Not Much Has Changed

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

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

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

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

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

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The Shadow Knows

My friends and I have been participating in a Jungian reading group. It is the one thing in my overbooked schedule this term that feels as though it is just for me; probably, because it is. A lot of our time has been spent discussing the issue of the Shadow and the Ego (or the Real Self as some of us prefer). What has been most interesting to me about the group is the way that two words have become mobilized as ways to silence others “reactive” and “shadow”.

(this man’s art is amazing, check out his blog)

For those who do not know “reactive” means just what it sounds like, i.e. you have high emotions around a certain topic that likely indicate it’s your stuff not someone else’s.”Shadow” is a huge topic I am about to reduce to less than a sentence, so Jungian folks feel free to look the other way for a minute. At it’s most basic it means the parts of yourself you have rejected and on a conscious level, likely no longer know they exist as part of you. So, when you bump into someone who makes you super “reactive” you are likely hating on your own “Shadow”. Make sense?

For the most part, both concepts are incredibly fruitful in making people look  at their own stuff and own their behavior. But an interesting thing happens on the oppression highway … can you guess? There are two types of Jungians whose privilege blinds them to how they oppressive: (1) the ones who swear up and down that their Shadows are the parts of themselves they learned from their evil parents who done them wrong, and therefore deflect their oppression on to said, absent, parents and all the work they have had to do on their stuff (i.e. very little except learning anti-oppression lingo) and (2) the ones who swear even louder that you are “being reactive” and really you need to do some work on your Shadow self because they’ve done theirs. Ugh.

This does not just happen with oppressions mind you. In our group, there is a person who has studied Jung for years (which probably means he picked up a book to impress a girl in late high school after she waned on Marx … there I go, being reactive again). He knows Shadow theory better than any of us and never hesitates to point out other people’s Shadows or the “reactivity.”  Usually this finger pointing in the name of embracing one’s real self happens a few seconds after he says some sexist thing about women being the earth, or emotional centers because we have babies, or other “please do me because I am so in touch with my feminine side” bs and gets called on it.  But some times, it happens because he has openly mocked someone else in the group for not understanding a heady concept in the reading and when other’s of us come to that person’s defense he starts in with “reactivity” and “Shadow” finger pointing at speeds that make his little wagging finger hard to even see; oh, but it is there.

(cover art Detective Short Stories 1938; @Syracus Library)

Recently, I was coming around the corner from my office and He Who Shall Not Be Named, was engaged in a full on gossip session about one of my colleagues from the group. He was “diagnosing” this person with an endless list of pathologies and actively connecting them to things that are considered private in the confines of our discussion. The person he was talking to was both eating up the insider information about my colleagues childhood traumas and laughing along at the diagnosis. When I glared, and went around the other corner, I heard him switch to diagnosing me.

The incident left me thinking about all of the ways we find to avoid dealing with our insecurities, past traumas, and interpersonal faux pas. How easy it is to point to others and say “that’s you stuff” all the while denying our own. From the plank vs the sliver, to the Shadow vs. authenticity, it seems we find endless ways to both try and teach each other how to change and to avoid changing ourselves. As old as the game is, I find something completely insidious about using psychological concepts to tear down other people or to hide behind. If every opinion that differs from your own is reactive and everything someone does not like is their Shadow then it seems some folks use that as a license to oppress others, excuse violent fantasies and personal attacks. Ultimately, where is the line? Is a rapist just a woman’s Shadow? a klan member a black man’s Shadow? Sheriff Joe and Jan Brewer immigrants and people who “look like immigrants” Shadows? And if it is reactivity to tell you that standing in the hallway using someone’s personal pain to diagnose and mock them is wrong, then is it reactivity to stand up against the new push to drill of the Gulf Coast again in the face of all the dead dolphins, dead sea life, and environmental pollution related poverty? Is it reactive to open a shelter for women escaping violence or demand that Republicans and some Democrats not risk the livelihood of teachers, firemen, etc. to make a political point about spending?

Perhaps I’m missing something here. But it seems to me that if you are sacrificing the lives or safety (emotional or physical) of someone else in order to feel more secure in your own world the person telling you to stop is not dancing with their Shadow, they are being beaten down by yours. (And of course, some of you out there think I am being reactive.)