Not Much Has Changed

Image

I was reading Breeze Harper’s piece on racist and misogynist trolling of her website Sistah Vegan a few days ago and thinking how little has changed for black intellectuals in North America. Breeze mentions how she has advanced degrees from prestigious universities, honors, and awards that should make her word hold some weight. However, as a post-colonial reading of Merleau-Ponty quickly points out the imagined black Other supersedes that of any disconfirming information. So we are always ignorant until proven smart. Always race baiting haters until we allow racism to run rampant on our sites or bow down to the know it all white expert who is likely reading an uncited bastardization of our own text back to us incorrectly. And so on.

What struck me most reading Breeze’s article was not just the long list of educational credentials that amount to nothing in the face of whiteness, but also the fact that she has been harassed by so-called Buddhists for daring to participate in decolonizing wellness practices. Not only does this seem decidedly anti-Buddhist, but it touches very close to home. You see, I have a white male Buddhist in my life, through no fault of my own, who is consistently harassing me about my intersectional politics and my desire for equal treatment at the university. He denies that there is any sign of discrimination in the classrooms he oversees and yet there are multiple complaints about racism, sexism, and homophobia overheard in the halls, claimed to be written on the evals, and most importantly several students and one faculty member have threatened to sue over oppressive behavior or pedagogical choices. He calls me unstable when I advocate for myself or others, and has literally told people to stay away from me if they want to succeed in our profession. Once, he even maligned my family and allegedly physically threatened a gay male colleague. But when anyone who he cannot menace asks him about the rumors about his behavior, he laughs and falls back on his Buddhism as proof that he would never harass students and faculty of color, queer students and faculty, women, or differently-abled people. He talks about his spirituality and its call for authenticity that he takes seriously and even publishes about. When backed into a corner, he even beats his chest and talks about his own experiences of being bullied in school and all the poor black families he worked with when he was young.  He, like the Buddhist in Breeze’s post, is accessing whiteness through the lens of “good person”, i.e. the idea that because he practices benevolent spirituality he has already conquered oppression not only in his own mind but in any arena in which he enters or controls. As such, he has the right to silence and deny evidence of oppression and the need to heal from it coming from the people most likely to know what it looks like: the oppressed. Unlike the spectres in Breeze’s article however, he is not a pimple faced kid hiding at an internet cafe or in the back room of the Women’s Studies class he hopes will get him dates all the while resenting nothing else was open in this time slot. He is a tenured department chair. A real live, living breathing man, with the power to shape minds and marginalize and oppress those he does not see as fit to complain.

This is why I started with the image above. You see, it was not too long ago that schools were segregated and people had to fight to get access to good educations. It was not too long ago that students had to walk out to see themselves reflected in the curriculum. And in fact, despite these huge gains often met with unspeakable emotional and physical violence from the “good people” brigade, the reality is that very little has changed. Key historical figures in the history of social justice in this country are slowly being removed from history books. Important people of color, queer people, and women are being slowly erased and their contributions being usurped by the assumption that the men in the books did it first. Differently-abled and trans folks have very seldom if ever seen themselves in the textbooks and when they do, it is often with their identities completely washed away. The demographics of schools are also showing a rise in re-segregation and the middle and high school level which leads to even more “Real World encounters” at the university level. Just last year I had a student tell me that she had never had to be in a class with a black person before meeting me and another tell me that she lived in a neighborhood where the police would escort me out if I ever visited. But the Chair swears this is a safe place for students of color to learn and faculty of color to teach, all though there are no faculty of color to speak of in his department if you do not count us fellow cross-listing faculty, none.

So, what does it all mean? Ultimately, while Breeze’s piece resonated with me on so many levels from shared experience in and outside of the blogosphere to the myths I internalized about education and meritocracy without even realizing it, I have to disagree with the premise. I do not believe that trolls are the stuff of the internet. I work with trolls every day and in this climate they are empowered to troll me with the goal of making me break without any consequences. Like the girl pictured above, I sit in classrooms with students who literally point and say snide things about the way I smell, how I do my hair, the things I find important and meaningful, etc. and when I discuss it with other faculty, I often see folks who are lead by the likes of Dr. Crackhead or worse Mr. Buddhist-light, whose capacity for emotional sadism rivals any white supremacist in the history books or outside of it. (Material added 4/27/13) To be clear, the N word, “black bitch”, and the like have all been said to my face or the face of my colleagues at one time or another in our careers; one can only wonder what these “colleagues” and instructors call us behind closed doors or with the not-so-invisible veil of the internet. (End of added material)

Something has gone horribly wrong with us as a nation when we have already fought the battle of equal education and seen its toll, only to let it slip through our fingers. Something has gone horribly wrong with us as a people when we have looked on lynching images and read about how group think works, and we let our classrooms slip back into seethingly invalidating environments egged on by the person in the front of the room or their boss. I write this, with no answers, as one person trying to change it, speaking to all of you readers who I hope are doing the same. Let’s join our thoughts and our voices and our strength because otherwise it will be too late.

Family Acceptance Project

The Family Acceptance Project is an evidenced based best practices research, intervention, and education project on family therapy for families with queer and questioning youth. It’s goals are to decrease health risks, suicide rates, substance abuse, HIV, and homelessness of LGBTQ youth through family therapy and education. They are housed at SFSU but need your donations, no matter where you live, and your voice, if you are in CA, to keep the project going.

One of the things they do is record family stories about how individual family members understand sexuality and how queer kids see themselves within the context of their families. Here is an example:

Black Lesbian Excitement in Tejas

So … it seems two of my favorite people and/or their work will be featured in co-sponsored events by Allgo this week. For those who don’t know, Allgo is the place for queer people of color in Austin TX, a place I do not reside but Allgo often makes me wish I did. They sponsor artists in residence, film and discussion series, performances and activism, and just generally conscious-righteous stuff for the qoc.

This week they are featuring a poetic play by one of my favorite black lesbian authors, Sharon Bridgforth on Friday March 4 (TODAY PEOPLE):

8pm, The University of Texas at Austin, Winship Drama Building 2.180, 300 E. 23rd Street, Austin, TX

AND

Tomorrow after the amazing conference Performing Lesbian Archives, Allgo will be hosting an intimate dinner and discussion with  fellow blogger and newly minted PhD Alexis Pauline Gumbs (who I love and you should love too) and colleague in revolutionary black lesbian praxis Julia Wallace.

Bring a dish to share and get a chance to see footage from their amazing intergenerational project on black lesbian lives @ Out Youth 7:30pm 909 1/2 E. 49th Street, Austin TX 78751

And hey, if you can’t be in TX for these events, then consider getting your local college, women’s center, queer center, or feminist bookstore to invite these people out to your town.

The Shadow Knows

My friends and I have been participating in a Jungian reading group. It is the one thing in my overbooked schedule this term that feels as though it is just for me; probably, because it is. A lot of our time has been spent discussing the issue of the Shadow and the Ego (or the Real Self as some of us prefer). What has been most interesting to me about the group is the way that two words have become mobilized as ways to silence others “reactive” and “shadow”.

(this man’s art is amazing, check out his blog)

For those who do not know “reactive” means just what it sounds like, i.e. you have high emotions around a certain topic that likely indicate it’s your stuff not someone else’s.”Shadow” is a huge topic I am about to reduce to less than a sentence, so Jungian folks feel free to look the other way for a minute. At it’s most basic it means the parts of yourself you have rejected and on a conscious level, likely no longer know they exist as part of you. So, when you bump into someone who makes you super “reactive” you are likely hating on your own “Shadow”. Make sense?

For the most part, both concepts are incredibly fruitful in making people look  at their own stuff and own their behavior. But an interesting thing happens on the oppression highway … can you guess? There are two types of Jungians whose privilege blinds them to how they oppressive: (1) the ones who swear up and down that their Shadows are the parts of themselves they learned from their evil parents who done them wrong, and therefore deflect their oppression on to said, absent, parents and all the work they have had to do on their stuff (i.e. very little except learning anti-oppression lingo) and (2) the ones who swear even louder that you are “being reactive” and really you need to do some work on your Shadow self because they’ve done theirs. Ugh.

This does not just happen with oppressions mind you. In our group, there is a person who has studied Jung for years (which probably means he picked up a book to impress a girl in late high school after she waned on Marx … there I go, being reactive again). He knows Shadow theory better than any of us and never hesitates to point out other people’s Shadows or the “reactivity.”  Usually this finger pointing in the name of embracing one’s real self happens a few seconds after he says some sexist thing about women being the earth, or emotional centers because we have babies, or other “please do me because I am so in touch with my feminine side” bs and gets called on it.  But some times, it happens because he has openly mocked someone else in the group for not understanding a heady concept in the reading and when other’s of us come to that person’s defense he starts in with “reactivity” and “Shadow” finger pointing at speeds that make his little wagging finger hard to even see; oh, but it is there.

(cover art Detective Short Stories 1938; @Syracus Library)

Recently, I was coming around the corner from my office and He Who Shall Not Be Named, was engaged in a full on gossip session about one of my colleagues from the group. He was “diagnosing” this person with an endless list of pathologies and actively connecting them to things that are considered private in the confines of our discussion. The person he was talking to was both eating up the insider information about my colleagues childhood traumas and laughing along at the diagnosis. When I glared, and went around the other corner, I heard him switch to diagnosing me.

The incident left me thinking about all of the ways we find to avoid dealing with our insecurities, past traumas, and interpersonal faux pas. How easy it is to point to others and say “that’s you stuff” all the while denying our own. From the plank vs the sliver, to the Shadow vs. authenticity, it seems we find endless ways to both try and teach each other how to change and to avoid changing ourselves. As old as the game is, I find something completely insidious about using psychological concepts to tear down other people or to hide behind. If every opinion that differs from your own is reactive and everything someone does not like is their Shadow then it seems some folks use that as a license to oppress others, excuse violent fantasies and personal attacks. Ultimately, where is the line? Is a rapist just a woman’s Shadow? a klan member a black man’s Shadow? Sheriff Joe and Jan Brewer immigrants and people who “look like immigrants” Shadows? And if it is reactivity to tell you that standing in the hallway using someone’s personal pain to diagnose and mock them is wrong, then is it reactivity to stand up against the new push to drill of the Gulf Coast again in the face of all the dead dolphins, dead sea life, and environmental pollution related poverty? Is it reactive to open a shelter for women escaping violence or demand that Republicans and some Democrats not risk the livelihood of teachers, firemen, etc. to make a political point about spending?

Perhaps I’m missing something here. But it seems to me that if you are sacrificing the lives or safety (emotional or physical) of someone else in order to feel more secure in your own world the person telling you to stop is not dancing with their Shadow, they are being beaten down by yours. (And of course, some of you out there think I am being reactive.)

Heartbreaking

I admit it, I was not in the mood to be the enigmatic instructor in the front of the room today. So instead, I asked students, via email, to bring in at least one song from the final projects they are working on about women, media, and narratives of self. One of my students brought in this Lauryn Hill classic:

Like many in the room, she did not know the history of this song and its direct comment on some of Hill’s less than positive relationships with other artists who tried to silence her creativity and sell out the sound. Instead, what she heard was the story of men who abuse women, profit from their intelligence, and keep them under control so that they don’t lose access to the power, intelligence, and creativity they bring to the table. She also talked about ambivalence in the song, i.e. that on the one hand it is an anthem for women who have the power to walk away from people who are enigmatic but shallow and the awareness that comes from realizing a person is more invested in their image and being worshiped than in real relationships, but on the other hand there is great cost to walking away from people who are idolized by the rest of your peer group. It was insightful presentation.

Unfortunately, it was also headed to a dark place. Try as I might, I could not preempt that in order to keep us on track and the student from having to face her peers post-melt down. Suddenly, she was comparing the engimatic figure in the song (he who shall remain nameless at least here) and several of her male professors in her other major, a discipline that is notoriously peopled with enigmatic men who are aloof and seemingly untouchable. She compared the shallowness of her relationships to said instructors to the availability, nurturing, and mentorship she had received in other departments and how the “cult of personality” in her discipline was surprisingly missing in others which made her think about how male egos intertwine with misogyny in order to create whole systems of power based on worship and abuse and the pathologizing of anyone who questions them. While the rest of her narrative was mixed with personal issues I cannot repeat here, suffice it to say that this crisis and insight were a result of the student trying to get her needs met from these largely than life men and being summarily smacked down because she wasn’t cute enough, thin enough, dumb enough to fall for their crap, etc. and also the more it happened the more she engaged in approach-avoidance (where you try to talk to someone and when they blow you off you avoid them until you can pull up the courage to do it again, ultimately reinforcing the idea that there is something wrong with you and your ability to be liked or loved instead of with the situation or the interpersonal dynamics that each of you has some responsibility in). For those who don’t know, approach-avoidance is one of the best tools of the abusive professor, because if they can get you on that cycle, then they can point to your neediness and erratic behavior as proof you are a giant nut bar and they are innocent.

Listening to her story in class and then later in my office, complete with email proof of some of her interactions, I began to wonder exactly how it is we continue to support these cults of personality in academe. Though some departments are certainly more guilty than others, and some genders perhaps more so than others, I think we can point to at least one person in every discipline who acts like this and in most cases their unbelievable narcissism is rewarded. In thinking about it, for the first time in a long time, from the student’s perspective instead of the colleague one, I began to wonder how many broken young women there are roaming college campuses because they don’t get called on or mentored by Mr. Fabulous, and then when they go to ask why … Mr. Fabulous makes them feel like the tiniest fleck of poo stuck in his brand new shoes, you know the fleck that stinks forever but can’t be washed out … Some girls go away and cry. Some girls try harder to please, helping build the very cult that dishonors them. And some girls, the really brave or really clueless ones, dare to ask why they are being treated this way or make it known that they see through this behavior, and those girls pay. They pay dearly. We’ve all seen it happen. Social ostracism doesn’t stop in high school; it isn’t part of 8 year old developmental brains. We do this. We let this happen.

I found myself asking the same questions I always silently ask said colleagues in these situations:

  1. Have you ever asked yourself why you are in education?
  2. If you think of students as the fodder to grade your papers, due your research, or even write those books you get raises on, what in the system prevents you from realizing you are a parasite and doing something about it?
  3. How do you think learning works if you engage in your own version of approach-avoidance in which the chosen few are showered with a ridiculous portion of attention and the rest are relegated to the hinterlands of two word emails and bored stares?
  4. If the only thing driving you teach is your ego, then have you considered local theater instead? perhaps a poetry slam at your favorite coffee shop? (people with real talent do this too, but we all know about the pompous pontificators who show up and have a forum, just think, that could be you!)
  5. And if deep down, you really don’t give a sh*t what students think, then why do you have a syllabus that requires them to speak in class and/or interact with you in some version of a virtual extended classroom?

One word: Therapy.

While therapy is not cheap and it doesn’t pay you, in the long run

  1. you will do far less damage to others in this world
  2. you may actually like yourself when it is over
  3. you can do much better in the world with an authentic self and an internal regulating system that doesn’t require you to feed off of others
  4. while you may never be worshiped or adored again, you also won’t need to be and the people who offer you love and friendship will actually mean it and not just being waiting for you to write a recommendation or drop dead so they can move into your office

What I told my student in class, was to listen to another Lauryn Hill song in which she realizes that looking outside herself for validation is not worth it and where she points to all the ways we are told to put our faith, our learning, and our sense of peace, in the hands of others (including educators) when to be strong we need to take it into our own hands and build our own communities of strength that are based on mutuality, mindfulness, and genuine respect for each other.

My world it moves so fast today
The past it seems so far away
And I squeeze it so tight, I can’t breathe
And every time I try to be
What someone has thought of me
So caught up, I wasn’t able to acheive
But deep in my heart the answer it was in me
And I made up my mind to find my own destiny
I look at my environment
And wonder where the fire went
What happened to everything we used to be
I hear so many cry for help
Searching outside of themselves
Now I know His strength is within me
And deep in my heart the answer it was in me
And I made up my mind to find my own destiny
And deep in my heart the answer it was in me
And I made up my mind to find my own destiny

One of the students had brought the entire CD in to do her song, so we ended class with this song. I asked each student to think about the meaning of this song and how it related to their own lives and their own empowerment. I’m passing that on to you, even as I ask the academics among my readers to think of new ways of interacting with those colleagues who are little more than predators feeding on the innocence and trained need of young students just looking for one person to validate and encourage their intelligence.

 

Paper Returning Time

I am always astounded by students who send me 10-12 page “drafts” of their 3-5 page papers via email. They don’t ask me in class if I am willing to read drafts. Nor do they read the syllabus that says Ido not read “rough drafts” and offers a list of paper writing tools and mentors around campus; apparently, they don’t listen when I go over this in the first session or before handing out the paper assignment either.  Their emails seldom actually ask for help but rather say things like “here’s my draft” or “when can you look at this because I’d like to get it done before the deadline.” My TAs tell me they are often carbon copied on these emails, though these students have not attended their paper writing sessions or come to paper writing office hours which are where they are told to go with “near finished drafts” as well as paper ideas.

There is a tacit belief on the part of students that by sending me an email a day or two before their papers are due that I will edit their work down to its proper page length, correct their egregious composition issues, and even look up their citations for them. Many also believe that I will ensure that all material that is outside the topic in the paper will be replaced with material that is inside of it. The other part of this belief, of course, is that when I return them their new polished 3-5 pages it is like a contract saying they will get an A when they turn it in.

On many levels, these emails are the height of laziness and poor scholarship. Worse, when I ignore these emails and make a blanket statement in class reminding people I don’t read drafts and to use the various resources listed on the syllabus, and my TAs each remind them of their “paper writing” workshops and office hours, these same students send demanding emails wondering why I have not reviewed their papers and pointing out the deadline for the paper as if I don’t know it. Some, only on the rarest of occasions, have even asked for an extension based on the fact that “I gave you my paper last night to review and you didn’t get it back to me before today, so I could turn it in.” Hmmmm …. Would you like me to wipe your bottom as well?

So you could imagine how amused I was when a Soc Prof on twitter linked to a video on what paper writing time, and midterms/exams in general, look like from this side of the desk.  (warning there is language in this video that is an obvious exaggeration of the frustration some academics feel when faced with students unwilling to take responsibility for their own learning or work in the course; learning is a shared responsibility and that sharing means you do your part as much as we do ours):

When you are writing a paper, you should think about several things:

  1. this is an opportunity to show the level of your understanding and integration of the material and any attempt to shirk the task reflects negatively on your intelligence in the class
  2. writing is a critical skill that you must develop for success not only in college but outside of it, avoiding developing that skill by pushing it on to others does not help you, it hinders you
  3. there are multiple resources on most campuses to help you with writing that include (1) counseling for paper writing anxiety, (2) assessment for learning disabilities or emotional blockages that may actually constitute assignment modification for your needs, (3) writing centers that can help you with thesis development, cohesion, etc., (4) librarians and library workshops, that explain how to do research, how to cite, how to put ideas together, etc. (5) writing classes, writing intensive classes, or writing tutored or mentor classes which include an explicit commitment to teaching you how to write a college level paper and mentoring you through the process – take one of these early in your college career as an elective, and (6) TAs whose job is not to write your paper or review cobbled together scribblings but to help you narrow your ideas and compose them in a comprehensive way
  4. your peers are resources – everyone is in the learning process together in your class and therefore have access to the same material and expectations as you do, working together can provide opportunities for developing your collaboration skills, covering your blind spots, and idea generation in a diverse environment. The only thing you need to be careful of is that when it comes time to write, you do your own work.
  5. there are podcasts specifically devoted to grammar from Grammar Girl that may help you with the more pedantic aspects of writing as well
  6. Not knowing the style guide required for the class is not an excuse. Most style guides have basics online for free, the entire guides are available at the bookstore, the reference section of the library, and most writing centers. You should check which style is required at the beginning of the term and then familiarize yourself with it through out the course so you are ready when paper writing time arrives
  7. if you are less self-directed, I am told there are expensive citation programs that will not only hold all of your citations at the ready but format them in any of the major formatting styles for you
  8. your professor is there to clarify the assignment, offer feedback on self-generated paper topics or resources – they are not your personal writing tutor, paper selling factory, or anything else that allows you to push aside your intellectual commitment to learn

Education is not a magic bus you get on by paying your exorbitant fare, sleep in the back of, disrespect by doodling and chatting when awake, and then get off 4 years later with a 4.0 It is a process in which you are an equal and many times majority participant in learning. You have every right to complain about unreasonable expectations, harsh grading, and checked-out instructors, but you have no right to assume that your professor is going to pull out a breast, feed you, coddle you, wipe your bum, and lay you to rest in swaddling made out of fancy degrees.

On Collaboration

Dear Pompous Professor XY

When you are assigned to collaborate with another faculty member, expressing your disgust about it to any other faculty members in on the decision to randomly connect professors across the curriculum to make up for the budget related firings and early retirements increase intersectionality on campus is probably a bad idea. When you are neither famous nor the author of a well-read book, or any book for that matter, you’d especially want to refrain from insulting an esteemed colleague who has two well-read books and name recognition in the field in which they work. Please also keep in mind that prefacing your disparaging comments about working with others with “I mean Dr. B is lovely but …” or “Of course I am thrilled but …” is fooling no one on the committee.

Many of us find the recent course loads with which we have been burdened untenable this term. You are not alone in your frustration nor unique in your workload. Nor are you or your research so important to the university that you should be exempt from that with which the rest of us have been left to contend. More than that you should be grateful that while you are making all kinds of transparent backhanded compliments to Dr. B, Dr. B has been professional enough to simply smile when your name is mentioned. Instead of complaining about working with you, Dr. B has simply offered the best niceties available and tactifully moved the subject elsewhere. With which of you do you think faculty will sympathize under these circumstances? Public behavior matters as much as public scholarship in academe.

So here are some helpful hints on collaboration that I think you and others might need:

  1. When working with other colleagues, whether you respect their work, their discipline, their gender, or any other aspect of their identity, it is important to remember that even at a large state funded institution, the university is small and we all talk. When you insult someone else based on the assumption that everyone else in the room agrees with you because you are so wondrous and brilliant, you are working with false logic. Instead of assuming your perspective is universal, recognize that there are always likely to be people who like and enjoy working with the colleagues you disparage and that they will be insulted by your behavior. Also assume that there are people in the room who disdain both conflict and public displays of unfounded pomposity especially when related to disparaging other colleagues. When those colleagues are more famous or more accomplished than you, it is also very likely that many people in the room will assume your insecurities are showing and that you are simply preening to hide your own inadequacies. Bottom line: when you use public space to insult people you work with in front of other people with whom you may or may not work directly, you do more damage to your own reputation than to anyone you are insulting.
  2. If you are working with another person, whether they are your Junior or you Senior, you have an obligation to tow your end of the line. This means that when the university sets basic standards about syllabi production, book orders and pdf packets deadlines for the library, course related field studies or film series, the minimum expectation is that you will meet them. Do not saddle your colleague with the tasks you find tedious or beneath you, especially when these tasks are expected of everyone who works here. Admin talk too and when it becomes a pattern, Admin talk loudly in front of Chairs and Deans so that you become as known as you think you are but for completely different reasons than you might want. It also means that when the whole thing blows up later, your reputation will be part of what any review is based on. Bottom line: understand, that setting up a colleague by not doing your end until the last minute in the hopes that your incompetence will be foisted onto others, may work with students but not the rest of us.
  3. When working with others it is impossible to continue your work schedule as if you are working alone. Just because your brain works best at 12:01 am on Saturday does not mean that your colleagues’ brains do. Especially if your colleague has children, a spouse/partner who isn’t an academic, or … a life, it is unlikely that they will appreciate late night Friday emails informing them you are now ready to do the job they have been trying to get you to do all week. And while it is standard for students to show up 10 minutes before or after class to get their needs met, you showing up 10 minutes before or after class to do the planning work for the session that should have been done prior to the session is neither appreciated nor helpful. Being upset about the fact your colleagues let you know this is not proof that they are anal but it does make the rest of us think of an anal related metaphor about you and your head. Bottom Line: collaboration means finding an equilibrium between your natural work cycle and that of the other people with whom you are working.
  4. Everyone gets upset about certain involuntary activities or large work loads at the university. Many at pov u engage in the time honored tradition of work stoppage to make a point to the administration. Most of us recognize this tactic. However, when you are working with someone else, your work stoppage is no longer about calling attention to tedium at the uni and instead jeopardizes the work of others and very seldom reaches the ears of the department or uni in the ways you intend. You always have choiceschoices at the beginning of collaborative work projects that can mediated your involvement or extradited you from it all together. If your ego was too huge to let go of the collaborative project then you needed to find a way to make it small enough to actually be able to accomplish one. Bottom Line: The fact that you were unwilling to do whatever you needed to do is not the problem of your faculty partner or the administration. You are now part of the process and everyone is paying attention to your level of engagement and any work that others are saddled with to make up the difference.
  5. Everyone employed at the university as a professor has written a dissertation and engaged in independent research. Many have engaged in some form of interdisciplinary research during that process or since then. Unless you invented something totally unique, you are no better than the rest of us in this regard. Many of us also had to write a book or at least do three heavily researched and cited articles plus bring in 2 nationally or internationally recognized funding sources to get tenure. Having accomplished either of these things would also not make you unique to other scholars working here. As a result, you should not assume nor expect to be worshiped for doing the basic requirements for employment at pov u. Nor should you resent assume that participation in the collaborative projects means you are here to enlighten the rest of us. Bottom Line: Collaborating with colleagues should start from a place of respect for the fact we have all done what is required and that we are now working across the disciplines in order to enhance each other’s work.
  6. While women, people of color, and all of the other marginalized identities at the university remain marginalized as faculty, potential Deans, and Presidents of the college, etc. that does not mean that you get to work out your particular brand marginalization fantasies on your faculty partners in this project. In other words, just because you do not want to tow your end of the line does not mean that because you are paired with women and/or people of color they should be obligated, or even, grateful to do it for you. Waxing poetic in front of them or others about white male privilege will not mask the ways you are engaging in it on the collaborative projects either. Your ability to discuss privilege all the while expecting to be mothered or mammied does not make you enlightened or endearing. Bottom Line: while academia is riddled with oppression, your willingness to engage in oppression to avoid working with other or at all, is duly noted by people engaged in anti-oppressions work at the university and will reflect on their willingness to work with you in the future, including validating your sense of yourself as a good person and their votes on those merit raises you want/will want.

While pomposity is common in the profession and can even be enigmatic in some, when you are working with others your primary goal should be to actually WORK WITH them not demean or abuse them. In these hard times, everyone needs to pull their weight and even the most liked among us are under scrutiny about doing our fair share. While some of us will always be saddled with more service and more care work than others on the basis of marginality and oppression, we are all expected to do some. While you are clearly famous in your own mind, one of the only ways to become famous in the real world is to do your research well and to expand your ideas beyond the cloud of me upon which you currently float. To do both, requires the help of others. Research requires funding and funding is often procured through a vote of your peers at the departmental, university, or national and/or international level. While you may think treating your peers poorly has no impact on your national or international funding chances, you forget how small academe is and how much those of us who sit on those decision making bodies talk. In your pomposity you may have even failed to notice some of us work with you at pov u.

Though the life of the mind seems like a solitary and insular one, to do it well you should think of it as the life of the minds. Ideas are not formed in a vacuum but in conversation and COLLABORATION with other scholars. Truly inquisitive minds reach outside of themselves for confirmation, expansion, and helpful critique or even challenge, of their ideas. While you can get some of that by cold calling scholars you admire and then moving on when they figure out you are only interested in taking from them and being validated in your sense of self-importance and uniqueness, sooner or later you will run through the list of people to talk to and/or people willing to talk back. Burning bridges can be something that happens in a powerful intentional blaze or a slow burn fueled by the helium floating your unchecked ego, but either way all the paths eventually burn to the ground and you find yourself alone, pontificating to students who could not find a different class or procrastinated too long to transfer out of yours because your colleagues have all turned away. Don’t let it get that far and don’t help the process along by failing to provide the people with whom you work the basic courtesy of assuming (1) they also did research and writing to get their jobs, (2) their schedules are also hectic and do not revolve around you, (3) they have something to contribute to any collaboration you are engaged in and you can learn from them, and (4) that they are not your mother, your wife, your vixen, your maid, or your groupie they are your intellectual equal. Do your work and say please and thank you when you are asking for something or looking to be accommodated and I think you will find that you might one day be half the scholar you thing you are now and twice as well liked or esteemed when other projects arise.

Sincerely

the wary and watchful Chair

Now What ?!?

gapingvoid.com

An interesting reaction to one of my posts about rape and police inaction solicited a comment on stumbleupon complaining “once again nowhere to donate.” The comment made me think of my students who often look extremely depressed midway through my social justice courses. When I ask them why they are pouting, they always say “well, this class is great but the world sucks and what are we supposed to do about it?!?” It’s about that time I give them my “soft drink” talk. I ask them to look at what they are drinking, knowing that most are drinking a particular product because it pays pov u a lot of money to feature its products on campus (shhhhh!!!!). Then I tell them about all of the violence against women, children, poor people, and people of color that the particular company is implicated in around the world (shhhhh!!!!). As they stare at their drinks horrified and dumbfounded as to how this information could possibly help their depression, I tell them where all the alternative drink machines are on campus and tell them just by buying a different product they make a statement to the company about their practices. I draw a connection between those choices and anti-apartheid movements on college campuses started by students that ultimately caused the universities with the most to lose to divest from Apartheid driven South Africa. Then I remind them that school is about learning to ask questions you might not otherwise ask or even know to ask. It is about learning to be critical thinkers and taking responsibility for what thinking critical reveals about our world. Everyone has choices and everyone can make a difference regardless of their politics. It is also at this point in the class, that I challenge them to do what other students have already been modeling, get involved in our communities and bring in opportunities to be involved locally and globally to class. In other words, I reframe that old comic book saying about great power and responsibility to remind them that they can and do have power to change the world. Think of it as the With Great Knowledge, Comes Great Responsibility, model.

Why am I telling you all of this?

It seems to me that the internet is both a reflection of the hopelessness under the weight of oppression that so many struggle with and an amplification of it. On the one hand, everyone has felt confused about where to start or how to start or even if doing anything would help when dealing with inequality. On the other hand, the internet spoon feeds information to users. You don’t have to look up material anymore because we link to everything. You don’t have to sit with any information you read because we have distilled everything into 144 words. And now you don’t even have to think about how to get involved because we link that too. And so people, in general, have become extremely lazy about owning the power they have to become informed, get involved, and work toward change.

Example One:

Remember when I put up a post on intersectional reading material with the full citations a year or more ago? I did not link the articles because most of them were not available online and I knew that linking to incomplete sources would have led people to read the few pages available and move on. People spent months demanding I link to the material, literally calling me lazy and stupid for not doing “basic things” like linking to articles; the irony of their own laziness in refusing to look up the material with a simple google search or trip to the library and their own ignorance in demanding links to full material that was not available on the internet was lost on them. Then someone actually wrote a post claiming I had intentionally withheld the links to force people to think resulting in a bunch of people coming to the blog to go off about how “condescending it was” for me to withhold information and how it “completely undermine[d] [my] efforts” because “no one was going to look up the information”, so I “might as well have not written [the] post”. Again, they did not bother to read my post or any of the comments reiterating it’s point about some sources not being digitized, they just demanded to be fed information as if was their right to sit back and depend on someone else.

Like the plant in Little Shop of Horrors, everyone commenting was capable of doing their own work or at the very least finding a way to get it. Unlike the plant in Little Shop, they were unwilling to work, to advocate for themselves, or even to consider how offensive it might be to demand that a woman of color provide every ounce of information on diversity readings to a mostly white, middle class, audience with more access to libraries, bookstores, good schools, and income needed to track down and/or buy the materials. In the midst of so many women of color and allies saying thank you for the resources, these readers collective opened their wide mouths and demanded “feed me” expecting blood if nothing else.

Example Two

While many of my posts do include links to organizations where you can volunteer, donate, or learn more information, my post on Antione Dodson did not. That post was about people’s reactions and inaction to issues of rape and sexual violence in poor communities, especially of color. It was not an activism post.

According to the 2007 National Crime Victim Survey, 500 people (.05% of them men or boys) were raped every day in the United States. That is roughly 20 people an hour. According to the US Department of Justice Bureau 2009 Justice Stats on Rape and Stalking, women between the ages of 19-24 make up the largest group of survivors. While my readers cross multiple identities, the largest group of people linking to my post based on an informal survey of links is female between 16 and 25; ie, they are roughly the same age group as the largest targeted population in the U.S. for rape.  1 in 3 women is a victim of domestic or sexual violence in their life time, since this post garnered 10,000s of hits per day for several weeks, that means that on average both the people linking or reading the post have some known relationship to rape survivors as friends, colleagues, or survivors themselves. Given this information, it seems to me that it isn’t too much to ask that people reading would be aware of rape, domestic and sexual violence, and either know the names of some of the organizations working on these issues in their area or how to look this information up with a simple google search. “Rape survivors + [city I live in]” yielded 5 helpful agencies, with addresses and phone numbers, and a law firm specializing in victim’s rights in the first 6 links on Google. “Women’s Crisis + [state I live in]” yielded a list of shelters, hospitals, and advocates in the top links. And so on. When you do the same thing using Dodson’s hometown, you find survivor support groups, AIDs hotlines, hospital advocates, and lawyers. It really is that simple.

The specific criticism of this post was that there was no “Donation” button or link to “do something about the issue.” Again, the ease with which we pass information on the internet seems to have stunted both people’s willingness to take charge of their own power to know and act, but also to engage in critical thinking about knowing and acting. Many people, especially in the radical woc, feminist, and dis/ability blogosphere have been deconstructing the idea of “donation culture” as social justice. In other words, we have been working within and expanding on existing critiques of who writes checks, who can write checks, whether check writing shifts thinking and commitment after the ink dries, and whether writing checks is a solution or a band aid. While I think most, if not all, of us understand that philanthropy is a critical part of keeping movements funded and operational, the idea is to do more than write a check through options ranging from educating yourself on the issues to organizing a group of people to get personally involved for the long term in the work of changing the system or aiding people. It is also about listening to communities and what they want, if they ask for money then money is the primary way to honor community need, if they ask for publicity and consciousness raising, then writing blog posts, writing editorials to your local paper, sending in emails to the national news about the issue, and talking about it with everyone you meet is the primary way to honor the community need, and so on. And no, honoring what the community says it needs does not preclude you from doing other things as well, it just makes their voices foremost and centered in your activism.

Getting back to the Dodson post, I specifically linked to a woc blogger who had listed all of the major players in the incident who had not acted on information about a serial rapist. She had phone numbers, websites, and action ideas in her post. Since my post was about perception, reception, and the failure of people who actually self-define as activist communities to act, linking to this information seemed more in keeping with the point of the post. So once again, no one bothered to follow through with the links I did provide because it wasn’t spelled out for them that they should click on the links. Have you noticed how we have gone from a digital culture that links to items to one that spells out explicitly why you should follow links with annotated bibliography type blurbs before or after the link? FEED ME SEYMORE.

(This is not a critique of the individual who said this but all of the people who thought it right a long with her and all of the ways that the internet encourages such thoughts.)

Conclusions

The way power works, is to convince you that power over people and things is normal and natural AND that you can do nothing about it. The people in power want you to believe that you are “just one person” and to constantly be asking “what could I possibly do to change things” so that you will give up. The practices of internet writing and activism are embedded in this system and potentially making it worse by making people passive consumers of information. According to recent research on brain development, the 144 word tweet culture is actually remapping pathways in the brain away from empathy and reflixivity. I want to encourage you to begin the decolonization of your mind by refusing to accept these easy constructions and expanding your information sources to a level that keeps your ability to connect and empathize with others intact. One person can and does change the world. One person can and has challenged the system:

Tiananmen Square/unattributed

You can start by being an active reader. When you see stats or other material cited or referred to, look it up. Ask who the source is, what is their theoretical and methodological training or usage, has the author of the post that linked to them accurately portrayed their content, etc. When you cannot find it online, go to the library or search around the topic, for instance in the Dodson case, look at information on the area, HUD and police stats vs. community reports, etc.  Once you’ve done that, consider how you can become involved in changing social inequality in your own communities as well as support those in other communities referenced in the article that got you fired up in the first place. Again, in the Dodson case that means looking up rape survivor advocacy programs and getting involved or making a donation (clothes, money, gas vouchers for volunteers to get to the hospital, etc.) in your own area and/or giving money to rape and domestic and sexual violence agencies in Dodson’s area, sending a letter to the police or HUD about your concerns over their seeming inaction about a serial rapist, or starting an online petition that would flood them with faxes or signatures saying we are all watching. And if you really can’t think of anything else to do but be depressed and hit the resend button (which is a start in and of itself) then talk to your peers, families, and educators about what they think you could do. Worst case, come back to the blog owner and ask, but if you ask me, I am going to suggest you do your own research first.

To end on cliche that just happens to be soooo true: Knowledge is power. What you do with that power is up to you.

(By the way, I have chosen these related articles for the ways that the critique, expand, or agree with the opinions I have expressed in this post rather than their take on the same specific topic.)

Advertising for Traffickers

In 2008, one of my students in a global feminisms course I was teaching brought in a Google Ad for dating Indian women that kept popping up on her yahoo mail account. She pointed out how the ad capitalized on a generic image of Indian exoticism both in its images and text. She encouraged the class to consider what type of email they used outside of the university provided one because free email was being paid for through marginalization of women of color.

Bindi Girl Exhibit – Prema Murthy

(amazing feminist critique of exotic erotic images of Indian women)

We had just finished watching two separate documentaries on child sex workers in India at the time and one of the students asked if there was anyway to know whether or not the advertised “dating site” was involved in trafficking. My answer was to send them back to Google to do research. I told them to ask Google:

  1. how it screens its ads
  2. if there are any ethical standards related to safety (ie child safety, anti-trafficking, etc.)
  3. general questions about race and gender in its ads

The responses they received were fairly expected. Google does not screen its ads for trafficking nor check the background of the companies that place ads through Google. Their argument is that the volume of ads placed with them is too high to do the kind of individual human rights work implied by such a check. They also do not choose the ads you receive on your pages, so there is no standard form they could use to determine who sees what, ie boycotting yahoo would not stop those ad from showing up on other sites nor would everyone who used yahoo see those ads. Instead, Google uses a cookie system to track your internet usage that generates ads based on your supposed preferences. Since the program is based on a heterosexual white male model, that means if you spend a lot of time on sites about women, you are likely to receive dieting, shopping, and dating ads or if you spend a lot of time on sites about India or women of color in general, you will receive dating ads specializing in hooking men up with women of color. The assumption in both cases is that you are either a man, needing a heterosexual dating services, or a heterosexual woman needing a man, and therefore needing to meet beauty myth standards. To cover its basis it sends both kinds of pop ups to you.  As implied, these ads not only represent gender bias by centering both male needs and female insecurity but also implicate you in heterosexism and potentially racism, since the ads seldom include sites that are queer inclusive nor those that fail to peddle in exoticism assuming a white male audience looking for the “dark mysteries” of the “exotic erotic”.

Besides the invasion of privacy aspects, this makes Google seem fairly benign. Google does not make the ads nor determine who receives them based on any disregard for your politics or rights. However, the answer also reveals two key issue: (1) Google is primarily a search engine with both human and program-based web crawlers and (2) Google plants cookies to track usage. So why is checking basic information on the people who place ads too difficult a task? It seems that while people are not likely to be forthcoming about using the internet to traffic women, Google’s own search engines should be able to reasonably flag connections to known traffickers and subsequently deny advertising space. Given the volume of ads, it could not guarantee 100% success but it could be a step in the right direction.

The second set of questions has to do with general standards and modeling. There are a number of products whose dubious connection to human rights could easily be excluded from Google ads. While this leads to questions about market based freedoms and potentially freedom of expression that I think are equally important, exclusions have long been a part of advertising strategies for certain markets. A less sticky option, would be for Google to modify the programs that select ads to stop assuming a heterosexual white male norm. Thus when cookies reported you spent considerable time on pages related to women of color, it would trigger a subset of programs that would cross-reference that usage for things like “feminism”, “social justice”, etc. in the same way that it checks larger categories like “women”, “health”, “education”, etc. So that feminists and feminist web sites were not being supported by demeaning or potentially anti-woman advertising. By anti-woman advertising I mean, for example, ads that show large women as disgusting and then try to sell you dieting pills that we all know will likely be recalled the following year for causing all kinds of health problems and even death in users, or more benign ads that focus on a sexualizing gaze at various women’s bums in order to sell you shoes. Imagine these ads popping up on body positive websites.

Take for instance, this blog. I recently discovered that there are similar ads to the one my student brought into class on my blog! These ads show up on pages about women’s sexual freedom and global feminisms. At least one shows up on a post about rape as a war crime. So on the one hand, my text is discussing women’s rights, equality, and to respect women as subjects and on the other advertising is telling you to participate in international heterosexist digital dating which may or may not be implicated in larger trafficking issues. A simple modification to Google’s programming could prevent such things from happening. However, I suspect that these types of ads generate more revenue than an ad for Make/Shift would. (There are also ads for skin lightening cream and hair straightening gel on posts about black women and beauty …)

The discovery of these ads and their offensive and contradictory placement on certain blog posts on this blog brings me back to the larger question about the meaning of “free” raised by my student. I regularly ask my students to think about “free” and “freedom” in my classes. I teach unit on reproductive justice where I point out how reproductive freedoms in the Western world were/are based on reproductive injustices to women of color, incarcerated women, and women in purposefully underdeveloped nations. The speculum itself comes from a myriad of abuses perpetrated against the bodies of enslaved black women and girls. Many advances in certain medical procedures and medications for birth control have been gained through practice or testing on marginalized women with varying forms of questionable consent. My goal in this lesson is to move them past the discourse of reproductive “freedom” to a global sense of reproductive justice in which one woman’s freedom is not bought on the backs of another’s oppression. Yet, it never occurred to me to ask who pays for my free email account? Who pays for my free blog? Isn’t my free lunch free?

For those of you who do not know, unlike other blogs, wordpress places Google ads on free blogs without the knowledge or consent of the blog owners. They recently let this practice be known because of questions raised by bloggers. WordPress claims that these ads offset the cost of providing free services to its 300,000+free blog users. WordPress and Google share the profit from these ads, bloggers receive none. You can opt out of this system by paying $120/year for your blog. Even if you are not as concerned about issues of oppression as I am, umm skin bleaching cream on a black is beautiful post had better upset you, basic math should point out that bloggers are getting worked in this system. If each time an ad pops up Google and WordPress split $1.50 even if each blog only had one visitor a day, that means they are splitting a revenue of $450,000/dy based on our collective labor while we get $120/yr in the form of a “free” site.

So it seems whether you are concerned about women’s and human rights or the market, there is a major problem here with how Google Ads work and for whom they work. Discovering these offensively placed ads on my site has not only made me have to take a good look at my own decision-making but also at the sustainability of this blog.

Ultimately, there was no real resolution to my student’s question nor the research projects and activism that it inspired amongst my students that year. Google is ubiquitous on the internet and so it seemed incredibly daunting to try and fight them collectively. Instead, we engaged in individual choice making in the hopes of making larger change. One of those choices, is that I pass out a handout on how to make complaints about Google Ads. While the most effective way to complain requires a google account and a complicated process for locating the actual complaint area on the page, you can also send a generic complaint via this link. If you see an offensive or offensively placed ad on my blog, please complain about it to Google.

Maintaining this blog, on this site, is a choice and it is a choice that is becoming more antithetical to my support of decolonized feminism every day. If you have suggestions of other blog sites that you are using and happy with, please let me know.

What is the Purpose of Grad School Anyway?

GDR "village teacher" (a teacher tea...

Image via Wikipedia

There is an interesting conversation about the role of faculty in the demise of academic jobs and commitment to graduate education going on at Historiann’s. The comment section in particular asks some pretty critical questions about the point of graduate school and the exploitation of labor that may supersede the needs of students. You can guess what my comments are but basically they go something like this: for most students who study diversity issues or come from marginalized communities academe has never really been a place they can count on for jobs or tenure. Most departments after all only have 1 woman, 1 person of color, 1 queer person (usually non-trans), and if they can get all three for the price of 1 they will. At the same time, these questions are relevant to all types of students because in this economy no one is really fairing well in the academic job search and some disciplines, including 2 of mine, are practically closed up when it comes to hiring. What does that mean for women and people of color who are entering the university at much higher numbers than others? What does it mean for the intellectual diversity of the university as a whole if everyone who cannot afford to spend 5-9 years on an advanced degree and go home happy they are smarter but unemployed stop attending or stop getting help from the faculty? These are huge issues and I think you all should wade into the water and see what washes clean. Read the post and especially the comment thread here.