Not Much Has Changed

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I was reading Breeze Harper’s piece on racist and misogynist trolling of her website Sistah Vegan a few days ago and thinking how little has changed for black intellectuals in North America. Breeze mentions how she has advanced degrees from prestigious universities, honors, and awards that should make her word hold some weight. However, as a post-colonial reading of Merleau-Ponty quickly points out the imagined black Other supersedes that of any disconfirming information. So we are always ignorant until proven smart. Always race baiting haters until we allow racism to run rampant on our sites or bow down to the know it all white expert who is likely reading an uncited bastardization of our own text back to us incorrectly. And so on.

What struck me most reading Breeze’s article was not just the long list of educational credentials that amount to nothing in the face of whiteness, but also the fact that she has been harassed by so-called Buddhists for daring to participate in decolonizing wellness practices. Not only does this seem decidedly anti-Buddhist, but it touches very close to home. You see, I have a white male Buddhist in my life, through no fault of my own, who is consistently harassing me about my intersectional politics and my desire for equal treatment at the university. He denies that there is any sign of discrimination in the classrooms he oversees and yet there are multiple complaints about racism, sexism, and homophobia overheard in the halls, claimed to be written on the evals, and most importantly several students and one faculty member have threatened to sue over oppressive behavior or pedagogical choices. He calls me unstable when I advocate for myself or others, and has literally told people to stay away from me if they want to succeed in our profession. Once, he even maligned my family and allegedly physically threatened a gay male colleague. But when anyone who he cannot menace asks him about the rumors about his behavior, he laughs and falls back on his Buddhism as proof that he would never harass students and faculty of color, queer students and faculty, women, or differently-abled people. He talks about his spirituality and its call for authenticity that he takes seriously and even publishes about. When backed into a corner, he even beats his chest and talks about his own experiences of being bullied in school and all the poor black families he worked with when he was young.  He, like the Buddhist in Breeze’s post, is accessing whiteness through the lens of “good person”, i.e. the idea that because he practices benevolent spirituality he has already conquered oppression not only in his own mind but in any arena in which he enters or controls. As such, he has the right to silence and deny evidence of oppression and the need to heal from it coming from the people most likely to know what it looks like: the oppressed. Unlike the spectres in Breeze’s article however, he is not a pimple faced kid hiding at an internet cafe or in the back room of the Women’s Studies class he hopes will get him dates all the while resenting nothing else was open in this time slot. He is a tenured department chair. A real live, living breathing man, with the power to shape minds and marginalize and oppress those he does not see as fit to complain.

This is why I started with the image above. You see, it was not too long ago that schools were segregated and people had to fight to get access to good educations. It was not too long ago that students had to walk out to see themselves reflected in the curriculum. And in fact, despite these huge gains often met with unspeakable emotional and physical violence from the “good people” brigade, the reality is that very little has changed. Key historical figures in the history of social justice in this country are slowly being removed from history books. Important people of color, queer people, and women are being slowly erased and their contributions being usurped by the assumption that the men in the books did it first. Differently-abled and trans folks have very seldom if ever seen themselves in the textbooks and when they do, it is often with their identities completely washed away. The demographics of schools are also showing a rise in re-segregation and the middle and high school level which leads to even more “Real World encounters” at the university level. Just last year I had a student tell me that she had never had to be in a class with a black person before meeting me and another tell me that she lived in a neighborhood where the police would escort me out if I ever visited. But the Chair swears this is a safe place for students of color to learn and faculty of color to teach, all though there are no faculty of color to speak of in his department if you do not count us fellow cross-listing faculty, none.

So, what does it all mean? Ultimately, while Breeze’s piece resonated with me on so many levels from shared experience in and outside of the blogosphere to the myths I internalized about education and meritocracy without even realizing it, I have to disagree with the premise. I do not believe that trolls are the stuff of the internet. I work with trolls every day and in this climate they are empowered to troll me with the goal of making me break without any consequences. Like the girl pictured above, I sit in classrooms with students who literally point and say snide things about the way I smell, how I do my hair, the things I find important and meaningful, etc. and when I discuss it with other faculty, I often see folks who are lead by the likes of Dr. Crackhead or worse Mr. Buddhist-light, whose capacity for emotional sadism rivals any white supremacist in the history books or outside of it. (Material added 4/27/13) To be clear, the N word, “black bitch”, and the like have all been said to my face or the face of my colleagues at one time or another in our careers; one can only wonder what these “colleagues” and instructors call us behind closed doors or with the not-so-invisible veil of the internet. (End of added material)

Something has gone horribly wrong with us as a nation when we have already fought the battle of equal education and seen its toll, only to let it slip through our fingers. Something has gone horribly wrong with us as a people when we have looked on lynching images and read about how group think works, and we let our classrooms slip back into seethingly invalidating environments egged on by the person in the front of the room or their boss. I write this, with no answers, as one person trying to change it, speaking to all of you readers who I hope are doing the same. Let’s join our thoughts and our voices and our strength because otherwise it will be too late.

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Quote of the Week from a Blog Reader

I am wrapping up my travels in the land of P which means live blogging is back in effect starting now. I was at an impromptu retreat with 6 amazing woc professors representing the entire academic lifecycle this side of the PhD: a brand new junior scholar, some “I survived my first and second years,” some endowed chairs of all things everywhere, and some with one toe happily dipping in the retirement pool and me smack dab in the middle. It was the exact right place to be at this moment – when faith gets shaken, the call to mentor from marginalized students is starting to cap my academic email bandwidth (which by the way, why is it not unlimited?), and my hopes and dreams, that always spike this time of year, dance with my disappointments and dread across the landscape of my memories and my waking thoughts about this life in academe. I wish I could give each of those brilliant women a “shout out” but, ours is secret club in the good and blessed way. where we meet and dream together for the strength and peace of the spirit and the doing of the tasks at hand. We have no plans for shaping the world in our image or forcing out the unbelievers who are just as convinced that we are the problem. Instead, we are trying

  • to listen
  • to remember
  • to strengthen
  • to grow.

For endless screed (whose blog has been down for 6 months?! but still has an ejournal and a website) I can give a special shout out for putting the whole thing together. b/c when I asked, she said, making that head cocked to one side face of hers, “dude, I don’t care.” It was good to see her in her home town, her little kid energy is infectious. All of the young ones have that energizer bunny thing going on that makes me wonder if I missed the day they passed out batteries.

 

I am happy to report that despite the fact that google outed her as an “author of this blog” this past Fall without either of our knowledge/consent, grrrrrr, for those TWO archived pieces here on the Chavez Street controversy and gentrification, she is willing to write a few pieces here again, this time with credit. 😀 When I said, “what about what people said to you when they thought you were me,” she sucked her teeth and said “At least I know who your friends are.” Yep, me too. Ain’t blogging grand. (And this my friends is why I don’t tell you my real name, that and the fact that I don’t represent my uni, organizations to which I belong or for which I volunteer, or am the chair,  at the spot. Reality is, as much as it has hurt my soul to discover, some people are never so honest about what they really think about your politics, or about how they treat people they think have little to no influence, until they think you aren’t in the room.)

So it is in that spirit, that I bring you this week’s Best Quote, it comes from an old comment Selmas made in the Say Hey section. (Some of my feistier colleagues at the retreat are going to be disappointed that I did not use the Puro Pedo quote about women in ethnic studies that had us all rolling on the floor, but think about it, this one fits.)

Selmas was talking about why woc bloggers are important and about how blogging has provided a forum for women of color to not only speak but contribute publicly to the production of feminist knowledge that the publishing industry, departments, and other institutions often deny us or erase. The quote is technically from Alice Walker:

“Anything We Love Can Be Saved.”

This myopic moment has been brought to you by the letter P and the number 6 and a bunch of powerful and amazing women I am proud to know.

 

—–

 

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  • coffee shop
  • before photo from so curls gallery. image unattributed.
  • untitled. flickr. awcc photostream.

 

On Teaching Research

Long time readers know I regularly teach social activism courses, even when they are not technically about that (shhh!!!), which led me to a LaDuke reading and an idea. The piece in question, “Ingrid,” is a memorial to Ingrid Washinawatok-El Issa who was on of the founders of the Indigenous Women’s Network and long time global feminist activist who was killed working in solidarity with women in Columbia in 1999. Normally, I teach this piece as one of the many short pieces we read in class to discuss the meaning of “movement building” and “activism.” The goal is to push past social science dichotomies as well as preconceived notions of what counts and what does not on multiple levels.

I have always enjoyed teaching this article because of the connections it allows us to make to other movements and “communalism.” It is also an extremely astute and succinct discussion of how to honor elders and youth and care for the self as part of caring for the community. We also refer to the way LaDuke describes Washinawatok when discussing complex social issues that seem untenable:

Yet amidst the most nurturing of personalities was the sharpest of analysis, a perception of political direction that could find a path, no matter how small, through the smallest openings in the forest.

Coupling this phrase with both Alvarez’s short statement about activism as anyone who “comes to help” and the decolonized definitions of “helping” that we read throughout has been critical to debunking the learned malaise of some otherwise political students.

It’s list of important aspects of a movement are also helpful in the ongoing list we make in class of what people say is important and how we see movements working that do or do not have those things. (The goal is not to judge who does it “right” or “wrong” but rather to look at where things overlap or are unique.)

  • recovering traditional relationships
  • respect
  • responsibility
  • rebuilding
  • building and restoring community “where you are”

In re-reading the piece with my recent posts about what we read and how we read in mind, it made me think of another important aspect of the article: its ability to encourage research. The essay is dense with references to key figures, organizations, and collaborations without actually explaining any of them or their import. The assumption LaDuke makes is that her audience already knows the references. All though her assumption is likely appropriate in the context in which the essay was written, in a WS course, especially entry level ones, those assumptions would be false. And what I love about that is the way it highlights that historical narratives are never value neutral. It pushes the readers I would likely teach out of their comfort zone as liberal intellectuals who readily recognize certain narratives of activism and makes them question: why don’t I know this? Why is it assumed I will know this? What makes this assumption more visible to me than similar assumptions in other reading material? In other words, it allows us to get at ideology and hegemony in knowledge production.

Since there is also a bevy of potential new material for the average WS student, the article provides the opportunity to ask: How many of you went out and looked up some of these organizations? organizers? movements? And to point to how this basic, and ever dwindling skill, is a key part of research as well as reading. If you are constantly looking up the knowledge pointed to in material that is unfamiliar to you, you are likely to build a wider base of read material, references, and intersectional modes of analysis. It will also strengthen your ability to recognize and analyze methods and theories in any text you read.

I have passed the article on to my grad students to consider what kind of assignments they can build around the reading to teach critical skills in research and reading to their sections of our upcoming course. I expect that many will come back with: We could ask each of them to look up at least one person and/or organization they did not know and prepare a quick presentation for the class on it. And I think that is a good start. But I am curious about the more creative pedagogical skills they have and how this reading will enhance their opportunities to use them. I am equally interested in how they will ensure the discussion honors the herstory presented and not just turns it into another “add woc and stir” moment. If I have done my job correctly, they will do their jobs in a way that makes this class sing. (By the way, have I mentioned how much I love that my overzealous grad students start work on our classes at the same time my neurotic little self starts obsessing too. They’re so great!!!!)

Multi-Ethnic Alliance Conference 2006: A late and Yet Timely Review

LONG POST has 3 parts so scroll to what you want to make sure you get it all:

  1. Intro verbage (Preamble)
  2. my notes on the talks (notes)
  3. the talks themselves (videos)

PREAMBLE

While doing some work related research, I came across these videos from the Multi-Ethnic Alliance Conference at UC Santa Barbara in 2006 posted by UCTV. While some will find these papers inaccessible for other reasons, I am excited to be able to pass this information about identity, coalition, assessment w/ a focus on social justice and challenge, and Ethnic Studies to you. Papers presented covered such wide information as The Perception of Latinos, Women of Color Theories, Asian American Studies, academic decolonization, immigrants rights, political engagement, knowledge production . In all of these papers there is a firm grounding in key moments in the present as well as the histories in which our identitites and Academic programs are formed. Many of the papers reference women even when they do not make clear feminist analysis or gender integration which to me shows the growing shift from a masculine model in Ethnic Studies to one that looks at women and the GLBTQ communities as well.

I did not get to attend this conference because as usual there are trade offs for working for a minority serving underfunded institution and one of them is travel funds. So for those of you interested in this material who are seeing it new, we are seeing it new together. Warning each segment is 1 hour or more. (They appear after my notes)

I wanted to highlight some quotes and concepts that moved or resonated for me and would love to hear from those of you who watch these vids what resonates for you. I’ve put my comments in italics so there is no confusion and bolded things I think are particularly compelling except Perez’s talk and most of Fujino’s b/c the whole thing needs to be in bold. My notes come first for those who do not have the time to look at the vids or who might not look at them without some of these powerful quotes to entice them.

NOTES

  • Edwina – working to keep voices of ES faculty also helps support ethnic groups and immigrant causes. Conservatives have controlled the language of debate on immigration and alternative discourses maybe compromised in the attempt to speak thru mainstream media.
  • Park – immigrant reforms mean immigrants ineligible for welfare prior to citizenship or 10 years, removal without due process or full review, South Asians on the rise, “middle class Asian identity constructed through immigration law” – missing gender analysis, where are the stats on women?
  • Costa Vargas – “expected and allowable the death of black folks” state sanction and encouragement (speeches, news articles, policies by government officials calling for violence or punishing “transgression” with violence)
  • Costa Vargas – “discourses of color” “distancing yourself from blackness and approximating yourself toward whiteness” – this is common through LACS. how do we use the discourses to unpack their origins with people invested in them?
  • Costa Vargas – genocide can be measured not only thru policy but also the number of police related fatalities of black people, rates of incarceration, infant mortality, “black women are the fastest growing prison population in this [US] country” welfare reform = “lock them up seems to be the unsaid policy” stats went up with decline of welfare, HIV infection rates and lack of proper outreach and treatment, suicide rates.
  • Costa Vargas – “If white folks endured the same genocidal processes that black people endure here [N. America] there would be almost 20 million white folks dead. And what would we call that?”
  • Costa Vargas – “I usually ask my students what have they done toward liberation today?” – that is an awesome question. I usually ask them to share local causes or events that they can be involved in at the beginning of class b/c they have such a sense of being overwhelmed or helpless. I’m not sure if Costa Vargas’ question would increase their anxiety but it might be nice to get them geared in that direction.
  • Woods – indictment of ethnic studies for not caring about Katrina, not responding, not speaking, etc. collectively and not continuing to discuss these issues as time passes. – Katrina is central in my courses and others in WS I know, Incite! put out an anthology as did several academics, a couple of journals did special editions, and several of us organize “alternative spring breaks,” incite also has a women’s center in NOLA. So is my experience the exception? what constitutes collectively acting? Has it become less important over time? somewhat yes. Just saw a joke about Katrina on the Daily show comparing Bush’s behavior in Iowa to NOLA as if people in Iowa were being shot trying to escape, under-evacuated, resources not provided or sent elsewhere, etc. So yes the shift even in liberal circles toward erasing the specific racist component is very clear.
  • Woods – the academy has defined people as irrational for wanting to stay in their communities and wanting to keep their networks. – I wish he would cite. None of us can write back against these assertions by “the academy” if we don’t have access to the articles in question
  • Woods – numbers and regions matter, “most vicious racism” where people are the poorest and in the largest communities. What is going on in Katrina is “urban lynching” policing, violence, anti-immigrant campaigns, destroying remnants of neighborhoods for parks and shops, slow to non-exstent rebuild plans in black neighborhoods and the illness, depression, etc. that sets in
  • James Lee “to claim our hurt but also to hurt . . . w/in each act or movement of liberation and freedom ghostly presences of enslavement and domination . . . even in the midst of our most radical rebellions sometimes we are still saying the pledge of allegiance” (this is partially a quote from Nguyen)
  • James Lee “generations are fictions . . . danger is generational[cyclical & not new]” – reminding us that periodization creates fixidity in a movement and amongst identities which are much more fluid
  • Ula Taylor – uses Ella Baker’s experience as an example of alternative learning models “street strolling” as its own culturally coded arena for producing/gaining knowledge and engaging in activism. 😀 nice.
  • Ula Taylor – “We have to make sure our scholarship isn’t exclusively for us & that this scholarship can be used to truly change the lives of those we are writing about”
  • Ula Taylor – “The Life of the mind does not require an academic baptism”
  • Perez – deconstructing the failure of the liberal promise in academe – tenure, diversity initiatives, policing, cancer, understanding that “so-called progressive dominant scholars” also distance woc contributions and shift the meaning of woc intellectual production.
  • Perez – “campus lectures are basically segregated events.” “WS scholars seldom attended Chicana and Latina lectures” – if we segregated women even in the most open forums then what does this mean for the future of WS?
  • Perez – reemergence of divisions “buttressed by white liberal exhaustion” including intra-ethnic conflict, gender divisions, erasure of queer studies, “on going straight boy networks,” overemphasis on appearance and culture – slender vs. heavy, race (does this include color and/or language?), women, feminists, queer, etc. – Wow!!!! where was this woman when I was coming undone last year?!!! Not only is inter-group conflict in ES important, what about isolation, isolated departments/programs/scholars, can these things feed on each other? How do we address and change them?
  • Perez – “decolonizing the epistemological frameworks of . . . what even gets to count as knowledge” – excuse me while I do a happy dance!!!
  • Perez – “listening to one’s soul”
  • What exactly is a post-Chicano?!?
  • Cacho – how do marginalized men within cultural identities get reclaimed into a research agenda without furthering the masculinity projects of the past; class as a possibility for men of color to work together across racial groups – what about middle class men of color? what about academic men of color who have crossed into the middle and upper class? there is a class assumption here that is not completely sustainable.
  • Cacho – is the middle class dream normal and naturalized? “young men of color’s” desires show a different narrative. example “gay members, unemployed, irresponsible, or drug dealers” – when did gay become synonymous with drug dealer? and what came first the informal economy or the desire to work in it? seems like you might have the cart first. Using the model of “victimization = unproductive labor or alternative labor” you have put forward, how do we then discuss middle class white women who choose alternative labor, ie to be parents, philanthropists, socialites, etc? seems like there is a flaw in your thesis here.
  • Cacho – immigration and immigrant communities show how cultural identity is not part of a buy-in to the middle class citizenship norm, alternative ways of being part of community and in counting citizenship shows the ongoing challenge to normative “boot straps” narratives and “victim id” – why this emphasis on victims? why the desire to re-write alternative modes as outside of exclusions? can we not reclaim, rewrite, and imagine or reimagine our worlds AND be excluded, targeted, oppressed? It seems to me that this narrative of “victimization” is a real good way of erasing actual oppression and pathologizing people who name it. Victim stance is different than complex intersectional analysis.
  • Fujino – professionalization should not remove us from the community or from activism outside of academe
  • Fujino – we need to think of ways to support faculty community work – THANK YOU. I was recently told by a Dean that my community work was “irrelevant” and “distracts me and other woc from the work they should be doing” despite the fact that it is my community work and community involvement that makes my courses on global feminism, activism, and grassroots movements so strong and they are the ones that fill semesters in advance.
  • Fujino – ES is “not supportive enough” for transformation of “bourgeois ideology” nor powerful enough to challenge “academic hegemony”; “those who are truly invested in liberatory visions will make personal sacrifices to work collectively toward building a more just society.” I love that she acknowledges both the struggles many ES Programs/Departments are having just hanging on without turning her gaze away from those places where things are not working correctly to challenge what we said we would.
  • Fujino – ideas for revolutionary programs: funding for activism that enhances teaching, establish service learning courses and service learning components (students report that these ground their education and enhance their commitments to academe and social justice), valuing de-colonized research methodologies, valuing the dissemination of knowledge outside of academe – writing newspaper articles, contributing to websites, giving public talks, develop an honor’s program that includes alternative knowledge production and community involvement, shifting tenure review to include the research, engagement, and curricular innovations that reflect the social justice roots of our programs. – This talk is so inspiring. It makes me want to get all of the women I have been having similar discussions about these things with, the women from this conference who said these things (Fujino, Perez, and all tho said differently, also Taylor and start talking about collective efforts to revolutionize how we do what we do inside academe.)

Interestingly the specific women whose lives are examined here, Grace Lee Boggs and Ella Baker, are not taught regularly, if at all, in Women’s Studies. What do these women tell us about women’s activism, power, and knowledge? And what does their absence tell us about what is missing from traditional periodization and pedagogy in women’s studies?

THE VIDEOS

Video One: Xiaojian Zhao “The Invisibles,” Edwina Barvosa-Carter “Immigrant Ethnicities and Political Strategies,” and John Park “Emergent Divides.”

CONCLUSIONS

If my notes don’t let you know, I was really inspired by many of these talks even two years later. My recent experiences within ES had left me without much optimism for many of the intersectional and radical possibilities I had always imagined were possible and these talks remind that like all things in academe it just depends on who you are talking to and where your and their place is in the process. I hope you take the time out during your summer to put your academic hats on and watch these vids and be moved as well. 😀

UCTV’s decision to post these online and on youtube are an important step to ensuring the dissemination of knowledge beyond the economic privilege of conferencing (not all of us work for rich schools) and the often closed spaces of higher learning. right on!

Speaking of Health Care

Mother Land Afghanistan, a film by documentary filmmaker Sedika Mojadidi, Dr. Mojadidi’s daughter, chronicles his trials at Rabia Balkhi hospital and the Laura Bush OBGYN Ward as well as the current state of women’s health care in Afghanistan. The film looks critically at the superstitions that still prevail in rural Afghanistan, negatively impacting the health options of the country. It points to medical knowledge that is also missing from the country but readily abundant in the U.S. like how to repair fistulas (holes in the bladder, resulting in a constant stream of urine). 100,000 women in Afghanistan have fistulas. It also shows the stark contrast between U.S. funded & run hospitals for Afghan women and Afghan NGO run hospitals for women.

Though many mainstream feminists waved the nationalist banner in the name of “saving women” when the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, few have really followed up on the consequences for women in either Iraq or Afghanistan. Even fewer have apologized for calling the war effort a feminist issue. As Dr. Mojadidi points out in the film, “If the U.S. wanted to save women in Afghanistan, they could have come sooner.” To drive the point home, Sedika shows us the places where her family used to live, completely destroyed by Russian sympathizers when Russia occupied Afghanistan and the voice over tells us that most of her family, including women and children were tortured and killed.

In Kabul, Afghanistan the women’s clinic is named after Laura Bush. It is one of the signs that the “war on terror” really was about saving “the poor oppressed third world middle eastern women.”

The Laura Bush clinic and midwife training program exemplifies the globalization of medical inequity from current U.S. foreign policy (as opposed to the myriad of inequities we could talk about with big pharma testing their drugs on “third world” women to ensure their safety for the N. American, Canadian, and British consumer). Conditions in the hospital are unsanitary. The toilets do not flush. Water in the wash basins and the toilets back up regularly, leading to stagnate, contaminated, pools of water in areas that are supposed to be used for sterilization. Worse, patients have to buy their own medical supplies at local area pharmacies because the hospital has none; there is no gauze, no sutures, no needles, no bandages, nothing.

In keeping with long standing tradition of U.S. occupation, doctors and nurses from Afghanistan are viewed as inferior to the U.S. imports and U.S. policy actively encourages them to be segregated. In a poll of doctors, nurses, and students at Laura Bush hospital, all reported that no U.S. doctors or nurses asked them what they needed to do their work. Like most aid to “those poor women over there” or “those poor Katrina people” right here, gross inequities were embedded in the same from the beginning based not only on a pathologizing of the people in question but also the supremacist assumption that white N. Americans know better than the people themselves what they do or do not need.

During the 4 months that Dr. Mojadidi, an Afghan born immigrant to the U.S., worked at Laura Bush hospital no supplies were delivered. In response to his repeated pleas for supplies, more collaboration, and more staff for the teaching hospital, he received a letter of praise from the U.S. State Department and the promise that “the president is reading your letters and celebrating your progress.” Despite its faults, if you happened to see HBOs Wounded Knee, you will recognize this tactic as a longstanding one from the inception of the N. American nation.

Dr. Mojadidi quit. Shortly after, the midwife training program was cut from the Laura Bush hospital program.

The film also takes us to orphanages, many of which are supported by NGOs and international relief agencies dating back to 1989, which are the location of some powerful Afghan feminism. (Sorry there are no clips to show you on youtube.) Though the narrative never says as much, it is safe to assume that many of the orphaned children and the homeless widows that live there are internally displaced survivors of the war.

When the Mojadidis arrive at the orphanage, the children sing a song asking God why he has allowed their mothers to die and be buried by the sand. The message is clear, Afghanistan is a staging zone for wars between superpowers – between the U.S. and Russia during the cold war & between the U.S. and the Middle East during the “perpetual war on terrorism.” Children lose their parents. The women we are supposedly saving, lose their husbands and their homes.

Afghanistan absorbs as many of these intentionally lost souls in orphanages where the women act as surrogate mothers and teachers, and the children go to school. These orphanages are also Afghanistan’s answer to domestic and sexual violence, as some of the homeless women insinuate they are their for safety.

Feminist theory is fairly clear on this, wars make women less safe – they open a space for sexual exploitation, physical and mental abuse, and increased poverty and health disparity. Yet, not only was feminism mobilized to justify this war but the orphanages are built by Afghans.

Once again, the failure to first envision the needs of the people in the face of crisis and then to consult them on how to repair the aftermath has led us all down the slippery slope of oppressing the most marginalized among us.

Mother Land Afghanistan is now out on DVD. It is a short film, largely in English. I encourage you to view it. If you are teaching, maybe you can fit it in to your classes. September 11 is just a few weeks away and the war machine has already turned its sights on Iran.

remembering katrina

buses

I have a Katrina survivor in one of my classes.

Today we were discussing “disposable people” and how it has become common place for corporations to simply move people off the land they want. When these people are considered disposable, they can be moved by execution, air strike, fire, etc. Their lives are less worthy than the land beneath them. Their humanity is unquestionably unobserved by those whose eyes have simply fixated on profit over people.

In the case of corporate greed natural disasters have unnatural results. I saw this in my own neighborhood when the only storage unit in the entire sector burned to the ground. Several elderly African Americans stood outside the ruins in tears while the European American owner of a new trendy breakfast cafe was quoted as saying “Good. That place was an eyesore and it is not the kind of place we want in our neighborhood.” Apparently the owner of Bridges thought her then-1-2 year residence in “our neighborhood” trumped the lifetimes of the families who had lived in the neighborhood and stored their cherished items at the storage unit for generations. She was unmoved by the crying grandmothers just a crosswalk away. Within the year, the storage unit had been replaced by a Mega-Nike store. Within five years the African Americans had all but moved out. The loss, meant that black owned businesses – from the hair stylists to the African Art owners- surrounding Bridges also closed and the empty or decaying buildings left behind where scooped up and gentrified. After all, those are the kinds of businesses “we” want in “our” neighborhood; the kind that don’t discriminate on the surface, whose trendy atmosphere includes liberal discussions about equality, but who seldom serve people of color nor make them feel welcome.

Unlike the fire in my neighborhood, I am not entirely comfortable with calling Katrina a natural disaster. The levies were known to be unstable. The weather reports had all claimed they would not hold. Yet people were left unaware, without transportation nor extensive warning, to die. Interestingly, these people were mostly African American, immigrants, elderly, infirm, and differently-abled. Like those grandmothers in my neighborhood much of corporate America, or at least Halliburton, saw their tears and began rejoicing about replacing them with the people and things “we want in our neighborhood.”

As the country turns from shock to judgment, I cannot help but think of the ways in which domestic policy and foreign policy for MNCs is based on a simple colonial model. Remember colonialism at its most basic was people moving into other people’s countries, pushing them out through force, and replacing them with cookie cutter versions of the fatherland (gender intended) with the added benefit of slavery or indentured servitude. Gentrification is the same thing on a local scale minus the slavery. In the case of rebuilding, if Halliburton runs the rebuild and displaced workers from Louisiana are forced to beg for day work . . . maybe it isn’t minus indenture.

seanpenn

After all, when you threaten people trying to escape a flood with weimageapons, whether you are the police who lined up on Danziger Bridge to stop people from walking out of the disaster with bullets, or famous actors who accompany their helpful boat rescues with vigilantism predicated on racial stereotypes perpetuated by the media, can you really say that there wasn’t a colonial mindset running amuck?

My student told her story of surviving Katrina today. She too made the connection between the global and the local. She said that government sanctioned apathy begins at home. She talked about people being blamed for “choosing” to stay behind even as her own story shows she did every thing she could to leave and is still paying the price for being left behind. She also drew a connection between the turn to victim-blaming and the way this country treats the poor, the homeless, and the sick in general. If citizens of this country as so expendable, then how much easier is it for a xenophobic nationalistic leadership and the MNCs that represent them to expend with people in other nations.

There is one more thing she said, I think we all need to know:

FEMA is currently requesting that aid recipients prove they were New Orleans residents during Katrina. Those who cannot prove it, say there paperwork washed away in a flood for instance, will have to pay back the money FEMA has given them.

This is the most recent tactic in ensuring the 9th ward becomes “the kind of business we want in our neighborhood.”

My class concluded that we would take a lesson from SITRATERCO, the worker’s union for Chiquita workers in Honduras, by telling the stories we know to everyone who will listen and to each other. We will remember the names and the details of those who suffered and those who persecuted. We will speak their stories no matter what. What will you do?

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