Jan 12, 2024

empathy has nothing to do with them

From the end of this fantastic essay on the work of the witness by Sarah Aziza: 

"As long as Palestinians are alive to record and share their suffering, the duty and dilemma of witness will remain. As we look, we must be aware that our outpouring of emotion has its limits, and its own dynamics of power. Grief and anger are appropriate, but we must take care not to veer into solipsism, erasing the primary pain by supplanting it with our own. As the Mojave poet Natalie Diaz has observed, empathy is “seeing or hearing about something that’s happened to someone and . . . imagin[ing] how I would feel if it happened to me. It has nothing to do with them.” Or, put more succinctly by Solmaz Sharif—“Empathy means / laying yourself down / in someone else’s chalk lines / and snapping a photo.”

Rather, we—those outside of Palestine, watching events through a screen—ought to think of ourselves in relation to the legacy of the shaheed. Our work as witnesses is to be marked; we should not leave it unscathed. We must make an effort to stay with what we see, allowing ourselves to be cut. This wound is essential. Into this wound, imagination may pour—not to invade the other’s subjectivity, but to awaken awe at the depth, privacy, and singularity of each life. There, we might glimpse, if sidelong, how much of Gaza’s suffering we will never know. This is where real witness must begin: in mystery.

Perhaps the fundamental work of witness is the act of faith—an ethical and imaginative leap beyond what we can see. It is a sober reverence of, and a commitment to fight for, the always-unknowable other. This commitment does not require constant stoking by grisly, tragic reports. Rather than a feeling, witness is a position. It insists on embodiment, on sacrifice, mourning and resisting what is seen. The world after genocide must not, cannot, be the same. The witness is the one who holds the line of reality, identifying and refusing the lie of normalcy. Broken by what we see, we become rupture incarnate.

Or, much better expressed in the words of my cousin, the pharmacist,

ما زلت مصرا نحن لم نعتد القصف ونخاف من كل حدث ولم نعتد مشاهد المعاناة ، ان القلب دائما ما ينفطر، ولم نعتد المجازر الذي يرتكبها الاحتلال فلكل شهيد حياة.

I continue to insist, we have not gotten used to bombing and we are afraid of everything happening to us. We have not gotten used to the sight of suffering. No, it always breaks our hearts. We have not gotten used to the massacres perpetrated by the occupation. No. For every martyr, there was a life."

Sep 13, 2023

music video solidarity

In the push for tenure I have been silent on this blog, but I still think daily about how we tell stories in ways that build more mutual solidarity. I was surprised by how powerful the imagery of a bombed village in Ukraine was in this music video below, and appreciate that the rock group Imagine Dragons used their platform to get more people to hear this story, but the contrast to the lyrics in the song were just bizarre for me. And I was struck that they used a 14 year old. How hard was it for him to shoot this footage of him in his old home, his old school? It certainly makes it much more powerful for viewers than if they had used his parents. So many hard choices when we tell stories across differences so as to build connection. 

Apr 24, 2022

empathy is divisive

"Paradoxically, empathy is divisive. It creates division and it forces us to choose sides. I know everybody's pushing empathy all the time now, but I hope my stories push back against that. Why do we need to like something or find it relatable to care what happens to it." - Rachel Rose in this lovely interview on the CBC about her new short story collection, the Octopus has three hearts.

May our own hearts be large enough to have compassion even for those we cannot empathize with!

Dec 13, 2021

radical empathy

I like the term radical empathy as Isabel Willkerson uses it. She says:

“Empathy is commonly viewed as putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and imagining how you would feel. To me that’s a start, but that’s not true empathy. That’s role playing.” 
“Radical empathy on the other hand, means putting in the work to learn and to listen with a heart wide open, to understand another’s experience well enough to know how they are feeling it, not as we imagine we would feel."
"Radical empathy is not about you and what you think you would do in a situation you have never been in and perhaps never will."
Her talk got an unexpected standing ovation. Here's the link: https://vimeo.com/272109425

Jul 10, 2021

Decolonial solidarity (new book)

On this blog I have tended to focus more on the colonial aspects of different solidarity campaigns, but I have certainly also tried to point to ways that different organizations and campaigns work to reimagine and rework solidarity in ways that do not reinscribe colonial power relations.

I have not read it yet but there is a new book out that focuses on these decolonial aspects of solidarity organizing. Teodora Todorova's book "Decolonial Solidarity in Palestine-Israel: Settler Colonialism and Resistance from Within" turns to lessons from three Israeli solidarity groups: Zochrot, Anarchists Against the Wall, and the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD).

Jun 23, 2021

hugs not walls

I have taken a break from blogging here as one of my covid survival practices, but as I come back to life anew it will include blogging anew. I have posted here repeatedly about solidarity actions that both push back against what we don't want while pointing, even if just symbolically, to the world we do want. One of my favorites was the braiding hair across border action. I'm also a big fan of the annual hugs not walls action, that just happened at the US-Mexico border last weekend where nearly 200 separated families met and hugged.

Sep 18, 2020

Against fostering empathy for solidarity

In this blog I have repeatedly pointed to how problematic it is to foster empathy (in the sense of I feel your pain, I know what it is like to be you) in the hopes of thereby fostering solidarity with people who are distant and/or different. It is not surprising then that I really appreciated the book Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion, by psychologist Paul Bloom. He never talks about solidarity per se, but much of it is relevant. Psychological studies can be so odd, but I do think it's useful to know that they find that "our empathic reactions reflect prior bias, preference, and judgement" (p. 70). We are more likely to feel that sort of empathy with people we are already close to or already see as more like us, in attitude, language, appearance, etc (p. 91). Indeed, Bloom argues that this sort of empathy can actually do harm, and even motivate us to hurt those who are different if we see them as hurting those like us (and connected to us) that we are more likely empathizing with (a point also made in this fascinating talk about the neuroscience of conflict resolution by Emile Bruneau). Bloom argues that biased empathy with those suffering is more likely to tilt us to violent action than to peace (p. 193).

What Bloom calls cognitive empathy is something different, and he describes it as the ability to understand other people's psychological states without inhabiting them along with them. This is the sense in which nonviolent communication uses the term empathy, to describe a very particular four step process for understanding not just what another person is feeling, but what the met or unmet needs are that are leading to that feeling - not by pretending to be the other person and feel their feelings but through a particular inquiry process. I continue to find the NVC process useful both in my life and in the college classroom for difficult discussions, and I highly recommend the videos at cup of empathy for learning or deepening NVC skills. I think it would be less confusing if NVC used this term cognitive empathy. 

But to come back to Bloom, he engages with Elaine Scarry's article "The Difficulty of Imagining Other People" where she argues that imaging the lives of others is not enough motivation to elicit even kindness - and so one imagines much less so solidarity though that term is not used (p. 106). Her skepticism is based on how hard it is to imagine the feelings of a close friend as vividly as your own experience of yourself, and that it is that much harder to do so for large numbers of strangers. Scarry suggests that instead of making other people's lives weigh as much as our own, we should make our own lives less weighty! Bloom agrees, and argues for depersonalization as a tool for wise policy, giving as examples systems for fostering impartiality such as blind reviewing and blind auditions. It's hard to see that as a tool for fostering solidarity, but he also argues for compassion as part of rational decision making, arguing that we can thereby more effectively not just care about but act to foster the thriving and end the suffering of others. Empathy, in the sense of seeing ourselves AS others, he argues, leads to less than rational and less than effective decision making.

Does it also lead to less effective solidarity? In this blog my complaints about that sort of empathy have generally been that it is appropriative, and that it is a patronizing and colonial dynamic to think that I can pretend to BE you, and feel your feelings, and that this is what will inspire me to take action with you. So it was interesting to me to read these other arguments against it by Bloom. Not only does he argue that it leads to less effective action, he says that it is exhausting and is more likely to lead to burnout. Compassion, in the sense of care and concern for another and motivation to improve their well-being, he argues can be sustained for longer (p. 138). I would agree, in my experience it is more sustainable (and realistic and ethical) to feel for than to attempt to fully feel with the other.

May 31, 2020

"I can't breathe"

I have posted repeatedly here about empathy experiments used to build solidarity, and how problematic they can be. I was at my first masked protest yesterday, and had trouble chanting "I can't breathe" when the crowd took it up. It made me cry, but it also felt wrong and appropriative coming from our small mostly white group. As I posted in response to the chants after Mike Brown was suffocated, actually I CAN breathe.

But what if the chant is done as part of an empathy experiment? Would the chant have a different sort of power if we were all lying face down on the ground chanting it for nine minutes like they did in Colorado? I am generally not a fan of these reenactments of suffering, but I will admit I found this one striking. See the video in the tweet below.

Since I first posted this, this reenactment tactic has been repeated across the US (and likely around the world). Most notably a huge group did this in front of the White House. I will admit however that I am grateful that at the protests I have been going to we have instead all taken a knee in silence for the 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Not only is this less appropriative, it is more accessible. Many would not be physically able (forget emotionally able) to lie face down with their hands behind their backs and chant.

Dec 29, 2019

my wish for the new year

May we have more queer solidarity smashing more borders next year!

image from an action in the UK on the day of Trump's inauguration

Oct 28, 2019

withdrawal symptoms empathy experiment

I am generally a bit dubious about empathy experiments where we pretend to be another. Too often they appear to be presented as an easy quick fix that will automatically create connection and understanding. Too often they are presented as enough to right a wrong. 

But this video of a particularly difficult empathy experiment (a man trying to experience what it is like to go through withdrawal symptoms) I found disturbing for other reasons. Should we take on hurting ourselves like this? Ask others to hurt us? I understand that he is not asking others to do this, he wanted to dramatize the pain and help others see it. Why is it easier and more compelling to see this pain when he does it than when an actual addict goes through it? 

I very much appreciate that you are asked to take concrete action after watching this video. Please do so at https://chooseempathy.me

Jun 26, 2019

What solidarity work do images of the suffering dead do?

In Latin America there is a long tradition of showing, holding, and marching with photos of those killed and disappeared by the state as a way to build strength and solidarity in the struggle for peace and justice. These photos are always of these people when they were alive.

But in the last week on Colombian social media circles a video has been circulating of the dead body of Maria del Pilar Hurtado, a social leader that had just been assassinated (one of some 800 that have been murdered since the peace accord implementation process began - most for working to implement the accord in some way). The video is of her 9-year-old son finding her body and becoming distraught - and many of my friends who saw it were so distraught themselves that I actually chose not to watch it.  The photo here is of Maria alive.

I didn't have the same option not to see the photo that has been circulating in the US media of the bodies of Oscar and his toddler daughter Valeria, who drowned trying to cross into the US. I will never be able to unsee that horrible image.

Both the video and the photo have sparked outrage and protest. I've read that in Colombia there have been more protests against the wave of murders against social leaders in the past few days than there had been after any of the other deaths. So these extremely disturbing images can spark solidarity - but is this the way we want to do solidarity?

I will admit to having very mixed feelings on this one. I think it is important to see the truth of what is happening, to be outraged, to grieve with Maria's son - but I also value dignity and privacy.  I also value my own mental health, and I chose not to watch the video.

Julia Montejo argues that these images are dehumanizing and disrespectful. As she puts it, "compassion shouldn’t hinge on the degradation of marginalized communities." She goes on to say that in a country that circulated photos of lynchings, images like this are unlikely to change peoples minds and instead will simply traumatize many who see them. She argues instead for sharing photos of these people when they were alive (as has long been the tradition in Latin America).

Yet sometimes clear documentation of horrors has been key for sparking solidarity. Black communities have been organizing against police brutality for decades, but it was when people started widely capturing the attacks on video that organizing really took off. And it is also true that I am still haunted by Eric Garner's "I can't breathe." How much do we have to traumatize each other to move ourselves to action?

Jun 10, 2019

Staying in shape is NOT solidarity with refugees

Staying in shape is NOT solidarity with refugees

After Sara’s post last week on this blog about a very specific act of solidarity running, Rosalie Fish’s running with a red hand, a campaign framing running (or walking or biking) as “solidarity” with refugees seems strikingly hollow.

In January, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) launched what they termed a global “solidarity movement,” “2 billion kilometres to safety”/”1 billion miles to safety.” The campaign invites people from 27 countries to “Step with Refugees” by tracking their walks, runs, and bike rides, to cover the same distance they estimate that refugees cover every year.[i] Its various aims include: to “honour refugees,” to “build better understanding” in the face of widespread “misconceptions about refugees,”[ii] to draw specific attention to refugee journeys, to raise awareness about the work of UNHCR field staff and how they assist refugees, and to encourage people to raise funds for UNHCR.

The picture above, from the homepage of the campaign website (stepwithrefugees.org), poignantly summarizes this "solidarity movement": on the left, three people are shown in fashionable athletic clothing and running shoes, running on a boardwalk at a beach; on the right, three people walk barefoot in an area that looks arid. One of them is carrying a child, and the two others carry bundles, presumably their belongings. The photos are lined up so that the figures are similar heights, with their feet stepping at the same level, all heading the same direction, perhaps highlighting the “solidarity” of the athletic figures on the left, with those walking (presumably) to seek safety on the right. In an official UN News Story entitled ““How to stay in shape and step up support for refugees” the Deputy High Commissioner states: “This campaign will encourage people to support refugees through something they are already doing – walking, cycling, running.””  Equating walking or running for fitness as a “solidarity movement” with refugee journeys is almost as ridiculous as it is offensive (no matter how many financial donations are involved).

A celebrity hosted promotional video[iii] suggests that by joining with others and dedicating the distances covered to this campaign “You can honour [refugees] resilience and determination.” In sharing refugee stories the campaign does distinguish the much more difficult and dangerous conditions faced by refugees fleeing conflict than people running or walking for fitness. This distinction seems insufficient because of the continued linking of fitness to solidarity with refugee journeys.

“Step with Refugees” appeals to forms of athleticism that are often privileged, particularly through the front-page image, and in the use of smart watches and other fitness tracking apps. It conflates individual self-improvement, mobilizing financial donations through cumulative individual endurance efforts, and feelings of “honouring” others, with solidarity. In my mind this contrasts greatly with the many current and former refugees and displaced people who do themselves participate in sport and fitness, such as football leagues in refugee camps. While sports are very important to many people who have experienced forced migration, I strongly doubt that many of them would equate their athletic activities with their journeys to refuge, or would see this “movement” as genuinely transformative solidarity.

The ultimate goal of this campaign, raising money for UNHCR, comes at a time when the agency notes chronic underfunding for many of the operations around the world. Their budget is precariously dependent on states that themselves are hostile to refugees and flaunt international humanitarian law (with ~40% of the budget coming from the United States). It seems as though UNHCR is aiming to increasingly supplement their budget from donations by individuals. Patricia Daley has highlighted the ways in which humanitarianism is increasingly privatized and commoditized, presenting decontextualized solutions depending on stereotyped images of distant, suffering others, especially in Africa—in this case, could it be that part of the commodification mobilized is individual campaign participants’ own self-regulating fitness and fundraising efforts?

This campaign has aspects of “empathy experiments” previously highlighted on this blog. It asks people to aim for distances covered by people seeking refuge, and seems to fall short in the same way that many empathy experiments do.[iv] Sara states that “…the issue when there is a lack of caring and solidarity is not that we can't imagine the experience, but that we other the people having it. We distance ourselves from them in some way.” The campaign site does share stories of refugees’ journeys. To me the stories do not seem to move beyond the othering of those seeking refuge. They are very brief. They seem meant to be very straightforward and “understandable” without specific contextual understanding. Despite being from three very different places, all the stories follow the same structure. I wonder whether this mode of “storytelling” risks creating an undifferentiated “absolute victim” in which any one refugee (story) stands in for all.[v] 

It is important that women’s voices and stories are heard on issues of forced migration. Only highlighting women’s stories in the context of raising awareness about dangerous refugee journeys may risk playing into the trope of women (and especially women with children), as ideal victims and objects of humanitarianism, and therefore other. Conversely, and equally from a gender perspective, I wonder about the choice not to include any men’s stories, particularly as refugee men are more often portrayed as threatening to security (and as men are more numerous among those trying to seek refuge in Europe, including through the Balkan route where they face increasingly violent pushbacks).

Further contributing to concerns about othering and reliance on “ideal victims”, “2 Billion Kilometres to Safety” only includes the stories of people seeking refuge outside of the (primarily Western) countries that seem to be the main targets of the campaign. Rather than challenging the racism and xenophobia faced by refugees, the militarization of borders, and externalization of asylum,  this campaign relies on the “better understanding” of the fact that most refugees are far away from those targeted by the “solidarity movement.” It creates “empathy” for a physically distant other. By focusing only refugee journeys, the campaign draws attention away from the often protracted immobilities that refugees often encounter. Immobilities may occur even prior to refuge, when trying to cross a border to seek safety. Having crossed a border, refugees may face strict encampment or detention, and/or policies and practices that restrict their movement and seek to contain them within host countries and in their regions of origin. Waiting, and seeking ways to continue to move, may be just as much a part of a journey as walking.

Giving more nuanced attention to refugees’ journeys, Polly Palister-Wilkins counters the common media use of the language of refugee and migrant “flows,” as if they were watery, natural forces, with attention to the physicality of the journeys of people walking long distances: they are “walking, not flowing.” She argues for attention to “the how of the journey—noting both the material and geographical aspects impacting and structuring how people move—and the physical impacts of that journey on the bodies of those on the move.” Polly writes, “I called attention to the travelers’ tired, blistered feet in an attempt to weave a thread between the material (and political) geographies of the journey and the embodied experiences of those making it.” “Step with Refugees” does recounts a few specific journeys, some of the geographical aspects structuring them, and the agency of people in seeking their own safety in difficult conditions. In spite of this it misses the important political aspect of “how people move” that Polly highlights. It ignores the “border, policing and transport infrastructures” that make mobility unequal for different populations, and seeking safety and liveable lives so dangerous for so many.  

I do appreciate how “2 Billion Kilometres to Safety” emphasizes how people and families seek their own survival.  Nevertheless, I wonder whether the way that “perilous journeys” are highlighted risks suggesting that suffering in the journey makes some people more deserving of asylum and assistance than those whose journeys are less dangerous. Is someone who takes a bus to the border in seeking safety less deserving of solidarity? Does the highlighting of women’s strength in completing long distance, difficult journeys to refuge adequately counter the “ideal/absolute victim” trope? Or have resilience and agency simply become part of what characterizes the ideal, deserving refugee narrative in neoliberal times, and so are also required in the “solidarity” fitness efforts of campaign participants?

[i] The call to “Step with Refugees” is an adaptation of “Stand with Refugees,” the UNHCR slogan of the past few years, and which includes the incorporation of their most prominent hasthag, and the shortened version of the slogan, #withrefugees.
[ii] “Misconceptions about refugees” seems like a dramatic understatement of the overt racism and xenophobia faced by people seeking safety in many places around the world.
[iii] The video features actor Ben Stiller. For critiques of celebrity humanitarianism see Patricia Daley (2013) “Rescuing African bodies: celebrities, consumerism and neoliberal humanitarianism.” Review of African Political Economy. 40:137. https://doi.org/10.1080/03056244.2013.816944  and Katharyne Mitchell (2017) “Celebrity Humanitarianism, Transnational Emotion, and the Rise of Neoliberal Citizenship” Global Networks. 16:3 https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/glob.12114
[iv] Rebecca Clouser and Jenny M. Rickley have also done work specifically on “endurance philanthropy,” aspects of which seem relevant to the distance challenges of this campaign, even as it directly seeks to address forced migration. See https://aag.secure-abstracts.com/AAG%20Annual%20Meeting%202019/abstracts-gallery/20269  
iv The term “absolute victim” comes from the work of Michel Agier, including Agier, M (2010) “Humanity as Identity and it’s Political After-effects.” Humanity 1:1 http://muse.jhu.edu/article/394858

Jun 2, 2019

running with a red hand

Tomorrow the Canadian inquiry on the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women (MMIW) will be released, but it has already been leaked that it will be declared an ongoing genocide. It was super controversial in Canada when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission declared native residential schools (boarding schools in the US) to have committed 'cultural genocide' - but it sounds like this time the cultural is being dropped.

It's astounding to me, having recently moved to the US from Canada, how little attention there is to this crisis in the US, when in the US women on reservations can be 10 times more likely to be killed or disappeared. But check out the inspiring activism by Rosalie Fish (in the photo). She has been racing with this red hand on her face, and the letters MMIW down one leg. Each race she runs in honor of a particular indigenous woman who has been killed in Washington state. Since she is a young indigenous woman herself, the red hand is particularly powerful imagery. It seems to me to be saying I have run away from this violence so far, but other women like me haven't been able to.

The US needs to stop running from this crisis and face it head on, learning from Canada's example.

Apr 29, 2019

great cfp for a special issue on solidarity

Call for Papers: Solidarity and Transnational Cultural Forms
Coordinators: Jessica Stites Mor (University of British Columbia), Anna Bernard, (King’s College, London), and Anthony Alessandrini (City University of New York) 

Transnational solidarity is envisioned as a reciprocal relationship between geographically distant actors that is based on shared political commitments. Given that this kind of transnational work involves great distances and language divides, the potential for miscommunication and misrepresentation is enormous. The visibility and appeal of movements like the Arab Spring uprisings, Occupy Wall Street, the indignados, Palestinian and Kurdish national struggles, and open borders activism has brought increasing public pressure on those who study and theorize this form of activism to broaden their ability to understand better what activists do and why. On the ground, the frustration of activists when facing failures within movements has created a need for rigorous attention to cultural forms and movements from multiple disciplinary perspectives.

Scholars have produced detailed typologies of solidarity, as well as historical research on the networks and practices of grassroots activists. However, this theoretical and empirical work has not significantly engaged with cultural forms of international solidarity activism, works that participate in what David Featherstone has termed the “labour of connection”; they are not “frozen snapshots” of a movement, but part of its “conduct of political activity.” This publication is aimed at a general audience as well as an academic one. By doing so, we aim to consider active and ongoing theorizations of international solidarity and promote better understandings of solidarity praxis.

Questions we hope the project will address:

  1. How are relationships within transnational networks of political solidarity maintained, reshaped and manipulated through cultural and artistic events and forms?
  2. How do international solidarity campaigns navigate and bridge complex intersubjectivities, such as race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and indigenous and/or post-colonial status?
  3. How do solidarity movement participants create spaces through cultural and artistic production within which ideas are able to be mapped?
4) How are competing meanings of struggle, challenges and failures of solidarity best expressed and debated through artistic, literary and performative events in order to set new courses of action? 

We anticipate that articles would examine cases across a range of geographical locations and historical junctures and in a variety of disciplines, including literature, history, anthropology, visual culture, sociology, politics, and law. We are also interested in activist perspectives.

If you are interested in having your work potentially included in a special journal issue, please send a 300 word abstract and 150 word bio to isarn.info@gmail.com by June 7, 2019.

Sep 30, 2018

patriarchal power will not be dismantled by empathy alone

You may have noticed some women black out their profile picture today as a solidarity tactic. 

Here is a powerful critique of this tactic from Harsha Walia

"'Female blackout' to protest domestic violence is today. I refuse to turn my profile pic to a black square. I refuse to disappear as part of some bizarre awareness project that furthers the very goals that patriarchy intends - submission and disappearance. Can we please stop with these die-ins, disappearings, becoming faceless trends? They arent only disempowering, they are a strategic mistake. Power, and certainly patriarchal power, will not be dismantled by humanizing empathy alone."

Sep 26, 2018

learning empathy through a video game

I have blogged repeatedly here about empathy experiments, and my doubts about them. But what about empathy games? A recent study showed that kids who played a video game that taught empathy skills actually enhanced their empathy related neural networks. Given that even my college students have trouble naming potential emotions when I teach them non-violent communication, games like these that help us listen and connect well with the emotions of others seem more useful to me than experiments where we pretend to be others. Check out the trailer for the video game used in this study, below.

Jul 12, 2018

Putting yourself in someone else's shoes doesn't work

Putting yourself in someone else's shoes doesn't work. At least, it doesn't work for giving you a better sense of what they are feeling, according to several recent psychological studies. (What works better? Just asking them).

But is this why there has been a boom in empathy experiments the last few years? Are we really trying to know the other, or just care about the other? Do empathy experiments work for helping us at least care more about the suffering of the people we're pretending to be? I am also dubious about their effectiveness in this regard.

Do we really need to know what it's like to be lost at sea to care about refugees whose boats are wrecked on the way to Europe? There was such an outpouring of support for the boys stuck in the cave in Thailand, yet I assume it is an experience almost none of us have had or have pretended to have.

I think the issue when there is a lack of caring and solidarity is not that we can't imagine the experience, but that we other the people having it. We distance ourselves from them in some way. So here again what might work better than putting yourself in someone else's shoes is just to ask them about their experience and feelings. Hearing their personal stories can help us connect around our common humanity.

Some ways of sharing stories are more effective at building solidarity than others. More on that later. I just survived my first year teaching on the tenure track and am slowly getting back to writing on this blog.

Jul 10, 2017

solidarity against hate

Homophobia and islamophobia are not actually phobias. I do not believe that they are mental health conditions (like agoraphobia or claustrophobia) and it is wrong to put them in that category when they appear to be based on hate, not fear. As such, I avoid both terms and prefer instead the terms anti-gay (or anti-LGBTI) prejudice and anti-muslim prejudice.

It is strange that the words for different sorts of prejudice and hate can sound so different. Racism, sexism, agism, ablism sound similar, but is there a similar -ism version for the two terms in question here? Sherman argues for the term gaycism, but it seems unlikely to catch on. It could be useful for alliance building if all were said using a standard construction that we could put side by side, and I propose here we simply use anti-black, anti-woman, anti-gender queer, anti-Muslim, etc. Whether you then add on the word prejudice, bias, hate, or bigotry could vary.

May 9, 2017

Chances are growing that your research might be weaponized

A few months ago I published the article Beware, your research may be weaponized in the Annals of the American Association of Geographers (AAG), as part of a forum on militarism in geography that came out of and is part of the long standing struggle in the discipline to address the growing use of geography by the US military in particular. (If you are a geographer and have not yes signed this petition, please do! The AAG finally agreed to set up a study group, but we need to keep the pressure on for good recommendations.)

I was honoured to have the web site The Conversation approach me and suggest that I do a popular shorter version of this article. This was my first time trying to do a popular version of an article. It was a bit of a shock at first to see how heavily my draft was edited. Here I thought that my writing was generally fairly easy to read, but this site actually uses software that rates readability. It was a good experience and I'm now motivated to always do a popular version of my academic articles.

As well as being shorter this version is much more practical, and proposes hacks for avoiding weaponization. The other challenge they gave me was to make it timely and start with a hook that connected it to breaking news. So I started like this:

Surveillance has become so ubiquitous that it appears likely that Russia was caught in the act conspiring to fix the 2016 United States presidential election, and at least one of his staffers was basically overheard conspiring with them.

Politicians aren’t the only ones being watched. Edward Snowden’s 2013 revelations detailing the US National Security Agency’s widespread surveillance have made clear that, these days, everyone should be thinking about privacy and security.

Read on here ... 

Apr 21, 2017

denim day

April 26th 2017 is this year's #denimday, where you are asked to wear jeans as a way to speak out against sexual violence. As I have blogged before, one of my various critiques of this campaign is that so many people regularly wear jeans that it would be hard for your jeans to stand out on this day.

But I've learned that all cadets and staff at the US military academy West Point have been officially encouraged to wear jeans that day - and in fact the email they got about it explained the history of this solidarity action better than the official site does:

"all of West Point is encouraged to wear jeans to work as a visible means of protest against the misconceptions that surround sexual assault. Denim Day was originally triggered by a ruling by the Italian Supreme Court where a rape conviction was overturned because the justices felt that since the victim was wearing tight jeans she must have helped her rapist remove her jeans, thereby implying consent. The following day, the women in the Italian Parliament came to work wearing jeans in solidarity with the victim. Since then, wearing jeans on Denim Day has become a symbol of protest against erroneous and destructive attitudes about sexual assault."

Well since the military rarely wears jeans, and has a serious sexual assault epidemic, I would be happy to see them all wear jeans on this day. It would be particularly striking if they wore uniforms on top and jeans below!