103 posts categorized "current Affairs"

May 06, 2008

One More Word On Hillary

With regard to Hillary's experience in the White House: We've simply never had a presidential candidate with her kind of experience before. There has never been a real presidential candidate before who was the spouse of a president. So we have no idea what kind of experience Hillary can claim, or how this experience will translate into her own presidency.

That's where this whole confusion about whether or not she gets credit and/or blame for Bill's presidency comes from. We know she was active in his presidency. We know she had a level and kind of access to him, personally as well as politically, that no other politician in US history has ever had to a president before. We know that, at times, her role in his presidency was one of a presidential appointee. We also know that, technically, if she opposed him on anything, she would not only be easily overridden, but would also be personally constrained to keep her mouth shut about it in public.

So we simply cannot evaluate her first ladyship--as a political experience--adequately. This is for obvious, personal reasons: even a president must have his private life respected. But it sets up a situation in which Hillary can claim credit for the good things and refuse blame for the bad, and no one can credibly gainsay her, because no one really knows.

Which is why so many men Obama supporters are saying unacceptable things about how her experience ain't shit, or how she has to take the blame for NAFTA, or how Bill gets credit for anything good she does. Because, although we require women in our society to get their access to power through the men in their families, when women turn that access to power into real power, we don't understand how that works.

Unambiguous power is power accessed directly. This is why we talk about "privilege" when we talk about racially clueless white women. You never hear WOC, even during this last bout of absurd racial cluelessness, ranting on about white women's "power." Because we understand "power" as something that is accessed directly, and any feminist knows that even the most privileged white woman has a limited and compromised access to direct power. "Privilege," on the other hand, is something that can be conferred, or accessed indirectly, through familial or marital relationships, or simply through racial or socioeconomic group membership.

Ambiguously accessed power makes us profoundly uncomfortable, for various reasons. One of them is that ambiguously accessed power renders the line of accountability also ambiguous. That's very dangerous. And we're seeing this played out right now in Hillary's candidacy. She's IS trying to take credit for Bill's successes and avoid blame for his mistakes, and she'll--mostly--be able to get away with it because we just don't know.

On the other hand, what Hillary is actually trying to do here is parlay ambiguously accessed power (through her husband) into real, direct power. Once she is president--or even the party's nominee--she cannot fob off responsibility on Bill, no matter how direct a hand he takes in her campaign, or her administration.

Other countries have allowed women to do this: to take ambiguously accessed power and turn it into real power. But the United States has never allowed it. So far. I've made the argument before that this is the only way a liberal woman can achieve highest office, and I still believe that. And for that reason alone, I regret that this is also the election where race will be tested, because it makes it difficult for us to watch the election where gender roles will be tested and see a "clean" result for either one. And I, for one, am fascinated to see if the most powerful nation on Earth will allow a woman into real power.

May 05, 2008

I Heart Jay Smooth

I have such an insane crush on Jay Smooth, you have no idea. I don't know which I like more: the way his lips move, or what comes out of them. Can I have both?

May 04, 2008

YouTube/Asia Society API Heritage Month Project

Awesome.

The Asia Society and YouTube have gotten together to post a series of videos from Asian Americans for API Heritage Month. They've started by posting vids about "What does being Asian American mean to me?" from luminaries like Sandra Oh, Kal Penn, and Yul Kwon, but it's open to any ol' slob ... like me. And I might just do it if  I can figure out how.

Clicky here to submit a vid or just watch the other ones.

April 30, 2008

Pass It On

Take it and pass it on, folks!

April 27, 2008

Blogging Beats, Amanda Marcotte, and Seal Press

Even a personal blog like this one has a beat. Although I'm a feminist and have been known to blog about women's issues on occasion, I don't consider myself in any way knowledgeable about feminism as a field. I read what I need to get on with my life and try to listen to more smarter and reader feminists than I. So I don't usually engage in discussions in the feminist blogosphere and the women of color blogosphere on my blog since there are tons of women out there saying the things I would have said if I knew enough, and saying it better.

I'm also allergic to appearing to be jumping on bandwagons, so when a discussion that doesn't fall within my specific beat is raging, I tend not to post about it myself. But on the other hand, I think meme-ing information is essential for its spread; that's the whole point of using the internet for political discussion. So it's puzzling to me to figure out how to pass news on in a way that feels natural to the functioning of my particular blog.

I've been following the flap about Pandagon blogger Amanda Marcotte and Woman of Color blogger brownfemipower. I've also been following the flap about Seal Press and its ill-judged response to women of color wanting more representation in the press. And I hadn't found a way to blog about it when the two flaps intensified exponentially by meeting in the middle. At this point, this is a story that needs to be passed on, whether I have anything of substance to say about it myself or not. And I suspect that some of my friends who read this blog may not have heard about this so I'm by way of performing a service ... or something.

So this post is just a pass-along. I'll list the relevant links to the sources of information at the bottom. To avoid link stack-up, if you intend to blog about this you might want to just link directly to the secondary sources below. (They're secondary since the original sources of the first two flaps are inaccessible.)

THE STORY SO FAR ...

Feminist independent publisher Seal Press came under fire this month for a discussion on a closed blog that I can't access. Apparently, in the post a woman of color expressed frustration that Seal Press didn't publish more books by women of color. The Seal Press editors responded in the comments defensively, saying they didn't get enough submissions by women of color, that it wasn't really their job to do outreach, and they didn't have the bandwidth anyway. They also said books by woc don't sell and accused the blogger of "hating," also stating that they knew the "you all engage best through negative discourse."

They eventually issued an explanation on their blog which ended up being edited without strikethroughs.

Independently of this flap, Pandagon blogger Amanda Marcotte ... well her wikipedia page puts it succinctly:

In April, 2008, Marcotte posted an essay entitled "Sexual Abuse Fueled by Abusive Immigration Language" on Alternet. In it, she discussed the intersections of racism and sexism as experienced by female illegal immigrants to the United States "without one attribute to any blogger of color, male or female." This led to allegations of appropriation on Marcotte's part ...

Numerous feminist bloggers pointed to Marcotte's actions as symbolic of a wider process of cultural and racial appropriation, in which the words and work of feminists of color are both given less value than those of white feminists, and co-opted by them. Several bloggers accused Marcotte of directly plagiarizing the work of another well-known blogger, Brownfemipower, as much of Marcotte's article appeared to be derived from Brownfemipower's work. These bloggers pointed to Brownfemipower's extensive history of highlighting immigration as a feminist issue and Marcotte's lack of history dealing with immigration on her blog, as well as Marcotte's previous admissions that she read Brownfemipower's blog regularly. Marcotte denied these allegations, claiming instead that she was inspired by a speech on a related subject delivered by Nina Perales of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Blogger Problem Chylde did a smoking gun on her in a post that linked every line of Marcotte's article to a post on Brownfemipower's Woman of Color blog where the wording was similar.

As a direct result of this flap, Brownfemipower stopped blogging and took her blog down. Now even back posts are inaccessible.

Women of color bloggers were linking these two incidents already when a new scandal arose, involving both Amanda Marcotte and Seal Press. Again from Marcotte's wikipedia page:

In 2008, Marcotte published her first book, entitled It's a Jungle Out There: The Feminist Survival Guide to Politically Inhospitable Environments. In August of 2007, Marcotte [had] posted an image of the chosen book cover on her blog; the image "was a retro-Hollywood pulp cover of a gorilla carrying a scantily clad woman." The image immmediately came under fire for perpetuating racist tropes, and, consequently, Marcotte and Seal Press changed the cover image.

When the book was finally released, it again set off controversy in the feminist blogosphere for use of images that many saw as racist. To illustrate the volume, the publishers used images taken from the 1950s Joe Maneely comic, Lorna, the Jungle Girl, which was chosen for its retro comic art look. The illustrations used included stereotypical images of "savage" black Africans being beaten up by a white, blond, superhero. Marcotte immediately issued an apology, adding that a second printing of It's A Jungle Out There will not contain illustrations.

The latest news is that blogger Blackamazon, who was directly involved in the original Seal Press flap, has taken down her blog as well.

My only comments to this are as follows:

Although it's shocking that all three of these happened at once, I'm glad they did. If they had happened separately, at a distance of months or years from each other, it would have been easier to gloss them over, as many are trying to do now. But, unfortunately for Marcotte and Seal Press, each incident--which in itself is relatively easy for the ignorant to explain away--bolsters and amplifies the women of color bloggers' interpretation of the other events, until it becomes difficult for any reasonable person to not say, "wait a minute ..."

And I also wish that Brownfemipower and Blackamazon hadn't taken down their blogs. I understand them needing a break, or perhaps even deciding not to blog anymore. And I also understand them not wanting their work to be raided nor to hear the awful comments people were leaving.

But their blogs were important public resources, and although the blogcott is a strong statement, it's one that's felt most powerfully by those bloggers' allies and readers, and NOT by the bloggers' opponents. In making a statement of relatively small impact to Marcotte and Seal Press, the rest of us are being more powerfully deprived.

Perhaps more to the point, this flap has drawn a lot of more mainstream attention to Brownfemipower and Blackamazon and I wish all the new readers who are going online looking for their blogs could actually be met with the wealth of information and intelligent commentary that was there to be seen.

Here are the links:

A description of the Amanda Marcotte/Brownfemipower flap at Feministe.

A description of the Seal Press not publishing enough women of color flap on WOC PhD.

The offensive images from It's a Jungle Out There on Dear White Feminists.

Black Amazon's sign off on Problem Chylde blog.

 

*****Update

Seal Press announced on their blog a few days ago their publication of a book entitled Tales from the Expat Harem: Foreign Women in Modern Turkey.

When commenters objected to the use of the word "harem," the editors responded:

The Turkish harem comes from the Arabic word Ḥarām, meaning "forbidden." It's a word that originally referred to the "women's quarters" and literally means "something forbidden or kept safe."

Tales from the Expat Harem is neither a sexist nor a racist title. Please, let's not look for the racially embedded wrong in every one of our books.

I left my opinion in the comments if you want to see it. I have only this to add: being criticized so heavily in public must be very hard, and the editors of  Seal Press must be smarting bad right now. I appreciate that.

But as another commenter pointed out, common sense would/should militate at this point against shooting back defensively. Probably the best thing for them to do is ride all this out with an occasional "thanks, we'll think about what you said." At least until the smarting goes away and they can breathe again.

April 22, 2008

First National Bank of Omaha Sucks

I'll be the first to admit that I never pay my credit card bill on time. But that's not really a problem for banks. As long as you pay it, they benefit from the late fees and extra interest.

Nevertheless, I add this as a caveat before I go ahead and ream my credit card bank.

I'm with an Omaha bank through no fault of my own. My mom co-signed for a credit card for me way back in college with my parents' Michigan mom 'n' pop bank, which then got bought up by a bank in Florida, which then got bought up by First National Bank of Omaha.

I've had problems with them not communicating with me before (they like to do everything by mail, even though I've told them I don' t have a secure mailbox. When my old card expired and a new card arrived, it didn't, and I had to yell over the phone over the course of two weeks to get a new card) and they should, by now, be calling me if I have a problem, but I guess they don't care enough about credit card fraud.

So I go to reserve a car with citycarshare last night and they tell me my account has been disabled for nonpayment. So  I go to the Omaha website and see that my payments, for once, are up to date. WTF? So I call them and THAT'S how I find out that SOMEONE called in "a problem" with my credit card, prompting them to send me a new card--with the same number but a new expiration date and security code--without calling me first.

This was well over a week ago and I got neither the notice, nor the new card. Clearly, they've been stolen.

Let's just take a step back, shall we? I realize that credit card banks have to take all such calls seriously, and I realize that they must know about the kinds of frauds perpetrated in this manner (the most common of which is somebody calling in a lost or stolen card, whose number they conveniently can't remember, on someone with an unsecured mailbox; then waiting until the replacement card is sent and grabbing it).

But you can take such a call seriously AND STILL CALL YOUR CUSTOMER ON THE PHONE TO INFORM THEM OF THE CIRCUMSTANCES. Unless, of course, you're trying to save money and don't care if you screw your customers doing so.

After your customer has had problems receiving her new credit card because of an unsecured mailbox, don't you make a note of that on your customer's record and treat her case differently the next time there's an issue? After all, any money they might lose to a fraudster is money THEY have to swallow themselves. They can't blame me for it.

I guess they must have done a cost-benefit ANALysis and decided that it would cost them less to lose a certain amount to fraud than to keep enough phone operators on board to call customers in these circumstances. I guess that's why credit card commercials make such a big deal about platinum card members getting a call when something bad happens ... because nobody else does.

In any case, it's high time I started looking for a new credit card company. Any suggestions?

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.

April 06, 2008

10 Things You Should Know About McCain

I just got this in an email from Moveon.org. I don't think it's too early to start campaigning against McCain so I'm passing it on. Feel free to link to this or steal it wholesale and post it on your blog. If you do the latter, please copy the source links below as well.

(By the way, I feel perfectly free to campaign against McCain on my blog but don't think that means you're free to campaign for or against any candidates in the comments. Argue with things if you want to, especially if you have real articles to back yourself up, but no campaigning or you will be deleted. My blog, my rules.)

10 things you should know about John McCain (but probably don't):

  1. John McCain voted against establishing a national holiday in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Now he says his position has "evolved," yet he's continued to oppose key civil rights laws.1
  2. According to Bloomberg News, McCain is more hawkish than Bush on Iraq, Russia and China. Conservative columnist Pat Buchanan says McCain "will make Cheney look like Gandhi."2
  3. His reputation is built on his opposition to torture, but McCain voted against a bill to ban waterboarding, and then applauded President Bush for vetoing that ban.3
  4. McCain opposes a woman's right to choose. He said, "I do not support Roe versus Wade. It should be overturned."4
  5. The Children's Defense Fund rated McCain as the worst senator in Congress for children. He voted against the children's health care bill last year, then defended Bush's veto of the bill.5
  6. He's one of the richest people in a Senate filled with millionaires. The Associated Press reports he and his wife own at least eight homes! Yet McCain says the solution to the housing crisis is for people facing foreclosure to get a "second job" and skip their vacations.6
  7. Many of McCain's fellow Republican senators say he's too reckless to be commander in chief. One Republican senator said: "The thought of his being president sends a cold chill down my spine. He's erratic. He's hotheaded. He loses his temper and he worries me."7
  8. McCain talks a lot about taking on special interests, but his campaign manager and top advisers are actually lobbyists. The government watchdog group Public Citizen says McCain has 59 lobbyists raising money for his campaign, more than any of the other presidential candidates.8
  9. McCain has sought closer ties to the extreme religious right in recent years. The pastor McCain calls his "spiritual guide," Rod Parsley, believes America's founding mission is to destroy Islam, which he calls a "false religion." McCain sought the political support of right-wing preacher John Hagee, who believes Hurricane Katrina was God's punishment for gay rights and called the Catholic Church "the Antichrist" and a "false cult."9
  10. He positions himself as pro-environment, but he scored a 0—yes, zero—from the League of Conservation Voters last year.10

*****

Sources:
1. "The Complicated History of John McCain and MLK Day," ABC News, April 3, 2008
http://blogs.abcnews.com/politicalpunch/2008/04/the-complicated.html

"McCain Facts," ColorOfChange.org, April 4, 2008
http://colorofchange.org/mccain_facts/

2. "McCain More Hawkish Than Bush on Russia, China, Iraq," Bloomberg News, March 12, 2008
http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601103&sid=aF28rSCtk0ZM&refer=us

"Buchanan: John McCain 'Will Make Cheney Look Like Gandhi,'" ThinkProgress, February 6, 2008
http://thinkprogress.org/2008/02/06/buchanan-gandhi-mccain/

3. "McCain Sides With Bush On Torture Again, Supports Veto Of Anti-Waterboarding Bill," ThinkProgress, February 20, 2008
http://thinkprogress.org/2008/02/20/mccain-torture-veto/

4. "McCain says Roe v. Wade should be overturned," MSNBC, February 18, 2007
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/17222147/

5. "2007 Children's Defense Fund Action Council® Nonpartisan Congressional Scorecard," February 2008
http://www.childrensdefense.org/site/PageServer?pagename=act_learn_scorecard2007

"McCain: Bush right to veto kids health insurance expansion," CNN, October 3, 2007
http://www.cnn.com/2007/POLITICS/10/03/mccain.interview/

6. "Beer Executive Could Be Next First Lady," Associated Press, April 3, 2008
http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5h-S1sWHm0tchtdMP5LcLywg5ZtMgD8VQ86M80

"McCain Says Bank Bailout Should End `Systemic Risk,'" Bloomberg News, March 25, 2008
http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601087&sid=aHMiDVYaXZFM&refer=home

7. "Will McCain's Temper Be a Liability?," Associated Press, February 16, 2008
http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/wireStory?id=4301022

"Famed McCain temper is tamed," Boston Globe, January 27, 2008
http://www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2008/01/27/famed_mccain_temper_is_tamed/

8. "Black Claims McCain's Campaign Is Above Lobbyist Influence: 'I Don't Know What The Criticism Is,'" ThinkProgress, April 2, 2008
http://thinkprogress.org/2008/04/02/mccain-black-lobbyist/

"McCain's Lobbyist Friends Rally 'Round Their Man," ABC News, January 29, 2008
http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/story?id=4210251

9. "McCain's Spiritual Guide: Destroy Islam," Mother Jones Magazine, March 12, 2008
http://www.motherjones.com/washington_dispatch/2008/03/john-mccain-rod-parsley-spiritual-guide.html

"Will McCain Specifically 'Repudiate' Hagee's Anti-Gay Comments?," ThinkProgress, March 12, 2008
http://thinkprogress.org/2008/03/12/mccain-hagee-anti-gay/

"McCain 'Very Honored' By Support Of Pastor Preaching 'End-Time Confrontation With Iran,'" ThinkProgress, February 28, 2008
http://thinkprogress.org/2008/02/28/hagee-mccain-endorsement/

10. "John McCain Gets a Zero Rating for His Environmental Record," Sierra Club, February 28, 2008
http://www.alternet.org/blogs/environment/77913/

March 30, 2008

"Clinton has gone too far"

I've just about given up on the left-side Clinton/Obama debate being anything approximating rational.

Obama has impressed me recently with his whorish ability to please opposing types of Democrats simultaneously, and I'm hopeful that this could translate into effective executive skills, although with Obama we just won't know until we know.

But I've almost stopped caring in any case because Obama-supporting online wannapunds have utterly failed to notice how brilliantly whorish--rather than brilliant--his race speech was, and continue to accuse the Clinton camp of the same kind of whorishness, broadly accusing them of racism while refusing to use the word.

Lately people have been saying that "Clinton has gone too far."  Interestingly enough, everybody who expresses this sentiment uses the exact same words. Also interestingly, many of the "gone too far" purporters have identified wildly different incidents as the straw that broke the camel's back. (Some otherwise smart commentatoresses have actually taken issue with Hillary questioning Obama's experience and credentials, as if a presidential candidate's experience and credentials are somehow not fair game. Seriously?)

And many of them have simply not bothered to identify where and how, exactly, Hillary went too far. So where, actually, did Hillary go too far? Or was it Bill who went too far? Is there a difference in people's minds? (And, btw, do I still need to explain why it's a problem to take issue with Bill and blame it on Hillary?)

And most importantly, do you really think they arrived at this opinion independently?

I'm remembering a time I try hard to remind people of (but no one seems to remember it) about 20-12 months ago, when the word on every Dem-voter's lips was "I like Hillary but she's not electable." It was such a pervasive sentence, and was said over and over again by different people in exactly the same word order and tone, that it was impossible not to conclude that the whole thing was a stealth campaign.

Of course, it became so pervasive that the press had to pick up on it, and the moment it broke the surface, Clinton's campaign dispatched it, ruthlessly and effectively. I tend to think the Clinton campaign did a stealth campaign of their own to make the story break cover so they could squash it. No one says that Clinton is "not electable" now. They just say she's "gone too far." How curious.

What I'm also hearing, particularly from black online wannapunds, is that, while before they would have voted for Clinton if she got the nomination, now they won't. WTF? So you, lefty liberation atheologist, with a hard-on for social justice, will vote for fucking John McCain because clueless Clinton hath offended thee? Or, almost worse, avoid the polling place entirely?

Seriously?

That's the point, isn't it? If those of you undecideds out there don't choose Obama, the rest of us Dem-voters will take our ball and go home, and you can just sit there with your President McCain for eight years, kicking yourself for not choosing the Unity Candidate with the Sexy Voice. After all, if you don't choose Unity, then the lack of Unity is your fault.

It's blackmail, of course, but who am I to object to political blackmail? If it's effective, that is.

It's frustrating because I'd like rational debate, but this is an election, and elections are not about rational debate and probably shouldn't be. Because, as I've said before, we should be electing not the person with the best program, but rather the most effective political whore whose program approximates the one we want. So the person who best manipulates the election is clearly the best whore. That may well turn out to be Obama.

Two more points, no three:

Firstly, on the rational debate about the issues tip--which everyone says they want, but nobody really wants--Clinton constantly surprised everyone by how great she was on debates about the isshooz. Every time, in fact. Her only missteps were when she was confronted (read: blamed) for Bill Clinton's policies, when she was confronted with her pro-Iraq-War-whore vote, and when the debate veered away from the issues into the gender/race/electability thing. So here we are in the loooong post-important-primaries wasteland, where the isshooz have pretty much been exhausted and there is nothing new to say. So what are we focusing on? The candidates' identity issues ... where Clinton doesn't do well and Obama, because of his whorishness, does.

Second point: remember folks (why do you keep forgetting?) Obama is only 46. He's a top-end Gen Xer, or else in the crack between generations. Culturally, he belongs more to the later generation. As the brief debate over his supposed drug use suggested, rather than having to assert his non-inhaliness like a Baby Boomer candidate I could mention, he in fact may have exaggerated his drug use in a savvy ploy to speak to his natural constituency. He grew up after the heaviest part of the civil rights movement and during the heaviest part of the feminist movement. His understanding of race and gender politics, purely from a generational standpoint, would have to be different from Clinton's; given his family and personal history, his understanding of both is necessarily more sophisticated.

Is this a bad thing? Of course not. But it's not necessarily a good thing when you're trying to appeal to older voters who do not have the same sensibility as you.

By the same token, Clinton is firmly a Baby Boomer and second wave feminist. Her language and understanding of race and gender are Baby-Boom-Generation-determined. Does that mean she's behind the times? Well, she's no more behind the times than most of the rest of her generational cohort. (I won't break that down. I'm not satisfied with her language or concept of these issues, but then I'm a third wave feminist and a Gen Xer.) Does this means she's off-putting to Obama's GenX supporters? Yes. Does this mean that the awkward language and concepts she uses will lead her to support the wrong policies? Well ... not necessarily.

Does it mean that she may not prioritize social justice for racial minorities? Maybe. And does Obama's greater sophistication on these issues mean that he will prioritize social justice for racial minorities? Hmmm ... I somehow doubt it, especially in the light of his race speech which said, pretty clearly, "It's understandable that blacks are so angry, but their anger isn't right. And by the way, whites' anger about affirmative action is just as legitimate so we should all just get along."

And finally, keep in  mind that we're all getting bored with this and want to move on to the main event. This is why we're starting to unravel and shoot ourselves in our collective feets by saying stupid things like "I'd rather vote for McCain than Clinton because she's gone too far!"  It's like a playground where the nerd who doesn't know how to stand around and be cool gets hopelessly ragged on. Or maybe, the adult who doesn't know what "hella" means gets hopelessly ragged on. Earnest Hillary, who is no better than she should be anyway, can't hang out and be cool with the cool kids and Obama can. So, in our after school before dinner boredom, we're beating up on Hillary.

I still don't know who would be the better president, but I'm starting to suspect that all of this adds up to Obama being the better candidate.

March 20, 2008

In Which I Consider Supporting Obama

First, here's the whole speech, in five parts, hi-def:

I'm starting to change my mind about Obama. No, it's not because his baritone turns me on, or his sincerity, intelligence, charisma, and social consciousness get my panties all ... *sigh* ... YOU know. It's because he's a first class pander. Check it out:

"In no other country on Earth is my story even possible."

Argh. We all know it's just speechifying, but does he have to be so crass? Or maybe he's so used to playing the exotic for white American oafs, he really doesn't know how mundane his story is compared to the tragedy, mendacity, and exotic parallelism of other stories.

But seriously, that's just a throwaway line all whores politicians have to ... well, throw away. Where he really went onto the reservation was when he sold out his ... er ... "former" pastor, a guy he seems to have unloaded just before all this shit hit the fan. (I wonder why.)

Oh sure, sure, he made a lot of proud noises about how he could no more abandon his poor, old pastor--who was more like family than an advisor, mind you, although he was part of Obama's campaign as recently as late last year--than he could abandon his loving, white grandma, whom he also sold out in this speech. But really, saying that what your pastor (and, until recently, advisor) says in his speeches is just wrong wrong wrong wrong is ... well let's just say it rhymes with "shmelling shmout."

Doubt it? Dude, this is what he said about Wright's comments:

A profoundly distorted view of this country, a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America. A view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam. As such, Rev. Wright's comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity, racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems: two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis, and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but problems that confront us all.

Do you think he knows what "endemic" means? 'Cuz the PC consensus is that racism is endemic in America. To suggest it isn't is kinda turning back the clock. Oh yeah, and ignoring the deep-rootedness that makes it so persistent. And the whole "elevates what is wrong" bit? Barack, baby, you're denouncing him for seeing the glass as half empty? We get it, you're an optimist. Gah.

Now, the rest of us aren't privy to what Wright says in private about Israel, but his public statements? Duuude, you seem to be putting words in his mouth. Even the freakin' Anti-defamation League has no issue with him. See below. And then to add that whorish politically savvy throwaway line about radical Islam? I'll just leave the wad of cash on the bedside table, mmm?

I think these are all the Wright quotes Obama and pundits are responding to:

Seriously? Except for the AIDS genocide accusation, what part of what he said here isn't true? I mean, weren't YOU expecting Bush et al to plant WMDs? I was. I didn't count on the fact that most of America either wouldn't care that he was lying or wouldn't be literate enough to read about how he lieded. And this is all aside from the fact that that might simply have been a bitter joke.

But the best sellout is the money shot. After eloquently (seriously, my panties again) explaining the bitterness of old time activists like Wright, he actually went forth and paralleled the frustration of African Americans with the current dissatisfaction of middle-class white Americans who went and voted themselves into "two wars ... a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis, and potentially devastating climate change":

In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don't feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience - as far as they're concerned, no one's handed them anything, they've built it from scratch. They've worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they're told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.

Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren't always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.

Then repeat the platform and end on a note of hope in the next generation. (Young white girl and old black man. She joined the Obama campaign because her mother needed health care and she needed food. The ol' black man, of course, joined the Obama campaign for her. Magical. Like "Song of the South." You can almost see them tap dancing together at the DNC.)

Wow, recent white political doopidity = 400+ years of oppression? I love America!

And Barack's gonna let all the white liberals get away with it. He just said so.

So, all sarcasm aside, I'm beginning to believe that Barack is whorish enough to make a go of this politician thing. He's savvy enough to please his entire natural constituency. That was a tightrope walk of a speech and he sold the fuck out of it. And yeah, he'd sell his own grandmother for office ... in public.

I'm starting to love this guy for president. Maybe he'll be my slimeball. Too bad we're not gonna have a chance to see if the other slimeballs will let him play their reindeer games first.

March 07, 2008

Dream Ticket?

This is what I think too, and I can't wait to see how Obama responds to it.

March 02, 2008

SNL's Fauxbama Blackface Thing

Hyphen, as usual, is where I picked up on the public controversy about a non-black multiracial actor playing Obama on Saturday Night Live. (Video above is the second sketch featuring "Fauxbama" Fred Armisen; Hyphen has the first one.)

I saw the previous clip on the SNL site (can't find it now but it's embedded in the Hyphen post above), led there by a discussion about media bias towards Obama, and noticed immediately that the actor playing Obama was wearing dark makeup for the role. My first reaction was, "Oh, boyyyyy ..."

But then, as the sketch played out, I stopped being concerned about it. Why? Why would I be concerned about it in the first place, and why would I stop being concerned after watching the sketch?

It has to do with the nature of "blackface" (or any dramatic portrayal of people of color by white actors). This requires one of my beloved, bullet-pointed breakdowns. Blackface is problematic for reasons historical, intentional, and representational:

  • Historical: blackface was used in minstrel shows and later in blackface sketches in more mainstream vaudeville to humorously denigrate African Americans. Blackface performances found their humor in depicting the worst stereotypes of African Americans. Blackface became most popular during Reconstruction, when the "threat" of black equality was most strongly juxtaposed with a formerly slave culture, and arose out of that racist fear. But these representations have found expression in every era of American entertainment since long before the Revolutionary War.

The length and persistence of this form of racial denigration means that any performance by a non-black of a black character or figure automatically draws on this history, intentionally or unintentionally, and is to be considered carefully if not fully avoided.

  • Intentional: As mentioned above, the main purpose of blackface is to denigrate blacks using humorous depictions of stereotypes.

The other big problem with blackface, after the outright racial denigration that is its purpose, is that it is the incongruity of the makeup on a white actor that creates the humor. Blackface assumes that the racial phenotype it lampoons (dark skin, big lips, kinky hair) is unattractive and ridiculous, and draws its humor from the overposition of exaggerated or imaginary "black" features on white features. It's clown makeup, with the strong implication that blacks are clowns.

  • Representational: a contemporary issue with blackface is the issue of who gets to play black roles in media. There are few enough roles specifically written for African American characters, and few enough casting directors willing to go for nontraditional casting in ethnic-non-specific roles. On top of this, many of the roles written specifically for African American characters are stereotyped and in themselves denigrating.

So having a plum role for an African American character parceled out to a non-black actor is extremely problematic, when there are so many qualified black actors out there looking for work.

Additionally, the very idea that a white actor gets to occupy a plum black role raises the question of who gets to write, embody, and ultimately determine the form and representation of blacks in the public sphere. Casting a white actor is a pretty clear answer in favor of keeping the right of representation with whites.

So, how does the SNL sketch play with these considerations?

Firstly, the sketch does not have racial denigration as its purpose, and there is no unintentional or side-effect racial denigration (in my opinion) happening here. The purpose of the sketch is to lampoon the media's apparent infatuation with Barack Obama; the actor playing Obama needs to exaggerate Obama's personal tics for humorous effect (as SNL does with every politician it mocks) and to portray a stereotype of Obama's public image.  There is complicated racial coding involved in Obama's public image, but this sketch is fairly straightforward, and does not grapple with them, nor (in my opinion) trip over them.

Secondly, the makeup Armisen uses to portray Obama is fairly subtle and clearly used to let the audience know what figure he's depicting, and not to portray Obama's racial characteristics as unattractive or ridiculous

So far so good. On the minus side, however, is the simple fact of the history of blackface and the way that blackface representation is going to play--no matter what its intentions. Putting a nonblack actor in blackface is so easy to avoid, that producers simply cannot avoid the question, "why didn't you just get a black actor to do it?" SNL doesn't have a slick answer for this.

The real answer, of course, is that currently, SNL has only one black male actor, and he looks nothing like Obama and, more importantly, has an acting style that doesn't match Obama's affect well. But that's not an excuse. SNL currently has six white male actors, two white female actors, and two multiracial actors, Fred Armisen and Maya Rudolph (the latter of whom is the only actor on the cast whose racial background matches Obama's and who apparently will not return to SNL after the strike.)

Why so many white men? Why so few black men and women? Among other things, it limits (obviously) SNL's ability to successfully represent public figures, and this tokenism is a perennial problem at SNL, which has six different faces to match to white male public figures, but must force black characters into the oeuvre of a single actor. This gets to the heart of the representation issue. Lorne Michaels has tried to play that old chestnut: we cast the best actor for the role, regardless of race. And Armisen does do a credible acting job. But that old record won't play. If you have only one black actor, he's certainly not going to be the best actor for every black role. Some other black actor would be.

But all of this is, again, avoiding the fact that Obama is multiracial. Just because America views Obama as black, doesn't mean he entirely is. And he's toned down his self-representation as biracial because he found it didn't play with either white or black. That doesn't mean he isn't still biracial. So who gets to depict a man who is half white? If they had cast Kenan Thompson as Obama, would he have had to do it in whiteface and would that have been alright?

Add to all of this that Fred Armisen, who actually played Obama, is an extremely multiracial man, part white, part Asian (Japanese) and part Latino (Venezuelan). And it seems I do need to remind people that Latinos are pretty multiracial--and African-mixed--as well, and that Venezuela especially, as a nation on the Caribbean coast, has a strong Afro-Caribbean history and population. That doesn't tell us anything about Armisen himself, but it does tell us a great deal about our own simple-minded, reductivist racial viewpoint.

So the representation piece of this little controversy? I'd say SNL needs to check itself, but so do the sketch's racially simplistic critics. And I'd say that SNL does still need to go ahead with its mockery of the current presidential candidates using the tools at hand, and learn from this controversy that maybe it would be a more interesting show with a less monochromatic cast.

February 26, 2008

Voting The Minority

Two interesting opinions up at Salon today.

Edward McClellan says in  "The Dude Vote" that a lot of men aren't copping to the fact that they won't vote for Hillary because she's a woman:

A recent Associated Press-Ipsos poll found that, among men, McCain beats Clinton by 9 points. Against Obama, he only ties. There are also plenty of guys who voted for Barack Obama in the primaries but will switch to John McCain if the lady gets the nomination -- even though they'll have to leap over a huge political divide to get there.

... I never said to myself, "I want a man for president." I said to myself, "I want a leader who can unite the country." Like a lot of guys who are about to furtively nod their heads, I think of leadership as a masculine quality, so Obama and McCain seemed like the strongest candidates. I was also leery of Clinton's association with the culture wars -- I don't want to go through that again -- but she was a polarizing first lady because she was given power over healthcare before the nation was ready to see a woman in that role. (In 1994, I walked into a religious bookstore and saw an anti-Clinton biography titled "Big Sister Is Watching You.") Ultimately, it was impossible to separate my reservations about Clinton from the fact that she's a woman.

I also told myself I wasn't dismissing Clinton because I disliked her. I was dismissing her because other people disliked her. That's a popular objection, apparently. According to a CBS-New York Times poll, 81 percent of Americans say they would vote for a woman president; only 56 percent think other people would. But it's also a convenient dodge. If I voted against Clinton because "too many people hate her," wouldn't I just be validating the haters? They are, after all, largely responsible for making her "divisive."

Gary Kamiya takes a nearly opposite position in "It's OK to vote for Obama because he's black," saying that a lot of whites won't cop to the fact that they're voting for Obama because he's black.

This reaction is understandable. It feels more racially enlightened. To baldly proclaim that you support Obama because he's black seems to diminish his real qualities and achievements -- his stellar academic career, his work in the urban trenches, his liberal voting record, his ability to inspire. Foregrounding Obama's ethnic heritage implies that you're unhealthily obsessed with race, and make artificial decisions based on it. It can be seen as patronizing, as a merely sentimental, pie-in-the-sky gesture.

... Some critics who directly acknowledge the racial nature of Obama's appeal have argued that the wave of white support for Obama bespeaks not a genuine desire to bridge the racial divide but a bad-faith attempt to escape into some post-racial never-never land.

... Obama's charisma, which is his unique political strength, is real, but it cannot be separated from the fact that he's black. When Obama speaks of change and hope and healing divisions, his words carry an electric charge because of who he is: He embodies his own message, the very definition of charisma. As a black man offering reconciliation, he is making a deeply personal connection with whites, not merely a rhetorical one.

Some observations:

  • It's easy to accuse white men of racism or sexism, when white men are rarely motivated so purely by an ism in such a situation. It's less easy to accuse poc of sexism or liberal women of racism, even when there's a healthy dose of those operating.
  • Regarding sexism vs. black/white racism in this election, I'm seeing that the sexism operating in this election is the view that men and women are two different types of technology with completely different capabilities, whereas the racism in this election is more the view that black (men) and white (men) are the same technology but at different states of the art. Men and women would be, respectively, cars and iPhones whereas white men and black men would be, respectively, Porsches and Yugos.

Hillary is an iPhone with wheels. Obama is a pimped out Yugo. The paradigm shift required to take each of these two candidates seriously is completely different.

  • This may be obvious, but people who are sexist, aren't always racist, and people who are racist, aren't always sexist. I'm sure there are plenty of Clinton supporters who truly believe that she's the best candidate, and that many women could be, and also aren't sure that a black man can get the job done under any circumstances.

And it wouldn't surprise me to find that there were voters, men and women, who believe in Obama for a plethora of reasons, but can't quite get their heads around a woman president.

  • The people who have most to lose from a more equitable distribution of power among women and racial minorities don't always put their racism or sexism first. We could safely assume that a lot of racist, sexist Republicans would vote for Elizabeth Dole, or Condoleeza Rice, or Colin Powell, before they'd vote for John Edwards. Likewise, a lot of racist, sexist Democrats, faced with a confusing choice, aren't necessarily subconsciously comparing their prejudices, but rather going with an emotional reaction to charisma, or to familiarity and nostalgia.
  • Obama's popularity among young liberals isn't questioned as possibly being motivated by sexism. Sure, there's been plenty of feminist punditry about how Gen X/Y women have sold out feminism for Obama's charisma because they're not really proper feminists. But I've seen little speculation about whether we might be looking at a generation that, lacking the strong, widespread female fiscal and political leadership second wave feminists were expecting right about now, some of the young 'uns might simply have no model of female leadership to place Hillary into. I.e. they might straight up not believe a woman can be a good president, but, lacking prefeminist language and knowing vaguely that such sentiments are not okay, might lack a language to talk about this.
  • And Hillary's popularity among older women isn't questioned as possibly being motivated by racism. It's cast entirely positively, as in: second wave feminist generation women are voting their feminism. It's never: older white women won't vote for a black president.
  • The recent nonsense about racist Latino or Asian American voters is cast entirely from a mainstream, basically white American perspective. This perspective assumes that Latino and Asian voters see themselves in a racially essentialist way--see themselves as a member of a racial group and articulate themselves as people of color--and view the American political landscape as one in which people of color have common cause.

So let's say this again, people: the majority of Latino and Asian Americans are immigrants. Most of these immigrants are coming from a position of being a racial or ethnic majority in their countries of origin, even if they are of lower class. Most of them have a majority identity in their past. Most of them are struggling toward a position of self-determination and some sort of tolerable integration into their new society, not towards the marginalization of being people of color. Yes, some might vote racism or sexism, but most will have more pressing needs. And which candidate they see meeting these needs will be at least somewhat unpredictable to a native-born American.

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 10, 2008

Why Juno Is Loathsome

I mentioned yesterday that I loathed the movie Juno and that was all I was gonna say about it. But now Lauren, who is normally smart as a whip, says she liked it, publicly defending it against the wannabe macho dismissal of a critic who thought No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood were the best moobies of the year. I share her argh about the latter, but argh back at her about the former so much that I must write this blog post.

David Edelstein of New York Magazine, goes to bizarre extremes to attack Juno by criticizing both director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody (whose name he snarks on) for having successfully “engineered every response” from the audience, as if that’s not what filmmaking is at its heart.

... I think it’s also important and darn fascinating to pay attention when a bona fide cultural phenomenon is prancing tweely across your radar. Juno is that dancer. Among the many wonderful things about this movie is the fact that it could not have been made at any other time in history. It is positively fresh on the subject of teen sexuality and reproductive choice and it manages to be hilariously funny and gut-wrenchingly poignant at the same time.

Yes, Juno's twee, and that's annoying, and no, twee is not the argument against that stupid flick that I want to push. All teen films are either twee or outright sentimental, so no big deal. Harold and Maude was twee, but I love it anyway.

But Lauren's argument that all films manipulate the audience doesn't hold water. It's true that all art is manipulation in the purest sense of the word. But the art that we treasure as great is that which manipulates the senses to mediate an experience in a particular way. That experience must overwhelm the audience sensually so that their senses (perhaps not all of them, but the ones engaged by that art form) are employed wholly in the service of the piece for its duration. The experience must also short-circuit the audience's sense of the normal and the ordinary, so as to present them with the spectacle of some element of mundane life in a manner that makes that element fresh.

So much for great, or even good, art. There are also films--art--that are successful without overwhelming the senses with new input, or making the familiar intelligible by rendering it strange. These films rather grab hold of our expectations, both sensory and narrative, ... and fulfill them. That simple.

Of course, that's not easy to do because experienced filmgoers have highly developed bullshit detectors and a hunger for novelty that almost--but never quite--overwhelms their demand for fulfilled expectations. So these not-so-good films succeed insofar as they are able to disguise with successful handwaving their ability to give you exactly what you've had before.

Juno is one of the latter sort of films. It belongs in a genre of film whose structure is derived from the gestation period of homo erectus. "Conception--pregnancy--birth" is the  "incentive moment--rising action--climax" of this subgenre, point for point. The purpose of this subgenre is to "celebrate" the "renewal" of "human" life and "hope" in the form of the "next generation" and to "reaffirm" our current family structure or to affirm and confirm (some kind of "firm") a new one. It is a genre that, intentionally or no, cannot accept the presence of abortion ... quite simply because abortion is a narrative party pooper: you can't end a story before the climax.

Subgenre All-Stars include: Nine Months, Parenthood, Father of the Bride II, The Seventh Sign, Fools Rush In, She's Having a Baby, The Snapper, The Object of My Affection, and and and. The only title I can think of belonging to the category of "classic" is Rosemary's Baby, a precursor to the curse of eighties and nineties pregnancy flicks, and a pre-deconstruction of them all. The rest are, at best, B movies. I didn't seed the list. I seriously couldn't think of a single top-ranked or top-critiqued movie in this genre, nor find one on a google search.

And for a very good reason: the genre is crapulous, status-quo-reifying, herd-placating "family fare." It's not about questioning anything, but rather making everyone feel great about the way things are.

In the new millenium this genre has taken on new life. The three 2007 avatars are Waitress, Knocked Up, and Juno. But wait, didn't everybody loooooooove all three films last year? I mean, looooooove them?

Well, of course. After all, Gen X is both in charge of movieland AND making babies now. So we've updated the genre to satisfy our own ideas of what family must be and placate our feelings of having sold out ... whatever our generation was supposed to stand for ... in favor of parenthood, condo purchases, and stay-at-home-somethings.

The major difference in new-millenium-Gen-X pregnancy movies is that they are all about confirming "alternative" families, which is, of course, all the to good, if you consider giving alternative families their own crapulous sub-genre "good." Juno and Waitress are ultimately both affirmations of single motherhood, when necessary, as it clearly is when the father leaves you because he's a child or you leave him because he's abusive. Both are, not coincidentally, written by women.

Knocked Up is a more traditional pregnancy flick. It's written, produced, directed, and from the point of view of men, which is why it posits that ugly losers with no jobs, income, responsibility, charm, or personality can walk into a complete family life with a beautiful, successful woman, just by going into a nightclub one night that the real world wouldn't let them in the door of. It posits the only family that straight guys would want, then "reaffirms" it with a "funny" birth scene involving your buddies and a beautiful, happy ending.

Juno manages to disguise its genrehood slightly by being about both the family for whom the baby is destined, and the birth mother. But, although the dialogue is snappy, nothing is questioned or subverted. We don't want to reify teenage motherhood; teenage mothers are supposed to be confused, so this one is confused. We want to support adoptive families, which we have more and more of as the "me, too!" generation puts off childbearing even longer than the Baby Boomers, so we make Juno not bother considering abortion seriously. We want to affirm single motherhood, so we get rid of the adoptive husband while turning him into a plot-point/red-herring.

Most importantly, we treat motherhood as a reward for virtuous women. Juno is not virtuous: she had sex when too young and undereducated; she had sex without considering herself in love; she had sex without thinking responsibly about it. Clearly she doesn't deserve a baby. Her weeping after the birth is the seep of remorse.

The Jennifer Garner character--played by an actress who, already popular, swept the hearts of America by marrying Ben Affleck and naming their adorable baby something both slightly unusual and not at all rock-star-weird--clearly possesses sufficient adulthood, responsibility, and virtue, and is rewarded with motherhood at the end.

One more point: Juno, as many critics have remarked, is given Gen X hipster dialogue. No kiddie today, not even Frances Bean Cobain, could possibly have all the Gen X indie cultural referents that Juno pretends to. That's the tip-off, folks, that you're being manipulated: your teenie hipster protag, cooler than school and wrestling with things way beyond her maturity level, still has the time to flatter your taste.

It's a flat, empty, manipulative, masturbatory, neck-chaining, nose-to-grindstoning, mainstream-behavior-mold of a piece of shit of a movie. And no, it's not a coincidence that it topped off a year of other such movies in the same year that the US Supreme Court upheld the first federal abortion ban since Roe v. Wade.

'Nuff said.

January 21, 2008

MLK Day Meme

via Chrome Kitten.

Hope you had a good one.

January 14, 2008

The "Missing Black Woman Formation"

Not to be down on Scott Westerfeld, whom I consider a friend on the skiffy side of the blanket, but his recent blog post about the "Missing Black Woman Formation" (hereafter referred to as MBWF) needs some complications added to it.

The MBWF concept is explained by one of the characters of Scott's YA novel So Yesterday thus:

“You know, the guy on the motorcycle was black. The guy on the bike was white. The woman was white. That’s the usual bunch, you know? Like everybody’s accounted for? Except not really. I call that the missing-black-woman formation. It kind of happens a lot.”

Scott then goes on to point out that we're living through a MBWF right now, posting a picture of our current Democratic presidential front runners (Edwards, Clinton, and Obama, natch). He underlines this by posting a photo of Neo, Trinity, and Morpheus from The Matrix.

Okay, but not really.

There are a number of problems with this, starting with how complaining about a missing black woman only works for commercials (which is mostly what the So Yesterday characters were talking about.) Commercials are 30-120-second gestures in the direction of a brand. You have time to say one simple thing, so that's what you say.

The black man inserted into a white couple says, "Our brand is diverse!" whatever that means. The missing black woman, if she were to appear, would say, "We're selling to blacks and whites equally!" which is not what most commercials want to say. Most want to say, "Hey, liberal white guilt dollars! Flow this way!"

When you get into broader pop culture, and especially when you get into the bizarre mix of current mainstream reality, branding, idealism, fearmongering, and passion play that is the contemporary presidential race, the MBWF has nothing interesting or true to say to the matter anymore.

Gloria Steinem proved this in the NYT op-ed that Scott (and everybody else) linked to. By Shakespeare's sistering Obama (dang, can't we get some new feminist tricks?) Steinem sought to prove that women have it worse than blacks, but only managed to give every reader a case of  SIWWTABIDKW (something is wrong with that argument but I don't know what), which is usually accompanied by a terminal case of the squirmies.

What was wrong with that argument, by the way, is that you can't compare apples and oranges (or sexism and racism), and you can't predict society's behavior towards the intersection of the two except by, as Steinem did, assuming that each must be overcome separately before the intersection will become penetrable (Frex: we needed an Albright, and a Powell, before we could have a Rice.)

So, a listing of problems with MBWF as applied by Scott:

Flip through a magazine and check out the ads. In any group of three or more models, one invariably will be black. (If there are six or more models, one will be Asian and one Hispanic.) Same on TV. In any commercial for beer or snack food, one of the guys on the sofa is always black. This probably misrepresents the incidence of interracial hanging out, but it isn't just tokenism. It's a harmony fantasy, buried deep in the collective conscience.

I.e. the MBWF, a white fantasy scenario, is leaving out a much more complicated, and truly diverse, group of people because that would complicate and diversify the white audience's social scene, rather than placating them for having a mostly white peer group. So it's a bit more complicated than just a missing black woman. If we're going to look at negative space, let's really look at it.

  • I'll take the last one second: Keanu Reeves isn't white. He specifically was chosen to play Neo in The  Matrix because he is obviously multiracial. Many people don't know that Keanu is multiracial--not because he doesn't look multiracial, but because he's been offered to us as white since the mid-eighties and most people have never thought to question that. In the mid-eighties, it was because the mainstream consciousness had no concept of multiraciality, especially not Asian multiraciality. But those same people who were incapable of noticing Keanu's halfiness in the mid-eighties have become, in the interim, so sensitized to it that they would notice it in an instant now if they were to encounter a second Keanu. But Keanu himself, name and all, is grandfathered in as a white dude.

It is for both these reasons--the obvious multiraciality and his acceptance by mainstream audiences--that Keanu was cast in the racially radical Matrix. Suitably millenial, the first Matrix suggested that a lot of race mixing had gone on among surviving humans after the apocalypse with its casting of actors of a variety of races and mixtures (including Marcus Chong, Tommy Chong's adopted son, whose ancestry isn't public, but is almost certainly multiracial.) This was deliberate.

Morpheus as the odd black man out in a MBWF is questionable, but his status as a magical negro? not so much. I said the first Matrix was radical, not perfect. (By the way, I distinguish between the first Matrix and subsequent Matrices because the Wachowskis got lazy in the race element, as well as everything else, and let a bunch of black actors stand in for diversity thereafter, i.e. losing grip on the multiracial aspect of the whole thing.)

  • Finally, with regard to our beloved Donkeys, can I just remind everyone that Obama is a biracial child of an immigrant. Far from being a quibble, this is absolutely essential to understanding how Obama has gotten as far as he has, and how he might even have a real chance at the presidency.

As I said, in our new millenium, our mainstream culture has become sensitized to multiraciality, so that we begin to recognize it when it appears in the public forum. But we're not so sophisticated as all that. We recognize it, but we still gawk at it. It's still unusual, exotic ... and not yet re-problematized, as all new, exotic things are.

Obama's clear and apparent multiraciality (one that left him with darkish skin and European features, which earn him the adjective "handsome" even though he's nothing of the sort) put him beyond our immediate racial hierarchy into a biracial status that is still fluid in the public consciousness. If he were just black, he wouldn't be here, but because we don't exactly know what he is, he might still be electable. So there, Gloria Steinem, my lass.

Furthermore, Obama is not the child of an African American descendant of slaves and a white American; i.e. he's not that difficult and problematic product of centuries of slavery and sexual stereotyping. Rather, he's the child of a white American and a black immigrant. A what? Exactly. We don't know what to do about it, because it's an exotic and new story: the black immigrant. But, dudes, immigrant. Undocumented labor issues aside, the American identity is an immigrant identity, and the American story is the triumphal story of immigration and assimilation.

In this context it's much easier to see why Obama, the child of a black man and a white woman, doesn't trip more people's black man/white woman wires. The white woman in this case is the agent of assimilation to an honorable immigrant. As copious recent immigration from the Caribbean and East Africa shows, it's a toss up whether such an immigrant will come down as black or as immigrant in their interlocutor's estimation, when the shit really hits. Clearly this question is decided by what is most beneficial to the interlocutor. If the black immigrant in question is threatening them, then they're black. If, however the interlocutor needs an ally and the black immigrant shows willing, then they're an immigrant.

White America needs an inspiring leader--an ally--to take us away from all this horrible Bush stuff, so Obama falls off on the immigrant side in our popular subconscious, even if the public debate has been hijacked by the word "black." I'll bet a lot of people have already forgotten the recent debate over whether or not Obama is really black or black enough. That fight had to be fought out to get detractors out of the way so that we could talk about Obama as a black candidate without digressions. What no one has noticed is that we're processing him simultaneously at both levels: as a surface black, and a crypto-immigrant.

By accepting Obama as our symbolic representative, even if only for a few months, we are essentially underlining and celebrating our existing core American values: immigration, assimilation, triumph, and pot-won't-melt-in-my-mouth virtue.

And via Racialicious, here's a little sumpin' sumpin' to make you think hard about the intersection between race and gender: a nice, long, fascinating article about transgender people of color.

Robocalls and Dirty Tricks

A Republican operative was jailed for phone harrassment campaigns in which he:

called liberal Democrats and urged them to vote for the Green Party candidate.

... [called] white households asking them to vote for the Democrat, using the voice of, as he puts it, a “ghetto black guy.” He also called union households, using voices with thick Spanish accents.

... jammed the lines — placing hundreds of hang-up calls an hour — to five Democratic offices across the state and a phone bank run by volunteer firefighters.

Add these to the account started by the nasty robocalling Repubs conducted last year, ringing progressive voters over and over with computerized calls that sounded like they came from the Dems. So yeah, it's a win that at least the little guy goes to jail and the dirty tricks are highlighted, even if the shot-callers get off scot-free.

But the whole thing is really depressing, if you step back for a moment, because what it says about liberal and democratic voters is that they:

  1. will only vote if they are left utterly in peace (!), i.e. one day of the phone ringing off the hook will put them off of voting for the person who will increase good and/or reduce harm to their pocketbooks, healthcare, children's schools, etc. One day, folks;
  2. are really really racist and won't vote for a candidate in favor of poverty reduction if they're reminded of the blacks and immigrants who will benefit from said programs;
  3. are too stupid to block incoming calls on their phone bank lines.

Lord help us: do we really want a Democrat in office?

via Racialicious.

January 08, 2008

Hillary As First Woman US President *updated*

Look, the women heads of state that we know about, the famous ones, are either hardcore elected conservatives, like Thatcher or Golda Meir, or daughters/wives of assassinated or simply dead former leaders---inheritors of political dynastic power---like Megawati Sukarno, Indira Gandhi, Cory Aquino, or Benazir Bhutto.

It seems that these are the two avenues to political power for women: align yourself with the political party that would most oppose having a woman leader, and become more hardcore than your compatriots (look at how Meir and Thatcher inspired frequent jokes among their conservative colleagues about their masculinity); or marry into, or be born into, a political dynasty and work your husband's/father's legacy hard.

Sure, there are occasional porn stars who win legislative seats on the strength of their novelty, but no one believes that a woman could be forgiven an early career in entertainment sufficiently to become a national leader the way a man could.

It's clear: women politicians are novelty acts, iron ladies who sacrificed their marriages and family life for politics, or privileged wives and daughters. Liberal or moderate women don't ascend to real power without the power of a political family behind them; they must be linked by flesh and blood.

So comparing the Clinton dynasty to the Bush dynasty, and turning on Hillary with the cry, "no more dynasties!" is not merely disingenuous, but also at its base, misogynist. A feminist moderate liberal like Hillary Rodham would have not a snowball's chance in Hell of getting even a nomination; her only choice would be to pull down the party for a term or two by being cast as a political helpmeet, somebody no one wants to elect, and a mistake that even the thoroughly incompetent Dems won't make again.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, on the other hand, could be president, and Bill doesn't even have to die first. We will only get a woman president through dynastic succession. Yes, it's a dangerous game, but the Monday morning quarterback says that by now we only wish Dubya had let his father (you know, the CIA guy who actually read intelligence reports?) be the power behind the throne.

I don't think that this means we get to look forward to a President Chelsea Clinton in twenty years either. I think, rather, that once Hillary breaks the ice, Chelsea will have too many competitors to really have a chance ... unless she's good.

Bottom line: just like we need a black president to break us through that barrier, we also need a woman president to break us through that barrier.

While we're on that subject, I just want to tell all the "woman president as a symbolic act not good enough" idiots to shut the fuck up. You clearly don't understand symbolism, or culture, or political representation. No you don't. Not one little bit.

Dubya understands it, though. Just ask his lesbian intellectual black woman Secretary of State. Condi is throat-blockingly important, and not in that tinny, Star Trek, meat-tenderizer-symbolic way. Because we've had a Condi, we can have black iron ladies in the cabinet now from here 'til doomsday. And Republican or Democrat, black or white, whore or brassy bitch, do you think for an Iraqi-check-point-second that there could have been a Condi without Bill Clinton did it first? It's a one-upping. A Dem hires a woooman, so the Repub has to hire a queer black woooman.

The White House will be the same. Before a woman of color can get up in there, a white woman has to do it. Before a random white woman can do it, a white woman wife or daughter of a former president has to do it. Its a progression. Hillary is the only likely choice we have right now who's left of right. Pelosi is not electable; please see the two paths to world leadership above.

Which brings me to my third pointish: our first woman president must be a liberal. Yeah, yeah, Hillary's not really a liberal ... shut the fuck up. I'm not even gonna argue that. The UK's first woman head of state was a rabid conservative and look what happened. "Women can be just as disgusting and compassionless as men" is not really a good argument for women leaders.

I want the conservatives scared of liberal women leaders. I want women to wake up and realize that gender representation means ... gender fucking representation. Women allowed to be women in a political office will bring a woman's perspective into hot issues that most of the public agrees on, but that the stupid elite men in power like to manipulate to keep themselves in power. Conservative iron ladies have to spend their tenures scaring liberals, not conservative men. Liberal or moderate women dynastic successors, on the other hand, have to spend some energy proving their femininity to the men of the house, but otherwise are expected to act kinda like women, on steroids.

So ... Hillary. Hillary Hillary Hillary.

Hillary. Not a compromise. Not a lesser evil. A necessary next step.

*update*

oh. my. god. I wrote the above before Clinton pulled decisively ahead but then just read this.

Maybe it was the sight of a strong woman finally showing some emotion.

Or maybe it was the "guys" beating her up in a weekend debate.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, rocked in Iowa just days ago, scored an upset victory against Barack Obama in the state that salvaged her husband's first run for president 16 years ago.

It was female voters who breathed new life into her campaign.

Weekend polling indicated Clinton and Barack Obama were running about even among women, but the former first lady went on to best Obama among women by 13-percentage points. Women also voted in much larger numbers than men.

What changed during that brief period? Clinton — looking vulnerable and human.

She choked up Monday when asked how she mustered the energy to campaign each day — a startling display from a woman so tough she appears at times to be cloaked in armor.

Many skeptics viewed the unexpected show of emotion as more Clintonian calculation, especially since it came as she delivered a stinging rebuke of Obama.

"I just don't want to see us fall backward as a nation," she said, voice breaking.

oh. my. god. Do I have to look forward to eleven months of this shit? And it was written by a woman. "the sight of a strong woman finally showing some emotion?" "'the guys' beating her up in a weekend debate?" "in the state that salvaged her husband's first run for president 16 years ago?" (just couldn't avoid comparisons with her husband, could she?) Did it have to be only the point about "female voters who breathed new life into her campaign" that gets emphasized? "looking vulnerable and human?" Is she saying that Obama already looks vulnerable and human? Or simply that he doesn't need to to get votes? "choked up?" "startling display?" "voice breaking?" "a woman so tough she appears at times to be cloaked in armor?"

Give me a fucken break. I was right about liberals having to prove their "femininity," though. Sigh.

January 05, 2008

Why I'm Supporting Hillary (for now)

I've been hearing a lot from my Obama-supporting friends about how inspired they are by him and that's truly a wonderful thing. We've had eight years of horrible, divisive, cynical, mud-slinging, non-representational politics, and going into an election where people are feeling hopeful about our political future for the first time in forever--rather than merely going for the lesser of two evils--is life-changing.

I really mean that.

In addition, I hear the arguments against Hillary having caved and supported the war initially, and no, I don't believe that she genuinely supported the war. I do believe that she caved and went with political expediency at a time when the winds were blowing irresistably that way. I don't care that we'll never know how Obama would have voted on that one. Obama's stance on the war if he'd been in a position of power is immaterial.

Because the reason I support Hillary is exactly that she bowed to political expediency rather than follow her conscience and possibly--probably--lose her seat.

Because, and this is really key for me, I'm not naive enough to expect--nor oriented to even wish for--politicians to be idealists. Politicians--executives and their cabinets, as well as legislators alike--are not there to push a political agenda to the exclusion of all else. They are there to find a way to organize our nation and our society that enables all of us to live together, which means compromises all around.

Let me repeat that: the good government enables all of us to live together through compromise, and does not push one political agenda to the exclusion of all else.

Why is George Bush the worst president since Buchanan or Hoover ... or ever? It's not because he's a wing-nut. It's not because he's cynical or divorced from his constituents' reality. It's not because he won't listen to experts. It's because he pushes his political agenda to the exclusion of all else.

It's not just literally sitting down with the opposing party and hashing out a compromise that is political compromise. Listening to experts and tempering your policy according to empirical findings is, in fact, also political compromise. Recognizing that your policies are making you unpopular and risking your party's power for potentially a decade or more, and changing your policies accordingly is political compromise. Realizing that the leadership in your own cabinet is defying you because you might be wrong is political compromise. Bush has shown himself incapable of compromise with Democrats, within his own party, within his own support base, and even within his own cabinet.

Bush is the most idealistic president I've ever seen. He absolutely believes in using the American government to enrich corporations and empower evangelical churches politically. And he adheres to these ideals no matter what.

I've made the point before that Bush would make an excellent nonprofit Executive Director. Because special interests is where the bulldog, uncompromising idealists belong. To get one single agenda across, you need a person who will. not. deviate. These are the people who get petitions signed, turn canvasses to good account, lobby effectively, change laws, free the innocent, save whales, and stop our environment from being degraded. This kind of personality belongs at the head of an NGO, in front of an NPR interviewer, or holding a Nobel Prize. But this kind of personality doesn't belong even in a city supervisor's seat, much less in the White House.

The politician who governs effectively is the one who can see both what the prevailing tide of public opinion is, and what might be good for their constituency in spite of the prevailing tide of public opinion. The effective politician is a slimeball who doesn't subsume her own ego in her politics--forcing herself to follow an agenda to the exclusion of all else--but rather dispenses with her entitlement issues by taking an unethical perk here and there--a real estate deal, a stained dark blue dress--and manages to keep her personal issues out of political calculation as much as is humanly possible.

The effective politician has a strong and extensive network in all parties, has people who owe him massive favors, knows how to twist an arm or use political blackmail, know exactly which hot-button issue to sell out to get what he wants. And this politician, underneath all the wheeling and deal-making, has already picked his battles, and decided which issues are going to get his attention and which he'll be willing to let fall by the wayside. And he'll never, ever tell the public what those are.

That's the politician I want, because that's how politics works. I want the politician who clearly shares my general political stance, clearly believes in social justice and has generally the right notions about how to achieve it, but will sell her own grandmother to stay in office, and has dealt with her conscience ruthlessly and early on.

It's these politicians that enable the rest of us to stay on the right side of our own ethics.

I think Hillary is a social justice feminist entitled connected slimeball who once tried to be idealistic in the White House, was smacked down hard, and will never make that mistake again. I don't want to hang with her, and I don't admire her morals, but she has my vote.

December 15, 2007

No Campaign Comments!

I didn't think this needed to be said, but apparently it does:

Do not post comments on my blog that attack or promote political candidates!

No, I'm not a nonprofit. I can say what I want. I can endorse (or not) any candidate or legislative measure I want to.

But I won't encourage or abet any stupidity on my blog---and those woodenly-written, hysterical mini-rants about this or that candidate that are intended to look enough like blog posts to fool internet cretins (hint: they don't) are damned stupid.

Don't go there. Or you will be deleted, and probably also banned. And if you really piss me off, I might even sell out your email address in some vaguely unethical, but legal way. See comment rules here.

December 14, 2007

Halliburton Rape Petition

Hey all,

Moveon.org has a petition drive to get Congress to investigate the gang-rape of Jamie Lee Jones, a Halliburton employee working in Iraq, by her coworkers. Jones was held in a shipping container after the rape and refused medical treatment until US embassy workers came to rescue her. See the announcement below.

Jamie Leigh Jones was working in Iraq for a subsidiary of Halliburton when she was drugged and brutally gang-raped by several coworkers.

For the last two years, she's been asking the US government to hold the perpetrators accountable, but the men who raped her may never be brought to justice because Halliburton and other contractors in Iraq aren't subject to US or Iraqi laws.

I just signed a petition urging Congress to investigate the rape of Jamie Leigh Jones, hold those involved accountable, and bring US contractors under the jurisdiction of US law. Can you join me at the link below?

http://pol.moveon.org/contractors_accountable/?r_by=11800-5166246-_riSn_&rc=paste

October 13, 2007

In Other News: Race Activists Now Have Superpowers

I got into it with Angry Black Woman guest blogger Nora a couple of months ago in comments on a post she wrote where I accused her of avoiding the racist issues that exist between African and Asian Americans. I won't get into that whole thing right now, but I write this to offer a caveat: there might be some little bit of unresolved tension motivating me, and you might want to keep your salt shaker handy.

(I intend to write a series of long posts about the tension between Asians and blacks eventually, but it seemed at best graceless, not mention divisive, to post those during the Jena 6 controversy, especially when there has been near-silence from the Asian American community--and me--about it.)

*****

So today I read Nora's post from Friday in which she wonders if racism has suddenly surged:

Because it really does seem like there’s been a significant increase in blatant, obvious racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry these days. Is it just me? I’m not talking about the institutionalized stuff; that never seems to fade. But suddenly we’ve got nooses all over the place, racially-motivated rape/torture, and miscarriages of justice so incontestable that even the national media (eventually) comments on it.

Then she gives us a history lesson:

It’s been almost fifty years now since the start of the Civil Rights Movement. I count that time as the start of real, substantive US national dialogue about racial equality. For a brief few painful moments, the whole country talked about how to get along with each other: what not to say if you don’t want to piss people off, what not to do if you don’t want to get arrested or sued. During that time, blatant racism became societally frowned-upon. There was one immediate good result of this change: blatant racism diminished. There was also one very bad result: namely that a lot of people — not just white people — convinced themselves that racism had gone away.

That’s when things got weird. For one thing, the national dialogue all but stopped. With so many people declaring that racism was dead, it seemed strange to keep talking about it, so a lot of people went silent. For those who kept talking, a strange thing occurred: they became societally frowned-upon too. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had friends, particularly friends of other races, apologize to me for mentioning race. Not for making racist remarks — for mentioning race. I bet it’s happened to you, too. WTF? Somehow, somewhere along the way, talking about race has become conflated with promoting racism.

The illogic between these two statements is boggling. First she says that we're talking about racism, nationally, all the time these days, then she says that we're not allowed to talk about racism. Why all this?:

of course, reports of racism’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. And lately, I’ve felt it getting worse.

I have no empirical evidence to back up this feeling — just my instincts, that sense of “race-dar” that most PoC develop somewhere in adolescence. My Spidey Senses are tingling more than usual.

Oh, I see. It's not because racist incidents are all over the news right now, it's because Nora's POC "race-dar" is going off. Because her "Spidey Senses" are tingling---those senses that only blacks have in full, but Indians and Latinos in part, Arabs and Asians a little bit, and white people not at all---she "knows" that there's more racism goin' on right now.

With this level of historical understanding, with this level of racial discourse, coming from someone who is promoted to us as a thought leader, is it any wonder that the racial discourse Nora engages in goes nowhere?

*****

First of all: Nora's understanding of the history of racial struggle in the United States (as presented here) is laughably simplistic. Since the mid-nineteenth century--and even before--there have been successive waves of liberation ideology, followed by the enlightenment of a few whites, the uplift of a few blacks, and then a serious backlash.

Anyone who has ever read the Emancipation Amendments to the US Constitution (13th, 14th and 15th), could have no doubt that full citizenship rights for African Americans was on the national table as early as 1865. This period, between 1865-1870 (the passage of the three amendments) and 1877 (the Hayes administration's withdrawal of troops from the South), saw unprecendented freedom in both northern and southern states for blacks, with the election of the country's first black politicians, and even interracial marriages.

The US wasn't ready, and our current stereotypical understanding of what "racism" is---Jim Crow laws, KKK, lynchings, voter restrictions, etc.---arose during the backlash that followed in the next quarter century (until the turn of the century.) A campaign of racial terrorism against blacks--not just in the south but in northern states as well--put a lid on black liberation for nearly thirty years.

Not coincidentally, this period also saw the passing of racist laws excluding the immigration, and restricting the citizenship, ownership, and labor opportunities of Asians, particularly in the west. During the latter half of the century, Mexican Americans in western states were lynched at rate of 473 per 100,000 of the population; gender was no protection. And Native Americans were, in this period, also finally defeated in the Indian Wars, restricted to reservations, and saw their children stolen and placed in Indian Boarding Schools, thus largely destroying their traditional cultures.

Of course that eased up again and in the first decade of the 20th century, a group of African American intellectuals, among them W.E.B. DuBois, started the Niagara Movement, which culminated in the foundation of the NAACP in 1909. The following thirty years saw a slow, steady (with many setbacks) development of black institutions in both the south and the north, as the Great Migration of southern rural blacks to northern cities spurred the Harlem Renaissance of the 20's, creating a second, larger generation of black intellectuals who not only articulated the race problem, but set the terms for a debate that still rages along the same lines today.

The 1920s and 30s also saw Asian and Mexican Americans joining the labor movement and gaining for themselves a measure of respect and power through that association. Native Americans won American citizenship. This period also saw many POC leaders first making the connection among the struggles of their various "races." Although no broad-based POC coalitions happened as a result, in the labor movement meaningful alliances were formed, for example in California between Mexican and Filipino field workers.

It's tempting to dismiss this period as a dark one, since the picture for most African Americans, not to mention other races, was one of poverty, limitation, and the constant potential for racial targeting. But racial issues hit the national discourse periodically, and the slow, upward creep of national racial consciousness never ceased between the turn of the century and the Civil Rights Movement.

The Civil Rights Movement was a breaking point, a climax in a tension that had been rising pretty much steadily until WWII, and then had been rising much more quickly throughout the fifties. Naturally, as after Reconstruction, this period of rapid acquistion of civil rights was followed by a serious backlash. Only this backlash was different, and much less successful. For one thing, much of the Movement had radicalized, and focused its energy on building up black instituations within the black communities.

For another, a lot of white liberal energy, as well as white conservative energy, was drawn off of Civil Rights into the antiwar movement. And, just as in WWII when black soldiers gained respect for their entire community, during Vietnam, white and black soldiers serving together did a great deal to change working class attitudes toward the black community.

Also, black civil rights inspired Asian Americans, Chicanos, and Native Americans to form their own pan-ethnic, racial liberation movements. The seventies, far from a conservative backlash, saw the success of the antiwar movement, and the establishment of national Asian American, Latino, and American Indian institutions, which solidified that national understanding of these groups as racial blocs, creating the basis for political power bases. A number of institutional battles for entitlements began during this decade that were ultimately won here or in the eighties: fights for affirmative action in the granting of government contracts, hiring practices, college acceptance, busing, nutrition and health entitlements for children, etc.

The eighties was when idiots like Ronald Reagan declared racism over, but that doesn't mean that racial discourse fell off the table: far from it. National identity-based institutions continued fighting for--and winning--entitlements based on race and ethnicity. This was the decade of "identity politics" and the "culture wars," which revolved not merely around whether or not Congress gets to decide what art is, but whether or not our national culture--both high and low--included the "subcultures" of women, queers, people of color, and immigrants. White artists like to say that we lost the culture wars, but POC and women resoundingly won the culture wars, as evidenced by the periodic grumblings of white men that there are too many unworthy women and blacks (and black queer women!) on reading lists, in magazine articles, in our fiction, nonfiction, national discourse, etc. etc.

The nineties was when Generation X, the first generation raised since the Civil Rights Movement, came of age and seized control of the national dialogue. This is part of the reason why racial discourse was driven, to a certain extent, underground. White GenXers both did and didn't believe Reagan when he said racism was over. They wanted to believe, but knew better than to trust politicians and media. Also, all the institutional entitlements won in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, although constantly embattled, had been so bound up with class, rather than race, entitlements, that--as Nora points out--the Clinton Administration was able to make racial entitlements a question of socialism vs. democracy.

(By the way, today, Bushies have taken advantage of this to shame race activists. It's really hard to argue that blacks, for example, should get more entitlements, when poor whites are losing theirs, too. And yet racial institutions are so used to calling the white man the devil--and I'm talking about all the racial institutions--that they're really hard pressed to form pan-racial coalitions of impoverished and working class. This is particularly hard when conservative working class whites insist on believing that the entitlements they're losing are "socialist.")

The nineties, however, particularly the late nineties, saw a coming of age of GenX POC, who have leveraged new media and the culture/media discussion of the eighties to create a media-savvy, national voice for themselves and each of their groups. Much of the discussion of the nineties was around representation in the media. Anyone who says that discussion of race went entirely underground just. wasn't. paying. attention.

The early "aughts" or "00s" of the 21st Century gave us two things: another racist war, and Katrina. Katrina brought race back into the national consciousness, and also consolidated a new way of leveraging opinions, funds, and action: the internet. And let's not forget moveon.org's move from the internet into face to face activism during the 2006 election, which resulted in a Democratic win. We talked a lot without doing much about race in the nineties because we didn't know how to close the gap between virtual and real communities. But we've learned how to do that recently.

Which brings us to today, black bloggers like ABW and Nora, and the thousands of others who made Jena a household word of shame, and to my second point.

*****

Secondly: it's loooong been a question whether the rape and child molestation rates have really risen over the few decades that they've been collected, or whether recent acquisitions of civil rights for women and children have allowed these crimes to be reported at levels more closely approximating their actual occurrence. This same question dogs every societal malaise and malady that becomes a trend: scientists are currently wondering if we're really having an autism epidemic, or if we've become so sensitized to autism spectrum conditions that people who never would have been diagnosed before are now being diagnosed.

Did it ever occur to Nora to wonder if racist incidents are all over the news right now not because suddenly racism is happening everywhere (it boggles my mind that Nora seems to think that this shit hasn't been happening quietly everywhere all along), but because suddenly race is on the national agenda again for a variety of reasons?

But you have to know history to understand--or even to see--these reasons:


  1. The 21st century is seeing an unprecedented "wiring" of American POC to the internet, and an unprecendented ability to leverage new communications to organize.

  2. The POC rehearsal of the nineties, in which internet-savvy POC practiced outrage by quibbling endlessly with media race portrayals has resulted in broad-based, loose national coalitions of opinion-creating POCs who can activate quickly.

  3. The current antiwar movement, the mobilization of funds and volunteers for Katrina through a blog-led racial outrage machine, and the realization, through moveon.org's successful 2006 election campaign, that online mobilization actually works, has finally culminated in racial groups actually using the internet to mobilize

  4. It's time, historically, for race to come back to the table, as it always does, sooner or later.

Far from it being a bad thing that Nora's supersenses are tingling, it's a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful thing.

Black voices of our and the next (Gen Y? Echo Boomers? Millennials?) generations are being unleashed on questions of socio-economic equity, and not just on media portrayals. This is why everyone is suddenly so angry and suddenly news of racist incidents is hitting us from everywhere. We have a new generation of POC discovering that racism isn't over. And they're, understandably, pissed. But that's when things get better, Nora, not worse, when people who should get angry, do, and start organizing mass demonstrations.

This is good for everybody, and especially for racial bloggers like Nora, who will suddenly become information portals for mobilized POC, exhilarated by their last---and looking for their next---battle. This is good for the bloggers who are prepared to look at both class and race, to sacrifice their egos and cherished points of view for the sake of a vitally important developing dialogue. Maybe not so good for bloggers who aren't capable of difficult change.

It's up to the bloggers themselves to make sure that they keep their audience ... if they can.

September 24, 2007

Jena 6

This was aimed at A-list political bloggers, not anywun like li'l ol' me, but the point is well-taken. I haven't blogged about the Jena 6 because I've been extremely poopy on blogging lately and haven't blogged much about anything.

But that's a cheap excuse. So here are some links. If you haven't already, go inform yourself about a ridiculously racist case against some black teens that looks like it's in the midst of blowing up in da man's face.

May 07, 2007

Book Review Brouhaha

I know I'm cruisin' for a bruisin' when I say this, but I'm not sure losing traditional print book reviews is necessarily---well I won't say "a bad thing" because I don't think it's either a good thing OR a bad thing. I think it's a sign of the times. I mean, of course, that the print book as it is and has been is dying, and the literary establishment is ill, ill, ill-equipped to even recognize that fact, much less prepare itself to move on to the next thing.

"Literary Fiction," i.e. that which is regarded as the high form of the art, and appropriately rewarded with university study and small patches of prestigious prize monies, is the most overworked, trope-ridden, regressive, reificatin', self-diddly on the artistic block. I'm not sayin' that SF is any better--most of it isn't. There aren't many fresh breezes blowin' around the bookshelves is what I'm saying.

I'm not exempting my own work, by the way.

Where the fresh stuff is happening is TV. Yep, you heard me, tv. Film, which is short-form narrative--short stories--is going the way of Salinger product in the decline of the Saturday Evening Post. It's all about the long-form visual narrative now--all about the serial drama. Yes, like the novel in the 19th century, tv drama still carries a whiff of low/bad. But who cares? I defy any random six New York Times' notable novels from last year to compare in excitement, freshness, power, audacity and frank, hardy narrative chops to Heroes, Deadwood, Carnivale, the first two seasons of Battlestar Galactica or Six Feet Under, or, from what I hear, since I don't watch it, The Sopranos.

There's breeziness in anime, too, I'm told, especially the serials, and in manga. There's freshness still in the "graphic novel" revolution, although there I'm also not an expert. And, if Second Life is any indication, RPGs, which themselves are becoming more excitingly narrative, are melding with social networking in a way that bodes extremely well for a new form of interactive narrative art.

Yes, I'm still dreaming of STTNGesque holonovels.

So why are we nerds and geeks left all alone out here in the cold with the naked scion of narrative art? It's the cart/horse thing again: they're cutting the horse loose without investigating what will replace the cart. They're recognizing that people aren't reading book reviews but not looking at why or what the next thing should be. I don't think the answer is to start reviewing games and manga in mainstream print rags. But there COULD be some thought about proselytizing.

Ha, who am I fooling? It took the NYT what, only eighty years to come up with an intermittant column addressing spec fic? Print spec fic.

What I'm saying is, though, without having any answers, that you all intellectuals and readers can stop feeling so good about yourselves. The train is leaving the station and you're still waiting for a blacksmith to come along and reshoe your horse. Go. Ride. Be my guest. Riding is a beautiful sport. It's just not going to get you anywhere anymore, and before you know it, you'll find yourself riding cavalry into WWI against tanks and nerve gas.

The novel is no longer equipped to convey human life at the velocity, within the complexity, to which we've become accustomed. The prose, on-the-page narrative no longer mirrors our existence. God, I love novels. Novels were my first love. But what I loved about novels wasn't the novel itself, but what the novel could do. What it could do to me and with me and what it could do to the world and about the world. Between this moment of my adulthood and my novel-soaked childhood the novel has--between probably last year and this year the novel has--become obsolete.

And the discourse about whither the book, whither the novel just looks brown to me. Brown and crinkly, like a dead leaf.

So either we need to start talking about how to change the novel to help it keep up (html novels, anyone?) or we need to start talking about what we're going to put our narrative energy into instead of the novel.

Of course, I have no intention of stopping my writing. But for the past several years I've been writing with at least a partial understanding of the fact that I need to master the novel at some level so I can help push it forward into its next, less-text incarnation.

Who's with me?

April 25, 2007

Sex Offenders Barred From Church

This article about churches debating whether or not to let child molesters in made me really sad.

I don't know about Judaism or Islam, but I was raised Christian (I'm not now) and the message is clear, across denominations: love your neighbor as yourself, do not judge, turn the other cheek, welcome the sinner.

Part of the reason I'm not a Christian, aside from a lack of belief in God, is that I don't have the wherewithal to practice Christianity--any form of it. I'm not able to not judge--or even to attempt it. I don't want to attempt it.

But when it comes to what freed child molesters should have a right to, going to church, if they want to, is at the top of that rather short list. Keeping them from church would be like keeping them from therapy because the therapist has other patients who aren't comfortable with being under the same roof as a child molester. It's letting your fear get in the way of someone else's attempt at redemption. How is that Christian?

See, I don't believe that raping a child is worse than raping an adult. I don't believe that raping a child is worse than murdering a person. It's different, and needs to be handled differently. All are evil acts.

I also don't believe that any generalizations about the redeemability of child molesters can be true. Some must be Hannibal Lecter types. Maybe some are driven by shriveled souls. Some are probably on an evil power trip that they might be able to get past to some degree. Some are frightened children themselves. I don't know, I can't see into their souls. But that's the problem. No one can.

I don't believe that the child, or children, these people raped and abused will be helped in any way by their exclusion from honest worship. I don't believe that potential future victims will be protected by a denial of honest, open worship from a known child molester.

I agree with the person in the article who called this hysteria. I think it is. I think people are hysterical about child molesters for three reasons. The first is that it's a relatively new crime. Previously, it was either so taboo, so unthinkable--or else so mundane and not worth mentioning in a world in which parents literally owned their children--that it was never named and no one came forward. Abusing children has only been a crime for about 100 years or so. Being new, this crime feels freshly taboo, dirtier than the age-old crimes of murder and rape.

Secondly, in the US, we are almost pathologically sentimental about childhood and insist upon the innocence of children and the childlike state. Even Europe has no J.D. Salingers, and European hipsters never slid into the infantile mode that American hipsters still employ. And I don't think it's a coincidence that Lolita is the primary masterpiece of a European transplanted to the US and commenting on the corruption of American society. Japanese infantilism is so heavily sexualized it would make Americans ... well, hysterical. What other industrialized nation keeps abstract children so on a pedestal (or pedastal?) Or what industrializing nation, for that matter?

Thirdly, in the US we're hysterical about sex. We can't heeaaaaaandle the truth. We'll show blood spraying and serial killers on children's prime time, but we won't show people tongue-kissing. So having sex with children, even sexualizing children in any way, is an affront both to our absurd dream of the innocence of childhood, and to our desire to keep sex at a distance.

And this whole child-complex afflicts liberals equally with conservatives. Both are guilty of letting their little brats run around restaurants screaming. Both ostracize Mothers Who Spank. Both conveniently forget what little monsters children can be and call bullying "teasing". The only difference is that the one group insists on saving pre-child lumps of flesh from destruction, while the other insists on putting poor kids through the daily humiliation of asking for a free lunch--oh, no, wait, the first group put a stop to that. Whew!

I think I'm particularly sensitive to this issue because I just completed and sent out a story about a woman who crosses the line with a young teenaged boy. I wrote it because I was very disturbed by a long-term disagreement with an ex-friend of mine. She's an ex-friend in large part because of this disagreement.

It centered around a discussion we had when Mary Kay Letourneau was released from prison. LeTourneau is the teacher who had a sexual relationship with her 13 year old student, was caught, wouldn't stop, and got pregnant by him. She was eventually sent to jail for seven years when she wouldn't stop seeing him.

She was released and immediately married the former student, who was now 22 and taking care of their two daughters. I was discussing this with the ex-friend, who wasn't as shocked by the situation, and the marriage, as I was. After a lengthy discussion in which I pointed out that she'd have a problem if it was a male teacher and a 13-year-old girl, she burst out that she didn't mind women taking advantage of young boys because men had been abusing women for so long that she didn't mind a woman getting some back. I was so appalled I could barely speak to her.

I was further appalled when this same friend told me that she was dating a young man who was barely legal and more than a decade younger than she, and that she had struck him when drunk, just to see how he'd react.

After I ended our friendship, her attitude--and the personal history I suspected her of having that gave rise to it--really haunted me and I ended up writing a fantasy story about a world in which men had disappeared and only women and children of both sexes were left. The women start seducing the boys. My protagonist, modeled after my ex-friend, turns out to be far more predatory than she would have imagined.

I deliberately set up a scenario that made the child abuse ambiguous, but I only ended up rendering real-world child abuse ambiguous for myself. In a discussion with a gay friend I found that older-man/younger-boy relationships (remarkably along the lines of the Greek ideal) are an open secret in the gay community and many teenaged boys seek such relationships out and are grateful for the caring sexual awakening that they receive. I can easily imagine now that some teenaged girls might also seek out such relationships and benefit from them, even though the danger of abuse is so great.

My disgust of sexual abuse of young teens--set aside young children--has not lessened, but my sense of the complexity of this issue where older children are concerned has increased. It's also affected my view of all child sexual abuse: not that it isn't wrong and horrible, but that it is textured and nuanced--that all abusers, though all criminal, are not all the same. And that, yes, they're still human beings; and that, in fact, this crime, this sin, is an explicitly human one.

What I'm saying is that child raping is horrible, but so is child beating. So is woman beating. So is woman raping. So is man beating (yes, it is) and so is man raping. So is murder of anybody. And it depresses the fuck out of me to hear Christians saying, on their home turf, that every kind of sinner can worship, but not the child molester. If there's a better definition of a sinner in need of redemption, can someone please tell me what it is?

April 17, 2007

Oh God

... the shooter was Asian, and a foreign national. I really don't wanna see the fallout from this one.

****update*****

Even worse: He's a 1.5. Here we go ...

****update 2*****

"1.5" is between first and second generation. Among European Americans, there's the immigrant generation, and then "first generation" means the first generation to be born in the U.S. Among Asians and Latinos, it's counted differently. First generation is the immigrants. Second generation is the first generation born in the States.

So 1.5's are kids born abroad, but raised mostly or partly in the U.S. I.e., not foreigners, but not born in the U.S.A., either.

This guy is gonna get the "foreigner" treatment for sure, even though he's culturally American--at least to great extent.

****update 3*****

Rebecca at Hyphen magazine rounds up the Asian American freak-out.

April 15, 2007

Bill Cosby Breaks It Down

Apropos of the previous post on Kiri Davis' "A Girl Like Me," here's a snippet from a Bill Cosby hosted show from the 70's. Compare and contrast.

Why Don Imus' Comment Matters

If you want your heart broken, watch as 17-year-old filmmaker Kiri Davis renacts the Brown vs. Board of Education study from the Fifties in which black children were asked to pick between a white baby doll and a black baby doll. Back then, most picked the white doll. Now, guess which one most picked today?

And Don Imus is on the record, nationally, for calling black women role models "nappy-headed ho's."

Any questions?

April 11, 2007

Comments On Don Imus Debacle

  1. I take back what I've been saying about "at least blacks are no longer treated with as open contempt in the media as Asians are" blah blah. I guess it was said more in wishfulness than in truth.
  2. After an hour on Google News, I still haven't found a white commenter who thinks anything other than blacks are overreacting. They're all male. I haven't found any random white women commenting. Is every white male on the internet a privileged cracker? Is every white woman on the internet a fucking ostrich?
  3. Oh My God. Why did it take me half an hour on Google to find out about the "Jigaboo" comment? Why did that not merit attention?
  4. The white (male) commentary ranges from "You're all reverse racists this is free speech fuck you lynching Don Imus Free speech fuck you!" to (sadly, wryly) "Yeah, he shouldn'ta said it, but it's teh blacks overreacting that gives his comments meaning" (no shit. somebody actually made that argument.)
  5. Not a single white male in my search has been found to have the imagination to wonder what the Rutger's women's basketball team members feel about all this ... like maybe are they feeling hurt or insulted. It's all about Don Imus and what he does and doesn't deserve. Can it be that this all comes down to a lack of empathy? Talk about identity politics! Look who's identifying now!
  6. It took me all of five minutes to find commentary by "a black man" who thinks teh blacks are overreacting. I don't know which is worse: the possibility that the writer isn't really black, or the possibility that s/he is.
  7. I've found every possible breakdown of Imus' comments, saying that this element was offensive and the other wasn't. There was one that said that "ho" was offensive, but "nappy-headed" wasn't. There was one that said that "nappy-headed" was the offending remark. There was one that said that if the comment had been made about, say, that nappy-headed ho Foxy Brown, instead of those fine, upstanding Rutgers wimmin, then no one would have said anything because, let's be honest, she is a nappy-headed ho. There was one that said that the use of "Jigaboo", which the commenter apparently only knew from Do The Right Thing, made the whole radio exchange a grand allusion to Spike Lee, and not a racist insult at all. All of these comments tried to do away with the offensiveness of the whole by placing it "into context" as if there was any context in which two white men talking about a largely black women's basketball team's looks using the terms "nappy-headed ho's" and "Jigaboos vs. Wannabes" might not be offensive.
  8. Let me break it down for you again:
    • "nappy-headed": no, whites don't get to use it. It's insulting: it's too familiar, it's too racist. And no, you don't get to be arbiter of what teh blacks get to say to each other. Buleeve me, if you bothered to read anything that black people write, you'd already know there's a long-standing and lively discussion of this issue. Your input is not needed.
    • "ho's": no, you don't get to say this about any women, black, white, or ignored. "Ho" is short for "whore", which is insulting slang for "prostitute" and an insult commonly used to deride women, in the belief that a woman's chastity is still important. Once again, black rappers may well be using it. Doesn't mean Don Imus gets to. See above. Plus, who says black rappers get to use it with impunity?
    • "jigaboo": also not okay. No, it's not from Spike Lee. It's an old school racist term on par with the "n-word", only never used as much. There is no universe in which it is not offensive.
    • "context": here's the context, folks. The Rutgers women's basketball team was news because they had just lost a championship game. Imus and pal decided it was appropriate to discuss both the Rutgers players' and their opponents' looks, because they are womenz. They pronounced the Rutgers team "rough-looking" (i.e. not good looking) and backed it up by saying they had tatoos and were "nappy-headed ho's" and "jigaboos". Spot the "ism"! This is racist, sexist, and entirely off topic. There is no way you can tweak this context to make it okay.
  9. How long, sweet Jesus, must we sing this song?

(cross-posted at Other Magazine staff blog.)

April 07, 2007

Modern Day Indentured Servitude

Shailja brought up an issue when she commented on my post about redeploying injured servicemen and women:

Well, as we all know, military recruitment is at an all-time low. The army is beating the bushes for bodies to throw into the Gulf. There have been several articles exposing how army recruiters are signing up kids who don't meet physical and health requirements, telling them to lie about conditions that would disqualify them, encouraging them to throw away their meds.....

Once they've gone to all that trouble to capture them, you don't think they're gonna relinquish them to a few itty-bitty injuries, do you?

The closest analogy I can think of to military service is indentured, or bonded, labor. Which, as I'm hardly the first to point out, is actually modern-day slavery. Slaves don't get to quit when they get injured either.

This is one of those class issues that is impossibly complex. I remember back in 2003 or so I went to a gala for Youth Speaks. As is the custom, they had invited community folks at the last minute to fill up still-empty seats.

I was sitting with a friend during their program when one of the instructors talked about a client of the org, a kid who had just signed up in the army and was going to Iraq. The instructor asked for a hand for the kid and the applause was sparse and extremely unenthusiastic.

I looked around and the audience members who were refusing to clap were mostly white men, middle aged or so, and dressed and held like people of means. I.e.: middle, upper-middle, and upper class. It was really a toss-up whether or not they understood how much their liberal anti-war stance was in tension with the number of opportunities available to low-income teens to rise in the world--or merely to become self-sufficient.

I saw all this, but I also was uncomfortable making a public show of support for a kid who chose to go abroad and kill civilians. Later, during our event post-mortem, my friend, who is from a working class background, thought that I should be more supportive. On his side, he was only thinking about the individual kid and how the kid's best option--in the absence of any colleges beating down his door with full-ride scholarships--might well be the military.

I pointed out that all the upper-middle class protesting in the world wasn't going to do any good if the working class were willing to fight the wars. The "protest class" always gets ignored until they start taking the military class's dinner away. It's easy for someone from privilege, like me, to assign sacrifice to someone from no privilege. But the fact remains that, for this war to end, someone is going to have to sacrifice the advantages the military offers. And, as unfair as it is, that someone will never be me.

So the way the situation is worsening, and the way the Bush administration keeps making politically suicidal decisions about military personnel benefits and treatment, basically they've rendered this impossibly complex issue much less complex, or impossible. For those who have a chance to think about it, the military is no longer an attractive or beneficial option: a near certainty of being deployed to Iraq, a near-certainty of sustaining severe injury and/or severe mental health issues if deployed to Iraq, a very high incidence of rape and sexual harrassment for servicewomen, a near certainty of being redeployed beyond one's term of service, a strong possibility of being redeployed even if injured, a serious reduction of benefits and pay while in service and almost no benefits or healthcare for veterans ... seriously, what the hell does Bush think is going to attract people to sign up?

And now they're recruiting prisoners? That'll make the military more popular.

Of course, recruits and potential recruits are still the losers. Potential recruits are losing possibly their only "way out" of poverty into a skills-building job. And recruits ... well gods help 'em. Maybe after the next election we can do something about what's happening to the military. But for now, two more years of Hell awaits servicemen and women, and maybe a lifetime of Hell afterwards, for their traumatized selves, and for their families, who are at a radically increased risk of domestic abuse.

I'm not (entirely) ashamed to admit that in the past I've accepted the fact that the security we enjoy at home and abroad is owing to the power of our military. But we crossed the line into unacceptable territory years ago. When even our own soldiers are getting no real benefits from being proxy bullies and thugs, even conservative hawks have to admit it's time to dial down the war machine a little bit.

March 01, 2007

Black History Month Over

Black History Month ended five minutes ago by my clock and I didn't do what I said I was gonna do. So much for "it's our Black History Month, too!"

I have lots of excuses: exhaustion, being in the middle of a life-transition (no, not menopause, asshats), fighting off viruseses. But during May, API Heritage Month, I'd go out sick and blog something at least every other day, something cranky, no doubt. Bottom line: it's not our Black History Month. Not yet. All rhetoric aside, I still clearly think that it's their Black History Month, not mine, and not my responsibility.

And therein lies the conundrum.

I hinted at it here, when I posted that:

east asians are famous for being afraid of black people, but i steel myself when i see a black man headed my way because that purposeful walk means only one thing: he’s gonna get up into my shit for being asian. 99% of the time, i’m right, too. not all, not most, not even that many black men. just the ones who actually walk towards me that way.

do you know how long it’s been since i’ve taken shit from anyone but a black man for being asian? and yet, every single one of those black men who give me shit are wearing the aura of homelessness or some similar economic desperation on them, and they give me shit while i’m on my way to my fancy nonprofit, bleeding-heart job, or on my way to my mfa creative writing class, stinking of perfumed soap.

in response to Angry Black Woman's question about whether or not blacks can be "racist".

The tension between Asians and Blacks--and indeed between Blacks and all other minorities--exists, is constant, and just never gets talked about.

So how amazing is it that an extremely editorially ill-considered, blatantly racist "column" in an ethnic mag actually gets people talking about this very hidden tension? I'm talking (again) about the Kenneth Eng piece in AsianWeek, which I first saw in Hyphen's blog.

Go back to the article and read down into the comments. There's a lotta stupidity going on there, but it's also the most amazing discussion I've ever seen in Hyphen's comments. Almost every comment so far has said something new. The level of articulateness in these comments is well above par. Why does it take racist assholes to get people talking like this?

Some of the obvious things to say:


  1. Blacks are lowest on the racial totem pole, yet have the strongest racially-based social justice institutions; blacks have more cultural power to defy stereotyped images than all other ethnic minorities combined, yet are probably more judged and worked upon by those stereotypes in real life than all other minorities. This is complicated and difficult to comprehend, and no one who is angry about their lack of privilege will try to understand it.

  2. Fear of blacks nowadays is both the traditional fear of the rampaging negro savage, and the more postmodern fear of the incomprehensibly angry black tongue-lashing. The latter fear has become "racist" because it is so bound up with the former fear, but it is not, in itself, racist. It is the result of racism, where someone holds racist ideas and cannot free herself of them, and is therefore afraid to speak because every time she does, she is taken to task for her racist ideas. I want to separate these two fears because the latter fear is, in part, a fear of giving offense, and it is exactly that fear of giving offense that prevents many people from venturing a racist idea and then being corrected.

  3. I do not know to whom Black History Month belongs. I do not know what to do about it.

  4. Asians and blacks. Oh my gods. I can't even begin to touch that subject until you've listened to Ishle Park's amazing piece "Sa I Gu" on this CD. That's my cop out. There are so many individual crossovers, and so many individual clashes. What there has almost never been, except during the Rodney King riots, or "Sa I Gu", is groups of Asians and Blacks beating on each other, or, actually, talking to each other. I can't say anything.

  5. Except this: the Chinese are very, very racist against blacks, yes, it's true. It's culture-wide, and it's very different from how whites do it. The justifications are different, even here in the States. There's an imbibing of white cultural valus, certainly, but there's also a special Chinese brand of racism all its own, where "ghost/demons" are generally white, but there's a black version as well. Where everyone who isn't Chinese is a monkey, and not in a good way.

  6. And this: Chinese Americans led some of the early Asian American Movement groups and they modeled their protest consciously on the Civil Rights Movement ... for reasons that are obvious now--because they did it--but were not obvious then, when Chinese were considered foreigners, and not somehow "native" lessers, like blacks. It was the consciously taken lessons of the Civil Rights Movement, taken by the Asian American Movement, that enables discussions of parallels and differences, compare and contrast, between As Ams and Af Ams today. We chose to make blacks our model of activism and not whites. As Ams chose to model our Movement after Civil Rights and not the equally accessible and equally powerful white anti-war movement. Everybody needs to stop and think about that.

And here's the Black History Month conundrum:

Blacks don't get the spotlight often, so I should stay out of theirs in February.

But that doesn't mean that I should ignore Black History Month. That would be just as bad.

But it's weird to play an explicitly supportive role, for a whole month. Isn't that weird? And patronizing?

And I have all of this unresolved anger against blacks which is genuine, if vague. And did I mention unresolved?

And I'm angry at this specific black pundit for a stupid comment about Asians and I don't know where to put it to get it out of the way for February.

Plus: Black History Month: not really my deal, is it?

Ohmygod, if I say anything at all during Black History Month everyone will be looking at me and judging me and what if I say/do the wrong thing? It's not like anyone else who's not black is doing anything to take the heat off of me.

Am I really just an insufferable goody-goody?

Plus, now the month is over.

Yes, I'm being partly silly but I'm also deadly serious. I have not given up on My Black History Month. I just don't think it'll happen in February.

November 16, 2006

National Stupid Book Award

Bummer. Gene Yang didn't win. Sigh. I guess that would've been too much to ask.

November 08, 2006

Victory Dance

Nyah, nyah, nyah-nyah, nyah!

So long, Suckah!

Congrats, Jane Kim!

And in election-unrelated news (and a little late): Gene Luen Yang is finalisted for a National Book Award for American Born Chinese!

November 06, 2006

Dirty Republican Robocalls

According to Alternet, Republicans are programming excessive robocalls to progressive voters in vulnerable voting districts to try to annoy them into not voting Democrat.

Robocalls are the computer-dialed calls you've been getting that sound like a bootycall from HAL. These dirty calls are made repeatedly to the same numbers and begin with text that sounds like the calls are being made by Democrats. Most callees hang up early on in the call and are therefore left with the impression that they are being harrassed by Democrats. It's only much later in the call that the robocaller identifies its source as the Republican party.

Spread the word! The only way to counteract this effect is to get the word out to Democratic voters who are being annoyed by dirty Republican tactics!

November 05, 2006

Vote! Vote! Gaaaah!

Senatemap115

by all that is holy and sacred in your lives, people, help turn out the vote! Look at this shit! We can take back both houses!

Take the day off work on Tuesday and go canvassing. Sign up to call voters on Monday night. Do something!

October 26, 2006

Get Out the Vote!

Every election year since I moved to San Francisco I've been feeling helpless. Californians always return our Democrats to the two houses so Congressional races are so ... boring, especially in a mid-term election where we don't get to waste our votes against a Shrub, and where we're forced to watch a (nother) movie star hijack the centrist agenda so he can get those coveted Sacramento parking spaces for his Hummers. But I digress.

I moved to California to be around the like-minded, but being isolated in a liberal oasis has meant that I can't affect the course of national politics a whit ... hasn't it? Well, as it turns out, I can.

Here comes the pitch: I've been volunteering for Moveon.org's current campaign, called Call for Change. The campaign is simple:

1. Moveon early identified 30 congressional races around the country where the Republican seats are vulnerable.
2. They put together phone lists of Democratic-leaning voters in those districts who seemed unlikely to turn out for a mid-term election (and they got these lists the hard way, through much research).
3. They're recruiting moveon.org members, who live in areas where the congressional races are not contested or vulnerable, and having them call these apathetic voters in contested districts and remind them to get out and vote.

The efficacy of a reminder call in turning out the vote is demonstrated. The closer to the election you call, the more likely the voter is to actually vote. If you call the day of the election, the voter is almost 100% likely to go vote.

So now it's up to those of us in "safe" districts to call those in contested districts and make sure they get their butts out the door on Nov. 7. You don't have to go anywhere to do it: you can do it from home! There are a lot of people to call, so if you can make even a single hour of calls between now and the election, you'll be affecting at least 10 voters, which, as we know from the previous two elections, can well be the deciding difference.

Click here to sign up to make calls from home.

I've been making calls 2-3 times a week and it's super easy because you're not selling anything or trying to convince them of anything. You're just putting a notion in their heads. The call takes about a minute (unless they want to talk) and there are actually very few angry or unpleasant people. So DO IT. Seriously, here's your chance to do something effective. Take it.

Now, the disclaimer: I do not represent moveon.org. Otherwise, you can impute any evil progressive agenda to me that you wish.

If you have any questions, or want to come to a phone bank with me, use comments or email me!

October 09, 2006

Why Are Interracial Relationships Important to Society?

Some people have been linking to this blog via an ask.com search on "Why are interracial relationships important to society?" So I'm going to address this question (again) directly.

Q: Why are interracial relationships important to society?

A: They're not.

Yeah, that's right. They're not important to society. Period. Know why? because interracial relationships are relationships, not government-sanctioned social tweaking, like affirmative action. Interracial relationships are romance, family. It's important to accept them, yes. It's important to society that you accept interracial relationships, because then your society will be less racist. But your society will be less racist if you accept interracial relationships not because interracial relationships perform that all-important deracifying function on society. Your society will be less racist if you accept interracial relationships because you are being less racist.

You have frequent opportunities throughout your day, week, year, and lifetime to be more racist or less racist, and to affect your society, to make your society more racist or less racist. People partnering interracially and entering your public space create opportunities for you to be more racist or less racist. But if no one partnered interracially, you'd still have opportunities to deal with race; you'd still be forced to deal with race.

People partnering interracially are not doing it for you, and they're not doing it for society. They're doing it because they're in love, or because they make each other hot, or because the sex is fantastic, or because every day is a delightful surprise, or because they have a fetish and this person is the perfect embodiment, or because they're feeling adventurous, or because they have something to prove, or because they want to piss of their parents, or because they're abroad and they're really, really homesick and this person is comforting, or because they learned the language and wanted to practice it on somebody and chose the wrong person to try to practice on who then lambasted them about how they were actually American too and didn't speak the language but their lips were so mobile as they said it and they did such a cute thing with their hair that one really couldn't help oneself, or, okay, maybe because they think they should or because it reflects their values. But they're not doing it for you, and they're not doing it for society, and turning their relationship, their sex, their dating and fucking and having brunch and arguing over the remote into an important societal function is just plain stupid.

People do what they do, the world changes, and you adjust. Or you don't adjust. Interracial relationships are a symptom of the world changing, not the cause. They are not important to society. Your response to them is important to society. They're not the problem, but you might be.

October 03, 2006

Things Goin' On In My Empty Head

Still fighting a cold (a cold! I haven't had one of those in years!) and my head is emptier than usual.

But yes, I am always this obsessed with television drama, especially when it's good. Why are we getting so many good television dramas these days? Could it be because our leaders are so shockingly horrible that we can't really watch what they're doing or we'll gouge out our own eyes? We've gotten used to torture and kidnapping and not habeusing corpuses and all sorts of anti-social-programs and anti-education hijinks ... but a pedophile heading up the anti-pedophile caucus in the Senate? Wow.

No wonder people are shooting up the Amish. The world is crazy.

September 21, 2006

Sara Gran and Black Writers * updated

A mini-brouhaha has been brouing (ha ha) over at writer Sara Gran's blog.

Gran, a Brooklyn native, wrote a piece for the NYT (now firewalled) about how Brooklyn's Park Slope has become a literary ground zero. The article, which name-checks Brooklyn literary writers (by "literary" I mean as opposed to genre), mentioned only two black writers. Gran was not criticized for this publically. She noticed the lack herself and posted about it on her blog, wondering why she knew of so few black midlist literary writers.

In the world of literary fiction, there seems to be a hole in the mid-list where black authors might be. I rarely read about new black authors on the lit blogs, in reviews, in all the places you hear about new books. I don't for a moment think this is intentional--I know it isn't. But that doesn't explain what's going on here. Of course, books reflect the larger world, and in our screwed-up world, black people on the whole are dramitcally more likely to be poor and therefore dramatically less likely to be literate and therefore less likely to write books than white people. Given the terrible circumstances, there's no way our world is producing black authors and white authors at the same rate.

After reading this paragraph, I immediately posted a link to her post to the Carl Brandon Society list serv, asking people to respond to her and some of them did. Independently, writer Tayari Jones posted about it on her blog, offering a number of excellent resources for anyone looking to diversify their reading list. She concluded by writing:

I don't mean to sound so testy. [she didn't sound testy to me] As everyone knows, I run a civil and welcoming blog. I do understand the larger point that African American and African diasporic writers do not get the attention, press, etc. as white writers. I agree. Of course I do. (I've even blogged about it.) But the information is so easily accessible, that it disturbs me when otherwise resourceful people suggest that they have no idea where to start.

Identifying the problem is a nice guesture. But raising the question is just the babiest of steps. Come on, Sarah. I'll meet you half way. Email me with your address. I'll send you my book. The rest is on you.

Gentleness itself, no? Yet Gran had this to say in response:

Tayari Jones has some harsh words for me on her blog for my previous post. Tayari has some good points, but one thing that disturbs me here is her implication that I don't read/like/know about black authors. I can see where she got that impression, but it isn't true. What I don't read/like/know about is contemporary literary fiction.

Exhibits A, B and C for the prosecution. What's on trial here is racial discourse between people of color and whites. And the prosecution's case is that there is no racial discourse between people of color and whites, and when someone tries to start it, the whole process is so riddled with deafness that it's like a pickup truck and a lemon tree trying to have a conversation.

Basically what happened here was that a white writer was bothered by what she perceived as her own race-based failing. She posted about it, laying out her feelings and ideas as honestly as she could. In the process, as was almost inevitable, she wrote something stupid and biased. Fair enough, but when she was called on these, she didn't listen with humility, but rather got defensive and shut down the discussion, although it may not seem that she shut it down at first glance. This could be instructive to anyone looking to start a similar discussion so here are the Sara Gran don'ts:

1) She exposed herself as lacking knowledge of black writers, but apparently did no research whatsoever to bone up. A half hour search on google ("black writer" or "black author" should suffice) would yield at least a tenner of names she could use to make herself sound more knowledgeable. Or an email to her Brooklyn writer friends would yield at least a handful of black acquaintances once removed who've published books (surely). Did this just not occur to her?

This is a problem because Gran is from exactly the demographic that is most likely to autoresearch an area of interest, yet she threw up her hands and claimed helplessness before she (apparently) even started. This is a common excuse whites use when claiming ignorance about racial matters. It's a way of simultaneously abdicating responsibility for informing themselves, and claiming the teacherly tenderness of the people of color they are "confessing" to; by acting like helpless children, they expect to be treated as such, and not subjected to the treatment they fear (accusations of racism foremost).

2) She ventured a speculation about why she was ignorant of black writers which followed a trail of logic leading from black disadvantage, to poverty, to "dramatically more" illiteracy, to dramatically fewer writers. Basically, she was ignorant of black midlist writers because there must not be any. She excused Af Ams from culpability by saying that this resulted from disadvantage, but the problem still lay in the black community and not in her. She ventured this speculation in all ignorance, not having first asked anyone who could be presumed to know why, not having looked up, for example, "invisibility of black writers" on google, not having gone to a library to find a book on racism and literary representation, or an anthology of contemporary black writing, which could be presumed to have an introductory essay on who the writers are and why you've never heard of them in the NYT.

Again, this is a problem of ignorance, only this time it's not an abdication of responsibility, it is instead, an exercise of entitlement. On this subject, about which I am ignorant, I possess all the necessary inherent information and smarts to venture a speculation. I don't actually need to go out and inform myself.

3) She asked for, but wasn't really expecting, a response from people of color. Why would she? She exists in a mostly white literary community (or else she would know of more than two black Brooklyn writers off the top of her head). Writers of color, if they exist at all, are clearly enclosed in some impenetrable cocoon of their own, a cocoon hulled with a magical sort of hi-tech substance that renders it simultaneously transparent and opaque. Her request for information/suggestions was genuine, but it was made to the community she was used to getting feedback from. I suspect she probably didn't articulate this to herself at the time.

4) She issued a challenge but was completely unprepared when respondants took her up on the literal terms of her challenge:

There must be more black authors out there doing good, important work, even if they're not Morrison. So why am I not hearing about them? Is this just me being an idiot--which I am completely willing to admit--or have other people noticed this too? If so, what's going on here and more importantly, what do we do about it?

A number of people said---gently---that yes, she was just "being an idiot", and suggested ways she could go about stopping being an idiot. She was clearly not "completely willing to admit" that she was being an idiot when black writers from Brooklyn---surely the best people to judge her idiocy in this matter---told her so. This is another white tactic when addressing racism (after admitting ignorance and entitling yourself to ignorant speculation): trying to inoculate yourself against accusations of stupidity by accusing yourself of stupidity first. It never works, by the way, only the most diplomatic people of color can manage to let that one get by with no more than a meaningful look.

Note that Tayari Jones didn't ever namecall, she agreed with the "just being an idiot" option by implication only, and spent most of her post offering solid, practical advice, i.e answering Gran's other challenge of "what should we do about it?" Yet Gran called her post "harsh" (it simply was not, by any measure) and misread the implication to "I don't read/like/know about black authors". Gran herself admitted that she didn't read or know enough black authors, and Jones made no suggestion whatsoever that Gran didn't like black authors.

Basically, what happened here was that Gran thought herself exempt from any accusations of racism or racial bias because she started the discussion, she set the terms for the discussion, she admitted that she "might be" stupid/ignorant, and she displayed her liberal cred by excusing blacks from any culpability in their own invisibility by noting their disadvantage. Yet, it turned out, she wasn't exempt. And that pissed her off.

5) She ignored Tayari Jones' sincere acknowledgement that she started the discussion. Let me just add my acknowledgement here: Gran herself started the discussion out of a vague sense of dissatisfaction with the situation. She deserves a lot of credit for that. Race discussions are hard to start because often those who start them come from a place of ignorance and their respondants then call them on their ignorance. As Gran herself wrote:

I think sometimes white people don't want to talk about race, becasue the whole situation is so screwy we're scared of saying the wrong thing. But talking is better than not-talking, even if we do say something dumb. These problems--if that's what they are--have no hope of being fixed until we do.

It takes brass to start the discussion in the first place, but it takes more brass to continue it, and Gran hasn't really shown that brass yet. She's defended herself against perceived attacks, but she hasn't said to Jones, much less her other critics in the comments: thanks for the suggestions. I will do as you suggest. In fact, at the end of her second post, she called for suggestions, as if no one had yet made any.

6) She concluded by trying to share out the responsibility equally.

This is an issue I've tried to generate discussion on before on this blog, and never gotten the slightest bit of interest (until now!). But I still think it needs to be talked about. Mainstream publishers need to try harder. African American publishers need to make an effort to reach out to the bloggers. Blogs need to make more of an effort to seek out black authors. White authors and black authors need to try harder to connect with each other.

Uh uh, Sweetheart, you don't get to load black authors and publishers up with homework just because you realized how invisible they are. This is yet another common white tactic when discussing race: equality means that everything I have to do, they have to do, too. There's no humility in this, and, once again, a lot of ignorance. Straight up: she has no idea how much any given black writer or publisher has done, does, and will do to reach out to the white mainstream.

The deeper implication here is that because I didn't know about this black literary subculture, they must equally not know about my white literary mainstream, therefore they have as much work to do as I do. Nope. This is yet more ignorance on Gran's part. Even the most militantly self-determinist African American activists are always in some way trying to "build bridges" because their economic survival in a white-dominated world depends upon it. Black publishers and authors may not put as much energy into publicizing to white readers and bloggers, but it's not because they don't know they're there, and it's not because they wouldn't like the acknowledgement or economic support. It's because (and pay attention because this part's important) they've tried and the white literary mainstream just doesn't give a shit. They don't have to give a shit. Most white people in this society don't depend---socially, economically, culturally---on the acknowledgement of black people.

And there, in a nutshell, is the answer to Gran's question. It isn't complex. It isn't complicated. It isn't difficult. Black authors are invisible because the white mainstream doesn't care. So that puts the responsibility for increasing black literary visibility squarely in Gran's white camp. She has no right to start assigning responsibility outside of her own community.

*****

Okay, now that I've shat all over Gran's sincere, if flawed, attempt at raising discussion, what do I think she should do?

Very simple. Take a couple of days, like she is doing, to calm down, and then go back and read all the comments and Jones' post again, twice. Then thank all the nice people who made suggestions and tell them, truthfully, that she has gotten a couple of those books out of the library and added those websites to her links roll (or added a links page to her website). Then say that she is thinking about what everyone said and can some more people get in on this discussion and talk about the specifics of why black authors are so invisible?

No defenses, no arguments, just open the discussion back up with some intelligent questions and a lot of respect. It really is very simple, even if it's very difficult.

*** update

Whoa. Stupid me, didn't even read through Tayari Jones' more recent blog posts before posting the above. Here's her response to Gran's second post, and here's an article she wrote about her book tours and the two Americas she's experienced, the white one, which didn't care about her book and wouldn't buy it, and the black one, which welcomed her like a favorite daughter.

So what’s a writer to do? Of course I want to be universal. When well-meaning white people ask me “Is your book for everyone?” I assure them that it is and I believe that I am telling the truth. But since black readers and white readers seldom come to the same event, a writer and her publicity team usually end up selecting one audience to go for. I was lucky this time. I had money enough to hire a fabulous free-lance publicist who exposed me to audiences that are outside the niche-scope envisioned by my publisher. And since my publisher decided to acknowledge the fact of my race for this book, I was able to use their resources to reach the audience that probably loves me best.

September 11, 2006

9/11/06

My friend C. woke me up around 6:30 or 7 that morning with a phone call.

"Oh my god!" she said. I've heard her upset before, but she prides herself on her crisis coping skills. I'd never heard her on the edge of hysteria like this.

"Oh my god, someone just flew a plane into the World Trade Center and it collapsed! They've also attacked the Pentagon and they're not sure about the White House! It's all over tv, but don't watch it! You shouldn't watch it!"

My first response to this was annoyance: "What are you talking about? Of course I'm going to watch it."

I didn't really believe her. I just thought, insofar as I could think before coffee, that she was responding to first reports, which are always inflated and, well, hysterical. I spent the rest of the day in my jammies on my couch, except when I got up to get food, and when I accosted my roommate in the hallway, myself by that time somewhat wild-eyed, with an injunction not to go to her office, which was across the street from the TransAm building in downtown San Francisco. (Most major cities were going through their moment of hubris, thinking they were important enough to be attacked by terrorists. SFans got over ours within 48 hours, although the city of SF and Homeland Security continue to be hysterical about the Bay Bridge.)

It was a strange day. My roommate had a tv in her own room so we sat, separate, watching the same show over and over again---the towers collapsing, the tiny plane disappearing into the side of the pentagon, the clouds of dust and ash shooting out sideways and through the canyons of New York. Just like I did with my roommate, so I did with my family and friends: we sat separated, each in our own individual or coupled units, watching the same show replicated on millions of small screens, repeated dozens of times over the course of the day.

It was a national sick day. So many of us, especially on the west coast, where the news reached us before we dressed for work, sat in our pajamas all day on the couch, eating comfort food and staving off that indoors-too-long headache. Staving off that feeling of unreality and monstrousness you get as a child when, through an emergency of the body, the order of the day is disturbed and you are thrown out of your routine. Somewhere, the world was continuing, having lunch, going to fifth period study hall, and you were home watching "Get Smart" reruns. Though you would never admit it to anyone, deep down, you hated such days. Such days in childhood were worse, in their way, than those long dark nights are now, those nights when you realize something about yourself and, no matter how many DVDs you slide into the player, you can't look away from that realization and there's nothing you can do but sit in a buzzingly empty room and study it, study yourself, your lacks. It was a headache day, and everyone spent it alone.

And no amount of hindsight can change the fact that we all knew, we all felt on the day, as we sat there watching the towers fall down, that something big had happened, something more horrifying than jet-fuel bombs, than people jumping out of 80th story windows, than flight attendants with throats cut by box cutters. The pundits will have it that we sold our rights out of fear of further terrorist attacks, but that's simply not true. We sat home all day, all year, suspecting that school was out forever. We sold our rights so that Mommy would come home, feel our foreheads, and tell us that we were going back to school tomorrow, no ifs, ands, or buts.

Why do you think the first chicken-soup tagline was "America, open for business?"

The problem is ... well, no, there's more than one problem. The first problem is that, once you've seen a horrifying truth, you can't unsee it. The second problem is that the truth we saw five years ago today was vast, complex, and vague. In fact, that's exactly what was so horrifying about it: that it wasn't a truth that can be contained in a few weighty sentences, but rather that it is the sort of truth that demands that you go out and find it and shape it. It's a horrible-monster-truth that is so big that you have to walk towards its multiple, fanged, snapping maws just to see to the edge of it. Another problem is that it's a truth too large to encompass that demands heroic action. But what heroic action? Against what? Who is the enemy? What is the transgression that must be righted? Do I need a sword? A pen? A ploughshare?

You can try to get big and general, but once you get big and general enough to encompass it, it loses all meaning. "America's arrogance" doesn't mean any more than "oil imperialism" or "the wages of capitalism". I suppose the only real thing to do is to break it down into its component tentacles and pick one to hack away at. Al Gore's film "An Inconvenient Truth" is really the first 9/11 emollient on offer. Because, to make the unreality go away, it has to be big, and it has to be real enough. Pick one: the Bush regime, neoconservatism, global warming, stop the addiction, religious racism, geographical ignorance, cultural ignorance, etc.

It would be nice if we, as a nation---just as we did on 9/11/01 when we all sat alone together and saw a big ugly truth---could as a nation all look up and realize that action and empowerment are the cures of inaction and disempowerment. It would be nice if we each picked a tentacle of 9/11 to hack away at, all the while seeing and recognizing the amorphous shape of the larger beast. I don't think it's going to happen, not enough to turn this around. It's impossible not to suspect that George W. Bush will be the American republic's Julius Caesar (without the intellect or the military prowess, natch.) Maybe that means that we have another century or so of open empire, under a dictatorship. But looking at China, looking at the EU ... I don't think that's going to happen, either. The problem with Julius Caesar comparisons is that you need the intellect and military prowess to have that kind of unquestionable power. We're a sad sloppy second, at best.

Maybe today is simply the anniversary of the death of our republic, a sadly misshapen creature, even in its youth and strength, and now something dying of terminal obsolescence. Republics are small things, and we are too big. Maybe that's the heart of the Big, Ugly Truth. I don't know, I still don't know. But I'm observing something today. And maybe it's just appropriate that I don't know what.

September 06, 2006

Harlangate Groping Meme

Inspired by the Harlangate brouhaha---and especially by commentary from many that we shouldn't let this incident sink back beneath the waves but rather be the inspiration for more action, more awareness---I've decided to start a new meme. This is primarily for women, but men are welcome to participate, of course.

Definition: by groping I mean a man physically touching a woman in sexual ways or in ways that demonstrate gender power. This almost always refers to a woman being groped by a man, because groping---especially as it relates to Harlangate---is about a man asserting sexual and gender dominance over a woman. However there will be times when groping is used as a weapon by a man against a man, by a woman against a woman and, arguably, by a woman against a man. Feel free to use the meme to discuss these.

(Note: the intention of this meme is to isolate groping from rape, molestation, and other sorts of sexual assault. I'm not trying to take the attention away from more serious assault but to draw attention to this "lesser" form and discuss why it is an issue and not something we just need to grow a sense of humor about.)

1. Who/When/Where/How was the first time you were groped? And how did you react?
2. Who/When/Where/How was the last time you were groped? And how did you react?
3. Talk about the most memorable time you were groped. Why is it the most memorable?
4. We often think of the perfect response after the event is already over and it's too late to make it. What is your perfect response to being groped, perhaps one you've never been able to produce on the spot? (This can also be the perfect response to a specific situation.)
5. How does groping make you feel? (Feel free to talk about how your feelings on the subject have changed over time, or about how you hope your feelings will change in the future.)
6. What are some of the consequences of groping, some of the things that happen around it, or because of it, that make your life shit as well?
7. What do you want to say to all gropers?

1. I'm sure I was groped in college while drunk, but the first time I remember was during my backpacking "grand tour" of Europe after graduation. I was in a bar in Cork, Ireland, with a group of girls from my youth hostel. I went up to the bar to buy a round and felt someone grab my ass. I whipped around and all the men behind me were looking at me, grinning. There was no way to tell who had done it. I demanded to know who it was, but no one would tell me, all innocent looks on their faces. Later, I went up to the bar again, and again felt a hand grabbing my ass. This time, I simply reached behind me and grabbed the nearest shirt before turning around. I hauled the guy up to my face, popping a few of his buttons in the process, and yelled at him. He claimed it wasn't him (and I think he was telling the truth) but wouldn't tell me who it was, although anyone standing behind me could have seen who it had been. I apologized to him for his shirt and he took advantage of my contrition to come over to our table and hit on one of my hostel friends.

The worst part about this at the time was that the girls I came with didn't care that I'd been groped and didn't even bother to commiserate with me. And one of them ended up making out with the guy I'd caught, even though he'd been complicit in it to the extent of refusing to give up the guy/s who had done it. This is going to be a theme.

2. I don't remember the last time, either, but one of the most recent incidents that sticks out in my memory was a few years ago when I was walking down a busy street in San Francisco's Mission district on a weekend with a group of friends, men and women. We were coming from one bar and going to a restaurant and were all a little tipsy. I felt a hand pinch my ass (I was walking next to two friends and behind a few others.) I looked around to see who had done it and couldn't tell who it had been so I let it go, although I saw a guy who had been behind me speed up and pass our group. A short while later I felt a pinch again and turned around and it was the same guy who had sped up and passed me before. Clearly, he'd thought he could do it again because I hadn't said anything the first time. I immediately began screaming obscenities at him, and so loudly that everyone for half a block looked at me. The guy really speeded up at that point and disappeared around a corner ahead of us and I never saw him again. My friends looked at me for an explanation, but when I gave it, no one said anything, sympathized, expressed outrage, or anything much really. Like I said, a theme.

3. The most memorable time was walking down my street at night (early evening, but it was dark and the street was fairly deserted.) I noticed a guy following me so I stopped, turned around, and glared at him. This works with creepoids who get off on scaring you, or scarier types who are actually looking to follow you home or into a more deserted spot where they can do something. But unfortunately, this guy was a harrasser, not a scary creepoid, so being caught at it didn't put him off. He slowed down as he came up to me and started murmuring what I can only imagine were supposed to be sweet nothings in Spanish (I was all the while glaring at him), came directly at me, licked his thumb and forefinger, reached around me, and pinched my ass. I was so outraged I chased him down the rest of the block kicking wildly at his ass (I missed every time). He laughed the whole way. This was memorable because of the sheer disgustingness of his licking his fingers and then touching me.

4. My purse is always heavy, since I carry so many things in it, plus (usually) two books. I wish every time that I had reacted by swinging my purse into their faces (at their eyes, or breaking their noses) or into their balls, hard. One time, during the aforementioned backpacking tour, I was in Venice with a guy from my youth hostel who spoke some Italian. We went out and got into a conversation with some local guys, one of whom pointed at me and said something to which my companion replied somewhat heatedly. I asked him what the guy had said and he told me the guy had called me a whore. I turned to the grinning asshole, without thinking, and kneed him in the balls. Damn, I wish I had that presence of mind (or maybe lack of presence of mind) every time.

Another one I wish I could remember is to comment on their bodies (since groping is so overshadowed in my life by commenting. I can count the gropes on two hands, but the comments on my body are weekly, sometimes daily.) I wish I could remember to turn that around on them.

5. I love that saying that you're not paranoid if the whole world is really out to get you. I don't think the whole world is out to get me, but the sight of my confidence and independence (not to mention my race/s and my height) as I walk down the street is too much for many, many men. Too many men. Much of the world and I are in a contest, though not an equal one. The contest makes my body a battleground, somehow, but not their bodies. They push, and push and push against my body: daily, even hourly, with looks and body language; weekly, even daily, with out-loud comments; and every so often, they push physically. I feel like there's some way I can win, but I can't. If I notice them, they win. If I get angry, they win. If I laugh, they win. If I ignore them and let them say/do what they want, they win.

It doesn't matter what happens to them, how shitty their lives are, they can still take it to the streets and take it out on me by attacking my body. It doesn't matter how low they are, they can make me lower than them by turning me into their meat. And I can't turn it back around on them. The power just won't flow that way. Men can be private in public, as long as they're minding their own business, or staying in their part of town, just obeying the rules. Men can have their private thoughts and not be constantly bracing for the next, inevitable onslaught. But no woman can. I can't, not ever, relax in public or let down my guard. And it doesn't matter if my guard is up or not, I can't stop the next attack. I prefer to hit back, to make it a battle, to teach at least one snivelling little puke that it's not worth his while, so I do feel some empowerment. But I don't have the power to just. make it. stop.

6. Groping, in my case, has also sometimes led to a lack of trust between me and some of my (former) friends. I don't know why people think that a strong woman who can take care of her own shit doesn't need support. Just because I handled it doesn't mean that you can sigh with relief and ignore what I just went through. I'm not merely a target when I'm by myself, but I'm a target when I'm with other women, and even with men as well. And the whole point of targetting women with groping at all, much less when they're in a group, is to isolate them, to pick them out and say, "You're meat, and everybody here knows it." This is why the reactions of the people around you are so important. When I'm alone and dealing individually with some asshole, it's much, much easier than dealing with it when I'm in a group. Because being groped in front of friends is humiliating. And then to watch your friends act like nothing has happened, like you're an embarrassment to them, that's worse than everything else.

The worst, though, is when some guy you're with (and it's always a guy), who was silent and still the whole time you were being attacked, steps up to you after it's all over and takes you to task for how you handled it. Usually this is couched in language of concern: you shouldn't do that, what if the guy had turned around and hit you? what you did was just plain dangerous. But it's really because the whole thing made him feel less of a man and the only way to get his mojo back is to grind you down further. It could be how he felt watching you embarrassing some strange guy in public; that was too much power so he has to take you down a few. It could be that he felt that he should have done something to protect you and the fact that you clearly didn't need his protection, which he was too cowardly to offer anyway, requires him to stomp on you. Or it could simply be watching you taking care of your own shit, which is too much for cowards like him. It's not enough that you got no support, that you were humiliated in front of your companions, but now they're kicking you when you're down.

This is one of the worst consequences of sexual assaults: it creates distrust between the victim and her support network. This is why you're supposed to stand up for your friends. Not just to help them, but so that attacks on them don't become double attacks.

7. I'd like to tell all gropers that their pussiness is showing. Real men don't need to attack women just to feel like men. What I don't think gropers realize, in the flush of their triumph, is that not only does the woman they just attacked know how pathetic they really are, but everyone who saw the attack knows it too. Everyone knows. Even the men who laugh along with know it.

July 19, 2006

Brad Pitt and Envy

Via Gwenda Bond, this hatred-barely-covered-by-moth-eaten-snark commentary on Brad Pitt's new mission-oriented celebrity.

The writer, Hank Stuever, quotes Brad and Brad-loving celebmediates in their claim that neoBrad is a result of fatherhood. He then points out that most fathers (he neglects to say: middle and upper middle class fathers) respond to fatherhood by moving to the suburbs, buying gas-guzzling SUVs, and taking their jobs seriously.

But Brad wants more from us and for us. It turns out the future lies in this constant upscaling of the volunteer heart. Your child must now do charity work to get a diploma, your co-workers are training for another bike-a-thon, and your movie stars are forever looking for a cure -- not a cure for them, a cure for you.

To this, Stuever pleads poverty. Not relative poverty, but the actual variety. He doesn't reflect that the middle/upper-middle class sense of "responsibility" that drives otherwise perfectly serviceable men out to the suburbs in Hummers (which houses, cars and private schools then necessitate a six figure salary) isn't responsibility at all but a need to maintain the status symbols of class.

There are good schools inside cities. There's safe-driving to be had in a ten-year-old station wagon. You can raise kids on a decent, but not spectacular salary. But you can't keep up with the Joneses that way. I'm not complaining about the choices these men make. My parents made the same choices, and I might well do so too, if I ever have kids. I don't know if I'm rebellious enough to thoroughly repudiate all class associations.

But I'm thoroughly disgusted by Stuever's implicit claim that men of his class can't do otherwise because they're not rich and famous like Brad Pitt. He pooh-poohs the "upscaling of the volunteer heart" as if volunteerism were an upper class privilege. He even references 20th Century America's most reactionary idiot, as if her very name could put the kibosh on all of Pitt's pretensions:

That reliable anti-volunteer, Ayn Rand, would grab a barf bucket (not for you, for her). That sort of cynicism is so passe; you have not seen the light.

But the very idea of "charity work" as noblesse oblige passed (like bad seafood) out of the cultural understanding of pretty much everyone in the world except middle/upper-middle class Americans at the beginning of the 20th century. "Service", "giving back" and "volunteering" is something that we have absolutely no idea how many Americans of all classes participate in, because the narrowness of our definitions precludes any real intelligence-gathering. But as someone who's done a great deal of low-level community fundraising in my life, I've found that the poorer the community, the more likely they are to "do what they can" for good causes.

When canvassing for environmental causes, I got smaller, but much more frequent donations from working class neighborhoods. When asking for outright in-kind donations for a variety of organizations (as opposed to "sponsorships", where the org gives value back), I had much better luck with small-business owners than with companies. And, as any adult volunteer coordinator knows, when looking for reliable volunteers for one-time duties, like a mailing or a special event, call on the folks in your community with the lowest incomes; they'll be the ones who are most likely to say "yes".

It's not willingness, nor a "volunteer culture" that's lacking among poorer Americans, but rather information about how to and when to and to whom to donate your money and time. Which is where the celebrity bleeding hearts come in. They draw attention to causes and to organizations that have the infrastructure sufficient to handle large volumes of small donations. Far from being ridiculous, the Brangelinas of the world are serving a vital role in the economy of global service organizations: a vital PR function that can't be done any other way.

Everything about this tactic, though, seems a calculated insult to middle/upper-middle white men. That they might ever care about celebrity opinion is an insult. That an appeal from an undereducated prettyboy would work on them more than their own NYT-readin', independent-thinkin', unsusceptible-liberal-considered-opinion-actin' selves is a much greater insult. And the idea that they need to be prompted to "do the right thing" is the greatest insult of all. What they do for "the community" will always, inevitably, spring out of their own intelligence and knowledge of the world, like Athena out of Zeus's skull. They don't need no stinkin' badgers.

It never occurs to Stuever that Pitt might not be aiming at him.

Thus, Stuever's article was nothing more than cheap excuse-making. Brad Pitt reminded him of how little he's actually doing to make the world a better place, but he's damned if he'll let a prettier, richer, more desirable, and gorgeouser-woman-fucking celebrity tell him what to do. Stuever, who writes for the Washington Post, is too busy making money for his children to spend any time, or the remains of his tiny salary, on such silly things as rebuilding New Orleans or saving Darfur orphans. Fuck off, Brad Pitt, you can't fool America's intelligent(sic)sia.

(Cross-posted at Other.)

July 04, 2006

Not in my name

The other side of Independence Day should be our independence from paying for, financially and morally, such wars as this.

I'm sure I'm not the only person who was reminded of this, not to mention this. Yes, Operation Desert Storm was the opening to a new Vietnam, in the same way that sending "advisors" to Vietnam led to sending troops years later.

My god, think about it: it's been fifteen years already.

This is not what our country, my country, should be doing. Would that fireworks could somehow remind us of that.

April 26, 2006

More Bullshit About Hapas

They just won't leave off, will they? Via Mixed Media Watch I got to this article from Psychology Today, annoyingly titled "Mixed Race, Pretty Face?" The article rehashes the experiment from last fall that "found" that hapas were (scientifically) more attractive than whites or Asians. However, this article gives a detail about the study that the articles I read last fall did not:

The experiment by Gillian Rhodes, a psychologist at the University of Western Australia, found that when Caucasian and Japanese volunteers looked at photos of Caucasian, Japanese and Eurasian faces, both groups rated the Eurasian faces as most attractive. These visages were created by first digitally blending a series of faces from each race into "composites" to create average, middle-of-the-road features typical of each race. Past studies show that "average" features are consistently rated as more attractive than exaggerated features—such as an unusually wide forehead or a small chin.

Okay, I'm just gonna give you guys a quick chance to consider the proposition above and see if you can find the 800-pound gorilla in the room. (Don't feel bad if you don't. Not even the perennially annoyed Mixed Media Watch gals caught this one.)

Yep, that's right, they based the study not on real photographs of real people, but on digitally "morphed" photos created to present "average, middle-of-the-road features typical of each race."

Why is this problematic? Let me count the ways:

1. There are no "typical" "Caucasian" features. Duh! "Caucasian" refers to everything from Icelandic, to Serbian, to Greek. In fact, if you showed photos of "typical" Greeks, southern Italians, or Portuguese, nowadays your respondant might be just as likely to peg them as "Arabs". Many Spaniards and Frenchpersons would be pegged as "Latino". And many Icelanders, Lapplanders and the like would be pegged as ... "hapa". What is considered "average" or "typical" "Caucasian" is basically Anglo and/or Nordic/Germanic, and/or Slavic. That is to say, what is "Caucasian" in America is entirely socially determined -- and not at all biologically determined -- by which Caucasians dominate the public image. Presumably, what is "Caucasian" in Australia is even more limited by Australia's immigration history. So the big question is, when choosing faces to morph, which "Caucasian" ethnicities did they choose? Hmmmm?

2. Given the above fact, by digitally creating faces, the experimenters were not merely smoothing out those annoying flaws reality provides, but actually creating a new, completely nonexistent race, called "Caucasian". Groundwork had already been done for them by magazines, which do not morph features, but do remove "blemishes" and control features. So the test subjects were prepared to "read" these faces as something approaching reality. They are not. They are nothing approaching reality.

3. This is just as problematic when you consider the morphed "typical" Japanese faces. Who decided what "typical" Japanese features are? Who chose which faces to morph? What race, upbringing, class, immigration status were they?

4. The "Eurasian" faces were morphed, too, from composite Japanese and Caucasian faces. Okay, first of all, my parents, both attractive, do not look like morphed photos. Guess what, neither do your parents. I, of course, just like you, am a certain combination of my parents' features (and attitudes). However, I, just like you, am not a perfect morph, a perfect 50/50 compromise, between the two. And I, just like you, do not look like a morphed photo. I'm assymetrical, I'm idiosyncratic.

Rhodes, the "scientist" who conducted the study, has found in previous studies that people find "average" faces more attractive than idiosyncratic faces (she attributes the preference for symmetry and average to the desire for health in a partner, and the aversion to idiosyncracies an aversion to potential disease.) This may all be true, however real "Eurasians" are not any more "average" or "symmetrical" than real "Caucasians" or real "Japanese". Saying a morph of a morph is considered more attractive than just the morph may well be true and provable ... but it says nothing about how attractive real Eurasians are.

In addition to these hard problems, the way the article was reported raises additional questions: Who were the test subjects? The article just says that they were "Caucasian and Japanese volunteers". What the fuck does that mean? Were they Australian Caucasians or Europeans or Americans? Were they Japanese Australians, Japanese immigrants to Australia, Japanese in Japan? Maybe even Japanese Americans? Was there any controlling for socialization in this study at all? Well? Was there? How old were they? What was their exposure to media? To Japanese media (which currently fetishizes hapas)? To Australian media? To American media? Who have they been dating? Who are they married to? Do they have mixed kids?

Obviously, the journalists reporting on this study have no interest in its scientific legitimacy (of which there can be little.) It's just another juicy episode of Halfbreeds-will-save-the-world. Frankly, I'm perfectly happy to be of average attractiveness. I don't need to be told that I'm more beautiful than everyone because I'm mixed. Being told on the one hand that I'm supposed to be more beautiful, and then being treated as an other, a foreigner, by everyone, every day on the other hand, really doesn't create the happy rainbow future. I prefer mixed race, not mixed messages.

(Cross-posted on Other Magazine's blog.)

April 20, 2006

Writers Beware!

Making Light (the personal blog of editors Patrick and Theresa Nielsen Hayden) continues its vendetta against fraudulent "literary agents" who charge their clients (agents take a percentage, not an up front fee) and do no work. After helping to publicize Writer Beware's Top 20 Worst Agents list, they (along with a bunch of others) received a cease and desist letter from one of the fraudulent agents. She also informed the Nielsen Haydens' employer (Tor publisher) that they had committed libel on a Tor website (Making Light is not a Tor website.)

So the Nielsen Haydens are encouraging everyone to help this agent hoist herself on her own googlejuice by linking to the Top 20 Worst Agents List.

Yay internet justice!

April 19, 2006

What is the Purpose of Criticism?

Charlie Anders (author of Choir Boy) addresses this question--responding to the flap about Michiko Kakutani in Slate--in her blog (unfortunately, she's doing the barebones blog thing so there's no permalink. Just go here and find "[2006/04/12 8:08 pm]")

I definitely lean towards the friendly/balanced school of criticism. Having read one or two reviews of Choir Boy that made me feel pretty demoralized, I don't really want to inflict that on any other writers. At the same time, I'm pretty clear that my mission as a book reviewer is just to let people know whether a book is worth buying and reading.

(A side note: I've always thought that there's no point in writing a negative review of an obscure or independent book. Most people won't even have heard of it, so screaming "don't buy this book you've never heard of!" seems kind of pointless and mean.)

Actually, the first question any book review should answer isn't, "will I like this book?" but rather, "why should I even care about this book? What's interesting about it?" ... And then you do have to address the "does it suck?" question. I have to admit, I go about this somewhat obliquely. Partly because I try to see the good in everything, and partly because I'm still a peon and don't want to overstep my authority. ... It's true that different people have different tastes, and you might love a book that I kind of hated.

I'm not going to state here that Charlie's wrong. I think different reviewers need to have different missions, and that, to keep the book-buying business alive and well, we need reviewers who quite simply tell a book-buying audience whether or not to buy a book. I also agree wholeheartedly that most reviewers need to be boosters for books -- giving people a reason to buy books, rather than a reason to spend that money on a movie instead.

However, I do think that all reviewers need to at least be aware of the "higher" purpose of serving and furthering an art form. (Let's pause here for you to cringe.)

It's easier now than it ever was to get a novel or a memoir published, and easier now than ever to get it read. Yes, despite the moaning and groaning, if you look at the numbers the right way, you'll see that more books are actually being bought than ever before. (Unfortunately, I'm too lazy right now to look up the stats and do the math. Will do some other time maybe.) What this means is not that we have more people working together to study, enhance and further the art form/s, but rather that we have more pressure on barely competent writers to produce, produce, produce. The stick is short deadlines for drafts. The carrot is three-book deals on the one hand, and warm reception on the other.

Literature is indeed walking forward; memoir and fiction have and continue to meld and affect one another. However, given the sheer amount of memoirish fiction and fictional memoir that has been produced in the past decade, it's shocking, appalling and lots of other prudish, literary -ings, that the last even minor literary "breakthrough" on this front was A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius six or seven years ago. Since then, there have been a lot of imitators, and even more people who neither imitated nor innovated, but simply took Heartbreaking Work's success as an excuse to walk backward to a satiate, safe, and unchallenging prose style telling stories that they know will be well received because they have been told so often before.

Readers--perfectly intelligent, literate and well-educated readers--will naturally, in an initial phase of learning to read books, be hostile to the things they read that are unexpected, unusual (to them) and challenging. Anyone who has taught literature or taught writing by having students read literature will be aware that hostility to the new and challenging is not just typical, but almost necessary. The key is to not let your students get away with it. They can hate a book, but they also have to read it through and analyze it intelligently. And I guarantee you that the book they hated, the book they so competently and passionately analyzed to pieces on their final exam, is the one that will stay with them, that will affect they way they think about life, and will inform their ideas about sophistication and competence in literature in the years to come.

But in the process of taking book production from a manufacturing industry to a service industry (like Wal-mart or McDonald's) the book industry has turned from offering art and forcing those who want art to take what they're offered, to mass-producing entertainment, and enticing people to buy it by packaging it as art. Both publishers and critics are now letting readers get away with their hostility towards the new and the challenging. They are encouraging readers to ensconce the idea of literary art in a fixed set of plots (self-discovery, familial healing), fixed settings (urban or suburban, middle or upper middle class, white, professional circles), and fixed prose style ("poetic", with an emphasis on descriptions based on lists and visual metaphors) and techniques (indistinguishable first or close-third person, with voice indistinguishable from author's voice; obsessively shaped sentence structure and rhythm, emphasis on the turned phrase; beauty of authorial voice takes precedence over the needs of the story, etc.)

With these points being the hallmarks of "good writing", anything that doesn't follow suit is necessarily considered "bad writing", and anything that touches on these points is necessarily considered "good writing", whether it actually is or not. (And I would contend that anything that touches on these now cliched points is almost guaranteed to not be good, because you have to be a genius to write well through cliches.) Readers don't have to question, just passively receive. Anything that challenges this order is thrown across the room (if you're me) or quietly dismissed with a "I just don't like to read that kind of thing."

You never have to leave the zone of books that tell you the same comforting things over and over again.

The only thing that can possibly counteract the walmartization of book production is competent, purposeful criticism. If that. Because if the reading public, the self-selected, self-described literary top-percentiles are accepting the description of good literature I've outlined above (and they are), then it is because the critics who truly shape opinion are either permitting this, or actively promoting it. I rather think it's the former: that critics permit this because they're stuck in a book-by-book critical mode, seeking to place the book in its own context, but not in the context of literature in the early 21st century, not in the context of literature against the background of its own traditions, or of the future annihilation it faces as new entertainment media become increasingly culturally sophisticated--become, in short, art forms.

As literature becomes increasingly personal, it becomes increasingly self-absorbed and cut off from the implication of interaction with society in general. New digital media can stand this transformation and continue to turn it on its head--I don't think printed literature can. As it grows more personal, literature ceases to challenge and produce new ideas. As it ceases to challenge and renew, so it dies. And for those of us who love words on a page, this is simply unacceptable.

I want to see critics who write every review in full knowledge of these trends, in full consciousness of the tradition both they and their subjects are writing in, in full awareness of their role in supporting an ancient art form. I want critics to use every book as a positive or negative example of how the art is being developed (or not) and where it is (or isn't) going. I want critics to give every book its due respect, by respectfully reaming those books with no ambition, no art, no challenge. I want even a book that passes that basic test (does it challenge, or seek to present something new, or seek to develop an aspect of the art form in an interesting way?) to be thoroughly analyzed for how it does it. I want reviews to teach me more about the art of writing than I already know myself (because how sad is it when a review is less knowledgeable about writing than I am?) I want to be able to read reviews of books to get an overview of the state of the art--no, in fact more than that: I want to read reviews for their own sake, because reading books, and thinking about books, and having my own perspective on books won't be enough for me. I want someone brilliant and supremely knowledgeable to enhance my enjoyment of books with a view that I could never have. I want reviews that are reading material in themselves, and not just conduits to reading material.

Is that too much to ask?

April 18, 2006

Happy Devastation!

Ruinsofsanfrancisco
This photograph, taken from a tethered balloon five weeks after the great earthquake of April 18, 1906, shows the devastation brought on the city of San Francisco by the quake and subsequent fire. The view is looking over Nob Hill toward business district, South of the Slot, and the distant Mission. The Fairmont Hotel, far left. dwarfs the Call Building. (photo courtesy of Harry Myers).

Today is a major anniversary, the 100th birthday of one of the most significant earthquakes of all time -- not in size, but in cultural, social, political, and overall historical impact. I'm talking, of course, about the topography and cartography-changing, history-making, illegal immigrant document-altering, scientific-breakthroughin', 1906 earthquake and fire. 100 years! Happy devastation!

If you're in the San Francisco Bay Area this week/weekend, you really have no excuse to not participate in the goings on around this landmark (or timemark?) If you're looking for things to do, I'll be posting a couple of things here over the next few days, or weeks, as things come up. And here's a listing of official and related events.

The one I like the most is the projection of a film of the earthquake and fire onto Coit Tower, which happened last night and will happen again tonight starting at 7 pm.

(cross-posted at atlas(t).)

April 11, 2006

Immigration Irritation

(Hey all. I posted this over on Other Magazine's staff blog in Mid-February. It's becoming more and more relevant so I wanted to repost it over here. With an addendum.)

Argh.

Bookslut's Blog pointed me toward a WBUR (NPR Boston affiliate) segment from yesterday where, in response to Bush's State of the Union call for stronger immigration enforcement, they talked with lit critic Steve Almond about "Literary Border Crossings". Almond, it seems, produced a list of books that "illuminate the immigrant experience". So far so good; that's an immediate mouse click for me.

But when I listened to the nine minute segment, I found that the books Almond discussed were:

1. an admittedly romanticized novel about Italian American immigrants in the 1950s;
2. a novel about early twentieth century Italian immigration by an Italian novelist (not Italian American);
3. Henry Roth's Call It Sleep; and
4. a fifteen-year-old book of essays by journalist Debbie Nathan about living on the US/Mexico border.

Added to this list by the host, but not mentioned or discussed by Almond in the main segment was the classic novel Chicano by Richard Vasquez.

Okay now, I'm really, really not looking for any sort of affirmative action on this list ... really I'm not. But if you're responding to Bush's new policies controlling immigration by trying to illuminate the immigrant experience, shouldn't you be seeking out narratives that illuminate the immigrant experience today? Our contemporary understanding of The Immigrant Experience was largely formed by the late nineteenth, early twentieth century models of central and southern European immigrant groups (especially Ashkenazi Jews and Italians.) But the political, economic and social circumstances that formed that immigrant experience no longer obtain.

Then, most European immigration was legal. Today, the largest immigrant groups are heavily undocumented. Then, immigration was primarily from Europe. Today, "immigrant" means Chicano/Latino first, then Asian and Eastern European and Middle Eastern -- and then everyone else. That is to say, today's immigrant comes from different cultural spheres and traditions than yesterday's immigrant. The traditional "immigrant" was ethnic European, a lower-class -- or alternate ethnicity -- form of Indo-European language-speaking descendents of the Graeco-Roman ideosphere. Today's immigrant is ... not.

So what do we choose to illuminate a United States so choked by labor "equity" that it has to rely on undocumented labor to provide the profit margins that keep American companies from outsourcing? How do we represent the rabid control of middle-class non-white immigrants through restricted visas and Patriot Act provisions? And how do we portray racism in the technological age? Do we choose books by immigrants who have experienced this? Nope. Instead we have two books about a romantic Italian American past, one from and about a romantic Jewish American past, and one rapidly aging nonfiction about the US/Mexican border by a white woman -- an American insider, not an immigrant across that border. Mm hmm. And what have we illuminated? Well, simply, that America still isn't ready to let go of its romantic, three generation, hard-work-plus-assimilation-equals-a-rich-and-hearty-America vision and look hard at the enclosed containment loop that is undocumented, controlled, non-European immigration today. And when we are willing to let go and look, we want to be led by one of us, an insider, not hear the point of view of one of these ... aliens.

So, to remedy, I'm starting a new list: books (and I've added performance groups as well) by actual immigrants and second generation children of immigrants that illuminate the contemporary immigrant experience in a way that might actually illuminate, rather than reify, something. I'll start things off with a few suggestions. Please add to the list in the comments section. In no particular order:

COLLECTIONS
• Junot Diaz Drown
• Bharati Mukherjee Darkness
• Guillermo Gomez-Peña The New World Border : Prophecies, Poems, and Loqueras for the End of the Century

NOVELS
• Carlos Bulosan America Is In The Heart
• Ruth Ozeki My Year of Meats
• Paul Flores Along the Border Lies

COMICS
• Lalo Alcaraz Migra Mouse: Political Cartoons on Immigration
• Jaime Hernandez Locas
• Gilbert Hernandez Palomar
• Jaime Cortez Sexile

POETRY
• Elmaz Abinader In the Country of My Dreams
• Truong Tran Dust and Conscience
• Myung-Mi Kim Under Flag

PERFORMANCE
• Shailja Patel "Migritude"
• Pretty much anything by La Pocha Nostra

March 27, 2006

Competence = Liberal?

Yet another young neo-con is exposed for incompetence.

They're running through rabid 24-year-olds like it's goin' out of style. When is the Bush administration going to realize that no competent, intelligent young person will buy its bullshit? Or, at the very least, realize that if there's incompetence in the Bush administration, the liberals will find it out. Jesus! Do your due diligence already, people!

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