Tuesday, September 16, 2008

This is Your Nation on White Privilege

This is Your Nation on White Privilege
By Tim Wise

For those who still can't grasp the concept of white privilege, or who are looking for some easy-to-understand examples of it, perhaps this list will help.

White privilege is when you can get pregnant at seventeen like Bristol Palin and everyone is quick to insist that your life and that of your family is a personal matter, and that no one has a right to judge you or your parents, because "every family has challenges," even as black and
Latino families with similar "challenges" are regularly typified as irresponsible, pathological and arbiters of social decay.

White privilege is when you can call yourself a "fuckin' redneck," like Bristol Palin's boyfriend does, and talk about how if anyone messes with you, you'll "kick their fuckin' ass," and talk about how you like to "shoot shit" for fun, and still be viewed as a responsible, all-American
boy (and a great son-in-law to be) rather than a thug.

White privilege is when you can attend four different colleges in six years like Sarah Palin did (one of which you basically failed out of,then returned to after making up some coursework at a community college), and no one questions your intelligence or commitment to achievement,
whereas a person of color who did this would be viewed as unfit for college, and probably someone who only got in in the first place because of affirmative action.

White privilege is when you can claim that being mayor of a town smaller than most medium-sized colleges, and then Governor of a state with about the same number of people as the lower fifth of the island of Manhattan, makes you ready to potentially be president, and people don't all piss on themselves with laughter, while being a black U.S. Senator, two-term
state Senator, and constitutional law scholar, means you're "untested."

White privilege is being able to say that you support the words "under God" in the pledge of allegiance because "if it was good enough for the founding fathers, it's good enough for me," and not be immediately disqualified from holding office--since, after all, the pledge was written in the late 1800s and the "under God" part wasn't added until the 1950s--while believing that reading accused criminals and terrorists their rights (because, ya know, the Constitution, which you used to teach at a prestigious law school requires it), is a dangerous and silly idea
only supported by mushy liberals.

White privilege is being able to be a gun enthusiast and not make people immediately scared of you.

White privilege is being able to have a husband who was a member of an extremist political party that wants your state to secede from the Union, and whose motto is "Alaska first," and no one questions your patriotism or that of your family, while if you're black and your spouse merely fails to come to a 9/11 memorial so she can be home with her kids on the first day of school, people immediately think she's being disrespectful.

White privilege is being able to make fun of community organizers and the work they do--like, among other things, fight for the right of women to vote, or for civil rights, or the 8-hour workday, or an end to child labor--and people think you're being pithy and tough, but if you merely question the experience of a small town mayor and 18-month governor with no foreign policy expertise beyond a class she took in college and the fact that she lives close to Russia--you're somehow being mean, or even sexist.

White privilege is being able to convince white women who don't even agree with you on any substantive issue to vote for you and your running mate anyway, because suddenly your presence on the ticket has inspired confidence in these same white women, and made them give your party a "second look."

White privilege is being able to fire people who didn't support your political campaigns and not be accused of abusing your power or being a typical politician who engages in favoritism, while being black and merely knowing some folks from the old-line political machines in Chicago
means you must be corrupt.

White privilege is when you can take nearly twenty-four hours to get to a hospital after beginning to leak amniotic fluid, and still be viewed as a great mom whose commitment to her children is unquestionable, and whose "next door neighbor" qualities make her ready to be VP, while if you're a black candidate for president and you let your children be interviewed for a few seconds on TV, you're irresponsibly exploiting them.

White privilege is being able to give a 36 minute speech in which you talk about lipstick and make fun of your opponent, while laying out no substantive policy positions on any issue at all, and still manage to be considered a legitimate candidate, while a black person who gives an hour speech the week before, in which he lays out specific policy proposals on several issues, is still criticized for being too vague about what he would do if elected.

White privilege is being able to attend churches over the years whose pastors say that people who voted for John Kerry or merely criticize George W. Bush are going to hell, and that the U.S. is an explicitly Christian nation and the job of Christians is to bring Christian theological principles into government, and who bring in speakers who say the conflict in the Middle East is God's punishment on Jews for rejecting Jesus, and everyone can still think you're just a good church-going Christian, but if you're black and friends with a black pastor who has noted (as have Colin Powell and the U.S. Department of Defense) that terrorist attacks are often the result of U.S. foreign policy and who talks about the history of racism and its effect on black people, you're an extremist who probably hates America.

White privilege is not knowing what the Bush Doctrine is when asked by a reporter, and then people get angry at the reporter for asking you such a "trick question," while being black and merely refusing to give one-word answers to the queries of Bill O'Reilly means you're dodging the question, or trying to seem overly intellectual and nuanced.

White privilege is being able to go to a prestigious prep school, then to Yale and then Harvard Business school, and yet, still be seen as just an average guy (George W. Bush) while being black, going to a prestigious prep school, then Occidental College, then Columbia, and then to Harvard Law, makes you "uppity," and a snob who probably looks down on regular folks.

White privilege is being able to graduate near the bottom of your college class (McCain), or graduate with a C average from Yale (W.) and that's OK, and you're cut out to be president, but if you're black and you graduate near the top of your class from Harvard Law, you can't be
trusted to make good decisions in office.

White privilege is being able to dump your first wife after she's disfigured in a car crash so you can take up with a multi-millionaire beauty queen (who you go on to call the c-word in public) and still be thought of as a man of strong family values, while if you're black and married for nearly twenty years to the same woman, your family is viewed as un-American and your gestures of affection for each other are called "terrorist fist bumps."

White privilege is being able to sing a song about bombing Iran and still be viewed as a sober and rational statesman, with the maturity to be president, while being black and suggesting that the U.S. should speak with other nations, even when we have disagreements with them, makes you "dangerously naive and immature."

White privilege is being able to claim your experience as a POW has anything at all to do with your fitness for president, while being black and experiencing racism and an absent father is apparently among the "lesser adversities" faced by other politicians, as Sarah Palin explained
in her convention speech.

And finally, white privilege is the only thing that could possibly allow someone to become president when he has voted with George W. Bush 90 percent of the time, even as unemployment is skyrocketing, people are losing their homes, inflation is rising, and the U.S. is increasingly isolated from world opinion, just because white voters aren't sure about that whole "change" thing. Ya know, it's just too vague and ill-defined, unlike, say, four more years of the same, which is very concrete and certain.

White privilege is, in short, the problem.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Why Obama Has a Vision, While Palin Doesn't...Or Why I'm (sort of) a Community Organizer

By: Michael Lujan Bevacqua
No Rest for the Awake - Minagahet Chamorro
Thursday, Sept. 4 2008

I wasn't planning on writing much on my blog this week because I'm putting everything in boxes right now, preparing to head back to Guam in a few days. But, I feel like I have to after hearing the bewildering attack that Republican Vice Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin made on "community organizers" tonight. The attacks on the media and the Washington elite in her speech were expected. Pure hypocrisy, but completely anticipated.

President George H.W. Bush ranted and ran against the media in his re-election big in 1992, pleading with voters to "annoy the media" by voting for him. McCain's campaign in this cycle has regularly complained about the darling treatment that Senator Obama receives from the press. A shameless complaint since if there has been any politician in recent times who has received a bulk sale on "free passes" from the media its Senator John McCain. His gaffes, his inconsistencies, his absolute pandering and flip flopping, are all insignificant and meaningless details, overshadowed and blacked out, by his incredible biography, his heroism and bravery. I mean, even in the Democratic National Convention, speakers found (what seemed like) 72 different ways of honoring McCain's service. Even when McCain shows signs of over-invoking his POW status to deflect questions on everything from health care to his favorite songs, the media still seems to be enamored by the maverick POW visage of John McCain.

While for Democrats, Barack Obama seems to be testing the durability of his coalition, by softening his stances on certain issues and moving towards the center, thus potentially incurring the wrath of his anti-war and progressive base. John McCain seems on the verge of doing the same thing, pushing away ungratefully those who have long made up his most faithful base, the media. It was interesting to see the faces of journalists like Tom Brokaw tonight when reporting this new McCain strategy. His ashen face seemed to communicate, what his words did not, that there were obvious feelings of betrayal for being lumped in with the angry left-wing media.

Attacks on Barack Obama's lack of experience were also expected, but it was clear from the Palin pick, that the typical, John McCain fought alongside General George Washington - and therefore has more experience than any other living person, strategy wasn't going to work. Palin, despite all the excruciating twisting and resume padding that Republican surrogates and talking heads are doing, has the least possible amount of experience for the position she has been selected for. But, the experience issue couldn't be taken off the table, they needed to keep it there, but somehow make Palin's limited experience as a city councilwoman and a mayor of a small town, seem "realer" or more "authentic." The argument of "executive" experience vs. "legislative" experience could only go so far, since Palin has only had any executive experience that matters for about the same amount of time that Obama has been running for President. The easiest route would be, and they did take this route, to dismiss Obama's experience as "Washington experience," or in the vocabulary of the Republicans, the wrong type of experience, as if this country is great except for Washington which screws everything up. Don't ask me how they can make this argument without their heads exploding since Washington has been Republican occupied territory for quite a while now.

What came out of nowhere, and still makes so little sense to me, is to attack Obama and his "community organizer" experience. To not just attack it, but to demean it, to reduce it to something which has no impact on the world. To understand the demeaning part of it, just read this quote, "I guess a small-town mayor if sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities."

Since hearing her speech, I've really though hard about what would compel the McCain campaign to take this route, to attack and belittle people who do vital work in all communities and cannot be written off as people without "actual responsibilities." My first thought was that "community organizer" might be in the dictionary of conservative Republicans, a term for dirty liberal, hippie activist. Since Obama was one, and he always mentions it, and he is the most liberal member of the Senate, it must be a code word for crazy anarchist, or spotted owl lover. Perhaps then, they assumed, that since other "community organizers" are being arrested, being pepper sprayed and being assaulted outside of the Excel Center, and most of the media has decided to interpret these clashes as "people without messages, getting their kicks" that to attack that label would go completely unnoticed. Maybe then, it was like so much else at the RNC so far, not something meant for anyone outside of the Convention, but simply more red meat to throw to ravenous Republicans, looking for something to loathe and hate.

Or maybe, this was a response to the belittling of Palin's own resume. A reaction to the way the media has been treating her own experience as backwater, small-town, insignificant. A person with no foreign policy experience, except when it comes to negotiating with the moose. While Obama's Senatorial experience can be attacked as "Washington elitism" it can't be dismissed as small or meaningless, after all if being in the Senate is pointless or insignificant, John McCain may not be as pointless as Joe Biden, but his much much more pointless than Barack Obama. So the attack then had to come to Obama's own "small" experiences. The times before he was a national figure, the things that tie him to communities, real experiences of Americans.

And here is where the "strategy" to the McCain campaign's negativity comes into play. Palin's "small" experiences are supposed to tie her to the common American man and woman across the United States. Obama, has used, not so much now, but during the primaries in his constant introductions to state after state, his own community organizing stories as a way to show his small roots, his commitments to regular people, his ability and determination to effect change. By attacking, not the specificities of his experiences, but the label that he uses to connect himself to regular people and their concerns, they hope disrupt one of the key things in his biography that prevents him from being that fancy-pants liberal elitist, namely his work with poor/working class communities suffering from the loss of heavy industry jobs in Chicago.

This is the time in Obama's life where he was doing the things that Palin professes is what makes her unique amongst all four of the candidates, this work that's not tangled up with Washington red tape but deals with "actual responsibility," the real lives of Americans. If you take away the claim of a "community organizer" as being a real vital or important leader or responsible part of society, then you have accomplished a huge task in turning Obama into that arugula-run liberal gas bag that floats above real American issues and responsibilities, and has been cut off from any real ties to the American people and their problems. Notice, that this tactic is far easier than actually trying to propose any real policies or ideas.


Part of my frustration over this attack, is that it demeans the very very difficult work that community organizers, working on so many different issues are out there fighting for. Obviously, community organizers come from all different political positions and so they are not all "liberal." But my work in community organizing and my admiration for past and present organizers and organizations come from the progressive end of the spectrum.

I have been called a community organizer before, but it is not a label that I have really accepted as my own. I know that some of the work that I've done in terms of getting Chamorro organized around certain issues in Guam, but mostly in the United States would fall under a broad definition of a community organizer, but mainly because I don't feel that I've accomplished very much, I'm uncomfortable taking on this label.

One of the reasons for this is that, unlike the realm of politics which is dictated by successes, the world for organizers, especially those who take up "radical" causes, are fraught with far more failures, and often bump into so many different rules in communities and societies that limits your effectiveness or how much you can accomplish.

When organizing communities, you are often working with an injustice and a vision. A community which is being mistreated, is not getting their fair share, has been ignored or forgotten, and you reference this historical or contemporary mistreatment in order to activate them, to propel them forward into a progressive, more inclusive, more prosperous, more equal or simply, just a better vision of the future. In Barack Obama's campaign you can see this, and contrast it with the McCain campaign's approach. Obama and the Democrats lay out the atrocities and incompetence of the past eight years, as an injustice that has been forced upon the American people, and then provide a vision, which because of Obama's skin color and background, promises not just to be a better, more prosperous one, but also promises to be a historical one, which will possibly change the color of this nation forever. McCain's campaign is very different, far far less organized (pun is partially intended), there is not singular injustice that he is trying to use to organize people and push them forward, instead he's operating on a sort of twin fear technique, working to get people to vote for him as the antidote to America's internal and external enemies.

Palin's indirect claim that community organizers are outside of real American experience may be irritating, but its not exactly wrong, but that is what makes the work that they do so difficult. When John McCain presents himself and his party, he does not articulate himself as outside of anything. He is not point out any real problems or failings of America, his main purpose is to convince you that everything has been fantastic and can still be better. One pundit tonight spoken very accurately about the fact that last week Democrats ran through lists of all the things going wrong with the country right now, and so Republicans will counter that by this week putting up a facade of "I don't see anything seriously wrong with this country!" The result is the typical delusional sort of amnesia and blindness that both parties get drunk on, "We are America, America is great, I can lead America to even more greatness!"

The position of a community organizer is obsessed with not celebrating the status quo in order to appease and not offend the sensibilities of your base, but rather to perceive problems and offer solutions. This position sets them, by definition outside of the community, sometimes as a saint and savior, but more usually a troublemaker, someone rocking the boat, making a big deal out of nothing, or worst of all, someone with too much time on their hands. They may come from that community, but they are defined as being those with a different vision for that community, one which is usually resisted as being impossible, naive or taking too much work to get there. The community organizer, must then endure the pain of trying to fight for a particular community, but treated as someone with "different values" because of their refusal to accept the current social order of things, by members of that same community.

Communities are bound together by a number of things and are activated and compelled to change based on certain reactions. The most obvious thing that can both reinforce and change a community is crisis. We saw this after 911 in the United States, where a moment of violence in the United States opened up the space where America could either reinforce its exceptionalist/superior notions about itself, and it's floating high above the rest of the world, or it could change and join the world as an equal partner, a powerful partner, but ultimately an equal one. What we've seen since indicates that America, with a lot of help from its government chose the first option. A crisis is the moment of sovereignty, it is the easiest way to get people to change or help them stay the same. The feeling of having lost all bearings, can be manipulated into a violent clinging into the basest assumptions of your social being, or a rearticulation of your being and a reaching to different ideas in the re-establishing of your identity.

Although community organizers can invoke a looming or continuing crisis in order to get people to move or join, it is primarily through appeals to a change in vision that their work is accomplished. And this work is slow and as I've already said, full of failures and frustrations.

To bring this to a more personal level, much of my own limited experience in trying to organize Chamorros has revolved around getting them to be more critical about the military buildup of Guam. Although in different fora, in different moments, with different people you take up or emphasize different angles, but ultimately the entire package of this sort of organizing boils down to the following:

1. Injustice: A recounting of the past 110 years of US military exploitation on Guam, that continues up until today. 2. Impacts: The potential damage that the current slate of proposed military increases to the island will have on Guam's economy, society, environment, infrastructural and movement towards decolonization. 3. Vision: Appeals to a Guam which is not dominated by the exportation of American military violence and weapons or war, but is instead built upon more sustainable ideas of community, economy, etc.

The abstract draw of all of these points are undeniable. Guam's history with the United States is not something that should incite patriotism or colonial devotion, but is full of racism, colonialism and Chamorro displacement. The military buildup does represent huge dangers to Guam's people, environment, economy and everything else, which both the local government and Federal government are downplaying. But, in engaging with a community, they are not enough to get most people to buy into a different vision for the future. The reason of course being that on Guam, the source of prosperity and order on the island is intimately tied to the US military presence there. The vision of the "average" person on Guam, or even in the diaspora is that Guam has a present and a future because of the military buildup, and all the evidence that I can provide to show the dangers, will not easily force a break with that thinking.

This is why the work of community organizers is so difficult and slow. You don't have the authority of being an "elected official," and so your impact on the community has to be made through the arduous tasks of finding the points in their lives in their histories which will activate them, which will allow them to perceive the vision or the ideas you offer differently, and possibly subscribe to them.

Speaking of elected officials, this is another point of sadly true frustration in Palin's remarks, that echo some largely forgotten remarks that Senator Hillary Clinton made several months ago. When Palin makes the distinction between the "real" work that she does, and the by default "not real" work that community organizers do, she is simply revealing the structure of society and the relationship between "activists" and "politicians" and who gets credit, or who ultimately becomes responsible for the changes brought about in a society.

It feels like it was years ago, but it was just a few months ago, that in an effort to neutralize the insurgent "outsider" and "oratorically superior" campaign of Barack Obama, she brought up the relationship between Martin Luther King Jr. and President Lyndon Johnson, in order to talk about her own relationship with Barack Obama, and the advantage that her long experience in Washington D.C. gave her. Speaking of the Civil Rights movement and its transformation from grassroots, community movement into something which became the law of the land, Clinton talked about how fantastic and inspirational MLK may have been, but how he still needed a seasoned political operative like LBJ to actualize his dream, to make it a reality.

While some, myself included, might see or feel that this characterization is a travesty and has racial elements to it (it does), it still lays out the relationship between community organizers and social movements and elected officials and government. Which is that the government as "the formal" representative of the people, who embody the true expression of their will and their dreams, exists to take credit for the work of those "informal" representatives of the people, activists, community organizers and so on. When your work reaches a certain point, others, those wealthier, more prominent, those elected, more politically connected, will eventually become subsumed or engulfed by the movement, but as they are those "democratically elected" to represent said community, the credit will most likely gravitate towards them. Certain figures such as Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. or even Jesus, might have been able to avoid this, but such isn't the norm.


I sincerely hope, although I have to admit I am not holding my breath, that there will be some sort of push back against this or outcry. Community organizer is a very broad term and Sarah Palin just dissed every single one of you.

Otro fino'-ta: "Jesus Was A Community Organizer" on Facebook.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Roland Martin on the Young Turks

I LOVE it when smart folks don't have to mince words for easily-offended white sensibilities...

Amy Goodman and Two Democracy Now! Producers Unlawfully Arrested At the RNC


September 1, 2008

Dennis Moynihan
Mike Burke

ST. PAUL, MN—Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman was unlawfully arrested in downtown St. Paul, Minnesota at approximately 5 p.m. local time. Police violently manhandled Goodman, yanking her arm, as they arrested her. Video of her arrest can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oYjyvkR0bGQ

Goodman was arrested while attempting to free two Democracy Now! producers who were being unlawfuly detained. They are Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar. Kouddous and Salazar were arrested while they carried out their journalistic duties in covering street demonstrations at the Republican National Convention. Goodman’s crime appears to have been defending her colleagues and the freedom of the press.

Ramsey County Sherrif Bob Fletcher told Democracy Now! that Kouddous and Salazar were being arrested on suspicion of rioting. They are currently being held at the Ramsey County jail in St. Paul.

Democracy Now! is calling on all journalists and concerned citizens to call the office of Mayor Chris Coleman and the Ramsey County Jail and demand the immediate release of Goodman, Kouddous and Salazar. These calls can be directed to: Chris Rider from Mayor Coleman’s office at 651-266-8535 and the Ramsey County Jail at 651-266-9350 (press extension 0).

Democracy Now! stands by Goodman, Kouddous and Salazar and condemns this action by Twin Cities law enforcement as a clear violation of the freedom of the press and the First Amenmdent rights of these journalists.

During the demonstration in which they were arrested law enforcement officers used pepper spray, rubber bullets, concussion grenades and excessive force. Several dozen others were also arrested during this action.

Amy Goodman is one of the most well-known and well-respected journalists in the United States. She has received journalism’s top honors for her reporting and has a distinguished reputation of bravery and courage. The arrest of Goodman, Kouddous and Salazar is a transparent attempt to intimidate journalists from the nation’s leading independent news outlet.

Democracy Now! is a nationally-syndicated public TV and radio program that airs on over 700 radio and TV stations across the US and the globe.

Video of Amy Goodman’s Arrest: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oYjyvkR0bGQ

Thursday, August 28, 2008

It's Time

It's off to Invesco today... there's probably going to be much crying all around (turns out Democrats are BIG on crying). I need tissue...

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

What's Right With Kansas

I had the pleasure of meeting KS Rep. Raj Goyle (D) this morning at the AAPI Caucus. Over the past couple of days I kept hearing of the amazing job Rep. Goyle had done in getting elected to a district he himself describes as “the reddest of the red.” Admittedly, this was the first I’d heard of him (in fact, I really had no idea of the current extent of desi representation in state and federal government, and it only seems to be expanding, slowly but surely.) So, like I mentioned this was the first I’d heard of Rep. Raj Goyle and I had no idea what he looked like. So, imagine my surprise, and embarrassment, when I figured out that the desi seated in front of me for most of the caucus was indeed Raj Goyle.

Rep. Goyle is a super-energetic, dare I use the “i”-word – inspirational – speaker. He addressed the caucus for just a few minutes, talking primarily about his campaigning experience, but he had folks sitting up and paying attention. I have to say, as someone who gets a bit apprehensive of talking to random folks, especially about politics, just the idea of an unknown brown man knocking on (presumably) a large number of white doors, makes me want to stand up and applaud – pay my respects. It must take a lot of ‘steel in your spine’ to pull something like that off… and successfully too! In his speech, Goyle mentioned that when he started off with his campaign, he knocked on thousands of doors, only to soon realize that polls had him 19 points behind. And of course, as any truly committed person might do, he kept going… knocking on thousands more until, ultimately, this democrat won a traditionally republican district – i.e. the 87th district of Kansas. Yeah, Desi Power!

Rep. Goyle is the son of immigrant parents from Punjab. When I asked him about what made South Asian candidates tick, he noted that the drive to succeed, to scale greater heights, that characterizes South Asian immigrants and their descendents, helps aspiring politicians to connect with their future constituents. I guess the ‘model minority’ perception does have some benefits… one that can be critically negotiated if it means having more brown folks in office. Of course, it’s not enough to have ‘brown folks’ in office, it takes the right kind of ‘brown folks.’ And Rep. Goyle seems to be of the right kind. Check out his Issues and Ideas page.

I asked him if he intended to run for national office, but for now he seems focused on winning a re-election. So go ahead and support him... we need more progressive people of color in office, no?

You know that question folks seem to be bandying around these days: “What’s wrong with Kansas?” Well, you can read a book on that… but it seems to me that folks like Kathleen Sebelius and Raj Goyle something must be right with it… what?

And hey, there's lots more desis out there running for office... and there'll be even more in the near future. Soon, desi rashtrapati?

AAPI, APAI, APA... what?

I’m sitting right now at the AAPI Caucus meeting. It’s the second one I’m attending, the other being this past Monday. As an Indian, I guess I kind of fit into this rubric and I feel relatively comfortable within it because it is within this community that I became politically active at Oberlin. At Oberlin, one of the issues we grappled with was the ‘inclusion’ of the P or PI within the rubric. During my time at Oberlin, I knew exactly two Pacific Islanders, neither of whom were particularly active in the community. I’m not even sure how they identified, except that they probably put down A/PA on various official forms, just as I have had to do pretty often. I don’t feel particularly comfortable with this census categorization, except when I’m around it as a political community. In any case, sitting here in the AAPI caucus, the situation of Pacific Islanders is absolutely no different than anywhere else… the number of PIs can generally be counted on one hand, if not one finger. And often, those charged with PI outreach are Asians/Americans who live, or have lived, in Hawai`i. Now, I don’t think Asian Ams. are resistant to having PIs among them, but they are relatively indifferent – the common understanding seems to be we’ve included them in our name and now its up to them to join us. Of course, most Asian Ams. aren’t even aware of the diversity of PIs – they’re awareness is probably limited to ‘Hawaiians’ and a couple of other groups. (Until a couple of years ago, you could count me among them… admittedly, the increase in my awareness is attributable to my being in a relationship with a politically active Pacific Islander.) And there’s absolutely no way that Asia Ams. grapple with the same issues as PIs. The fundamental difference between the two groups can be captured in one word – ‘colonization.’ The AAPI rubric is as absurd as AANA (i.e. Asian American Native American). But what makes the indifference, lack of awareness and absurdity starkly evident is that the majority of the speakers at the caucus stumble over the ‘PI’ part, hesitating about where exactly the letters P and/or I fit into the label. And of course, when not using the abbreviated version, the group is addressed simply as ‘Asian American.’

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A Change of Heart?

Hillary Clinton just finished her convention speech and for once I think she did a spectacular job. I have to admit, sometimes I have looked at her and wondered what might have been... I am after all a feminist and there is a big part of me that wants/wanted to see a woman as president or even vice-president. I mean can you imagine how powerful an image a "first black" and "first woman" team might have been? And despite Barack's blackness, I do think that there would be something equally, if not more, powerful about having a woman up there. Unfortunately, during the primaries I did not think Hillary Clinton was that woman. (Maybe it was the people she was surrounded by. I think political strategists are full of it... something that worries me about Obama and his GE campaign too.) Today, though, I saw something in Hillary Clinton that maybe her supporters have seen in her all along. I still do believe that Obama was the right choice. But today, I was deeply moved by Hillary Clinton... again, not for who she is per se, but rather for what might have been.

I'm off to donate to her campaign for the first time.


Miget gets the credentials today, so I'm stuck in my hotel room. It's actually not too bad, kind of relaxing. Besides, it's giving me time to browse the internet for Convention news. I just received a video that's left me torn.

I've seen plenty of riot police since arriving in Denver. But generally, they seemed to be just lounging around on their cars, or riding along on their horses and bikes. I did see an image of them lined-up, batons at the ready, a full show of force, but besides the absurdity of the fact that they were armed at an anti-war protest,I figured it was just a stance of intimidation, not a real threat... after all, I've been part of some peaceful protests like this one, and the police don't really do much other than elicit irritation, anger and the occasional muted boos from protesters. But I guess I'm still incredibly naive... Here's proof of it.

Police Trap Peaceful Protesters in Denver

Protest Denver 08

I am a Barack Obama supporter - not because I think he is perfect but because I do believe that he has the potential to be something that this country really needs, i.e. a smart, critical politician and moderately progressive about issues of justice - social, economic, environmental and global. I do know that just as he has disappointed progressives during this campaign, he is very likely to disappoint as president as well. But I do believe, maybe naively, that his election will mark a major turning point for the U.S. - not in terms of what will have been achieved, symbolically or otherwise, but what is possible, what is achievable. In terms of U.S. politics, I tend to be hopeful just as much as I tend to be cynical. And given that a lot of people whose political sensibilities I trust and respect support Obama, I feel more positive about my own support for him.

Today, though, I feel torn and somewhat guilty about my excitement at being at the Convention. As Miget remarked this morning, being around this big group of Democrats is extremely seductive, 'seductive' being the operational word. Because being there at the Pepsi Center with thousands of cheering, excited crowds... or even just walking on the street and passing across hundreds of pass-toting folks, makes you feel not only super-privileged but also lulls you into a false sense of security and excitement. Ideologically, I am in agreement with what the protesters were marching for. And in fact the police violence just proved their point. I can understand why these folks don't want to support Obama or any mainstream candidate for that matter. And why should they vote for someone who they see as just more of the same, or who as far as they are concerned represents little to no change?

But then again I think about this article I read about HRC supporters who refused to support Obama. The author argued that these supporters - mainly white, upper middle class women - stubbornly stuck to HRC not because of the issues but because they wanted HRC in the white house, not some "inadequate black male." And so thanks to them, those who always already bear the burden of bad policy - i.e. poor women, women or color, immigrant women - also have to bear the brunt of the actions of foolish folks that harbor a deep sense of entitlement. If HRC folks were issues voters, they'd know that Obama actually has more progressive policies than Clinton.

I'm not suggesting that the non-voting actions of the protesters are of the same nature as these HRC people. But I can't help but wonder if their actions - even if they are ideological- or issue-based - will have the same effects. Most of the protesters seemed to be young, white, possibly middle class - I saw just one black woman in the video. I don't know if they realize the impact that their non-vote might have. It reminds me of the Socialist group at Oberlin - the issues they addressed were of importance to working class folks - most of whom are people of color. But, while I was at Oberlin, there was probably just one person of color in the group. I attended a couple of meetings of the group but understood soon why activists of color couldn't position themselves in the group. It really takes a lot of concerted effort to address issues of race and immigration with groups such as these and most folks here tend to think well, we talk for everyone and everyone is welcome to join us, so if they don't that's their problem. I think most of these folks would have a hard time articulating why issues of race, nationality, gender, sexuality matter, and matter differently, when addressing large issues of, say, the establishment of a quasi police state.

I agree with these folks that the political system needs to change massively. But ultimately, politics is about us and our ability and willingness to force change. But in order to create radical change, I believe there first needs to be a small change. If Obama doesn't win we're bound to be in much deeper shit. And then the protesters march will be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Obama isn't going to make any grand gestures, making change will still be left up to us. But we stand a much better chance of instituting change with Obama in office than with McCain. I hope that people will come to that realization very soon.

Of course, none of this is meant to excuse police violence. It is inexcusable. Obama needs to come out and denounce it. But again, I guess that's me being naive.

In Denver

It's been forever since I've pasted. I've been busy winding up my thesis, tutoring ninth grade math and working as a research assistant. But this week I'm doing something super exciting that merits a bit of blogging. I'm in Denver attending the DNC, sharing blogger credentials with No Rest For the Awake - Minagahet Chamorro.

And this evening, I was at the Pepsi where I got to see Caroline Kennedy, Ted Kennedy and of course, Michelle Obama speak...

In the time Miget and I have been in Denver thus far, I’ve picked up one invaluable possession – a badge with a beautiful image of Michelle Obama that states “America’s Next First Lady: Michelle Obama” Other than the fact that it’s pink, I absolutely love it. I’m a massive fan of Michelle Obama, much more so than Barack. Tonight, thanks to Miget’s magnanimity in sharing press credentials, I stood approximately 10 feet away from her. It was beautiful. If you didn’t watch her speech, you can do so here. (omg…I was so close, I’m one of those heads in the third row, a little to her left!!) It had some delegates sobbing... all sniffly and red-eyed.

One of the lines of attack used against Michelle Obama has been the labeling of her as “an angry black woman.” Quelle surprise! If smart white women are viewed as emasculating, imagine how a woman of color who speaks the truth would make male genitalia quiver. But as far as I’m concerned, if Michelle Obama is an “angry black woman,” more power to her! I love her for being fierce and saying it like it is…

On the way back from the Pepsi Center today, I discussed Michelle Obama’s speech with some delegates. They all seemed to think she did a terrific job… and they were all sold on the little showing by the family. When the conversation turned to what kind of first-lady Michelle Obama might be, one woman remarked: “I hope those D.C. handlers don’t get their hands on her. They don’t need to remake her. I want a first lady that’s worked her way through law school. Who knows what it means to work hard. We don’t need a soft and gentle woman… we need a strong woman.” I was with her till this point… nodding away in eager agreement. She then said, “That’s why I voted for Hillary.” Anyone who’s heard me talk about the election knows I’m rabidly anti-Clinton. But there I was seated among Clinton delegates... The good thing though, they all seemed to be sold on Michelle Obama. So maybe the specter of Hill and Bill is truly about to dissipate. And how’s this for a replacement.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

End of a Love Affair

How "Yes We Can" lost its meaning for me...

A piece of something that isn't the thing I bought.
Posted by: Max and the Marginalized

Posted July 2, 2008

The consensus of the blogosphere in the aftermath of Capitulation: Round 1 seems to be as follows:

Expanding the death penalty to include non-murderers and treating the fourth amendment as a mere suggestion may be betrayals of the progressive ideals that Barack Obama ran on in the primary, but now that we're in the high stakes of the general election, we must stand unwavering as our beloved candidate throws the very ideals that caused many of us to support him aside to pursue the oh-so necessary winning strategy that proves a surefire loser for the Democrats every time.

I was 8 years old when Michael Dukakis popped out of a tank looking like a Jack-in-the-Box with a strapped on yarmulke and don't remember any of it, but when it gets brought up every other day it's usually in the context of poor theatrics and costume design, and if only they hadn't put the stupid helmet on him he might've had a chance (I'm completely ignoring the fact that he took a principled stand on the death penalty in a tactless manner because it makes my point about Obama making an unprincipled concession on the death penalty sufficiently weaker.) I don't think the helmet was the problem, though the chinstrap really sucked. Bad.

The problem is that in a quest to impress the three people who drive lifted trucks who might vote Democratic, you'll inevitably end up looking as ridiculous as you should look trying to achieve that end. As long as Obama is racing to make sure we know that he thinks executin' isn't just for murderers, warantless wiretapping isn't that important, and that Wes Clark's completely accurate statements should be rejected, it's not a question of if his helmet-in-a-tank moment will come, but when?

Electoral strategy aside, what about that capitulation, strictly as a matter of principle? Should those of us who really do feel let down by all this be speaking up? I have to fall on the side of yes, and that's why wrote and recorded our song for this week, "It Isn't the Thing That I Bought".

Obama's campaign was a new campaign where he literally asked us to donate and "own a piece of this campaign". If you are going to do that, you're going to end up with shareholders, and some of those shareholders are going to say "this isn't the company we bought stock in. Mr. Chairman, we support you, but c'mon... enough of this nonsense."

It Isn't the Thing That I Bought

At the outset I'd like to make it clear
Whether it's right or wrong, it happens to be a bad idea
They try this every time, and I can't figure why
'cause the thugs they're trying to impress
aren't impressed and neither am I
and how dare anyone suggest
that if you own a paltry stake, you've got a right to protest
My check is small, but it isn't blank
Raising a voice is not breaking rank
So take us straight into '88 with cameras helmets and tanks

'Cause I own a piece of something
that isn't the thing that I bought
And don't tell me, that it's nothing
I won't be convinced that it is, cause it's not
So the least I'm asking, is fight for the things that you fought
'Cause I own a piece of something that isn't the thing that I bought

Because there's not abandonment implied
In a little bit of criticism from the people on your side
'Cause there's a million tiny stumps, working from the bottom up
Concessions in July will bring on more when November comes

'Cause I own a piece of something
that isn't the thing that I bought
And don't tell me, that it's nothing
I won't be convinced that it is, cause it's not
So the least I'm asking, is fight for the things that you fought
'Cause I own a piece of something that isn't the thing that I bought

Monday, June 30, 2008

Colin Powell Is Flawless — Inside A Media Bubble

Driving down from L.A. last night, I was listening to an interview with Norman Solomon on Air American that revealed much about Colin Powell that I was completely unaware of. Although the piece below is quite old and is not particularly comprehensive, I thought I'd post it since it is an excellent example of the fucked-up-ness of mainstream media glorification.

Colin Powell Is Flawless — Inside A Media Bubble
Media Beat (2/6/03)
By Norman Solomon

There's no doubt about it: Colin Powell is a great performer, as he showed yet again at the U.N. Security Council the other day. On television, he exudes confidence and authoritative judgment. But Powell owes much of his touted credibility to the fact that he's functioning inside a media bubble that protects him from direct challenge.

Powell doesn't face basic questions like these:

You cite Iraq's violations of U.N. Security Council resolutions to justify the U.S. launching an all-out war. But you're well aware that American allies like Turkey, Israel and Morocco continue to violate dozens of Security Council resolutions. Why couldn't other nations claim the right to militarily "enforce" the Security Council's resolutions against countries that they'd prefer to bomb?

You insist that Iraq is a grave threat to the other nations of the Middle East. But, with the exception of Israel, no country in the region has made such a claim or expressed any enthusiasm for a war on Iraq. If Iraq is a serious threat to the region, why doesn't the region feel threatened?

You say that the Iraqi regime is committed to aggression. Yet Iraq hasn't attacked any country for more than 12 years. And just eight days before Iraq's invasion of Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990, the U.S. envoy to Baghdad gave what appeared to be a green light for the invasion when she met with Saddam Hussein. An Iraqi transcript of the meeting quotes Ambassador April Glaspie: "We have no opinion on your Arab-Arab conflicts, such as your dispute with Kuwait. Secretary (of State James) Baker has directed me to emphasize the instruction ... that Kuwait is not associated with America." Mr. Powell, why don't you ever mention such information?

Washington tilted in favor of Iraq during its war with Iran in the 1980s. Like other U.S. officials, you emphasize that Saddam Hussein "gassed his own people" and used chemical weapons against Iran, but you don't talk about the intelligence data and other forms of assistance that the United States provided to help Iraq do those things. If the history of Baghdad's evil deeds is relevant, why aren't facts about U.S. complicity also relevant?

When you warn that the U.N. Security Council "places itself in danger of irrelevance" if it fails to endorse a U.S.-led war on Iraq, aren't you really proclaiming that the United Nations is "relevant" only to the extent that it does what the U.S. government wants?

If Colin Powell faced such questions on a regular basis, his media halo would begin to tarnish. Instead, floating inside a media bubble, he moves from high-level meetings to speeches to news conferences where tough questions are rare. And when Powell appears as a guest on American media outlets, he doesn't need to worry that he'll encounter interviewers who'll challenge his basic assumptions.

Tacit erasure of inconvenient history — including his own — is integral to the warm relationship between Powell and U.S. news media. There's a lot to erase. For instance, in January 1986, serving as a top aide to Pentagon chief Caspar Weinberger, he supervised the transfer of 4,508 TOW missiles to the CIA, and then sought to hide the transaction from Congress and the public. No wonder: Almost half of those missiles had become part of the Iran-Contra scandal's arms-for-hostages deal.

As President Reagan's national security adviser, Powell worked diligently on behalf of the contra guerrillas who were killing civilians in Nicaragua. In December 1989, Powell — at that point the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — was a key player behind the invasion of Panama.

The Gulf War catapulted Powell to the apex of American political stardom in early 1991. When he was asked about the Iraqi death toll from that war, Powell said that such numbers didn't interest him.

At the U.N. on Feb. 5, in typical fashion, Powell presented himself as an implacable foe of terrorism — much as he did on Sept. 11, 2001, when he denounced "people who feel that with the destruction of buildings, with the murder of people, they can somehow achieve a political purpose." While aptly condemning the despicable hijackers who murdered thousands of people on that day, Powell was also using words that could be applied to a long line of top officials in Washington. Including himself.

At this point it seems that only a miracle could prevent the Bush administration from going ahead with its plans for a horrific attack on Iraq, sure to kill many thousands of civilians. The U.S. leaders will demonstrate their evident belief that — in Colin Powell's apt words — "with the destruction of buildings, with the murder of people, they can somehow achieve a political purpose." To the extent that the media bubble around them stays airtight, Powell and his colleagues are likely to bask in national acclaim.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Politics of Marriage

Last week, June 17th, 2008, marked a long awaited, long overdue, moment in Californian history. San Diego, in particular, witnessed the exchanging of vows by a 100 same-sex couples.

Of course, there are many among us - most of whom are horribly blinkered, some downright hateful - that continued to pursue their crusade (and I use that word quite intentionally to include its religious connotations) against "gay marriage" way before the California Supreme Court even handed down its decision terminating a state ban on same-sex marriage. Oppositional groups have already collected the requisite signatures to introduce a proposition for the Nov. 4 elections (re-)banning same-sex marriage. Of course, I hope that the proposition fails miserably, although it's still going to require a lot of education and activism to make sure it does. (If you vote in CA, go here to VOW TO VOTE NO. If you're on Facebook, go here to learn more.) And while I undoubtedly support marriage equality, the issue of marriage itself is complicated for me, as it for so many, and therefore I am somewhat ambivalent about today's significance.

Now, when forced to identify, I self-identify as "straight," although, given the reprehensible history and baggage of that word, I wish there were some other word I could use; and although I profess a queer politics, I am a little apprehensive about identifying as "queer" lest I be buying into "queer chic;" so overall, I'd rather not identify at all (the same is true of identifying racially, but that is a story for another day). So, as a so-called "straight woman" I guess I am supposed to have "dreamt" of my wedding day - and although I have no real recollection of doing so, I do know that I often did wish I were "christian" so that I could relinquish the traditional white sari in favor a fairy-tale-ish white wedding dress - images of which I was inundated with thanks to my exposure to Hollywood and, later, STAR TV. In any case, the idea of marriage has really never been too enticing for me, never given me goosebumps or anything of the sort. For a long while, when I was single, I pretty much looked down upon marriage - but back then I was probably just being spiteful. And now, although I've been in a pretty serious relationship for a while, I really haven't changed my tune much.

As I see it, the question really isn't about being pro-marriage or anti-marriage, it is about choice - and I am pro-choice. At this historio-political juncture, I choose (and I hope that when the time comes I will continue to choose) not to be get married. The choice is, as far as I am concerned, very simply, a political one. So long as the institution of marriage is appropriated by the state in order to regulate bodies and minds, marriage equality can never truly exist.

Now, I am not super-familiar with the history of marriage, but here's my take on it. First, sociological/anthropological thought suggests that marriage is a system of exchange. This system of exchange is embedded, of course, within notions of a market (capitalist) economy (based on commodity value), but, more importantly, is complexly intertwined with the economy of kinship (constructed through notions of the sexual). Georges Bataille brilliantly brings together these two dimensions of marriage by writing of it as an integral part of gift-giving economies, wherein the value of the gift is defined not merely by the intrinsic value of the exchange commodity (in this case, the sexuality of the woman) but rather by the sacrificial act executed by the gift-giver (here, the father or brother) in renouncing unfettered access to, and control of, the gift. This idea of marriage, then, constitutes the social dimension of the institution.

There is, however, also the religious aspect of it. In addressing religion, I refer specifically to ideas of the sacred and profane that, as Emile Durkheim in The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life suggests, is the common thread running through religious thought across the board. In any case, Bataille writes that marriage is also a means of neutralizing the erotic and sanitizing, or legitimizing, the sensual. That is, it the sacredness of marriage, as channeled from the Divine through the priest, that delivers the consummating act from the profane to the sacred. Furthermore, according to Bataille, the reproductive function of the sex act, as practiced within the bo(u)nds of matrimony, is what allows the act to preserve its sacredness, despite its sensuality. The profane-ness of the erotic, on the other hand, bars it from having any space within marriage. (All of this is discussed by Bataille in the context of his critique of the fear of the erotic, but I won't go into that here. Those interested can read The Accursed Share Volume II - The History of Eroticism. It's a pretty interesting read... I myself have to finish reading it soon...)

In any case, what I am trying to highlight here is that, per the history of marriage, it has two somewhat distinct dimensions - the social and the religious. Now I know that some may object that these two dimensions are not distinct but instead mutually constitutive. But I think that if one is to consider marriage in its contemporary context, we must consider these two dimensions of marriage separately. Let me begin with the religious aspect of it first since that is the easiest to dispense with.

The most audible argument against "homosexuality" and same-sex marriage is that "homosexuality is a sin." If one were to follow Bataille's argument then we could argue that such arguments stem from the idea that since a homo-sexual act is, per definition, erotic and hence, profane, it should not be sanctified by marriage. Like I said, I don't really want to engage in a discussion on the de-merits of such an argument. The important thing here is that such arguments are fundamentally religious in nature and hence, if one upholds the separation of church and state, must not be within the purview of the state. However, I do think that this is a very weak argument and somewhat of a cop-out in taking a stand on marriage.

The far more complex part of this argument is that dealing with the social. Recently, John McCain was a guest on Ellen DeGeneres' show and she asked him to comment on her upcoming nuptials to actress Portia de Rossi. McCain's response was relatively simple, "I believe marriage should be between a man and a woman, but I also believe two consenting adults can enter into a contract." McCain's answer articulates the oft-spoken distinction between marriage and civil unions - i.e. same-sex couples are sinners and not good enough for marriage, but we have to respect them as adults and thus grant them a modicum of "rights." Civil unions are the newest version of the illusionary possibility of "separate but equal."

But that is not the only problem with civil unions. While it may be perfectly appropriate for the state to enter into contracts with its subjects, the problem with the state according benefits through the institutions of marriage, civil unions, or the like, is not only that it normalizes heteronormative structures of kinship, but more importantly, in undertaking the coercive function of regulating private lives, it deligitamizes certain persons and certain relationships. Thus, whether it be marriage or civil union or whatever else, in their contemporary form, these are essentially political institutions designed to maintain structures of domination and subordination. And, as Carol Pateman suggests in the Sexual Contract, a mere expansion of the rights accorded by such political institutions does not make the institution itself more equitable or less problematic.

The political gesture, then, to be undertaken here is to "de-politicize" marriage, civil union, etc. - i.e. to destabilize and delegitimize the political powers of these institutions. And, if one were to agree with the definition of politics as that which defines "friends" and "enemies," then, the way I see it, we need to position ourselves as enemies of the institutions for that is the only way to dismantle them. Being enemies means refusing to participate.

The logical outcome of such a strategy is somewhat awkward though because the real threat is not marriage but civil unions. For it is civil unions that consolidate the juridico-political power of the state. Marriage, on the other hand, if treated merely within the realm of religion, actually seems to allow for the possibility of uncoerced choice (this of course is debatable, but I won't get into that here).

So, for now, if we're truly interested in achieving social justice for the ideas and persons that constitute various intimate relationships, we must refuse to partake in the so-called "benefits" (or carrots) that the state lures us with for practicing compliance. Of course, that is much easier said than done - for both practical and sentimental reasons. Thus, even while I oppose the idea of marriage, civil unions, and the like, I do recognize the lifting of the ban on same-sex marriage as a crucial step towards equality. Indeed, this June also marked the 51st anniversary of Loving v Virginia, the civil rights case wherein the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Virginia's anti-miscegenation as unconstitutional. The fact that this anniversary went relatively unnoticed points not only to the willful amnesia of the U.S. nation-/state but it may also suggest something positive about the ways in which "marriage equality" has been expanded and, in some ways, come to be taken for granted. In a similar way, I hope that a few decades from now the anniversary of the CA decision (and hopefully, soon, a national decision) will go by relatively unnoticed. But, more importantly, I hope what each of these legal decisions ultimately enable is a complete dismantling of state control over the intimacies that constitute our lives.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

If You Must Mourn Me, Please Shut Up!

There have been several, scattered moments in my life that have had me considering "life's meaning." Now I don't mean that I sit in dark corners with a furrowed brow examining the deepest recesses of my heart and mind or doing whatever else it is that one imagines old philosopher guys doing. It's general some quick thought or quirky object that sets off a short flurry of ideas - some stick, others don't. The closest I have come to "understanding the meaning of life" is when staring into the grill of a car.

A couple of years ago I found myself walking along a street in Oberlin, Ohio, passing by a row of parked vehicles. Walking past one car after another I was struck - as I have often been in the past - by how much the grill of a car looks like a wide, human grin. Add in the headlights and bumper and you've got yourself a dorky face. I was then led to thinking that this resemblance between the face of a car and a human is probably no coincidence - after all the human body is the most sophisticated machine (at least on the planet earth) that we are aware of. The infinite wonders of the human body are, as I understand them, unknowable and irreplicable. Which led me to giving a huge shout-out to whatever it was that has created us for being so damn amazing.

Now I consider myself somewhat of an agnostic which means I am a person of non-denominational faith and I believe in "god" but only as a signifier of that something out there which is, again, unknowable and incomprehensible. So, no, for me it's no old man with a snowy beard seated on a throne in the sky. But walking along the street that afternoon god sprung into my head as a puppeteer - a terrible sadistic one at that - who was cruel enough to make us believe that we really counted for something, that we had some control over "life," indeed that our lives meant anything. Zoom out, way, way, WAY out from the street, and I became a little, self-important thing, believing that I was functioning, at least in part, of my own accord but really was just being played - BIG time. Now I know I haven't said anything particularly unique or insightful here, but the reason that moment has remained with me because that was when I came closest to realizing that the meaning of life is that life is meaningless.

I'm not being a cynic here - instead I think that this meaninglessness of life is quite productive. I'm sure Jacques Derrida would have something wonderfully poetic to say here - something like the only way to live life is through meaninglessness for once we try to infuse meaning into life we begin to die. I'm not familiar enough with Derrida though, so he may not agree with me or for all you know he's already made some comment about the meaning of life somewhere. I'll update this post if I come across something of the sort. The reason I think meaninglessness is productive is the precisely that which brought me to this post - death.

Yesterday, I was incredibly shocked to hear of the passing of (MS)NBC journalist Tim Russert. My partner gave me the news in passing, in a very unremarkable, matter-of-fact tone. For a moment, although I heard him say Tim Russert, I thought he was referring to Russell Crow. But even I detected the dissonance, so I asked "who's Tim Russert?" When I realized that it was indeed Tim Russert, the journalist, who had died, I was struck with decided disbelief and yes, some grief. Now, am I no fan of Tim Russert's, I haven't ardently followed his career or admired his work... I've barely "know him" a few months, since the presidential primaries began. But over the past few months, while I've been hooked onto MSNBC, Daily KOS and Huffington Post, Tim Russert has definitely been a huge part of my everyday. And when someone becomes so much a part of your everyday that you take their existence for granted, death can come as a very rude jolt.

Death often has a huge impact on me even if it's not a particularly personal one. My first encounter, so to speak, with death was when the son of a family acquaintance contracted rabies. I don't recall exactly how old I was - maybe around 7-8 or so - but I remember first hearing the news that this young man, barely in his twenties, had been hospitalized for rabies; his heart stopped beating at some point but he had been successfully resuscitated and was now in intensive care. I had never know the man, I can't at this point even recall his name; all I knew about him was that he was the son of this popular figure in our neighborhood. Yet, I found myself praying incessantly for his recovery, asking my parents for constant updates, and finally bawling for hours when, after a few days, I found out he had passed away. I didn't understand then, and I'm not sure I understand now, why the death of someone I had never met, and probably never laid eyes on, affected me so much.

When I turned on MSNBC yesterday to learn more about Tim Russert's passing, I was moved at times but more often frustrated and disgusted with the spectacle. MSNBC of course had wall-to-wall coverage of the event which meant they had an unending line-up guests being asked for their reactions to the news. The valorization and romanticization of Tim Russert that was underway seemed, to me, in many case, so superficial and disrespectful. What really upsets me in situations like these is that those folks who might have been disrespectful and dismissive in life to the now deceased, suddenly turn to more glowing, flowery language to describe the person in death. I remember as a child watching the funeral of Rajiv Gandhi, the assassinated Prime Minister of India. The massive procession of mourners accompanying the PM's body to the funeral pyre, marched to the chant of "Rajiv Gandhi zindabad" (i.e. Long live Rajiv Gandhi). Watching this spectacle, I recall blurting out through tears, "Now, they say zindabad. When he was alive they said 'Rajiv Gandhi murdabad' (i.e. Death to Rajiv Gandhi). "

I guess the point I am trying to make is that the reason death affects me so much is because the valorization and romanticization that follows death reveals the triviality and falseness of life. The valorization and romanticization is false because of the superficiality of the source (i.e. enunciator), but more importantly it is false because it makes heros out of flawed humans. Thus, the spectacle of mourning death through its very grandiosity in fact points to the triviality, the meaninglessness of life. For if life did have meaning, I believe, it would be unspeakable in death. Which is why those that are most intimate to the deceased tend to have the least to say about the person and instead focus on the incomprehensibility of the death. The closest one comes then to finding "meaning" in life is not through the performance of life, but rather through the silence of being (existence). Perhaps that is why I was impacted so much by that young man's death - because, precocious child that I was, I knew how death would shatter the illusion that was his life. And maybe that is why I have such a discomfort with visible acts of mourning because the act of speaking one's life robs it of the very little meaning that it has, to begin with.

So if you ever find yourself in the position of mourning my death, please shut up!

Friday, June 6, 2008

If This is Feminism, Count Me Out

This post might be a little outdated given the stage in the electoral campaign we are now at. My opinions of Hillary Clinton have softened marginally... especially since I saw clips of the horribly sexist things said about her (I'd been protected from them thus far thanks to my revulsion to Fox News... but given that the most sexist crap said about her was on Fox News, why would she go ahead and call them "the most fair and balanced" news channel of all?) In any case, some of rubbish that is spewing forth from her supposed supporters on various blogs makes me think the time for this piece might not have passed yet. So here goes...

Over the past couple of months, following the democratic primaries as closely (read geek-ishly) as I have, one thought has recurred to me – Hillary Clinton has set feminism back a hundred years. She might have made great strides in American politics, may have survived, to use her own words, “the all-boys club of Presidential politics,” but her (or her supporters’) idea of ‘feminism’ reminds me of the time when my own (mis-)conception of feminism was men offering up bus seats to women. (Gladly, that was also the time I was decidedly ‘anti-feminist.’ Today, however, my understanding of feminism having become WAY more critical and progressive, I am happy to be a feminist, a third world feminist, a postcolonial feminist, a woman of color feminist…)

To clarify, I do not believe that Hillary Clinton has asked for any favors (she may have a sense of entitlement, but that’s a separate issue.) Yet she has taken us back to the days when 1) only a woman could be as an authentic feminist; and 2) being a feminist meant proving that ‘women were as good as men,’ or more precisely, proving that women could perform heteronormative masculinity just as skillfully as men. Black/third-world/postcolonial feminist thought has critiqued precisely this form of ‘women-better-than-men/women-as-good-as-men’ feminism, suggesting instead that feminism should fight for an intersectional anti-oppression analysis, that resisted the multiple and overlapping ways in which racism, patriarchy, classism, sexism, homophobia, ableism – all forms of oppression – where they were encounter. Another key aspect of this tradition is that feminist thought could, in fact should, be practiced by all individuals who are committed to anti-oppression and social justice struggles. Hillary Clinton, her campaign and her supporters have failed dismally on both these counts. Of course, this is not to suggest that all contemporary feminisms adhered to the more critical form. But that is precisely why HRC has taken us back by a century because she failed to set a new standard for American feminism. In fact, as on of her ex-new-agey-gurus commented on the Huffington Post, Barack Obama possibly displayed a progressive feminism more than she ever did.

To put a finer point of this, HRC’s brand of feminism harkens back to first wave feminist thought which put ‘woman’ above all else, but more importantly, wherein ‘woman’ implied ‘white woman’ and even when it did include women of color it was always through the lens of ‘whiteness.’ The ways in which HRC supporters have articulated their disappointment that the election has been ‘stolen’ from the ‘first-ever viable woman candidate’ reminds me of an account of the 1865 Senate debate on the 15th Amendment which proposed granting voting rights to citizens regardless of race but not sex. A group of woman who lobbied Congress for the addition of ‘sex’ to the amendment, argued that by giving black men the right to vote but not women implied that white women would now constitute lesser citizens than black men. In fact, after the amendment passed without the inclusion of sex, Elizabeth Cady Stanton released a statement claiming that:
While the dominant party [Republican party] have with one hand lifted up TWO MILLION BLACK MEN and crowned them with the honor and dignity of citizenship...with the other they have dethroned FIFTEEN MILLION WHITE WOMEN...and cast them under the heel of the lowest orders of manhood.

Such a pitting or hierarchization of race against gender has been highly reflected in the HRC campaign. Again, this is not to suggest that women of color are not attracted to the Hillary candidacy because she is viewed as a powerful role model for women. Or that women across the board are not justified in supporting her candidacy because of their own struggles against sexism and patriarchy. But those decisions are personal decisions… to suggest that Hillary is the candidate for all women, that is absurd and patently privileges the supposed universality of ‘white woman.’

Also, I am not suggesting that the charge of sexism leveled by Clinton and her supporters is unjustified. In fact, the one issue that this primary season has highlighted is the extreme pervasiveness of sexism and racism in the States, but also that sexism is in fact more acceptable, less politically incorrect, than racism. But the ways in which the issue of sexism has been articulated by her campaign is very racially tinged itself. I mean simply put, why is it a bigger deal that Hillary Clinton, a white woman, has made it in presidential politics, than Barack Obama, a black man, having made it? If Hillary’s femaleness if pitted against his maleness, shouldn’t her whiteness also be pitted against his blackess?

And if Hillary Clinton, the woman candidate – who has, in my opinion, run a decidely masculinist campaign – is receiving a little over 50 % of the ‘women vote,’ shouldn’t that say something about her ‘woman-ness,’ let only her feminist credentials?

Thursday, June 5, 2008


I've thought about blogging for a while now... especially since my partner is an avid one... but it was generally just a passing thought, taken over quite quickly by thoughts of all the other writing I had to do (I'm a grad student, you see, so writing rules my life). And then the presidential primaries happened, and I got caught up and all bent out of shape because of them. Generally it was sufficient to vent to my partner about them.

A few weeks ago though I started 'writing' this bit about Hillary Clinton and Feminism in my head... eventually I put it down on paper, and as the words began to flow out I realized just how therapeutic writing really could be. So, here's my shot as self-therapy.

Now, I have tons of friends who start blogs, write a couple of entries and then never post again. There's a really, really good chance I might join that legion of bloggers quite soon. But I hope not. For now, the presidential campaign, my grad school experiences and the general 'excitement' of my life should provide enough fodder for a few good posts. All I need, then, is some discipline...

Welcome to my blog!!