National Poetry Month

When I downloaded the “random words” app on my iPad, I had no idea it was National Poetry Month. Instead, I was looking for a way to jumpstart my creativity in a meeting that was sucking the life out of me. Interestingly, the poem below based on an image I chose from my files and the words generated from the app actually inspired me to do more found word writing, ie to be more aware of the words, phrases, and messages in my world and to transform them into art.

autumn breezy light/immaculate in the fields/laughing wonder/ fresh/ tremble me

For the month of April, I will be writing down grafitti, bumper stickers, quotes, etc. and doing short writings on why they intrigued me or simply passed me by in the past and transforming that into poetry. I won’t make you sit through all that processing, but I may post a poem or two … we will see.

What are you doing for National Poetry Month?

The Beauty of Books

Did you know it was eBook week, in which we are all asked to celebrate the eBook by reading at least one?

Long time readers have been privy to my “reading in the heat” debacles with the iPad and have also no doubt followed the links to historiann’s discussion of eReaders here and elsewhere, so I won’t go into those issues again. What I will say is that there is something amazing and wonderful about surrounding oneself with the written word in a way that is visible and tangible. Combing through the stacks in the library or discovering an old bookstore and walking it aisles endlessly. I think it became easier to overlook real books when bookstores became flooded with over-bright lights, corporate coffee screaming at you from just beyond the paid for by the publisher displays or the slightly corporate masquerading as alternative rose, purple, and blue rooms of an occasionally union busting store that caters to hipsters and poc in the know are getting more and more wary of racial profiling in. And now we have 1,000 book libraries in slim casing, with no pages to dog ear or sense of their magnitude. They have little more substance than the video games or movies we carry on the same devices. They have little substance at all considering they can be deleted, changed, or reclaimed by the  store that sold you the book at any time. No one can come into your home library on a whim and say “oops, we’re sorry we didn’t actually mean to sell that to you, so we’re taking it back” or add advertisements to its back or front pages. We live in a digital age. And I am an iPad owner who is seldom seen without it. But I can tell you, nothing seems more peaceful than when I am sitting in my home library, surrounded by books, soaking it all in.

Oscar? What Oscar? Where?

In a year in which the nominees for the biggest awards are sans people of color and the hosts are 12, and at least in Franco’s case lack any class whatsoever, I find comfort in this:

There is so much love in their eyes it makes me believe the Oscars are about more than patting each other on the back in expensive outfits the cost of which could help some people pay their health insurance bills, eat real meals, and survive another day.

Oh well, at least Robert Downey Jr. did not take this opportunity to talk about having sex with all the female nominees (including the underage one from True Grit) during their award announcement like the last award show. BUT WAIT instead we had an aging Douglas flirting with the women hosting and up for Best Supporting Actress. It was nice to see him up and talking, and even better that the Academy Awards allowed an elder man with a speech impediment give an award; something other “shiny, pretty people” shows should do more often. However, sexism is sexism is sexism. Somebody please tell men chosen to present awards that neither the SAG nor the Academy Awards (or the Emmys for that matter) discriminate on the basis of cisgender alone and these awards are neither named “pretty girl award” or often given to people without real talent who have worked just as hard as the men who are not objectified win they win their’s.

Oh well, maybe they will leave Mr. Blackface Downey Jr. out of the memorial montage, like they did to poor Corey Haim. That’s two prestigious award shows in which his passing was not mentioned. Once is an oversight. Twice? Especially after Feldman’s public berating of the SAG organizers? That’s just a shame. He may have been troubled but a lot of people made a lot of money off of him in his hey day and more importantly, he turned critically acclaimed performances in films like Lucas. He deserved better in death even if they could not give it to him in life.

(and to think Hattie McDaniel actually risked her job to try and make this role less offensive than written;

can you imagine what the script says)

So yeah, I could analyze the mtv-ization of the awards in ways that were not funny nor entertaining, or slag off the wardrobe choices, or even celebrate the wonder of first time winners. But instead I am just going to say perhaps they need to hire a real comedian, learn to leave the sexism behind, and actually honor all of the stars that the Hollywood machine once praised and then spit out when they didn’t taste as sweet. You can do that can’t you? Afterall, I had to sit through a montage of Gone With the Wind from the people who used to give out a DW Griffith award, I think you can at least get some things right.

(yes I did file this under bitter much; I know my shadow)

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.)

Comment Policy Update

charles Schulz

I hate to get all academic on you all, especially after 4+ years of being pretty open about comments here. It seems that both the influx of overzealous fans on some threads and the linking of this blog by several courses this term, has led to an influx of comment makers who do not read the posts before launching into commentary. I’ve always had to say to one or two people every season, “Please read the whole post before you comment” but I have never had to delete a whole stack of comments because they are both offensive (violating ToS because of name calling or engaging in oppression) but also complete OT. My favorites have been the ones that claim posts about multiple racial groups are “attacking white people” because they never bother to read a) the title of the post or b) the content beyond something quoted to them elsewhere or the first three lines (I’m not sure which it is, probably both) and those saying posts are invalid because “you did not mention [white character here]” in black history month posts. So here is the major change in the comment policy so we are clear:

In order for your comment to be approved on this blog you need to have (1) read the entire post and (2) write a comment that reflects that you have read it even if you are only referring to a single issue or portion.

These guidelines are added to the existing expectation that comments avoid the use of epithets, name calling, swarming, and oppression, as well as be expressed with no or limited use of superlatives and “profanity”. As always, the unspoken but oft held guideline here and in the offshoot conversations that occur on twitter is that while this is not an academic blog any discussion we engage in is meant to move our understanding forward and to encourage thought on the subject and the broadening of perspectives, as well as challenge ideologies or concepts either in the post or the world. If you want to attack or deride people or positions or shout out “I am a fan and nothing my fan universe does can ever be wrong!” you are in the wrong place, but it does not mean that there are not places where you can do that openly and freely. Making an argument means more than saying “I have watched 2 full episodes of this [or] I slept in Superman footie pjs therefore I am right and you are wrong.” Long term fandom means you bring something important to the table not that you are infallible or the thing you like untouchable. For those of you who are new or returning students assigned to read here, becoming a scholar means engaging ideas and discussion not just announcing an opinion based on your experience or preferences.

Most of you are probably scratching your heads and thinking, “Umm hasn’t that always been the way we discuss things here” and the answer is yes. So trust me when I tell you there is a reason I have to write this.

And as a side note, if you are an instructor or TA using this blog for your class and you have not already discussed with your students the meaning of learning communities, netiquette, and engaged discussion, you should. As we know, social media inundates most students’ lives in one way or another and in many of those mediums anything goes. If you do not outline the kind of intellectual work you want them to do when they are using popular media then they will use the default of social media interaction that has led to so much bullying, denigration of others, and utter lack of engagement beyond one’s 5 second quip. As we integrate media into our classrooms we have to be savvy about meaning making and critical thinking otherwise our students walk away with very little new information. Their lack of engagement also means that many of the producers of that media you want them to learn from and with are left to wipe up the mess they leave behind. I enjoy being linked to for academic purposes every term, but I think everyone would get more out of it if students were using the medium as text and not as an extension of Facebook.

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.)

Telmary Diaz

I know music posts on this blog don’t generate a lot of traffic, but you know I am less interested in how many people stop by then the quality of what people take away when they do. So I put this beautiful love song on when I got home from a mini-conference on race, gender, and the law at the uni today (don’t ask) and felt celebratory joy about being alive, a woman, and a person of color seeping back into my bones. It’s isn’t a political song, it is is a love song (though of course, love is often political in this world).

Telmary Diaz is a Cubana Canadian based hip hop poet who comments on politics, social justice, women, and life in her music. One of my favorite lines from her songs is “everywhere the capitalists destroy, disguised as socialists” if that isn’t the legacy of Reagan and the war on socialism in Latin America, I don’t what is. (And yes, it is so much deeper than that but again I’m tired of a million qualifiers just to say something these days. Literalism will be death of intelligent, thoughtful discourse and that is the legacy of No Child Left a Mind)

So what amazing female artist are you listening to today?

PS. Telmary Diaz will be playing at the Tornto Women’s bookstore for FREE tonight. If you are there, you should check her out and buy a book, as well as her CD, while you are there.