Showing posts with label Class. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Class. Show all posts

Monday, December 19, 2011

What your parents can’t tell you about interracial dating

The truth is interracial dating is a lot more like all other forms of dating than some people would like to admit.  And maintaining an interracial relationship is still about the same things that none interracial dating is about.  Two people deciding if they can commit to each other.  Everything else is media driven hype.  Personally I’m not completely for or against interracial relationships, gay relationships, or hetero relationships between members of the same ‘race’.  I am on the side of love and love being able to infuse tolerance in all relationships regardless of the over reaching societal implications to forming a relationship. 

I find it interesting that everyone is willing to admit that interracial relationships suffer more problems than a same race relationship.  The fascinating part is all the reasons that are stated as to why that is that have nothing to do with the REAL reason why.  During this litany of reasons people will list things like suffering from the discrimination of others and what you will put your poor children through.

Ask someone why they are against interracial relationships and they will probably tell you all the things ‘other’ people will put you through.  Seeing as most of these people offering this helpful advice have usually not been in interracial relationships I find myself believing that they are telling you what they have put other people through.  Trust me, once you are in only one interracial relationship the knowledge carried away makes the experience worth it. Only someone who has not had a true caring relationship with someone of another race can hold on to the idea that these should not be seen out.  And usually in their descriptors for the ills of interracial relationships they refuse to even admit the real reason.  There is only one, ignorance.  Ignorance breeds hate, confusion, lies and ultimately untested theories of truth.

The truth is that if your family has lived in America for a certain number of years in certain locales you like I have interracial relationships to thank for your current existence.  Therefore I think the lowest and most villainous reason people will ever give you is the aspect that you are somehow hurting potential future children by being in an interracial relationship. This is the lowest form of manipulation because it takes advantage of the idea that people want to put their children in the best possible position to achieve and live a full life.  The truth is only useless people live uninteresting lives that have enabled them to never confront with any adversity.  Without conflict children cannot become strong enough to deal with the pangs of life.  They instead become people who don’t understand how to deal when life deals them a rough hand and they have a hard time recovering.  If nothing else being of a multiracial identity builds perseverance, self- reliance and a need to develop a strong self-identity.

Often enough people who have been in interracial relationships will cite one more thing.  This thing is the way the couple actually relates to race with each other. Because race exists as a social construct the members of the couple will often have ingrained ideas that are a reflection of their thoughts on race.  More often than not the person that is willing to date outside of their race is also the person least willing to deal with the implications of race in the world.  They will often ignore and admonish the other party for being too sensitive while that party will criticize and judge the other for not being sensitive enough.  The bigger issue with this is the fact that both are actually so sensitive to the race issue that they make what other people perceive the entire focus of the relationship.  When actually it should bare as much weight as choosing a place to have dinner. That is where maturity comes in.

I will be the first to admit interracial dating does have issues that same race relationships don’t have.  The number one issue is whether or not the participants are mature enough to deal with a society that isn’t mature enough for open none guilt laden interracial dating.  The most damning and hurtful aspect to this is finding out the truth about the people you love.  Because in the course of even contemplating this as a choice you will learn beyond a shadow of a doubt where the people you love stand.  It doesn’t matter how ‘open’ the bulk of your friends and family are, someone in your immediate life will have a problem with it.  The people involved have to determine from point jump if being with this person is worth the potential drama proposed by others outside of the relationship.  This branches out to friends, co-workers, and casual strangers.  Yes you will notice a difference in how people treat you.  And if that isn’t enough to make you understand how alive and well racism still is then you need to give it a shot just to see.  Take minute and understand the nature of your privilege.

The issue with race is that it somehow negates something that is always present in relationships. With human beings comes opinions and people will judge whom you are with regardless of what they bring or don’t bring to the table.  People find issues with class, gender, ableism, you name it.  Some people will even complain about television and music preferences.  The bottom line is that no matter who you are with, there is going to be someone in your life who doesn’t really like them or the fact that you are together.  Maturity determines how much you let that dictate who is right for you and who isn’t.  In the end all those other people aren’t there and can’t really determine what is best for you.  Only you can do that.

Race is an insidious thing because it is solely dependent on perception.  Most times as many online ‘identify the race’ simulations prove, you can’t really tell what ‘race’ someone is by their appearance alone.  The human genome project has ventured into a wide array of explanations regarding this and why assumptions about personality, work ethic, or morality cannot be judged by the color of a person’s skin.  All human life on earth right now can be traced to a male and female ancestor in Africa.  This is not theorized or presumed, this is science. This is fact.

We as people have different experiences that have shaped us.  Many of these experiences have racial overtones because of the country that we live in.  We are all shaped by only watching bad racial stereotypes in our media, by accepting casual racism as a fact of life, and by not speaking up when unfair discrimination is taking place.  Every time you look away in the guise of ‘this isn’t a big deal’ is when you let it win.  When you don’t take something seriously that has the potential to hinder another person’s liberties and civil rights then you let it win. Because you aren’t personally exposed to this treatment does not mean it doesn’t exist.  In case you haven’t noticed racial demographics change every day.  When does the day come that you are the one being visited with this treatment that you choose to ignore?  Stop ignoring it, deal with it, and be the change that we all need to see.

Stats courtesy of

Family Courtesy of

Hands Courtesy of

Friday, October 21, 2011

True Altruism

In book one of my W.A.R.M. Front series the heroine and the hero share a very interesting if not integral belief.  That belief is in altruism.  Whenever I write books I like to talk about things that are near and dear to my heart.  In very many ways I doubt anything is as near or dear to me as altruism. 

Growing up my family depended very much on the kindness of strangers.  I remember at least 2 Christmases very clearly that would've been awful if the local church had not been kind enough to give us a Christmas dinner and toys for my brother and me.  I wonder about how different my childhood would've been if these services had not been available and how I would be a different person now from those experiences.  And I wonder how the general public feels about charity and altruism.  Even more so I wonder if those who have been fortunate enough either through recognition of hard work or by virtue of luck to be highly financially successful in this life understand what sharing this does for their soul.  Not just giving money to the Red Cross once a year, but actually getting their hands dirty and watching a life transform.  

For those who have lost their way and lost meaning in their own lives, it is restored through finding meaning in another’s life. Altruism is in many ways the most selfish act I know and all the more lovely for it.  It is a process of healing another that brings the healing to the healer. By opening the most nurturing and cradling parts of yourself to others you give that part of you what it really needs, air to breathe.   By burying it in yourself you are only suffocating it, depriving it of sunlight, food, and water.  The things it needs to grow.

This comes on the heels of reading something yesterday that literally made me cry.  I've always been a fan of the music of Bon Jovi. Well now I'm a fan of the man Jon Bon Jovi because of this wonderful contribution he has made to his hometown.  In a nutshell he and his wife have a foundation that gives back to their community. This is something that I believe is an absolute must if you have any amount of great success, and is a must in smaller quantities even if you don't. 

Their latest endeavor is a revamping of the 'soup kitchen' concept.  Historically the soup kitchen is a necessary thing that brings with it a multitude of soul destroying poisons.  However this version includes something that I believe people forget to give to those in need. Dignity. This is a pay as you can restaurant that gives a healthy meal in a clean well received environment.

The full story can be found here: Soul Kitchen, Jon Bon Jovi

I can't wait for the next trip I take to the area so I can eat a meal there and leave $100 on the table.

I know it stands to reason that if you are this down on your luck, beggars can't be choosy.  But this is in essence the problem.  Beggars should be choosy.  It is this sense of self-worth that propels a person to make the necessary changes in their life to actually start a positive shift in their existence.

I remember being ashamed of my upbringing when I was younger.  I never had the best toys on the market, was lucky to have the toys I did have.  My mother always made sure that we had clean clothes, food, and a roof over our head no matter what she had to do to accomplish this.  If it meant swallowing her pride and asking for aide then so be it.  Her children were worth it.  However as a young child all I had was a perpetual sense of not being 'good enough' to have things other children had.  And my mother's income or lack thereof became a definer for people as to what I could or could not accomplish.

I remember being accepted to my high school and then told in so many words that children from my socio-economic background usually didn't last long because they felt like outcasts from other students who sometimes had very privileged backgrounds.  They could afford the things I could not.  Being a visual artist is very expensive business and somehow my mother made sure that even if I couldn't have the best supplies, I could create art. She didn't let me feel guilty about costing the family so much money because she saw this for what it was; dignity for me.  And she knew that I very much needed to have that if I was ever going to achieve anything.

As the first high school graduate, first college degree holder, and soon to be the first graduate degree holder in my family I can look back and see how unattainable these goals would've been if I didn't have my dignity to see it out. What people from other backgrounds don't understand is the sense of helplessness someone who is deeply impoverished has.  When you are in poverty your living conditions and standards are much lower than that of people in the middle class.  You juggle bills, paying them by importance as opposed to paying them because they are due.  You never have enough money to pay all of your bills and trying to live below the means necessary to account for the amount of money you make leads to consequences like not being able to buy the proper clothes for the job you work. Not being able to secure transportation to it, or not being able to eat enough to have the energy to work. And all the while everyone around you blames you for your inability to be better, to be more.  The United States poverty lines are just a bad joke that accounts for an economy that was thriving over 3 decades ago without truly accounting for inflation, technology, and the changing standards of basic human needs.

The issue is when another bill collector has called you a deadbeat, your boss is too cheap to give you a raise implying that your work effort is not worth this level of finance, and you don't know how you're going to feed yourself or your children tonight, you start to believe some unfortunate things about yourself.  When you work yourself to the bone with multiple jobs, no health insurance, living paycheck to paycheck and another financial burden presents itself as an emergency; you are willing to do almost anything to free yourself from the panic, the horror, and the rage this gives you.  The last thing on your mind is your dignity, because if it will make you feel like you are accomplishing something to sell it off, you most likely will, and very few people in similar situations would blame you for it.

While some may say all you have is your pride, you must realize that people in truly tragic situations don't have that any more.  Pride proved to be too expensive in the face of hunger. And dignity isn't allowed to be a thought if you want to maintain shelter. There are those miracle stories.  Those people who despite the odds managed to maintain both and succeed.  However they are the minority not the majority.  Self-worth is a commodity in our world that has had a definite price tag placed on it.  It is now a beast that involves status, income, and has little to do with moral values and community building. Dignity has always been this nearly indefinable mix of human frailty and strength.  It can be used to break you and to lift you high.  Sometimes within the same breath.

I build this case to state this. The humility it takes for a person who is very successful to look at someone less fortunate, and offer a hand as opposed to a handout is immense, and should be treasured for the miracle that it is. The difference is in the old Chinese fish metaphor, give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day, teach him how to fish. . . you know how it goes.  This is the act of showing someone through the care you have taken to prepare something for them, their worth to you as a human being.  And when someone can't manage to build self-worth and dignity for themselves, it is the job of others to show them how it's done through our own actions. The world is our community if we don’t care enough to take care of it, who else will? No matter how isolated we try to make ourselves, no one is here alone and if you are in a position to help others, you must understand this and help.

I give men who have Superman tattoos a hard time.  It’s because usually they are self-involved delusional braggarts that have placed on this false persona to fulfill some missing need within themselves.  My issue is that Superman is a hero and saves lives.  If you aren’t doing something similar you haven’t earned his colors.  Jon Bon Jovi is earning those colors.

I hope acts of true altruism become an epidemic.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Celebrity Crisis

I feel like I need to start this blog with a disclaimer because I'm going to talk about things that need to be clearly identified as not belonging to each other.  They are the differences between confidence and self-absorption. I am all about confidence.  Everyone should have it and everyone should display it.  I've been told I'm in fact much too modest.  Trust me I do this on purpose because the megalomaniacal beast that I hold at bay daily is no cake walk I assure you.  I try to channel that through my characters.  Let them be larger than life and I can just be me. 

I suppose I find myself wondering about the state of wealth and celebrity.  The wealthy are pretty obscure.  Very few people even know the names of the wealthiest people in the world.  They couldn't pick them out in a crowd, and can't easily identify their names in print or vocalized.  However celebrity is all the rage.  People can identify a celebrity without even trying, thus they become the image that is often associated with the wealthy.  Even pop cultural anarchists like myself can tell you a few basic tenets of modern pop culturalization. 

The best way to get press is to get caught doing something amoral by 'good' American citizen standards.  As an entertainer it is nearly impossible to not eventually do something that other people disapprove of.  Never underestimate the ability of people to do two things, misunderstand, and then judge what they never understood. The irony is that the best way to keep fame is to then somehow transcend what got people's attention in the first place. Which I believe is that crucial step between confidence and self-absorption. It’s 'I got away with it' syndrome.  It leads to a life of 'getting away with it' and expecting to always do so.  This is when the first inkling of "I'm better than you starts" to really cement itself.

Remember this story? I do!
Self-absorption starts with that one basic idea.  I am better than you.  Every case of it stems from that one primary thought. I've had brief brushes with celebrity and I hated it.  I hated it because this entity of celebrity can somehow prevent and hinder the ability of making true connections. My life has no meaning without true connections to other people.  It was hard for me to tell the difference between the truth as it was, and the truth as it was being presented as.  The biggest favor I ever did for myself was to discover the difference.  From time to time I still slip up.  But with less people involved in the process to snow me over for their own gain, it’s easier than it could've been.

The only aspect of celebrity that I didn't mind was the idea that financial woes would cease for myself and those I loved. However at what point does your financial success when combined with the specter of celebrity make you not see anything beyond yourself.  To be successful in any industry a certain level of personal choice and compliance has to be given up.  To be successful in a performance based industry this is multiplied by 10 because usually you aren't talking about just a job.  You are talking about doing something you are passionately in love with to a degree that it is a part of you.  You need it to exist more than you need breath. Sometimes that peak is very far away. So far in fact that people have to convince themselves beyond what is actually true to reach it.  Which means you have to negate reality as it is and replace it with one of your own (shameless Mythbusters steal).

So I test drove it.  This new reality for me was dark. It was filled with pitfalls and attacks.  An unending landscape of fire pits and terrifying creatures ready to snap your head off for fun.  I explore this idea more in a romance I'm writing featuring a Hollywood movie producer and a grassroots painter. It explores how alike they are yet how their choices made them seem so different from each other. Working on this again made me think about my own peccadilloes with fame, celebrity, and the price that I thought was too high to pay for the promise of money, glory, and popularity.

I've never thought well of celebrities or people who needed and wanted fame.  That is my prejudice developed from people I've met and known in my past in addition to my disgust at the assumption they made that I was in fact just like them. I made assumptions about them based on my value system.  As unfair as that is, I do it because I realize they have done the same. The truth is I am just like them, we all are.  Some of us just channel it differently. But the core that makes someone choose to pursue fame and choose not to are basically identical.  The need to associate, develop, and ultimately belong to something. Always trying to find the formula to a happy fulfilling life. We just make different choices as to how to fulfill our core.

Celebrity Weddings
There were things that I attached to celebrity and fame because the actions others encouraged me to propagate in order to achieve it left very obvious victims. I never wanted to believe it was okay to look down on people.  I never wanted to think that some people just deserve less because I was able to achieve something considered 'more'.  I never wanted to be able to justify making ridiculous amounts of money and not starting a charity.  I never wanted my need to express my talent to mean more than human decency, kindness, and empathy.

The point is I never wanted to be able to ignore another person because I thought I was better than them.  I always think about the people who I know now that I most likely would not have met had I chosen a different path and what a grave loss that would be in my life.  Most importantly I never wanted to wrap myself in that cynical cocoon I was developing that didn't even allow grace in.  I wanted to remain human enough to understand the importance of humility. To ultimately keep the magic of meeting special people that the world for whatever reason ignores.  That feeling of discovering this perfect meadow that has somehow remained untainted by the filth of the world.

Yes this is that car
When I see that some rapper has blown $370,000 to destroy a car in a music video I cringe at what I could've become.  When a musician refuses to do a charity concert because they aren't getting paid I wonder why do they need more money.  They already have more than they need to live well. When I see music, art, dance leaving schools and very few of the people who benefitted from these programs care enough to do something about it, I wonder how can they claim to love what they do if they don't care enough to make sure that it always exists.  You can hear it in everything they do. I am better than you. And all I can think is I no longer care about anything you do.

Why does celebrity lead to this 'us versus them' mentality no matter what type of fame it is? This 'I as a celebrity cannot be bothered by you a regular person' nonsense.  I've meet people that aren't like that, but the majority abide by and prefer this separation that is in essence contributing to the class war that the wealthy is waging.  The extremely wealthy are using celebrity as their front line fodder. Celebrities bear the brunt of the criticisms for overt wealth and wealth flaunting practices. If celebrities would take a moment, and just be with 'regular' people they would be moved to discuss their plight and be less villianized.  But in this country our celebrities are sometimes even worse than our politicians.  Because for entertainment careers being a savvy politician is necessary for success.

Love word clouds
The question I could never answer, and was too afraid of losing myself to confront was this.  Is it even possible to retain any empathy, compassion, or reality when fame is your reality?  What would lead a character who is being victimized by his own fame into understanding the plight of a person on the other end of life?  In this case I choose magic.  A witch to be exact.  I wonder how their story will end?  Coming soon. . . .

Confidence courtesy of:

Word Cloud courtesy of:

Celebrity Weddings courtesy of:

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Next American Revolution

We live in a time where perception is becoming law.  You see it everywhere; in the government, on television, and in personal interactions with others.  But this to some degree can be said about all stages of humanity in its current Homo Erectus form.  Like all things, perceptions are mutable because no two people can have the exact same one.  We are greater for this, and in some ways worse for this.  In the end, different is better because it opens the doors to possibility, maybe, and the impossible. Perception accomplishes all of this.  In our age of instant information, perceptions travel faster.  At the speed of light even, which has to a large degree accelerated our rate of development, and our ability to ascertain our individual perceptions.  So we can just a quickly modify them.

Movie Poster
This thought process comes from watching a fascinating movie this weekend called Ruby's Bucket of Blood.  It was the story of a 1950s black woman in Louisiana who ran her own juke joint.  For people that don't know what a juke joint is, it's a speakeasy, a bar with musical entertainment. They were established by blacks in light of Jim Crow laws that barred blacks from white establishments.  So blacks created their own clubs.

The movie did the basic things and I was impressed by all of the stones the story and direction left unturned. They talked about segregation, homosexuality, spousal abuse, class within races, extended families. The most interesting aspect was the commentary about the different ways that people of color can discriminate against each other, and the way whites can as well.  They also dealt with a mentality and attitude that still exists to this day. They referred to it as 'slave' mentality.

Historically it has been thought of as the mental byproduct an enslaved people have to reject upon release.  The thought was it would take as many centuries to breed out as it took to breed in. But it is more than just a degree of perceived ownership, and not being able to make decisions regarding yourself or your children. It is more about a degree of perceived allowances in society.  What is acceptable and what is not acceptable as a person of color in a white world and vice versa? What is acceptable for a white person in a white world or a white person in a person of color world?

As I watched this movie I was startled to realize that most people who are not of color probably would not understand what the primary elements of this movie talked about because of context.  Meaning that if you are not a person of color who has experienced levels of discrimination you would have no idea what the underlying message was behind the movie.  In direct contrast there were aspects of being white that were confronted that most people of color would not be able to understand because they have not experienced that degree of discrimination that whites place on each other at times in regards to how to deal with people of color. And I wondered about that and the issues with not just perception, but with perspective and how these populations could ever find it with one another in such a short period of time.

Desegregation Protesters
The United States has gone through a myriad of changes in a few short centuries that other countries have taken nearly a 1000 years to sort through when you compare histories.  There are still people alive who remember Jim Crow laws and why they had to be followed.  My grandmother and mother are two of them.  This is when perspective becomes so very interesting.  The idea that I, a 34 year old woman in America, and anyone of my age group, has immediate family members that know of and willfully participated in the act of segregation and deemed it acceptable is a mind-blowing perspective if you really think about it. And while segregation was declared illegal in the 50's, then again in the 60s, with a series of subsequent laws as people searched for and found loopholes, the South was able to maintain it well into the 70's which was when I was born. Many people maintain that it is still very prevalent today.  Doubt me, check state report cards that break down academic achievement by race and note the ones that don’t have enough of a certain race to even rate it.  Schools are still segregated due to real estate markets and housing discrimination; another loophole for continued segregation that litigation is still dealing with. However, I see that despite that fact, my surroundings are a far cry from the world my mother grew up in. And even further still from the society my grandmother grew up in.  I find myself wondering at how I would've raised children in my mother's time.  Would I have raised them to fight, or would I have been fearful and raised them to survive?

Let me paint a picture for you. Some of you are mothers so this should be easy for you.  For those who are not just imagine. Try being a mother who has to deal with raising children in a world where even though the law has forbidden treating you and those like you badly, the people have made sure that they can continue with little or no penalty. On many occasions you have seen others hurt, beaten, falsely jailed. You yourself have been the victim of being denied jobs, denied good housing, and denied adequate medical care.  You don't know how you are going to keep your children alive without better pay, better food, and better medicine. Secretly you suspect that the system you have to work in would prefer that your children died. There were times when you heard people say as much. When you try to fight the injustice, on several occasions you are told that if you balk at this, your fate will be worse because people either don't want things to change or they are too weak to rock the boat.  But they all say you should be grateful for the scraps you have been given.  The ones in charge say none of you are worth it anyway. Stay in your place, and be grateful I don't take that from you too. How fearful are you as a mother with a son or daughter?  You decide that you have to train them to think and act in a certain way to insure that they survive.  You see, in a climate like this achieving is the least of your concerns.  Survival is the most important because you know that you have it better than those before you, so there is a chance that your children, their children will have it even better. But they have to manage to grow up and carry on. Just survive. So what manner of child would this raise?  What would be their goals and inclinations?  See the many, many ways that they would not coincide with the new reality they have been given that is so different from yours.

American Dream
This analogy works for all discriminated against populations and their reluctant oppressors.  Just insert the classification, race, social class, gender. The crux of all discrimination is a powerful group of people dictating what other people deserve, who deserves to give it to them, and why.  It’s bullying for adults.  Last I checked that wasn't supposed to be the American way.  Remember the American Dream; achieve and pull yourself up by your own bootstraps.  How do you manage that without boots I often wonder?  In this I mean food, shelter, medical care.  The basics. Despite that people have managed something. But how would you expect people to be who have been told that they can achieve, but only on the terms of others, and then blamed for their lack of achievement. It just becomes a fixed craps game where every roll is snake eyes because even if you somehow manage to 'do well' that was somehow given to you and not actually earned.

Even though it was called 'slave mentality' for blacks, the truth is other populations suffer and understand it so it isn't really a 'slave mentality', as it is a caste system mentality. And this caste mentality is felt by ALL in the society system. It is a series of ideas about health, lifestyle, culture, ideologies, wealth, success, meritocracy, class, race and gender that the American media and institution of government like to reinforce for population control. The importance of understanding this mentality is the key to a future America that can at least understand itself.  America right now is like an amnesiac schizophrenic.  It forgets all of its personalities as soon as it switches to another, and it can't recall the history of the one it's in.  It would be the highest of hypocrisy if the country knew what the word meant.

2010 Census Statistics
The truth is America is not equal, middle class blacks and Latinos still live in low income neighborhoods because they are barred from better ones fitting their income status.  America is not wealthy. There are wealthy people in America, about 10% to be exact.  America isn't mostly middle class; that is currently being wiped out by the greed of the wealthy.  America isn't democratic; states are currently putting in measures to prevent certain populations from voting.  America is not religiously tolerant.  Not a day goes by that someone on television isn't referring to or treating all Muslims like terrorists.  America is not peaceful. America has the most people incarcerated per capita than any country in the world (increased dramatically since the ‘war on drugs’ began in the early 80’s) and has been at war for the last 50 or so years on foreign shores.  America is not a melting pot or a salad bowl.  People are asserting their multicultural, multiracial status daily as more Americans are fitting under this distinction. Other global communities are reestablishing their communities in America. Populations are choosing to huddle together in distinct neighborhoods easily identified by their culture.

The other truth is that the only constant in life is change.  We are a country that has been divided by many issues.  Race, wealth and religion being the big three in my opinion. Race is a condition that is fixing itself if the rising production of mixed race children is any indication. Hopefully soon all children will be just what they are . . American children. No disclaimer, no classification. Wealth, another problem weeding itself out as the middle class vanishes and the opulence of the wealthy is being uncovered.  Soon they will be brought to task for the systematic stealing of money and resources from the American public. Because when the wealthy can no longer squeeze money out of us, they will turn on each other.  Their greed demands more. Someone wealthy enough to have power over this will stop them as they reach for their wealth. And religion, in light of recent events we see clearly how criminalized none Christians are in the media, while Christians are treated as 'lone gunmen' that don't represent all of Christianity.  Amazing that this isn't the case for Muslims. We define politicians citing religious right as the future of this country as lunatics. 

What the media and government seems to not understand is that despite their careful cultivation of these issues to try and panic people into a frenzy, America has been giving them its own answer the entire time.  We need change, and whether they like it or not, we will have it. Even if we have to create it ourselves.

American Dream courtesy of

Human courtesy of

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Of Games and Men

One of my favorite movie lines in the history of movies is the one from "The Usual Suspects."  "The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist."(Suspects)  I think that is applicable to a lot of things in American society.  Has media convinced us that some things that do exist don't? What is the most damaging? 

In my estimation the thing that has been the most interesting is the perception of achievement and the acceptance of class as a racial, gender, sexual orientation, and ableist identifier. How often are people of color depicted as affluent and deserving of it when it is not related to sports or entertainment?  How often are women portrayed in the same way? And citizens with disabilities, are they even depicted at all? Gays and lesbians aren't left out.  If anything they suffer the most as all populations no matter how abused can hold their sexuality over them in addition to all the other social classifications. Think of seeing any of these populations being referenced in regards to technological advancement and technical proficiency. The images just don't come readily to mind do they? However when a negative connotation can be added, all parties are displayed to a sensationalistic degree.

Americans have an over ridding belief system in place that declares loudly that whatever station a person finds themselves in they only have themselves to blame.  People of color just don't work hard enough to get promotions.  Women should've made different choices to avoid being abused. And somehow a disability is a slight from the Almighty Himself marking someone as unfit.  Why do gays and lesbians CHOOSE to be that way?

The implication is always that a position in life is a matter of will and choice, and not a desired result of an unseen, unspoken structure put into place for American society by the privileged class. No one looks to the other end.  Why do equally qualified applicants of color get over looked for promotions?  Why does that man feel the need to abuse women? The person with the disability is here so that God can teach us tolerance not avoidance. Why is it not ok that they are gay or lesbian? To some extent these populations are aware of their undeserved designations and understand that sometimes through no fault of their own opportunities just aren't available.  

The most interesting victim of the system is the privileged man who is aware, sees this inequity, and is rendered powerless to change it for fear of repercussions from the class he finds himself in.  What a tragic figure indeed as the bounds of their masculinity is defined by their ability to dominate and subjugate others. Constantly they are asked to continue the structure causing a little bit of their humanity to be eaten away each time.

All it builds is a sea of anger and self-hate for all.  The result is a need for violent behavior and overt aggression against those who would try and unseat the ruling class by just existing.  The goal becomes this process of blind self absolution where everyone is aware that admitting that this structure exists would be admitting their guilt in maintaining it. No one wants to be found guilty of such a horrible crime against the bulk of humanity.  Think of all the victims, millions of men, women, and children.  It would practically make you a Nazi.

With this in mind I recall my game design classes and sitting with my classmates as we had a discussion about our field, and the issues inherent with being a game designer in the modern world. Believe it or not game designers have a slew of social issues they have to navigate. The main stays are violence in games, the depiction of women and ethnicities in games, and the lack of diversity in game development companies.

Game Designers Image 1
While I often referred to them fondly as 'my video game boys', I was mostly an outcast during my educational stint.  The teachers appreciated me because I was a good student, but my classmates always treated me with a passing sense of discomfort.  I understood why. I was in fact a white elephant for them.  There is a reason why most game design companies have issues with depictions of women, minorities, and the propagation of violence. That is because in most game design classes you'll find a very prevalent self-fulfilling stereotype.  Young middle to upper class privileged white males who have no idea that they are any of the above however instinctively maintain the structure.  Most do not acknowledge privilege at all.  In fact most would imply in class and outside of it that privilege is a lie.  When confronted directly a few will tell you that there is no such thing as white male privilege. The playing field is even, and anyone who has a desire to create video games has the same opportunities as they do. 

I would sit quiet for a time and then ask the question that was to me as obvious as a 1 ton gorilla.  Then why is it that I'm the only person like me in this classroom? Usually the room grows quiet and people look nervously from one to the other seemingly trying to understand the question. On their face's accusation as if asking this question is picking a fight. Why I would ask such a thing their looks say. And yet the best they can come up with is, "Certain people just aren't interested in creating games."

In a lot of ways I feel like this inefficient answer is the only one that my classmates feel they can actually say.  The underpinnings are there, and can be felt seething beneath the surface. Minorities aren't intelligent enough; women aren't intelligent enough to create video games citing me as the oddity that sustains the rule.  Women don't enjoy things like games.  Non-whites are lazy and don't want to work hard enough to compete in a career like this.  They want things to be given to them, and won't work as hard as I do and people like me do.

Game Designers Socialize
These are still not viable answers simply because they aren’t true.  It is a result of the victim blaming society that American culture has fostered. What I’m after is the real reason why is it that at most I have usually seen a handful of none-white male students since I've begun my 4 years of education, and even less female students? Is it possible that only white males have a desire to use technology to create video games?  Considering how 'cool' everyone thinks it is that I'm trained to do this, I sincerely doubt it.  So what is the REAL cause of this disparity?

I realize that my inability to socialize with my classmates was multi fold.  For one instance as a woman I was already embarking on hallowed 'male' ground by even trying to become a game designer.  This was something that I realized my teachers loved that the male students came to resent.  Then of course there was the race issue which became a point of contention that the few female students came to resent.  Video game design is a very competitive industry.  Professionals in game design will tell you that it is an industry deeply entrenched in 'who you know'.  So while I was trying to create a social network to secure my future as a game designer, my classmates were taking it for granted that somehow my status as an African American female would guarantee me a job.  Furthermore they viewed me as someone who was in this industry specifically for that purpose.  Otherwise known as 'not really a game designer' despite my graduating Cum Laude status. What my classmates saw due to media portrayals of affirmative action was a free job pass, and this lead them to not actually taking the time to view me as a peer that could one day help them attain a job.  Instead I was an obstacle to be overcome, ignored, and hopefully passed over.  Some one that would bring down the quality of something they loved.

The third and seemingly most damning factor was my age.  My average classmate was in the early to mid 20s range.  As an adult student I had already had a career as a graphic designer and was redirecting myself for game design.  This final nail in my coffin of being a 30 something student solidified their thoughts about me.  Clearly, by their estimation, I was not a peer at all.  It was a perspective that negated anything of a social fashion.  In general I felt like an outcast.  When I did endeavor to try and become involved in the social aspects of their lives it was readily apparent that this was to be avoided.  The thought was that my presence would somehow alter how they themselves would and could act with one another. There was this irrational 'angry black woman' fear that seemed to stand as a deterrent.  The thought being that at any time something none offensive from their eyes would happen and I would somehow revert into this media hyped beast known as the 'angry black woman' officially ruining the evening for all involved from my inability to take a joke. 

Of course the lack of socialization with me was chalked up to 'not having interests in common'.  This was a fallacy as I shared many of the same interests that my classmates shared that provided moments of bonding between them. The only things I did not share were sex, race, and age.  Which has proven to be the only interests that most of them felt needed to be shared.  And then I think back to that question with a few more facts.  Why was I virtually the only person like me in that program?  Keep in mind that I live in Baltimore, MD which is one of the cities in the US where the African American population is actually the majority. Baltimore also has approximately 12% more women than men. In an actually equitable system the ratio I've seen should not be the case.

A casual game that features a woman of color
People need support from others when they venture into a field such as this.  My age was perhaps the quality that I carried that made me persevere despite the feelings of being odd woman out.  That and my constant desire to buck the system regardless of what obstacles are placed in my path. But not all people are as engaging in self torture as I am, and they moved on to programs that offered more emotional support. Of the people of color and women I had classes with, only a select few of those made it to the end of the program.  Most vanished early in my training unless they came equipped with a social network that was in this program as well.  My assumptions that I would find peers in an industry that I loved was proven false as I had little support from other students to fall back on when I needed that type of assistance.  For me group work was always difficult because despite my work ethic, no one wanted to form a group with me. I was seen as an undesirable partner.  I do have peers from my time at school but they are few and share either race and/or age with me.  Ironically I was not able to establish peers among other females in my program.

So to answer the question why was I such an oddity in game design, I have come to the conclusion that this is an industry that has not endeavored to change its perception of itself mostly because the main participants in the industry have negated all responsibility for making their industry more diverse.  Instead people like me find themselves removed from the inclusive boundaries of this specialized group.  A boundary erected so high that not even the commonality of sex can overcome it.  Game design has in fact Keyser Soze'd itself out of the need to diversify.  It has convinced itself that the devil of its inclusive nature does not exist, and therefore does not need adjustment. 

I fear for this industry because the world around it is changing, and people are building games for more than just play.  Game design is being used to influence, to teach, and to inform.  The truth is games are a very impactful form of media.  Almost more so than television, radio, or film because of the interactive nature of this media.  People have to become involved to play a game.  It is not a passive activity. So the way they are built and by whom they are built has to become a less passive activity. Right now stereotypes rule game design as the so called 'geeks' and 'nerds' who run the industry with repressed rage at being mocked by others and treated as outcasts now visit this onto other populations.  I don't believe this is malicious. I just believe they are like most Americans and are just uninformed of the realities of American life for other populations that are not considered white and male. All sides have their cross to bear as I've mentioned, but if the ones that can influence the most reinforce instead of influence, how is the world ever to recover from the injustices that are being committed for the sake of social status.

Game Designers Image 1 courtesy of:

Suspects image courtesy of:

Monday, May 9, 2011

Stereotype Tree

Multicultural image
I think the importance of stereotypes and their existence become greatly undervalued.  If you ask someone why a stereotype is bad your general response would be something along the lines of 'Well it isn't polite, or nice."  Which of course opens the doorway of using them when you intentionally want to be mean or seen as bad.  It becomes a matter of opinion on civility instead of a matter of fact in regards to inequality systems.  Make no mistake about it; stereotypes have very little to do with civility and a whole lot more to do with the maintaining of inequality systems.

Inequality systems are an interesting thing.  In the current text I am reading "The Social Construction of Difference and Inequality" there is an analogy that is given by Marilyn Frye that I find to be very appropriate:

"Consider a birdcage. If you look very closely at just one wire in the cage, you cannot see the other wires.” When the cage is observed so closely, it’s unclear why a bird—eager to escape—wouldn’t just fly around the wire. It’s necessary to step back and look at the entire cage. “It is perfectly obvious that the bird is surrounded by a network of systematically related barriers, no one of which could be the least hindrance to its flight, but which, by their relations to each other, are as confining as the walls of a dungeon” (Ore, 2003)

The interesting aspect of inequality systems is that people have a tendency to deny their existence.  The common perceptions among average Americans are that if a certain sector of the population is not successful it is through their own lack of desire, initiative, and drive.  According to the most privileged Americans, the playing field is level.  This is just the idea that the inequality maintenance system needs to survive. This perception of falsified equality. Yet in language, media, and legislation inequality thrives, and has convinced some that the perceptions given are the truth of the tale. Stereotypes then become even more invasive than these other influences because stereotypes are what a person is involved with on a psychic level and it becomes condoned and supported by these things.  This causes an invalidated truth to take root and be accepted as a validated truth.

Stereotypes are formed because we as people need to isolate things; assemble patterns. That's what we do, and how we learn. Just in case no one has noticed, humanity is in a heap of trouble. We have compounding problems from our environment to our economy. The issue is that likeminded groups stick together. We form these pockets of humanity, and these pockets only like to allow other likeminded individuals in them. We all do it.  However, like minded individuals are what got us into this situation in the first place. Diversity is the only answer now. Different heads need to be thinking about our issues from different perspectives of thought. No individual group is going to come up with an adequate solution. They can't. The only people they bounce ideas off of are just like them, and they see things too similarly. If they had a viable answer we wouldn't be in such a quandary.

Stereotypes are the root of all perspective evil because they incorporate assumptions about a whole that is usually only applicable to a few. However with this assumption in place, the perspective of the person is set and fixed to find evidence of this assumption in everything. It's our ability to create patterns used against us. Even if the stereotype is obviously not true in a person, we are actively looking for it to the point that another unrelated aspect of them seems to reinforce the stereotype. It's us typecasting each other, building that pattern.

Amazing Tree
Stereotype Tree

Roots of stereotypes come from culture, life experiences, and media. These are the things that shape us that were in place before we are even conscious of what we are or who we are going to be. The surrounding infrastructure that facilitated your birth. We would all be different people had we been born in the early 1800s instead of now.

Culture is the thing your family instilled in you and your beliefs. This includes religion, location, racial identity, socioeconomic status, acceptable behaviors and rewarded ideas. These are all the factors that those before you put into place. My foundation was set by a mother who raised me to believe that as a general rule people considered 'white' would always look down on me, but this was should not be the case.  They are no different than us, but they will always act like they are. Already I have a cultural perspective that says this type of person is always going to look down on me, but they are foolish for it. There is no difference between them and me.  This colors all interactions I have with people that are considered 'white'.  Does this person disapprove of what I am doing because as a woman who is 'not white' I should not be doing this because it implies equality?

This is the first step, so try to really dig into this concept and formulate what was presented to you as far as ethnic, class, financial, gender, and sexuality based expectations.  What were these mostly unspoken rules of what your family and friends expected from you at the very beginning of your life?  What was fair and what was based solely on stereotypes and uninformed assumptions?

Life Experiences
With the example set by your culture you have a certain perspective of the world. You see it with lenses colored by your culture. Situations that would seem one way to one person is actually completely different for someone else. When I was accused of cheating on my aptitude test in elementary school the teacher probably noticed me looking around because I do, a lot, always have. I didn't look for answers. I was just looking at the other kids because I was new and trying to figure out my new environment. When the scores came in, she confronted my mother about this. I felt guilty because my understanding was ‘looking around was bad’. When my mother found out and the teacher tried to explain, my mother got angry just like she does when she complains about white people, and tells me that I won't be attending that school anymore. This reinforces the stereotype that my mother has ingrained in me. This is an example of a life experience that can be seen from that cultural perspective.  Now I have an instance where it can be perceived that a ‘white’ authority figure has in fact 'looked down' on me because of my 'non-white' status as she openly questioned whether I was capable of achieving this aptitude score.

Media is a growing issue for stereotyping because it is so ingrained in our lives now. The messages that are being generated by advertisers and media outlets is shameful because the generation that was raised by television is now letting their children be raised by the internet. Should advertisers and content creators be more discriminating, yes, will they, no. They aren't trying to raise your kid right; they're trying to raise your kid to buy what they're selling. Question any and all media no matter what is being said and no matter who is saying it. All media can be traced to 6 corporations.  With that small amount of diversity, everything is being reported from a very limited and specific social perspective.

The trunk is what the roots feed, it's the person you are, and how you react and respond to others in day to day activities. The areas this effects are social, professional, and private aspects of you. In some situations this branches out to virtual versions of you. So think of it as the social you, for friends and group settings; the professional you for the sake of your career or livelihood, and the private you which are the aspects that only close personal people know or no one at all including you even understand. Then there is the advent of this virtual you. The person you project yourself as in cyberspace.

You choose to be in certain areas. Certain groups of people make you feel comfortable or uncomfortable. People create hives and groups based on affinity and relation. Usually these are dens of like-mindedness where ideas are identical and mirrored. These mirrored ideas reinforce stereotypes because they are never challenged.

While your job can create pockets of diversity, the understanding is that this is a ‘working you’, and not truly who you are. At work we respond sometimes as we must to fulfill the job expectations denying personal concerns. Most businesses are not expansive enough to need varying degrees of ability and talent with the exception of some high end performance and technology fields. Business autonomy sometimes makes it unnecessary for these different parts to fully interact. Working day to day while having certain stereotypes in mind causes you to see co-workers in a certain light as well. What is just playful banter can be misconstrued as an insult because of this. Stereotypes may be jarred a bit, but never disavowed because everyone is at work, and the actual face of who they are is not visible. Some fields are so devoid of diversity that even if people interacted with everyone they would see very little difference in ideologies. People who like to do certain work, or have to do certain jobs, have similar ideas and perspectives.

In the deep dark parts of ourselves we know what we truly believe. We believe what we've been shown through media, culture, and life experiences. Patterns develop that lead to who we are and manifest as the decisions and actions taken in our personal time. This is where stereotypes truly fester because our time can be spent in any way we would like. We guide ourselves inside of our own heads; this manifests in habits, likes and dislikes; our dreams. Our minds are our own, and they can either be cultivated or left barren.

The interesting thing about being virtual is the assumption that it creates anonymity. As a programmer I'm here to tell you it doesn’t. Web bots know you're IP address, with that they can find anything and everything they need to know about you. Just hope that no one wants to find you because it isn't difficult if you know how to look.

Online combines aspects of you and content creation. Media intermixes with self and amplifies self. In no other venue will you find more stereotypes being generated, accepted, and passed about freely as if they are actual facts than online. Then the issue becomes that a consensus has been formed, and together through another broader form of socialized communication, a body of evidence has been built and seems airtight. However if you apply all that came before this step, you can see why it works out like that. Now the stereotyped are accepting the labels, the typecasting, and are in fact living to make the stereotypes as real as possible, like some odd form of nihilistic approval seeking.

The result of the roots and the trunk are the branches. This is the active part that the person themselves take in creating the stereotype and regenerating it over and over again. This is the truth of what you believe in habits and nuances that are influencing other people, and reinforcing a certain perspective of an issue adjusting how you respond to them in the real world. You don't have to be a politician or someone in power for this to be effective. Just another person and it's done. This is where social expectations change the course of your actions when you are placed in stereotype forming or breaking situations. Here is when your need to act or fear of acting becomes a crucial determination of your true stance on the issue and ultimately your role.  This is where the company you keep sets an example. As human beings we are either reinforcing stereotypes or we are breaking them. There is no passive in-between.  Fence sitting is just the same as reinforcing them. People can ascertain your ability to accept others by the things you do, and the things you don't. Limitations, drawbacks, and misunderstandings are created by rating things in quality by untested assumptions. 

The idea is that these stereotypes should become leaves if you do a thorough analysis of your thoughts, ideas, and behaviors. They should grow, be tested, and fall away so that new ones can form, because unfortunately that is part of the human experience. There will always be stereotypes. It is the individual's choice if they would like to be a stereotype rock or a tree, always growing, always changing, always adapting.

Ore, Tracy E., ed. 2003. The Social Construction of Difference and Inequality: Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Multicultural image courtesy of