What Happens When A Journalist Uses Your Tweets For A Story? (Part One)

(Co-written by Monique Judge, originally published on Medium.)

It all started with a ruined Wednesday morning.

A tweet of mine had found its way into a Washington Post op-ed calling for the dismissal of University of Missouri professors accused of assaulting students at a rally celebrating the resignation of the school president. Normally, this wouldn’t bother me; I’d grown accustomed to journalists using my tweets in their stories without giving me so much as a heads up (which usually leaves me open to trolling), and my Twitter account has never been private. But, as I’d spent the last 48 hours ridding my mentions of trolls wanting to debate First Amendment rights and freedom of the press, I was in no mood to entertain any more, and there was something about this particular post that stunk.

When WaPo blogger Erik Wemple couldn’t get in contact with one of the professors he decided to publicly shame, he used a source that provided him with a screenshot of that professor’s locked Twitter account. They were a handful of fairly innocuous retweets from myself and several other black writers commenting on the press’s inability to handle the Mizzou protesters with care. (More on the rather interesting optics of this later.) We don’t know who the source is, because Wemple is protecting them. We don’t see any actual tweets from the professor himself to put those retweets into context. When I reached out to Wemple, he claimed the retweets provided insight into the professor’s thoughts. And when I asked about the use of the screencaps, Wemple responded:

So, I sent a letter raising my concerns to Wemple’s editor, James Downie. This was his response:

(To Downie’s credit, he apologized for misgendering me on Twitter.)

According to Wemple and Downie, the professor’s 390 Twitter followers negated any expectation of privacy he may have had. Since the professor didn’t make himself available to be interviewed, Wemple was well within his rights as a reporter to use the screencaps of the professor’s private account the source had provided as a statement, of sorts. I’m not sure what the reader was supposed to glean from this, other than the professor’s proficiency at using the “Retweet” button. In any case, it has left the professor open to another wave of trolls and undesirables ready to harass him and call for his head.

Twitter — and the tweets of private citizens being public domain — has long been a point of contention. While Hamilton Nolan’s snide declaration in Gawker last year may have served as the definitive answer for many working journalists, it might have also contributed to the rapid erosion of public trust. But there’s something about Nolan’s post that’s worth noting:

“If you do not want your Twitter to be public, you can make it private. Then it will not be public. If you do not make it private, it will be public.”

The professor did, in fact, make his account private. He did not intend for anyone beyond his 390 followers to see those tweets. He had, in fact, an expectation of privacy, which was violated by Erik Wemple and the Washington Post.

This isn’t the first time a journalist or a blogger has exercised questionable judgment in pursuit of pageviews. Last week, American Conservative blogger Rod Dreher published the locked tweets of a theologian he was briefly obsessed with taking down. (I won’t link to the exact post out of privacy for her, but it remains up for the world to see.) It is unclear whether Dreher followed her on Twitter himself, or if he, like Wemple, had an eager source willing to do his dirty work.

Makerbase Co-Founder and CEO Anil Dash highlights the problem with treating the tweets of private citizens like those of public figures in his Medium essay, “What Is Public?” An excerpt:

“It has so quickly become acceptable practice within mainstream web publishing companies to reuse people’s tweets as the substance of an article that special tools have sprung up to help them do so. But inside these newsrooms, there is no apparent debate over whether it’s any different to embed a tweet from the President of the United States or from a vulnerable young activist who might not have anticipated her words being attached to her real identity, where she can be targeted by anonymous harassers.”

In March 2014, BuzzFeed reporter Jessica Testa published an “article” comprised mainly of tweets she’d curated from a Twitter discussion that user Steenfox kicked off about sexual assault.

That article, and subsequent outrage became part of a larger debate surrounding the way journalists use tweets. According to Steenfox, Testa had not gotten her permission to use her face or her image in the story.

A subject as touchy as the one Steenfox and her followers were discussing requires a lot of care in reporting. The people sharing their stories were survivors of sexual assault, and deserved to have both their identities and their dignities protected.

Openly publishing the names and faces of those participating in the discussion for an article clearly meant to garner links for BuzzFeed was completely irresponsible, and opened them up for further attacks and harassment, as Steenfox said she experienced herself.

Her photo went viral, finding its way onto the Facebook feed of her younger brother.

“He says, ‘you’re all over BuzzFeed’,” Steenfox said. “He was startled.”

She later battled with BuzzFeed to remove her photo from their site.

Of Testa, Steenfox said, “For all she knows, my abuser could have found me. What if I was trying to hide from that person?”

Steenfox, and many others whose tweets were included in the story, felt exposed. It’s one thing to send out a tweet to an audience of a couple hundred people. Fox has a very large following, but her 17,000 followers in no way matches the reach of a site with millions of viewers per day.

Exposing a story to that size of an audience, especially one that may not necessarily had been granted to BuzzFeed, is dangerous and irresponsible journalism.

Steenfox was harassed and trolled when the story of her dust up with BuzzFeed made it on the Poynter Institute’s site, via an article penned by resident journalism ethics expert Kelly McBride.

For her part, McBride based her opinionated article on a false premise. She misunderstood why Steenfox was angry, and used as a source one of Steenfox’s tweets in which Fox was addressing Testa for not having gotten her permission.

The entire thing turned into a nightmare for Steenfox, who had people in her mentions accusing her of wanting ownership of public tweets and being upset that her “Twitter moment was gone.”

All Steenfox wanted was her privacy to be respected. At the time, she maintained a public Twitter account with over 10,000 followers. And though she understood what she was doing when she posited the question to her audience, she never intended for that audience to grow hundreds of times over in the span of one night.

The idea that tweets are public and therefore open to be seen by everyone is an argument that is used all the time in these situations, but that argument lacks nuance.

What many of these journalists fail to grasp is that a person tweeting to a small audience may very well understand that the public tweets are subject to being shared and seen by a larger audience, but the type of exposure that comes when a larger media outlet shares your story in no way compares to 100 people on your timeline retweeting your tweet.

Consider the example of the infamous Zola, who took to Twitter to share a cautionary tale of hookers, strippers, pimps, mayhem, and murder.

After the story was retweeted hundreds of times, Zola deleted the tweets from her account, but not before they had been captured via screenshots and saved to various Imgur accounts.

When larger media outlets picked up the story, nearly none bothered to attempt to track down Zola or verify the facts of the story. Most simply provided cheeky, borderline insulting writeups, linking to screenshots others had posted.

Only WaPo’s Caitlin Dewey sought the facts behind the tale. She tracked down the parties involved, even finding others who had been in similar situations with Jess and ‘Z’, the latter turning out to be a real-life pimp currently facing charges of human trafficking, among other things.

Zola has become something of a cult hero, with movie directors contacting her about a possible dramatization of her story.

Others who have had their tweets shared on large media outlets without their knowledge have not been so lucky. Many have suffered harassment, ridicule, and in some cases, unemployment. These are things they didn’t sign up for.

The Society of Professional Journalists addresses the need for journalists to exhibit compassion in its code of ethics under the heading Minimize Harm:

Show compassion for those who may be affected by news coverage. Use heightened sensitivity when dealing with juveniles, victims of sex crimes, and sources or subjects who are inexperienced or unable to give consent. Consider cultural differences in approach and treatment.

Realize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than public figures and others who seek power, influence or attention. Weigh the consequences of publishing or broadcasting personal information.

What Wemple, Testa, and other journalists have done defies the ethical code. They have chosen to hide behind the idea that posting it in a public forum makes it fair game.

The time for a new code of ethics in journalism is now. In the age of new media, with so many reporters opting to do their research on the Twitter and Facebook feeds of private citizens instead of going out and doing the digging on their own, new rules must be set in place to train journalists how to handle situations like these when they arise.

(Part Two will take a closer look at the consequences of having a tweet go viral, and what happens when it nearly costs you your job.)

Life on the intersection.

I don’t write much anymore. Not because I don’t want to write. Not because there isn’t enough time. But in this fast-paced world of hot takes, it has become increasingly difficult to keep up. I realize that I am not a hot take kinda girl. I am for the measured, contemplative essay, one that takes great care to craft. Some are able to pull that off daily, and God bless ’em. I can’t do it. My heart isn’t in it. I write when the spirit compels me, when something has moved me so deeply that I am wide awake at 1:30 in the morning banging, on my Macbook Pro in the quiet of my living room.

Today, it is Sandra Bland, the woman who allegedly committed suicide in a Texas jail cell earlier this week. And the Black Lives Matter protest at Netroots Saturday morning. And the criticism of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s new release. And how, in one way or another, they all intersect.

Sandra Bland spent the latter part of brief life advocating for preservation of black lives. Her family remembers her as a brilliant, vivacious woman, a woman fighting to change the world, or her corner of it. She used social media to speak out against police violence. A Chicago Blackhawks fan, her final tweets are ones asking fellow fans to join her in prayer for the Charleston Nine. She is the second person in three years to allegedly commit suicide while in custody of the Waller County, Texas, authorities. She is the sixth black woman in 2015 to die during a police encounter. She is the 13th black woman (that we know of) to die since 2014. Sandra Bland’s case is one of the very few to see widespread media attention; usually when the victim is black and female the story is quietly filed away, until a news story needs a statistic, or a thinkpiece needs an tragic anecdote. Perhaps, because in Sandra Bland, we have the perfect victim. A respectable victim. An educated, socially conscious victim. She is not too young, or too old. She could easily be the girl from the old neighborhood, or the sister making plates at the family picnic, or the girl you politely smiled at as you crossed paths in the frozen food aisle at Mariano’s.

Sandra Bland means that the stories of black women felled at the hands of police can no longer be erased. No longer can we write off black female victims as troubled ne’er-do-wells condemned to their fates. No longer can we blame incomplete narratives on the lack of public interest. Her story is in our face, her final moment of life a viral video, her brief existence a Sunday morning show talking point. So when a Black Lives Matter activist disrupts a presidential candidate forum to declare “no more erasure,” you are compelled to pay attention. And it will make you uncomfortable. That’s the point. There is no room for politeness when your life is on the line. There is no hey, um, if you could um, just give me a minute… because we’ve tried that before and got nowhere. This is as urgent as a motherfucker.

News reports covering Saturday’s action have described it as “heckling,” the presidential candidates “shouted down.” or “interrupted and derailed” by BLM. Social media reaction was just as damning, with many white progressives wondering (aloud, of course) why black activists would disrupt politicians at a convention specifically created for…activists. Many black people who have attended Netroots will attest to having that “fly in the buttermilk” feeling. They will regale you with tales of bizarre microaggressions and polite liberal racism. They will speak of the organization’s lip service to diversity, and its struggles to be more inclusive. Which is why that BLM action was necessary, why the sight of a black woman standing between two white male presidential hopefuls, demanding to be seen, demanding accountability, was powerful. Sure, white progressives can try to dismiss this protest as an immature attention-grab, but when a white male presidential hopeful (one with a questionable track record on race relations) responds to Tia Oso’s question with “Black Lives matter, white lives matter, all lives matter” the disconnect is clear. And when Tia Oso is met with scorn and derision from white progressives, the disconnect is clear. And when Bernie Sanders cancels a meeting with black activists, perhaps to signal disapproval, the disconnect is clear.

It is necessary, then, to continue to speak up about erasure, even if it means criticizing those we respect. Last week saw the release of Ta-Nehisi Coates new book, Between the World and Me; many met the new release with praise, including Toni Morrison, who compared The Atlantic writer to Baldwin. It is something when one of the world’s most revered writers compares your work to that of another literary giant. The accolades, of course, aren’t unwarranted. I’ve been a fan since his Village Voice days, and have had spirited debates with good friends on the merits of his work. Coates is a beautiful storyteller, an earnest intellectual who readily admits when he’s wrong, and takes great care to get it right. And when a friend did come with criticism, he took it. Instead of making it about himself, or his feelings, he simply responded “you’re right.”

And that’s really all we want. Acknowledgement. For our voices to be heard, our pain felt. To not be shouted down, or told to wait our turn. It is possible to bite your tongue so hard it bleeds, to hold in a scream for so long that the body and spirit and soul breaks down. A demand for accountability shouldn’t be met with paternalism and jeers. A moment of legitimate anger shouldn’t be dismissed as an ill-timed tantrum. We are here. Present. Visible. Loud. And we aren’t going anywhere.

On McKinney, Cosby, and Misogynoir.

(De Ana J is writer and sometimes smartass from Southern California. She podcasts for Nerdgasm Noire, writes for Arsenal for Democracy and acts out on Twitter as @NaniCoolJ. You can also sometimes catch her on her blog www.nerdygirlswag.com.)

Weeks ago in McKinney, Texas the police were called about a disturbance at a neighborhood pool party. In one of the many viral videos, there’s an officer running around cursing at teenagers – mostly Teens of Color. In the video you distinctly hear them ask why they were being detained and why they were being told to leave a party to which they’d been invited. Notably, they were asking politely. A bikini-clad girl looking for one of her friends is told to leave with another group of girls; as they leave, the officer becomes upset and grabs the girl, slamming her to the ground multiple times, while her friends ask why she’s being arrested. When her friends attempt to help her, the officer pulls a gun on the group.

Aside from the obvious racism, it’s important to pay attention to the racialized misogyny  (misogynoir) that also takes place. Looking at the videos, it’s clear to see that the officer, David Eric Casebolt, was being excessive in his attack on the girl, Dajerria Becton. It’s scary to see a grown man be so violent towards any small, bikini-clad 14 year old girl  – the officer treats Miss Becton as if she were a much bigger, much stronger person. It’s even more alarming when you realize that Casebolt was specifically targeting teens of color.

If that girl hadn’t already learned before — if any of those teens hadn’t already learned before — they learned that day that being Black in public is considered a threat to the police. Even if you’re doing nothing wrong. Even if you’re only 14. Even if you obviously have no weapon. Even if you are polite.

If a group of teens can have the police called on them for being at a pool party they were invited to, the problem isn’t them — it’s the belief that simply because they are there they are causing trouble. This is especially true for Black girls, who have to live at the intersection of racism and sexism that denies them their girlhood. As is evident from the altercation that got police called to the neighborhood in the first place.

In a YouTube video, Tatyana Rhodes describes how two white women at the pool were cursing at the teens at the party before the police arrived. She states that, initially, a younger white girl objected to the slurs the two white women. They began to curse at her, and when Tatyana spoke out against the women’s language, they initiated a fight. In both this incident and the officer subsequently slamming Dajerria to the ground, we see White adults attacking Black teenagers, ignoring their right to personal safety.

The “pro-police” reaction to the event has been cliche. Those who believe Casebolt was justified in violently assaulting a teenage girl use the same excuses as those used for all unwarranted abuses towards Black people. They say that the children were the problem and if they’d only acted more respectfully towards the police and residents they wouldn’t have been in this situation. This point of view completely ignores how polite the teens were as they were being detained by police and the fact that it was White adults who initially antagonized them for just being Black in public.

We’ve been told non-violent protests in the form of marches and boycotts in the 1960s magically changed the minds of the majority of White people and then racism ended. Because of this fairytale, the US has failed to unpack actual issues of systemic racism and the lingering effects of racist stereotypes that have developed since slavery.

This failure combined with sexist attitudes is especially harmful for Black women and girls. Even as teenagers, any break in respectable behavior is treated as a threat and the responses to these perceived threats is almost immediately violence. We’re not afforded the luxury of girlhood. If Black girls were regarded by society the way it views White American girls, it would reveal this violence against us to be as horrible as it actually is, for all to see.

The fact that so many are making excuses for violence against this girl shows they do not view her as a girl the way they would a white 14-year-old in the same situation. It is also almost certainly no coincidence that the cop targeted her with this extreme force while leaving the White teenage girls at the party alone, and only handcuffing but not roughing up those siding with their Black friends against out-of-control adults.

Unfortunately, this lack of girlhood affects the way adult Black women are treated as well. Recently, after another public outing of Bill Cosby’s sexual assaults on women, Beverly Johnson opened up to Essence magazine about being assaulted by Bill Cosby. Her story matched the stories of the other women who were brave enough to tell them, yet Mrs. Johnson was called a liar (among other things) and her despite her own successful career, people were quick to dismiss her and defame her character. Many saying that Beverly was trying to take down a prominent Black figure and therefore hurting Black people as a whole, while ignoring how harm to Black women also hurts Black people.

This isn’t just a race issue, this isn’t just a feminist issue, this is both. Black girls should be allowed the same safety and protection as their White counterparts.

“Transracial” and Transgender are NOT the same.

(Riley is a disabled Black non-binary femme in his late 20s. He is a CS and math student in NYC with history in art, music and writing, looking to complete the holy quadrilateral of creative capability with tech skills.)

I’m really tired of the bullshit, so let’s get down to brass tacks. I’m Black. I’m trans. I think I know a little about race and transgender issues by now.

Caitlyn Jenner comes out as transgender, and people think that comments like “if Caitlyn Jenner can change genders, why can’t Rachel Dolezal change her race?”

It’s very simple.

Trans people have historically experienced violence.

Note that I have not said “men” or “women” have experienced violence. Specifically, transgender individuals have a long history of suffering, abuse, poverty and murder caused by their transitioning and transgender status.

In other words, the act of being trans itself is brings violence, not simply the act of being simply a man or a woman.

Caitlyn Jenner submitted herself to a lifetime of this violence when she came out. Statistics have shown that the rate of violence against trans people, and particularly trans women, is particularly high. Earlier this year, a number of Black and Latina trans women were violently murdered, a fact most didn’t even realize.

There is no history, tracking, record, or give-a-damn for murders of white people “race-transitioning” (a term I use tongue-in-cheek, here) to Black. I don’t even think there’s a single record of such. There are records of murder against Black people, but it is not the act of “race-transitioning” from white to Black that yields violence…not to mention there is not much of a record on this, if any at all.

Because the transitioning is the crux of the violence, being trans produces in a lowering of status in the eyes of the respective group one transitions to.

Trans men are not accepted wholly as men amongst cisgender men. Trans women are certainly not accepted wholly as women by cis women, they’re often barely considered human beings, considered rapists and pedophiles and are ostracized from women communities while being abused in male communities. However, cis women accept other cis women’s womanhood. Cis men accept other cis men’s manhood. Non-binary people, as you can see here, don’t really exist on this extreme scale at all, and have no real place.

Rachel Dolezal went from being a mediocre white woman with no identity to the prize of a Black community. As a group, we treasure light skin, pale eyes, blond hair, and the “biracial look”, which Rachel Dolezal pretended being. Black people more than anyone else are accepting, and those who are pale as chalk and 99.9% white can get in if they claim a bit of Blackness, making it easy for Dolezal to slip in past the doors and achieve a position in the Black community that trans women are not afforded in the woman community, nor trans men afforded in the man community. By penetrating Blackness like a virus, she attained a teaching position in Africana Studies, teaching numerous classes, she ripped  away positions from Black people who have trouble getting the foot in the door at these universities. Black people, who are already overwhelmingly living in poverty were passed up by someone passing themselves off as light skin. She was exalted and held above the people she imitated, an experience that white people have no matter where they go in the world, no matter what culture they invade and overtake, whiteness and white features are loved and desired in PoC communities, assuring her seat of power amongst them.

But cis men and women are not passed over for jobs because trans people exist. Many trans women can’t find jobs at all. Trans men and trans women are not considered more attractive than cis men and women, respectively, and there is no desire, want or love of trans people in the cis community. They do not receive quarter there for having transitioned!

Race isn’t the same as gender.

On its face, it’s very easy to make some weak comparisons between trans-racial (a term actually used to describe adoption) and transgender, the idea of changing oneself overall, the thought processes that go into desperately wanting to be something people tell you that you aren’t. But once we get down to the specifics, we find differences that split the two wide apart.

Race is determined and experienced differently from gender.

Race, today, in the US in 2015? Is based on some bits and bobs and what your face looks like, the slope of your nose, the size of your lips, the shape of your eyes, the exact tone of your skin and curl pattern of your hair, your history and your ancestry. Many have come into their race as an identity, but there are plenty of situations wherein your race as determined by ancestry is completely different from your race as determined by your looks. Furthermore, it’s not only your looks, but how the racial class in power view and translate those looks.

In other words, race has history, but what determines one’s actual racial station is imposed. It’s not affected by how one acts or thinks, or how they adorn themselves. It comes from an external source. That is its history and has been since its inception.

Gender in a colonialist transphobic society may be based entirely on what bits you have when born (and if you don’t fit into two categories you are often violently altered until you do), but this is not the historical crux of gender, as this thing determined by a vapid declaration of one thing or another. One’s biological ancestral history has no effect on one’s gender; you are not your gender because your parents and grandparents were that gender. Gender is internal, and comes from the self, and that is its history, clearly displayed in a long line of various genders that have existed in PoC communities since the beginning of time. Thus, as it is internal, one’s own thoughts become relevant to one’s gender, and this simply isn’t true of race.

The respective communities are affected differently.

One suffers, the other experiences no difference at all.

What matters is the privilege dynamic. Cis women are not in any way deprived or damaged by Caitlyn Jenner or any other trans woman. The only person who stands to suffer is Caitlyn herself, whether or not the privileged community of cis women supports her, as a person who stands at the marginalized end of this stick.

But most of the people who don’t support Rachel Dolezal are those that Rachel Dolezal oppresses. People she’s stolen from. People her existences harms. Her presence does not leave the lives of actual Black women intact, it robs them of enrichment. When outed, white people defended her. They tried to call attention to potential mental illness, they told angry Black people to leave her alone and let her live. Black men who hate Black women defended her, Black men who oppress Black women and often demonize Black women. Non-Black people of color flew from their caves to come and tell Black women to “leave Rachel alone”, to “let her be what she wants”, and tried to assert their own definition of Blackness on the people who live its reality!

The oppression that Black women already face was pronounced by Rachel Dolezal. Increased. Once more, pro-injustice from sites-that-shall-not-be-named came to renew and refresh their abuse of Black women on social media.

This did not happen to cis women when Caitlyn Jenner came out.

Rachel Dolezal was happily welcomed into a community based on recreating a background that didn’t exist. Her white features earned her spaces that were meant for Black women, a group of people she oppresses. In addition, she has tried to exercise that power against Black women by announcing that she doesn’t believe they should be given a platform to speak if they don’t buy her story. She dresses in a marginalized costume, but she then says that Black people who don’t side with her lies don’t deserve a place. A place that her white body is only able to fill because whiteness, lightness are treasured in all communities.

Anyone can be transgender. But only white people can change their race.

If a person determined irrevocably Black by white people tried to smooth into their society as Rachel Dolezal has done to Black people, the only thing that will happen is…well, historically, death. In modern times, ridicule, ableism in the form of insistence that it is a mental illness that should be medicated or hospitalized, or flat out ignoring it.

There would be no discussions. No conversations. At best, humoring the idea. Certainly no defense of such.

If a person determined irrevocably Black by white people tried to smooth into ANY other race as Rachel Dolezal has done, the same thing would happen. Hell, Black people who are multiracial are often forcibly delegated to the “just Black” category regardless of their history!

This is not an identity. It is simply an extension of white privilege to include the capacity to become other races freely, something that is afforded to no one else.

Rachel Dolezal flat out lied about her life and her experiences, and not to protect herself, but to protect the benefits she received and the space she acquired through those lies. She lied to protect her privilege, a trait of white people and all privileged groups. Her life could have been the same had she merely remained the white woman she was. White people already devour space in Black communities as a bonus of their whiteness, but she chose to take her farce further, becoming a “Black” woman who happened to be indistinguishable from the party in power.

There is no benefit to being transgender, and there is no harm, but there is every benefit and harm to a white person picking a less privileged race to join because white features are privileged in every race and identification has no effect on that.

Caitlyn Jenner is now being treated as a woman, and as a trans woman, and receiving every detriment of those two identities with no mal-effect on cis women, but Rachel Dolezal is still being protected and defended as white women are, to the suffering of the Black women she pretended to be. White people can reap the benefits of relative privilege in the PoC community they choose to inhabit, PoC can never, ever do the reverse. Rachel Dolezal lived her “Black life” centered and important in Black spaces, and trans women will NEVER be centered in women’s spaces, nor will trans men be centered in men’s spaces, and non-binary people will float in a void between the two groups.

There is a difference between recognizing a fact about oneself based on an identity aspect that is internal, like gender, something that harms no one, something where anyone can transition and become trans and deal with a similar set of experiences, versus joining a group of oppressed people and shoving them out of it, a privilege only afforded to white people, an “identity” that is at its crux nothing but white supremacy.

Sometimes voting feels like a waste of time…Chicago’s apathy in the runoff election explained

If you’re not from Chicago, it may seem like Rahm Emanuel’s deep pockets and political ties should make him a shoe-in to be mayor for another four years. Yet for many Chicago residents, Rahm’s first term was more enraging than exciting. Voting in this mayoral election isn’t about who has the deepest pockets, it’s about the way the last four years have gone, and deciding which candidate is least likely to ruin the next four years of our collective lives. On one hand, you have current Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s curiously pitiful “Well yes, I was rude, overbearing, and I didn’t listen to you, but I’ll do better next time,” interspersed with “Chuy’s going to act like every other Chicago politician” and on the other you have his opponent, Cook County Commissioner Jesús G. “Chuy” García’s “Rahm did a terrible job, I can’t be any worse” mixed with “I’ll promise to do whatever it takes to get your votes.” Frankly, neither set of messages is remotely convincing, but they exemplify what’s going wrong in Chicago politics this year.

Like many residents of Chicago I’m angry at what happened over the last four years as mental health clinics, schools, and other resources were gutted, often with little or no input from affected residents. Rahm’s decision to cut funding for teachers right before announcing the building of a new $60 million-dollar school is probably more memorable than anything else he might say during a campaign. Whether the discussion is school funding, Rahm’s alleged poor treatment of a grieving mother who wanted answers about the closing of the mental health clinics, or any of a dozen other examples, in many ways Rahm’s bad behavior is the candidate, not the softer image he’s trying to peddle now. The idea of voting for Rahm to have a second term feels like deliberately choosing to vote for Voldemort.
Meanwhile Chuy’s campaign can’t help but be underwhelming, especially given the fact that his political record in Chicago is so bland as to be nearly forgettable. The most damning thing Rahm’s campaign can find about his history is that he voted for an unpopular but necessary property tax almost 30 years ago. However pragmatically Chuy may have voted over the years, the fact that he wasn’t the first, second or third choice to be Rahm’s opponent outweighs any flowery rhetoric his camp can write for him. This isn’t even a case of choosing between the devil you know, and the one that you don’t. It’s more, “Well do I pick the devil sitting at the table, or the one standing in front of it?” Chuy isn’t necessarily exciting or inspiring as candidates go, but he doesn’t need to be for his campaign to be a refreshing change.

Chicago politics are a contact sport in any year, because even with our creaky crooked machine, would-be politicians have to work their way into the system, and then work very hard to stay in it. Despite the implied anointing of Rahm’s candidacy via his ties to Mayor Daley and to the White House, no politician in Chicago can ever afford to rest on their laurels. A recession, a pension crisis, and a range of long standing financially questionable political decisions have upped the stakes so much that Rahm’s educational agenda alone would have been enough to put his seat at risk. Add the much-publicized shootings in Chicago’s most economically vulnerable neighborhoods, the announcement that police misconduct cases cost the city over $521 million in the last decade, school budget cuts that followed the closing of 50 schools, the refusal to explain the closing of six mental health clinics, the push to spend TIF (Tax Increment Financing) funds on a stadium for a private school, and the “solution” of shifting that funding to a hotel project? Rahm has consistently made choices that could torpedo any incumbent’s hopes for reelection.
While in office Rahm focused on plans that appealed to the upper middle class and outright wealthy voters who largely funded his first campaign run. And though he paid lip service to wanting the best for all of Chicago, many of his decisions have been detrimental to the lower middle class and low income voters who actually carried the last election for him. Much is made of racial segregation in Chicago, but in reality it’s often economic differences that divide Chicago’s North, South, and West sides from each other. Race and class are heavy factors here, candidates can’t afford to ignore either. I’m a middle class Black woman on the South side now, but I spent years in one of the lowest possible income brackets and like many I vote based on where I was, and where I am now.
Jesús G. “Chuy” García is for many voters a contender this year despite his history, not because of it. After nearly 30 years in Chicago politics, Chuy’s record doesn’t show that he’s the best candidate, so much as it shows that he is more in tune with the reality that Chicago voters live in places that aren’t the north side, and at socioeconomic levels below the Federal poverty line. Promises to support an elected school board, come up with a better financial plan for a foundering city budget, and do more to stop street violence sound good on paper. Unfortunately, without more concrete information, it is not as though voters can be sure he’ll keep all of his campaign promises. Unlike Karen Lewis, Chuy’s mild mannered “We will come up with a way to fix this” isn’t the firebrand rhetoric that swayed many voters to support the idea of her run for Mayor before illness made that impossible.

I can’t state for sure who will be the next mayor of Chicago. I know that as a native of Chicago’s South Side, a parent and a long time voter, my trip to the polls today wasn’t the optimistic bounce of someone excited about the future of Chicago politics. It is the pragmatic choice between the devil I know has ignored the needs of many constituents, and one who has at least had the good sense to try to work with voters who measure their income in hourly wages, and not in capital gains. Rahm might mean to keep his promises to do better, to listen more, and to make all of Chicago’s communities a priority. Chuy might be able to keep his promises to clean up the mess that predated Rahm’s term, as well as correct some of the things that went wrong under Rahm. Or they might both be full of it, and Chicago will stay mired in the same ugly mess that it has been in for decades.
Voting in a Republican, a different Democrat, or an Independent has been touted as the answer so many times, and every time the choices have come down to picking who voters thought would do the least harm. Because a single candidate can’t remake the whole system no matter how much we wish they had the power. This is democracy, this is politics in an era where best choice for the job may never even run, and even if they do, they might never have the funding needed to mount a successful campaign.

Your Feminism is Probably Bullshit…You Should Clean That Up

Patricia Arquette’s onstage comments from the Oscars were a meme before the show even finished airing. She was lauded for speaking up for equal pay for women, and bringing up the “Women earn 78 cents to every dollar a man earns” which sounds really awful. But which men? Which women? The answers of course are to a white man’s dollar and that white women make that 78 cents, while Asian women make an average of 90 cents to that dollar. Black, Latina, and Indigenous women make substantially less from 65 cents all the way down to 54 cents. So it’s important to talk about equal pay in a context of the reality that some women are making substantially less than others. And that white and Asian men and women earn more than many other groups including Black, Latino & Indigenous men. If we’re going to talk about equal pay in this age of demands that women “Lean In” let’s talk about who is getting hired, and for what jobs. Let’s talk about racial bias in hiring that means that qualified people of color (and yes that includes women, because despite the clumsy alienating phrase women and people of color, women of color do exist) may not get hired at all, much less have a chance to fight for pay equal to a white man’s.

Of course that takes us into the rest of Patricia Arquette’s comments at the Oscars. The ones made backstage in the press room that said “And it’s time for all the women in America and all the men that love women, and all the gay people, and all the people of color that we’ve all fought for to fight for us now.” because that’s where things go sideways. While a federal amendment guaranteeing equal pay for women sounds great, it doesn’t do much to get marginalized people any closer to actually being hired. It doesn’t do anything to correct structural inequalities that make it harder for some people to get hired at all. It certainly doesn’t address the fact that calls like Arquette’s which specifically cite stats based on white women aren’t actually inclusive, or respectful of the work that marginalized people have been doing to get the minimum wage raised to a living wage, to get better protections for transgender people in the work place, to make child care affordable, to get better protections for people in care giving positions, to keep programs like Job Corps alive etc. Where are those voices when women veterans are facing higher rates of homelessness, or when low income women are penalized for being poor?

White women are the primary beneficiaries of affirmative action, yet more than one lawsuit against it has been filed by white women who claim that the limited success of POC unfairly disenfranchised them. So it rings incredibly false to see not only Arquette’s speech demanding the support of marginalized people so that white women can achieve pay equality, but the words of organizations lauding her for saying white women’s pay is an issue that everyone should be focusing on, as though white women are the ones who have been waiting the longest for access to opportunity. Equality doesn’t trickle down, liberation rhetoric isn’t meant to be the lubrication for the advancement of white women at the expense of everyone else. So why are we still having these same teach ins about the facts of inequality? Intersectionality isn’t a difficult concept with hard to grasp tenets that fly above the heads of people in positions of power. It is literally taking the step back and asking yourself, “If X affects me and people like me in this way, how does it affect others?” and then doing the (not at all) heavy lifting of listening to the lived experiences of people who are not like you.

Arquette’s most ardent defenders will laud her as a feminist, call any critiques of her words last night divisive and short sighted. It’s the same routine every time, yet those same feminist voices are mysteriously silent when discussions of a living wage, discriminatory hiring, educational and other social inequalities that primarily impact POC and other marginalized people come up. Equal pay for equal work is incredibly important, of course so is equal access to opportunity. So is equal protection under the law, and equal respect for the work being that done that actually has helped white women all along. If your calls for solidarity aren’t informed, inclusive, and intentional in focusing on ending inequality for everyone then all you’re doing is demanding that you be supported in your quest to be an equal oppressor. I’m certain Arquette’s intentions were to be feminist, but that doesn’t make what she said intersectional, that doesn’t negate the harmful impact of her behavior or that of her supporters.

Flavia Dodzan said it best, “My Feminism Will Be Intersectional Or It Will Be Bullshit” and it still applies today. What is Patricia Arquette’s feminism? What is yours? What equality can be found when the face of feminism is all about leaning in to making as much as a white man, and not about making sure that every woman can afford to eat, can access education, healthcare, affordable housing and other basic needs? It’s great to pursue your dreams, it’s even better when everyone else can pursue theirs too because they’re not struggling to to gain entry to a living wage. Equal pay is one of the last steps on the road to equality, not the first one for all women so stop insisting that it matters more than anything else, stop demanding that other people struggling to survive drop what they’re doing in fights you don’t participate in, to support your desire to have even more than you already do. Or you know…keep going with the bullshit feminism that hurts far more people than it helps.

The sad reality is that Arquette’s comments were just the latest in a long line of such incidents. They aren’t going to be the last examples of this problem either. Whether we’re talking comments made on E!’s Fashion Police about Zendaya’s Oscar night look or the way that some of Arquette’s defenders have used offensive rhetoric against any critics of her speech the reality is that in many ways a refusal to hear that feminism isn’t one size fits all is actively hurting progressive causes. Imagine what could be done with this kind of feminist star power if it was actually used to benefit the most vulnerable people in the progressive movement instead of being used against them? Everyone’s feminism is imperfect, because everyone is imperfect but if you’re not trying to be more inclusive, then what exactly are you doing calling yourself a part of any progressive movement?

History Books We Love Or Would Love To Read

I started tweeting this list, but umm…I have a book problem. It’s possible I’ve never met a history book I wouldn’t at least skim. And many that found their way home with me. I blame used bookstores like Powells, Afterwords, O’Gara & Wilson’s, & whatever stores I might wander into when I’m on vacation. And libraries. And reading apps. And…it’s me isn’t it? It’s me. This is an incomplete list because well…I really do have a lot of books in various formats. I was a book dragon in a former life.

The Souls of Black Folk  by W.E.B. Du Bois

Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City by St. Clair Drake and Horace R. Cayton

Making the Second Ghetto: Race and Housing in Chicago 1940-1960 by Arnold R. Hirsch

Creole New Orleans: Race and Americanization Paperback by Arnold R. Hirsch

Romanticism, Revolution, and the Afro-Creole Protest Tradition in Louisiana, 1718-1868 by Caryn Cosse Bell

The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism by Edward E. Baptist


American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass by Douglas S. Massey

A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn

Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James W. Loewen

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

At the Dark End of The Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance–A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power by Danielle McGuire

Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves by Adam Hochschild

King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa by Adam Hochschild

Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement by Barbara Ransby

For Freedom’s Sake: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer by Chana Kai Lee

Assata: An Autobiography by Assata Shakur

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday by Angela Y. Davis

Afro-Latin America, 1800-2000 by George Reid Andrews

The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

The White Scourge: Mexicans, Blacks, and Poor Whites in Texas Cotton Culture by Neil Foley

In my defense my focus in undergrad was Afro American history & it sparked an interest in other histories that has maybe led my wallet astray some times. Maybe. What books do you think I should be reading? What histories fascinate you?