Open Questions

What is the appropriate role of a father? To what extent does the answer depend on the gender of the child? What is the appropriate balance between actively instructing children and passively allowing them to come to their own conclusions?

What is my responsibility to continue seeking information from sources who make me unhappy, if their criticisms of me and people like me are correct? What is the appropriate balance between cultivating one’s own happiness and well-being and trying to be a better person, in cases where these two conflict?

What is my responsibility to speak up for less privileged people, and what is my responsibility to remain silent in order to allow less privileged people to empower themselves? How much does the answer depend on the degree of privilege I benefit from?

To what extent is it acceptable to express disagreement with unprivileged people in a discussion about that privilege? How much does the answer depend on the relative privilege between the people who disagree? How much does the answer depend on the nature of the disagreement?

In cases of double standards, to what extent is the problem due to the inequality of the application of the standard, and to what extent is the problem the standard itself? Put another way, should the priority be to give “privilege” to everyone, or should it be to remove it from everyone? Is the answer the same for every type of double standard or privilege?

With respect to pornography and sex work, how can one reconcile the goal of ending the objectification of women with the goal of allowing women the freedom to choose to participate in pornography and sex work without a social stigma (e.g. "slut shaming")? If these two goals are incompatible, which is the better goal to achieve? Can pornography be consumed in such a way that does not objectify its participants? If not, to what extent are the participants culpable for perpetuating the objectification of themselves and others?

To what extent is it possible to separate a work of art from the artist who produced it? To what extent is it acceptable to try to do so? If the artist's racism, sexism, or other prejudices are not present in the work itself, how does this affect the question? If racism, sexism, or other prejudices are present in the work, how should this affect how we understand or value the work as a whole? To what extent do the time period and contemporary cultural context of the artist affect this calculus?

To what extent is it acceptable to appreciate or enjoy the privilege I benefit from? To what extent does maintaining my lifestyle harm or oppress other people? If I am aware that change is required and have the ability to affect that change, to what extent am I complicit in oppression if I do not actively work toward that change? How much is the answer affected by the difficulty of the change?

Assuming that it is impossible to perfectly rid myself of bias and to always speak and behave perfectly appropriately, at what point am I doing “good enough”? At what point is it reasonable to consider myself a good person? How does the answer change if it is not impossible, but merely very difficult?


I have spent a lot of time pondering both these generalized questions and the more specific scenarios that led to them, but I haven't been able to come to any conclusions. I can't figure out the general principles, I can't figure out the specific applications, and I can't figure out if it even makes sense to try to reduce the specifics to general principles. It's possible that there are no definitive answers.

I recognize that some of these questions may be problematic. Some or all of them may be fundamentally based on biased assumptions or on ignorance. Some or all of them may be offensive, or ridiculous, or self-pitying. If that's the case, I'd like to know about it.

If you do have thoughts or opinions on any of these questions, please leave a comment. I have just one request: you don't have to be nice to me, but please do be nice to each other.



I have been thinking a lot of similar questions lately as they relate to my racial privilege, specifically in relation to black/white America. Earlier this summer Ted was retweeting a lot from @kissane and I liked what she said so I started following her. After the Mike Brown shooting, when that article was going around about how white people in America mostly have at most 1 black person in their social circles, I realized that I don't even have that any more. My off-line social circle is currently very small, and almost entirely white. And how exactly do you change that, if you consider that a problem? You can't go out intentionally trying to find a black friend without being horribly offensive, and I am bad at making friends in the first place, even with people "like me." And Minneapolis is one of the cities in the country that is most segregated by neighborhood for black and white people.

Anyway, around then @kissane tweeted something along the lines of white people on twitter should be following people of color, and if you weren't you should start. And then of course had to follow up saying not the ask her to by your POC match-maker, figure it out for yourself. And I realized that hey, I wasn't following any black people on twitter, either, and that was a place I reasonably could start. So I did.

(As an aside, my feed is still mostly white, because my feed is mostly my friends.)

But I picked someone from all the retweets that were coming through, and then someone else from their reweets, and etc. And it's been really eye-opening, and perhaps the most interesting way is in how so many of the things I see as something I would do in certain situations would be considered wrong/offensive. And the people who are saying this know that I would have no idea I was being offensive, but still consider it my responsiblity to educate myself and not be offensive. Which, of course, makes perfect sense! But I look at Mike's questions about privilege and responsibilities, and they mirror a lot that I have, but feel like I don't have anyone to ask.

At the moment, what I am doing is listening. Twitter is fantastic in that it can take you out of your echo chamber if you let it. Not just in what people are saying, but in what they're linking. I've read articles I never would have come across on my own, and just in the past 4 months or so I feel like I've learned a lot.

But in August, I told Raja that I wanted to get more involved in social justice issues in real life, maybe join an activist group, and I haven't done anything around that yet. I've been busy and tired and sick and whatever, and spent too much time playing video games. And I didn't go to the Erik Garner protest in town because it was cold and I was lazy, but probably really because it's out of my comfort zone. And that's what a lot of it comes down to, right? My comfort zone.

In one of the articles I read during the first months of Ferguson protests a black activist said a white friend asked him what it was going to take to stop the police violence at the protests, and he answered for white St Louis to show up at them in force, and his friend laughed. But he was serious -- if there were 10,000 white people there, they wouldn't be tear gassed. And I feel like what I am doing by not showing up and getting physically involved is privileging my comfort zone over black people's civil rights. Screw feel like, that is what I am doing.

So this is long an rambly, and has been written between work conference calls and emails and I find myself feeling like it's overly self-indulgent and wanting a preview button, but I'm going to go ahead and post it regardless at this point. I don't have any answers, unfortunately, just more questions.

Mike Sakasegawa:

Thank you for your response. I don't find it self-indulgent, though I don't know how much my opinion matters. It is nice to know, at least, that I'm not completely alone in some of the questions I have.

Mike Sakasegawa:

But here is another question, right? Is it necessary to be one of the people out on the front lines in order to be on the right side? Is there no grey area when it comes to "privileging my comfort zone over black people's civil rights"? And what about my responsibility to other people? If I go to a protest and get arrested or wind up in a hospital, have I not failed in one way in my responsibility to my wife and children? Or is this merely the voice of cowardice and lack of moral conviction speaking?


I think there are grey areas, and there are things you can do short of being on the front lines. But right now I'm basically doing nothing, you know? I've spoken up at lunch at work a couple times.

If I had young children, I absolutely wouldn't go to a night time protest, or join people blocking a freeway. (I probably wouldn't join people blocking a freeway regardless, actually.) I don't think that's the voice of cowardice or lack of moral conviction, although at the end you're the only one who can answer that. I might go to an organized daytime protest in front of somewhere like city hall, as those tend to be visible, non-violent, and short. But I would probably just try to do things like sign petitions, donate to legal funds for the people who do get arrested during protests, etc., if I was looking for a way to be more involved without risking injury or incarceration.

For me, though, I don't have kids, and as a white woman I'm both very unlikely to get arrested and very likely to be released without charges if I do. So I feel like I'm exactly the sort of person who SHOULD be protesting.

Mike Sakasegawa:

I guess the question is what the appropriate balance is between simply trying to change one's own habits and biases and participating actively in effecting larger changes. It seems like white/straight/cis/male/able/etc participation in both is necessary, but this is always framed in the aggregate, and it's not clear what the answer is for any particular individual. I suspect that it'll always be "it depends," but that's not immediately useful to me in determining how to live my life and how to think about myself.


Hey Mike,

There's a lot to unpack in your post and also i think more context that's worth discussing too. Here's a bunch of stuff i wrote up. I don't know how much of it is entirely applicable, and i'd be interested to hear more about the source of your disquietude. I've got many more thoughts on the subject but here's this thing that i wrote that might or might not be useful/helpful:

Okay, first things first. These are problems for which answers are unclear and there may not be globally satisfactory solutions. It may just be the case that there are particular qualities you can optimize for and no matter what you do, and no matter how compassionate you can be, you will fail to meet someone else's expectations because their priorities and perspective is different from yours. As far as I am concerned, they should also be as compassionate as they can to the experiences you have and the approach you are trying to pursue, but people are fallible, preoccupied and some times just mean.

If people calling you a terrible father or whatever is going to bother you, i regretfully think that there's not much you can do but grow a thicker skin, and see whether you can get to the root of their criticism. I'm sure for some things you'll find things you feel that you have fallen short on, and for other things that critics have unreasonable expectations or assumptions about the world which you don't share.

But the process of engaging with other people is always going to have the potential to be fraught and figuring out ways to engage others who you would like to understand better may require a deft touch. For example, i have never tried to engage with shanley, and i likely never will. Even if i agree with some of her broad points i find her approach to the world (although understandable given particular POVs of the world) untenable and rankling. (She's also called friends of mine rapists by proxy which was to my mind, unfair, untrue, and offensive)

Some people are just not in a place where they are going to be willing or able (because they are taxed to the point that they can't meaningfully contribute or whatever) to engage you in a constructive way[1]. It is legitimate for them to tell you that they are not there to help you work through what you think about a thing. Seeking is a thing you can do. You also don't have to necessarily go through people who you find unpalatable to explore an idea or set of experiences. There are people who have said things which puzzled and upset me for a long time who i didn't directly engage, but instead discussed with others who i thought would have relevant insights into the things that bothered me. [2]

As a corollary, i also think that there may just be places that we can't or actually shouldn't probe from the inside or try to be part of. The movement of ironic misandry does not work if men try to be part of it and want to be seen as good guys and in on the joke. It is a thing that is only meaningful, funny and useful if it is only women doubling down and treating the satire as real. By trying to participate in it men would remove whatever power the idea has. It's not our space to call out. It's our space to take the satirical abuse, because women have all kinds of real crap heaped upon them by misogynists, and it's okay to see satirical abuse reflected back onto dudes (especially since there isn't a pervasive problem of abuse derived from actual misandry, which itself demonstrates power differentials).

[1]: An acquaintance/friend of mine in the Ruby community was accused of sexually assaulting a woman who was an employee of his. My initial reaction was abject shock and disbelief at the claim (since the idea that a leader in the Ruby community doing something so obviously destructive to the community did not comport with who i understood this man to be). As a consequence i was trying to figure out WTF was going on, and @ashedryden told me and others seeking more info to shut the fuck up and let the victim do this thing that was very difficult for her, calling out my acquaintance/friend. Even if this was my community, Ashe was totally right that my needs/requirements in that circumstance were not important at that moment and could be satisfied later. And, i do think that my acquaintances actions were offensive and hurtful to me as a friend of his and member of the community he represented publicly, but that pales in comparison to the hurt inflicted on the victim herself.

[2]: Quinn Norton told me at dinner after a conference that America was made for people like me (after we had been discussing how terribly America treats other groups of people). And that bothered me for a year and a half while i attempted to puzzle out whether i thought she was right or not. We later had a conversation about what she felt that meant (although she didn't even recall the comment she had made) after she published her series on Whiteness ( ) which helped clarify for me what she meant by America and the privileges that conferred upon people like me, and that was not a condemnation or necessarily conferring culpability on me for all the shitty things we had just been talking about. (I was especially upset at the implication that she and i were some how fundamentally different by dint of being catered to in the manner which she was describing).

Mike Sakasegawa:

Hi Ted,

Thanks for your response. I can understand why context would be something you'd be curious about, but I'm not sure it's completely relevant to my interests here. That is, what I'm trying to figure out are general principles. This is how I tend to approach everything, but particularly questions of philosophy, morality, and ethics. I tend to feel that if I understand the general principles, I can then figure out on my own how to apply those principles in specific cases. But right now I don't feel like I have a firm footing, nothing I can fall back on when interactions break down. All I can do is assume that I'm wrong, which becomes really draining after a while. My mental and emotional well-being is irrelevant in the larger picture and shouldn't be of any real concern to people who are striving for social justice, especially if they don't even know me. All the same, my well-being is to some degree necessary for me.

In this, it's not so much about caring about other people's opinion of me, or whether or not some stranger thinks I'm a bad father or that I'm participating in oppression. What matters is what I think of myself, and in the absence of a solid frame of reference and strong guiding principles, it's hard to know how to measure that. I'm just not the kind of person who has the self-confidence to start from the assumption that I'm right or that I'm a good person, but it matters to me that I feel like a good person.

This isn't to say that I don't care at all what people think of me, because I do. I do care about being respected and I do care about being seen as an ally. In part because I want not to hurt other people. But at the end of the day, if I were able to believe in myself, it'd be easier for me to get past it when other people don't like me.

I have a lot of questions, as you can see from this post. I have few resources in my life to help me answer these questions, though, if any, and typically when I try to ask questions of strangers, it goes poorly. As you say, it's not anyone's responsibility to help me answer these questions, but often I feel like even the fact that I have questions is taken as evidence that I'm perpetuating injustice. That asking questions is wrong. And I don't know how to deal with that. I can understand that point of view, but I also can't just accept certain propositions without fully understanding them.

Ultimately, I do the best I can. But I also recognize that it's very easy for "I do the best I can" to become an excuse. I don't want to be part of the problem, but I don't know what's required of me in order to get there.