Tag Archives: racism

A Defiance / A Reassurance — “In the Heights”

Many musicals seem shy about the fact they’re, you know, musicals. They’re tentative about people breaking into song, and even then the songs are intentional set-pieces compartmentalized from dialogue scenes. They don’t seem to believe that people would come to a musical to witness music, and they certainly don’t want to risk any plot happening during the songs. They want to shift you gently – even slyly – into the fact that the film you’re about to watch contains singing. “In the Heights” is the complete opposite.

Don’t get me wrong; there is dialogue if that’s what you want. You can see it out the window, way out in the distance, as you speed by from one song to the next. Dialogue regularly drifts into song as if characters are reminding each other: do you even remember what movie you’re in? There are sequences within “In the Heights” that shift between three songs and set-pieces that actively tell the story rather than put it on hold.

We follow Usnavi, a young man who runs a corner bodega in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York. He has dreams of moving to the Dominican Republic and running a bar there, but he has ties that anchor him in New York. He cares for his young cousin Sonny, he can’t leave without him or his Abuela Claudia, and he’s in love with Vanessa – a friend he hasn’t really asked out. A lot of this is what you’d expect in a musical, and we’ll get to that in a minute.

First off, is it a good movie? “In the Heights” is the best live-action musical since “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”. It isn’t just a spectacle, it isn’t just flash and song and dance. It’s all the heart that musicals have completely forgotten since well before I was born. It doesn’t enter screen scared that you might not appreciate a musical. It enters set on the idea that for these two-and-a-half hours, musicality is how the world works and speaks and feels.

And then it does so much more than that. Being Latino in the United States, I grew up with this seed of an idea in my head that I didn’t measure up. Everything in the entertainment media around me told me that if I worked hard and did everything right, at best I might one day be considered equal to white: if I deferred enough, if I kept quiet enough, if I passed well enough. The love and reassurance I had from my family only shields you so far in a culture set on wearing it away. My accomplishments were only ever catching up to where so many others started without accomplishing anything. I could get straight A’s, do taekwondo, band, 4-H, volunteer, be the tallest kid in class, be the one everyone wanted to be paired with on a project, the one everyone came to for answers – but the minute I stepped out of that class, that gym, that lab, I was one of the handful of Latine kids, who had to be tested, harassed, distrusted, confronted at every turn.

I heard at home I could be anything. I heard everywhere else that if I did everything right, maybe I could know the people who got to be anything, maybe I could hide the half of me that couldn’t be anything. Maybe I could perform and emulate the part of someone who got to be anything. I pushed the Mexican half of myself down throughout my childhood.

Author and activist bell hooks once wrote that “The first act of violence that patriarchy demands of males is not violence toward women. Instead patriarchy demands of all males that they engage in acts of psychic self-mutilation, that they kill off the emotional parts of themselves. If an individual is not successful in emotionally crippling himself, he can count on patriarchal men to enact rituals of power that will assault his self-esteem”.

Other forms of bigotry can work in similar ways. White supremacy, even in its polite suburban fashion, can ask a young Latino to carve away half of himself, to suppress a part of himself to act the part, to become white enough, in fear of the harassment, ostracizing, confrontation, and violence he faces.

As I became an adult, uncovering that half of myself I’d so buried, so disappeared, was like learning how to crawl, to walk, to run all over again. I’d denied half of myself real development, pride, trust, acknowledgment. That I made it far enough to do that is a testament to the support of my family and what community I did have, to lucking out and having one teacher who knew a school that allowed me to escape my town.

When I look at the impostor syndrome I struggle with, this is its root. It’s sunk into the foundations. I might know better now, I might’ve developed that other, buried half of myself and learned to love it and learn from it, but the training we get as kids is something we never fully leave behind. That sense that I am incapable of being good enough plagues nearly every task, effort, piece of writing. I have constant anxiety that I will lose the approval of anyone and everyone in my life. Why? Because I spent the first two decades of my life believing that about half of who I was, believing it so completely that I tried to erase it in myself. Do that to yourself through your entire childhood, believe that nothing you do will ever be good enough to get to the starting point, and even the perfect – the best job you can ever do – there’s a part of you that will always be convinced it only gets you to where everyone else starts before they even try.

At its heart, “In the Heights” is about a generation of Latines struggling with forms of impostor syndrome – not this form exactly, but one in which their humanity, their community, their legitimacy, their history is confronted with erasure and dismissal.

I think there’s a favorite character for everybody, but for me it was Nina, who comes home after having gone to Stanford, a prodigal daughter who bears the weight of everyone’s expectations. That burden is too much for her in a place that treats her as out of place; she’s dropped out.

Are there some issues with “In the Heights”? Sure. The focus on music and dance over dialogue means that the story can feel a bit loose, zooming out to a broad perspective and then focusing in on a much more personal one at the drop of a hat. The story is told in a way that can often mirror sensation. A scene doesn’t stop to have a musical number, it just progresses into one naturally. When this happens, the story can shift from precise dialogue to the feeling of how a conversation plays out. It requires some inference on the part of the audience. It’s as if we get the feelings and sensations a dialogue would create, without knowing exactly what the dialogue is.

In my book, that’s awesome. Others may not like that as much, or may prefer musicals with more compartmentalized set-pieces. Compartmentalization has been the go-to for the few big, modern musicals we get, so folks may not be as used to seeing this more expressionist approach. If you’re a fan of older musicals, particularly Gene Kelly ones that could shift a conversation into gigantic set-pieces or aching ballads where people dance into regionalist art and sing the feelings they dare not speak, that describes this approach better.

One major issue about representation has been brought up. Some Afro-Dominican critics and residents have said that the Washington Heights neighborhood isn’t represented in an accurate way. Pretty much everyone on-screen is Latine, but there are very few Afro-Latines. The approach may’ve been to represent a larger group of Latine communities – there’s one song that features multiple shout-outs to the ancestries that make up the community. At the same time, if that’s the goal, then it should be realized whose representation may have been sacrificed in reaching it.

I love “In the Heights”. It was a damn blurry movie cause I was crying the entire time. I hope it’s at the top of every awards list for pretty much any category you can name. But loving something this much does not mean it is magically free of problems. If Afro-Latine people were underrepresented in a story about a largely Afro-Latine community, that is a problem. And let’s be real – Afro-Latine people are regularly underrepresented in conversations about Latine communities and who composes them.

My representation is not worth the sacrifice of anyone else’s. I can still love this movie and argue for it, while also recognizing that there is a place it could have done better and that this is worth discussing and learning about. If I love this movie and what it does for representation, what it does for arguing about where home is and the value we do have, then it requires me to say it also could have done better representing this group of people. That doesn’t change the impact of this movie. It asks what’s next, what do we do better the next time, and how do we listen this time in order to achieve that, because I’ll be damned if a salve to my impostor syndrome is simply to shift it to someone else.

“In the Heights” is lovely and beautiful and brilliant. At the same time, this kind of representation is our starting point, and we do not treat that starting point as exclusive or dismissive of someone else. We know what that feels like, and we do not pass that on. It’s a brilliant, heartfelt movie that addresses a piece of me better than any other I’ve ever seen. It also could have done better in this one place. Both are true, and part of the same conversation.

“In the Heights” is available on HBO Max and in theaters.

If you enjoy what you read on this site, subscribe to Gabriel Valdez’s Patreon. It helps with the time and resources to write articles like this one.

“The Fast and the Furious” Matters

Look, “The Fast and the Furious” is silly, but I saw a trailer for “F9” the other day that cut quickly between most of the leading heroes. There they were: Black, Latine, Asian.

It sent me spiraling back to what I was watching as a kid growing up in the 90s. Who saved the world and stopped the bad guys then? It was Bruce Willis, Kurt Russell, Harrison Ford, Pierce Brosnan, Mel Gibson, Nicholas Cage, Sylvester Stallone, Tom Cruise, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Sure, we had Keanu Reeves, but marketing departments knew in that world audiences should envision him as white, that discussion of his Native Hawaiian and Chinese descent might hurt his box office. It really wasn’t mentioned. Even John Travolta got a damn action career. John fucking Travolta.

If not for Will Smith, we wouldn’t have had a mainstream actor of color consistently lead action movies in the 90s. The best we had otherwise was the occasional Wesley Snipes movie, though he was as likely to be the villain as a hero. I grew up just outside Chicago, and WGN loved to run Carl Weathers TV movie actioners, mostly B-grade Schwarzenegger knockoffs. That was about it.

The first character of color I saw lead a dramatic show on a week-to-week basis was Ben Sisko on “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”.

You could forget the concept of a Latine actor leading a mainstream movie or drama series. That was unthinkable. We were villains, and often silly ones. At best, we were the comic relief. But most often, we were portrayed as gangsters, the scenery in the background to prove how tough the hero was when he dared to step into our lair. We were bodies to be disposed of by that hero in the zeitgeist of a country that grew up on those narratives to believe that immigrant and refugee children must also be bodies to be disposed of before they too become gangsters.

Imagine being a young Latino, and everything you watch reinforcing that this part of you doesn’t matter, that there are no heroes in your blood, there’s just second-rate villainy and gang violence but not the white kind we celebrate in Mafia movies, and – if you really get lucky and work hard – you might be the comic relief. You know what, you can survive that. It instills a lot of weird shit you have to get over later in life, but it’s survivable.

Now imagine being a young Latino, and everyone around you having that view reinforced, everyone around you thinking you’re just a villain they can test their strength on, they can gang up against, that the best you’ll do is being an obstacle or sidekick in their story. Imagine the bruises that earns. Imagine coming home with a black-and-blue chest or a broken nose or a ringing headache because you’re the Latino kid. Imagine doing everything perfectly and getting straight A’s, at first because you liked it and enjoyed the challenge, but later because if you fought back, that academic standing was the only thing that made them believe you over the white kid.

I saw what happened to the kids of color who didn’t do well in school, how often they were believed, how often they were sent home for daring to punch back as they were hit again and again by three or four others. I went from being a good student because I loved learning, to being a good student because it afforded me protection and it was my ticket to having those with authority believe me. I went from loving learning to viewing it as a shield, and I went from enjoying doing well to viewing it as exhausting, a power exchange I struggled with resenting.

None of it was because that was my path. It was all because I had to react and manage what my peers and many of my teachers and administrators expected to be my path, because it was never about defending myself – I was the tallest kid in school who trained in taekwondo and kickboxing. I didn’t worry about defending myself. I worried whether others would defend me after I had. The greatest protection I had was being a Latino child who exceeded expectations so much that adults with power actually forgot what I was for a second and gave a shit about me. They forgot that I was supposed to be disposable, the bad guy, the foil for their white kids to succeed, the obstacle. That was the bar I had to clear.

I loved school, until it became less about learning and more about proving others wrong, until getting A’s was less about being proud of myself and more about making others forget I was supposed to be a dumb joke or a future threat to be beaten down until he knew his place. If I got A’s, you couldn’t make me that because it took the adults around us permitting it. And let me tell you, that burden on a kid makes it really hard to still do well.

Toward the end of the 90s, we started getting the “Blade” movies, often forgotten in the discussion of franchises that legitimized the comic book superhero movie. Keanu Reeves’s background started to become part of his appeal and less of an ‘issue’ in marketing. Jackie Chan made crossover films that took place in the U.S. Samuel L. Jackson began breaking into the mainstream more and more.

And yet, I still couldn’t imagine a major franchise being led by eight or nine actors of color. I couldn’t imagine an ensemble of actors of color having crowds cheer for them as they fight white villains. I might sit here in my 30s and roll my eyes at another “The Fast and the Furious” movie. But the part of me sitting there at 10 is in a quiet, needful sort of awe that such a thing is possible, that he could be viewed as a hero or just the protagonist in his own story. Imagine the other kids, the white kids, thinking that, treating that possibility as real. Imagine the white adults thinking that, maybe listening to the kids of color who don’t get straight A’s or perform whiteness or successfully hack their fucked up social system of power exchange.

Measured by worldwide box office, “The Fast and the Furious” is the fifth largest movie franchise in history (after the MCU/Spider-Man, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and James Bond). It’s the only one in the top 30 led by people of color. It might be silly action storytelling (just like those other franchises), but it matters. It matters to whoever’s sitting there as a child, thinking about how they view themselves as a person of color. It matters to whoever’s sitting there as a child, thinking about how they view others as people of color.

It matters as to how they’ll define and treat children of color when they’re adults. It matters what they’ll put them through, whether they’ll listen, whether that child has to do extra work and perform and learn to resent what they love just to visit equality, or whether they’ll start from the assumption of equality and just get to love what they love and be a kid.

“The Fast and the Furious” matters because it makes us matter, because it makes us central instead of disposable, heroic instead of a joke, decisive instead of dumb, worth listening to, worth admiring, worth your vision of humanness, leaders that white characters will listen to and work alongside. It promises we can be heroes in the eyes of children who will one day be making decisions about who will be listened to; who will tell their own children who gets to be a hero, a protagonist, a leader, who gets to be legitimate.

As a kid, I wanted to be human as a rule, not because I was the exception to someone’s stereotype. I’ll always carry that with me, and you can learn to live with it and compartmentalize it, but it still stretches veins into every part of who you are.

But look at this. Look at this movie, this franchise, these trailers that feature face after face from actors and characters of color. You can’t imagine how that lifts a burden people carry inside themselves, even if just for an hour or two. You can’t imagine that those veins that run through you can be turned to something else because they never have for so long. Representation makes you feel like maybe others can see you, want to see you, want to listen, like maybe what you have to say is worth something. People accepting and celebrating that representation, wanting to see more of it, wanting to seek out more that’s like it – that’s what confirms those feelings.

“The Fast and the Furious” is hardly complete representation, it’s not perfect representation, it’s certainly not as intersectional as it could be – but it is, by far, the most we’ve had in this medium, the most accepted we’ve been in the landscape of popular film. There’s a version of me, before that burden was carried, before those veins spread inside, before those exchanges and performances were asked, that sees these trailers, this movie, this franchise, and stares in awe that it is even possible. That is a calm place, and it’s one I miss because I don’t even remember it. It must’ve been there at some point. It has to have been.

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No, I Don’t Want to Own an Immigrant

by Gabriel Valdez

There’s an article in Politico that somehow exists. It was initially titled, “What If You Can Get Your Own Immigrant”. It pretends a person is something you can own, like a Furby or a Magic: The Gathering deck or Politico’s dignity.

Since then, they’ve re-titled it, “Sponsor an Immigrant Yourself”. That’s a much more innocuous title for an article that suggests migrants should be legislated as indentured servants.

Local Natives

Now, first off we’re introduced to the phrase “working class natives” as inherently opposed to immigrants.

Eric Posner and Glen Weyl wrote the article. I want them to sit down for this. It’s going to be difficult to break this news to them. Um, so Eric and Glen, most of the working class natives are dead. We killed nearly all of them, ghettoized the survivors, intentionally destroyed what their economies were based on, and now we invite foreign companies to build on what few lands they have left to call their own. Let’s ditch “working class natives” before it goes to your head as some weird newspeak identity you think is real.

I only bring this detail up because the article leans on this phrase. Without it, it can’t argue that people here already uniquely have the right to end family-based immigration that their own families very likely relied upon.

In other words, today’s immigrants are tomorrow’s “working class natives”. And today’s struggling, victimized “working class natives” were yesterday’s immigrants. Pretending anything else is being arbitrary as fuck in order to normalize someone’s own cultural narcissism.

Forgive the technical term. I’ll be using a few more.

Causes of Food Analogies

I don’t want to delay the meat of the article, though. It goes on:

“So, immigration expands the economic pie but gives too meager a slice to ordinary people. The goal must be to retain, and in fact expand, immigration while ensuring that its benefits are distributed fairly. The current system does the opposite: channeling the benefits of migration to immigrants and domestic elites. Right now, special classes of citizens—mostly corporations (and in practice, big corporations) and family members—can sponsor temporary or permanent migrants, benefiting shareholders mainly, as well as ethnic enclaves.

“This system should be wiped away and replaced with a system of citizenship sponsorship for immigrants that we call a Visas Between Individuals Program. Under this new system, all citizens would have the right to sponsor a migrant for economic purposes.”

This flies in the face of what is well worn and repeatedly proven economic knowledge at this point. Immigration typically boosts economies and creates jobs. The investment spent now is repaid several times over within the space of years.

Immigration doesn’t take a slice of the “economic pie” away from others. It just bakes bigger fucking pies.

In fact, stagnancy in economies is linked to low immigration. For a model that’s close to what the U.S. faces, we can look to Japan’s recent woes: an aging population without enough younger workers to support them. This is primarily linked to a lack of labor force growth driven by low birth rates and anemic immigration.

The United States also has an aging population without enough younger workers to support it. Birth rates are declining, as tends to happen in economically stagnated countries. The problem is that you can’t improve birth rates without improving the economy first, and you can’t improve the economy without improving birth rates…AND THEN WAITING 20 YEARS for those babies to grow up and hit the labor force.

Steady and accessible immigration is by far the more optimal choice. It improves the economy faster by building out the framework that supports and expands a healthy middle class. It helps an economy bridge troubles and results in more buying power across every bracket of income.

You don’t end up with a labor force competing for more jobs or – as is the problem already – a labor force shortage in the places that have jobs, and a labor force surplus in the places that don’t. Instead, you have an injection into the labor force that begins turning into real, local spending within years.

However, where I ended that quote above sounds like a pretty generous idea, right? Let anyone sponsor a migrant. That would seem to agree with what I say here, doesn’t it?

You gotta wait for the beat to drop.

Human Traffi- wait no, Indentured Servit…Get Your Own Immigr– er, Sponsor an Immigrant!

Want to know how Posner and Weyl’s program would work?

“Here’s how the program would work: Imagine a woman named Mary Turner, who lives in Wheeling, West Virginia. She was recently laid off from a chicken-processing plant and makes ends meet by walking and taking care of her neighbors’ pets. Mary could expand her little business by hiring some workers, but no one in the area would accept a wage she can afford. Mary goes online—to a new kind of international gig economy website, a Fiverr for immigrants—and applies to sponsor a migrant. She enters information about what she needs: someone with rudimentary English skills, no criminal record and an affection for animals. She offers a room in her basement, meals and $5 an hour. (Sponsors under this program would be exempt from paying minimum wage.) The website offers Mary some matches—people living in foreign countries who would like to spend some time in the United States and earn some money. After some back and forth, Mary interviews a woman named Sofia who lives in Paraguay.

“Sofia, who grew up in a village, has endured hardships that few Americans can imagine. She is eager to earn some money so that she could move to her nation’s capital city and get some vocational training. A few weeks later, Sofia arrives in Wheeling, after taking a one-week training course on American ways. If things don’t work out, the agency that runs the website will find a new match for Sofia, and Mary will find someone new as well.”

This raises a lot of questions, each of which I will discuss with increasing rage.

The Victimization of Women

How many Sofias would find themselves indebted, unable to pay it off, dependent upon their sponsor for basic living needs, and subsequently abused or sexually abused with no protective structure to seek recourse? And how many children would be put in that situation?

This would be a disaster for women because every form of the structure suggested here would create imbalanced power dynamics that favor the sponsor. Abused migrants would fear coming forward because of the power to keep them in the country or send them back that could be exercised by sponsors and by such a program itself.

Yes, abused migrants are already fearful of coming forward in our current system, but that’s because THEY’RE SCARED OF US ALREADY. The solution isn’t to further delegate that fear into granulated power structures that have even less accountability.

Unless you’re also going to form one of the largest federal departments ever conceived in order to protect people under the suggested program, all you’re doing is creating a caste system for whom human rights are neither prioritized nor enforced.

The lack of thought put into this aspect of it is abominable and ignorant, especially given how necessary these kinds of considerations are and should be in 2018.

This aspect of what they suggest doesn’t just make this indentured servitude. It places it closer on the caste system to slavery.

The Middle Class Couldn’t Afford It

Furthermore, it’s not something that middle class families would use. The middle quintile of earners has been racking up more yearly debt than income since 1999. They don’t have disposable income for investment. In order to sponsor migrants, they would have to take out a loan.

You’re not talking about a middle class family sponsoring a migrant for business purposes. You’re talking about wealthy people spending what to them is insignificant in order to create servants who are working off a debt.

The working class this article claims to champion would be on the hook for feeding, housing, moving, and paying a migrant worker, if not their family. They also forget:

Health Care, You Fuckwits!

If a migrant becomes ill or injured, the sponsor will do one of two things:

  1. Deny care to the indentured migrant in order to save money, resulting in more costly long-term health concerns and increasing the chances that as a citizen they’ll have to claim Medicaid or disability. Eliminate their ability to claim Medicaid or disability and you just push bad debt to the hospitals, who are in turn relieved of that bad debt through the taxes we pay.
  2. Spend money for the care and tack this on to the debt the migrant worker already owes, thereby extending the term of indenture for what may amount to years. And if in those years the migrant worker becomes sick again, that indenture is once more extended. Age brings more likelihood of illness and injury – this is a recipe for effectual lifetime enslavement.

Banks Exist. You Know This, Right?

Because the middle class is so severely in debt, in order for the middle class to utilize this, they’d have to take out loans. This would mean migrants would owe their sponsors, and sponsors would owe the banks.

What this creates is a human trafficking pyramid scheme. If bringing a migrant in is a business expense, then it’s assignable to the business. The article suggests a sponsorship would cost $6,000. You can recognize this as a very low estimate if you, say, live in the real world. But whatever, let’s just take Posner and Weyl at their word and go with $6,000.

Do you think banks providing loans would simply roll over and let a $6,000+ business investment walk out the door without getting value from “it”?

If a business fails – as they often do – you have a dilemma as to whether a migrant could be re-assigned through the federal program, sold off to the bank at a pro-ration of remaining value to settle a debt, or bid upon at liquidation auctions like other hard business investments.

If it’s the first, then banks would have to be compensated by the federal government. This would shift the financial risk of hiring a migrant onto the taxpayers at a cost that’s equal to the “value” remaining in each migrant worker’s debt. This cost doesn’t currently exist because we’re usually not paying migrant workers for their trip over. The costs that do exist are handled much more efficiently because they’re handled as procedure at a macro level.

If you trade a person as debt in part of a settlement, then you’re trading rights to a human being in exchange for debt settlement.

And if you simply put a migrant worker contract up for bid, well then, we’ve kind of been through that as a country before.

And that’s assuming the banking economy doesn’t go to the stand-by they repeatedly go to with everything else it doesn’t know what to do with. They’ve blind bundled bad mortgages, life settlements…you don’t think they’ll blind bundle returns on something that’s already codified as a business investment?

Politico’s Article is Shitty Because it Lacks Accountability

Sorry, technical terms. Yet how am I supposed to be polite when talking about this article? THIS IS 2,300 WORDS IN REACTION TO WHETHER WE SHOULD INSTITUTE A CODIFICATION OF INDENTURED SERVITUDE, SLAVERY, AND SEX TRAFFICKING.

These are the kind of real-world concerns that need to be thought about and addressed before making a suggestion like Posner and Weyl have. Looking at the background of the writers, I’m sure some due diligence in economic theory was done here. But no due diligence in real world application was done.

People don’t look at sociological application as being necessary to economics, but it’s what gives economic theory context for how it will actually be applied by a society. They present a theory, already deeply problematic, but moreso because it takes no time whatsoever to consider how it would be applied practically.

There’s no consideration for how people would be protected – health-wise and from their sponsors. There’s no consideration for who would be financially capable of using this and why. There’s no consideration for how people-as-business-investments would be contextualized as property in a financial system that’s not going to let $6,000+ business investments regularly walk away.

Vulnerable People are Tired of this Shit

I wish I could dismiss this article as lazy, because that would at least be kind. But it’s not. It’s vastly irresponsible. It’s not accountable. When you’re talking about people as direct business investments, that kind of irresponsibility is damaging and deadly.

This article approaches this free of consideration of the real-world application when everyone reading is going to be doing their version of real-world application and what it means. You have got to be responsible for engaging that.

When you don’t, you forego responsibility for how your theory is applied. When you don’t take that accountability on, other people will assign it for you, and that is breakfast for white supremacists who want to view people as property. When it’s plain theory that no real world contextualization goes into, then you’re responsible for the real world contextualization that people recognize in it.

When it comes to how this would be applied within context, there was no intention. It’s theory, and they didn’t think about the practical applications beyond just being able to discuss their theory. When you forego your own accountability, you are accountable for what that theory leads to.

Their article is a playground with no thought for the lessons people will take out of it, and no thought for how the world we live in would functionally apply and monetize this. This is the worst application of ally-ship because it takes the people I’m sure the authors would claim to be allies to, and it puts them in more jeopardy. It normalizes their de-humanization. It normalizes the perception that migrant workers belong at the bottom of a caste system.

This article is such a phenomenal disappointment, whose authors either don’t realize or don’t care the damage it will justify in people’s minds, and the danger their theory would pose if ever applied in the real world.

The featured image of immigrants becoming citizens comes from PBS here.

The Most Beautiful Primary

by Gabriel Valdez

Politics can be beautiful, damn it.

This beauty hides behind statistics and demographics and any number of political sciences that begin to make a voter feel inhuman.

So ignore those things for a minute. Ask what the philosophies being discussed really represent.

Are racial, gender, and community injustices root causes? Do they arise naturally, and then make the implementation of economic injustices necessary for the survival of those root causes? This would be the view of social injustice that Sen. Hillary Clinton champions.

Or is economic injustice the root cause that creates racial, gender, and community injustices, and uses the divisiveness of these as tools that feed the root cause of class indifference? This would be the view of social injustice that Sen. Bernie Sanders champions.

In other words, are racism, gender, and community bias something natural that we have to socially evolve away from in conscious ways in order to overcome? Is Clinton right?

Or are those things unnatural social constructs that are simply created and then preyed upon by economic injustice for its continuation? Is Sanders right?

That seems to be how the Democratic primary is breaking down. What are the real causes? What are the symptoms that distract us from them?

I fall squarely in the Clinton camp. Sociological studies have shown us that our biases are natural inclinations. That hardly justifies them. As a society, we’ve overcome many other natural inclinations that we deemed unwanted in order to continue existing as a healthy civilization. We consciously change our lives all the time, individually and as a society, in order to make our existences and interactions healthier.

(I mean, you’re reading this on a computer or phone that you got because it increases your efficiency at doing a number of daily tasks. We’ve already stepped irreversibly down the transhumanist path of social evolution, and we barely noticed.)

Either way, at least this dichotomy in thinking is at the core of the Democratic debate. Let’s bring demographics back into the discussion. You can see philosophy even in how groups of people lean one way or the other:

Those who’ve suffered racial injustice (people of color), gender injustice (older women), and community injustice (urban and failing industrial communities) to a greater extent than economic injustice tend to side with Clinton.

Those who’ve suffered economic injustice (young voters, low-income white voters, rural and current industrial communities) to a greater extent than racial, gender, or community injustice tend to side with Sanders.

Both candidates’ messages are evolving geographically as primary season continues, as they always do. But from the beginning, the fight for support has been over those who have been victimized most by the cross-section of these two separate philosophies of injustice:

Young voters of color have suffered the effects of severe racial injustice and the long-lasting economic impacts of the Great Recession.

Young women voters have suffered the effects of both aggressive gender injustice and those same economic impacts of the Great Recession.

And low-income white voters have suffered both the abandonment of the infrastructure of their communities and the disappearance of a reliable industrial economy.

These are the voters most “at play” for a reason, because they fall squarely between two philosophies of how to fix the world. And that they are being valued and spoken to and planned around is beautiful. It may be discussed in demographics and statistics and pop political science talking points, but the discussion itself – at its root – is about the construction of our society from the ground up.

I can’t remember anything like it in politics, anything that strikes so far down to the philosophical core of how societies choose to evolve. The arguments we have and the passion behind those arguments are very real and very crucial – these are not philosophies that share much middle ground, but they are philosophies that can and must be brought closer together.

That the Democratic primary is a discussion of social evolution is in itself a striking moment. Contrasting philosophies of social evolution are usually not the core around which any election evolves in this country, at least not since the Civil Rights movement and UFW agricultural strikes. While this primary is a very ugly one, when you can take a step back and boil down what’s really being discussed, it also might be the most beautiful one.

 

Over on AC: What 4 Racism Controversies Tell Us About One Band’s Responsibility

I put a lot of love into this article. It was tough to find my way into it – I was assigned to write about a controversial all-white, all-male band that named itself Black Pussy. What does a name like that communicate? Does it pose a danger? Does it encourage a view of African-American women as promiscuous, as targets, or as conquests?

I looked at the Washington Redskins, rap group Die Antwoord, and a controversy surrounding new Daily Show host Trevor Noah for guidance about how we discuss and react to controversies about racism. My ultimate question – does the band Black Pussy have a responsibility to explain itself? Read it here:

What 4 Racism Controversies Tell Us About One Band’s Responsibility

– Gabe

On the Palatability of “Racism”

Eric Garner choke holds and headlocks are the same thing

by Shayna L. Fevre, Vanessa Deolinda Tottle, & Gabriel Diego Valdez

There’s been an obsession lately with the terms and definitions we use to describe racism. In the past few months, each of us has brushed up against large discussions regarding how the term “racism” is understood. The running theme from many who join in is that “racism” is too loaded a term, and is often likely to make the average white middle American recoil into his shell the moment it’s uttered.

These conversations, which we’ve observed mostly taking place between millennials of Caucasian descent, are signature of something both good and bad. Good because people are trying to be more aware. Ferguson and Eric Garner may be the headline-grabbing cases, but there are thousands of incidents that mainstream news has passed over covering because they haven’t been forced to do so. Keep in mind, channels like CNN only began covering Garner’s murder after video of police choking the man to death had already exploded across YouTube and alternative media outlets.

Yet it’s also bad because the conversations tend not to center on how people can find roles of support for a fight that’s been going on for our nation’s entire history, nor on how people can contribute to diminishing the power of racism in their own lives, but rather on how they can swoop in and fix the fight itself. It’s not an attitude of helping, it’s an attitude of taking over, of appropriating the fight as a cause celebre.

We also worry that once people feel they’ve done their share, it allows many who weren’t previously engaged in the conversation to recede back into academic, removed views. This creates a worrisome combination where young, well-meaning people enter the conversation, try to lead it instead of listening to what’s already taking place, attempt to make a big change, and – feeling they’ve done so – step back out and leave the conversation even more confused and misrepresented among their peers than it started.

Starbucks exterior

STARBUCKS

Nowhere is this more deeply pronounced at this moment than in Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz’s announcement that Starbucks’ baristas, armed with no training, are being asked to engage customers about race. How many baristas will be singled out for this duty because of their race? How many customers?

As Think Progress writer Jessica Goldstein observes, despite 40 percent of Starbucks employees identifying as a racial minority, 100 percent of the people in the press photos are white. What’s offensive isn’t that Schultz seeks to discuss racism – it seems to come from an honest place. What’s offensive is that a panel of Caucasian business leaders feel they should come in and, instead of supporting an ongoing conversation, instead of – as Vox writer Jenee Desmond-Harris suggests – bringing in groups like the NAACP or ACLU to design a helpful program, and instead of selling books at their locations that discuss racism and racial injustice, they have decided simply to replace a hard-fought, ongoing conversation with one they thought of in the last few months. The attitude smacks of “We know better,” as if all civil rights leaders have been doing is waiting for a wealthy white man to come in and fix the problems because they’re too incapable.

Customers who discuss race will even be given stickers, as if a participation trophy, to show off their brief involvement in discussing “racism” – excuse us, Starbucks even refuses to use that word – discussing “race.” The notion that someone can do their part by talking about it for 30 seconds via awkward prompts like, “In the past year, I have been to the home of someone of a different race X times” and “How have your racial views evolved from those of your parents?” risk defenses that are, as Desmond-Harris puts it, the equivalent of asking people to respond, “But I have black friends!”

Asking strangers to respond to these prompts in front of strangers is asking them to reconfirm their implicit biases and use culturally ingrained defenses against acknowledging their own racism, not to confront them. It dismisses the possibility for nuance and context, and starts a brand new conversation without the training, history, or context of the old one.

The urge to redefine the conversation about racism stems from an attitude that the conversation itself is too uncomfortable in its present state. In the conversations we’ve observed and participated in recently ourselves, the most common factor is trying to come up with alternate terms or alternate understandings for “racism.”

The notion that either words or definitions are a problem means that we’re not strategizing about the fight over civil rights. Instead, we’re debating about how we’re going to talk about strategizing about the fight over civil rights. We’re several layers of Inception down from reality in this debate, to the point of bordering on a Portlandia skit.

“Racism” as a term is perfectly suited as both a word and in its definition without discussions over whether its associations should be retconned away. Those associations are important, that old definition is important because the baggage it comes with isn’t extraneous to the conversation; it IS the conversation. Cleaning up its definition, cleaning up the conversation, and making it all more palatable, is whitewashing the past in all meanings of the verb.

Arkansas rice fields

JOE FLYOVER

The idea that racism and the conversation that surrounds it isn’t palatable, that it’s not tasteful or appealing enough, so we ought to change it, we ought to come up with easier delivery systems – the notion that a term representing a long history of pain and suffering – that those associations, however messy and complex, are too burdensome for someone who’s white to want to cope with is insulting to everyone involved.

First off, the white middle American we spoke of earlier – he was called Joe Flyover in one conversation – he doesn’t care what you call it. Fox News and conservative talk radio give it a word and then spend hours bitching about it. The power is not in the word or how it’s used. The power’s in the bitching. They have the editorial and organizational ability to take any word and burn it down overnight, and we are sick of liberals retreating from one term to the next, seeking new ways to lighten the conversation and make it more palatable, in the search for some magic phrase that will finally convince Middle America.

Secondly, Joe Flyover can be convinced, but the notion that some shift in description is the key to that rather than hammering home the point with pictures, video, arguments – every tool at our disposal – is disrespectful to Joe Flyover. It isn’t the term or conversation that loses him – it is that disrespect he feels when he knows you think he’s too stupid that all it takes is a magic word or phrase to make him magically convert his opinion or change his worldview. People who disagree with us are adults, too.

Joe Flyover is smart and hardworking or he wouldn’t have been able to own that house that’s being flown over in the first place. Joe Flyover is not a focus group to be won over by adding “super” or “sugary” or “minty fresh” or whatever the hell we want to add to the front of “racism.” And that includes avoiding the term “racism” altogether so we can, as Starbucks puts it: “Race Together.”

Joe Flyover can handle the difficulty of the conversation over racism and, in the end, that’s the only way his opinion might change. This obsession with being better at kvetching than Fox News, or outbitching talk radio, of just being that much simpler so that poor Joe Flyover will understand – it’s undoing us. We don’t need to invent new words and new meanings; we need to reinvest power and faith back into the old ones.

Indiana lynching 1930s

USING ONE WORD, DEFINE “RACISM”

The notion that the word “racism” can make someone of a certain privilege uncomfortable because of its associations or complexity is the entire point. The struggle we face isn’t in making “racism” more convenient an issue to face. For everybody who’s not white, it is the experience of facing it on a daily basis that is inconvenient. If the term or the conversation is difficult and requires nuance and explanation, and it’s messy and painful and too confrontational, then good, because all of those associated feelings that can’t be put into words – that’s the definition. That’s the conversation.

The conversation does not need participants who will enter, try to fix everything, and leave 30 seconds later. The conversation does not need African-American, Latin-American, Asian-American, Native American, and other minority voices replaced. It needs those voices boosted.

The mess in your head that “racism” as a term and conversation creates, the cognitive dissonance of what it brings up and what people of a certain privilege have taught themselves to ignore in their everyday lives – the abyssal void that keeps people from being able to marry those two things together – that’s the definition. It’s not meant to be easy. It’s not meant to be palatable. We shouldn’t transform it so that it is. It’s not meant to be defined in a neat, compact phrase everybody can agree on. It’s definition is created by the disagreement it causes, between you and others and especially inside your own head.

Working from a clear or sound bite-appropriate definition of “racism” is not important at all. It’s illusory because understanding of the word is experiential on both ends. You can’t describe “hate” or “love” or “sadness” or “anger” to someone who hasn’t felt that themselves and been the target of someone else feeling that toward them. The problem is that we have all denied having each of those feelings at some point in our lives, and those emotions are much more basic, much less cultural, much less complicated. If we can deny those basic feelings in ourselves so easily, how easily can we deny something more complicated in ourselves, like racism?

Starbucks racial density by Melvin Backman and Zach Wener-Fligner for Quartz

RISK AND REWARD

Can these conversations seeking to lead an already-led movement, or this Starbucks effort to replace the old conversation with something more palatable, make a difference in someone’s life or make them confront problems they haven’t? Absolutely. In some circumstances, they will. The question is, will the benefits of conversations being held this way, free of context and nuance, seeking to leave that cognitive dissonance and that history out of it, stressing only the most appealing forms of discussion about racism – will that teach people the right way? Will that do more damage to how people believe racism should be approached as a topic, will that train people of certain privileges to appropriate the topic as their own rather than to educate themselves about the work others have done?

Institutional and systematized racism are problems, clearly, but the third rail of a topic that’s already treated as a third rail is implicit bias. We can walk into a Starbucks and agree that the first two forms are a problem, and walk out, and feel good about ourselves, as if we did our part and made some change. We even have the sticker to prove it. We can’t walk into a Starbucks and – in 30 seconds – do anything but burrow further into our own implicit racism.

Think of it this way. It’s easy to insult the way someone else looks in that span of time – that’s called gossip. We don’t gossip about ourselves. That’s unnatural. We defend ourselves from gossip. How do you look in a mirror and accept criticism from a stranger serving you coffee in the space of 30 seconds, if that long? We don’t. We’ll make the conversation more palatable, we’ll come to snappy conclusions, we’ll judge others but not ourselves, and come away feeling as if we did our part when we’ve made no corresponding change in the real world, or worse yet – further adopted an attitude of co-optation toward a pre-existing conversation.

As Medium writer Tressie McMillan Cottom puts it, “It takes a lot of training and a lot of institutional support to teach people things they would rather not hear.” She warns, “We may be at a point when the language about race and racism has been so degraded that it can be a corporate initiative. By definition that means having little potential for risk and some amorphous attention value. If talking about race is a shortcut to the sort of medium fame that is all the rage on social media, then talking about race is meaningless.”

That’s the risk. Will it happen? Not necessarily. But it’s a hell of a risk, and the reward seems to be a temporary cultural appeasement for those who most need to be confronted, at a time when that confrontation is primed. The reward is replacing an old conversation that’s gained power because of what we see in the news with a new conversation that lacks the history, training, and time to delve into anything meaningful. The reward is feeling like participation trophies are good enough when it comes to discussing racism, that 30 seconds is good enough, that acknowledging it in others but not ourselves is good enough.

The fight against racism and for civil rights needs white allies, not white leaders. It needs minority voices boosted, not white ones drowning them out, and it needs us all to confront the bias we each hold, no matter how progressive, so that we can begin to face what’s inside ourselves down, so that we don’t seek to make “racism” more palatable a topic, but rather begin to acknowledge that our discomfort with it is not a problem with the term or the conversation, but rather in ourselves.

What’s Turned Our News into FanFiction?

Aiyana Stanley Jones

by Gabriel Valdez

This holiday season, we watch men die, and not even on some foreign soil as they fight for concepts like freedom and democracy. We watch men die here, in places like Ohio and Missouri and New York and Utah. We watch them die for running away or selling untaxed cigarettes. Sometimes the one dying is not a man. Sometimes he’s a 12 year-old boy. Or sometimes she’s a 7 year-old girl.

But we focus on the men because the others are too tragic to allow the same criticisms from our media. For Eric Garner, choked to death by a New York City police officer, the argument becomes whether the cop used a choke hold or a headlock. I’ve trained in taekwondo for more than 20 years. I’ve also trained in wrestling, aikido, sport wushu, and ninjutsu. Each one states there is no difference between a choke hold and a headlock. Each aims to compress or collapse the windpipe or, far more dangerously, the jugulars and superior thyroid. Each risks death, brain trauma, blood clot, and severe spinal injury.

For Timothy Loehmann, the police officer who shot 12 year-old Tamir Rice for playing with a toy gun, the televised argument is not about his prior dismissal from the Independence Police Department for “dangerous loss of composure during live range training and his inability to manage this personal stress.” The argument being spouted in the national media is about how old Rice looked on grainy video footage taken from a block away. A CNN news anchor defended Loehmann by saying Rice “looked 24.” I don’t care if he’s 42 or 86, the video clearly shows a patrol car pull up feet from Rice and Loehmann promptly shoot the boy upon exiting the vehicle.

Why are we arguing about what synonym to use for a dangerous compression lock around the neck? Why are we arguing about how old a boy with a toy gun in an open carry state looks?

One pretends a man just made a mistake. The other pretends a boy was a man and therefore it’s less tragic, allowing talking heads to more easily criticize. Yet there’s something more at play here, an equivocation the media is happy to exploit.

For SWAT officer Joseph Weekley, who shot 7 year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones with a submachine gun, the issue became about when a police flashbang grenade was thrown and how much it blinded him. It distracted from the fact that he shouldn’t have had his finger on the trigger in the first place and directly contradicted his claim that he saw Aiyana’s grandmother reach for his gun while blinded. (Never mind the fact that a SWAT officer is trained to not fire in that circumstance against 200-pound combatants, let alone a sleepy grandmother, and physical evidence indicates she was probably not near the officer.)

In addition, some evidence supports that Weekley fired from outside the home into the front room where the 7 year-old was sleeping, before he would’ve encountered anyone inside. After a mistrial, felony charges against Weekley were, needless to say, dismissed before a second jury could deliberate. In her statement, Judge Cynthia Gray Hathaway said she based this decision on her perception of Weekley’s intent.

Why focus on the timing of a flashbang when it has so little to do with every other piece of evidence? Why even include it as a part of the defense when it directly contradicts another narrative the defense has presented?

Intentions and distractions. If we’re arguing about the make-believe difference between a choke hold and a headlock, or how old someone with a toy gun looks, or even throw out multiple versions of a defendant’s story, we’re suddenly arguing about intentions that are completely subjective. We throw out hard evidence in favor of placing our own narratives onto events that are, in actuality, pretty straightforward. Eric Garner’s and Tamir Rice’s murders were caught clearly on video, for godssakes. You can’t get more straightforward than that.

But why do news networks buy into these arguments? There’s implicit racism and latent bias at work here, but primarily it allows them to fill air time ad nauseam. Investigative journalism is expensive. The biggest news organizations – CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC – barely invest in it anymore. Talking heads are cheap, they rile people up, and it’s not difficult to find two people who will wildly disagree. How much extra does it cost to stick two staff, already paid, in front of a camera and have them bicker? Nothing.

There’s absolutely a racist element to how the news media reports these stories, and that finds its way into the assumptions they make and the words and frameworks they choose. It’s important that we recognize that, but it’s also important that we recognize the sheer lack of work that these news organizations put into their product. The focus on intentions and subjective narratives is a decision based on cost and effort. If you can still get viewers by being lazy and cheap, why put the extra effort and cost forth?

Our news stories fail to be about the hard evidence behind the incidents themselves, let alone fact checking (another expense), and start to become arguments about who’s right and who’s wrong about the mindsets of strangers they’ve never met in situations they’ll never face.

If anything, this makes it easier for racist bias to seep in and take hold even among the open-minded – racism has an easy-to-present narrative. There is no cost or effort associated with understanding it. Some news anchors are more racist than others, I’m sure, but when our anchors and reporters are plagued by an institutional lack of effort, they all open themselves up to the easiest and cheapest narratives available. It ceases to matter if a news personality is racist or not when the only narratives at their disposal clearly are. They can be the best reporters in our nation’s history, but if they lack the institutional support to be able to strive beyond these limitations, then they aren’t feeding us useful information anymore. They’re feeding us fanfiction.

Ferguson Sacrificed Itself to Give Us an Opportunity

Ferguson flames 3

by Gabriel Valdez

Protestors setting their community alight in acts of brazen defiance? I’m so glad people are supportive of these acts of frustrated protest. That such civil disobedience can raise $121 million in our country over a weekend is remarkable. Truly, we understand our long history of protest against a justice system established to find the poor and downtrodden guilty of being poor and downtrodden, that ghettoizes minorities, and reports on those less fortunate as if they were animals.

Those successful riots and acts of defiance were in The Hunger Games, though. Why do we find those acts compelling on a movie screen and, days later, turn around and condemn them in Ferguson, Missouri?

We just had our hearts moved by the struggle of a people who feel oppressed and must violently rebel. We saw the sacrifices they had to make in order to do so, sacrifices that most of us have never had to face and might not be willing to make. We just saw it in a movie, now it’s happening in real life, and we have the gall as a people to feel more empathy for the characters who are made up with names like Katniss and Peeta?

We look on in horror at buildings burning, at tear gas in the streets, at injured being loaded into cars and rushed to the hospital. I don’t want anyone to get hurt. I don’t want anyone’s livelihood to be ruined. Yet in many ways I am thankful this is happening. I was worried this would fizzle out, that people would shrug and go back home and there would be protests but they would have lost their heart. Instead, people who were willing to risk life and limb in order to display their frustration with a broken justice system forced this conversation to be front and center. Today, we cannot ignore it.

They did it using the very tools we so often cheer on screen. Why can’t we cheer them the same way here?

When any of us don’t get what we feel we deserve in our lives, sometimes we get angry. On a city-wide (or nation-wide) scale, when what you want is justice, equal treatment, and a fair trial according to the rule of our land, getting angry is going to mean fires and rocks and lord knows what else. But you know what? Every ethnicity – Irish, Germans, Mexicans, Chinese, Japanese, African-Americans, every single ethnicity – has had to get monumentally angry at some point in our history in order to get heard. To say your ethnicity’s moment of anger was somehow more warranted than this one doesn’t leave the door open behind you.

When the system so clearly breaks, moments of such widespread anger are the only thing capable of causing change over time. To pretend as if the residents of Ferguson are doing anything different than what every race has a long history of doing in the United States is, to put it quite simply, insanely racist.

Is Ferguson’s reaction too violent? Is it too destructive? You know what? I’m not going through what they’re going through. I am not qualified to be their judge. If you’re sitting at home, watching news anchors call them traitors or field reporters trespass to shove cameras in the faces of those suffering, then chances are you are not qualified to be their judges either. Whether they intend to or not, Ferguson burned down their city last night for so many other cities that face the same struggle. That their city burned down last night means other cities might not. If we cheer their cause. If we pay attention.

You want to be exactly like your heroes on screen, like Katniss and Peeta and Luke and Han and Leia and Maleficent and Captain America? You cheer on this cause. You don’t avert your eyes. You witness it. You let it burn into you so that you remember how damaging and painful injustice is. This moment can be a memory that changes something, that makes all that pain worth it. Or it can be a moment that happens again and again and again.

There is no difference between what happens on-screen in a movie and what happens in real life, except this: You can change what happens in real life. You can be the hero. All a hero is made of is the willingness to help. Don’t waste this opportunity to make your voice known. Don’t waste this opportunity to stand up for people who are suffering. A city burned. How much pain do you have to feel to burn your city? Do something about that pain. Be brave, make mistakes, but do something about that pain.

Go Read This: On H.P. Lovecraft’s Racism

On Lovecraft

by Rachel Ann Taylor

We struggle all the time with our favourite authors and moviemakers. I might worship an author’s work without knowing a thing about his life, but then I find out something hideous about him. Do I stop reading and watching? Do I take what his work means to me and throw that all away?

Gabe spoke about this earlier today. He said fans have the right to be hypocrites if we communicate why and we are aware of our hypocrisies.

Noah Berlatsky wrote yesterday that H.P. Lovecraft, the father of weird fantasy, should be remembered both as a great writer and a racist. Lovecraft’s racism is documented. It is a big part of many of his stories. His fear of the OTHER is the foundation his strange fiction world is based upon. Go read this:

Where Should We Bury the Dead Racist Literary Giants?

This is part of why we have critics: so we’re able to analyze a book or movie differently than how we experience it.

Fans Have the Right to Be Hypocrites

Mel Gibson

by Gabriel Valdez

Fans have the right to be hypocrites. Michael Jackson shows us that.

I won’t watch a Roman Polanski movie, but I’m occasionally intrigued by what Mel Gibson’s up to. I’ve certainly forgiven American football a hell of a lot of dubious actions over the years. I can pretend these decisions are justified by moral absolutes, but they have more to do with my personal tastes.

I was never much of a fan of Polanski to start with. To me, he’s famous for a handful of good shots and a number of Hollywood friendships, which all adds up to critics overlooking his complete lack of narrative invention and inability to control pace. It’s easier for me to take a stand against him because I never liked him much to start.

Gibson, on the other hand, I grew up watching. I made my dad take me to see Braveheart three or four times in the theater. Even now, I find Gibson an absurdly intriguing lab experiment. Roles I thought had been acted one way as a child I can now see are acted in a completely different manner. I can see how he (and his directors) harness his sociopathy to make disturbing and fanatical characters feel charming and heroic.

Remember, we’re not arguing about whether what these people did was wrong (Polanski fled the U.S. to avoid a statutory rape conviction, Gibson abused his wife and has slandered Jews.) Their actions were awful and inexcusable. What I’m talking about is whether it’s right or wrong to continue watching their movies.

So you’ll listen to Michael Jackson and I’ll re-watch Mad Max and someone else will write about why Polanski’s such a great director, and we’ll debate the 80 things we don’t know about Woody Allen until the sun comes up the next morning.

Here’s what I want to say: it’s OK. Fans have the right to be hypocrites. For one thing, very few movies, albums, or photographs are ever created by a single person. Art, especially mass-market art, is the creative act of teams of people.

One thing I’ve enjoyed that Sony’s done is that they’ve added a line after the credits of their big-budget movies that specifies how many people the film employed. X-Men: Days of Future Past, for instance, employed 15,000 people.

After the film, I read news reports in which Bryan Singer was accused of having sex with a 17 year-old boy. It later turned out the boy was a model who accused a number of Hollywood figures of the same thing, so it appears to have been a hoax, blackmail, or a publicity scheme.

But in the moment, I was faced with a quandary – do I not see the sequel in opposition to Singer, or do I see it because Patrick Stewart is so outspoken about addressing domestic violence, and Ian McKellen and Ellen Page represent such milestones in normalizing LGBTQ acceptance? There was no wrong or right answer.

So, for the sake of our sanity, fans – and critics – have to be hypocrites. We can’t possibly go research the history of 15,000 people involved in a film, or even the few dozen most visible personalities, and weigh each person’s crimes or lack thereof.

At the same time, it’s important to voice your opinion and maintain your stands. When a friend asks me if I want to watch Rosemary’s Baby, I explain why I really don’t want to, and I expect that to be respected. When they ask me to flip away from a Mel Gibson movie, I’ll do so and, more importantly, listen to why.

It’s important to take stands, but it’s also important to recognize our own inconsistencies and hypocrisies. It’s in discussing our most passionate inconsistencies that we’re best able to understand the emotional perspectives of others.

So keep being fans of whomsoever you like, but don’t shut down someone who wants to tell you why they aren’t. Conversely, talk about the stands you take on art and viewership, and why. Understand when someone holds a different opinion. We all have our hypocrisies, the lines in the sand we can’t abide being crossed and the ones we’re willing to sweep away.

It’s not wrong for us to have these, but it is important that we recognize and discuss them.

I’d say the same holds true for politics and religion, but that’s for another article.