The Next Step

With graduation on the horizon, I’ve been reflecting on my college career and the development I’ve gone through at SUNY Plattsburgh. When I first came here I was unsure of what I really wanted to do. I knew I had an interest in the legal/political realm of study, but beyond that I had no course of action. More than anything, I was incredibly unsure of myself. My sexuality, my ideas, my appearance– everything. I wouldn’t claim to be an ultra-confident graduate at the end of it all, but I am certainly much more sure of myself now than I’ve ever been.

I don’t have everything figured out in terms of post-graduation plans, but I do know that I plan on studying law. Before college, I didn’t really have tangible goals, and so I felt lost in translation. I may not have every facet of my future mapped out, but the goals that I once longed for seem much closer now. I also have reflected on the friends I’ve come to make here as well as the memories. It’s been a long four years, but I know that when I look back on this moment it will have seemed a hasty tenure.

There isn’t much of a point to this blog post, other than a small reflection for myself. It’s surreal to know that I will be a graduate in a few short days.

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Sanders as an Independent?

Typically running as an Independent in the general election is not something I’d recommend a liberal candidate do. It has the potential to hand the opposing party the nomination come November. However, if this election has proven anything- it’s that it is unlike previous contests. Clinton and Trump both have historically high unfavorability ratings, and Clinton’s indictment is still an ominous possibility. Top that with the surge of young voters and independents that have coalesced behind Sanders, and an independent run might not seem as impossible as before.

This post doesn’t aim to count Sanders out yet; the contest isn’t over and Sanders has asserted that he will fight until the DNC this summer. I encourage supporters to continue voting for and working with the Sanders campaign. However, we should also be honest in acknowledging that Sanders has an incredibly narrow path to victory. I think that a Sanders vice presidency might help to sway Clinton on several issues, but I’m not entirely sure that she’d take Sanders as her VP pick (even if she should). As previously stated, with the potential of indictment looming overhead it may perhaps be safer for Sanders to run as an independent.

Even if Sanders were to lose the general election, if he does well enough, he would inevitably start a dialogue (in many ways he already has) about independents and the problems with a two-party structure. For now, the idea of Bernie as an independent candidate is far off, but it’s certainly something to think about if he can’t clinch the nomination come this summer.

Something Different

So I decided to try something a bit different for this post. I’m going to share some poetry that I’ve been working on. It’s nothing final, but I thought that it would be interesting to share something. The piece (untitled for now) is meant to represent political weariness and social consciousness. It feels a bit weird to introduce my own poem, as I don’t typically write poetry, but here it is:

I am the free man
An apostate of my convictions
With eyes sewn open, body bound, and mind entombed
I am free

I am the free man
Sipping words that slither from opulent carafes
Finding contentment in disillusion
I am free

I am the free man
Sinking deeper into velveteen
Plunging hastily into scarlet comfort
I am free

I am the free man
Mixing ferocity with ivory tablets
Dulling insatiable self-loathing
I am free

I am the free man
Hearing whispers in the wind
Seeing cracks in stone pillars
Tarring rose-sequined lashes
They fear the man that proclaims
I am free
But knows it to be false

 

Dividing the Church and the State

One of the fundamental principles put forth by the United States Constitution is that it is important for the church and state to remain completely separate. The First Amendment is often regarded, particularly by the religious right, as a protection for religion. It, of course, does protect religion- however it also protects others from religion. It also asserts that government should not establish any one religion over another. When “strict constitutionalist” politicians like former presidential candidate Ted Cruz argue that the United States is a Christian nation, I find myself at a loss.

This post isn’t an attempt to dissuade religious people from their faith. Rather, this post seeks to set the record straight regarding religion, particularly Christianity in the United States. The Constitution isn’t based on religious tenets; in fact, many of the founders of the document were strictly secularist. Establishing a religion can create a de facto theocracy which as a governmental system has historically failed in upholding human rights. We’ve seen Christian doctrine affect laws in contemporary politics with states like North Carolina and Mississippi, and this has been the case throughout American history.

Religion is a personal value system and a communal establishment, but it shouldn’t interfere with government. Many religious groups are heavily involved in politics while churches remain tax free, religion influences policy, and political office holders are expected to be religious. It is my opinion that a true division of church and state is necessary in order to work towards true progressive values.

Pro-Blackness ≠ Anti-White

So often do I see posts that chide the Black Lives Matter movement as a “racist organization.” Whether or not you agree with the political stances of the movement, it is rather perplexing that anyone could find them to be a racist (or even terrorist, as some have suggested) hate group. I could point to the lack of a strong central leadership or the lack of violent acts being committed in the name of the group, but instead I’d like to focus on the heart of this issue. For many, it seems, pro-blackness has become synonymous with anti-white. As a child of mixed-race, someone’s who’s grown up with a black and white parent, I can say that pro-blackness isn’t inherently anti-white. There are no doubt radicals in any movement, but I would assert that this isn’t the case for most black activists.

Turns of phrase and cultural expressions like Black Lives Matter or pieces that bring to attention black beauty don’t seek to tear down white lives or white beauty. Instead, they seek to empower black people and encourage discourse about black lives and racist institutional biases.  It’s important to recognize that race and racial tensions don’t exist in a bubble. Rather, they exist in a culture riddled with historical contexts that have helped to create the underlying societal tension that we have seen spill over in the last few years.

About a week ago I was having a conversation with a few of my peers. We were discussing skin bleaching and Lil’ Kim. One student sought to compare skin bleaching to black face. She was confused as to why people would be offended with the latter but not the former. I argued that there was historical and bigoted context to black face- where the intent was to ridicule black people. On the other hand, Lil’ Kim’s skin bleaching was her attempt to look white because of insecurities she felt about being black.

The point of this series of rambling is that race relations and race don’t exist in a vacuum, and that the intention of black people when we acknowledge blackness is to challenge systemic oppression and bias cultural standards. There’s no problem in taking pride in your heritage, but it’s essential that we allow black people- a people who have been historically discriminated against throughout the history of this country and abroad- the same space.

Male Survivors

Content Warning: Discussions about sexual assault.

A few weekends ago I hosted a workshop that focused on male victimization, particularly in cases of sexual assault. I thought that discussing it would behoove potential readers on here, as well. Male victimization is a horrendously underrepresented field of study, and thus there is very little contemporary data on the subject. Additionally, men face stigma and legal double standards when they report their assault. This prevents men from reporting, and has left rates of under-reporting among male victims  incredibly high.

A RAINN study showed that 1-in-6 men have been sexually assaulted before the age of 18. While sexual assault doesn’t particularly mean rape, this figure is still quite alarming. Is it possible that societal pressures and ideas about masculinity keep men from feeling comfortable with reporting? Homophobia has certainly played a part in under-reporting, as men who are assaulted by other men face even worse stigma. Keeping this in mind, a Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 46% of sexual assault cases against men were carried out by women.

So how can we work to increase awareness about sexual assault against men, and increase reporting rates? It is essential that we validate a survivor’s experience. This doesn’t mean we must throw “innocent until proven guilty” out the window, but it does mean that we should respect a survivor enough to validate their claims and work to find out the truth. Respecting a survivor also means respecting their decisions and autonomy. We shouldn’t force people to report or to remain silent. Instead we should serve as a support system for those who confide in us. We should be patient, kind and understanding when supporting a survivor of trauma. Last, we should urge activists and political leaders to discuss sexual assault carried out against men (especially in prisons), and we should engage in these conversations (at our own comfort levels, of course).

Representation and Video Games

I’ve grown up with video games; so, one might say that I’m a connoisseur when it comes to looking inwardly at the culture. Perhaps one of my favorite attributes of this medium is the amount of time you get to spend in the narrative. A typical film is around two hours in length, but video games extend to well beyond ten-to-twenty hours (sometimes going well over one hundred hours). While they don’t always succeed, video games have the potential to craft a far more personal and consequential story because you are given agency within the narrative. With that being said, one issue circulating the gaming community has always frustrated me. When gamers call for better and more common representation for different kinds of people, their request is often met with disdain or apathy. Should video games work to be more inclusive? Can gamers relate to a character that doesn’t share social identifiers with them?

My answer to both of these questions is a resounding, yes. While I don’t think art should have some sort of racial or ethnic quota- I do think that content creators should step out of their comfort zone. Perhaps representation is indicative of too few perspectives on development teams, but I won’t make that assumption without proper research. Either way though, creators should look to learn about perspectives they aren’t familiar with. Many game designers will travel in order to explore environments that influence their work. I think that simply talking to co-workers, friends or even acquaintances about their experiences is a good first step to understanding how to create authentically diverse characters. Often times, we see caricatures of minority groups rather than a fully fleshed out character.  There are so few games that genuinely portray queer experiences, black experiences, etc. I don’t expect minority groups to represent a majority in media, but it’d be nice to be thrown a satisfying bone every now and again. After all stereotyped characters are only really an issue when that is the commonplace portrayal for nearly every member of a certain group. Most importantly though, is remembering that minority groups are people. It is okay to write a story for them that doesn’t inherently include their identity, but that tells of their experience as a human being.

So, now that I’ve rambled about being inclusive- I’d like to talk about the practicality of inclusion. It is true that the vast majority of video gamers (in the United States) are white males. There are studies that certainly indicate a rise in female gamers, but many of those statistics included mobile games like ‘Candy Crush’ which, unfortunately, don’t really count. Nonetheless, it does appear likely that more women will be members of the gaming community in the future. We’ve begun to see far more respect and representation paid to women in a myriad of titles. The reboot of Tomb Raider, Life is Strange, Final Fantasy XIII, Bayonetta, and Mirror’s Edge – to name a few. I will say, that we still have a ways to go in this regard however. Others would disagree with me by arguing that, with the aforementioned majority demographic gamer,  games featuring diverse protagonists wouldn’t sell as well. While I question how relatable the ultra-bad-ass demigod is for the average gamer, there is some merit in the idea that representation can affect childhood development and self esteem (See study: here). Even with that in mind though, the majority of gamers are adults who are well beyond that stage of development. As well, it is important to  keep in mind that video games are becoming increasingly popular, and not just here in the United States, but in countries where white people aren’t the majority. An interesting side note is that many Japanese games and manga feature majority white casts, or white protagonists. This is despite Japan’s majority Asian population.

Even in Japanese media there seems to be a lack of diversity, especially when looking at anime and video games. Wherever you live in the world, the idea that adults cannot empathize and relate to a character who has a different skin color, sexuality or gender is quite baffling. In my opinion, it is far more likely that people are uncomfortable with differing perspectives. I would argue that art in any form is meant to evoke these kind of emotions, and is meant to challenge insular perspectives. I say this, fully aware that not all games are meant to be artful. This post isn’t meant to dictate the creative process, but to provide suggestions on how to expand and diversify the gaming community. As well, this post seeks to assert that it’s okay to relate to others who might be different from you. When we are a more inclusive in our content it becomes much easier to avoid tropes and cliches, and it becomes much easier to expand our community.

 

Should You Vote Hillary?

Americans want money out of politics. While I could provide links to studies that have shown this; I think that- by now- this point is fairly obvious. The problem is that most candidates have promised that they plan to be tough on big business in favor of the middle class. For the purposes of this post I’ll be focusing on why I don’t support Hillary Clinton.

I don’t have the same (at times justified) vitriolic dislike for Clinton that some of my peers do . However, I find myself both skeptical and wary of Hillary Clinton given her record. She’s been relatively inconsistent, fickle even, in terms of her beliefs. Her former anti-marriage equality stance is the most infamous example. As well, her notorious relationship with big businesses and huge investment banking firms  like Goldman Sachs (which payed Clinton multiple speaking fees). Her criticisms of Sander’s single-payer healthcare plan as merely a plan to abolish the Affordable Care Act, were disingenuous.

As well, Clinton’s arguments against Sanders are rooted in the idea that the system is too broken to be fixed with Sanders’ ‘radical’ ideals. Voters should realize the differences between Sanders and Clinton as candidates. Sanders is a candidate who has had an impressively consistent record. He’s fought for civil rights, relentlessly pushed for healthcare reform, was against the war in Iraq, etc. Sanders’ platform stems from a genuine desire to change a system that Sanders believes to be corrupt (as do many people).

Clinton on the other hand is a more traditional politician in that her views change overtime. While some of this may be through reconsideration and evolution, it often times seems that her opinions waiver with change in popular/cultural values. Many criticize Clinton for this, and while it leaves me skeptical of her actual motives, I don’t think this style of politician is inherently bad. Clinton evolves to meet the needs of her constituency (for better or for worse).

However, as I said, I’m still rather reserved about her stances and views. Clinton is quite clearly the establishment candidate. She is a status-quo president who is far more centrist (and more conservative) than even President Obama.  Her views on healthcare and economics are, in my opinion, antiquated. I don’t want a President who has to constantly play ‘catch-up’ when it comes to social justice, economics, healthcare, etc.

I’ll be casting my vote for Sanders, the democratic socialist whose policy plans might actually serve as a conduit for change in a country so desperately in need of a face-lift. I intend to make a post detailing why I support Sanders, but for now I encourage others to read into his policies. American citizens have agreed across the board that our system is corrupt. A vote for Clinton is a vote for stagnation. Remember to register before it’s your states turn! Happy voting!

Are Video Games Sexist?

bayonetta-2-2014-game-fb-cover

Controversial video game critic, Anita Sarkeesian, analyzes tropes in video games through a feminist lens (YouTube Channel: Feminist Frequency). Often times, Sarkeesian argues that these tropes serve to objectify women. Is this the case, and if so, doesn’t that make them sexist?

To answer the first question, I think it would be disingenuous to argue that women and men aren’t sexualized in video games. Many male characters are rendered with huge muscles and a chiseled abdomen. On the other hand, there is no doubt an emphasis on breasts and the rear-end for women. It’s fairly obvious that the trope of “incredibly fit and attractive” characters stem from human sexuality and it’s prevalence in culture throughout the world. I would, however, disagree with feminist critics like Sarkeesian that argue that this sexualization only happens with women. I would also disagree with the assertion that sexualization, or sexually liberated characters are inherently bad.

One character that Sarkeesian has been critical of is Bayonetta. The character (her box art shown above) is no doubt a rather sexual character. While Bayonetta is, in parts, a marketing ploy- she is also an incredibly powerful character who is unafraid of sexuality and expression. Her very existence seeks to refute the silly notion that women should be submissive and conservative inherently. Her in-game character foil, Jeanne, serves as another strong character who is often times far more conservative in her manner of dress and sexual expression. I can understand being tired of a trope that has been used so much, and we should challenge writers to work harder. At the same time, I can’t find myself agreeing with the idea that a character like Bayonetta objectifies women when so many times male characters are sexualized just as much (ie. Dragon Age’s male character- Iron Bull). There is nothing wrong with a character exploring or being confident in their sexuality, just as there is nothing wrong with a character with a subdued or even absent sexuality.

This post doesn’t assert that video games, or media (on a larger scale), can never have sexist tendencies. I don’t think there is anything wrong with challenging creators that put forth tired tropes and stereotypes without any nuance or substance (Lara Nara, from Xenoblade Chronicles X, comes to mind). It’s important to recognize the difference between a character with an established identity and a poorly written trope, but it’s equally important to recognize that some characters- just like people- may fulfill certain stereotypes  while still remaining their own unique entity. That’s okay too, and the only way to know for sure is to actually play these games for yourself.

So are video games sexist? Sometimes, they can be. Though, I’d save the picket signs and pitchforks until after you’ve had some experience within the community and with the game in question. Happy gaming.

 

Pro-Black: Beauty Standards

Before you hit backspace, eyes rolled upward, try and muster through this post. It’s an important one. From time to time this blog will cover issues of race as it is a large component of identity, and a contentious talking point in contemporary politics. Today, I’d like to discuss black pride or being pro-black and what that means in terms of contemporary standards of beauty.

Growing up as an interracial (half white, half black) child in America can culminate in a myriad of differing identities. However, one thing that has remained a constant for many interracial youths (even more so black youth) is an ingrained sense of inferiority regarding blackness. I would contest that children of all colors have rooted insecurities growing up- from eye color, to hair length, or body type. For black children the insecurities come from a different place however. The pervasive notion that kinky hair textures, larger noses, and darker skin are somehow inferior has been a toxic remnant of black oppression, particularly in the last few decades. One of the most popular reflections of this epidemic comes in the form of multiple studies. This “Doll Test” (See here: Doll Test) asked black children to prescribe behavioral and appearance based characteristics to a white doll and black doll. Most of the children attributed positive traits to the white doll, while the negative traits were assigned to the black doll.

Of course, this is only one example of how black children see race, and what that means in terms of self-esteem. Growing up, many of the darker members of my family and friend group were the butt of jokes aimed at their “crispy” or “nasty” skin color. Even among each other; it was a constant competition to be the lightest black person. Wait, you might say, my friends have made fun of me for my pale skin and how easily I get a sunburn. That is a valid point, but while you may have those personal insecurities, anti-black insecurity is one that is systematically and consistently tied to our identity. Hip-Hop music and videos, film, modelling – even those created by black artists- have quite often excluded darker women on the basis of their skin color being considered ‘unattractive’.

So, what does this mean in terms of being pro-black? It means that we want to uplift black youth to view their black features as natural and beautiful rather than something to be ashamed of. In a country where the majority of people are white, products have a tendency to cater to that audience. There is nothing wrong with embracing white beauty, but the same need be said for black beauty (as well as other ethnic groups and races). Black people should feel confident in their skin, and should know that they don’t have to have the complexion of Beyoncé or Chris Brown to be accepted.

With that said, pro-blackness cannot be anchored to other identities. We can all agree that people are beautiful and amazing across races, cultures and identities. However, we must recognize that black people needn’t be an “in addition to”. We can acknowledge black beauty and black culture without a caveat- whilst still appreciating the beauty of other cultures and people globally.

There will definitely be more article posts regarding pro-blackness, and what that means in varying facets of society. Stay tuned.