Delving into Quora!

I’ve been passively reading on Quora for a long time now, intimidated to answer anything myself because the site has attracted people at the top of every field to answer most every question. Today, though, I stumbled across a question I felt I could make a unique contribution to:

Why do some women insist they are not feminists despite clearly believing in the tenets of feminism?

My answer:

Let’s look at the question itself.

Here’s a pithy quote (source disputed) that I think is pretty accurate: “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.” Not too controversial, is it?

I want to rephrase this question to, “Why do some people insist they are not feminists despite clearly believing in the tenets of feminism?”

Personally, I embrace the term “feminist” mainly as a rebellion against those who would have me believe that feminists are scary hairy man-haters. Many women of color actually distance themselves from the term “feminist” due to the race and class associations of Western movement feminism. My own mother, though she undisputedly believes in tenets of feminism, falls into that category.

Going back to my question, I once asked my husband (who absolutely believes in egalitarianism) whether he considers himself a feminist. He hemmed and hawed a bit, and eventually said: “I feel like the word is so loaded.”

This is important. Certainly, the word is loaded for women, for reasons as diverse as “The word does not capture diversity of race and class”, to “I don’t want to be viewed as threatening.” But none of this captures my husband’s reasoning. Why don’t many men who sincerely believe in equality want to claim the term “feminist”? Does it somehow indict one’s manhood, because it’s “girly” to care about feminism? Is it a deep-seated fear of loss of privilege, buried far beyond consciousness? I’m not sure of the answer.

Lastly, is this just semantics? Do the words we use matter, if the belief in egalitarianism exists regardless?

Well, I think it does matter, at least a little bit. There are basically two groups of people who have hijacked the image of a feminist: those who feel their social privilege is endangered by feminism, and those who feel they are better off aligning themselves with the first group, because that is where the power lies. I want to claim the label “feminist” because I don’t want to empower those groups with my hesitance. But there are plenty of reasons why someone may not want to claim it: some of them I get, some I don’t. Next time I hear someone say “I’m not a feminist, but…” I’ll be sure to dig deeper.

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New FBI Stats: Drastic Rise In Reported Hate Crimes

[cross posted at The SAALT Spot]

The FBI recently released its annual Hate Crime Statistics report. It showed a 50% increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes over 2009 levels, and a spike of 11% in anti-Latino hate crimes. This isn’t a coincidence: these numbers follow a period of marked xenophobia in politics, from the enactment of Arizona’s draconian new immigration law to anti-mosque activity nationwide.

These numbers may not even tell the whole story. Undocumented populations are susceptible to such violence, but are loath to report incidents for fear of deportation and separation from their families. Underreporting is a major issue beyond undocumented populations, as well: fear of retaliation often keeps such reports from surfacing at all.

Xenophobic rhetoric in our local and national political discourse has real effects in our communities. South Asians have been suffering the consequences for many years now: most recently, last month in New York, and earlier this year in California. We need to hold our politicians accountable for their statements, not hold back due to fear. When we hold back, we validate politicians who believe in silencing or “othering” entire groups of citizens for their own short-term gain. We need to show them that these tactics will no longer result in gains, that all voices matter, and that they hold beliefs that are actually extremely unpopular.

SAALT has been very busy over the past few weeks doing just that, with letters to Tennessee’s Rick Womick and Kentucky’s David Williams. Let’s keep up the pressure and make it clear to our politicians that we hold them accountable when they perpetuate xenophobia.

Find more resources at SAALT’s page on hate crimes and xenophobia.

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Discrimination and Silicon Valley

I’ve touched on the topic of discrimination in Silicon Valley before, but in the last few weeks, there have been several examples of it entering (relatively) mainstream consciousness. I’m glad to see this being discussed more widely, as it brings a conversation I’m interested in to the realm of technology companies in general, and the culture of Silicon Valley more specifically. It all started with a heated Twitter argument between Vivek Wadhwa, Mike Arrington, and Anil Dash (among others) a few weeks ago, excerpted here. Start at the bottom:













Yup, I was proud of myself for jumping into the conversation there!

I know Arrington is sick to death of people debating whether or not he’s racist, but since I chose to write about this, I’ll go ahead and say that I don’t think that’s his problem. I do, however, think he has a major problem with listening. Throughout all the exchanges (much more than what I’ve excerpted), Arrington is determined to take it so personally, not realizing that it’s not all about him and who he funds. I understand that the media has played “gotcha” with him, trying to draw out quotes out of context in order to make him appear a certain way (read: like a racist), and that sucks. Journalists should be doing the work of asking the hard questions, not looking for misrepresentative sound bites. Still, that’s no reason for Arrington to be dismissing his peers’ statements as “playing the victim” or “trying to scare up a few hundred new followers” (both directed at Wadhwa).

Arrington’s suggestion that female founders simply “share their stories” is particularly telling. As I wrote in my tweet, people do not want to come forward with stories of discrimination for fear of being labeled a victim – which is the word Arrington himself hurled at Wadhwa when he didn’t like what Wadhwa was saying. Why would anyone want that hovering over their actual work? They don’t, and so it becomes something to shrug off when working, pitching, etc. As such, the issue often only comes up in private discussions with trusted peers.

Over the weekend, Eric Ries offered up his own take of what’s going on in Silicon Valley. I think it’s a worthwhile addition to the dialogue, but it still leaves me a bit cold. It attempts a scientific method explanation for something that has to do with basic human flaws, which can’t really be measured. I appreciate the effort, but it’s heavily influenced by his own identity: he doesn’t have first-hand experience with what women/people of color are talking about, so he tries to approach it the best way he knows how. I don’t fault him for that, but the analysis needs something more.

I guess what I’d like to see is more of a commitment from people like Ries and Arrington to simply believe, and raise awareness about, the stories they are hearing from their peers that don’t look like them. The Ries piece shies away from that in order to appeal to people that share his own identities. I’m pretty sure that part is subconscious: he is writing what he himself would accept as an explanation for all of this. That’s okay, but it’s not enough.  Here’s a conversation between Dash and Ries summing up my feelings quite well:




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Keep Families Together

[cross posted at The SAALT Spot]

When I was fifteen, I remember seeing this image plastered across news outlets:

The boy, then six years old, is Elian Gonzalez. Caught up in a family dispute between relatives in Miami, Florida and his father in Cuba, he was taken away by the U.S. Border Patrol pursuant to a federal magistrate’s order. Elian reunited with his father and returned to Cuba shortly thereafter.

This was, of course, an extreme case. The United States government is no longer in the business of forcibly interfering with families, right?


The Applied Research Center (ARC) has just released a report entitled “Shattered Families”, which analyzes the rise in the deportation of undocumented immigrants and the effects on their children. According to the report, the Obama administration deported 46,000 parents of children who are U.S. citizens in the first six months of 2011. These children are then forced to enter the foster care system, making it nearly impossible to reunite with their parents. Here are a few key findings from the report:

  • If nothing changes, 15,000 more children may face a similar fate in the next 5 years.
  • This is a growing national problem, not one confined to border jurisdictions or states– ARC identified at least 22 states where these cases have emerged.
  • Families are more likely to be separated where local police aggressively participate in immigration enforcement.
  • Immigrant victims of domestic violence are at particular risk of losing their children
  • ICE detention obstructs participation in Child Protective Services’ plans for family unity.
  • Most child welfare departments lack systemic policies to keep families united when parents are detained or deported. [from Shattered Families]

South Asians make up a significant portion of the undocumented population, and as such, families in our community are at risk. You can read ARC President Rinku Sen’s remarks on the report here, and coverage from the Huffington Post here. Additionally, the ARC will host a webinar on November 10th, where they will highlight crucial policy recommendations. Please help to spread the word about this important report, both online and off.

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Happy Diwali

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A Day in the Life

[cross-posted at The SAALT Spot]

On 9/11/11, I spent a few hours watching memorial services and the footage from 9/11/01 that MSNBC has re-aired every year since. It’s incredibly difficult, but I’ve found it important over the past decade to take that time for reflection.

A mere two days later, though, I’m already distracted by this story that’s been making waves on the internet. The author, Shoshana Hebshi, is half Jewish and half Arab, and she sat beside two Indian men on a flight from Denver to Detroit. All three were detained and strip searched before they were released with a feeble apology, and explanation from authorities that people were “seeing ghosts” on 9/11. Apparently, to be identified as a ghost, one need only look slightly different from the majority of other passengers.

This particular passage stood out to me:

As I sat and waited, quietly contemplating my situation, the other Indian man was getting questioned in the main room outside. I couldn’t see what was going on, but I could hear a bit. They asked him where he was from, did he have any family, where were his shoes. He talked quietly and agreeably. I wondered if he was as incensed as I was or if he had entered this country expecting harassment from the American authorities.

“Quiet.” “Agreeable.” These are words I often hear about South Asians. When I was pitching the story of 9/11 backlash to the area’s South Asian radio station, the host remarked that our community is extremely reluctant to speak out, and yet, hopes to achieve assimilation.

Maybe in simpler times, that assimilation could come about more quietly and smoothly. But we live in times of great fear and mistrust, and as such, have our loyalties questioned because of the color of our skin, the languages we speak, the religions we practice. Keeping our heads down and shying away from the issues will only alienate us from the discourse – and we can’t keep expecting others to speak up for us.

Here’s Aasif Mandvi summing it up for Bloomberg:

Fear and mistrust have trumped courage and unity. That moment when the world came together and shared a grief that transcended faith, nationality and politics is undone…

What I hope for in the next 10 years is a War against Fear.


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NY-9 Heats Up

[cross-posted at The SAALT Spot]

It must be election time again, because Park51 is back in the news.

The special election to replace former Queens representative Anthony Weiner will take place on September 13th. Democrats outnumber Republicans 3 to 1 in NY-9, and while the front-runner, Democrat David Weprin, still leads in the polls, Republican Bob Turner seems to be catching up – perhaps due to his placement of the Park51 controversy at the center of his campaign.

Turner has released a 30 second spot that states:

It’s been ten short years. Everyone remembers. Some, though, want to commemorate the tragedy by building a mosque on Ground Zero.

President Obama thinks that’s a good idea. And so does Congressional candidate David Weprin.

[Weprin video: “I support the right of the mosque to build.”]

Bob Turner says no. He knows Obama and Weprin are wrong.

September 13th, send a message. Bob Turner for Congress.

This race isn’t getting a lot of media coverage, perhaps because NY-9 isn’t ultimately expected to be a tight race. But with low turnout expected, it’s not inconceivable that Turner could leverage the politics of fear into a win. Be sure to keep an eye on this one.

UPDATE 9/14/2011: Turner won NY-9.

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Knowing Is Half the Battle

[cross-posted at The SAALT Spot]

When I started off as a Field Fellow for SAALT, I expected the work to be pretty tough. We have ambitious deliverables to meet, and I thought I’d be running up against a lot of apathy. But as it turns out, I’ve been pleasantly surprised!

We held a hearing in Jersey City a few weeks ago (you can read about it here), and the day before, I was out flyering by the train station. I went in thinking that most people would refuse flyers, but whenever I said “South Asian hearing tomorrow!” or something along those lines, people looked up, interested, and took the flyer. If I wasn’t fast enough to catch people as they walked by, they often came back and asked for more information. We ran out of lit in under an hour.

At the hearing itself, we heard from passionate community members during the Q&A session. These people came out early on a summer Saturday morning, and stayed the entire time – over four hours. It was great to see the community so engaged, sharing their experiences and making new connections.

I’ve tried to cover as much ground as possible in terms of attending events where I expect many civic-minded people to be in attendance. By and large, I’ve gotten positive responses to SAALT’s America For All of Us campaign. Of course, it’s fairly easy to sign a sheet of paper – the difficult part is following through with comprehensive action. But every individual pledge to An America For All of Us represents one person whose awareness has been raised, and even if they never do anything else, the information is now out there. The next time that person comes across someone complaining about xenophobia or discriminatory policy, s/he can say “Hey, there’s a resource for that.” And having that knowledge is half the battle.

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2012: Eye on Immigration

[cross posted at The SAALT Spot]

As we enter another election season, we should be keeping even closer tabs on how candidates are discussing immigration. Last night, the GOP candidates squared off for the first time in Iowa. Not all of them fielded questions on immigration, but here is a quick summary from those that did:

Mitt Romney: Romney presented an oversimplified dichotomy of immigrants as either legal and highly skilled, or illegal low-skill workers who overstay their visas. “We are a nation of immigrants, we love legal immigration,” Romney repeated.

Herman Cain: Asked to address previous remarks where he called for a 20-foot-high, barbed-wire electric fence on the border, Cain said, “America’s got to learn how to take a joke.” Continuing with proposed policy, Cain stressed the importance that America have “wide open doors,” but did not provide much clarification beyond that.

Jon Huntsman: Prior to the debate, Huntsman had expressed interest in a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Asked to elaborate, Huntsman stayed rather vague, asserting a need to “prove we can secure the border,” and “then we can move on.” No mention of what we’d be moving on to, however.

Ron Paul: Regarding undocumented immigrants, Paul stated, “I don’t think we should give amnesty and they become voters.” He also denounced entitlements for undocumented immigrants, as well as state policies that allow them.

Newt Gingrich: Gingrich stood by his controversial proposal to have community boards decide which undocumented immigrants should have the opportunity to stay and pursue citizenship. One can imagine the potential exploitative turns such a policy could take.

Keep in mind that many states are pursuing draconian immigration laws, and policymakers from both sides of the political spectrum have been loath to point out the blatant xenophobia that often pervades this debate. They consistently oversimplify the issue, portraying immigrants to fit into one of the tidy categories Romney presented. Not only do we need to rid this dialogue of xenophobia, we also need to raise awareness about the diverse community negatively affected by our immigration policies. Jose Antonio Vargas’ piece in the New York Times is a must read, as is Prerna Lal’s piece at the SAALT Spot. Let’s make it clear to our politicians that we’re not buying their watered-down presentation of this extremely nuanced issue.

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Comedy Revisited

Someone on the Twitterverse pointed to me to this hilarious clip from Stephen Colbert. We are treated to a FOX correspondent’s comparison of birth control and abuse counseling to spa treatments, as well as Colbert’s reliable evisceration of the absurd: “A women’s health decisions are a private matter between her priest and her husband!”

D was listening in on the clip, and asked me “Don’t you think this is kind of dark?”

Some background: the previous night, I had gone out to an open mic night and gotten upset at an amateur comedian making light of violence toward women. There was no context, and I’m inclined to believe this guy thought he was simply saying something outrageous for the sake of the yuks. I didn’t laugh then, but there I was the next day, cracking up at “You know the ladies! They’re always pumping out breast milk, getting a mani-pedi, having a cosmo with their abuse counselor, then pick up some spermicidal fro-yo!”

So I started to answer D by saying, “First off, I know for certain where Stephen Colbert actually stands. He is unambiguous about where his loyalties lie.” D responded, “So…intent, no?” Well…not exactly.

My objection to the amateur comedian, and others like him, begins with the lack of clear intent. Some comedians, like Colbert, make their intent concerning controversial humor crystal-clear. That isn’t necessarily a byproduct of their fame, by the way – it’s a result of the manner in which they set up their jokes. Context. Other comedians obscure their intent, and whether it’s intentional or not, it sets up a problem: it allows the comedian to sit on the fence. We, the audience, are left thinking “Okay…maybe s/he was trying to make a point concerning XYZ?” Or, maybe not – because the fact is, there are probably many audience members who laugh at marginalizing humor unironically. If that’s the case, the comedian is encouraging further marginalization – and it’s a cop-out to claim that none of it matters, simply because we’re talking about jokes.

As such, I think clear intent is the first step toward a successful comedy routine. Beyond that, though, I stand by what I’ve previously written about intent not serving as carte blanche when it comes to humor. If you’re regularly pissing off your audience (hey, Tracy Morgan!), it’s probably not very good for business. It’ll always be a gray area: the fact that we’re dealing with humor allows for that haziness. Regardless, comedy is often a form of cultural expression, even if it is “just jokes”. I don’t think it’s preposterous to ask those who practice it to pay closer attention to their craft.


photo via
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