A SPECTRE IS HAUNTING TRIER, Germany—the spectre of Karl Marx. Today, tourists to the small Rhineland city visit the house where Marx was born and gaze at the armchair he died in. They take selfies in front of a larger-than-life Marx statue, gifted to the city in 2018 by the Chinese government.
On Friday, September 7th, six activists from Chicago South Asians for Justice stood up in the middle of the plenary panel of the World Hindu Congress in Chicago to voice their resistance to the Hindu nationalist political movement currently ascendant in India.
Chanting “RSS turn around, we don’t want you in our town!,” the activists—mostly young South Asian women— interrupted speaker Mohan Bhagwat, head of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The RSS is a hardline right-wing organization advocating Hindu nationalism or Hindutva, the political and cultural ideology that India is a fundamentally Hindu country. The RSS and other Hindu nationalist organizations have a long history of violence against religious minorities and people oppressed by India’s hierarchical caste system. The RSS is the ideological heart of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), currently in power in India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The current right-wing government has failed to take action against attacks on Indian religious minorities, with senior BJP officials even justifying rising anti-Muslim mob lynchings.
The Chicago South Asians for Justice action was one of a number of protests of the Congress over several days. The Alliance for Justice and Accountability, a coalition of progressive groups, coordinated a campaign against the Congress. Sikh, Muslim, Dalit, and Kashmiri communities led organizing efforts as well.
The crowd’s reaction to the Chicago South Asians for Justice protesters was violent. According to a group statement, a video from the Alliance for Justice and Accountability, and personal testimony of protesters, the activists were immediately attacked by the crowd. Attendees rose a chant of “Bharat Mata ki jai,” or “Victory to Mother India,” a nationalist slogan feminists have critiqued for its depiction of the nation as a woman. Activists reported being kicked, punched, choked, spat at, and verbally abused. One activist was called a “dirty Muslim” and given death threats. Two activists were arrested, and one Congress attendee was arrested and charged with battery for spitting in an activist’s face. Protesters have been subject to online harassment from Hindutva supporters since.
I spoke to two activists from Chicago South Asians for Justice, organizers Mansi Kathuria and Tara Raghuveer, about the action. (I know Raghuveer from previous organizing.) Chicago South Asians for Justice describes themselves as “a coalition resisting the rise of global fascism in the United States, India, and worldwide.” I asked them why their group decided to take such a visible action against Hindu nationalism, and how they view Hindutva in relation to growing white nationalism in the United States.
“Hindutva doesn’t exist on its own,” said Raghuveer. “It’s actually part of this now-ascendent global trend of nationalism and fascism that has been legitimized in recent years by Trump’s election, by Modi’s election, and by similar formal elections across the world.”
Not everyone is making these connections. While the action was widely reported in India, where similar political violence involving right-wing groups is commonplace, the protest received minimal attention in U.S. media beyond progressive outlets.
According to Kathuria, this information gap was embodied in the reaction of a white police officer who spoke to the protesters after they were taken to the station. The officer asked protesters to help him understand what, exactly, was happening. “To me that was a coded way of saying, ‘Why the hell are these brown people protesting other brown people?’” said Kathuria. “The cops were so confused.”
Raghuveer felt his confusion represented white Americans’ tendency to flatten the diverse experiences and political opinions of Asian Americans. “As a diasporic community we’re treated as a monolith,” she said.
Kathuria explained the situation to the officer using an analogy to political issues any contemporary American would be well aware of. “You know how some people think America should only be for white people?” she asked. “There’s people in India who think India should only be a nation for Hindu people, and it’s very similar. They oppress minorities and we stand against that.”
While Kathuria cautions that Hindu nationalism is specific to the history of South Asia, including the reality of caste oppression and anti-Muslim violence in India, the analogy between white nationalism and Hindu nationalism is certainly relevant.
Both white nationalism and Hindu nationalism express pride in a mythic “Aryan” racial identity, claimed alternately by white Europeans and dominant-caste Hindus. Both ideologies share a virulent Islamophobia, and have a history of anti-Muslim hate speech and violence in the name of a “battle of civilizations” against Islam. And both ideologies have gained prominence in the past few years under the watch of right-wing populist leaders Narendra Modi and Donald Trump.
The connections between these movements go beyond the symbolic. As The Caravan recently reported, many white nationalists have a fascination with Hinduism and India, establishing parts of their organizations in India and meeting with Hindu nationalist leaders. Some Hindu nationalists in India have articulated support for Trump, specifically for his anti-Muslim policies—and a group even celebrated his birthday. These ties are longstanding: it’s not uncommon to find copies of Mein Kampf hawked on the streets of Delhi or to hear RSS leaders celebrate the Third Reich for its “nationalist pride.” Meanwhile, the 2016 Trump fundraiser by the Republican Hindu Coalition had distinct Hindu nationalist overtones, including virulent rhetoric against Pakistan and “Islamic terrorism.”
According to Raghuveer and Kathuria, these beliefs were visible at the World Hindu Congress itself, in materials depicting interfaith marriage as a “silent Holocaust of Hindus.” Considering the frequency of brutal violence against interfaith and intercaste couples in India, this messaging is anything but benign.
In the Indian context, upper-caste Hindus vote disproportionately for the BJP. While the majority of Indian Americans lean Democrat, this doesn’t necessarily correspond with opposition to Hindu nationalism.
“A lot of our families in this country are benefitting from caste privilege,” said Raghuveer about dominant-caste Hindus in the United States. “Back in India they would be the beneficiaries of the current political order, but here they are ethnic and racial minorities who are on the other end of the ascendent Trumpist ideology in this country.”
Kathuria agrees. “Unfortunately, there are whole Indian-American communities that are against Trump, that understand why white supremacy is dangerous for them, but when you change the context and frame them in a country where they’re the majority, they’re not able to see the same dynamics.”
A statement from the Alliance for Justice and Accountability points to these inequalities and calls on Indian Americans who benefit from caste privilege to take a stand against Hindu nationalism.
Protestors called on Indian-American politicians, many of whom are Democrats, to demonstrate their commitment to minority rights by rejecting Hindu nationalism. The Alliance for Justice and Accountability called for a boycott of the World Hindu Congress. Democratic State Senatorial candidate Ram Villivalam, Chicago City Alderman Ameya Pawar, California State Assemblyman Ash Kalra, North Carolina State Senator Jay Chaudhuri, and U.S. Representative Tulsi Gabbard eventually pulled out of their scheduled appearances. Illinois Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi did speak at the Congress, for which he’s received criticism and continued demands from organizers to denounce the event and the violence against protestors. Finally, Chicago South Asians for Justice demanded that Chicago Alderman Ameya Pawar oppose Chicago’s proposed $95 million police and fire training center. Chicagoans have protested the center, arguing that money would be better spent on people-oriented programs.
For Kathuria, protesting the police academy and protesting the World Hindu Congress are both part of a global struggle against state and state-sanctioned violence. That’s what came through most clearly in my conversation with the Chicago South Asians for Justice activists: while violent nationalisms may be global, so is resistance. “Standing against state violence means standing against it everywhere,” Kathuria said.
Read the original piece at Feministing.
Cover photo: Vice President of India M. Venkaiah Naidu addressing the World Hindu Congress on September 9th. Press Information Bureau of India, Wikimedia Commons.
Defining things as racist is like that exercise swim instructors do, where they tell kids to swim to them but keep walking backwards so the goal is never actually reached. Except in this exercise, the American public is trying to agree on whether something is racist or not, and the swim instructor is the ever-receding standard for whichever horrid slur or xenophobic immigration policy can actually be labeled as such.
Case in point: the recent scandal over Omarosa breaking ranks at the White House and spilling the beans in her book. According to Omarosa, there is a tape (which she may or may not have heard? I don’t know, man) of Trump saying the n-word. Speculation about the tape is now everywhere — especially since Trump sent some nasty, very racist tweets about Omarosa herself.
The White House, of course, denies that anything about this is racist. If you trusted what the White House says (but like, why would you), nothing is actually racist. Not oh-so-subtle comments about immigration and demographic changes, or about Latino men being endemically sexually violent, or about how in the battle between neo-Nazis and antifa, “both sides” are kind of wrong. Meanwhile, white nationalist Jared Taylor isn’t racist, according to Jared Taylor, because being racist is a bad thing and lord forbid a white nation-state sound like a bad thing.
As an article from NPR’s Gene Demby points out, people feel racism is wrong, but aren’t great at confronting its manifestations — thus the definition of racism becomes endlessly elastic, that swim instructor forever out of grasp. As Demby writes:
One of the many victories of the civil rights movement was casting racism as a moral failure of our society. But that’s had the bizarre consequence of confounding the issue for many Americans, who have never been especially literate about race to begin with. That’s how we’ve ended up in a place where anyone of any political stripe can use racist as a cudgel, no matter how outlandish the allegation . . . less cynical Americans seem to look at racism in an equally odd way: Good people should endeavor to be colorblind and never talk about race or its unequal effects on how we live. And real racism is the province of a small cohort of uncomplicated knuckle-draggers whose presence is overstated by the ax-grinding, “identity politics” crowd.
Now, if it is true that Donald Trump used or uses the n-word, that would be despicable, because white people should not use the n-word. Full stop. Words have power, and it’s a terrible word for a reason. That reason is centuries of material, social, and cultural oppression all summed up in a demeaning speech act.
Beyond that, this particular scandal should not mean much, because at this point, we shouldn’t be debating whether the President is racist. As the inimitable Sam Sanders of NPR’s It’s Been a Minute summed up (yes guys, I’m on summer break, I listen to a lot of NPR):
So yeah, all of this is condemnable, but it’s also old news. Pretending this is an actual debate is playing directly into the hands of those who benefit from racism in general, and those who benefit from being actively racist in particular.
There’s another reason that it’s kind of useless, at this point, to debate whether Trump is racist or not. Even if we somehow got everyone to agree on this fact (unlikely) and agree that this fact is bad (also unlikely) and agree to reflect on the structural and systemic nature of this bad fact (most unlikely), we would still only be at the very beginning, because agreeing that something is racist is a baby step toward righting systemic and structural injustice.
Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy a good Trump scandal as much as the next disenchanted (but still genuinely idealist) leftist. It’s like watching a reality show in real time, except this reality show is the bare violence of the American political and economic system after the veneer of politeness has been burned in the fire of Trump’s orange hair. In context of the horrific injustice which has always been part of the American story (and part of the human story, of course, alongside some pretty beautiful, transformative stuff), clutching our pearls because the president doesn’t seem “presidential” (another code name for racism), is not the most effective way to create social change. There are a gazillion things I could think of that we should be devoting more air time to than this.
There’s some efficacy in covering the endless Trump scandal loop, in terms of bringing people out to vote in midterms, keeping people engaged in politics, and starting deeper conversations on these issues. There’s also, of course, a fundamental role for good journalism in constantly endeavoring to hold the White House accountable.
But change happens through movements, and all the hot takes in the world can’t start those.
Read the original article at Feministing.
It has, as the New York Times reports, been the year of the lynch mob.
Amid the increasing hysteria of a blatantly Hindu-supremacist, anti-Muslim, and anti-poor government, mob lynchings have been on the rise in India. Since 2015, reports The Quint, 68 people have been lynched, most of them Muslims or Hindus from oppressed castes. Stoked by vote-hungry politicians and exploding local social tensions, these lynchings have created a palpable terror for Indian minorities.
India is not alone in this trend. If the past three years of American politics have taught us anything, it is that ethnocentrism scores political points – and has real consequences. In recent US history, after all, white people lynching black people were politically-condoned and celebrated, with a legacy that persists today. While liberals decry Trump for sounding like “a third-world dictator,“ many recent domestic U.S. policies have simply brought the violence of long-standing American policy into glaring view.
I was reminded of the urgent need to look for these transnational connections by a recent New York Times articleon India’s lynching epidemic. The article explores a particular lynching in the state of Jharkand, where a Harvard-educated banker turned right-wing politician, Jayant Sinha, caused rightful outrage by congratulating the lynching-accused in a ceremony. (Though to be sure, this is not particularly surprising in a political climate where elected officials are supporting the rapists and murderers of children.)
While coverage of this case should provide an opportunity for us to reflect on how racial and religious violence are globally interconnected, the article instead depicted this violence as completely alien to American readers’ lives. As the article, titled “Seduced by Hate, Indian Politician Embraces a Lynch Mob,” opens:
Jayant Sinha is a Celtics fan. He graduated from Harvard. He worked for McKinsey…His American friends say his politics were moderate, maybe even progressive.
Then he returned to India.
He ditched the suits he had worn as a partner at McKinsey & Company, an elite management consulting firm, in favor of traditional Indian kurtas. He joined the governing Hindu right political party and became a member of Parliament and then a minister…
This opening already sets up a dichotomy: the West is liberal, tolerant, pluralistic, a world of erudite finance and boutique education. The postcolonial world, meanwhile, is a place of religious fanaticism and murderous mobs. There are hints of a Heart of Darkness-style primitivism as the article asks whether Indian politics are “so poisoned by sectarian hatred and extremism that even an ostensibly worldly and successful politician can’t resist its pull.” Swap out a Western suit for kurta pajama, this intro suggests, and you may swap out moderation for violence.
But what if being a Harvard graduate employed by McKinsey is not necessarily radically opposed to being a right-wing politician lauding a murderous mob?
Elite Western universities and financial institutions, after all, backed and benefitted from Western imperialism and slavery. Meanwhile, Harvard graduates and bankers are responsible for some of the worst economic and human rights abuses of our times. How many high-ranking members of the Bush, Obama, and Trump White Houses were Harvard graduates? How many Harvard graduates and bankers were behind the 2008 recession? Behind lethal, global economic and social inequality? Masterminding drone strikes that kill civilians? Imprisoning people without hope of fair trial at Guantanamo? Letting people die and be piled into mass gravesat the US-Mexico border? Championing the imprisonment of migrant children? Promoting or masterminding torture?
It is necessary to condemn mob violence. It is also relatively easy. It is more difficult, but equally urgent, to condemn structural violence, especially for privileged people who benefit from it . Privilege, after all, works precisely by hiding the violence it runs on; the more privileged we are, the less aware we have to be of the resource extraction, economic inequality, and structural racism that sustain us. This selective ignorance has brutal ramifications. As Malcolm X famously said, “If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.” Put another way: a black child in a hoodie may be killed. A war criminal in a suit may be President.
I got my BA from Harvard. I knew people there who came from myriad political and corporate dynasties responsible for far-reaching violence. Worse than that (because you can’t control where you come from but you can control where you’re going), I went to college with many people who went on to work for such dynasties. I’ve done corporate things I’m not proud of to turn a buck. Everyone’s gotta eat, and people with privilege may turn quite a few bucks taking up polite, suit-and-tie, nice-paycheck work that fills our bank accounts by exacerbating structural violence.
But having privilege does not mean we have to do evil; privilege can give us, in fact, a unique opportunity for disruption. Google and Microsoft employees who have been protesting against their employers’ complicity in the American security regime did something about it. Other people in similar positions can, too.
Which brings us back to the Conradian flavor of the New York Times article intro. Heart of Darkness is in many ways a racist text, but it does conclude with the reminder that the seat of evil is the seat of empire. Indian politics are unique from American politics, and lynchings have myriad social, economic, political, and cultural causes which are local, national, and regional in nature. But world politics have always been connected, and this has only sped up since those first colonizing European ships set sail. Follow the trail of what causes anti-Muslim lynching in Jharkhand far enough and some of the many social, political, and economic pathways will undoubtedly lead you back home.
Featured image: Narendra Modi and Donald Trump. Indian Express.
Every semester at Harvard University, students take their clothes off.
The event is called Primal Scream, and it happens on midnight before the first day of final exams. As the hour approaches, there is a palpable buzz in the central quad, the Harvard Yard. Students gather in various states of undress: towels and trenchcoats, gym shorts and jeans. A whiff of alcohol scents the air. At the stroke of midnight, the crowd of nude students runs a lap around the Yard.
Sometimes community members and tourists come to watch; the University and city police don’t intervene. The event is greeted with a certain nostalgic indulgence, a college tradition—and Harvard College at that. The future leaders of tomorrow, the reasoning goes, have to blow off some steam.
That’s not the indulgence a naked, and allegedly intoxicated, black Harvard undergraduate was recently greeted with. The young black man was tackled to the ground by four Cambridge Police Department policemen in the middle of a Harvard Square intersection. He was beaten once he was down, punched five times in the stomach. Blood was left on the ground. Students and national media alike agree it was an incident of racist police brutality, with dramatically excessive force unleashed on a student for the “crime” of nudity, which on other evenings, from other bodies, is greeted with not only indulgence but humor. Following the attack, students have organized protests and discussions about racist violence and policing. In the wake of continued brutal police violence against black people in America, most recently the murder of Stephon Clark, the incident shows us that even in elite spaces, black people are not safe.
The Cambridge Police department claimed the student had threatened them, which eyewitness accounts and video footage disprove. Racist internet commentators claim the student deserved to be beaten because of his nudity and intoxication. But in those Ivy-clad gates, nudity and intoxication are not particularly rare—they are, in fact, ritualized.
Which brings us to the point: The student was tackled because he was black. Because his body itself was a body out of place. Because his black body was not read with the endless tolerance granted to elite Harvard bodies, assumed to be white male bodies, which can shed clothes and sobriety without a thought in the world. The student was beaten because his body didn’t belong—echoing the experience of so many other black people at Harvard and similar elite educational institutions, city sidewalks, coffee establishments, and their very own homes.
The question of race, the body, and belonging at the elite university is a deep one. Early on in its history, Harvard included an “Indian college,” an institution with the explicitly racist mandate of culturally colonizing indigenous Americans. Fueled on slave money, Harvard became a finishing school for elite white men. From the 1940s to the 1960s, the rule of the white, male, upper class body was further formalized through a eugenics experiment which lasted several decades: All incoming undergraduates were to be photographed naked in the guise of checking that they had “proper posture.” The ideology underlying these photographs, however, was about much more than standing straight: It was based on the idea that the body could tell you about the underlying traits of the person—and that some bodies were better than others. This is the mid-19th century racist pseudoscience of eugenics, which created a hierarchy of “ideal” bodies—and thus, “ideal” minds—according to race, with white males at the top.
Even after the specific project of eugenics was discontinued at the university, its traces remained. There is a meeting room in one of the dorms at Harvard (at least, I’m assuming it’s still there since I left in 2015—it’s the kind of awful racial artifact which is called “heritage”) whose walls are plastered with a mural of tall white men with sculpted physiques jogging and rowing. They are visions of vigor, rosy-cheeked and white, with the vague homoerotics of Abercrombie models. The aesthetics of the mural are unsettlingly reminiscent of idealized Aryan bodies in Nazi art, like the Nazi Olympics photographs of Leni Riefenstahl. Of course, these painted white bodies are practically naked. They are not beaten by cops.
More than decor, in my time as an undergraduate at Harvard, this hierarchy of bodies was a part of the landscape, both social and physical. Just walk down the main drag on a Friday night and you’d see women (appearances labored over with the knowledge that in these spaces, our bodies were our currency) queued up in front of unmarked mansions, elite social clubs manned and managed by squadrons of elite men. In this version of Harvard Square—protected by a sheen of wealth, an aura of generalized whiteness, and a “boys will be boys” tolerance for sexual violence in the name of fun—there was no penalty for nudity and drugs. Police did not enter the mansions to beat the cocaine-snorters into a pool of their own blood. When a tall, muscular, blonde-haired white man drunkenly walking past us one Saturday night slapped my friend’s belly, laughing like all women belonged to him, the police did not tackle him. When I stood in Harvard Square naked and intoxicated, a white woman participating in the esteemed College’s Primal Scream ritual, I was not beaten when down.
Yet just as this regime of elite white nakedness has persisted, there have been moments of interruption, of assertion by the people whose bodies who do not belong.
For example: Primal Scream, my senior year. It was a few months after Michael Brown was murdered and a wave of protests was shrieking across America. Cambridge, too: A group of black students organized a Black Lives Matter protest at Primal Scream. That night, the small group of protesters stood, a line of mostly black and brown students in front of the restive, naked, and mostly white crowd. They requested, demanded, begged a few moments of silence from the students. The crowd either didn’t hear or didn’t care. As the protestors shouted “Black Lives Matter,” a chant came from within the opposing mass of naked bodies: “USA! USA!”
Not only did the students, mostly white, many drunk, and in the garb of an elite college’s esteemed tradition run naked against the wall of protestors: They claimed all of America in doing it.
As I watched the recent video of the young black man being tackled, then beaten when down, I remembered another image, stark and ironic: A memory of a naked, intoxicated white man, proudly walking across the very same street.
It was after the Primal Scream with the Black Lives Matter protest. As the chaotic crowd dispersed, I saw him crossing the road. Athletic and blond-hair, blue-eyes-nude, he had draped a (real) fox fur across his shoulders, the image of an Olympic victor in a Leni Riefenstahl photograph. He walked toward the private mansion of the moneyed, all-male social club to which I knew he belonged. He projected the easy arrogance of a man whose body commanded other bodies (I too had smarted under his sexist comments, the sense of casual ownership they expressed). Like a figure out of that athletic wall mural or an animated posture photograph, he was the kind of body for whom the elite university was built.
The naked white man, of course, was not beaten to the ground.
Originally published at Feministing
Donald Trump and his cadre of evil cronies sure have a way of making the worst decisions, always. A recent treat: DeVos’s announcement that she will roll back Title IX enforcement. This anti-survivor plan, cooked up after conversations with MRAs, has been deemed a terrible idea by at least 100,000 student activists.
The recent decision illuminates a fact we knew was true, but the Trump administration is proving without a doubt: In order to actually obtain equality for women, it’s not enough to get women into power.
It matters, instead, which women we get into power. Women will not always help women. Often, women will harm other women terribly.
At the end of the day, alas, lots of powerful women suck politically.
This of course is a truism by now, but at a moment when some of the top Trump cronies are women, it bears repeating and its implications for how we think about identity and representation require serious thought.
The Trump administration and some of their star supporters from the right wing have amply proven that female identity does not necessarily equal feminism. Ivanka’s false feminism is the stuff of legend – and grisly racist, sexist daily reality. Betsy DeVos and her civil rights assistant, Candice E. “90% of rape complaints are false” Jackson surely prove this fact. And of course, Kellyanne Conway’s rampant apologism and complete dismissalof feminism certainly counts.
This isn’t even to mention the lady stars of the alt right, whose advocacy for a white ethnostate is closely followed by their embrace of traditional gender norms.
And of course, there is a long history of less overtly horrible women making decisions that are ultimately horrible for women, or horrible for any woman who isn’t rich and white – from the racism of first-wave feminists like Elizabeth Cady Stanton to (yes, gotta say it) the militaristic violence promoted by Hillary Clinton.
Okay, we get it: Women in power don’t always help women and can often harm them. So what does this mean?
This should remind us that when we talk about identity politics, we can’t and don’t just mean identity in the sense of representation. Representation is, of course, important in and of itself: Those who have been excluded from power and have had their rights denied have a right to claim that power, period. But in our own political analysis, we need to pay attention to not only a person’s identity, but how that identity fits in a structure – and whether that person’s policies and politics will actually dismantle that structure.
A logic of pure representation – in which the only thing we care about is seeing marginalized people in any position of power – is very vulnerable to right-wing appropriation. To make an obvious example, the alt-right may contain some women leaders, but it is in no imaginable way feminist. And we can all name public figures from oppressed groups – whether they be women, people of color, or queer people – who actively work for an agenda which is frankly bad for people within that oppressed community, or which is bad for people within those communities who are oppressed in some other way. Ideology matters. Intersectionality matters.
And if we examine the history of identity politics as a concept, we’ll find the idea that identity politics merely means representation is a vast oversimplification of a politically powerful and nuanced concept. If we look, for example, at the Combahee River Collective statement – a landmark black feminist document which created “identity politics” as a political weapon – we find a much more complex conception of identity politics than the simplistic dismissals articulated on Fox News.
The Collective writes of experience as a source of knowledge, and of marginalized people’s self-awareness of their own oppression as a political weapon. They argue that they have a fundamental value as human beings. As they are the best people to recognize this value and to recognize the conditions of their oppression, they are also best equipped to fight for their own liberation through feminism, anti-racism, and socialism. They write:
There is also undeniably a personal genesis for Black Feminism, that is, the political realization that comes from the seemingly personal experiences of individual Black women’s lives. Above all else, Our politics initially sprang from the shared belief that Black women are inherently valuable, that our liberation is a necessity not as an adjunct to somebody else’s but because of our need as human persons for autonomy…This focusing upon our own oppression is embodied in the concept of identity politics. We believe that the most profound and potentially most radical politics come directly out of our own identity, as opposed to working to end somebody else’s oppression.
In an age where the right is appropriating language and concepts initially created by the left (safe spaces for Zionists, anyone?), we have to be on our toes. This includes remembering, every time, that our feminism needs to more complicated than simply getting more women to lean in to high-power positions. Let’s opt, instead, for transformation.
There is a fundamental contradiction in our attitude toward sexual violence — and Donald Trump embodies it perfectly.
After I watched the second debate, beat my breast in mourning, and wiped my tears off my laptop screen , I realized which part of Trump’s soul-killing word diarrhea I hated most.
It was a line I have heard, practically verbatim, from not one but multiple men whom I have confronted for sexual harassment: “I have great respect for women. No one has more respect for women than me.”
Give me a fucking break.
“No no,” this logic goes. “You, woman, are wrong. I could not possibly have assaulted/harassed you, you see, because I, Mr. Important Sun Shines out of My Ass Misogynist, respect women. Not only do I respect women, little lady, I respect women more than anyone else in the entire world. More than bell hooks. More than Gloria Steinem. And certainly more than you.”
On one hand, these words from Trump’s orange lips are so blatantly hypocritical they make my head explode into a thousand tiny glass shards. How can someone so sexist that Tic Tac the mint company issued a statementagainst him claim to respect women?
But actually, if we examine our culture’s broader conversation about sexual assault, Trump’s statement that he “respects woman” is more normal than we’d like to think.
Everyone loves to say they are against sexual assault and rape. Hell, plenty of rapists say they are against sexual assault and rape. Yet while 91% of Americans believe that “women should have the same rights as men,” sexual violence remains so normalized that many still consider raping an unconscious woman not “real” violence but “twenty minutes of action.”
We can see this even in recent coverage of Trump’s comments. As many have very ably said in the past few days, perhaps even more fucked up than Trump’s words are conservatives’ (and some liberals’) responses to them.
There’s the problem of where, exactly, our priorities are as a country. Trump has said all kinds of vile, racist, quasi-genocidal shit about people of color—you may just remember a little proposal to, oh I don’t know, ban Muslims from entering the country—yet Trump still received his party’s endorsement.
Read the rest on Feministing.
Check out my new piece at Time about Harvard’s final clubs — and why they represent a legacy of exclusivity that has no place in the 21st century University.
Walking down Massachusetts Avenue on a Friday night was always an exercise in exclusion. This main drag through Harvard’s campus in Cambridge, Mass., has the rare distinction of being home to many of Harvard’s final clubs: Elite, mansion-owning, semi-secret, all-male social societies governed and funded by some of Harvard’s most powerful alumni. Every Friday and Saturday night, the mansions light up with opulent parties to which most of us can only dream of being invited. These parties aren’t just a question of free booze: To me and to many of my peers, they symbolize both the mythical elite class we so long to tap into as Harvard students and the searing sense of alienation that so many of us—at least those who did not come from private school, from racial privilege or the 1%—feel at the high-powered institution.
In March, results of a survey came out linking the clubs—which frequently serve as male-controlled party spaces—to instances of sexual assault. Subsequently, administrators urged the final clubs to gender integrate, threatening administrative action for noncompliance. Predicting this administrative pressure, a few clubs have recently opted to go co-ed. Others, however, have been far more recalcitrant.
Typical of this recalcitrance is a statement recently issued by Charles M. Storey, the Graduate Board President of one of the oldest and most “esteemed” of these organizations, the Porcellian Club (PC). Storey’s statement is the club’s most extensive public message since its founding in 1791. Accordingly, his ideas seem to come right out of that era. He argues that administrative action against student membership in the exclusionary clubs is “McCarthyism.” Meanwhile, he says, admitting women “could potentially increase, not decrease, the incidence of sexual assault on campus.” Dear Mr. Storey, please tell me: Do you really think men are so inherently violent they can’t possibly stop themselves from raping their female peers if they are placed near them? Clearly, we have a serious gender problem.
Find the whole article here.
When I tell my parents that I wish I’d been less serious about my college relationships, they simultaneously snort into their spaghetti. Who, you? Our daughter who has publicly admitted to making out with half the lesbian, queer, bisexual, bicurious and questioning women at Harvard? Less serious?
They’ve read my sex writing.
But sex writing can be misleading. When I’ve fallen in love, I’ve fallen like a plane crash in slow motion. A long, drawn-out descent with an abrupt and blazing finish. The autumn I was 19, I was planning my work-life balance as a politician’s wife — only to break up with this future leader while arguing with him over bell hooks in a Chinese restaurant. The spring I was 20, I was Googling real estate prices in San Diego, then ducking out of parties to fight with this long-distance girlfriend over the phone.
Two years later, the whole family is gathered around the dinner table on a muggy July night in suburban New Jersey, debating my and my sisters’ love lives.
I’ve just graduated from college and am in the middle of a romance that is both blossoming and necessarily ending as I prepare to spend a year abroad. My sister is also grappling with long-distance love.
“No, really,” I tell them. “Just because you don’t want to be with somebody monogamously forever doesn’t mean they’re not great for you — or that you don’t love them.
“I think different people can be right for you at different times in your life.”
“Well, I don’t believe that,” my father says emphatically. “When you find someone you work with, that’s a very precious thing. That’s not something to be taken lightly.”
He would know: He and my mother have been together for 38 years, since they were 15 and 16.
“I don’t know, honey,” my mother says. “It can be hard to know when you’re so young. It can be good to see other people.”
My mother is onto something. It’s not that I think monogamy is bad: For lots of people — like my parents — it’s great. But I’m not so sure I’m one of those people.
Read more in the Washington Post.