Posted by: mvhuff | December 4, 2016

Political Correctness

At some point in the eighties, I had a book that claimed to be a politically correct dictionary – it was a parody that mocked some of the extremes of political correctness. What I remember as the most egregious examples were, supposedly, official Government designations of a plane crash as either a ‘failure to maintain clearance from the ground’ or a ‘controlled flight into the terrain’. Clearly these and some other examples of Government-speak were ridiculous and eminently mockable.

Over the years, many have continued to disparage what they call political correctness and say they value people saying what they mean rather than dancing around a subject or being delicate to protect someone’s sensibilities. It gets a lot of attention because, I think, people want to be able to say what’s on their mind without worrying about offending people – some because they fear inadvertently offending and some because they just don’t care about potential offense (at least to others – their own offendedness may be a different matter).

While this is not new, it ideas of political correctness got additional attention this year due to some colleges trying to tell kids to be so sensitive and many applauded this saying that kids have to learn to live in the real world.

It’s all well and good to say you’re going to call a spade a spade and it works fine when you’re discussing shovels. But when you start talking about people, some labels are not really used to identify what sort of person you are discussing but to intimate, sometimes subtly and sometimes not so subtly, that that other person is not really a person. Somehow they are less or alien or something. Not only do some labels seek to reduce the status of people – some outright dehumanize them.

But labels are one thing, and intellectual discussions are something else. We should be able to discuss disagreements with clear terms and clear and civil heads. No one should feel the right to require others to always respect their beliefs by not disagreeing with them – but to respect their beliefs and their humanity.

I believe that everyone should, though, be able to have a safe place where, when they want to get away and even be in a bubble they can. I think that is the best thing about home when it is full of people that get you and accept you and love you – that sometimes you can just be the delicate mess you are and let the confrontation wait for later.

Colleges are odd places in that the students live there – so that it makes home a bit dicier. When you want to be safe but people are putting bananas at your door to imply that you are closer to monkeys than people, that’s just not right and it has nothing to do with the so-called political correctness.

We need to realize that all people are people and we are ALL at the same level. We may have different beliefs or different looks or different values but we are all human. We should be careful that we don’t avoid political correctness by trying to use labels that dehumanize anyone. So, call a crash a crash and a spade a spade, but realize that human beings are not shovels and using language to affirm, rather than diminish, our co-humanity is not a bad thing.

 

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Posted by: mvhuff | November 20, 2016

What am I Afraid of?

Feeling a bit poetic today

At first, nothing

Because I knew nothing

But then I learned – that people

Could hurt, things could

Go wrong.

I feared what I

Didn’t know – the future,

What others thought.

Then came fear of

What I did know – me

All the thoughts and quirks

That would push others

Away.

But God – He made me

On purpose and

Chose me despite

My broken mess.

Though I trust Him,

Still I fear

Because I am prone to worry –

About failure or

Wasting time or space

Being useless and alone.

So many things – which

Is biggest?

Though God surpasses them

Their presence often

Overwhelms me

And I forget to trust.

 

Posted by: mvhuff | November 13, 2016

Election Reflections

In 2000, George W. Bush was elected president under a contentious process and many in the opposition spent some time, some up to all 8 years of his presidency, doubting the validity of his being president. They may have claimed the loss of the popular vote versus the electoral college or the issues with what went on in Florida, but they claimed that he should not have been the president.

In 2008, Barack Obama was elected president and many in the opposition spent the next 8 years of his terms claiming that he was not legitimate and not their president. Some claimed he was not actually born in the country, that he was really Kenyan or secretly Muslim or somehow just not eligible. One senator even went so far as to say that he would do everything in his power to make sure that Obama was a one-term president.

Now comes 2016 and Donald Trump has been elected president. The sides switch once again – with one group claiming he is not our president, that he lost the popular vote, that they don’t think he represents America. Only time will tell if this lasts for his entire term as president.

I frankly cannot remember if there were protests during the pre-inaugural periods for Bush or Obama – there are certainly protests now. And protests, when peaceful, are okay in America (although not always helpful, but that’s another thing). I can’t help but think, though, that those currently protesting would be mocking the ones upset at a Clinton win and disparaging the protesters of her victory. At the same time, I think that many of those mocking the current protesters would be likely to be out in the streets protesting – or certainly bemoaning the outcome of the election as a sign that our country is falling apart or changing irrevocably in a bad way.

Just as not everyone who disagreed with Obama or his policies was a racist, neither is everyone who supports Trump. Maybe they wanted more conservative justices on the Supreme Court, maybe they wanted someone who seemed like he spoke for the common man.

Without claiming that racism was the motivating factor for every Trump vote, I think it is clear that the campaign itself provided a veneer of acceptability, if not respectability, to a particularly virulent form of racism, that is white supremacism. There are those who are so convinced that making America great again means putting white people back in the positions of power and influence, and maybe getting rid of non-white people. And with this year’s campaign they have become more vocal.

Even though I do not experience racism personally, I have no reason to doubt that racist incidents occur in this country. It is all too convenient to think that because I am not racist that no one is and that everything is great for everyone because I don’t see a lot of evidence to the contrary. But it is real, and it is happening, and in a situation where people who espouse it in its most reprehensible forms have come to feel that their viewpoint is good, I can understand why many people are afraid of the consequences. Just because you worry about racism increasing does not make you extra sensitive or pathetic.

As I said, I am convinced that those mocking people bemoaning the election results would be bemoaning the results if it had turned out differently, just as people bemoaning the election results would probably be mocking those who would be upset if the election had gone the other way. We are all hypocrites.

I can only hope that we can all rise above our worse natures and try to work together now. And also to make it clear that ALL citizens of this country are Americans, regardless of what they look like or how they act or what they think. I have no control other than voting over what goes on in the government, but at least I can act as someone that believes we were all created in God’s image and treat people accordingly.

 

Posted by: mvhuff | October 23, 2016

My Trip Report

I’m beginning to suspect that I have some kind of magnetic personality. Not the cool kind that allows me to move cars out of my way or fling threatening guns out of the hands of potential attackers. Not even the kind that would draw people to me and have me be the toast of the town. No, my ‘magnetic’ powers seem to be limited to screwing up electronics at the most inopportune times. Or maybe just airplane entertainment outlets.

My trip to Barcelona started with an 8 hour flight where each seat had individual monitors where you could select your options and view movies at your convenience. I was able to watch one movie (of the kind where you think, I’m glad I didn’t pay at the theater for this, but it was a relatively innocuous way to pass the time). But then the system broke – and the system was required to turn on the light so I had to use a flashlight for some non-screen time. The flight attendant did reset it once, but it broke again, which reminded me of the last time I was on a transatlantic flight and the same thing happened.

But that was a minor inconvenience and a poor way to frame a report on my trip. Barcelona was a beautiful city. I cannot believe the number of people before the trip and after the trip that were surprised that I was spending 10 days in one place. Moving around from place to place and site to site does have its charms, but when there is so much to see and do in one place I can’t imagine getting bored. I feel as though I only scratched the surface of the city (and really, can you get the feel for any place in ten days?).

It turns out that Barcelona is part of the Catalunya or Catalonia region and that some want to separate from the rest of Spain. They speak Catalan as much as they speak Spanish – perhaps more. I tried to learn a little Catalan before the trip, but it might have been wiser to brush up on my Spanish. That did help me with the signs in the city as Catalan usually came before Spanish – at least, the signs that had actual words. The picture signs were a little more challenging to translate at times.

It’s always harder to communicate with ‘real’ people than how it goes in secondary language classes – practically no one wants to talk about whether Susan is in la casa en la sala in normal conversation. I like to try to speak some of the local language though because it is the polite thing to do. And generally people are pretty patient with me. I went to one place and requested a ticket and the person rattled off something that sounded vaguely like ‘today is free’ and ended with adelante. Since I was expecting something more along the lines of ‘that will be 5 euros, please’ I was a bit stumped. Even English is hard for me to process at times, and as I stood there trying to determine what was said, the man asked, “English?” and I nodded. At which point, he explained that the site was free due to a neighborhood day. I felt kind of embarrassed by my desperate deficiency in real communication. I might have arrived at the right conclusion without translation, but the guy would probably had to leave for the day at some point.

We stayed in an apartment in an area on the outskirts of Barcelona – I think it might have been called the Gracia area. We arrived using the metro from the airport (side note – I really appreciated the Barcelona metro – wish DC’s could be more like this). Following the instructions to the apartment, we left the metro entrance and were faced with the steepest road I’ve seen in a while. Not quite straight up, but a challenge when you’re lugging rolling suitcases! The apartment was quite nice though and we had some conversation with the lady that was helping out the owners. She was from Venezuela originally.

In Barcelona, the first Sunday of the month is often free for certain museums and other attractions. We went to the Picasso museum, then the museum of world cultures (they were across the street from each other). We went to a market place but that was closed. We had lunch at what was probably a tourist trap, but the food wasn’t horrible. Then we saw the cathedral, which was quite nice.

Monday we were going to take it easy by walking to the seemingly nearby Park Guell, which was originally intended to be a planned community but is now more of a large park with architectural flair from Antoni Gaudi (side note – anyone who appreciates architecture has got to go to Barcelona). It was actually a nice walk, but the steepness factor increased the difficulty and at one point we weren’t even sure we were headed in the correct direction. All was well, though, and we got our tickets for the monumental area and headed into the park. We saw the house that Gaudi lived in for a while, and it seemed he was quite pious – he had a separate prayer room.

We also saw some performers in the park – one was a flamenco group and was a wonder to behold. Another was an instrumental group that played beautifully. And then the monumental zone there was all the ostentation Gaudi is famous for – including a large lizard fountain and another, tamer, dog head fountain. We had lunch at a fantastic place a short walk from the park.

Tuesday was the day for the Sagrada Familia – Gaudi’s masterwork. I was expecting something almost hideous from some of the things I’d read, but it is beautiful and fantastic and also has a somewhat Seuss-like quality to it. It is still under construction but they hope to finish by 2026 – only 144 years since it was started from what I read. There are two main entrances, representing the creation and the passion. The passion was done by a different sculptor but still fits in with the building. Inside is phenomenally beautiful – the stained glass windows are blues and greens on one side and oranges/reds/yellows on the other side. Gaudi intended the space to be bathed in coolness in the morning and appear to be lit with fire in the afternoons – beautifully accomplished.

I probably should have done this ‘report’ much closer to my return, but I had brought back a souvenir virus. Anyway, on another day I went up to the park area in MontJuic and saw the Miro museum. I’m not a big fan of Miro and this did not change it. I also went to the National Museum of Catalan Art which was wonderful – probably my second favorite place in the city. Other places we saw included the Boqueria marketplace (so much wonderful food!) and the art nouveau hospital Sant Pau. We saw the Casa de Amatller, another architectural wonder that just happened to belong to a chocolatier, so they had a chocolate store and café as well. Very good chocolate!

I’m sure there are things that I’ve forgotten, and many things I missed, but I will remember it was a beautiful city. So much left to discover there, particularly if I can hone my language skills.

 

Posted by: mvhuff | September 10, 2016

Body Shaming/Body Image

Some time ago I helped give a lesson in children’s church. There being none of the usual props around I decided to illustrate using a marker on whiteboard. So there I was, drawing a walled city (or a castle?) which was easy because it’s basically a flat square (these kids weren’t getting a lesson on artistic perspective drawing). And then a wagon, also relatively easy due to squareness and the roundness of the wheels.

Then it came time for the people. The people were mostly round heads because I was trying to teach some kind of lesson while drawing and because drawing is not one of my gifts. When I say mostly round heads, I only mean that the heads were roundish – and that was all – these people pretty much had only heads. This led to an array of questions such as how did they move (obviously, they just rolled everywhere) and how did they stop (they stuck their tongues out to use as brakes).

There was a lesson in there somewhere about listening to God, but I am not completely certain how much the kids got that. I have not helped out in children’s church since, but I’m pretty sure that’s just a coincidence.

This, and many other instances of my drawing skills, has led me to believe that if I had created the world, we’d all be stick figures. Every last one of us. Probably all with the same color. I’m not sure there would be many differences – unless, of course, I didn’t use the cosmic equivalent of a copy machine – then there would be variations among them because one straight line is never like another in my drawing book – to say nothing of circles and other more complicated geometrical shapes.

I wonder, though, if even in the dullness of this very minor variation of body types, we’d still find things to criticize, shame, and ostracize. Most of us have experience body shaming in one form or another, and I wonder why that is. Does it help the shamer to feel better about their body (or their self)?

Part of the reason it may be so effective is that we cannot escape our bodies. As much as people talk about inner beauty (which is real) and the importance of who you are deep down in your soul, who you are right up there on the surface is an inescapable part of your identity. It is, for all the platitudes about beauty being only skin deep and discussions of the importance of personality, part of who you are. Your identity encompasses not only your insides but much of your outsides.

Which is why body shaming can hurt so much – it isn’t like saying that someone has poor taste in clothes or looks bad in neon green. These things can be changed if desired (or not if you actually like those clothes or that green). What you wear or the makeup you do or do not put on is an expression of who you are, but those expressions can change and be modified – they are not who you ARE.

But your body is different. Yes, there are some changes you can make to your body –from piercings to tattoos to weight loss or gain to plastic surgery. You can make changes, but they are not as easy as tossing away a frumpy shirt. They go with you wherever.

Not only does body shaming go to core identity issues, it tends to circumvent logic as well. Once a young relative told me that I was the fattest person in the world. This was not remotely true at even my heaviest, but man that hurt – the pain wasn’t any less because of the ludicrous nature of the statement. Even things said in love, like I love to hug you because you’re fluffy, can hurt.

And once the hurt sets in, it can start to modify your personality. So you are your body shame – and you feel ugly and worthless and unlovable. And you are easily annoyed at people who have other body issues but not the ones you deal with – like people who might have been shamed over being skinny or relatively skinny people that fret about gaining a few pounds.

If you are lucky enough to mature, you can start to realize that your body is part of who you are but you do not have to be ashamed of it. You can take care of it without wishing it were gone and be happy in your own skin.

I am still on this journey, and I wish I could say that not only am I mature enough not to be hurt about what others may say about my body (like, why are they even bothering to mention it anyway?) but that also I don’t shame anyone. So far, what I have managed is to keep the thoughts to myself. They sometimes come unbidden but they can remain unsaid.

Because I don’t have the perfect body and I know that I didn’t get to my heaviest on purpose or by a one-time binge of calories, and I know that I didn’t get to where I am by simply deciding to reverse my eating and exercise behavior. I’m where I am because I had acceptance, help, and love. The least I can do is not be a hindrance to anyone else regardless of where they are in the body journey. The most I can do is to accept and love.

Every body is different – and everybody is different. We are at different places but we, whoever we may be, are beautiful and our identities, our selves, are of more worth than we realize.

Posted by: mvhuff | August 28, 2016

Nobody Wants to be the Pancreas

A lot of corporate training dwells on teamwork and how to build good teams. Many analogies are drawn from the sporting world as there are so many sports that require a group of people to work together to achieve a particular goal. Teams go against teams so everyone needs to work together. It’s almost odd the number of times people talk about the importance of teams and teamwork in a culture that also seems devoted to the concept of individuals and the importance of doing what is right for you (and yes, that is a massive oversimplification of so many things).

One analogy that is used in the Bible for the importance and harmony of a community or collection of individuals is the body. We function best when we work as a body works – each part fulfilling its particular role and every part recognizing and respecting the importance of each part regardless of the relative roles.

This sounds great and can be a beautiful thing, but people always want to be the showy or important parts of the body. If we could pick, we’d pick the mouth because we’d get to be the spokesperson up front getting all the attention. Or the brain running the operation. Or maybe the eyes so we can see what is going on and help plan the route. Or the feet to get there or the hands to do the work. Most people want to be and value the external body parts.

Nobody wants to be the pancreas.

But the internal organs, all of them, serve important functions. We need the pancreas to regulate blood sugar and help with digestion. Without it we could not survive – at least not without external regulation and source of insulin. But it’s not glamorous and it’s easy to ignore when it functions as necessary.

Think also of individual cells, that just go about the business of moving things from one place to another or silently watching for and fighting infection. I cannot remember all the different kinds of cells in the body, but there are many of them performing vital functions without the kind of recognition that, say, the heart or the lungs get.

Obviously this analogy, like all analogies, breaks down if you apply too much logic. Because the body can stand to lose some of its parts or cells and still function completely normally and healthily but cannot survive without others, such as the heart or the brain. And so you could argue that some people are not important to a community in the same way that some cells are not vital to a body. Or maybe that some people are like the appendix – nobody knows what it really does until it breaks and then it has to be removed quickly before causing more damage or death.

The point I’m trying to make is about the importance of parts with functions that aren’t exciting or showy or glamorous. There are so many books about being audacious and setting big goals and having dreams that scare you and being all that you can be and being extraordinary. I think there is also room for the ordinary among us – those who maybe won’t ever be famous – like the many people in Bible times who were faithful but not named or mentioned – that serve vital functions.

We can’t all be the brain or the heart. We wouldn’t want that anyway. We have to make room for valuing those that serve below the surface, as it were, who may not be outstanding or even visible in the world’s eyes but daily go about the business of life and being part of a healthy, growing community.

Posted by: mvhuff | July 26, 2016

Comparison Madness

For perhaps thousands of years people have been trying to identify what makes humans different from the other animals on this planet. Some of postulated certain elements of memory, but the fact that animals can learn or be trained indicates some modicum of memory capacity. At one point they said it was emotions, but now it seems that scientists have discovered a range of emotions in several different mammals – I’m not sure about the other animal classes. Perhaps it’s the use of tools? But no, many other primates have used tools, and some have been seen to pass on the knowledge to descendants. What could it be? Or is it nothing? Are we simply smarter or more sophisticated than other animals (even though common sense and popular culture would seem to belie this statement)?

Then I wondered – do dogs ever wake up and wonder why they exist or what their purpose is? Do cats ever wonder if they are making any kind of contribution to the world? Do elephants worry that some other elephant is better looking? Do dolphins worry that they are slower or fatter or some other ‘-er’ than other dolphins? Do horses feel guilty if they steal hay from another horse?

Is this a kind of self-consciousness? Maybe even a soul? Do animals possess that?

It’s possible that these kinds of patterns do occur in animals but we do not know because we cannot communicate with them. There is at least anecdotal evidence that animals can be (or act) jealous of attention or other rewards that they do not receive.

I was thinking about this particularly in light of human tendencies to compare ourselves to other humans and judge our worth based on the results of that comparison. I myself do this very often.

The other day I was at the gym and overheard a woman discussing her deadlifts and reveling in her progress. As an aside she mentioned that she used to be thrilled at lifting 185 and now it was ‘just a warmup’ to her. The logical thing would have been to rejoice with her and join the celebration even if in silent applause. But of course, my brain thought about how the one time I attempted 195 it seemed like the weights had been glued to the floor – they didn’t even budge. Her warmup weight is still a challenge for me, so I felt lessened because I was less physically strong in this area. This was not her intent – she was simply marveling at her progress as well she should.

Then recently a friend of mine posted a link to her daughter’s article that had gone viral. Good for her would be the rational thing, I think, but I was jealous and felt like my writing never goes anywhere or does any good. As if one person’s success in an area meant that I couldn’t find my own success.

And so it goes – we look at life almost like a zero-sum game where I cannot possibly be of value if someone else is. It makes no sense, but we look at others to measure ourselves and we either come up short or we ‘win’. I am ashamed, frankly, of the times I’ve seen others with issues that I either never struggled with or have and have managed to overcome and my thoughts are not kind and compassionate but more like ‘at least I’m better than that person.’

None of this makes sense but we do it all the time. We are on different journeys with different goals and different destinations but we think (and sometimes act) like everyone has to go to the same place in the same way at the same pace. We judge and compare as though we can only find worth by our relative merits against others.

I am tired of this game. I only hope that other mammals don’t play it (okay, I’m fairly certain cats do not). Even at my time in life I wonder what on earth I am on earth for – maybe I will figure it out at some point. But I at least can determine, that whyever I am here or wherever I am going, I can be satisfied with being me and doing the things I find enjoyable and encourage others without trying to be judgmental or comparing.

Posted by: mvhuff | July 9, 2016

We Are All Human

When I was around 8 years old, my sister broke her leg. She got a lot of attention even before they took her to the hospital (initially they weren’t sure the leg was broken). Then she got to go to the hospital and got a cast and lots and lots of love and attention. I think I was kind of jealous of the attention, which may explain a lot in my life. But my childish perspective was not correct – did my parents demonstrate a dislike or neglect of me because they paid close attention to my sister during the broken leg incident? Of course not, but it would have been silly to treat us exactly the same at the time – I didn’t need a cast and she most certainly did. To have insisted on identical treatment or even the same level of attention at the time would have been a disservice to us both.

It’s my understanding that this is a normal and healthy response to people. All people are equal but at times some have greater needs. Focusing on those needs does not necessarily entail a lack of concern or distrust for other people.

It is the same in the body – sometimes you need to give extra care to a part to preserve or protect it. That’s why we wear helmets and shoes for safety or, in dire times, a cast. When you break a wrist, you don’t need a body cast (unless you’re as clumsy as I am), you only need a cast on the arm. And not both arms either. Although the whole body suffers when one part suffers, in a sense, the whole body doesn’t always need the same attention.

These are very poor metaphors for how I understand what is going on these days and the Black Lives Matter movement. I think that some people feel that people are saying ONLY Black Lives Matter when really they are saying Black Lives Matter ALSO. And they have historical reasons to believe that some people believe, and occasionally act on the idea, that Black Lives DON’T Matter.

We have come a long way as a country in racism, but we still have a long way to go. There are still people out there that believe that black people are not really human or are some sort of sub-human. There are people that feel that blacks or other people of color are not really American (some complained that the newly-crowned Miss USA did not look American or even that she was not beautiful because she happened to be black – which is totally ridiculous). Everyone who is a citizen of this country is 100% American, and more importantly, ever person in this world is 100% human and should be valued as such. We need to start living that out.

I do not know what it is like to be black in America, or anywhere for that matter. I do know that white privilege is real, regardless of what people may want to believe. For another extremely poor analogy, it’s like me as a short person facing things on high shelves in the stores or trying to reach the pedals in a car without adjusting the seat so that I am practically hugging the steering wheel. Things in the world have been designed for taller people than me, and sometimes people don’t see me and don’t realize they don’t see me.

I realize this is NOTHING like what it is to be pulled over for driving while black or being looked at suspiciously because you happen to be a person of color in an area that someone seems to think that you don’t belong. I am not saying my experience with shortness is anywhere close to the struggle to deal with some in the world and some parts of society that want to treat you as sub-human or non-existent or invisible because of the color of your skin. It just provides a tiny clue as to how privilege can work to the detriment of those not privileged.

I don’t think anyone believes that someone should get killed for having a broken taillight. And I understand that complying with orders from a police officer doesn’t necessarily mean that things will go well. Good cops get scared at the wrong times, and then there are bad cops. Some cops make mistakes. Some, a tiny few, are bad and they do bad things.

The bad cops are like a cancer. There are hundreds of thousands of good people putting on the uniform that work to protect all of us, no matter who we might be. They put their lives on the line daily and for what is, in many instances, pretty paltry pay. But they do it as a service.

We don’t get rid of cancer by killing the patient. We target our response to the bad cells. In the same way, we should not attack the good cops but take action to remove the bad cops.

To pay special attention to one segment of our country doesn’t mean that we hate all the other segments. But right now, we need to learn to treat everyone with respect and stop killing people. Respect people of all races, but realize that sometimes people of color face barriers we may never even see if we aren’t paying attention. And thank the police officers you know for being public servants.

 

Posted by: mvhuff | July 3, 2016

Bathrooms

As I remember it, when I was in high school I was afraid to go into the bathrooms. They were full of smoke and bullies and I felt intimidated on a number of levels, so I avoided them. This could explain a lot about my current issues, but that’s not for this discussion.

Later in life, I remember going into a bathroom at a fast food place and seeing a man in the room (he had a beard, so that helped me to notice). I worried that I had entered the wrong room (it has happened) so I checked the door. Nope – it was the women’s room, so he was out of place. And then his little girl joined him at the sink. I then realized that he had made the best choice at the time to accompany his girl. Not an easy choice.

Another time I was with a nephew who had to use a restroom. He was at that age where he didn’t want to go to the ladies’ room but I didn’t feel safe letting him go by himself. But he insisted so I waited outside the men’s room prepared to rush in at the tiniest sign of distress (although I don’t know what that might have been). I had explained to him that I was worried about strangers. He came out safely after a number of other guys I’d never seen and assured me that there had been no strangers in the bathroom. I mentally made a note to explain the concept of strangers while feeling immensely relieved that he was safe and, more importantly, had not felt unsafe.

In my view, public bathrooms have never been safe havens. There has always been the possibility of dangers lurking in the very place where all you want to do is relieve yourself. This danger isn’t a new thing that has only come with the increased awareness of transgender issues – it’s always been the case. And there will always be the possibility that bad people will lurk in these areas to take advantage of unwary and vulnerable people.

I admit I don’t understand a lot about transgender people (let alone other nontraditional gender identities). I’m not sure that I would recognize anyone as transgender rather than the gender that they present themselves to be. There may be people who pretend to be transgender to take advantage of the current situation, but I think they would find other ways to prey on victims if the transgender laws were changed.

I also admit that it is more fraught with privacy issues of all kinds in the pre-college education context, what with locker rooms and such. I have no answer for that.

What I think is that, even when I don’t understand what people are going through or expressing, I can treat them with dignity. They are human beings. Frankly, when I go to the bathroom I don’t really care about who else might be there – I just want to do what I came there to do. There has to be a way to prevent predators without belittling people who are different.

 

Posted by: mvhuff | June 12, 2016

Questions After Stanford

So many questions arise in my mind and feelings swell through my heart after what happened in California with the rape and the sentencing of only six months in county jail. I feel anger and anguish, and yet I know my feeling can’t in the least compare to what the victim went through and is going through. And even that may pale in comparison to the thousands and thousands of victims who never had any voice – who may have been told that this is their role in life (to be objects for use).

Many of the questions may have no answer, and I am not an expert in any way. What I am about to say here reflects some musings with some important caveats – nothing the victim did invited her attack – she did not earn or deserve it or ask for it – and nothing diminishes the horrible, awful crime that the assaulter committed. Nothing whatsoever.

Why do so many people blame the victim?

I think this comes partly from our impulse to control our environment and feel safe. We find comfort in thinking that if I just avoid a certain behavior, I will be okay. I’m not like the victim so I will not be victimized is the way the thinking proceeds. This is laughably wrong – I may lock my car everywhere I go, and never drive/park anywhere that is not ‘safe’ (whatever that means), but that doesn’t mean my car will never get broken into or stolen. Does it make it my fault if someone steals my car but I left it unlocked with the motor running? No – maybe I was unwise but I am not at fault.

This metaphor only poorly associates with rape – because we attach so much more value and/or moral approbation to the whole sexual aspect of it. But still, even if an action is not the wisest (which we usually only find out in retrospect), it does not therefore become morally culpable – if I make a mistake in judgment I am not thereby giving anyone permission to use me.

But it seems that some view sexuality through a massive, distorting lens. This is why some insist that women have special permission to use birth control pills and yet we can’t escape ads for drugs to combat erectile dysfunction. If birth control measures only encourage sex, then what about ED medicine? What is the point of enabling men to have better sex if not sex? So why is it wrong for women to have access to birth control but not wrong for men to have access to more exciting sex?

(By the way, if you’d think that the ED medications may treat non-sexual aspects so that you can’t be judging all men by that measure, then you should know that the fact is that many birth control medications are used for things other than simply birth control.)

So, oddly, we are in a position where women should be virtuous but available. That is just not tenable – if you believe in virginity you believe in it for both sexes. And you believe that each individual has the power to decide for themselves (when FULLY conscious) what they will and will not participate in.

What would have happened if the rapist had not been white?

Sadly, I know the answer to this. As much as I would like to believe that white privilege does not exist, I can see evidence of it throughout the criminal justice system. There are examples of people of color having the book thrown at them for even lesser offenses. Were they more of a danger to society? Was the long sentence to have less of an impact on them than what could have been the maximum for the Stanford racist? I doubt that is always the case.

Worse, I was thinking, what if the rapist had finished the crime and left the scene, and some person of color had come by to try to help the victim when the two grad students came by. Would they have believed that person that they were just helping? Would he have been railroaded and gotten the maximum sentence? Maybe not, but there is that possibility.

What if the victim had not been white?

This hasn’t gotten as much attention, but I think that given some attitudes toward race I wonder if the light sentence would have seemed less outrageous to some. Would she have received the double punishment of being a woman and not white – meaning of course she deserved what happened (I do not believe this, but some apparently do). Would there have even been a trial or would she have been pressured to just ‘drop’ it? I wonder – and the very fact that it’s possible to wonder that is a sad reflection on the racism that exists.

What is the purpose of sentencing?

I think this comes into play because it seems, historically, that there are a few basic philosophies for sentencing:

  • Punishment of the perpetrator
  • Protection of society
  • Deterrence/prevention – so others won’t commit the crime
  • Rehabilitation

Many argue that deterrence has limited value – that perpetrators or potential criminals don’t necessarily look at the possibility of punishment when deciding to commit a crime. I really hope that is the case because in this instance the sentence certainly sends the message that if you are a good, white, rich athlete with no history of getting caught in bad behavior and you are very drunk and pick a drunk victim, you can pretty much get away with a horrendous assault on another individual with just a slight slap on the wrist.

Protection of society was what the judge cited – that he didn’t think that this young man would be a danger to anyone else. But how does he know? I’m sure that no one would have necessarily expected him to commit the rape in the first place, so how do you know he won’t get drunk again and do something equally bad, or perhaps worse? And why would it seem that so often poorer people, or people of color, are perceived as a greater risk to society?

Rehabilitation was probably not a factor in this case, as the judge seemed to think there was not much to rehabilitate because he was basically an okay kid.

Punishment hardly seems to have been a factor here as the sentence is so light – I can understand the anguish that the victim must feel after this sentence. What does it say about the nature of the crime that the punishment is so light? How devalued must the victim feel? She should not have to go through that.

One More Question

My last question I’ve been considering is whether grace and forgiveness apply to monstrous deeds or people. It is not mine to forgive this rapist, nor mine to recommend forgiveness to the victim – that is something that she will work through, hopefully with the love and support she deserves.

I’ve been pondering this because of all the online condemnation (which is deserved). Would it be different if the rapist had actually been remorseful? All I’ve heard indicates that he has not taken responsibility for his crime but what if he did (or does in the future)? Admittedly, regardless of his potential future remorse the victim will have to live with this always. But maybe, hopefully, she can reach a state of healing and move beyond it.

Are we condemned to be what we have been? Is he? Should he be?

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