Sunday, May 17, 2015

Dear loved ones,

We probably don't have the same politics. I think at this stage we agree to love each other despite our differences of values, opinions, and faith. However, sometimes there are things which I am sure we both find difficult to ignore. For me, it's blatantly hateful, racist, or discriminatory comments or promotion of such ideas.

When I was teaching English Composition, my job was to teach my students how to construct a strong, well-rounded argument by using reliable sources. We focused on using critical thinking skills to evaluate sources, especially online sources. You can still use a biased source, but it helps to know where the biases are and why they exist so that your argument doesn't have a million holes in it.

Sometimes, we see stuff online that looks like journalism, but is actually not a reliable source. We like it and share it with our friends because it does a good job of convincing us of its point of view. But since we are bombarded with so much information all of the time, it's hard to look into the source of everything and have a good think about who benefits from that point of view and the institutional discrimination or power structures that inform it. In other words, who profits from that viewpoint? This is something that's just smart and healthy to ask. Is it the culture of power?

A few years ago, my father and I watched the documentary film, "One Bright Shining Moment: The Forgotten Summer of George McGovern." The movie "retraces George McGovern's bold presidential campaign of 1972 - a grassroots campaign that fought for peace and justice, and positioned ideas and people first." I thought it was really interesting, and informative since I was still a year from being born in 1972. But much to my surprise, about an hour into the film, my Dad, who was a democrat himself, got up and said in exasperation, "This is all propaganda!" I was puzzled by this remark because I agreed and accepted the premise of the documentary, the questions it was asking, and the people it featured. I was also puzzled because I assumed that my father agreed with it, too. But he obviously saw something there that I didn't -- probably because he was 42 years old in 1972. Ultimately, I trusted the voices in the film like Howard Zinn and Gloria Steinem, and I am comfortable questioning the American electoral process. My father was not comfortable with their line of questioning, for reasons unknown. At the time, I didn't ask him why because I was afraid of the answer. I know all too well how crushing it can feel to realise that people you love feel so fundamentally differently about something than you. I've had periods, such as during Presidential elections, where I've purposely avoided people because I didn't want to be angry with them. And I didn't want to risk feeling that way about my Dad, though he was considered "the bleeding heart liberal" of his siblings.

I tell this story of the McGovern film because it made me realise that the left does have its own propaganda, which includes biases and slanting information. And it can feel threatening to conservatives and non-conservatives alike to be forced to question huge institutions like our government, our police and military forces, marriage, gender roles, race and cultural appropriation, religion, and so on. And questioning those institutions, no matter how much academic and peer reviewed research you throw behind it, can seem just as conspiracy theory coo-coo to them as they sound to us. And what happens is that most of us, no matter what our views are, find ourselves preaching to the converted, whether on purpose through our own filters, or because we've been filtered out by others. This is why I assume that most of my right wing cousins have hidden me from their facebook news feeds by now. Why would they want to see all my posts about abortion rights and anti-capitalism?

So it's hard because the people I'm really hoping to reach will probably never see this. And it's difficult because I don't want to create rifts or bad feelings. But sometimes I see something that is just so awful, so offensive and plainly wrong, but in its accuracy and ethics, that I have a hard time ignoring it. So here goes. Bear with me.

When someone in my family posted this video on their facebook page, I was shocked and perplexed. (Please BE WARNED: there are graphically violent images in that link.) In fact I will admit that I didn't make it all the way through the video. The premise, from the text below and the part I did see, was that "the liars who promote false racism" are people who think there is a disproportionate incidence of violence and discrimination against people of colour. The "real" racism, they say, is against whites. For a moment, I considered posting a counter-view to this basic premise. But anyone who's been on Facebook for more than five minutes knows that starting a political debate, especially with family, is probably not going to be productive for anyone. I love my family, and with an ocean between us, I don't need to insert an extra divide.

So right now, I'm debating whether to even try to engage with this video, as much as I'd like to. My friend Peter had this to say: "I have found, in my many similar discussions with family members, that it is rare to dissuade them of their baseline view that the world is or could be a pure meritocracy. That's really the core faulty assumption at play here. If you accept that opportunities actually ARE equal regardless of gender, sexuality, race, etc., then the logic of the video stands. If you understand, however, that this is not and has never been the case, it seems ludicrous on the face of it."

So given this potential road block in the way of mutual understanding, I want to tackle it just as I would if one of my students used this video as a source for a research project or to strengthen an argument. So, let's look at the source. Is it reliable? Who/what is the source? And what might their biases be? The video appears to be produced by a website called "" a website that claims to "help you increase your wealth and grow rich" run by three guys: Kenneth Ameduri, Daniel Ameduri, and Joshua Enomoto. They also have another similar site called So, let's see. Do they cite their sources? No, they do not. Do we know anything about their biases? From the videos featured on their site, it appears that they are libertarians who want to convince their readers that anyone can become a millionaire. What makes them experts on race and police violence? Your guess is as good as mine.

Their website has a section called "stopthehate" which lists the people they think should apologise for the "hands up don't shoot" campaign. Among those are the President of the United States, Barack Obama; civil rights activist, Jesse Jackson; Rachel Maddow, a news reporter, Rhodes scholar, and published author with a PhD from Oxford; and Eric Holder, former US Attorney General, to name a few.

Up until last week, I'd never heard of a man named Alex Jones. But apparently the people who made the video in question think that his two websites, and are "most excellent and outstanding sites where you can find true journalism and trustworthy information." Alex Jones is a conspiracy theorist who thinks that the US government was involved in the Oklahoma City bombing and 9/11. He thinks the Bible is prophetic. There's no other way to say it: he's a complete wingnut.

If you're still reading this, I really thank you for your patience. I just have one request. Please don't post something on the internet without considering whether it comes from a reliable source. Consider whether it might be propaganda, and if so, what it's promoting. I'm not entirely sure why that video was made and what it's supposed to promote except maybe white supremacy and a false understanding of the institutionalised violence that people of colour face in America. Before you deny the existence of something so fundamental as racism (racism!!), think about how well educated you are on the topic (are you, for example, oh, white?), and how your own experiences and perspective might fog your understanding of it.

We should all be asking ourselves why we think what we think, and striving to promote peacefulness and equality in this world where so many people are discriminated against for so many reasons. I mean, shouldn't we?

But if you need to post videos denying that such inequalities exist, please, at least have the kindness to filter me from seeing it on your Facebook feed. I'd really appreciate it.