Jillian C. York

Jillian C. York is a writer and activist.

Month: October 2009 (page 1 of 2)

Every day on the bus, as I scan through the feeds coming through my RSS reader, I save the best folder for last.  I flip first through folders dubbed “anthroblogging” and “arabists,” ones for my Global Voices readings, and ones for work.  Once I’ve read, or at least marked all as read, I come to my favorite little folder, “GVers.”  There are typically only three or four items on any given day, but I relish each one.


Seven years ago, which seems more like a lifetime, I made my second trip ever across the ocean.  The first trip, nearly seven years prior to that (at 14 years old), had been to the UK, where I remember being surprised at the subtle differences between Brits and Americans, not necessarily visible on the surface but clear once a conversation started (I came back saying “petrol,” incidentally).  This trip though, as I’m sure I mentioned before, was to a much-farther-away place, a place which occupied nearly no space in my imagination – Senegal.  I remember my surprise – as the plane began its descent – at how many lights lit up the city below.  I guess in my naive 21-year-old brain the “dark continent” really was, well, dark.  (As it turns out, Dakar is still one of the dimmest cities I’ve visited, in terms of actual lighting.)

You see, these friends of mine – from Taiwan and Syria, Lebanon, Bolivia, Bahrain, the UK and the US – they have taught me so much.  About how we are the same and about how we are different, about how our lives can intertwine, weave in and out of one another’s, again and again.  I’ve always been fascinated by the more subtle differences in cultures – not the obvious ones, like architectural styles or traditional dress, but those that creep up slowly from beneath the surface.  The kind that you might face even when the person you’re looking at looks just like you.


In the fall of 2005, I was living in Meknès, Morocco.  It feels a bit odd, in retrospect, that one year out of college I would just pick up and move my life to a city in another country where I knew no one, for a job I had never performed, but I guess that’s youth.

I’d been there for just a few months when, on a deadline to finish a writing project, I took a weekend and went alone to Chefchaouen, in the hopes of getting away from everything and being able to just sit down and write.  On my first night there, I was too excited by the beauty of the little mountain town, however, and decided to venture out to do some snacking and shopping.

My second stop crafts shop, where I was lured in by the young proprietor.  He was impressed that I spoke a little Arabic, and I was impressed at his lack of pressure for me to buy anything.  We ended up sitting together for some time, chatting about travel – he’d been to many more countries than I had, and I was riveted by his tales of places far away.  At some point in the conversation, he asked if I minded if he smoked, then pulled out a fresh pack.  He tapped the pack against his hand a few times, then peeled back the plastic wrapper, popping open the box and tearing the foil.  But before he could take one to smoke, he pulled out the middle cigarette, flipping it upside down.

The look on my face set him into a small fit of laughter.  “What, you’ve never seen anyone do that before?” he asked in the curious mix of Arabic, French, Spanish, and English we’d already established.  “No, no,” I responded, “I have.  Many times, actually.  I just wasn’t aware that people did that here.”

“People do that everywhere,” he told me, taking a drag from his cigarette.  “People everywhere do the same things, we just don’t realize it.”


Strange Choices

I logged into MySpace tonight for the first time in, apparently, about a year and a half.  My last hesitant update read “Jill doesn’t check MySpace.  E-mail her.”  I haven’t used my nickname publicly in a long time, and most of the people I know have left MySpace.  I wasn’t going to delete it, but the updates required to make it tolerable were just too much…it was simply easier to seek the “cancel account” button (which, by the way, was pretty complicated to find).

On a somewhat separate note, my mother joked on her Facebook wall this morning that she doesn’t use Facebook because she has her own secret social network.  I shot back, “You’re on MySpace?” to which she responded (via e-mail no less), “I said secret, not stupid.”  Touché, Mom.

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On Fighting with Words

Apologies for the lack of updates lately.  There’s work, then I served on a jury for the better part of a week (yay civic duties!), and now it’s work again.

That said, I have had this article open in a tab on my work computer for over two weeks because I couldn’t figure out what to say about it, or where to say it.  Thus, in lieu of a longer post, or a HuffPost, I offer you this bit of wisdom…

USA Today’s article entitled “Online hate speech: Difficult to police…and define” profiles a mother whose daughter is cognitively impaired.  The woman, Hannah Jacobs, says she spends about 20 hours each week “combing the Web” for sites which use the word “retard” negatively.  The article states that,

When she finds them, she tries to contact the organizers to ask them to take the site down or change the name. Her group members write letters to government officials and to media companies that operate the sites.

It also states that Jacobs is doing this in order to “make the world a better place for [her daughter] Molly.”

While it’s certainly lovely in many ways to see a mother who cares so much about her daughter’s well-being, it’s also frustrating to think that she wastes so much time policing sites, time that she could be spending with her daughter.  And since use of the word “retard” alone is typically not considered hate speech (nor, in my humble opinion, should it be), Jacobs efforts are largely in vain, as it’s highly unlikely a site will permanently ban a group that simply uses the word.

I’m personally of the opinion that, if Jacobs is going to spend her time fighting this online, that time would be best spent fighting words with words.  Rather than lobbying sites to get rid of groups that use the word “retard,” Jacobs should focus her efforts on combating such speech with positive speech.

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