24 posts categorized "memery"

March 15, 2010

Ten Fashion Basics

Since I've pretty much given up on fashion (my feet have given out and I can't wear cute shoes anymore, and that's where it all begins) I've started reading fashion blogs. I'm sure there's some Psych 101 in there somewhere, but don't bother me with it. Anyway, I'm reading The Sartorialist, Garance Doré, and Jak & Jil blog, aside from Go Fug Yourself.

Garance just posted about her ten fashion basics, which seemed like a fun meme to me, so I'm gonna do that here. Just the fashion basics, mind you, the things I do to (in my mind) look good, not the things I always wear because they're comfortable. Well, actually, I'll post about the comfortable things I wear because I think they look good. I never wear anything uncomfortable. I might not have ten.

  1. Urban Outfitters oversize v-neck t-shirts. I have a jillion of 'em, each in a different color with a different print. These are my staple top because I love the cleverness of the prints and the cut is flattering.
  2. Free People extra long sleeved tops. They have a variety of styles, but the key here is that their thick, long-sleeved tops are all very long in both sleeve and torso length, and are thick enough to serve as pullovers, rather than just shirts. I've been wallowing in these all winter. A bit on the expensive side, but oh, so worth it for the long of limb.
  3. My 2" woven leather bronze belt. This was a score at some mall store in Michigan. I just happened to be looking for a belt to match my copper flats (which have since been retired) and this one turned out to be the solution for all my belting needs. ;P
  4. My Haflinger felt booties. Not at all fashionable, but compare to any random Crocs style, and you have the fashionable option for bad feet. (and my feet are baaaaaad.)
  5. Short jackets: for winter, my vintage 70s Gunilla Ponten (Brutus Rex) jacket, which I got in Berlin about 15 years ago. It's white, quilted faux fur with white ribbed collar and forearm-length sleeve cuffs. The lining is falling out and the faux fur is turning grey, but I loves it, precious! My summer jacket (I live in the Bay Area, remember) is a Sitwell sea-foam blue, collarless, stretch cotton, zip-up, portmanteau between a forties ladies jacket and a motorcycle jacket. Acquired at Anthropologie perhaps six years ago and getting nicely faded.
  6. My current favorite purse (I am a purse whore, so the favorite changes frequently), a red Nicole Lee thingy with brass-colored stuff all over it,  T.J. Smaxx find. (I never claimed to be fashionable.)
  7. An ongoing, never-to-be-concluded search for the perfect jeans. I.e., I wear almost nothing but jeans, but they change frequently. Tend to prefer wide-leg trouser jeans.
  8. H&M wraparound, half-sleeve dresses are my little black dress. I have three of them, in different prints. Come to think of it, I have two more wraparound dresses aside from those. I guess wraparound dresses are my thing. They're very flattering and highly recommended for people who have trouble finding dresses because they don't properly have a dress size!
  9. Necklaces! All kinds and shapes and sizes and colors! I generally go for cheap novelty necklaces from cheap stores, but sometimes I'll lay out a bit more for the right thing. My favorites right now are a stainless-steel-beaded long necklace from Target and a silver leather snap choker from the SF MOMA gift shop.
  10. Knee-high boots, which enable me to wear dresses (I can never find the right low shoes to wear with dresses.) Because of my recently-gone-bad feet, though, only two pairs of knee boots are still working for me, so I'm going to have to rebuild this section of my wardrobe.
Okay, that was a fun, if pointless, exercise. Now you!

September 03, 2009

Embarrassingly Effective Viral Video

Oh my god, this is so awesome it actually made me cry. And I hate weddings. I hate the whole pageantry of it, the symbolism of the white dress and the procession of the wedding party and the minister officiating. The whole thing. If I ever get married (and that's always been a big if) it will be in jeans, by Elvis, in Las Vegas, in front of total strangers. And it will be ritual only, not legalized until everyone can get married.

But this ... this is totally awesome. Why aren't more weddings joyful affairs? When people say "I'll dance at your wedding," why don't they ever mean literally, during the wedding? Why shouldn't the bride and groom dance down the aisle to their song?

I also love that they've made this video a portal to making donations against domestic violence (since it was a Chris Brown song they danced to.) Yes, I am a sentimental soul.

July 17, 2009

Confirmation Hearing

Hulu is running this clip from an earlier Senate confirmation hearing. It is waaaay too cool, on so many levels. Same players, different tune.

June 16, 2009

Breakin' Up Iz Hard 2 Do, Part II

So what I wanted to do -- about a month ago now, in the weeks leading up to WisCon, when I was considering "breaking up" with the antiracist blogosphere as a result of RaceFail and MammothFail -- was write a series of posts about how antiracist action online actually works, and why I have problems with it.

But a number of things intervened.

*****First, right before WisCon, Al Robles, an elder in my Bay Area Asian American activist community, died suddenly. His family organized a memorial event and I was asked to help, so I took over volunteer coordination for the six-hour event. The event took place at the venue where we had staged the Asian American arts festival I ran for its first few years; being there as a coordinator reminded me of that work and of the atmosphere of common purpose and mutual help that can arise out of creating a "real world" racial community. It also reminded me that I had a real world community in the first place, that I had been neglecting, partly in favor of my online stuff.

Also, being at Manong Al's memorial really made me think a lot about Al. The sort of elder whose memorial event draws thousands of people, requires ten tables to hold all the food, and has trouble restricting the stories, poems, and testimonials to six hours, is a very particular person. Al was a leader, not in that he put himself and his agenda first, nor in that he had great managerial skills he used to organize people. Al was a leader by example. He was everywhere he needed to be to get the work done. He was physically there; he put his hand on your arm when he saw you. He knew everyone in the community because he talked to them, partied with them, and remembered them whenever he saw them next. He never lost his interest in individuals, never lost his excitement about the new (and old) things people were doing, never failed to connect the creative life (he was a poet) with the activist life, and the activist life with the good life.

The consideration that makes my eyes well up, both in love for Al and in shame for my own failures, is the memory of Al as someone who always gave respect, gave face, to everyone, from the most snot-nosed, fist-pumping teenager, to the oldest, out-of-commission elder.  He made you want to earn the respect that he gave you unconditionally. He loved whatever it was that you did. Thousands of people turned out to say goodbye to him because people like that are so rare.

It makes me really think about who is going to take over for Al. Less than two years ago we lost another elder, Manong Bill Sorro, who had a similar role in the community as Al Robles, had a similar way with people, although the two were very different. As I said, these people are rare. Manong Al and Manong Bill were my touchstones in the community and now that they're both gone, I'm all out of touchstones. They were it for their generation. Who will be it for my generation?

I'm not that kind of person, but I can try to be more of that kind of person. I don't have to be the Manong Al or Manong Bill of my generation, but I think we can split up those duties a little more evenly, especially if we believe in community and continuation. But to do that, I have to get off the fucking internet and get my butt down to where the community is.

***** Second, I went to WisCon. Given the atmosphere surrounding RaceFail and then MammothFail, I was expecting WisCon to be emotionally fraught, stress-filled, and conflict-ridden. Instead, what I found was that there were more POC there than ever before, and that the POC there were organizing, coming together, and also connecting outside the POC community with a confidence and interest and even joy that I hadn't seen at WisCon before.

I realized that the online fights that had stressed me out so much, make my stomach tie up in knots and feel like all was sick with the world, had energized a lot of other folks. I was forcibly reminded of how I felt eleven years ago, when I first joined battle -- in a very limited and constrained way -- with folks online on the multiracial list-serv and the Asian American writers list-serv I joined. It was energizing; it did make me want to do stuff. And, because I was in San Francisco, I just went right out and did stuff: joined orgs, started programs, etc. It was a wonderful cycle of discussion and action: I discussed ideas online, and then took those ideas out into the real world and acted on them.

Of course, the energizing aspect of the arguments and sometimes fights had a limited efficacy. They were only energizing as long as they were still new to me, and still had something to teach me about that particular way of viewing the issues. Once I had been through the cycle of argument once or twice (and had experienced intelligent, articulate opponents who just plain didn't listen to you) the argument stopped energizing me and started to stress me out. Eventually, I had to quit the two list-servs, and I didn't miss them much when I had. That was mainly because the people I "knew" on the list-servs were just usernames. I was also spending time with folks in meatspace and many of those folks are still my friends; I'm not still friends with a single person I interacted intensely with online at that time, even the people I met in person and tried to work with there. But what I got out of those discussions didn't go away. The results -- the ideas and ability to articulate arguments -- stayed with me.

***** Third, I went back to Berlin, where I spent much of my twenties, and saw a lot of my friends, ten and fifteen years later. I saw that my friends had taken one of three tracks: folks who hadn't quite gotten started on a career and were still struggling to figure out where to go and what to do; folks who had started a career, then started a family and were now negotiating the limitation on their career that a young family imposes; and folks who were well into a creative career, some simply moving forward and others wondering if they wanted to stay on this track or make an adjustment.

I'm with the last group. I've spent the last decade plowing ahead full steam in ethnic-specific arts and culture, and I've accomplished much that I'm proud of. But I've definitely reached a point where I'm trying to make an adjustment in my direction, and that's a difficult thing to do. While in Berlin, I got a rare perspective on where I am in life, by seeing my peers dealing with being in that same place. And I think I can take this adjustment more quietly -- be less manic and bewildered about it -- and focus in. I think that's the key: letting some options go, and focusing in on what's most important to me.

*

I came back to online antiracism a few years ago with my interest in speculative fiction, and with working with POC SF communities that I had connected with through Clarion West and WisCon. And the community here is wonderful, and vibrant, and full of energy and purpose. I've learned a lot from reading blogs, and getting into discussions ... and even from some of the less pleasant fights I've gotten into. Some things I've learned couldn't have been gotten at another way.

But there are also problems with it ... and it was my intention to tease out those problems in a series of posts, as I said above. But after Al's memorial, and after WisCon, and after my visit back to the site of my young adulthood, I think I'm realizing that I don't need to do that right now. What I'm feeling is particular to me and my situation. Maybe down the road I'll have some perspectives that will be useful to someone else, but I don't think I do right now.

I've been upset and angry at an argument that I've heard too many times before that doesn't have the power to inspire me anymore, but that doesn't mean that this discussion isn't inspiring anyone else to new and great things. I think I'm probably best off shutting up and getting out of the way.

*

One thing I do want to clarify: when I said in an earlier post that the best thing that came out of RaceFail was the smart posts published early in the incident, a few outraged people pointed to Verb Noire (which has just announced its first publication, which makes me want to pee with excitement) as a direct result of RaceFail. I was surprised by that perception. Having been involved in so many start-ups (APAture, Hyphen, the San Francisco Hapa Issues Forum chapter, the now-defunct Digital Horizon afterschool program) and seen so many from a peripheral viewpoint, it's second nature to me to assume that any start-up or initiative has its roots in longstanding dreams and long planning processes ... that then come together around a particular opportunity.

Yes, I believe that RaceFail brought on a convergence of a number of things that led to Verb Noire being launched right then, but I don't believe that without RaceFail there would have been no Verb Noire. (Please tell me if I'm completely wrong here; I have no telepathic connection to the publishers, and no idea what specifically got them going.) Furthermore, I'd be worried if I really thought that RaceFail was the only or main impulse to starting Verb Noire. Last straw, yes; main thrust, no. It's a terrific project, coming at the right time, but it's larger than just RaceFail. The language and direction of the project already seems larger -- seems to fill up a space that has to do with more than just a failure of the general SF community to understand cultural difference and appropriation.

Basically, until it was pointed out to me, I didn't connect Verb Noire directly with RaceFail. RaceFail to me is just an incident: an incident that got drawn out way too long and produced some good writing, some bad writing, and a lot of bad feeling ... but still just an incident. Verb Noire is ... an organization, a long-term program, an institution of new perspective in the making. The two are bound up together, certainly: all good organizations, programs, institutions have their roots in unacceptable circumstances, or ongoing failures, and series of incidents that demonstrate these circumstances and failures.

But the two are distinct. One is discussion; the other, activism. For me, there does come a time when the discussion that inspires activism starts to get in the way of activism, and I have to opt out of direct discussion for a while.

*

I don't know what this means for me on a practical level. I have an online presence that takes some work to maintain and that brings me a lot of pleasure, aside from other things. But it also, I have to admit, sucks too much time away from my writing and my working in my community. I might have to cut back on being present online for a while, but I'm not sure how or how much. I'm not making any quick decisions.

I have no conclusions yet, no declarations to make. I think I'm going to be reading less from blogs, and participating less in any sort of online discussions in this area for a while. But at this point, I'm just thinking out loud.

May 16, 2009

Outrage, Pullback, Punishment: The Structure of One Common Antiracist Post

ETA: Please note! This is my personal blog and, although I draw on my experience with the organizations I work for, I write on this blog as a private citizen, and not as a representative of any organization! In these posts it's especially important to remember that I'm not speaking for the Carl Brandon Society, but only for myself.

So, to kick off my out-loud consideration of if and how to "break up" with the antiracist blogosphere ...

I'm going to start with organizing some observations about how racism is talked about on the POC antiracist blogs I've been reading for the past six years and laying out the basic structure of one type of typical antiracist post.

First, most POC A/R blogs rarely take the bull by the horns, that is to say, they rarely take the initiative in introducing topics of discussion and setting the terms for the discussion. Instead, most POC A/R blogs are reactive, that is, they keep watch on what is happening in the world and especially in the media, and respond to incidents or discussions initiated by people out in the world, or by the media.

The way this works is what I call "Outrage, Pullback, Punishment" (and yes, it is a plus that it compresses to "OPP"). How it works is as follows:

Outrage: something racist happens in the world. A blogger or group of bloggers pick up on it. They note it in their blogs and express outrage at it. The item gets passed on from blog to blog.

Pullback: of the bloggers who post on this topic, less than half will express anything other than outrage. But a subset of these bloggers will spend a little time pulling back from the outrage to contextualize this incident of racism and explain why it's a problem. They will go into the history of these types of incidents, they'll go into academic theories of X, they'll give talking points on why this sort of thing is bad for people of color, bad for justice, and bad for the world in general.

Punishment: of the bloggers who pull back and contextualize, an even smaller subset will propose or initiate action. This action is dual: it proposes advocacy of a particular view, action (usually apology and some sort of remediation), and threatens punishment if this action isn't taken up immediately. I call this step "punishment" because punishment is advocated at two places: often the remedial action is punishment of the original offender (as in asking a radio station to fire a racist DJ), and the action threatened if this remedy isn't taken up is usually a punishment as well (official complaint up the chain of command, formal boycott, or bad publicity, and the hanging of the "racist" label on the totality of the offenders.) The action is then picked up by the other bloggers and passed around.

Lest anyone think I'm trying to hurl accusations from a glass house, I'll give an example from my own oeuvre. (I'm actually critiquing all of POC antiracist blogging, including my own, which is part of the whole and speaks the same language.) The recent example is the Avatar casting controversy:

You'll notice here that the structure not only makes the information easy to understand and assimilate, but it also makes the basic conveyance of the information easy to adapt to each blog. Each new blogger who picks the story up simply gives a spin to the same blog post and passes it on.

This structure of communication has been effective in the past for specific purposes. The best example would be the Jena 6 controversy in 2007 where a group of black teenagers were unfairly prosecuted for an assault on a white teenager that was provoked by a series of racist incidents. Originally ignored by the mainstream media, outrage in the POC blogosphere contributed heavily to the story being picked up nationally. Additionally, the "punishment" phase of this story advocated action that was less punitive and more justice-oriented, and resulted in large demonstrations in Jena and all over the country, that have succeeded in bringing about a more just resolution for many of the defendants than would have happened otherwise. Here's a post from the Angry Black Woman which demonstrates OPP and links to other posts you can check out as well.

An earlier example was the Abercrombie and Fitch controversy (2002/2004), which involved first a series of t-shirts with racist images of Asians on them, then a lawsuit (later settled) that alleged that A&F gave visible jobs to white employees and restricted POC to the stock rooms. The online campaign against the t-shirts -- organized with a speed that surprised even participants -- led to real-world protest outside the stores, which in turn caused the company to withdraw the shirt and issue an apology. The t-shirt protest was actually organized via email, list-servs, and discussion boards, more than via blogs. But if you look at the discussion boards link, you'll see one of the origins of OPP structure. The continuing online scrutiny of A&F's racial attitude helped keep pressure on them that contributed to the favorable settlement of the lawsuit.

As has been rightly said since the Jena 6 protests, online social networking has created a world in which effective protest can be organized quickly and nationally to address even local injustices. OPP is a great launching point for these kinds of effective protests: OPP informs and arouses a sense of outrage very quickly, and creates a sort of information tree or hierarchy which people can follow back to a source of organization if they wish to get involved. People are no longer dependent on being reached by recruiters, they can recruit themselves to act. And POC communities, if they know how to leverage the hinges of the Tipping Point, can control to a great extent the spread of their mobilization effort.

This structure of communication also makes it easy for the mainstream media to pick up on POC responses to national incidents. Reporters don't have to dig through a lot of discussion and process its implications to know what POC bloggers are thinking. They just aggregate the most popular bloggers and do a keyword search for the controversy du jour, and bingo, insta-quote. So in this way, POC can come closer to the mainstream media.

All this is great. But.

The negative result of this is that POC A/R blogs tend to accept, without thought or discussion, that the white-dominated media and mainstream culture gets to initiate action and discussion, and the POC A/R online media's role is merely to respond to this discourse, and not to control it or be a partner in shaping it.

This is fine when an injustice happens -- as in Jena -- and must be addressed quickly. These sorts of things happen all the time, so having a structure in place to deal with these things -- to remedy actual injustices as they happen -- is important. But it does not move the discourse on race forward. It unconsciously takes for granted that POC have no initiative in the world. In the call and response of the mainstream media discourse, POC have only a response, not a call. And as we all know, whoever calls, rules.

I say _________, you say "racist"

Mr. Patel!
Racist!
Airbender!
Racist!

If you look back on any effective movement of the 20th century (suffrage, civil rights, Vietnam) their communication structure all had these things in common:

  1. A clear, articulated overall goal towards which all participants were willing to work for years.
  2. A set, but evolving discourse and vocabulary, which the movement controlled.
  3. Media: alternative media organs (papers and magazines) dedicated to promoting this message and discourse; and, over time, allies in the mainstream media dedicated to promoting this message and discourse.
  4. The necessity of responding deliberately and thoughtfully, owing to the lack of instantaneous communications technology. Because everything written was printed and had to be edited and proofread, everything broadcast had to be accepted by media corporations and could be heavily controlled, the message and discourse were very polished, thoughtful, respectful, and carefully tailored to appeal to listeners who may have held a differing opinion.

If you think about it, OPP simply cannot exist in a movement in which the above conditions obtain. Chaos and Freedom are the twin faces of the same internet beast. The viral responsiveness and speed of protests like Jena 6 and A&F owes to the Freedom face. The lack of a goal, a message, a discourse, and deliberate or thoughtful response owes to the Chaos face. Although there's more than one argument to be made here, I would contend that the POC Antiracist blogosphere is not a movement, it is merely a community.

As such, it can facilitate the creation of temporary movements (like the Jena 6 protest movement), but it cannot change, or even affect, the national discourse on race. All it can do is respond to it.

In my next post, I'm going to talk about initiatives that do shape, or attempt to shape, national discourse on race, and how these work together with online OPP.

May 15, 2009

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do: How To Handle Antiracist POC Communities

ETA: Please note! This is my personal blog and, although I draw on my experience with the organizations I work for, I write on this blog as a private citizen, and not as a representative of any organization! In these posts it's especially important to remember that I'm not speaking for the Carl Brandon Society, but only for myself.

WisCon starts in a week, and, as a result of RaceFail and the more recent resurgence of controversy around race, I've been thinking a lot about the issue of how antiracist action is handled on the internet. I'm going to spend the next week on a series of posts about my thoughts on this topic. I need to clear my head and -- not knowing what to expect from WisCon this year -- prepare my thoughts for whatever comes.

(One quick caveat here: I despaired years ago of getting through to ignorant, privileged whites on the internet through argument, and haven't engaged in that sort of argument for a long time: because it kills me, and because it doesn't seem to do much good. The only thing that works, in my experience, is providing copious resources that someone, who wants to seek and understand, can find and use in his/her own way, so that they can choose to prepare themselves to join a discourse, rather than argue their way into knowledge.

So if I seem to be only criticizing the antiracist POC side here, it's because I am. No amount of tantrums, unprofessionalism, and bad behavior from the privileged side surprises me anymore, and I find it pointless to even criticize it. At the latest, after last year's Rachel-Moss-WisConFail, and the conscious delight privileged white males (and females) took in baiting feminists, people of color, differently abled, and transgendered people, I have refused to engage with such perspectives, which I consider a continuum. I only now engage with "our" responses to such perspectives, or more accurately, with a broader-based strategy to combat ignorance and prejudice in our media and in our society. Doubtless RaceFail blame falls much more heavily on the side of baiters and privileged idiots. But they can't bait those who won't be baited. They can't enrage those who won't be enraged.)

Back in February, around the time I thought that RaceFail was going to die down, I started writing a series of posts on this topic. But RaceFail didn't die down then, nor for another couple of months. The residue of a contentious and conflict-soaked election campaign, and of a devastating economic collapse, the impact of which we'll be unraveling for years, was like jetfuel to the usual flame. Whereas internet blowups usually only last a couple of weeks -- a flash flood -- the almost palpable panic and fear and weariness cracked open the levees we'd been ignoring for so long, and our little corner of the blogosphere was overwhelmed. What started as an initially salutary repeat of a discussion that had never quite been put to rest, soon turned into a community eating itself.

Not coincidentally, February was the time the Carl Brandon Society's Heritage Month book advocacy campaign kicked off. We'd chosen one recommended reading list in January -- immediately before RaceFail had started -- and were trying to put together a second list in February as the tone of the discussion got ugly. The difference was dramatic. In January our members were joyfully and actively participating, just like last year. By mid-February, our list-serv had fallen silent: everyone was too busy at work or in their lives to participate. For the first time since I joined the Carl Brandon Society Steering Committee, our members actually ignored direct requests for participation. And I have to say: I don't blame them one little bit.

Heartsick and anxiety-ridden over the tone the public discourse began to take on, I bowed out of the discussion and abandoned the posts I had started. I did save them, though, and, although I'm even more heart-sick and anxiety-ridden now, I have to talk this out, if only with myself. Essentially, I have to decide, in the next couple of weeks, if I'm going to "break up" with the antiracist blogosphere.

This is not the first time I've had to make such a decision. In the year 2000, I had to "break up" with the discussion list-servs I was on in 1998/99, that helped me learn and understand so much about my own identity and community, and that helped me formulate my own thinking about race and organizing and why these are important. Without those list-servs and those discussions, I could not have become an effective community organizer, teacher, and advocate. I would not have been able to articulate to myself or anyone else why building a community voice is essential to racial justice.

But the discussions on those list-servs stayed in one place and cycled around that place over and over again, like a ferris wheel. Staying in that discourse after I had completed a few cycles was not merely annoying, it actually militated against progressive action. It made me anxious and sick to my stomach, it made me angry, and -- whereas initially it had brought me closer to my fellow community members -- it began to drive a wedge between us, emphasizing small differences in opinion, and sucking energy and air away from broader-based action.

I thought I would miss it too much. I said I'd "take a break" for three months and then see if I could go back and take part in a more rational manner. What happened instead was that, within a few weeks, I had nearly forgotten about the list-servs, and had discovered a pocket of free hours that I could now dedicate to more real-world action.

But those were purely discussion list-servs; not only were they not intended for action, but calls for action and event announcements weren't allowed on those lists. Breaking up with the antracist POC blogosphere is a much more complex proposition, because it exists not just for discussion, but also for discourse, not just for expression of outrage, but also for action and organizing. And there are people in this community who are so geographically far away, I can't access them any other way.

So this consideration is not just a "in or out" proposition. Being on the CBS Steering Committee requires me to use online organizing and keep up with what's going on in the communities. Writing for Hyphen blog requires me to participate in POC bloggery. I'm not quitting these organizations, so the question is: how to tailor my participation in online POC antiracist action so as to curtail the negative influence of discussion loops, while keeping me in the loop?

This is what I'll be considering over the next few posts. I probably won't respond to comments until I'm through, since this is a longer thought process than usual, and I don't want to break it off or argue until I've gotten through it. Be advised that anything that smacks to me of attack (in comments) may well be deleted. (That's another tactic I'm going to be considering.)

May 12, 2009

White House Geekery

Obama_computer

I am so in love with deadbrowalking's Wild Unicorn Herd Check-in. For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, read this first. As a response to one of Lois McMaster Bujold's more clueless statements -- that PoC didn't exist before the internet, essentially -- deadbrowalking called for PoC nerds, especially outside the US who were second or third generation nerds, to check in. The response has been astounding.

My eyes tear up every time I go there and see that the list has added another page. If you're a nerd of color, please go and check in!

In other news, I picked this up from the unicorn herd: Barack Obama is a nerd of color. (Okay, well, we knew the last part already.) But what does his using a Mac have to do with it? I thought real nerds used pimped out PCs.


May 11, 2009

Can We NOT Do Racefail Again, Please?

I'm sticking my head out of its hole here (please note: my head is NOT wearing its CBS hat) to make a plea ... and realizing that I'll probably either get ignored, or get my head bitten off. This plea goes out to my fellow active and activist PoC and white antiracist SF/F fans. Anyone who doesn't fit this description, please refrain from commenting below (I will probably delete you.)

Apparently, Patricia Wrede has written an alternate history YA in which American Indians/Native Americans simply never existed, replaced by magical mammoths. If you don't immediately see what's wrong with this, read this list of links. (I also surfed through from this post and found a buncha stuff that wasn't on the links post above.) The posts linked often link to further reading, so go knock yourself out surfing.

Okay. I, for one, think this list of posts offers a perfect summation of what the problem with Wrede's premise is. What I'm asking for now is for PoC and white antiracists to take a REALLY DEEP BREATH ... and to fail to have a massive, collective, monthslong comment thread freakout like the one that happened this January/February/March/April (a.k.a. RaceFail '09.)

I know you guys are tired of it. We all are. I know the ignorant and vicious attempts to block and derail discussion are making you crazy. But responding to them in comments didn't do much good a few months ago ... and I think it'll do even less good now that the clueless are still smarting from the pileups at various whitepeople blogs which caused everyone to freak out and f-lock and delete their blogs and out each other's real identities and and and ...

What good did any of that do? What good will it do to go there again? The best thing that came out of RaceFail was a list of good, thoughtful posts about cultural appropriation that we can point out to people who want to be educated. Unfortunately, as much as people during RaceFail were linking to these great posts, they were ALSO engaging in increasingly angry comment threads with flamers and trolls who weren't interested in learning anything, and wouldn't have learned anything even if they were BECAUSE THEY WERE ON THE DEFENSIVE, AS EVERYONE IS IN A COMMENTS THREAD BATTLE.

So my suggestion -- my plea -- is to avoid engaging in comment threads as much as possible. You can't argue someone out of their ignorance. You can only lead them to water and WALK AWAY, hoping they'll drink after you've gone. There are some links pileups starting already. Let's contribute to them, and then make some private pledges to simply link to the links posts in comments and NOT COMMENT FURTHER.

WisCon is a week and a half away. I DO NOT want to walk into WisCon wondering who has put themselves in the wrong now. I DO NOT want to have to navigate sudden, new schisms having to do with random ignorant comments-thread comments. We DO NOT have to use this opportunity to excavate every ignorant corner of our fellow SF/F fans' racial consciousness. Let's put the info out there and let them do what they want to with it.

(A suggestion: those of you planning your own blogpost about this, please consider closing comments, so that anyone who wants to respond cannot do so anonymously, but MUST respond by posting something on their own blog. This will cut down on a lot of opportunities for people to enrage you from the safety of anonymity. I'm leaving comments on this post open because I'm hoping we can discuss ways and means of NOT engaging in a RaceFail 1.5.)

*****

In other news, (putting my CBS hat on): the Carl Brandon Society is sponsoring a "Cultural Appropriation 101" class at Wiscon (Friday afternoon during The Gathering -- it will only take up part of the Gathering time, so you can still attend.) The class will be taught by Nisi Shawl, Victor Raymond (both CBS Steering Committee members) and Cabell Gathman.

This will be a SAFE SPACE for anyone who suspects they may be missing some of the basics to come to and learn and discuss, and ask the questions you're afraid to ask for fear of being jumped on. We strongly recommend that anyone who feels a little shaky in the basics, or who doesn't agree with what a lot of PoC are saying about cultural appropriation, come and attend this class BEFORE going into any panels on race or cultural appropriation. Forearmed is forewarned.

April 01, 2009

Bad Book Reading Consequences


Awrsome.

Via.

February 28, 2009

The Glamorous Life

Here's yet another iTunes meme, via Gwenda. Yes, they're annoying, but I loves 'em. You're it!

***

My Life in Itunes

RULES

1. Put your iTunes, Windows Media Player, etc. on shuffle.

2. For each question, press the next button to get your answer.

3. YOU MUST WRITE THAT SONG NAME DOWN NO MATTER HOW SILLY IT SOUNDS.

4&5. Deleted the part about tagging people, so just do it if you like.

6. Have Fun!


IF SOMEONE SAYS 'ARE YOU OKAY' YOU SAY?

Warm Air Cooling JUDAH JOHNSON

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOURSELF

Bootie Intro EARWORM

WHAT DO YOU LIKE IN A GUY/GIRL?

Let's Take a Ride JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE

HOW DO YOU FEEL TODAY?

Don't Stop Believin' in Planet Rock A PLUS D

WHAT IS YOUR LIFE'S PURPOSE?

Bleeding Love LEONA LEWIS

WHAT'S YOUR MOTTO?

Bhangra Fever MIDIVAL PUNDITZ

WHAT DO YOUR FRIENDS THINK OF YOU?

Si Me Prueba No Me Olvidas SAMY Y SANDRA

WHAT DO YOUR PARENTS THINK OF YOU?

Brrrlak! ZAP MAMA

WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT VERY OFTEN?

The Space Between ROXY MUSIC

WHAT DO YOU THINK OF YOUR BEST FRIEND?

Alagemo THE MOUNTAIN GOATS

WHAT IS YOUR LIFE STORY?

Lizard Brain THE INVISIBLE CITIES

WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOU GROW UP?

Better Together JACK JOHNSON

WHAT WILL THEY PLAY AT YOUR FUNERAL?

In a State UNKLE

WHAT IS YOUR HOBBY/INTEREST?

Din Din ZAP MAMA

WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST FEAR?

Wish Someone Would Care IRMA THOMAS

WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST SECRET?

Mercury KATHLEEN EDWARDS

WHAT DO YOU WANT RIGHT NOW?

Constellations JACK JOHNSON

WHAT DO YOU THINK OF YOUR FRIENDS?

One for the Head M.I.A.

WHAT WILL YOU POST THIS AS?

The Glamorous Life SHEILA E.

January 15, 2009

Defining and Identifying Cultural Appropriation

Here's what's going on and why I'm doing this now.

First of all, I'm not gonna deal with global cultural appropriation, but rather focus on American appropriation of cultures brought into the US either by immigrants or by Americans who went abroad and brought stuff back. Okay, here's a brief and incomplete definition of "cultural appropriation" I wrote in this post a couple of years ago (you have to read the whole post to really get where I'm coming from.):

Cultural Appropriation: The unhealthy aspect of multiculti, where a more powerful culture raids a less powerful neighboring culture ... and appropriates aspects of that culture without proper acknowledgment of the "home culture" or understanding the cultural context from which these aspects spring. Examples: yoga, Buddhism, hip hop and ebonics-derived slang, graffiti art, etc.

I think that's adequate as a basis, but I DO think I need to distinguish between two concepts so that people get it. The two concepts are:

  • Cultural Appropriation
  • Cultural Syncretism

Syncretism generally refers to the process of reconciling or melding of differing views or beliefs or uses. This can happen intentionally, or by a natural, unconscious process.

More or less discrete cultures that come into contact with one another, either through geographical proximity, migration, conquest, trade and exploration, or in other ways, will start to syncretize aspects of each culture. This is inevitable, and neither undesirable nor preventable. Cultural items tend to get taken on in a new culture if they are useful, convenient, resolve a problem, or appeal to a value that already exists in the host culture. Examples of this would be:

  • the adoption of potatoes into the European diet after contact with the new world (the introduction of potatoes was more or less deliberate, but the spread of potatoes was a natural cultural movement)
  • Christianity becoming a cult (one of many) in ancient Rome, a culture that tolerated multiple gods from many cultural origins, and incorporated them into its pantheon
  • the partial adoption of Japanese corporate organizing practices in the US auto industry in the eighties, when Japanese auto companies began building factories in the States

And of course, small things like words and whole slang idioms, small gestures or sets of gestures, rituals and ceremonies, manners, clothing and accessories, music, visual design elements, etc. can get taken on deliberately or without thought.

This is just how we are. US mainstream culture is a mass of syncretism, from our political culture, to our language ("ketchup" is Chinese, "frankfurter" and "wiener" are German, "chili" is Nahuatl, "onion" is Latin, and "soda" is Arabic, so your standard chili dog and coke is about as syncretic -- and American -- as you can get), our religions, our design, our ... etc.

HOW syncretism happens is not defined under the term. It can be forced (Indian boarding schools, Catholic church incorporation of local gods as saints), it can be friendly, or it can happen unconsciously. Cultural appropriation is actually, therefore, a subset of cultural syncretism -- one way that syncretism happens.

It's a strange, post-colonial way of making syncretism happen, though. Whereas previous to modern decolonization, no one was truly uncomfortable with the idea that the Other was "barbaric" (it was only the argument over who constituted the Other, us or them), it's only since the 20th century that we've consciously moralized this position, and created an understanding of Otherness as having value and even virtue, simply because it is Other. This is the "noble savage" point of view, the exotifying point of view, the model minority point of view, that elevates Otherness rather than denigrating it. It's still a process of Othering, though.

It's also only since the 20th century that groups of people have accepted their identity as Other to the mainstream or dominant group, and turned it into a power position.

Today, in the United States, we have groups, tribes, cultures, of people whose primary identity is that of Other. Although we spend a lot of time saying "we are not Other," people of color ... African Americans, Asian Americans, etc. ... are people and Americans who must define themselves using a modifier. This is an Other identity, not a mainstream one. You can see the difference when you talk to my mom, who immigrated in her twenties and has been a US citizen for half her life: she'll tell you she's Chinese. Not Chinese American, Chinese. She has a mainstream identity from a different country. Here, she's a foreigner or immigrant, but there's a place where she is not an Other. I, on the Other hand, am Chinese American and multiracial. I was born an Other in the world, and have no home ground to go to where I'm not Other.

I make this point because accepting and claiming an Other identity, which has politically empowered a lot of people of color, has been largely misunderstood on the white side as meaning that "it's better to be colored than white." This is an unconscious understanding, but it feeds into the noble-savaging and Othering of POC. This comes about because it's accepted and empowering to be outspokenly proud to be "black," "Asian," "brown," "Latino," what have you, but it's not okay to use the same language to be outspokenly proud to be "white." So this gets translated into the following set of principles:

  1. whites have no 'ethnic' identity because being proud of one's whiteness is just racism
  2. people of color are the only ones with real ethnicity
  3. having an ethnicity is better than not having an ethnicity

Which brings us to cultural appropriation.

Cultural appropriation is a method of cultural syncretism that is specific to our primary-Other-identity, post-colonial, identity-politics era. It arises when a dominant culture, as I said above, raids a subordinate culture for cultural items that it then pulls out of context. The dominant culture -- in our case, white Americans -- doesn't properly acknowledge the borrowing -- or else the dominant culture makes a complete hash of the borrowing and then tries to pass it off as authentic. This happens for three reasons:

  1. Whites want/need ethnicity, so they find or make up a nonwhite ancestor and go acquire aspects of that ancestor's culture (see "1/16th Cherokee" or "we're southern so we must have a black ancestor") which they weren't brought up in and haven't acquired in ways that people generally consider to be "authentic."
  2. Whites want/need ethnicity, so they decide to strongly identify with a nonwhite culture and then acquire aspects of that culture (see "I taught English in China for two years," or "I'm blacker than you are!")
  3. Whites of a particular class or position need to appear worldly and eclectic -- not to mention liberal -- so they spend a great deal of cultural time "broadening their horizons" in ethnic shops and exercise/dance classes. This last one is itself an item of a liberal white American subculture: the need to have a culturally eclectic affect.

The reason I made this distinction between cultural syncretism in general and cultural appropriation specifically is that -- you guessed it -- cultural appropriation is about an exploitive power dynamic, whereas not all forms of cultural sycretism are. We see cultural syncretism everywhere in our mainstream culture because the US is an immigrant country and we really do meld a lot more than we give ourselves credit for. The power dynamic lies in the fact that the genuinely syncretic and layered culture of the mainstream is dominated by whites. That broad river of culture is considered -- consciously by POC and unconsciously by whites -- to be the home ground and domain of whites, even though everyone has contributed to it.

So when a new cultural item is added to that mainstream, it is done by whites deliberately, and in a manner that doesn't acknowledge its debt to any subculture or alternate culture. That mainstream is powerful because it is the mainstream and because it is the homeground of the white power-majority. Likewise, whites are powerful because they are white and because they control the powerful mainstream, both. It's true cultural synergy.

The principle of the mainstream is inherently melting-pot-ish, so once something has joined the mainstream, it becomes very difficult to pick out its origin and path to the mainstream. This is an aspect of the cultural mainstream that shores up its power. Likewise, people of color rarely see their cultural product make it into the mainstream intact because of the melting pot principle; it's easier to not give up power if you dismantle a subculture and incorporate it piecemeal: for every Boyz 'n' the Hood there will be twenty Colors's; for every Better Luck Tomorrow there will be twenty Fast and Furious sequels. Dismantle, then control. This is why the live action Avatar can be cast all white. Avatar already began the process of dismantling the cultures by making them secondary cultures.

Cultural appropriation is also hard for whites to understand because it's hard to distinguish between melding and appropriation when we simply don't know where each individual got it from.

For example: generation after generation, African American slang gets incorporated into mainstream white slang. At one point in this process, it's straight up cultural appropriation. But there does come a moment when enough white people are using the slang, that other white people are picking it up from whites in their own communities, without necessarily knowing its origin. At that point, it's already fused into the mainstream culture and the less "cutting edge" whites really aren't appropriating it ... because it's already thoroughly appropriated.

I'll give you a funny example: I left the US (Tucson) in 1992 and came back (to San Francisco) in 1998. During that time, a new set of "urban" slang hit the mainstream. Not a lot of this reached us in Europe during that time. So when I came back to the States in 98/99, I was working at a number of Asian American arts orgs. A lot of the volunteers had gone to ivy league colleges (model minorities) and I noticed something: all the people I knew who had gone to Yale were using this slang expression "My bad." I'd never heard that before so I pointed it out to a Yalie friend and asked if it was a Yale thing. She found that very amusing. Of course, subsequently, I heard it all over the place and it became clear that it was part of a slang set that -- once again -- came from African America. But by the time it reached me, it was so thoroughly appropriated that I was able to think -- just for a moment -- that it was an ivy league thing.

Because cultural appropriation either succeeds or fails -- that is, items are either thoroughly appropriated or they aren't -- it can be hard to tell with successful appropriations where they've been appropriated from. So a LOT of whites, who get these things from their white communities, hear POC screaming about cultural appropriation and are genuinely confused. Aren't we a melting pot? I didn't steal this from anybody! Even my Mom says it for chrissake!

There's also a lot of unconscious disagreement about a statute of limitations on accusations of cultural appropriation. For example, I still hear some Af Ams complaining about how Elvis jacked Little Richard and others. It's true, but we're so many musical generations down the line from Elvis, and most Af Am musicians wouldn't touch rockabilly with a ten-foot pole now, so can we let go of that? I'd still be willing to talk about Vanilla Ice, but there are folks who think that's over, too. So that's another issue that no one can agree on: when does it stop being cultural appropriation and just become culture?

Sadly, I have no answers for you today. Because, of course, cultural syncretism and its various methods are a spectrum, not a clearly defined taxonomy. And where your own actions fall on that spectrum will depend on your point of view.

One thing I can say, and have said before, is that when it comes to creating fictional worlds and fictional characters, you do have the opportunity to control your cultural appropriation, to step back and err on the side of not appropriating. That is not the same thing as not writing the Other, but I happen to fall down on the side of don't write the Other if you can't do it right. Rather, make sure that enough People of Color are getting published and noticed.

But that's just me.

September 15, 2008

iWordle? iTurdles? WordTunes?

Scott Westerfeld has started a new meme in which you:

1) In iTunes, select View Options under the View menu.
2) Turn off everything but “Artist.”
3) Select all and copy.
4) Search and Replace the word “track” with nothing.
5) Paste the results into the Wordle.net Create page.

Yes, it is awesome. Here's mine:

Wordletunes

August 08, 2008

Paris Hilton Is Still Full Of It

See more funny videos at Funny or Die

I don't know why everybody thinks this is so great. Probably because they're meant to think it's great.

Let's keep in mind that Paris did not write this herself. I have no proof of this, but come on. She probably didn't think it up, either. She's a brand, people. She has clothes, "music," and other stuff to sell, not to mention a chain of hotels whose image has undoubtedly benefited by her fame. Making herself seem cool and/or desirable is her job, and she has an army of people to help her do it.

She's been out of the headlines for a while now, which threatens her brand. So McCain, intentionally or not, did her a favor by giving her a--and I use this word advisedly--platform. She's a professional egomaniac. What did you expect?

So it depresses me that even the feminist blogosphere fell into line so quickly on this one. I don't think it's so much about Paris reading cue cards with four-syllable words on them, as it is about her successfully calling out John McCain. We're so ridiculously partisan at this point that we'll jump on any idiot's bandwagon who manages to get egg on McCain's face.

Come on, people, it's not that hard to get egg on McCain's face. He's the incompetent who put his wife up for a topless beauty contest.

You also gotta love how everyone is saying that she sounds intelligent. But her "energy policy" is a crock of shit. The problem with offshore drilling is that it won't hit our markets for years, and that it will never reach a volume that will fill even a fraction of our needs. Plus, it can't be done in an environmentally sound way, no matter how much Paris's daddy's business friends say it can.

I point this out because what she's doing here is taking no political position at all. She's promoting her brand which is, at bottom, a brand that thrives on people wondering just how stupid Paris is. She has to sound "intelligent" for the duration of the two-seconds' thought most people tend to give to public policy, but farther she does not need to go. So her handlers selected a position that will offend no one and please everyone, because it sounds neat and reasonable, for two seconds.

Characterizing this as "Paris fighting back" (as many bloggers have done) is absurd. What does she have to fight back against except loss of media attention? Her image as the most shallow and worthless human being on the planet is one she created for herself. And given the fact that this image is the essence of her brand, I suspect she created this image knowingly and willingly.

Crossposted at EnterBrainment.

June 21, 2008

I'm Gaius!

How did I miss this quiz?            
What New Battlestar Galactica character are you?
created with QuizFarm.com
You scored as Dr Gaius Baltar

You have betrayed humanity, for a blonde.  However you'd rather people learnt to just get past that.  After all, you never meant wipe out the human race.  Luckily you are cleverer than everyone else, so no one will ever know.  Even though they look at you with suspicion behind their eyes.

         

Dr Gaius Baltar

         
81%

CPO Galen Tyrol

         
75%

Tom Zarek

         
69%

Capt. Lee Adama (Apollo)

         
63%

Col. Saul Tigh

         
63%

Lt. Kara Thrace (Starbuck)

         
50%

Commander William Adama

         
38%

President Laura Roslin

         
31%

Number 6

         
19%

Lt. Sharon Valerii (Boomer)

         
6%
   

June 20, 2008

Fashion Meme

Meme via badgerbag. I'm pretty sure this doesn't accurately describe me, but none of the answers to the questions accurately described me, either.

I'm just posting it b/c this is the first time anyone ... or thing ... has described me as glamorous! Yay!

(And yes, I WILL consider retro style. Thank you.)

Your result for The Fashion Style Test...

Glamorous Soul

   
[Tasteful Original Deliberate Sexy]

You choose your outfits carefully according to many criteria. You don't like looking cheap, dull or random and you go to great lengths to avoid this. You are successful, too. People admire your taste and sex appeal. Many try to imitate you but not many can recreate your unique style. Sometimes, however, they find you too intimidating to approach. If you don't wear retro style yet, perhaps you should consider it. It would become greatly your sexy, mysterious self.

The opposite style from yours is Fashion Enemy [Flamboyant Conventional Random Prissy].


All the categories: Librarian Sporty Hottie Office Master Uptown Girl/ Boy Brainy Student Movie Star Fashionista Glamorous Soul Fashion Enemy Bar Cruiser Kid Next Door Sex Bomb Hippie Kid Fashion Rebel Fashion Artist Catwalk God(ess)

Take The Fashion Style Test at HelloQuizzy

June 19, 2008

wordle

Wordlenobble
Via Justine, this wordle word cloud of the most used words in da nobble.

April 29, 2008

My Pen Name

My pen name is Octavia G. Brooke. The cheatin' version would be Maryanne Thrace, because Maryanne wasn't the name she wrote under,  there's no middle name, and Thrace is fictional, but from a TV show. I like the latter one better.

via Gwenda.
 

April 18, 2008

Challenge: Mystery Science Election 2008

What I want:

Can someone out there who is funny, and knows how to do these things, put together a YouTube series of her/himself mystery-science-theatering all election debates from now on?

Please?

It's not just something I want to watch; it also might save democracy 'n' shit.

March 23, 2008

I'm Dying

February 21, 2008

A Letter to the World About My Body

Dear Everyone Who Isn't Me, and Especially the Wonderful Women of BlogHer,

I want to participate in your Letter To My Body project. I really do. I think it's wonderful.

But in trying to compose a letter to my body I realized something: I don't see my body as separate from my self. Presumably here, "self" is mind, while body is some sort of symbiotic adjunct. I don't pretend to understand mind/body split. All I know is that when I say "I," and when I say "me," I mean, in both cases, my body + my mind + my soul, if there is such a thing. My "self" is something composed of all the things I put "my" in front of, and my mind is no more--or less--connected to my self than my body.

This is not because I am Special And Better Than You. I live in this fucked up western youth and beauty obsessed culture, too, and I'm not all that strong-minded. Just ask my container of cornnuts.

I think it's, very simply, because I am a type 1 diabetic. Diabetes shares with other chronic, incurable illnesses a number of traits, and a great many effects on the psychology of the sufferer. But one thing I think is unique to diabetes (I say this in all ignorance; there could easily be other diseases with similar traits) is that the disease enables many diabetics to track the effects of eating and exercise--the twin bugaboos of skinny-bitch culture--on their bodies and minds in real time, and gives them the tools to control these.

I won't go into the details of why (I might at another time); let it suffice that diabetics under a regime of insulin therapy can feel amplified effects of eating various foods, or not eating enough food, or exercising too much or too little. These effects are felt immediately, in a matter of minutes or hours. And, most importantly, these effects work immediately on the brain functions, so that a diabetic's mood, rationality, even intelligence, memory, and problem-solving abilities, can change literally minute to minute depending on food intake and exercise.

When my blood sugar goes down, it's not "my body" failing "me," it's me fucking myself up. My mind disappears with the failure of my body. I literally lose the part of me that people seem to most consider the "self" when my body crashes. I don't see mind and body as dependent upon one another or arising out of one another. They are the same. They are two ways of talking about me.

You may not see this in diabetics who got the disease during or after adolescence, and you may not see it in teen girls whose parents underscore society's body-image lesson. But I got sick when I was eleven. I was a late bloomer in any case, and eleven for me was hardly even "tween." My first experience of body-consciousness was the disease and its management, not fat and boobs and periods and sex.

Sure, I thought I was fat all through my teens and into my mid-twenties, when I smoked so much that I got really, really skinny. But I never got into the habit of doing anything about it, because the consequences of crash dieting and excessive exercise (insulin shock) or of not taking my insulin (which helps you put on weight) were so severe and unpleasant that I would simply rather be "fat" than have to live like that, day in and day out.

Don't get me wrong. Just because I consider my body's "flaws" in the same way I consider my personality flaws, doesn't mean that I haven't hated myself, and don't still hate myself often and often. I do hate that my thighs are fat. I don't like my legs, period. I really, really wish that that roll around my waist would go away. In fact, the moment a fad diet appeared that spoke the language of diabetes, I jumped on that wagon train and am still riding it.

I smoked heavily for well over a decade, and still smoke a little now and then. I used to drink like a fish, and still tie one on when I feel I can get away with it (I usually can't). I pig out. I do recreational drugs, when I can get them. I avoid exercise. I do all sorts of self-destructive things, still.

But when I diet, I'm not punishing my body, I'm punishing myself. When I struggle to control my diabetes, I'm not fighting my body, I'm fighting the diabetes.

I am my body, so the struggle is not against my body but against myself. It can be a subtle distinction sometimes. But at other times it's a huge, honking distinction.

It can be a bad thing. Because I don't objectify my body, I dress and groom to express my mood to a much greater extreme than most of the people I know. So I'll often mismatch the occasion, or go for two days without showering, or fail to wear makeup in formal situations and then go all out with the eyeshadow to go out for a beer. Other people seem so much more able to look better than they feel. I'm getting better at this, but it's hard to look like something I don't feel.

But it, of course, can also be a good thing. Because when I feel good about something smart I said, I feel good about my body. When I feel good about some beautiful prose I wrote, I look beautiful. When I manage to be kind to someone I don't have to be kind to, my shoulders relax. I don't live split in half.

Like right now, just now, when I was thinking about writing a letter to my body, and I peeled my mind away from my body for a moment and I did not at all like what I saw.  My body, apart from "me" is just a collection of failures. I hate seeing photos of myself for this very reason. I don't know how to pose for pictures. What I look like is in motion, because my mind and body are always in motion. You can't freeze a frame of that and get a true picture of me.

I don't think I've ever put this into words before. I've just never been good at participating in girltalk about bodies. My answer to "if there was one thing you could change about your body, what would it be?" is, of course, "take the diabetes away." But if you changed that, I wouldn't be me. Even that is me.

I've always been discomfited by this line of talk, and always thought my uneasiness was just political. But it's not. It's personal. I just don't think this way, and the project of trying to heal your mind/body split by underscoring your mind/body split seems like the wrong tack to me.

Talking to your body as "you" rather than "me", making two of one, won't make you love the putty that is your flesh any more than you already do. Hell, I have terrible trouble loving myself, and my every grain of flesh is animate.

Just wanted to try to articulate that.

Love,

Claire

February 16, 2008

Class Privilege Meme Redux

So I've been touring other blog posts about the class privilege meme and have found some interesting stuff.

Half Changed World breaks down how money and social capital are two different aspects of class.

Education and Class sez:

How, in this age of multi-media and instantaneous communication, have so many people grown up oblivious to the circumstances of other people’s lives?

And in the end, how do we explain all of this defensiveness among those who clearly have attained the Great American Dream?

Rachel's Tavern points out that while she and her family were privileged, the community they lived in wasn't, and that put her at a certain disadvantage.

Dang. These folks are all going into my bloglines.

February 06, 2008

Class Privilege Meme

The meme is to bold the items that apply to you. It's the exercise where you step forward or back, depending on the items of your class privilege? via.

When you were in college:

If your father went to college.
If your father finished college

If your mother went to college
If your mother finished college

If you have any relative who is an attorney, physician, or professor.
If you were the same or higher class than your high school teachers
If you had a computer at home
If you had your own computer at home
If you had more than 50 books at home
If you had more than 500 books at home
If were read children’s books by a parent
If you ever had lessons of any kind
If you had more than two kinds of lessons
If the people in the media who dress and talk like me are portrayed positively
If you had a credit card with your name on it
If you have less than $5000 in student loans
If you have no student loans
If you went to a private high school
If you went to summer camp
If you had a private tutor
If you have been to Europe
If your family vacations involved staying at hotels
If all of your clothing has been new and bought at the mall
If your parents bought you a car that was not a hand-me-down from them
If there was original art in your house
If you had a phone in your room
If you lived in a single family house
If your parent own their own house or apartment
If you had your own room
If you participated in an SAT/ACT prep course
If you had your own cell phone in High School
If you had your own TV in your room in High School
If you opened a mutual fund or IRA in High School or College
If you have ever flown anywhere on a commercial airline
If you ever went on a cruise with your family
If your parents took you to museums and art galleries
If you were unaware of how much heating bills were for your family.

The class privilege meme has few surprises for me. I was/am privileged, and I kne/ow it.

Where someone might get bogged down is in certain small items, like my lack of a personal tv, phone, car, computer, cell phone, etc. Also that I, gasp, didn't do an SAT prep course.

These, believe it or not, are items of an even greater privilege: coming from a "cultured" family, I was strongly discouraged from watching tv or talking on the phone ... but my parents buy me any stack of books I wanted. And god forbid we should waste a family vacation we could spend in a city going to museums on a stupid cruise ship. Plus, I got SAT prep in my curriculum at school. Isn't that the point of going to private school?

Plus, I didn't have a cell phone in high school because they weren't invented yet :P

The one item I would disagree with here is "If the people in the media who dress and talk like me are portrayed positively." There are so many class privileged people whom this doesn't apply to, starting with me. The people in the media who dress and talk like me don't exist. The only overeducated smarty-pantses allowed in the media are wonks or, occasionally, scientists. Nobody puts real artists or cultural workers on the air.

It's a privilege to get away with (financially if not socially) dressing differently from the herd, and speaking language too florid, dense, or esoteric to communicate outside of shouting distance. And yes, "cultured" people are mocked relentlessly in the media.

Point number three (something that struck me a couple years ago that resurfaced recently, and that I'm forcefully reminded of in participating with this meme/exercise): my coworkers just got back from a staff retreat I didn't have to go to because I'm on half-time. While they were preparing for the retreat, my little Gen-Y coworkers were all excited--like the cute little Echo Boomers they are--about the games and icebreakers they were planning for the occasion.

My Gen-X coworker and I were properly disdainful, probably partly because of the generational jadedness and irony thing, but definitely also because we'd been to too many retreats and had to face down too many games of charades and what animal am I?

My extreme--sickening--familiarity with icebreakers and togetherness games is another item of privilege. Because these are the things you do in a good gym class, in school clubs to build togetherness, in afterschool classes and sports, in summer camp, in girl scouts ... basically, class privileged children are sent to activities and lessons for two reasons: 1) to learn a skill important for employability or class acceptance and 2) to learn "leadership skills," which are literally that: the skills you need to organize others so that you can lead them.

The silly icebreakers and trust games are all about helping people in a group self-select roles so that they can work together in a satisfying manner towards ... some ... purpose. It's corporative and oligarchical. Please notice that oligarchies invented the idea of democracy, and within the oligarchical leadership, everything looks sooper commie, no? Just ask the Magna Carta guys.

The low-income clients we serve at work get a real thrill--and genuine personal and group empowerment--from such exercises in our program at work. This really struck me: 40-year-old women who've never done an ice-breaker or a trust exercise? But where would they have done it? A lot of them came from school districts where there was no money for extracurriculars, not even sports--for girls anyway. Girl scouts? Classes? Lessons? With what money? They don't even get a chance to do this class privilege exercise, which is, if you think about it, geared toward the privileged anyway.

And thinking about something that seems so small when looked at one way (icebreakers) and so huge when looked at in another (leadership skills), it becomes clear to me how complex a web privilege is, so complex that we must absolutely normalize it to bear the burden of all the things we must do to be privileged. We share out the burden of maintaining this complex network of benefits among all of our privileged neighbors, and we all have more or less the same experiences, which is why we don't see it when someone else doesn't share it, except in rare moments.

So, missing what seems like just one small element of this web can be catastrophic to one's ability to rise in the world. Because if you don't know how to self-select a role in a group of educated people who were trained to do that, then you will either be marginalized, or a role will be selected for you. And yes, that's as ominous as it sounds.

We teach each other how to lead and we distinctly don't teach those beneath us how to lead--either themselves or others. So it's not a miracle that those without class privilege have such a hard time acquiring it.

Point the fourth: let's be clear that class privilege isn't always economic privilege; a lot of professors and artists and writers and media mavens don't earn very much, but they read to their kids, take them to museums, make sure they get the educational support at home to get scholarships to private schools, etc. For example, about a quarter of the students at my private high school--maybe a fifth--were on partial or full scholarship. About half of those were professors' kids. The other half were from lower-middle and working class families.

As someone pointed out somewhere (like the vagueness? It's class privilege that makes you insist that I cite my sources!) if you can choose economic privilege and choose to refuse it, that in itself is economic privilege. And if you're the kid of an English professor, who grew up in thrift shop clothing and went on to get an MFA, and collect massive student loans, you obviously could have quit before the MFA, gotten a job in marketing, and paid off your student loans in two years, not to mention lived the lifestyle. You chose not to.

Okay, I'm out of steam.

*****
Updated five minutes later:

Something else I was thinking about recently, which I forgot: It's very easy to stay in your privileged bubble, yes. Everyone knows that. But what a lot of people don't recognize is how hard it is to get out of your privileged bubble.

You generally live pretty far away from working class or poor people, and you don't go to those areas, your friends don't go to those areas, there's no incentive for you to go, so how will you find your way around? And I don't mean find your way around the streets. I mean find things you might want there: resources, social hubs, wisepeople, etc.

Because you don't know what to look for, you don't recognize what's right in front of you. So you'll head towards the resources most familiar to you and end up right back where you started. This is, I think, the essence of gentrification. That's not a real restaurant! Let's start a real restaurant serving pan-seared Ahi in among all these pupuserias. That's not a real grocery! They don't even have low-fat cheese! Thank god for the Whole Foods opening up around the corner.

You come from another type of culture and you don't know the rules, so communicating is difficult. In fact, this is where communication is about obfuscating the lack of communication, not alleviating it. How do you know if the color you see when you say "red" is the same color someone else sees? So you usually don't even know you're not communicating right.

Because class is increasingly oligarchical the higher up you go, the gestures of moving down a class are seen as either fashionable slumming, or a nervous breakdown and the group jumps to either join in and share the benefits, or pull you back from the brink, thereby saving a valuable privilege-network-bearing resource. And the privileged classes have structures set up to deal with these things and aren't afraid to use them: interventions, therapists, support groups, outward bound, deep talks over coffee.

Okay, I think I'm really out of steam now.

February 04, 2008

Carl Brandon's Black History Month List

Hey all,

As many of you know, I'm on the steering committee of The Carl Brandon Society, an organization dedicated to increasing representation of people of color in the speculative genres. We've polled our members and come up with a recommended reading list of speculative fiction books by black authors for Black History Month.

The idea is for you to read these books this month, forward this list around to your friends, take this list into your local bookstores and ask them to display these books this month, post the list on your blogs and websites, etc. I hope you'll all strongly consider at least picking up one of these books and falling into it. It's a wonderful list, and your February will be improved!

So, without further ado:

THE CARL BRANDON SOCIETY
recommends the following books for BLACK HISTORY MONTH:

  • So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction & Fantasy edited by Nalo Hopkinson and Uppinder Mehan
  • Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
  • Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany
  • My Soul to Keep by Tananarive Due
  • The Coyote Kings of the Space Age Bachelor Pad by Minister Faust
  • Mindscape by Andrea Hairston
  • Wind Follower by Carole McDonnell
  • Futureland by Walter Mosley
  • The Shadow Speaker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu
  • Zahrah the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu

And the 2005 CARL BRANDON SOCIETY AWARD Winners:

• PARALLAX AWARD given to works of speculative fiction created by a person of color:
47 by Walter Mosley

• KINDRED AWARD given to any work of speculative fiction dealing with issues of race and ethnicity; nominees may be of any racial or ethnic group:
Stormwitch
by Susan Vaught

(cross-posted at Other magazine blog.)

February 02, 2008

Guess What!

Your Vocabulary Score: A+
Congratulations on your multifarious vocabulary!
You must be quite an erudite person.
via Gwenda Bond.

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