January 2022 Newsletter curated by Shelly Tochluk
Author of Witnessing Whiteness and Living in the Tension
Member of AWARE-LA
Happy New Year! As we enter this New Year, I would like to invite readers to reflect on two figures of great cultural import who transitioned toward the end of 2021. The work of both bell hooks and Malidoma Somé (author of Of Water and the Spirit) played essential roles in my development, and we are all better for them having lived, loved, and shared themselves with us.
Looking forward, this newsletter highlights a series of articles and sources that give voice to the important work that lies ahead for us as well as examples that inspire. The theme throughout is our need to recognize complexity and value nuance so we can work to pull people together as opposed to entrench divisions. Broadly speaking, this is about recognizing that if we do not value the democracy we currently have (such as it is) and engage in the fight to preserve it, we will likely lose what we currently have (as imperfect as it is).
Regardless of how you choose to engage in our fight to support the US in fulfilling its long-standing promise of becoming a fully inclusive democracy, I hope the sources highlighted this month provide perspective that support you in taking action. The germ for this theme planted in me while listening to the December 16th Rachel Maddow Show, hearing New Hampshire U.S. Senator (and moderate Democrat) Maggie Hassan speaking about why she now supports the need to alter the filibuster rules to allow a simple majority to pass voting rights protection as part of our generation’s fight against autocracy. This is what she said that struck me:
“I think a lot right now about my dad. He was a World War II veteran. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge. And he and that greatest generation saved freedom for the rest of the world. They saw the threat, the reality of tyrants and authoritarianism up front and up close. And my dad sometimes at the breakfast table with my sister, brother and I would look at us and say - what are you all going to do for freedom today? And that sounds like an odd question to ask a kid, but my dad meant it. He`s been on my mind a lot recently. What are we going to do for freedom today, because this all depends on having these impartially administered elections?”
This struck me because retaining and improving the (albeit imperfect) institutions and systems we currently have is a prerequisite for achieving what so many of us value - diversity, justice, equity, and inclusion. There are alternatives gaining traction that will make things markedly more dangerous for marginalized people. Thankfully, amid the warnings and explanations of the threats we face are also accounts of how we might continue to offer a positive, life-affirming narrative that can combat a sense of hopelessness and despair.
I offer this with best wishes for a happy and healthy 2022. Knowing fingers crossed won’t cut it, I look forward to engaging alongside you in the creation of the shared world we are building, day by day.
We will provide an overview of convergent forces, how we got to where we are, where we might be headed, and what we can do to defend democracy and promote justice.
Steven Gardiner, PRA Research Director
Carol Lautier, Director of Movement Building at Demos
Tarso Luís Ramos, PRA Executive Director
Mab Segrest of BluePrint NC
“We are looking at the simultaneous development of, on the one hand, the continuing transformation of insurgent attitudes, with millions or even tens of millions of people believing that political violence is the only way the United States can be rescued from conspiratorial forces trying to destroy the country, and, on the other hand, an ongoing effort to establish minority rule in the roughly half the states where legislative and procedural maneuvering are making it harder to vote and easier for partisan forces to influence which votes will be counted.”
“Culture war issues—from access to abortion and laws criminalizing protest to what is taught about racism in our schools and public health measures—are being used to foment resentment and resistance.”
This article is one many readers might wish to skip, believing we have sufficient understanding of the issue. Please do not skip over this. There are essential insights within the article that help explain the power and danger of this movement and why it is essential that we find a way to listen to one another and locate a place of mutual respect.
Excerpt: “Joining Idaho would keep rural Oregon the way America used to be, McCarter explained. In his narrative, Salem is the villain forcing eastern Oregon counties to comply with laws that seem irrelevant or offensive to their rural setting, rules that have no bearing on their lived reality.”
“In McCarter and his allies’ eyes, they’re preserving a version of the last American frontier—lands still unfettered by the progressive ideas from cities such as Portland that are seeping into every place in America and threatening rural life. It’s a charming myth. “The frontier fantasy of armed white men who made the West and can remake it because they are autonomous or independent from political forces back east is something that really probably fires the imagination of a lot of people,” [said] the historian Joe Lowndes, of the University of Oregon.”
Oregon was itself founded in dispossession. Its constitution banned free Black people from living in the state. “It’s difficult to disentangle the nonthreatening parts of this group from the threatening white-supremacist aspects, because the region gained a reputation as a safe home for these ideas,” Steven Beda, a historian at the University of Oregon, told me. “It’s about articulating a rural identity, a return to a rural past; and ruralness is frequently used as a synonym for whiteness. Nostalgia is often rooted in white-supremacist ideals—‘we were all better off before people of color started demanding rights.’”
A conservative-leaning separatist movement isn’t definitionally exclusionary or violent, but movements like Greater Idaho can’t be entirely decoupled from the context of menacing and violent right-wing organizing in the region.”
Read the entire article to understand why people are flocking toward this movement, even while believing race has nothing to do with it and viewing the movement as an effort to preserve peace.
Consider this article an important overlay atop the previous article on the succession movement. How do so many Christians square their religious faith with a dedication to gun rights? Read this article to understand how this form of “masculine Christianity” interprets Jesus in a far different light than most progressives and Liberals imagine.
An excerpt (please read to the end):
TikTok’s “For You” page (FYP) recommendation algorithm appears to be leading users down far-right rabbit holes. By analyzing and coding over 400 recommended videos after interacting solely with transphobic content, Media Matters traced how TikTok’s recommendation algorithm quickly began populating our research account’s FYP with hateful and far-right content.
Transphobia is deeplyintertwined with other kinds of far-right extremism, and TikTok’s algorithm only reinforces this connection. Our research suggests that transphobia can be a gateway prejudice, leading to further far-right radicalization….
Exclusive interaction with anti-trans content spurred TikTok to recommend misogynistic content, racist and white supremacist content, anti-vaccine videos, antisemitic content, ableist narratives, conspiracy theories, hate symbols, and videos including general calls to violence.
Of the 360 total recommended videos included in our analysis, 103 contained anti-trans and/or homophobic narratives, 42 were misogynistic, 29 contained racist narratives or white supremacist messaging, and 14 endorsed violence.
Read the full article to see how “juxtaposition of image, text, and audio imparts a more sinister meaning than may initially appear.” This highlights how savvy the users are in creating content and messaging that skirts the rules in its attempts to spread hate-filled content.
Conclusion: “While nearly 400 may sound like a large number of videos, if a user watches videos for an average of 20 seconds each, they could consume 400 videos in just over two hours. A user could feasibly download the app at breakfast and be fed overtly white supremacist and neo-Nazi content before lunch.”
Did you read this book yet? If you have not, consider putting at the top of your reading list for this year. This book offers an exquisite analysis that we all need to understand in order to pull people together. The crux is that we can be so much better if we could see how damaging white racism is for everyone, including white people!
I am pleased to share this post from Jason Biehl. It is well worth the read!
Excerpt: “I’ve realized that as a young white man, I had no place of belonging for my own positive white identity development. We must not shield the eyes, nor protect the innocence of white children, for if Black children and children of color are old enough to experience racism, then white children are old enough to learn about it.” Please read and share!
And, finally…instead of writing my own “End-of-year, beginning of the New Year” statement, I am sharing Eric Ward’s. He is the Executive Director of the Western States Center and is a constant model of how to take the threats seriously, while never losing sight of what is beautiful, uplifting, and humanizing.
From Eric Ward:
As we approach the end of this difficult and perhaps pivotal year, there’s no shortage of causes for alarm. But there are also countless sources of encouragement, if we have the discipline to embrace nuance.
Hope is a bit of a trickster. It’s future-focused and implies a calculus, a weighing of the odds. I’m finding it more useful to focus on the seeds that are sprouting in the messy mulch of today. Seeds of possibility, inventiveness, stimulation. Projects that embody values-based vision, an aspiration that we can be more than our fears. Stories that motivate and embolden us to break out of our ideological boxes.
Today we’re sharing just three of these efforts. They are models for the emerging movement growing all around us, in towns and communities across the United States and the globe. They represent hundreds and likely thousands of known and unknown bridges being built across the polarities, identities, and ideologies that are fracturing our ability to see each other as human family with a shared fate on a wounded planet.
At a time when too many of us prize purity – and the certainty that only those who share our beliefs are the righteous ones – these groups dare to tolerate complexity, and nuance, and the possibility that there isn’t only one right way. We’re in a moment where every social and cultural dynamic is politicized. Where we’re pushed to create a false pole that reifies what makes us different from one another. Where we critique confirmation bias in others but seem unable to see it in ourselves.
In this moment, our muses are those focused on commonality. Commonality is kryptonite to authoritarianism and social movements that rely on division.
Read [Eric’s] full essay on Medium for more on the work of just three of the groups that inspire us. What common ground efforts can you point to in your own community? In your own work?
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