I’d like to teach the world to sing …

By now you’ve likely seen and debated the Heinken ad that seems to exist to show Pepsi how social responsibility is done, to show all of us how world peace can be achieved.

You’re not wrong if you’re hearing disdain in there. Maybe you’ve also seen DiDi Delgado’s piece that talks about why this ad sucks.

I agree with Delgado, but I was also totally taken in at first. I want to believe in this ad, in what this ad is trying to sell me (in addition to a cold one). This ad wants me to believe in people’s ability to treat each other with human kindness, wants me to believe when people who have diametrically opposing views are brought together and given the chance to interact one on one, magic will happen. When they face each other in these one-to-one ways, when they see each other as people, the ad assures us, even people with views as extreme as the folks in this ad can see one another’s humanity and treat each other with human kindness and good will. Better still,  the ad suggests that this ability to see an individual’s humanity is the secret sauce, the magic elixir that will change how we look at and treat larger groups of people, whole categories of people.

I want to believe that. I truly, kind of desperately want to believe that. And that’s how the ad suckered me. Of course I want to believe that, so of course I liked this ad when I first watched it. It was almost irresistible. Look how those random, opposing-view-holding, nice English people got their acts together and shared a beer! The world can be saved! Praise be!

Um, no.

I liked this ad, but it also made me incredibly uncomfortable. And, ultimately, made me angry.

My issue with the ad isn’t, as one friend suggested, that there aren’t enough “this type against that type” pairings. They’d have had to make far too many of these ads to cover every possible high-profile, opposing-view pairing. As I said to my friend, however, I think they were cowardly to leave out big-ticket items like anti-Semitism and racism, though I get why they didn’t take them on. The number or type of pairings isn’t why this ad is terrible.

Delgado’s excellent point about “putting regressive ideology on equal footing with progressive ideology” is right on the money. The false equivalencies set up in these pairings is awful. The hateful comments of the transphobic and misogynist men are given to us and we’re supposed to see their comments and beliefs as perfectly acceptable, alternative ideas, we’re supposed to see their comments as the same as a) a woman talking about the need for equality and equity and b) a woman simply stating that she exists. There is no equivalence here. Not even a little, tiny one you can only find with a microscope. No.

We’re supposed to set aside our feelings about the hate these men spew because we see that, oh, hey, they seem like nice guys! Sure. They are nice guys … who believe horrible, horrible things and surely make decisions and treat people according to those awful beliefs – how many women have had to deal with that man’s misogyny in their interactions with him at work or when they’ve tried to be in a relationship with him? The prejudices these men reveal aren’t the equivalent of the thoughts expressed by the women they are paired with – the transgender woman isn’t espousing any view at all. She is simply stating who she is and expecting to be able to live her life. There’s no opposing view for this pair, just one prejudiced person paired with the kind of person the are prejudiced against. Not a shred of equivalency there. These two pairings are harmful and ugly.

Harmful and ugly. And there’s the other false equivalence. We’re supposed to see these pairings as equal to the climate change pairing, and they aren’t. The two men with their opposing ideas and beliefs about climate change are giving their opinions about an idea that isn’t about them as people. The misogynist is talking about women, about people, not about a theory or concept or scientific finding. He’s saying he doesn’t believe in the agency, autonomy, or humanity of a whole group of people.  The transphobic man is talking about people, not about a theory or concept or scientific finding. He’s saying he doesn’t believe in the existence or the right to existence of a whole group of people. Neither of these positions is in any way like not believing climate science.

The other false equivalence is the pairing of women with men being set up as equal to the two-men pairing. Let’s not pretend it is. Particularly not with the men chosen for the mixed pairs. From the first go, from the second both women duck their heads and let the men move into the space first, those pairs aren’t the same as the climate change pair. And when the drink-or-ditch moment comes, both women step up right away because they are “nice,” and perhaps because of gender-based pressure to be nice. That’s what we’ve been conditioned to be, it’s our role in social situations, particularly those involving men.

And finally we have the big reveal. When that moment comes, yes the climate change guy is surprised by what he hears his build-a-bar partner saying, but he isn’t worried, isn’t afraid. The women are both clearly uncomfortable, and their discomfort seems to come from a place of concern for personal, physical safety. That moment seems especially awful for the trans woman. Who knows how that transphobic man will respond?

And the “joke” the transphobe plays. It makes for good film, but I can’t imagine the pain that joke caused the woman. It only takes a second for that feeling of rejection to hit, that realization that someone who’s been perfectly nice to you is now repulsed by and turning away from you. Heh. Some joke.

And I’m annoyed by the fact that it seems clear who is expected to have the bad reaction and possibly leave in each pair. The person who is (set up to look) intolerant is assumed to be the wildcard, we don’t know what they’ll do. We assume the other person (who is set up to look like the better person) will be open and conciliatory, ready to have conversation, even with someone who’s just been revealed to have problematic, dangerous, hateful opinions. It annoys me because that is always what’s expected. We are supposed to be open minded, see the other side, listen to what the opposition has to say. And while we may often be the person willing to listen, that’s not always the case and also puts pressure on us to have more open-mindedness than other folks, to leave ourselves in potentially-dangerous situations for the sake of being nice, or polite, or reasonable.

So everyone stays and shares some time over beers. It’s a beautiful thing. Of course it is. The climate denier blowhard decides everything’s fine because he can have a drink with a stranger. The misogynist says, “Smash the patriarchy.” The transphobe gets the nice woman to exchange numbers with him — and immediately makes clear that he is taken, so don’t get any ideas.

It’s not hard to believe that people can get along one on one. It’s not surprising or magic. At my old job, I had to moderate a community meeting in which a lot of angry white people stood up and said hateful things about the immigrants who had begun to outnumber them in the neighborhood, but when I saw those same hatemongers on the street, I’d often see them chatting quite pleasantly with their Chinese, Yemeni, Mexican, Bangladeshi, or Palestinian neighbors — in one case, playing sweetly with a neighbor’s children. Them having good relationships with the people they knew individually didn’t stop them from hating the groups of people those individuals were part of. I’ve seen this with people I know saying unbelievably racist things to me … and then assuring me that they don’t think of me that way. Liking me as a person didn’t stop them from hating Black people. It just made them think I was an exception to the rule.

Coke wanted to unite us with song, Pepsi with a reality TV star. Now we get arts and crafts with beer. I am irked by the tied-with-a-nice-bow conclusion this ad presents to us and wants us to believe, the completely unrealistic idea that we’d all get along if we could just sit and share a beer. Never mind that I don’t like beer. My life will not be long enough for all the one-on-one drinks that would be required to affect real change. And I’m annoyed by how much I wanted to believe and so let myself be taken in, no matter how briefly.

I’m also annoyed by how quick folks have been to tell me my criticism is wrong, that I should “be happy” because at least Heineken tried. This is part and parcel of the marinated-in-white-tears complaint that folks should get a pass if they’ve tried, that telling them their attempt hasn’t worked makes it less likely that they will try again because we haven’t given them any credit for their messed up attempt, haven’t given them time to bask in the warm sunshine of our love and praise.

Yeah, that.

Look. This is life, not everyone-gets-a-hit little league. I have neither the time nor the inclination to pat people on the back when what they’ve done is make a hash of things.

In an attempt to do something good, something clearly much more carefully conceived and executed than the Pepsi ad, Heineken has, instead, put out something patently disturbing and dangerous. Would “greater progress on ideal scenarios” — as someone in my mentions accused me of wanting — be desirable? Of course they would, but I’d be happy with “first do no harm,” and this ad does harm. An entity with worldwide reach put something harmful into the world. And that’s a) a problem, b) fair game for honest criticism, and c) not something to be overlooked simply because we assume the intent was good.

People have also felt the need to tell me how I should respond to this ad, as if the problem isn’t with the ad but with me being too ignorant to understand what I should be seeing when I watch it. As if.

I was told that I should “recognize it for what it is. Be happy it wasn’t just a callous money grab. That they’re at least TRYING to get it right.”

Yes, well, see above about the back-patting and how inclined I am. And, too, do you really not think this was a money grab? Also, no. It’s not acceptable for anyone to be telling me how I should consume or respond to … well … anything. Punto. And really, this harkens back to the anger that flooded my mentions when I had the nerve to admit that folks wearing safety pins didn’t make me feel happy or supported or more safe. As a general rule, when a marginalized person — particularly one from a group that is presumed to benefit from the behavior or change in question — tells you, “Hey, there’s something wrong here, something is making me uncomfortable,” your response shouldn’t be to tell that person to shut up, to tell them how they should be responding, to tell them how very appreciative they should be that someone wanted to do anything for them, no matter how flawed the finished product turned out to be.

It is important for us to acknowledge when folks get things right, when they try to do something productive and helpful. But, if we ever want folks to actually get it right, criticism is necessary . Without criticism, the people who made that ad only hear praise, get to think they did it 100% correctly, that there’s no need for improvement, no need for them to learn how to do this work better. I’m not interested in patting people on the back because their intention was good. I have, in fact, no idea what their intention was, other than to interest me in buying their beer. I can only judge what they’ve shown me, and what they’ve shown me is extremely flawed and troubling.

So no thank you to anyone who wants to tell me how to respond, how to feel. I’ll keep feeling and speaking and responding in the ways that work for me, in the ways that can foster actual change rather than silencing myself because people want to feel good about a beer commercial.

Oh, I fell off the wagon completely on this essay challenge, what? But I’m back, friends. I’m back. I’m miles behind, but I’m determined to catch myself up. Sadly, it seems the world is determined to provide me with things to get pissed off about, so there should be some solid essay fodder in all that mess. Welcome to the ride. ❤

And today, in Fear of a Black Planet News …

Today, we have the reality of Black people accused of all kinds of nonsense simply for pointing their fingers.  Here’s a snippet from the HuffPo piece:


High School Students Jordan And Juwaun Jackson

In early 2014, the Sheboygan Press did a feature on Jordan, Juwaun and Jamal Jackson, three African-American brothers who had recently moved to the local Wisconsin school district and played on the basketball team. The photo that accompanied the story eventually led to the suspension of Jordan and Juwaun after one police liaison officer contacted Sheboygan Falls’ liaison officer to express concern that the brothers might have been flashing gang signs. Police said that the hand sign being used by Jordan — who is on the far left — is associated with the Bloods. In fact, it’s a hand gesture used by many NBA players to note a three-point shot. Juwaun said “he was simply gesturing at himself and the camera in a playful manner.” The brothers’ suspension was eventually lifted, and the editor of the paper said he was dumbfounded at the “ugly turn” taken by the community over what was meant to be a “positive story.”


This isn’t new news, of course. Black people having the audacity to use their hands expressively is often frightening. I’ve used my own big hands in ways that have upset others. Walking in my old neighborhood a few weeks ago, I waved at a woman who used to be my upstairs neighbor. She was about a quarter of a block away from me. I waved. I waved again. When I got near enough to speak, I greeted her by name. We had never been close friends, but we spoke — beyond saying a casual “hello” in the hall — at least four times a week for several years. When I called her name, she did a curious jolt and rearranged her distressed face into one showing recognition. I said, “I guess you didn’t see me waving.” Even though she’d been looking right at me, I can imagine her being so in her thoughts that she didn’t see me. Here’s where I have to commend her honesty. Her response? “I saw you. I didn’t know how to read that hand gesture.”

Um, what? Has no one ever waved at you? How sad. How lackluster your days must be with no one approaching you with a common, possibly-universal sign of greeting. But she didn’t know how to read my hand gesture. Right. I had forgotten about that ridiculous moment until my friend Pamela sent me the link to this article this morning.

But really, none of this is new. Surely we haven’t forgotten one of the more famous “I didn’t know how to read that hand gesture” moments in recent history, E.D. Hill and the so-called “terrorist fist jab” of 2008:

But clearly, if Black people use their hands for anything other than participating in team sports collecting welfare checks, being handcuffed … we’re trouble.


This level of knee-jerk fear may not be surprising, but it still troubles me. It’s one more step in the unceasing march of criminalizing all Black behavior. If I dance, it’s dangerous. If I show that I’m happy about something, it’s dangerous. If I vote, it’s dangerous. If I use slang, it’s dangerous. If I drive an expensive car, it’s dangerous. If I try to run a country, change healthcare law, keep an economy from dying a rapid death … it’s dangerous.

The fact is, there are few things Black people can do without scaring the crap out of people. When I write posts that fall into this category, I often wind down with some version of, “I’m tired.” I am tired. When does this get so old it dies? How do we push it over the edge and out of our national consciousness? I don’t have answers. I do have, however, a terrorist fist jab I’d love to land in the face of these foolish people:



Folks who want to tell me Hill’s comment — or any of the nonsense detailed in the HuffPo piece — isn’t about race, isn’t about FoaBP, please watch this montage first:

And the Daily Kos piece.

Hail to the V, indeed.

Finally I understand. Finally someone has shed light on a biological question that has plagued me for years. Thanks to Missouri’s Todd Akin, I now know that I should never have worried about getting pregnant after Alain forced himself on me. The superpower of my vagina kicked into high gear to shut that thing down. Amazing. I wish doctors had been more forthcoming with that news earlier. Would have saved me a lot of stress, maybe delayed the onset of my hair going grey.

Oh, but wait. That wouldn’t have worked for me, would it? After all, by Akin’s definition, I wasn’t legitimately raped. Date rape doesn’t meet Akin’s “forcible” criteria. My trusty vajayjay would have been all confused, unsure about releasing the shut-down chemicals and blasting that rapist sperm to smithereens. Damn. Guess I was right to worry and just plain lucky that all I got was raped.

I’m betting the folks who came up with the ridiculous and offensive ad campaign for Summer’s Eve had no idea just how right they were when they exhorted us all to hail the V. I mean, that’s some awesome power. Okay, so it wouldn’t have worked for me, but that’s my fault for not having the sense to get myself legitimately raped. But for all the women who do, wow. Someone ought to harness the power of those shut-down chemicals. Surely a natural contraceptive would be welcomed by millions. No more migraines and weight gain caused by the pill. Oh yes. Hail to the ever-loving V.

Of course, now that I know about the shut-down system, I’m a little annoyed. The system seems flawed. It’s great, the whole not getting pregnant from legitimate rape thing. Really great. Absolutely. But it doesn’t go far enough, does it? Even Representative Akin realized that, saying that there should be some kind of punishment for the rapist. Some kind. I don’t know what kind he was thinking of, but I know the kind that seems best fitting to me. That fabled vaginal shut-down system should shut down more than pregnancy. I’m thinking a two-step approach. First, of course, is the instant penile vaporization — which would take care of the pregnancy danger most handily. Next would be the injection of a neutralizing agent that would make rapists turn themselves over to authorities as well as acknowledge and seek help for their power and control issues. Now that’s what I call a shut-down system.

Alas, that’s just crazy, unscientific, hysterical fantasy talking, nothing to do with the evidence-based pronouncements of Representative Akin. Hey a girl can dream, can’t she?

What I’m really hungry for in this game …

SPOILER ALERT: If you’ve neither read nor seen The Hunger Games, and you plan to do either, stop reading here.

TENDER SENSIBILITIES ALERT: If you would rather avoid reading hate speech, stop reading here.

LONG, ANGRY RANT ALERT: If you would rather avoid another of my pissed-off screeds, stop reading here.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

This isn’t going to be a long discussion about the book or the movie.  I need to comment about the crazy-ass nonsense going on around these here internets as concerns the casting of certain roles in this movie and the stupidity of certain viewers.

Here’s what I mean:¹

(You can click on the images to see them larger, I know some are hard to read … and they’re still hard to read even after you can see what they say.)

I was clued into all of this Monday by Fox, who sent me some of the screen shots from Hunger Games Tweets … leading me back to last November’s excellent post on Racialicious … and then I found the Jezebel article … and yesterday there was the Feministing article … and there are plenty of other pieces, besides.²

As with yesterday’s post, I may be disgusted, but I shouldn’t be surprised, right?  Oh, but I am totally surprised.  T-O-T-A-L-L-Y.

While Cinna isn’t really described in too much detail at all, Thresh and Rue are very clearly described as having “dark brown skin.”  Dark.  Brown.  Games author Suzanne Collins has stated clearly that both are African American.  Why are people surprised to find them cast as African American in the movie?  Of course, if they were just surprised, that would be a sign of some really not careful reading of the novel, but it wouldn’t hurt my heart.  Their reaction to discovering the blackness of these characters, however, makes them beyond the limit of my much-vaunted patience:

And yes, of course someone had to go here:

Yes.  There.

The assumption that “cute,” “innocent,” “frail,” and “pure” all have to mean “white” isn’t new, of course.  But these posts are still shocking to me. 

And, too, can we just establish once and for all: any time people say, “Call me racist, but …”  they are basically calling themselves a racist.  Any time people say, “Not to be racist, but …” it’s pretty certain they’re about to say something that absolutely is meant to be racist.  Any time people say, “I don’t know if this is racist, but …” it’s a good bet that what they’re about to say is, in fact, racist … and nine times out of ten they are fully aware of that fact.

The response to the casting of Lenny Kravitz as Cinna was equally troubling:

(Sorry, still working out the kinks with this “photo gallery” business.  Click on the pics and they’ll enlarge.)

So this idea that a black Cinna couldn’t possibly be “sweet” or “loving” or “calm” or “quiet” is so frustrating as to make me not want to be any of those things, and to not be them all upside these fools’ heads.  Seriously?  Oh, he’s black, so he can’t possibly be a sweet guy?  Really?  Of course that would all fit perfectly with the earlier “of course” comment that labels Thresh as a “black gangster.”  And, too, many of the commenters (see the Racialicious article for more of that fun) seem to think only a gay man could be the right Cinna, that straight men aren’t capable of being calm, sweet, quiet and loving.  There also seems to be some question as to whether a black man can play a gay man.  And what’s with these “eww!” responses?  You see a black person and you respond the same way you would if you’d stepped in dog mess?  I am so tired.

There were some voices of reason (rock on, George Takei) and humor to be heard in all the loud stupidity, however:

More interesting and ugly in all of this uproar are the posts that deal with the deaths of Rue and Thresh.  Cases in point:

We are this desensitized to the deaths of black people?  I’m not really asking that question.  I can see the answer to it just about every day in the paper.  Still, it amazed me to see kids write these things.  Rue’s death didn’t have weight because of Rue’s color but because of who she was as a person, who she was to Katniss.  Ok, Jashper Paras, I’m more than happy to call you a racist if seeing Rue played by a (sweet-faced, adorable) black girl made her death less sad to you.  This is really where we are?  Really?

And finally, we get to my own issues with casting.  I knew Rue and Thresh were black.  I thought Amandla Stenberg did a great job with the part.  I thought she was mis-cast, however.  Rue and Thresh are both supposed to be dark-skinned.  Dayo Okeniyi is dark-skinned, Amandla Stenberg isn’t.  I can’t imagine the horrific tweets we’d have seen if a girl as dark as Okeniyi had been cast as Rue.  But the decision to lighten Rue was my one real complaint about casting for the movie.  Please don’t try to tell me there probably weren’t any dark-skinned actresses interested in the part.  There are so many lovely young dark-skinned girls acting, many of whom could have played Rue.  I’m saying nothing against Stenberg.  Only pointing the spotlight at the fact that the choice to cast Rue light-skinned is just as wrong-headed as the people who wanted to cast her white.  I wanted to see a dark brown face, a deeply brown child play this meaningful role in this film.  Amandla Stenberg, as I said, did a wonderful job.  How could I not love a girl who, on screen, reminded me of my niece?  But hers wasn’t the face I wanted to be falling in love with.  I wanted to see a child as dark as Dayo Okeniyi, a beautiful, elfin black girl to pull my heart strings and call to the mocking jays.  Instead, Hollywood did what Hollywood is almost always wont to do: lightened up, told me once again that dark-skinned black girls aren’t cute, aren’t sweet, aren’t innocent, aren’t lovable.

What I was really hungry for in this game was a break from the same crap I see all the time.  I’m still hungry.

¹ All but three screen shots pulled from Hunger Games Tweets, an amazing compendium of the many unfathomably stupid things people are posting about the casting for Rue, Thresh and Cinna, sprinkled with — thank God — a little sense and sensibility from people who a) actually bothered to read the book, or b) care more about the quality of the portrayal on film than the skin color of the actor playing the role.  The three Cinna comments were taken from <a href=”The Strange Ca

New, delicious, year ’round meat treat!

Mmm … if that title doesn’t get you salivating, I don’t know what will!


Do you ever read the wacky spam comments you get on your blog before you empty the trash?  Some of them don’t make much effort to disguise themselves and just say over and over again that I can get nude pictures of celebrities or some such.  I have no respect for these spammers. They’re too lazy to be worth even a moment of my time.

But then I think of the others, the fabulously-creative souls who try to sound like some trippy movie version of  real people, who want me to believe the crazy business they post is a) normal speech and b) in any way related to whatever I’ve just written … those people I almost love, but they’re just working too hard, you know?  And when I say “those people,” what I really probably mean is “those computer programs,” because could real people actually be killing brain cells writing this silly stuff?

The other day I had a spam email that thanked me for writing “about eating take out on the sofa with the family,” because it made my blog seem “so liveable.”  Um, yeah.  Okay.  And yesterday I had one that claimed my “collection of words and sentences really give a new perspective on how living is great!”  As if.

As much as my blogging ego would love to think my little posts are so powerfully uplifting, I know better.  More importantly, why is anyone putting this kind of effort into spamming?  These messages are never going to get through the filter as they are so obviously bogus, so why waste the time?  Why not just be lazy like the “nude celebrity pix” people and move on?

I wasn’t going to bother writing this post, but at work yesterday I noticed a new collection of canned goods in the food donation box outside my office … and there were three cans of SPAM in there.  I figured that was a sign.  Do people still eat SPAM?  I mean, yes, I guess they do, but … really?  And shouldn’t we put warning labels on it so that our Muslim students know it’s made from pork (something I didn’t know until I looked it up today, by the way)?  And how is it made from pork, exactly?  It certainly doesn’t taste like pork.  It does make for some good poetry, however:


And then there is my current dilemma of what to cook tomorrow.  I have some VONA writers coming over and no idea what to serve.  SPAM and eggs?  SPAMwiches?  SPAMburgers?  Oh, the choices are endless!


Check out today’s 100% SPAM-free slices at Two Writing Teachers.