Cognitive Dissonance and Its Political Repercussions

12316483_923047557771174_4459036784786159585_nCognitive dissonance is a term used to describe the experience of being incapable of reconciling inconsistent beliefs, thoughts, and attitudes.

Best understood by example, cognitive dissonance can look something like this; a recent study by Harvard University shows that men who express the most homophobic sentiments are the same men who most easily experience homo-erotic attraction.

The men mentioned above are a prime example of the process and effects of cognitive dissonance for two reasons; 1) these men are unwilling to accept their attractions to other men, which results in; 2) these men’s most exercised coping mechanism for dealing with their attractions toward other men is to express resentment toward men they believe to be gay.

Sadly, the realities of cognitive dissonance play a larger part in the maintenance of systems of oppression than the previous example encapsulates.

To this day, many people deny the fact that genocide committed against Indigenous people and the enslavement of African people has an effect on present day society. These people fail to take into consideration how African enslavement created the economic base which allowed the United States to accumulate vast stores of wealth, along with how Indigenous genocide allowed European colonizers access to previously inhabited lands.

Some who deny the effects of this nation’s history on present day society may simply be lacking in information and critical thinking skills. Too often, however, many individuals remain attached to these beliefs, even when presented with data and logically solid arguments.

Much has been written about how white people, men, and other people of privilege who claim to be committed to the work of justice, but are unwilling to accept criticisms of their own racism/misogyny/etc. These people are willing to acknowledge the fact of systemic injustice, to some extent, but are unwilling to include themselves within groups which wield power over others and refuse to accept criticisms of their own behavior.

The cognitive dissonance here reveals itself in the way people in positions of power can speak about oppression and injustice, even criticize people they share identities with, while lacking the willingness to be critical of themselves.

Often times, the urge to maintain beliefs grounded in faulty logic and fantasy compels the individual who has been challenged to shut down and/or lash out.

Currently, I work at a non-profit that claims racial justice and restorative justice as two of its core pillars of work. At a work meeting this past summer, I got into a heated argument with a cisgendered, heterosexual white male colleague on the day same-sex marriage was legalized by the federal government. This colleague decided to bring up same-sex marriage as a pre-meeting topic of conversation, so I decided to openly share my perspective. While I was attempting to explain to him that same-sex marriage doesn’t do much for me as a Black, genderqueer person, and most other people in LGBQ and Trans communities, he continued to aggressively and condescendingly insist that my perspective was invalid.

Halfway into the conversation, he began cutting me off when I pointed out that the mainstream gay movement is extremely exclusionary of people of color/trans people. Eventually, I left the table out of sheer frustration.

Upon returning to the table, I decided to share with this colleague that his cutting me off was particularly triggering due to his whiteness and maleness, speaking to the ways in which white men often speak over people of color/women/femme people/other marginalized groups of people. He responded by saying this was “my sh*t”. His response revealed his refusal to accept that our identities had a role in our conflict.

In a facilitated conversation with this same colleague, I told him, “I can show you data, statistics, theories…” to prove my point. The potential of being introduced to information that would challenge his worldview nearly caused his eyes to pop out of their sockets.

My colleague’s cognitive dissonance was so ingrained that the mere thought of exposure to information that conflicted with his distorted sense of himself resulted in a visceral physical reaction.

All of this from a man who routinely wears a T-shirt reading, “You’re my baby, no matter if you’re Black or white”… This behavior is a perfect example of what happens when “allyship” goes bad.

Cognitive dissonance also manifests in the ways in which groups of people are represented in mass media; when referring to Black people who have engaged in criminal behavior, mass media often uses the label ‘thug’ while casually sharing details of allegedly dysfunctional personal lives; when referring to white people who have engaged in criminal behavior, particularly mass killings, mass media painstakingly details the level of psychological distress the offender was in before committing the crimes.   
And most consumers passively accept these hypocritical portrayals of news media subjects, ignoring the racist impact of these practices.  

Cognitive dissonance is an aspect of the human condition with roots in every aspect of our lives. However, cognitive dissonance running rampant in the political sphere has disastrous, even lethal, consequences for people around the globe.

Overcoming cognitive dissonance requires having the courage to critically interrogate societal, interpersonal, and internal contradictions which may not be immediately apparent to someone initially beginning the work of justice.

And once we’ve begun dispelling the myths and fantasies which uphold systems of domination, the possibilities for just, equitable transformation are endless.

DC Police Violence Against the Transgender Community

Vigil For Transgender Victims of Police Shooting August 26, 2011.  Image provided by Washington Blade.

Violence against gays, lesbians, and especially transgender women has been a problem in the District–and the nation–for as long as I can remember. The development of a Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit within the DC Police Department is meant to address the problem, but has it done any good? Last week, WPFW’s Latino Media Collective (Wednesdays from 7:00pm-8:00pm WPFW 89.3 FM) posed the following questions on their weekly program:

What has been going on recently in DC?  Based upon the Metropolitan Police Department’s statistics, anti-trans bias crimes make up about 14% of all hate crimes each year. People who identified as transgender or people of color were 2 times more likely to experience hate violence involving assault or discrimination as non-transgender white individuals. This data also shows that being both transgender and a person of color increases the risk of violence and of murder. Is there a pattern in neighborhoods where these crimes are occurring the most?

The audio interview the Latino Media Collective conducted of DC Trans Coalition member Sadie Vashti suggests that the DC Police Department does not treat violence against transgender individuals as seriously as it does others. Listen to the audio interview of Sadie Vashti which aired on WPFW’s Latino Media Collective, Wednesday August 24, 2011.

Last week’s shooting of two transgender women by an off-duty DC police officer tells us that the police are not only less likely to take violent crimes against transgender individuals seriously, they are actually contributing to the problem.

The following is cross-posted from DC Trans Coalition:

Emergency Rally in response to Transphobic Police Violence

From DC Trans Coalition: “Today, we were notified by the Metropolitan Police Department of a shooting involving transgender individuals in the area of First and Pierce Streets NW around 5:30 AM this morning. We are still attempting to gather information, but preliminary accounts indicate two vehicles collided at the site, one driven by an off-duty MPD officer, and the other containing five people, two of whom are trans. The off-duty officer fired his service weapon at the three people in the other car, hitting one victim three times, and one victim one time. Community activists have visited the two trans women in the hospital, where they were treated for non-life threatening injuries. We have learned that the shooter and at least one victim may have known each other previously, and had an altercation at a nearby store before the shooting, but we do not yet know the nature of their relationship.

We are gathering at 6PM at the site of the incident to demand accountability and transparency from MPD on the clear trend of transphobic and homophobic actions coming from its officers. This incident is just another in a long line of systemic violence that trans women, and particularly trans women of color, face on a daily basis.Many members of our community have noted that this summer has been particularly violent. MPD reports at least eight violent crimes against trans people this year, but service organizations have collected information about many more. This is also the second violent attack involving an off-duty MPD officer in the past ten months. Tonight we hope to draw attention to the police department’s complicity in the ongoing violence that our communities must confront. Please spread the word and join us at First and Pierce NW. This violence must not go unacknowledged.”

The following is coverage of Friday’s vigil as per the Washington Blade:

About 70 people turned out for a 6:30 p.m. rally at the site of the shooting, which was organized by T.H.E. and DCTC. Among those who spoke at the rally were D.C. Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) and Groomes, who said she was appearing on behalf of Police Chief Cathy Lanier.

DCTC member Elijah Edelman told the gathering that Friday’s shooting of at least two transgender women by an off-duty police officer was one of many attacks and assaults against trans women that have occurred in the past few months in D.C.  “So I think it’s fair to say a lot of us are really pissed off,” he said. “It’s very, very frustrating. We had conversations with Chief Lanier over the past several weeks, over the past several years, and nothing changes – nothing changes,” Edelman said. “So this is a moment in which we can finally say enough – we’re not going to keep doing this.”

Two Latino transgender women who spoke at the rally gave personal accounts of attacks against them in the city. Both women spoke in Spanish, with Corado translating their remarks in English. One told of how she was beaten and raped two weeks ago by an ex-boyfriend. The other women told of how she was attacked inside Dupont Circle by a male assailant who she is certain targeted her because of her status as a transgender woman.

“We wanted them to come here so we can put a human face on the statistics of so many of these cases that continue to happen,” Corado said.  Others speaking at the rally included A.J. Singletary of Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence (GLOV), Cindy Clay of Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive (HIPS), and Sadie Vashti of D.C. Trans Coalition.

Free Summer Writing Workshop for LGBTQ Youth

ZAMI DC: writer's workshop for LGBTQ youthZami DC is a free summer creative writing workshop taught by local artists Be Steadwell and Taylor Johnson for lgbtq youth in the DC area. The workshop consists of poetry and songwriting classes, weekly features with local artists, discussions on continuing education, art in the community, and career options. The program ends with a final performance allowing students to take the stage.

The workshop will be held four blocks from Dupont Metro, and scheduling is still open.

Zami DC is featured on “This Light: Sounds for Social Change”, a radio series featuring young artists/activists who use their art to incite progressive social change. Each episode features two segments: 1) dynamic interviews with artists about their work and its relation to activism; and 2) (re)mix of artistic work (music, poetry, soundscape, etc.).

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features Be Steadwell and Taylor Johnson, founders of Zami DC.

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is a mix of their music and poetry.

To learn more about Zami DC, contact them at or visit their facebook page.