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.

 

This is Who You Handed the Reigns Over to

I really should have done this yesterday, when there was still time to help mobilize the vote. That failure is on me. While I took to twitter with a bunch of other progressives to try and rally young people to go vote and to remember that even if the choice was between a Democrat who sold out universal health care and ending the war, it was better than a Republican who circulated watermelon photos or had dinner with members of the Klan and certainly better than Tea Party folks who, among their many issues, still refer to “my America” to mean racial homogeneity and support things like ending equality in education and employment, not hiring differently-abled people or relegating them to the first floor, or simply not serving people in a restaurant, store, or other business just because they are racially or sexually different than you. The problem with our electoral system is often progressives and radicals are faced with voting for the people who have disappointed them just because they aren’t the people who want to lock them up in huge cages and put them on display on Main Street (and yes, someone in Ohio ran on such a platform a few years ago). The problem is exacerbated by a smug disregard for progressive politics that starts at the top, I watched President Obama on John Stewart too, and trickles right on down to snark said to entire Press rooms. The problem is a government system that makes being in government a lucrative career rather than a civil service, where career politicians worry more about the 30 misguided folks with incoherent signs than the 80% of voters who swept them into office. The problem is a government so bent on “bipartisanship” that they let Fox News tell them who to hire and fire and the only people compromised are the American people. So yeah, the Democrats threw away momentum like we have not seen in the last 30 years and they failed to carry the mantle of change they defined and we handed them, but this is what being disillusioned and staying home or voting for something “new” really means:

More Tea Party Signs

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for original archive click link at top of blog

While neither progressives nor voting Democrats, ie not the politicians, can be blamed for the racism in this country (subconscious, covert, overt, or otherwise), we do have to ask ourselves what our decisions around voting helped sweep in to the halls of power both this election and the last one. By which I mean, when our “representatives” started to act like they were not going to uphold the mandate to provide affordable health care, end the war, support the poorest among us, etc. were we as vocal, strategic, and present as the Tea Party? Did we hold our own rallies, put them up on you tube, demand an audience with our Congresspeople, etc.? Or did we just send Stephen Colbert? And when it came time to vote yesterday, when voters across this nation ran to the polls in a racialized frenzy did we offer rides to the polls to our friends, neighbors, or even the guy on the street? Did we even vote? And I use “we” here, even though I did vote, even though I did participate in meetings with local politicians, and I did try and ensure my students knew where to register and the consequences of switching their registration if they are from out of state, because ultimately as a group we spend a lot of intellectual power critiquing the world around us and far less coming up with viable alternatives. The system is broken and the politicians on the Left are still just politicians, but if we want something different than it is time to build that and make it happen. Until then, we are all implicated in who won the elections last night and what all of us will ultimately lose because of it.

Telling to Live: Natascha Kampusch New Book

missing poster for Kampusch age 10/AP/unattributed

In 1998, 10 year old Natascha Kampusch was kidnapped by Wolfgang Priklopil on her way to school in Austria. She was kept locked in his home, often in a small cellar in the basement, and emotionally and sexually abused for the next eight years. During that time she was often frequently denied food and suffered from malnutrition resulting in her being almost the same weight when she was found as she was when she was taken at age 10. The malnutrition impacted her physical and brain development as much as the sexual and emotional abuse impacted her emotional one. According to Kampusch, Priklopil referred to her as his “sex slave” and himself as “the master”. He made her clean his house half-naked when he was not humiliating or violating her in other ways. In 2006, she finally escaped when Priklopil took a phone call while she was outside in the garden cleaning his car. Despite her repeated calls for help as she ran through the neighborhood where she had been held, no one actually called the police, until Kampusch stopped at a 71 year old woman’s house and asked her to use the phone to call the police. The case sent shockwaves of  horror throughout the world and an SVU episode was loosely based on her story. Wolfgang Priklopil committed suicide shortly after her escape to avoid prosecution. When he died, so did the information about why he did what he did and how he had gotten away with it for so long.

Kampusch revisited her story recently when another girl, Elisabeth Fritzl, was discovered being held captive in a similar hidden cellar, by her own father for 24 years, also in Austria. Josef Fritzl did not commit suicide and continues to harass his daughter from behind bars. According to his friends and neighbors there had been some suspicions about his behavior and renters had also noticed things, but no one looked into it further. His wife, Elizabeth’s mother, continues to deny any knowledge of it though she helped raise several of Elizabeth’s children by Josef Fritzl.

Josef Fritzl, last known image of Elizabeth & the cellar apartment were he kept her for 24 years/unattributed

Kampusch shared her stories of rape, sexual humiliation, and captivity from childhood with Elizabeth in the hopes of showing her and the world that you can survive horrendous sexual abuse and enslavement. Telling her story, also prompted Kampusch to write a book about what happened to her to help other women and girls surviving childhood sexual abuse and rape. The book, 3,096 Days, chronicles Kampusch’s 8 years in captivity, focusing on her survival skills and her emotional process throughout the abuse. The book was published this month and is the first time Kampusch has told her story to the world.

When Kampusch first escaped, she did several interviews but was wary of news reporters digging into her abuse history. In an interview with the Sunday Times, she spoke about feeling violated by people looking at the small room where she had been kept and picking over the details of photos from Priklopl’s home and police reports in the national news:

“… above all, I’m annoyed about the pictures of my dungeon, because it is nobody’s business. I also would not look into the living rooms and bedrooms of other people. Why should people be able to open up a newspaper and look into my room?

The media interest is too much, but on the other hand through this fame I have some responsibility and I want to use to this advantage to help other people, to make a foundation and do charitable projects. For example to help lost people who were never found like me. And I want to work with the hungry [in Africa].” (Sunday Times 2006)

Like many survivors, Kampusch initially minimized her abuse and tried to keep details to herself. Her limited education, provided through newspapers and radio stations given to her by Priklopl also gave her a sense of worry for “the starving kids in Africa” despite having never seen any and actually having been motivated by her own starvation at the hands of her abuser. She later referred to them as primitives while again making a connection to her own thoughts as equally so because of hunger. The racism she expressed, especially in the context of being referred to as a slave by her abuser for 8 years makes one wonder about the racial overtones of her abuse and the connections between racism and sexism even in the life of an blonde blue-eyed Austrain girl who had likely never met any people of color or learned very little about the world before or during her capture and assault.

When she talked about gender, she also seemed to have internalized messages that women were weaker and/or powerless:

And this female lack of power that I couldn’t do anything against him.

These thoughts too, likely came from Priklopl to both subdue her and groom her for ongoing abuse. These gender disparities also made her identify with Priklopl’s mother and worry about how she would get on in the world if her son was prosecuted. At the same time, Kampusch talks about promising herself that when she got older and stronger, she would escape.

Much of her story about how he convinced her that he was harmless and that her parents did not love her, in those initial interviews, follow a similar pattern to the stories other kidnapped children and trafficked child sex workers tell. In these stories, kidnappers tell children their parents gave them permission and/or are coming to pick them up as soon as they pay a ransom or get a check they need or new job, etc. and then after time goes by kidnappers switch the story to say parents are still unavailable, finally following up with stories of how parents no longer want them, abandoned them, or even are dead all the while slowly grooming the children to trust or become dependent on them so that they will resign themselves to the abuse. In Kampusch’s case, Priklopl not only did all of this, but also forced her to take a new name to divorce her from her past and possibly hide her better.

Kampusch/The Star/unattributed

Now Kampusch speaks about her abuse with the insight of someone who has had time to talk and heal. She no longer looks at people’s interests in her case as invasive but rather an opportunity to help others avoid or survive abuse in their own lives. In place of her the survival skill of minimizing abuse, is a forthright tone that waivers at certain memories but is committed to telling her story and moving forward. While she still shows signs of what I would consider unhealthy attachment to her abuser, she bought his car and his house, she is trying her best to tell a story she spent 8 years being trained never to tell and she is doing, not for fame or fortune, but to help other women and girls.

Two other books about the incident were published prior. In  2006, an English-language book Girl in the Cellar was published by two journalists who had worked part of the case. Kampusch’s mother also published a book about her own story looking for her daughter two years later. Both books were controversial because Kampusch disputed the material in the former and even threatened suit. While her mother’s book capitalized on the media attention Natascha’s escape was receiving but did only tell her own story. Though both mother and daughter had a strained relationship at the time, Natascha did attend her mother’s release party and has never disputed information in her mother’s book.

So far, the 3,096 Days is not available in English and though there is a planned movie based on the book to be released in 2012, it is unclear if there will be an English language version of the film either. While there are things that are specific to Austria, like the basement cellars that so many predators seem to be using to hide their assaults on women and girls, the story of surviving child sexual abuse and rebuilding one’s life is unfortunately universal. While I have always worried about the way these two girls-now-women’s stories have been turned into spectacle by the media, I do think that hearing their stories in their own words is critical for rape survivors and people invested in ending child sexual abuse, rape, and torture of women and girls. There are lessons to be learned in how and why these men were allowed to continue abusing women and girls, despite some public unease, signs of potential involvement, and in Fritzl’s case previous conviction or suspicion of sexual assault. If we stopped talking about these cases as exceptions dominated by monsters and started asking how these men succeeded and how our investment in women and children’s inequality helps pave the way for heinous acts of violence we might make huge leaps forward in moving beyond the non-profit industrial complex, which, mind you, helps save women’s lives, to a world safe for young girls to walk to school or live in homes without every needing to fear their own fathers or male relatives. And while many of us are lucky to have lived in such homes and maybe even walked to school without knowing about predators, the fact is many of us were not and are not.

If an English-language version of the book comes out, I will update this post and/or announce it. (If you want to know more about Kampusch, there is an extensive link list at the bottom of the wikipedia page on her, though of course I would tell you to read those links and their sources directly, not just rely on the wikipedia page itself.)

If You Win at this Bingo, You Get a Cookie

Because I am sick and tired of Scott Pilgrim fans coming on the blog to literally call me a “hater” for pointing out that all of the API people in the film are stereotypes and the jokes related to them are almost all based on racial stereotypes or ethnic puns and justify or excuse away racism with such classics as “racism is everywhere so what” and “you’re the real racist”, I thought we could all play a game today instead of the usual post. Pick any post on this blog about racism in the media, especially the Scott Pilgrim post, and look for all the comments that reflect basic racist tropes used by racism apologists to get out of addressing racism. The first person to fill their score card gets a cookie.

amptoons.com

I particularly like the Bingo card above because it is derived from comments justifying racism in science fiction and fantasy and I would describe most of the films I review on this blog as fitting into one of those categories. However, you may be more familiar with the version below:

Now seriously, I asked a series of questions after deleting comments that violated the comment policy in that thread that I think everyone who has to deal with anyone who has ever felt the urge to justify racism in the media could modify to fit their particular issues. The questions have to do with the motivations and benefits of supporting or excusing away racism in fandom. I’ve posted them below as well.

  1. what is so disturbing about a 2 page movie review that mentions racism in 1-2 paragraphs that you feel the need to reduce it to a post about racism?
  2. What do you gain by calling a person of color angry, bitter, or a hater when she brings up racism?
  3. What system of beliefs do you hold that makes you think that as white people you are better qualified to determine what is and what is not racist than the people of color who experience it?
  4. What investment have you made in Scott Pilgrim (the book or the film) and/or your view of yourself related to this narrative that it is so important to shut down any discussion of race or racism related to it? 5. Finally, why is it so important for Scott Pilgrim to be absolved of racism and for anyone who says otherwise to be vilified

Obviously, this post is a sign that I am sick and tired of reading the same comment written a new way by a new person as if this time they will convince me that smug comments about interracial dating broken up by a villain breaking into a Bollywood dance are not racist because the white person writing the comment says so.  One reader even tried to help by posting a link to a film review that talks about the depiction of APIs in the film in far more depth than my paragraph and a half, but no one bothered to address that either. So yeah, I am taking off my professor hat and being childish as a result; and I don’t doubt someone will use this as proof all those racism deniers were right all along. “Why are you so angry?”

Nevertheless, if you want your cookie, you just let me know.


On this Historic Day

newly revised edition

“to struggle together … to stand up for freedom together”

African Americans do not own Martin Luther King Jr., on this Glenn Beck and I agree. No one but slaveholders own people. But truthfully, aside from a few overly snide liberal pundits, I do not think anyone thinks Beck meant that literally. Instead he was referring to the legacy of King. A legacy of civil rights, social justice, and, nearing the end of his time on this earth, an increasing commitment to global equality and ending violence (including state sanctioned wars without end). In fact, it was his stance on these key issues and his ability to sway people from ALL races, religions, genders, and even sexualities (a feat, since he never spoke out for gay rights), to join in his cause that got him assassinated by white supremacist fearing a message of equality.

Martin Luther King Jr. changed the face of N. America. Along with the help of dedicated women, children, and men from across racial divides, Dr. King put an end to legal discrimination against black people in transportation, employment, education, etc. Yet, in the last few years, radio hosts like Glenn Beck have done their best to foster s well as harness long standing social discrimination and turn it back into law. Thus he argues against access to education, employment, or health care for hardworking indentured undocumented workers, more policing in black and poor neighborhoods because of the fear of black criminality, against marriage equality and even going so far as to criticize fluffy films about upper middle class cis white single working mothers; these are the very people Dr. King stood with and up for.  Worse, Beck and his ilk have tried to make this discrimination and fear the very definition of being N. American. Anyway who supports civil or human rights for the marginalized is transformed into anti-American, non-American, or members of that mythic “Other” America.

So no, African Americans do not own Martin Luther King Jr. but Glenn Beck and his followers will NEVER own another black man again no matter how much they wish they did.

Truthfully, I had not meant to talk about Beck today. You’ll note I seldom mention anyone on Fox News on the blog. I’m old enough to remember when news was somewhat apolitical (somewhat, because the crime reports were always “a black man did …” or “a man did” and often highlighted stories that reinforced similar long held believes about poor people and people of color even as they kept the editorializing about them to a minimum). And before conservatives line up to call me a hypocrite for using footage from MSNBC, one needs only look through this blog or my twitter feed to see that I am just as likely to call them out for race and gender issues as anyone else. More so than Fox news because I expect better of them, and often get it. In my mind the answer to most of Glenn Beck’s antics is: It’s Glenn Beck. Nothing deeper seems warranted when you think about it.

Yet here I am, writing.

There is something so inexplicably demented about a man who spends every day on his radio show inciting or expanding, or simply making space for existing, racism in this country daring to say that he is keeping a dream of equality alive by recreating a history that is only mirrored in the fall of the Weimar Republic and reconstruction in the U.S., particularly in 1865. Like a DW Griffith film, Beck and his ilk have hammered home the idea that there is only one people who can govern and represent a civilized nation and only one solution for everyone else. As a historian, I watched the information coming from Beck surrounding this rally with the knowledge of the history with which Beck has actually aligned. Looking at image after image of his 78-87,000 supporters, there can be no doubt where we are headed or that is decidedly away from any dream Martin Luther King Jr had for this nation.

Glenn Beck wants to make you think it is about a date:

Again, we’re arguing about the date.

He wants you to believe that such a historic date slipped his mind:

I had no idea August 28th was the day of the MLK speech when we booked it. I knew that MLK spoke at the Lincoln Memorial. I knew that it was about the content of character. I knew it was about civil rights and injustice. It knew all of those things, but I’m sorry, media, that I forgot the, oh, so important detail of the date.

And truthfully, Like Jon Stewart, I do find it possible a man who does not think MLK Day should be a national holiday would not know the exact date of the historic I had a Dream Speech. But given the way Glenn Beck has attempted to harness the image of King, Rosa Parks, and even Booker T Washington to advertise for the event, how could anyone believe that he did not know what he was doing? And according to HuffPo, when Beck started advertising this event a year ago, he made several comments on his radio show about the historic date. By calling up actual civil rights leaders he does what others have done with the n-word, ie incensed the opposition to his crusade so thoroughly as to make their arguments sound incomprehensible, condescending, or stuck on a single issue, a word or a date, rather than the much larger issues at stake. And like those people who play victim when caught using the n-word, or yelling “re-load” to those who do, Beck is using this supposed tunnel vision to claim victimhood:

At best, they’re operating in the same old political boxes they usually operate out of: Glenn Beck, bad; Sarah Palin, bad; must destroy.

While I don’t doubt there are a few people who have called for Glenn Beck’s actual destruction, they need mental health services, nor do they have access to a 24 hour network or nationally syndicated radio show. They have not been cited as a reason for actual physical violence involving the shooting of others, as at least two mass shooters and one targeted murderer in the last 2 years have cited Beck and his contemporaries at Fox news for their actions. Nor have they helped create and sustain a movement that includes people who have made threats against the president, against immigrants, queer people, and oh yes, black folks. Nor have any of the people Beck is actually blaming for saying he must be destroyed, actually been guilty of saying so. That is where liberal media and conservative media often definitively part ways. While the Olbermann’s on the left due wax indignant often, and often righteously, very few members of left media would use their radio or tv shows as a place to deify themselves in the name of hatred and violent gun imagery knowing that their supporters are armed and ready “to reload”.

And who exactly is it Beck has invited to stand with him on this historic day in which he claims he is taking the reigns of freedom back from actual civil rights leaders?

  • A woman who responded to the use of the n-word & an angry tirade against interracial dating by saying the speaker should reload & that America was “unfair”
  • A singer whose lyrics for the event include “you preach your tolerance but lecture me” … “we’re taking names; waiting for the judgment day”
  • A country musician who has sponsored events under the title “taking our country back” that has not included more than a handful of people of color if any
  • Members of the 9.12 Project whose racist, xenophobic, and homophobic signs have been archived at the top of my blog (and whose comments on that page further underscore them)
  • A woman willing to bastardize her own family’s legacy to make a single issue point about denying reproductive rights ( a woman whose participation will no doubt be used to legitimate the date of the rally and the erroneous belief the audience and the event were integrated or diverse)

And let us not forget, that Beck’s rally is not only hiding behind the skirts of Alveda King but also the troops. You see, when all of his denials fall away, Beck resorted to calling the people criticizing him anti-American because they were “anti-Troops” and pointing to the fact that his rally supports an organization that helps widows and families of disabled veterans. Never mind that he could have given money to this group without such a rally or that no money will go to them until the expensive venue, advertising, and speaker’s fees have been paid. And let us be clear the Republicans Beck often supports on his show and at least one of his speakers ran with last election, have voted repeatedly against VA benefits, medical care, pensions, and even protective gear for troops all the while claiming to be the party that supports them. Does Glenn Beck rally around that on his show? no.

According to eye witnesses the event also included:

  • a union worker passing out fliers with a picture of Dr. King that criticized the use of Asian laborers in the capital instead of “hardworking [white] Americans” – apparently he did not know Beck has continuously rallied against unions
  • people who came out to prove “the backbone of this country is the family. Messing with the definition of the family is dangerous” – apparently they did not know that heterosexual families include incest, domestic violence, child abuse, and codes of silence that are often generationally transferred as much as they include happy and healthy people
  • people who want to ensure there is no Mosque at ground zero but claim they aren’t anti-Muslim they are just “pro-American” – because apparently no one has told them that there are already Mosques in the area and Muslim Americans exist and have for a considerable amount of time in this country, some even died helping survivors in 9/11
  • and people with genuine criticism for the state of the economy, the lack of community in this nation (tho they don’t note the irony in how this rally is furthering divides rather than healing them), and the cost of education (again failing to recognize that the Republicans tried to block a critical education bill that saved teachers jobs and ensured schools had funding)
  • and people who sent emails or made comments out loud to reporters like these:

This is hardly a scene that mirrors any Martin Luther King Jr would have helmed nor one that reflects the basic principles of civil rights and social justice, something Beck has gone on record as saying he does not support anyway. (On Friday Beck told a radio show host that he did not support social justice.) Instead, 828 just like 912 highlights the growing racial divides and racial tensions in this country between white people and people of color, between white citizens + occasionally citizens of color and non-white immigrants, between white heterosexists + occasionally poc heterosexists and white + non-white queers and allies, between white arch-conservative women + woc pro-lifers and feminists, between arch-conservative protestants and every other religion represented in this country as well as those of us who are Catholic or Protestant who follow G-d’s highest commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. While the boundaries of these groups shift to make provisional room for those who can increase their numbers or be put in photo ops to claim diversity, and while people from either side of the binaries can find themselves on the other side because of a single issue that matters more to them than others, the reality is that unlike the diverse multicultural coalition of King, Beck offers us a vision of N. America that is decidedly hierarchical, homogeneous, and willing to police its boundaries with violence. The only thing Beck and his supporters have learned from their last march was to leave the signs at home so it would be easier to play victim when people called them racist, or homophobic, or violent. But he did not tell them, could not tell them, to leave their hatred at home, so it showed up in the things both he and they said to each other and reporters. As Beck said himself:

Make no mistake, the flame of freedom is dwindling. The shining city on the hill, the sun is setting. If you don’t want it to go out on our watch, then you must stand in the blaze. The fire of truth that does not burn those who stand in it, but consumes everything that is not. Point others to the truth.

. . .

If you think things are tough now, you ain’t seeing nothing yet.

“if an American, because his skin is dark cannot … enjoy the full and free life that all of us want, than who among us would be content to have the color of his skin changed to stand in his place”

please note the quotes for this piece were taken from Glenn Beck’s broadcast yesterday and not the transcript of his speech today which was unavailable at time of writing

God Willing … A Spike Lee Joint

This week marks both the 5th year anniversary of Katrina and Spike Lee’s return to New Orleans and the people whose stories he helped bring to light in the aftermath of the Republican made disaster.

shadowandact.com

I have watched the 4 hour documentary twice now and am still processing the radical difference in tone Lee’s documentary takes from all the much more celebratory documentaries/news specials produced by mainstream media. (I am also still processing some of the personal stories and the flashbacks Lee’s documentary induced, so we are going to focus on other things in this post.) While some have dismissed Lee’s work as polemic, the results of recent studies on New Orleans cannot be ignored. According to one such research project, white people have returned to New Orleans in greater numbers than black people, mixed race and white neighborhoods have been largely rebuilt or sustained less damage so they were easier to bring back, and white transplants to the area are enjoying a middle class lifestyle that has actually made costs of housing, food, and other essentials inflate beyond the means of original residents. Black residents or former residents in the study have less housing options, less economic security, higher rates of suicide, drug addiction, violence, homelessness, and incarceration. Many cannot and have not returned due to widescale gentrification and intentional rezoning and rebuilding policies that have neglected rebuild in the 9th ward, closed down public housing, and failed to re-open schools in traditionally black, poor, areas of NOLA. There’s is not a story of recovery, it is one of intentional abandonment and current displacement. Add to that the BP spill, which Lee’s film shows is hitting working class and subsistence level creole and immigrant fishermen the hardest and the story of recovery begins to look a lot like a gigantic lie.

In fact, as I watching Spike Lee’s film, I found myself thinking about the tsunami. I was teaching an activism course at the time as well as participating in several Ford funded faculty reading groups. I remember that the campus lit up with concern for tsunami victims and that my class organized a donation drive as part of their final project. All of our book groups were redirected toward discussions of how to help and organizations to support. And all of this was done in the spirit of altruism and deep concern for fellow human beings, not some paternalistic charity model. But when the giving was done, the posters, updates, and discussions came to an end. When the world stopped looking, the government swooped in and used a little known or used statuette to reclaim beach front property and build high end resorts, restaurants, and other tourist oriented businesses to capitalize on the new found interest in the region. Like former first Lady Bush’s comment that the hurricane would help Nola finally get rid of its problems and her son’s belief that this was an ideal opportunity for big businness, the post-tsunami government felt the same way, displacing thousands of working class and subsistence survivors permanently in the name of “progress” “recovery” and “rebuild”. And also like Nola, the story is not solely about victims and re-victimization, many people received some aid or even enough to start to rebuild their lives, but the story only Lee seems willing to tell is about how many did not.

hbo.com

As someone who has kept a close eye on Katrina and its aftermath, someone who like many black Americans took to heart how easily the national and state government could turn on black people with guns, militarization, and life-ending indifference, nothing in Spike Lee’s film is new. There have been multiple rallies over the loss of low income and public housing in New Orleans reported here on the blog. The mental health crisis hit home for me as someone with family members who served both displaced Nola residents and then people still in the city during and after the initial crisis and I wrote about the clinics that were trying to make up the slack for the closing of the only mental health crisis center in poor black neighborhoods as well as what that closure meant over 1.5 years ago here on the blog. And while Lee’s film only touches briefly on women’s issues in favor of focusing on the violence being experienced by young black men in the city, I also wrote about the particular impact Nola had had on women and children and the work that New Orleans’ based feminists were doing to create women’s centers, health clinics (which granted could not find a trans positive physician but were not guilty of “killing trans women” as some claimed on the internet), domestic and sexual violence support groups and safe spaces, and feminist libraries here on the blog. So having spent so much time writing about what is going on in New Orleans, Spike Lee’s film seems fairly mild to me given what he could have included. He did not indict the Red Cross, who as I wrote here, sat on housing funds for displaced people until the cycle for that funding almost ran out. Nor did he talk about the 100,000s of pounds of aid that was never distributed, looted, or shipped elsewhere by FEMA when doing his comparisons to Haiti in the film, whose people, as I wrote here and everyone else wrote about in the news, suffered and died waiting for dispersal of aid. He did not mention the number of women who have been raped, beaten, or abused by their partners, strangers, or the police during and after Katrina as part of a predictable trend in crisis and crisis aftermath around the world; but of course, in this case, I think that was because Spike seldom mentions women’s issues in his films. Nor did his discussion of medical needs in the community extend to the discussion of what happened to both the HIV population and trans people whose access to meds was limited during Katrina until queer and inclusive clinics stepped in and whose access now remains under-reported or addressed.

So why such animosity or ambivalence about Lee’s version of events vs the happy-go-lucky promos flooding my tv every night for 5 years later specials? Why is it that when interviewers bring up the issues that remain, intelligent reporters like Brian Williams respond by talking about all the good going on in New Orleans? Is it because we need a feel good story after so much devastation? Or is it because, once again, we as a culture want to minimize longstanding racism, classism, sexism, homophobia and transmisogyny and how it played out in the aftermath of Katrina, not just the event itself? And more to the point, we want to be able to blame the victims who are still suffering so that we don’t have to ask why they are suffering, who benefits from their suffering, and why prosperity seems to be mapped on racial as well as class lines?

Ultimately, I think it is both impulses. I think we do want to see a New Orleans that has returned to the magic and splendor of its hey day. We want to honor survivors of Katrina who say they want to talk about growth and recovery not pain and abandonment, they want their city to be remembered for the good times not the lows. But we are also invested in a narrative in which black people are always guilty and poor people have invited their own suffering and where the people and systems that abuse them go unnoticed or with a simple slap on the wrist. More so than ever, this nation has divided in ways that highlight racial hatred and victim blaming and shifted the language of oppression to crown the oppressors as the most oppressed. Spike Lee’s film refuses that narrative with a force that makes it hard to ignore and so we are left with the only dismal most people can imagine “polemic” because after all, it is Spike Lee. But I would encourage you to watch this film carefully. Pay attention to the cited studies and actions and then look them up yourself (using more than wikipedia and blog posts). I think you’ll find that Spike Lee’s “If God is Willing and the Creek Don’t Rise” is quite tame compared to what is really going on in New Orleans.

The film next airs on HBO this Friday and Sunday and will play throughout the month

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Some specific issues I will raise in a follow up post

  1. the smugness of Brownie, which seemed to mirror BP
  2. Lee’s discussion of BP which will forever stand for “Bitch Please” from here on out
  3. LSU’s implication in the closing of the major hospital serving poor and working class people of color and mental health patients in the name of profit
  4. why Brad Pitt seems to be the mainstream media’s take away moment from this film  … grrr …
  5. how this event sent the message that black lives don’t matter & what Lee’s film tells us about the people left to survive after such an intimate lesson

If God is Willing … Katrina Doc

If you missed the first half of Spike Lee’s follow up documentary to the Katrina-Bush disaster in the Gulf, you should not miss tonight’s conclusion. While the first part revisited families and their traumas and rebuild, the second half is meant to address the BP spill and its impact on already struggling communities. I promised to review the film today on twitter, but that was before I found out it had more than 1 part airing on more than 1 night. So for now, take a minute to look at the preview for the film:

As you can see the documentary covers many of the topics decolonized and racial justice feminists have been blogging about since Katrina happened. Organizing continues and the need is still there.

The second half airs tonight at 6pm PST and 9 pm EST