Aziz Ansari, #MeToo and the Problem of Empathy

Honestly, I’m still struggling to find words on the Aziz Ansari sexual misconduct story.

However, fellow blogger Emily Sullivan Sanford talks about how the lack of coverage on sexual violence against developmentally disabled people (especially compared to coverage on Ansari) demonstrates how hidden this injustice is.

She is right. There is a lack of coverage on sexual violence against developmentally disabled people, and as a result there’s a lack of awareness on this issue. I know this because I wasn’t aware about this problem until I read her post.

This issue shouldn’t be ignored, since people with developmental disabilities experience sexual assaults at a rate seven times their counterparts without developmental disabilities.

I hope that all of us can learn a thing or two about sexual violence and developmental disabilities through reading this post.

via Aziz Ansari, #MeToo and the Problem of Empathy

The Catastrophic Consequences of the United States Cutting Funding from the United Nations

When I took my two-week hiatus from blogging, I thought that I’d come back to problems solved everywhere, leaving me nothing to write about.

Only in my dreams.

Earlier in December, the Trump administration made the decision to move the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In the process, America recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The United Nations overwhelmingly rejected this move by the Trump administration. It was so overwhelming that many of America’s allies, both in the Middle East (Jordan and Saudi Arabia) and around the world (the United Kingdom and Germany), rejected this move. Egypt, another of America’s allies in the Middle East, sponsored the resolution that rejected these moves.

In the wake of that decision, the Trump administration did what many of us as humans would do after being deeply offended: seek revenge on those who offended us. In the case of the Trump team, they sought revenge by threatening to cut some of the U.S.’s funding from the UN, and then following through on that threat.

Detractors of the UN, as well as the American role in the UN and in global affairs in general, are probably happy about this. However, once people, both supporters and detractors of the move alike, find out about the catastrophic consequences of cutting funding from the UN, they might not be in a celebratory mood about the decision.

What makes American funding cuts to the UN so problematic, potentially, is that these cuts would likely result in funding cuts to UN-sponsored programs that save lives. In order to fully understand the humanitarian consequences of deep American funding cuts to the UN, consider the Brookings Institute’s breakdown of how the U.S. allocation to the UN was used. Indeed, an overwhelming majority of America’s funding to the UN was used for life-saving humanitarian efforts. 23% of the money America gives to the UN goes to the World Food Programme, which is arguably the most influential food-assistance program in the world. 22% goes to peacekeeping operations, which, given this program’s role to help “countries navigate the difficult path from conflict to peace,” is an organization that can also save lives. 13% goes to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, a program meant to protect refugees around the world. Last, but not least, 9% goes to UNICEF, which protects the needs and rights of women and children around the world. These four wings of the UN, which all look to save and improve the lives of people in their own ways, make up 67% of the money that the U.S. gives to the UN.

The bottom line is that American cuts to the UN would result in cuts to the aforementioned programs, all of which save and enrich lives. It means less support for children, women, refugees, people in war-torn areas, and people in danger of starving to death. Some of us might not be fans of the UN’s resolution on Jerusalem, or of the UN in general, but neither issue takes away from the fact that deep cuts in American funding to the UN would be catastrophic from a humanitarian perspective for large groups of people (especially because of how much America contributes to the UN).

To make matters worse, I’ve heard little coverage from the mainstream media on just how much humanitarian efforts would hurt if/when the U.S. makes deep cuts in its funding to the UN. As a result, I fear that the Trump administration will undermine UN humanitarian efforts, and do so with little attention. I hope that my fears are wrong.

Slavery Exists Here

When you read the title, your emotions may’ve been something along the lines of, “Wait…slavery was abolished long ago!” And that goes not just for the United States, but for other nations as well.

And yet, I’m writing a blog post to make all of us aware that slavery exists here. It exists in the United States of America.

It does not exist because it’s legal. It exists in spite of the fact that it’s illegal.

One of many scary things about modern-day slavery, at least where I come from (New York City), is that so much of it exists in a shadow, with few people realizing that it even happens. For example, when I walked on large swaths of Roosevelt Avenue in Queens, New York with a friend a few months ago, I saw no signs that it is considered by many to be the epicenter of sex trafficking in New York City. Maybe there were signs I missed—especially embarrassing for me because the first social justice cause I worked to educate people about was human trafficking, back when I was a high school student volunteer for an anti-human trafficking campaign. But regardless of that fact, if even I couldn’t spot some of the signs of the sex trafficking along an infamous corridor for sex trafficking, then many others probably wouldn’t spot the signs, either.

Ultimately, modern-day slavery, in the United States and in many other parts of the world, is a textbook definition of a blind injustice. It is an injustice that we tend to be blind to.

How can we remove that blindness?

The first thing I’d recommend is to do a simple Google (or Bing, or Yahoo) search of human trafficking, sex trafficking, or other form of slavery in your area (whether it be a city, county, township, or state). You might find stories on slavery in your area, and you might even run into stories where you ask yourself why you passed by an area but never realized that slavery went on there.

I would also recommend looking at resources provided by entities like the Polaris Project and the United States Department of Homeland Security. While these resources might not be able to help people catch all of the signs of slavery, sites like these do give some very important signs (and signs that have been used by people before to recognize that someone is being victimized).

Finally, if you suspect that someone you know is being victimized by slavery in the United States, please call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888, or text HELP or INFO to BeFree (233733). If you don’t live in the United States but notice a potential case of slavery, please consult CNN’s Freedom Project to find the appropriate hotline in your home country.

Nobody may be able to singlehandedly deal with, let alone end, modern-day slavery. But all of us can and should take the step of making ourselves aware that such a thing exists, that there are ways of recognizing when this is happening, and that there are ways of dealing with these types of situations.

Author’s Note: If any of the national numbers are either not included on CNN’s list or are different from CNN’s list, please let me know about the appropriate number in the comments section below. This is the most recent list I can find, but numbers do change.

“Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”? When (and If) to Say Which One

I am a Christian. Therefore, with all due respect to whomever I date or marry someday (if God calls me to do that), Jesus will remain my most important love in my life.

And yet, I believe that that saying “Merry Christmas” to someone is not always the right thing to say during this season of the year.

My previous sentence is controversial to many Christians, some of whom are good friends of mine. From my understanding, much of the controversy involves the desire to “keep Christ in Christmas.” There is a fear that, by replacing “Christmas Greetings” with “Holiday Greetings,” our society will forget the reason for the season: Jesus Christ.

And you know what? If you’re talking with someone else who you know is Christian, or someone else who you know celebrates the holiday (whether the person is Christian or not), “Merry Christmas” is the appropriate thing to say. So for me, a Christian, I am perfectly content with the “Merry Christmas” greeting, though I wouldn’t get upset if someone said “Happy Holidays.”

Speaking of “Happy Holidays,” that type of greeting is most appropriate to say when you literally have no clue what holiday or holidays someone is celebrating. Through the “Happy Holidays” greeting, you are saying something which covers whatever holiday someone else is celebrating, whether it be Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Year’s Day, some combination of the four, or none of the four.[1] Furthermore, by saying “Happy Holidays,” you avoid giving a holiday greeting that offends someone’s religious sensibilities (for example, saying “Merry Christmas” to an observant Jew who does not believe that Jesus was the Messiah is unwise). In the end, as controversial as the “Happy Holidays” greeting may be among some Christians, that greeting is actually meant to be sensitive to the fact that not everyone shares my beliefs.

In some instances, neither “Merry Christmas” nor “Happy Holidays” is an appropriate greeting to say to someone. This may come as a shock to people who are passionate about the debate between the two greetings. If you’re talking with someone who you know is Jewish, “Happy Hanukkah” is the most appropriate greeting. While I know some Jews who celebrate Christmas as a cultural holiday, I also know other others whose religious sensibilities would be offended by someone saying “Merry Christmas.” Therefore, “Happy Hanukkah” is the proper greeting for a Jewish friend or family member.

In all instances, when we give holiday greetings to people, we should give the type of greeting which corresponds to the religious sensibilities of said person, even if you don’t share all of the person’s values. And, if you don’t know the religious sensibilities of the person you’re talking to, “Happy Holidays” is probably the best catch-all greeting to give at this time of year.

[1] In instances when someone doesn’t celebrate any of the holidays, you can still give a “Happy Holidays” greeting. From my family’s experiences, people who don’t celebrate any of the major holidays still respond respectfully to “Happy Holidays.”

Racism Exists Where You Don’t Expect It

A few weeks ago, someone (I don’t know who) wrote some extremely disturbing things on my family’s car and on street poles near my family’s house. The person wrote things like “n****r,” “Mexican n****r,” “black cop,” and “Black people are stupid.”

I was tempted to not say anything, anywhere, about all of this. I decided otherwise.

I will use my experience with such hateful rhetoric by saying this: racism exists where you don’t expect it.

People tend to associate racism with certain parts of the country, or even with certain parts of states. I’ve heard people from the northern United States make remarks about the “racist South.” I’ve heard people from northern New Jersey make remarks about how southern New Jersey is a hotbed for racists. I’ve heard people in New York City remark about how upstate New York has many racists. And, admittedly, I’ve been behind some of those remarks and/or have implicitly or explicitly agreed with many of those remarks.

But the thing is that I don’t live in southern New Jersey, upstate New York, or the southern United States. I live in New York City. People often don’t think of New York City as a hotbed for racists. Yet, I was staring at racism in my New York City neighborhood several weeks ago, both figuratively and literally.

The bottom line is this: racism exists in places where you don’t expect it. It exists everywhere. You don’t just see racism in southern Jersey; it exists in northern Jersey. It doesn’t just exist in upstate New York; it exists in New York City. It doesn’t just exist in states that used to be parts of the Confederacy; it exists in states that used to be part of the Union. If there is one thing about racism that doesn’t discriminate, it is in the places where racism actually exists.

So I hope that all of us stop trying to pretend that race issues are either from a bygone era or are in part of the country that is far away from where some of us live. Wherever people exist, racists exist. I just hope it doesn’t take seeing words like “n****r,” “Mexican n****r,” “black cop,” and “Black people are stupid” in your neighborhood to recognize that fact.

IMAG0538
This racist language was not found in Alabama or even southern New Jersey, but in my own neighborhood in New York City. This photo was taken by me.