Category Archives: hate crimes

Valuing “women’s work”

Two weeks ago, I wrote a blog post titled, “This Day in June is released TODAY!!!“, which explored the reasons people tend to downplay and dismiss their creative instincts. (To state the obvious, my post also announced the release of my new book.) Several people posted comments, which was great – when no one comments, I’m left wondering, Is anybody out there? Is my post like the socks in the dryer, lost in the world of cyberspace, never to be seen?). But one comment struck a chord in me. The commenter, in a nutshell, said this:

When I was 13 my mother and aunt taught me how to do embroidery (more like stitching and cross-stitching). . . . [E]ver since then I’ve grown a passion for embroidery and I always look for clothes with embroidery because I’m fascinated with it. . . . I never told anyone about it because I was afraid people would criticize me for doing something that seems “boring” or “not for my age” (emphasis mine). 

Ever since she posted this, I’ve been thinking: Is this just about hiding our creativity in order to protect our fragile egos? Or is there something more to this? The possibility of “something more” has been rolling around in my brain ever since – but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was.

Now, fast-forward: The other night, I had a parent meeting at my daughter’s kindergarten. Her school is hosting a fundraising auction in a couple of weeks, and, per tradition, each class creates a gift to be auctioned at the event. Our class gift is a collection of puppets, and the parents’ job at the meeting was to sew them. I was thrilled, frankly, because I LOVE to sew. Most of the parents, however, did not seem thrilled – in fact, several looked panicked, and at least one looked as if she’d try to bolt for the door when no one was looking.

It was at that moment, in that parent meeting, that I had my “a-ha!” moment, realizing what the “something more” was. Most public schools don’t teach sewing anymore – or cooking, or anything related to “home economics.” And why not? Because they’re “frivolous.” It’s traditional women’s work – and modern women just don’t do that sort of thing. That viewpoint – that modern, liberated women just shouldn’t have to learn those skills – is dangerous, in my opinion, and downright sexist, because it equates “feminine” with “bad.” I think the person who posted the comment feared criticism not only for being creative, but for being too feminine.

Before I go any further, let me say this: I am a dyed-in-the-wool feminist. I was a first-generation Title IX kid, and in early adulthood I strongly identified with the third-wave feminist movement. Largely because of Title IX (and other feminist achievements), I had a broad-based public school education. I played sports. I went to college, and then to graduate school. In contrast, my grandmother, who in 1925 was privileged enough to attend college, was allowed to major in one of two things: teacher education or home economics. When you compare the options available to women today, we’ve obviously come a long way, baby.

Before the second-wave feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s, home economics was a mainstay in schools for girls – but not for boys (NEVER for boys!). When I was in the seventh grade in 1983, home economics was still a requirement – but because of Title IX, everyone was required to take these classes. Girls took wood shop, drafting, and computer classes (remember the TRS-80?) alongside the boys, and boys took sewing and cooking classes with the girls. This was equality, liberal-feminist style.

But somewhere along the way, home economics started to disappear. Some schools did away with it altogether, reacting to the sexist ways home economics had been presented in the past. (Read “How to Be a Good Wife,” an excerpt from a 1954 home economics textbook, and you’ll see what I mean.) Others replaced “home economics” with the less fluffy-and-feminine term “Family and Consumer Science.” (Calling something a “science” places it squarely in the “not-feminine” arena.) Courses in “interior design” or “apparel design” replaced the homely sewing classes; courses in nutrition, with a strong emphasis on chemistry, replaced the more humble cooking classes. Home economics was for housewives; “Family and Consumer Science” was for scholars and aspiring professionals. There’s even a sizable body of academic literature in Family and Consumer Science, with journal article titles like, “Establishing a research base for the expanded food and nutrition education program.” The bottom line was this: Either home economics disappeared entirely from schools, or it morphed into something more slick and professionalized – into the “not-feminine.”

Sewing is not bad. Cooking is not bad. Learning how to clean your house, iron your shirts, develop a household budget, sew a button, create embroidered designs – none of these are bad things. But in a society that loves to categorize things into boxes, all of these activities go in the feminine box.  If we’re banishing the feminine, and telling girls (and boys) that these feminine pursuits are frivolous, unimportant, and unnecessary, we’re contributing to a very dangerous cultural climate. Think about this: We live in a culture where:

  • Women are more likely than men to be victims of rape, sexual assault, and intimate partner violence;
  • Lesbians who identify as femme commonly experience in-group discrimination, or femme-phobia;
  • Men who are effeminate (whether they’re gay or not) are more likely than their more masculine counterparts to have been bullied in school, and are at a higher risk of being the victim of a hate crime;
  • Transgender women are at a staggering risk of being physically assaulted or murdered (particularly transgender women of color, according to statistics from the Transgender Violence Tracking Portal);
  • Transgender women, largely because of their feminine presentation, continue to experience various forms of oppression, largely at the hands of radical feminists (a group often referred to as TERFs).

What’s the common denominator that’s under fire? The feminine. Garden-variety sexism, reaching its evil tentacles into various queer communities  – and elsewhere. Anytime we denigrate the feminine – even if it’s something as inocuous as home economics – we begin the slippery slope to a far more dangerous form of oppression.

If we truly valued the feminine, men could cry without feeling like their man-card was about to be revoked. Same-sex attracted women could adorn themselves however they want without being told they’re “straight-acting.” Transgender women could live with a reasonable degree of safety. Imagine the possibilities.

All this from a comment about embroidery.



Filed under anti-gay bullying, culture, gender nonconformity, hate crimes, homophobia, intersectionality, racism, sexism, transgender, transphobia, violence

One big happy family

Several years ago, our local LGBT center, which at the time was called the Lambda Community Center, underwent a name change. When the new name was announced, several groups (mainly people in the bi and trans communities) began circulating a petition attempting to block the change. Why? Because the new name, “Sacramento Gay and Lesbian Center,” didn’t appear to be inclusive or all-encompassing – “gay” and “lesbian” were assumed to cover everyone in the LGBTQ community. Over 500 people signed the petition – to no avail. It was only this past year that the name changed to “Sacramento LGBT Center,” and still, many people still refer to the center as “Lambda.” Years later, many still feel incredibly hurt and angry about this – with good reason.

I shared this example with my Psychology of Sexual Orientation students the other day, within a larger discussion about transgender identities. Quite a few of my students – several of whom identify as gay or lesbian – were surprised. Shocked, really. Because aren’t we a community? Don’t we all support each other in unity? Aren’t we one big, happy rainbow family?

I wish I could answer “yes” to that question. Sadly, I can give so many examples of discrimination and oppression within the LGBTQ community. Here’s a sampling of well-publicized historical examples:

  • In 1953, author Jeff Winters published an article about Christine Jorgensen in a gay men’s magazine. According to Winters, Jorgensen, a transgender woman, was committing a “sweeping disservice” to gay men by transitioning. “As far as the public knows,” Winters wrote, “you were merely another unhappy homosexual who decided to get drastic about it.”
  • In 1979, Janice Raymond, a lesbian-feminist scholar, wrote The Transsexual Empire: The Making of a She-Male (yes, she really used the term “she-male”), in which she repeatedly referred to transwomen as “male-to-constructed females.” She went so far as to say, “All transsexuals rape women’s bodies by reducing the real female form to an artifact, appropriating this body for themselves.” Raymond wrote 1980 Congressional brief that led to the defunding of transgender medical insurance coverage.
  • Well-known sex researcher J. Michael Bailey, who is unabashedly straight but conducts research on sexual orientation and gender identity, at one time refused to believe that bisexuality really exists (particularly in men), saying, “You’re either gay, straight, or lying.” He only recently changed his position, but only after results from one of his studies indicated that bisexual men, in fact, are not lying.

Robyn Ochs, a bisexual writer, scholar, and activist, has this to say about the double-edged sword of biphobia: “Gay- and lesbian-identified individuals frequently view us as either confused or interlopers possessing a degree of privilege not available to them, and many heterosexuals see us as amoral, hedonistic spreaders of disease and disrupters of families.” And many other edge communities under the LGBTQ umbrella experience a similar double-edged sword – they’re rejected by mainstream heterosexual culture, and they’re also denigrated within their own community.

I have a slew of examples of community infighting that I’ve observed personally. And we’re not just talking biphobia and transphobia – there’s racism, class oppression, sexism, and ableism thrown in there too. A bisexual woman I interviewed years ago had this to say about her lesbian friends:  “They basically edged me out once I started dating men. They treated me like I’d infiltrated and then bailed with the information.” A graduate school colleague, after she’d finished a presentation about BDSM, was admonished by a senior faculty member, a gay man who said, “Most of us aren’t like that.” At a conference, a gay male graduate student repeatedly used the term “rice queen” during his presentation to refer to non-Asian men who are sexually attracted to Asian men – and used the phrase like it was professional, scholarly terminology (without ever being corrected by his research advisor, also a gay man). A transgender male student of mine recently shared that, after coming out as trans, his lesbian friends completely rejected him, telling him that he was selfish and betraying his community. I could go on and on, but I’m sure you get the picture.

These aren’t right-wing fundamentalist uber-heterosexual haters. These are our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters who are behaving this way. Unfortunately, getting people within the LGBTQ community to take ownership of their oppressive behaviors is really hard. “How can I oppress people?” they cry. “I’m the one who’s oppressed!”

All of us within the larger LGBTQ community have experienced institutional oppression (such as being denied rights that are granted to heterosexual and cisgender people), and most of us can cite examples of interpersonal oppression. But the dirty little secret within the community is that we do it to each other, too. And I’d like to talk about a couple of reasons why.

First of all, when we stereotype, we’re falling into an “us vs. them” mentality. If our “us” identity feels shaky, then creating a “them” can strengthen that sense of identity. Committing a hate crime against a gay man, for example, might shore up the perpetrator’s insecure sense of masculinity. Engaging in biphobia might reinforce one’s exclusively gay or lesbian identity. The statement, “Most of us aren’t like that,” is essentially saying, “I’m safely over here. I’m not crazy like those folks over there.

There’s another element to this, too. One way to feel like we belong to a group is to gain acceptance from others within a group. When we engage in “us vs. them” thinking, we’re essentially creating an in-group and an out-group – and our “us vs. them” beliefs allow us to connect with others in that in-group. It’s no accident that hate crimes tend to be committed by groups of individuals, because it’s a way (albeit a sick way) of forming a connection with others who share similar attitudes. By rejecting a transgender man, a group of lesbian women might band together even more strongly. It’s a way of taking refuge within a group – and the in-group/out-group dynamic is even more likely to happen when the in-group’s status is shaky.

A little over a year ago, I wrote a blog post titled “A House Divided,” in which I focused more specifically on oppression directed towards intersex people, as well as racism within the LGBTQ community. And here we are again. It’s so clear to me that if our collective communities can’t find a way to hang together and stand on common ground, we’ll fall. All of us. Because when we’re fighting each other, the dominant power structure of our society goes completely unchallenged. White privilege, male privilege, heterosexual privilege, class privilege – all of that remains intact, while those of us who experience oppression bring each other down. I don’t think we can afford to do that.


Filed under BDSM, biphobia, bisexuality, culture, disability, hate crimes, homophobia, intersectionality, intersex, racism, sexism, stereotypes, transgender, transphobia, Uncategorized, violence

Taking the long walk to freedom

I’m a child of the 1970s and 1980s. I grew up during the apartheid years. I was in the eighth grade when Archbishop Desmond Tutu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. I was in college when Nelson Mandela was released from prison. In graduate school, I worked as a research assistant for Diana Russell, a South African feminist scholar and author of Lives of Courage: Women for a New South Africa (which featured an in-depth interview with Winnie Mandela).

So when the opportunity arose to travel to South Africa through my college’s international studies program, I jumped at the chance. For whatever reason, international leisure travel doesn’t interest me so much. But political travel – now, that fascinates me. I wanted to learn more about the apartheid years, and about post-apartheid South Africa.

I had no idea what I was in for. So many things I experienced on that trip changed me, in ways that are hard to explain. But I’ll try and share some of that experience with you.

First, the “township tours,” which are one of the ways South Africa has capitalized on tourism opportunities. Townships, if you’re not familiar with the term, are segregated areas, usually built on the outskirts of large cities like Cape Town and Johannesburg, where non-Whites were forced to lived during the apartheid years. These townships still exist, and while non-Whites can now live within city limits, these areas are still largely non-White and poor. These guided tours are controversial – some, like anthropologist Shelley Ruth Butler of McGill University, see the practice of busing wealthy travelers through a neighborhood so they can gawk at the poor and oppressed as highly problematic. (The “Real Bronx Tours” in New York City were criticized for the same reasons.) Others see it as an opportunity to bring money into the impoverished townships, while educating people about the harsh realities of post-apartheid South Africa. I can see it both ways, and although I was conflicted about it, I decided to go on one of these tours. And, I have to say, it was by far the most powerful experience I had on that trip.

This particular “township tour” took us through the communities of Khayelitsha and Langa, both of which are located on the outskirts of Cape Town. Both of them have a combined population of about 450,000 people, which is similar to that of Sacramento, the city in which I live. However, consider this: Sacramento covers a little over 100 square miles. Khayelitsha and Langa are about 16 square miles. Four hundred and fifty thousand people packed into a space that’s one-sixth the size of Sacramento.

And this is what that looks like – today. Not in the 1980s, when apartheid was in full force, but now:

Most people in these townships live in shacks made of corrugated sheet metal, usually with dirt floors. Most of them don’t have indoor plumbing or running water – instead, spigots are located every few hundred feet along the streets. Most people work in very low-wage jobs, as domestic workers, service workers (often in the tourist industry), or manual laborers. And according to Jane Battersby of Queen’s University, the majority of residents experience what she calls “food insecurity,” meaning that they don’t have consistent, reliable access to safe, nutritious food.  Through the tour, I learned that crime rates, especially crimes against women, are incredibly high – in 2012, for example, 1,960 cases of domestic violence and 937 cases of assault against women were reported. Hate crimes, particularly against lesbians, are common in the townships as well. And HIV infection rates are through the roof – it’s estimated that about 40,000 people (roughly 10% of the population) are infected with HIV. I was struck by the number of AIDS ribbons I saw displayed on billboards and banners – in fact, I saw one painted on the wall of one of a church, and another on the side of an elementary school. Apartheid might technically be over, I thought to myself after that tour, but racism and oppression are alive and well. All of this outside of Cape Town, a highly industrialized city that, in many ways, is no different from what we have here in the United States.

Later, we traveled to Johannesburg and took a tour of Soweto (SouthWest Township), a township with a population of 1.3 million people. Again, to give a comparison, that’s about the size of San Diego, which is the fifth-largest city in the United States. But Soweto packs those 1.3 million people (98.5% of whom are Black South African) into 77 square miles, while San Diego covers about 325 square miles.

Many of the houses in Soweto are reasonably well-constructed – “matchbox houses,” they’re called, four-room boxy buildings usually built out of brick or cinder block. Nelson Mandela’s former home is a matchbox house. So is Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s home, which is located a few houses down from the Mandela home. But corrugated sheet metal dwellings were common there, too.

Like Khayelitsha and Langa, violent crime is common in Soweto, particularly crimes against women, and increasingly hate crimes against gays and lesbians. Soweto is known for having among the highest HIV rates in the world. About 17% of the population is HIV positive. One in three gay men are infected with HIV. Three out of five women have HIV. And most of those affected live in the townships.  These statistics, in my opinion, are staggering.

I think about Nelson Mandela, sitting in his cell in the maximum security prison at Robben Island, with only a straw mat to sleep on. I think of his ongoing subversive acts – hiding news clippings in the lime quarry he was forced to work in, sharing knowledge with other fellow political prisoner-inmates, secretly writing his autobiography (and ultimately being found out – and punished for it). He devoted his life to social justice. “Real leaders,” he said, “must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people.”

But clearly the work isn’t done. The townships of South Africa, riddled by the effects of poverty, racism, sexism, and homophobia, tell us that unequivocally. So do many communities right here in the United States, in fact – right in our own backyard. Mandela took that long walk to freedom – and it’s up to us to continue that walk until all of us have truly reached the destination.

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Filed under activism, hate crimes, health, HIV/AIDS, homophobia, human rights, racism, sexism, violence

The weapons of hate

October 7, 1998. A young man by the name of Matthew Shepard is robbed,  pistol-whipped, and tied to a fence out in the Wyoming countryside. Five days later, he dies from severe head injuries.

My memory of that day is both sharp and fuzzy. I was a clinical psychology graduate student interning at UC Santa Cruz’s Counseling and Psychological Services. I had a meeting that morning with the director of what was then called the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Community and Resource Center. When I got there, the television was on, and Deb Abbott, the director, was crying. I remember feeling numb and shell-shocked the rest of the day – and for several days afterwards. He could have been my little brother, I thought to myself. It wasn’t until several weeks later, when my car broke down on I-5, that I realized it could have been me.

What I didn’t know on that day was that this wasn’t the first time Shepard had been victimized. Three years earlier, in 1995, Shepard was beaten and raped while on a school trip to Morocco, quite possibly because he was gay. Shortly after that incident, Shepard started having panic attacks and began experimenting with drugs, which likely continued until his death. In fact, there’s current (albeit controversial) speculation that his 1998 murder was the result of a drug deal gone bad, and that one of his killers, Aaron McKinney, was bisexual and had a previous sexual relationship with Shepard. Either way, Shepard’s murder was a major wake-up call, galvanizing the LGBTQ community to lobby for the passage of more inclusive and expanded hate crime legislation (the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act).

So now it’s October 2013 – fifteen years later. Have things gotten better?

Last year, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs published a titled “Hate Violence Against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and HIV-Affected Communities in the United States in 2011.” According to this report, the short answer to that question is: Yes and no. And the only reason I put the yes there is because . . . well . . . at least now the FBI tracks the number of LGBTQ-related hate crimes that occur.

According to the NCAVP study (which, by the way, is not based on FBI statistics), the highest hate crime victimization rates overwhelmingly involved gay men and transwomen – and both groups were more likely than others to require medical treatment after being victimized. LGBTQ people of color were disproportionately impacted by hate violence, particularly if they were young and/or transgender, and LGBTQ undocumented immigrants were at higher risk for experiencing physical violence.

Who the victims tend to be is not at all surprising to me – and FBI statistics, coupled with several additional research studies, confirm these findings. However, I think it’s particularly telling to examine who the perpetrators tend to be. Here’s what the NCAVP report found:

  • Overwhelmingly, the majority of offenders tend to be men.
  • In 2011, more than half of the perpetrators were white.
  • Nearly 20% of offenders were friends or acquaintances of the victim, and 18% of hate crimes occurred in private residences (making it the most common location for hate crimes to occur).
  • Police (yes, police) made up 9% of offenders.

Given that reality, it’s not surprising that, in the NCAVP study, half of the surviving victims chose not to report the incidents to the police. Moreover, if you look at the contrast between the victims and the perpetrators, it’s clear that people who pose the most significant challenge to the power structure are the ones who will be punished the most harshly for it. And the ones who stand the most to lose are the ones doling out the punishment.

When I talk about LGBTQ hate crimes in my classes, I sometimes get asked if I’ve ever been the victim of one – and the answer is yes, on two occasions. In 1998 (again, shortly after Matthew Shepard was murdered), someone smashed the headlights on my car. There were many other cars parked in the area, but mine was the only one with a rainbow flag sticker on the back. In the other incident, which occurred just a few years ago, someone (I suspect, for various reasons, a former neighbor) put a bumper sticker on my partner’s car that said “Chick Magnet.” Both incidents were unsettling (particularly the “Chick Magnet” thing – stupid and juvenile as it was, it was creepy to think that a neighbor who knew us probably did it). And in both cases, the police took the incidents seriously – in the “Chick Magnet” incident, the Sacramento Police Department sent the CSI unit to our house to take pictures and check for fingerprints. (I’m dead serious.) But neither incident was immediately life-threatening. I wasn’t beaten. I didn’t require any medical attention. And I didn’t become a murder statistic. Which makes sense – statistically, I don’t fit any of the “high-risk” categories.

Yet in other ways, I do fit a “high-risk” profile – and this is where Matthew Shepard’s murder comes full circle. Over the years, lots of people have asked me if I’ve ever been victimized for being queer, but no one has ever asked me if I’ve been a hate crime victim due to being female. Hate crimes routinely happen to all kinds of women – straight women, queer women, cis women, transwomen – because they are women. However, the FBI doesn’t track hate crimes due to sexism. And failing to name a reality significantly alters our perception of it.

When you look at crimes like rape and sexual assault (which, some argue, are examples of sexism-based hate crimes), they bear a chilling similarity to LGBTQ hate crimes. Males are most often the perpetrators, and while men of color are more likely to be incarcerated for these crimes, there’s evidence that indicates that White males are more likely to perpetrate these crimes against women. Rape and sexual assault is far more likely to be perpetrated by a friend or acquaintance than by a stranger, and it most often occurs at home. And most of these crimes go unreported; just like LGBTQ crime victims, many women choose to avoid being re-victimized – both literally and figuratively – by law enforcement and the judicial process.

Although tragic, Matthew Shepard’s murder broke the silence and invisibility of LGBTQ hate crimes – and paved the way for a greater sense of awareness. Yet if hate crimes are a way of keeping the existing power structure in place – the patriarchy, if you will – it’s high time for a deeper, more nuanced conversation about the powerful and the powerless.

On a side note . . . we kept the “Chick Magnet” sticker on the car.

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Filed under biphobia, bisexuality, gender nonconformity, hate crimes, homophobia, intersectionality, overt homophobia, racism, sexism, transgender, transphobia, violence

The best-laid plans

So, I had a plan.

I’ve been reading this book called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. I’m only about halfway through it, but already I can relate, relate, relate.

My plan for this week was to write about introversion. I wanted to talk about how, for introverted people, engaging in traditional forms of political activism (marches, protests, rallies, etc.) can be very challenging. Reflection, introspection, pensiveness – these aren’t qualities that grab people by the throat and get their attention. Instead, in order for their voices to be heard – and author Susan Cain provides many examples of this – the introverted need to pretend that they love being around lots of people, and that they love speaking up and speaking out. They have to pretend to be something they’re not – extroverted.

And I had lots of good research to support this, too. There’s a 2012 study that shows that people with avoidant personality characteristics tend not to engage in community activism. Avoidant personality disorder, by the way (at least in the DSM-IV-TR typology), is an Axis II disorder. People who are labeled “avoidant” tend to be very anxious in social situations, constantly engaging in self-evaluation as they navigate the social landscape. And so they tend to avoid these situations – hence the term “avoidant personality.” Axis II means serious, chronic, temperamentally-based, and highly resistant to treatment. Yes, introversion has been seriously pathologized.

There’s the 2010 study of AIDS activists that showed that the only personality trait that correlated with the likelihood to engage in activism and civic engagement was – you guessed it – extroversion. The activism that these individuals participated in involved lots of social interaction – corralling random people on the street to get them to sign a petition; engaging in public demonstrations; giving presentations to high school and college classes, civic groups, and health care organizations. Exactly the kinds of things that highly introverted people (or people with “avoidant personality disorder”) would completely shy away from.

There’s the long trajectory of research conducted by Abigail Stewart, a feminist psychologist and researcher at the University of Michigan. Much of her research focuses on political activism – specifically, how personality characteristics and environmental factors contribute to one’s activism. Of course, repeatedly being on the receiving end of prejudice, discrimination, and oppression can galvanize someone, regardless of their temperament, to become politically involved. But being an extrovert, and being willing to take risks and try new things (a quality that personality researchers refer to as “openness to experience”) – both of these together are cornerstones of an activist personality.

That was the plan. But, as they say, the best-laid plans of mice and men oft go astray.

Last night, I decided to postpone writing this blog post. I’d started to write (and, as you can see, had begun to connect the dots between activism and extraversion). But there came a point where I just couldn’t stop yawning, and my brain felt like it was turning in for the night. Between my partner’s ongoing health issues (which have been keeping me awake at night) and my neighbor’s ongoing mental health issues (which also tend to rear their ugly head at night), I’ve been TIRED. So I went to bed. Tomorrow morning, I said to myself, I’ll be fresh as a daisy, ready to write about introversion and activism. As I was drifting away to sleep, I could feel my mind working and re-working the idea that we, as introverts, have our own “activist style.” I slept peacefully and woke up looking forward to writing.

But before I sat down to write, I scanned the headlines. “GEORGE ZIMMERMAN CLEARED OF ALL CHARGES,” proclaimed one headline. “GEORGE ZIMMERMAN ACQUITTED OF MURDER IN TRAYVON MARTIN SHOOTING,” said another. I read a gripping New York Times piece written by Charles Blow: “The Sadness Lingers.” And then there were the demonstrations, all over the country – in L.A., San Francisco, Oakland, New York, and in front of the Seminole County Court House.

I’m stunned. But not surprised. And now my “best-laid plans” seem inappropriate and irrelevant. Because Trayvon Martin is dead. George Zimmerman walks free. Institutionalized racism still exists in the United States.

And, right now, I can’t think of anything earth-shattering to say. But I will say this: writing about introversion, after reading these headlines, seems silly and shallow. Instead, I feel like I need to say something strong and powerful – something memorable and insightful, about the trial, about racism and oppression. But it’s not happening. At least not immediately.

Some people are incredibly skilled at speaking up in the moment, saying exactly what needs to be said. Rev. Jesse Jackson has that quality. So does Al Sharpton. And both of them spoke up immediately after the Zimmerman verdict. Some people are good at thinking on their feet, springing to action in the moment when necessary. Many of last night’s protesters probably fall into that category. These are the hallmarks of extroverted people.

I have neither of those qualities. I need time to think and reflect before speaking. When I’m faced with a decision, I need time and solitude. (Interestingly, I’ve been told that I make decisions very quickly and definitively. I may look like a quick decision-maker, largely because I don’t tend to talk through my decision-making process with others. But believe me, there’s a lot of internal churning going on.)  My writing process is similar – I don’t actually spend a lot of time writing, but I do spend an incredible amount of time thinking. Most of the work happens in my brain, which makes my writing process seem deceptively short and easy.

And right now, I feel like I need time to think, digest, and reflect. I don’t want to go downtown and protest. I don’t want to tweet or post Facebook comments – at least, not yet. At the moment, I don’t even think I want to talk about this much. I do, however, want to go inward, and take the time to sit with this – and then speak up and take action. It doesn’t look sexy and powerful, but that’s the kind of activism I practice.

Last night, before my brain and body threw in the towel,  I came across a 2012 study conducted by Dawn Szymanski from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. She looked at the individual coping styles of African-Americans who engaged in activism, and found that those who had a reflective coping style, characterized by thoughtful, careful planning and insight, were far more likely to engage in activism, compared to those with a suppressive coping style (people who bury their head in the sand and pretend that problems don’t exist) or a reactive coping style (people who speak and act quickly, often on impulse). And people with a reflective coping style are more likely to be introverted rather than extroverted.

Hmm, I think as I read my post. Maybe my best-laid plans didn’t go so far astray after all.


Filed under hate crimes, human rights, psychological research, racism, Uncategorized, violence