All posts by Debbie

Living in Weimar 6: This Cannot Stand

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historical photo supplied by @ponyta

Laurie and Debbie say:

“The dead are dead. The great and mighty go their way unchecked. All the hope left in the world lies in the people of no account.”

— Ursula K. Le Guin, “The Finder”

We haven’t written more of our Living in Weimar series (previously 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5) since just before Donald Trump was elected president of the United States. The Weimar Republic did not end, or completely change immediately, when the Nazi Party came to power in the 1930s. If anyone was unsure that we are still “living in Weimar,” Saturday afternoon in Charlottesville, Virginia, should have erased the last vestiges of doubt.

Everyone knows what happened. Charlottesville’s government announced its intention to take down a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. White supremacists with torches, swastikas, weapons, and racist signs marched in response. The march was planned, and was met by a much larger group of counterprotesters, organized by antifa groups. White nationalists and counterprotesters had some clashes while the Charlottesville police stood to one side. In the early afternoon, a white supremacist deliberately drove his car into a group of counterprotestors, killing Heather Heyer and injuring 19 other people.

photo converted to black and white by @ponyta

At least 100 cities saw demonstrations in support of the Charlottesville victims over the weekend. The news, the blogosphere, and social media are awash with thoughts, tactics, responses, and emotions. One must-read piece predates the events of the weekend by over a month. Eric K. Ward’s “Skin in the Game: How Anti-Semitism Animates White Nationalism” won’t make you feel any better, but is crucial. Ward, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, attended the white nationalist Preparedness Expo:

As a Black man, I am regarded by White nationalists as a subhuman, dangerous beast. In the 1990s, I was the field organizer for the Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harassment, a six-state coalition working to reduce hate crimes and violence in the Pacific Northwest and Mountain States region. We did a lot of primary research, often undercover. A cardinal rule of organizing is that you can’t ask people to do anything you haven’t done yourself; so I spent that weekend as I spent many—among people plotting to remove me from their ethnostate.

It helped that, despite its blood-curdling anti-Black racism, at least some factions of the White nationalist movement saw me as a potential ally against their true archenemy. At the expo that year, a guy warily asked me about myself. I told him that I had come on behalf of a few brothers in the city. We needed to resist the federal government and we were there to get educated. I said I hoped he wouldn’t take it personally, but I didn’t shake hands with White people. He smiled; he totally understood. “Brother McLamb,” he concurred, “says we have to start building broad coalitions.” Together we went to hear Jack McLamb, a retired Phoenix cop who ran an organization called Police Against the New World Order, make a case for temporary alliances with “the Blacks, the Mexicans, the Orientals” against the real enemy, the federal government controlled by an international conspiracy. He didn’t have to say who ran this conspiracy because it was obvious to all in attendance. And despite the widespread tendency to dismiss antisemitism, notwithstanding its daily presence across the country and the world, it is obvious to you, too. …

American White nationalism, which emerged in the wake of the 1960s civil rights struggle and descends from White supremacism, is a revolutionary social movement committed to building a Whites-only nation, and antisemitism forms its theoretical core.

Weimar, anyone? Many of the white supremacists on Saturday were yelling “Jews will not replace us” which has almost exclusively been reported as “You will not replace us,” which others may have used.

Because blocking streets and on-ramps is a tactic frequently used in Black Lives Matter, water protector, and related protests, six states are considering laws making it legal to drive your car into protesters blocking a roadway, but none have yet been passed. The driver of the car in Charlottesville is in custody, being charged with murder.

Because Trump took so long to denounce the white supremacists, starting with a false-equivalency statement about hatred on all sides, executives are leaving his advisory boards. He took only minutes to denounce Kenneth Frazier, the African-American CEO of Merck Pharmaceuticals on Twitter, but took about 48 hours before issuing a wishy-washy speech criticizing white supremacists and the Ku Klux Klan, bookended by his usual self-congratulatory and self-excusing comments. If he meant any of this, he would fire anti-semite and white nationalist Steve Bannon, currently his chief strategist, anti-semite and white nationalist Sebastian Gorka, currently a deputy assistant, and Jewish anti-semite and white nationalist Stephen Miller, currently senior advisor for policy. While these men have the president’s ear, no one can believe for one moment that Trump opposes driving cars into crowds of protesters.

The exodus of the businessmen helps frame the action led by Color of Change, which is to pressure the credit card companies into ceasing to process monies for white nationalist groups (they do it for porn businesses, they can do it for this).  Many other actions are contemplated and in progress, including:

  • hastening removal of Confederate monuments from cities around the country
  • arranging solidarity demonstrations;
  • training local people in effective and safe counterdemonstration techniques;
  • identifying the protesters and encouraging their employers to fire them and their schools to expel them;
  • using the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Ten Ways to Fight Hate
  • and much more.

In Weimar, the comparable incidents were the harbingers of nationwide, incomprehensibly damaging fascism, racial hatred, genocide, and devastating warfare. Trump is not Hitler, but he is creating a breeding ground for neo-Nazi goons. They are scheduled to march in Boston next week, and in our own Bay Area the weekend after. They have declared their intent to return to Charlottesville.

At Union Square, by @Seth_Lemon

No one will stop them unless we do. The good news is, we are many.




Wrong Direction: Shonda Rhimes and Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty

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Laurie and Debbie say:

Shonda Rhimes is a powerhouse, and a force for good in the world. Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” is one of the first things we blogged about, more than twelve years ago (yes, really) and we’ve always had mixed feelings about it.

Now, twelve years later, Ashley Nguyen writes at The Lily about how Shonda Rhimes is teaming up with Dove to take the Campaign one step further. Terrific, you say? Well, kind of. They are doing a lot that’s right:

After announcing the project in March, Dove and Rhimes created a call-out for women to submit their stories. They looked at more than 4,500 submissions before deciding on the women featured in their first two films … Real Beauty Productions uses a 100 percent female crew to produce the films because, as Rhimes told The Lily, “If you can, why not?”

On one level, reminding women people that beauty isn’t a narrow box is always useful; in 1994, when we released Women En Large: Images of Fat Women, we certainly put a great deal of time and energy into doing just that.

But …

It’s not 1994, or 2005. It’s 2017. It’s becoming clearer and clearer to activists in all fields–from police terror to mass incarceration to gentrification to body image–that the personal story is simultaneously incredibly important and disastrously insufficient. We need personal stories to humanize people, to interest bystanders, and to galvanize change.

We also need to look at the systemic issues, the things the personal stories don’t address and can’t change. In the case of body image, self-worth, and “real beauty,” here’s a short list:

  • The systemic story that a woman must be beautiful to be important, valuable, interesting, or even to like herself is bullshit.  When Rhimes says:

I think my definition of beauty is me at my most. Feeling my best, as confident as I can be, doing my best work. Being at my happiest. I also think it’s the moments where I’ve decided to just be me, despite what anybody else thinks, despite what anybody else might judge, despite what anyone else has been thinking about. It’s just me being me without even noticing anybody else or their judgment.

Why does that have to have anything to do with beauty? We would never say that a man doing his best work, or at his happiest, is at his most beautiful.

  • By any real definition of beauty, everyone can’t be beautiful. For one thing, beauty is cultural and not all of it travels. For another, some people don’t want to be looked at; others don’t care. Focusing on “real beauty” as something for everyone ignores the option of “I don’t want to be/I don’t care about being” beautiful. The opposite of beauty is not ugliness.
  • If everyone was in fact beautiful, wouldn’t that erase beauty? One thing we use our eyes for is to find things and people that please us: some of them are beautiful, some are attractive, some are interesting, or cleverly decked out, or surprising. And many things and people that we see are not particularly visually memorable. In the case of women, why should that one characteristic define them?
  • We should never forget that when we’re talking about women “beauty” is at least partially code for “sexual availability,” and lots of women, including many who might want to be beautiful in other contexts, have extremely good reasons not to want to be lumped into “sexually available” or even judged on our sexual availability.

Yes, Shonda Rhimes and Dove are doing a kind of good work together. If they make one woman feel better about herself, we can cheer that success. What we’d really like to see, however, is Rhimes (probably without Dove, which would lose its vested interest) take on the bigger question of why being at our most, feeling our best, as confident as we can be, doing our best work, being at our happiest is not enough.