Recently reports surfaced that actress Danièle Watts, who appeared in the film Django Unchained, was detained by Los Angeles police responding to a complaint that a white man and black woman indecently exposed themselves while parked in a Mercedes in Studio City. Watts and her partner, Brian James Lucas, said that the officers mistook them for a prostitute and client. Insulted and maintaining they had been fully clothed and only “making out,” Watts refused to produce her ID when asked, resulting in the officer detaining and handcuffing her.
That Watts, who has played a slave, should now be handcuffed seemed like a cruel moment of life imitating art. While Black feminist commentators rushed to support Watts, citing her as an example of the ways in which Black women’s sexuality has been historically criminalized, after photographs of the incident emerged and audiotapes indicated that she, rather than LAPD Sgt. Parker, brought up race, opinions on Twitter reflected little sympathy for the actress—including the question of whether she was a “victim of racism or [a] skank who should’ve been arrested.”
Witnesses say the couple was having sex. While the grainy photographs do not unequivocally prove this, they are used by some to “invalidate” Watts’ account because she committed the truly heinous crimes of, first, being a Black female sexual aggressor, then quickly shifting to claim victimhood.
Why can’t she be both?
The slut shaming and respectability politics that have dogged Watts obscures Black women’s victimhood at the hands of law enforcement and fuels a public that often abandons Black females who do not conform to the “good girl” image.
An imperfect victim, Danièle Watts represents a perfect storm, embodying White patriarchy and stigmatized interracial sex, a police reform movement that marginalizes Black women and public shame for “the Black whore.” Only a minority of commentators asked, does what is arguably a victimless crime (public sex) justify the officers’ rough treatment of Watts?
Attention has wrongfully centered on Watts’ indecent behavior and on whether she was required to show her ID. She was not required to do so, according to Peter Bibring, Southern California’s director of police practices for the ACLU. Unsurprisingly, the LAPD disagrees. But even allowing that Watts could have demonstrated better judgment, her contention that the officers were condescending and unjustifiably restrained her are also worthy of consideration.
Denouncing Watts supports a dangerous logic: If police detain an individual who has committed a crime, race cannot be a factor. Consider that Michael Brown’s shooting may hinge on whether he robbed a convenience store, or if he was charging police when he was killed. Many of us believe that unarmed teenagers should not be shot and that Black male bodies are not weapons equivalent to guns. Period. Recall the public outcry when Ferguson police released surveillance footage of Brown’s alleged robbery. The recoil in Watts’ case affirms age-old societal norms that have policed Black women’s bodies, dictated their “respectable” conduct, and situated them as “whores” under the charge of White male authorities.
The audiotape reveals both Watts mouthing off and Sgt. Parker baiting her. By handcuffing Watts while engaging in chummy banter with her partner, Parker casts suspicion on her and transfers authority to her White boyfriend. This sort of patriarchal disregard for Black women’s personhood smacks of slavery-era practices that permitted White men to bed Black women despite taboos against interracial unions. Of course Watts and Lucas’s relationship is consensual, unlike the vast majority of cases in which White slave owners raped Black women. But as evidenced in the 1967 Loving vs. Virginia anti-miscegenation case, interracial unions continued to be criminalized until relatively recently, and mixed race couples suffered harsh police treatment.
Still, Watts claimed this case was about profiling and “freedom.” She may not be that far off the mark. The recent video footage of a homeless Black woman’s limp body, hogtied, and dragged like a rag doll, affords a glimpse into how some police have treated Black female offenders. And with national attention recently drawn to blatant examples of police bias, the criminalization, racial profiling and violent policing of Black women have gone largely unnoticed. This is evidenced in how Black boys and men who have been killed by law enforcement have become household names—including Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, Ramarley Graham and too many others, but Black women and girls who have suffered similar fates remain in obscurity, including Aiyana Jones, Tarika Wilson, Shereese Francis, Miriam Carey, Shantel Davis and too many others.
Watts’ case raises important questions about when charges of police bias are justified. Should only respectable people be allowed to sound the alarm? Does Watts’ “bad behavior” delegitimize the emotional damage she may have suffered? The public shift against Watts suggests that she made this a racial issue to deflect attention from her own misconduct. Yet one has to wonder how many police officers who mistreat people of color have explicitly mentioned race. Did Darren Wilson mention race when he shot Michael Brown? It is easy to argue that Brown was a teenage boy who lost his life and Watts is an entitled adult celebrity whose own poor conduct placed her under police scrutiny—but what about 12-year-old Dymond Milburn, who was accused of prostitution, beaten and nearly kidnapped by police while standing outside her home? Being innocent did not protect Milburn, and eight years after she was brutally assaulted justice has not been served— but one of the accused officers was named “Officer of the Year.” What about the lack of public outrage over the unsolved murders of Tjhisha Ball and Angela Magnum, two Black teenage sex workers? Does their involvement in sex work preclude us from demanding justice in their killings?
Rather than focus on Watts’ sexual misconduct, let us instead acknowledge her legal rights and her possible mistreatment. Perhaps if we resist the temptation to condemn her in the court of public opinion we can more productively focus on the very real injustices Black women and girls face. We should not be embarrassed for supporting Watts, but we should be embarrassed for failing to rally behind Milburn and the scores of Black women who have been deemed unworthy of our attention.
Photo of Danièle Watts, courtesy of Instagram user ChefBeLive
Oneka LaBennett is associate professor of Africana Studies at Cornell University. She’s the author of She’s Mad Real: Popular Culture and West Indian Girls in Brooklyn and editor of Racial Formation in the Twenty-First Century. Twitter: @OnekaLaBennett
Happy Banned Books Week! We hope you are celebrating your freedom to read by reading your favorite banned book.
It’s day two of Banned Books Week. Many libraries, bookstores, schools, and communities across the country and around the world are celebrating this week by hosting read outs and various other wonderful events. To find one in your area, go to http://www.bannedbooksweek.org/events.
If you cannot attend an in person event, we hope you will consider joining us for the SAGE/ALA OIF free webinar online: Regional Issues for Banned Books in 2014, on Wednesday, September 24, 9am PT/12pm ET. Register today!
We also hope you consider contributing a video for the Banned Books Week Virtual Read-Out! Instructions on what to do can be found at http://www.ala.org/bbooks/bannedbooksweek/events/virtualreadout/participate. Check out the videos we’ve received thus far on www.youtube.com/bannedbooksweek.
And speaking of the Virtual Read-Out, Dav Pilkey, the creator of Captain Underpants, which is the most frequently challenged book of 2012 and 2013, created a video in celebration of the week:
To learn more about Banned Books Week, check out www.ala.org/bbooks/bannedbooksweek, and www.bannedbooksweek.org.
Rep. Cory Gardner, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in Colorado, did not withdraw his co-sponsorship of federal “personhood” legislation Friday, which was the last day he could do so prior to November’s midterm election.
Gardner’s opponent, Democratic Sen. Mark Udall, has launched a steady stream of attacks at Gardner for co-sponsoring the “personhood” legislation, called the “Life at Conception Act,” which aims to ban all abortion, even for rape and incest, and would restrict access to most forms of contraception.
Under the rules of the U.S. House of Representatives, Gardner is required to make a statement from the House floor in order to officially renounce co-sponsorship of the bill. The House adjourned Friday and will not convene again until November 12, meaning he is now unable to withdraw his co-sponsorship before ballots are cast.
In March, Gardner reversed his longstanding support of state “personhood” amendments in Colorado, saying he was “not right” and he doesn’t “get everything right the first time.”
Udall responded, in part, by pointing out that Gardner co-sponsored the federal “personhood” bill in July 2013, and he had not withdrawn his name from the federal legislation.
Asked by journalists about the apparent inconsistency, Gardner and his spokespeople said the federal bill simply states that life begins at conception.
Two weeks ago, in his most expansive comments yet on the topic, Gardner told Brandon Rittiman of Denver’s NBC affiliate, “There is no federal ‘personhood’ bill.”
Rittiman then told Gardner that the federal bill states abortion should be illegal. The congressman responded by saying, “No. It says life begins at conception. Look, Sen. Mark Udall is trying to say that it’s something that it’s not.”
Rittiman, as well as sites like FactCheck.org, have concluded that the “Life at Conception Act” is not simply a statement of belief but, instead, is substantive legislation challenging a woman’s right to choose.
FactCheck.org wrote that “voters in Colorado should know Gardner still supports a federal bill that would prompt the same concerns over birth control as the state measure he says he rejects on the same grounds.”
A July Quinnipiac poll showed that 64 percent of Colorado voters said abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while one in ten voters said abortion should be illegal in all cases.
Like other co-sponsors of the legislation, Rep. Charles Boustany (R-LA) has said this about the bill:
As a Member of Congress, I take the cause of fighting for the unborn just as seriously. That’s why I cosponsored H.R. 1091, the Life at Conception Act. This bill strikes at the heart of the Roe v. Wade decision by declaring life at conception, granting constitutional protection to the unborn under the 14th Amendment.
A call to Gardner’s office seeking an explanation of his view that there is no federal “personhood” bill, including the “Life at Conception Act,” was not returned.
Gardner has stated previously that he is “pro-life” and supports women’s access to contraception. He’s promoting a proposal to allow the pill to be sold over the counter.
Image: Wikimedia Commons
The post Gardner Claims Legislation He Co-Sponsored Does Not Exist appeared first on RH Reality Check.
Anyone who may have seen interviews with Shonda Rhimes, read her forthright speech on diversity on television, or watched her hit TV show Scandal, would not recognize her in Alessandra Stanley’s description of an “angry black woman.”
It would be easy, actually, to become an “angry black woman” after reading Stanley’s New York Times review, but what such descriptors ultimately reveal is how certain critics fall back on readily available stereotypes and misrecognize the complexities of black womanhood.
Rhimes has rightly been lauded for bringing much nuance to her portrayals of black female characters in her television shows: the brilliant and assertive Dr. Miranda Bailey on Grey’s Anatomy, the ultra competent but vulnerable, wine-guzzling Olivia Pope on Scandal, and now the take-charge but flawed Annalise Keating in the new murder mystery, How to Get Away with Murder. Such characters have demonstrated a wide array of emotions on screen. Yet, Stanley reduced them all to “Angry Black Women.”
In her clumsy attempts at praising Rhimes for enabling more complicated portrayals of black womanhood, Stanley revealed the often difficult task of transcending the White Gaze, which has a long history of racial distortion and misrecognition. “Confidence” or any behavior not characterized as servile from a black woman becomes “angry” and “scary.”
These distortions often manifest in other ways too, so that dark-skinned Viola Davis becomes “less classically beautiful” and “menacing” in her sexiness, and Nicole Beharie, who stars in the Fox TV show Sleepy Hollow, is reduced to a “sidekick.” Even when these women land leading roles in their respective TV shows, Stanley reduces their star power (through looks or character status). No wonder, then, when black women assert themselves, appear confident, or fail to merely be “of service,” they can only become the “Angry Black Woman.”
At best, the White Gaze can be challenged on Twitter (see: #lessclassicallybeautiful); at worst, it can get you killed (see: Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Ezell Ford, Renisha McBride, Trayvon Martin). And for black women, in particular, our complex experiences disappear in the crossroads of intersectional oppression. Where racism and sexism meet, we fall through the cracks.
This is why so many have been eagerly awaiting Shonda Rhimes’ latest drama to arrive at Shondaland this Thursday. We know she will feature shows that reinforce black women’s humanity.
In a culture where Janay Rice‘s suffering at the hands of her husband, Ray Rice, was only believed once her privacy was breached by TMZ’s release of a video illustrating her husband’s violence—and not when earlier video showed him dragging her out of an elevator, which merely prompted conversations that she must have “deserved” his treatment (i.e. a black woman’s “anger” instigates domestic violence)—and in a society where Oklahoma City police officer Daniel Holtzclaw can have his bail reduced when he is accused of raping and sexually assaulting eight black women, the “Angry Black Woman” trope makes it difficult to view these women as “victims.”
And even when black women’s bodies become the site on which national outrage and public conversations emerge to address problems such as domestic and intimate partner violence, they are still excluded from the table, as occurred when the NFL’s attempts to form an advisement panel—in the wake of the Ray Rice scandal—failed to include women of color. If we are not readily recognized as “victims,” we are also not recognized as “experts” or sources of knowledge and wisdom. And when we complain of this unfair treatment, we once again become “Angry Black Women.”
Of course the media landscape does not have sole power to transform our society and change what ails us. However, media normalizes concepts of race and gender, and any portrayals that advance our humanity can help us unpack our assumptions and challenge the racialized and gendered gazes that we bring to such images.
Will we recognize complex characters when we see them? Or will we resort to convenient stereotypes, as Stanley did in her review? And I don’t wish to only single out this one New York Times writer. Recently, advertisements for Fox’s new TV show Red Band Society, featuring Octavia Spencer as Nurse Jackson, described her as a “scary bitch“; they were eventually pulled from Los Angeles public buses after complaints from community members. Obviously, this rush to stereotype manifests not only in the pages of a widely read newspaper.
We need more diverse stories and more complex characters and images of black womanhood in media. But more than that: We need viewers to push themselves to interpret what they see on screen beyond recognizable stereotypes.
Fortunately, Rhimes has led the way. It’s time the rest of us learn to complicate our views.
Janell Hobson is an associate professor of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University at Albany, State University of New York. She is the author of Body as Evidence: Mediating Race, Globalizing Gender and Venus in the Dark: Blackness and Beauty in Popular Culture, and a frequent contributor to Ms.
Perlman played the ruthless leader of a motorcycle gang on the FX series. In his new book, Easy Street (The Hard Way), he talks about having a face "that was not ugly but surely one of its kind."
When the 2014-2015 academic year kicked off, the College of Charleston and the University of South Carolina Upstate faced new line items in their budget. As ordered by Republican Gov. Nikki Haley two months earlier, each of the institutions had to devote tens of thousands of dollars—$52,000 and $17,000, respectively—toward teaching works related to the foundation of the United States. The reason for the expense? Censorship.
During the past year, both colleges had included books with LGBTQ themes on their mandatory summer reading lists for incoming students. Charleston had selected Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, a graphic memoir that chronicles the 2014 MacArthur Fellow’s coming-out process and addresses her relationship with her always-closeted gay father. Meanwhile, USC-Upstate had chosen to assign its new first-year class Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio, a compilation of stories about the state’s first queer radio show. As punishment for what one elected official called “promoting one side with no academic debate involved,” the state legislature moved to cut a collective $70,000 from the schools’ public-funding budget—the amount the colleges would have spent to provide copies of the books to students.
Ultimately, the threatened financial hand-slap did not come to pass: An 11th-hour deal restored the money after both schools agreed to spend an equivalent amount teaching the U.S. Constitution, Declaration of Independence, and Federalist Papers to all degree-seeking students. Many South Carolinians dubbed this an acceptable compromise, seeing nothing wrong with a strong academic focus on American democracy. At the same time, however, a host of groups, including The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, the National Coalition Against Censorship, and the American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina, dubbed the move “unwarranted political interference with academic freedom.”
This interference is an excellent reminder that censorship, especially when it comes to publicly funded institutions, puts the availability of diverse viewpoints and narratives in real danger. Every year, the American Library Association (ALA) and other groups spend the last week in September coordinating events that bring attention to classic and modern works of literature regularly put on blast by pastors, parents, and government organizations. But even beyond “Banned Books Week,” which begins on September 21 this year, it is vital to remember that the attempted restriction of ideas remains an ongoing problem in the United States.
Unsurprisingly, books written for children, teens, and young adults come under particular scrutiny for their content. Many free-speech defenders report that the growing popularity of texts with LGBTQ themes—such as Fun Home and Out Loud—has prompted widespread backlash. Additionally, they say, books written by women and people of color are also frequent targets of attempted censorship, especially when they reference sex, sexuality, or the human body. In short, any rhetoric that deviates from the mainstream often seems to raise the ire of people who wish to control and monitor every syllable that children read.
And the pressure isn’t just coming from right-wing legislators or religious conservatives. “Unlike [in] the 1980s and ’90s, big national organizations like the American Family Association are not the public face of this anymore,” Joan Bertin, executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship, told RH Reality Check. “It’s now a more localized phenomenon, sometimes led by a messianic pastor who tries to remove books from a library or school and sometimes led by a parent or group of parents who are coming from the political left or political center. There are a lot of well-meaning, concerned adults who simply don’t think a particular book is good for their kids or anyone else’s kids and want it gone.”
According to reports from the ALA-affiliated Freedom to Read Foundation, adults frequently justify those concerns by pointing to texts’ supposed “offensive language,” an imprecise term that includes profanity as well as the explicit mention of body parts. In other cases, their attempts to control a child’s perspective reflect a desire to retreat into apparently simpler times. Barbara M. Jones, executive director of the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, said that parents sometimes have “a romantic idea of libraries as places people go to read nice stories to children.”
Jones explained, “We see what I call ‘helicopter parents,’ upper-middle-class people who somehow think it’s a good idea to protect their kids from situations or conditions that are going on in worlds other than their own. … They’re afraid of books that talk about suicide, drug use, violence, or other difficult subjects.”
While the inventory of literature deemed objectionable varies by locale, the ALA has been monitoring challenged books for decades. It notes on its website that these books, which grapple with such “difficult subjects,” frequently come under fire:
- Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings: The ALA reports that critics object to its “homosexuality, offensive language, and racism,” and that it is “sexually explicit” and “unsuited to age group” of young readers.
- Judy Blume’s Forever: “Offensive language, sexual content”
- Lauren Myracle’s ttyl: “Drugs, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group”
- Alice Walker’s The Color Purple:“Homosexuality, offensive language, sexually explicit”
- Robie H. Harris’ It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex and Sexual Health: “Abortion, homosexuality, nudity, religious viewpoint, sex education, unsuited to age group”
- Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird: “Offensive language, racism, unsuited to age group”
- Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and Beloved: “Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence”
- Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed: “Drugs, inaccurate, offensive language, political viewpoint, and religious viewpoint”
- J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series: “Anti-family, occult/Satanism, religious viewpoint, violence”
Even lighter subjects, such as supernatural romance novels, have some people up in arms. For example, last month, the pastor of the King of Saints Tabernacle in Cleveland, Texas, became incensed after he perused several shelves devoted to the undead in his local library. Rev. Phillip Missick told One News Now, “We’re responsible for what goes into the minds of our children and I thought, ‘What could be greater garbage than seducing your daughter into having a fantasy affair with a vampire?’ It’s crazy.”
Missick has demanded that “demon books be removed from the library,” something that staff are taking seriously. According to ABC Eyewitness News, his complaint prompted librarians to prepare a report for the city council to review sometime later this year addressing the issue of appropriate content for teens and tweens.
Yes, it’s tempting to titter at Missick’s reaction, but as Jones reminds us, censorship is no laughing matter. Last year, she points out, the ALA heard about approximately 300 efforts by local parents or community groups to remove books from a classroom or library. “We estimate that that’s only 20 or 25 percent of the total,” she said.
Even more alarming, the ALA notes that “since 1990, ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom has received reports of more than 18,000 attempts to remove materials in schools and libraries for content” that some consider to be “inappropriate, controversial or even dangerous.”
The danger, free speech proponents point out, is that when these books are withdrawn, readers lose out on a potential opportunity to expand their worldview.
“Whenever I can, I try to convince parents that children need to be exposed to historical and social facts, even if we’re not proud of them,” Jones said. “I always tell them that books can teach their sons and daughters how to think critically and learn about realities that will help them later in life. Libraries should be the place where a kid can explore ideas and ways of being.”
In addition, Jones says that she stresses the positive impact that books can have on young people—sharing letters she and other librarians have received from patrons, thanking them for suggesting a text that, as she put it, “literally changed or saved their lives.”
Nonetheless, she concedes that it is an uphill struggle, with constantly emerging battles to be fought.
For instance, Bertin reports that another form of censorship has begun to gather momentum among parents wishing to shield their children from sex, violence, or other uncomfortable ideas: The notion that books can and should be rated in the same way that the Motion Picture Association of America rates movies. She cautions that this could eventually edge some books out of circulation.
“This has the patina of child friendliness,” Bertin said. “But the question is, who will be doing the rating and what will it mean to say that something contains ‘sensitive material?’”
They’re important questions. As yet, however, they are unanswerable.
The post Stoking Fire: ‘Banned Books Week’ Reminds Us That Censorship Is a Year-Round Problem appeared first on RH Reality Check.
Protesters—and a dragon?—at the People's Climate March in Portland yesterday. Photo by Sarah Mirk.
UPDATE, September 22, 4:02 p.m.: The White House is standing by Boggs as a nominee and has no plans to ask him to withdraw, despite Leahy’s assertion that Boggs won’t have the votes to be confirmed. White House spokseman Josh Earnest said that “the president believes that Judge Boggs has the qualifications to serve in this role.” Boggs’ nomination will expire at the end of this year, and it’s unclear whether Obama will decide to renominate him after that.
The controversial nomination of anti-choice candidate Michael Boggs to the federal bench in Georgia has likely met its end.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) told the New York Times’ political blog First Draft that Boggs “doesn’t have the votes” to overcome opposition from Democrats on the committee, and that he should withdraw.
Boggs’ nomination stalled in June when the nominations of six other candidates went forward while his didn’t, but he was not withdrawn from consideration at that time.
Boggs became notorious for supporting a Confederate symbol on Georgia’s state flag and a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
He also got attention for his numerous extreme anti-choice votes. NARAL Pro-Choice America waged an intense campaign against his nomination for bills he had supported as a state legislator, including one that made it much more difficult for minors to obtain an abortion by requiring a parent to accompany them with a photo ID, and one that would have published the names of abortion doctors online.
The latter bill caused Boggs considerable trouble in his confirmation hearing.
Under incredulous questioning from Democratic senators, Boggs seemed to claim that he didn’t know anti-choice violence against abortion doctors was a problem. He later walked that back and said he was only referring to the debate over that specific bill, but an audio recording from that time shows that the topic was definitely raised during that debate.
It might seem odd that Boggs is the first Obama nominee to fail this term due to Democratic opposition, but Boggs wasn’t picked by Obama for his ideology.
Boggs was nominated as part of an all-or-nothing “package” of judicial candidates, pre-approved by Georgia Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson. They agreed not to use their veto power, and Republicans agreed to end their filibuster of Jill Pryor’s nomination to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, in exchange for the nominations of Boggs and two other pre-approved candidates to the federal bench.
Still, Obama supporters were shocked that the president would agree to a deal with such an extreme candidate. Their opposition may have won out in the end.
Image: Georgia Policy / YouTube
The post Anti-Choice Judicial Nominee Michael Boggs ‘Doesn’t Have the Votes’ (Updated) appeared first on RH Reality Check.
Anti-choice fanatics have found an exciting new woman of the week to hate: Miss America 2015, a New Yorker named Kira Kazantsev. Kazantsev, whose talent was singing Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” while doing a clapping routine with a plastic red cup, is being held out as Public Enemy Number One by those in the anti-reproductive rights movement because she interned at Planned Parenthood in college, supporting staff members who were providing sex education. The horror.
On her now-vanished LinkedIn profile, Kazantsev described her work at Planned Parenthood as, “Assisted delivery of programs in local public schools, teaching children about mutual respect and self-esteem” and “Conducted research on Planned Parenthood Education.” For most of us, that seems fairly straightforward, especially if you’ve ever been an intern. (It’s a lot of filing.)
Here’s how Steven Ertelt of the anti-choice website LifeNews.com decided to characterize Kazantsev’s internship history though: “A researcher for an abortion business that was willing to set up abortions for women victimized by sex trafficking.” Ertelt also accused Planned Parenthood of being a “company that snuffs out the lives of young baby girls.” If you’re keeping track, that’s three lies in one phrase—a magnificent flexing of the notoriously strong anti-choice B.S. muscles.
Indeed, most of the article has nothing to do with Kazantsev, of whom Ertelt knows apparently little beyond what was gleaned from a LinkedIn profile. Instead we’re treated to a masterpiece of trying to damn someone through insinuation. In the process, Ertelt trots out a handful of well-worn and baseless accusations against Planned Parenthood: Once someone saw an ambulance there, so it must have been a “botched” abortion! Planned Parenthood engages in sex trafficking!
This is all fairly typical of the way that anti-choice demonizing initiatives usually take place, reminiscent of the way that slut-shaming campaigns are run in the average middle school. First, the target is selected, often for arbitrary reasons. Then, the whisper campaign starts, with the rumors—almost always untrue—getting stranger and more lurid every day. The next thing you know, the hapless victim is being accused of having sex with the football team. Just replace all the athlete-encounters with “baby-killing” and “sex trafficking,” and you have the, uh, grown-up version of this game that anti-choicers play.
Of course, the motivations are the same in both cases: a combination of misogyny and screamingly obvious sexual hang-ups. But with LifeNews.com and Fox News, which picked up and promoted this non-story to the masses, there’s an added reason for the hysteria beyond just wanting to thrill themselves with fantasies about imaginary baby-killing and sex weirdness at the local health clinic. There’s a long game here, and it’s about trying to make Planned Parenthood, and by association, reproductive health care in general, seem sleazy, controversial, and not like real health care. Which, in turn, is intended to justify shutting off financial and legal access to it.
Let’s face it: Planned Parenthood’s day-to-day operations aren’t particularly mysterious. Which is great. “Mysterious” is not what anyone wants in a health-care provider. There’s nothing particularly scintillating about getting a Pap test, a package of pills, or a bag of free condoms. Even first-trimester abortion, for all that the word sets people’s teeth on edge, is not, as a medical procedure, anything particularly noteworthy. It’s just a matter of taking some pills or submitting to a quick procedure that only takes a few minutes.
This is true, in fact, of all reproductive health care. It looks and feels like what it is: health care. And people may not always like the experience of getting health care, but they definitely like that they have it. So it’s not surprising that the strategy of anti-choicers is to try every angle they can to insinuate that there’s something dirty going on in Planned Parenthood. That hidden behind those innocent-looking medical waiting rooms must be something perverse, murderous, cultish—anything but, you know, just plain old doctoring and nursing, which is actually what’s taking place.
Of course, the danger with this sort of thing is that it can actually work. Consider, for instance, the Satanic panic of the 1980s. There are conflicting accounts of how it started, but in the ’70s and ’80s, the country became suddenly gripped by this theory that Satanists were secretly infiltrating normal-seeming institutions like churches and schools. Day cares, in particular, became a lightning rod for accusations, with parents and eventually prosecutors claiming that kids in the facilities were being sexually assaulted, tortured, and forced to participate in Satanic rituals and even murder. There was no evidence of any of this, and really, much of it was beyond what is physically possible. But somehow, kids were coaxed into giving clearly false testimony and there were multiple convictions, often with LGBT people singled out for special abuse by prosecutors. Some people served for more than 20 years before being freed.
The reason the Satanic panic was effective was that, for whatever reason, people can be easily snookered by those kinds of titillating stories. We are easily bamboozled by the idea that there’s some kind of clandestine travesty going on behind closed doors and that perfectly innocent-seeming people—like Miss America—are actually secret demons, trying to destroy everything that’s good and holy about our world.
And anti-choicers are exploiting that tendency to the best of their ability. They’re attempting to recreate a modern-day Satanic panic whole cloth, by, for example, spinning run-of-the-mill internship experience into covertly wicked behavior. Essentially, they’re trying to make you imagine that cute, blonde Miss America is actually a kind of 21st-century abortion witch, participating in some sort of dark arts for the purposes of evil.
Image: Aurora News / YouTube
The massive backlog in California Medicaid applications has left low-income patients “suffering” and unable to receive care, according to a lawsuit filed against the state Wednesday.
The suit, filed by health access advocates, charges that the backlog violates state law.
As RH Reality Check has reported, following the expansion of Medi-Cal—California’s version of the federal Medicaid program—more than one million residents, many of them previously ineligible and uninsured, signed up for the government-funded insurance. But the unprecedented influx of applications has backlogged the system; many residents are still waiting for both final confirmation and their Medi-Cal insurance card.
In May, more than 900,000 applications had yet to go through the review process, which requires verification of eligibility. The number of applications in purgatory decreased after the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services sent a letter to six states, including California, warning that they were falling behind and asking them to come up with a plan for how to trim their backlogs.
Still, as many as 350,000 applications remain in limbo here.
California law mandates that the state’s Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) review Medi-Cal applications and send written notice of eligibility status to patients within 45 days of when the application was submitted.
Some residents have been waiting since the end of 2013, according to the lawsuit.
Robert Rivera, whose experience is detailed in the case, submitted his Medi-Cal application in early January 2014. Rivera, who suffered from gallstones and other chronic conditions including heart problems, died of a pulmonary embolism four months later, still uninsured. According to the lawsuit, Rivera never heard from the state Department of Health Care Services about his application, instead going to the emergency room for services he needed.
The DHCS in June finally sent a notice granting Rivera Medi-Cal benefits, six months after his application submission and two months after his death.
“By definition, Medi-Cal applicants are among California’s poorest residents and have no alternate means to pay for treatment for urgent, critical health care needs,” reads the suit. “Many of the applicants in this Medi-Cal backlog are sick or have serious chronic health conditions and urgently need medical care or prescription medications.”
The lawsuit also describes the experiences of several other Californians, many of whom avoid going to hospitals or clinics while their coverage is still pending, even when they face serious health risks.
In California, the DHCS is required to grant Medi-Cal to certain residents before completing the application review process, allowing those patients to seek care before their application has been fully processed and they’ve received their insurance card.
The lawsuit alleges that the DHCS is delaying these benefits and not notifying applicants that they can start receiving services, thus violating the law.
“There are still 350,000 applicants in the backlog. These are not just numbers. These are real people, and they are suffering,” said San Francisco attorney Lucy Quacinella in a statement. “The state has decided it’s OK to leave them in limbo, allowing their health to deteriorate as they wait desperately for word about their Medi-Cal applications. It’s not OK—it’s illegal.”
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Today, a poem by Evan J. Peterson.
______for and after Rimbaud
Ultimate trade, you are a porcelain philosopher,
your mouth full of poetry, wicked invective,
and other nimble things. Grown men kneel
before you. Supple muse of bi-ravenous
Verlaine, cruel eyes flick beneath your brow.
Your ladylike fingers slip out your prick
and coax it off into a glass of milk. You dip
your quill into shit and commit marginalia
to the Magna Carta. How dainty your buttocks
appear beneath the swish of a goatish tail.
False synaesthete, you paint color onto sound.
How absolutely modern. How positively barbaric.
Soon, your patron will grow tired of your abuses.
He will shoot you in the wrist, leaving
your martyrdom incomplete. He forgets
your other arm, your tender pink feet.
EVAN J. PETERSON is the author of Skin Job and The Midnight Channel, and editor of Gay City 5: Ghosts in Gaslight, Monsters in Steam. His writing appears in Weird Tales, The Stranger, The Rumpus, Assaracus, and Aim for the Head, from which his poetry was excerpted in The New York Times.
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