A Writer’s Obligation

Over the past week, I have been doing a lot of thinking on the so-called “writer obligation.” This is discussed a lot, often times involving a controversial text and whether or not it should have been written/be read by the public. It speaks to a writer’s obligation to society: stating that what is written in part shapes the fabric of daily life and perception. I don’t disagree with that last sentence, but still encourage all writers to not be obliged to anyone.

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Thinking Progress: Ohio Straight Pride

Okay, time to talk on a controversial issue… something new and different. For those of you unaware, recently students at an Ohio University put up signs/posters advocating for “Straight Pride.” I’ll let the now infamous poster speak for itself:

o-STRAIGHT-PRIDE-570In case you can’t read the fine print at the bottom, it says: “Brought to you by the students that are sick of hearing about your LGBT pride. Nobody cares about what you think you are, or what you want to have sex with. We have nothing against your sexual orientation. We just don’t give a fuck.”

Apparently there were other posters… but this seems to be the only one I could find. Naturally, a poster like this upset a good many people. The LGBT community at the University denounced the poster as “homophobic” and they were promptly taken down.

Okay, for the record, I do think these posters are incredibly insensitive. They undermine the importance of Gay Pride and the LGBT community by indicating that homophobia, a prejudice very much still alive and well, is over and done with. Pretending that a prejudice is over, despite blinding evidence to the contrary, is sadly nothing new.

I tried to find a larger version of this because it is just so perfect.
I tried to find a larger version of this because it is just so perfect.

Is that poster homophobic: yeah, through the omission of any admittance that homophobia is actually an issue that a lot of the LGBT community still struggle with. I am not saying these posters are right, or validated, or anything like that.

THAT SAID…

This might actually be the start of a good thing.

I know, I can’t say something like that without making a solid attempt to back it up. Progress happens slowly… but it does happen. Anyone who says that there has not been progress on an issue like racism is as much an extreme fool as anyone who says racism is over. For example: we right now are enduring an awareness of a tragic and unacceptable level of racism on United States police forces. Their actions are criminal and for many black families, this ugly reality is too real. That said, this is still a definite improvement over 200 years ago when virtually ALL blacks in America were property, not people. We (Americans) do have a black president. There is an increasing number of successful black individuals in the world. It is getting better: slowly, painfully, but progress is happening.

The progress on gay rights has been far more extraordinary, given the time scale. Sixty years ago: being gay was a disease in most of the “civilized” world. Now, gay marriage and equality are rapidly occurring. The difference in generational thinking on the issue of gay rights is staggering, with a reported 71% of “millennials” being in favor.

3-20-13-1I wrote some time ago on the coming out of actress Ellen Page and athlete Michael Sam, and said how irrelevant their sexuality should be to their identity, and I still believe this. So I am admitting common ground with these “Straight priders.” I do feel that, in a perfect world, that Gay Pride should no longer have to exist because a person’s sexuality is not innately linked to the content of their character. I am straight, and I blessedly do not need straight pride, because being straight in the world matters no more than having blue eyes.

If all you see when you look at actor Ian McKellan is a gay man, then you are really missing the point of just what an awesome human being he is.
If all you see when you look at actor Ian McKellen is a gay man, then you are really missing the point of just what an awesome human being he is.

Even Ian McKellen is saying “get over it.” How different is that message from the poster above? Well, authorship matters. I mean, who better to say that homophobia is over than a gay individual? Well.. as of this moment, I do not know who authored the “Straight Pride” posters. I have made an effort to locate this information but have been unsuccessful. If any out there know for sure and can give me a link: it would be appreciated. I do know who is being blamed:

 

"When individuals belong to dominant societal cohorts (Caucasian, male, heterosexual, etc.) it is very easy to state "We have nothing against your sexual orientation" and to claim that efforts to raise awareness are "annoying." For minorities who every day face discrimination and marginalization, such efforts are necessary -- without zeal and persistence, sociology teaches that minority concerns very easily go by the wayside. Thus, dismissing the efforts of LGBTQIA students to push for equitable treatment as unnecessary is dangerous because it catalyzes discrimination, whether meant to do so or not." - YSU Student Government
“When individuals belong to dominant societal cohorts (Caucasian, male, heterosexual, etc.) it is very easy to state “We have nothing against your sexual orientation” and to claim that efforts to raise awareness are “annoying.” For minorities who every day face discrimination and marginalization, such efforts are necessary — without zeal and persistence, sociology teaches that minority concerns very easily go by the wayside. Thus, dismissing the efforts of LGBTQIA students to push for equitable treatment as unnecessary is dangerous because it catalyzes discrimination, whether meant to do so or not.” – YSU Student Government

Hate to tell the politically correct and super sensitive body that is YSU, but that’s profiling. Are they right: probably. But this general accusation is no different from someone saying “oh you got robbed, probably a black guy” or “listen to that lisp, he’s probably gay.” If we’re going to be equal, equality goes both ways. General rule of life: if you don’t know something, don’t jump to conclusions.

Another point of contention: I have real problems with them removing the posters. The United States is at least supposed to be a land of freedom of expression, and this arguably is our most important feature. Whether something is “offensive” or not does not matter. For those wondering, here are the limitations of freedom of speech. It is important to note that material that would directly incite harm to others is not protected. That said, those posters are not openly hateful. They do not encourage violence towards the LGBT community, at least not so far as I can deduce from that one (again, I have tried unsuccessfully to find other posters). Are they offensive? Absolutely, but what does that even mean?

0e0Idiots are part of progress, this is the truth. People denouncing racism or homophobia or anything else as “over” can be seen as simply people trying (sometimes damagingly) to over simplify life. The fact that a bunch of college kids got overly wound up in their political views and published controversial material is nothing new, and should not be given the attention of the media world. It draws focus to them and gives them more power than they should have.

So was “Straight Pride” a good thing by itself, nope. Seen as a larger part of a progressive acceptance of gay culture however, it is not terrible. The extremes are the first ones who will say Gay Pride is not needed anymore… but the fact that people are starting to say it is, in itself, a sign of progress.

Politically Correct: The Issue of the Washington Redskins

Yesterday, as I was reading through the news avenues of the inter-webs, a story concerning an issue at Concordia University came to my attention. The issue was this: censoring song lyrics in regards to political correctness. The song lyrics in question weren’t… well, if you were a white male they were fine! There were two pieces, a thoroughly researched impartial view of the evidence and an attention-grabbing, opinion-driven editorial. As is always the case: more people were talking about the editorial (I love how much the average person fact-checks!). Anyways, I begin with this to address a larger issue closer to home: the Washington Redskins.

For those out there who don’t know, the Washington Redskins are a professional football (NFL) team that operates out of Washington D.C. They were founded in 1932 (back then known as the Boston Braves) and have been around ever since. So what’s the issue? Well, if the name hasn’t already tipped you off, have a look at the logo:

Redskins

Or the mascot:

chief-zee2

The Washington Redskins are not unique. They represent one of several professional sports teams (looking at you, Cleveland Indians) with, frankly, poor choice in their name. For the sake of today’s article: let’s focus on Washington. What’s the big deal? Who cares if they are called the Redskins? Indeed a very recent poll (2013) showed that 79% of Americans felt that the name was fine and that Washington should keep it. Well if the majority thinks its the right thing to do than who cares?

There are worse logos.
There are worse logos.

This is why I hate the term “political correctness”, more often than not it can be written as “what group(s) are okay to make fun of, what groups are not?” Let’s try some name suggestions: the Delaware Dykes, The Hampton Housewives, The Philadelphia Faggots, The Notre Dame Fighting Irish (this one is real), and the Nebraska Negroes. Were those names offensive: yep. Okay, new question: why the f*ck is the name “Washington Redskins” okay?

The term “redskin” began as a racial slur against Native Americans back when European settlers were still colonizing America. It enjoyed it’s height of use in the 18th and 19th centuries before fading away (no longer “politically correct”). At it’s base, the word is a racial slur (red skin) but was also used denote the “primitive” dress and culture of the Native Americans. Essentially this word is a two-for-two, debasing someone based on what they look like and how they live (aren’t words great?).

I guess the best way to put it is this: if you were walking home alone one night and saw a stranger of Native American descent walking toward you, would you feel comfortable calling out: “How’s it going, redskin?”

Apparently, 79% of Americans think it’s okay. Let’s count some numbers. Right now there are roughly 313.9 million people in the United States. That’s estimated, the last full census was conducted in 2000. Of that number, 2.8% of the entire population identified as “American Indian”. They couldn’t influence a poll if they tried.

800px-Census-2000-Data-Top-US-Ancestries-by-County.svg

I’m going to guess that most of that 79% were not “American Indians”. Makes a bit more sense now, doesn’t it? Do I personally (as a white male) really find the word “redskin” offensive to me. No. It doesn’t deliver any kind of impact. However, that whole wonderful notion of progress dictates that, for the greater societal good, I look beyond my own apathy to empathize with other people (some of whom do not share my cultural background). This is what needs to happen with the Washington Redskins.

Human beings do not like to change traditions, even if the tradition is horrible. Take a look at slavery, one of the worst crimes in humanity: 625,000 people (in the United States alone) had to die in order to lose that tradition. That’s not to say that slavery didn’t exist for over 200 years (again, just in the U.S.) before people finally acted. Was it worth it: yeah, racism still exists but slavery is gone. That’s progress.

Luckily, there is no institution remaining that is as overtly inhuman as slavery. However, people are still human. A lot of us are way too okay (and self-justifying) about treating others in really unfair and cruel ways. I include myself in this bashing, so I’m trying not to preach.

20121207-225414

My point is this: nothing will be lost in changing the Washington Redskins’ name. At the end of the day who cares, it is the name of a freaking football team. So IF there is even a chance that it might be offending say, a whole group of people, why not change it? Think of the merchandising opportunities (you greedy bastards). Think of what one small gesture like that might mean to the remaining Native American community (sorry for the whole ‘murdering your culture thing’, I guess we can change our sports teams’ names. You know we spoil you). Think of it like this: “tradition” or “the way its always been” is one of the poorest, most self-justifying excuses there is for: we don’t want to change, even if it bothers other people.

For the record: I don’t think the Washington Redskins organization is racist or bigoted in any way. The driving emotion of this issue is apathy. Who cares if a few Native Americans write letters and complain? The vast majority of the non-Native American population doesn’t mind.

Let’s be more than “politically correct” on this one.