Author: Douglas

Power and Privilege: The missing element of our Charlie Hebdo debate.

The concept of privilege — whereby one gains certain benefits due to their membership in a sociological group that has a measure of power — is one that has been hard to talk about in recent years. Too often, the concept has been hijacked by those who use it to shut down discussion and tar people that they find disagreement with. Even when it is not being used to that effect, you can peruse sites like Identities.Mic and see the most base and childish discussions of power and privilege imaginable. Take this article by Derrick Clifton, which assumes that no one cares about the bombing of a NAACP office in Colorado because it is not wall-to-wall coverage….on the same day that a shooting kills twelve people at a newspaper office.

Given the aforementioned example of the simplemindedness that accompanies many online discussions of privilege and power, it is somewhat understandable that leftists have avoided a discussion on privilege when it comes to Charlie Hebdo and the shooting that killed 12 of its writing staff. Many of the debates have centered around issues of free speech, the possibly bigoted nature of some of its attempts at satire, and whether satire should be given wide berth to offend in the pursuit of making people think. These topics seem actionable to a degree, and offer a measure of possibility when it comes to political action. Because contemporary discussions of privilege are so badly broken and given to unsightly episodes of social justice performance, it seems that it would be for the better to just ignore the discussion altogether.

But without the consideration of privilege and power, any conversation about this situation will be incomplete.

Serially Wrong: Examining the ridiculous identitarian backlash to Serial.

(This has spoilers. Obviously. If you are nitpicky about that kind of thing, probably best not to read this just yet.)

MAJOR CONFESSION HERE: I like Serial. I think that it is, without question, one of the best podcasts I’ve listened to in recent memory.

I am not alone in that, and I think there’s two big reasons why that is: drama by the ton and great storytelling. Additionally, it has something for everybody: people who enjoy the hardcore sleuthing can find communities of people dedicated to sifting through the evidence and drawing conclusions on their own; casual listeners can let Sarah Koenig, the journalist relaying the story, do all the work and listen in while she ruminates, agonizes, and waffles over every piece of evidence that she and her team uncovers. Koenig is a key part of the story not simply because we are seeing all of this through her eyes, but because she does not allow herself to be edited into some perfect figure who is “just about the facts, ma’am”. There are moments where her naïveté gets completely blown up, and she just sits back and says, “damn, I really screwed up on that one”.

It is a complete story and podcast, even if it is not perfect. But what does perfection look like when you are revisiting a fifteen-year old murder where the individuals who are involved are still alive and actively dealing with those memories…and their consequences? How do you tell a perfect story about a murder when the victim’s family refuses to be a part of the production? And most importantly, how do you tell a perfect story about a judicial process that was far from that standard? The defense did not interview key alibis in addition to engaging in some of the most unhelpful cross-examination I have ever heard, and the prosecution and police force put together a case that relied on barely tenuous evidence and racial priming against this seventeen-year old kid from an immigrant community. Where can you make a perfect story out of all that?

And yet, Serial still manages to tell a very compelling story about teenagers who were caught up (justly or unjustly, depending on your view of Adnan Syed) in a horrific murder, in a city that is no stranger to that particular crime, be it real or fiction. But in a world where instant reaction to incomplete events and social media-driven journalism has become the rule rather than the exception, the backlash was bound to come eventually.

I just thought that it would be more….substantive.

Know Your History: Lessons in organizing from the leftists and labor organizers of yore.

Ever heard of the Mississippi Freedom Labor Union? You could be forgiven for answering in the negative.

Ever heard of J.P. Mooney and his organizing exploits in Avondale, Alabama? Nope?

Did you know that the largest political rally ever held in Alabama was put on by the Communist Party during the Depression? Nah?

The South has earned its reputation as the region most hostile to leftism and union organizing in the United States. After all, Gov. Nikki Haley, who is cruising towards re-election in South Carolina, declared that any auto companies that had unionized workforces should refrain from relocating in South Carolina. In Tennessee, state legislators made plain their opposition to the United Auto Workers gaining a foothold in Chattanooga by stating that they would revoke any tax incentives that Volkswagen received in the event of a yes vote. Aside from those anecdotal examples, the South is home to some of the lowest unionization rates in the country — North Carolina’s union density, at only three percent of workers organized, is the lowest in the country. Arkansas is not far behind at 3.5 percent, nor is Mississippi and South Carolina at 3.7 percent. One does not think “citadel of unionism” when they think of Alabama, but at 10.7 percent, they far outpace any other state in the region for union density.

But there was a time when radical politics and organizing found its home in the rural South.

Fight Or Die: Malala Yousafzai, socialism, and being an inspiration to us all.

Malala Yousafzai was already an inspiring figure to me for many reasons: her desire for equal education, her bravery in standing up and identifying herself in that classroom on October 9, 2012, knowing that she was likely to be shot and killed, and her perseverance in surviving and continuing to advocate for equality. Her desire to return to Pakistan and organize for women’s equality especially hits home for me. I live in west Alabama, was raised in Virginia, and trace my origins back to rural North Carolina. If you are a person that cares about justice, equality, and a society that sees no lepers, but rather simply children of God? You have either long since left the South or are champing at the bit to get out as soon as possible. Not many people stay behind and do change work here, and the fact that Malala would risk death to go back and finish the work she started has a special resonance with me.