Short thought’s on Phife Dawg’s passing from a white guy form Toronto’s suburbs

I grew up in central Etobicoke, basically the whitest place in Toronto (for those not familiar, I basically grew up in the heart of Ford Nation, before it was Ford Nation). I had grown up through middle school resistant to hip hop, not because I disliked it but rather what it stood for to me. Growing up in predominantly white suburbia surrounded by upper-middle and upper class peers who, all to rebel against their white conservative parents, listened to hip hop put me in a weird position as a kid more interesting in rebelling against my own peers. I was bullied a lot and the white kids at school wearing do-rags (I kid you not) listening to top 40 gangster rap were exactly what I wanted to avoid. So I did what any other nerdy skateboard kids do, and listened to punk and metal almost exclusively.

This changed for me when I listened to A Tribe Called Quest for the first time. It was early internet and I don’t even remember how I first listened to them, it wasn’t a kid at school, Tribe was too “fruity” for these guys who just wanted to listen to music that glorified wealth (yet never acknowledging the origins of this glorification was from a starting point of poverty…something my peers will never experience because of who their parents are). It was quite possibly Limewire or Kazzaa or something like that, all I know is that the first time I heard Phife Dawg come in on Check the Rhime, I realized I was wrong about an entire genre.

There was something so mind blowing about Phife coming in right away with “me the five footer, I kicks the mad style so step off the frankfurter”, it wasn’t the self-deprecation but rather the acknowledgement of who he is. Phife Dawg was the Funky Diabetic, the Five Foot Assassin, and as young kid who felt like I couldn’t do anything without being made fun of this was a revelation. I wasn’t a happy kid really, but damn if Phife didn’t make me optimistic for the future. Seeing and hearing Phife take ownership of who he is, and then use that as just a building block for his incredible skills as a MC was inspiring and I know I’m not alone.

I think I would have fallen in love with hip hop no matter what, eventually. But that fateful day at my computer and hearing Phife’s voice for the first time locked in years of enjoyment for me, and opened my eyes.

Thoughts from a 23 year old campaign manager on the Toronto election

After a day of reflection (while taking down dozens of election signs) I have some thoughts to share about election we just had in Toronto. I’d like to start with linking to Morgan Baskin’s recent blog post “So What’s Next?” which I read last night after getting home from the election night party that my candidate of choice, Raymond Desilets had thrown for his supporters and volunteers. I was exhausted, and much of what I have read and done in the past week (especially after this past weekend of non-stop canvassing) has barely registered in my memory, yet I cannot stop thinking about Baskin’s post.

For those who don’t know, in a nutshell Baskin ran for mayor and gained some recognition (first in the mainstream media seemingly as a novelty, then in the view of a lot of people as a totally impressive and fantastic candidate). Morgan Baskin is awesome. I wish I had the courage when I was 18 (or 19) to do what she has done. I barely had the courage to do what I did this election. I have a LOT of feelings about this election, and to be quite honest I’m struggling to write this post so it’s both coherent and concise, so I’m going to try to focus in on my thoughts about it on the main theme I kept thinking of during. That is, my age.

I’m 23. In relation to Baskin my age seems (or just feels) to be so much older. I’ve been through university, where I grew up tremendously (I attribute this however more to the specific moment in time I went to a specific university however, not by virtue of going to university in general) and thinking about what is different for me now than when I was 18 is staggering. However, I’m just four years older than Baskin, which I know is nothing. I relate to her quite a bit, I was always the baby of the group wherever I went when I was her age, albeit I was working at Greenpeace not running for mayor. While I feel that my 18 self and 23 self are totally different, I know that four years isn’t really that big of a deal, which is evidenced by my friendships with workers and individuals in some cases decades older than me. Yet no matter how different I feel about myself in this four year period, I know that one thing hasn’t changed.

I’m still a young person. When I met with Ray Desilets I told him I would run and organize his canvass operations (I have a LOT of canvassing experience) and simply due to the fact I am unemployed I poured my free time into his campaign, and ended up taking on the title of “Campaign Manager”. This transition felt totally natural for Ray and I, it was just a title to reflect what I was doing. What that title also means is a new line for my CV now too, which is a constant obsession for me to gain credibility as an employable person. This past year I worked as a canvasser/pollcat for two other political campaigns (Jonah Schein’s re-election campaign in Davenport and Joe Cressy’s by-election campaign in Trinity-Spadina). To be perfectly blunt, I did it because I was unemployed and despite not ever wanting to knock on doors again (lots of experience as a fundraiser), I realized that if I both wanted work and wanted to create positive change, this was my immediate destiny. As I return now to hopefully short time of being both unemployed and mostly unoccupied I relate heavily to Baskin when she felt the need to point out she needs to get a job, something too many older folk keep forgetting our generation is finding to be extremely hard.

It was during my time at the Joe Cressy campaign I became incredibly disappointed that no good candidates have emerged in my ward, Ward 5, to run for council. We had no incumbent and with the provincial NDP doubling their vote share in the recent election I thought someone like me (a progressive) could win. On my last evening volunteering for the Cressy campaign multiple NDP workers who I look up to told me I need to continue doing political work, I was ecstatic. However despite this, I ultimately chickened out and hoped that a “real candidate” (read: someone who was a “real” adult) would emerge. This turned out to be Ray Desilets, and quite frankly his platform is far better than anything I would have come up with, I was excited that there was a serious local campaign I could focus my time and energy on. I have the utmost respect for Ray and I know he does for me as well, it was a fantastic working relationship.

During my time working for Ray I was assumed to be his son a few dozen times (despite the fact I would often mention “Ray has a son a year or two younger than me” when talking about him) or it was assumed I was a family friend. I was, and still am OK with these assumptions. It was a local campaign, and Ray’s son was out canvassing with us after all. What I’m not OK with is how sheepishly I would introduce myself as Ray’s campaign manager in turn. I was never afraid to send emails, using the veil of internet anonymity, with my title attached however. When I would tell people my title, the most common response was to gush about my age and to ask me a wave of personal questions (what I went to school for, what I want to do with my life, do I live with my parents still, etc). I was frustrated with and still am is that my age instantly became a novelty. The number of baby boomers who felt the need to tell me they’re so happy to “finally see a young person getting involved” was infuriating, especially when this was coming from someone much older than me who wasn’t even sure if we voted for city councillors before I knocked on their door. Yet, because of how I perceive myself as a young person I would be shy and anxious about this instead of feeling pride.

Last night however, after feeling pretty bummed not just at the results of the mayoral election and the council election in Ward 5, but at the results of all the other races I had invested so much hope into (namely Idil Burale in Ward 1, Andray Domise in Ward 2, Russ Ford in Ward 6 and Alejandra Bravo in Ward 17) I read Morgan Baskin’s blog post. It was at this point for the first time I think I truly felt pride all election, not just in myself, but for Baskin and all the other young people I know who worked their asses off in some way or another over these past ten months. It’s awesome, and we need to keep it up.

Leftist Martyrdom Syndrome

Last night I watched the movie Bidder 70 a film about Tim DeChristopher an American environmentalist who essentially placed fake bids during an auction of public lands to both bring attention to the auction and to prevent oil companies from owning and destroying the land. (I wont go into the details of his actions or case, the movie and the Wikipedia link I just gave does that fine) While the arrest and incarceration of DeChristopher was certainly unjust I kept getting distracted by the actions of other environmental activists in the movie, namely the ones suffering from Leftist Martyrdom Syndrome.

The movie paints a portrait of a young man who is so dedicated to the environmentalist movement he is willing to go to jail for it (which he ultimately does). Countless references are made to Martin Luther King Jr, Ghandi, and in general their and other non-violent protest movements that have happened in America and world wide. What is so heart breaking about the DeChristopher case, and the cases of other environmentalist and animal rights activists (see the SHAC 7 for another specific example) is that the US government will consistently make an example of individuals as to discourage others from committing similar actions…despite what public opinion is on the subject. So while DeChristopher was sent to jail for 2 years (he was possibly going for 10) the movie shows dozens of of his supporters and associates protesting and ultimately getting arrested.

I want to talk about these other arrested individuals, because the movie seemingly equates what DeChristopher did (and he alludes to this directly as well) with those of the protesters who got arrested for blocking traffic after his hearing. Of course what we all know is that they are not equal. Progressive issues of the past that lead to arrests of protesters were political, people of color were arrested for being a place they were not allowed and Vietnam protesters were arrested for burning their draft cards. The point of getting arrested for a protest is to point out that the very fact you are getting arrested for what you did is wrong.

When you are getting arrested for blocking traffic you are not helping, you’re suffering from Leftist Martyrdom Syndrome. Leftist Martyrdom Syndrome is what happens when a leftist (usually young and white) participates in a protest, or does something within a protest, with the explicit purpose of getting arrested. All leftists know this behavior, and while we may not all wish to admit it, we’ve all been overcome with it at least at one point in our lives (whether we followed through or not does not matter). Ingrained in our cultural memory is the idea that being arrested for protesting somehow equates to the ultimate good that a leftist can achieve. This however is not the reality we live in, as I stated above, being arrested as a result of your protest only has meaning when an outside viewpoint can look at your protest and agree you were in the right. One of the countless famous examples of this is Rosa Parks, a black woman who was arrested for sitting at the front of a bus and not giving up her seat to a white person. Parks’ actions have had such a historical resonance because the fact that she got arrested for her actions strikes us as a horrible injustice that is beyond the ridiculous (imagine if a white person asked a black person to move to the back of a bus today!).

Yet, when you have a group of environmentalist protesters take to the streets and sit down in front of automobile and streetcar traffic and refusing to move (as there is in one scene of Bidder 70) there is no possible conclusion to that action other than them being removed and probably arrested by police. Making signs and taking to the streets is certainly vital to most political and social movements in global history, but doing so with the explicit end goal of being arrested does not actually accomplish anything. The reason why the DeChristopher case is so compelling not because he got arrested, but because he did something awesome and righteous (and then got arrested for it). Until the Left understands that being arrested purely for doing something that will inevitably lead to arrest that has no other direct consequence we’re going to continue floundering, especially on issues of environmentalism and climate change.

 

[NOTE: The term and concept of “Lefist Martyrdom Syndrome” does not actually originate with me but rather a friend of mine, Albert Gaudio. I have used the term and expanded on it here without speaking to him first. I have used the term before (primarily describing the actions of many young protesters during the student movement in Quebec of 2012 which I participated in) and have tried to always not take credit for such a disturbingly apt term and description of a problem many of us on the Left suffer from more often than we ought to.]

The Canadian right’s racism and speciesism

stanley-harper-canada-first-cat-600x430This past Thursday Laureen Harper, the wife of Canada’s prime-minister Stephen Harper, hosted “Just for Cats: Internet Cat Video Festival”. The event was, as one can surmise from the name, a viewing of internet cat videos that was held to raise money for homeless cats. The event was overshadowed by Toronto’s mayor Rob Ford hosting his official re-election campaign launch event and if it were not for the work of a single activist the cat video festival would have faded from the collective memory of Canada very quickly.

Before I continue, I have to make it clear that the issue of homeless cats is indeed important. Basically anywhere there are cats in the world there is overpopulation, which in turn leads to the suffering of the cute little furry animals and the killing of millions of birds by what is essentially an invasive species. As I’ve talked about in previous blog posts it’s important for humans to rectify problems involving animals that are our fault, and we can solve this problem by spaying and neutering our cats, as well as stop breeding and selling them for profit. Especially when there are cats euthanized every day at shelters because no one will adopt them.

Now, with the above said, Laureen Harper’s event just seems odd. It’s well known that the Harper’s love kitties. Stephen Harper, a cold robot-like man who’s public appearance is of stone and, rumor has it, in private is actually paranoid and manipulative has benefited somewhat from the various pictures of him cuddling cats. What’s odd however is that at the same time of hosting an event for homeless cats, the Harper government has outright refused to put any efforts into investigating (let alone stopping) the hundreds of missing or murdered indigenous women across Canada. There’s not much need to go into the details of how Harper’s (and basically the entirety of Canada’s right) have completely terrible positions and track records when it comes to even acknowledging the issues that Canada’s indigenous peoples have been put through. If you are reading this and for whatever reason are unaware of Canada’s track record with the indigenous peoples then just Google “Idle No More”.

To put it quite bluntly, Stephen Harper and the rest of the Canadian right (and, unfortunately, some of the middle and left) do not care about the consistent and terrible injustice all indigenous peoples are subjected to in Canada…yet they care about cats. I find it extremely odd that someone can so consistently be challenged on their ridiculous terrible position towards a group of other humans and refuse to give ground, yet will put efforts into protecting another species. The only possible logical explanation for this is an extreme form of racism. When Laureen Harper was confronted about this by an activist during her event she responded with “That’s a great cause (missing or murdered indigenous women), but that’s for another night. Tonight we’re here for homeless cats.” I’m not much of a gambler, but I’m willing to bet pretty much anything that Laureen Harper will never host an event to benefit missing or murdered indigenous women.

All of this comes in the middle of two significant animal abuse stories coming out, the first being the abuse of baby chickens by Maple Leaf Foods employees including the boiling of chicks alive. The second being the deplorable conditions calves being raised for veal are put through, and the abuse they suffer. Related to this is the delays and opposition Harper’s government has taken to the proposed Bill C-232 that essentially would ensure animal abusers are sent to jail.

So for those keeping track, for the Harper’s and the rest of Canada’s right it goes: cats > indigenous peoples/all non-cat animals (it’s hard to determine if indigenous peoples are valued more than non-cat animals). While cats are certainly awesome, this hierarchy isn’t. It’s hypocritical and extremely racist and speciesist. The hierarchy isn’t arbitrary however as some would think, those who are valued are ones it’s easy to value. It’s just as convenient to ignore the abuse that happens to farmed animals while cuddling cats as it is to ignore the oppression of indigenous peoples.

The Millennials as the New New Left

I recently read Peter Beinart’s piece on The Daily Beast about the rise of the new new left in America and how Millennials (pretty much anyone under 30 at this point) are significantly more liberal than the rest of the country. It’s a long, well researched and cited as well as eye opening piece about my generation that I really recommend to anyone who A) Is a Millennial and is perhaps feeling a bit pessimistic or B) Not a millennial and thinks we’ll all grow out of it.

Beinart doesn’t touch on something major however that, at least for myself and others I know, that is a driving force in pushing me to the left; environmentalism. While he certainly references polls in which young people say they think corporations have too much control over their lives, he doesn’t mention that in virtually all polls (or at least all polls on the subject I can find) Millennials are significantly more likely to support or agree with environmentalist sentiments. This ranges from US Millennials more likely believing in climate change, as well as it being man made/influenced. Millennials more likely to support renewable energy research and implementation. The list goes on.

Many have stated that despite Millennials having strong feelings of environmentalism, they don’t do anything about it. This is skewed as Beinart points out, Millennials are in a recession right now and are probably trying to find work. Volunteers spend their time at organizations when they can, and I’m not convinced that Millennials have as much free time on their hands (or free money) as many would like to assume.

This apparent lack of activism can also be explained in a fundamental way which would support Beinart’s article, that being any real change of impact that has to be made in terms of protecting or benefiting the environment needs to arise from government. I worked with a fellow Millennial who described himself as a libertarian in all aspects, except that government is required to regulate business and protect the environment. My generation is not only more likely to think that environmentalism is good, but we also know from a lifetime of experience and observation (think of how many environmental disasters have happened since the early 1980s identified by the corporation responsible) that corporations are the biggest exploiters and biggest risk to the environment, and the only solution that seems viable is government intervention and regulation.

Of course, I’m not trying to claim that environmentalism has been the driving force of the “new new left” but it certainly has helped.

A Point Raised from Dawkins’ “storm in a teacup”

Richard Dawkins recently posted a detailed response to various responses he got on Twitter when he (unsurprisingly) wrote something that could have (and was) taken as offensive to Muslims. Dawkins (as well as various other atheistic academics) have been under fire lately for being particularly scrutinizing of Islam and it would appear this hasn’t stopped Dawkins from being, well, a bit of a Twitter troll.

While much of what he says in the post I agree with (Muslims are not a race, faith based education is counter intuitive to excellent learning, etc) he makes one point which I’ll quote in it’s entirety below:

“How many Nobel Prizes have been won by atheists?

Now that’s a really interesting question, one that I would sincerely love to see answered. I suspect that the truculence with which the question was posed might turn out to be misplaced – and that’s an understatement. Polls of the US National Academy of Sciences and of the Royal Society of London give almost identical results and suggest that an overwhelming majority of elite scientists (and a lesser majority of scientists as a whole) have no religious faith, although many might nominally be recorded as, say, baptised Christians or Bar-Mitzvahed Jews. I would love to see a well-conducted study of the beliefs of Nobel prizewinning scientists. My guess is that a large majority would self-describe as atheist or agnostic. And a further substantial number would say something like “I might characterise my awe at the universe as ‘spiritual’ but, like Einstein, I have no belief in a personal god and follow no religion.” I’d be very surprised if a single prize-winner were to say “I believe Jesus was born of a virgin and rose from the dead” or “I believe Mohammed rode through the sky on a winged horse”. But those are all conjectures and I would love to see the research done.”

I believe Dawkins is missing his own point, or at least missing a point that he would benefit from greatly, that being that his assumption that most atheists were not raised atheists. While a comprehensive study on how many scientists (and how many Nobel Prize winning scientists are atheists) I believe a better way of framing the question would be how many scientists, and how many Nobel Prize winners have differing beliefs and religious practices from how they were raised to such an extent that one could not reasonably say that they are still of that belief set or religious faith. To put this differently, instead of asking how many scientists are atheists we should be asking how many scientists have departed from their religious upbringing?

I would very much suspect that for someone who was raised in a devout family and taught from an extremely early age to accept the family’s belief system to depart and perhaps even renounce said belief system would have to be very bright. Religious education for children does not reinforce critical thinking and for a young person (or even an old) to turn their back on what has in all respects been delivered to them as the Truth would require quite a bit of critical thinking skills (and depending on the family, some courage).

As a personal aside, I am not implying as an atheist myself that I must be particularly bright (no, this isn’t one of those “Haha! Atheists are smart, everyone else is dumb!” arguments). I was brought to church and Sunday School as a child, but it is important to note that as most children do I approached my mother (my father did not go to church with us, which clearly bolstered my position) and told her I did not want to go to church anymore, my mother responded that she didn’t want to either and I never went to church again (my mother would attend holiday services for a few years after, albeit to appease my grandmother only). It is also worth noting that I was born and raised in Toronto, which even by Canadia-and-religion standards is quite liberal. I’ve noticed that what would typically be minor teenage rebellion in many more homogeneous societies against family religious beliefs has turned into full fledged denunciations. It’s a lot easier to turn your back on a religion when literally none of your friends even attend the same church as you.

My question above does offer an interesting issue however, that is, out of all the scientists who have departed or renounced the religion that they were raised by, how many of them became atheists/atheistic? How many converted to a different religion? How intense was their religious upbringing (as in, were their parents like mine or were they extremely devout)? Dawkins main point is that Islam appears to him to have a detrimental effect on education of its practitioners so I would think that those who have converted to Islam would have to be not included in the Nobel Prize count (which is none).

However interestingly enough from a bit of research on the four Muslims who have won the Nobel Prize (removing those who have one for Peace) two have certainly departed from their family’s traditions (Naguib Mahfouz and Orhan Pamuk, both for literature, Pamuk explicitly claims to be an atheist, but identifies with Muslim culture) while Ahmed Zewail (for chemistry) appears to be at least not completely a fundamentalist but rather an advocate for youth groups in Egypt currently (as in, not working with the Muslim Brotherhood or it’s more fundamentalist rivals). Abdus Salam (for physics) appears to be the only extremely faithful who has won the prize.

While Dawkins extended question may be “Why aren’t there more people like Abdus Salam?” which is certainly contentious, it is unsurprising that there aren’t more people like Mahfouz or Pamuk. If you are a Muslim in this world, statistically speaking you have a very high chance of being raised in a highly devout family that lives in a religiously homogeneous society that is equally as devout there is a good chance that no matter how bright you are, you are going to believe what your family and society believes. Just as I am sure there is a good chance I would be a Christian if both my parents insisted I go to church and we lived in a small predominantly devout Christian community somewhere in middle-America and if this small Christian community taught me that evolution is wrong and Christ truly was the product of a virgin birth and rose from the dead, I would bet there’s a very low chance that I would ever win the Nobel Prize for anything.

Pride

It’s Pride Week and unsurprisingly myself and others will be finding themselves thinking about pride. For myself when the concept of pride is brought up there are two primary examples that ultimately are on two opposite ends of the oppression spectrum (or at least pretty close) there’s gay pride (which is used often as the all encompassing term for LGBT pride in general) and white pride.

While proponents and believers in white pride would probably disagree, the origins of pride over one’s whiteness does not arise from the same conditions that pride over one’s sexual orientation or sexual identity that is not heteronormative. Yet the same basic emotional core remains in that the pride talked about isn’t the same pride as, for example, one feels when completing a difficult and rewarding task but rather it’s pride (essentially strong self-affirming emotion towards one self) over who one is based on in our two examples. one’s sexual identity and one’s ethnicity.

Many, myself included, find it quite silly to be proud of something you have no control over, nationalism is an extension of this, and that to be proud of one’s skin color or sexual identity is much like me being proud that I have two arms (I was born with them and due to a long genetic history, in no way was it something special pulled off by me). Yet there is still a massive difference between LGBT pride and white pride and that’s whether the real source of this pride is authentic. In other words, pride over these two things is reactionary. In the first instance the reaction is to strong prejudice and oppression, by an oppressed person being proud of the very thing they are oppressed for they undo the shame that is systematically imposed on them. White pride advocates certainly would claim that these conditions apply to them as well, but there is no need to examine this line of thinking as it has been picked apart by plenty of very qualified people (see also the examination of “Men’s Rights” advocates).

Ideally, Pride Week wouldn’t be necessary. Unfortunately because of oppression it will be necessary for a very long time. So next time you talk to one of those lame straight people who say “I have no problem with gay people, but Pride is just too much…” kindly explain to them that just by saying that Pride is going to have to continue along, and go even harder.

[As an aside: In Dan Savage’s new book “American Savage” he makes a compelling case for a “Straight Pride” night which is ultimately Halloween. I would argue that what he describes is not actually straight pride, but rather sexual pride in general. Being proud of one’s heterosexuality seems quite silly, but in our contemporary Western culture being proud of one’s promiscuity, active sexual life, etc is not (see also Slut Walk).