From General

“Some people are good in the world,” she wrote to me in the bland, blocky text of my instant messenger window, “even people doing jobs that are super problematic! And! It’s always been true!”

I’d just returned from another series of Quantum Leap-like adventures. In my excitement, I briefly shared the story of introducing a Cleveland public school teacher to the writings of school abolitionists such as John Taylor Gatto. Time well spent, I thought.

“Guess who had at least a little bit of uplifting info in her reading today,” she continued.

“What was your uplifting reading?” I asked.

“Ugh. How racism was constructed and justified,” she said.

“That was…uplifting?” I asked.

“Well, it gets there. In the 1930’s. In the mean time, white people have not only dominated the world, they’ve tried to rally science to their side.” She wrote:

I’m sure you’ve heard about all the early anthropological studies that tried to argue the hierarchy of races. But as early as the ’30s a guy name Franz Boas was like, “Um. I call bullshit.”

And he did. He called bullshit on anthropology, he spoke to all-black universities about African civilizations and [said] not to listen to what they were being told about themselves. And he helped bring about a change in anthropology, such that it was no longer acceptable to speak about races as being biologically superior, inferior, or, those who came after him realized, even real. There was a notion of 5 races that’s been pretty much blown out of the water.

So, that was great! Just reading that there have always been a few people who think for themselves and speak out, even when it’s not them that suffer for the way things are.

Of course, anthropology then stopped talking race all together, and went into looking at “ethnicity” as a concept separate from race, so that they didn’t have to deal with the blood on their hands, as it were. Nothing is ever 100% uplifting. Mostly my reading leaves me feeling hollow inside. So, this was a win.

These “early anthropological studies” primarily used the shape and size of the skull, and therefore, the human head, to determine hierarchical ranking:

White people were “proven” racially superior because our heads tended to be bigger and therefore, our brains were bigger, and therefore we were smarter and better.

You think that’s pretty dumb, right? Here’s the best part.

Boas took a look at that study: Not even true. The white researcher’s bias skewed his findings. Head size, which wouldn’t prove anything anyway, is pretty evenly dispersed.

I am fed up with whiteness right now—which, pale as I am, is annoying.

While it seems rather self-evident that race has no bearing on a person’s humanity, what’s probably less obvious to most people is that contemporary concepts of “race” are completely social constructions. What most people think of as “race” has no scientific basis in biology whatsoever. Her story about Franz Boas, and particularly how he laid groundwork for those who came after him, reminded me of Kim Ja Kil’s, “The White Anti-Racist is an Oxymoron: An Open Letter to ‘White Anti-Racists’.”

I first read Kim Ja Kil’s Open Letter while sitting on a bed in an Atlanta, Georgia suburb. ”You might find the following worth reading,” I wrote back tersely, offering a link to an exchange on Facebook I had with one of my Atlanta hosts, who wrote:

I thought the job of white anti-racists was to educate other white people on their privilege, not to butt into POC communities. It took me reading this twice (and it was a hard read) to understand (?) that she *generally* agrees with me. Although I’m not really sure how to tear down the structure of whiteness. The “obvious” suggestions (like “let’s all wear gear or dreadlocks in solidarity”) are non-workable.

I responded:

[I]f that’s your read on it, I don’t think she agrees with you. My understanding of Kil Ja Kim’s open letter is that whiteness itself is an artifact of racism, and for the structure of whiteness to be removed, people who were racialized as white—like you and me—must stop claiming a “white” identity, including identities such as “white anti-racist,” because that is not possible. To wit, she writes, at the very beginning:

There is NO SUCH THING AS A WHITE ANTI-RACIST. The term itself, “white anti-racist” is an oxymoron.

Moreover, in her suggestions for dismantling the racist social structure of whiteness, I think she makes clear that the goal she seeks is to outright destroy white identity. To wit, she concludes:

…whiteness needs to die as a social structure and as an identity[…]. […S]tart thinking of what it would mean, in terms of actual structured social arrangements, for whiteness and white identity—even the white antiracist kind (because there really is no redeemable or reformed white identity)—to be destroyed.

I find this rather sensible. I am not “white,” any more than you are. I’m not “white,” I’m a mix of Polish, Israeli, and other regional ethnicities. You are not “white,” you are English. Being “white” is not an ethnicity. Being “white” simply means to be not-a-person-of-color, in much the same way that being straight simply means to be not-gay. Claiming whiteness therefore is entirely and unequivocally about capitalizing on the privileges afforded groups of people who are read as not-colored, which is racist. That’s what “white anti-racists” are doing when they claim to be “white anti-racists” because they are claiming a white identity.

Another way to think about this is that queerness’s ultimate social agenda (furthered by radical queer activist types, like me), is to destroy the validity of “straight” identity, since that identity, too, is a structure of domination whose sole purpose is to oppress anyone seen to be not-straight. That’s homophobic, and the only reason one supports straightness is if one supports homophobia. That shit needs to stop. Likewise, the goal of polyamory (and radical polyamorous activists, like me) is actually to destroy the institution of marriage, since that institution is fundamentally about restricting relationship choice in myriad ways, which is antithetical to polyamory’s agenda. Yet another example is that BDSM’s ultimate goal (furthered by radical pro-BDSM activists, like me) is to make it acceptable to consent to endure violence from others, since behaving erotically violent is viewed as inherently pathological and the structure that supports this view (pacifism, which is racist) fundamentally destroys one’s ability to have the kind of sex one wants.

Of course, these are hard radical positions that complicate social reality to a degree most people actively want to push back against—you’ve heard the “why can’t you just settle down and have a normal life like everyone else?” argument before, haven’t you?—that are almost never outright stated because it is dangerous to speak of them publicly. Consider your own reaction upon reading Kim Ja Kil’s open letter, and how a person of color could easily (rightfully?) describe the “oh, she actually already agrees with me” direction of your thinking as paternalizing. To wit, in the open letter, Kim Ja Kil writes:

Now I am sure that right now there are some white people saying that non-white people cannot understand what is going on, that we do not have the critical analysis to figure stuff out, or that we have fucked up ideas. This is just white supremacist bullshit because it is rooted in the idea that non-white people have not interpreted our experiences and cannot run things ourselves. […] In short, this perspective by whites that non-white people cannot be in control of our own destinies is rooted in a paternally-racist approach to non-white people.

So, basically, I am going to start trying to find ways to stop wrapping myself in the racist flag of white identity. I don’t know how I’m going to do this yet, and I’m sure I’m going to fuck it up a whole lot along the way. But now I understand a lot more about how badly I’ve been doing anti-racist work. I hope I’ll get some help, because I think I’ll need it, but even if I don’t (it’s ultimately my responsibility to end this internalized dominance in my own behavior), I’m going to do my best.


Even when we individually stop claiming a “white” identity, that does not mean we stop benefiting from being seen as “white” by other people, or by the racist social structures society has created to serve us, many of which Kim Ja Kil points out in her open letter. I think this means the only way we can destroy white identity and cleanse our world of that racism is to collectively end the behaviors that privilege whites over non-whites. This is very difficult, because it requires everyone’s cooperation in something very few people understand and even fewer actually seem to want to do. To use software developer Mike Cohn’s phrase, this means we need to do “all of it, all together, all at once.” That’s gonna be really, really hard. :\ It also further explains why one’s “pursuit of happiness” depends, at least in part, on the success of others’ similar pursuits.

Like many other realizations of the sort, becoming aware of how oppressive one’s own belief structure had been up until that point was an indescribably uncomfortable experience. When I re-read my own words in this thread, I recall an all too rare humility. It doesn’t feel good—and it shouldn’t.

More than a year later, my first night in Chicago was spent on the third floor of a large brownstone in the Hyde Park neighborhood: Chicago’s South Side. Hyde Park is famous for the University of Chicago. The University, in turn, is famous for its racism.

“I wouldn’t walk past East 63rd Street,” my white host said. “Chicago race relations are insane,” she continued.

“So I keep hearing,” I said. “Why is that?”

“You know about the University, right?” She asked. I shook my head. “Oh! Well, they’re basically buying up all the buildings in the neighborhood, have been for decades. They push out Black residents when they do.”

At the time, I didn’t know how long I’d stay in Chicago or what I’d find myself doing. For the moment, I was sitting on the front deck of a large housing cooperative catching up with an old friend. Right before that, I had found my way to the co-op from a North-side neighborhood in Chicago where my rideshare dropped me off at an entrance to the public transit system I’d never used. Before that, I walked down deserted downtown streets of Minneapolis to meet this driver I had never seen before, or since.

As it happened, Chicago gave me an education in many things, but none more visceral than the palpable racial tension my friend described. She told me a story:

My friend and his girlfriend, a pretty classic white yuppie couple, once decided to walk from the Garfield station Red Line to their home on the other side of the park, near the water front. It’s thought to be a really sketchy walk, but they just decided to walk it anyway.

On the way, an old Black man came up to them and asked, “Do you feel safe walking here?”

“Yeah, pretty much,” they said.

The Black man frowned, and replied, “Then I won’t be here much longer.”

I gave her a puzzled look.

“Because it means he’s going to be priced out soon,” she said. “That’s what’s so crazy about the South Side. The mere presence of white people in the neighborhood is a threat to the Black population already here, so every single interaction has all this tension associated with it. Even if they aren’t gonna do anything, it’s basically in a Black person’s interest to scare white people, so they won’t want to go there. They’re protecting their home. If they don’t, white people will want to move in, the University will buy up all the land, and they’ll have to move—again!”

“Holy shit,” I said.

“I know, right?” she said. “It’s insane.”

She told me she wants to write about it one day. I hope she does. I think she’s a good person, someone who thinks for herself and speaks out, even when it’s not her suffering for the way things are.

I think we need more people like that.

(This was originally published on my other blog.)

Before he shot himself in the head, lead Nirvana singer-songwriter Kurt Cobain wrote hundreds of pages of personal musings in paperback journals.

“I’m obsessed with Kurt Cobain,” one of the residents of my host’s house said. “What made him take that heroin, put the shotgun to his head, and pull the trigger? So when I saw this book, I just had to get it.” He was holding Kurt Cobain: Journals, an undated collection of writings and drawings by the deceased rockstar musician and artist. Each page was a digitized and printed image taken from a spiral-bound journal. “I’m fascinated by people’s stories,” he said, “I want to know how they think.”

“May I flip through this?” I asked.

“Go ahead,” he said.

I picked up the heavy paper book-journal, opened it to a random page, and began reading:


Yeah, all Isms feed off one another, but at the top of the food chain is still the white, corporate, macho, strong oxen of male. Not redeemable as far as im concerned. I mean, classism is determined by sexism because the male decides whether all other isms still exists. its up to men.


I’m just saying that people can’t deny any ism or think that some are more or less subordinate. But still think that in order to

except for sexism. He’s in charge. He decides. I still think that in order to expand on all other isms, sexism has to be blown wide open. It’s like when you

It’s almost impossible to deprogram the incestually-established male oppressor. but like especially the ones who’ve been weaned on it thru their familys generations, like die hard N.R.A. freaks and inherited, corporate, power mongrels, the ones who were born into no choice but to keep the torch and only let sparks fall for the rest of us to gather at their feet. But there are thousands of Green minds. Young gullable 15 year old Boys out there just starting to fall into the grain of what they’ve been told of what a man is supposed to be, and there are plenty of tools to use. The most effective tool is entertainment. The entertainment industry is just now…

I was entranced.

Kurt Cobain never experienced his 28th year—my current age—and yet the 20-something was privately writing about sexism, classism, and other oppressions, not unlike myself. In the time it took me to read one page from his personal journals, the rather flat entity I’d once known only as “that guy from that band who wrote that sexy song I often heard being played at almost all the BDSM parties” (I’m sure you know the one) suddenly sprung to a full, if tragic, posthumous life.

(This was originally published on my other blog.)

The grimy doors surprise me. Behind me are the bright lights of a few bars, their ostentatious fluorescent signage sparkling against the black of night. The sidewalks are spotless, the grass (unfortunately) mowed, and the lampposts pristine.

But these doors are scratched to the point I can’t see through their glass windows clearly. I hear the rumble of train on track. I’m at the public transit railway station, on my way to my host’s for the night after spending a couple hours at a university café.

I push past the doors and proceed down a narrow hallway. The obviously once-white brick is a dirty, dark gray. Litter lines the crease between wall and floor. The blue paint on the handrail of the staircase is chipped and cracked, exposing my hand to the metal underneath.

This seems odd, I think to myself. I see a Black man push past the doorway at the top of stairs, followed by another and then another.We pass one another silently.

It’s 10:12 PM on a Thursday night. The neighborhood bars I passed on my walk here seemed relatively full, if their boisterousness could be considered an accurate measure of their current capacity. But the platform, I can’t help but note, is deserted.

Oh, that’s right. The really privileged people have cars, I say to myself. I take a photo, to remind myself of the thought. My train is in a few minutes, so I wait, pondering how long I’ll stay in Cleveland.

Before long, another Black man joins me on the platform. He leans over the railing and begins to sing. I try to make out the words, but can only catch one eery stanza:

I can’t sleep,
something’s not right.
Something’s not right,
I say.
I can’t sleep.

We glance at each other a few times. I look down at the leftover Mediterranean salad I was gifted earlier in the day. I pull my hands into the sleeves of my hoodie, hiding my purple and copper nail polish. I’m looking down at the food in my hand as the man approaches me on the platform.

“How are you?” he asks, extending his hand.

I look up and respond quickly with a “How are you?”, a smile, and a handshake.

“Oh man, hangin’ in there, man. Hangin’ in there.”

“Long day?” I ask.

“Man, I work at a car detail shop,” he says, pointing to his green hoodie. The name of the shop is emblazoned in big, yellow lettering on his chest. “You know Obama’s coming here tomorrow,” he continues.

“Oh yeah!” I say, even though I didn’t actually know that.

“Oh, you know,” he says. “So we got a contract with the Ohio Police Department, my shop, so we gotta detail all them cars.”

“Oh wow,” I say.

“Yeah, man, they gotta look all right for Obama, y’know.”

“Hey, what’s your name?” I ask him.

“Kenny,” he says.

“I’m May,” I say.

A now-familiar rumble signals the arrival of our train.

“Man, I wanna get home, man,” he says as the train pulls up to the platform.

“Yeah,” I agree, rather uncreatively.

“Maybe I can catch the rest of the game, get some dinner.” We keep conversing as we board a car where I am unmistakably the only white person in sight. I don’t know what game he’s talking about. He takes a seat on one side of the car and I take a seat across from him. “Get home, get dinner, watch the game,” he repeats.

“You hungry?” I ask, lifting my leftover Mediterranean salad.

“Naw, man, I got some homemade cookin’,” he says lifting the plastic bag he’s holding.

I smile. “Oh, man, now I’m jealous. So how many cars did you work on?”

“Like, 27 of them,” he said. “Woke up at 6, did a 10 hour work day. Did some other things before work, but y’know, on my feet all day, man.”

I nod. “Did you watch the debates last night?”

“The game?”

“No, the debates.”

“Sorry, I don’t mean to be rude,” he says, leaning across the aisle and putting a finger to his ear.

“I’m sorry,” I say, “The debates, the presidential debates last night.”

He pulls back. “I don’t follow that stuff, man,” he says. “You know, they gonna do what they gonna do, can’t do nuthin’ ‘bout that. I vote, though. Promises made to be broken, man. But I vote.” I nod. He rises and moves towards the doors as the train approaches the next platform. “Hey,” he says, pointing straight at me.

“Yeah?” I ask.

“Vote for Obama,” he says.

Already planning on it,” I say with a smile.

He nods, and exits the train.

(This was originally published on my other blog.)

Activism can be as simple as remarking on the unremarkable

“May I join you here?” I asked the group of three people on the second floor of a university coffee shop, by way of starting a conversation.

“We’re all doing a Masters’ of Business,” one of the two men said. “What are you studying?” asked the other, who was wearing a red button-down shirt.

“I’m a middle school drop out,” I said. I held my smile through the predictable moment of silence that followed. The surprise I elicit when I say this would be easier to bear if it was not also accompanied with a sense that the moment of silence was a moment of mourning. Others seem to start questioning how best to find a compassionate reply, and I mourn a potential collegiality I fear pointing out our cultural rift typically causes.

“So,” they said, breaking the momentarily uncomfortable silence, “where are you going?”

“I’m on my way to Massachusetts where I’ll be giving a presentation at a conference on Internet privacy, and how having it can help stop sexual assault,” I said.

Another momentary pause, this time without the obvious surprise of the first.

“You know, you happen to be near the capitol of sex trafficking in America,” the red-shirt man said.

“Really?” I asked. I’ve had this conversation before, and I knew exactly where it was going. I sighed internally but, sensing opportunity, smiled outwardly, as he continued to share what he knew about the situation with me.

The man told me that he had once been shown a video of a “rescue” effort produced by Destiny Rescue U.S.A., he cited reports of massage parlors being raided, and told me of a recent grant the US Department of Justice gave Ohio-based agencies to fight human trafficking.

Conversationally, I was friendly. I even felt I was being smooth. But I didn’t know how to shift the conversation.

“Well,” I said, “my background is technology, so I did some research about this back a few years ago when Craigslist was being accused of supporting sex trafficking. Do you remember that all going down?” He nodded. “I was really disappointed in a lot of the media coverage because, well, it was just factually wrong.”

I tried to go into some depth but felt like I was losing them. Conversations about “issues” seem so hard to keep “friendly.” I backed down, said I didn’t want to keep them from their studying, and that it was nice to meet them.

I retreated to a corner of the café with my computer, watching the sunlight drain from the sky. Darkness. It so often seems like darkness—sunlight or not.

“Hey May,” the red-shirt man said. “You want some Mediterranean salad?”

“Uh, sure,” I said. “You don’t want it anymore?”

“He had some of the hummus,” said the other man. “But it’s cold. That’s why he doesn’t want it.”

“Yeah, I’m done,” the red-shirt man said.

“Well, thanks!” I said as he handed me a tray.

“Is there a fork anywhere?” I asked. I always carry utensils with me, a plastic spork or a set of camping silverware, but I wanted to appear more “normal.”

“Well if you want to use the fork I used,” the red-shirt man said, gesturing to it on the table.

“I mean, if I’m going to eat your food, I might as well,” I replied.

“That’s a good point, right there,” the other man said with a grin. I made a mental note of the absurdity of the situation: being offered food, but not silverware, because sharing food is socially acceptable while sharing silverware is, what, gross?

Back at my computer, I started compiling the following list, with the Internet’s help, about the issues the red-shirt man and I discussed:

While hunkering over my computer in the corner, I punched the above links into URL shorteners and wrote them all on my card above the short message, “Check out these links! =)” Then I walked over to him and, with a smile, said, “Hey, I wanted to give you this. Check ‘em out whenever you have some time.”

“Thanks,” he said.

“Sure!” I said with enthusiasm. “I’ll let you get back to your study, uh, thing? Study group. It’s a study group, right?”

“Eh, more like a bickering group now,” he said.

“Well, whatever,” I said. “There are lots of ways to learn.”

I do this sort of thing a lot these days. I believe it makes a difference.

Many people I talk to talk about feeling powerless in the face of overwhelming issues like misinformation. But it turns out spreading accurate information is pretty easy. All it takes is a conversation, a pen and paper, and maybe some courage.

Everything I am, everything I do: it’s all available to you, too.

ADDENDUM: ”Are these all links?” the red-shirt man came up to me to ask.

“Oh, yes, I’m sorry if I didn’t make that clear enough,” I said.

We talked. He asked me about dropping out of middle school. Taking a page from non-violent communication, I told him brief versions of my story, answering questions in 40 words or less.

“You said you dropped out of middle-school?”

“Well, I always thought school was for two things: teaching me stuff I didn’t know, and showing me how to socialize with people. But I was always that kid other kids threw rocks at in 1st grade—literally—so I was like, well, this place doesn’t work for me!”

“How do you hear of these conferences?”

“I usually get invited. Oh yeah, that reminds me. I was invited to a conference about futurism in LA to speak on the intersection of technology and sexuality in a few months. I need to get back to Rachel about that….”

“What got you started in that?”

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and so I started learning about neurochemistry. I eventually made a website about it, and then got a technology job as an assistant network administrator at, ironically enough, a school! So, since then, I’ve been employed in the tech industry.”

And on, and on.

“I love hearing people’s stories,” the red-shirt man said with a smile as he walked back to his table to collect his things. His genuine interest had me smiling, too.

“Well,” he said as he approached me on his way out the door, “If you ever need a place to stay ‘round here, let me know.”

“Wow, really? Thank you!” I said.

“Yeah,” and he offered me his name and Facebook profile.

And that, dear readers, is how I survive without home or hearth. :)

(This was originally published on my other blog.)

“I like your pen,” the sweet employee behind the counter at the travel shop said, gesturing to the pen tucked behind my ear.

I smiled. “Thanks. Just a pen, but I use it often.”

“I know,” they said. “I figured it wasn’t magic or nuthin’,” they said with a smile of explanation.

That got me thinking. Magic.

I placed my order—fast food chicken wrap, with bar-b-q sauce, please—and took a seat. I grabbed one of my business cards from my pocket and the pen from behind my ear. I paused for a moment to consider the message.


“My name is,” I wrote above the name on my card. “I’m on Facebook. =)”

Then I flipped the card over and on its back, wrote: “The word ‘spelling’ contains the word ‘spell.’ The Egyptians believed that there was magic in words, that to write a thing was to invoke the magic in its spelling.”

“Number 18,” the sweet employee called out from behind the counter.

I looked up and walked over to the counter. “Thank you.” I said, picking up my order. “This is for you.” I handed off the card, turned, and left.


(This was originally published on my other blog.)

My tweets on 2010-07-24

My tweets on 2010-07-22

  • What a lovely sentiment! ♺ @mungojelly_more: I try to follow all different kinds of folk. Thx for being different from each other, everyone! #
  • "only way [#immigrant #GLBT couples] can stay together is if they're married," but same-sex #marriage isn't federal law: #
  • Bit by #Apple & #Google #GMail "bandwidth limit exceeded" #bug Removing "Recovered Messages" & IMAP-[account]/.OfflineCache dirs. #
  • You DO NOT have a right to be unoffended when watching TV or listening to radio: If #obscenity offends you, tough shit. #

My tweets on 2010-07-18