I’m temporarily pausing this blog, and won’t be doing regular updates for a bit.
The Writing Slices blog will continue monthly updates, so if you’re looking for book reviews, you can still find them there.
Thank you for everyone who has read along with me these last few years.
Using language to hide racism.
White people talk in code. We say things that don’t sound at all offensive, but are filled with racist subtext. It’s a code that’s not really code at all, since the meaning is so plain.
But it’s hidden just a single layer below the surface of deniability. If called out, the white person can instantly backpedal into “what I really meant was…”
I’m a white lady who hangs out with other white ladies. I was taught this code from birth and speak it fluently. I’m also done tolerating it. I need to come for my own, and that starts with stripping away the euphemisms and translating these bullshit phrases into plain English. Here are ten things white people say and what they really mean.
10. Good school / good neighborhood White school / white neighborhood
9. Mainstream Used in Hollywood for movies and New York for books. It means white.
8. You’re very articulate You’re black and I’m racist.
7. A gentleman by the name of… I’m a liberal white person who wants other white people to know I’m talking about a black person.
6. We don’t know what happened before the cameras started rolling The white police officer can’t be wrong, therefore, the black victim must be at fault.
5. I don’t see color I would like to pretend racism isn’t systemic.
4. I’ve been discriminated against, too I would really, really like to make racism all about me.
3. #NotAllWhitePeople / #AllLivesMatter I’m this close to saying the nonsensical phrase “reverse racism.”
2. You’re being divisive White feelings matter more than black safety.
1. Racially charged I think calling someone a racist is worse than being racist.
Standing up to Nazis really should be a basic qualification for office.
Dear Mayor Taylor,
Last fall, Richard Spencer wanted to come to Ann Arbor to make a speech and to recruit Nazis. You immediately gave in to his demands, telling the community that you would not take steps to stop him.
There was a great outcry from the students at the University of Michigan and the citizens of Ann Arbor. Outcry which you ignored. Instead, you gave a tepid press release about free speech and then dismissed anyone who asked you to take a stronger stance.
The fact that Spencer met resistance elsewhere and then changed his plans to come to Ann Arbor doesn’t get you off the hook. It was students who scared him away, while our mayor stood silently by.
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. And you, sir, did nothing.
You can spin this any way you want to, but the bottom line is this: you are an elected official who will not stand up to Nazis. You displayed cowardice and lack of leadership when you used students as your human shields, putting them on the front lines of resistance against fascism and violent white nationalism.
Let’s say it again, with the proper emphasis. You are an elected official who will not stand up to Nazis.
To my mind, this disqualifies you from office. It should disqualify you from humanity.
Now that you are running for re-election, you are suddenly paying attention to those voters you ignored last fall. You’ve repeatedly asked for my vote. You will not get it. The primary is in 60 days, and I look forward to voting for your opponent.
P.S. If you’d like to argue with me about Nazis, please read this first.
Author’s note: I contacted Christopher Taylor’s office in advance of this publication to ask for his comment. He did not respond.
So much of where we are today is because of where she was in the 1970s.
On Mother’s Day, we went to see the movie “RBG.” It seems that everyone else in Ann Arbor had the same idea, because the theater was sold out and every seat was full. RBG is a hit. It broke into the top 10 for the weekend, which is almost impossible for a documentary to do, especially when it’s showing on limited screens. But, like Ruth Bader Ginsburg herself, this film is small and unassuming and also amazingly powerful.
I knew Ginsburg was awesome. I’d seen the memes about the “Notorious RBG” and watched the way the internet blew up whenever she wrote one of her dissenting opinions. But until I saw the movie, I never knew quite how awesome she was.
As the movie showed her early life, I saw many older women in the theater nod knowingly at the details of the sexism Ginsburg endured. She navigated college and law school by keeping her head down and being better than her classmates. She made Law Review in her second year at Harvard while caring for a toddler and a husband with cancer. Just one of those three things would have overwhelmed most of us, but RBG did it all.
Ginsburg spent the 70s and 80s working with the ACLU to fight discrimination. She successfully argued six landmark cases before the Supreme Court, changing the law for everyone. She chose those cases the way she does everything—carefully, systematically, always with one eye on the long-term benefits.
In the theater, there were several gasps from the younger crowd as a list of laws rolled by on the screen—laws that explicitly discriminated against women. It felt like the best history lesson ever as we watched Ginsburg’s work help overturn them one by one. But this is history that is still alive, still with us, still working for our benefit today. Thanks to one remarkable woman, women everywhere can almost take our rights for granted…. Almost.
We still need Ruth Bader Ginsburg and people like her. We’re grateful she’s still alive, still working for us, still notorious as ever. Which is probably why that packed theater burst into applause when the movie ended.
“RGB” has been rolled out into even more theaters this weekend, but who knows how long it will be showing? You should go see it while you can.
And you should bring your mom.
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
It usually happens on social media. I’ll post an anti-Nazi meme like this one, or this one. Or I’ll suggest that hey, maybe as a community, it’s our job to bail out antifascists who were arrested while protesting white nationalists.
And then the pushback comes. And it always, always comes from nice white folks—people who look like me. And those well-meaning white folks always, always want me to ignore the Nazis, because they’ve never had to look beyond their own privilege to see why that won’t work.
So here are ten arguments I’m sick of having about Nazis, because it’s time for me to come get my own people.
1. Why are you protesting Nazis? All you’re doing is giving them publicity.
More publicity is a good thing. It’s important for people to know what the alt-right stands for and what they’re capable of. I think what privileged white people are really saying is, “It makes me uncomfortable to read about this in the news.” But rather than sit with that discomfort, they’d like to blame the antifascists for calling attention to the problem of Nazis in our midst.
2. Just ignore them! Wouldn’t it be funny if the Nazis came out and nobody showed up?
No, it wouldn’t be funny if Nazis came to my town and no one showed up. If we all cowered at home while Nazis marched through our streets, it would mean we’ve surrendered the public square to them. They would then know that they could go anywhere they wanted, do or say anything, and the citizens would just go along with it. I don’t find that funny at all.
3. All you’re doing is making them mad.
Upsetting Nazis is a good thing. Besides, they’re already plenty angry. Perhaps this well-meaning person is telling me not to provoke the Nazis, which sounds a hell of a lot like victim-blaming. Like the abuser who tells his victim it’s her fault he hit her, because she made him mad. And please, miss me with your respectability politics.
4. The Nazis just want attention. Why are you playing into their hands?
No, they don’t just want attention. They want my children dead. That’s not an exaggeration. My children are mixed-race and queer. According to the alt-right and their ilk, my kids should not exist.
5. But what about freedom of speech?
Nazis and the KKK are calling for ethnic cleansing. They advocate domination of one group over another by violent means. This is not free speech, it’s hate speech. The US supreme court has ruled that this kind of hate speech—the kind that is inciting violence—is not protected under law.
6. All they wants to do is share ideas! Can’t you debate the points on their merits?
It’s adorable that someone thinks that Nazis want a civil debate. But more importantly, freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences, and it doesn’t mean a guaranteed platform. Straight, white, rich men often mix these two things up, because up until now, they could say anything they wanted without pushback, and they always had an arena in which to say it. But these days, the alt-right will show up to an event with a dozen supporters and come face to face with a wall of hundreds of protestors. And suddenly, they start squawking that their freedom of speech is being infringed somehow. Nope, we’re just using our own freedom of speech to shout louder.
7. But you’re trying to silence the alt-right! That makes you the fascist!
This is propaganda, pure and simple. Nazis love to brand all antifascists as dangerous extremists. They use that to create a convenient cover for their own, more dangerous, extreme views. Remember: hate speech is not protected speech, antifascists have the right to speak out against Nazis, and ignoring Nazis will not make them go away. Besides, when has “they’re just as bad!” ever been a valid argument?
8. As Voltaire once said, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
First, Voltaire never said that. Second, how nice for you, that you can defend Nazis. How nice for you, that your skin color protects you from them.
9. But why should we fight the Nazis? If they’re being disruptive, shouldn’t the cops handle it?
Let me tell you what happened when Richard Spencer and his Nazi brethren came to Michigan State University this week. Hundreds of protestors showed up. They were peaceful, but they made noise. They made their presence known. Police, wearing full riot gear, lined the streets hundreds deep. As soon as Spencer and his followers arrived, the police took the Nazis in small groups and escorted them into the building. Sometimes, the cops would put the Nazis into their cars and drive them through the crowds. Basically, the police acted as the Nazis’ personal bodyguards, while beating back protestors with their bikes and their clubs. The police “handled” it by protecting the Nazis.
10. Now you want me to help post bail for the protestors?
Yes, that’s what I want you to do. All of us in the community should do that. These brave young people were arrested for trying to stop Nazis from recruiting.
to stop Nazis.
Over twenty people were arrested. You know what the most common charge was? “Failure to obey a police officer.” I don’t know about you, but that sends a chill down my spine. The message is clear: obey the Nazis’ bodyguards, or else.
You know what the others were arrested for? Trespassing (it was a public place), disorderly conduct, and obstructing police business. A few were arrested for peeing in public. Only two were arrested for having weapons, and it’s not specified what those weapons were. (Water bottles and rocks qualify, if the officer felt “threatened” by them.)
We should be sending a clear message that Nazis are not welcome in our towns, and if they come here, we will protest them, and if we can’t protest them, we will support those who do.
Have you ever wondered what you would do if you lived in Germany in the 1930s or in America in the 1960s? That’s what you’re doing. You’re doing it right now.
Update: One week after Richard Spencer came to Michigan State University, he posted a YouTube video in which he said he was rethinking his whole approach, because anti-fascists were shutting down his speeches. He is no longer going to try to recruit or give speeches on college campuses.
Directly engaging with Nazis works.
You don’t have to be an artist to make your sign a work of art.
Marches are a regular part of my life these days, and every good protester needs a sign. I used to just grab a piece of cardboard from the recycling bin and throw some words on it. My signs were legible, and my message sincere, but my designs left a lot be desired.
With three protests in April, I needed to up my sign-making game. After all, if I care enough to march, I care enough to make a good sign. The problem? I don’t have much free time, I refuse to buy any new materials like stencils or paints, and I’m terrible at art.
So I had to figure out a way to make a decent sign in less than an hour, for less than a dollar, with zero artistic ability. I’m not saying my method—or my sign—is the best. But it is a cut above my recycled cardboard ones, and looks quite good for the amount of time/money/effort I put into it. Want to make one too?
Here’s what you’ll need:
Poster board (One sheet cut in half to make two signs)
An index card
A ruler or yardstick
Markers, pencil, and scissors
I had all these things on hand except for the poster board. That cost me 79 cents.
Here are some optional things:
Artwork printed off the internet
Here’s how to do it in ten easy steps:
1. Decide what your sign will say. Shorter is better! The experts say fewer than seven words is ideal. My sign for the tax march says “No one is above the law.” That’s a message I think we can all agree on!
2. Measure your space. Now that you know what you want to say, you know how many letters per line you’ll be writing. Be sure to count the space between words! In my case, I was doing two words per line, so my longest string was “is above.” I’d need eight spaces for that.
3. Do the math to figure out how big each letter should be. My poster board was 14 inches wide. Therefore, each letter could only be 1.5 inches wide. (8 x 1.5 = 12 inches, plus .25 inches between each letter for a total of 14 inches.)
4. Make a rectangular stencil out of your index card. I made mine 1.5 inches wide and 2.5 inches tall. That’s the orange rectangle in my photo.
5. Very lightly, in pencil, trace around the index card as many times as you have letters. For me, that was 6 boxes for line one, 8 boxes for line two, and 7 boxes for line three. Remember that the space between the words counts as a box! (Also: I discovered that with fewer letters on lines one and three, I could make those boxes slightly bigger. But let’s pretend for this tutorial that they were the same.)
6. Now you have neat little boxes to make your letters in. Every letter will be the same size and you won’t run out of room. A good artist would simply freehand the letters at this point, but I am not a good artist. I penciled in every letter. It didn’t take long and made me more confident with the markers. Make your letters really thick! Thin ones can’t be read from far away.
7. Color in the words with markers. This is always my favorite part. I love to color.
8. Erase the pencil lines. Also my favorite part.
9. How about some artwork? Here’s my big secret. I simply found an image I liked on the internet, printed it, cut it out and glued it to my sign with glue stick. Done! The sign is ready to be carried to the march. But what about that second piece of poster board?
10. If you want to, you can use the other piece of poster board to make a second sign. Tape the signs back to back, and put a yardstick (or a cardboard tube) in the middle for a handle. Your sign will be more visible if you carry it above your head.
Have a good march! Make new friends. Yell really loudly. Connect with important local organizations. Remember to stay hydrated and always clean up your trash. Peaceful assembly is your constitutional right and speaking truth to power is one of the very best things Americans can do.
Especially when our signs don’t suck.
Just because you’ve got nothing to hide doesn’t mean you’ve got nothing to fear.
You’ve got spies in your house.
You let them in.
The day you bought a smart phone, an Amazon Echo, Google Home, or a smart remote for your TV, you placed an always on, always listening device in your home. Even Siri is always listening for her name, meaning she’s always listening, period.
You don’t care. You think “I’m not that interesting” or “I’ve got nothing to hide.” But there are three problems with that.
First, if you think that surveillance programs are only there to catch bad guys, think again. Second, the “nothing to hide” argument puts the burden on you to prove your innocence. Constantly. “Why are you so worried about privacy?” law enforcement will ask. “are you doing something you’re not supposed to?” Third, you’ve given up the choice of what you share and when. Are you okay with the government reading your email? Out loud? In public? How about searching your house and car and body any time they want? Why not publish your bank balance and parade around naked while you’re at it? After all, you have nothing to hide.
Everyone is probably breaking some law at some time. I speed. I also routinely run the bullshit stop sign at my corner unless there’s a car coming from the other side. Chances are 100% that you, too, break the law in ways big and small.
And we all have tracking devices in our pockets, meaning government officers know, or can easily find out, what we did. Since they can’t arrest everyone, laws are selectively enforced. Marginalized groups such as young people, minorities, immigrants, and the poor are the ones who get arrested for stuff we all do.
Your friends, your colleagues, your children, your children’s friends. I guarantee at least one of them has something to hide from the government. Not because they are doing something illegal or wrong (technically, we all are), but because of selective enforcement.
We can’t do anything about selective enforcement. And in most cases, we can’t live without the spies in our pockets. But at least we can minimize the harm they do.
One easy step you can take is to encrypt your text messages. Instead of sending plain texts, that are easily read by anyone with a search warrant (or in many cases, without one), you can easily encrypt your messages, so that no one but you and the recipient can read them.
Think of it as herd immunity. Journalists and human rights activists around the world encrypt their texts, for good reason. But the problem is, simply encrypting texts by itself can throw suspicion on someone. However, if we all encrypt our texts, it becomes the new normal. Nothing to see here, journalists and humans rights activists and young people and minorities are simply doing what everyone else does.
It’s free and seamlessly replaces your usual texting app. You need zero tech know-how to use it. You send texts just like you always do. If you’re messaging someone who also uses Signal, it encrypts the message. If you’re texting someone who’s not using Signal, then a regular message goes out as normal.
Signal uses strong, tested end-to-end encryption tools, which means that even if a court order demanded it, the developers of Signal would be unable to deliver your messages to the government. It’s not that they’d refuse to do it. They simply couldn’t.
You can’t afford to be passive about this issue. Not now. If you won’t do it for yourself, do it for the most vulnerable among us. And with free, simple, and seamless apps that will help, there is no excuse not to.
About the author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories and is working on a science fiction series. She sends as few texts as possible, and encrypts every one.
It was a long, hard, necessary journey.
Last weekend I wore my pink hat and joined 500,000 of my new best friends at the Women’s March on Washington.
It wasn’t easy to even get there. At the very last minute, our bus company canceled some of the contracted buses. They left eighty people behind. Our bus seats were the narrowest ones I’ve ever seen, and the bus lacked things like power outlets and temperature control. The door wouldn’t fully close, so we froze up front, while the back of the bus quickly warmed to ninety degrees. Nobody complained, since we considered ourselves lucky to get on a bus at all. We left Ann Arbor at 10:00 Friday, planning to drive through the night and arrive in DC early the next day.
At 3:30 in the morning, our driver pulled to the side of the road and we glided to a soft stop. “I don’t want to scare you,” she said. “But we don’t have any brakes.” We were somewhere in Pennsylvania and the GPS showed no towns for miles. The fog was so thick we couldn’t see the next mile marker.
I called our bus company and spoke to someone who sounded like a college intern on her first day. She didn’t know where we were and didn’t know how to help. Luckily, our bus driver was a miracle worker and somehow found a mechanic to drive to our location in the middle of the night to fix our bus right there by the side of the road. We got going again, but we were two hours behind. So we took a vote: stop for breakfast, or drive straight through to DC? We overwhelmingly chose to drive straight through. We gave up sleep, food, and coffee in order to get there on time. This is how much we wanted our voices heard.
As hungry and tired as we were, just being in DC lifted our spirits. Everyone we talked to had a story. We met two senior citizens who’d been protesting since the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam war. They’d each had three hip replacements, and yet were willing to be on their feet all day for this. We gave our granola bars to a trio of college kids from North Carolina who’d decided to drive up at the very last minute, not stopping to pack food. We met someone who’d come from Colorado and was at the march alone.
We were all different, and all united by one thing—the determination to grab our country back. Our bus driver gritted her teeth and guided our rickety bus through the DC traffic. “If you’re on my bus, I’m going to get you there,” she said. The women with the artificial hips knew they would be in incredible pain the next day, but endured the trip anyway. The person from Colorado, with no support from family or friends, still made the trip.
Husbands marched with wives. Sometimes three generations marched together. Moms brought their kids.
Cell towers were overloaded and none of us were getting news or social media. We had no idea how big our march was, or that demonstrations were happening across the country and around the world. We didn’t get the scope of it until later. Cheers broke out on the bus ride home as people pulled up aerial photos of DC, Chicago and Denver. We all looked up our hometowns. “They had six thousand in Ann Arbor,” someone said, passing around a cell phone. “They marched in Copper Harbor!” someone else cried, showing us the picture.
Back in Michigan, I removed my shoes and peeled my sticky socks off my feet. I napped and showered and went out to get groceries. My pink “pussyhat” had become a natural part of my wardrobe by then, and I wanted to keep wearing it. As I filled my cart, five people stopped me in the store to tell me they loved my hat. I couldn’t stop smiling. For the first time in two months, I felt proud of my country.
As I was checking out, the cashier asked me about my hat. “I saw them on the news,” she said. “But where did you all get them?” I told her that my best friend had knit mine. I explained that the hats were all homemade. Every single one.
“That’s amazing!” The cashier held out her arm. “Look! I have goosebumps.”
I knew the feeling. I got goosebumps several times at the Women’s March. I’m not kidding myself into thinking it was perfect. It wasn’t. It was very white and very straight. Parts of it were amateurish since this kind of political action is new to most of us. Some people will pat themselves on the back and not do anything else to fight this dangerous administration.
So what? It didn’t have to be perfect. It had to be done. This isn’t the end. This is the beginning. And with a new pair of socks on my feet, a bright pink hat on my head, and goosebumps on my arms, I’m ready to march again.
I don’t trust our country to do the right thing. I’m not buying it. Literally.
Things I’d planned on buying in the next six months:
A dining table
Gutters for my house
Service people I’d planned on employing:
A gutter installer
A landscape company
Things and services I’m actually going to buy in the next six months:
In fact, I might not buy any of that stuff for a year or more. I’m joining the protest economy.
People who look like me, people with the same privileges I have, elected a racist, misogynistic, xenophobic rapist as our President. And gave him lots of friends in congress to play with. They will hurt people who don’t look like me.
My peers claim they aren’t racist or sexist. They say this election was about “smaller government.” They say it was about “the economy.” That is a lie. They voted out of hate. And that hate has put me and my family in jeopardy in countless ways. I will probably lose my health insurance. My brown, queer children fear for their very lives.
My peers claim this election was about “bringing jobs back.” If jobs come back, it won’t be on my dime.
I’m not hiring anyone to fix my gutters or to deliver a new table or sell me a computer. I’m opting out of this economy as much as possible in the coming year. I won’t buy anything I don’t have to. This includes movies, restaurant meals, and even books. If my rake breaks, I’ll duct tape it together. If I lose my umbrella, I’ll get wet. I hope my family likes donations to charity for Christmas because that’s the only gift they’ll get from me.
This capitalist country is racist as hell, and I’m going to leave it the only way I can, by removing myself from it economically.
And the money I’m not putting into our broken system? That’s going to three places: Planned Parenthood , EMILY’s list , and the Sierra Club. They are doing the work I want to see done, and the only work I’m willing to pay for right now.
[Photo credit: © Ridiculousbroomstick | Dreamstime Stock Photos]
If you don’t vote, you’re giving away your power.
Vote for your favorite or vote against your least favorite.
Go in educated about the issues or go with your gut.
Carefully consider what you’re doing or decide at the last minute.
Do it as cheerful exercise of your citizenship or do it as an unhappy obligation.
But whatever you do,