The National Anthem, and What It Means to Love One’s Country

american flag flying on cloudy day

(I developed these thoughts in a radio interview with Charone Nix, Mandisa Thomas, and Rogier. I can’t remember now who made which point, so I’m crediting all of us for all of them.)

I’ve been thinking about Colin Kaepernick and other sports figures sitting down or kneeling during the National Anthem, to protest systemic racism and racist police brutality. And I’ve been thinking about what it means to love one’s country.

There are things about the United States that are tremendous, and things that are terrible. And many of the tremendous things exist because people saw something terrible, and protested. We ended slavery, expanded voting to include women and people of color, created a social safety net (or the vague semblance of one), created protections for voters, established safety standards for the food we eat, established child labor laws and workplace safety laws and a minimum wage, and much, much more — because people looked at the way things were and said, “No. This is not acceptable. We can do better. We must do better.”

Protest is one of the highest forms of patriotism. Seeing things that are terribly wrong with the country, and speaking out in whatever form (short of violence) is available and effective, is one of the highest forms of patriotism. It says, “We can do better. Our potential is so much greater than what we are right now.” To look at a country with rampant poverty, inequality, voter disenfranchisement, racist police brutality, homophobic and transphobic violence, institutional trivialization of rape, and more — and think, “Yeah, whatever, that’s the best we can do” — how is that patriotic? That’s not love of your country. That’s giving up on your country.

There’s a lot to be said about the National Anthem protests, and many people have said it well. It’s been pointed out how absurd it is to shrug off or rationalize the reality of racist police brutality, but lose your shit over a football player sitting down and not singing a song. It’s been pointed out that a relationship that demands unquestioning support even when you’re treated terribly isn’t loving — it’s abusive. It’s been pointed out that it’s absurd to fetishize symbols and ignore the realities they represent. It’s been pointed out that Jackie Robinson also refused to stand up for the National Anthem, for pretty much the same reason as Colin Kaepernick: we love our rebels and protestors from the past, and yet excoriate them in the present. (Prophets have honor in other countries, and the past is another country.) It’s been pointed out that “when nationalism and religion are understood as functionally identical, we see what Colin Kaepernick’s crime is: heresy.” It’s been pointed out that anti-racism protestors are told to protest nicely and politely in a way that doesn’t inconvenience anyone, are told not to march in the streets or block traffic or even call people racist — but when someone protests by literally sitting quietly, that’s not okay either.

All of that is true, and important. But it’s not my point today.

Patriotism is often performative, in much the same way religion is often performative. I don’t think this is always conscious or cynical (although I think it sometimes is), but in circles where patriotism is equated with goodness, performing patriotism persuades people of that goodness, and bigger performances are seen as more authentic. Displays of both religiosity and patriotism are “in-group” displays as well — and as such, they’re often driven by fear. In some circles, there is considerable pressure put on people to perform both patriotism and religiosity, and a significant cost to not doing so. The demand that patriotism be performed is all too often a demand, not for genuine love and work, but for unquestioning conformity.

But protest is patriotic. Seeing our potential to be better, speaking out about how we could be better, and working to make things better — often at great personal cost — is patriotic. In the words of Carl Schurz: “My country, right or wrong. If right, to be kept right; if wrong, to be set right.”

The National Anthem, and What It Means to Love One’s Country
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“The cost of unity”: Meme from The Way of the Heathen

"The cost of unity is the silence of people being screwed over."

“The cost of unity is the silence of people being screwed over.”
-Greta Christina, The Way of the Heathen: Practicing Atheism in Everyday Life
(from Chapter 45: “Policing Our Own”)

(Image description: above text, juxtaposed next to close-up image of black woman’s closed mouth)

I’m making a series of memes/ inspirational poster thingies with my favorite quotes from my new book, The Way of the Heathen: Practicing Atheism in Everyday Life. Please feel free to share this on social media, or print it and hang it on your wall if you like. (The image above is pretty big: you can click on it to get a bigger size if you like.)

Way of the Heathen cover
The Way of the Heathen is available in ebook on Amazon/Kindle and on Smashwords for $7.99. The audiobook is at Audible. The print edition is at Amazon and Powell’s Books, and can be ordered or carried by pretty much any bookstore: it’s being wholesaled by Ingram, Baker & Taylor, IPG, and bookstores can buy it directly from the publisher, Pitchstone Publishing. Check it out, and tell your friends!

“The cost of unity”: Meme from The Way of the Heathen

“Wherever there are conversations about racism”: Meme from The Way of the Heathen

"Wherever there are conversations about racism, white people need to listen."

“Wherever there are conversations about racism, white people need to listen.”
-Greta Christina, The Way of the Heathen: Practicing Atheism in Everyday Life
(from Chapter 17: “The Part About Black Lives Mattering Where White People Shut Up and Listen”)

(Image description: above text, juxtaposed next to image of a person’s ear and side of head, seen from behind.)

I’m making a series of memes/ inspirational poster thingies with my favorite quotes from my new book, The Way of the Heathen: Practicing Atheism in Everyday Life. Please feel free to share this on social media, or print it and hang it on your wall if you like. (The image above is pretty big: you can click on it to get a bigger size if you like.)

Way of the Heathen cover
The Way of the Heathen is available in ebook on Amazon/Kindle and on Smashwords for $7.99. The audiobook is at Audible. The print edition is at Amazon and Powell’s Books, and can be ordered or carried by pretty much any bookstore: it’s being wholesaled by Ingram, Baker & Taylor, IPG, and bookstores can buy it directly from the publisher, Pitchstone Publishing. Check it out, and tell your friends!

“Wherever there are conversations about racism”: Meme from The Way of the Heathen

“I’m Not Being Sexist Or Racist! You’re Defining The Word Wrong!”

dictionary photo

Content note: sexism, racism, other systems of oppression, gaslighting, passing use of racist and sexist language

Tl;dr: Rejecting the definitions of sexism and racism don’t make them disappear.

“I’m not being sexist or racist! My friend isn’t being sexist or racist! That person I admire isn’t being sexist or racist! Sexism and racism means being consciously, deliberately bigoted. It means consciously believing that women or people of color are inferior. I don’t care how the words are defined by the thousands of researchers who have been studying this for decades — I looked the words up in a dictionary, and that makes me an expert. So stop saying we did something sexist or racist unintentionally, that our stubborn refusal to listen to women and people of color is sexist or racist, or that there are systems of oppression we’re perpetuating and participating in. You’re only sexist or racist if you openly say you are!”

When we talk about sexism, racism, and other isms, we hear this stuff a lot. It’s been coming up a lot in the shitty defenses of TJ Kirk, a.k.a. the self-styled “Amazing Atheist” (see Martin Hughes’ extraordinary takedowns for context). There are lots of arguments against it: I could rattle off a bunch in my sleep. But there are times when I want to throw up my hands and say, “Fine.

“Let’s concede the terminology. For the sake of argument, let’s say the words ‘sexism,’ ‘racism,’ ‘classism,’ ‘ableism,’ etc., only mean conscious bigotry and oppression. And let’s give another name to that other stuff. Let’s give another name to unconscious bias, to systems of oppression, to the stubborn refusal to acknowledge them. Let’s give another name to people who deny that they’re sexist and call women cunts; to people who deny that they’re racists and call African-Americans lazy thugs. Let’s call it (goes to random nonsense word generator, hits ‘refresh’ until she finds a word she likes) grimprom. Strenaviction. Yurity, Ooo, ‘yurity.’ I like that.

“Can we now have a conversation about yurity? Continue reading ““I’m Not Being Sexist Or Racist! You’re Defining The Word Wrong!””

“I’m Not Being Sexist Or Racist! You’re Defining The Word Wrong!”

Politics and Tragedies

Flowers, candles, and posters at 18th and Castro in San Francisco, memorializing Orlando shootings. Photo by Greta Christina.
Flowers, candles, and posters at 18th and Castro in San Francisco, memorializing Orlando shootings. Photo by Greta Christina.

They tell us we shouldn’t politicize tragedies.

When a man sees two men kissing and responds by walking into a gay bar with an automatic weapon and murdering 50 people, we’re told we shouldn’t politicize the tragedy.

When a man writes a 107,000-word manifesto detailing how and why he despises women and wants to murder and terrorize us, and proceeds to murder six people and injure fourteen others, we’re told we shouldn’t politicize it.

When a man murders nine people in a Black church and later confesses that he did it to start a race war, we’re told we shouldn’t politicize it.

When a hurricane hits a major U.S. city, and thousands of mostly poor, mostly black people are abandoned for days; when the evacuation plan assumes everyone has a car; when the Federal government’s emergency management agency is run by an incompetent boob, in a deliberately created political climate that holds the very idea of government in contempt; when the aftermath is rife with real estate speculation and other grossly predatory profiteering — we’re told we shouldn’t politicize it.

I could give you examples all day.

So here’s the tl;dr, the punch line: We didn’t politicize these tragedies. They were already political. Continue reading “Politics and Tragedies”

Politics and Tragedies

Not All Media is Made For Everyone

Alice in Wonderland book cover
Alice in Wonderland was written for children. Many adults enjoy it, but we’re not who the book was written for.

Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why was written for atheists. Some religious believers may find it informative and useful, it may help them understand and support the atheists in their life, but they’re not who the book was written for.

The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability was written for disabled people who have sex or intend to. It says so, in the description: “The first complete sex guide for people who live with disabilities, pain, illness, or chronic conditions.” Other people might find it informative, but it’s not written for us.

Playboy is published for men. It says “Entertainment For Men” right on the cover. Some women might enjoy it, but we’re not who it’s made for.

Sesame Street is made for children. Adults might enjoy it — stoners have a long tradition of enjoying TV made for kids — but it’s not made for us.

The AARP magazine is written for people over 50. What To Expect When You’re Expecting is written for pregnant people and their partners. The Advocate is written for TBLG people. Remodelista was written for homeowners, architects, and designers. The 700 Club is made for Christians. 501 English Verbs was written for people who are learning English.

And of course, there are all sorts of examples I can’t think of — because they weren’t made for me, and I’m not familiar with them. There’s music made for people who dance at nightclubs. There are video games made for kids with ADHD. There are technical videos on how to repair your Jaguar.

A huge amount of media is made for specific audiences. In fact, a case could be made that just about all media is made for specific audiences — the people who will get the cultural references, who have the money to pay for it, who have the technology needed to access it (digital music isn’t made for Kalahari Bushmen), who speak the language.

So why do people flip their shit when they hear that Beyoncé’s Lemonade, or other media, is made for black people?

White people are used to everything being made for us. The overwhelming majority of media is made with predominantly white faces, white characters, white bodies. White people are depicted with variety and nuance, while people of color are largely depicted in a handful of stereotypes. We’re used to being treated as the default: being treated as the default is the air we breathe, so omnipresent we don’t even have to think about it. We often assume that media made for white people is made for all people.

And it’s uncomfortable as shit to hear about this. Lots of white people don’t like thinking about the realities of race and racism. Once you recognize this reality, you’re morally obligated to do something about it. And when you accept that some media is made for people who aren’t white, you have to recognize this reality. You have to accept that black-oriented media is reasonable because most media is made for specific audiences, and most of those audiences are white.

That’s hard to accept. It’s easier to keep pretending that all media is made for everyone, and that making any media for non-white people is racist.

That’s why I keep talking about this, why lots of us keep talking about this. If it’s irritating, that’s by design. We have to make it harder to deny reality than it is to recognize it.

Not All Media is Made For Everyone

Where to Invade Next: Guest Post by Donna Jay

This is a guest post by Donna Jay. Her opinions do not necessarily reflect mine, although they’re obviously sympatico enough for me to post this piece. Content note: racism, racist violence and murder. -GC

where to invade next movie poster detail

I fulfilled my duty as a white-appearing middle-aged liberal woman. I went to see the latest Michael Moore movie, Where To Invade Next? I had heard mixed reviews but, fitting the core demographic for his films, I headed down to the local Alamo Drafthouse to catch an afternoon showing. It focuses on Michael traveling Europe finding ideas he would like to bring back to America – better prison systems, free higher education, free medical care, etc. Some have described it as watching a recent college graduate go to Europe for the first time and return with the belief “everything is better there – America sucks.”

Starting off the movie Moore shows the multitude of problems in America through a series of film clips. How best to set up the premise and show why these European ideas would be better for America. Moore relies on humor to get his message across. In his films, he may lay out the facts; however, he wants people to laugh along the way, making social commentary more palatable through comedy.

In the series of America-in-ruin clips he included the video of the death of Eric Garner. We were shown the video of multiple police officers standing around Eric on the ground. We’ve all seen it. Collectively, we watched a snuff film. The officers hold their stance, glaring at the people around them, almost challenging them to make a move. Try to help Eric, you will be on the ground next to him. Eric repeats, again and again, “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I. Can’t. Breathe.” The movie cuts to a different clip before we see Eric die, but we know what the end result is. They do not show his final breath. But we know this man lost his life because he was poor and black and selling single cigarettes to other people who are poor and black and cannot afford a pack of cigarettes, his death the result of systemic racism empowering a police force that saw no reason to treat him as human. A minor crime was turned into a death sentence. He was black and poor so he must be a dangerous criminal. His life was viewed as having no value. His pleas for help were meaningless to the officers because he did not matter to them. He could not breathe and no one who could or should have helped him cared. So he died on a street surrounded by people who were sworn to protect him. He died within minutes of when the footage shown was filmed.

Moore did not expect us to laugh specifically at this scene. It was a short clip in a series of clips, a rapid fire series of issues in the US. But we were expected for find some humor in the seemingly out of control state of things in the US. With the music and the voiceover, we were supposed to find absurd humor in this series of events. And Eric Garner was in that mix, dying on a sidewalk.

And people laughed. Continue reading Where to Invade Next: Guest Post by Donna Jay”

Where to Invade Next: Guest Post by Donna Jay

What I Hear When I Hear “Not for White People”

Content note: sexual content.

I’m going to make an analogy. It’s going to be flawed, as analogies always are, and if I get stuff about this wrong I hope the people concerned will tell me.

On Our Backs Summer 1984 small
In the late ’80s and early ’90s, I worked for the lesbian sex magazine On Our Backs, the first sex magazine created by dykes and for dykes. We had a fair number of male customers and subscribers, and that was fine with us. We couldn’t have done anything about it even if it hadn’t been fine with us, but it was fine with us. If straight guys who got off on lesbian sex wanted to help bankroll our operation, we weren’t going to argue.

But we didn’t make the magazine for them. We made it for us. When the writers were writing, when the photographers were shooting, when the illustrators were drawing, when the editors were deciding which photos and stories and illustrations and essays and news items to include, we thought about dykes. We thought about the lesbians and bisexual women who were hungry for authentic sexual images of ourselves, who were hungry to see our sexuality recognized and reflected, who were hungry for new ideas about hot things to do in bed. We thought about the dykes who were hungry for a feminism that celebrated the huge variety of lesbian sexual possibilities (i.e., that didn’t shame women for being into kink and dildos and porn).

We never thought, “What will our straight male customers enjoy?” Continue reading “What I Hear When I Hear “Not for White People””

What I Hear When I Hear “Not for White People”

Note to Atheists: Low Incarceration Rates Are Not a Sign of Morality

prison photo

There’s this thing being shared a bunch on Facebook: a piece from 2015 by Hemant Mehta at Friendly Atheist, about the disproportionately low percentage of atheists in the U.S. federal prison system. Mehta himself wrote in the piece that “It would be foolish to use this information to suggest atheists are more moral than religious groups,” but some people are sharing it around, declaring it to one more piece of evidence for atheists’ morality.

No. No, no, no, no no.

Can we please, please, not equate immorality with being in prison, and morality with not being in prison?

Incarcaration in the U.S. is hugely unjust. (Link, link, link, link, link, link.) Among many, many other things: It targets black and brown people in wildly disproportionate numbers: black and brown people are arrested more, are more likely to be convicted, and are more likely to serve longer sentences. Class is a big factor in incarceration rates, including the ability to afford high-priced lawyers, and the ability to shape the laws in the first place. Poor people are regularly incarcerated for minor crimes, while white-collar thieves of millions of people and billions of dollars go free. Plus, incarceration is often self-perpetuating. The often absurd and impossible demands of the parole system turn parole into a revolving door; a prison record makes it harder to get work, get into school, etc. — and given how racist U.S. incarceration is, removing the right to vote from people with prison records contributes to the systematic disenfranchisement of black and brown people, and diminishes their ability to change the system.

And of course, ridiculously huge numbers of people are incarcerated because of the drug war — which is being pursued in racist ways, creating and perpetuating a permanent black and brown underclass. If you smoke weed or do any other illegal drugs, or have ever smoked weed or done any illegal drugs, you’re in no position to claim any sort of moral superiority on the basis of not being in prison.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. I encourage readers to give other examples of injustice in the prison system, here in the comments.

When we argue that atheists are moral because so few of us are in prison, we’re agreeing that being in prison is a reasonable indicator of morality. This is flatly not true. It’s factually inaccurate, which atheists are supposed to care about. And it perpetuates the racism and classism in the U.S. justice system. The reasoning, if you can call it that, is absurdly and depressingly circular: black and brown people are in prison in hugely disproportionate numbers, so people assume that they’re more likely to be criminals — so they’re more likely to be targeted by law enforcement, more likely to be convicted, and more likely to get longer sentences. When we use low incarceration rates as a sign of atheists’ morality, think about what that sounds like to people who have been subjected to the unjust justice system for decades.

There are good arguments for why atheists are as moral as anyone else. This isn’t one of them.

Note to Atheists: Low Incarceration Rates Are Not a Sign of Morality

Godless Perverts Social Club in Oakland, Thursday March 17!

Godless Perverts Social Club Oakland March 2016
Godless Perverts is having a Social Club in our wonderful new Oakland location, Thursday, March 17! 7-9 pm. We have a new location for the Oakland Godless Perverts Social Clubs — we’re now meeting at Rudy’s Can’t Fail Cafe, 1805 Telegraph Avenue, next to the Fox Theater (and right near the 19th St. Oakland BART station). Rudy’s Can’t Fail is a fun, friendly space that serves meals, small bites, beer, cocktails, soft drinks, and desserts. We’re meeting in the back room/ dining car, which is ridiculously cute: the dining car has somewhat limited space, probably enough for all of us, but it’s a good idea to arrive on time if you want to be sure to get a seat. The Oakland Social Clubs are on the third Thursday of the month (First Tuesdays are still in San Francisco at Wicked Grounds.)

So please join us! Hang out with other nonbelievers and chat about sex, sexuality, gender, atheism, religion, science, social justice, pop culture, and more. Community is one of the reasons we started Godless Perverts. There are few enough places to land when you decide that you’re an atheist; far fewer if you’re also LGBT, queer, kinky, poly, trans, or are just interested in sexuality. And the sex-positive/ alt-sex/ whatever- you- want- to- call- it community isn’t always the most welcoming place for non-believers.All orientations, genders, and kinks (or lack thereof) are welcome. We meet on the third Thursday of every month at Rudy’s Can’t Fail Cafe (we also meet on the first Tuesday of every month at Wicked Grounds, 289 8th Street at Folsom in San Francisco, near Civic Center BART). 7-9 pm. Admission is free, although we do ask that you buy food and/or drink at the venue. Continue reading “Godless Perverts Social Club in Oakland, Thursday March 17!”

Godless Perverts Social Club in Oakland, Thursday March 17!