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.
The Washington State Supreme Court ruled on Friday that the citizen-passed initiative creating charter schools, allowing such schools to divert tax dollars from public schools to these schools, violates the state constitution: Late Friday surprise: Supreme Court says charter schools initiative is unconstitutional.
“We hold that the provisions of I-1240, that designate and treat charter schools as common schools violate article IX, section 2 of our state constitution and are void. This includes the Act’s funding provisions, which attempt to tap into and shift a portion of moneys allocated for common schools to the new charter schools authorized by the Act. Because the provisions designating and funding charter schools as common schools are integral to the Act, such void provisions are not severable, and that determination is dispositive of the present case.”
— Chief Justice Barbara Madsen
This is a big win. I know that some of my friends think that charter schools are wonderful. They aren’t. That’s not a matter of opinion. The only study that pro-charter school people always quote proves that they aren’t. People misquote the studies all the time, “Charter schools produce 20 percent better student outcomes than public schools.”
No. The studies actually find that between 15-18 percent of charter school students perform as good or better than the average public school student. That means the more than 80 percent perform worse. Also, what does “average” mean in these statistics? Well, as a matter of fact, when we determine a statistical mean (what most people call an average) of all the public schools, that means that 50% of public school students perform as well or better than the average. That’s how we calculate it. “What is the performance level that half the kids perform better than, and the others perform worse than.”
What’s worse, the charter schools get to exclude students who are difficult to teach. Public schools have to accept everyone. By excluding the more difficult students, the charter schools should have better outcomes just because they start with students more likely to be successful. Since that have significantly worse outcomes despite this advantage, that means they’re even worse at education than the statistics would have you believe.
Charter schools don’t work better than public schools, and they don’t even work as well as public schools. And they are stealing money from the public schools that are doing a better job (not perfect, but provably better) to do it.
In other news
In another story about people using public funds, facilities, and authority to further a private agenda: How Kim Davis’s Imprisonment Is A Win for Religious Liberty:
As soon as the news of Davis’s arrest broke, conservative Christians began referring to Davis as a “martyr”, claiming that her arrest crossed the line into persecution because of her Christian faith. As an evangelical myself, I want to suggest a different perspective than the one many of my other brothers and sisters have been offering. I believe that Kim Davis’s arrest is neither persecution or an impingement on her religious liberties. In fact, I believe her arrest actually strengthens religious liberty nation wide…
… Kim Davis posed a great threat to the religious liberties of our nation by refusing to carry out her duties as an agent of the state, issuing marriage licenses to all couples, regardless of their sexuality or gender identity. Davis forced her Christian faith on the people of Rowan County, and violated their right to be able to receive equal treatment from the government, regardless of their sexuality, race, religion, or values. If Davis was able to continue serving as the county clerk, she could, in theory, continue to refuse to grant marriages licenses or provide services to everyone she disagrees with, which would, in effect, completely dissolve the religious freedoms of the people in her county.
Related, Dan Savage has a nice take-down of the current claim that it isn’t fair or just for people to talk about Davis’ many divorces and related issues: The Federalist: Baptists Aren’t Christians
Yes, Davis has been divorced three times and is on her fourth marriage, Hemingway concedes, but not one Davis divorces “[took] place within the time period she was Christian.” It’s a miracle: Davis hasn’t divorced anyone since becoming a Christian. So it’s not fair and totally uncool for people to bring up Davis’s own not-the-least-bit-biblical marital history. Davis isn’t one of those “screw as I say, not as I screw” conservatives… because she wasn’t a Christian back when she was marrying and cheating and divorcing and marrying and divorcing and cheating and marrying and divorcing.
So what was Kim Davis back then? Was she a Zoroastrian? Was she a Rastafarian? Was she a Rosicrucian?
Kim Davis was a f–ing Baptist.
Her first three marriages were performed in a Baptist Church of which she was a member. Her first three marriage licenses (issued by the county) were signed by a Baptist minister. I was raised Baptist. You do not become a member of a Baptist Church until you make a declaration of faith, said declaration is accepted by the congregation (“all in favor signify by saying ‘Amen'”), and being Baptized into the faith (or providing proof that you had been Baptized in another Baptist church). That acceptance from the congregation is required, in part, because Baptists don’t believe it is right to Baptise children who are too young to understand what they are doing. The congregation is collectively saying they believe your declaration is sincere.
So Davis’ defenders who are claiming she wasn’t Christian back when she was doing all this stuff that is actually explicitly prohibited by the same Jesus she claims told her not to issue civil marriage licenses to gay couples are essentially claiming that Baptists aren’t Christian.
If the words of Jesus are a legitimate reason to withhold a marriage certificate from a pair of consenting adults, than Kim Davis should not have received her second, third, and fourth licenses. If the argument is that a later “cleansing by the blood of Christ” makes all of that okay, then logically it is wrong to withhold the licenses from otherwise legally qualified people because who can say whether or not they may have an epiphany and a literal “come to Jesus” moment later?
All of the reports point back to the same announcement on Facebook from one of Phelps’ sons, Nate (who fled the cult at 18 years old back in 1976, has since come out as atheist, and has spent many of the last decades working in favor of LGBT rights). A few people have called Nate and other excommunicated family members to confirm a few facts: the senior Phelps was excommunicated from his own cult last August, and he’s currently a patient at the Midland Hospice Center in Topeka.