Category Archives: racism

The Artist and the Art

person with body painting
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on

How much do we owe the artist for creating art? And when I say art, I mean not just paintings and sculptures, but music and lyrics and books and films and podcasts and TV shows and more – you know, the things we can’t live without, according to a recent meme. What do we owe the people who create?

Respect. First, we should acknowledge that what they do is worthwhile. Life would be a lot less interesting – and meaningful – without all those things I just mentioned. And I’m not just talking Art with a capital A here. I’m including people who write trashy novels and sing pop songs and paint sad clowns. There are people who like those things and enjoy them. Who am I to judge? (I don’t include people who script so-called “reality” TV. Those people aren’t artists, even if their audiences love them. So I guess I do judge, some.)

Money. Making art takes time and as we all know, time is money. Making art takes skill, and we pay for that too. Making art takes practice, which is another expenditure of time.

Too many people try to cheap out on art. They try to haggle over price, or claim that they (or a monkey) could do it as well (then why don’t they?) or offer to “collaborate” and split the proceeds with the artist who does the work. Do you haggle with your plumber? That takes time and skill and practice too and makes your life more liveable.

Funding. Sadly, few people make a living making art. (I am lucky to know a few who do.) For the rest, there are few sources of income, other than a “day job,” which saps one’s energy and the time needed to make art. There are some sources of funding, such as the National Endowment for the Arts and not-for-profit outlets like National Public Radio and PBS. But when budget cuts need to be made, these public- and government-funded efforts are usually the first to be gutted. Let’s acknowledge that they serve an important purpose and need our support, even if pledge drives are annoying.

Absolution? Here’s the question. Do we owe an artist our attention if he or she has a quality or does something in personal life of which we don’t approve?

Of course, for example, if you don’t approve of swearing, you can choose not to give your money to novelists or filmmakers or comedians who sprinkle f-bombs liberally in what they create. You don’t enjoy that and that’s cool.

But what if you disagree with an artist politically, socially, or religiously? Does that make their art any less valid? Some of the people who make glorious, memorable art have done vile things or hold beliefs repugnant to some. How do we measure that against their art?

If an artist indulges in hate speech or racism or homophobia, that’s a perfectly valid reason to dislike him or her. But is it a reason to say that the person’s work no longer has value? Should a person’s vile behavior toward women or gay people (to use but two examples) end his or her career? Maybe. But does it devalue the work already done? There are certainly differing opinions and of course we must make our own choices about whom to support with our money or votes.

But is left-wing or right-wing ideology enough to make us boycott a person’s art? Do you go to see a film that has a person in it who disagrees with you politically?

Personally, I can no longer view the movie M*A*S*H with the enjoyment I once did because of the infamous shower scene, and I even squick at certain scenes in Young Frankenstein, one of my favorite films, because they make light of rape. But I can’t deny that they are great films and I don’t boycott the works of their creators.

What should we think about the flawed artist? Do we call them out for racism or sexism, for example, or continue to enjoy their art? Or somehow manage to do both? Perhaps we can no longer enter into that person’s art with the joy that we once did, or perhaps we might prefer not to expose children to such ideas (though they will surely encounter them in real life). But do we give a pass to someone whose work means a lot to us? Or do we hold everyone to the same ideal standards?

I think that it’s good that we are reexamining and discussing our attitudes about art and artists in the larger world, and examining our feelings about their behavior. But I still think that local, regional, and unknown artists deserve our support. We generally know nothing of their private lives and can’t judge them that way. Does the guy who plays guitar so well at open mike night cheat on his wife? Does the local food blogger sneer at her trans neighbor? Our communities don’t have the power of Hollywood’s searchlight. All we usually know of local creators is their art and whether we find it great, good, mediocre, or bad.

Even the making of mediocre or bad art is worthwhile. One can always get better with practice. And sometimes people can become better human beings with practice. Not often, perhaps, but I’ve seen it happen.


What’s With All the Crazies? Are They Crazy?

Yes. Yes, they are.

And no, they’re not.

I say yes, because so many political extremists out there are acting, well, crazy.

And you can define  “crazies” any way you want – alt-right, alt-left (two handy meaning-free terms), in-office, out-of-office, politicians, your Facebook friends, your Uncle Ned, whatever. We’ll just leave out for the moment the tin-foil hat squad.

Whoever your opponents are, there’s more than a fair chance that some of them are acting irrational, delusional – some variety of crazy. Is it crazy to run down peaceful protestors? Yes. Is it crazy to still be battling over the outcome of an election that happened close to a year ago? Yes. Is it crazy to carry rifles in Walmart? Yes. Is it crazy to spend news air time on the First Lady’s shoes? Yes.

Most of all, though, people are acting paranoid. Everyone on the “other” side is out to get us, destroy America, or at least scare the pants off us. Conspiracy theories abound. And nearly all of them are crazy. (I wrote about this a short while ago:

And paranoid means crazy, right? (Unless, as the saying goes, “they” are out to get you.)

Well, not actually. “Paranoid” is a clinical term from psychology, and it has a specific meaning: Paranoid Personality Disorder is an actual psychiatric condition, manifested by, among other things, “generally unfounded beliefs, as well as … habits of blame and distrust, [which] might interfere with their ability to form close relationships,” as WebMD says.

Those traits your political or social opponents may have, but most of them don’t also:

  • Read hidden meanings in the innocent remarks or casual looks of others
  • Perceive attacks on their character that are not apparent to others; they generally react with anger and are quick to retaliate
  • Have recurrent suspicions, without reason, that their spouses or lovers are being unfaithful

The fact is that none of us (except perhaps psychiatrists) can diagnose a person as paranoid or any other variety of mentally ill without having met the person and performing detailed interviews and tests (I’ve written about this too:

So, if by “crazy” we mean “mentally ill,” then no, the political and social “crazies” are not “crazy” as a group. Their tweets and posts and dinner table conversation are simply not enough to declare them mentally ill.

This is also true of public figures. We can say that Donald Trump, to choose an example not entirely at random, has narcissistic traits, or is a narcissist in the garden-variety meaning of the word, but we cannot say that he has Narcissistic Personality Disorder, an actual clinical diagnosis. We may think he’s crazy, but we can’t say whether he’s mentally ill.

Our readiness to label people, both our acquaintances and public figures, with loose pseudo-psychiatric terms raises a number of problems, particularly stigma.

Labeling is a convenient way to dismiss a person who disagrees with you without listening to what he or she has to say, or considering the possible validity of an argument or even a statement of fact. He’s a Southerner; of course he’s a racist. She’s a liberal; of course she’s a snowflake. If we can apply a label, we can make an assumption about a person that may or may not be true. (It can also lead us into “Not all X are Y” arguments, which are seldom productive.)

Stigma comes with the label “crazy” or mentally ill. People with diagnosed mental disorders are too often assumed to be violent, out-of-control, homicidal (or suicidal) maniacs – and therefore not worth listening to, despite the fact that their cognitive abilities are generally not impaired.

As for terrorists, they are in common understanding automatically mentally ill, so anyone you label as a terrorist is automatically insane. And we’re far from agreeing who is and is not a terrorist. (Antifa? Greenpeace? The NRA? The DAR?)

So, bottom line. “Those” people may be crazies, may act crazy, talk crazy, believe crazy things, but it is not accurate or helpful to call them crazies. I know I’ll catch hell for this. But I’m not being an apologist for reprehensible behavior.  I just think that how we talk about people affects how we treat them. And that matters.

Now, as for the tin foil hat squad, they’re mostly harmless. Let’s leave them alone.





The Last Eight Years: Things That Didn’t Happen

After the stress of the last eight months or so, we may be tempted to forget what happened in the last eight years – and what didn’t.

I just want to point out:
• No one outlawed guns. This has been predicted every single year during the last eight. If it hasn’t happened yet, it’s always bound to tomorrow. But in fact, even when there is a national tragedy involving guns, various half-assed solutions get batted about (along with thoughts and prayers), but no one with the power to do so ever suggests outlawing guns.
• No one took away everyone’s guns. The corollary. It sounds all gutsy and macho to say that no one will ever take your guns. But think for a minute. Even if this were the law, how would it be enforced? Would jack-booted thugs go from door to door, saying, “Give us all your guns, or else!” There aren’t enough jack-booted thugs in the country, not to mention who would be crazy enough to sign up for that particular duty?
• There were no death panels. If you want to stretch a point, we have the same death panels we’ve always had – faceless insurance bureaucrats who get to approve or disapprove drugs, treatments, and procedures. But government committees who get to decide whether to pull the plug on Granny? No. Just no.
• There were no FEMA reeducation camps. Again, the infrastructure to do this would be impossible: building the camps, rounding up all the ideologically incorrect, recruiting re-educators. Like the Democrats could get that organized. Don’t tell me it happened in Nazi Germany. Reeducation camps didn’t happen here, with eight years to get them rolling. And when there were Japanese internment camps, the U.S. had to apologize and pay reparations. Speaking of which…
• White people did not have to pay slave reparations. Can you imagine getting this past the Supreme Court (as it would surely be challenged), given the conservative majority and decisions like Citizens United and the gutting of the Voting Rights Act? Can you imagine the tax revolt that would ensue? It’s little wonder that no one even suggested this, much less tried to accomplish it.
• No one attacked Texas via tunnels under Walmart. C’mon, people. Get serious. Not even Tom Clancy or Jerry Bruckheimer would buy this premise. It wouldn’t even make a good summer action thriller, much less actually happen.
• No state seceded. They didn’t during the last eight years, and they’re not going to now. For one thing, that was the spark for the actual Civil War, and no one has time or resources for another one now (although it might make a dent in the unemployment problem). The facts are that any state that seceded, besides being in open rebellion against the government, would lose all their federal subsidies, grants, and other monies, leaving the state to fill in the gaps. Massive state tax increases would surely ensue, and you know how well that would go over.
• Secret weather machines and chemtrails have not affected us. Again, c’mon. We’re into tin foil hat and James Bond supervillain territory. All we need is a fluffy white cat with green eyes to look down its nose at us. Besides, government scientists are too busy responding to Zika mosquito and Ebola threats.
• Osama bin Laden is not still hiding in a cave. Nope. Still dead. (Personally, I think Obama’s press secretary should have had him open every press conference with this.)
• The country did not become a dictatorship run by czars. Looking back on the last eight years, does anyone really believe the Democrats could have pushed through a dictatorship, czar-run or otherwise? Oh, wait, Obama was supposed to do that with the stroke of a pen by canceling elections. Did that happen while we weren’t looking? Or while I was standing in line for an hour to vote?

Doesn’t anyone feel the least bit silly?

I’d say that now we’re going to see similar fears and threat assessments from the liberals, but they don’t have Frank Luntz, linguistic spin doctor extraordinaire, on their side. Can America ride out the new administration the way it did the last one? There may be – will be – have been – incidents of hate and violence and ugliness. There will certainly be protest movements (though I hope they pick a better name than “teabaggers”). Neighbors and families and politicians are not going to get together, hold hands, and sing “Kumbayah.”

But we got through the last eight divisive years. And the eight divisive years before that. I know many people fear mass deportations, internment camps, and war, either civil or nuclear. Are those fears reasonable? Will they come to pass?

Meet me back here in four years.

Weeding Followers, Friends, and Fans

Name-calling. Shaming. Trolls. Hate speech. Threats. Doxxing. These are increasingly common on the internet.

They are also problems I don’t have, given the relatively few Facebook friends I have, the relative civility of most of them, and the relatively slow growth of my blogs.

Personally, I have only ever blocked a couple of people on Facebook, one for use of the “n-word.” I don’t often post about controversial topics on my timeline, though I’m sure people can figure out my general leanings from the things I do post and the comments I make on others’ posts. I accept friend requests from people I know, who are on all points of the political and social continuum. Some of my friends and I disagree totally on, and stay away from discussing, sensitive issues.

But I thought it would be worthwhile to take a look at how other people handle such problems.

First, let’s look at someone whose situation is similar to mine: a private citizen, Georgianna, who has unfriended and been unfriended. She says that what has pushed her over the edge at times is situations like this:

On posts I made about shootings of unarmed blacks by cops, [the person in question] kept commenting things like why do they riot and why do they run if they’re not guilty. I ignored those. The final straw was when I posted about Cecil the Lion and he commented what about all the babies murdered by abortion. His posts were off topic, annoying, and displayed stupidity. I was done.

I guess I just got tired of folks highjacking my posts for their own purposes and not adding substance.

Fair enough. I think that sums up most people’s experiences. But what about more public figures who regularly discuss – indeed, argue about, promote, or decry – volatile topics?

Tom Smith is a professional singer/songwriter with a modest-by-national-standards but impressive-in-certain-circles following. His songs and his Facebook posts clearly show a progressive/liberal bent. Among his friends and followers are a rather large number of highly opinionated people (I am one of them), and the comments on his posts can run into the hundreds.

Because he began fearing for his blood pressure, Tom established Rules covering comments and what would get a person blocked.

1: BE POLITE DAMMIT. You don’t have to be polite to whatever person or persons are the subject(s) of the original post, although I will not tolerate name-calling or crude sexual insults or fat-shaming or anything like that. But, by damn, you WILL be polite to your fellow commenters. You are all guests at a party at my place, and I don’t like it when my friends fight, especially IN MY FRONT ROOM.
2. Facts. Back up any assertions with facts — to credible sources, please., anything associated with Fox “News”, The Weekly Standard, anything by Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Pam Geller, Michelle Malkin, Michael Savage, Sean Hannity, or Bill O’Reilly are ESPECIALLY right out. They are known, proven liars and nutbar conspiracy theorists. If you got it off Reddit or Free Republic or Townhall or someplace like that… get some confirmation from the damn New York Times or Washington Post or CNN or BBC.
3. I reiterate: no sexual shaming. No fat “jokes”. No ethnic jokes. (Yeah, I know a shitload of ’em. Some people just take them wrong). Nothing that you think might be triggery. You can swear your head off, if that’s your style — it certainly is my style sometimes. But, basically, if you have to stop and ask yourself if it might really offend someone, there’s a decent chance it will. Use your words, and find a different way to phrase it.
4. Did I mention facts? Whatever you think you know about climate change, Planned Parenthood, Benghazi, Obama’s birth certificate, or the wonderful benefits of fracking, there’s a good chance you have at least some misinformation. No, not that site. No, not that one either. Science denial will get you Blocked faster than two days of eating peanut butter.

Recently, Tom has (quite sensibly, in my opinion) moved his political postings to a separate page called Political Noise (, where he has basically the same rules as above, but has also articulated this:

If conversations go off the rails, if people are snarling at each other and no one’s going to change each other’s minds, I will step in and say ENOUGH. When that happens, THE THREAD IS CLOSED AND I EXPECT YOU TO STOP COMMENTING. We’ve reached the loud, circular phase of the argument, and it’s time to let it go and move on.

If someone is being a particular jerk about things, I may hit you with the Ban Hammer and say BUH-BYE. Usually, this is just for a couple of days. If you’re a really special snowflake, however, it may be permanent.

He adds: “Anybody got a problem with that? Tough. My wall, my rules. Now. Go forth and play nice.”

As of a few days ago, Tom’s main Facebook page is reserved for personal updates and musings, his professional page (  for his music, and the new page for political/social opinions.

Then there’s Jim Wright, widely known writer, blogger, Navy veteran, and unrepentant curmudgeon, whose website Stonekettle Station ( and Facebook page are platforms for his strongly worded and often iconoclastic views. He has maxed out the number of Facebook friends allowed. His rules (which I asked permission to quote, so don’t bother reporting me to him):

Things that get you booted off my Facebook page:
1. Acting like an asshole.
2. Acting like an ignorant asshole.
3. Acting like an asshole to other commenters.
4. Acting like a condescending asshole by explaining to other commenters “what Jim ‘really’ meant.”
If you act in this manner, you will be summarily removed. Period. There will be no warning given ….
Addendum: You get booted, DON’T email me begging an explanation, forgiveness and/or reinstatement. I already gave your slot away. If you don’t want to get booted, don’t act like an asshole. If you’re not sure what I consider acting like an asshole is, then err well on the side of caution. I am not going to argue about this.

Jim has also been known to publicly mock any truly and/or amusingly stupid comments, tweets, or messages, and, under certain circumstances, to send forth his “minions” to do likewise.

Another Famous Writer weeds out friend requests in advance. Apparently he goes to your home page and looks at whether you post cat photos and pass-alongs from Upworthy and Buzzfeed. I quit trying. I like cat photos and sometimes find Upworthy and Buzzfeed interesting. If that rules me out for his roster of friends, so be it. I have plenty of friends who follow things that I consider dopey. Then again, I’m not even within shouting distance of the Facebook friend limit.

All things considered, I am glad not to be even a semi-public figure (except insofar as my blogs make me one, which is not very far at all) – and glad to have non-troll friends, however opinionated.

Post-Feminism: Back to the Future

Now that we’ve got the marriage equality question settled for all time (1), I think it’s time we turned to a brand-new, never-before-contemplated issue of social concern – women’s rights.

That’s right. We women want rights.

What rights, you ask?

Well, I dunno. There are so many.

The right to fair wages. The right to be believed when reporting a rape. The right not to be abused by a partner and to get something more than a restraining order that doesn’t work. The right to affordable, good-quality child care. The right to be represented in groups that make decisions about women. The right to have children or not, as we decide. The right to health care, mental health care, places in homeless shelters. The right not to be assaulted by fellow service members.

I could go on. So could you, I bet.

But, just as we’re now living in a post-racial society (2), I’m told we’re living in a post-feminist society.(3)

I’ve also heard that one of the reasons the Terrifying Gay Agenda (4) is having such current success is that they found a specific issue to organize around – marriage equality. Not “Treat Us Like Human Beings” or “Don’t Discriminate in Jobs and Housing” or “We Want Equal Rights.”

And those are some of the problems with the women’s movement – we’re not organized, we don’t have just one issue that we can knock off the list above, and “Change Society” is too vague.

So let’s narrow it down to one. For myself, I’d like to be mentioned in the U.S. Constitution. And that means the Equal Rights Amendment.(5) All we have to do, according to the experts at, since the one proposed in 1972 was passed (6), is just get enough states to ratify it to put us over the top – three whole states.

The ones that haven’t ratified are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, and Virginia. I figure Illinois is a good place to start. Then, I don’t know – Nevada? North Carolina? Virginia? What do you think?

But let’s do it. Then see what happens with all those other issues. I’m betting the ERA will have a good effect on many of them, and more besides.(7)

What’s that? It isn’t a good time to bring up women’s rights? The climate in the country isn’t conducive to the issue? There’s no chance of it happening?

Well, was it a good time to bring up marriage equality? Was the climate of the public discussion in favor of that? Was the country ready for it? Take a look at all the strict constitutionalists scrambling to figure out a way to defy the Constitution (8), and you tell me.

And to those who say that it’s an empty gesture, that an Equal Rights Amendment will make no real difference in women’s lives, think about what happened once black people were mentioned in that foundational document. No, it didn’t change everything for the better right away. But it sure got the ball rolling.

And I don’t know about you, but I sure would like to see some ball-rolling on behalf of women.(9)

(1) *snerk*
(2) *snerk* again
(3) I had a t-shirt that said “I’ll be post-feminist in the post-patriarchy.” My husband and I both wore it until you couldn’t see the letters anymore. I’d get another one if I could remember what catalog we found it in.
(4) As the joke goes, it includes brunch at 11:30, decorating committee at 4:00, and a dance at 9:00. It’s probably the dance that terrifies people.
(5) Here’s the full text:

Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

Fifty-two whole words. Scary, isn’t it?
(6) Yes, the ERA actually passed, although almost no one remembers this. It was the ratifying that did it in.
(7) Back in the day, when the ERA came around the last time, it was sneeringly referred to by some as the Equal Restrooms Amendment. Which is actually a topic that still needs addressing. Women’s bathrooms in public buildings need more stalls than men’s to achieve parity. Women need a stall for each excretory (and hygiene) function. Men conserve space using urinals; for some unfathomable reason, they’re willing to pee without walls and doors.
(8) And/or the Supreme Court. And/or the President, for that matter. Anything mentioned in the Constitution, really, except the Second Amendment.
(9) yet more *snerk*

Whitewashing: Where’s the Line?

Native American Iron Eyes Cody touched the conscience of America when he appeared in the iconic “crying Indian” anti-litter campaign.

One problem: He wasn’t a Native American named Iron Eyes Cody. He was Tony Corti, a white American born of Sicilian parents.

Nowadays we call that “whitewashing” – hiring white actors to portray Asians, Native Americans, or other races or ethnicities. It is a practice that has outlived its day and is decried as an insult as grievous as blackface and minstrel shows.

Take Mr. Yunioshi, the character in Breakfast at Tiffany‘s, played by Mickey Rooney – he’s not funny and is offensive to everyone of Japanese ancestry.

But where do we draw the line?

When Jennifer Lawrence was hired to play Katniss Everdeen in the film The Hunger Games, there was grumbling that she required makeup to darken her skin to the olive shade specified in the book.

Was that whitewashing? Couldn’t they have hired an actor with naturally olive skin to play the role? Almost certainly.

But where’s the offense? Actors wear makeup all the time to perform their roles on stage and screen. Also wigs, hair color, padding, breast implants, cotton balls in their cheeks, prosthetics, and digital edited everything. David Carradine (6’1″) played Woody Guthrie (5’7″) in Bound for Glory, before the days when camera angles and special effects could make Legolas taller than Gimli.

Couldn’t the casting agents have found actors that had the “right” hair color, breast size, facial contours, height, plus the requisite acting talent?

Sure they could.

I mean, I get it. Height, hair color, and so forth are superficial physical traits, not cultural or racial identities. Halloween costume that misappropriate cultures (“Seductive Squaw,” “Harem Girl”), ethnicities (“Tequila Shooter Dude”), and even religion (“Rasta Imposta”) are just another appalling example of insensitivity and racism as inaccurate as stereotypical or whitewashed portrayals on film.

Opinions may be changing, though race in movies is still controversial. Black American actor Louis Gossett, Jr., played Anwar Sadat (half-black, half-Arab) on film and the only notable complaints were from Egyptians. But there was pushback against lighter-skinned Afro-Latina actor Zoe Saldana playing the very dark-skinned black singer Nina Simone in a biopic.

(Surprisingly, I found during my research that Sir Ben Kingsley was not a totally inappropriate choice for the title role in Gandhi. He’s part-Indian and his birth name is Krishna Pandit Bhanji.)

While, we’re on the subject, what about voice-washing? Does it exist under somewhat the same umbrella as whitewashing? Isn’t there a real Polish-speaking actress who could have played in Sophie’s Choice? A Danish woman for Out of Africa? Meryl Streep is the go-to actress for “foreign” accents. Maybe you get a pass if you’re a mega-star.

And how about a little accuracy in accents, while we’re at it? Not all Southern accents are alike. The speech of a Texan, a Georgian, and a Louisianan are not interchangeable, yet we see movies all the time set in the southern U.S. with actors speaking in a hodgepodge of different “Southern” accents.

Listen, I’m just saying that the conversation over whitewashing may not be as simple as it at first seems. Terrible things have been done to Native American persons and culture on film, from farcical stereotypes to accepting Italian or Hispanic substitutes for Native actors under the theory, I suppose, that brown skin is brown skin, and even olive isn’t too far off with a little help from Maybelline.

Admitting that Katniss Everdeen and Mr. Yunioshi represent opposite ends of a spectrum would be a place to start, though.