This article gives a nice overview: Why Sweet Tea Is the South’s Quintessential Drink.
In the movie version of Steel Magnolias Dolly Parton’s character observes that “sweet tea is the house wine of the south.” Which is true, though there can be weird nuances. For one thing, there are people who disagree about which parts of the country constitute the south. Seriously! I once had a temporary co-worker from Georgia sniff very disdainfully at I and another co-worker after we mentioned that our families came mostly from Oklahoma and Texas, that “those aren’t part of the south, those are in the West.” I have also heard people from North or South Carolina insist the Florida is not part of the south. I’ve been told by one acquaintance who grew up in New Orleans that “N’Orleans doesn’t really do sweet tea!” Whereas a friend whose family comes from other parts of Louisianna once commented after sampling my sweet tea, that I didn’t have nearly enough sugar in it. Some people insist that Sweet Tea states should get their own designation, with arguments about whether the “tea line” encompasses all of Texas, or only East Texas, for instance.
I grew up on sweet tea, and I learned how to make it from my mom and various grandmothers and one grandfather, and each of them had a slightly different recipe. They were all good in their own ways, but they were also very different. Many families guard their sweet tea recipes, sometimes referring to them by names like, “Great Aunt Pearl’s Sweet Tea.” So, before we get any further, I’m going to warn you right now that no, I absolutely will not tell you my Great-grandma S.J.’s Sweet Tea recipe, nor Great-grandma I’s, nor my Nice Grandma’s Sweet Tea recipe nor her Sun Tea recipe (which is a different beast altogether).
What I will do is tell you my Evil Grandmother’s Sweet Tea recipe. One reason why is because she frequently told it to other people outside the family. Another reason is because I don’t think hers was the best, but it will give you an idea of how these go.
My Evil Grandma insisted that Sweet Tea was best made in an aluminum pitcher. She had a 2-quart aluminum pitcher for just that purpose. To make her tea, you fill a whistling tea pot with water and set it to boil. While it is going, you measure out four and a half cups of sugar into the bottom of the aluminum pitcher, then you add a half teaspoon of baking soda. You let the kettle get to a loud whistling, then pour the still boiling water into the aluminum pitcher. Stir furiously until the sugar dissolved, then count out fourteen Lipton flow-through tea bags, put them in the pitcher, stick a lid on it, and put it into the fridge for one hour. Then, take the pitcher out, pull out the tea bags, but make sure you squeeze them so all the dark tea gets into the pitcher. Top off the pitcher with however much tap water is needed to fill, and stir some more (because some of the sugar probably precipitated out). Put it back in the fridge for at least another hour. Now, you can serve it over ice.
Now that you’ve read the one recipe that I am willing to disclose, we can analyze it a bit. Most of the sweet tea recipes I have acquired over the years use tea bags, not loose tea. And very often people have strong feelings about which ones to use. I have seen, for instance, recipes that call for specific brands and varieties of tea bags–specifying X bags of specific brand of black tea plus Y bags of a specific brand of mint tea plus Z bags of a specific brand of orange pekoe, for instance.
I will neither confirm nor deny having witnessed two relatives almost come to blows over an argument about whether an Earl Grey tea is ever suitable for sweet tea (with a third relative opining that Earl Grey is all right in a sun tea as long as you have a few other kinds with it, but really should only go in to sweet tea if you have nothing else).
Why do some recipes include baking soda, you may ask? Tea leaves contain tannic acid which is very bitter. When you steep most teas for more than, say, 2 minutes, you can get a lot of tannic acid in the tea. Some people swear that a small amount of baking soda (which is an alkaline compound and will neutralize an equal amount of acid) mellows out the tannic acid flavor. I’ve also heard people claim that the baking soda helps with dissolving more sugar into the water.
Many recipes specify how to boil the water. There are people who insist the sugar must be in the pitcher that the hot water or hot tea is poured into. Others say that most of the sugar should be mixed with the water as it is brought to a boil.
My Evil Grandma’s sweet tea was very dark, nearly the color of coffee. A lot of people say that is two strong, the tea should have more of a rich reddish color than a deep brown.
Because most of my life has been lived outside of the sweet tea states, I got used to drinking the rather weak and completely unsweetened tea served here. Also, in my late twenties when I realized just how rampantly adult-onset diabetes stampedes through my dad’s family, I made the decision to mostly stop sweetening my tea or coffee. And now that I am diabetic, I don’t make sweet tea ever.
And while we’re on the subject of diabetes, I want to point out that all of the sweet tea recipes from my mother’s side of the family called for way more sugar than any that I learned from Dad’s side, yet Dad’s family is where almost all the diabetes is. So don’t come at me on that.
While I don’t make sweet tea, I still make and drink a lot of tea and have many fond memories of sitting down with friends and family, everyone with a frosty glass of tea, on hot summer days. So the last few weeks, after my husband brought home a one gallon glass jug, I’ve been experimenting with sun tea recipes, based only loosely on my Nice Grandma’s. Put the collection of specific tea bags in the water, set it out in the sun for an hour, then remove the bags and let the jug chill in the fridge. The one thing to remember about sun tea is that since the water is never brought to a boil, it is more susceptible to bacterial contamination, so you want to finish off the whole batch in no more than two days.
It’s not quite the same, but drinking the cold, unsweetened tea that I’ve made this way, brings all those fond memories back. As Fred Thompson observed in his book, Cornbread Nation,
“Sweet tea—your mother’s sweet tea—means you are home.”
It’s National Coming Out Day! And just for the record, in case it isn’t clear: I’m queer! Specifically I am a gay man married to a bisexual man. For many years I lived in the closet, and am ever so happy that those days are far, far behind me. So, if you’re a person living in the closet, I urge you to consider coming out. Being in the closet is scary—you live in a constant state of high anxiety about people finding out and what they might do when it happens. Studies show that this affects us the same as extended trauma, inducing the same sorts of stress changes to the central nervous system as PTSD.
The problem is that coming out is also scary. 40% of homeless teen-agers are living on the streets because their parents either kicked them out because the teens were gay (or suspected of being gay), or drove them away through the constant abuse intended to beat the gay out of their kids. This statistic is the main reason I advise kids not to come out until they are no longer financially dependent on their parents. Yeah, there are many stories of kids who came out to their parents and those parents became supportive allies. But not all, by any means.Even if you are a self-supporting adult, coming out is often accompanied by drama. Some of your family and friends will not take it well. You will be surprised at some of the ones who you thought would be okay with it being exactly the opposite. On the other hand, some people will surprise you with how fiercely supportive they become.
In the long run, being out is better than living in the closet. You will finally know who loves you for who you are, rather than those who love the idea of who they think you ought to be. You will also find out that you were expending far more energy than you realized constantly being on the look out for signs your secret is discovered. There will be a moment when you feel the burden lifted. But you will also discover the coming out isn’t a one-and-done deal.
But the freedom of no longer living a lie is incredible. So when you’re ready, come out, come out, where ever you are!
Don’t just take my word for it:
Not every person who identifies as bisexual is experimenting. Nor are they in denial of their real orientation. Because a certain number of gay people who are struggling with accepting themselves take shelter in a lie (a lie we were trying to sell to ourselves even harder than to anyone else), we give other people anecdotes that get weaponized and used against people who actually are bisexual. So, for my contribution to that misperception, I must apologize. I’m sorry.
So, to be clear:
- A bisexual person who settles into a long term committed relationships with a member of the opposite sex is still bisexual. They just happened to fall in love with this person.
- Also, a bisexual person who enters a long term committed relationship with a member of the same sex is still bisexual. They just happened to fall in love with that person.
- A bisexual person who isn’t dating anyone at all is still bisexual. They’re just not seeing anyone right now (or ever). A person’s sexuality isn’t determined by their current relationship status.
- A bisexual person who has never been (or you have never seen) in relationships with members of both sexes is still bisexual. Again, relationship status is different than sexual orientation.
Bi erasure is a real problem. Bisexual people often don’t feel welcome in queer spaces. They also often don’t feel welcome in non-queer spaces. People assume that they are straight of gay based on their current relationship. Other people dismiss them as confused or in denial. Sometimes they don’t just feel unwelcome, but unsafe.
Studies have shown that the stress of enduring homophobia affects the health and nervous system exactly the same as PTSD. It’s traumatic and physically damaging. That’s true whether you are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or any other orientation outside the heteronormative. And its true in all the forms it takes, including biphobic attitudes of other queer people.
Don’t contribute to someone’s trauma. Don’t be an asshole about bisexual people—all the time, not just when you think you’re in the presence of a bisexual person. Because if those National Institutes of Health studies about covert sexual activity are correct, about 46% of the population is bi (and about 6% is exclusively gay). So if you’re sitting around with a half-dozen people, the odds are more than one of them is bi. You just don’t know it.
When the NIH published those studies in the mid-90s, the summary included this little gem: Americans would rather admit to being heroin addicts than tell someone they were bisexual. And that’s because of homophobia in general, but also biphobia among both the straight and queer communities.
So, if someone tells you they are bisexual, don’t argue with them, don’t doubt them or try to convince them that they’re just confused or curious or uncertain. Believe them. Accept them. They were brave enough to open up to you. The least you can do in the face of that is refrain from being a jerk. You know, don’t be a “contemptible, stupid, or inconsiderate person.”
Instead, be an ally. Their sexuality is valid. Period.
That is not histrionics. When they talk about “saving the white race” and so-called “self deportation” and the like, they are saying “go away and die!” When they say that queer people are a threat to the future of the planet, they are saying we deserve to be killed. When they say that brown and black people are destroying “white culture” they are saying brown and black people deserve to be killed. When Richard Spencer said, literally moments before he was punched in the face on camera last summer, “we have to ask ourselves whether humanity needs the black man, and having confronted that question, then ask how to most efficiently dispose of them” he is saying that black people aren’t human and that they must be killed.
And if you don’t believe that saying that deserves a punch in the mouth, then I question more than just your morals.
In the case of the angry man who was punched in downtown Seattle this weekend: he wasn’t punched just for wearing the swastika. He was punched for yelling at every dark-skinned person he passed on the street, specifically calling them an ape. He was explicitly saying that they aren’t human. He brought a frickin’ banana with him that he eventually threw at someone after screaming that that person was an ape—underlining and emphasizing the claim that the person thus targeted isn’t human (and implying that said people don’t deserve rights, dignity, respect at the least, and that killing would not be murder). That wasn’t just expressing an opinion, that his verbal assault and a declaration of intent. And under the law, throwing the banana is physical assault.
Wearing a rainbow and chanting “we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it” is none of those things.
Freedom of speech doesn’t mean you can say mean, hateful, threatening things to other people and that those other people have no rights to speak up and defend themselves. Calling other humans animals, and saying or implying those humans should he rounded up and executed is not merely stating an opinion, it is revealing their hateful and murderous character. So if other people don’t want to be friends with a hateful person advocating genocide, that’s just making the decision not to associate with horrible people.When we wear rainbows, we’re saying “my sexuality is valid, and your sexuality is valid, and bi, gay, pansexual, transexual, asexual, and straight people are all equally valid and have a right to be who they are.” Yes, we’re saying the straight people are valid, too. We aren’t calling for straight people to self-deport. We aren’t calling for straight people to be killed. We aren’t calling for straight people to be converted. Rightwing anti-gay people do call for queer people to be fired from their jobs, denied the right to rent or own homes, denied the right to put their spouses and children on their medical insurance, denied the right to marry their significant others, denied the right to adopt, denied the right to protection from assault and harassment, denied health care, and so forth. They advocate rounding us up and putting us in prison, or camps, or so-called hospitals (depending on how blatant they are in their bigotry). They advocate the widely debunked conversion therapy. They advocate bullying queer kids in school (when you insist that religiously conservative kids can’t be punished for bullying queer kids or the children of queer parents, you are advocating bullying).
When the anti-gay people (including the neo-Nazis) do that, it isn’t a difference of opinion, it is oppression and assault.
When queer people say we don’t want to be bullied, we shouldn’t be discriminated against, we deserve to have our families and jobs and homes just like anyone else, we aren’t calling for the oppression of anyone else. Because not being allowed to discriminate isn’t oppression. Not being allowed to bully, terrorize, or assault queer people isn’t oppression.
Sexuality isn’t an opinion or a choice. Sexual identity isn’t an opinion or a choice. Sorry, the medical science has been clear on that for a long time.
Hate, however, is a choice. Violence against others because of the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, and so forth is a choice.
All races are valid. All sexualities are valid.
Not all choices are valid.
There are only a couple reasons that you can’t see that distinction. There are only a few reasons you would defend the hate by attacking its opposite. Either you aren’t very bright, you’re deeply misinformed, or you are blinded by hatred.
Please, step out of the darkness and join us in a more glittery, sunny world of the rainbow.
When people find a person in their midst who does not conform to their expectations, their reaction is to try to find a behavioral cause of that non-conformity. Because admitting that different kinds of people exist naturally challenges the simplest notion of normality. So when confronted with a smart, slightly gender-non-conforming kid who seems to know about things people don’t expect kids to understand, they go looking for an easy explanation of why I’m different. And it really was both of those differences that confused people. More than one relative on different sides of the family commented that as a young child I seemed like an adult trapped in a kid’s body.
When you are clinging to the notion that there is a limited number of ways to be normal with someone who doesn’t fit any of your notions, the easiest thing is to look at which of the non-conforming person’s interests seem least like theirs. So in the 1960s and ’70s, people focused on my interest in science, science fiction, fantasy and related topics. Because before the era of the personal computer and the cultural behemoth that was the original Star Wars, those things were completely beyond the kin of normal humans. Some of the cover art of magazines and paperback books raised a few eyebrows. At least one relative asserted the belief that reading superhero comics, with all of those skin tight costumes on the male heroes, would turn a boy into a sissy.
In retrospect I find it hilarious, because of all the media/fiction I can recall from my childhood, the only place where gender fluidity and related topics occurred regularly was not in science fiction, fantasy, or science fact books, but in one of the most popular forms of pop culture of many decades: Looney Tunes cartoons, specifically Bugs Bunny cartoons.
Even before Bugs Bunny had the name “Bugs,” he was dressing up as a woman to seduce a male character. Long before he ever dressed as a woman to distract Elmer Fudd or Yosemite Sam, the character then referred to informally as “Happy Rabbit” disguised himself as a female version of the unnamed hunter’s dog to distract the dog from his trail. So if everyone’s theory that somehow what made me non-conforming was the shows I watched, clearly it should have been Bugs Bunny they focused on, right? Contrariwise, Bugs is a great argument against the whole media-causes-queerness argument: as I pointed out in a post last week, for a number of years the Looney Tunes cartoons weren’t just ubiquitious, they were almost universally adored by a couple of generations of folks. If media exposure causes queerness, then just about every single person aged 40-something through 60-something alive in North America right now should be an out queer, because Bugs taught us all that to be a drag queen was to be triumphant.
This meaning of drag: “Women’s clothes as worn by a man; (less commonly) men’s clothes as worn by a woman; a party at which such clothes are worn” as rendered in the Oxford English Dictionary has been around since the late 19th Century. The first written citation coming in 1870 as a reference to male actors portraying female characters on the stage. At various times in the history of the theatre, it had been common to cast young men in the feminine roles, because it was considered inappropriate for women to perform on stage. So there is a certain tradition in the theatre (which cropped up later in movies, though usually for comedic effect) of men dressing as women on stage. There is also a tradition of characters of either sex on stage and in movies dressing in disguises—sometimes disguises that shouldn’t fool anyone—and carrying on for scene after scene completely pulling the wool of the eyes of other characters.
The disguises that Bugs donned in the various cartoons weren’t always drag. The point of the gag was how gullible Bugs’ adversary could be in light of the disguise, no matter how ridiculous. Which is why I don’t think it ever occurred to anyone back then that how easily the hero of the story could adopt the persona of a woman and seductively entrance the villain might be just a little bit queer. Maybe it was the fact that the audience was in on the joke—Bugs was dressing as a woman to fool his antagonist and make the audience laugh, not because he enjoyed it, and certainly not because he was actually trying to seduce the other character. Maybe it was simply the fact that they understood the jokes in a Bugs Bunny cartoon, but sf/f didn’t appeal to them, and a lot of that cover art looked erotic, demonic, and sometimes both.
To me, the ease with which Bugs transformed himself in his various disguises is a manifestation of a much, much older narrative tradition: The Trickster God. One of the oldest examples of which is the Old Norse story of the time that Loki is tasked by Odin with getting the gods of Asgard out of a particularly unwise bet. The gods had made a deal with a builder to create a magnificent fortification, but that if the builder couldn’t do it in a ridiculously short time with no help except that of his horse, the gods would never have to pay for the fortress. It quickly becomes clear that that both the builder and his horse are possessed of magical abilities and will succeed at the seemingly impossible task. Loki tries various things, but eventually is only able to succeed by transforming himself into a beautiful mare in heat, and thus lure the magical horse away. In the Norse story, Loki actually mates with the horse and later gives birth to another magical steed, Sleipnir, which becomes Odin’s horse and figures in a lot of other myths.
I’m just glad that I never pointed out that little similarity back then. It was one thing when I was sometimes forbidden to check out certain books from the library, or buy certain paperbacks at the used book store. It would have been infinitely crueler to forbid me from watching Bugs and Daffy!
In subsequent years I started hearing the word being used pejoratively on the playground (this would be late sixties and through the seventies), and clearly the word meant either “idiot” or “dork” or “jerk.” By middle school the insult began to be a bit more sexual, but still definitely an insult, sort of a combination of “c*cksucker” and “wanker.”
Many lexicographers express skepticism that Bugs Bunny is to blame for the shift in the meaning of nimrod, but then fail to offer a compelling alternative explanation. Several of them trot out a line of dialogue from the obscure 1933 play, The Great Magoo. The word nimrod is clearly used as an insult, but it is specifically a reference to a man who had fallen in love with the showgirl, and that he’s another in a long line of nimrods pursuing her. The problem is that while it is being used as an insult, clearly the insult is still a reference to Nimrod the Mighty Hunter—in this case someone who sees this woman as a prize to be captured.
And since all of the lexicographers agree that the “synonym of idiot” meaning became common in the early 60s, it’s a little difficult to believe a play that flopped 30 years earlier was the source.
Another example that is trotted out is a series of humorous stories published in a British periodical in the late 19th Century which ran under the pseudnym of Nimrod. Each story is told in the first person and recounts another humorous misadventure while attempting to participate in a fox hunt. But that’s even harder to believe that the 1933 play, first, because of the longer period of time but also because all the dictionaries agree that the “synonym of idiot” meaning is chiefly a U.S. usage.
I’ve seen at least one person simply express skepticism that a single line of dialogue from a single short film could have the effect. I have several responses to that. First, it is three different Bugs Bunny cartoons in which the insult occurs (amusingly enough, only one of them is it used to describe Elmer Fudd, the other two times are both used against Yosemite Sam). The other thing is that from the late fifties through the seventies, Bugs Bunny was everywhere.
In 1956 Warner Brothers licensed the rights to all of their Looney Tunes cartons made up until mid-July 1948 to Associated Artists Productions. A.A.P. began syndicating them to local stations, and by 1958 were able to claim that the highest rated local shows in every metropolitan market were those that included at least some cartoons. No one had cable, and people could only get three to five local stations over the air, so your choices for entertainment were limited. And the syndication deals weren’t exclusive, so I remember that at one point in my elementary school years, where there was one show on one channel that ran every weekday morning around the time we were getting ready for school that included several Looney Tunes cartoons, plus a half hour show that ran every weekday at 4:30 on another channel that was all Looney Tunes cartoons, and another half hour of Looney Tunes that ran on a third channel every weekday at 5:30.
In addition, in 1960 Warner Brothers started producing and selling to various networks a program that combined cartoons made from mid-July 1948 on. First as a primetime weekly Bugs Bunny Show, then it moved to Saturday mornings. As I said, for a while, Bugs Bunny was everywhere.
According to at least one dictionary specializing in slang, the “synonym of idiot” meaning of nimrod was used prevalently by U.S. teens and pre-teens in the 70s and 80s. All of us kids watching Bugs Bunny cartoons in the 60s and 70s could account for the new meaning of the word arising in our age group quite nicely at that time. Whereas the obscure 1933 play and the humorous 19th Century British magazine origins just don’t make any sense as an origin for American schoolyard slang in the 70s, do they?
Finally, another reason to believe the fault lies with misunderstanding a sarcastic usage of the word is because it has happened in English many times. For example, terrific used to mean terrifying (terrific is to terror as horrific is to horror, as a friend so eloquently put it). How did terrific come to mean the opposite? Simple, the sarcastic or ironic use became far more common than the original meaning. Sometimes language just takes a left turn at Albuquerque, eh, Doc?
Which is exactly what homophobes have been sniggering and making fag jokes about with Le Fou since Disney released the animated version of the movie. Gaston is a parody of hetero hypermasculinity, and Le Fou is is craven, clownish sidekick willing to do anything at all to get the slightest bit of attention from Gaston. Le Fou’s lack of manliness in the animated film could be rationalized as being there to throw Gaston’s exaggerated masculinity into sharp contrast. Okay. Except that is exactly what the Hollywood sissy/coded gay sidekick has always been: he’s the example of what a “real man” isn’t. His whole point it to prove that unmanly men are jokes, at best. Not real people, but punchlines.
So they are taking the implicit hateful characterization and making it an explicitly hateful characterization. Thanks, but no thanks.There will be people who insist that we shouldn’t judge it until we see it, but they’ve given me enough information that I already know they have messed this up. The fact that they decided to announce it, for one. Just as if a person begins a statement with, “I’m not a bigot, but…” we all know that pure bigotry is going to follow, if you feel the need to announce you’re enlightened and inclusive, you don’t know what those words mean. The director has described the classic negative stereotype (confused, obsessed with a straight man) is what they’re going for. Worse, they’ve referred to it more than once as a moment. Just a moment. You know why it’s a moment? Because they are already making plans to edit that moment out of the international release, because they knew as soon as word got out that countries would start threatening to ban the film. Heck, Alabama is already up in arms about it!
That means that it’s a tacked on joke. It’s not part of the plot. It’s not a meaningful part of Le Fou’s characterization.
Even if they do something with it. Let’s say that at the end of the film they have a moment that implies maybe Gaston is ready to return his feelings? What message does that send? It tells us that hating women (Gaston’s exaggerated masculinity includes a lot of misogyny in the animated feature, just sayin’) or being rejected by women is what makes men gay. And, oh, isn’t that great inclusion?I mentioned that the Beauty and the Beast revelation was the second time this has happened this year. Previously it was Snagglepuss. Yes, DC Comics/Warner Brothers announced that the Hanna-Barbera cartoon character, Snagglepuss, was going to be reimagined in a new comic book series as “a gay Southern Gothic playwright.” Literally my reaction on twitter a nanosecond after I saw the first person retweeting the headline was, “reimagined? But that’s what he already was!”
Snagglepuss was a version of the sassy gay friend from the beginning. He was protagonist of his cartoon series, which wasn’t typical for the sassy gay friend (who is more typically a sidekick to one of the lead characters), but Snagglepuss broke the fourth wall constantly, addressing the viewer with his arch asides and sardonic observations. He was the viewer’s sassy gay friend, in other words. And he was cheerful and optimistic and always trying (but usually failing) to improve his life in some way. Despite the many setbacks, he remained cheerful and upbeat.
So the DC Comic (besides being drawn by an artist who has apparently never seen an athropomorphic character before—seriously, go hit that link above and tell me if that isn’t the worst comic book artwork you’ve ever seen!) takes the happy, upbeat fey lion and turns him into a bitter old queen. Again, thanks but, no thanks!
Coded queer characters have been appearing in pop culture for decades. Their portrayal as comic relief or as villains (and sometimes both) sent a clear message that they were not normal people. They are never the heroes. They can be loathed as villains, or tolerated and laughed at as sidekicks, but they will be lonely and unloved in either case. Neither of these supposedly inclusive announcements changes that homophobic message. It’s not, contrary to what certain evangelical hatemongers are saying, indoctrinating kids to be accepting of gays. It’s instead reinforcing the same old bigotry: we don’t matter, we are jokes, we are never the heroes, we are never loved.
Just another means of erasing the truth of our existence. No thanks!
As the article I linked points out, Guthrie wrote “This Land Is Your Land” in a fit of pique from constantly hearing Kate Smith’s “God Bless America” everywhere along with rhetoric which would sound very familiar to anyone clamoring to make america great again as if the deprivation and suffering and oppression of the working class, particularly during the oppression, had never happened. Guthrie’s original title (and lyric) was “God Blessed America for Me.”
And if you don’t understand that it’s a protest song, you might want to read these original verses that people almost never sing any longer:
Was a high wall there that tried to stop me,
A sign was painted said: Private Property,
But on the back side it didn’t say nothing —
That side was made for you and me!
In the squares of the city, In the shadow of a steeple;
By the relief office, I’d seen my people.
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking,
Is this land made for you and me?
Can you imagine if Lady Gaga had sung the verse about the high wall? Ha!Guthrie’s song is an especially good choice to subtweet the trumpkins, because back in the day, Guthrie was famous for writing “This Machine Kills Fascists” on his guitar. So it wasn’t just Captain America who was advocating punching Nazis at the time. Guthrie first wrote those words on his guitar after writing the song, “Talking Hitler’s Head Off Blues.” Guthrie argued (I think correctly), that fascism is a form of economic exploitation comparable to slavery, and that fascist leaders are essentially gangsters out to rob the world. He explicitly included within the category of fascist leaders all of the wealthy elite who profited from social, political and economic inequality.
Guthrie also argued that people who protested those inequalities were not thugs or outlaws, but are heroes rising “in times of economic turmoil and social disintegration” to fight “a highly illegitimate criminal endeavor intended to exploit the common people.”
Let’s go be heroes!
We’ve all heard it before when certain topics come up:
“I don’t see color. I see people.”
“I don’t care how you pray. All religions lead to god.”
“I don’t like labels like ‘gay’ or ‘straight.’ We’re all human.”
“When I look at you I don’t see a man or a woman. I see a friend.”
“It doesn’t matter who you vote for. The important thing is to participate.”
They are usually intended as a statement of support for marginalized people. It’s a way to say, “I’m not intolerant!” It sounds so warm, fuzzy, and affirming, right? Obviously if we don’t perceive a person as different, we must perceive them as equal? Right?
Well, not really. I suspect that most everyone reading this felt at least a little bit uncomfortable reading one of those statements. Or at the very least wanted to quibble with one. Which one rubs you the wrong way and why it does will be different from person to person, but the truth is that each of the statements is just as problematic. Even the ones you agree with.
First, let’s talk about labels. The person who ordered blood tests and prescribed medicine for me when I was sick is a doctor. The person who gives me assignments at work is my boss. The man I stood beside and said “I do” about when the officiant asked is my husband. The woman who gave birth to me is my mom. The man who adopted and raised my mother and her sister was my grandpa. We don’t have trouble with labels 99% of the time. Labels are how we communicate and make sense of just about everything in the world.
We only notice labels when those labels are perceived to promote or impede an agenda that we have a vested interest in. We only want to ignore labels when acknowledging them makes us uncomfortable. If, for instance, we benefit from a particular societal preference, acknowledging that difference implies that maybe our success isn’t solely due to our individual merits.
Ignoring labels is an act of denial or dismissal. Race, gender, religion, socio-economic status, sexual orientation are essential ingredients in our identity, whether we acknowledge it or not. Because we are confronted with and shaped by societal expectations from the day we are born. Just look at how outraged a lot of people got a few years ago when one couple tried to raise their baby genderless and refused to tell strangers the child’s sex. Or the many, many studies that have shown are very differently people interact with a baby depending on what gender they’ve been told the child is.
“To overcome racism, one must first take race into account.”
—Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun
The truth is that society discriminates against people based on race, gender, sexual identity, socio-economic status, religion, and many other factors that the people who are most likely to claim they don’t care about labels would agree shouldn’t make one unequal in the eyes of the law. We can’t make society more equitable if we don’t acknowledge both the inequalities and the things which trigger the unequal treatment.
So trying to ignore these labels—specifically either saying or implying that ignoring them is a better idea than using them—is a way to try to silence members of marginalized groups. It’s telling them that their lived experience of being discriminated against is less important than your comfort. And quite often it is often a way to say that you’re perfectly okay with the inequality as long as it doesn’t affect you.
Second, claiming that you don’t care. The more often someone repeats a statement that they don’t care about something, the harder it is to believe them. If they really didn’t care, they wouldn’t say anything. This has been demonstrated most clearly recently by people who get defensive about video games, claiming that the games aren’t sexist; besides, if you don’t like them, don’t play them. Then the same people threw a hissy fit and called for boycotts when someone cast four women to play the leads in the new Ghostbusters movie. If sexism and representation didn’t matter to them, they wouldn’t have gotten upset.
Now, I’ve had people claim that the only reason they say anything is because we keep talking about it (whichever category it is). This has happened to me personally most often in relationship to sexual orientation. The cliché that I have heard millions of time is, “why do you have to keep shoving your sexually in my face?” Most ironically it came from the co-worker who had plastered an entire wall of his office with pictures of himself, his wife, and their five children—and he was objecting to a single picture of my late first husband (in an ugly Christmas sweater, no less) that I had discretely tucked in a frame on my desk where most of the time no one but me could see it.
Humans are social animals. We often are defined by our relationships to other people. People mention spouses, children, parents, friends, niece and nephews, and so forth all the time, without thinking about it. Studies have shown that if people we work with are reluctant to share these sorts of real life details, that they are perceived as stand-offish and not team players. It affects the likelihood that they will get raises, get promotions, and even the likelihood that they will be the person chosen to be let go if there are layoffs. So queer people are caught in no-win situation. If they are honest and open about who they are, they get accused of shoving their sexuality on people. If they evade the topics, they’re not team players.
If labels really don’t matter, then you shouldn’t mind hearing about them.
Third, claiming that you don’t want to take sides, you just want to live and let live. Why does this have to be a conflict, you may ask? Or “being intolerant of bigotry isn’t very tolerant,” you may say. This is a false equivalency. It is logically identical to saying that the person who reports a theft to the authorities is making a victim of the thief.
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”
—Bishop Desmond Tutu
When inequalities exist, live and let live just perpetuates injustice. You aren’t being tolerant or neutral or impartial, you are actively supporting the side of the bigot. You are aiding in the oppression. You aren’t helping the oppressed, you are doing quite the opposite.Stop telling me what you don’t care about or don’t see. Show me what you’re doing to make the world a better place.
A couple of years ago I set myself a personal goal to “Reduce the Outrage.” I modified it and combined it with another last year, and carried it over again this year1. I’ve been sick off-and-on2 for about nine weeks, which means I’m cranky and prone to overreact a lot of the time. In one of the social/cultural spheres I inhabit, certain events are underway which increases the number of things being said about topics in which I have a lot of personal investment. Add to that the histrionics of the U.S. presidential campaign season, and it is really easy for me to find myself in an outraged state.
I’ve written before about letting oneself become outraged in unproductive ways, becoming resentful rather than doing something constructive, for instance. And I’ve quoted before the old proverb, “Resentment is like drinking poison and then waiting for the other person to die.”
The whole reason I set those goals about reducing outrage is because unproductive outrage is toxic and self-destruction and does no good to anyone.
But anger is a symptom of pain, and it is just as self-destructive to ignore pain. Finding something to do to alleviate the harm isn’t always easy. Root causes of many problems are beyond our control. I’m a writer; language is my primary toolset for tackling many problems. Unfortunately, analysis is something of an obsession with me, so I will over-analyze things and easily fall into a toxic spiral of writing, revising, ranting, revising, trying to be reasonable, revising some more—feeling increasingly frustrated and more outraged at every step.
I’ve been stuck in one such spiral for about two weeks.
Then, through a series of fortuitous clicks (reading one article, clicking a link in it, reading the referenced blog post, clicking a link in it, et cetera), I came across this post from Steve Saus4 from last May that said one of the things I’ve been thinking about so much perfectly: And you shall know them by their works. It says it so well, and more importantly, so succinctly, that I’m just going to quote the whole thing here:
There are two sides in our current culture wars.
But don’t decide which side is which by their names.
You will know them by their actions.
One side works so that everyone should have an opportunity to do something – get married, be nominated for an award, pee in whatever bathroom, be on television.
The other side already can – and has – done all those things. That side works so that only their group can get married, be nominated for an award, pee in a bathroom, or be on television.
Forget the labels for a second.
Are you working to give more people the same chances and opportunities… or to deny chances and opportunities to someone else?
It all comes down to that. Are you working to give people opportunities, or are you trying to keep opportunity out of their hands?
1. A post has long been brewing about my failure to post monthly goal reports the last two months of last year, and how I’m handling my goals this year.
2. Or maybe it’s continuously and those stretches of several days when I thought I was well in between the symptoms were just pauses in the illness. We’re not sure.3
3. Adding to the uncertainty is the fact that my husband has been sick much of the same time, though frequently our symptoms are out of synch. So when I’ve been feeling almost recovered, he’s been at his worst.
4. Steve Saus is a writer, editor, and publisher who blogs at Idea Trash. A blog which has now joined my regular reading list.