Sunday, December 16, 2012

White People, You're Not Listening

I have a paper that I should be writing, and it has nothing to do with gun violence. But the recent school shooting in Connecticut, plus other recent episodes of gun violence (Trayvon Martin, Sherry Frey) and a host of other violent episodes have me thinking a lot.

First, I will say unequivocally that we need stricter gun control laws in this country. We are one of the most violent countries domestically and in our foreign policy. Our foreign policy is a discussion for another day, but America is violent.

Second, I will say unequivocally that we should be ashamed of ourselves the way we stigmatize, limit resources to and treat mental health in this country. Having spent my summers out of law school working at Idaho Legal Services, then with a disability law firm in Boise, and this last semester mediating mostly low income family dissolution disputes, we are doing it wrong when it comes to acknowledging and treating mental illness.

But lots of other people are addressing those issues in the wake of the Connecticut shooting. I want to talk about something different. I want to talk about the way we talk about these violent episodes compared to the gun violence that happens everyday in our country in inner-city neighborhoods, in altercations with law enforcement and in domestic situations.

The last three things I listed almost *never* make national news. When I tried to find Sherry Frey's shooting, a google search didn't even bring it up. I had to go search the twitter stream of one of the women I follow to link to the blog post.

Trayvon Martin's shooting brought understandable outrage from the African American community, but mostly just defensive posturing from the white community about how it couldn't be racist because Zimmerman wasn't white; about how we needed to examine Florida's stand your ground laws; but nothing about how fucking tragic it is that a 17 year old unarmed kid was shot to death in his neighborhood by some neighborhood watch dude carrying a gun.

How many of you remember Aiyana Jones? She was a seven year old shot by police. Her family still hasn't received any closure from that incident. There was no outrage from mainstream media. Only victim blaming of the girl's family.

If these shootings were happening the other way around, if they were being perpetrated by African Americans or someone of Muslim descent, we would be jumping at the chance to analyze their anger or their religious background to explain the shootings.

White people are in denial. We are in denial because we refuse to acknowledge the interracial violence happening in our country everyday, and we are in denial because we refuse to look at the impact of our capitalist, patriarchal, largely Christian culture on our young men. White men, when they go in and kill people, get the privilege of being mentally ill, or law enforcement, or a jaded lover. But that's not fair, white people. We have to stop. We either have to examine *all* gun violence in terms of mental illness, or we have to start exploring racial and religious motivations in the violence we perpetrate.

We do not live in a post-racism society any more than we live in a post-feminism society. White boys are surrounded every day with TV shows, video games and movies telling them they are heroes, telling them they are bosses, telling them they are heads of their households. Girls and people of color are surrounded by TV shows, video games and movies telling them they are helpless, or evil, or subservient and sometimes all of the above. Can we really be surprised that white men are this violent when everything in society tells them they should still get the final say? If we combine these societal factors with mental illness, can we really be surprised when angry, frustrated white men seek out revenge on the vulnerable? Can we really be surprised at the levels of violence perpetrated by our law enforcement officials?

White men in particular need to shut up and listen to the women in their lives telling them about the difficulties they face in an implicitly sexist society. Then white people (my self included, god knows) need to shut up and listen to the people of color, the disabled, and the other vulnerable people in our lives and with whom we share this country while they are telling us about their lives in our implicitly racist/ableist/sexist society.

These groups are talking. But we're not listening. And it's time we started.

Update: Just since writing this, I read another article about the reinforcing of stigmas against the mentally ill that these episodes usually bring about. I'm afraid I've done the same thing here. This article, by Thursday, does an excellent job of explaining why it's unhelpful to talk about these mass shooting episodes in terms of mental illness. So while I will still say America should be ashamed of the way we treat mental illness, I am sorry that I drew some of these same damaging conclusions. Also, I wonder if this strengthens my argument that white people need to do some *serious* introspection and some *serious* shutting up and listening.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Body love and hate

Maybe it's because I'm sick of law school or maybe it's because I'm making an effort to do more things for me in order to survive law school, but I'm writing another blog post. Whoa. Slow down, me!

At any rate, I was reading a recent post by Chandelle about dieting, exercise, and body acceptance. I've only met Chandelle a couple of times in real life, but something about her connects with me, and I consider her a dear friend. Go read her post. I'm responding to her challenge.

I've addressed body issues here before. Most recently (almost two years ago now) here. Like most women, I've had a mixture of contempt and love for my body since I was very young. I'm going to give some full disclosures before I get too much further. Aside from the information about my family background at the end of that last post, I weighed 120 lbs. until after I had my second child. At that point, I went up to about 145 lbs. I'm five feet, almost nine inches tall. I wear a size seven. Sometimes a size five. Right now I weigh anywhere from 135 lbs. to 140 lbs. My diet is terrible. I eat lots of processed foods, lots of chocolate, lots of dairy and lots of bread. Some evenings on my way home from school, I'm so tired and hungry that I stop and get fast food rather than try and cook something for dinner.

Up until three days ago (which hardly means I can call it a habit), I almost never exercised. So to make a long story short, I'm tall and relatively thin no matter what I do. It runs in my genes. I sometimes hesitate to talk about my own body issues because I realize that according to today's standards, I have it lucky. I don't garner automatic sneers when I walk down the street. Most people don't feel they're entitled to comment on my body.

As it is, I was embarrassed by my body for a good portion of my adolescent and adult life. My mother played basketball when she was in high school and did aerobics semi-regularly until me and my sister were in our teens. She was always in excellent shape. When I was around 14, she told me I needed to start working out because my butt was saggy. I didn't know this at the time, but no 14 year old who is five foot nine and 120 lbs. has a saggy butt. So of course I believed her. I'm not sure what possessed her to say that, but it stuck with me for the rest of my life. I was embarrassed by my butt. I tried sporadic exercise but never fell into a routine, and it never changed. Even my ex-husband told me that I didn't look good in a bikini because of my butt. So I believed him too. To this day, in spite of the fact that my butt still isn't saggy (it is dimpled though. Two kids'll do that to some women), I'm still incredibly self-conscious about it.

Additionally, now I have a muffin top when I wear jeans. Not the end of the world, I know, but it bothers me. All those thin women on the magazines don't have muffin tops. What's my problem? They also don't have a layer of fat on their abdomens like I do. I suck in a lot. What's wrong with me? I think that's the message that I've taken from America's body culture: "You are thin, but you're still doing it wrong!" I'm not thin enough. I'm not fit enough.

For the last three semesters, I've struggled with anxiety problems (sometimes minor, sometimes major). A good friend who's also been through law school assures me that this is par for the course. But this semester, I've decided that I owe it to myself to do something for me. So I've been walking every day since I got back to school. It's 13 degrees out today, so I'm going to borrow my roommates Dirty Dancing Workout Video for kicks (combine that with my rock-like coordination and it should make for high entertainment. Too bad y'all can't be passersby outside my window) and tomorrow I'll probably try some indoor rock climbing.

As Chandelle mentioned in her post, I'm trying not to get hung up on weight loss or toning as an end result. But there's a little part of me that still secretly hopes that if I keep up the walking (maybe turn it into jogging if I get really motivated later) and the rock climbing (yay for having student membership to the gym!) I'll trim off not pounds so much as the muffin top. And maybe I'll finally have that ass of steel. And maybe my tummy will finally not sag a little bit from the layer of fat on top of it.

In the meantime, I'm going to keep moving to try and keep myself from going crazy under all the stress. Not sure how it will go, but I'm hoping that even if I have that muffin top for the rest of my life, I'll be a less anxious person if I can really be authentic in my efforts to exercise.