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Cozy isn’t half anything. She’s full on human. Like most of us, her parents bring different pieces of ethnic culture to her party. I’m far from 100% Czech and my Czech relatives were probably from Poland anyway. We’re all mutts to some degree. And we know that genetic diversity makes us stronger. I’d like to convince some inbred white supremacists who think the “white race” is going to disappear of this, but they’re too inbred to understand that it’s all just shades of flesh color.

Anyway, the point of this blog post (and this trip) is that we want our daughter to know the vibrant Mexican culture her mother comes from. When I grew up watching TV,  I thought Mexico was a big desert filled with banditos, siestas, and mice that ran really fast. The reality is much different. My wife had never even heard of Mexican jumping beans. And don’t go looking for burritos here. Huaraches y micheladas, si. I love Mexico and I want Cozy to know the real deal, not the fear of rapists and murderers that morons like Donald Trump spread. Or the reports of narcos chopping off people’s heads that pop up in the news and then end up on Breaking Bad.

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Mexico is a colorful land filled with endless music and food and generous people. (Can I please pay for something? You payed for the last ten things!) Sure, it’s had its recent struggles with corrupt police and narco syndicates who exist solely to feed America’s drug appetite, but there is also a beautiful resistance. Just watch the brilliant film Hecho en Mexico (now streaming on Netflix) to witness the true soul of this land, defiant to generations of colonizers. I want my daughter to know the vibrance of this spirit.

In many ways, Mexico is like los Estados Unidos. People are addicted to their smart phones and crappy TV shows. They just wear more Hollister gear and don’t believe in car seats. But they do have movies in 4-D. We just saw the new Terminator film and were, quite literally, blown up and down. (C’mon, USA, catch up!) And Mexico has its own issues with gender fairness just like us. But for every macho ranchero there is a budding feminist rapper, like Mare Advertencia Lirika, bubbling up from below the ground.

The big question for us is will baby Cozy get her ears pierced while she’s here. (It’s the culture, OK?) She will be baptized in a Catholic church in two weeks, which will give her something totally valid to rebel against later. 11356677_1464214720555714_304303057_n

How can anyone be less for sharing in two cultures? Our daughter will learn how to eat Velveeta from her white dad and make abuelita from her brown mom. Being from two worlds will give her options. How Latina does she feel today? Culottes or an escaramuza? She can travel widely as 450 million Earthlings speak Spanish. Summers in the Philippines or Costa Rica? The future looks a lot more like her mother than it does me. She will be a richer person because she is bi-racial and I’m excited for her to have both worlds to enjoy.

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But for now she is going to enjoy two weeks in Morelia being gushed over by her family here while I head off to Isla Mujeres to start my teaching job. When I rejoin her I’m sure she will be a little darker and a lot more spicy. My little Mexican jumping bean.