Context Independance

by Mr.Ellipses

Have you ever read a quote that was taken out of context and used for a purpose that is in direct contradiction to the authors stated position? You know, have you ever been “quote mined*” or seen someone “quote mined” in such a blatant fashion that it is almost laughable?

*Quite mining, for those who do not know, is where someone cherry picks quotes that can be interpreted in a way that is usually either, contradictory to the authors purpose, or extrapolating to a conclusion that can not be logically connected to the authors original intent.

Ever took it upon yourself to look up the cited sources, only to find out that, like in the very next line, the original source is saying something that is the complete opposite of what it was made to say? (This is one of the primary reasons academic check primary sources) You ever had this experience? I actually have, quite a lot.

What this experience has taught me, despite the cardinal rule of “check the source,” is that context matters. Context matters… a lot. The context of a quote can change the entire meaning of the quote. Heck the context of a single word can dramatically change the meaning of the word! Dictionaries have different definitions for a reason! In language, we all know, or should know, that context matters. Context determines the meaning of words and phrases… and without context we can easily be lead to false conclusions about what someone is saying. Understanding context is a necessary skill. You can not analyze anything accurately when you avoid the context of what is written or said. This should be a trivial truism to anyone…. There really is no such thing in language that is “context independent”… because all language depends on context.

This lesson however, is quickly forgotten by most people when they attempt to analyze marginalized points of view. Something odd and fcked up happens to people when they first encounter minority view points on racism, sexism, homophobia, orientalism, Islamaphobia, Anti-American sentiments….etc.. people… just sort of forget that… yeah… context matters. Or maybe I should say, they do not forget that context matters, they simply fail to understand how to apply social, political, and historical context to a given situation.

Let me explain…

Lets look at a familiar picture of the middle east. Americans are constantly bombarded by these pictures of angry middle eastern people burning american flags in the streets. If you ask an american why these people are burning the flag… most will answer, I sht you not, because “they hate our freedom” or something like this. In that the majority of these flag burning people in the middle east justsohappen to have this irrational hatred for freedom and the primary symbol for freedom and democracy has to be american. How convenient.

This view basically allows all Americans to categorize such flag burning as “anti-american” and by definition irrational (as anti-american sentiment is almost always defined in political discourse as inherently irrational… I mean, who in their right mind would be against america right?) and thus not worth our time or serious discussion.

Lets then look at a familiar picture closer to home…. let me ask you a question… why are there so many black men in prison? Now, if you ask this to rich white people… you are probably going to get an analysis that says “something is wrong with the black community that they need to fix”….. and maybe them saying that there are too many black drug dealers, or too many black “thugs,” or blame it on “rap music,” blame it on babies born out of marriage…black on black crime….. Fck son, I have even seen other black people blame it on “pants sagin to low!” (fck you bill cosby). You are basically going to get a view point that pathologizes black people, in a way that makes them susceptible to criminal behavior…. something most whites, by mere happenstance, justsohavehappened to avoid. Again, very convenient thinking.

Now, if I ask you the question of, “what is wrong with this analysis?”… can you spot what is wrong? The first example is a classic example of orientalism, the second is a classic example of racist thinking. If I asked you to assume that both examples are bigoted ways of thinking, how would you go about proving that indeed both examples are products of bigoted thinking?

If you up on your cultural game, you know the answers are fairly straight up. These pictures only give a piece of the story. they never give the full picture. With only half truths and ignorance to rely upon.. you can’t help but think these bigoted ways of thinking are actually rational and defensible.

In fact, I will lay it down raw… If I limit you to only a select group of facts about these pictures, than you can not rationally come to a non-bigoted view of the picture. If I hand you a statistic that lays out the raw numbers of black people incarcerated in the united states… and I prohibit you from looking at any other statistical fact about poverty, education, drug laws… and I prohibit you from exploring the historical underpinnings of the laws in the US… you really not going to be able to come to a conclusion that avoids saying “something must be wrong with black folk.” Heck, and I admit this is unfair, if I prohibit you from talking about racism…. then I all but led you to a racist conclusion, on what seems to be rational grounds.

Now, if you look at these prohibitions… you are going to say… that is fcking silly. Of course if you prohibit talking about racism, economic inequality, history…etc.. then you can’t get the right picture. It seems so obvious……. however, the reality is that public discussions around things like the unreasonably high incarceration rate of black people in the US are practically devoid of such variables as is. It is almost as if this culture “prohibited” a discussion around other variables… and if this is true.. that means that most people when tossed the statistics of black people in prison… are going to come to racist conclusions. In fact, this is indeed what happens (look at fox news). In order to stop those racist conclusions, often times, we have to point out that:

1) Poverty is linked to crime. A history of slavery and discrimination in America (remember black people only got rights like 60 years ago) justsohappened to produce a population of black people that are poor… wonder how that happened?

2) Police routinely racially profile minorities and routinely stay away from white neighborhoods.

3) Despite the fact that whites consume drugs illegally at more than double the rates of people of color… people of color are the ones targeted for drug enforcement.

4) Juries are more likely to convict black people of crimes than they are white people accused of the same crimes.

I mean, the list can go on, but I will stop there… The idea is not that black people commit crimes cuz dey black…… it is that a history of discrimination put black people on the bottom of the economic class system. Poor people in general, in the US, have less opportunities to make money and as a result.. often resort to crime. If a disproportionate number of poor people are black, than dominating variable is not that black people are somehow pathologically unable to “be good citizens” it is that.. when I take away all your fcking money hommie and take away opportunities for you to make money legally… regardless of your skin color, you are more likely to seek illegal ways to make money to avoid losing your home.

Now you take that poverty factor and add to the fact that the cops will harass you on the street all the damn time.. it means that you are more likely to get caught. So not only are you economically placed in a position that forces you to consider committing crimes just to eat, you are also forced to live a life where you are more than likely to get caught for committing a crime that is necessary to say.. feed your fcking kids. And not just more likely to get caught, but also convicted and put in jail. Compare that to that white suburban drug dealer who the cops do not look twice at, or compare that to a rich financial banker that can afford a good lawyer to get him out of trouble when he puts out all those illegal loans.. then it comes to no surprise that poor black people are put in jail a lot…. and none of it has to do with their genes. It has to do with the fact that this society has almost built in racial inequalities.

You see, when you put in all the factors… all of a sudden the solution becomes clear. Black people are not in jail because something is wrong with them.. they are in jail disproportionately because we live in a racist society! Wow.. who would have guessed! Yet, you can not arrive at that conclusion unless… unless you are made aware of the context.. in particular the socio/political and historical context that is placed upon marginalized peoples. You see, you can not judge a situation in anyway without such a context, and if you fundamentally lack that context, than you are going to be lead to a rather bigoted conclusion (also because this society just happens to send out a lot of bigoted innuendo to foster out those conclusions)

For instance… why is black face racist? I kid you not.. if you are unaware of the extremely racist history of blackface… than you are in a remarkable position. In that without that information, without that knowledge of history, and hwo it still impacts us today, you are not going to be able to come to any rational conclusion to why blackface is racist. Instead the conclusion you will come to is that blackface is no more racist than whiteface – a concept that really does not exist in the first place. If you grab a person who does not know their history, I guarantee you that they will not be able to understand why blackface is racist.

They just can not rationally come to that conclusion. They do not have the tools to evaluate what is and what is not racist behavior. As such, they probably endorse subtle forms of racism themselves. If you do not know what racism is… than how can you avoid it? In order to “discover” what makes blackface racist, you have to dig into the history of blackface. Without that type of analysis.. you will not be able to make heads or tails of a situation. Without a good knowledge of american history… you will now know why depicting a black man eating a watermelon is racist (In fact, I had to explain this to a Caribbean friend of mine who did not understand what this is racist in the US – and yeah he was black). Again, without being aware of the context, you will not be able to judge things occurring around you accurately.

Now, then……. if we go back to the middle eastern picture.. What questions are we now forced to ask ourselves? Are they really just plain crazy? Or maybe we should dig into the socio/political and historical context in that region to understand why they are so anti-american? I will give you a hint..

Pretend Russia invaded the US, bombed US cities and killed your family members…. in the meantime they took charge or the coal reserves and are making your economic life a living hell… Your neighbor comes up to you to show you his charred fcking dead baby due to Russian bombers….

You fcking telling me that you would not consider picking up a Russian flag and burning it as a symbol of your distaste for the Russian governments tactics? Nah.. mther fcker…. You ganna pck up that fckign flag and you ganna burn that sht with all the anger and hate you have for those Russian fcks who killed your family and invaded your country. That flag just became the embodiment of every injustice commited against you by the russians and you ganna burn that fcking thing and then stomp the ashes when its done burning.

Now, I ain’t ganna dig up middle eastern history here.. this post is wicked long… but I just will hint that… the middle eastern people are not as crazy as the US media makes them out to be. They may, oh my god, have the ability to think rationally and have good reasons to reject US interventions… Americans should really look up what the US has done over seas throughout history before they go blasting “anti american” sentiments as unworthy or irrational. Just saying, take some time to think about it… you may be surprised at what you will find.

The main point here is what this blog aims to be about. It aims to give a social context, a historical perspective, and political context to view points from marginalized people that are often looked at as irrational… when in reality, if you dig up the context, it will start to make a lot of sense. There really is no such thing as “context independent” ideology… no more than there is a context independent word. Everything needs to be analyzed within context.. and often, we simply do not get that context in our lives – or we get the exact wrong context to leads us to that silly conclusion that never can be connected to the primary source material in the first place. In the end, most bigotry relies on ignorance, ignorance of sociology/political and historical context…… and this ignorance often leads to subtle and notsosubtle forms of bigotry.

This is what this blog is about.