This past week has been tough – it is disheartening to read everything in the news right now. Things can look so bleak, and people can be so unkind. Sometimes I can get overwhelmed by the lack of change and how ignorant and awful our society can be. But certain things give me hope. Hope that we can one day be a society that is less xenophobic. That maybe we can have more enlightened conversations in the mainstream media.
In grad school, I studied media and the messages it sends to us about society – messages about gender, race, and class. I also have a love for TV, so I get so happy when I find a show that breaks the mold and tries something new – like sending messages about equality and changing the narrative. I love supporting these shows too, and seeing what they are doing and the conversations they are starting – shows like How to Get Away with Murder, Scandal, and Empire, for example. They give me the drama I love, but add a twist with strong, badass women of color as leaders who are complex, relatable individuals – something that is rare in popular media.
Aaaaanyywwaaaayyy, this leads me finally to Master of None. I don’t have cable, so I rely on Netflix to try and catch up on months-old episodes of prime time TV. Thankfully, they have their own shows now that I can binge on all at once (in this case, it only took me and Anthony a Saturday night to watch the whole thing since we were sick at home). Usually Netflix originals are good, and I like Aziz Ansari so we tried it out.
This show has a Louie feel (Louis CK’s show), but it’s much less dark and is just so good at understanding millenials so precisely, while presenting social issues in a simultaneously well-educated and funny way. Aziz is the main character, a single actor with late 20s/early 30s problems like deciding whether he wants to settle down and have kids, how to deal with a serious relationship, and seeing his parents in a different light.
The great thing about this show is that it isn’t just a comedy with a cute and relatable person that we follow through the growing pains of a young life – it changes the narrative. For example, instead of having the typical group conversation at a bar with members of the opposite sex about gender stereotypes (“Women, you know? Always so misleading and dramatic!” *high fives* “Oh yeah? Well men just think with their penis and have no emotional capabilities!” *banter ensues*), this show has a conversation about the commonplace harassment of women over beers, with a supportive and thoughtful dialogue.
They hit a ton of amazing and thoughtful topics in the first season – immigrant parents and how different their lives are from their children, aging and relating to the elderly, sexism, racism… I mean, it’s a sociologist’s dream. There might be room for improvement (like always) but this show really blew me away. I was so impressed how well they handled these sensitive topics and made it look easy – and everything was still funny and interesting as hell.
I want mainstream media to take notes – you can be funny, and not a downer, and successful and hip, and talk about these issues appropriately while using a diverse set of characters. See?! No excuses.
Have you seen it? What did you think? What is your favorite show right now?
I was in college, in a multicultural psychology class when I almost started crying in front of everyone when my professor pushed me to elaborate. After stuttering out some confused emotions, she said “What you are feeling is white guilt.”
Just a few weeks later, I fought with a white male engineer friend about whether he should be able to say the n word without a backlash. He was convinced that it was “just a word” and he shouldn’t be penalized for using it. Not that he was throwing it around everywhere he went, but it’s not a huge deal anymore. Black people use it. It’s just a word. It’s not like he’s racist or anything.
When I made a comment just a year or so ago about how expensive Disneyland has become, one person said “Well, I think that’s how they keep the riff-raff out.”
(Note: who says riff-raff. Seriously.)
I can think of other moments where I encountered these racist comments and opinions among my mainly all white groups of friends that I have had throughout the years. These moments are notable because I rarely need to think about race, and my white friends and colleagues hardly talk about it. That’s white privilege. I choose when to think about this toxic part of our world that is sewn into every aspect of our society. I’m not forced to think about it daily and deal with rage and injustice and feeling less than human.
I still encounter these moments, where someone says something so offensive, but in such a casual way that you think they must not know what they’re saying. You thought you knew where they stood- they’ve made comments to you about LGBT rights or global warming. You saw them as someone you relate to. And yet, they start a completely offensive story with “I’m not racist, but…”
When the Baltimore riots were happening, I heard a lot from the people around me about what they thought the rioters should be doing instead. Or what the people who were enraged about young black men and women being murdered on a regular basis by our justice system should do about their feelings. A lot of opinions on what “they” should do. How they should act and react. What about white people? What are we doing about it? It’s not someone else’s problem.
I have always lived along the coast of California (my life is hard) and I am used to a liberal political landscape. But I have realized that in these all-white towns, liberalism only goes so far. “I voted for Obama, but seriously this neighborhood is starting to feel sketchy now that there are all these weird markets and mexican food places around.” I run into that type of crap way too often. And I might be wrong, but this kind of passive racism seems more dangerous than the overt, uneducated, hateful and obviously-wrong-to-everyone racism we see from time to time.
The white people in my town see confederate flags or swastikas and shake their heads. “How can people be so dumb?” They are not racist, because they had a black friend once. They voted for Obama. But then they don’t see police shooting black Americans as their problem – and also, poor cops, right? They are getting such a bad rap with this stuff.
What makes me different? Nothing. What makes me not racist? What makes me not part of the problem, but part of the solution? That’s what I am trying to figure out.
I have wanted to be an ally for minorities for a long time, but never knew how. I post articles that shock me on Facebook, because maybe they will shock others as well, and help spread awareness. I try to stay informed. I have the privilege to have these horrifying truths never cross my path if I wanted to avoid them. So I try to spread the word to others who might never hear the news otherwise.
I find it easy to discuss sexism and homophobia with the people I encounter. I find it easy to find people who feel the same about LGBT rights in my community. Feminists are a little less common, but I have learned how to call people out and bring up sexism relatively easily. I am comfortable defending feminism, even if it makes people feel uncomfortable. I feel like a terrible person when I say that I can’t discuss racism with the same ease. I am adamantly anti-racist and want to be an ally for minority groups in our country who still cannot find basic justices after hundreds of years of horrifying oppression. But I hear someone say something racist and…
“I’m not racist, but…”
After I leave that encounter I think of a thousand things I should have said.
“I’m going to stop you there, because whatever you are going to say after that disclaimer is probably awful.”
“Wait – I bet you $50 what you are about to say is actually racist. Sorry to interrupt, I just really like gambling.”
“No no no no no no no” *runs away*
…See? Not very good at it, even after analyzing it after the moment has past. I just want to do something different than go silent and look like a deer in the headlights. And then everyone keeps talking like nothing awful just happened. We shouldn’t be okay with this.
Two things happened recently that really made me feel like I needed to start examining this more closely – with the people around me and in my own patterns.
1. Gay marriage was declared legal in all 50 states.
2. Someone started an awful story with “I’m not racist, but…” (again.)
I was thrilled when I heard about the supreme court decision. But it was bittersweet. No one should have to live with injustice, no matter how short or long the duration – but it was sad to me that LGBT individuals saw so much progress, while the state of race relations in our country is archaic to say the least. I celebrated, don’t get me wrong. LGBT rights are still not even close to fully realized, and so many groups worked so hard and waited for so long to see this kind of progress.
I just wish I could celebrate something like that for racial minorities in this country.
But every time I listen to the news or look online, I am disgusted at how little we have achieved. So I am trying to figure out what I can do. I don’t want to be a part of the problem. I don’t want to live in blissful ignorance because of my privilege.
I don’t want to be part of the problem. I want to help.
What do you think white people can do to become allies and try to make positive change? If you are an ally, do you have any experiences to share?
I do have some articles that I have found super helpful when learning more about my white privilege and race in the US and some things that have been in the news lately. Check them out if you want to learn more:
Emily and I have been pretty busy lately. It’s so annoying when life keeps us away from our favorite people – our faceless and nameless readers who we imagine laugh at all of our jokes and who never criticize us.
I wanted to share some stuff that’s been on my mind… namely how messed up things are. And I don’t want to depress anyone, but if you’re looking for some interesting ways to get some more information about the current state of things, I was hoping to give you a good start.
As many of you may know, I got my master’s in sociology and have never stopped being interested in the inequality in this country in all of its forms. The outrageous things happening in Ferguson have been weighing on my mind, as well as the current efforts to make colleges a safer place for women and the gruesome story of a MMA fighter beating his girlfriend.
I have just been hungry to understand more about what I am hearing and seeing on the news and try to connect to it and empathize… If you are looking for context, or some answers on how things became this way… I would recommend these articles and documentaries:
The House I Live In
Anthony and I watched this on Netflix last night. It shook us both and explained the state of race and drug laws in this country in such a compelling way. It summarizes the history of race relations and economics in the US, and really communicates the context of being an African American today. It was a great refresher for me as far as the socioeconomic research goes, and also a great reminder for me as a white person living in the US – that I do not live in the same country as my minority neighbors and friends.
Here is an amazing article that a friend posted on Facebook that almost made me cry. It helps to try and put yourself in the shoes of a young black man in this country – even though it is impossible to even grasp the kind of effect that can have on one’s entire psyche and life path.
This is one of my favorite topics – how women are represented in the media. It is completely fascinating and infuriating to me, and this documentary sums it up very well. These images have widespread and dangerous implications. The story of MMA fighter I mentioned above, for example, just chills me to the bone. Anthony was the one who told me about it and he said he read his Twitter feed (Anthony loves torturing himself like that) and it was insane. We decided that this guy literally had a disease of just extreme stereotypes of masculinity.
I also read this article of a trans girl, Rachel Pepe, who has enough to deal with – but now her school is saying that they are not okay with who she wants to be and has a right to make her life hell. She is only 13. What a brave person to be able to declare who you are despite the fallout. I hope that as she grows up the world gets it together regarding transgender rights.
How I Stay Informed
It can be overwhelming to try and keep up with all that’s happening here and around the world. Local news, US news, world news…how do you keep up with it all?
If you are interested, I find it super helpful to listen to the news during my commute. It makes the drive go by fast and I feel pretty caught up on things. I listen to NPR, but of course you can find a podcast that is geared more to what you are interested in.
Since our last interview post was so successful, I started realizing how many other badass friends I have to tell you about! Anthony reminded me of how awesome our friend Marilyn’s job is over in Arizona, so of course I had to share.
I am interested in politics and social change, but never felt like I had the guts to really pursue anything in that world. Marilyn makes it look EASY. She has that calm fierceness that I wish I could buy off her, plus intelligence just emanates from her when you’re in the same room. I really admire her and loved the chance to get to know her a little better through this post.
Without further ado, meet Marilyn!
What is your job title and what is your typical day like?
I am an Associate Director at a government relations firm called Veridus, but “Associate Director” is just a really fancy term for “lobbyist.”
When I first introduce myself as a lobbyist to people outside the political world, I usually receive an entertaining theatrical combination of facial expressions in response: The first of which is their involuntary reaction of shock and horror, quickly masked by a moment of doubt or confusion, followed by the inevitable quizzical head tilt to the side upon which they finally ask: “What’s that?”
The point I’m trying to make here is that many people have preconceived notions about what lobbyists actually do, most of which drift to the negative. I read a Gallup study a few months back where they polled over a thousand people across the country on which professions they deemed the “most trustworthy.” Of the list of 50 job titles – running the gamut of “nurse practitioner” to “teacher” to “used car salesman” – “lobbyist” was deadlast.
This was surprising to me. I mean, I knew that there were a lot of people out there who credit lobbyists as the responsible party for the way things are in America, but I had no idea just how despised we really are. (Side story: for a short time after reading this poll I started to introduce myself to people as an “evil lobbyist.” I’ve since stopped doing this after seemingly an entire room of people thought that I was serious… yeah, it was awkward).
So what do I do? I get paid to do what I love: impact policy in a meaningful way. At a very basic level, lobbyists are retained by businesses and organizations to engage with lawmakers at every stage: local, state, and federal. What that “engagement” looks like is very different for every scenario–where one client may have their lobbyist actively pushing for certain regulations and reforms, other clients may just want their lobbyist to “watch” for any hostile or favorable legislation that gets introduced and report back to the client. This is unfortunately a very simple explanation of an otherwise complex world that lobbyists navigate: Our job is just as much social as it is research and advocacy driven. In addition to lobbying, I also engage in candidate campaigns, fundraising, media & communications, social outreach, and issue advocacy.
In order to be great at what I do, I must become an expert in the topic that I am lobbying lawmakers on as it is ultimately my job to educate them about what it is they are voting on and how it impacts both their constituents and my client. This sounds like a lot of work, and it is. But it’s awesome. I promise.
In the three years since I joined the team at Veridus, I’ve never had the same day twice. Every single day has been different. Which, if you think about it, makes a lot of sense: Working in the always-changing field of politics requires me to learn something new every day. Sometimes it’s talking about bills at the Capitol, sometimes it’s research, sometimes it’s consulting, or just grabbing beer with someone.
To revisit that “educating lawmakers” piece for a bit is important. I need to know what I’m talking about when conversing with elected officials. If I misrepresent or lie about information I give to them, it ultimately comes at a great cost to my clients since lawmakers will then trust me less with any information I provide them in the future. Just like you and me, lawmakers do not like being lied to, or made a fool by, those around them. Rather, it is in my best interest to make them look good and sound intelligent. Our elected officials can’t know everything about everything – that’s an impossible and unreasonable expectation – they rely on people like me to fill in the gaps. Over time, if I fill in those gaps with consistently reliable information, everyone wins.
So, when people across the country overwhelmingly agree that lobbyists are the most untrustworthy profession, I just have to chalk it up to a massive misunderstanding about what it is we really do. And you know what? That’s okay. I’d rather have lawmakers and my clients know that I am going to do right by them where it matters. At the end of the day, it’s what they think of me that is the most important. If the public needs someone to point fingers at because they aren’t happy with the state of affairs around them, regardless of whose fault it is, it should be me. I am less vulnerable than those elected officials (who can be voted out) and businesses (who can be boycotted). So go on uninformed public, keep despising me. To my clients and lawmakers: I’m Batman.
What made you want to get into politics?
Politics made me want to get into politics. As an undergrad at ASU, I went through what many of us go through: An existential crisis of “what the hell am I going to do with my life” accompanied with multiple changes to my degree program. The drift toward politics felt inevitable; once I started taking political science and statistics courses, I started getting A+ grades. Where before I dreaded going to class (once I changed my major to Political Science), I now looked forward to it. So, in a way, politics picked me.
To push a bit further: I want to take a moment to explain what compels me to STAY in politics (which is a question I am asked quite frequently): It’s my mentors. Since joining the firm in 2011, each of my Directors at Veridus has taken me under their wing to help shape my professional development – and I am loving the results. They challenge me and push me to a point where I actually feel fulfilled in what I do. Also, watching them and the incredible and positive impacts they are able to create in the community makes me excited about how I can do the same in the very near future.
What is your favorite and least favorite part about your job?
My absolute favorite thing about my job is that I get to constantly learn new things, and am able to do so while working alongside amazing people. One outcome I couldn’t have ever anticipated are the opportunities that working as a lobbyist would be opened up to me. In the few short years that I’ve been doing this, I’ve already met some of the most fantastic and genuine people who are doing great things in the community. The result of surrounding myself with such inspirational individuals is that they have driven me to do the same.
What’s particularly awesome is that the social aspect of my career as a lobbyist enables me to also work on the things I care about in meaningful ways, such as: passing workplace and marriage equality for LGBT, helping good candidates get elected, encouraging young professionals to get engaged in politics, and promoting a positive political community by bringing people together through social and/or charitable means.
It is very difficult for me to find something about my job that is my “least favorite.” I guess it would be that explaining what I do to people can be very frustrating at times, specifically when people take that opportunity to spout off about “political” things they truly know nothing about. I never correct them, but rather just employ a zen-like approach to listening to them. That way, we can still like each other at the end of the conversation.
Do you think it is more difficult to be a woman in politics? What has been your experience?
Being a woman in politics is pretty much the same as being a woman in any other career field: It is what you make it. Yes, men are going to objectify you and you will have to spend a little more time proving to people that there is a brain behind that pretty face. But if you stay true to yourself, maintain your integrity, and silently-but-expectantly-demand the respect you’re deserved? People will quickly start to realize what a fierce, badass bitch you are and will sing your praises when your back is turned.
How would you describe your style?
Bright colors, form-fitting dresses, pencil skirts, scarves, heels and cheap sunglasses: I am “chic-meets-hipster in the city.”
What would you tell your 20 year old self if you could?
“Follow your dreams; I followed mine and I’m a badass.”
What advice would you give to someone who wants to be involved or more informed about local politics, but feels too busy to get that engaged?
I have very little patience for those who say that they don’t have the time to get engaged in politics. The resources available for you to get informed are endless – especially given that fact that we now have this little device in our pockets that can connect us to the information we need in a matter of seconds. Politics aren’t arbitrary things such sports or movies, they directly impact our lives, yet so many people turn a blind eye.
Want to get involved? Then get involved. Register to vote. Visit your state legislature or city council. Ask questions. Read the news. Vote in ALL of the elections, not just the Presidential one. If you are fearful that the information you just read about a policy topic is incredibly skewed – find another news source covering the same topic and compare. It doesn’t really take that much time, but the impact of your engagement is actually immensely expansive.
Thanks so much for sharing some Batman (Batwoman?) tips with us, Marilyn!
Check out Marilyn’s bio and podcast for more badassery!