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.

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.

 

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

Time Adds Stealing Youth’s Lives in CA

The declining U.S. economy has led many to wake up to the fact that prisons are increasingly warehouses for “unwanted people” in the U.S. Whether they are people of color, immigrants (usually also people of color), poor women, trans, subsistence level or homeless youth, mentally ill, differently-abled, etc. the prison system is ready to take them on the most minor infraction. Once there, the system is designed to keep them through a combination of degradation and punishment that includes added time. The assumption that people in prison belong in prison has served to shield most N. Americans to the realities of mothers separated from nursing babies for nothing more than crossing a border or Latino youth clocking time because they were hanging out on the wrong street corner together or trans women praying they make it to prison instead of the infirmary because of “unexplained injuries” while in custody. While more information has come out about U.S. prisons becoming the largest state funded mental health facilities in some state’s, very few discussions outside of activist circles have centered on the interconnectedness of marginalization (“unwanted people”), incarceration, and income and job generation. Prisons are becoming one of the largest employers across the nation, providing jobs in food service, medicine, administration, sanitation, as well as guards and counselors. They also stimulate local economy because all of these new workers have money to spend at the local diner, coffee shop, clothing store, etc.Yet, as some small towns have argued, this stimulus restructures the entire economy toward the prison in ways that stunt alternative economic growth and econ sustaining diversification. Put another way, if the prison closes towns that were struggling before it opened would become ghost towns. So the prison must stay open. And to keep the prison open, there have to be criminals …

For those familiar with the prison-industrial-complex, or already working on the issue, this is not new information. Yet new ads inundate the local television with calls to join the ranks of border patrol (immigrant prison guards) and law enforcement careers (non-immigrant prisons) and my own uni has seen a massive increase in enrollment in the prison related degrees. It’s big business. Big business that is shielded by the national level discourses of citizenship and criminality.

Enter California.

While scandals about youth prisons are nothing new, the California prison system has one of the longest incarceration rates for youth offenders in the nation. Most of those offenders are originally arrested on misdemeanors, though there is a large percentage involved in hard core or gateway crimes. The issue is not whether or not incarcerated youth are “perfect victims”, ie completely innocent, but how they move from every day youth, to criminalized populations upon whom the prison-industrial-complex depends to generate money and jobs at the expense of lives.

Many youth in California prisons are people of color, second or third generation immigrant youth, and/or poor. 84% of youth in California prisons were people of color in 2007; while some will take this as proof people of color are more prone to criminality than white people, more than enough studies of race and racism in the legal system have proven that this overrepresenation has more to do with racism and classism than anything else. 1/3 of the youth serving time in CA prisons are there because of “time adds”. This means they have already served their original sentence and are serving time for behavioral issues ranging from talking back to guards to being involved in a fight (the application of the law has made little distinction between those who were targeted in those fights and/or defending themselves against bullying and harassment and those who intentionally caused a fight). The system is similar to that applied to people with mental health issues in prison who are often picked up on misdemeanors or petty crime and then warehoused for years based on behaviors related to their MH issues (talking back, ignoring lights out, fighting, etc.)

According to Books not Bars:

In the United States, 90,000 youth find themselves in juvenile detention centers on any given night and 2.2 million youth are arrested each year. In California, the state youth prison systems cost $216,000 per child per year while a mere $8,000 per child are allocated to Oakland public schools.

Once again, needed resources are funneled away from programs and services that help people succeed and deliberately moved into ones that require them to fail.

5 years of organizing in California against the inhumane treatment of incarcerated youth, including court cases finding the prison system or its employees guilty of beating, raping, or harassing youth prisoners, some times with the goal of goading them into time add violations, has had some positive effect on the system. According to Truthout, the number of youth arrested in 2009 was 1500 down from 5000, 5 years earlier.  Ella Baker Center introduced a bill, AB 999, in CA that would eliminate time adds all together, replacing them with incentive programs that provide time reduction or other privileges to youth who take anger management, participate in counseling or work retraining programs, or otherwise show good behavior during their sentence.  The bill has not yet passed but you can help by sending a letter to the California Legislature letting them know that intentionally incarcerating youth for years beyond their original sentence is not only inhumane it often causes irreparable damage to their education, self-esteem, and life choices.

The fight does not end with California’s youth however. As I’ve been trying to show, the problem is the system itself. The same tactics used to criminalize, round up, and retain youth in the prison system is similar to that of any other marginalized population. The correlations become all the more apparent when we map how policies about criminalizing normal behavior, like hanging out, and adding time to sentences is used on differently targeted populations, ie how these policies are used against Latin@s and immigrants in the Southwest, youth in California, black men in Chicago, and mental health patients in the U.S. Drawing connections between the groups least wanted, or in some cases least employed, in any given region and their treatment in prison to disparate least wanted populations in other regions shows a clear map of state sanctioned discrimination, violence, and economic gain on the backs of not only criminalized populations but the cities and towns that house the prisons. The problem is often worse for queer populations criminalized for their gender or sexual “transgressions” as well as the ways their identities often intersect other targeted populations. While Californians have been working to change this, Gov Schwarznegger has vetoed the the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Prisoner Safety Act and its predecessor, leaving queer people, particular trans women, extremely vulnerable to violence and murder in the prison system. According to the documentary Cruel and Unusual, trans people are incarcerated at 3 times the rate of cis people and many of them begin their time in prison as youth picked up for loitering, homelessness, or petty crime.

When we think intersectionally it is impossible to ignore how the prison system in the U.S. upholds the idea of who has a right to be considered N. American and who is part of Palin’s “other [N.] America”, the one we lock up and throw away.

Related videos

On Feminism, Liberals, Black Folks and Antione Dodson

For those who do not know, Antione Dodson is the brother of a potential rape victim. He, his sister [whose name I will not use in this post], her daughter, and his mother lived in low income housing, Lincoln Park,  in Huntsville Alabama until recently. According to Dodson a rapist was targeting Lincoln Park because no one was doing anything about it. He said several young women and girls had been raped, and had either received no assistance or not asked for help because they knew the police were not going to do anything. Dodson also says the same thing happened to his family.

In late July, a rapist broke into their small home through a window and attempted to rape his sister. Dodson managed to scare the assailant and force him out of the apartment. He then called several of his friends in the area to look for the person because, like everyone else, he did not believe the police were going to do anything about an assault in low income housing. Later Dodson called both the Housing Authority Office that runs Lincoln Park and the Police. Hours went by before the police arrived and according to Dodson and others no major search was mounted by them. Also according to Dodson and others, the Housing Authority issued a statement but has made no improvements to security or safety in Lincoln Park to help protect them from being targeted. In fact, an attempted rape following a similar m.o. (rapist came through bedroom window, advanced on girl inside) occurred the following evening.

This story of systematic rape of young black women and girls left to fend for themselves because they are poor and the failure of the police or tax-payed for housing programs to protect them has been totally eclipsed by the spectacle made of Dodson. Dodson’s interview outlining the attempted rape of his sister and the sexual violence and rape other women and girls endured was put on youtube, not to highlight the problem but rather to highlight how “ghetto” and “effiminate” Dodson was. While youtubers across the racial spectrum showed up to laugh, police failed to capture a serial rapist. A white hipster-nerd comedy troupe known as the Gregory Brothers, made up of 3 white men and 1 white woman, recut Dodson’s interview to make “the Bed Intruder Song” which was played on black and alternative radio stations and sold on itunes. The song appeared on Billboard’s hot 100 list and made a considerable amount of money for the Gregory Brothers. As far as I know, none of their proceeds were used to help track down the Lincoln Park rapist. None of the attention the song garnered sparked national outcry about rape, the unchecked rape of low income women, or national feminist rallying around changes in policing and housing options for poor women of color. Nor did many make connections between these erasures and the latent homophobia and gender policing embedded in many of the comments.

In fact, many people have counted the Dodsons as lucky. The attention allowed Dodson to become an internet star and make enough money on interviews and fought for profits from the autotune song to get his family out of low income housing. His sister will not be targeted by the Lincoln Park rapist again. But what about everybody else’s sister? And does moving out of low income housing on an unstable economic source negate the fear and trauma related to the attempted rape of Dodson’s sister that both she and her mother, who witnessed the attack, are now experiencing? To me it seems kind of like the politicians who say “in a way Katrina was a good thing” because of all the services and new construction people received. The idea is predicated on the assumption that black people’s, especially poor black people’s, lives are so worthless that if several of them are tortured, murdered, sexually assaulted, or traumatized, so that 1 or 2 of them can live better lives that is acceptable because those 1 or 2 were never meant to live better lives anyway. Only people who imagine they will never be abandoned by their government to die in a un/natural disaster or be raped or have their children raped in a government funded housing project would imagine that these things are trumped by a few months-1 year of free housing (much of which was contaminated) or a few short months of internet fame.

In the midst of this institutional racism are the actions of three groups that cannot be ignored:

  1. the viewers and listeners who openly mocked Dodson, completely ignoring the rape survivor narrative embedded in his story
  2. the white middle class hipster-nerd comedy troupe that made money off of the rape and attempted rape of poor black women and girls and the one man willing to stand up for them
  3. the mainstream feminist blogs and feminist communities who have remained largely silent on Dodson’s sister despite the core issue of rape

The multi-racial viewers and listeners spent their time laughing at Dodson and mocking him and his sister in print in the youtube comments for days. The video received some of the largest hits of the week when it first went up. The auto-tune version played black radio stations and a black marching band even did their own rendition, laughing at the “ghetto” in ways that I personally cannot excuse as “black humor as survival”. Instead, I would argue for many it represented black humor as classism, homophobia, and internalized hate though some of it was certainly mixed with the understanding of our “throwaway lives” in the United States. Amongst the 100,000s of people commenting on Dodson or the autotune song, very few talked about the heinous act of rape, the existence of a serial rapist in the area that had gone unchecked for an unspecified amount of time, or the engineered tragedy of the state’s willingness to abandon poor women and girls to predators. In other words, the chance to mock an uneducated black man was more enticing than the fact of violence against women and girls. The very thing that allowed systemic racism, classism, and sexism to do nothing about a serial rapist in state owned low income housing was manifesting in individual viewers of Dodson’s story.

Once again, liberal, middle class, white hipster-nerds also failed to act on the tenets they claim to be central to their very beings, ie social justice, in the face of the opportunity to be “clever.” Thus three white men, and one white woman, cut and remixed Dodson’s interview in order to point and laugh at the uneducated black man in crisis. His crisis at not being able to get help for his sister, his sister’s attempted rape, and the targeting of poor black women and girls were either edited out or remixed in order to highlight the “hilarity” of blackness and poverty and for some, gender transgression. Dodson and his sister’s story were pimped out by white liberals for a few bucks a pop on itunes precisely because they fit all of the stereotypes of blackness that liberals are quick to criticize in the mouths of conservatives but embrace as “clever” in their own. (It should be noted that Dodson did eventually receive 50% of the profit after advocating for himself and saying in a radio interview that his words and experience were being used to profit everyone else and it was “time he got paid”. Without this advocacy Dodson, like the Katrina victims whose words were taken without permission to by poet/adjunct Professor Raymond McDaniels for his book Saltwater Empire, would have simply been a cash cow for white male “poets” and “artists”.) Once again, like the systemic racism, classism, and sexism allowing the state to do nothing about a serial rapist, these white liberal hipster-nerds, who no doubt think racism and sexism are wrong and probably volunteer in low income neighborhoods or women’s crisis lines, let the reinforcing image of poor blakness whip them up into such a frenzy of hilarity that it never occurred to them that rape is not funny, that serial rapists targeting black women and girls because the police are doing nothing should not be the subject of comedy but rather social action, and that the real clever thing to do would have been to cut a song that actually highlighted oppression and gave the proceeds back to the impacted community.

Finally, the mainstream feminist blogosphere and national level activists also remained largely silent on the plight of women and girls in Lincoln Park. A quick search of the top feminist blogs and magazines, with blogs, showed that at most, they linked to black women bloggers talking about the situation. At the least, they said nothing or openly laughed at the Dodson video themselves, commenting solely on his patriarchal attempt to recenter himself and his boys protecting his sister rather than her story of rape. And while this critique is important, ie that male rage about rape taking center stage to women’s attacks is a function of patriarchy, I do not think that was the point of Dodson’s larger story. Nor does that critique have the same meaning in the face of complete and total lack of action on the part of the people charged with preventing rape and tracking down/stopping rapists. They did however, contribute some of the most salient critique about gender policing and homophobia when they weighed in. When the critique of masculinity and patriarchy supersede any discussion of state inaction to catch a serial rapist then it seems all the more suspect. Once again, the failure to recognize the humanity of black women and poor women, and especially poor black women, allowed mainstream feminists to miss another opportunity to call attention to violence against women and demand action to make women’s lives safe(r) in this nation by rejecting a culture of violence, oppression, and inequality based on gender. That failure not only colludes with the white male establishment that runs and fails to address rape in low income housing but also looks the other way when middle and upper class white women are beaten, raped, or otherwise abused or treated unfairly or unequally in their workplace, home, or lives.

So what is the lesson of Antione Dodson and his sister. For many people, it will always be that poor “black people are funny”, “white people are clever”, ” ‘girlie men’ are funny”, and the spectacle of blackness is really a benefit in disguise because after all the Dodsons are out of the projects.  Some will even use Antione’s comment that he was happy with the song because the proceeds he received actually helped move his family out of the projects to justify not discussing the intersecting oppressions that puts women and girls in Lincoln Park in danger. Not only does this stance ignore rape and the realities still enduring it but it shows little regard for how earlier interviews underscore Dodson’s hurt and anger about people not taking the situation seriously and making money off of him or the reaction the song itself elicited outlined in this post. (ie people laughing at a story of attempted rape, and a serial rapist that the police and housing authority have made seemingly little effort to track down and stop, is ok because Antione ultimately decided he liked the song for getting him out of low income housing). This narrative will always mask how sexism, racism, and classism allows women, especially poor women of color, to be targets of unchecked violence by both individuals and the state. It will always excuse away liberals who not only do nothing but laugh along with everyone else because “its funny” or “clever” but also helps perpetuate the myth that liberals can’t be racist or sexists or classist. Except, these moments prove that they can be and often are as racist and classist as neo-conservatives. And it will stand as a shining example about how intersecting oppressions and the ongoing failure of the feminist movement(s) to fully and radically address them makes all women’s lives less safe.

And yes, for each of the groups I have singled out here, from black radio to white mainstream feminists, there are people who did stand up against rape, did talk about the intersections of poverty, gender, and state level or state sanctioned violence. My point is not that everyone is evil but that collectively, these particular groups failed to discuss violence against women in favor of laughing at the spectacle of poor blackness that reinforces existing stereotypes and allows state level, systemic, inaction and violence. Nor does the existence of black people behaving in sexist and classist ways negate the existence of white people behaving in racist, sexist, and classist ways.

Here are some links to people discussing what we should all have been discussing these past few months, ie violence against women and the intersections that mask it:

Super Quickie

britanica.com

You may have noticed that there was no wordpress wednesday post this week. Last Thursday, the day after the regular breakdown of race, gender, and sexuality issues with wordpress’ highlight page, wordpress staff chose to highlight a post about “not seeing race”. The post, written by a white male heterosexual middle class author about his white male middle class son’s trip to the library blended his son’s questions about race with the historical experience of a black child who had been denied entrance/use of the public library for years. One child, experienced state sanctioned discrimination exacerbated by individual actions, the other was reading a book about him in which he took away one question “dad, am I black?” Which led the father to ask him why he would ask such a question and then praise the “race blindness” of his son who just assumed people were “different shades of the same color”. Neither his father nor the post questioned the underlining issues here:

  1. there is no comparison between a black child actually being discriminated against and a white child who fears he would be (& let’s be clear, that is what the child was asking)
  2. race blindness in children is possible minus the issues we normally attributed to such a stance, but this child was not “race blind” he just did not know that “shades” had names
  3. more significantly, while he was clearly unaware/uninvested in white supremacy (the idea that white is best),he had already internalized the idea of white normativity because his shade theory depended on a norm – white; white normativity is necessary for white supremacy
  4. race blind liberalism is not only a form of erasure, in which we are once again all consumed by an unmarked normative (ie white) but also has been a key tool of conservatives to deny people of color financial aid, equity in education and employment, etc.

The father’s response was to praise his child’s “shade theory” rather than to give his child the tools he needs to understand AND embrace cultural differences and histories of discrimination (which I assumed was part of the reason he checked out the book about the black child and the library in the first place). In other words, he took a teachable moment and used it to reinforce misconceptions and misinformation about race that will continue the patterns of racial conflict that exist on the left, ie between people who “don’t mean it” but do it all the time and their targets, and upholds those conflicts on the right, ie the people who do mean it and don’t care. (Of course these left-right categories are arbitrary here since the operational aspects of racism on either side of the political divide can be unintentional or intentional depending on the person.)

In conclusion, the post asked us all to emulate this child, because there is too much emphasis on race in our world and just not seeing it or understanding it would solve everything …

After such a post, how could I possibly continue to mark out how wordpress’ “race blind” policies on their highlight page translate to elevating posts written almost exclusively by white heterosexual middle class parenting white cis people for the same and at least bi-weekly praising a post that insults at least one group of people of color, was … RACIST. Clearly if I just stopped seeing color and thought in terms of shades, I would not possibly notice that there is only 1 shade represented most days and very rarily 2 but seldom 3 and then the people who were that shade could continue to think of themselves as “good people”.

Next Wednesday, the wordpress fail posts will be back.

Dr. Laura: Free Speech Hero

Wait what?!?

(AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

I’ve been watching the Dr. Laura drama unfold with the same disdain I hold for most celebrity racists. Perhaps, I’ve even had a little more cynicism when it came to Dr. Laura precisely because she is a conservative radio host in an era in which they can say pretty much any racist, sexist, homophobic thing they want and continue to make a career out of it. Even when they get fired, public discourse continues to support them and sooner or later they end up back at work, spreading their special brand of hate-entertainment, on a different station. The mid-80s take over of radio by hosts who did nothing but fan fear and division while they belittled and berated their callers proved that hatred sells. Conservative talk radio is better at encouraging and providing open forums for fear, hatred, and violence than the famous Orson Wells broadcast that made people arm themselves against aliens. (No not immigrants, actually little green men.) The difference of course being that Wells was joking and sincere when he apologized later.

Under these circumstances Dr. Laura saying the n-word more than 10 times on her radio show made me shrug and think “another day in post-Bush N. America” I didn’t even care enough to compare her to John Mayer or diagnose her with Mel Gibson Spectrum disorder, which you know is my favorite thing to do these days. Ultimately, I knew she’d issue a meaningless apology and turn the incident into bank.

What concerns me more is all of the racism on that particular show that is going unreported so we can focus on the use of the n-word. Like John Mayer (told you), Dr. Laura said an endless array of racist-sexist things to her African American caller that have been swept away so that everyone can express their deep disgust at the use of the n-word. I don’t use that word. I don’t like that word. I know the history of that word and do not believe it can be reclaimed. That said, if that word had been omitted from her radio show or John Mayer’s interview, they still would have been racist and they still would have mixed that racism with particular fear of interracial relationships and sexism that no one is talking about.

Dr. Laura’s tirade was prompted by her stated belief that

  1. a black female caller was not only “over-sensitive to race” because she did not want racist jokes told in her home
  2. black women should not be in relationships with white men unless they are willing to “be flexible” about racism

In Dr. Laura’s world, it is the victims or targets of oppression who are responsible for the violence they endure. More than that, they ask for it by crossing racial boundaries that legally have not been in existence since Jim Crow and Loving vs the State of Virginia. In other words, her tirade was predicated on the idea that black people and white people should not interact socially nor NEVER EVER EVER date or marry. She simply softened this statement by adding the caveat: unless you are willing to laugh at being the target of racism.

See no one wants to talk about that part of it, just like they did not want to talk about John Mayer’s racialized sexism at a national level. If the message boards during the John Mayer incident are any indication, the sad fact is Loving be damned, people in N. America still hold eugenicist believes about race and interracial relationships. And in a post-Bush N. America, they feel incredibly safe and confident expressing those beliefs in public. In that way, Dr. Laura is no different than the grocery store clerk who refuses to hand you your change or goes on a break if you are with someone outside your race.

Until we have this conversation, we will have racism in N. America that travels along gender lines. Both women of color and white women suffer when a nation invests in the concept of “miscegenation” (the eugenicist term for interracial relationships that implied degeneration and predicted children’s civility or lack thereof). Women of color are demonized and pathologized which spills into economic, housing, and job policies as well as responses to domestic and sexual violence against them. People who desire them then fetishize them, work out colonial fantasies on their bodies, abuse and rape them in the name of white supremacy (and yes there is a whole genre of porn for those folks, thank you overzealous RCG student & Jerry Springer), or simply trot them out like prized possessions to prove they are not racist. White women in interracial relationships are seen as race traders or that they are slumming, their relationships are never real in this context. Men of color who date them or refuse to date them also run the risk of being called rapists or simply being beaten for crossing that color line Dr. Laura was policing on her show that day. And all of this works together to enforce the idea of racial and sexual difference that allows segregated neighborhoods and lives to exist and for real people to be disregarded or erased in favor of their symbolic meaning as objects of forbidden desire, proof of enlightenment when called out on one’s oppressive behavior, or a place to count coup. And those of us who are actual products of interracial relationships or members of multi-racial families can just fade away in the great miscegenation debate ever to be vilified for our proof that love matters even in a racist, racist, country or world.

Dr. Laura’s n-word tirade takes on whole new meaning in this context. It seems that the excessive use of the n-word was Dr. Laura’s subconscious attempt to exercise the fear of blackness, blackness in her midst, blackness mixing with her pristine whiteness, blackness that not only dares to cross into her gated community but then demand to be treated equally, and yes, because of the way miscegenation works, blackness that made her feel less sexually desirable in its wake. That is what we are not talking about and that is why she implied the caller was an n- and that all white people think so.

Wait? All white people?

Remember, Dr. Laura told her caller that she”should have known” that if she was going to date a white man that she was going to hear racist jokes and racial comments. In other words, white people are racist. White people make racist jokes. White people speculate about black people’s sexuality based on their racism. Dr. Laura’s comment implies all of these things are a given and that no person of color is safe from them unless they stay in their own segregated communities. That’s the other part we are not talking about.

Now Dr. Laura wants to play victim of “special interest groups” trying to “silence her”. Is that like when John Mayer burst into tears on stage and said he “just wanted to play music” and was sorry he was “just trying to be clever”? First of all, besides all the other conversations we are not having about race and gender, we need to have one about how white, middle class, cis people’s values are no more “family values” than everyone else’s are “special interests”. More than that, marginalized people do not have the power to silence people in the center. We can demand that you follow basic hate crimes rules. We can circulate petitions asking that you educate yourself and live up to the standards that should define N. America, ie inclusion and equality for everyone. We can even rant on a blog post that some bigwig might read. But celebrities from Lady Gaga to Mel Gibson to Don Imus to Dr. Laura will still have a public venue from which to spew their special brand of hate, ignorance, or simple erasure of people who they don’t care about. Remember, hatred and fear sell and this is a capitalist country.

To quote someone on my twitter stream: “The First Amendment does not guarantee you the right not to be ridiculed [when you are being ridiculous].” It also does not guarantee you a job. It guarantees you the right to speak your mind with few exceptions. Dr. Laura did that. According to her own version of the story, she decided to quit as a result of other people speaking their minds about her racism that she thinks need to leave her alone and be quiet. See insults only flow in one direction for people who hide behind free speech when caught being oppressive.

Nor will Dr. Laura be meeting the same fate as people of color who dare to speak their minds about racism in their workplaces. We all know what happens to the majority of them, hello some on please trot out the disparities in unemployment again because I have done it enough. Raise your hand if you or someone you know was fired, ostracized, passed-ove for a promotion, etc because they pointed out racism in the work place. Unlike all of these unfairly unemployed people, Dr. Laura’s parlaying what she calls her discussion about race in N. America into a lucrative book deal or two and some more high paid speaking engagements. And like poor, poor, Don Imus, she can go back to radio whenever she wants once the majority of N. America moves on. She’s been spewing hate against the queer community, domestic violence survivors, and others for years, why would this year be any different?

Finally, we can’t forget what happened after her tirade. After steam rolling over her caller, justifying racism, and using the n-word with abandon Dr. Laura said that electing a black president should have been enough to make black people stop “blaming white people” for racism. The implication: racism is over and black people who say otherwise are “over-sensitive” and “reverse-discriminators”. After going off in an n-word laden rant Dr.Laura was already claiming she was the victim; like so many others in the nation, she’s just so tired of having to school black folks on how not racist the people using racist language and espousing segregation really are. Remember all those “I’m not racist but” or “I don’t think it’s racist to” comments from white people during the John Mayer incident?

The failure to address the substance of Dr. Laura’s, or any other bigot’s, comments has left us in a world where bigotry is subjective and the oppressive get to define oppression. Worse liberals feel just as at ease weighing in on the truth value oppressions that do not target them as conservatives because they preface it by claiming how horrible the n-word is first. As I said on Twitter, “Sometimes I think these people use the n-word on purpose so they can get away with everything else. You say sorry for the n-word & the rest of your bigotry stands.”

So yeah, I don’t care about how many times she used the n-word enough to lose sleep over it. Like I said, it is just another day in N. America. But if you want to talk about the racism that surrounded and/or prompted that word to come out of her mouth so many times and how it is related to the actions and beliefs of so many others in this nation, and you want to deal with what that means and how to have a socially just nation, then let’s talk.

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images

  1. Mayer & Knowles/ Sony-BMG Grammy After Party/ unattributed – I keep picking photos with him standing with black women b/c the look on his face is always the same & incredibly telling in the context of his comments
  2. Birth of a Nation/Griffith/1915