On free speech

Using the Freedom of speech defense has long been a go-to for conservatives. Often, it’s used to weaponize their bigoted rhetoric under the guise of patriotism.

For instance, just this week, Trump cited freedom of speech to defend the Confederate flag.

However, there’s been quite a debate about free speech lately that’s cirulating throughout liberal circles following the publication of an open letter in Harper’s Bazaar signed by prominent scholars and writers accusing insitutions of discouraging open debate through a vicious “cancel culture.”

This is a tough one. In an era when we’re finally uniting to reckon with systematic racism and discrimination, it can be deflating that there’s more divide than we think among what we’d normally consider open-minded people.

As usual, I fall somewhere in the middle. People who spread hate should be called out and face the consequences for their words. And yet, sharing a thoughtful yet unpopular opinion shouldn’t cost people their livelihood.

This dilemma was recently highlighted in a fiasco that occurred in the board of the National Book Critics Circle— a forward-thinking institution. A written statement denouncing racism turned into a controversy that resulted in more than half the board resigning.

Overall, I agree with the letter writers. And what does it say about our culture when a letter promoting free speech and open debate becomes controversial?

It’s undoubtedly a good thing that we’re drawing a fence around acceptable and unacceptable concepts and ideas in today’s world. But who decides what’s in-bounds and what’s out out-of-bounds? Who’s the gatekeeper? This is what needs to be focused on.

Cancel culture does indeed stymie open and thoughtful debate. It also endorses an attack on the person rather than an idea. When JK Rowling explains her rationale behind her unpopular view on transgender identity, the reaction was to cancel JK Rowling rather than trying to dispute her reasoning.

Healthy debate is how you truly change minds. Cancelling some one does not.

Conservatives have been illiberal for years. Let’s not make it easy for them to deflect by going down that same path. After all, there’s no equivalency between racism and overzealous political correctness.

Freedom of speech will always be the most American of ideas. But it does not give you permission to say whatever you want without consequences.

Let’s call out hatred, bigotry, racism and discrimination for what it is, but let’s also remember who the real enemy is. And as mad and disappointed as some people are, the enemy is not JK Rowling.

Still not convinced? Well, if cancel culture was as mainstream in 2010 as it is now, I may have never started this blog. And if that was the case then … literally nothing in this world would be different.

Words can’t describe my contempt for states like Arizona, Florida and Texas

As someone who lives in New York City, once considered the epiccenter of Covid-19 in the United States, I can attest that mid-March through late April was one of the eeriest times in my life.

What was most terrifying was the uncertainty. With deaths racking up in China, Italy and Iran, and the scientific community scrambling to learn a virus totally new to medical literature, the only thing we could do was hope for the best but prepare for the worst.

Restaurants and most shops shut down. Everyone was (and most still are) working from their homes. More and more of the brave folks who ventured outside were wearing masks until they became ubiquituous following the governor’s order.

At certain points, it became hard to fathom being on the other side of the curve.

But there were inspiring moments, too. Stories of people recovering after weeks in the hospital thanks to the tireless efforts of medical workers. Daily applause from residents at 7pm in salute of our healthcare professionals and all other essential workers who still were fulfilling their duties in the midst of a pandemic.

And here we are on July 10th. After recording 12,274 new cases statewide on April 4th (mind you, it was certainly much, much higher because testing wasn’t widely available then), we recorded 588 yesterday. Most shops are opened. People are less afraid to be out and about. We earned this.

We flattened our curve. How did we do it? Through solidarity.

We sufficiently quarantined. We wore masks, if not out of concern for our own health, out of respect for others. We socially distanced. We were led by a governor who was making decisions based on science and facts.

We made sacrifices for the benefit of the greater good. It wasn’t about us, it was about our parents, our grandparents, our neighbors. And here we are. Though the worst has passed in New York, nearly everyone in New York City is still wearing masks, even as the streets and sidewalks return to normal and more people are engaging in outdoor dining.

We all lived through this. We know people who have gotten sick, even died. We don’t want to be back where we are again.

And yet, if we do get there — it may not even be our own faults.

That same day, on April 4th, Texas had 793 new cases. They had 10,909 new cases yesterday.

Florida had 1,277 cases. Their new caseload hit 8,935 yesterday.

And Arizona. Oh Arizona. You may be coming around politically, but you’re conservative tendencies run deep. After logging 250 new cases on April 4th, they hit 4,073 new cases yesterday. Arizona currently has more new cases per million residents than any other country in the world. 

In fact, if every U.S. state was a country, then 15 of the 25 countries with the worst current caseloads would be from America. Thirty-seven states currently have rising cases.

What do those states have in common? Their leaders were indifferent on enforcing simple, proven protective methods like masks and social distancing, and were all open for business by early May.

This is absolutely maddening. Not only did these states have the example set by Europe to learn from, but they also had the Northeastern states in their own country to learn from. New York. Connecticut. New Jersey. New Hampshire. Massachusetts. States that took this virus seriously since day one.

If this isn’t a perfect storm of stupidity, ignorance and failure in leadership to the highest degree, I don’t know what is. Every resident in those states who now must fear for their elderly family members and their children should be pissed off. Heck, everyone should be pissed off. Because America can’t flatten their curve until all states flatten their curves.

New Zealand has eradicated Covid-19. Germany and Denmark reoopened schools without experiencing major setbacks and the rest of Europe is basically back up and running.

The United States, meanwhile, is failing. Indeed, the only countries that are still failing are either impoverished and underresourced, or led by wanna be autocrats. What terrific company we find ourselves in. Ya know, being the greatest country in the world, and all.

It’s not too late for these states to turn it around. But they have to realize that, to this point, they were wrong. They were wrong to reopoen to quickly. They were wrong to assume the economy is more important than people’s lives. They were wrong to think Covid-19 wouldn’t impact them.

Hubris can’t play a role, now. There’s too much at stake. Admit you were wrong, and do what’s right.

My local neighborhood bar finally opened with outdoor seating two weeks ago. It’s been the highlight of my summer so far. I it has to close again, I’m directly blaming you, Florida, Texas, Arizona, and all you other states who thought you were too cool to lock down.

Because when you dick around with a man’s neighborhood dive bar, that’s when it becomes personal.

 

 

Comparing the removal of statues to book burning is something I thought I’d never have to address

To make sure I don’t always exist inside of my own bubble 24/7, I do try to tune into 50+-year-old white people news, erm, I mean … conservative media … at least once a day. Ninenty-nine out of 100 times I glance through the headlines, perhaps start reading an article, and then finally ‘X’ it out with my blood boiling.

Mostly, it’s not even to balance my views. I’m an independent thinker and I don’t need to manufacture balance. If anyone has something interesting to say, I’ll consider it, and store it away somewhere in my brain for future use. Rather, I visit conservative media so I’m prepared if I ever find myself in a debate with someone and they catch me off guard by bringing up whatever the latest conspiracy theory that’s floating around.

But conservative media is rarely interesting. Instead, they’re more intent on criticizing the “radical left” and amplifying cultural wars because they know that’s what their readers want to hear. For white people who wish to maintain the status quo, reading coded racism as opposed to having to say it out loud and explicity being racist is their version of watching porn.

In all seriousness, if I do want an articulate conservative viewpoint on an issue, I usally read Wall Street Journal Op-Eds. I rarely agree with them, but they always at least make their arguments substantive.

Anyway, a talking point I’m hearing more and more on the conservative side is comparing protestors tearing down statues to Nazi book burning.

First of all, book burning in the ’30s and ’40s was an effective means of erasing history because there were fewer options at the time to educate oneself.

Now, we have the Internet. So if someone truly was engaging in 21st century “book burning,” they’d not only have to burn books, but would have to delete every educational website in the world. Information is ubiquitous. Not even the most narcissistic person thinks they have the ability to rewrite history.

Wikipedia literally eradicated book burning.

Also, introduce me to a single person who actuaally relies on statues for information? Even I’m a history buff and I get bored within seconds of reading a plaque. If you’re not someone who goes to a historical site with good intentions, only to become bored within five minutes, make an Instagram post to show the world how cultured you are, and then start looking up the nearest neighborhood dive bar on Google Maps, then we probably won’t be friends.

Secondly, removing statues isn’t like killing Lord Voldemort’s horcruxes. Killing them all doesn’t erase the originator. Removing a statue of George Washington does not suddenly mean George Washington wasn’t our first president and that he never existed.

However if that was true, it’s a horrifying thought that Harry Potter probably couldn’t even accomplish that if he tried. Who would’ve thought that hordes of angry white conservatives oversealously expressing their second amendment rights would be more daunting than the dark-arts-wielding Death Eaters?

As I wrote last week, there’s a stark difference between rewriting and reframing history. Of the hundreds of George Washington statues that exist in this country, who can argue that replacing a bunch of them with underrepresented figures in our history is a bad thing?

If the goal is to expand people’s horizons so they can gain new perspectives on our history, isn’t that the total opposite of book burning?

Also, let’s stop pretending that conservatives read. I’m sure they all own the Bible, but the idea that they’ve kicked off their shoes on a lazy afternoon and took on Dickens, Tolstoy or heck, even Dan Brown, is quite laughable.

That being said, I’m sure Dan Brown would be quite OK if we burned all the books he’s written post Angels and Demons and Da Vinci Code.

 

 

If health officials can’t convince people on Covid, what chance do we have against climate change?

Science has always been tricky.

We live in a world where people want to receive immediate answers. Where all of life’s problems can be summed up in a tweet.

That directly contradicts science, where facts are ascertained through weeks, months and sometimes years of observation.

So when it comes to a virus like Covid-19, which continues to flummox the world’s leading epidemiologists, there’s understandably been a public relations problem.

However, there’s arguably never been a time where the directive from scientists to the average person has never been more simple. They’re not asking people to understand the nuances between indoor or outdoor transmission, nor to comprehend how many aerosols are transmitted through speaking versus coughing. That’s for the scientists to figure out.

All we’re being told to do is wear a god damn mask.

By wearing a mask properly, it strongly decreases the likelihood of transmitting particles. It’s that simple. Aerosols leave your mouth and remain in your mask. Tah-dah.

And yet, people still refuse to believe it. Even worse, people simply choose to ignore it.

If Covid-19 has taught me anything, it’s that the concept of “individual liberty” has taken on a whole new meaning in 21st century America.

With Covid running rampant in states like Florida and Texas, states that never seemed to have taken this virus seriously from the beginning, one would think their residents and state officials would learn.

Apparently not.

So not only are we dealing with stupidity, not only are we dealing with ignorance, but we are also dealing with stubbornness.

It’s not enough to convince people of the science behind Covid-19. Once you do that, you also have to convince them why they need to sacrifice their individual liberty for the greater good.

And when we’ve gotten to that point, you wonder if there’s even a point.

If we can’t convice people to heed advice that’s so fundamentally simple, how in the world are we ever going to convince them that their actions need to be severely altered to keep our planet inhabitable for future generations?

People don’t want to take minuscule steps that will help them right now. Whereas I once has some small hope of our ability to combat climate change, the idea of all Americans suddenly investing in natural energy, fuel-efficient cars and embracing environmental regulations now seems laughable.

Greta Thunberg, I will follow you anywhere you lead me (and hopefully that’s towards a new nation inhabited only by climate change believers), but I’m afraid you’re preaching to a brick wall.

A brick wall painted red, white and blue with a dose of Confederacy.

How do we fix it? How do we suddenly get people to believe public health officials, especially when their guidance is being reported by the mainstream media, who our very own president has urged his own followers to regard as fake?

These are the consequences of living in a post-truth era. I still believe that activists will continue to push our country towards progress, but when it comes to climate change, will it be too late?

The battle may be more uphill than ever imagined.

But that doesn’t mean you don’t keep trying.

Because that’s what hope is, right? Believing in the greater good of something even when the odds are stacked against it?

Hope is doing what’s right to benefit everybody, even those who are actively fighting to stop you.

If only #45 and his supporters could ever see that.

On statues

Firstly, if you’re going to read anybody’s thoughts on the debate regarding the removal of Confederate statues, then leave this blog right now and read Caroline Randall Williams’s essay in the New York Times. It is the definitive piece on this issue.

Anyway, if you’re still here for some reason, I’ll continue.

In the past, I may have looked at this issue and responded, “Who cares? They’re just statues and they cost tens of millions of dollars annually to maintain. Just take them all down.”

But now, the newly-woke-but-still-groggy me knows that’s the “not racist” view of someone who is unaffected by this issue and thus chooses to ignore it.

Statues are more than just stone, concrete and medal. They’re emblems of how we wish to portray ourselves. We all choose our image carefully. How we present ourselves — be it the clothes we wear, the bumper stickers we put on our cars, tattoos, posters, Instagram photos — are all carefully orchestrated in large part to reflect how we wish to be perceived by others.

Statues are no exception.

Protestors are taking it upon themselves to do what lawmakers and the powers-that-be have failed to do: removing statues that recall a dark part of our history. And it’s not just here. A statue of a slave trader in England was recently discarded into a river, and in Belgium, a statue of King Leopold, whose legacy includes seizing and brutalizing the Congo, was removed by Belgian officials after it was vandalized.

There’s more than 1,000 Confederate statues remaining in the U.S. — glorifications of an era defined by violent oppression and bondage. And the plaques on these statues don’t talk about slavery. They usually even acknowledge the Civil War as the “War for State’s Rights.” Basically, they glorify these men as saints.

This is how we choose to be remembered?

A Facebook friend of mine — whom I was never actually friendly with in real life and whom I haven’t spoken to in more than 15 years — wrote recently that while he agreed with protestors rising up against police brutality, that he didn’t feel the need to protest until reports surfaced about people tearing down statues.

In other words, he values statues over people’s lives. (I would have de-friended him, but I simply unfollowed him because I can’t wait to see his reaction on Nov. 4 when Trump has lost the election.)

Removing a statue is not rewriting history. It’s reframing history. This country was built on the backs of the oppressed. If we want to truly tell our nation’s story, we need to know who those people were and hear their stories. If a state so badly wants to keep some of their less-problematic Confederate monuments, than adjust the plaque to let us know how he treated ALL people.

As for George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, yeah, they were our amongst our Founding Fathers, great. But they also owned slaves. I certainly never learned that in school. If somebody owned and oppressed other human beings, that’s usually one of the first things you learn about them.

If someone moved into the house next door and happened to own a person that they kept confined in their backyard, then I wouldn’t see my friends and tell them about my new neighbor by saying, “Yeah, he seems like a nice guy. He has a nice care, maintains his front yard nicely, likes to jog … oh, and he owns a human.” That’s detail number one.

We consider the Holocaust to be possibly the most evil act in human history, and everyone involved with it to be complicit, from Adolf Hitler, to the Gestapo, to the judges and administrators, to ordinary citizens who were members of the Nazi party and turned a blind eye to the whole thing.

Slavery, which lasted much, much longer, is not reflected upon in the same way. Thomas Jefferson wrote that “All men are created equal” knowing full well that those words would not apply to members of his own family. That’s cold.

And while it’s easy to retort that it’s unfair to judge the past through the moral lens of today, don’t forget that there were plenty of people living at that time who thought slavery was reprehensible.

Staues of presidents 1 and 3 should remain, but we certainly don’t need as many as there are now, and they should absolutely depict their full stories. And if people want to desecrate them, I’ll hand them the eggs.

And in place of these Confederate statues being removed, let’s idolize those who tell the better parts of our nation’s story: the abolitionists, those who fought for suffrage, those who dedicated their lives to helping others. Also, less white men. More women. More people of color. More Indegenous.

It’s not rewriting history.

For the first time, it’s telling our whole history.

Becoming not just “not racist,” but “anti-racist” — A reckoning with myself

There’s been fewer sustained periods of time where I’ve been prouder to be an American than this past month, in the wake of large-scale, universal prostests across this country demanding equality for black lives, the LGBTQ+ community and the indigenous, among others in our society who have been marginalized too long.

Essentially they’re calling for an end to the systematic racism this country was built on and continues to prey on.

And in that sense, this past month has arose an awakening in myself that, far too many times, I have been complicit.

I’ve always thought of myself as a tolerant person. I pride myself in reading books written by diverse voices. I’ve always questioned why it’s taken so long just to achieve universal equality in this country.

But I really wasn’t doing anything about it. On top of that, I’ve been benefitting from it. I almost certianly wouldn’t have the life I do today if my skin wasn’t white.

I grew up in a segregated suburban enclave in Merrick, Long Island with very little diversity. There’s no shortage of times when I’ve told people that I grew up in a “good neighborgood, not like those ones in Freeport or Roosevelt.”

I now know that’s coded racism.

I also now know that my sense of humor needs to be strongly rectified. I’ve always been someone who uses comedy as a mechanism. I prefer to be funny rather than serious. I enjoy being the one who provides levity to a situation and makes people laugh.

But because I considered myself tolerant, I always felt I was allowed to make joked that veered into the taboo, with the understanding that everyone around me knew that since I don’t really believe those things, then it’s OK.

No. Because when you’re somebody who has long benefitted from the marginalization of people whom you’re using as the butt of your joke, than it’s no longer a joke. It’s testimony of my privelege.

For the first time in years, I dug back into the Weinblog archives yesterday to see if there’s anything in this blog that might be problematic. I wasn’t so much worried about what I said, but how I said it.

Sure enough, I stumbled across a post in 2015 where I declared “All Lives Matter,” long before it was known in the mainstream to be an insensitive and racist response to Black Lives Matter.

While in the post I acknowledged racism in policing, it was simply my cynical and naive way to try to be a uniting voice amid troubling times. Of course in hindsight, it was my own stubornness to not realize the urgency of the matter, that black people in Ferguson were protetsing because lives were literally on the line, and that all lives can’t matter until black lives matter. I will never say all lives matter again.

I deleted the post. Not because I am trying to rewrite my own history, but because I refuse to let anyone stumble upon it and use it as a corroboration for their own racist beliefs.

Though I deleted it from the Internet, I’ll always remember it as a moment when I refused to acknowledge reality, and will use it as a motivation to better myself.

And I think that’s where we are now. Revolutions don’t occur until the people who aren’t affected join those who are. And now, for the first time in my lifetime, we’re seeing white people join people of color en masse to protest. And we’re seeing immediate results — albeit with a long way to go.

For the first time since I’ve been alive, I feel like the government is being run by the people, and not the other way around. And I hope, more than anything, that that sentiment is what prevails in the general election come November.

Like most people, I’ve learned it’s not enough to be not racist. We need to be actively anti-racist.

Here’s what I’ve done to try to better myself over the past month.

  • I’ve joined multiple Black Lives Matter protests in Brooklyn to show where I stand.
  • I’ve sought out black owned businessed so I can support them. Not once, but continously.
  • I’ve emailed all my federal representatives to ask them what they are doing to fight for racial equality.
  • I’ve read more than a dozen articles, by authors including Ta-Nehisi Coates and Nikole-Hannah Jones, to fill in gaps in my knowledge and perpective.
  • I’m listening to more podcasts that share the black experience.
  • I’m reading books, including The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein and How to Be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi, to continue to learn, with more on the horizon.
  • I’ve watching films and documentaries by black filmmakers, including Ava Duvernay’s “13th” and Spike Lee’s “Do The Right Thing,” and at the same time am fully realizing how underrepresented these voices are in Hollywood.
  • I’m being more vocal on social media without worrying about “taking a political stance,” because equality is not political.
  • And I’m having conversations with people I associate with — mostly white — to learn how we can all do better colelctively.

This list is by no means to toot my own horn, but to try and determine what more I can do.

More than many people, I have a way of processing my growth over time, thanks to this blog. Looking back yesterday, I was mostly proud of the things I wrote over the last 10 years, though it also came with plenty of cringeworthy moments.

And that’s what’s pulling me back now. Don’t expect me to return regularly, but I think it’s important to document who I am and who I’ve become, so I do plan to check in intermittently.

Until then, let’s all keep fighting the good fight. We’ve got work to do.