Lady Gaga Take II

Despite the widely circulated petition mentioned in my previous post on race and queer issues, calls by major queer organizations, a twitter and facebook campaign, and personal phone calls from other musicians, Lady Gaga took to the stage at the end of July in AZ after two days of vacationing in the state prior. Regardless of what you think about her decision to hold the concert, it seems impossible to describe her two-days of vacation in AZ as an act of solidarity with immigrants.

Since the political firestorm surrounding Arizona has been in both national and international news for some time and most artists have officially or unofficially signed on to an artist boycott of the state, we have to assume that Lady Gaga understood that immigrants’ and brown people’s rights were on the table when she made these decisions. Though she has, as far as I know or am able to find, never spoken out about immigrant rights or SB 1070 prior, her concert in Arizona provided an opportunity for her to care about people whose basic human rights continue to be at stake.

When the petition to ask her to care went viral and major news media started to report on the controversy, Lady Gaga finally did the minimum necessary to retain her fan base. THE DAY OF THE CONCERT she met with immigrant rights  groups in Arizona. She did not schedule these meetings nor request them On the contrary, queer immigrant right’s activists working with the Dream Act had been trying to get a hold of her since it came out that she was neither going to speak about SB 1070 nor adhere to the artist boycott. Their meeting was scheduled to last 10 minutes. However, the activists managed to eek out 10 more minutes to tell her a heart wrenching personal story about how the SB 1070 had already cost one of them their brother and safety in their own home after a police raid. In Gaga’s version of the story, she says

“I met a boy who is suffering … He told me his house was raided because of a parking ticket or something.”

The boy’s tragedy had such a lasting impact on her, she could not even remember the details of his story a few hours later. While most people have focused on her dedicating a song to him and saying immigration raids are evil, I hope the other half of that story is now sinking in.

A last minute meeting scheduled for 10 minutes after press starts to turn against you, a half remembered story, and a few choice words condemning ICE while on vacation and/or making concert related bank in Arizona by choice is hardly solidarity. When it is not backed up by any actual work for immigrant rights during the time spent in AZ, prior to it, or afterward, it is laughable.

Gaga followed up this makeshift meeting by writing “Stop SB 1070” on her arm in black ink. As you can see from the picture below, her sharpie-activism was barely visible between her tattoos. Worse, it was likely not visible to the majority of concert goers except when captured on one of the overhead monitors.

AP/unattributed

In my mind, anyone can scribble anything on their body and call it a revolution, but without actual social justice work to back it up what does it really mean to the people whose cause you have inked in so un-permanent and un-prominent a way?

She also spoke out at the concert itself. First she called herself “brave” for crossing a civil rights picket line:

Thank you so much for buying a ticket to see my show Arizona. I didn’t used to be brave, I wasn’t a brave person at all, but you have made me brave. And now I’m gonna be brave for you.

Who is she being brave for? The immigrants for whom she showed no interest prior to the concert or even during the initial stages of the petition asking her to care? The immigrants who she finally decided to talk to for 10 whole minutes after it looked like media might turn against her? Or the politicians and business owners in Arizona that support an Apartheid like state in which any brown person is suspect? After all it is these politicians and business people who have condemned the boycott, called it unfair and an act of violence against “good Americans”,  and said that they will rely on other people “who support besieged Arizonans” to bring needed dollars to the state.

Not content to just condemn SB 1070 outright as was needed and called for, Gaga also took time out to disparage the civil rights related boycott saying:

I got a phone call from a couple really big rock and rollers, big pop stars, big rappers, and they said, we’d like you to boycott Arizona, we’d like you to boycott playing Arizona because of SB1070. And I said, you really think that us dumb fucking pop stars are gonna collapse the economy of Arizona?

. . .

I will yell and I will scream louder and I will hold you and we will hold each other and we will peaceably protest this state.

Like many people from the current generation, Gaga seems both ignorant of the effect of both past boycotts and the present one in Arizona to impact lawmakers’, law enforcers’, and every day people’s perceptions of civil rights.  The money lost in Arizona from people canceling concerts, conferences, and other events have had a huge impact on Arizona so far. Despite her mocking description of it as an attempt to “collapse the economy” the boycott has increased conversations about non-violent protest, solidarity, and the power of both individual people and state’s to impact civil right’s decisions that fly in the face of whatwe  claim N. America is about. That has been essential in every civil rights action in this nation that has not had the official support of the government through national level legislation. It has also shifted the policing tactics and the businesses practices of those impacted in favor of repeal or none enforcement. And finally, it has increased the number of prominent people in Arizona willing to speak out publicly against SB 1070. Their voices are essential precisely because when good people say nothing, oppression always wins.

Even if she does not know what the impact of boycotts has been in Arizona, which would of course speak again to her lack of concern about immigrant rights there, history is on the side of boycotts effectiveness for gaining civil rights. The bus boycotts were instrumental in ensuring people like me had the right to sit in the front of the bus, ride the bus when it was crowded, and even sit down in a seat of our choosing even if a white person wanted to sit there instead. The walkouts, which was a form of boycott, were essential in ensuring people like me also had access to education that reflected us and were able to teach at and attend universities. Isn’t interesting that Arizona’s recent targeting of immigrants has also included an attempt to reverse the latter while also enacting racial profiling through transit that would likely force people on to the bus where they are easier to round up and harass?

Despite the implication of the last quoted line from Gaga above, the majority of people involved in boycotts were engaged in peacable protest. The philosophy surrounding boycotts is non-violent. Most importantly, boycotts have been a cornerstone of non-violent protest against both government and corporate oppression in the U.S. since before it was an independent nation.

It was the police who were not peaceful.

Police turned on the hoses, brought the dogs and the rifles, and used them all against marginalized people in this nation asking simply for basic human and civil rights. The police shoved, punched, bruised and even broke bones of protesters as a matter of course. In some cases they killed them or were at least believed to have done so, since most were not held accountable for deaths in custody or shortly after it. What the police did not do, “besieged citizens” carried out themselves with limited impunity. This is the picture of violence related to boycotts not peaceful protesters in search of equality.

One of the most disconcerting things for me, as a historian, has been watching middle class white activists argue that boycotts are “wrong”, “unhelpful”, or “useless” in the face of their import to equality in this nation. These liberals, many of whom have some activist credibility, not only continue to support businesses and economies that have actively excluded, ignored, erased, or even targeted people of color, immigrants, women, queer people, differently-abled people, etc but also actively mocked those wh0 do participate. In boycotts involving feminists or people who the feminist community have called feminist despite contradicting self-identification, they have even gone up and expressed solidarity with the people who are being boycotted for excluding or targeting marginalized people. Somehow the very fact of their whiteness combined with even the most minimal activism, like sharpie-activism, negates an entire national history and reframes equality seekers as the violent and oppressive minority.

Frighteningly, Lady Gaga’s own actions and the desire to excuse her are only one reflection of this larger trend. Both feminist and mainstream liberal blogs, some written by Latin@s (see comment section for real issues), have proclaimed her solidarity with immigrants on the basis of a few choice words couched in a series of economic actions and even more telling longstanding social justice inactions that show how very little she actually cares about immigrant rights. In fact, before the end of her speech, she reframed the immigration debate into one of universal rights that does not even reference immigration:

Tonight I want you to free yourself, I want you to let go of all of your insecurities, I want you to reject any person or any thing or any law that have ever made you feel like you don’t belong.

I’ll tell you what we have to do about SB1070. We have to be active, we have to actively protest, and the nature of the monster ball is to actively protest prejudice and injustice and the bullshit that is put on our society because you’re a superstar no matter who you are or where you come from, and you were born that way.

While I applaud those who understand that all oppressions are interconnected and that everyone suffers from them whether targeted or not, the tactic of taking a specific issue in which one’s actions are implicated and enlarging it into a general discussion of humanism is one that is often used by liberals and Republicans alike to mask their inaction or benefit from specific oppressions. When we talk about how everyone is oppressed and everyone can shine, we stop talking about how Lady Gaga spent two days vacationing in Arizona and 20 minutes talking to activists to cover it up and instead get to pat ourselves on the backs for supporting such a freeing artists who cares about everyone and everything.

Like the apology from Mel Gibson for his misogynist and antisemitic comments several years ago that had absolutely no reflection in his continued antisemitism, misogyny, and racism I find very little lasting credibility in Gaga’s inked arm and statement. I find even less in the activists willing to embrace her as a supporter of immigrant rights.

Let me close by saying that if we really live in a world where boycotts are seen as stupid and violent and scribbling something on your arm with a sharpie and saying “[insert oppression here] is bad” while doing nothing to change it is revolutionary, then we might as well pack it in. There is no social justice here.

—–

images

  • AP/unattributed
  • AP/unattributed
  • AZ Press/unattributed
  • Freedom Bus burned by anti-civil rights people only held accountable in the last 5 years
  • Birmingham Desegregation Campaign/Amistad Resources/unattributed
  • “The Power of Inaction”/J Dilworth

One of These Women is Apparently Not Like The Other: Conspicuous Consumption @ the White House

Take a moment to consider the bulk of the news coverage last week. What were some of the top stories that you can remember? It should not take too long for both the name and the image of Chelsea Clinton to float across your memory.

Whether you were one of the people who did not care about the Clinton wedding or one of those who gloried in its every detail, you could not possibly have gotten through last week or even the week before without hearing about the millions of dollars pouring into the former President and Presidential hopeful’s daughter’s wedding. Estimates from legitimate news sources place the wedding cost at between $2 and $5 million.

AP Photo

While Joy Behar stood out for criticizing the conspicuous consumption of politicians and celebrities, while being attacked by her co-hosts, the media party line was that:

  1. the Clinton wedding “created jobs”
  2. the Clintons are “the last of N. American royalty”
  3. the Clintons have money and therefore “every right to spend it however they see fit”

Embedded in these depictions is the celebration of conspicuous consumption during a recession because (1) it’s a wedding, and as long as you are heterosexual the mythos of this country is that you should spare no expense and (2) despite often being the center of much criticism, the Clintons are still white and what rich white people do with their money in this country has largely been off limits for critique unless they are British and go yachting while ruining two nation’s delicate ecosystems with oil. And even then, some people will defend them.

AP Photo/Sergio Torres

The First Lady and youngest daughter, Sasha Obama, went on vacation in Spain this week.  While her trip has certainly received way less fanfare than the Clinton wedding, the people reporting on it have taken an entirely different track than they did with the Clinton’s 2-5 million dollar event.

While the people in Spain celebrated the arrival of the First Lady and her friends, and looked forward to how their visit would likely boost the economy there no similar discussion happened in the U.S. Instead discussion has focused on:

  1. First Lady Obama’s “extravagant wardrobe”
  2. First Lady Obama’s “glitzy” and “extravagant vacation while N. Americans suffer”

While the cost of the trip is unknown it is estimated that the room Michelle and Sasha are staying in costs $2500 a night, or roughly $10,000 total for the 4 days they have been there. Secret Service agents are likely staying in rooms that cost between $500 and $2500 a night.

While the Clintons were praised for generating jobs, The NY Daily News went so far as to refer to the First Lady as “the Material Girl” and “Marie Antionette” who you may recall partied while France descended into abject poverty. The same article implies that the First Lady is “traveling by Air Force 2” as if she takes the plane from the hotel to the shops, hotel to the beach, etc. and not just flew from DC to Spain. Yet the NY Daily News ran no similar article questioning the gas guzzling SUVs that actually did transport the Clinton’s and their Secret Service entourage to the Clinton wedding. (Unlike other vehicles transporting people to the wedding, these cars would have been paid for by tax dollars.) In fact, there was no discussion of how tax payer money went into the Clinton wedding whatsoever because it was understood that the people running our nation need protection, at least as long as they aren’t the Obamas that is. Thus the costs of the Secret Service in Spain is referred to as part of the larger cost in the Obama trip, while the same cost of Secret Service at the Clinton wedding which included protection for the former President, the current Secretary of State, and the Chelsea Clinton herself were not included in the estimates of the Clinton wedding. (The same can be said for the costs associated with guests at the two events. The Clinton wedding paid for food, drink, hotel rooms, and parties said to last until 2 or 3 in the morning for guests but no one counted or repeatedly referred to the number of attendees as a sign of extravagance. The Obama vacation includes 40 guests and each has been counted and recounted with flabbergasted disgust about how much cost they are assumed to be generating. In both cases, the tax payers are not footing the bill but in the latter the media would like you to think so.)

For those keeping up with the coverage of the White House, these disparities are not new. The Obamas are the first, First Family, to have to account for whose money is being spent every time they leave the country. After complaints condemning their first trip, the White House Press Secretary began routinely announcing that the Obamas were spending their own money on all their vacation related expenses for every trip they took. No similar standard was applied to George Bush who not only vacationed often but did so during both internal and external crisis in the country.  Nor was his wife, former First Lady Bush, questioned about her trips with their two daughters. In fact, while First Lady Obama’s trip has been criticized as a “private affair on tax payer’s dime”, something partially caused by the White House Press secretary’s attempts to fend off invasive and condemning reports by saying she has a right to take private vacations with her children, a similar Safari taken by Laura Bush received limited criticism because she made some official visits at the same time. The First Lady also has an official visit on her agenda, but the press are either ignoring this or referring to it as an excuse to deflect her propensity to vacay.

The disparity then stems not from who is spending what but from the perception of legitimacy. First Lady Obama’s official events with Spanish leaders do not count because she is not seen as legitimate by the people doing the counting. The Obamas’ repeated statements that they pay their own way, even while other Presidential families have not, does not count because they are not seen as a legitimate presidential family. Even the reference to the Clintons as “the last N. American royalty” speaks to the lack of legitimacy of the Obamas in the eyes of white supremacist and white hegemony in the U.S.

And what about those jobs? Anyone who has ever put on an event knows that the bulk of jobs created during those events are akin to day labor. Low paid, low skilled workers are hired to do the bulk of the jobs and only for the hours they actually need to be done. In other words, an event creates a single day or less of work for most of the employees in question. It pays these employees minimum wage or in some cases, depending on how much they work and whether they are charged for uniforms, less than minimum wage. They receive no health care benefits. They often get no breaks unless they take them at the risk of getting caught and fired without pay for the work they have already done. They have no job security during the day, simply bumping into the wrong guest can get a person fired without pay.

But what about those seamstresses and catering companies and flower shops everyone mentioned? Seamstresses are skilled piece workers. They are paid by the garment. When the garment is finished, their work is finished. Like the catering company and the flower shop, the seamstresses chosen for “celebrity” weddings are well-established workers who have a large and important client list. While the economy has likely cut into their salaries considerably, they are not part of the millions of unemployed workers desperate for any job they can get. Instead, they are people who work for billionaires and get their jobs through a network of similarly rich people talking amongst themselves.

In other words, the Clinton wedding generated revenue but not jobs in the sense that the media would like you to believe.

Let me conclude this post by saying that I was among those who criticized the extravagance of the Clinton wedding. I did think it was in poor taste to spend millions of dollars while people are losing their homes, their jobs, their unemployment benefits, and enslaved to school and poverty related credit card debt. I think the same thing about the First Lady’s trip to Spain. While it is nowhere near the same scale of expense, it is still an expensive vacation during a recession in which need our leaders, both current and former, to set the tone.

What I am critiquing in this post then is not the expense but rather the perception and depiction of it. While one woman was celebrated for spending more money on a single event, that many in this country are denied access to, the other was disparaged for what will ultimately a working vacation. If we look just at the money spent by tax payers on both events and compare it to the need, ie threats to the Obamas safety and their role as current First Family vs. no threats to the Clintons and their role as former First Family, the disparity becomes all the more trasnsparent. If we add in the fact that one family is being held accountable for personal spending and the spending of their guests while the others are being praised for it and asked about who designed what, there is no escaping the double standard.

Ultimately, from the smallest event to the largest, N. Americans continue to see the world through race and its intersections with class, gender, sexuality, etc. Until we confront this issue head on and learn new ways to understand our world and our nation, there is no way to move forward.

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.

Brotha Can You Spare Some Change …

UPDATE: A little before 5 pm EST, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack apologized to Sherrod and offered her an alternative job. While Vilsack says he will be disturbed by his actions for some time, I’m sure it pales in comparison to how Sherrod feels now and will likely continue to feel if she in fact returns to work at the USDA in the new position, because she still can’t have her old one back. THE WHITEHOUSE ALSO APOLOGIZED, late this afternoon after the writing of this post, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs apologized to Sherrod on “behalf of the entire White House” and seemingly admitted that the firing was made based on calls to the WH immediately following the airing of the heavily doctored video by Fox News.

Shirley Sherrod holds her Family Farm Champion Award from farmers in GA

On Monday, Shirley Sherrod lost her job. An outspoken advocate for the rural poor farmers, Shirley Sherrod is credited for having saved many rural people’s farms. As seen above, she has won awards for her hard work on behalf of farmers.

Sherrod is also a woman who is secure enough in her beliefs about economic, racial, and social equality that she readily talks about her own racial awakening in mixed company. Her story has been a cornerstone of speeches about equality, service, and struggle that she has given around the country. In March of this year, she told it to the NAACP at a filmed dinner. It begins with her talking about how a struggling white farmer, worried about losing everything, still hung on to his racial superiority when faced with having to ask a black woman for help. Sherrod admits that in the face of his racial acting out, she considered using her position as GA’s head of the USDA Rural Development Office to deny him assistance for which he qualified. But unlike the myriad of documented cases of white USDA workers doing exactly that to black farmers throughout its history, Sherrod chose to see the humanity of the farmer and to do her job. The result was that the family kept their farm and both they and Sherrod learned a valuable lesson about looking past race and racial history toward the struggle for equality and survival that we are all engaged in.

Not only does the promise of shared struggle and commitment inspire but Sherrod’s story is the kind that plays well to both racist and non-racist audiences. For racists and racism deniers, Sherrod’s example is proof that “really we are all racist.” In this version, racism is not a systemic inequality running through the heart of our country (the United States) that ultimately infects all communities precisely because of the way the master’s tools are both utilized by oppressors and internalized by many of the oppressed but rather individual acts in a vaccuum in which 9 times out of ten black people are the problem because they won’t “let it go.” Since Sherrod did in fact “let it go” it further proves reifies in the racist mind that when “black people stop being racist, racism will stop existing.” It’s a cognitive nightmare version of what she said but never the less would make her story resonate in positive ways with people prone to racialized thinking who do not think themselves racist.

In a less cynical light, Sherrod’s story represents a stark reminder that when white people resort to racial tension in the face of their own anxieties about marginalization (in this case potentially losing their farm because of very real classism embedded in how we treat small farmers and rural people) black people do not often respond in kind. For people who understand how racism works in this country, her experience provides a counterpoint to the feared Fanonian moment in which oppressor and oppressed simply trade places. More than that, it shows us that by looking at each others humanity rather than the things that divide us we can actually end racism and racial tension in this country.

Whether you view her story through a racist lens or an anti-racist one, Sherrod ultimately reminds us of several things:

  1. by engaging one another as equals, embracing our shared humanity, and investing in our shared success we can end racism and discrimination
  2. that the investment in white supremacy in this nation is so ingrained that even when white people are the targets of classism, regionalism, or even homophobia, many will still fall back on whiteness to feel better rather than address the real oppressors
  3. unlike the stereotype and growing fear of “reverse discrimination” most black people confronted with white racism will still do their jobs correctly and fairly
  4. riding out fear and anger, regardless of your position (poor farmer/USDA rep), can ultimately lead to racial reconciliation on all sides and away from more oppression

So how does such a positive message get twisted to the point that Sherrod is monitoring her own hurt-propelled anger on national news as she talks about being called repeatedly on the road and then finally, cruelly, dismissed from her job mid-route? As she put it on MSNBC last night, “Shirley, they want you to pull over … They want you to resign.”

Shal Farley/ 2009

Andrew Breitbart, a commentator for The Washington Times, former editor of the Drudge Report, former researcher for HuffPo, and current blogger/journalist for his own website breitbart.com, aired a heavily edited version of Sherrod’s speech on Monday on his blog biggovernment.com under the title “Proof the NAACP Awards Racism.” The video of her speech jumped from her childhood commitment to serve rural black people in GA, a group traditionally exploited, harassed, and even physically threatened to this day, to her story of the white farmer whose racialization of their encounter changed her world. The edit of the video removed Sherrod’s discussion of how she actually did not discriminate against the farmers in the story or how her interaction with them ensured that she would not discriminate against anyone else. It also intentionally left out her philosophy about the humanity and equality of all people and how it is the government’s job to represent and help all people. Finally, it erased the real discrimination that went on in this story between rich young white male lawyers and a poor, white, elderly rural, family and how the former’s discrimination shed all to necessary light on why we need to stick together across racial lines if we are ever going to have real equality in this nation. In other words, Breitbart took a speech about equality and humanity and transformed it into “reverse discrimination.”

Fox news, then allowed the story to be posted on their website without doing any fact checking and reported on it on their network. Fox employees, like Rush Limbaugh also lambasted Sherrod and the White House without fact checking. The soundbite was simply “proof ‘reverse racism’ is the norm under Obama.” Neo-Conservative Pundits, talk show hosts, and tea party spokespeople finally had their whipping boy girl.

Instead of countering with reasoned and documented information, or even following basic legal procedures governing the hiring and firing of Federal employees, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack demanded Sherrod’s resignation. His racial indignation was so great that he harassed her with 3 separate phone calls while she was driving home from work, finally having his office request that she pull over to the side of the road so he could fire her then and there. Apparently, when a black woman says in public that a lifetime of racism against her momentarily colored the way she viewed white people, she does not have the institutional protection of facts or laws nor the humanity in the eyes of her employer to at least warrant allowing her to reach her destination before losing her job. Instead, the side of the road will do.

If you are a person of color in N. America, you have either lost a promotion, job, grant, publication, etc. or know someone who has on the basis of rumor and innuendo about your “anger” or “ability to play ball.” In academe we use the word “fit” and “fit” is used to deny outspoken people of color tenure, advancement, or even hire. The fear beneath the “fit” is often about the fact that these people of color make white colleagues uncomfortable because they talk “too much” about the realities of race, racism, and the meaning of equality. Often, if the school is as entrenched as mine, the discussion will sooner or later turn to “reverse discrimination”, ie the fear that white people will feel by black people in positions of power. In the case of academe that translates to white paranoia about exclusionary pedagogy and curriculum that amounts to little more than professors of color calling on everyone in the room equally and producing a syllabus that does not tokenize authors of color. Bad evals, much like doctored videotapes of speeches, are used devoid of context to “prove” that “reverse discrimination”, often called “bad teaching” or “lack of collegiality”, has occurred. It is a story so old, I am sure the first black people freed from slavery can tell it as easily as those of us living today. (image above: Kimberly White/Reuters)

So what makes Sherrod’s case so important?

In the wake of the NAACP posting Sherrod’s entire speech online and the white farmers in the story coming forward and saying how much help they received from Sherrod, the White House is refusing to reinstate her.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, continued to assassinate her character nationally late Tuesday night even though he now admits she was not guilty of supporting discrimination in her speech nor is there any evidence that she discriminated against anyone she worked with in her position. He went on record saying:

First, for the past 18 months, we have been working to turn the page on the sordid civil rights record at USDA and this controversy could make it more difficult to move forward on correcting injustices. … Our policy is clear. There is zero tolerance for discrimination at USDA and we strongly condemn any act of discrimination against any person. We have a duty to ensure that when we provide services to the American people we do so in an equitable manner. But equally important is our duty to instill confidence in the American people that we are fair service providers. (Politico.com)

Like his Republican counterparts, Vilsack seemed to be implying that black people are somehow responsible for the “sordid civil rights record at the USDA.” Never mind that this would be impossible given that USDA’s history of discrimination in the region is about black farmers losing their land because of faulty loans, lack of loans or aid, bad seed shoved off on them, discriminatoryu siezure of their land or harrassment and/or intimidation, or their please for help falling on def ears at the offices meant to help them. In other words, Vislak is implicating Sherrod in the very history of white racial discrimination that spurred her into the position she had in the first place. She has worked for farmers for 3 decades to help ensure equality for all rural farmers in Georgia.

Worse, Vislack clearly believed that white fears of “reverse discrimination” trump the realities of black people’s lives. In this case, that reality includes the fact that this entire story stemmed from poor white farmers resorting to racial superiority against a black USDA employee, in order to mediate their own class fears, and that instead of shutting them down, she helped them save their farm. It also includes the fact that they bonded over the experience of fighting against the people who actually discriminating against the farmers and that these farmers stood up for Sherrod when people called for her head on a platter. These facts are apparently irrelevant in the face of white supremacist paranoia of which Vislak bought in.

The President has also refused to stand up and bring the Change we were promised. Though the President said nothing about the incident involving a Federal employee,  according to CNN the White House released a statement on Tuesday morning saying the President had been briefed on the Sherrod situation and supported the decision to accept her resignation. According to the same Politico post cited above, by Tuesday evening the White House was backing off from responsibility for the firing but still said nothing in Sherrod’s defense. This is the third time an African American public figure has experienced some form of discrimination or seeming discrimination in which the President has offered us minimization, beer summits, resignations, and/or silence. Like when he said “the policies to help unemployed people will help those men just like everyone else” in response to a black journalists questioning what he was going to do about the disproportionate number of black men targeted for unemployment and lack of rehire during the recession, it seems that the change the President has brought to this country with regards to the lives of targeted or struggling black people is race blind euphemisms in the mouth of a black man instead of a white one.

The idea that he needs to appear to be “everybody’s President” has quickly proven to be code word for being everybody’s President until dominant culture gets their undies in a wedge. Once that happens, then it’s every black man or woman for themselves. “Everybody’s President” means EVERYBODY.

The Democrats are not alone in crucifying Sherrod. Not only did Fox and Breitbart run with this story without doing even the most simplistic fact checking, but the conservative media has been milking it for all it is worth.

Brietbart went on Hannity and claimed the issue was not whether Sherrod was racist but that the NAACP is “racist.” In his mind, they attacked the Tea Party for being racist when they were not and he did not do anything worse than they did. Never mind that no one in the Tea Party was fired or even effected by the NAACP’s resolution to condemn racism in the Tea Party movement nor that many of their members have been caught saying racist things, circulating racist emails or messages on chat boards, or holding racist signs. (One might infer that Brietbart engineered the Sherrod incident to prove how easy video is manipulated these days with little regard for what would happened to the specific black woman he targeted; which I personally would call racist. Then again, I’m only inferring, maybe the unidentified and “unknown to him prior” white farmer he says called him and gave him the tapes really does exist and his only fault is failing to live up to the journalistic standards that he seemed to uphold in his jobs for multiple other journalism sites in the past …)

Rush Limbaugh, who retains his job after commissioning and playing “Barack the Magic Negro” on his show, calling the President racist, and feeding the racial tensions in this country through a series of racially tinged comments and tirades on his show, is also calling for Sherrod and the President’s head on a platter. On last night’s show, he argued that Sherrod was a symptom of a much larger issue ushered in by the election of President Obama: the era of “reverse discrimination” in which white people would now be denied health care benefits, farm aid, or anything else they had “earned through their hard work” because some black person was going to discriminate against them. Not only does he have no evidence for this supposition in general, the white farmers in question have said Sherrod helped them and the U.S. Government has said Sherrod’ record is clean of any accusations of discrimination.

Fox news also joined the picnic, pun intended, when Meg Kelly repeatedly stated Sherrod would be coming on to discuss the controversy throughout her show. Then at the last minute, announced that Sherrod was not coming, and then preceded to disparage the decision claiming that Fox had done the right thing trying to give her an opportunity to respond to accusations. Never mind that Fox news was the primary network responsible for spreading the rumors and employs most of the reporters engaged in Sherrod’s character assassination and the “reverse discrimination” fervor. (image left: http://www.cromwellburnsinhell.com)

Despite condemnation coming on both sides, the difference between Conservative Pundits and White House officials condemning Sherrod is huge. Conservatives see Sherrod as their poster child for finally proving that black people are the real racists in this country and that white people are “victims of a vast black conspiracy to destroy them.” Never mind the truth that according to the white farmers in question, and all records on the case, Sherrod’s helped them save their farm and Sherrod lost her job over doctored material proven to be complete lies. The White House on the other hand is supposed to be the shining example of what our nation is capable of, of its potential to overcome difference and strife and unite disparate people in the process of nation building, and under the leadership of President Barack Obama, it was supposed to be a new chapter in race relations. While I never expected President Obama to dawn a cape and save the universe, I leave that to Ms. Magazine and other misguided liberals who think one black man in a position of power means racism is over, I did expect him to take a reasoned and effective approach to the many issues impacting N. Americans, including those that take on racial, sexual, or gender dimensions. His inability to do this even amongst his own employees and especially in the context of racialized cries of “reverse discrimination” that make this country even less safe for black people and even less likely to employ and retain black people in middle class positions, cannot help but make me question “Brotha, can you spare some change?”

Please consider signing the Color of Change Petition to save Sherrod’s job and let the President know what you think of the decision to support blatant lies over an employee with a proven record of fairness. click here

Mel Gibson Spectrum Disorder

Having recently returned from a mental health seminar abroad, I feel particularly well-prepared to tackle Mel Gibson’s outbursts over the years. In fact, with the help of several colleagues currently practicing in multi-culti or LBT centered facilities around the world, I already have.

You see, a famous therapist presented an in depth study on “the importance of diversity” in health practices at the seminar/conference. Despite his obvious commitment to trying to welcome diverse clients into mainstream services, it became obvious that he had started from the all-too-familiar supposition that emotional reactions to oppression were pathological. In other words, if you are angry because you live in gentrification grand central, or you are acting out in class because you are experiencing all kinds of bullying around your first attempts at gender transgression, it is because you have “maladaptive coping skills” (ie your anger is “inappropriate”). And if you get mad at your therapist, stop treatment, or otherwise try to seek real help by indicating the problem to someone else … oh yes, my friend, you are not only exercising maladaptive coping skills, including triangulation (when you try to get a third party to uphold your “crazy, crazy, fantasy land”)  but you are CRAZY with a capital CRAZ and YYYYYY. (image to left http://www.snoopy.com)

What exactly does this have to do with Mel Gibson, you ask?

You can imagine that several of us were unhappy that once again the “doing diversity” plan was to talk “inclusion” at the same time equality was completely ignored in favor of pathologizing people’s response to a lack of it. So when it came time to do break out sessions, my colleagues and I leapt at the chance to answer the break out session question:

Identify a behavior or disorder that you believe is directly related to diversity issues, locate it on a spectrum,  and explain how you would engage in inclusive therapeutic techniques to ensure that everyone was served.

(note: the new big thing in mental health is to cut down the number of disorders that stand alone and incorporate them into a larger spectrum in order to give people wiggle room with diagnosis and needs.

Also note that this project was an attempt to confront the way the medical model pathologizes difference and reframe it in a way that actually addresses real pathology in our society.)

Our answer “ripped from the headlines”:

unattributed

The Disorder – Colonial Fantasy Syndrome

A disorder in which a member of the dominant culture believes that their experience is normative and any other experience is therefore deviant or abnormal despite evidence to the contrary.

Indicators

Sufferers must meet 5 or more of the following criteria

  1. delusions of grandeur
  2. preference for a world in which the fantasy of their dominance supersedes the realities of diversity in the real world
  3. an overwhelming sense of persecution or victimization
  4. frequent projection (ie accusing others of the acts in which the client is actually engaging)
  5. manipulation of interpersonal relationships for one’s own gain while claiming otherwise
  6. egocentricism often masked as selflessness or self-interested demonstrations of selflessness
  7. characterized by sublimation in which one’s sense of superiority is masked by seemingly altruistic acts toward the targeted group(s)
  8. subset of sublimation defined by hypocrisy in which the sense of superiority is masked by calling out others for same or similar behavior, espec if members of targeted group(s)
  9. desire to belong to a group, see one’s self as, or otherwise engage in elitest or exclusionary practices
  10. engages in emotionally or physically threatening behavior with those who challenge the client’s world view
  11. tendency to blame addiction for incongruencies in one’s worldview or self-image (may or may not be accompanied by actual drug & alcohol dependence or abuse)
  12. willful disregard for the truth when confronted

Spectrum – The Mel Gibson Spectrum Disorder

AP Photo/Ric Francis

This spectrum includes all 9 indicators within its definition and may express itself through racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, or any combination therein. It is characterized by hypermasculinity distinguishing it from other similar illnesses. This spectrum is also distinguished from other illnesses by the presence of membership in the dominant racial group and most often, the dominant gender. While some believe absence of membership in heterosexuality exempts one from being located in this spectrum, this is unfortunately not the case.

While it is often characterized by alcohol dependence it may also include people who call any of the other 9 indicators addiction in and of themselves.This behavior is seldom a recognition of the problem but rather an avoidance technique designed to evade or minimize responsibility for one’s actions.

Examples:

  1. Michael Richards
  2. John Mayer
  3. Don Imus
  4. Prince Harry
  5. Dan Savage (who was the first blogger to blame black people for prop 8 & refused to intervene when commenters on his blog engaged in blatant racism, including epithets, when discussing the issue)
  6. Moderators at Boxed Turtle – who allowed anti-immigrant threats to dominate a discussion of a homophobic hotel owner (including against all immigrants not just the hotel owner) until I called them out, then allowed people to attack me and threaten my own status in this country, defended their lack of moderation, and then months later quietly deleted all reference to calling INS on all immigrants, me, and all brown ppl everywhere as well as other threats related to skin color or status from the thread.

Treatment Issues

People in this spectrum are often accompanied by enablers who make treatment of the problem nearly impossible. These enablers include people with more mild forms of the same syndrome (like wordpress itself, whose highlight page consistently includes racialized posts about black people and now Asians rather than highlighting posts written by & abt poc or by white ppl who are actually engaged in decolonized praxis rather than hipster colonial fantasy), other related syndromes or disorders like Goldberg Disorder I or II, etc.

Treatment can also be impeded by the ubiquitousness of the disorder across class lines. For instance more widely recognized cases may be defended by the media, perpetuated by it, or erased through it (which directly contradicted Savage’s part in and continued defense of blaming black people for the loss of gay rights).

Treatment

unattributed/redwinebuzz.com

Cognitive Behavioral modification that engages the client in understanding their faulty thinking about themselves, the world, and others and provides alternative modes of interacting with targeted group(s) that do not reflect maladaptive behavior. Ongoing intervention in childhood messages that allowed clients to internalize feelings of superiority, actions of violence to reinforce that superiority, and a sense of victimization by anyone who did not confirm their belief systems so as to remap cognitive processes away from cognitive splitting (when a person believes one thing even when seeing another. Example: they are being arrested because the police officer is female and Jewish not because they are driving drunk).

Ultimately, treatment depends on environmental (revolution), intrapersonal (addressing the whack-a-mole mind), interpersonal (friends don’t let friends drive, write, call, etc. while oppressive), and familial (so you say your dead was a Holocaust denier) aspects. Thus treatment is holistic and active at its base.

Being diagnosed with Mel Gibson Spectrum Disorder should in no way be seen as an addiction. Both the Spectrum and its distinct disorders are a choice not an illness beyond one’s control. People can completely heal from Mel Gibson Spectrum Disorder and their healing will ultimately help heal the world. As such, we must not fall into a pattern of excusing or minimizing the behaviors of MGSD but engage it head on rather. In so doing, we understand that MGSD is the pathology not the people who are often the target of people with MGSD.

Conclusion

Weave Mirror/ D. Rozin

In concluding our diagnosis, we pointed to the many ways that Western Society pathologizes victims of people with Mel Gibson Spectrum Disorder while giving people who continue to embrace the disorder and refuse to change a free pass. John Mayer is a perfect example of this phenomena. While he was under intense scrutiny for several days, he was back to tweeting, blogging, and major ticket sales before the end of the week of his racism incident. He is already being featured in a morning show concert series. Don Imus is back on the air and Rush Limbaugh was never taken off it. And I don’t doubt that my willingness to include Dan Savage in this list will raise the ire of some of my longstanding queer readers.

———————————-

So was this post really about Mel Gibson? It would have been easy to link to his “crazy” via TMZ or youtube and laugh and laugh and laugh some more with you all. However, ultimately, it is easy to point at the latest spectacle of oppression. But unlike a train wreck or an accident on the freeway, you can’t just slow down, stare, and then move on because when you do, you are in fact ensuring that the number of people with Mel Gibson Spectrum Disorder grows.

For those unfamiliar with the way MH diagnosis work, you may want to look up the list of symptoms we listed here. The reality is that each and everyone of them is actually included in one or more major personality disorder diagnostic criteria. Yet, that criteria is utterly devoid of oppression work. In other words, you are narcissist if you are self-absorbed, a sociopath if you engage in violence without remorse, oppositional defiant if you attack authority figures; but you are none of these things if you beat your wife, girlfriend, or partner, threaten to lynch, beat up, or kill a person of color, trans, or gay person, or try to get your black, queer, or differently-abled doctor, professor, or grocery store clerk fired. When you are deemed crazy in our society, you are expected to seek out treatment and work your treatment plan. Often when you are personality disordered, you are also highly stimatized as dangerous, violent, and in need of supervision. When you are racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. you can simply excuse away your behavior with “I’m sorry you interpreted my behavior that way”,  giving to charity or playing on stage with a differently-abled or young child, or a trotting your gay-black-trans friend, ex-wife, or tweens who pee their pants when you come around. No one watches out for or over you or is warned about you being dangerous. And while the medical model often pathologizes and polices people who do not deserve it (including people with personality disorders who have not been violent or whose violence is contingent on not getting treatment which is exacerbated by the way they are pathologized during treatment) the fact is that in the case of oppressors such labels and warnings would actual shift the medical model toward those people who are in fact violent (emotionally, physically, sexually), unrepentant, and therefore likely to be repeat offenders.

Give Us Free

This Juneteenth, I find myself wondering just how free we really are. There is a black man in the White House and a black woman still dominates afternoon tv, even if her ratings are slipping and have been since she supported said black man. Black people can apply for jobs, business and home loans, buy, sell, eat, drink, in public and alongside white patrons. Unlike our brown brothers, we can even live in Arizona, as long as we are a deeper shade of berry that is, tho I don’t know why we would. In the eyes of many, the legacy of slavery and the existence of racism are things of the past.

unattributed

But let’s break down the difference between then and what many scholars and activists have come to refer to as The New Jim Crow:

  • We have a black president but for the first time since the troubled days of reconstruction, or those of 1963, 1965, and 1968, both nationally syndicated radio and talk show hosts are calling for a “million gun march” on Washington and supporting a movement that contains openly racist elements
  • Despite the loss of basic civil and human rights under the Bush Administration we only see the rise in law enforcement willing to “defend the rights of states and citizens” after Obama’s inauguration and specifically implying that he will at some point try to “enslave” people, “create concentration camps”, and/or rise up against the “people of the U.S.” based on neither history nor voting record nor any other indication except his blackness (see Oath Keepers manifesto – and no I am not linking there)
  • The intentional, and illegal, targeting of black people and other poc for predatory lending , particularly women of color, helped cause the economic crisis and left entire black communities without homes or good credit and the only response has been two administrations handing over stimulus checks to the perpetrators
  • Despite exposure of predatory racialized and engendered lending, the bid to profit off of poor black women and other woc (as well as poor white people to a lesser extent) continues in the form of tax loopholes and property law manipulation (You should note that even though the documentary Flag Wars shows a white lesbian real estate agent intentionally targeting and intimidating black home owners, including at least one homophobe, and then reveling in one hold outs death as she picks over her things for resale, that same agent was later featured on an episode of House Hunters, for which she was hired and paid by both the show and the home buyers, living in a mansion in FL)
  • Unemployment for African Americans is at a 25 year high while no programs are specifically earmarked to help them
  • White supremacist and other hate groups are on the rise with a 54% increase in membership since 2000
  • Liberal blogs, established “zines”,  journals, news shows, publishers, departments, etc. continue to exclude or tokenize (defined here as having 1-2 people but no more despite multiple opportunities) intellectuals of color giving the sense that we are still only important when discussing race and that only a handful of us have the intellectual chops to do so
  • Despite evidence to the contrary, liberal circles are just as likely to blame African Americans and other poc and resort to racism for losses in rights we share but are perceived of as their own as conservatives
  • Gentrification that displaces African American and other poc communities is still largely spoken about by liberals as “bettering the community” “saving neighborhoods” “creating community” or “fostering multicultural communities” and applauded without a single thought to the economic, social, and psychic damage done to displaced black folks
  • More black trans women are being killed now than in the past and less is being done about it even as gains in protections for trans communities are being won largely on the basis of murders of trans women of color
  • police brutality against black women and girls continues to be documented on video and yet excused away by review boards
  • and if listservs. livejournal, and blogs are any indication, the number of white people who believe that “racism” is a “slur” levied by black people to make “innocent” white people feel bad about themselves and not an actual indication that discrimination has occurred is any indication, the number of white people who feel immune to being called out for discrimination and absolved of ever being discriminatory is also on the rise
  • That liberals, conservatives, and hipsters think racism is something they can joke about as if it is both a thing of the past and theirs to laugh at

So this juneteenth, I find myself not in the mood to celebrate the last black folks to be told they were in fact free and subsequently let out of bondage but rather musing on how long the white people in that Texas town kept black people enslaved despite 2.5 years of laws to the contrary because they could and neither their neighbors nor the nation was interested in making sure equality was upheld.

While I am grateful that black people in the U.S. are no longer enslaved (not counting black and ther poc “servants” trafficked here from other countries to clean elite people’s homes or serve as sex slaves), I am saddened by the fact that we are still not equal in this nation and that the spectre of segregation looms at every turn.

WordPress Fail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BBC Asian Network/ Unattributed

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

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

Vanity Fair

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

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

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

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

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

Stern Fotografie/ Karl Lagerfeld

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

Let that sink in for a minute.

Done?

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

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

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

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

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

Mammond 1899

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Black Friend Gag/Comedy Central

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

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

Imani argues two things:

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

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

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

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

Stern Fotografie/ Karl Lagerfeld

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

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

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

Harem Fantasies/Professor Jan Nederveen Pieterse Collection/ BBC

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

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

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

I am not inspired, I am heartbroken.

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

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

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

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

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


What Does Rand Paul Really Believe?

Rand Paul’s primary win in Kentucky has raised serious concerns about representation in this county (the United States). On the one hand, Paul’s win proves that voting and representational democracy still matter in N. America. While we may disagree with the Tea Party, they are part of the N. American political landscape and they have the right to be represented if they have the votes to back them. On the other hand, the Tea Party’s public face has included racism, homophobia, general ignorance about both economic and political systems in place in the world, and funding from corporations implicated in the health crisis and neo-white supremacy in this country. This is not to say that all Tea Party members are guilty of all of these things, but rather that many, if not all, of these things have been present at the majority of the meetings held by Tea Party members or people representing the Tea party in the media. In this light, Paul’s win signals a major warning sign that discrimination is becoming an accepted part of the public face of our democracy once again. Moreover his own insistence that he is not participating in discrimination (see his statement in response to his MSNBC interviews near the middle of this post as well as youtube below) represents the kind of cognitive dissonance that seems to permeate the movement, so that people can actively engage in discussions, the making of posters, or the proposal of policies that would create wide scale inequality on the basis of identity all the while claiming they support equality.

Last night, Rachel Maddow did her best to nail down Paul’s beliefs about racial discrimination in public spaces. Paul deftly avoided giving definitive answers to her questions by conflating “public space” with “public property.” Public space is any location open to the public, it includes shopping centers, movie theaters, restaurants, etc. Public Property is owned by the government like Parks, Schools, Government Buildings, Libraries, etc. While both types of locations are open to the public, the latter is privately owned. Maddow asked Paul if he believed that public spaces should be allowed to discriminate since he had implied as much on several occasions. Paul responded by saying that regulating public spaces was akin to making private property public property and shifting the discussion to one of government control. In so doing, he directly contradicted the 1964 Civil Rights Act which designates certain privately owned businesses as public accomodations which are thus part of the overarching mandate to serve all people regardless of race. Public accomodations include: hotels, stores, gas stations, and restaurants. In other words, they are places that are necessary for people to have freedom of movement in this country and to interact daily with others with similar freedoms. While some may look at eating out as a choice, imagine trying to go on a business trip for your job when you could not guarantee access to gas for the car, a place to sleep, or somewhere to eat your meals along the way.

People also equated allowing black people to eat in restaurants to allowing guns in a bar where people could then get drunk and shoot each other. Not only are these two things not equitable but the implication is that the very presence of black people predicates violence. During the interview he claimed to be staunchly against violence and to abhor people who engaged in it, yet a spokesperson for Paul at the launch of his campaign admitted to wearing a sweatshirt with KKK on it to the maill and  kept an image of a lynch victim on his Facebook page for 2 years in response to Martin Luther King Day. While Paul eventually fired this man after his campaign took off and people began looking into his background and the background of his campaign team, the decision to include Hightower on his team hardly speaks to Rand Paul’s crafted image of himself as a potential freedom marcher with the late Dr. King or critic of anyone racist or violent.

Paul also avoided discussing concrete examples by claiming that they were historical issues and philosophical rather than concrete concerns. Yet, one needs only look at what sparked the Jena 6 controversy, the recent statement by the Harvard Law student about black people’s intelligence, or the subprime lending practices of Banks that targeted and ghettoized black and brown homeowners to know that discrimination exists here and now. Compare the conditions of schools in South Carolina that serve white students versus those that serve impoverished black ones, or border schools in the American Southwest to similar schools in affluent schools in the Northern regions of those same states and you know that discrimination is alive and well in the public sphere. Anyone who has ever had to shop while black also knows that in some establishments the only thing keeping people from demanding they leave immediately is Civil Rights law and that there have been and continue to be subtle ways that employers, business owners, and others send the message of racial exclusivity even when they cannot actively post it on a wall. The same can be said for other groups as well, just look at the number of same sex couples excluded from Prom, suspended from school, or kicked out all together because they or their parents are queer this year alone. While many of those cases took place in private settings, some of them occurred on public property proving that even Civil Rights is not enough to police growing hatred in this country.

After Maddow’s interview, Paul issued the following statement:

“I believe we should work to end all racism in American society and staunchly defend the inherent rights of every person. I have clearly stated in prior interviews that I abhor racial discrimination and would have worked to end segregation. Even though this matter was settled when I was 2, and no serious people are seeking to revisit it except to score cheap political points, I unequivocally state that I will not support any efforts to repeal the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“Let me be clear: I support the Civil Rights Act because I overwhelmingly agree with the intent of the legislation, which was to stop discrimination in the public sphere and halt the abhorrent practice of segregation and Jim Crow laws.

“As I have said in previous statements, sections of the Civil Rights Act were debated on Constitutional grounds when the legislation was passed. Those issues have been settled by federal courts in the intervening years

“My opponent’s statement on MSNBC Wednesday that I favor repeal of the Civil Rights Act was irresponsible and knowingly false. I hope he will correct the record and retract his claims.”

“The issue of civil rights is one with a tortured history in this country. We have made great strides, but there is still work to be done to ensure the great promise of Liberty is granted to all Americans.

“This much is clear: The federal government has far overreached in its power grabs. Just look at the recent national healthcare schemes, which my opponent supports. The federal government, for the first time ever, is mandating that individuals purchase a product. The federal government is out of control, and those who love liberty and value individual and state’s rights must stand up to it.

“These attacks prove one thing for certain: the liberal establishment is desperate to keep leaders like me out of office, and we are sure to hear more wild, dishonest smears during this campaign.”

Note how he once again avoids addressing the concrete historical and president reasons for why we need Civil Rights Law in all spaces in this nation and how he once again claims “the liberal media” is trying to tear him down because he represents “real Americans.” The spin game is on and Liberals are not the ones doing the spin. Much like what is going on with co-opting feminist imagery, I for one think there is much more at stake than whether or not Rand Paul is a private racist and a public race apologist. If we give bogged down in him as an individual we will lose sight of what he and his win represent.

There is a growing tide of racial antagonism in this country. The Southern Poverty Law Center had been tracking a marked uptick in racism, supremacy, and racial and homophobic incidences since the start of the Bush administration. They warned that the neo-conservative rhetoric put in place in those years was making this country less safe and less cohesive while no one really paid attention. Now we have an entire movement that is predicated on various “state’s rights” and “real Americans’ rights” that are simply rhetorical strategies for expressing fears about difference and a changing political landscape. While some people firmly believe their actions are non-violent, Tea Party rallies have been accompanied by violence and/or rising animosity in the areas in which they have been held. Worse, existing elected officials have courted the Tea Party, engaged and encouraged them, and have ultimately passed or considered passing legislation that reflects the most segregationist tendencies among them. When it became ok to say to the Federal Government “we will secede rather than take financial aid from you” or to pass laws that directly violated civil rights law and the constitutional guarantee of equal protection under the law, people like Rand Paul became an inevitability we should have been working against all along. He is a symptom of a sickness in this nation that has been allowed to spread unchecked for too long, he is not the disease.

—–

It should also be noted that the discussion of Rand Paul’s comments today have focused exclusively on race but Paul aslo made similar comments about disability rights and his views would make it possible to discriminate in public spaces on the basis of any identity including: gender, sexuality, language, etc. as well as race and ability. While his example of placing workers on the first floor of a building rather than building an expensive elevator may seem reasonable to some, the reality is that workers relegated to a single floor of a business are not integral participants in the business because they cannot move freely, access material or conversations throughout the business, and subsequently can be excluded fairly easily.

RIP Ethnic Studies

Despite repeated defeat with the AZ voters, Governor Jan Brewer signed a law banning Ethnic Studies in AZ. The bill, which was particularly designed to target successful Raza Studies at Tuscon United School District, makes it illegal to teach courses that are “designed for a particular ethnic group” or “advocate ethnic solidarity.” It also links these courses to terrorism by including a clause against classes that “promote the overthrow of the U.S. government.” In both instances, the implication is that only people of color have ethnic pride, that pride is anti-American and anti-intellectual. Embedded in SB 2281 is the power to create independent review boards that can comb through any syllabus, lesson plan, or textbook order to remove material deemed in violation of this law. The consequences for instructors engaging in academic freedom are as severe as the fate of the learning material itself. At this time, failure to comply with the law will result in as much as 10% of the school’s budget being removed by the State. Ironically, the program that inspired this bill and its failed predecessors was created by a court mandate after the State of AZ was found guilty of discrimination. Raza Studies at TUSD is funded through the desegregation budget created as a result of the State’s failure to provide equal access to education for Latin@s and other marginalized students; currently the courses are provided in a district that is 56% Latin@.

It is nearly impossible to argue that AZ is not doubling down on an Apartheid like state system implemented less than 20 days ago with this newest addition of legal discrimination, SB 2281. The anti-ES bill intentionally targets a program that has a long history of

  1. connecting students to education
  2. helping to place students in higher ed
  3. creating critical thinkers whose knowledge and skills have been praised by higher ed recruiters

Essentially, Arizona’s government is willing to sacrifice student success now and in the future in order to remove certain people’s histories and cultures from the classroom. Like the pass law known as SB 1070, the racism underpinning SB 2281 serves to mask the economic, social, and intellectual impact of discrimination on the entire state. On the one hand, studies programs have been shown to create a wider range of critical thinking skills and interdisciplinary knowledge (the ability to understand and use material from multiple vantage points and disciplines) than other programs of study. They also help to retain students who are otherwise alienated from the educational process, including students from a wide cross-section of cultures and races looking to have a more inclusive educational environment. Identity Studies Programs also create and/or cultivate leadership as many of these programs embed development of and praise for leadership skills in their curriculum; part of that leadership, directly benefits the community as many of these programs also include service-learning, local internships, and civic responsibility opportunities as well. While these benefits maybe seen as “special programs” benefiting the “few” by people engaged in white entrenchment, statistics prove that there is a correlation between high employment rates, low crime rates, and educational attainment that behoove any local or state legislature to embrace educational programs that increase knowledge rather than dismantle it. While some may find the leadership component of these programs “frightening” because they fear a nation with brown (and black) people in government, the reality is that many of these leaders work to better communities across districts and to create safe places and programs for all citizens.

Ethnic Studies programs also generate considerable state revenue, some of which I mentioned in the previous post. In addition to the previous mentioned connections between revenue and education, this new law specifically threatens revenue generated by targeted programs that bring in Federal dollars and/or international prestige.

While the Superintendent, who has been on a personal crusade to remove Raza Studies for years, claims SB 2281 is only to stop a single program at the high school level, the Bill covers the entire state putting both individual classrooms and entire programs at risk. Programs like the Hispanic Center for Excellence mentioned in a previous post, which is a federally funded program designed to recruit, train, and retain Latin@ physicians, certainly “promotes ethnic solidarity” and is indisputably “designed for a particular ethnic group.” In fact, unlike Raza Studies, which is open to all students and has been cited as a place some white students found their voices and learned to love their educations alongside Latin@ ones, the Hispanic Center of Excellence does not recruit white students. While Raza Studies is funded almost completely by the State, the Hispanic Center of Excellence represent a national effort that both alleviates the funding burden and connects Arizona to other states, including physicians, professors, schools, and hospitals, engaged in the program. By applying SB 2281 equally, Arizona could not only lose a needed program but needed connections to other institutions that help create a wider field of knowledge, wider placement of AZ grads, and all of the economic and social capital that breadth represents. Not to mention the losses in the general health and well-being of the AZ population as communities continue to go under-diagnosed or treated due to a lack of cultural competence in the state.

On the other hand, SB 2281’s language could be applied to any educational program that the current government deems inappropriate on the basis of race of ethnicity. While the racism behind the law assumes that the only programs teaching ethnic pride are about people of color, the fact is Ethnic Studies programs exist as a corrective measure to the teaching of a single groups’ ethnic pride and history over that of everyone else involved in the building of this nation. While I’m sure Jan Brewer had visions of permanently removing the Brown Berets or the American Indian Movement from the curriculum, it probably never occurred to her that the law could be used to prevent “standard” history as well. Think of the examples:

  1. The Civil War – since the South was directly challenging the Federal government this would fall under the “over throw of the U.S. government” clause
  2. Parts of Contemporary Republican history – since these include the statements/leadership of several governors who have threatened sedition
  3. Most history of code breakers during major wars – in WWI Japanese Americans worked to break codes and translate documents, during the Vietnam war Native American Windtalkers created code that helped win the war, any unit about either of these groups would violate the “designed for/abt a particular ethnic group” clause
  4. The Buffalo Soldiers – see above
  5. The Harlem Renaissance – while this may get a pass given that funding for many of the arts came largely from extremely wealthy white patrons any course specifically about canonized artists, poets, musicians, etc. would once again bring up the “particular ethnic group” issue
  6. Irish immigration to the U.S. – not only are they a particular ethnic group but they are IMMIGRANTS too!!!
  7. The history of the railroads – while you could teach about the financial backing behind the rail roads, lessons involving who built the rail roads and how they were treated or the connection between the railroads and the genocidal politics behind Buffalo tours would get us back to that ethnic issue again …
  8. British Lit – as taught, this seldom includes Black British authors and therefore is targeting only one ethnic group
  9. American History under SB 2281 – since the ultimate goal is to remove reference to people of color this would create history courses that focused exclusively on one ethnic group or in the case of including a handful of poc in the curriculum, the ethnocentrism of the courses would fall under the designed to create pride amidst a single ethnic group clause
  10. American Literature – see above
  11. Social Studies would also be truncated as the civil rights movement(s), abolition, the Mexican-American war, Wounded Knee, etc. and even more modern examples like the Battle of Seattle or the Tea Party movement would all violate this law in one way or another

In fact, teaching Arizona’s own history becomes extremely problematic under this law given its clash of cultures from inception, it white supremacist publications by government officials and state newspapers throughout its founding and subsequent existence, and current links to eugenicist think tanks. All of these materials violate the new law.

The Legislature has attempted to cover themselves from lawsuits by claiming that programs open to all students and history courses about specific ethnic groups will not be subject to removal except in so much as they “violate tenets of the law.” There is very little language in the bill determining how any of these programs or courses could access exemption under the circumstances. Instead, the intended application of the law, to shut down Raza Studies, shows that these exemptions are legal maneuvers designed to keep the state from running afoul of Civil Rights Law while still defying it. Raza Studies is open to all students and does teach about a specific ethnic group that was mandated by a successful lawsuit against the state. If they are not exempt under this clause in the bill, it is unlikely that any program will be in practice regardless of the language. In the same way that no brown person will likely be safe to travel freely in Arizona regardless of supposed changes to the language of SB 1070 to protect Civil Rights.

The ability of both students and faculty to protest these decisions has also been severely circumscribed by SB 2281. The bill calls for the implementation of sanctions and expulsions for any student or faculty member “disrupting the classroom” on the basis of the new law. Including the ability to continue with an expulsion hearing even after students have withdrawn from a particular district due to sanction:

If a pupil withdraws from school after receiving notice of possible action concerning discipline, expulsion, or suspension, the governing board may continue with the action after the withdrawal and may record the results of such action in the pupils permanent file. (SB 2281)

This section of SB 2281 and its subsequent powers given both the principle and the teachers to sanction student protest, and or expressed concern about missing material in their education, will have lasting effect on both students and the educational system. When similar sanctions were proposed in my state for students participating in immigration rallies during school hours 1000s of students failed to participate in walkouts or teach-ins for fear of being expelled and losing their chance to go on to college. The fear of having their futures “completely ruined” by the State was powerful enough to silence some of the strongest leaders for equal rights. Arizona is essentially placing a gag order on young people and holding their future education and employment hostage to do it.

There is a national rally called for the end of this month to march on Arizona for the repeal of SB 1070, I assume this call will be expanded to include SB 2281 as well. I will post the fliers when I get a clean copy. There is also a rally today outside the Tuscon United School District Office Building to protest the shutting down of Raza Studies. The school Superintendent plans to personally shutdown the program today at noon even though the law does not go into effect until December.

I realize that MALCs is still working on the best possible way to support its overall membership and the people left behind in AZ, but I will not set foot in AZ as long as these laws are in place unless it is part of a national march against the implementation of Apartheid in the state.

Academics Speak Out Against SB 1070

unattributed

As the reality of Arizona’s new law sanctioning the active policing and potential harassing of people of color based on “looking like an immigrant” sinks in, unintended effects are registering across the state. While the university system has been hemorrhaging under the weight of the current economic downturn, communities around college campuses know that we bring in a steady flow of new consumers to the communities in which we are situated. Students not only buy basic goods like food and clothing at local establishments, but they also pay rent, buy large ticket items like cars, electronics, and in some cases, houses. One needs only go to a college town mid-Summer and then again at the start of the school year to see the impact. Part of what draws these students to a particular institution are programs and faculty in fields that excite them and with scholars whose recognition goes beyond the college itself. When Jan Brewer signed SB 1070 into law, she failed to recognize the import of academe in the local economies in the state of Arizona. More than that, the legislation itself includes language that actively negates successful programs and calls into question others.

Arizona’s Higher Ed

Arizona colleges, which have an extremely high population of Latin@ students, staff, and faculty have all been re-acting to SB 1070 with varying degrees of condemnation. Prior to the passing of the bill, The President of Arizona State University, the state’s largest university,  urged Governor Brewer not to sign the bill on the basis of its potential to enact discrimination and turn people away from Arizona as a viable place both to study and live. (scroll down past blank ends of pages to get to the rest of the post text; sorry for copy quality):

After Jan Brewer ignored him and everyone else who expressed concern to make the bill law, the President of University of Arizona, has already gone on record about the immediate negative impact SB 1070 has had on the State’s second largest educational facility. Among the issues he raises are:

  1. the loss of new enrollment as parents and students withdraw their acceptances of admissions decisions already sent out
  2. the loss of current enrollment due to students choosing to look elsewhere for safer educational environments and taking a year off to do so
  3. the loss of future enrollment as families of both students and faculty consider education in the 49 other states available to them
  4. the loss of lucrative (and potentially expensive) hires that have already been done as faculty lured to the state with already paid packages start looking elsewhere
  5. the loss of prestige for Arizona based universities leading to the further leeching of current faculty and staff and the impossibility of attracting new ones

While many in this nation have been trained to think of higher education as a luxury for over-indulged students living on the taxpayer’s dime, the reality is that education is a critical aspect of our economy. People who attend college

  1. make more money
  2. have better job security

More than that, people with better job security tend to stay and contribute to the health and economic stability of a community through

  1. investment in schools, industry, and products
  2. use of services provided from large employers like hospitals and schools
  3. buy big ticket items like houses and cars
  4. spur investment not only through demand for goods and services but also providing the money that banks use to grow capital

So while they image of the over-privileged, useless egghead, 7 year Freshman serves a conservative backlash against higher education, it does very little to benefit the real economy of communities based around colleges and universities. Moreover, the number of people entering college is increasing exponentially as the economy continues to fall apart. While some students are on financial aid, it is important to remember that some students are paying full or partial tuition out of pocket and that money as well the demand for good services and potential long term community investment these students represent all go benefit the State.

In other words, what Arizona’s SB 1070 crafters have done is leverage the State’s educational institutions and all the potential economic and social capital they provide against an image they believe will garner favor with the neo-conservative elements of the state and national Republican party and potentially catapult the careers of AZ Republicans on the backs of AZ citizens and students.

Conferences

May 6 Protest at ASU/unattributed

The second potential major loss of revenue for the state related to the economy has to do with conferences, conventions, and research funding. Almost ever Department, field of study, and sub-genre in academe has an annual conference attached. These conferences represent major economic gain for the states and communities in which they are held. Like the tourism dollars that float small island economies, academic conferences represent a substantial portion of a state’s budget. Moreover, certain cities and states have such long term ties to these conferences that the revenue they generate are part of the budget.

Not only do national conference rotate through Arizona at least once every three years, but regional conferences may occur even more often. Added to these conferences cycles are the number of symposiums, summer research “seminars”, and local conferences put on by Arizona colleges themselves. We could even include recent pushes to create internationally recognized research centers which would likely hold their own conferences and do have lucrative seminars with outside scholars. Arizona State University recently spent a considerable amount of money creating and advertising their new Social Justice MA program for instance, which included lucrative hiring packages for faculty who will now be racially profiled under SB 1070; while, University of AZ houses the Hispanic Center for Excellence, a Federally Funded program designed to train Latin@ physicians in order to increase the number of Latin@s in medicine and cultural competence of medical providers nationwide. Both of these programs cost that state a considerable amount to implement and will cost even more in economic and social losses were they to fail as a result of SB 1070.

Courses & Censorship

One of the more insidious aspects of SB 1070 is the successful run around Arizona voters with regards to education. After several failed attempts to pass a law designed to put an end to Raza Studies at the high school level and open the door to removing and/or censoring lesson plans about Latin@s in the schools, the AZ legislature tacked similar policies to SB 1070 and plans to use the passing of the law to open the door to re-introducing a bill to end Ethnic Studies all together. As a result, not only are the higher education programs mentioned above under threat through racial profiling but one of the most successful programs in increasing retention and graduation rates of Latino students and cross-cultural cooperation in Tuscon United school district is likely to be shut down despite repeated defeat of such attempts by voters in the past.

The current bill includes provisions for review and removal of teachers whose “English” is “sub-standard” without actually determining what that means or how it will be measured. It is common for students to complain that professors of color, especially those perceived to be from cultures or backgrounds in which English is not a first language, are incomprehensible, do not speak English well, or are otherwise sub-standard with regards to language skill. These arguments permeate at least one of the departments in which I am currently housed, where students feel free to complain about the general education requirements in math and science because ” no one in those departments speak English” and often turn in evaluations that include complaints about the language skills of the “hard graders” in our department who are brown b/c they “look like immigrants.” Never mind, that most of the faculty in our Department are native English speakers including all of the faculty who are regular targets of these complaints.

Why would any educator put up with this kind of internal policing, only to leave campus and receive it on the street or in public places when they could move somewhere else? While white supremacist Arizonans may think that a mass exodus of these teachers and their families is a good thing, they have not stopped to think about the immense amount of skill and intellect that will be lost to them as a result.

These draconian measures could literally turn some Arizona school districts into ghost towns the same way that immigration raids have done to once thriving single-business communities. Poor white students and their families, who cannot afford to move will thus be robbed of not only diverse education but also potentially any education at all. Worse, though schools may survive a mass exodus, one has to consider what kind of academics they can attract to communities that actively and publicly participate in racial profiling.

Academic Organizations

La Virgen de los Mohados/Sylvia Rodriguez/MALCs 2010

At this point, many academic organizations are weighing what kind of stance they will take with Arizona now that SB 1070 has passed. Various organizations under the American Association of Anthropologists have already begun discussing boycotts and alternative measures. While members of the American History Association and the American Studies Association have stated publicly that they will not attend conferences for their discipline if they take place in Arizona. Whether or not entire academic communities make these moves official or not, the bottom line is that many academics are willing to forego national and regional conferences to take a stand for Civil Rights and some of them have no choice since racial profiling will likely make them “look like immigrants.”

Two organizations stand out in this growing controversy: NACCS and MALCs.

MALCs, a organization of Latina, Native American, and Chicana scholars, summer institute has been set to take place mid-July in Arizona. Members of MALCs have expressed major concerns about attending, spending money, or otherwise participating in anything that has to do with the state while SB 1070 is in effect. In response, MALCs ran an online survey of its members about the conference and how to best deal with binding contracts and civil rights dissent. The survey is currently being reviewed. Among the options MALCs members are considering are:

  1. Moving the conference out of the state of Arizona and paying whatever fines are in the contracts – ie taking major revenue away from the state
  2. Holding the conference on Native American land in Arizona – ie taking major revenue away from the state while both engaging/supporting communities impacted by the law and making sure Arizonans see how much money they’ve lost
  3. Having a virtual conference – ie taking major revenue away from the state
  4. Modifying the focus of the conference to address SB 1070 and making it available to AZ community members

MALCs blog, has also included information about the general call to boycott the state. So that they are ultimately taking a stand for an informed and targeted response to civil and basic rights violations enacted by SB 1070. As part of this stance, MALCs leadership released an early statement that included the following:

Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social protests the inhumane treatment of the un-documented. Additionally, we protest SB 1070 as a back door maneuver that erodes basic democratic principles that protect us from becoming a police state

ASU’s MALCs chapter on the other hand raised the issue of being “stranded” at ground central of SB 1070 if non-Arizona based academics left educational institutions to fend for themselves:

MALCS at ASU
Site Executive Committee
Position on HB 1070

The MALCS Site Executive committee at ASU recognizes the discontent and horror of progressive communities towards the Arizona state legislature; we want to
take a moment to comment on this year’s MALCS summer institute.

When the decision to bring the institute to our state and Arizona State University was made, one of the goals was to make present and visible our histories, experiences and visions as Chicanas/Latinas/Indigenous women in this particular geo-political space.

People of color and immigrants have been notoriously attacked in the state of Arizona for years. The theme of our Institute Derechos Humanos: (Re)Claiming Our Dreams Across Contested Terrains reflects this history. The contested terrain we refer to are not only geo-political spaces, but an affirmation of the struggle against the slew of anti-immigrant legislation in our state. As the call for a boycott to our state takes momentum, we want to critically address what this might mean for our institute. We will allot time in the conference to strategizing best responses to the parameters of the bill. Indeed, we have already made invitations to community activists as speakers for the thematic plenary session. And we are in the process of inviting the student activists who chained themselves to the State Capitol and got arrested as they demanded that Governor Jan Brewer veto HB 1070.

Now, more than ever we need the national community to bring support to those of us who are grounded here and to critically address what derechos humanos signifies in times of crisis. We believe it is imperative to continue to struggle against human rights violations that ensue from anti-immigrant, Indigenous, women, gay/lesbian/transgender discourses and practices. HB 1070 is the first of a nationwide effort to pass draconian immigration laws. There are ten similar bills considered in other states across the country, if we don’t fight back strong now, the battle will be significantly harder in the future. Additionally, we must continue to pressure the Obama Administration and our members of Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform and the Dream Act.

We propose, if the boycott indeed goes into effect, considering this year’s institute as an autonomous space to build solidarity in what can be deemed “ground zero” in the national immigrant and human rights debate. Arizona State University’s President Michael Crow has supported students who were affected by Prop. 300 that mandate students who cannot produce a social security number to pay out-of-state tuition. We encourage MALCS members to stay at Taylor Place, and to patronize Latino owned business when they come to Arizona in efforts to show the economic power of the Chicana/Latina/Indigenous communities.

Like the other organizations, departments, and schools addressed in the previous section, MALCs Arizona runs the risk of being completely isolated while trying to fight the negative impacts of SB 1070. If enough students and faculty transfer or never attend at all, the Arizona MALCs members who may not be able to make those choices may loose one of their key places for support. The question many academics are asking in and outside of the state as they weigh is a response is deeply related to this call from Arizona MALCs, ie how to support entrenched communities while expressing deep concern and disdain for the leadership of the state and the measures they have passed to concretize inequality and discrimination in the State.

unattributed

NACCs leadership has also expressed their deep concern for the impact of SB 1070 on Latin@s, Civil Rights, and intellectual freedom. In a 4 page letter, The current President of NACCS outlines some of the major misconceptions of the bill and the response NACCS membership has decided to take.  The letter argues that SB 1070 creates an “ecology of fear” through the depiction of immigrants and Latin@s in general as criminal, dangerous, and systemic drains on the economy.  It points to how the language of fear ignores the historical roots of the Latin@ and indigenous communities in Arizona dating back as far as the 1700s in order to criminalize anyone brown. This ecology of fear creates an environment of intolerance, fear, and hatred that will inevitably erupt in violence against both citizens and non-citizens alike, as it has in other communities invested in public, state sanctioned, hatred of immigrants.

The letter points to several falsehoods in anti-immigrant discourse that allowed SB 1070 to pass in the first place:

  1. Undocumented Workers pay more taxes than they receive: 6-7 billion dollars go unclaimed by immigrants who pay into the system but cannot legally take from it (Urban Institute 2005)
  2. Undocumented Workers keep Social Security afloat b/c the number of Mexican@ workers is growing while the majority of native born workers is reaching retirement age (American Chamber of Commerce 1985)
  3. Undoc Workers stimulate economic growth through demand for goods and services and entreprenuership
  4. Latin@s have the lowest unemployment rates in the country (Perryman Group 2010)

In short, the facts paint a picture of hardworking people supporting both state and national level social programs (schools, police, fire departments, social services, social security, etc.), expanding local economies through both job creation and service/product demand, and receiving very little economic gain in return. Long term workers are also more likely to invest in home ownership and community building projects than has previously been reported by those invested in white entrenchment. Thus the overall image of criminal, violent, and shiftless brown people menacing communities and draining resources is simply unsupported by bi-partisan research.

The negative image of the immigrant serves to distract workers and voters from failing state policies and diminishing economic opportunities while focusing their attention on a hate Other with limited to no responsibility for the problem.  NACCS leadership points out that SB 1070 is part of this long history of scapegoating immigrants at not only the national level but also in Arizona:

  • In 2008 – the state tried to disenfranchise Latin@ voters by claiming their documents were illegitimate, not present, or insufficient
  • AZ was at the center of the Federal Attorney scandal that saw people fired for failing to carry out unsubstantiated prosecutions against Latin@ voters

A longer history of Arizona’s xenophobia and anti-Latin@ policies can be found at Gay Prof’s blog:

In 1877, the editor of Tucson’s Spanish-language newspaper Las dos repúblicas lamented the “the attack of the [Anglo] hordes from the north . . .” Before the arrival of these white supremacists, Arizona had been part of the territory of New Mexico. For the rebel whites, though, the idea of living in a territory with a Mexican majority was anathema. They therefore separated themselves from New Mexico and created a whole new territory where they could institute a tyrannical government. (read the whole thing there)

NACCs also points out that S 1070 was written and funded through the help of long time white supremacist eugenicist organizations like the Federation for the American Immigration Reform and the Pioneer Foundation. The presence of white supremacists organizations in the drafting of the bill makes it impossible for anyone to take Jan Brewer’s statements about the bill‘s protections for civil rights and non-discrimination seriously.

Like other organizations, NACCs is calling for an immediate response by academics to the discrimination implemented by the State of Arizona including:

  1. a targeted economic boycott
  2. not scheduling national conferences in Arizona (NACCs will not hold any of their conferences there until the bill is rescended)
  3. Education and monitoring of the State

Conclusions

unattributed

Ultimately, racist and anti-immigrant factions in Arizona failed to recognize the ways in which xenophobic racism would ultimately impact the entire state not just the brown people they hope to police. In crafting a narrative of criminality and illegality around Latin@s and Latin@ culture they also hoped to [re]inscribe a narrative of their state and the nation that are out of keeping with the actual cultural histories of both. As various parties consider what, if anything, to do in response to Arizona’s laws, one thing is clear: academics are making their voices heard in both public and private spaces. Though we have often been discounted by the far right and misrepresented by the mainstream media, the bottom line is that we do generate a considerable amount of both money and prestige for the states in which we reside. At least for some of us, the choice is clear: we will not spend our economic or intellectual capital in Arizona and ultimately that means Arizona loses more than we do.

For all of the Latin@ intellectuals in Arizona whose roots go back to before the “founding” of this nation, I can only hope that the crisis between choosing their roots and their safety is less painful than the economic and social ostracism that supremacists in the State will experience as the national tide turns.

Everyone, regardless of their perspective, should question the motives of State level leaders who are willing to leverage the livelihoods of both dominant and marginalized communities and education in their state for political points with the minority (white supremacists) who may or may not also live in that state. Other states have bent to the whims of these factions before and found the aftermath much harder to overcome than anything they might have been trying to avoid or implement. More than that, the days of public, state level, discrimination without consequence have long since past and as these academic protests point out, any state in the N. American Southwest that thinks they can ignore their own history for anti-Latin@ rhetoric is all the more delusional.