Sabotage

It was just brought to my attention that a jealous colleague sabotaged a huge grant my colleagues and I have been working on for almost a year. I am particularly upset about it because this person is someone I have gone out of my way to include and encourage for over 10 years while others have walked away. There have been many times in public spaces when particularly egregious accusations have been made by woc and I myself have experienced some of their complaints first hand but luckily only once outside of the blogosphere. In my mind, while there have been many reasons to isolate this person when writing or doing innovative research, I have always worked to make room for scholars of color and to encourage them to decolonize their minds and their praxis & I was not going to stop in her case just b/c the writing seemed to be on the wall more often than not.

Many people start from places that in one way or another are destructive because of poor coping skills learned in marginalization or the general horrid competitiveness that structures much of academe. It can take a long time to unlearn that, especially if you work in a destructive department, institution, or community. There are very few consequences for Senior scholars who behave badly (including engaging in identity based oppression) toward junior scholars and many of them survive by passing it on.

The irony of this particular event is that in some ways the grant we were working on was about trying to shift milieus and extend supportive spaces …

So I am thinking about what it means when someone destroys so much good work out of fear, anger, and jealousy. I am trying to keep my mind from cycling over rumors that have popped periodically around this person time and time again throughout the years and wondering how many things were in fact true. Most of all, I am trying to find the productive lesson in the ruins and the grace to find the 70 x 7.

Until then, I’m practicing the following:

Breath

Let Love in

Create

Oh and steering clear of the blog lest I start naming names and spelling out tenure revoking behavior and yes, dear reader this pattern includes things that bad.

Displaced Women and Children

REUTERS/Alexei Osokin

I have been doing a lot of thinking on the rise of “Ethnic Cleaning” in our world lately. While there have always been examples of people turning on their neighbors and friends because of racial or religious differences from the burning out of entire African American communities in towns in the U.S. to the genocide against Jewish people and anyone who dared to support them under Hitler, sadly, we have examples great and small to choose from. Yet it seems to me that the modern period has seen much more frequent examples of ethnic cleansing across the globe. Worse, in most of these cases so-called super powers have done very little to stop them while they are in progress. We can mobilize an endless amount of troops to go fight for oil in the Middle East, regardless of how many innocent people on all sides die or are permanently warped by the experience, but we seldom rush into the face of great evil against minority people whose only crime is the color of their skin, hair, eyes, or the place where they worship. Human Rights and Corporate Interests are clearly unequal in the eyes of the modern states and we humans are losing.

This week, another vulnerable group fell prey to its neighbors while the world watched. Southern Kyrgyztan errupted in ethnic violence late Thursday when armed Kyrgyz men turned on their unarmed Uzbek neighbors. By Saturday morning, the second largest city in the region is in flames with 1000s wounded and the counted dead nearing the 100s. Uzbek areas of the nation are all but deserted and people fear that even if they survive the violence there will be no food, medical supplies, or water for them to survive the aftermath.

While men were targeted to be beaten and killed, fleeing women and children found themselves trampled in the rush to a secured border and the attempts to cross the intentionally ditched designed to stop them. Like in other ethnic conflicts, these women and children are likely being targeted for specific gendered violence and trafficking and without aid will continue to be into the future.

While you might be hoping to turn a blind eye to this conflict and wait for the moving Hollywood film that comes out in a year or two, the fact is both Russia and the U.S. are implicated in the conflict in Kyrgyztan. Both countries have military bases there and yet neither has responded with requested military aid to the people being systematically killed and burned out of the nation.

The failure to act on the part of either the U.S. or Russia is further complicated by the relationship of Kyrgyztan’s Prime Minister with both nations. Interim PM Roza Otunbayeva, is a college educated moderate with longstanding ties to Moscow, including teaching at Moscow University. She was also the UN envoy to Georgia when violence broke out there. And while Otunbayeva served in a government she herself said continued the corruption and nepotism of the nation’s past, she broke away from them in order to form a party and a platform that would see more egalitarian representation and inclusivity in the Kyrgyztan’s government and society. Her calls for help should have been met with at least some kind of response from Russians who know and have supported her and North Americans who want to continue to have a moderate in charge of a country where the hold a military base. And so one has to wonder why those calls have fallen on deaf ears except for minor humanitarian efforts on the part of Russia. With two major super power’s bases in the nation, violence should never have escalated unchecked to ethnic cleansing and burning cities. In fact a previous conflict between these same ethnic groups in 2007 was quickly put down by Russian troops, sparing huge casualties and/or genocide.

Otunbayeva is also the first female president CIS/SCO member state yet neither she nor the huddled and terrified female refugees of today’s violence have garnered much attention from mainstream feminist press. As of now, I have seen no calls to support a beleaguered female leader or women who are very likely being raped or rounded up for trafficking and certainly are homeless, displaced, and largely trapped at the border with burning cities on one side and ditches blocking their exit on the other. Unlike imperialist feminist calls to “save women” in the Middle East that aligned with western expansionism and hunger for oil and failed largely to ask what women living in the region wanted or needed, hold accountable military and counter-military strategies that targeted women and girls and made it less safe for them to go to school or be in public, or ensure that women’s rights were not discarded by this or any previous administration as they pushed forward, calls to support the women and children in Kygyrztan would align with the requests the PM herself has already made. She has asked specifically for military aid in stopping violence and detaining the engineers of ethnic cleansing in the state. She has also asked specifically for help with the people who have already been displaced and with containing and putting out the fires and other damage raging through the cities.

At this point NGOs in the region are trying to get outside aid to people and hoping that violence can be quelled long enough to restore the constitutional democracy Otunbayeva has promised.

It seems that we feminists need to take a wider and deeper look at the meaning of solidarity and global feminism. And that we people engaged in social justice also need to make more lasting connections between current processes (economic, political, and social) and old “coping skills” (marginalizing, enslavement, rape, and genocide). As I watched the news today I couldn’t help thinking about lost African American cities, the children who refused to save themselves at the cost of their targeted classmates in Rwanda while adult “peacekeepers” divested in Rwanda, the gains one, or possibly two, corrupt military bases could gain from widescale instability in Kyrgyztan, and the deadly shooting of a Mexicano in Arizona weeks before the new pass laws come into effect there. It may seem like these things are not comparable and certainly the scale of some far outweighs the scale of others. Yet, what I am arguing here is that there are cyclical patterns of power and control that ultimately erupt in violence whenever, as the saying goes, “good men do nothing.” Sitting at the intersections of feminism, critical race theory, and history, I think we have plenty of information to do things differently and I find myself wondering why people, especially women and children, have to suffer while we do not use it.

—–

image two: displaced women and children look on with nowhere to go on Saturday in Kygyrztan. AP Photo/D. Dalton Bennett

WordPress Fail

The one where I question WordPress’ decision to highlight a Black Face apologist post over the reported 297,850 posts made this am from which they had to choose “Entertaining, Enlightening, and inspir[ing]” content

UPDATE: Since writing this post, I have seen more diversity of topics and identities represented on the Freshly Pressed page than I have ever seen on it in the entire time it has been in existence. No one at wordpress.com has commented on this post but they were aware of it (I sent in a link).

UPDATE II: it took 2 weeks before they returned to highlighting racialized posts about black people and 1 month before they started in on questionable posts about Asians; today’s Fresh Press included a post by a white woman entitled “I Think I am Becoming Asian PART ONE” (emphasis mine). The insistence on highlighting the colonial gaze as representative of the top .003% brilliance on wordpress is appalling. If you blog here, please ask why authors who are not writing from this vantage point, you know the other 99.997% of us, are not as intelligent, amusing, or brilliant in the eyes of wordpress Freshly Pressed editors because I think just asking that question will make you wonder about what the focus has been here lately.

For those who don’t know, a colonial gaze is a viewpoint in which whiteness is naturalized, central to the argument about other cultures, assumed of the audience, and used to otherize non-white cultures in ways that are either meant to be amusing or belittling but ultimately reaffirm whiteness as normal and right and everything/one else as “odd”, “weird”, and essentially lesser whether it is the intention of the author or not. It can be held by members of the dominant culture and internalized by those outside of it. It operates in a hegemonic way, ie so widespread that it seems natural and normal rather than a biased and culturally specific way of perpetuating inequality.

———————————

I came here this morning with a list of smallish posts on current affairs and pop culture to write, ie a typical day @ the blog. I remember having something about

  1. oil protests at the White House by women that didn’t get much coverage
  2. the arrest of Joran Van der Sloot
  3. the return of True Blood and the rewriting of Eggs murder as a key plot point

I was going to close with an amusing video first scene on Rachel Maddow’s blog where a fake border check point was set up by a white podcaster to stop people of European decent on the basis of their appearance to prove a point about racial profiling and AZ. It was a tidy little list that I hoped would generate conversation on twitter (where most of my commenters talk back these days) and maybe even here (like the old days).

However, much of my plans fell out of my head when for the second time in just-slightly more than 1 month wordpress highlighted a racialized, if not [internalized] racist, post on its main page.

BBC Asian Network/ Unattributed

For non-wordpress users, when you log in to wordpress you are diverted to the “Freshly Pressed” page which highlights 11 “outstanding posts” for readers. Unlike other blog formats that allow you to do some level of intelligent searching on your own or rotate through a medium list of newly posted material throughout the day to peek your interest, wordpress offers a static “Freshly Pressed” page and then a series of links inside your blog that are somewhat tailored to you like “tag surfer” and “blog surfer.” The difference between the former and the latter two options is that the former is visible to everyone who comes to wordpress looking to open a new blog or logging in to an existing one. The same 11 posts show throughout the day.

Roughly 1 months ago, 4/28/10 to be exact, I complained on Twitter about the trend I noticed in the “Freshly Pressed” section of highlighting content I felt was radically different than what was highlighted in the past. Before “Freshly Pressed”, wordpress highlighted both the most recent posts posted to the site from any blog and also highlighted specific blog posts they found interesting. These posts ranged in content from fluffy tv episode reviews to environmental disasters, race politics to restaurants to try, etc. In other words, it was wide and varied and often encouraged readers to find people like them and people who were posting completely different but interesting content. It also focused somewhat on new blogs so that you always got a sense of who was signing up.

Vanity Fair

In my tweet, I asserted a marked decrease in the variety of posts highlighted at wordpress as well as an over all trend toward a particular hipster perspective. I felt this trend, though certainly reflective of a section of blogs published on wordpress and often interesting, was leaving out a large cross section of wordpress blogs and bloggers. I pointed out that on that day’s “Freshly Pressed” page I had been directed to a blog that linguistically replaced “African Queens” with a white woman who was dating an African; the post in question also staunchly denied white privilege, basic, documented, immigration patterns, and offered up nothing about her relationship while chastising people for critiquing it from a decidedly privilege-ladden and defensive stance. I was appalled. And so were most of my tweeps. In fact it generated a heated discussion which I myself stopped by saying it wasn’t worth all of the energy we were spending on it.

A few hours later, wordpress’ official blog sent out a list of criteria for how they choose their “Freshly Pressed” posts,which included the general guide that chosen posts “represent how WordPress can be used to entertain, enlighten, or inspire.” (emphasis mine) and the specific criteria summarized below:

  1. “Unique content free of bad stuff” – bad stuff defined as “plagiarism, hate speech, fear-mongering, adult/mature content, improperly used images that belong to someone else, spam or content that is primarily advertorial
  2. includes images – especially your own or those properly cited “We like original images (meaning, your own), but if you don’t have any of your own and decide to use someone else’s, be sure you properly credit the original source” (emphasis mine)
  3. tags
  4. typo free
  5. compelling headline

Since this set of guidelines has appeared, I have seen any number of posts on the Freshly Pressed page that do not meet one or more of the expanded criteria for guidelines 1 and 2. They are especially lax with regards to highlighting posts without proper citation of images or adult content (at least twice in the past few weeks I have seen posts highlighted with closeups of women’s breasts or suggestive shots implying upskirt images). They have also on occasion included arch-conservative political posts that are clearly “primarily advertorial” in content.  I’ve actually applauded the inclusion of the latter, not because I agree with them in anyway, but because I thought it showed an effort on wordpress’ part to represent the viewpoints of more of its blogging community. The seeming lack of the commitment to showing a wider range of blogs and bloggers, especially with regards to “identity based” social justice posts in favor of content that directly negates it, is at the heart of my original complaint. In fact, I would argue that the majority of the posts highlighted during the days I logged in for the last month did not meet 1 or more guidelines. But I don’t work at wordpress and honestly, after noting an overall lack of diversity in the authors and the content they highlight (they do seem to gravitate toward posts about Asian food and Asian pop stars but other than that …) I just kept blogging. After all, it is not like their decisions are any different than any other liberal organization around (which means they are guilty not that they are all excused).

It was probably easier for me to shrug off the trend because I have no personal investment in being highlighted. I have my group of loyal readers and I believe in my content enough that I don’t need outside validation. I have also had my previous blog highlighted more than once by wordpress before the onset of “Freshly Pressed.” Not only did that bring in readers I still have, it also gave me faith that the trend I noticed could be reversed at any time and people who write about racism, feminism (non-mainstream feminism), classism, etc. would once again have their numbers reflected in what wordpress highlights. Put another way, I know that people writing about politics from and identity from a social justice standpoint make up a large enough percentage of wordpress blogs that their marked absence from “Freshly Pressed” is both disconcerting and hopefully unsustainable based on the circulated guidelines.

Stern Fotografie/ Karl Lagerfeld

However, this morning, I logged in and saw a post JUSTIFYING BLACK FACE highlighted in the “Freshly Pressed” section. According to wordpress’ own statistics, there were 297,849 posts besides this one to choose from this morning. That means that wordpress believes a post JUSTIFYING BLACK FACE is in the top .0003% of its total posts for the day in terms of its ability to “entertain, enlighten, and inspire.”

Let that sink in for a minute.

Done?

If we judge this post on the basis of the circulated criteria it is a whole ball of fail:

  1. it contains an uncited photo that belongs to someone else
  2. while it does not include hate speech, and I do not believe the author meant to be hateful or offensive, it is a post whose primary thesis is that modern day black face in the media, and its current popularity in the fashion industry in particular, is acceptable
  3. the post itself starts by calling up the controversy it is about to examine and then takes a decidedly offensive tack, ie justifying black face (yes I am going to keep saying it), which by definition would make it advertorial by nature

In other words, like so many other highlighted posts in the past year, THE BLACK FACE IS OK POST HIGHLIGHTED BY WORDPRESS THIS AM OVER 297,849 OTHER POSTS DOES NOT MEET WORDPRESS’ OWN GUIDELINES FOR HIGHLIGHTING

What then can we surmise about how this post beat out the 99.9997% of posts to grace every wordpress user’s login page and global dashboard?

  • Was it “Entertaining“? – Minstrel shows brought in a wide audience in their day and were based around the amusement of white people at their own myth – making about the lives, intelligence, sexual appetites, and ability to be a part of society of black folks …

Mammond 1899

The post in question, actually has no stated knowledge of minstrelsy or its history, which is no doubt why it JUSTIFIES BLACK FACE. It does not draw on racist humor that would at least clearly explain the racism behind choosing it as 1 of the top 11 posts available this morning. There is actually no humor, racist or otherwise in this post, unless you find the quoted thesis of the post, listed below, amusing for its pure lack of understanding about how subtlety and hegemony work with regards to U.S. racism:

“Her makeup and hair was well done and she was not dressed, I feel, in a way to construe any negative connotations to the black culture.”

I guess there is something entertaining about seeing Claudia Schiffer’s over the top blond hair (which I believe includes extensions) being completely ignored when the author praises the Halloween-esque Afro she dons in the side image as part of her BLACK FACE because:

“If she had a bad weave … then there might be a problem”

The wig is tacky and she does have a bad weave, but we are trained in this culture to believe white women’s hair is always long and straight and super model white women’s hair is always extra long and thick and straight, while black women’s hair is kinky and short unless they paid for a weave. News flash: from reality tv “stars”, to actresses, to supermodels, weaves are a common part of the job for white women. I can not say for sure Schiffer has some form of extensions in her hair for the image the highlighted author chose, but given the volume of it, I’m inclined to believe she does and that it looks bad.

  • Was it “Enlightening“? Often racism, internalized or otherwise, can enlighten us about how deep racism is in our culture and how willing white people are to search for and then highlight any black person who says what they are secretly thinking themselves, ie:

“The most Schiffer and Lagerfeld are guilty of is not being sensitive enough to the feelings of the black culture.”

I don’t however think illuminating the depths of hegemonic racism is the reason Imani’s post was highlighted today.

Black Friend Gag/Comedy Central

Instead, I think her post was chosen precisely because it does highlight what one or more people making the decisions at wordpress’ “Freshly Pressed” page think about race and racism, ie that black people are too sensitive and that intention matters more than action. Of course, it is a little hard to miss the intentions in the images in question here, but you’ll need to think like a racism apologist for a moment. More importantly it excuses racism and calls out “over-sensitivity” in the mouth of a black woman blogger. It is the classic “see even black people said it” moment that is making my intellectual and personal blood boil.

If wordpress believes there is truth value here, then we have to be serious about the question of “enlightening” content.

Imani argues two things:

  1. Schiffer’s BLACK FACE photo does not have any stereotypically negative content and therefore is not racist – this is presumably based on a classist argument in which dressing Schiffer up as a black escapee from the old tv show Dallas (ie an 80s millionaire complete with shoulder pads and gaudy jewelry) means they are not being offensive. First, class is not race. Depicting her as wealthy does not negate depicting her in a racist manner in the same way that a multi-cultural photo could still be guilty of classism or sexism, or even racism. Second, race and class are intertwined. And while Imani is right to point out that the most stereotypical images of black folks assume poverty, there is also the more subtle class critique of wealthy black people that include “uppity” and “declasse”.  In fact, if we wanted to stretch this analysis to its furtherest point, we could look at the decision to put Schiffer in an Afro rather than braids or puffs in light of the dressing down of First Lady Obama. More likely, though, the image seems to be taking the declasse tactic. In blackface Schiffer’s appearance is at once gaudy, with big flashy jewelry and glittery clothes, and out of time, calling up soap opera divas of the 80s rather than modern business women and economic powerhouses.  Schiffer’s white photo on the other hand, shows her in a classic black suit emulating a madonna-esque power ensemble of sex and money. (You should note the original image is sexist; it replaces Schiffer’s shirt with a black leather bra. Nonetheless she is the picture of modern vis a vis the outdated and gaudy attire of her “black” counterpart.) These images operate on multiple levels, calling into question the class attainment of black people on the basis of race while also sexualizing white women and therefore subsequently desexualizing black ones.
  2. Karl Lagerfeld, the photographer, didn’t have enough black models to use so he made do. “maybe it was the lack diversity in the people involved with the photo shoot” – Imani has no way of knowing who was at that shoot therefore her argument has no basis. More importantly, there are a bevy of black models available and like any other photographer, if Lagerfeld had wanted a multicultural shoot all he would have had to do is call the agencies and request models from the various races he wanted to represent. The same people who represent Schiffer also represent Brazilian, African, and Asian models for sure and probably also Latin American, Latina, Caribbean, and Black British or Black French models, so he would not have even had to make two phone calls to have a multicultural shoot. The bottom line is Lagerfeld chose not to use models of color because his goal was to produce BLACK FACE and that decision is part of a growing trend in the modeling industry right now that at its heart is incredibly racist. Racist because it erases the presence of women of color. Racist because it takes jobs and money from women of color in order to keep it in the hands of white photographers, designers, and models who will not complain about the racism in the images. Racist because often the images themselves rely on racist stereotypes both subtle and covert. RACIST because it calls up a history of oppression whose antecedents are still readily felt especially in the fashion industry.

Not only is the information Imani includes incorrect but she also edited out pertinent information I found only after writing this post while looking for images to illustrate it.

  1. Schiffer actually appears in both BLACK and ASIAN FACE – something Imani does not mention until the very last sentence and does not depict
  2. the photoshoot was done for a conservative German magazine which regularly peddles in racialized fantasies

This information would have been not only enlightening but also added much needed depth to our understanding of what is actually going on in the controversial images. It would also have undermined Imani’s entire thesis without having to do the kind of work I have done here to show its holes.

Stern Fotografie/ Karl Lagerfeld

The full spread speaks to the convergence of sexist, racist, eroticism that is entirely missing from Imani’s analysis. Where I writing this post as a response to her and not to wordpress, I would take time out to deconstruct each of these images for that content and focus on how overt racism and sexism are making a come back as the interlocking tools of choice to express racial fears across the West.

In other words, if we define “enlightening” as something that gives us new, in depth, or profound information this post fails on all accounts because it’s naivete about race, racism, and racial history make its argument wholly unfounded and unsupportable except in the minds of racism apologists. To be fair, Imani never set out to analyze the photos but rather to excuse away people’s reactions to them as racist. But to do one, you ultimate have to successfully do the other.

  • Does it “Inspire“? – it inspired me to rant for 30 minutes in this post and on twitter and encourage people to retweet wordpressFAIL citing racialized thinking as often as possible, but again I don’t think that is what wordpress meant.

Harem Fantasies/Professor Jan Nederveen Pieterse Collection/ BBC

Forgive me while I do something I tell my students not to do when writing a paper. According to Webster’s Dictionary, inspire means:

1 a : to influence, move, or guide by divine or supernatural inspiration b : to exert an animating, enlivening, or exalting influence on

Divinity aside, this definition argues that there must be something deeply meaningful and moving in the posts highlighted by wordpress. And yet the only thing this post gives us is a racism apology from a black woman who actually believes that a famous photography did a black face photoshoot because he couldn’t find models of color to use …

I am not inspired, I am heartbroken.

For all the work we have done to teach people about oppression and how to analyze, organize, and decolonize around it, we still have young black women justifying their own oppression due to a lack of knowledge and white people justifying their own unexamined uber-subtle beliefs about race through them. Worse, in the last 4-8 years of teaching I have seen a profound failure to understand subtlety, history, or basic critical thinking (ie the ability to look beyond the surface image or first reaction to the deeper meanings and connect them to other information from the past and present) on the rise amongst N. American students. This lack of critical skills relates to any sort of analysis not just oppressions work which is always hard the first time out. I believe the problem stems from the “No Child Left Behind” testing culture of middle and high schools. As so many have already proven statisically and ethnographically, testing culture has thrown out critical thinking for “the right answer” and learning how to deduce it without having to think or engage beyond the flattened out multiple choice options presented students.

I am concerned about how a seemingly arbitrary decision about education has translated into such a wide gap in the ability of younger people to deconstruct huge systems of oppression and what it means for the perpetuation of racism, sexism, etc. Couple this with the TX textbook controversy, attempts to shut down multicultural ed in AZ and underfund/combine/dismantle ethnic studies, women’s studies, and queer studies at the university level across the country and a pattern of planned ignorance seems to emerge that raises any number of red flags. This planned ignorance is then reflected in the increasingly polarized conversations that neither look at facts nor evidence on and off the internet.

Part of mural in London c 1966/ The Latest.com

In the midst of these large battles, blogging was once a way to write back to abusive power. It was used by many to highlight the perspectives, experiences, and analytical skills of people largely left out or ignored by mainstream media, publishing, and academe. As blogging mainstreamed however, the ability for counter-revolutionary voices receded. Now Ashton Kutcher’s fart tweets, Huffington Posts paid posts, and Shock Jock’s witch hunts receive the bulk of attention while people blogging for the sake of writing what is not available or not available in any large and tranformal way anywhere else get relegated to niche.

WordPress has a unique opportunity as one of the largest sites hosting blogs or providing software to independent hosts. As of this morning, there are 293,224 people blogging on wordpress. People who have been repeatedly highlighted on “Freshly Pressed” have received book deals, speaking engagements, invitations to cover important national events, exclusive interviews, and even regular tv commentary spots. In other words, WordPress has the opportunity to highlight a wide section of the population and influence their ability to speak to much larger audiences as well as gain mainstream legitimacy. When wordpress decides to ignore the bulk of its social justice bloggers who blog about racism, classism, sexism and the like in favor of identity neutral, hipster funny, and occassionally sexist or racist posts it makes a critical decision to work against not only a portion of its writers but the social justice I still believe the people behind wordpress would say they support. When it highlights a post JUSTIFYING BLACK FACE, especially on the heals of promoting a post erasing black women and denying white privilege a month earlier, one has to question exactly what the real criteria is for “Freshly Pressed” and exactly what kind of influence wordpress is aligning itself with. WordPresss itself has failed to live up to its own guidelines for highlighting posts and this instance it has done so in the service of racialized thinking if not straight up [internalized] racism and as a 5 year veteran of the wordpress blog I call Bullshit.


Have You Seen This Child?

Kyron Horman, age 7, has been missing for three days after disappearing from his school. According to his step-mother and other witnesses, Kyron arrived at his NW hills grade school excited about a science project he was presenting that day. His mom left him in the hallway on his way to his class, but he never made it there. The teacher marked him absent, but no one at the school called home to ask where Horman was and the bus driver did not report his absence on the bus home, presumably because he was marked absent at the beginning of the day. As a result, no one was alerted to Kyron’s disappearance until a full 7-8 hours after he was last seen.

Volunteers, the FBI, and local police have been combing the area outside Kyron’s school for the entire weekend but have found nothing. If you know anything or have seen this little boy (most recent pic at top of post, close up pic above this paragraph) please call Mutnomah County Sheriff’s Office at 503-261-2847

For more info on missing children check here and here

If you are a parent of a school age child, you may also want to ask if your school calls home when a child is not in class (mine did; it was automated). If they do, ask when the call goes out and whether or not it is automated or a real person. If they do not, lobby for an automated system or if you have the free time, organize parents to implement a call home system and do volunteer shifts to keep it staffed or raise money for an automated system. Some school districts also require that bus drivers report when students on their roster do not get on the bus; I believe the bus driver calls in to the school and the school then reports to parents, but I am not sure. You may also want to ask if this option is available or meet your child’s bus driver and ask him to call you if your child does not get on the bus, this does however mean that the only times you will be alerted is the beginning of the day and the end of the day.

Other suggestions from parents about ways to help the school keep parents informed about their young children’s whereabouts so no one else’s 7 year old is gone for 8 hours before anyone notices?

—–

info for this post came from CNN.com

College and Homes are Only for Rich People

At least that is what the NY Times would have you believe if you read Ron Lieber’s piece “Placing the Blame as Students Fall Into Debt“. While the latter part of his article breaks down blame according to three parties:

  1. The student & the student’s family
  2. The Lender
  3. The University

The first half of the article draws parallels between seemingly clueless home buyers who the article implies may have lied about their incomes, “just like the mortgage lenders who didn’t ask borrowers to verify their incomes.”, and students who mortgaged their futures without anyway of predicting their actual incomes. In this version of the story, the borrowers are both ignorant and greedy.

  • Ignorant because they entered into loan agreements that they “should have known” were beyond their means.
  • Greedy because they were so focused on “keeping up with the Jones’ ” that they did not bother to think about the consequences of their choices.

The first supposition requires everyone to believe in the all knowing market in which actors, in this case students or home buyers, know exactly what the cost of their purchase will be and exactly how much work-salary they can command to pay for that purchase in the long term. Just like the outdated immigration model that argues that people move based on known economic and social opportunities abroad, the reality is much more complicated. In both cases, students and home buyers had no way of knowing that the United States would enter a recession to rival the Dust Bowl. They could not have predicted that job losses in the country would hover around the double digits nationally and be as high as 35-50% for specific ethnic groups + genders in certain parts of the country. And while home ownership is something that can come later in life, educational attainment is directly tied to employment and income potential in this country.

Both popular media and scientific research encouraged students to see college as a requirement. Every day for years advertisements ran on local channels and basic cable across the country telling high school students that they would be stuck working for minimum wage in dead end jobs without college degrees. While these ads are fewer now that the economic crisis has shifted the way we look at education, they still run today. These ads are backed up by data on:

  • income potential
  • average salaries for certain degrees and histories of placement in certain fields/ with certain companies by certain schools
  • barriers to success the longer one remains outside of school

All of this research over-determines the expectations of students about their economic success as college graduates rather than paints the bleak outlook that Lieber implies should be a given. In fact, Lieber went so far as to discount all of this research when he argued that “They [students] and their families made borrowing decisions based more on emotion than reason.” Again this quote assumes that complete information is available either as a given or by the assumption that the lack of complete information prevents “rational” people from engaging in market decisions. Worse, it’s underlining thesis that poor and working class people are emotional and ignorant results the erasure of all of the data underpinning their decisions and in doing so creates willful fools out of potential victims.

The ongoing willingness of journalists and pundits to blame the poor and the oppressed for their own poverty and oppression, even as all signs point to greed at the top, pales in comparison to Lieber’s assertion that poor parenting is to blame for the student debt crisis:

It is utterly depressing that there are so many people like her facing decades of payments, limited capacity to buy a home and a debt burden that can repel potential life partners. For starters, it’s a shared failure of parenting and loan underwriting. (emphasis mine)

This is where Lieber’s second supposition about “greedy people” comes into play. As he argues a few paragraphs later:

No one forces borrowers to take out these loans

While education maybe optional for some, I think we have already pointed to the reasons it is not for the majority of potential students in this country. Not only is employment and advancement somewhat based on educational attainment, but for some communities it represents needed social and economic capital denied through other avenues. Working class and subsistence level students who really are facing lives spent behind a food counter or department store without the leg up college promises them use education as their doorway out of poverty. The same can be said for people of color, and to a lesser extent rural white people, both of whom have been permanently cast as ignorant, shiftless, and criminal in this country. They use educational attainment to shift perception and gain moderate social capital in their own communities even as they remain shut out of economic capital in the nation as a whole. As the economy fell apart, these groups were at all the more risk for falling below the poverty line without education because they were the hardest hit by high risk lending practices proven to be racial in their application by banks as well as the hardest hit by downsizing. Even now, while the government talks of bounce back, unemployment amongst people of color, particularly African-American males, has reached catastrophic proportions. Rather than “bad parenting” then, the encouragement these groups receive from family to go to college is part of a cultural, gender, or locational struggle that has historically benefited the entire community.

While Lieber argues that lending agencies own some of the blame along with these supposedly bad parents, he writes:

Sallie Mae gets a pass here, in my view. A responsible grownup co-signed for its loans …

The nation’s largest private student loan company gets a pass. Let that sink in for a minute.

While Lieber is perfectly willing to vilify students and their families, he says that a loan agency that helped lock student borrowers into permanent debt even as they are paid by the Federal government for any defaults or costs they accrue is off the hook. Recent research into the student-loan industry shows seemingly unethical ties between certain loan companies and certain well-paid school officials to push specific lenders, loan terms, etc. Lenders have also been known to garnish social security and disability even when they know doing so will render the borrowers homeless or destitute rather than work on payment plans. These loans are binding even if borrowers have to leave school through no fault of their own because the goods and services cannot be returned even though the benefit from them cannot be reaped. Moreover, as I have argued elsewhere, these loans seem to violate basic laws governing contracts which requires the absence of coercion (in this case the threat that not taking out the loan means you cannot go to college and face all of the economic and social consequences of that option for the future) and the presence of complete information (ie a full disclosure of lending practices and consequences, which is impossible given that Congress can change rules governing student loans at any time and loan agencies can change policies governing your loan with a simple disclosure letter knowing there is no way for you to pay the entire outstanding amount to keep from having new policies kick in). One such policy Sallie Mae recently implemented erases the debt relief and on time payment bonuses for borrowers who have to take a deferment or forebearance unrelated to a return to school. THAT’S RIGHT – Sallie Mae is telling students in financial crisis during a massive recession that if they cannot pay their bill the only way to keep up their good credit history with the company is to go back to school, which will presumable result in the taking out of even more loans! Many of my returning students have also complained that none of the new legislation hoping to provide some kind of payment relief for students has been explained to them, or in some cases even provided to them, by their lender. In at least two cases this year, my former students reported losing their good credit status with Sallie Mae because when they called to ask about payment options while un or under employed, they were not told about the income based payment plan because that plan would result in losses for Sallie Mae unlike other plans in which extra money could be made off of each of them. But Lieber thinks Sallie Mae “gets a pass.”

To believe Lieber and others like him, you have to believe that students are ignorant and greedy while banks and the loan industry who set off the multiple economic crisis facing this nation are responsible, unbiased, free agents of an equal open and equal market system. For people who have succeeded through hard work + education + social capital + luck to remain afloat in the economic crisis, victim-blaming has become a mantra, often offset with “times are tough everywhere”, that allows them to sleep with less anxiety at night. It is however a mantra that does very little for the average N. American struggling to survive. While education and housing may seem like privileges to those who have them, they are not special rights afforded to the rich and have not been for 100+ years in this country (give or take). As long as this is how we look at the debt crisis and the people who are free falling as a result of it, we will never reform lending practices in this country let alone address critical inequalities built into that system. Rather than justifying one’s own success or ability to remain somewhat afloat by judging those who cannot, we need to be having ongoing conversations about the cost of college, the lending industry and banking system, and the ongoing decision to penalize mothers, youth, people of color, queer people, etc. for “market decisions” both in terms of lending decisions and blame when those backfire. Anything else is just a poor excuse for why people like Lieber have access to white male incomes at the New York Times while hardworking students wait on the welfare line.

Drill Baby Drill

Every time I write a sentence to contextualize the oil disaster in the Gulf, I erase it. It would be easy to use this event to further a political agenda, especially given that unlike people pointing to Obama I have a historian’s eye view and can actually point to trade agreements, economic systems, war decisions, etc. that predate him and are almost all made and perpetuated by Republicans. Certainly all of us can remember Palin’s chant to “drill baby drill” from only a year ago. And yet, this partisan politics seem to be both childish and offensive in the face of the devastation. Estimates related to the amount of oil spilled already and the impact on wildlife, fragile ecosystems, and the fishing industry alone should bring all the finger pointing to an end and mobilize anyone who can to get to the coast to help. Not surprisingly, when you stop watching mainstream media, that is exactly what we are seeing. The national guard, environmentalist organizations, activists (including Kevin Costner, who has invested in a machine that can separate water from oil), and volunteers are working around the clock to try and stop further contamination of the Ocean, Wetlands, and Gulf and to clean and rescue as many animals as they can. While mainstream media fans the flames of partisan politics and the President looks perturbed while claiming BP is obligated to do what we want, real people are out there fighting to preserve an already fragile ecosystem.

For the rest of us, there is a lesson in what is going on in the Gulf: global capitalism neither cares about people nor plants and animals. Everything is an exploitable resource and every corner that can be cut will be to make the profit that much larger. More than that, the media and the paid blogging political pundits will always mobilize to distract you from the lives lost (human and animal) and the long term impact in order to get you caught up in finger pointing. Whether it is the distraction of the supposedly criminal “illegal aliens” running amuck that keeps you from questioning how laissez faire capitalism, international lending, and free trade agreements have created a global devaluing of workers, increased exploitation of workers, women, and children, and forced chosen and unchosen massive migration of labor that depends on them being unbound by borders, or the “unmoved President” whose lack of action somehow both caused the spill and failed to address it afterward that keeps you from asking questions about oil dependence, exploitation of already vulnerable populations, the ongoing consolidation of power over governments by corporate interests, and profit over people, the bottom line is that finger pointing is not only futile but also keeps the systems of power that let this happen in place.

4 Things You Can Do to Restore Civil Rights in AZ

By now, we have all heard about SB 1070, the latest maneuver by State Government and/or Legislature in Arizona to target Latin@s living in the state. This past year alone, such efforts have included the second attempt to remove key Chican@ history from high schools in a law that would have made it possible to do away with all multicultural, women’s, and/or gender and sexuality history from schools, employment review of some high profile Chican@ advocates working for the state and/or intimidation of state employees questioning discriminatory policing and other government practices,  and the ongoing efforts of Sheriff Joe Arpaio to criminalize Latin@s at the expense of other, needed, community policing. Immigrant rights advocates and civil rights advocates banned together to draw attention to the impact of Sheriff Joe on both race and gender relations in Arizona, citing the absence of follow through on rape cases in order to patrol the border, the increase in petty crime and theft with a weapon, in his district without much response or with response times that have grown every year, making it impossible to catch criminals, and the use of chain gangs and tent prisons in 100+ degree weather, and the rise in racial profiling that was literally targeting all Chican@s in the area and occasionally resulting in young children, N. American citizens, being left on the side of the road, when their parents were carted away and permanently traumatized regardless of whether they had other care providers available. These actions, have already led to Arizona becoming a place where predators who target children, women, and isolated businesses and families thrive because they know that little, if any, energy is being put into investigating their crimes. According to some advocates, rape evidence has been allowed to degrade while Sheriff Joe and his deputies do random searches of families out for a drive. The racial divides in AZ have gotten so bad, that local radio stations actively encourage racist sexism and sexualized violence against Latin@ advocates like Isabel Garcia without much apology and whole communities have been repeatedly pamphleted by supremacist organizations.

Yesterday, despite widespread criticism from both local and national communities, including the President of the United States, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed SB 2010 into law. The bill gives AZ police the right to stop anyone suspected of being undocumented with Arizona borders. The law erodes recent Federal attempts to reign in Sheriff Joe’s racial profiling and seemingly discriminatory policing practices and streamline border patrol efforts. These attempts were not, as some have argued, an attempt to ignore or give a free pass to undocumented people, but rather to draw a permanent line between immigration reform and white supremacy in which the latter was no longer welcome. Finally, the law increases militarization at the border, both in terms of increases in advanced technology at the border and the number of armed border patrol officers and “aids” stationed there, including members of the national guard when/if necessary.

The impact of signing the law far outreaches the legal expansion of discrimination in the state. By signing the bill under scrutiny from the President, Governor Brewer joins a growing trend of conservative Governors and Mayors who have publicly questioned the fundamental powers of the Union in which we live and declared the autonomy of their states in the face of Federal guidelines they have cast as racially insensitive, unequal, or dangerous to white people. These efforts include, casting the health care bill as anti-white or biased toward black people, in an era in which white people are losing their homes and their jobs at an equal or greater rate than people of color over lack off access to medical care or ability to pay rising insurance costs, claims that the President’s support of education and educational reform are about indoctrinating children against “family values”, and now the insistence that border & immigration reform that would have radically reduced the role Sheriff Joe played in AZ were akin to allowing a sea of undocumented (and shiftlessly criminal) people of color into the state. As with all of these examples, SB 2010s symbolic impact is a racial line in the sand that calls for the state sanctioned harassment of people on the basis of their skin color while at the same time, joining a chorus of people questioning the legitimacy of a black president and subsequently re/claiming the nation, citizenry, and governance, as whites only space.

The impact of this law is thus both legally and symbolically important to all of us. So far reports of similar policing in AZ have included issues such as:

  1. costing tax payers in Maricopa County $42 million in settlements for police brutality, unlawful search and seizure, and racial profiling
  2. leaving children on the side of the road to fend for themselves when parents are arrested
  3. decreased school performance and sense of safety for children
  4. the failure to investigate rape reports in a timely manner or, in some cases, at all to police Latin@s
  5. the incarceration of nursing mothers with no access to their children
  6. the breaking of a Chican@s’ arm while in custody for refusing to sign paperwork saying she would return to Mexico
  7. sexual assault of undocumented women by people either associated with or claiming to be associated with Border Patrol or border policing
  8. forcing Latin@ truck drivers to produce birth certificates to move products across the state (think 16 wheelers bringing your produce, the new furniture or fridge your going to buy at the big box store, etc.)
  9. the increase in armed theft
  10. the increase in petty criminality in isolated communities
  11. lack of safety for women, children, and families who are Latin@, interracial, indigenous, or other wise brown appearing
  12. increased open and publicly applauded connections to supremacy
  13. increased public connection between policing and racial profiling that makes everyone who “looks” brown unsafe
  14. the militarization and granting of state policing powers to largely untrained civilians who do not have to pass similar inspection or comply with state laws governing police conduct
  15. the harassment of journalists and attempted policing of news readers

The National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights has released a 4 point effort that anyone concerned about these issues can do to help restore civil rights in Arizona:

TAKE FOUR ACTIONS

NNIRR urges you take four actions NOW to take a stand for justice and human rights.

  1. Raise your voices for fairness and equality at the border. – Call Gov. Brewer’s office and tell her SB 1070 is a disaster for the rights of all our communities. SB 1070 will intensify racial discrimination, criminalization of immigrants – or anyone who does not pass as white or a U.S. citizen. CALL (602) 542-4331 | You can also email Gov. Brewer at: azgov@az.gov
  2. Organize a house-meeting, a vigil and other actions to express support for immigrant rights in Arizona and in your community. Also ask your family members, co-workers, neighbors and friends to talk about what is happening in Arizona. Ask them to make calls and send emails to Gov. Brewer with this message: We are all Arizona. Your law cannot break our spirit of community; your law will not stand. Racial profiling and racial discrimination are illegal and SB 1070 will be stopped.
  3. Build the movement for justice & human rights – tell President Obama to roll back the hate and end all immigration police-collaboration initiatives. Call President Obama to  ask him to speak out against the climate of hate and SB 1070. SB 1070 depends on federal immigration policing programs. Ask President Obama to roll-back the federal immigration enforcement programs that allow local police agencies to collaborate in immigration control. The 287(g) and Secure Communities programs are encouraging the kind of hateful activity we are witnessing in Arizona. CALL the White House at (202) 456-1111.
  4. Give direct support and express your solidarity to communities organizing on the ground in Arizona.

Students around the N. American Southwest, organized walkouts, marches, and protests in solidarity with Arizona. In Arizona, high school and college students also took to the streets in peaceful protests and marches in the hopes of being heard. In many communities, the first of May, ie May Day, will also be an opportunity to stand up for immigrants’ rights, immigration reform without racism, and to participate in the annual call to draw attention to and remove Sheriff Joe. Please be looking out for these efforts in your area as well as considering doing one or more of the four steps above. While you may not live in AZ, we are all ultimately impacted by the turn toward, public, state sanctioned racism, in N America. And the stats about rape cases, petty and weapon related theft, should make both women’s advocates and people in general concerned about their own safety even if they think they are unimpacted by the rise in hate crimes and racial profiling.

A Testament to Evil

A verdict has come in, in the August murder of Roberto González Onrubia in Spain. In 2006 Onrubia reached out to two homeless cis women, Dolores de los Reyes Navarro and Ainhoa Nogales Bergantiños, in the hopes of providing them an opportunity to get back on their feet. While the potential “guilty liberal” politics of such a decision are questionable, they did not justify the violence and humiliation Reyes Navarro and Bergantiños heaped upon him for the misguided attempt to help them out. Within a few months of moving in, they took over his home and kept him prisoner in his bedroom while they sold his mother’s jewelry and his inherited stamp collection. His attempts to free himself where met with both physical violence and transphobic and cissupremacist sexual threats. On more than one occasion Reyes Navarro and Bergantiños forced Onrubia to wear women’s clothing and threatened to prostitute him for additional cash. They did it both to humiliate him as a trans man and to intimidate him sexually, relying on both transphobia and sexism in the sex industry to menace Onrubia as much as their own behavior. They also forced him to give up much of the outward markers that allowed him to live in his chosen gender while again filming the abuse.

When the two women had sold all of the furniture and possessions in Onrubia’s home, they beat him to death.

Onrubia’s was found, disfigured by physical abuse, dead in his own excrement and urine. It was clear he had been forced to spend an unknown amount of months living and sleeping on the same mattress where he was forced to go to the bathroom rather than be allowed to use the facilities in the home. He was also extremely malnurished at the time of his death; Reyes Navarro and Bergantiños took pleasure in denying him food and may have even linked the starvation to their transphobic torture by telling him his dwindling body helped him look “more like a man.”

While the abuse in this story is horrifying, one has to ask why none of his neighbors, co-workers, or friends asked what happened to him. Though he did receive calls during this time, Reyes Navarro and Bergantiños took his cellphone and screened his calls. No one seems to have done more than a preliminary inquiry about where Onrubia was and why he had allowed these two women to sell everything he owned. Was he ignored because he was trans  or did he lack an extensive support network because he had transitioned and was rebuilding his life? Either way, his vulnerability seemed to be clearly linked to cissupremacy that often requires people to start completely over when they transition.

For their crimes, Dolores de los Reyes Navarro and Ainhoa Nogales Bergantiños were fined US$180,000 and sentenced to 18 years each in prison. While it is an impressive conviction given the slap on the wrist most murderers of transgender people receive, can we really put a price on the life of any person, especially one who tried to help others survive?

—-

This article is based on information from El Pais

Unbelievable: Corey Feldman Will Not Attend Corey Haim’s Funeral

Normally, I put these kinds of updates in with the original post, but I felt like this one needed highlighting. Corey Feldman, Corey Haim’s best friend, has released a statement saying he will not attend Haim’s funeral. According to Feldman, Corey’s mother’s religious beliefs and desire for an “intimate” funeral are keeping him away. However, in the same press release, Feldman indicates that while he will not be attending the burial/ceremony for family and friends, he is planning a memorial of his own where he promises the media full access. So is he not going to his best friend’s funeral because Haim’s mom is more religious than the ordained by mail one time celebrity preacher Feldman or because there is no opportunity for a photo op?

note how Feldman has a grp standing around listening to Feldman’s call without telling him

&

when he stands up Haim, all Haim says is he expected more but will work on himself

In the previous post on the two Coreys, I tried to give Feldman the benefit of the doubt despite the way he and his wife seemingly treated Haim and the brutal way they dished over him in his absences on the reality show. (I especially think he deserved this given some tell all interviews Haim did about the couple and the fact that reality shows are scripted and edited, not in fact reality.) Like most people, I have no way of knowing what their friendship was like behind the cameras nor how much damage each Corey did to the other as the years went by. More than that, as I argued in that previous post, both Coreys have linked abuse histories that seemed to create a bond that was both brotherly and a particularly toxic codependence. We can never know what they went through together or depths of Feldman’s emotions.

Unfortunately, despite empathizing with both young men, the latest actions from Feldman (both his accusations about other people not looking out for Corey Haim until his death, while he too gave up on Haim multiple times, and now his promised media friendly memorial service in lieu of attending his “best friend’s” actual burial) make it hard to not at least question his motives. In the wake of Haim’s death, Feldman has taken many media opportunities that other people in his position in the past have shunned. And while Corey Haim is ultimately responsible for the choices he made and the bridges he burned, Feldman too is responsible for the what he has done and is doing.

No one but Corey Feldman knows what Haim would have wanted him to do with regards to his funeral, but I believe Corey Feldman deserves more than what is being offered him in death as much as he deserved more than what he got from life.

I Read Banned Books, Do You?

Sunday marked the start of banned books week. As I said on twitter, I was surprised by some of this year’s entries. Looking over the list for BannedBooksWeek20092008-2009 it seems as though we have become less “tolerant” of diversity and developmentally appropriate exploration in our literature and our schools.

Among the books banned are classics in Latin@ literature, critical entries in Native American literature, and a slew of LGBTQI literature. While the latter may be expected by most of us, what I certainly did not expect was what parents and school boards consider “queer” lit, ie too queer for my children. More importantly, the far reaching definitions of “inappropriate” queer exploration have also extended to heterosexual exploration in ways that once again prove my point that oppression multiplies outward from the targeted to those who target.

These are the books on the list that I own and/or teach:

  • Sarah Brannen. Uncle Bobby’s Wedding. – (Gay Guinea Pigs get married, children’s book). Banned from library (placed in restricted area) Castle Rock CO
  • Parnell and Richards. And Tango Makes Three – (story of the gay penguins in central park zoo) – Banned Bristol UK and multiple banning attempts in U.S.
  • Linda deHaan & Nijland Stern. King & King. – (fairytale with gay marriage at end, children’s book) – Banned in Bristol UK as “unsuitable for children” and Attempted ban at Grade School level Lexington MA grade school b/c of “homosexual agenda”
  • Stephen Chbosky. The Perks of Being a Wallflower – (epistolary novel written by a freshman about figuring out life, sexuality, drugs and death, to imagined reader) – Banned for High School level Portage IN for sexuality, homosexuality, and drug use (also among the most frequently challenged books in the U.S.)
  • Lisa Jan-Clough. Me Penelope (teen girl obsesses with sex as attempt to get love & heal from death of  her brother & parent’s divorce) – Banned for Middle School level Tavares FL for sexual references
  • Sherman Alexie. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian – (semi-atuobiographical story of Native American boy’s life on Spokane (Rez) & struggles with attending an all white school)- Banned for HS level in Prineville OR for ref to masturbation
  • Khaled Hosseini. The Kite Runner – Banned for High School level MI for homosexual content & rapeKingkiss
  • Alice Walker. The Color Purple – Banned Morgantown NC homosexuality, rape, violence
  • Alice Sebold The Lovely Bones – (a young girl who was raped & murdered by a neighbor, watches over her family while she comes to terms with her own death) – Banned for Middle School Waltham MA “too scary”
  • John Berendt. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil – (A queer murder mystery set in the South) Banned 4 days Middle School level- Buelah ND then put on new parental permission list
  • Susanna Kaysen. Girl Interrupted – (the story of a young girl incarcerated in mental facility largely for failing to adhere to gender norms) – Banned High School level New Rochelle NY for sexual content and language
  • Anonymous. Go Ask Alice – (Young girls decent into drug addiction & depression & abuse) – Banned Middle School level Berkeley Co SC  for language, sexuality, and blasphemy
  • Rudolfo Anaya. Bless Me Ultima – (coming of age set against backdrop of diff religious/spiritual traditions & their meanings for Nueva Mexicanos) – Banned High School level Newman Ca for profanity & anti-catholic sentiment
  • Jodi Picoult. My Sister’s Keeper (young girl sues for emancipation to stop being “just an organ donor” for her ill sibling) – Banned for Middle School level Clawson MI “too racy”
  • Mark Bowden. Black Hawk Down (war novel based on failed Somali operation) – Banned High School level Raceland LA for profane language
  • Alta Schreier. Vamos a Cuba.  Banned from Miami Dade for “inaccurate portrayal of Cuba”

What the vast majority of these books have in common is marginality and abuse especially of young girls. The books provide an opportunity for students who are struggling RedUltimaSmwith similar issues to see themselves reflected in the literature they read and potentially develop a language for discussing trauma, adolescent questioning, and sexuality. Many of these books reflect distinctly female voices from working class or single parent homes, authors and characters of color, and queer voices. Removing these books for such minor infractions like “mentions masturbation” serves to not only police the boundaries of sex and sexuality in a developmental period in which such exploration is already occurring in real life but also limit the exposure youth have to traditionally marginalized and erased voices in the literary canon. Much like the recent attacks on health clinics in the schools, banning books with this kind of content fails to recognize both the realities of young adult lives and the actual uses of such literature. Kaysen’s book will no more encourage people to be promiscuous (espec. since the ban misses that sexual acting out in this book is larger a result of sexual abuse) than Hosseini’s will encourage mean boys to rape quiet ones. What these books will do is help people talk about difficult and stigmatized events in a way that provides insight to those less aware of them. They will also possibly provide a pathway to speaking about these issues for those who have similar ones. Since most of these bans take place at the k-12 level, they also validate the families and desires of young people at a critical moment in their lives when they may feel shame or consider self-harm. For girls in particular, these books warn of the sexual violence in our1985_The_Color_Purpleworld and provide ways to understand both domestic and sexual violence they may have already seen or experienced. “Protecting them” from these stories is not worth the risk of failing to provide insight and outlets to them protecting themselves or seeking protection from the violence in the real world.

An important economic aspect to the banned book list is also related to diversity. Not only are many of the authors people of color, queer, and/or women but many of these books were published by independent presses who are more willing to publish marginalized voices and experimental texts. While some people benefit from being on the banned book list, because it raises awareness about their books during the controversies that inevitably ensue, publishers depend on book orders from libraries and schools to make up the bulk of their revenue. Young adult fiction in particular gets most of its exposure in libraries and classroom curriculum. If these books are banned, the independents may go under or take less “risk” on publishing diverse authors in the future. The “underselling” of these books also helps larger publishing companies justify not publishing, providing marginal marketing, or otherwise marginalizing traditionally underrepresented authors. So that the banned book list, at least at the young adult level, has lasting impact on what is available for all of us to read in the future. And the fact that many of the entries on the list are considered literary classics or on Oprah’s booklist should make us no less concerned for the impact on the market as a whole. (Go Ask Alice is out of print, Girl Interrupted was briefly out of print, and many of the most challenged books are never ordered by school libraries for fear of the process of defeating a challenge – ie an unofficial ban is in place in many schools, etc.)

There are undeniable political motivations behind many of this year’s banned books that seem to be more blatant than usual. The fact that books on the basic cultures of Cuba or New Mexico were banned for failing to “accurately portray” country or church smacks of the kind of totalizing agenda that people are always trotting out when trying to ban queer shermanissues from the schools. That these books, along with the gay wedding books, were banned is proof that there are people who want their politics to run the school and that we should all be wary of them. Disagreeing with content of a book or with the identities it represents within its pages is one thing, demanding that all youth be denied access to this material b/c you don’t like it, is another. And for a political ideology that makes so much of the role of parenting, it makes me wonder why they do not trust their parenting and their churches (b/c I am convinced they don’t go to my church) enough to provide context for their children to understand the material they read? Is it the fact that they are discovering that when children are allowed to think for themselves and given material that reflects the lives around them they are more likely to see both their own desires and people who are different from them, or people who are abused and marginalized, as equally human and deserving?

When I was attending a Catholic grade school, we had a banned book cart. It was a stack of books deemed “inappropriate” for youth that the librarian refused to remove from the library. The compromise was to put them on the cart b/c we were all taught that books on carts needed to be reshelved and not to touch them.  B/c of my disabilities, I spent a lot of time in doors during recess, and eventually discovered the cart in question. Among the books shelved there were The Color Purple, A Separate Peace, and the play The Children’s Hour, among others. I remember asking if I could read one of the books, and the librarian telling me I had to read it in the library. As the days turned into weeks, Ibegan to read everything on that cart, asking questions about material I did not understand or recognize. As those weeks spanned to months, suddenly several students who had come and gone from the library on days they could not be outside or had been put in “detention” in the library also began to read with us. We were ultimately a core group of 8. The critical skillsGo Ask Alice Collage Cross we developed in those small reading sessions made us better scholars in our other classes, asking new questions and thinking about things in new ways. Then one day, the principle walked in on our group, admonished her daughter, the librarian, and suddenly the cart was gone. I spent my inside days in the art room after that.

Though I was too young to know what was going on, what I do remember was how brilliant and alive thosemade me feel when I read them. How nice it was to see people of color and young people with real problems reflected in the things I read. And how those grade school days seemed to make me so much better prepared than my high school peers when many of the issues like drugs, sex, desire, and dating violence, entered our adolescent lives.

Having had that experience, and being an educator in love with books, I would argue that most of the material listed above helps readers develop critical thinking skills and possibly survival strategies (in the case of rape, domestic violence, etc.) that transcend the material itself. The point of education is to provide people with those skills so that they can better understand and navigate our world. And yes, by teaching all students a diverse curriculum we, as educators and librarians, provide the opportunities for young people to embrace diversity and build a more inclusive society/ies in the future.

If you are interested in any of these books, please go read them or check them out of the library. And if you live in one of the places where the book was banned, consider buying one and making it available for young adults to read.

——

images

  • official poster for Banned Books Week 2009
  • image from King & King children’s book. deHaan & Stern. King and King. Tricycle Press, 2004.
  • cover art Bless Me Ultima. Anaya, R. Bless Me Ultima. Grand Central Publishing, 1999.
  • The Color Purple movie poster/new release book cover. Walker, A. The Color Purple. Harcourt, 1984.
  • cover art True Diary. Alexie, S. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian. Little, Brown Young Readers, 2007.
  • student college project UNC. Borne, C. “Go Ask Alice, Interpretation 3”