• Doing our Jobs

    As a black, female-bodied, queer, non-cis, big person, I'm getting pretty darn close to winning the "oppression olympics." But, I have class privilege, and I (mostly) have ability privilege. I've been aware of the role of privilege for most of my life.

    In 1984, in graduate school, at the tender age of 24, I wanted to volunteer to do something good in the world. So I got involved in this literacy organization in Cleveland, OH, and I taught a black man in Hough, a poor, black neighborhood in east Cleveland. I'd never visited a neighborhood like it before. The public housing was dilapidated, and the empty apartments were boarded up. I never felt unsafe going there and teaching him, and I learned something really important about the lived experience of people who didn't have the class privilege I had grown up with.

    I think it was that experience, more than any, that solidified for me what my job is in this society of layered oppressions. My job in listening to people who are oppressed in the ways that I am not, is really hearing what they say, and altering my worldview, and correcting my speech and behavior as needed based upon what they say. It seems pretty simple and obvious to me. I can't begin to know what it's like to grow up without the kind of privileges that I did. I can't begin to imagine it - but if people tell me, I can change my own attitudes.

    So this is my job: when someone without the class or ability privilege I hold tells me something, I listen. I make sure that I spend time looking deeply and my own perspective in the light of this new information. I don't hold on to my preconceived notions, but I open myself …


  • What Does it Mean to Be Black?

    According to, I have 71.3% Sub-Saharan African DNA, and most of that is West African. This is, of course no surprise, as most of my ancestors on both sides of the family were brought to the New World on slave ships.

    But am I black? What does that even mean? I'm asking this question today, in light of the recent events around Rachel Dolezal. I have a lot to say, and this might be kinda long. I generally don't like to talk about race. You might notice that the vast majority of posts on this blog are not about race. There are several reasons I don't like to talk about race, and all of the reasons I don't like to talk about race are going to be in this post.

    Let me get one thing out of the way, first. This post isn't really about Rachel. It's about race. Rachel, for reasons that only she knows, chose to pass herself off as black for many years, deceiving many people she worked with. Deception of any sort is problematic behavior, and she definitely needs to be held accountable for this deception. And, likely, this deception came of some suffering and pain in her life - and for that, she deserves compassion, and likely needs some psychological/emotional support to make it through what must be an extremely difficult time right now.

    Further, I understand why so many people feel betrayed, given the way racial dynamics play out in this country. I don't actually know if she ended up going further in her life being deceptive as she would have if she actually used her white privilege. I don't know if it is possible to know, and I don't know that it matters. What matters is that she betrayed the …


  • Beyond Gender Essentialism

    556cd6644ae56e586e4588d8_caitlyn-jenner-bruce-jenner-july-2015-vfI've been thinking and reading about gender issues a lot in the last few weeks. Actually, I've been thinking a lot about gender since I was five years old, wearing a dress that didn't feel right to me. Today, I read an op-ed in the New York Times, by Elinor Burkett, called "What Makes a Woman?" This basically internecine warfare between some feminists and some trans advocates is sad, unfortunate, and, extremely understandable.

    First off, feminists have been fighting for as long as feminism has existed for women especially to have a chance to live whatever lives they want to live, wear whatever they want to wear, and take whatever role, be however it is they want to be. Men have been implicitly (or, for some feminist theorists, explicitly) included in that idea as well. Men should also get to play the roles they want to play, and live the lives they want to live. Men are as bound by our culture's gender divide as women are.

    The rub has come when some folks who were raised as one gender feel deeply (and authentically) like they belong to the other gender. The most recent group of famous trans women, including Janet Mock, Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox, have, for their own reasons, chosen a particularly feminine presentation. Presentation is not necessarily related to role, but it is, in our society, a proxy. When you see a woman dressed like Caitlyn Jenner, your enculturated brain thinks about traditional female roles, not male roles, even though dress really has nothing to do with behavior.

    And there is the sense that when people feel that they are one gender trapped in a different gender's body, it somehow reifies the idea that there are only two genders (with their attendant roles), and you have …


  • The Adversary

    Between the Western separation of body and mind (and spirit,) the American fetish of thinness, and my own experiences with varied ailments and trauma, over my lifetime, my body became my adversary. When there was pain, or a new something to deal with, the thought "why is my body doing this to me?" was the automatic refrain.

    I have been befriending my body slowly, carefully, steadily, deliberately, over the past several years. And although that process is far from complete, that refrain no longer has teeth. With this journey into this new territory called cancer, some clarity has come to me about how this journey is to be embarked on - how this new territory is meant to be discovered.

    "Fighting" cancer, "beating" cancer, is the most common metaphor I've come across. "It's me or the cancer" this metaphor seems to say. But, in reality, the cancer cells are mine - they are of my body. They are acting in ways that are consistent with their own instructions, even as they get in the way of other processes in my body.

    I don't want to take away the metaphor of the "fight" for others on this journey - we must all choose the metaphors that work best for each of us. But for me, this will not be a "fight." There is no winner and loser. I will do what I can (including Western medical treatments) to heal, to diminish the cancer's growth and effects, maximize my body's vitality. But really, there is just me, the cells inside me, and death, which will come, sooner or later.  (By the way, it is unlikely this particular bout of cancer will cause my death - among cancers, it's fairly low-risk.)

    I had a conversation with a friend this morning about the healing available in being able …


  • "Food Babe" vs. "Science Babe"

    lh6dpf6ihthiuqnlqogxThere was an article in Gawker, titled, "The Food Babe is Full of Shit," written by The Science Babe. It brutally takes down Vani Hari as someone who peddles pseudo-science. The Food Babe responded.

    So what to believe? What's true? They are both right and wrong.

    Yvette d'Entremont, aka "Science Babe" says, in reference to Hari's suggestion that a certain Starbuck's drink had a 'toxic' dose of sugar: "The word 'toxic' has a meaning, and that is "having the effect of a poison." Anything can be poisonous depending on the dose."

    Then there is this quote:

    According to Hari, the problem with most of them, including Girl Scout Cookies: GMOs and pesticides. She's even alleged that an apple can be worse for you than a hot fudge sundae, if it's not organic.

    The basic problem with this whole debate is that it's about acute (and sometimes carcinogenic) effects of certain chemical additives in food in individual people. Yvette focuses entirely on that aspect of this argument, and, frankly, that is Hari's focus mostly as well. But the argument is much, much bigger.

    First, there is the difference between acute toxicity - something that an amount of sugar in even the most sweet of drinks most certainly does not have, and chronic toxicity. Most scientists who study this stuff agree that excess sugar over time has very deleterious health effects, and is also addictive. And yes, Hari is wrong about the apple. A non-organic, GMO apple is a lot better for you than a hot fudge sundae.

    But the real argument, the one we should be having, is about our food system - how food is grown, how large companies control it, how companies add ingredients (mostly sugar) to make processed food tasty and addictive. (As well as look  good and last long …


  • To Vax or Not To Vax is NOT the Question

    Screenshot 2015-02-03 15.43.40Scientific medicine (I mean of the particular western variety practiced in the US) has a short history, less than 150 years. Scientific medicine without the overwhelming influence of profit had an even shorter history, and it's been over for a while now.

    The reason that the now shown to be fraudulent study in 1998 still provokes enough concern among parents to prevent them from getting their children vaccinated, even in the face of massive evidence that there is no link between vaccines and autism, is because many people simply don't trust medical science.

    Why don't people trust medical science? One basic reason: medical science is corrupted by the pursuit of profit, and people know it. One fascinating study showed a bias in the publication of research that put into question the efficacy of depression pharmaceuticals. Drug companies (and device manufacturers) are most often the sponsor of research, as our government and institutional research budgets dwindle. (But we get a lot of fighter planes and big university stadiums, instead.)

    Things that happen when research is corrupted by the influence of profit: Diseases that don't have treatments that can be profitable (mostly because not enough people have them) simply aren't researched. Bias means the efficacy of a (sometimes expensive) treatment is overestimated, certainly in comparison to a treatment that is not profitable. Alternative treatment methodologies (chinese medicine and ayurveda, in particular, which have long histories) are not researched, and not covered by insurance.  Treatments, vaccines and devices get put together in the cheapest ways possible, which can lead to unintended consequences. Medical care becomes impersonal and prone to error.

    Basically, we've broken health care because we've allowed profit-making entities to warp it. And nothing short of a 100% government funded research program, and a single-payer health care system is going to change …


  • There and Back Again

    [caption id="attachment_1164" align="alignleft" width="164"]UU Chalice From UU Falmouth Mass.[/caption]

    In 2000, my first foray back into the organizations vaguely known as "church," 20 years after leaving Christian fundamentalism behind, was the Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence. It was enough of the familiar "churchy" stuff, but lacked the stuff that made me uncomfortable. I was a member for several years, and, interestingly enough, it was my membership and involvement in that community that stirred my call to ministry. Those years were deeply influential to me, and as I traveled my way across country to go to seminary at PSR in 2005, I fully expected to join the ranks of UU ministers.

    Although ordained ministry in any denomination was not my path, I left the UU before I left the ministry path. Two different threads caused this. First, I re-discovered my attachment to Christianity, in particular, the teachings of Jesus, and I also discovered this enormous queer-friendly, progressive Christian community I had no idea existed. As well, during the summer of 2005, I spent several sessions on the phone with a great group of UU seminarians of color. And I heard their struggles and the realities facing prospective UU ministers of color. At one point, we had some number of folks on the phone - I don't remember how many - all UU seminarians of color. And I learned that there were more of us on the phone at that moment as there had ever been ordained UU ministers of color. I saw the writing on the wall. Black, queer, Jesus-following, Buddha-professing theist wasn't likely to get a job (actually, the Budda-professing theist wouldn't have been a problem.) So I switched teams, and decided on the United Church of Christ (UCC.)

    Interestingly enough, I have really always been a unitarian …


  • Reflections on the New Year

    I was going to write one of those more personal blog entries about my year, and what I was looking forward to next year. But this morning, I have some different things on my mind.

    I fully realized sometime early in 2014 that I didn't identify as an activist anymore. It was sort of a rude awakening, as I have thought of myself as an activist since 1972, when I was 12. I've been involved in anti-war, reproductive justice, anti-apartheid, anti-death penalty, and environmental causes since I was young. There is a shaping of my life that activism made, a way of thinking about the world, and how the world can be changed.

    But in the last few years, perhaps part of it is getting older, part just simply accepting what is, I've stopped all but the most trivial activist activities (I still sign a petition now and again, and I like/share/retweet things - those don't really count.) What has struck me so forcefully lately is the juxtaposition of changes that have happened, steps that have been made forward, along with an incredible slide backwards. MLK did say the arc of history is long, and perhaps it does bend toward justice, but it can also be forceably shaped.

    police-state-1We are, frankly, running headlong into two inexorable, and in my opinion, virtually unstoppable trends: 1) Police state oligarchy/fascism. 2) Environmental and economic collapse.

    I was reading an article recently (worth watching the video - militarized police in action) where this random gamer dude (white) got "swatted" (which means some person maliciously called the police to suggest something horrible, like a hostage situation, was happening.) There are other instances when this has turned fatal. Then there's the dude who got horribly harassed for simply dancing in the street.  And then there …


  • Life in the slow lane


    I'm on a news and social media fast for the month of December. I'd realized I'd gotten so despairing about the news, as well as just kind of full of useless stuff, so I decided a month off from the constant influx of information would be a good thing.

    It's day 2. This is the withdrawal phase. I open my browser out of habit, and then realize that I have nothing to do in it. (I email clients, and not the web interface for email, so I really have nothing to do on it.) OK, well, I'm writing this blog entry, and I'm looking at the weather for my trip down to Southern California. And I've read all my email (and deleted the many, many cyber Monday (extended sales!) and giving Tuesday emails.

    I do have work I can do, and writing I can do, but it's strange, not getting my standard social media injection. No community chatter, and no engagement in conversation. But my head is certainly quieter, and so far, I've gotten a lot more stuff done. I think I might actually even get to this after a while.

    I'll blog about this over the next month. Of course, since I'm not posting this on social media, I have no idea whether anyone will read it.


  • Hanging Out Here, On This Edge

    Screenshot 2014-11-30 13.50.25

    Ever hear of the Political Compass? It's pretty cool. It basically suggests, based on good evidence, that simply left and right aren't enough to really characterize political views. You have to include at least one more axis, and that is libertarian vs. authoritarian. It's worth taking the test, just to see where you fall. I imagine many people I know will fall somewhere in the green left bottom square. But I'm quite the outlier. Ghandi and the Dalai Lama are less outliers than I am. And Obama is actually well up and right in the blue quadrant, kinda near Mitt Romney (that's correct, we really didn't get that much of a choice, now, did we? But we knew that.) Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate (president, 2012), is five little squares more authoritarian and 6 little squares more right than I am. (She's kinda in the upper right of the lower left quadrant.) The governments of Scandanavia, the leftist poster children, are still in the blue quadrant.

    So what does this mean? It means that I feel completely politically alienated, almost all of the time.

    Let me give you a few examples:

    Q. What can we do about police brutality?

    A. Why are there police?

    Q. What can we do about unemployment?

    A. Why do people have to have jobs?

    Q. Shouldn't we tax the rich? 

    A. Why are there people who hoard money?

    Q. How's that Obamacare doing?

    A. Why are for-profit entities involved in healthcare?

    Q. Should we regulate against GMOs?

    A. Why should for-profit entities be growing our  food?

    Q. Should there be a carbon tax to combat climate change?

    A. What is all this shit we're doing for, anyway? What's the point?

    Every single political question of our time leads me not to an answer or …