Clueless White Woman

July 31, 2008

the dog ate my HIV statistics?

Filed under: cluelessness,international — by clueless @ 4:40 am
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In one of those weird coincidences, my RSS reading for the evening turned up two AIDS-related blog posts:

A positive (1) HIV Treatment Extends Life Expectancy — a scientific study has proven the efficacy of anti-retroviral drugs, another strong argument against HIV denialists (beetroot? BEETROOT?!? I will never stop shaking my head over that)

And a depressing (2) via Anxious Black WomanU.S. Blacks, if a Nation, Would Rank High on AIDS. Quoting from this NY Times article, emphasis mine…

If black America were a country, it would rank 16th in the world in the number of people living with the AIDS virus, the Black AIDS Institute, an advocacy group, reported Tuesday….

Nearly 600,000 African-Americans are living with H.I.V… up to 30,000 are becoming infected each year. When adjusted for age, their death rate is two and a half times that of infected whites, the report said. Partly as a result, the hypothetical nation of black America would rank below 104 other countries in life expectancy.

In a separate report on Tuesday, the United Nations painted a somewhat more optimistic picture of the worldwide AIDS epidemic, noting that fewer people are dying of the disease since its peak in the late 1990s and that more people are receiving antiretroviral drugs….

The Black AIDS Institute… said that more black Americans were living with the AIDS virus than the infected populations in… 7 of the 15 countries that receive support from the [Bush] administration’s anti-AIDS program.

The international effort is guided by a strategic plan, clear benchmarks like the prevention of seven million H.I.V. infections by 2010 and annual progress reports to Congress… “America itself has no strategic plan to combat its own epidemic.”

Why is that? I really don’t get the logic. Is there logic there, even weird logic that I might be able to rationally consider and discuss and rebut? It’s just fucking wrong!

What’s weird/creepy in the story — yes, it isn’t just sad — is this:

The group also chided the government for not reporting H.I.V. statistics to the United Nations for inclusion in its biannual report.

Dr. Fenton said the C.D.C. had ensured that its data were forwarded to officials in the Department of Health and Human Services and was investigating why the data were not in the United Nations report.

Others speaking for the agency said the answer would have to come from the State Department, which did not respond to an inquiry.

CDC sent statistics to HHS, who didn’t send it to the UN, and HHS says the State Department can explain all this, but they won’t. WHAT THE FUCK? We’re supposed to be leading the free world, and we can’t file paperwork properly?

Aren’t we always told it’s pure evil when a country doesn’t provide clear, honest information about problems? Don’t we always hear about how China or some other regime we dislike is supressing true statistics of HIV infection?

So are we incompetent, or are we trying to hide information? (They seem about equally plausible, don’t they?)


July 28, 2008

read the fine print…

Excerpt from Executive Order 9066:

…I hereby authorize and direct the Secretary of War… to prescribe military areas… from which any or all persons may be excluded, and with respect to which, the right of any person to enter, remain in, or leave shall be subject to whatever restrictions the Secretary of War or the appropriate Military Commander may impose in his discretion. The Secretary of War is hereby authorized to provide for residents of any such area who are excluded therefrom, such transportation, food, shelter, and other accommodations as may be necessary… to accomplish the purpose of this order.

I don’t think I ever realized just how innocuous-sounding the initial stage of “put every Japanese-American in prison” was. I knew it happened, and knew it was bad, but I didn’t know it was written so incredibly vaguely.

Mixed Race America draws a strong parallel between the 1942 Executive Branch overreach and the 200x Executive Branch overreach. The ability to “legal power to order the indefinite military detentions of civilians” was wrong then, so why is it right now?

originally found via What Tami Said

July 22, 2008

Can a fortune-telling ban discriminate?

Filed under: cluelessness,stereotypes — by clueless @ 6:51 pm
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A man wants to set up a business, but can’t because of a law in the county that prohibits that kind of business: fortune telling. So he’s suing.

Attorneys for Nick Nefedro, previously of Key West, Fla., say county officials violated his First Amendment rights to free speech and discriminated against his “Roma,” or Gypsy, culture when they refused to give him a business license. Montgomery code dating back to the early 1950s prohibits collecting cash for predicting the future.

“The underlying purpose is to prevent people from being taken advantage of, because it’s a scam,” Clifford Royalty, a lawyer in the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office, said….

“This legislation, this policy is focused really on the Gypsies,” [Nefedro’s attorney] Amourgis said. “How is what he’s doing different than running a horoscope? Who are they to say that is not fraudulent but my client is?”

I’m not entirely sure what to think.

Part of me is saying, “maybe we should listen to the guy who claims he’s being discriminated against.”

Another part is saying, “psychics are total baloney no matter their ethnicity and he’s playing bullshit” — supported by the allegation that this ban violates his right to free speech (since he can stand about telling the future as much as much as he wants, he just can’t get paid for it). And last time I checked, most psychics (e.g. the 1-900’s, the lady down the block who does palm reading in her house, Sylvia Browne, and so many others) aren’t Gypsies anyway 😛

July 14, 2008

everybody else is talking about it, why not me

Filed under: cluelessness,CONSPIRACY! — by clueless @ 5:35 pm
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Yes, it’s that “satirical” Obama cover.

From the end of a CNN article covering reactions to the now-infamous New Yorker cover image

A Newsweek poll released Friday showed that 12 percent of those polled believed Obama was sworn in as a U.S. senator on a Quran, and 26 percent believed that he was raised as a Muslim. Neither is true.

The numbers are in line with “people who can be convinced of almost anything”. The Twin Towers were taken out by dynamite not airplanes, the moon landing was filmed on a sound stage, Elvis is alive, and aliens regularly kidnap and impregnate our women. There will always be a population that will believe anything you can come up with.

The effect is somewhat counteracted by the fact that these people accumulate multiple unfounded beliefs. So if 12% believe he was sworn in on the Quran, and 26% believe he was raised a Muslim, that isn’t a total of 38% who believe some form of Obama-is-a-Muslim rumor. But, unfortunately, there’s still a big chunk of people who (1) believe the total bullshit they hear, (2) like to tell everyone they encounter this shocking revelation, and (3) build on it to create even more extreme bullshit. That’s how “Obama sounds like Osama” turns into “obviously he’s a Muslim”, then “obviously he’s best friends with Al Qaeda”.

In a way, this is laughable — these people are so silly! But really, it’s not funny at all. 9/11 conspiracy theorists, for example, inevitably send me into a frothing rage* when they talk about their “discoveries” in my presence. I don’t get as angry about all conspiracy theories, but I feel like I should — undermining of logical, fact-based discussion is a problem. (Partly because those of us who live on Planet Earth have to waste our time and energy arguing with crazies.)

And honestly, I just don’t understand how the picture is supposed to be satirical — I suppose the artist intended to create that, but failed. It doesn’t show the satire-worthy idiots who promulgate the myths, it just shows the myths. It doesn’t tell anybody anything new (we’ve seen all this for months, zzzzz), nor does it put a clever twist on things — just squishes as much bullshit together as possible. And putting it all together in one wince-worthy picture — you’ve simply given the gullible conspiracy theorists CLEAR EVIDENCE that militant black radicals are cooperating with Islamic extremists to take over the country and trample The American Way Of Life. How’s that funny?

* I lived in Boston in 2001, I experienced the terror and uncertainty, I had friends who lost friends on those flights, and I will fucking flip out if you start an incompetent “engineering analysis” of the day’s events. Especially since I’m an engineer and actually know what engineering analysis is, and you don’t, you fucking tools.

July 9, 2008

AMA and institutional discrimination

Heard on NPR this afternoon: AMA To Apologize For Past Discrimination

The American Medical Association plans to apologize for past discrimination against minority physicians. The group did not take a stand against discrimination by state medical societies — including the exclusion of African-Americans — until the 1960s.

Apparently the audio will be available online in a few hours. I can’t find any press release on the AMA’s website confirming this, although I don’t mean to cast doubt on NPR’s reporting by saying that UPDATE July 10: the AMA press release is now available on their website.

This is a story to which the clueless person — by which I mean me — says, “Holy crap, that was recent! How could it possibly have gone on that long?”

Yes, I know, I’m really fucking clueless.

In practice, apparently, this wasn’t actively stating that black physicians were not eligible for membership; the central AMA left such “policy” decisions up to local branches. And despite my shock at discrimination being so recent, I was not particularly surprised to learn that the Southern branches were the ones who continued to insist on “autonomy” in such decisions. (How very neo-Confederate. What a shame they don’t believe in such autonomy when it comes to subsidizing religion on license places.)

The complete chronology of “Race and the AMA” is available at at their own site. This part seems a textbook example of historical patterns of discrimination having long-term effects:

Demographic survey results [from 2000]: House of Delegates: 88 percent male, 84 percent White, 2 percent Black, 1 percent Hispanic, 2 percent Asian, 0 percent Native American, 11 percent Unknown All physicians and medical students: 75 percent male, 51 percent White, 2 percent Black, 3 percent Hispanic, 7.9 percent Asian, 0.1 percent Native American, 33 percent Unknown.

Note not only the racial disparity in the overall population of physicians, but also the disparity between those statistics and the percentages which make up the AMA itself. No white privilege there… o_O

July 4, 2008

German toy maker is ultra-clueless

No, really, it\'s Obama

No, really, it's Obama

Präsidentschaftskandidaten Barack Obama has a new commemorative doll. Made in Germany. And this is what it looks like.

Feel free to exclaim, “Wait, what?!?

It’s not just the skin tone. It’s the combination of skin tone with the childish fat cheeks. Put dark skin with a baby face and “pickaninny” is what will come to mind for a lot of Americans. (Even if they don’t know what a pickaninny is, which I actually didn’t until recently, they’ll recognize it as how black people were caricatured for years and years…)

And he gave it a flag pin.

A good friend of mine is a political scientist in Germany who specializes in analyzing neo-Nazi groups and looking at bigotry trends. So I figured, hey, who better to ask about German racism than a German who studies racists? His response:

You know, first I read only the article and thought, huh, what is the fuss about? I mean, some guy is making money with selling stupid stuff, and he wasn’t able for whatever reason to get the colour right. Who cares? But then I actually had a look at the pictures and thought, well, now I can understand why someone could find this quite offensive.

I dunno, I’d say that this is primarily cluelessness, but one would have to talk to this guy to really find out. I think racism against black people is not really a hot topic amongst german bigots anyway. They’ll tell you that blacks can dance so well and that they admire that and stuff, but leave it at that, as black people are not something they are really interested in. The colonial past of this country is more or less forgotten, since Germany lost all of it’s colonies (and it never had many colonies anyway) already in WWI – and as a result there are only few black people living in Germany, unlike in France or the UK, which had kept their colonies longer.

So it’s possible that Offermann was being a snickering bigot. And it’s possible that he was being clueless and bumbling. Looking at the other dolls he’s made, I think it’s the latter. Try to guess who this one is…

Guess Who

Guess Who

Give up?

It’s Lady Diana. Blond and Caucasian and in a white dress equals Princess Di.

He’s just really bad — or not bothering — to create a resemblance. He’s dressing stuff up in symbolic clothes and calling it commemorative. (Ratsinger, for example, is identifiable only because he’s dressed in papal regalia and is labelled “Pope”.)

All the kerfuffle and intricacies shown in American media is apparently absent in Germany. What they know there is that a black man is running for President. And how do you show that? A pickaninny in a suit with a flag on his lapel. Obviously.

At least he didn’t show Obama breakdancing.

Melting pot problem

Filed under: cluelessness,confusion,white privilege — by clueless @ 1:29 am
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Yesterday I was reading Diversity Inc’s “Why Whites Can’t Get Over Color“, a response to a letter they received. It’s very educational; the letter writer gave the laundry list of what I hear from thinking-they-mean-well white people at work — and Visconti concisely and politely rebutted each point. I’ll shamelessly borrow from it whenever I next have to endure a conversation about how the special BET channel is so racist because if whites did it (yada yada yada)…

The portion I’m going to discuss in detail today, however, was a sentence that I initially passed over as not terribly central. The letter writer said:

I love the fact that America is a big melting pot, full of color and different cultures. Why not embrace that instead of constantly bickering over it.

And the response:

You close with an illuminating contradiction. You can’t celebrate “color and different cultures” and embrace the “melting pot” at the same time. The “melting pot” is about subjugating your culture and forcing a person to “melt” into the white culture.

Melting who you are into a pot is not what makes a person American. What makes a person an American is embracing our Constitution, which empowers and protects our individual ability to remain ourselves.

My husband, who was reading over my shoulder, snorted. “That’s not what the melting pot is supposed to mean. Why are people upset about the term ‘melting pot’?” So, we had a good discussion contrasting the two interpretations: (1) the “melting pot” has lots of ingredients put into it and is tastier as a result, versus (2) the “melting pot” dilutes its various components, thus tending to marginalize minority “ingredients”.

I don’t think the first interpretation is completely invalid. I like having diverse cultures around, especially when they open restaurants near me 🙂 However, “melting pot” is almost never used on its own; it’s used in sentences like “this country is a melting pot, why are you being different”. And that is a huge contradiction. You can’t pick and choose the things you like about different cultures (in my case, usually food) and then say the rest is “just being difficult” or something.

Part of me feels like there’s a labeling problem. The simple definition of “melting pot” (lots of cultures in one space) is rather like the simple definition of “racist” (somebody who hates other races) — it gives a vague idea, but completely misses out on a lot of subtleties. Exploring the problem of racism nowadays is often about subtleties, little things that add up to big problems. Getting into a healthy, productive discussion can be hard because people get defensive. In my husband’s case, it was more that he’d never really given the alternative interpretation any thought. Both defensiveness and cluelessness are barriers.

June 26, 2008

Be my black friend!

Filed under: denial,friendship,racism,stereotypes — by clueless @ 5:47 pm
Tags: , , ,

A couple discussions of race and friendship caught my eye today… first at Resist Racism.

… it occurs to me that worrying that other people might find you racist is a product of racism. Being anxious that people will not accept you when you’ve always been accepted previously is privilege and perhaps projected racism as well.

And here you are losing the ability to be real and genuine, and to have true and genuine relationships. Because if you cannot acknowledge the damage that racism has done, it is going to be very hard for me to accept you as a friend or ally.

I get that. You can’t have an honest conversation — or, really, an honest relationship — with somebody who isn’t accepting fundamental truths.

The second, a bit more sad, at Racialicious

I was suffering from racism paranoia of sorts. A form of self-fulfilling prophecy, if you will, in which I assumed that others were racist, and so I didn’t approach them, befriend them, become close to them, or share as much of myself with them as my friends of color, or even more specifically, my black friends, because I feared the worst. I feared one day they would say something racist or betray my friendship or do something to make me say, “see I told you,’ and regret having befriended them in the first place. And eventually, as my close friend circles became darker and darker in hue or colored by some sort of adversity (i.e. class or sexuality), I recognized that I had placed straight, white, middle class folks somewhere on the perimeter, fulfilling my own expectation in the first place, if not allowing it…. My believing that everyone was racist until proven otherwise was limiting me. It was making me become guarded. It was my way of protecting myself from rejection that wasn’t a given, but that I had experienced enough in the past to make me not want to taste its bitterness ever again.

Well shit, how does a straight white middle-class woman like me make friends with POC? I totally understand why you wouldn’t want to put up with that. It is painful to get to know somebody, enjoy hanging out with them, then suddenly have an ignorant bit of idiocy from them slap you in the face. And I wouldn’t want to do that to somebody that I consider a friend, even unintentionally.

I mean, I’m not looking for a token.
But I like meeting people with different backgrounds because then I can learn about where they’re coming from. And we’ve just moved to The South from Indiana… frankly I need new friends down here of whatever color I can get 🙂

June 25, 2008


Oh, Nader, Nader, Nader. Come on. As a consumer advocates, you’re helpful. But what is this bullshit?

The number one thing that a black American politician aspiring to the presidency should be is to candidly describe the plight of the poor, especially in the inner cities and the rural areas, and have a very detailed platform about how the poor is going to be defended by the law, is going to be protected by the law, and is going to be liberated by the law… Haven’t heard a thing.

Nader also says Obama wants to show he’s not “another politically threatening African-American politician. He wants to appeal to white guilt. You appeal to white guilt not by coming on as black is beautiful, black is powerful. Basically he’s coming on as someone who is not going to threaten the white power structure, whether it’s corporate or whether it’s simply oligarchic. And they love it. Whites just eat it up.”

So black people (aka poor) care about payday loan crooks and white people care about white corporate and oligarchical strength. Way to lump us all into categories. (Let me guess — Jews care about Israel, Hispanics care about immigration, Asians care about China…)

I’ll confess that part of my white self’s comfort with Obama is that he feels like somebody I could have a conversation with. He’s reasonable, intelligent, articulate, and open-minded. No, he’s not threatening. But I also don’t believe that if he was talking about “black issues”, I’d feel particularly threatened. (Seriously, “oppressed white male”, are you that afraid you won’t measure up if you’re judged only on personal merits instead of skin color? Must suck to be so lacking in self-confidence…)

If you’re going to bitch about a lack of attention to issues for the poor, don’t make it about race. It muddles your point and makes you look clueless, but then why would you stop making yourself look clueless now after all these years…

June 24, 2008

It’s hard to be a racist

Filed under: cluelessness,personal perspective,racism — by clueless @ 7:07 pm
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Carmen Van Kerckhove wrote a piece for CNN called The fallacy of colorblind post-raciality, discussing why about seventy percent of respondents in a recent poll said they did not have “some feelings of racial prejudice.”

The thing I hate about the term racism is that it is so blunt. Either you are racist — with the connotation of “sheet-wearing psycho” — or not. Somebody who’s got preconceived notions (which are normal and expected) that pop into their head when they see a person who’s different in some way fall into a murky middle ground that is badly defined, sensitive, and defensive. I don’t like being lumped into a group which includes raging bigots. Who would? (I mean, besides raging bigots who are publicly proud of their bigotry, but they are fucking nuts.)

I can’t say, “I’m a racist” — and I mean I would find it physically difficult to say, because it just feels untrue based on what I have been taught about what racism is. (See? I even have biases about racists. This is getting into some serious complicated thought.) I have a hard time just admitting I have prejudices and biases; I am always quick to follow it up with explaining that I may have them, but regardless I strive to ignore those preconceptions and treat everyone equally. I can’t be colorblind, true. Physical appearance, even cultural symbols (e.g. a crucifix, or a hijab, or a Magen David) are all obvious, visual indicators of “affiliation” and things will pop into my head when I see them. But I have a desperate instinct to protest against them and justify my biasedness (biasity? biasness? uh, racism?)… I know they are part of me, but I really do not WANT them. They are annoying and get in the way and are so fucking stupid and pig-ignorant… But, being grateful I’m not the crazy sheet-wearing neo-Confederate crazy person isn’t a free pass to completely ignore my own problems.

Maybe I’ll clean the brain out someday. In the meantime, *sigh* I’m a racist, but I’m of the clueless variety, and I’m trying.

On a lighter note… I’ve got racial biases, but I hate Don Imus 🙂 I somehow don’t think he bothers with much self-examination on the race question, but prefers to wonder why those uppity minorities are always complaining about nothing. And I think I’m clueless.

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