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Archive for the ‘politics + current events’ Category

Open Letter to White Edmonton About White Privilege

Monday, November 8th, 2010

Dear White Edmontonians,

I am dismayed and disappointed by the overwhelmingly negative response to the Racisim Free Edmonton Campaign, most of which seems to be coming from white Edmontonians. That’s the first indication we have a problem.

Just to be clear, I’m talking to white folk in Edmonton in this post, as a white person who has in recent years started to come to terms with her own internalized racism and white privilege. I’m not an expert in any of this: I am at best an advanced beginner.

So I have some things to say, as a fellow white Edmontonian:

  1. You have white privilege. Not knowing you have it is part of how it works.
  2. It’s not your fault. Chance determined the colour of your skin which is a thing you can’t change just like someone of colour can’t change theirs.
  3. Because having white privilege is not your fault doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
  4. Learning all this for this first time sucks. But so does racism and a world that privileges one group of people over another. Deal with it.

I also have a couple of things to say about the campaign:

  1. It’s not perfect. There are some legitimate complaints about the writing positioning “us” and “we” against “them”. This argument is not wrong.
  2. The campaign is over simplified in places. Probably in more places than I realize.
  3. In regards to items 1 and 2 above, the campaign has to be oversimplified in some respects because it’s targeted at a general overwhelmingly white public that probably has never heard of white privilege before and so it needs to be simple and short while still getting the main point across. Which I think it does fairly well.



Now that you’re all gnashing your teeth at me, before you wade knee deep into a conversation about race and whether or not the campaign is racist please educate yourself first. Google “white privilege”. Learn how racism works.

Here are some resources to get you started. Some of these links I found on my own, some of them have been pointed out to me as “Important, Read This” by various people in a position to know way more about this topic than me, and some of them are well-known resources for anyone who has dared to wade into racism on the internet.

Comment Policy: If things get out of control I will have to freeze comments on this post because I just don’t have time to moderate the type of conversation this post might generate in the way it needs to be moderated. I almost didn’t publish it for that reason.

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Linkspam: Feminism, Science & Usability

Monday, August 16th, 2010

Even during crazy weeks when I’m up to my eyeballs in work, Fringe shows and social appointments, I still manage to read piles of stuff on the Internet. Here is a sampling of the most interesting things I’ve stumbled upon this week.

Feminism & Women


Science & Technology




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Linkspam: Women, Skepticism and SEO

Monday, August 9th, 2010

I read and get linked to a ton of interesting blog posts every week, and as much as I would like to post commentary about most of them there just isn’t enough time in the day. I often share some of these links on Twitter and Facebook, but I’m going to start posting a list of my most interesting recent reads here on Mondays as a way of sharing online articles with a little more context.

Feminism & Women:


Science & Skepticism:
  • Coca-Cola is being sued because their vitamin water products make unwarranted health claims, but the best bit is their defense, which is to say that “no consumer could reasonably be misled into thinking vitamin water was a healthy beverage”. Basically their defense boils down to “yes we said it was healthy, but everyone knows that’s not true so we’re fine”. Um… *headdesk*
  • Myths about the “love hormone” oxytocin and the way conservatives are twisting slective bits of science to shore up abstinence-only sex education, slut shaming, monogamy and a lack of family planning. This is a link-rich resource that I have read through but haven’t clicked-through yet. It seems well-researched and comprehensive, and the article itself is very interesting.


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Edmonton Jasper Avenue Safety Survey Results

Monday, August 9th, 2010

The Jasper Avenue Safety Survey Results have been published online and I’m not terribly impressed by Toybox’s breakdown of the data.

They asked questions like “do you live in downtown Edmonton” but didn’t break down the rest of the results by people who live downtown and those who don’t. People who live downtown spend more time here and likely have a deeper understanding of the real versus superficial safety concerns. By mixing the data, how are we to know whether or not there are real safety problems or perception issues? If the people who live downtown report very different safety concerns (or levels of safety concerns) than those who are here only to work or only to experience the nightlife, the disconnect needs to be addressed. The two issues — safety versus perception of safety — have to be dealt with in very different ways.

Also, they asked for age but not gender. More women than men experience street harassment (especially walking past popular bars like Oil City after midnight) and are a much better indicator of harassment levels than 25-35 year old white men, who by comparison are targeted for harassment less frequently. Depending on the gender mix of survey respondants, the harassment numbers may potentially be under-represented.

People experience downtown areas in different ways depending on their age, gender, sexual orientation, race, whether or not they live downtown, and which area of downtown they live in. My sister, for example, who feels most secure in white picket fence enclosed suburbia does not feel at all safe walking downtown at night, whereas I, who live, work and play 24/7 downtown, would comparatively report I feel safe most of the time. Who is right and who is wrong? Is the issue my sister’s unwarranted anxiety the issue, or am I, as a resident, just too used to to living here to notice as many safety concerns? Probably the truth lies somewhere in the middle, as most truths do, but this survey doesn’t provide the statistical depth required to help answer those legitimate questions.

I think a comprehensive survey of safety issues downtown is a great idea, but this survey isn’t very thorough and seems to skim the surface of a lot of issues that are worth a deep dive. I would be wary of drawing any conclusions from it until the data has been broken down further. I’m not certain Toybox Media was the best company to go through for this survey. Do they have the specialized statistical expertise needed to write and analyse a survey that has potential government and tax-dollar implications? Or would this have been better outsourced to a company that specializes in polling rather than one that specializes in marketing?

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Prop 8 Ruling A Rational Win for Gay Rights

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

Yesterday Federal Judge Vaughn Walker ruled California’s Proposition 8 which bans gay marriage as unconstitutional and discriminatory, a major victory for gay and lesbian marriage advocates. The decision has already been appealed and will have to go through the 9th Circuit and, eventually, the US Supreme Court.

Over the last 12 hours I took the time to read through Judge Walker’s 138 page ruling, and what I was most pleased about was how he framed his decision, not in morals or emotional appeals, but in rational fact, which legal experts say will make it much harder for higher courts to overturn.

Walker’s focus on hard evidence and fact thrills me, and reading through his ruling as he methodically and without emotional appeal refutes the claimes of the Prop 8 proponents based on the fantastic legwork of the pro gay marriage legal team.

The anti gay-marriage proponents brought the “gay boogyman” to the trial, claiming that homosexual marriage would errode heterosexual marriage and damage children, and instead of moralizing, the plaintiffs’ lawyers said came back with piles of evidence, facts, precident and expert witness testimony from psychologists to social epidemiologists, methodically rebutting each of their claims. At one point when pressed by Judge Vaughn Walker to provide even one solid, fact-based harm that might come from permitting gay men and women to marry, Mr. Cooper had nothing but “Your honor, my answer is: I don’t know. I don’t know.” Aside from the boogyman that appeals to homophobic sentiment and discrimination, the anti-gay side has seemingly no evidence to back up their position.

A long list of factual evidence — most of which the Proposition 8 proponents conceeded to during the trial (my understanding based on reading through the ruling) — has been pulled out and is available for quick reading on the Yes Means Yes blog.

Over at Slate, Dahlia Lithwick has written an outstanding article highlighting the factual, well-reasoned Prop 8 ruling:

“But for all the lofty language about freedom and morality, nobody can fairly accuse Judge Walker of putting together an insubstantial or unsubstantiated opinion today. Indeed, the whole point of this legal exercise—the lengthy trial, the spectacularly detailed finding of facts (80 of them! with subheadings!)—was to pit expert against expert, science against science, and fact against prejudice.

It’s hard to read Judge Walker’s opinion without sensing that what really won out today was science, methodology, and hard work. Had the proponents of Prop 8 made even a minimal effort to put on a case, to track down real experts, to do more than try to assert their way to legal victory, this would have been a closer case. But faced with one team that mounted a serious effort and another team that did little more than fire up their big, gay boogeyman screensaver for two straight weeks, it wasn’t much of a fight. Judge Walker scolds them at the outset for promising in their trial brief to prove that same-sex marriage would “effect some twenty-three harmful consequences” and then putting on almost no case.”

Read the full article on Slate.

And my favourite quote from Lithwick’s article comes at the very end, one with which I heartily agree:

“The real triumph of Perry v. Schwarzenegger may be that it talks in the very loftiest terms about matters rooted in logic, science, money, social psychology, and fact.”

Anti-gay marriage supporters are already calling out Judge Walker and trying to refocus the story, calling his ruling a conflict of interest because he’s gay. This implies heterosexual people by default aren’t biased about this issue, which cleary is not the case: the fact that this is such a fought over, controversial topic tells us both heterosexuals and homosexuals have potential and very real biases and conflicts here. And after reading through the ruling, I have to say I think Judge Walker did an fantastic job of concentrating as much as possible on the evidence of the case — perhaps because he was concerned about being seen as biased, perhaps just because he’s generally awesome like that. In any event and for whatever reason, his ruling is founded on evidence rather than sentiment.

I encourage everyone to read the ruling themselves, but here are a few choice snippets (references to other court cases removed):

In response to the purported arguement that reserving marriage as a union between a man and woman excluding any other relationship on “it’s tradition” grounds:

“Tradition alone, however, cannot form a rational basis for a law. The “ancient lineage” of a classification does not make it rational. Rather, the state must have an interest apart from the fact of the traditon itself.”

“Because it’s always been this way” isn’t a good enough argument to form the basis of a law.

“Proponents’ argument that tradition prefers opposite-sex couples to same-sex couples equates to the notion that opposite-sex relationships are simply better than same-sex relationships. Tradition alone cannot legitimate this purported interest. Plaintiffs presented evidence showing conclusively that the state has no interest in preferring opposite-sex couples to same-sex couples or in preferring heterosexuality to homosexuality. Moreover, the state cannot have an interest in disadvantaging an unpopular minority group simply because the group is unpopular.

The evidence shows that the state advances nothing when it adheres to the tradition of excluding same-sex couples from marriage. Proponents’ asserted state interests in tradition are nothing more than tautologies and do not amount to rational bases for Proposition 8.”

In response to the purported argument that social change should be implemented with caution:

“Proponents presented no reliable evidence that allowing same-sex couples to marry will have any negative effects on society or on the institution of marriage. The process of allowing same-sex couples to marry is straightforward, and no evidence suggests that the state needs any significant lead time to integrate same-sex couples into marriage. … The evidence shows that allowing same-sex couples to marry will be simple for California to implement because it has already done so; no change need be phased in.

Because the evidence shows same-sex marriage has and will have no adverse effects on society or the institution of marriage, California has no interest in waiting and no practical need to wait to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Proposition 8 is thus not rationally related to proponents’ purported interests in proceeding with caution when implementing social change.”

Basically, in order to justify “proceeding with caution”, there needs to be a better and more factual reason other than “because people won’t like it”. Nothing but policy has to change to make same-sex marriage a reality: there is no cost or time needed to make it happen, and no limited number of marriage licenses available to the population of California. A same-sex couple getting a marriage license does not prevent or delay an opposite-sex couple from getting one.

In response to the purported argument of opposite-sex parenting over same-sex parenting:

“The evidence does not support a finding that California has an interest in preferring opposite-sex parents over same-sex parents. Indeed, the evidence shows beyond any doubt that parents’ genders are irrelevant to children’s developmental outcomes. Moreover, Proposition 8 has nothing to do with children, as Proposition 8 simply prevents same-sex couples from marrying. Same-sex couples can have (or adopt) and raise children. When they do, they are treated identically to opposite-sex parents under California law. Even if California had an interest in preferring opposite-sex parents to same-sex parents — and the evidence plainly shows that California does not — Proposition 8 is not rationally related to that interest, because Proposition 8 does not affect who can or should become a parent under Californai law.”

So Propositon 8 doesn’t have anything to say about children or who is qualified to raise children, which makes the “think of the children” argument irrelevant to Prop 8 specifically. Also:

“Proponents argue Proposition 8 advances a state interest in encouraging the formation of stable households. Instead, the evidence shows that Proposition 8 undermines that state interest, because same-sex households have become less stable by the passage of Proposition 8. The inability to marry denies same-sex couples the benefits, including stability, attendant to marriage.

Proponents failed to put forth any credible evidence that married opposite-sex households are made more stable through Proposition 8. The only rational conclusion in light of the evidence is that Proposition 8 makes it less likely that California children will be raised in stable households. None of the interests put forth by proponents relating to parents and children is advanced by Proposition 8; instead, the evidence shows Proposition 8 disadvantages families and their children.”

I’m beyond pleased Judge Walker pointed out this inherent contradiction in this frequently used anti same-sex marriage argument. By not allowing gay and lesibian couples to wed, their families suffer social and psychologial strain that disadvantages them in our society and prevents them from creating a “stable household” which Prop 8 proponents claim to desire over everything else.

In response to the purported argument of protecting the freedom of those who oppose marriage for same-sex couples:

“Proposition 8 is not rationally related to an interest in protecting the rights of those opposed to same-sex couples because, as a matter of law, Proposition 8 does not affect the rights of those opposed to homosexuality or to marriage for couples of the same sex.

To the extent proponents argue that one of the rights of those morally opposed to same-sex unions is the right to prevent same-sex couples from marrying, as explained presently those individuals’ moral views are an insufficient basis upon which to enact a legislative classification.”

You have every right not to like it, but not liking something or someone doesn’t give anyone the right to supress the rights of others when no actual, evidential, factual harm is being done.

I absolutely encourage everyone to read through the 80 facts called out in Judge Walker’s ruling on Prop 8 and to read through at least pages 109 – 138 of the ruling itself.

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