On being a white activist

I’m White. Capital-W, raised in the suburbs, maybe 2 Black kids at my elementary school White. I named this page after a quote by Martin Luther King, Jr: in his sermon “Transformed Nonconformist” he said “Everybody passionately seeks to be well-adjusted,” he said. “…but there are some things in our world to which men of good will must be maladjusted….Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.”

In the same sermon he also said “There are those who tell me that I should stick with civil rights, and stay in my place. I can only respond that I have fought too hard and long to end segregated public accommodations to segregate my own moral concerns. It is my deep conviction that justice is indivisible, that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.
King was a hero to Black people, and the widespread maltreatment of Black people led him to fight the underlying system which begets oppression. He chose to strike at the heart of the issue, and as a result he fought for all of us.
Black communities suffered from widespread poverty, so he embraced socialism and fought the causes of poverty, greed and the capitalist systems which were built around it. Black folks were drafted and killed in combat at disproportionate rates, but he spoke out against the Vietnam war as a whole. If he’d lived longer, seen the rise of queer awareness and the widespread oppression of queer folks, gay and trans people of color especially, I’m certain he would have been a champion for queer people as well.
King was many things. He was a civil rights leader, a socialist, one of the greatest orators and philosophers of the modern age. Unlike many Black leaders who quite reasonably chose to focus on the Black audience, he chose to speak to everyone, to attempt a large scale transformation in the viewpoints of the general population, a massive paradigm shift in which non-Black, non-activist people would start to see some of the injustice which society makes it so easy to ignore.
King was and is a Black hero, first and foremost. I don’t claim him as my own; he was not a product of my culture. But I can listen. I can say “this was a very smart man”, read his works, think on and internalize his philosophy. I can learn to center the people most affected by a particular issue, to signal boost rather than speaking for myself on subjects which do not affect me personally. I can encourage others to do the same.
In “A Proper Sense of Priorities”, he said “On some positions cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?!’ Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’ Vanity asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’ But conscience must ask the question, ‘Is it right?!’ And there comes a time when one must take a stand that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular. But one must take it because it is right.”
I’m just trying to do what’s right.

Driving forces: Medications and driving under the influence

Most DUI/DWI laws (driving under the influence / driving while intoxicated) are based on the effects of alcohol. This is a major problem for people who take strong medications for pain, nausea, or other medical conditions which are known for their intoxicating effects.

Unlike recreational users, patients taking drugs like morphine, cannabis, or amphetamines under a doctor’s supervision tend to use the smallest effective dose, balancing impairment from the symptoms of illness with impairment from the drugs we take to treat those issues. People who take these medications long term also develop tolerance to the side effects (don’t get as high as recreational users, and many of us don’t get high at all). In the long term those of us who don’t develop immunity to the perception altering effects of our medications learn to adapt to our medicated state, as long term use of medications makes that state our new normal. Many of us are very safe drivers on our meds and would be UNsafe without the symptom management they provide, but the law rarely takes that into account.

Exacerbating the issue still further is the issue of testing. Blood alcohol content can be quickly, easily, and reliably measured with a breath test, and confirmed with a more accurate blood test in cases where people end up in the hospital. Its effects on driving have been studied more than any other drug. Unfortunately, law enforcement agencies the world over tend to assume this holds true for other drugs as well.

That assumption is inaccurate, and the consequences of its wide acceptance by lawmakers and police is a major stumbling block for sick people who wish to maintain some level of independence. The only way to get an accurate picture of a driver’s chemical state is through an invasive and somewhat painful blood test, which then must be taken to a lab for analysis. The specific chemical processes are not well understood in many cases, and even with those test results having exact knowledge the presence, absence, or amount of specific metabolites in the body is a rough guideline at best, and utterly useless in many cases.

What constitutes a therapeutic level of a drug (and what amount makes a given person unsafe to drive) varies a great deal based on a number of factors. These include such variables as weight and body fat percentage, liver and kidney function, the specific combination of drugs in their system, diet, blood sugar, specific medical conditions, hormone balance, overall state of mental health, sleep issues, and many more.

Someone with low blood sugar, who hasn’t slept well, who is going through a bad breakup and just lost their job is an accident risk of the highest order even if they’re stone cold sober. Testing for impairment should mean actually testing a person’s impairment, not auditing their internal chemistry and making a rough guess based on rough guidelines and ill-understood science.

Further reading:
Driving Under the Influence of Drugs (FindLaw – US specific)
DUIs involving prescription drugs difficult to prove (USA Today – US specific)
Drugs and driving: the law (gov.uk – UK specific)
Warning over drug-driving law and prescribed medication (BBC – UK specific)

Religious arrogance

Most liberals will agree that accepting a wide variety of belief systems is a good thing. Less common is critical thinking about what exactly that means in practice. Here’s a few common behaviors you might want to nix:

*Telling someone “bless you” when you don’t know they’re okay with it (and especially if they’ve asked you not to!). Although it’s common speech in many places and people might not think of the religious implications, that’s because religion and religious (usually Christian) privilege is so entrenched in that place that people typically aren’t aware of it unless they aren’t religious themselves.

*Offering to pray for people (or worse, simply informing them you’re going to). This makes many people EXTREMELY uncomfortable, especially if they subscribe to a belief system which teaches that prayers have power. Imagine a Wiccan doing spells to convert you and your family, your children to witchcraft. Praying that someone will “see the light” and come to Jesus is no different. Even if you pray for something benign, some believe it to be an attempt to abridge their free will. When in doubt, ask, politely and without assuming an affirmative answer. And please don’t press the issue. No means no.

*Inviting strangers to church when they haven’t expressed interest in your religion. This is a common form of micro-aggression with a host of implied subtext regarding your opinion of their beliefs, the state of their soul, etc.

*Attempting to force others to behave in ways mandated by your belief system (including things that are part of religious culture but not explicitly part of your religion’s sacred texts). This one’s the worst on the list, as it includes legislative restrictions on freedom (passing laws to force people to act the way you want them to). Don’t like gay marriage? Don’t get gay married. Don’t want Satanic statues on public land? Stop erecting monuments to your own beliefs.

This all boils down to respect. Even if you think everyone agrees, even if nobody complains, I *guarantee* you’re offending people too polite or too scared to speak up. By insisting on special treatment for those who share your beliefs, you’re telling everyone else that they’re second class.

The best solution by far is a secular public sphere with protections for private beliefs. Feel free to do what you want on your own time, so long as you don’t force it on others. If you provide a public service, know that your license to do business is a privilege, and with that privilege comes an obligation to serve the public without oppressing disadvantaged groups.

If you don’t like that, well, consider the alternative. If you get to discriminate, so does everyone else. That means no service from the many people you’ve disrespected – and if the people you’ve oppressed acted with the same arrogance common to the followers of dominant religions, you wouldn’t last a week.

The Myth of Obesity

A PSA regarding obesity, fat shaming, diet culture

Obesity is a complex issue with many potential causes. It can be a symptom of poor diet or stress, a medication side effect, a genetic predisposition. Junk food is a common cause, since its low cost per calorie is often the only way economically disadvantaged people can get enough to eat. Junk food isn't as filling, so you eat more – and that's by design. It's addictive on purpose, because addicts are a very lucrative market.

Furthermore, obesity as it's defined in certain Western cultures (especially the United States and Britain) is a largely manufactured "crisis". It's typically measured using BMI, a system originally designed in the late 1800s to assess large populations which is utterly unsuitable for diagnosing individual patients. Many if not most people who are "obese" according to the BMI charts are perfectly healthy – the tables in question are tabulated for averages, and body types vary a great deal. Incidentally, this goes both ways – many underweight people aren't diagnosed as such due to doctors' mistaken faith in BMI.

This is not an unimportant issue. It affects social stigma (and therefore stress, ironically leading many people to overeat to compensate). Many people with serious eating disorders go undiagnosed, misdiagnosed, and mistreated thanks to the conventional wisdom on the subject: heavy people with anorexia told to eat less, skinny people told they're perfectly healthy.

The issue at hand is a large and complex one, affecting dietary guidelines, exercise regimens, medication prescriptions, social taboos, and other important components of people's lifestyles. Misinformation on this scale has extremely nasty consequences, such as the low-fat craze of the 90s leading to massive amounts of added sugar triggering diabetes in many people (which is NOT caused by excess sugar in the diet, but rather by elevated blood sugar in people with the genetic marker. If you don't have the genetic predisposition, you cannot develop diabetes, period.) We need to educate our governments, our doctors, and the general public in order to combat these pernicious beliefs.

For more on this subject I recommend the Everyday Feminusm article, 6 Must-Read Expert Perspectives That Destroy the War on Obesity