Thursday, November 13, 2008

The End (?)

Returning to the country from my conference in Austria, I was greeted with a wonderful surprise: Obama elected as president. We, as Americans, have reached a new milestone in our political history, the race barrier has been crossed. But what does this mean for racism in America? What seems to be the trend in the treatment of social problems in America is a Band-Aid effect. Something like the Civil Rights Movement or the Women's Liberation happen and then most Americans think that these problems are solved. For example, if you asked most Americans whether or not women received the same pay as men and they would say yes; however, this is still not true. I am afraid the same will happen with racism (well, it's happened already), the election of Obama will, for many people, signal the "end of racism" in America. Nothing could be further from the truth. First off, Obama is not an "African-American", he is multi-racial, but his multiplicitous identity is too nebulous for the American public; thus, he is shoved into a much more simplified category than he actually belongs to. So, the problem will become - at least I fear the problem will become - that people will view Obama as the final "proof" that racism is over, though this couldn't be further from the truth. And here are two reasons for this:

First off, let's look at an over-the-top example. I was browsing Mother Jones and came across this article. The last of a dying breed of KKK Koutures. The article is horrifying, but this picture is the most horrifying of all:

Honestly, I don't think I have to say anything else.

Second, Missouri has passed a law saying that English is the only language that could be spoken in governmental settings. What some people may not realize is that Missouri has a rather large Hispanic populations in certain areas. I grew up in Carthage, MO, which has a Butterball Factory, Dynamo, Leggett & Platt, and numerous other factories. Needless to say, there is a large number of Hispanic workers, many illegal. However, many who are legal only speak Spanish, or do not speak English well enough to understand it in a legal way. This is the modern Jim Crowe, these people are being disenfranchised, because if knoweldge is power, and to gain knowledge you need to understand the language, then you are denied power. How can a person vote if they can't read the ballot? How can a person help themselves if they can't understand anything around them? This is a deleberate racist move by White Missourians to oppress the people they view as overtaking the White majority. And this is not some wild speculation, I grew up around these people, they have told me this in person. In Carthage, soon there will be more native Spanish speakers in the grade schools than English speakers; how can the parents of these students make the right choices for their children if they can't participate in the process of education? The majority of students will be marginalized because only the native English speakers can vote for school board members, or participate in meetings.

Even with a non-White person elected as president, racism is still alive and well.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Towards an Egalitarian Pedagogy

Hey, I know it's been a long time, this semester has been absolutely killer, but here is a new post that I am trying to get put on the blog Enough.

In the beginning of December, I will have turned in all of my graduate school applications, starting down the path for the next big step in my life. As I work myself through these processes, I can’t help but examine the way class plays a role in the decision to go into graduate school and the programs in general.

Obviously, the decision to go to graduate school is presupposed by the decision to go to college for an undergraduate degree – which in and of itself is a statement of class. Indeed, in one way, graduate school can be a tad more egalitarian in the fact if you are qualified you can often find funding. However, most of these fellowships go to students who have had the resources to excel, and acceptance to top grad programs is usually influenced by going to a top-tier school for undergrad. Thus, the acceptance into grad school is driven by class: first you must be able to afford 4 years of undergrad, and then from 5-7 years of graduate (assuming you are getting your Ph.D). This cost goes beyond tuition; it must also be possible for you to subsist on a meager salary – thus excluding any single parents from low-income backgrounds. Even before you can be accepted into graduate school, you also must be able to afford the $50-$75 application fee for every school you apply to. It is a good idea to apply to many schools in order to find a program that is (A) a good fit and (B) will give you funding.

Moving beyond the economic disparities in the application to grad school, there is the problem that I, as a cultural studies scholar, face in what I study and how it is studied. In my work, I use Marxist, post-colonial, and queer theory quite a bit – movements whose work is supposed to “liberate the voice” of the oppressed. But does it? When you read someone like Gramsci, who suggested the idea of hegemony, and Spivak, who rallied against the silencing of the subaltern, you realize: These people are doing EXACTLY what they are writing against. A dialogue about oppressed people is created and carried out in a register from which they have been systematically excluded! So what purpose does this theory hold? Obviously I love theory – I am going to spend 5 to 7 more years of my life studying it and then after that as my profession – but if theory begins and ends only in the ivory tower of academia, then it is useless. In fact, if theory remains only within the collegiate setting, then it no longer serves as a site of resistance; rather it functions as a cog in the machine that oppresses people – academics serve as the necessary dissidents in society, but ones that never actually challenge anything.

Thus, those of us who carry on the torch of academic enlightenment are left with a challenge: How can we, who have made our lives through theory, help people who have made their lives through the concrete better? Books on how to make money sell like crazy, books on Marxism do not. Books on heterosexual relationships that enforce gender stereotypes are bestsellers, and if you asked a random person on the street who Judith Butler was, how many do you think would? What good does it go for those who are educated to say, “The machine of capitalism is oiled with the blood of the worker” and “gender does not exist” if the majority of the world does not share our views? Should we be content to rest on our own laurels and degrees when there are people who desperately need to hear what we are writing in a language they can understand? The answer is no. The first step towards social change is education; let’s start with that.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Fixing A Famine

I heard something on the radio that I haven't heard of in a while, I had kind of thought that things like this had gone away, but it seems I was wrong. What I heard on the radio was about a famine in Africa.

A famine of Bibles.

Yes, it seems groups are trying to get people to donate $40 to send Bibles to poor people in Africa, not food, not medicine, not clothing... bibles.

I find it hard to believe that someone would actually choose to donate money for this as opposed to actually helping out. Let's forget for a second that I'm an atheist, these people couldn't possibly come to a full understanding about religion because their basic needs are not being met.

From the atheist side of me, how can these people think that what poor people - not just in Africa but everywhere - need is religion! I mean, it's one thing to package aid with a religious message, but it's completely something else entirely to only give a book when more is needed. Christian charity indeed...

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The American Dream?

Hey folks, sorry about the lack of writing, the last month has been insanely busy with work and now school, though I am going to resolve to write at least three posts a week!

So, I made it through an entire summer working at Wal-Mart - and am still there, incidentally. What have I learned from this experience?

First off, it makes me want to rethink Jonathon Swift's Modest Proposal. OK, maybe not that extreme, but let's face it, this place is overrun with children. More over, people who don't control their children. I feel like an old person when I say this - and that I am joining in a cliché that dates back to the Ancient Greeks - but it just seems that people don't watch their children anymore. Now, this could have just been an idiosyncrasy of my parents, but if my brother and I screamed in a store, my parents would take us to the car until we were quiet. Now it seems as though people just aren't bothered that their child is making a huge fuss in a crowded place, making the experience horrible for everyone within ear shot. This is made doubly bad for people who work there. Alright, I'll concede that this first part was nothing more than bitching, but whatever. Now on to things substantial.

The biggest thing I realized is that there is nothing more alienating than working in a box store. I sort of got an inkling while I was at Target, but I think Target does a much better job at keeping employee morale up than Wal-Mart. The basic thing remains the same: my labor and what I produce are two completely seperate things, resulting in zero job satisfaction. In other words, what I do doesn't affect what I make. Even when I help a customer out, what do I get? I mean, I feel nice helping people, but more often than not, I barely get a thank you. Mostly, I get blamed for not having something that we used to have, and how stupid it is. You just feel helpless because the entire system is beureuacratic and you are nothing more than a pawn, whose purpose can be swapped out by almost anyone on the street. We are told to think of ourselves as "a family" and yet the feeling of your own replaceability hangs over your head, the feeling that knowing what you do is not dependent upon you but rather on a position.

Perhaps, though, I'm merely imposing my values on a job; perhaps for some people this is a fulfilling line of work and it makes them genuinely happy. In fact, I know I shouldn't say "perhaps" for many people it is. At the same time, I often feel when I talk to many of my coworkers that this is situation from which they see little means of escape. And that saddens me...

Thursday, August 7, 2008

How terrible...

It seems that athletes may be forced to breathe in smog at the Beijing Olympics!

This entire article discusses the repercussions of Beijing's poor air quality will have on... tourists. Not once does it even deal with the fact that millions of people have to deal with it every day. What's more, in order to accommodate athletes and spectators, China is shutting down factories and businesses. While I'm all for cutting back on pollution, this is of course a band-aid fix and while the article doesn't say (of course), I'm going to assume some workers aren't going to get paid while the factories are shut down. China has messed with the lives of so many citizens just to host the Olympics. Aren't these games supposed to bring the world together? The upside is that more people have (hopefully) taken notice of the human rights violations that go on there because of the Olympics. Let's just hope it doesn't go to waste...

Friday, August 1, 2008

Oh baby it's a wild web...

In the New York Times Magazine section there is an article about trolling in Internet subculture. At first I was afraid it would be some lame ass article showcasing what trolls were to people who maybe read the news online. Maybe. Which is what it appears to be on the first page, but after that, it goes into a very interesting discussion of ethics in the cybercultural age we are entering.

What these trolls are doing is trying to give themselves power, this is why they give out peoples' private information. This is intellectual capital, the ability to control information, to use it, and to manipulate it.

Obviously these people are trying to make themselves be intimidating on the Internet, because I doubt they are that intimidating face to face. Instead, they are able to become something to be feared because this power they have is entirely constructed through discourse and rhetoric and the control of information. The control they have been denied in the "real world" (if you can even call it that, I say that the cyber world is also the real world, and as this demonstrates has real consequences), but online they have power.

But, even by their own admission, their power only stems from the consent of those they abuse. These trolls have realized something that most people haven't, power dynamics function differently online then they do in the face-to-face, and you have to adapt to be able to survive. I've been the victim of trolls, and I got upset for a bit, but then got over it; so in the end, I won. If more people would realize that, then less people would get hurt. What they're doing is wrong and juvenile, but hey, that's the way of the world. The Internet's a scary place.