What a Difference Kindness Makes


I’ve been swamped with volunteer work in social justice organizations for the past few weeks since coming back from our seminar abroad. As my post have shown, the experience has not been the most positive one. Far too often I have seen young women taking advantage of other young women in the name of helping poor women, women of color, elder women, queer women, etc. As I said in a previous post, the idea is that “if you really care” you will foot the agency bill for an endless amount of labor and associated costs. And I have publicly questioned exactly who is served by this exploitation since neither the line staff nor the clients are able to function at their best under such demanding circumstances and scarcity models. Perhaps it is because it has been so much in my face lately, I have really begun to question the social service industry as an Industry or Institution rather than a helping agent for change. This, more than any other feminist conflict I have witnessed in the past 4 years of blogging has made me rethink what feminist activists involved in critical fields of women’s services are really contributing to the end of oppression of women, especially the most marginalized among us.

Then I read this post:

Hmmmm, I gave the cashier a $20. I looked in my rear view mirror and there were no more cars to pay for. So, $3.18 for my good deed of the day felt a little lack luster. …

When I make these gestures I rarely look back to see the reaction. … But this time? No such luck. I was stopped by two traffic lights in a row and she caught up with me by the second light. She rolled down her window. She searched my face for some recognition. She found none. “Thank you for this,” she said, “You don’t know what this means to me. I’m on my way to an interview. I lost my job a month ago and I HAVE to find work. I’d given these up,” and she raised her cup, “but I decided to splurge today for a little boost of confidence. Your kindness has done so much more.”

I could see that her eyes were brimming and she was fighting back tears. …

This woman’s act of kindness, done primarily out of guilt for not keeping a promise to herself to pay it forward regularly, profoundly changed one woman’s day for the cost of a cup of coffee. It may have helped change her life, by providing her the confidence in herself and in others that most of us lack these days in a world of selfishness and economic uncertainty. Who is to say?

The story reinforced my larger questions about social service agencies and their role in social justice and social change even as they dismantled them. On the one hand, this woman was able to do something I have not seen many line staff be able to do at some of the places I have been working with precisely because she was neither overworked nor underpaid to provide care to others. Her actions came from a desire to do good that was untainted by the fact doing good had become a job in which “there are only so many hours in a day” and a pittance of pay for them. And I do think that money and work are the major distinctions here because I hope that everyone that goes into social service work, especially feminists, are motivated by doing good (even when their definitions are not the best). But I think something happens when doing good is your job and not your calling; something ultimately switches off for you as you work and work and work some more for very little pay and even less institutionalized support. By creating a social service system that depends on your “commitment to the cause” and actively interprets your need for self-care, boundaries, and compensation for work done as a “lack of commitment” justice becomes part of an industrial complex in which funders get tax right offs and young, largely middle class and white, women get training and activist credibility.

At the same time, these agencies are not devoid of value to service seekers. Individual clients get an array of services that help them as individuals but do not actually challenge the system that made them seek out services in the first place. Thus, social service is self-perpetuating and it goes unquestioned in many ways because of the number of individuals whose lives have been profoundly changed (and even saved) through service. In this way, the woman who paid for the coffee and her amazing impact on the women who received it are still metaphors for the larger service industry. An individual woman did good with the limited resources she had available to her and an individual woman was moved in ways that may reverberate throughout the rest of her day or even her life. How do we quantify the impact? Should we? And if you answered we cannot and should not, then what does that mean for creating equitable work and value in social service for workers which as I argued before translates to better and more thorough service for service seekers?

I don’t have the answers. I wish I did. In an ideal world, each of us would operate from a place of radical love with one another, sharing our resources, knowledge, and strength in a way that honored our interconnectedness rather than demeaned. We would recognize that need is relative and that individuals with abundance in some areas have need in others just like everyone else. In that world, there would be no need for social service because we would see someone stumble and collectively help them up without blame or shame or stigma or even self-interest. But we do not live in that world. We live in this one, where banks steal from mom and pop accounts to give to jet-setting CEOs, medical providers quantify the value of lives because insurers care less about whether you are healthy than how much you will cost them, poor people and indigenous people are asked or simply told to foot the cost of businesses environmental degradation,  and people move jobs and industries out of a country hurting for employment because they cannot exploit the labor, children, or reproductive and sexual rights of their workers or pollute the land unchecked, and they care more about profit than they do about people. In this world, where tv hosts and so-called journalists extol the rights of the rich to go on vacations, buy million dollar garbage cans, and everyone gawks at the latest celebrity craze, very few people care or help anyone so whole industries have grown up to do what we as a people have failed to do. And those industries require money to run. And that money is stretched so thin that the workers at the bottom work 80+ hour weeks, paying for phone bills, food, printing costs, etc. for the agencies for whom they work out of pocket for less money than the people at the top who get paid 3xs as much, work just as hard, but move on to middle class lives after a while never once thinking about the line staff who do not. And so we are back at the beginning.

I welcome your thoughts.

——

Images

  1. unattributed/2009
  2. clipart
  3. “China Blue”/unattributed/portable.tv
  4. “Women Gardening”/Deb Vest/2010

A Full Cupboard for $8.95

I went to the market yesterday, and I bought:

  • 2 heads of lettuce

  • 3 purple onions

  • berries

  • kale

  • cabbage

  • 3 zucchinis

  • 1 bushel of carrots

  • 1 yellow cauliflower

The grand total of my purchases: $8.95

As I told people on twitter yesterday, this trip to the Farmer’s Market brought with it an adventure in yuppie entitlement.

I chose the Farmer’s Market I shop at very carefully as I have a choice of two, neither of which is conveniently located from our house. One is frequented by my colleagues and is located in what the gf and I refer to as “no man’s land” ie the gated community area on the outskirts of the city, the other is located in what many refer to as the other side of “the war zone”, ie you have to drive through some of the poorest parts of the city to get to there. I chose the latter because what it lacks in bright lightening, arts and crafts, and outdoor cafe options, it gains in diversity, straightforward and cheap pricing, and friendly people.

I also chose this market because it is centrally located to many of my students. While many of them who work as day laborers, or have family members who do, get their produce straight from the source, many others do not. Often they are relegated to shopping in the one grocery store serving their area which, as you may recall from previous posts, often sells spoiled milk and eggs, and dry goods years past their expiration date. The store is also unsafe after dark; often, you cannot even get into the parking lot because of the police tape. So choosing a Farmer’s Market in their area and familiarizing myself with it is not just for me but also so that I can encourage students who want to eat healthy and want to get their kids off processed food to use a cheap and accessible place that also benefits local farmers. In my social justice classes, I always include a trip to both Farmer’s Markets with a list of questions they have to get answered. (We’ll get back to those questions in the second part of this two part series.) Along with my gf’s work to help low income people cultivate family sustaining gardens and hook up with local experts in their own neighborhoods, the trips to the Farmer’s Market are part of a larger vision we have for encouraging sustainable veg based lives that center working class people of color rather than upper class “good people” consumption.

When I looked at my bill yesterday, even I was in shock at how cheap it was. And honestly, I turned right back around and bought even more food to take to the local health clinic/last chance food box giveaway that is between my house and the Farmer’s Market.

Not everything about my trip to the market was progressive:

Yesterday, while shopping amidst the largely immigrant communities that call the Farmer’s Market their mainstay, I witnessed a woman who had clearly not been told there were two markets. She wore designer heels and white jeans, both of which will get you a sprained angle at beyond war zone market because there are no paved, wide, brightly lit aisles here, just human packed down dirt and clods of crab grass; no beautiful bins with matching artisan designed labels given to everyone who pays the vendor fee, just big, cardboard, crates with the clumps of earth from the hard working hands that pried the produce from it and then packed in the crates for sale. Like a dear in the headlights, she stared wide-eyed at both people and food, finally settling on huge crates of fruit. Despite the fact that there was a large sign next to the crates saying “by the crate area”, she proceeded to pick over the food and place individual fruit in her bag.

When one of the farmers noticed her, she simply pointed to the sign and said “This is the by the crate area. You’ll need to buy a whole crate.”

The woman glared at the farmer as if to say “You don’t get to talk to me.” She looked around for someone to back her up, but most people were too busy shopping to care what she was up to. Finding no one, she finally said, in her best indignant yuppie voice “But isn’t it better to pick out your own fruit? Isn’t that the point?!”

The farmer, an older woman with long silvery hair, brushed her calloused hands on her overalls, and said “It’s $15 a crate. That’s a really good deal.” Not waiting for the woman to respond, she walked away, considering the matter settled.

The yuppie on the other hand, hugged the bag of fruit to her chest as if it was the stuff of life and looked around the dusty aisles to see if the farmer had gone to get security. Not noticing anyone coming her way, she took her bag of pilfered goodies over to the “buy the bag” section. It seems, despite all her doe-eyed confusion, she knew full well she was in the wrong section.

Suddenly, the silver-haired woman re-appeared and the woman with the fruit jumped. She glowered at the farmer and dumped her bag in the bin of fruit in the by the bag section. The silver-haired woman, who was talking to another farmer, only then noticed her and simply raised a single brow. The woman responded by running her hand over through the fruit to mix it in with the rest in the bin. She then crossed her arms defiantly and lifted her chin.

The farmer who was helping me with my purchases, sighed. He was an older, heavy set, African, who had given up his booth to his daughters because he could no longer lift the big crates that some of the local restaurants bought from his stand. Instead, he rung up members like me who were allowed to come to the market and shop freely paying at one convenient location with a card that showed which farmers needed to be reimbursed. It’s a system that makes it convenient for families, elders, and impatient folks such as myself to get through the market quickly while still ensuring all of the vendors have a chance to sell their stuff. No haggling, no burn out.

As he handed me my bag and asked for the $8.95 I owed, he glanced at the sign above the register. In a big huge chalkboard above the register it said “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone without explanation.” I’d noticed the sign on the way in and I’d also noticed that they seemed to have proliferated all over the market. Originally, I had felt sort of unwelcomed by them but in light of the woman in the white pants who had finally stopped standing like a 2 year-old mid tantrum by the fruit bin when she realized no one had the time, energy, or even felt her important enough to take on her behavior, made the signs welcome friends.

It occurred to me that it is that time of year when new faculty start moving into the area to start their jobs as bonafide Professors and when the new core group of students for the snotty private colleges in our area also arrive with their parents and their credit cards in tow. And for the next few weeks, locals who have settled into a basic system of class segregated lives and easy going quiet, are disrupted by the gazelles who don’t realize the fence is meant to keep them in as much as to keep us out. And everyone will have to deal with their temper tantrums and their disdain until equilibrium is reached mid-September.

Yet it seems to me that if people simply followed the rules instead of thinking that by nature of being X they get a free pass and no one who is Y gets to say different, this could all be avoided. The signs were clearly marked. The prices cheap and the people friendly. Yet Miss White Pants was bent and determine to have drama even if it was a drama of one. She let her anxiety about not wearing sensible clothes for the area and being surrounded by poor people, immigrants, and people of color (sometimes overlapping identities, sometimes not), translate into entitlement and defensiveness and expected all of us to care. Even when acting out, she was still the center of her universe and unclear that she was not the center of ours. Watching her reminded me of so many other conflicts in this town and in this nation around race, class, and gender in which the targets are always expected to center the snipers and where often the snipers don’t even realize they are traipsing about with a loaded gun. These little interpersonal moments illustrate the larger costs of identity wars, for while I was getting a week’s worth of groceries for the price of 2 gallons of gas, she was on the verge of being refused service over a couple of pieces of fruit she felt entitled to because she comes from where she comes from and she found them here. Watching her drama play out, also made me question just how little we have actually changed when it comes to individual thoughts and feelings about identity and how much farther we will have to go to really be safe as a people in this nation.

(this is part one of a two part piece on the Farmer’s Market and class relations)

A Message to Non-Profit Social Change Organizations in 140 Characters

citation in frame

My 140: creative & exploitation are not synonymous; when they r used interchangeably there is no revolutionary change going on

——————————————————

I tweeted this in response to the idea that part-time and volunteer workers at non-profits are being asked to foot more and more of the bill for social service provision at a time when people need more services than ever. My problem is both with the idea that nonprofits cannot afford to hire full time grant writers because they are too expensive and that somehow the burden should be placed on the backs of the lowest paid workers instead.

While grant writer salaries are incredibly high, most grant writers can and do write grants to continually fund their positions while at the same time working on large and targeted funding for agencies as a whole. Though the money can and does dry up, they generally help ensure a much steadier flow of capital into the agency which in turn ensures better pay for and retention of workers. When you recruit workers with existing skills needed by service seekers and then are able to retain them over an extended period of time, your services improve, your clients are better served, and workers have more than their ideals to keep them going.

Underpaid workers have always been a cornerstone of social service. What galls me however is that many social service agencies have taken to humiliating or undermining workers who cannot and should not have to take on additional burdens to offset agency costs. For instance, at a late afternoon meeting today I overheard a young woman tear into her volunteers for not printing out needed materials on their home computers. She implied that their failure to make their own printouts and copies was tantamount to sending homeless women back out into the street with neither clothes nor food and water. When one of the volunteers pointed out that her printer was old and could not print multiple copies for the agency as well as print the papers for her classes, her supervisor insinuated that it was a matter of care and credibility. Either she cared about their clients and was committed to the work they were doing or she was selfish. There was never a thought that maybe asking volunteers to pay for an agency’s printing and copying was where the selfishness lay.

The situation reminded me of a conversation I had at the end of my own volunteer service for a women’s crisis drop in center as an undergraduate. I had a broken down two seater car inherited from my grandfather. It barely drove and broke down regularly. Yet I spent so many hours at the drop in center that most women seeking services and other agencies thought I was staff. My name was consistently at the top of the “rock star” list, a list that praised people for contributing more than the minimum hours. And many nights I had even gone in on 10 minutes notice to sub for other PAID workers and even trained a few.

Yet one particularly bad car week, I had had to cancel my shift 3 times because the car would not start and I was unable to get home in the wee hours of the night when my shift would end. Suddenly my 30-60 hour volunteer week had no meaning to the Coordinator who had to scramble to take my place or transfer crisis calls to my home. I was instantly transformed from a rock star to a loser who did not care about women in crisis.

In fact, the Coordinator said to me “Well maybe you should buy a new car already because this is pathetic.” 20 year old me was stunned. She was a lawyer, I was a student on financial aid driving her grandfather’s car. How could I possibly afford a new car? If she’d just been being inconsiderate out of frustration that would still have been rude and inconsiderate, but as the conversation went on it became clear she was serious. In fact she went so far as to say maybe “people like me” should not volunteer if we could not “meet the minimum standards of volunteerism.” Apparently those standards include being middle to upper class but not working more hours than most paid staff.

The idea that I might need to cut back hours at night in exchange for doing more hours in the day or early evening when alternative transportation was available was beyond the elitist framework in which the discussion was couched. When I suggested that maybe I should simply cut back my hours from 60 to the required 10 to make a point about how class expectations were clouding the issue, she suggested I consider quitting if “I wasn’t going to take volunteering seriously.”

Everyone at the agency was in agreement that the Coordinator, not I, was in the wrong here. Apologies were made and plans to switch shifts were floated. The immediacy with which they tried to make amends was heartening but also tinged with discussions of how they would make up for all those late evening hours “no one else wanted to do” and comments like “maybe they would have to just pay someone.” Despite their mostly positive efforts to fix the situation, in light of the original conversation and the side chatter, the damage was done. I no longer looked at the agency the same way nor felt my labor had value to them beyond their immediate gain. While this was likely only slightly true, I was now wary of the next time an emergency would take me away from scheduled hours, hours that it is the Coordinator’s job to schedule a backup volunteer for by the way, because I never wanted to be in a conversation again where my working class background was seen as tantamount to not caring about homeless women’s lives.

I quit that day. But as I watched the young woman tear up in front of her supervisor at my luncheon, I did not think she would. Worse the demands did not end there. Before we had finished eating, this same woman tore into another volunteer because she had shut off her cellphone. From what I could gather, the agency was running several of its intake services through the volunteers phone and was now in a supposed bind because the girl could no longer afford to pay her cellphone bill. The girl explained that she had lost her job several months earlier and let the agency know sooner or later she would likely have to switch phones but the supervisor did not care. She kept demanding the girl figure out a way to pay for extended coverage because the fate of all immigrant women everywhere hung in the balance. Never mind that the agency itself had to have phones and voicemail they could have and should have been using.

While I wanted to believe that this was another case of an overly self-involved middle class “doo gooder” clocking time for her resume and not an agency wide situation, I knew better. In these economic times the number of agencies serving the same population’s needs is diminishing while the need is growing. The number of paid jobs are also shrinking so that for some, the only way to get into the work that they love is to be volunteer staff. Its a dilemma that holds funders, volunteers, and especially service seekers hostage to a system that is no longer serving people’s needs to the best of our abilities.

Often agencies in economic binds are told to “get creative” about their funding issues. That creativity seems to translate not to looking for new funding sources or finding new, cheaper, ways of doing the same thing, but instead to exploiting workers. Every day I see job descriptions that are actually 4 or 5 jobs for the salary of less than one advertised in the service industry. Every day, I get emails and phone calls from students worried they cannot feed their kids, themselves, or pay their basic bills because they dared to go into helping fields. And as I watched this 20-something, upper class, recent grad berate the multicultural cast of working class and student volunteers and part timers, I could not help but wonder what kind of social justice can come out of exploitation masked as economic “creativity.” If one’s own workers and volunteers have no human value than what value do service seekers have in this model? And how exactly are we striving toward a world where everyone has value, equality, and justice when we are not even providing it for the people on whose labor we depend?

It seems to me that a critically unexplored part of the non-profit-industrial-complex is the exploitation of labor and the subsequent exploitation or diminishing of useful services to clients. After all, nothing can change at cash-strapped agencies who have come to take their workers for granted without a critical paradigm shift in the thinking of social justice agencies. As long as money is tight and the answer is to shut down services and rely on underpaid or volunteer workers for everything from phones, to printing, to salary related donations, neither funders nor workers can escape the cycle by which we all poor money into dysfunction to ensure at least one place remains open for service seekers. Agencies know this and so do the supervisors who lament attrition rates in both clients and volunteers without ever asking themselves why.

So I put it to you again, in another way: what kind of social justice can you possibly be working for when you are providing no justice to your least paid workers?

A Little Peace

Chris Clinton/Getty Images

Last night, I attended a dinner with at least 6 people with whom I do not get along. This situation was rare because it is still technically summer which mostly means I get to be more choosy about the company I keep and that in the waning days of Dr. Crackhead (she’s begun talking retirement), dysfunction in at least two of my Departmental homes is at an all time low. Put another way, for a surprisingly long time now, must of us at Pov U, have all gotten along quite well. Even the divas in our prospective departments have all been making an effort to hold up less meetings, growl at fewer Juniors, and stop yawning with menace at every tentative change in direction we discuss. It’s been a blessing that has formed many new and productive collaborations, funding deals, and exciting changes in the curriculum and type of students we have been able to retain.

As one of the more radical people on our faculty, you can imagine what went through my head when I looked around the room at last night’s dinner and saw people whose intellectual and political commitments include derailing the funding and mentoring of graduate students of color, the nearly successful attempt to return the “Great Books” to the core of the curriculum, and the intentional destruction of important global studies research and study abroad opportunities that were once envisioned as a cornerstone of our little U’s rebirth.

peter j wilson/2007

In sitting with people more radical than I, yes that’s what I said, those folks are the bada– that make giddy with the stupid when they get to telling stories of their “pre-ivory tower days”, I began to feel that familiar rumble. Like a volcano warning all life that had been living peacefully on its terrain, there was heat, electricity, and the promise of devastation lurking just beneath the surface of our pleasant little planning meeting. Soon Bambi would not know where to run to shed those big, big, “I’m innocent and their scary” tears. And the people in the middle would be seeking shelter in the no man’s land sprung up in the devastation.

But I just wanted to eat my veggie rolls in peace and get on with the 3.5 hours of boring presentations we had to sit through before we could vote.

And that is when it happened. I saw woman whose feminism means everyone but her can get out of the way or be called sexist who had single-handedly driven out an entire cohort of students of color from our department one year and instead of sucking my teeth from the tenure porch, I said hello.

I think I startled her.

I think I startled everyone.

In the hush that followed, I asked her how she had enjoyed the first several presentations on mundane drivel that keeps the uni running that we had been subjected to before “dinner.” Never one to think her opinion is not central to the inner-workings of the universe, she warily began to wax poetic about her thoughts on new heating coils for the gym. In the 20 minutes that ensued, we discussed both the mundane and the surreal that is part of life at Pov U with more than a few overlaps in opinion. To her credit, she only made one disparaging remark about non-gender specific identity studies and the scholars who engage in it and only one barbed comment about me personally. It was a record for her. And in exchange, I did not exploit her fears of women of color and sense of inadequacy around people who know more about certain subjects than she does. We both considered the conversation a fair exchange. When she left, she left smiling and nodding at me like she’d finally realized I was human. And I smiled back, hoping that this rare moment meant that maybe we could forge ahead with less conflict in the future.

At our conversations end, I noticed that others who had often been on the other side of major political battles at Pov U had drawn close to our conversation and were now jockeying for similar attention. More than that, I noticed the radical colleagues with whom I was eating had let the call of the thunder and lightening lull to a threatened of slight drizzle. It was odd and yet wonderful. Somehow, I thought we could keep the peace and the Golden Age of collaboration could continue.

But then I realized my naivete. The people crowding near our conversation did not want to discuss mundane Pov U business as a metaphor for working together and committing to decrease oppressive behavior on campus.  The woman who had tried to deny my tenure on the basis of … blackness… and who had made a career of encouraging students of color and queer students in her Department to quit school all together or “for the love of g-d, transfer!!!” stepped in front of me and painted a clearer picture with her broad smile and barbed opening, disparaging my intelligence and my outfit all in a single flick of her tongue. Her smile said she expected pleasantries and her demeanor said she’d beat them out of me if necessary because she too wanted a public chat in which everything seemed friendly and nice to observers.

Suddenly, I felt like an overwrought Priest during confessional.

Sorry lady, this chapel is closed.

Not every space has to be transformed into a war zone between the people clinging to power and the people exploiting their clinginess to wrench it from them. Sometimes, everyone is just grateful to keep eating. More than that, in a moment in which so much good is coming out of our ability to cooperate it would be a mistake to let people who tear things down have a forum in which to justify it. I understood this when I made the gesture to a woman I’d rather did not work here and she understood it when she took the offer from me, a woman she wished did not work at all.

And yet, even with this most fragile peace, there is always someone who wants to exploit the very well-defined boundaries to their own ends. If I had let her, the second woman who wanted to talk, who intentionally blocked my path to back to my table, would have torn the whole social treaty forged just 20 minutes earlier to pieces. And for what? She was not looking for a chance to chat with me anymore than I her. What she wanted was what all unrepentant guilty people want, a public absolution to go wreak havoc another day. In her arrogance and her sense of single issue victimization she believed such an absolution was her due and that my denial of it would be more proof that she was the radical and I the interloper.

Roger Corman/1962

This, by the way, is why people do not try. As long as the people with entitlement issues and privilege-evasive blinders think themselves the victims due apologies all the while oppressing everyone around them, their intended victims will always prefer attack or disdain over peace or learned alliance. After all, these are the colleagues who bring eggs and throw them, then complain about having to walk on eggshells whenever they are near us.

The impending conflict ended when two extremely Senior male colleagues got between us with the proverbial “Girls, you’re both pretty.” As she stalked away in a feminist huff, taking no responsibility for the problem but only marking the sexist way in which it was ended, she looked over her shoulder at me and said “Well, I guess we’ll have to talk later when you have time to be around the women of the college.” Score one for [single-issue] feminism or not.

The women back at my table simply laughed and asked if I enjoyed my turkey and pumpkin pie.

And so that little peace was shattered. Our Golden Age tarnished. Even now, my phone is ringing with colleagues wanting to gossip about the unmitigated gall of academics who see themselves as saviors because they occasionally mention race or class before reverting back to their navels. And I know exactly what was gained by the other side, because when we don’t work together then Pov U has little chance of moving into this century intellectually, economically, or with regards to diversity and that makes it easier to revert to conservative arguments about what needs to change and what does not. Score one for delusional bigotry.

Think Fast: 10 Songs You’d Sing in Public

Ok, seriously, I couldn’t think of anything to write about on the blog today that did not take more research than I wanted to do on a lazy Saturday. So I am staring at my navel and inviting you to do the same.

Today’s post, and its title, comes from an ice breaker that assumes you will answer the question:

  1. quickly, no pausing to think
  2. using a mix of songs that reveal something about you and/or are songs someone else who knew you couldn’t guess

For this post, I ruled out anything I’d put on the blog before or anyone I mention a lot which includes of course: Miguel Bose, Juanes, Brick and Lace, Joss Stone, most of the 80s (remember 80s Fridays), so it was tough.

Here’s my list in no particular order:

  • Rhianna Push Up on Me – because it is a song that me and my girls dance to a lot when we are just hanging out in the house and when I don’t want to clean the house, I turn this on full blast as part of a mix of similar songs and it turns sweeping up on its head

  • Annie Lennox & Chryssie Hynde Baby Give it Up – ok, the truth is I just want to be involved in anything that involves these two women on stage at the same time; I of course would be puddling myself in the corner

  • Laura Izibor I Don’t Want You Back – because I think this is the best break up song ever and I did sing it in public for a friend of mine who was all twisted over a drunk dialing from her ex and by the end of the song, the whole front row of the bar and a couple of the waitresses were singing along.

  • Rob Thomas Mockingbird – I went to a private concert this summer by the last boy I dated, 4000 years ago, he looked right at me & started to play this song and when he got to the part about walking away he handed me the microphone and we sang the rest together (who knows, if Rob Thomas had been around when we were kids, I’d still be straight … nah)

  • Camper Van Beethoven Take the Skinheads Bowling – come on, who doesn’t want to sing this in public?

  • Shakira No – in this case, I probably couldn’t sing this song in public because she has too many vocal changes for me in certain sections but you know if you’re gonna sing in public there should be some risk right?

  • Johnny Lang Red Light – now if you follow my twitter you could have guessed this one but most people would not have guessed this one  either I think, all though it was right up there with Sugarland’s Better than This as my theme songs back when Dr. Crackhead was in charge of the department

  • Hole Violet – this goes under the Dr. Crackhead files

  • La Ley Aqui – just cause

  • Son by Four El Puro Dolor – I saw drag kings sing this once and melted; I am not really sure I could pull it off but go big or go home

So what would your top ten songs be?

Quickies: The Catch Up Addition

(updated) So a lot happened in the world of fluff while I was away and, if my stats are to be trusted, some of you are really desperate to hear what I think about certain media moments. Here is the long and the short of it in the following order:

  1. Dr. Who Season Finale
  2. Wonder Woman Revamp
  3. Lindsay Lohan’s Arrest
  4. Despicable Me Review
  5. The Real L Word a Retraction

Moffat/unattributed

  • Dr. Who Season Finale (Spoilers)- I admit that after much initial scepticisim, I decided I really liked the latest incarnation of the Doctor. As I said in my post “Dr. Who Super Quickie“, the writing, acting, and directing had finally seemed to gel, everyone was bringing their A game, and the storyline was finally distinctive and engaging. Unfortunately, Moffat could not just sail his own ship into Dr. Who history like the amazing writer, director, and fan he is capable of being. Instead, like a rejected child whose lost one too many fights with daddy, Moffat consistently veered the show back over Davies territory in order to rewrite, rehash, and re-envision what has come before instead of simply taking the show in the direction he would like to define it’s latest incarnation. As a consequence, many of the episodes and especially the first part of the finale played out more like “suck it dad” than creative expansion. I’ve never been one for Freudian dramas between men, but when the final episode pt 1 aired as a mirror of the first, full of pointless pontificating and the resurrection of doctors past dissolving into the underwhelming Matt Smith I’d had enough. When part II opened with all of the Dr. Who enemies past destroyed, I wanted to call about the BBC and demand an apology to loyal fans or at least get myself put on an important panel in Britain to give a scathing review up close. The ridiculousness of Moffat having to constantly remind fans that his Doctor is The Doctor and his Whoniverse was better than all the rest because ha, ha, he destroyed all the other ones, throughout the show ranged from the subtle changes that we could all get used to, to the drastic ones. He even stomped on Torchwood lore by making Rory somehow able to be human despite not having an ounce of human DNA left as a cyberman while Lisa, who was half human, could not pull it off. But the worst, was when his entire first season at the helm ended with “DO OVER.” Seriously? What kind of lazy writing does one have to engage in it that they offer up very little new material throughout an entire season and yet still can’t think themselves out of the one new piece of information they provided without just calling time, literally, and starting again? What is the point of a time traveling show if the solution to go forward and then backward in time to rectify one’s mistakes is not expressly prohibited? Where is the tension in the show, if at any time they don’t like the direction they can just yell “do over” and set the universe’s time clock back to the part they liked? And as for those of you wondering if Smith is coming back as the Doctor, he is. I’ve seen the early images from the second season filming and he is there in an even uglier tweed coat; but then this should have been obvious from both the ending of this season and the fact the man has a 5 year contract. The sharp distinction between Matt Smith as Doctor when the scripts really were new ideas devoid of Moffat’s posturing and Smith as puppet in Davies banishment is only slightly less striking than the caliber of the story lines, direction, and acting of the supporting cast in these same episodes. To see how great this show could be if Moffat would stop playing what one of my colleagues calls “penis, penis, whose got the penis” long enough to realize no one else is measuring makes me sad, at best, for how terribly mundane it will continue to be until Moffat let’s it go.  (I had a discussion about this on twitter with some filmmakers, fans, and DMs with a few former employees of Who, and everyone was in agreement that the show has potential but Moffat’s obsessions get in the way. We also agreed the finale was underwhelming for anyone who has been a long term fan of the show; people who are only 5 or so years in to their fandom may feel differently because they don’t recognize all of the elements that we do.) Here’s hoping that during the hiatus Moffat puts his issues to bed, realizes that he is the undisputed heir to an amazing fortune, and gives us the brilliance Dr. Who and Moffat’s own legacy deserve.

Terry Dodgen

  • Wonder Woman’s revamp. First, go read Gay Prof’s analysis because there really isn’t anything else to say about what is lost here. En breve: her proto-feminist legacy has been completely erased, no more matriarchy origins, no more island of powerful women aka Amazons, no more female defined moral code or ethics, and yes no more swimsuit. As I said, I could be analytical about it all, especially given the huge loss of feminism, proto-feminism, and even pseudo- or out-dated feminism that defined various incarnations of Wonder Woman, including her origin story, but Gay Prof has already done that so well. So Instead, I am going to tell you a story. A long time ago, in an isla far away, I used to run around in my front yard in my Wonder Woman underoos imagining I was a powerful Amazon who stopped bullets with my big, shiny, bracelets. Years later, I was a wee lass jumping over koi ponds and lassoing cacti with an actual golden lasso I found one day on a walk with my big sister, with the boy next door. He was Steve Austin and I was Diana and we were saving the world across the super hero-bionic divide. I credit these moments and all the ones in between them for my development as a femme. I was never insulted by the bathing suit, or the short skirt, I was empowered by it, because I understood that Wonder Woman was a powerhouse that even male superheroes and military generals respected and she did it in thigh high boots and those signature bangles I mentioned already. The only women who made me want to femme out more were probably the queens and female rulers on Star Trek who combined their minis w/ the most delicious fabrics and green, purple, and glittery eyeshadows. Like Diana, they could not be bested even by the likes of Captain Kirk. For me, the revamping of Wonder Woman into some watered down, feminist-history-absent, manga-esque (and I like manga), video game ready, no doubt wise-cracking ie makes fun of men to prove her superiority instead of just being superior b/c she is umm a superhero, teen girl with a bad hair cut and even worse fashion sense makes me want to go all Fembot on someone. So for all the feminists saying “at least she has pants”, your analysis of why she didn’t before was spot on with regards to gender inequity in the superhero universe, however, her pants come at the price of her actual feminism and feminist history. More than that it comes at the price young girls who are still bombarded with hypersexualized images of youth that never contained feminist messages while being robbed of the few cultural icons that did. Better to be a girl in the front yard in your swimsuit taking down bad guys than an equally young girl in the backyard wearing XW-inspired hoochie gear # 5 while practicing how to go down on them instead. Oh and one more thing, have you seen the drawings of Wonder Woman? Most, tho certainly not all, of the fan art shows her with powerful legs and biceps, looking strong enough to take on the world. Many of the women and men who emulate her at conventions, costume parties, and events do so with a sincere reverence, even when its campy, toward her strength, intelligence, and femme-fatale. And even music videos that do homage to her have all referenced her brains and her braun as well as her beauty. This stands in stark comparison to the re-imagining of other female heroes and side kicks found in graphic novels who have always been fully clothed; take good look at the fan art and you will see a pattern in which their drawings make Barbie look appropriately proportioned, I’m just sayin’ …

you thought I was going to miss the opportunity to do two Wonder Woman pics; silly

rjonesdesign/2010

  • Lilo’s arrest – am I the only one who thinks a critical piece of the puzzle is being ignored in the hate on Lindsay bus? While many child actors end up addicted and burned out, and Lohan made no friends with her pre-teen diva act, it seems to me that hating on her in the absence of similar critique for the industry that supplied her and every other kid on the block is not only wrong but incredibly short-sighted. Part of the reason the industry gets away with taking talented children and turning them into drug addled teens with one foot in the grave is that our culture engages in collective cognitive dissonance as a society; we know who gives them drugs, how and why, and yet we just keep on staring at the spectacle and blaming the victims. More than that somewhat predictable answer to the Lilo situation, I want to add a queer eye. At least publicly, Lindsay’s drug habit seemed to spiral at the exact moment she was considering her sexual identity. Her first reported major drug bouts came around the same time that the photos of her engaging in knife play with another actress surfaced. Both women denied the lesbian content of the images and the media was happy to spotlight the “freakery” and call it attention getting. Shortly after those images emerged however, Lilo was moving forward with Samantha Ronsen. And while she seemed to be occasionally better while with her, Lindsay’s addiction continued to flare up. Those moments when she seemed to cross the line from spoiled party-girl to addict seemed to always coincide with public humiliation surrounding her sexuality or with dwindling film options that everyone assumes are related to the drugs, and are to some extent. But no one considered how quickly the doors shut on her options while similar young women in Hollywood with far less talent and just as public drug use continued to find work; those girls were all straight. Young queer people self-medicate every day in this world especially in response to imagined and real rejection. They fall down the looking glass never to resurface. So I ask you, is it so much to think that maybe a young woman just discovering her sexuality, who still does not even use the word “lesbian” to describe herself, who has her sexuality discussed in public across the world as if her feelings mean nothing or worse are humorous or a publicity stunts, and who already works in an industry in which drugs come easy and fast to people in her position, is in fact partially medicating her way through a major identity change? And even if she wasn’t, knowing what we know about the coming out process in the U.S. do you think someone who is already using drugs wouldn’t consider turning to them for comfort when the whole world is taking opinion polls about her sexuality and mocking her sometimes heart wrenching break ups with comments like “even women don’t want you fire c—-h” and “ha ha, guess that lesbian thing really wasn’t the way to boost your career”? So I am not saying there isn’t a complex picture here in which Lindsay must take some responsibility, including for her own actions, but instead pointing out that there are both recognizable circumstances devoid of sexuality and very clearly documented issues with regards to them that everyone seems to want to ignore so that we can all point and laugh of the fallen child star. I for one think she deserves more than that.

disney/2010

  • Despicable Me – the first hour is a snoozefest facilitated by the major jokes having all been included in the trailer. The last 1/2 an hour however is endearing and entertaining. Despite being billed as a supervillian movie, it is really a modern Orphan Annie in which the main character falls in love with three Orphan girls while trying to steal the moon. In finding his inner-parent with them, he also resolves his issues with his own judgmental mother and makes peace with the ways she tore down his dreams of going to the moon that led to his criminality, and plot to steal the moon, in the first place. There are 5 main women and girls in this movie, all of  whom are white. Some of them are stereotypical, like the overweight Southern Belle-turned-B–ch who runs the orphanage and the overbearing, uncaring, mother. The girls, on the other hand, represented a range of female identities none of which are disparaged despite the fact that one or two of them are extremely different. One girl wears glasses but there are no other disabilities present in the film. There are also minor female roles in which the women are also stereotypes, including the overbearing and over-indulgent N. American tourist mother and the overweight black mom. Minor male characters with lines are more varied: there is an overweight, clueless, N. American father, and over-indulged obnoxious N. American tourist son, and the annoying-but-meant-to-be-slightly-creepy, scientist, who is not emasculated but instead used as the source of jokes about age and aging; there is also a black male tourist with no lines and two Egyptian guards who are so dumb they don’t know the pyramid has been stolen, there roles as really minor. The major action takes place between the male supervillians and the bank, also run by a man, and most of the comedy involves yellow aliens who speak a mixture of Spanish and gobbledy-gook, which of course is insulting.

showtime/2010

  • The Real L Word – I know I said it was like bad dyke drama that you cannot turn away from in my original post, but seriously now it’s just bad. Since that first episode, I have not been able to sit through an entire episode of the show and I stopped watching all together when Rose, one of two Latinas and the only one who is light but not white appearing, through a party at the home she shares with her girlfriend and then spent the entire night demeaning her and acting like a loud mouth. When her girlfriend Natalie tries to confront her sexist and belittling behavior, Rose simple tells her to move out if she doesn’t like it and seems completely unfazed when Naatalie says she might and started to cry. In fact, Rose went downstairs and continued her boorish behavior with her guests. It was the kind of moment that makes you question whether a reality show should be a “true” reflection of the diversity of the lesbian experience, which includes boorish, self-absorbed, women who really don’t care about anyone but themselves or if it should make an effort to show lesbians in as positive a light, without losing sight of reality, as possible because it is only one of two reality shows to be centered completely on us. And these questions are colored, pun intended, by the fact that the only person acting this way is the only visible woman of color on the show; though, admittedly, she is not the only one who plays with women’s emotions and puts her needs first. I fall somewhere in the middle on the issue, in that I believe that a diversity of experiences need to be shown but that when you are among the first to represent a community to a wide audience you need to engage in point and counterpoint, ie that there needs to be a balance of identities and that race needs to be a factor in making the decisions about who you cast. In this case, if you have a loud mouth sexist Latina lesbian than you need to have a loving non-sexist Latina lesbian alternative precisely because the former plays into the stereotype of sexist hotheaded brown folk. Technically the L Word has provided this alternative in soft-spoken Tracy, the problem is Tracy is a white Latina (white appearing in the language of the U.S., blanca, ie white, in the language of Latin America) and therefore is not a visible counterpoint to Rose at all. And while we are talking race, there continues to be the ongoing issue of an utter absence of people of color in the “Real” L Word’s version of LA. If we removed Rose and Tracy LA could pass for a really sunny Sweden; when you film somewhere as diverse as LA, you should be able to get some people of color in the background shots just because they are there. This lack of reality has been a bone of contention amongst culturally conscious lesbians since the fictional L Word but there is also the issue of unreality in general in reality shows and what it means for the stories we see rather than the ones that were told/filmed. For more insight into that from a couple on the show we participated in order to help people struggling with self-acceptance or figure out how to fit into a sexual identity that has become synonymous with a lifestyle they may not lead see here. The women of Velvet Park also discussed in detail the way the show seems to want to exploit every negative thing about every member of the cast and turn this show into a sort of “Real Housewives of Lesbian County” which seems inappropriate in general and especially in the context of groundbreaking television. And so, I have to remove my endorsement of the show as something painful and yet compelling to watch. I’m not watching and from what I can tell neither is anyone else who is media savvy.

Hi All

I’m baaaack!

I have a whole list of posts I want to do, but silly me, I checked my work related emails before sitting down to post and oh the drama!!! So, I just wanted to let all of you know I am no longer knocking on death’s door nor blissfully oblivious to the universe while attending fascinating seminars abroad. I am however, still surrounded by interoffice politik and students on the verge … who says academics get summers off?!?

Someday soon, I will be posting that “Mel Gibson Spectrum Disorder” post tho, don’t you worry.

On Fathers and Days

This post has been edited to fix all of the disability related grammar issues. Sorry it took so long.

unattributed/employeesthrive.org

A lot of women bloggers took the weekend to write reflections about their fathers. Many were filled with ambivalence, pain, and resolution. Some showed the courage of the phoenix rising out of natal ashes. Many natal families are the first place we learn fear, violation, betrayal, and violence; these stories, and being able to tell them without judgment, are woven into a feminist commitment to ensure equality for young girls and women around the world. But when it comes time to talk about families, I feel like the thin girl complaining she is not plump enough or that she cries in front of her mirror too. I’m sure she does, but given the amount of body policing and psychologically damaging labels of ugly, lazy, and unlovable larger girls labor under it is hard to give skinny an ounce of sympathy. And so, like skinny, I keep my mouth shut. You see, my stories about my father are about systems of oppression not the scary man who we fear coming home from work, having too many beers on Sunday, or stumbling into the “wrong room” at night. My father taught me to be strong and wise and politically committed. His failing was in sending me out into a world of middle class people with working class revolutionary commitments and ethics. And our shared lack of compromise with polite people has led to our shared careers as the hard core wing of academe and social service,  too smart to toss and to different to be included.

unattributed/voices.com

I could tell you stories about how my father missed my birth because he wasn’t the same color as my mother so the staff told her he’d gone out for a smoke and they couldn’t find him. I could tell you about the time that a group of men beat him bloody on his way home because they didn’t think he deserved to be in our family. And I could tell you the look on my first boyfriend’s face when he came to my house and met my father or the way the gf and my dad bonded to my mother’s chagrin. I could tell you these stories and watch you guess at whether he was lighter or darker than me and my mother. Watch you wonder if my stories of outside oppression color my ability to see it inside my home. But the thing is, my tears, though real. are not your tears and my father is still my hero.

getty image/unattributed

So if I were to tell you a story about my dad, it would be about how such a strong man and brilliant mind inspired me to be better than I am. It would be about his escapades putting his life and his career on the line to stand up for Chicano rights, Black Pride, and the American Indian Movement. It would be about the bad-ss days of old when he and Angel Davis were in the trenches together instead of contrasted by hallowed halls. And it would be about how at the end of his life, this man is disrespected almost daily by young, white, gay and lesbians, and upper middle class white heterosexual couples and college kids who call him the “Man” while they mock him, antagonize him, refuse to serve him at restaurants and grocery stores, all the while waiting for him to die so they can tell their friends to buy up his house and own the whole block. It would be about how the onset of dimentia is making their disrespectful crazy-making around him seem legitimate to police and is transforming my dad from the kind soul who carried a big stick to the raging “old fool” on his porch in shorts in the middle of winter.

The Fields/Hustlerofculture.com

Then instead of lamenting how little he cared for me as a child, like so many others have done this weekend, I would have to tell you how sometimes I cry at the utter lack of control I have over how he is treated by those “neighbors” who think they are so progressive and so much more oppressed than he. I would have to trust you to understand that my PhD does not buy me the privilege to stare down the cops who ignore his calls or the neighbors who mock him. I’d have to trust you to know that the money I make may stop them from stealing his home out from under him as they did to black elders on the block, but it will never buy him security or the respect that he has earned but they still refuse to give. I might even have to tell you how I rage like an angry black woman at some of those people as they stand there shrouded in their white innocence, pointing and using my anger to justify their fear and hatred.

The First Family W/ Barack Obama’s Sister & Husband & Michelle Obama’s mother/unattributed

So no my dad is not the boogie man. I don’t have to swallow childhood shame to take him out to breakfast on Father’s Day or pretend my girlfriend is my roommate.

And so I keep my mouth shut. Because I know what a privilege it is to have a father, a real one, and not just some terror in the shadows who once donated his seed.

Perhaps this little glimpse into my life tells you why it is that every Father’s Day I post pictures of loving dad’s doting on their children and encourage us all to remember the fathers we did have, whether natal or chosen, who helped us find our way.

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.