@theEllenShow and the Pitch Perfect Apology

I give apologies seriously, not carelessly. I’m not a fan of saying sorry ‘just because’, which is why I took an interest in Ellen’s first show since the accusations surfaced this summer of a toxic workplace environment.

It all started, mean spiritedly enough, in March with a tweet from podcast host, Kevin Porter soliciting horror stories about DeGeneres:

Don’t bother clicking the image. I didn’t link to this foolishness.

This is Twitter, so there’s no way to sift through what’s real, what’s saltiness dressed up as social justice and what’s simply a lie.

A few fell into the category of discernibly believable:

Only two are first-hand, the others are something that happened to someone else🙄. Based on the virality of the post, you might have been left with the impression there were hundreds of juicy replies. This tweet, after all, triggered something much greater…but no. The vast majority were the written version of rubber-necking and a very slim minority were people confusing being likable (how you are with people) and being kind (what you do for people).

It’s normal to think that someone’s persona is who they actually are, but what it seems like and what it is are two different things. Ellen, or anyone for that matter, should not be tasked with being everyone’s friend. Behavior which we engage in to protect ourselves or draw boundaries, might not be perceived as nice by outsiders. What should we do then?

I don’t know Ellen DeGeneres personally, but I do know that a little over twenty years ago, she took a tremendous professional and personal risk by coming out. Perhaps that experience shifted how she deals with people. Whether it’s right or wrong isn’t really the point. It comes down to who has she hurt? If the Buzzfeed articles are to be believed, no one.

One ex-staffer is quoted as saying: “People focus on rumors about how Ellen is mean and everything like that, but that’s not the problem. The issue is these three executive producers running the show who are in charge of all these people [and] who make the culture and are putting out this feeling of bullying and being mean,”

A few even stated that ‘they don’t think DeGeneres is aware of the scope of what goes on behind the scenes because she doesn’t spend enough time in the office or interacting with the staff to have a strong sense of the culture‘.

It turns out the best thing that’s come out of this situation is the ousting of a handful of executive producers: Ed Glavin, Jonathan Norman and Kevin Leman, who were mentioned in nearly all the accusations of inappropriate and/or toxic behavior in Buzzfeed’s articles. The next best thing is Ellen taking responsibility for the workplace environment. She is in the best position to change the culture because this is her show. She addresses everything pretty clearly in the season opener:

The peanut gallery has complained that she’s joking and that’s inappropriate and that the apology was insincere and that she’s not addressing what she’s done that’s hurt people, but I would argue that she wisely stayed away from that. Apologizing to people would open a Pandora’s box of randos coming out of the woodwork to demand redress from slights from years prior. Genuine harm is worth addressing. She admittedly erred in not cultivating relationships with all her staff and isolating herself from the culture at her own show, but she committed to changing that. We’ll see…

(Side note: I do think Twitch’s promotion was pandering a bit, but I’m not going to go hard on black man getting a huge opportunity.)

Reflecting on Ellen’s situation, I thought about the last time a host had to make a public apology:

Extortion? Affairs with staff? Hilarious!

The behavior is 100% more repugnant, but was received with hardly any backlash. I wonder why?

90% of ‘Cuties’ critics haven’t seen it (spoiler alert!)

Netflix has caused quite an uproar with its release of ‘Cuties,’ a film by French-Sengalese director, Maïmouna Doucouré. The story follows preteen Amy as she desperately seeks acceptance from her obnoxious peers and painfully navigates what she thinks it means to be a woman in the age of social media. Amy, as a recent immigrant, is faced with two perceptions of womanhood; one, (represented by her friends) where ‘being grown’ means sounding and looking like it, hence the tight, short clothes and coarse language that Amy tries to emulate and the other option (represented by her Muslim family), where being a woman means marriage and marriage means listening to your mother cry as she has to feign joy at delivering the news about her husband taking a second wife. Is it any wonder that Amy gravitated toward the former?

Amy and her friends attempts at ‘grown pose’ are met with derision by the older boys they try to flirt with and disgust by the adults who boo them in the movie’s penultimate scene. Amy, in the end, rejects the two options presented to her throughout the film and chooses one of her own, which I believe, makes for a happy ending.

Most of the critics (comprised mainly of people who haven’t seen the film) charge that it exploits young girls and is child pornography. One of those critics, Sen. Ted Cruz, requested that the Attorney General investigate Netflix for its release of the film.

Sen. Cruz’s letter falsely claims there was a scene exposing a child’s breast.

Senator Cruz references 18 U.S. Code § 2251 and 2252 as the basis for his request. Other detractors have cited the Dost test, which is a six-point guideline used by U.S. courts to determine whether or not a visual depiction is lascivious. But to really get at the core of the issue, it’s best to look at 18 U.S. Code § 2256, which gives definitions. First, how does the Code define child pornography:

(8) “child pornography” means any visual depiction, including any photograph, film, video, picture, or computer or computer-generated image or picture, whether made or produced by electronic, mechanical, or other means, of sexually explicit conduct, where— (A) the production of such visual depiction involves the use of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct; (B) such visual depiction is a digital image, computer image, or computer-generated image that is, or is indistinguishable from, that of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct; or (C) such visual depiction has been created, adapted, or modified to appear that an identifiable minor is engaging in sexually explicit conduct.

Looks like we need to define sexually explicit conduct:

(A)Except as provided in subparagraph (B), “sexually explicit conduct” means actual or simulated—(i)sexual intercourse, including genital-genital, oral-genital, anal-genital, or oral-anal, whether between persons of the same or opposite sex;(ii)bestiality;(iii)masturbation;(iv)sadistic or masochistic abuse; or(v)lascivious exhibition of the anus, genitals, or pubic area of any person;

(B)For purposes of subsection 8(B) [1] of this section, “sexually explicit conduct” means—(i)graphic sexual intercourse, including genital-genital, oral-genital, anal-genital, or oral-anal, whether between persons of the same or opposite sex, or lascivious simulated sexual intercourse where the genitals, breast, or pubic area of any person is exhibited;(ii)graphic or lascivious simulated;(I)bestiality;(II)masturbation; or(III)sadistic or masochistic abuse; or(iii)graphic or simulated lascivious exhibition of the anus, genitals, or pubic area of any person;

It’s a lot of words, but it’s necessary given the sensitivity of the subject. So, what do I know for sure? ‘Cuties’ is not child pornography. The Dost test was created to determine what depictions fall into the category of ‘graphic or simulated lascivious exhibition of the anus, genitals, or pubic area of any person.’ At no point in ‘Cuties’ are any of the young actors nude, so at no time are their private parts displayed. A montage in the movie, however, shows close-ups of the dance troupe’s pelvises thrusting, backsides swaying and hips gyrating, so quite a few people have determine that this meets the standard in the test (it doesn’t). But, let’s say it does…

What about this? She’s 10.

And this? She’s 15.

This one’s a classic. She’s 12 here.

This one got rave reviews and won a couple of Oscars. Oh…and she’s 10.

I don’t know if there were charges of child exploitation when any of those performances came out. It doesn’t matter since the statute of limitations has likely passed. My point isn’t to focus on criminality, but on the uncomfortable-ness that people feel watching young girls strike suggestive poses. That discomfort was an important part of what made ‘Cuties’ so impactful. You’re not supposed to feel good watching. We should feel unnerved.

Folks are mad about what they read and heard about a movie, but dry-eyed and tight lipped about what’s happening to our girls in real-life and that to me is the real crime.

Where Are All the Black Non-Liberals?

It appears, they’re all somewhere on YouTube. If you’re a click hole fiend like me, your recommendations list has been populated with some interesting suggestions. Aba & Preach? Yes! Classically Abby? Not so much…

The times we’re living in has me consuming more socially and politically charged content, diverse opinions all along the spectrum, but my discoveries made one thing very apparent: if you are looking for conservative or moderate black representation on network TV, it’s slim pickings. Yes, there’s Juan Williams and Harris Faulkner, but that’s cable and even then, there’s only two. There’s something conspiratorial about the lack of right-leaning (or even middle of the road) black voices on major networks.

We know they exist, and perhaps, their presence would be especially helpful in debunking the myth that Black people are largely Democrats and liberal. It would be interesting to hear conversation about issues affecting minority communities from a minority who isn’t bleeding blue. The topics worthy of discussion are complicated and multi-faceted and would only benefit from varied perspectives.

But maybe there’s a reason why that’s not desirable on network TV…

Why it’s ok to say ‘All Lives Matter’

Don’t freak out or get pissed off, but the much maligned retort to the statement, ‘Black Lives Matter,’ can be used to propel the conversation forward instead of inflaming it. At it’s core, ‘all lives matter,’ tries to negate the focus of Black Lives Matter, which is that Black people are disproportionately affected by police abuse, but ultimately, it’s an umbrella term that suggests that the protection of everyone is integral. Ok, here’s the push: don’t make it about the words, make it about the issue. If someone says, ‘all lives matter’, then that means they agree that all citizens should be assured that a routine interaction with a police officer should be without intimidation, risk of harm or death. That means they agree that individuals should have reasonable expectation that a traffic stop will not turn fatal. It should also mean that they agree that police brutality exists, that it’s wrong and that reform is necessary. Why? Because we know there are lives affected by police brutality and since all lives matter, there can be no dissension about solving the problem.

So when Trump responds to a question about how Black people die at the hands of law enforcement with, ‘so do White people,’ the reply is, ‘so what are we going to do about it?’ Even if people question the circumstances under which citizens are killed by officers (they shouldn’t have resisted/run), ask them to study up on Tennessee v. Garner that states, ‘the use of deadly force to prevent the escape of all felony suspects, whatever the circumstances, is constitutionally unreasonable. It is not better that all felony suspects die than that they escape. Where the suspect poses no immediate threat to the officer and no threat to others, the harm resulting from failing to apprehend him does not justify the use of deadly force to do so.’ And this decision was regarding unarmed alleged felons. Would not the same logic apply to unarmed civilians who aren’t suspected of any crime?

Those who stay on the ‘all lives matter’ bandwagon, are presumably aware that issues of police abuse don’t just happen during the arrest or pursuit of alleged felons, but they can happen while cooperating, while pulling up to a gas station, while eating a sandwich on a train platform or walking a dog off a leash. Two individuals in the videos are identified as having disabilities. ‘All Lives Matter’ means we care about injustices especially when they happen to our most vulnerable populations.

‘All Lives Matter’ means that it’s important for police officers to be better trained in handling individuals with mental health problems or who are under the influence because being troubled or drunk shouldn’t cost you your life. It also means there’s support for alleviating police of certain duties that might be better handled by social workers or unarmed personnel so as not to overburdened an already stretched resource.

When people have no problem saying, ‘all lives,’ it means that everyone deserves equal protection under the law and that protection should be preserved and defended at all costs. Instances of inequity in this regard should be stamped out without hesitation.

When you can say ‘all lives matter,’ it quite simply means you don’t want to say ‘Black lives matter’, but what won’t be said will, without a doubt, one day be seen.

The Perils of Retro-activism

We’ve seen it more and more. Past behaviors revived and skeletons being dragged out of the closet. At one point, we used to only see this around election time. Every few years, politicians would have to explain and apologize for any action, that was regarded as unseemly for political office: affairs, drug use, etc. ‘Crimes’ fell into the moral category, peccadilloes that brought into question an individual’s character and judgement, two traits that are apparently key in attaining public office.

In recent years, Jimmy Fallon, Jason Aldean, Jimmy Kimmel and Jenna Marbles, among others, have all had to come to terms with past behavior that no longer agrees with modern taste. Retro-activism is the new force fighting to bring past crimes to present-day justice all in the name of holding people accountable…and it fails miserably. Why?

  1. Most have long since stopped doing whatever they’re being called out for. Which means their sense has adapted to the times. So the ‘lesson’ has already been learned, making the fault finding needless.
  2. Shame is not an effective tool for change. What retro-activists are trying to recreate is a sense of guilt. They want people to feel bad for what they have done and then connect that to a meaningful act of contrition, but it never works. To genuinely feel guilt, you have to believe that what you did what was wrong, which is hard when at the time that you did it, it wasn’t. That’s why so many of the apologies that come after these ‘finds’ end up being as criticized as the action itself. What is really happening is the targets feel shame. Much of the complaints go after a person’s character rather than the behavior. They feel bad because they are being accused of being a bad person. That’s why so many seek out absolution from groups/individuals who can give them a stamp of approval (i.e, talks with a respected individual(s) from offended group), so others will know that they are good people.
  3. Digging into a person’s past is an unsustainable activity because no one will past the test. We are asking people to behave in a way that ensures that future generations will not find their behavior offensive or problematic. How hard is this task? Well, few of us are visionary and even less are perfect.
  4. It takes a certain amount of arrogance to assume that the standards of 2020 are appropriate to judge people by. Retro-activism is a power trip. Like it’s sister, micro-activism, it is the wolf of oppressive judgement wrapped up in the lamb’s wool of accountability. It creates cowards and coverts: people who will be too afraid to say or do anything meaningful at all and others, who will just do it in the dark.

The Perils of Micro-activism

I used to love reading about microaggressions, comments or slights that happen in the course of everyday life that sting because of assumptions made about the targeted person’s identification within a specific group. It’s the ‘you’re not really black’ comment said to the grammatical correct Black women, the ‘is English your first language?‘ asked of the the third generation American or the ‘I thought all Asians were good at math’ comment to a high schooler struggling in Trigonometry. I’ve had a faux pas (or more) in my lifetime: telling a colleague of mine that I would not match her Korean features with her Polish last name or exclaiming (in genuine awe), ‘that white girl can really dance!’

I would read about others’ experiences with daily ignorance to commiserate. It’s comforting to know that others stories are similar to mine and sometimes, I would even get ideas on what to say and how to react. I believed that while these moments were unpleasant, even painful, they were the cost that we paid for living in an integrated society. It seems in 2020, what was once viewed as ignorance and prejudice has been elevated from micro to macro-level racism, a word so overused and overplayed, it barely has meaning.

And that’s a good thing for those who wish to dilute it’s definition in order to cast a wider net to ensnare people. Take Samantha Ware’s now infamous unrelated response to Lea Michele’s tweet about George Floyd. The national conversation at this moment was about the death of another unarmed black man at the hands of police and the desperate need for reform. And what has she got to add? ‘Traumatic microaggressions?’ You have to be bold to stand on the back of a national dialogue about police brutality and make it about someone threatening to ‘s*** in a wig.’

Recently, I posted the video of the Michigan couple charged with felonious assault for an incident in a Chipotle parking lot. The alleged bump between the white woman shown and a teenager was enough to convince the unidentified individuals in the video that the woman was racist. The bar is now that low. And it doesn’t even have to be evident, just assumed.

The rise of the media attention on ‘{Enter location} {Enter generic white sounding name}’ also coincides with the rise of micro-activism and its raison d’être: microaggressions. Why bother solving problems that can help a people when you can just get rid of a person? It takes less time and nowadays, yields results in days, sometimes less. These kind of ‘victories’ only whet the appetite of people so far removed from the satisfaction of justice and change, that they’ll accept the far inferior substitutes of personal attack and degradation as a social justice win.

#WildWestWendy and the Insidiousness of the Machine

Today we celebrate our nation’s birthday and usually on birthdays, it’s a time for contemplation and celebration. I am thankful for the miraculous experiment that is the United States of America. And as we look on 244 years of history as a country, I wonder about the danger of the new faceless oppressor that has led and controlled our language on some of the most pressing issues of our time; the one that encourages us to vilify and destroy one another in the the name of justice.

The machine has taught us to look at this video and see a hero and a villain.

It has taught us that, in situations like these, a gun is both the problem and the solution.

It has taught us that making a definitive assumption about someone is both racism and justice.

The miracle of America, is that our heterogeneity, in all it’s ugly glory, made us who we are and has not killed us….yet. But the machine’s power is using strength and turning it into weakness.  A place where once,  opposites could co-exist, now a place where you can either stand as black or white or a muddled gray. What makes America great is how well we’ve evolved towards ‘e pluribus unum’ without collapsing on ourselves. But the machine learned that money mattered most and that perhaps our motto was the only thing standing in it’s way.

‘Karen’ and the New Misogyny

What did you notice about the reporting in that video? How many people confronted the man? Two. How many people are being spoken about? One. Why?

There was Permit Patty, BBQ Becky, Cornerstone Caroline and then came the catch-all term to end all catch-all terms: ‘Karen.’ White, usually middle aged and certain that white-ness confers an authority that can be wielded freely on any unsuspecting black person (or POC). And ‘Karen,’ of course, is a woman. There’s Chad and Kyle or Earl, remember him? Come to think of it, we never heard from Earl again, which likely means he received a settlement to not sue his employer for wrongful termination and as a condition of the agreement, cannot speak on the incident. A favorable outcome not offered to the favorite villain of social media: the privileged white woman.

Twitter makes quick work: names and places of work were called out. A short while later, here come the apologies. Did you notice anything about their statements? Who actually called the police? Mr. Larkins, the other man in the viral video. Shouldn’t all the fiery accusations then be squarely on his shoulders? It’s not. Why not? Maybe it’s her appearance (a hideous picture, worthy of meme-ification) or her irritatingly sweet, condescending tone or maybe there’s something to be said for our culture’s comfort in destroying women in a way that we don’t men.

Sure, there’s ‘Chad’ and ‘Kyle’, but they don’t make front page news because ‘they’ run the newspapers, TV stations and networks. White people calling the police on POC isn’t new, so why is it news? Look at the year when Permit Patty, BBQ Becky, Hotel Earl and Cornerstone Caroline stories happened: all in 2018, an election year. And now, in 2020, we have a new crop of Karens: Lisa Alexander, Alison Roman and Amy Cooper (who’s behavior was more vitriolic, IMO). More destruction of women (disguised as social justice) and really, no men in sight. Are we to believe that white women are disproportionately more likely to call the police? Sure.

We think our outrage informs what gets covered, it doesn’t. It only gives us clues as to who’s actually controlling the narrative.

Ways to Hurt the Cause, #1

Truth by Omission

Felicity Huffman’s 14-day sentence for mail fraud and honest services mail fraud resurfaced the story of Tanya McDowell. (Honest services mail fraud, as laid out in the United States v. Gray, states that an employee has an obligation to their employer to provide honest services, and actions which impede upon this, like a bribe, is a type of fraud, thanks Wikipedia!) 

Back in 2011, McDowell was charged with first degree larceny for enrolling her son in a school in an area she did not live. She was sentenced to five years in prison and five years probation and, if the memes are to be believed, this is unfair in light of Huffman’s seemingly lenient sentence for bribing an exam proctor.

Inequity in education is an important issue that needs to be addressed, but what hurts this cause is the exclusion of the fact that McDowell was also charged with selling narcotics to undercover officers and that both the drug case and the larceny case sentences were combined per the plea bargain. Her attorney even stated that he attempted to split the cases up but, ‘…prosecutors and the judge would not split the cases up. He said she was facing much more than 15 years in jail if he took all the cases to trial.‘ So the five year sentence was not strictly for the school case. Based on the article, it’s easy enough to decipher, but even the usually reliable Snopes got it wrong, changing the rating on it’s own article about McDowell’s sentence from ‘mixture of truth’ to ‘true’.

In Huffman’s case, to level the scales, her daughter should be removed from the school, but in McDowell’s case, what’s the solution? The answer is worthy of discussion and shouldn’t be muddied with false martyrs and misappropriated news stories.



Yes, Non-Black people can wear braids

No disclaimer/tribute necessary

As far as I can remember, conversations about the appropriateness of specific Black hairstyles were typically centered around the workplace and whether or not someone would appear unprofessional (especially in a corporate setting) wearing braids, locs and the like. Consequences for hair choices disproportionately affected African Americans, but there was also an understanding that if a person of any race (however, unlikely) punched in wearing an ‘unapproved’ style, they too would have reprimands thrown their way. Today, the conversation has shifted; and while the concept that Black people are punished for styles linked to their culture and history remains, the new facet is that White people donning the same looks are heralded and because this dichotomy exists, it is cultural appropriation for a non-black person (especially white) to wear braids or similar ‘do’s.

It used to be that the fight to expand images of professionalism (to include elements of black culture) was handled in court; now, we just scroll through the comments. A thoughtful article from 2001 discussed the issue as improving, as more employers were willing to take a more even-handed approach. It never once mentioned that a viable solution would be to restrict others from making similar hair choices because that…solves… nothing.

In 2018, someone decided that African people invented braids (not true) and that a decision by a non-black person to wear said hairstyle requires self-reflection (am I doing this to be trendy? Or because I want to inspire?) and research (!): “Don’t [wear braids] for fun or because your African-American boyfriend or girlfriend has them…Learn about the story, find inspiration and give credit where credit’s due by explaining who or what has inspired you, like on social media.” 🙄 Advice like this leads to stuff like this:

Nikita_IGA ‘cut and paste’ tagged to the original post to ward off criticism. This is considered sufficient penance paid for the privilege of wearing a hairdo not associated with one’s race or ethnicity? There’s so much focus nowadays on ‘credit’, precious little on how this moves the needle forward. It’s insulting to think that praise and acknowledgement are satisfactory substitutes for institutional and cultural change. People clamoring to be mentioned in the footnotes of someone’s IG feed don’t get to lead the conversation on how to solve issues that are rooted in this country’s racist past, especially if they can’t identify what actual problems are.

updated 8/5/2022