8.12.2020

what i'm reading: how to be an antiracist by ibram x. kendi

How To Be An Antiracist is an important, powerful, thought-provoking book. With unflinching precision, Ibram X. Kendi defines the roots of racism and explains how we can work to eliminate it.

The structure of the book is disarming: the explanatory chapters are interwoven with the story of Kendi's personal journey from racist thinking to antiracist thinking.

Yes, the author is Black, and he has had racist thoughts, and has engaged in racist behaviours. 

He spares no mercy for himself as he looks back, cringing at his beliefs -- although understanding the tradition that they grew from. I hope Kendi's openness and his willingness to publicly criticize himself helps more readers approach his ideas with an open mind and less defensiveness.

Kendi believes that our typical conception of racism as a product of fear and ignorance is wrong, and he makes a very strong case for that belief. He shows that racist policies are made by racist people in order to further their own interests. Racism can be unmade, therefore, by antiracists creating and getting others to create antiracist policies.

In Kendi's view, it's a mistake to conceive of racism as a permanent descriptive term, an on/off, either/or state -- "He is a racist" -- as it lulls us into a false belief that we are not racist. He writes:
"Racist" and "antiracist" are like peelable name tags that are placed and replaced based on what someone is doing or not doing, supporting or expressing, in each moment. These are not permanent tattoos. No one becomes a racist or antiracist. We can only strive to be one or the other. We can unknowingly strive to be a racist. Or we can knowingly strive to be an antiracist. Like fighting an addiction, being an antiracist requires persistent self-awareness, constant self-criticism, and regular self-examination.
Here are a few things I loved about How To Be An Antiracist.

-- Kendi does a great job unspooling intersectionality, the idea that the overlapping of various identities or membership in certain social groups leads to combined privileges or disadvantages. (I strongly dislike the word "intersectionality" and I wish we called this something else, but the concept is very important.) For example, the forced and coerced sterilization of poor Black women is racist, sexist, and classist. It can't properly be seen unless all three factors are acknowledged.

Racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, prejudice against skin-colour, anti-semitism, Islamophobia, class prejudice -- all of these can intersect and overlap, and when that happens, the effects cannot be separated. Kendi takes the reader through each group or identity and shows that to be antiracist, one must work on all the other biases as well. Put simply:
To truly be antiracist is to be feminist. To truly be feminist is to be antiracist. 
-- Kendi frames racism as inextricable with capitalism. He's writing about modern capitalism as it is now conceived. The selling and trading of goods in a marketplace is as old as humanity. Our present-day capitalism bears little resemblance to that benign and extremely human activity.
Capitalism is essentially racist and racism is essentially capitalist. They were birthed together from the same unnatural causes, and they shall one die day together from unnatural causes. Or racial capitalism will live together into another epoch of theft and rapacious inequity, especially if activists naively fight the conjoined twins independently, as if they are not the same.
Calling capitalism and racism "conjoined twins", Kendi echoes Martin Luther King, Jr.:
It means ultimately coming to see that the problem of racism, the problem of economic exploitation, and the problem of war are all tied together. These are the triple evils that are interrelated.
-- I love that Kendi demonstrates that the fraud and theft of the 2000 and 2004 US elections were essentially racist. He calls the actions of Kenneth Blackwell, the Republican Chief Elections Officer in Ohio, "the most egregious Black on Black crime in modern US history". Many readers may not be fully aware of what happened in these elections, and Kendi's brief summary will be very eye-opening.

-- Kendi demonstrates the inherent racism and classism embedded in standardized testing. Very interesting!

-- Kendi demonstrates how antiracist policies and an equitable society would benefit everyone, including most white supremacists.
Of course, ordinary white people benefit from racist policies, but not nearly as much as racist power, and not nearly as much as they could from an equitable society, one where the average white voter has as much power as superrich White men to decide elections and shape policy. Where their kids' business-class schools could resemble the first-class prep schools of today's superrich. Where high quality universal health care could save millions of White lives. Where they could no longer face the cronies of racism that attack them: sexism, ethnocentrism, homophobia, and exploitation.
I'm highlighting what I loved about this book, but I'm purposely not trying to recreate Kendi's arguments. I feel that anything I write will be oversimplified and, because of that, too easily dismissed. I want Kendi to make the argument for you. Read this book.

Kendi's previous book was Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, winner of the 2016 National Book Award for Nonfiction. I have not read that yet, but I gather that How To Be An Antiracist is much more accessible. This book is nothing to be afraid of. It's something to read, and re-read, and ultimately embrace. 

8.10.2020

simple but amazing experiences healing dogs from past trauma

Cookie recently had a fear reaction, and we're working on desensitization. I thought I would share our experience with changing fearful behaviour. 

Diego

Not long after we adopted Diego, we learned he had an extreme fear reaction to anything involving his ears. Neither Allan nor I can remember exactly how we learned this, whether he growled at the vet during an exam, or something else. But I distinctly remember that, when he saw a Q-tip in my hand, Diego showed his teeth for a split-second -- then instantly looked sorry and guilty. Poor guy!

The vet could see that Diego had a very severe ear infection. Not wanting to traumatize him further or cause him pain, she suggested general anesthesia, a full-on ear cleaning, then a program to desensitize him to ear-touching. 

Diego was highly food-motivated, so it was not difficult to re-program him.

First we associated the Q-tip or cotton ball with the treat -- so that he earned a treat just for seeing the Q-tip, then for smelling it on his own, then we would touch his ear very lightly, and so on. Then we moved on to very light touches to his ear, gradually increasing the interaction, using plenty of rewards and lots of happy talk and affection the whole time.

We did this over the course of a week, and it went brilliantly. Diego never had the fear-aggression reaction again, and for the rest of his life, he enjoyed being rubbed or scratched behind his ears.

Could this be why such a sweet-tempered and well-trained dog ended up in a shelter? Perhaps he growled, showed his teeth, or even snapped at someone who was trying to look into his painful ears.

Cookie

It's fortunate we had this experience with Diego, so we knew what to do for Cookie.

Cookie is extremely frightened of the monthly anti-flea and tick prevention we're using. I didn't understand it until I held the vial to my face: it smells like rubbing alcohol. 

Cookie did live in a house where there was drinking, drugs, and violence, so it's not surprising that she has a negative association with the smell of alcohol.

When we used the treatment last month, Cookie was wary, but she allowed us to put it on her. After, she rolled around and acted strange -- and I later realized she was trying to run away from the smell or rub it off.

This month her reaction was much stronger. As I started unwrapping the vials, she jumped away. When I moved towards her, she showed her teeth for a split-second, and frantically moved away. So sad!

Because of our experience with Diego, I knew what to do. We put the stuff on Kai, then I held the empty vial in one hand, and put a treat in my other hand. I held my hands out, palm up, a few inches apart. 

Cookie would dart in, take the treat, and dart away. After doing that a few times, I put the empty vial and the treat in the same hand. 

She did the same thing, quickly grabbing the treat and jumping away. We did that four or five times, then stopped. That's enough for one session. 

The next day, I did the same thing -- not advancing, just repeating the same level of interaction. Cookie took the treat with relaxed body language and looked at me, asking for another.

That's where we are now. I plan to do this for a few more days before trying again to use the treatment on her.

It's important to go really slowly, never forcing the dog into contact with the stimulus that's eliciting the fear reaction. Gradually, you create a new, positive association. Hopefully Cookie will soon know the smell of rubbing alcohol means a treat is coming.

Buster

Of course, not all trauma and fear-aggression will respond to desensitization. Buster, our beautiful broken pitbull, needed medication, and special training, and still could never be safely off-leash outside. But we did use a similar idea on a regular basis.

Our lives in those days depended on having a dogwalker visit twice a day, two days each week. This meant that every once in a while, we had to introduce Buster to a new person. 

The behaviourist we worked with gave us a plan. 

It took four sessions. Buster would be on-leash and wearing his "gentle leader" -- which made him feel safe. As long as he was on-leash and a stranger didn't enter his (literal) comfort zone, Buster was fine.

The first time New Person entered our apartment, we would scatter yummy, "high value" treats on the floor. New Person would come in, sit down, hang out, talk, say Buster's name many times in the happy-lovey voice. All the while, we would continue to scatter treats on the floor and Buster would go around gobbling them up. 

Session two, we would do the same, but we would place the treats near New Person's feet -- so Buster had to be near New Person while eating the treats. New Person would sit on the couch, talking to Buster in the happy voice, saying his name often, but not trying to touch him or even putting their hand out.

Session three, New Person would offer Buster the treat, open hand, palm up, doing all the happy talk, saying Buster's name a lot. Buster would accept the treat from the person's hand, and we could see his body language was relaxed. There was no further touching, but Buster was willingly touching NP's hand every time he accepted the treat.

At session four, Buster would be relaxed and friendly. All his fear would be gone. He would spontaneously come to New Person asking for attention. New Person could put on the gentle leader, touch Buster's head. Buster would rub his head into NP's leg -- and that was it.

Once Buster gave his trust, it was total and irrevocable. But we had to do this every time, and there was no rushing it or skipping a step.

Except for one remarkable experience that we'll never forget.

Our dogwalker and his partner were coming over for dinner. We had not met Partner before, so Buster was on-leash with the gentle leader, lying down next to Allan's chair.

During dinner, Buster went under the table, and put his head on Partner's shoes. Partner reached down and stroked Buster's head, and Buster snuggled closer. Somehow, Buster understood that Partner was part of Dogwalker, and he would be safe.

8.09.2020

rotd: love and labor in alliance

Revolutionary thought of the day:
Wherever capitalism appears, in pursuit of its mission of exploitation, there will be socialism, fertilized by misery, watered by tears, and vitalized by agitation. It will also be found unfurling its class-struggle banner, and proclaiming its mission of emancipation.

Love and labor in alliance, working together, have transforming, redeeming, and emancipating power. Under their benign power, the world can be made better and brighter.

Eugene V. Debs

"at your library" in the north island eagle: make screen time count with library e-resources for kids and teens

At Your Library: Make Screen Time Count with Library E-Resources for Kids and Teens

You know I’m always going on about the great e-resources you can access through your library. “E-resources” means e-books, digital magazines, streaming music and movies, plus ways to learn new skills, expand your small business, and so much more. But did you know that Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL) has e-resources just for kids and teens?

My favourite e-resource for kids is TumbleBookLibrary. It offers picture books, graphic novels, children’s classics, early readers, and more. There are even “read-alongs” -- your child can read the book while it’s also being read to them. With TumbleBookLibrary, your kids always have fresh new books to read, and you always have a way to help build their reading skills.

OverDrive is the library’s most popular way to access eBooks and eAudiobooks – and it has a kids’ section. Download the “Libby” app and you can get started right away. Don’t worry: eBooks and audiobooks “count” as reading. They help your children develop literacy every bit as much as print.

There are great e-resources for homework and school projects, too. Explora is a kid-friendly research tool containing articles from encyclopedias and science magazines, on nearly every topic you can think of. 

The Encyclopedia of British Columbia is just what it sounds like – the definitive reference for all things B.C. There are thousands of articles, plus photographs, maps, and video clips. KnowBC is the place to go for popular school subjects like local birds, marine life, shells, and place names. 

Teens are part of the picture, too. TeenBookCloud has hundreds of eBooks and audiobooks for middle school and high school readers. You can access it online without an app. And you can find lots of YA reads on OverDrive, either through the library website or the Libby app. 

Knowledge Network is a hidden gem – a commercial-free public television network for the province of BC. Teens might be especially interested in the documentaries on far-ranging topics, by independent filmmakers, with a strong Canadian and BC slant. It’s free and easy to use. 

Teen crafters will love Creativebug. It offers thousands of video classes and demonstrations for creating art and craft of all types. There are ideas for every interest and skill level. A great idea for a social-distanced party!

These are only some of the many options for kids and teens that you can find through your library. Of course, they are all free, and available to anyone with a library card. Go to virl.bc.ca > Read, Watch, Listen to start exploring. If you need help, call 1-888-415-VIRL. Someone is available to help you every day of the week.

8.07.2020

"at your library" in the north island eagle: columns published since re-opening, parts 2 and 3

Ancestry Library: Your Library Can Help You Discover Your Roots

As the lockdown began, I posted some "At Your Library" columns that were suddenly irrelevant, among them a column about Ancestry Library, then only available from a library branch -- and the branches were all closed.

Shortly after that, Ancestry was made available from all computers -- but the newspaper wasn't publishing. 

As it turns out, that column didn't run before the lockdown. I submitted with some changes in July, and I was able to announce that this e-resource is now available from any computer. So I'll check that off my list.

*  *  *  *

The next column feels sadly ironic. As more library services move online, we can reach more people. But the "digital divide" grows wider, and we fail our most vulnerable customers. Libraries everywhere are working on ways to address this, but it's another sad ripple effect of the pandemic.

Your Library Online: fun and safe ways to enjoy your library this summer (plus increased Takeout hours in Port Hardy and Port McNeill)

This is a tough summer for libraries. We miss our branches being a hub of activity, and having people of all ages and interests flock to our doors. Whether it’s beach reading, Summer Reading Club, or a series on audiobook, libraries have always helped make summer entertaining (and dare I say, educational). This summer – like everyone else – we are discovering new ways to connect.

The good news is that the library is still here! When you need something new to read or watch, you can use our Takeout service. Soon deliveries will resume and you’ll be able to order materials from any VIRL location. That should make many customers happy!

Although our library programs have moved online, they are still the programs you know and love – but in a different format. 

Kids up to 12 years old can “Explore Our Universe” with the 2020 Summer Reading Club. You can register your children by visiting https://bcsrc.ca/. There are lots of virtual events to explore. The easiest way to find out more is through the “Virtual SRC 2020 Explore Our Universe!” Facebook group. Families without internet at home can call 1-877-415-VIRL to register.

Readers age 12-18 can join the Teen Summer Challenge, completing tasks to win prizes. You can see the complete task list and instructions at https://virl.bc.ca/teen-summer-challenge/.

We’re now offering three virtual book clubs. All the titles for the clubs are available as eBooks with no waiting and no holds, throughout the month of July. 

     The Shared Shelf is a book club for the whole family. The focus will be on children’s chapter books, to read and talk about together. The July title is Kenneth Oppel’s Silverwing.

     The Take A Break book club reads lighter fiction and informative, enjoyable nonfiction. The July book “The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared” by Jonas Jonasson is a crowd favourite.

     Books & Beyond focuses on taking action. After each title, members will have an opportunity to try a local challenge or a task to help them better understand or address topics covered in the book. The July title is “I’m Not Dying With You Tonight,” by Kim Jones and Gilly Segal.

There are also online storytimes. Check out the Storytime Corner Facebook Group at 10:30 a.m. every Monday and Friday, and Babytimes every Tuesday. Children of all ages can enjoy storytimes.

Questions? Feedback? Ideas for virtual programs? Call us at 1-877-415-VIRL (8475). 

[Sidebar with branch open hours.]

"at your library" in the north island eagle: columns published since re-opening, part 1: library takeout

Since the lockdown ended, I've been writing my column in the free local newspaper again. These columns seem very specific and not of wide interest, but since I started collecting the columns on this blog, I want the record to be complete. 

At Your Library: Your Library Is Coming Back… One Step at a Time

Welcome back! I’m so very happy to welcome you back to your local branch of the Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL). 

I hope you weathered the lockdown in relative comfort and safety, and that you and your loved ones are all healthy. It’s been such an unusual time, with so many unknowns, and for many people, a real struggle. I can speak for all library staff when I say, we missed being able to help you through it.

VIRL is taking steps towards a gradual return of library services. We’ve worked hard to design a system that protects the health of our customers and library staff, follows all the provincial health guidelines, and still provides access to your library. Quite a challenge!

Right now we are pleased to offer “Library Takeout”. During certain hours, you can visit your local branch to drop off items and pick up something new. For now, you’ll only be able to borrow books, DVDs, videogames, and magazines that are currently in the branch. We won’t be able to order anything in from other branches – for now. 

By the time you read this, Takeout hours will be running at all VIRL libraries. In Port Hardy, there will be two Takeout hours daily, Wednesdays through Saturdays. The other North Island branches – Port Alice, Port McNeill, Sointula, and Woss – will offer Takeout hours on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. To check the hours, please visit the VIRL website at virl.bc.ca/branches or go to your branch’s Facebook page.

Takeout service is built around all the necessary health and safety guidelines, to help prevent the potential spread of COVID-19 – social distancing, disinfecting, and frequent hand-washing. All library materials will be quarantined for 72 hours in between customers.

Since April, free wireless internet access has been available 24/7 outside all VIRL branches. Most of our e-resources are available from your home or workplace, including Ancestry Library (normally available in-branch only). If you need help with any library resources, you can call VIRL at 1-877-415-8475 or email info@virl.bc.ca. 

You can also call or email for any reference or research need, including suggestions for what to read or watch next. Library staff is there to help you, Monday to Friday, 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Another option is VIRL’s “One Book, One Community” online book club. Right now we’re reading Greenwood by Michael Christie. Greenwood is a multigenerational family story, linking the fates of five people on a remote island off the B.C. coast over the course of 100 years. The award-winning author, Michael Christie, lives on Galiano Island. 

You can access Greenwood as an e-book or an e-audiobook. If you need help getting started, call us at 1-877-415-8475 or email info@virl.bc.ca.

With access to physical books limited, this is a great time to become more familiar with VIRL’s many e-resources. In my next few columns, I’ll take a look at some amazing options that may surprise you. (If you missed my column on Ancestry Library, and you’re interested, email me!) If you’ve never tried an e-book or e-audiobook, why not start now? It’s free, and as always, we’re here to help.

8.06.2020

a piece of new york is gone: pete hamill, rest in peace

A piece of New York City died this week. Pete Hamill, a legendary New York journalist and possibly the last of a breed, died yesterday at age 85. 

Obituaries describe him as a "tabloid poet" or "tabloid hero". If he hadn't existed, perhaps Raymond Chandler would have invented him. 

It seems only fitting to let the Daily News tell his story.
Legendary journalist and author Pete Hamill, a tabloid hero and teller of New York tales, dead at 85
Pete Hamill, the Brooklyn-born bard of the five boroughs and eloquent voice of his beloved hometown as both newspaper columnist and best-selling author, died Wednesday morning. Hamill, who worked at five New York newspapers and outlived three, was 85. 
Hamill, four days after a Saturday fall that fractured his right hip, died in New York-Presbyterian Hospital Brooklyn Methodist, said his brother and fellow ex-Daily News columnist Denis Hamill. Though Hamill underwent emergency surgery, his heart and kidneys ultimately failed.
“Newspaperman, novelist, mentor to so many, citizen of the world,” tweeted New York Times columnist Dan Barry of Hamill. “I once wrote that if the pavement of New York City could talk, it would sound like Pete Hamill. Now that city weeps.”
The legendary Hamill served as editor for both the Daily News and the New York Post during a newspaper career that covered the last 40 years of the 20th century — an improbable dream come true for a high school dropout, the son of Irish immigrants, raised in a hard-scrabble borough.

“One of the best days in my life is when I got my first press pass,” he once recalled fondly. “To be a newspaperman is one of the best educations in the world.”
The lifelong New Yorker brought a touch of poetry to the tabloids, a sense of grace, wit and empathy amid the daily dose of crime and corruption. He wrote 21 novels and more than 100 short stories, along with longer pieces for The New Yorker, Esquire, Rolling Stone and New York magazine.
He was working at the time of his death on a book titled “Back to the Old Country,” a reminiscence about the pervasive influence of Brooklyn on his life.
Hamill inspired generations of journalists to follow his path, one that took him across the country and around the world but always returned to New York.
“I greatly appreciate him encouraging me to write as a young person full of self-doubt,” said Jelani Cobb, a staff writer at The New Yorker. “I will also miss the fantastic breadth of his knowledge of New York City and the indelible rhythm of the sentences he pushed off the tip of his pens.”

7.27.2020

11 (more) things on my mind about the protests in the u.s.

In April, I wrote a post called "11 things on my mind about the anti-police-violence and anti-racism protests". For reasons unknown to me, it's one of the most widely-read posts I've written in a long time. So here's an updated list.

1. When governments respond to protests with violence and intimidation, and the protests only grow, a movement has reached another landmark of growth and development. This is happening right now, and it's exciting!

2. Protest by middle-class and middle-aged citizens is so heartening to see, and possibly another milestone. The so-called Wall of Moms, and the "dads" with leaf blowers and hockey sticks, are crucial pieces. Their courage will embolden so many others. No change will happen until and unless the middle-class is onboard, so get onboard!

3. Veteran resistance is so powerful. I wonder about resistance within the active military.

From my work with the War Resisters Support Campaign in Canada, and from extensive reading about war resistance movements, I know that military resistance is always much bigger than civilians might ever imagine. Those courageous men and women are badly needed, right now.


4. I hope organizers are working on tactical nonviolence training -- not because I think protests must always be nonviolent, but because it will build movement power.

Nonviolent protests command a huge amount of attention, and focus attention on the one-sided violence against the protesters. We have a cultural memory of the power of nonviolent protests from the U.S. civil rights movement, and consciously linking the present protests with those famous scenes is strategic and powerful. I'm not inside the movement on that level, so I don't know if this is already happening, but I hope it is.

5. People are educating themselves about racism. Books like How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi and White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo are on bestseller lists and have long hold queues at public libraries. Libraries are posting antiracism reading lists. Antiracism book clubs and discussion groups are popping up. This is amazing and so beautiful.

6. A repeat from that April post: the US was founded on protest. Every important, positive change in the United States has been born of protest. Protest is as American as racism and gun violence. Which is stronger? We shall see.

7. How far will the crackdown go? How far down the spiral into a police state will the current occupant of the White House and his lackeys take the US?

8. What will Trump do when he loses the election? If enough people vote to counteract all the fraud, vote suppression, and black box voting, Trump will lose, and Biden will be elected. If that happens, will Trump leave peacefully?


9. And if he doesn't, will other countries condemn the US? Will the UK, Canada, and other countries with a long and friendly history with the US punish and sanction it? What would it take?

10. In my heart, hope wrestles with cynicism.

For so long, I have felt the situation in the US is beyond hope. Then Occupy. Then Black Lives Matter. Then the Fight for 15. Then Idle No More. Then Extinction Rebellion. People organizing. Against racism. Against a brutal economic system. Against environmental destruction. People organizing knowing that these are all connected. I feel a tiny glimmer of hope.

Then I think about what "winning" in the US would look like. For so many people, a Democrat in the White House -- hell, a sane, thinking person in the White House -- will be enough.

And I despair.

Then I see the uprisings, and I have hope.

Then I think... and I despair.

(Of course, how I feel is irrelevant.)

11. The future is unknown. No one knows what the future will be, no matter how much certainty they put in their words or their voice.

The future has not been written yet. If Trump is having this much trouble squashing resistance in Portland, what's it going to look like in Brooklyn, or Philadelphia, or Oakland, or St. Louis?

This is why it's so important to organize. And that's exactly what BLM and FF15 and all the solidarity networks have been doing.

Who knows, maybe after organizing and winning small victories, changing R to D won't be enough. Maybe people will demand more.

7.25.2020

rotd: "systemic racism" is redundant

Revolutionary thought of the day:
"Institutional racism" and "structural racism" and "systemic racism" are redundant. Racism itself is institutional, structural, and systemic.

Ibram X. Kendi, How to be Antiracist