Racism: Bad

I literally agree with almost everything Robin DiAngelo, professor of multicultural education at Westfield State University and author of What Does it Mean to Be White? Developing White Racial Literacy, says in this interview about the phenomenon of “white fragility”. Well-meaning people born into a privileged segment of society (for example non-blacks in America’s black/not-black dyad) enjoy advantages that they may be unaware of in a fish-don’t-feel-the-water kind of way. It is useful to remind them of this fact. In the course of doing so some white people may get their feelings hurt, and basically the way to handle this is for those white people to grow a thicker goddam skin.

All that said, I feel like there is often a kernel of disingenuity hiding in structural-racism arguments like this. It’s subtle, and I usually can’t put my finger on it. Here, though, I think I can identify the offending passage. It’s where DiAngelo proposes a more nuanced idea of racism.

For white people, their identities rest on the idea of racism as about good or bad people, about moral or immoral singular acts, and if we’re good, moral people we can’t be racist–we don’t engage in those acts. This is one of the most effective adaptations of racism over time–that we can think of racism as only something that individuals either are or are not “doing”.

This is saying two things at once: one true, and one that I don’t buy. The true thing–echoed elsewhere in this interview–is that social power often manifests subtly and implicitly, and can cause real damage even when no one bears any conscious ill will. The part I don’t buy is that people who concern themselves with these issues use the word “racism” in this technical we’re-all-racists sense, without any sense of moral opprobrium.

If they did, that would be a problem: bearing hostility towards an entire group of people on the basis of fear, meanness, and idiotic pseudoscience really does make you a bad person, worthy of particular scorn. It’s useful to have a nasty-sounding word like “racist” to refer to that. When I say, “My father-in-law is a racist” I mean that my father-in-law mutters darkly about welfare and street gangs, not that he is an admirable, generous guy who unwittingly enjoys the benefits of long-standing structural inequities. If we call clueless whites “racists” what do we call someone who hates black people?

DiAngelo states, literally, that “good, moral people” can be racist. If you thought you were clever and asked her, “So does that mean you are also a racist?” she would say “Why, yes” because I’m betting like me she knows that the first rule of privilege club is that you never deny being a member of privilege club. This may be an insightful account of the way power gets deployed, but it’s not what most people mean when they say “good”. I think there are two senses of “racist” in play here–the my-bigoted-father-in-law sense, and the racists-are-good-people sense. There is no clear distinction between them. Instead we drift between one or the other as suits us rhetorically, which leads to sloppy thinking and miscommunication. For example, someone posts a link to this interview on Facebook. Some white guy takes offense, insists that he’s not a racist because he really, truly has no problem with black people, and then everyone piles on and mansplains how no, racism is actually a more complicated phenomenon. This is fun the first ten times, but then it starts to feel like a waste of energy. At its most perverse, admitting that you are a racist is just a sophisticated way of signaling to everyone that you’re not a racist.

I don’t think DiAngelo is trying to be slippery here: it’s just a tricky subject. But she wants everyone to be able to talk clearly, and I’m on board with that, so here’s my proposal: racism is bad. Structural inequality is also bad. The two are intertwined, but the former requires conscious hostility while the latter implicates us all. We should keep these concepts distinct. It’s useful.

Posted in Belonging to the emperor | Leave a comment

Fuck You, Trident

Boingo, the company that provides wireless service in airports, either charges for time or gives you free access if you are willing to watch an ad. They know you don’t want to watch the ad, so use tricks to hold on to your attention. Usually this just means refusing to activate your connection until a short video spot has played. Yesterday, during my layover in Atlanta, I was told I additionally had to “Interact” with the ad Boingo was serving for a set number of seconds in order to “earn” wi-fi access. The interaction was a jokey quiz based on the content of the preceding video I had ignored. A readout showed me how many seconds until I was free.


I get it: without these measures no one would watch the ads, Boingo couldn’t justify charging advertisers, and so would not be willing to offer free wi-fi in airports. Compliance generates billable eyeballs, but at what price? I was treated like a recalcitrant employee who needs to be watched like a hawk so that he doesn’t slip off for a smoke break while he’s supposed to be working. Usually I’m ok with ads—the money has to come from somewhere—but the fact that I encounter Boingo in every airport I go to and only in airports makes me think there’s something shady and monopolistic going on and I’ve basically decided they’re my enemy. I make a point of turning down the volume and averting my eyes whenever the ads they host play so that the products fail to register. This extra hoop with the quiz, though, made me pay attention to the point where I remember that the ad I saw was for Trident. The Trident brand made an impression with me. But the impression was something along the lines of “So it’s Trident that hijacked my computer and forced me to watch something I didn’t want to watch. Fuck you, Trident.”

The myth about advertisers is that they are genius manipulators who have turned the art of separating fools from their money into a science. I imagine this is true to an extent, but my Boingo experience makes me wonder which fools, and whose money? Is it worth it for Trident to pay for the privilege of annoying me? Is this simply a case of there being no such thing as bad publicity? I feel like I have become marginally less likely to buy Trident gum, if only because I’ll remember that shunning them is a way to stick it to Boingo. Are the advertisers who put this together playing some deeper game with me that I don’t get? Because, come to think of it, I never give them money. Not a cent. I couldn’t if I wanted to. Their money comes from the marketing department at Trident, whose trust they have presumably worked hard to secure. So maybe Boingo isn’t really my enemy after all. Maybe they’re giving me a little wink and saying, “Here, pretend to watch the ad we convinced someone to pay us to broadcast. Have a little free wi-fi while you’re at it, so you can go up to Facebook and ignore the ads there too. God knows why these chumps keep giving us money, but we won’t say anything if you won’t.”

Posted in Suckling pigs | Leave a comment

Girl, Melting

Recently the listicle “9 Chivalrous Habits Of A True Gentleman That Make Women Melt” drifted across my social media radar. In it “fabulous twenty-something” lifestyle blogger Jen Ruiz bemoans a general lack of class on the part of men on the modern dating scene. Here are some of the small-but-meaningful gestures she suggests they might re-adopt: Opening Doors, Suffering though a Girly Movie, Putting Your Jacket On, and Sending Flowers. There you go, fifteen seconds pleasantly wasted.

Depending on which Sex and the City character you most resemble, you may find this cute, saccharine, or retrograde. If you fall towards the negative end of that spectrum, your sticking point may lie with the concept of chivalry, which at its worst is a kind of patriarchal noblesse oblige codifying the ways in which women are the weaker sex. (The original URL of this article refers to “girls” rather than “women”. Presumably changing the title was a last-minute editorial decision, though “girls” is truer to the tone of the piece.)

I share this reservation and make a point of doling out small courtesies in a gender-neutral fashion, but I’m willing to grant a bit of leeway in the area of heterosexual dating since that is an inherently gendered activity. Besides, the clanking plate mail of the word “chivalry” is too comic to provoke outrage. I only ever hear it as part of the stock phrase “Is chivalry dead?” which indicates to me that chivalry is pretty much dead.

If anything, the hackneyed nature of this evergreen women’s mag cliché makes me kind of like Jen Ruiz. I imagine her suddenly realizing that she had fallen behind in her monthly listicle quota and hurriedly banging this one out in ten minutes before rushing out for a fabulous twenty-something night on the town during which men may or may not have opened doors for her. But then I went back and reread the boilerplate she uses to introduce her list.

In a world filled with late-night booty calls, infidelity and a general “hit it and split it” mentality, it’s easy to become jaded by today’s dating scene.

As women, we brace ourselves for the worst, proceeding with extreme caution during the first few months, for fear of falling victim to the aforementioned debauchery in which so many men partake.

Even though none of the nine chivalrous habits have anything to do with sex, the opening paragraphs are all about it. This is not a non sequitur because the list is a gently chiding account of the ways in which men disappoint women, and one way men do this is by tricking them into bed. It goes without saying that a woman would never initiate a late-night booty call or an affair. Women are naturally asexual creatures except when (I’m speculating here) dangling sex as bait to capture The One or, in a moment of weakness, giving in to their baser drives and becoming victims.

It’s the word victim that sticks in my craw. Maybe I shouldn’t read so much into it. Ruiz’s trifle is not written in the mode of the cultural left, where “victim” carries heavy connotations along with a prickly sort of pride. It only appears here as part of the idiom “fall victim”, so the tone I get is more “Oopsie, girlfriend, you fucked him. Better luck next time!” I’ll bet Jen Ruiz is herself nobody’s victim, and may even (speculating again here) have taken part in at least one late-night booty call in a strong, non-regretful, sexually self-determined sort of way. The whole sex-is-a-thing-men-do-to-women thing feels more like a rhetorical tic, something a harried writer produces on her way out the door. But there it still is, denying women’s agency, albeit in a breezy amirite-guys kind of way.

There’s so much to as-they-say-unpack here I’m at a loss where to begin, so let’s start with this: the clear desire for some rules. This whole sex-and-relationships business would be easier to negotiate if everyone knew what the hell they were supposed to do, but they don’t because the generalized taboo about sex extends to talking about sex with someone you might like to have sex with, so Mars and Venus are left to communicate via oblique signals and ossified codes. This, however, is true of human relationships in general. You don’t make new platonic friends by presenting an agreeable candidate with an itemized list of your emotional needs. Instead the two of you just hang out together and see if you click. It’s a kind of seduction.

Actual seduction, though, involves sex, which for some feels fraught, scary and beset with traps. The non-sexual silent mutual agreement thing is nerve-wracking, but the Ethical Slut explicit negotiation thing feels weird. Then in heterosexual relationships mix in the power differential between between men and women, which to the baseline sense of interpersonal nervousness (that, depending on your disposition, is why you either hate going on dates or love going on dates) adds an ethical component. There’s the discomfort arising from sexist baggage (bad) and the discomfort arising from sexual vulnerability (totally hot), and in the moment it may be difficult to disentangle the two. Given such complications, people may feel inclined to fall back on whatever guidance is available, even when that guidance consists of these really awful old man-woman scripts that serve no one.

Posted in Those that tremble as if they were mad | 2 Comments

Check Your Polyamorous Privilege

I agree that polyamory does indeed seem to be a largely white thing. Trader Joe’s, Rush-concert white. If there isn’t already an entry for it on Stuff White People Like there should be. I would also venture that it skews highly educated and liberal. Exactly the sort of people who are already predisposed to hand-wringing of this sort in the article linked above. (“Raising Awareness” is in fact a category on Stuff White People Like.) I will accept without further fact-checking the claim 90% of polyamorous people in a survey identified as white, and that some non-white women at poly events felt icikly exoticized. I don’t care about the former of those claims. I would be curious to read more about the experience of anyone in the latter situation, instead of just the paint-by-numbers privilege-checking here. Unlike other cultural phenomena that skew white, polyamory doesn’t doesn’t come with power, so I’m not particularly worried about any structural inequities it engenders. There are bigger fish to fry.

White people

It’s interesting see how much this attack-from-the-left adopts the tropes of right-wing sensationalism. The focus on the most overt, organized, self-conscious side of what is for many people a quiet, personal thing. (You could imagine being similarly misled into thinking the gay “lifestyle” revolved around parades.) The sloppy conflation of media representation of a group with the group itself. (One of the injustices cited here is an underrepresentation of people of color on reality TV shows about polyamory, which sounds more like something to be grateful for.) The always-reliable ability to gin up generalized discomfort about sex into dislike of particular people. It’s the mirror image of the way the cultural right has adopted the language of marginalization and aggrievement. But why?

One thing I find hopeful is the way that the pointlessness of this stance is critiqued from the inside. Not by someone like myself–a cultural liberal merely by dint of birth and entitlement rather than any particular effort–but by people who talk the talk and walk the walk. The article here links to a blog post “Polyamory is for Rich, Pretty People”, which–beyond being the most untrue headline I have ever read–sounds like it would be more lazy point-scoring, but manages to frame statements about the folkways of privileged groups in a thoughtful way. That in turn links to “9 Strategies for Non-Oppressive Polyamory”, which sounds like it would make you want to bang your head against the wall but actually has some good advice about acting decent. The circular firing squad has some gaps.

Posted in Those that tremble as if they were mad | Leave a comment

The Least Dangerous Game





I Spy


Ms Pac Man




Posted in Those that at a distance resemble flies | 1 Comment

Getting the Solr 5.0 Tutorial to Work

I installed Apache Solr 5.0.0 on OS X 10.10.2 using Homebrew and tried to work through the Solr Quick Start Tutorial. I hit a few snags. Probably nothing too daunting for an experienced Solr user, but that by definition is not the sort of person who is working their way through a tutorial. Here are the problems I encountered and how I got past them.

For starters, the paths listed in the Quick Start Tutorial do not align with what is actually installed. There is a bin/solr beneath the install directory, but the example post command is beneath libexec/bin, not bin. Likewise the docs folder passed to that post command is in libexec/docs.

Everything appears to work when you start the Solr server, but when you try to post documents you get a server error 500 for every document you try to add. The relevant stack is this.

Caused by: org.apache.solr.common.SolrException: Error loading class 'solr.extraction.ExtractingRequestHandler'
    at org.apache.solr.core.SolrResourceLoader.findClass(SolrResourceLoader.java:492)
    at org.apache.solr.core.SolrResourceLoader.findClass(SolrResourceLoader.java:423)
    at org.apache.solr.core.SolrCore.createInstance(SolrCore.java:559)
    at org.apache.solr.core.SolrCore.createRequestHandler(SolrCore.java:632)
    at org.apache.solr.core.RequestHandlers$LazyRequestHandlerWrapper.createRequestHandler(RequestHandlers.java:326)
    at org.apache.solr.core.RequestHandlers$LazyRequestHandlerWrapper.getWrappedHandler(RequestHandlers.java:298)
    ... 30 more

The issue appears to be that ExtractingRequestHandler is not on the classpath. If you then go look at the log files via the web interface you see a “Can’t find (or read) directory to add to classloader” for several paths. The example configuration is expecting to see these paths beneath the Solr install directory, but they too are beneath libexec.

A fix is to create softlinks from ROOT/contrib to ROOT/libexec/contrib and ROOT/dist to ROOT/libexec/dist. With these in place, Solr loads without warnings and the post tool performs as expected.

Posted in Those that have just broken the flower vase | Tagged | Leave a comment


You are in a room with the Invisible Man. You can’t see him, of course. He is quiet and stealthy and moves around. Your best chance of keeping track of him is a spray bottle of water mixed with food coloring. You guess where the Invisible Man is and spray in that general direction. If you guess right you will catch him on the move: the mist will briefly outline an arm, a head, a distorted torso. That’s not him. That’s the water. He’ll move on and through it, but you’ll have a sense of where he is and what he’s up to. Doing this is second nature.

The thing is: you are invisible too. In fact, everyone is invisible. Everyone carries spray bottles filled with colored water. Back in the olden days people didn’t have spray bottles and so carried around sacks of flour that they would throw into the air to outline their fellow invisibles. For obscure and forgotten reasons, any diffuse material tossed into the air to reveal other people is called “noise”. What today the water misters spray–the same bottle you use to water your plants–that is also called noise.

You have a body. You can’t see it, but you have a sense of its shape, the space it occupies. The vague distorted shapes of the Invisible Man that appear through the noise, they clearly arise from the same sort of thing as you. Almost the same, but not quite. And he is thinking the same about you. What would it be like to see things directly? You can’t even imagine. Throw some noise at it. It will become as clear as it will become.

Posted in Mermaids | Leave a comment